Thursday, October 1, 2020

Telepathic Appliances

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Do you believe that the appliances in your house can talk to each other? I am beginning to suspect that this is the case.

No, I haven’t started writing science fiction. But this is what happened at our house. A couple of weeks ago, the poor, ailing twenty-six year-old compressor in our downstairs AC unit just gave up the ghost. The house is zoned, so the two upstairs rooms, our bedroom and my office, are cooled by a smaller unit, but that meant no AC anywhere downstairs, including the kitchen. And of course this happened on a Friday night. The only good thing was that the high temps were in the upper eighties, rather than the upper nineties, and it was cooling off at night, but the humidity was swamp level. So we settled in with our mitigation strategy, opening windows at night and closing them in the morning, and absolutely NO COOKING! (Which wasn’t all that bad, at least for a week…)

The next day, our dryer went out.

And the next day, our water heater stopped heating.

And the day after that, our washing machine went crazy, repeating its rinse and spin cycle over and over and over.

By this time, I’m sure this is a plot. (Is this the universe telling me I need to write historical novels?)

So I’m taking cold baths, and I’m thinking a lot about all the modern conveniences we take so much for granted. Instant hot water. Air conditioning. Washers and dryers. When I first moved to Scotland in the seventies, my late mother-in-law expected me to help with the laundry. Being a spoiled American, I was astounded when I discovered the washing machine was a double-tub contraption that you rolled over to the sink and hooked up to the taps! 

(Not quite this ancient, but you get the idea.)
 

And that I had to hang all the laundry out on the clothesline in freezing Scottish midwinter!


(Not Scotland, but this is what it felt like.)

We had to replace our AC, there was no fixing the old thing. Rick managed (with lots of help from me!) to get our water heater and our washing machine working again. The dryer apparently healed itself.

But these temporary deprivations made me wonder what I would least want to do without. (I’m afraid to even mention refrigerators, in case ours catches the bug.) In the southern US, air conditioning is no longer a luxury—it’s a necessity. And hot water really is nice, even in the summer…

REDS and readers, what modern convenience can you not imagine living without?

And do you think your appliances communicate via a secret code?

74 comments:

  1. So far [at least as far as I know], if the appliances are talking to each other, they’re being very kind. And quiet. [Sorry to hear that yours have all decided to bite the dust at the same time.]

    As for living without modern conveniences, I believe I’d miss my stove/oven the most . . . .

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  2. In the past 12 months we replaced both A/C units, dishwasher, washer, and dryer. The first items were 20 years old. Washer and dryer were 13. Do not mention this to the rest of the appliances. Please.
    Living in the sultry South I appreciate refrigeration, whether it’s the a/c or the fridge.

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    1. Oh, Pat. Our fridge is fifteen years old, and the last couple of days it's been HUMMING. I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Especially as I've been overloading the fridge and the freezer even more than usual since the pandemic.

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  3. I do suspect that the appliances communicate, as it's rarely just one that bites the dust at a time. Although my washer and dryer are both working now, the dryer needs replacing (inside lining is peeling off, don't ask), so I already have a washer and dryer lined up for later this month to go in. Some people dream of owning a boat or a fancy car, I want a matching washer and dryer that I've personally picked out, without my husband's input. I'm getting that. We have replaced everything in this house (some more than once) over the 32 years we've lived here. When we replaced the furnace unit, the guys from the ac/heater company said they'd never seen one that old. Hahaha! We've had two a/c units, with the last one being installed three years ago. My next replacement will be our built-in stove.

    The appliance I would most miss would probably be the refrigerator, as I'm not excited about going back to the days of keeping things cold in a well (something my parents both experienced). Of course, I am rather fond of the air conditioner and heat, too.

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  4. I'd die--or be forced to move to another part of the country--if I didn't have air conditioning. I remember what it was like, growing up without it, and I've experienced more than one instance when the darn thing went out. A couple of years after I bought my house, the AC died and I had to check into a hotel overnight, just so I could sleep.

    That said, it's tough to go without a refrigerator, too. I remember one year, back when I was in college, that we were all prepped to host the family Thanksgiving when the fridge gave a little moan, on Wednesday afternoon before the day, and died. Of course nobody was available to fix it until everything reopened on Friday. Lots of coolers and bagged ice got us through that one.

    We were able to repair that fridge but, years later, when I heard the same kind of moan from the refrigerator Warren brought into the marriage, I asked the repair guy if it was fixable. "What make and model is it?" he asked.
    "I have no idea, but it's Harvest Gold."
    "Get a new one," he said, without hesitation.

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    1. Lol! No need to ask the year of manufacturing; if it's Harvest Gold or Avocado Green, it's too old!

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    2. Harvest Gold, a dead giveaway!

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    3. I think this happened 1994, so the refrigerator wasn't as ancient as it would be today. But, yup: Harvest Gold = kill it.

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  5. That's nuts, but I've heard of friends whose appliances also went on a solidarity strike.

    I don't use the dryer half the year anyway. Could easily do without that and the dishwasher, and we only use AC a few days in the summer (window units). Hot water and heat? Must-haves in New England!

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  6. I know we are supposed to talk about appliances. Deb I think your stuff got the word from my stuff, when the vacuum cleaner, dryer, one computer all died the same month my cat, car and relationship bit the dust. I call that month Bad April.
    So.. 3 years ago Hurricane Irma passed right over my house. I was without power for 5 days. I cooked on the hibachi, moved most of the perishables to someone who had power. I missed the hot water tank the most. Cold showers are not refreshing, ever. I appreciated that the water supply was not knocked out. I don't know what I would have done without a toilet. Well I know just don't want to share before our morning coffee.
    Good luck with the new and restored stuff.

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    1. Thanks for not sharing, Coralee, lol! Believe it or not, I stayed in places in England in the eighties that gave you chamber pots. Really.

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    2. "Cold showers are not refreshing," may go into my little book of wise words, Coralee. Amd, oh, my goodness! Bad April indeed!

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  7. Our fridge gave up the ghost last week. Moving everything from our freezer to a friend's was the most frantic part of the transition before the new fridge arriving -- fortunately the next day. Some things didn't survive in coolers in the garage over night, but that's small suffering. However, the whole experience made me realize how for-granted I take that big cooling machine in the kitchen!

    No A/C in this northern prairie house; however I do appreciate the hot water and heat. And, to Coralee's point, the toilet. We were without that for a whole long weekend many years ago when the bathroom was being renovated. A bucket in the garage was our stop gap. Functional if not comfortable.

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  8. Refrigerator is the first that comes to mind. During the great ice storm of 1998, I lost electricity for one month and a lot of food. The food I had bought was hard on the wallet but the food I had prepared was hard on my feelings.
    It is true that problems often come in batch and I'm not surprised that your appliances followed the trend.

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    1. Danielle, we were without power for nine days and I thought that was bad! We also lost a lot of food; I remember putting stuff from the refrigerator out on the front porch to keep it cold.

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    2. Oh wow. A whole month without a fridge, Danielle -- that's really a challenge. And I like how describe the 'hard on the wallet' losses vs. 'hard on the heart' losses. We had frozen organic apple juice from friends' trees; that was the toughest to lose.

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    3. A month, Danielle! Are you close to shops? Losing a fridge for that long in London, for instance, wouldn't be quite so bad, because you shop every day. And people's refrigerators are about a quarter of the size of American fridges.

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    4. A month would be very hard, that's going back to pioneer living!

      Danielle-momo, I understand about the heart issue. When our upright freezer door was ajar while we were out of town for a week, we came home to the loss of a wild turkey and nearly an entire deer's worth of venison, and the six gallons of wild blackberries I'd picked and processed. But the worst loss was the bags of fresh corn I'd spent hours processing: 11 dozen worth.

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  9. It's the Rule of Three. Appliances always break down in threes. Always. My Gram never had a washing machine of her own but used my aunt's who lived next door and it was a wringer type. I'm pretty sure I could still remember how to wring clothes, as I loved to watch them do it. Lots of buttons got broken if you fed the clothes through wrong. And I still remember the red lever that you could push to stop it if your hand got trapped. In the '70's she still had the big wash tub that she would haul onto the stove to wash her undies.

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  10. As a northerner, I agree with everyone who says the one non-negotiable, call the emergency technician, is the (oil fired) furnace. I can, and have, lived without almost all the major appliances at one time or another. But when it's January and the furnace goes... It's either Rick from Heating Solutions or a hotel.

    Second most irreplaceable modern technology? My laptop! I can get by with no internet if necessary, but don't make me draft manuscripts longhand!

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    1. Oh my gosh, Julia. The horror! Even a typewriter would be a huge pain. It's hard to remember the days without word processors... I always think about writers who wrote really long novels, Dickens, for instance, by hand. Even though I love pens and writing, I don't think I could do it.

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    2. And so many wrote using pen nibs that had to be dipped in ink. I shudder to think.

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    3. There was an absolutely fascinating NOVA last night on the history of writing. Anyone who has PBS might want to check it out.

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  11. Yes, I agree that things do seem to break down in unison. Fortunately we have a great appliance repair guy -- over the years, I'm sure we've put his kids through college. Our dishwasher lasted nearly 40 years... with multiple repairs. I hate throwing something away that's repairable -- adding to the world's great human-created trash heap is not the legacy to which I aspire.

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    1. I have a great appliance repair guy, too. His name is Rick!

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  12. And why do they sometimes fix themselves? Jonathan and I always say: just wait, it will work in a little while. And then it does! I kind of understand why all the lightbulbs go out at the same time, because once that happens once, it will happen every time, right? But I do have to say, I am very fond of my freezer right now. Sometimes I just pat it on the side to remind it that we appreciate it.

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    1. LOL Hank! I was lavishing praise on my fridge just the other day!

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  13. And I agree, Pat D, do not tell the rest of the appliances!

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  14. I have my own laptop that I don't have to share with anyone. I remember the years we had one desktop for 2 adults and 3 kids, "taking turns" using it. Dark Ages!

    Appliances die and frequently, replacement is cheaper than repair, which is discouraging.

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  15. Washer, dryer, dishwasher, three computers, and the handle fell off the freezer (this last may have been in part due to ice cream and a five-year-old) all this summer. Fixed the dryer, dishwasher, freezer handle and one computer myself. Washer (15 years old) was replaced. I did try to call the repair shop we always use for that (like the summer before when the washer needed a new pump), only to find out that the shop was no more--the owner said replacement parts were all made overseas, broke so frequently that it did no good to install them, and customers ended up replacing appliances. What I can't live without? A computer for sure and the washing machine. If the fridge goes out, we can still eat. If the washer is kaput, it means a laundromat--and I purely hate the time-suck that is, and wouldn't use one now anyway in the pandemic.

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  16. Too late. I just went into my bathroom, and turned on the light. Two out of the three lights zapped and burned out.

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  17. Never invoke disaster by saying "Well, at least it was in the washing machine (or whatever)." This is right up there with washing your car on a sunny day, thereby guaranteeing a downpour. LOL

    We use to go primitive camping. I really made me appreciate air conditioning, indoor plumbing, hot water, washer and dryer, etc. We don't camp any more but I'm still grateful ever day for our modern conveniences. Just think: my grandparents grew up with no electricity, outhouses, and water you had to pump and heat yourself. We are so lucky!

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    1. I often contemplate cooking over a wood-fired stove, and shudder. My hillbilly grandmother used to say,"Now we're cookin' with gas!" whenever she was talking about some major improvement in her life.

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    2. that cracks me up! Especially knowing how you feel about cooking with gas!

      Actually, we've wondered if this house originally had a wood burning stove, as there was a big open space going up to the attic that might have been a flue.

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    3. Cathy, we also primitive camped. It was an adventure that the kids loved. We do not camp any more, but I loved cooking over the open fire. Of course, it was a novelty, not a necessity.

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  18. This has made me think about what it would have been like living in our house when it was first built in 1905, here on the north Texas prairie. Our town got electricity in 1896, so it probably had electric lighting. There was one bathroom, and gas space heaters for heat. The house was built for ventilation, deep eaves, and so many windows! But the original screened sleeping porch was glassed in, probably in the fifties, when the first window unit air conditioners became common. But what sort of fridge might it have had in 1905? No well, no basement, so it would have been really difficult to keep things cool in the summer, although it was a lot cooler then than now.

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    1. My grandparents in Texas had no electricity for a long time. Their fridge was an ice box. Mom referred to our fridge as an ice box for years!

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  19. Because we still had electricity when our water heater was out, I was heating water in the electric kettle I keep in my office, just to top up the cold water in the bath enough to make it tepid. I felt quite the pioneer!

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  20. I moved into this brand new house with brand new appliances 11 years ago. I expect when one goes they will all go! Last year it was my kitchen faucet which wasn't too ban an ordeal. One year the boiler stopped working but it was July so I could and did live without hot water for 2 weeks. Fortunately where I live I am surrounded by trees and it is very private. I hooked up 2 hoses, laid them in the sun and had how water for a "shower." I couldn't wash my hair that way so I had to go elsewhere for a real shower. I called my dishwasher company and asked if I could run the machine with cold water. A nice young lady told me no. It was my understanding that the dishwasher also heats the water so why couldn't I use just cold? When I explained the problem the young lady said she'd probably do the same thing. I usually use cold water to do laundry so I really wasn't that bad off. Much different story if it happened in January.
    My son has sulfur water and so his refrigerator and washing machine have a very short life. He has learned to buy used and cheap and he's happy if he gets a few years out of them.
    I think I would be most unhappy to go for any length of time without electricity. Since I have a well and the pump uses electricity, no power means no water, no flushing!

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    1. Judi, how clever of you, to heat the water in the hose in the sun! Brilliant idea.

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    2. Judy, you were very clever with your hoses!

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  21. The best part of this story (other than the big ouch of the expense) is that our house is now blissfully cool, although we haven't has to test the new AC system with 100 degrees plus yet. For years I haven't used my oven in the summer, because it made the kitchen too hot, and now I feel so liberated. I can cook anything whenever I want! We will see if the new furnace is better, too, when it gets cold enough to try it out.

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  22. Appliances really do tend to be susceptible to contagion. One comes down with something and the next thing you know you're spending all your time (and money) at Appliances-R-Us.

    Life would be difficult indeed without heat and hot water here in Maine, and I agree about the essential nature of a computer for writing.

    Knock wood, but our appliances have been healthy and well-behaved this year. However, the electronic igniter in the gas grill stopped working about six weeks ago. I love this three burner grill (she's only 10 years old, which is young for a Weber) so I went on You Tube and watched a bunch of videos to determine what parts I needed and how to install them, and on sunny Saturday afternoon I did it all by myself. Now the grill once again lights at the flick of a button. Thanks for this post Debs. It offered me the opportunity to brag about this mechanical accomplishment.

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    1. Brenda, you deserve to brag! That's the sort of project my hubby would tackle, but not me. In fact, he ordered a new part for our gas fire pit, all the way from China, and it's getting cool enough here to tackle that repair.

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  23. I'm with Julia. Up here on the tundra our most important appliance is the furnace. Everything else we could do without, somehow. About 15 years ago we had a weekend in Toronto for my birthday, a December event. Friends were supposed to come in daily to feed the cats, no dogs in residence at that time. But it wasn't "convenient" for them to come daily, so they put out lots of food and water on the first visit, and that was that. When we got home on Sunday evening, the furnace wasn't on, and it hadn't been on for a couple of days. The inside temperature was well below freezing. The cats were fine, all huddled up together in their original equipment fur coats. But we had to call the furnace repairman to come out, paying weekend rates, and crank the heat back on. It took over 24 hours to get the temp back to livable. In the meantime we had a nice fire in the fireplace, pretty but didn't do a lot of good.

    We've since replaced the furnace, and with the kitchen renovation four years ago, all those appliances are relatively new. The washer is very old but keeps on keeping on. The AC is also old. However we could live without it so won't replace it until it dies. The water heater is high on the list however. In fact, I'm going to call our reliable plumber today.

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    1. If--I should say when--we have to replace our water heater, it's going to be a nightmare. It was built into the front attic when we did our upstairs renovations twelve or thirteen years ago, and there is no way to get it out without major deconstruction. Something our contractor might have thought about...

      Ann, I'll bet you never asked those friends to cat sit again.

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    2. "Friends" should have been in quotes, Ann!

      A solid reason to have a fireplace.

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  24. I am not even going to choose because I suspect our appliances are all listening. But it was very bad when mice ate through our wires and water going to the fridge. Many repairs later plus redoing the wood floor that only last year been refurbished. It was a nightmare!

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  25. How did my Saturn get your memo? On the way to the Audiologist this morning both the transmission light and the oil light came on. Jinxed indeed.

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  26. Oh, Debs, I can't imagine such a nightmare. Glad you are all back and up to speed again. I hope your new HVAC system stays as great as it is now.

    Being in a new house with all new appliances is such a load off my mind. I had no idea how worried I always was about keeping everything patched enough to stay running in the old, old house. And this house also has no roof leaks that mysteriously can never be fixed, no cranky cavitette motor, and no ground water that comes in with every torrential rain. I still tense up when I hear rain beating down, but then remember and relax. So funny.

    Like Kathy Reel, I was lucky enough to have had both washer and dryer conk out at the same time several years ago. Lucky, especially, since it was the end of the year inventory sale time, so my very first matching pair were also on discount. A happy ending for all.

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    1. Oh, and thank goodness we no longer have wringer washers. I can still remember the hot smell of the Fels Naptha my mother used every Saturday (she worked full-time) when she pulled the washer over to the sink. It was a hot, physically difficult job, especially for a family of five at the time.

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    2. I can imagine. I tried to find a photo of my Scottish mother-in-law's double tub washer that you pulled over to the sink. But what I remember most was hanging those clothes out in freezing wind--and taking them down, frozen.

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    3. As kids we used to smack the frozen sheets on the line so we could taken them down and fold them. As kids, it was fun, as an adult, I wonder if they were ever really dry given how frozen they were.

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    4. Upstate New York? About the same climate as Edinburgh...

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  27. When I first moved to Alabama, I lived in a very small upstairs condo. Windows on only one side, so no cross breezes possible. For about 4 or 5 years in a row, the A/C quit either the night before or the day of 4th of July holiday! Lower Alabama with high high high humidity and no cool air is hell.

    After 4 days of no power following the recent Hurricane Sally - no air, lights, refrigeration or hot water - I have to say that lack of refrigeration/freezer was the hardest to live without. It was hot, of course, but a cold drink would have gone a long way to making it more tolerable!

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    1. Oh, Mary, that's awful! And I agree on the refrigeration. Even with our AC out for nearly a week, we had ice and cold drinks!

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  28. Feminine products first. What did our grandmothers, in my case even my mother, use for those days? Now we can talk appliances.

    Don't need a dishwasher, I am a better dish washer than that appliance. Clothes washer is very desirable, I didn't have one in Israel and washed my clothes in the bathtub. Very tough on the back.

    I actually adore the disposal, (although that may sound very spoiled), my kitchen range and of course the refrigerator are important. But here's my home's special power, when we loose electricity, and we've lost it for up to 8 days, we still have heat, hot water and a cooking stove and a gas grill. Everything is gas and none of those things is digital!! When the electric pump doesn't work, we just go to the basement, unscrew the valve and the heated water rises through the radiators/baseboards until the house is toasty. Then we go down and shut the valve until we are cold again and open it up. We have a new hot water heater, the old one was 20 years old or more, so we don't know if there will be hot water during a electrical outage, but we will have heat. I will not change our heating mechanism for all the tea in China.

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    1. Feminine products, yikes. It is interesting though, to research what women used over the years.

      I could do without a dishwasher, although we replaced our a year or two ago and I LOVE the new one. We don't really use our disposal, as we've had problems over the years with disposal waste clogging up the long plumbing run that goes all the way from our sink to the other side of the house. We have gas heat, too, Judy, but it's forced air, not radiators, so the fans and thermostats are electric. Boo. We can use the gas burners on our stove if the power goes out, I think.

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  29. I am 100% certain that they communicate, and not in a good way!

    As a child, I spent a lot of time at my great-grandparents farm in upstate New York. They both lived into their 100s and worked the farm for all but the last year of their lives. When my great-grandparents sold it, the historic society bought it to use as an example of farm life at the turn of the century. Having lived the life, I can say indoor plumbing is my necessity, especially in a cold climate, all the rest, well, I can cope. My first house in Florida was built pre-a/c. The owner later added a central unit but I rarely used it. The house was built to ventilate itself and it was an excellent option. I was grateful though that I did not ever have to replace the 32 jalousie windows.

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    1. Wow, Kait. 32 windows. Our house has 34. It was built for ventilation, too, but the windows are so old and fragile now that we have most of them sealed. We bought this house in 1995 from a contractor who had flipped it. It had been vacant for a couple of years, and before that had the same owners from maybe the 3os. Nothing had ever been updated and it did not have central air.

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    2. I was surprised when I first lived in the UK, how many houses still had "the necessary" at the bottom of the garden. This was in the late 70s/early 80s. It's only in last couple of decades that British plumbing has started to catch up to American plumbing, but they still don't use mixer taps in bathrooms.

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  30. Now that you've cracked their secret code, you can rule the world. :)

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  31. Deborah, sorry I am late to the party again! And your story about Scotland reminded me of my first trip to Scotland. We travelled to England and Scotland. I decided to bring clothes that were easy to hand wash and drip dry. They dried quickly! There used to be a local clothes shop that sold these clothes. That lovely shop shuttered its doors shortly after we returned from Scotland. We decided not to bother trying to find a washing machine or a dryer.

    When I ventured on my first trip to Europe, I went with a tour group from America. Most of the people in our tour group brought clothes, thinking they would find a washing machine and dryer. To their shock, nothing was available! I had underwear that was easily hand washed and quick to dry. I bought them at Travel Smith, a local travel clothing company that is based in California. About 10 ? miles from Book Passage bookstore.

    Speaking of modern conveniences, I have learned how to manage when we had power blackouts.

    We do not have any appliances that "talks".

    Diana

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  32. Wow, this is a hard one. My mom's cottage in Nova Scotia when she first bought it in '86 did not have electricity or plumbing. We had an outhouse, we cooked on a grill, and we got our drinking and cooking water in huge 5 gallon jugs from town, we bathed in the icy cold stream that runs along the side of the house. By 1989, my mom had plumbing, electricity and a telephone installed. I am much happier with a full kitchen and bathroom, but I do have fond of the outhouse/candlelight days. If I had to choose a convenience I didn't want to live without, it would be plumbing. 100%

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  33. Debs,

    Jenn reminded me in her comment that plumbing is the one convenience that I could Not live without.

    Diana

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  34. I have had this same thing happen, and oddly enough it always seems to come in threes. I’m convinced it’s a way of orchestrating a day odd or the need for a break by my much overworked appliances. As for which appliance I can’t live without, that would be my coffeemaker, and I fear as I write this it might be listening.

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