By Inez Castor

All my life I've played a game in which I close my eyes and focus on how many different sounds I can hear. Last weekend, floating in the backyard on a still evening, beneath a full moon, I heard an alder leaf fall from the top of a tree.

Dry as ancient parchment, it loudly hit every leaf and twig on the way down; the only sound in stillness. It landed on a sloped tin roof and slowly bounced and slid it's way off into silence, a lonely, early winter sound.

When you live in a house for any length of time, you learn all the sounds it makes. There are sounds the plumbing makes and that lovely, spooky wail of wind between porch posts and around the corner of the house. There are squeaky boards, old wooden drawers and closet hinges.

Who's in the cookie jar?

When my children climbed on the counter to get at the cookies, I'd holler at them from several rooms away. They never understood how I knew. Thirty years ago they thought Mom had special magic that permitted her to know things from a distance. I encouraged that belief and milked it as long as I could. Now Shannan has her own cookie shelf, protected by a door that squeaks, and she understands.

But these days, House is making new sounds, and I try to track down a new noise and figure out what's causing it before it becomes a problem.

Some noises are horrifying, and thankfully have nothing to do with House. Last week I was wakened by a huge explosion and the room was full of the terrifying reflection of fire. Talk about an adrenalin rush! Fortunately, the occupants got out before their motor home exploded.

Better than no noise at all

The sounds that are beginning to concern me aren't quite so dramatic. The refrigerator has always made funny noises, but now it has added to its repertoire. Since it's 20 years old, that's not a good sign.

The water heater, a mere youth of 30, has begun to make a throat-clearing sound, as if preparing to speak. And then this morning, while I was warming Smoky's breakfast, the microwave whined. I gave it a sleepy slap, and the sound stopped.

Among the many things I'm thankful for in this season of gratitude is that all my bills are paid. It's now time to start a new savings fund, earmarked for the replacement of appliances that quit making any noise at all. If there's anything worse than a noisy refrigerator, it's a silent refrigerator.

I'm blessed that many of the big, expensive necessities of life are making all the proper sounds. Lily the Kia, Polly Pellet Stove and Rubber Tubby are all purring along, as is the huge cat that manages to occupy most of a double bed.

This is that quiet, peaceful week before the insanity of December, which brings Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the New Year bacchanal.

I'm counting on all my appliances to keep plugging along and bring me safely to 2008, with cold soymilk and hot water.

Reach Inez Castor, a long-time Triplicate columnist, at