Eco-Saturday: Clean your dryer vent

Here’s an easy project that will make your dryer run more efficiently and reduce the risk of house fires: Clean out your dryer-vent hose.

I bought a fancy $40 kit at the hardware store that was supposed to attach to my cordless drill and work in tandem with a Shop-Vac to clean all the lint out of my dryer vent. In theory, it should have worked beautifully. In reality, it was a pain to assemble, the directions were unnecessarily complicated, and the part that was supposed to fit into the chuck on my drill just freewheeled instead of turning with the drill because it was round instead of hexagonal. Poop. 😦

The good news is that the brush and flexible wand extensions that attached to it worked just fine for hand-cleaning the hose. Mine is the crinkly foil kind that accordion-folds, so this is how I cleaned it:

1. Connected the flexible wand extensions to the brush attachment.
2. Unplugged the dryer. (If you have a gas dryer, you’ll need to shut off the gas and disconnect the line as well. Be sure to seal it properly when you reconnect it.)
3. Disconnected the vent hose from the dryer.
4. Moved the vent hose to a spot where I could straighten it out as much as possible.
5. Grabbed the cleaning wand close to the brush and moved it around inside the vent, sticking my arm as far into the vent as I could, scrunching up the hose as I moved forward.
6. Whenever I came to a clump of lint, I grabbed it and pulled it out with my hand.
7. When I got all the way to the end, I slowly pulled the brush out, twisting it around to rake out any smaller bits of lint that were caught in the folds of the hose.
8. With the hose extended, I ran the brush back in and out a couple more times just to be sure I’d gotten everything.
9. Pulled out the lint filter on the dryer itself and used a longer brush attachment that came with the kit to clean out the inside of the dryer.
10. Reconnected the dryer.
11. Turned on the dryer, went outside to make sure it was venting properly, and let it run a few minutes to blow out any loose lint and dust. (If you have an exterior screen on your vent, you may need to pull it off and clean it out after this step.)

This is all the lint I removed:

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I haven’t run the dryer since I cleaned it, but a guy over on Treehugger discovered a load that normally took 90 minutes to dry took 25 minutes after he cleaned his filter. That’s a substantial improvement.

I was disappointed the cleaning kit didn’t work with my drill, but I didn’t really mind doing it by hand, and I imagine I’ll get my money back in improved efficiency and correspondingly lower power bills.

Emily

Loss

One day about 14 years ago, the then-president of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association asked me to interview a fellow Route 66 enthusiast who had just moved from Darien, Connecticut, to Afton, Oklahoma, to restore an old D-X gas station and turn it into a sort of mini-museum and Route 66 visitors’ center.

During the interview, the station owner mentioned she’d procured the old condom machine that used to hang in the restroom at the late, great Buffalo Ranch in Afton, and she was contemplating whether to install it in the restroom at her gas-station-turned-Packard-and-postcard-museum.

I laughed, because at the time, I was in the middle of redecorating my bathroom in a gas-station theme, and among the many decorations I’d hung on the wall was a glow-in-the-dark-condom dispenser.

She was delighted and asked what else I’d put in there. I mentioned the dashboard-hula-girl shower curtain and the Texaco “Registered Rest Room” sign and told her I was planning to order a set of pink plastic Cadillac fins from Archie McPhee to install on the toilet tank.

“Oh, don’t buy those yet,” she said. “I think I’ve got a spare set in one of these boxes I haven’t unpacked yet.”

A spare set.

Not just a set. A SPARE set.

In that moment, I knew Laurel Kane and I would be friends forever.

Over the years, Laurel and I bonded over our shared fondness for good margaritas, bad kitsch and outrageously inappropriate jokes. Every time we got together, we found another strange little quirk we had in common.

We both loved sushi, papasan chairs, and mild spring evenings spent sitting on wide front porches with cold drinks in hand. She lived in a cute Craftsman bungalow in a quiet neighborhood a block off a busy street in Tulsa; when we left Tulsa, I wound up living in a cute Craftsman bungalow in a quiet neighborhood a block off a busy street in Cape. This house felt safe and familiar the minute I walked in — perhaps because, at some subconscious level, the wide front porch and hardwood floors reminded me of Laurel’s house.

Laurel and I have both been known to decorate with tumbleweeds collected from barbed-wire fences somewhere on Route 66. We’ve both tried our hand at vermicomposting and fungiculture at various points in our lives. We were both raised by Christian Scientists. And Laurel held the distinction of being one of the only three people Scout ever befriended at first sight.

We got word yesterday that Laurel had died a few hours earlier as the result of a fall. When Ron texted to tell me, the first thing that popped in my mind was an exuberant rat terrier barreling toward a golden gate, stubby tail wagging furiously, warbling an excited greeting to her old friend.

That thought has stuck with me all day.

I miss you already, Laurel. Save me a margarita, and don’t let Scout eat all the eel rolls before I catch up.

Love,
Emily

P.S.: The picture above was shot at Afton Station during the 2003 Hampton Inns Save-A-Landmark Caravan. The penguin is Tripper, a Route 66-themed entry in the Penguins on Parade fundraiser for the Tulsa Zoo, which Laurel ended up buying to use as a sort of mascot for Afton Station. Tripper is flanked by Laurel on the left and our friend Guy Randall on the right.

Decorating with a memory

I spent most of my childhood looking at the gorgeous George Nelson Fan clock you see above. It hung in the children’s room at the Herrin City Library, where I spent a lot of time monitoring it to see how many minutes I had left to browse before I had to check out the books I wanted to read and run home.

The library expanded and redecorated several years ago. At some point recently, Mom either bought or was given this clock (I’m not sure of the details). Dad replaced the power cord in it, and Mom and Dad gave it to me. I picked it up last weekend, came straight home and happily took a hole saw to my freshly painted bedroom wall so I could run the cord between the studs and allow the clock to hang flush with the wall like it should.

It makes me happy every time I look up and see this piece of my childhood hanging on my bedroom wall. The library is the entire reason for my immense fondness for mid-century furniture. Like many public spaces of its era, it was decorated entirely with designs by Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and their contemporaries. Mid-century furniture makes me feel safe and happy, the way I did when I was a little kid curled up on an Eames couch at the library with a book in my lap, and my biggest concern was keeping an eye on that Nelson clock so I wouldn’t get home late and be in trouble for making Mom worry.

When I build that tiny house in a few years, you can bet most of the furniture is going to be mid-century.

Emily

Wintry feeling

We got a drizzle of freezing rain and a couple of inches of snow last night, but today is sunny, and the mess is melting off pretty nicely. Hopefully it will be pleasant enough out for a run tomorrow, but just in case it isn’t, I think I’ll hit the bike in the basement for a few miles tonight after work, assuming I get out of the office in a timely fashion.

I wish I could spend the day like Walter, who is content to sit on top of my typewriter and stare out the window. I don’t know how much he can see through that bubble wrap I put on the panes to keep out the cold, but he seems to be enjoying the view. He looked so dignified, I couldn’t resist snapping a gratuitous cat picture and posting it. 🙂

Days like this make me wish I had a big sunroom with a trombe wall to take advantage of the passive-solar heat. I’d stick a treadmill out there and run away my troubles in the sunshine.

Hope you’re staying warm, wherever you are.

Emily

The advantage of cold weather

I hate winter. HATE IT. With every fiber of my being. HAAAAAAAAAAATE it. This blog pretty much owes its existence to my profound and undying hatred of cold weather and gray skies.

I can think of only three things I hate more than I hate winter: crowded gyms, flavored coffee and the designated hitter.

That first one put me in a bit of dilemma yesterday. I had a five-mile run on my agenda, and my options were: A.) run in 25-degree weather, or B.) go to the gym and dodge all the newbies who don’t understand why there are separate lanes for runners and walkers.

I decided colliding with a wrong-way walker would be more unpleasant than fighting the cold for a few miles, so I sucked it up and headed out.

HOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHMAHGAH, that first half-mile sucked. Wire-rimmed glasses, for the record, are NOT comfortable at 25 degrees with a headwind. That metal conducts the cold straight into your face everywhere it touches. Two blocks in, I gave serious thought to turning around, but I really didn’t want to go to the gym in January, so I gritted my teeth and kept going.

By the time I got to the trail, the wind had settled down, I had settled into a rhythm, and I had one of the easiest runs of my life.

I still hate winter, but it does make distance running easier, and I wouldn’t be terribly upset if I had subfreezing temperatures to run in every Saturday morning between now and, say, the end of February.

In other news, I’m not the only one training in our house. Lillian, who is completely flummoxed by the concept of a leash, had a meltdown and wriggled out of her harness last night when I tethered her to my waist to keep her from sneaking off to steal cat food or poop in the floor, so I put Scout’s old choke collar on her and marched her around the house, making her sit every few minutes. She was outraged and had several good tantrums, jumping and flailing and fighting the leash, but bacon bits eventually calmed her down, and now we have a new routine: When we’re home, Lil is tethered to one of us. She hates it, but she’ll get used to how the leash and collar work eventually, and I predict all will be well in a few days.

Emily

Lazy(ish) Saturday

I had an idea I’d run five miles this morning, but I finished painting my bedroom yesterday and then followed that up by wrangling a new shelf unit home from Kmart, assembling it and basically gutting my office closet and rearranging the entire thing, so I was pretty well tapped out by the time I woke up today. Throw in questionable dining choices yesterday (the homemade lasagna was a good idea, but the giant plate of dive-bar cheese fries was nothing but empty calories that didn’t last long enough to do me any good this morning) and the fact I’m driving to Southern Illinois this afternoon, and I decided I’d be better off refueling and rehydrating today and running tomorrow.

I will regret that decision when I wake up in the morning and my options are “run in 20-degree weather” or “risk an indoor track in January,” but nobody ever said marathoning was supposed to be easy, so I’m just going to enjoy my day today and suck it up tomorrow.

In other news, my bedroom looks awesome. For my next performance, I’ll redo the drywall joints in the office and repaint them.

Emily

Why I’m not buying a Powerball ticket

This ever-increasing Powerball jackpot has prompted a lot of conversations revolving around what people would do if they won.

I appreciate that people enjoy dreaming, and they’re willing to spend a couple of bucks on lottery tickets to fuel those dreams, but I’m not buying a ticket, because I don’t have ten-figure dreams. I don’t even have seven-figure dreams. Everything I want is either free or within reach using resources I already have.

I want another marathon. I can’t buy that. I have to earn it, and the only way to do that is to get up off my arse and train.

I want my hair to grow out and finish turning gray. I can’t buy that, either; I just have to let time do its work.

I want to get up every morning and watch the sun rise over Tucumcari Mountain. It will take money to move, but I don’t need a billion dollars; I just need to pay off my mortgage so I can afford to work for a smaller paper. A lottery jackpot would do that overnight, but I’d lose something precious in the process.

Y’all know I’m a road-trip junkie. I never fly anywhere I can drive, because I enjoy the trip itself almost as much as I enjoy the destination. In many ways, this quest to move to New Mexico is the ultimate road trip. It’s slow. It’s tiring. But it’s teaching me lessons I’d never learn otherwise, showing me things I’d never see otherwise, and introducing me to people I’d never meet otherwise.

If I had a plane ticket — or a winning Powerball ticket, as the case may be — I’d end up flying right over all the sights and lessons and experiences this journey has to offer.

A bed at the Blue Swallow is never more comfortable than when I’ve driven 14 hours to get to it. This is the magic of the road, and I trust it will hold true for my current journey: That first sunrise over Tucumcari Mountain will be that much more dazzling, that first bite of green chile stew at Watson’s that much spicier, and that first sopapilla at the Pow Wow that much sweeter for having been hard-won.

I wouldn’t trade the spoils of that journey for a billion dollars.

Emily

Exploring

I explored a new part of the trail today. Instead of running the section of the trail that goes north to the Osage Centre, I took the section that goes south to the Shawnee Park Center. A small section was flooded out near the soccer fields, but once it dries out, it will be a good route for shorter training runs, as it’s about a 3.5-mile loop from my house to the trail, around the soccer fields, and back to the house along a couple of streets.

I missed my five-mile run this weekend because the weather was terrible, and my schedule wasn’t conducive to running at the Osage Centre. I don’t feel particularly bad about it, because my long-distance running buddy — who is training on a treadmill on a submarine somewhere on the other side of the world — was on shore leave and missed two runs last week due to an erratic schedule, so I told him we’d just start over on the same schedule this week. (That might have been an inadvertent lie, though; when I’m feeling good and I have time to spare, I have a tendency to keep running beyond whatever distance I was planning that day.)

In other news, I put my bedroom back together. I still have a couple of walls to finish this weekend, but I really like the effect thus far; something about the color and the technique give the room kind of a La Posada vibe. Very soothing.

bedroompaint

I’m thinking of doing the same technique in the office, only in shades of pale green so it feels like spring.

Oh, and I had kind of a breakthrough last night: I got stuck at the office late and ended up coming home well after midnight and sitting up until 3 a.m. — something I used to do routinely — and sometime around 2:45, I started to feel as gross as I do after I’ve pulled an all-nighter. There’s a point at which my body just starts to shut down because I’m overtired, but it usually happens around 6 a.m. I thought my circadian rhythm was shifting a little bit, and that just kind of confirmed it. My natural bedtime is usually somewhere around 3 a.m., but for the past few weeks, I’ve been getting sleepy enough to go to bed before 2. That doesn’t sound like much, but for me, it’s huge. Dunno if it’ll last, but it’d be nice if it did.

Emily

Rainy-day project

I had a five-mile run scheduled for today, but the weather righteously sucks and I felt as if I might be coming down with a cold Thursday and Friday, so I spent the day indoors, sanding drywall joints and painting the bedroom instead. The run probably would have been an easier workout, to be honest, but if the weather is better tomorrow, I’ll hit the trail in the morning; if not, I’ll put in 15 miles or so on the bike.

I’m rag-painting the bedroom walls to give them a sort of parchment look and conceal the flaws in my drywall job. Here are a few photos of my work thus far. (Excuse the fuzziness of the photos; the lighting in there isn’t great, and I didn’t feel like breaking out my Canon in the middle of a home-improvement project.)

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This is the first time I’ve taped drywall joints. My work isn’t perfect, but it looks exponentially better than the globby, cracked mess it replaced, so I’m calling that a win. With the drywall repair and the paint job, the walls look much nicer. I want to paint a trompe l’oeil picture window in there at some point, but that’s a project for another week. For now, I’m content with the faux-parchment surface.

Emily

Easing back toward the veg life

As I mentioned the other day, I’m hoping to make the transition from a meat-heavy diet to a more plant-based diet this year.

My primary reason is athletic: Done right, a vegetarian diet is a near-perfect way to fuel a marathon training program. (When I say “done right,” I mean heavy on whole grains, legumes and minimally processed vegetables, not the classic “Beer and potato chips are vegan, right?” diet of my misspent youth.)

The contents of my freezer are sort of forcing me to ease into this slowly: I’ve got about five pounds of frozen chicken down there, a metric crap-ton of cheese tortellini, God alone knows how many pepperoni pizza rolls, and a pantry full of canned tuna. But Ron likes the pizza rolls better than I do, so I’m leaving those for him to make whenever the day’s menu involves something he doesn’t like, and I’m starting the transition by simply eliminating red meat from my own diet.

We made our quarterly trip up to Costco in St. Louis today in hopes of finding vegetarian convenience foods I could keep in the freezer for quick meals. They didn’t have the veggie burgers and fake corn dogs I wanted, so I wound up with a big bag of quinoa and kale divvied up into microwave-friendly steamer bags, a bag of edamame, and an eight-pack of canned organic black beans — not as much fun as corn dogs, but probably better choices for boosting endurance.

My menu for this week is split pretty neatly among vegan, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and pesco-pollo-vegetarian meals, which is the easiest way to make the shift. If you’re interested in attempting a similar diet, here’s what I’ve got planned:

SATURDAY:
Sweet potato tacos

SUNDAY:
Chicken tikka masala (chicken breasts simmered in prefabbed tikka masala sauce, served over whole-wheat couscous)

MONDAY:
Burritos (refried pinto beans, shredded cheddar, salsa in a big flour tortilla)

TUESDAY:
Lunch: Breakfast burritos (diced potatoes, scrambled eggs, green chile, shredded cheddar, salsa in a big flour tortilla)

WEDNESDAY:
Lemon-tahini pasta (this is a recipe I’m making up as I go, but it’s basically capellini tossed with tahini, lemon juice and garlic)

THURSDAY:
Beans and green chile cornbread

FRIDAY:
Vegetarian lasagna

To use up the tuna in the pantry, I’ll be making a lot of tuna salad — my version is a can of tuna mixed with 2 tbsp. each of mayo and dill relish and a couple of finely chopped celery stalks. I scored 5 lbs. of Clementines for $5.99 at Costco today, so I’ll be eating a lot of those as recovery snacks after runs. (Oranges are really high in potassium, so an orange sprinkled with chile-lime salt is a great way to replace electrolytes after a run.) I’m also a fan of nooch nachos, and the freezer is still well-stocked with ingredients for smoothies, so I see a lot of that in my future, too.

Emily