We tried sun-dried

But there are limits to laundry, we found.

Only after the straight-talking Maytag repairman handed me the bill and waved goodbye – for the third time in six months – did I finally acknowledge the painful truth: Our 20-year-old clothes dryer was irrevocably busted.

I turned to my husband. "He says we're throwing good money after bad," I sighed. "I think he's right."

"I'm going to miss that guy," said my spouse, the joker. "When do you want to go shopping for a new one?"

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"Let me think about it."

I glanced out the window, appreciating the sunlight dancing on the big-leaf maples in our backyard. Perfect drying weather. Suddenly, I recalled my mother hanging laundry on the patio clothesline during my Santa Monica, Calif., childhood. My giggling sister and I had played hide-and-seek among the sweet-smelling sheets flapping in the wind.

I had a plan.

"You know, we have all the elements of a dryer right in the backyard: plenty of warmth; clean, fresh air; and lots of branches to hang clothes on," I said.

"And it would help with the skyrocketing electric bill," noted the pragmatist in our family. "You're onto something."

And so it began: After the wash cycle, we festooned the maples with damp bluejeans, shirts, socks, and towels. The only things that didn't go outside were feminine unmentionables. And I persuaded my shameless husband to let his big boxer shorts stay indoors, too.

There is a secret pleasure in hanging laundry outdoors. It is the perfect excuse to get up from the computer. While checking on the laundry in the backyard, I could commune not only with cotton T-shirts, but also my cats nestled in deck chairs, licking their sun-warmed fur. I could watch cautious does amble through the yard with their fawns, listen to fretting squirrels in trees, observe a family of wild turkeys by the road. I'd return to my desk refreshed.

And, except for the sandpaper texture of sun-dried bath towels, the drying method was a complete success. But as autumn emerged, I'd scan the horizon to evaluate the day's drying potential. One morning I saw rain clouds ready to burst. I had a load of wet clothes in my arms and no place to put them.

I corralled my husband. Together we hung laundry throughout the house.

Then my husband gave me a hug and a smile. "I think it's time to buy a dryer," he said. "Like today."

"Good idea," I said, just as the infamous Oregon rain started in earnest.

Our home-based sun-dried laundry venture was closed for the season.


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