It is appliance breaking time!

In the past month:

Our brave little toaster that could (purchased probably for $10 fifteen or more years ago) no longer reliably keeps the lever down.  Sometimes it does if you hold it down long enough, but sometimes I just cannot get it to engage.  So we went on wirecutter and ordered their best rated toaster from Target ($30).

Our refrigerator fan started making chunking sounds again, which usually means it is going to need to be replaced soon.  I swore the last time this happened we would replace it and then *buy a new refrigerator*.  But it’s stopped chunking so we didn’t replace the fan.  But who knows how long that’s going to last.  (Estimated cost:  Who knows!  But probably closer to $2000… which is crazy since our first refrigerator was the cheapest full-size refrigerator at either Lowes or Home Depot almost *20* years ago… currently that’s still under $500.)

Our dishwasher has a new and different problem.  It’s definitely hitting the “planned obsolescence” stage.  This time there’s some kind of spring on the door that has failed and the door can either be all the way open or all the way shut and doesn’t gracefully move between the two states or have the ability to stay slightly open like it used to.  We have no idea how to fix this and even looking into it was pretty gross because the area where the door hinges is corroded and just plain icky.  DH is making noises like it might be time to get a Bosch, though we are definitely willing to wait until they are easily available and we don’t have to worry about people in our house.  It’s on the horizon.  (DH is also willing to put up with this for two years and just sell the house without a dishwasher.)  Somehow it is easier to replace an engine than it is a spring.  (Estimated cost for a new dishwasher ~$1000.)  Update:  After some research, it wasn’t the spring, it was the thing the spring attaches to.  Cost to replace:  $40.

Our microwave has started shutting itself off for safety reasons if we microwave too many things in a row.

It’s hard to know what annoyances we should put up with and what we should just spend the money to replace.  Replacing things also often comes with its own frustrations and annoyances since new things don’t always work and lemons are a pain in the rear to deal with.

Not an appliance:  Our fences are falling apart and last year the HOA made it clear that they’re in charge of the stone (which isn’t falling apart) and we’re in charge of the wood.  DH called 4 places and nobody returned his calls.  Then we got an email from the HOA (to everyone, not just us) saying that fence repairs needed to be made so DH was like, Help we need a fence repair place, do you have any suggestions.  So he got 3 suggestions and called the first two and they came out right away to look at the fence.  And… then they disappeared and we never got estimates.  So now we’re not sure what to do.  I mean, call that third company, but after that.  DH has already walked all over the neighborhood and gotten the names and numbers off actual fences.  He thinks they’re just busy what with Weather and almost our entire HOA fencing needing to be replaced and so on.

My spice rack

Many areas of my life are not at all organized. But I do have a bit of (undiagnosed, probably colloquial in nature rather than clinical) ocd. When the world is falling apart, I get some relief from having certain things organized. Alphabetical books in the bookcases. Pens organized by color. Clips in their appropriate bins by size. Silverware, stationary etc. separated by type and organized in appropriate places in their appropriate drawers.  When I went into work and the supply cabinet was kept stocked, I would make sure the teas were organized by type (caffeinated one shelf, greens together, etc… after one botched restocking, I explained to the student workers the system I had put in place. Luckily they like me!). Many of these things are things you can’t see and maybe it doesn’t matter that I have piles of work papers all around me optimistically organized by vintage (newest stuff on top).

One of the things that must be organized alphabetically (and that makes me yell “Who has been messing with my system?!?” when it gets out of order) is my spice rack. Back when we were living in an apartment, spices lived alphabetically on set of cheap shelves in the living room because our kitchens were tiny (or, for two years, shared). When we moved here, I decided I wanted a rack like I’d seen on the backs of doors. Our pantry has enough room that we didn’t need to put it on the back of a door– this is screwed into the wall. I picked out wire rack modules at Home Depot and DH installed them.

Here are the top few shelves (currently I don’t have any little spices sticking out on top– we used up a few of the containers we had duplicates of [like Northwoods seasoning which is my favorite replacement for spice mixes like Emeril’s, blackening, cajun, etc.] so I was able to spread things out.)  The holes in the wall above the spice rack pre-date us.  I’m not sure what the previous owners had here because whatever it was they took it with them.  (They used the walk-in pantry mostly as alcohol storage!)

Here are the bottom three shelves where we keep bagged spices, also in alphabetical order.  It’s mostly Penzey’s but they were out of ground cardamom when we needed it (cardamom is one of my favorite spices) so I got some from  (In the jarred spices we’re mostly Penzey’s but I don’t mind having different jars so long as they’re about the same shape/size and, importantly, everything is in alphabetical order.  We have mostly Penzey’s not because I need all the yellow labels matching but because they have excellent quality spices at reasonable prices.  We are not getting paid to say that and they don’t know we exist.  It’s just a wonderful company in so many ways.  Pick up some of their Northwoods seasoning, and if you like things hot, their Berebere mix. Try their mixed seasonings to make flavored roasted nuts or put them in sour cream for a fun veggie dip.  *love emoji*)

You can see each shelf is connected to the wall by brackets that came with the shelf.

Here you can see that the shelf is modular– it’s composed of multiple sets.  You can also see the envelope we use to list the spices we’re going to need to get on our next Penzey’s run in The City.  Or, since the pandemic started, our next Penzey’s order.

I know these are not very pinteresty pictures– I think I had the light off and the pantry is a bit dark and I was too lazy to play with the lighting, but you get the idea.

To forestall people who question whether we can use all these spices before they go stale:  not always, but I would rather have a spice available and stale (meaning we have to use more of it) than to not have it at all.  We do go through our regular spices pretty quickly.

And… this is not all our spices.  We have a box on the floor to the side that is just different kinds of dried chiles (also alphabetical). On the shelves to the left in between the cereal bars and the crackers I keep different kinds of seeds and fancy salts.  On the shelves to the right between the chocolate bars and candied fruit we keep extracts and waters (and would keep food coloring and cake decorations if DC2 weren’t allergic to red dye).  Cocoa powder we keep in the back shelves with the flours.  Peppercorns are shelved, oddly, in front of the chocolate bars, but I think that’s just because it’s really easy access.  But still, a place for everything and everything has its place.

How do you keep your spices?  How do you self-sooth when the world is going crazy?

Ask the grumpies: What above-range microwave/hood should we get?

Ewan asks:

Your dishwasher-slash-grossness post prompted me to ask you to ask your (apparently well-informed on appliances!) readership: recommendations for an above-range microwave/hood? Our Kitchenaid just hit the ‘too old and expensive to be worth fixing’ point after 12 years; the kitchen really needs the microwave there even though we probably wouldn’t do it if starting over. External venting. Thanks!

Oooh, I hate the above range microwave.  We had one on our last sabbatical (that was also a convection oven) and it was so annoying.  I would pay a lot of money to just get a normal hood and then put a regular microwave on the counter.  But you may not have counter space, and it may not be worth the money to counteract those crazies who thinks countertop microwaves must be hidden from view.  (You may also be tall.)

Consumer reports talks about their choices here.

Good housekeeping favors the samsung (though tbh, good housekeeping doesn’t generally agree with other rating sites).  Bob Vila also plugs a Samsung.

The Spruce likes the GE.  The Chicago Tribune agrees.  So does the NYTimes.

So… it looks like most places think you should get a GE or a Samsung.  Probably the GE.  (Disclaimer:  We are not experts!  Do your own research or consult experts before making important life-changing decisions.)

If you want to get fancy, you can get one that doubles as a convection oven, but we never did use ours more than once or twice even though we cook a lot.  Maybe if you were more into convection baking?  But it’s still such a pain to have hot stuff so far up there.  I think we’d probably use a convection oven more if it were closer to the ground.

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Ewan?

Ask the grumpies: Ideas for a pet friendly couch?

Chelsea asks:

I need a recommendation for a new couch. Right now we have a 12-year-old, tan, fabric-covered 3-cushion sleeper sofa from Ashley furniture. I would describe the style as “normal couch”. It has served us well but – after daily hard use by three children – it is pretty nasty. To the point that, despite replacing the cushions once and washing the cushion covers (and spraying them with pee-neutralizing spray) I really don’t like to sit or lay on it anymore. Even my mother, who never replaces anything until it is absolutely worn out, says “couches don’t last forever…” in reference to ours.

We are looking for something durable and reasonably priced. We don’t want a sleeper this time. We are trying to decide if the ease of care that would come with a “leather” sofa is worth the extra expense. I wish I liked the Ikea Ektorp because it seems perfect for us, but I feel like it always looks very “rumpled” in the showroom and like it might not hold up well. But I could be convinced otherwise. I do not like the “overstuffed” look but don’t care much about the styling otherwise. I would love to spend less than $1k but could do between $1k and $2k for something really great that would last.

I would love to hear readers’ suggestions for a family/pet friendly couch. Thanks!

We are not good people for this question… #1 has overstuffed black “leather” graduate school couches that have lots of scratches from cats and one of the pillows seems to have melted a little from before Nice Kitty got on Prozac (this is why I’m not sure it’s *actually* leather, especially since we were able to afford them in graduate school).  We will not be changing anything until our kids are in college.  #2 has a kind of standard wooden futon kind of thing.

So we asked a friend who is good at interior design.  Here’s what she says:

I have had an Ektorp for 15 years and I love it. Mine has held up great with 2 cats and a small dog (but no kids). With pets, I will never have a couch that is not slipcovered. The trick to not having the Ektorp look rumpled is to dry the slipcovers on low until they are just slightly damp and then immediately put them back on the couch – the end result is no wrinkles (this is NOT what Ikea recommends – they say their covers are air dry only – but the internet convinced me to try this). My slipcover is white and I use bleach on it with no issues. It has been peed on and puked on and looks (and smells) no worse for the wear. The Ektorp was recently discontinued, but was replaced by a similar-looking couch called the Uppland – I hope the slipcovers perform similarly.

I do hear leather is also good for dogs, I am just not personally into that look.
Hope that helps!  Grumpy Nation, what has been your experience with couches and animals?  What do you recommend?

Our dishwasher wasn’t working so we cleaned it out but I’m not showing any pictures because it was one of the grossest things I’d ever seen and I would like to be able to forget someday

Last time our dishwasher wasn’t working, it made crunching noises and needed the motor to be completely replaced.  The time before it was an ancient dishwasher that the previous owners had left with the house and it flooded our guest bathroom on the other side of the kitchen and the repair person said it wasn’t worth repairing, just get a new one.  So we did.

This time, the top shelf just wasn’t getting clean.  I started scouting new dishwashers and was quickly overwhelmed with the options– Do we spend $600?  $1200?  $2500? Are these smart features going to break in a way we can’t fix ourselves?  DH, decided to take it apart and see if anything was clogging it.  OMG dishwashers are DISGUSTING.  Imagine grease with foodbits in it that is dyed red by that soap loving bacteria.  Imagine a LOT of it.  Everywhere.  I took one look and left the kitchen (after telling DH he didn’t have to do it).  But DH said he’d taken it apart and was committed.  He’s a saint.  A true hero.

And he didn’t find any specific clogs, though he did find the cap to a black skinny crayola marker (how?  clothes washer I would understand, but dishwasher?).  But after cleaning apart all the pieces and putting it back together, it started cleaning the dishes on both racks.

So… we can put off buying a new dishwasher for a while yet.

When do you decide to repair vs. buy a new dishwasher?  Do you go with the newest fancy Miele or Thermador model or a workhorse?  (Ours is Kenmore, but I think the next might be a low-end Bosch like our in-laws have.)

A snapshot of DH’s unemployment chores list

  1. Get and install curtains for the office.  [Ed:  this is my requested Christmas present this year so my face isn’t half blindingly white while zooming]
      1. Rod hanging style
        1. We do not want a curtain rod that attaches inside the door frame, because that will interfere with the screen door.
        2. We could use inside mount brackets and mount the curtain to both side walls, but then there would be a long rod sticking out over the filing cabinets for no reason.
        3. We could use an inside mount bracket on the side wall by the desk, and a normal bracket (to the window’s wall) on the other side, but that’s going to look asymmetrical.
        4. I think we use a normal rod attached to the same wall as the window, and it equally extends on either side of the door frame, which will put the end next to the desk almost up against the side wall, and put about 12” of space between the edge of the window and the end of the rod on each side.  To get the bracket close to the side wall next to the desk, let’s use the blackout rods that curve back into the wall.
          1. It would also be nice to minimize the depth, so the curtain is close to the wall.
      2. “Door” width 70.5” including the molding.
        1. Add 24” -> 94.5” wide curtain.
          1. Divide by 2 panels -> 48” panel width.
        2. Add ~10” -> 80.5” rod.
      3. 4.5” from the outside edge of the molding to the nearest wall.
      4. Do we need two panels or just one?
        1. I think 2 panels would look better.  We could get a single panel 100” wide, but I think when the curtains are open they will look better framing the door.
      5. Door height: 83.25” from floor to molding.
        1. So an 84” long panel? Then we set it above the top of the door and it won’t puddle on the ground.
      6. For curtain color, I think anything light or black is too extreme. Probably best to just go with brown.
  2. Fix the broken fence board.
  3. Clean the guest bedroom. [Ed:  this used to be DH’s office]
  4. Use the copper test kit.  [Ed:  Our water was strikingly blue for a little while.  We turned the whole house filter back on.]
  5. Clean the junk on the floor in front of the printer. [I suspect he means his 3d printer which is on the floor of the guest bedroom]
  6. Get the car inspected and registered.
  7. Clean out my work desk drawer.
  8. Keep the wooden boxes currently in the garage, break them down, or get rid of them. [Ed: More work stuff]
  9. Cash bonds.  [Ed: Both of our families bought us small savings bonds that have stopped accruing interest back in the early 1980s when there was a sale]
  10. Glue “Baking with Julia”.  [Ed: Wonderful cookbook, terrible binding]
  11. Ant hill by corner.  [Ed: Red ants are evil]
  12. Fix gate.  [Ed: I’m not sure what gate he means since the one to our dogrun just sort of fell over and we removed it and it’s no longer a dog run… we now have a more open concept backyard.  Come to think of it, there’s a gate on the other side that we never use that is under a bunch of wisteria, so maybe that’s what he means.]
  13. Replace the lightbulb in the refrigerator.  [Ed: One of MANY lightbulbs that heard DH was going to have a bunch of free time and decided to die]
    1. Ordered replacement.


I have no questions.  But it is nice having a highly qualified personal assistant!

Ask the grumpies: Thanksgiving garage decorations?

kt asks:

Any decor ideas for Garage Thanksgiving?

I love this question!  We’re not really into decorating, so we won’t be doing anything… but….the idea is lovely.

Definitely cinnamon brooms.  I’d probably go for some potpourri action too, or if you have an induction stove I’d put a big pot of heavily spiced apple cider on it to add to the fall fragrance.  Things to make the garage smell less garage-like and more holiday-like.

I asked one of my friends who loves home decor.  Here’s her advice:

I’d set up a table and decorate it like an inside table.  I’d probably get old throw rugs for the ground.  I’d light candles.  Pumpkins.  Mums.

Here’s a google image search on the topic.

Here’s some suggestions for repurposing things that are already in your garage (assuming you don’t just like, keep cars in there).

Someone made a video (the end result is impressive, I think):

Grumpy Nation, I am sure most if not all of you are better at this than we are.  What suggestions do you have for decorating a garage for Thanksgiving or just keeping the air flowing while you eat with loved ones that don’t live with you?  (If we do Thanksgiving with my sister it will be on the deck or in the patio, depending on the weather.)

Adventures in Garage Door opening

Our 25 year old garage door opener remotes suddenly stopped working when trying to close the door.  They still work with garage door opening, which is good, but not closing.  Every once and a while it will allow a close, but mostly not at all.  Otherwise it works fine, and the base garage door button works to open and close all the time.

So we looked online and Google (or in DH’s case, Duck Duck Go) was like, you can do this yourself, but do you really want to?  Google said, expect to pay something like $250 for parts for a top of the line opener and $250 for labor.  More if you want to change out the springs and rollers.

So we brought someone out for an estimate.  He said $1K.  Less for a cheaper opener (so, $850 for a $150 opener).  More if we want to replace the entire system.  (He also said probably the reason we’re having the problem we’re having is someone in our neighborhood got a fancy new electronic gadget that interferes with our signals, which isn’t really fixable– you just have to replace the entire thing).

$1K is definitely over-charging.  There is another place in town with no reviews but DH decided rather than call them out, he’d just make this a fun labor day weekend bonding experience with DC1.

So he ordered a new garage door opener from Home Depot (not sponsored) and picked it up curbside.  After some contemplation he decided he wanted an opener that is quieter and opens faster even if it requires annual maintenance (I would not have made this choice– I would have gone with doesn’t require me to do anything even if it’s slow and loud).  Apparently he got a screw drive, which is the quickest of three types and quieter than the chain (the belt drive is quietist):  chain, belt drive, and screw drive.  He also says he likes screw drives because they’re used in his 3d printer and in robots and although he is not technically a mechanical engineer, he sometimes has played one professionally and in graduate school and he appreciates the technology.  Appreciating the technology drives a lot of our big purchases in Casa Grumpy.  (I would have picked the chain because we’ve got a chain and it seems pretty durable.)  Total cost:  $235.

When he started taking the old opener down, he realized that the builder made a mistake in terms of reinforcement in the middle of the garage door– they misjudged where the middle was, so the studs/joint were too far to the left.  The previous garage door installer just bolted it into the left side and left the right side completely unbolted.  So DH added another piece of wood with wood glue and a bracket (there are physics involved).  He plans to reinforce later.

There were a number of other problems.  Bolts that were put in super tight.  Wires that were too short that he had to extend (he soldered one and capped the rest).  The new opener is a different size so the brackets had to be swapped out and moved. He forgot a screw after putting it in and had to take it out and put it back in again.

All told it took about 7 hours.  DC1 helped off and on, which should be a good learning experience(?)  And now we have a working garage door opener!

DH is thinking about changing out the rollers but not the springs later.  Rollers would be like $25.  We’ll see if it happens.

The new opener is definitely faster than the old one.  DH says it isn’t as loud, but it seems plenty loud to me.

Have you ever had to replace a garage door opener?  Did you pay someone or do it yourself?

We hired a handyman

In the Before-Times, we had some rotting wood.  One of the side doors to the garage was rotting.  Our shed had seen better days.  Some of the boards in our deck needed replacing.

And also, we do not particularly enjoy painting.  We have all (minus DC2) put in time painting this deck of ours over the years and it’s just not our favorite way to spend a weekend.

One of my colleagues had mentioned that he had a handy-man he liked who would do ANYTHING, no matter how small the job.  Mostly he was always pushing doing unlicensed plumbing at less than cost.  (Looking him up online, there’s a DUI, so perhaps he was previously licensed.)  But he always did a reasonably good job (better than my colleague could do anyway) and was pretty cheap.

And so when DH complained about wood rot, I kept saying, look, there’s no need for you to do this yourself if you don’t want to.  We are rich.  Let us hire this guy my colleague recommended.

So we started with the door and he did a great job and it wasn’t too expensive.  Half up front to buy parts, half after to pay for labor.  Then he and his crew basically refaced our entire shed– they just built a shed-like structure around the original walls.  Both of these things look great to my untrained eye, and DH was also pleased.  Those two items cost $2434.50 according to my records.

Then we called them back later after it stopped raining (in the After-Times) and they replaced boards in the deck and repainted it.  That has cost $1125.75– last time we had professional painters come out to just paint it was $600, and when we did a back of the envelope including the cost of the boards, we were expecting another $600 in parts and labor for that, so this seems pretty reasonable.  DH communicated outside with him masked up but the handyman (and high school daughter and other crew person) without masks. : /  I still think this was less risky than a trip to Home Depot would have been, though maybe a bit more risky than if we’d been able to do curbside with the wood, but some of those boards were pretty long so we’d probably have had to rent a truck.  And it’s good to spread money around locally?

The wood replacing is better than DH’s attempts (though probably equally good compared with the board we replaced with DH’s dad many years back.)  The deck paint job isn’t as even as we’d like, but they also didn’t stain our walls like we do.  DH may repaint a couple of the boards where half the board seems to have more coats than the other half.  (We could call them back to fix it, but it seems unnecessary.  Plus it keeps raining.)

It is definitely nice being able to outsource jobs that you don’t want to do.

Do you have a handy-person you like to use?  What kinds of things do you outsource?

How often do you flip your bed?

We try to flip it once a month, though sometimes we don’t and we flip it when it starts getting uncomfortable.

How often do you flip yours?