Glenn's Grandmother Louise Henry blows out the candles on her 100th birthday cake at her party on Saturday, April 18, in Hayward. A gathering of 19 close family members helped her celebrate the milestone achievement. Photo by Glenn.

All washed up

April 29, 2015: You never much appreciate your appliances until they aren't there for you when you need them. That is especially true of a washing machine, which generally toils away in obscurity for years, keeping one's clothes clean, rarely uttering a complaint. Until it does.

To see any of these photos larger, or as a slideshow, view our Flickr gallery.


Roni does her best to rescue Winter's Garden from the effects of another spring's weeds. There are more weeds than time, however, so we have only just begun the annual chore of eradicating them from the yard. Photo by Glenn.


We'd like to eradicate this fellow from our yard. We don't own a dog, but Numbnuts spends so much time looking over our fence that he might as well live with us. Photo by Glenn.


We like Bandit alright, but like Numb, he thinks he owns the place. He's taking advantage of the shady spot afforded by our fountain in Summer's Garden. Photo by Glenn.


Our first barbecue of the year on March 28 featured hamburger patties and chicken breasts. Photo by Glenn.


Easter continues to be a smaller affair for us with each passing year, although Ben still loves his candy. We love our deviled eggs, and Roni did a fine job making these. Photo by Glenn.


It's mailing day for another edition of the Ironhouse Insider, the occasional newsletter Roni coordinates for the Ironhouse Sanitary District. We had to cart 15,000 copies to the post office on April 16. Photo by Glenn.


Surrounded by her family, our grandmother Louise Henry celebrates her 100th birthday during a party on Saturday, April 18. Here she looks at the "100 for 100" music compilation that we made for her as her son Dave, Roni, and daughter Susan look on. Photo by Glenn.


Glenn's brother Sean gave Grandmother a set of circulated coins from 1915, her birth year. Photo by Glenn.


Susan and Grandmother take a look at the sandwiches and salad provided for lunch. Photo by Glenn.


Grandmother makes her way from the dining room toward the living room sofa. It seemed that every move she made this day was chronicled by the photographers. Photo by Glenn.


Grandmother shares a laugh with Glenn's dad during the much anticipated screening of her commemorative video. Photo by Glenn.


Grandmother displays an unusually twisted pair of carrots that our niece Shannon plucked from Glenn's dad's garden. Photo by Glenn.


It's time for the cake ceremony. Grandmother waits for the big moment while her family sings Happy Birthday. Photo by Glenn.


Success! Grandmother clasps her hands in victory after snuffing out the flame on the last of her three numeral candles. Photo by Glenn.


The occasion of Grandmother's 100th birthday party will also be remembered as the day that Ben got his first taste of champagne. He isn't quite sure how much he liked it, but he said it started to grow on him a bit by the end of the glass. Twenthy-one is just a few days away. Look out! Photo by Glenn.


All good things must come to an end, and so eventually it was time to get Grandmother home from her party. First she had to make her way through the receiving line for one last round of hugs. Photo by Glenn.


Grandmother takes a closer look at some of her birthday gifts as Dad prepares to drive her home. When you're a celebrity it isn't easy to escape the paparazzi. Photo by Glenn.


April 19 marked the start of Oakley Science Week, and Roni was at the Big Break Regional Shoreline Visitor Center helping kids perform water testing under the auspices of the Delta Science Center. Photo by Glenn.


Glenn ran into a couple of his newspaper friends during a stroll down to the Big Break pier while Roni was doing her water testing. From left are photographer Jose Fajardo and former reporter Rick Lemyre. Selfies all around! Photo by Glenn.

It was one weekend in March when Roni was doing another large load of laundry in our trusty LG front-loader that something went seriously amiss. We were all going about the business of enjoying a liesurely afternoon, paying little attention to the usual workings of the washing machine, when it entered its final rinse and spin cycle... and then kept spinning. It did seem like it had been spinning for longer than usual, but we weren't too worried about it because that is what it is programmed to do in the event that the machine still detects a lot of water wringing from the laundry. It eventually gets to the point where the computer is satisfied the load is sufficiently dry and then stops the machine and sounds a chime to let us know it's finished.

Except this time there was no chime. The machine didn't stop. It just kept spinning on high speed until suddenly we noticed a burning odor and Glenn looked up from his computer game to see smoke. That was obviously not a good thing. He jumped up and quickly shut down the washing machine. The clothes inside were unharmed, but the burning odor lingered. We were all grateful that it happened on a day we were at home, because there are times we've set the laundry up and gone out to run other errands. We might have come home to find our house in a pile of smoldering ruins.

We hoped it was just a fluke, perhaps something out of balance with that particular load of laundry that caused the machine to go haywire. We ran the machine through the spin cycle again, this time without a load, just to make sure things still worked normally, and everything seemed fine. So Roni put another load of clothes in and this time we monitored its progress. Everything looked good until we got to the final spin cycle, then the burning odor returned. Something was definitely wrong.

We remained in denial for several days. After all, the washing machine was less than 7 years old. If we were talking dog or cat years, that was just mid-life. Our last washer, a Kenmore top-loader from Sears, had lasted 17 years and was still creaking along without one of its setting knobs by the time we finally junked it. This LG was too young to die. Or so we hoped. Roni learned through research that it might be possible to reduce the speed of the spin cycle to save the machine from working too hard. Perhaps the drum was just out of balance and needed an adjustment. This was a project Glenn could handle. After all, he'd worked on his car, which should have been a much more daunting repair job.

Reducing the spin speed helped for a while, and we went on that way for a couple of weeks, compensating for the wetter loads by running them longer in the dryer. But eventually the washer couldn't handle even the reduced spin speed without the burning odor, and by the time we finally reached the conclusion that this wasn't going to repair itself, even running the gentle cycle with one or two articles of clothing was an exercise in futility.

* * * * *

T

HE REASON WE bought a front-loading washer/dryer set back in July 2008 was because we wanted to stack them to save space in our tiny laundry room. Not only is it where we keep the cat litter box, which was forever in the way when it came time to do the wash, but there was little clearance around the door to the garage, which discouraged us from wanting to go out there very often. Stacking the washer and dryer allowed us to free up half of the laundry room so that we weren't constantly tripping over things. It was a great idea at the time.

We have now come to realize why stacking the washer and dryer may not have been the best idea: do-it-yourself repairs are virtually impossible. Sure, we could have wrestled the stacked machines away from the wall with a little (a lot of) effort, but we still would have needed to take the dryer off the top of the stack in order to access the washer beneath it, and neither one of us wanted to or felt able to lift nearly 250 pounds. So the choice became hiring someone else to do the job, which wasn't a cheap option. Most repair places wanted to charge upwards of $150 just to inspect the machine, because it would require sending two people to make the service call. That didn't even include the cost of whatever new parts might be required. We could be looking at close to the cost of a new washing machine.

That was the direction we were leaning when Glenn stumbled across a local repair company called Mr. Appliance. It's actually a nationwide firm with locally owned franchises, and we had one located near us in Brentwood. For $69 they would come to our house and diagnose the problem, and the cost of the diagnostic could be applied toward the repair cost if we decided to use them for the job. It was worth a shot. At least we would find out what was wrong with it. Glenn booked our appointment online and we got a confirmation call the following morning for a Thursday morning appointment.

Our repairman, Scott, arrived just after 8 a.m. that day. He brought a trainee with him, so all we had to pay for was Scott's time. The appointment scheduler told us we'd only need to pay for an additional person if it came to moving the machine, and fortunately Scott didn't need to move anything to do the diagnostic. Unfortunately, what he told us was not what we were hoping to hear: the washing machine had a broken part that with labor would run us around $650 to fix. The wash tub itself — the part that does the spinning — was still under warranty from LG, but it was attached a set of bearings that had broken, and those would need to be repacked.

We actually liked working with Scott, who chatted us up for about half an hour after the diagnostic, which took less than five minutes. He didn't pressure us to do the repair, and he understood why we probably wouldn't want to. He said that if it were his machine he probably would fix it, but then it helps when you are an appliance repairman by trade and don't have to pay the labor cost and can obtain your parts wholesale. We were not so lucky. In the end, it was an easy if somewhat painful decision to buy a new machine.

* * * * *

WE LEARNED LAST September, when we had to replace our refrigerator on short notice, that making hasty decisions about a major purchase can leave you with buyer's remorse. We vowed not to do that this time around. But the prospect of having to lug clothes to the laundromat and sit around waiting for the laundry to finish was a strong motivating factor. That and the desire not to walk around in stinky unwashed clothes. Roni had done some comparison shopping online and had already narrowed our choices by the time Scott told us the bad news on our old washer. Within a couple of hours of Mr. Appliance's visit to our house, we were standing in the appliance department at Home Depot picking out our next machine.

The choice really wasn't too difficult, as we were limited to machines that could fit our minuscule laundry room. That left two models that were within our budget — both LG units. Did we trust going with the sme manufacturer whose washer had just failed us so spectacularly after less than seven years? Apparently enough that we shelled out $900 for a unit essentially identical to the one it is replacing. The key difference between the two models we considered is that one had a special steam wash setting whereas the other didn't. We would have been fine without the fancy steam feature, but that model, which was $80 cheaper, also wasn't in stock — something about how the recent port worker strike had delayed delivery on a lot of products. Since we didn't want to wait more than a month to receive a new washer, we went with the upgraded model that would only take a week to receive. The total cost included free installation and haul-away of our old machine. Good thing, because we didn't want to have to do the hauling ourselves.

* * * * *

OUR NEW WASHING machine was scheduled to arrive Friday, April 24. We were counting the hours and Roni planned to spend the weekend doing a marathon laundry session. The delivery company showed up at our door around 8:30 a.m., and the guy in charge of the two-man crew came in to assess the lay of the land. Right away there was a problem. He stared at our stacked washer and dryer and the network of water and drain hoses we had snaking over the doorway to the other side of the room and shook his head. Then he told us they couldn't install our new washer.

The reason, we were told, was that because the appliances were stacked and we were keeping the dryer, they were not allowed to touch it because it was more than five years old and out of warranty. If something happened to it in the moving process, they would be liable for the damage. Even if they were allowed to move it, they couldn't hook up the new washer to our hoses because they aren't allowed to use anything but the hoses supplied for use with the machine. Argh!

They asked us what we wanted to do, whether we wanted to have them leave the machine with us or take it back, and we decided to have them leave it inside the entryway to our living room pending our next move.

The dilemma was that we couldn't move the old washer and dryer ourselves because they are too heavy and we lack the tools to do the job. Even if we could move them out of the laundry room, how would we get the old dryer off the top of the stack so it could be installed atop the new washer? Could we reuse the existing stacking kit? Roni spoke with a manager at Home Depot, who in turn spoke with the manager atthe delivery company, and we were told that the only way they could guarantee installation of our new machine and removal of the old one was to buy a new matching dryer. We weren't in the market for a new dryer, as the existing one still worked fine. It was showing signs of age, taking a bit longer to dry a load than it used to, but it could probably serve us another five or 10 years. Or perhaps five months, who knew? We thought that maybe we could hire Mr. Appliance or a moving company to move the stacked machines for us and reinstall the dryer on the new washer. The minimum charge to hire a couple of strong men for a couple of hours (for a job that might take 30 minutes) was $253. The scary thought was that we could go through all of this and then the dryer might break down soon and then we'd be faced with having to buy a new one and go through the hassle of how to get it installed all over again. Another big expense and headache. Was it worth taking that chance?

We debated about our decision for a couple of days, and then over breakfast Sunday morning at the Black Bear diner, we decided that the best thing for us was to buy the matching dryer. So it was back to Home Depot where we shelled out another $900 for an LG dryer with a steam function (to pair with the washer with steam function that we now had sitting in our living room.) Just like before, the port strike had delayed shipment of the appliance, and we could not get our new dryer installed before May 9. Another two weeks without a working washer/dryer combo. At least we were promised the installation would be free and there would be no hassle this time. We'll see. For now, we continue to recycle our dirty clothes and wash things by hand when we need to. We'll be down to plastic garbage bags if they don't deliver by the promised date. Check back next month to see how this story ends.

* * * * *

IT'S NOT EVERY day that someone in your family turns 100, so when it does happen you can expect a lot of hoopla. That was the case this month when Glenn's Grandmother Henry reached the century mark and was feted by a not-so-small gathering of close family at her daughter's Hayward home.

We'd known about the party plans for a long time and had looked forward to being able to participate. Grandmother's birthday is April 19, a Sunday, but it was decided to hold the celebration a day early to accommodate family members who had to travel from the L.A. area and north from Oregon and Montana. By request, she didn't want to have a large event, just close family, and she didn't want to receive presents. After all, she'd recently downsized from her New Jersey home into an apartment and didn't have lots of room for more stuff. But that didn't mean folks weren't going to try to make the day special for her.

Glenn's cousin Andy came up with the idea of planting 100 trees in Grandmother's honor, so we chipped in on a collection so he could make the purchase. Glenn's sister Jennifer worked with their mom to create a 20-minute video featuring still photos and old Super-8 film footage from years gone by, set to music. Glenn's brother Sean, being a coin collector, obtained a set of circulated 1915 coins displayed in a plastic case, which frankly looked a lot worse for wear than Grandmother herself. What special gift would we come up with fit to present to the new centenarian?

The answer presented itself quite by accident six days before the party. Glenn was listening to his collection of old music on his computer on a lazy Sunday afternoon and thought it would be fun to create a compilation of popular songs for every year from 1915 to 2015. If he could find one representative song from each year, he could make a playlist and present it to her on a flash drive. But how long would it take to find all those songs, especially ones recorded prior to the 1940s when singles existed as 78 RPM records or, in some cases, wax cylinder recordings? Fortunately we live in the age of the Internet, and many people have spent years locating the great music of the past and preserving it in the public domain. It turned out to be amazingly easy to pull up entire catalogs of popular songs from as early as 1900.

For the next day we listened to long forgotten songs — or in a few cases for us, never before heard — and selected two or three titles for each year. Then Glenn spent the week narrowing down the list to the finalists. We wanted to provide a representative sample of music spanning the past century, although we had a tough time when it came to '90s rap and the electronica that seems to dominate the present era. The final playlist was heavily dominated by standards, ballads, show tunes, soft rock and a bit of country. We titled the collection "100 for 100" to represent 100 songs for a 100th birthday. It made no difference that we actually had 102 songs — we included one for 2015 and an introductory number, Kenny Chesney's "Don't Blink" — the package achieved the desired goal, and most important, we finished it before the party.

* * * * *

THE PARTY ACTUALLY turned out to be more of a family reunion, with Grandmother the center of attention all afternoon. Ben fortunately had the day off work, so he was able to join us. There were 20 people on hand, also including Glenn's parents, brother and sister, her husband and two kids, both Glenn's uncles and aunts from Montana and now Oregon, Glenn's cousins Jeff, Andy, Matt, Matt's wife Chrissy, and Andy's son Jonah.

Considering that Grandmother hadn't wanted any presents, she got a bunch anyway. We called them "unbirthday gifts." One of the best was a T-shirt she received that read, "I intend to live forever. So far, so good." Andy of course made a big production out of the 100 trees, bringing in a representative redwood planted in a 15-gallon container and presenting Grandmother with a certificate acknowledging the gift. Grandmother, being the fairly humble person she is, a bit overwhelmed by all the attention, but she was all smiles and indulgent of the media circus that followed her from one corner of the house to the other. Angelina Jolie doesn't get this much attention from the paparazzi when she hits the red carpet.

The highlight of the afternoon was the serving of the sheet cake and its "100" candles represented as festive yellow wax numerals. Grandmother gave it everything she had to subdue their tiny flames, clasping her hands in vicory to applause as the last candle went dark. Everyone loved the video that Jennifer and our mother had worked so hard on. It was set in four parts, each covering a different phase of Grandmother's life and family.

At last it came time for folks to start heading home and the party slowly broke up. Glenn's dad accepted the task of driving Grandmother back to her apartment in Union City, and of course she got the royal sendoff. She probably would have stayed longer if not for the fact that her busy weekend of celebrity was to continue with another party Sunday at her retirement community. We figure that if she survived the weekend then she'll be with us for the next 100 years. How wonderful it is to have such a treasure in our family.

 

Glenn, Roni and Ben