It all began, as most things do, with something simple.  One night a couple of months ago our refrigerator leaked a little bit of water onto the kitchen floor.  It had done that a couple of other times too.  The icemaker had been giving us trouble for a couple of years, producing ice cubes erratically, many of them hollow.  The water would leak out into the ice cube storage bin rather than going into the ice cube maker, making a solid frozen block and jamming the dispenser.  Occasionally water would run out of the icemaker, down the front of the fridge, onto the floor.  But the week after it leaked a little bit, it leaked a lot.  And when we went down to the basement we saw just how much more.  Water had been seeping all night through the kitchen floor to form a couple of big pools in the basement.

So we set the ice cube sensor to “off,” turned off as best we could the flimsy shutoff valve in the refrigerator water line, and contemplated our next move.  The fridge was 15 years old, so repair seemed futile.  After checking the internet and a couple of stores, we determined what we wanted as a replacement: a GE model with “French doors” and an ice and water dispenser.  We bought it and set the delivery date for December 9, a safe four weeks away, well on the other side of Thanksgiving.  Best Buy gave us stern warnings about measurements, complete with online videos explaining just what we had to measure, and reminding us that all passages from outside to the installation site had to allow for the passage of this 375-pound brute.  We discovered right away that our model, like all standard refrigerators, needed 2” more clearance than we had under our built-in kitchen cabinets.  The standard height of refrigerators had moved up almost 3” since the cabinets were originally installed 22 years ago.

I’d had to take off ¾” when the now-dying Amana had been put in, but this called for a skilled woodworker to take out the old cabinet, reshape it to allow the right amount of clearance, and not completely destroy the look of the doors, which are paneled.  Meanwhile, things kept happening.  One morning our toaster oven just didn’t work.  Jane discovered boards in the façade of our circa 2002 garage/bedroom home addition that were rotting out, thanks to an apparent flow of rainwater down the façade rather than through the gutters.  And a potentially serious plumbing leak developed in our master bathroom.  We needed help; we started calling handymen.

Aside from just junking the old toaster oven and buying a new one, the master bath problem seemed to be the easiest to solve.  We had a plumbing contract along with our HVAC contract with United AirTemp.  One of their guys came out to look at the master bathroom leak.  The culprit was a faucet in one of the twin wash basins.  Installed 14 years ago, the design model by Kohler was now obsolete (and its polished bronze finish no longer quite in vogue).  But the faucet was irreparable, so we had to choose another.  Obviously we didn’t want to replace all the hardware in the room, so we sought a similar design.  The plumber kept talking about the one we wanted “or something comparable,” gave us a major invoice that would cover the replacement of the faucet with that “something,” and said he’d be in touch.  We called the next morning to affirm the faucet we wanted, and to say that the (Moen) one identified on the invoice was not suitable.  But of course we couldn’t talk to the plumber or his supervisor; the person on the phone would relay the message and one of them would call back.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I needed a woodworker.  On impulse I called the guy who installed the cabinets 22 years ago.  It was like old home week!  The voice on the phone was the brother of the one who actually put the originals in.  Larry was retired and in Florida, but Bob would be glad to do the job, even such a small one.  He’d send a carpenter up from Lorton to look at it tomorrow.  Great that we remembered their work!  We skipped a weekly Church meeting to accommodate their schedule, because the refrigerator delivery loomed.   Time came; no carpenter.  Called the next day, and the staffer said both Bob and the carpenter were on a job, but they’d call back later that day.  No call that day; they still haven’t called.

As soon as they broke the appointment I began calling alternatives; we needed that work done before the December 9 delivery day.  Angie’s List seemed totally intimidating, with so many options, not all in our part of the metro area.  So we tried HomeAdvisor, a site where you describe the job, give them your zip code, and they give you three prime references that you can call or have contact you.  We got two calls right away, and set up an appointment with the first one for the next day.  Guess what?  No show.

By this time we were getting to feeling a bit vulnerable.  Calls unanswered, not one but two potential water leaks in the house, kitchen currently unfit to receive new fridge.  I finally called AirTemp, whose plumber had not called about the faucet despite follow-ups from me, with the ultimatum that if we did not have an appointment to install the faucet we wanted by the end of that day, I would cancel the entire invoice.  (My alternative plan was to buy the faucet at Home Depot and hire an out-of-contract plumber to install it.)  Mirabile dictu!  An appointment was made for early the following week, and the faucet design we wanted would be provided.  We had a feeling that the alternative they offered was cheaper for them to acquire.

As for the cabinet, I retried Home Advisor, got two new names plus the one who blew off the appointment before.  Figured he had work, checked the other two online, and called them both.  The first to respond was Bermudez Construction.  The estimator was there the next evening; he gave a thorough analysis of our outdoors rot situation as well as the cabinet job.  He talked about his methods and pricing, and we came to an agreement.  The work was to be done eight days in advance of the delivery date for the fridge.  He had to push that date back a couple of days because of complications on a prior job, but he assured us about our deadline.  He came with one assistant and did everything expertly in one day.  Aces!

In the course of his initial assessment, however, he moved the refrigerator, and it started leaking.  Oh, no!  We needed immediate plumbing.  This time, however, AirTemp came through.  A different plumber came to assess this problem, and returned the next day to put a modern, sturdy shutoff valve in the line to the fridge.  This job was covered in our contract.  And we were assured we’d meet Best Buy’s expectation of a strong, stable water supply for the fridge installation.

The Bermudez inspector had found another interesting thing, however: a white-faced hornet nest on the back of our house.  Naturally we called our pest control contractor, who came and removed it a couple of days later.  (See earlier blog for hornet details.)

Meanwhile, the other AirTemp plumber came back a few days later to install the new bathroom faucet, which went without incident, except that he had to get a helper to come in to loosen the old one from its mooring.

By December 9, everything was ready for the refrigerator delivery.  These new monsters are so big (36” wide, 34” deep, and 69” high) that they routinely have to remove the fridge doors to get them through standard entryway home doors.  Surprisingly, the two installers lifted the unit with straps, not a dolly, which made maneuvering in the tight right-angle turn from hall to kitchen easy.  Sure enough, the cabinet space gap was just right, and the new water line attachment was made with flexible hose rather than squiggly thin copper tubing.  In 90 minutes the old one was gone, and the new one humming away to cool itself down.  With all our refrigeratable food stuffed into the garage backup fridge and on the cool screen porch, cooling couldn’t happen too soon.

After only five weeks, eight different handymen, eight handyman visits, and about twenty phone calls, our house was not rotten, did not leak, did store and freeze perishable food, and had no white-faced hornet nest attached.  And there was still a little time for the quiet contemplation of the Advent season.  Amen!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016


Back On My Bike


Jamis Coda Comp, my basic ride while in recovery. That is a 52-tooth chainring.

The British cyclist Tom Simpson is credited with the heroic, never-say-die plea “put me back on my bike.” Simpson was ascending Mont Ventoux in Provence during the Tour de France on Friday, July 13, 1967. It was one of Ventoux’ boiling hot days. Only a few kilometers from the top, out among the bare quartz boulders, Simpson fell to the road, a victim of dehydration, the heat, amphetamines, and the alcohol he had stopped to grab in the town at the foot of the mountain. Bystanders did put him back on his bike, though he may have only gasped “on, on, on.” But the thought was there. He wobbled a few hundred feet and fell again. He died on the airlift to the hospital, his internal body temperature a fatal 108°.

I have not been quite that desperate to ride, nor quite as heroic. The last time I was on my bike before today was May 3. By that time I had completed three of my prescribed nine weeks of radiation treatment, begun on April 13. I’d ridden my familiar 20+ mile routes twice since then, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. But on that first Sunday in May the roof kind of caved in. Two miles into the ride, I felt overwhelming fatigue. I rested at the little park next to Maple Avenue in Vienna, amazed at my lack of stamina. Reasoning that it was probably just a temporary reaction, I continued on after 15 minutes of recuperation. I got as far as Hunter Mill Road, about 5 ½ miles from home. I had to rest once more halfway there, and again at the road crossing. Realizing I’d been foolish to get myself out there in my condition, I got myself back home very slowly. That was the end of my bike riding for 10 ½ weeks. I couldn’t get my body out of first gear, and the thought of going anywhere by bike was unfathomable.

Until today. There have been a few days in the last couple of weeks when I’ve felt a little stronger again. And today was a beautiful, cool, clear, low humidity day. In his The Vision of Sir Launfal, James Russell Lowell wrote “And what is so rare as a day in June? / Then, if ever, come perfect days.” Not so fast, Jimmy boy. Today was pretty rare, too. And I’m talking northern Virginia in hot, hazy, humid July. Furthermore, I had just spent an hour watching the Tour de France charge up the mountain-top finish at Plateau de Beille. I figured that if those guys can spin uphill on wet, rainy roads at nearly 20 mph, I ought to be able to chug along the relatively flat bike trail for a bit.

For the first time in 2 ½ months, I couldn’t wait to get my gear on and take off. I was revved up, excited to be back in the saddle. I determined to go as far as I could, to turn back at the first sign of exhaustion or weakness, but in any case to go no farther than Hunter Mill Road. I know that athletic recovery has to be managed carefully and methodically. There’s no point in rushing things to the point that you suffer a setback and have to begin again. A body with 75 years of wear on it needs more time to get back into shape; no part of my frame was used to riding any more—not my arms, not my quads, not my calfs, not my butt. My motto: “go for it but go easy.”

I rolled down Academy Street, geared down for the incline up Jackson Parkway, hung a left up the paved right-of-way, and hung another left to roll westward on the W&OD Trail. Up and over the little hill between our house and Vienna. Check. Past the place I had to stop in the town of Vienna. Check. Feeling strong. Out past the old railroad station, along the park area to the west of town, over the bridge at Piney Branch, past the dead end of Clark’s Crossing Road, past Tamarack Park, over Angelico Branch, and stop at Hunter Mill Road. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check. I felt good enough to go on, but caution and common sense were in control, and I turned back. About halfway along I realized that I was beginning to feel a little weary, and was pleased that I had recognized the need to set limits. As always, I felt euphoric, better when I got back that I’d felt when I left.

Tomorrow is going to be another rare day. Wild horses couldn’t hold me back now! I’m going to . . . Oh, wait. I’m going to consult closely with my legs and my cardiovascular system tomorrow morning before doing anything rash.

© Arnold J. Bradford, 2015