The other day I opened up my basement door and yelled down to my furnace, "Everything okay down there? Can I get you anything?"
My furnace deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award given to appliances under extraordinary circumstances. He has been running without a break for weeks and weeks and I'm tempted to go on vacation so he can regain his composure.
I must confess that I've never given much thought to our furnace until this winter, when it dawned on me that he was responsible for keeping us alive.
We're the kind of couple that must experience a catastrophe before we learn prevention, so I've been having bad dreams about the furnace breaking down and a tall repairmen standing over us saying, "You never changed the filter? Not once?"
I wake up at the part where he cackles loudly and hands us a bill for $8.000.
So, the other day I asked my husband if we've done anything to maintain the furnace and his answer (just as I suspected) was "Yes, but not recently."
This isn't the winter to be testing fate, not when the North Pole has moved south and even people in Georgia are making skating rinks in their backyards.
So, I did a little research and decided to take matters into my own hands.
"Dirt is the enemy of your furnace," my instruction manual says. "Take out the filter and hold it up to the light."
And so I do.
"Is it clogged?" the manual asks.
Yes, it most certainly is.
"You should be changing it once a month during times of continual use."
I lament all the things I should be doing every month and never do and I add it to that list of things to feel bad about.
I get a little lost when I'm instructed to clean the blower assembly and belts, and then the pulleys to the blower and the motor housing. In fact, I might as well be trying to fix the Hoover Dam for all I know about furnaces.
I'm going to have to call in the experts.
"Yep," the furnace repairmen explains on the phone, "there are people that actually have me maintain their furnace every fall."
I put those people in the same category as those who still have their copy of a pamphlet called "Keep Your House in Tip-Top Shape: An Incredibly Handy Home Maintenance Checklist."
The cover of this pamphlet shows a happy family from the 1950s. All five kids (plus mom and dad) are outside carrying screens and buckets, pushing lawnmowers and paintbrushes and watering flowers in the throes of domestic bliss.
It's a piece of propaganda as far I'm concerned, created to instill guilt. Whose Saturdays actually look like that in America?
The pamphlet gives a checklist for monthly home maintenance:
1) Inspect your fire extinguisher (What fire extinguisher?)
2) Clean sink disposal with vinegar ice cubes. (Seriously?)
3) Clean range hood filters. (If you've never thought of doing this, the pamphlet says, you're in for a real treat.)
4) Remove showerheads and clean sediment. (Can't wait to put this on the honey-do list.)
I want you to know that I'm taking this all to heart.
When my mother called this morning, I proudly told her I was vacuuming my refrigerator coils and that later I'd be cleaning the water inlet filters on the washing machine.
"And by the way," I said, "You're supposed to change the direction of your ceiling fans in the winter."
The only home maintenance I recall when growing up was not allowing forks to fall into the garbage disposal. My father was very adamant about that, but not much else.
But I figure it's never too late to learn.
I'm very busy this week learning how to clean my washing machine, how to sharpen scissors, and test the GFCI outlets. I can locate the shut offs for the water, gas and electric and I now know how they work.
And I'm looking forward to our spring cleanup when my husband comes up from the basement and I say, "Uh, that's my tool belt."