Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Blog of 2007: The “Situation”

Warning: A Semi-Graphic description - those with good visual imaginations, continue at your own risk.

My only toilet just cracked; the whole bottom split across -- and it leaked…um… okay, I think I need to think about how best to describe this… If I was a talking-head news program, I would simply create a phraseology to convey the information without in any way naming names or making clear statements. So, if you will let me re-phrase my situation: if, as many of you agree, the past and current state of intelligence concerning Iraq is simply sh*t, we can use that as a likely euphemism. And, if you can picture our leading poster boy of Blockage, both in the heart-valve area and in general terms of cooperation and transparency -- Mr. “I’m right and you’re wrong” Cheney -- that can be our second needed euphemism. Most of the other re-phrasing should be self-evident. So, as I was saying, once the containment system cracked, the entire Iraqi intelligence spilled out and an emergency mop-up plan was needed.

The most salient fact in this case is that once the traditional confinement system fails, it’s amazing how difficult it is to deal with Iraq intelligence! There’s simply too much of it and it causes great mess, not to mention leaving an olfactory memento. But the immediate response was good - Iraq intelligence was Cheney’d from doing any serious damage, and then the next phase began.

The containment system had to be totally revamped -- the leakages were permanent… but of course, old systems don’t accept removal easily -- this one had rusted in place, and the nuts holding it together had become rigid… as nuts generally do, sooner or later. As quickly as I could, I sub-contracted out the new Iraq intelligence containment system project, and then there was nothing much to do but wait.

But meanwhile, I was without a containment structure, and since I didn’t want Iraq intelligence to flow just anywhere, I had to find temporary containment. And wouldn’t you know that Iraq intelligence would simply push to be exposed just when one wants it to subside?? A temporary “circular file” system was set up, far enough away from everyday matters that it would not contaminate ongoing activities with the stink of waste and corruption. But after most of a day, I was desperate not to create any more Iraqi intelligence, as the circular file system was getting full and would be trouble to handle later!

Okay, I won’t prolong this. In emergency session that evening, a new containment system was jury-rigged in place. I say that because the structure on which it sits was unstable, and there is 90% chance that I will once again have to re-do the Iraqi intelligence containment system in the near future. Containment systems just ain’t what they used to be, folks.

Afterwards, in order to put the situation behind me, I also needed to deal with the built-up Iraqi intelligence. My dilemma was: too much Iraq intelligence all at once, combining with the mop-up “paperwork“, could create a Cheney down the drain, and perhaps begin another crisis. I handled the situation with kid gloves -- well, at least -- with gloves. Frustratingly, the last of the Iraq intelligence refused to be flushed, despite being very much watered down -- where are the hazmat crews when you really need them? But it’s done, and life is back to “normal”. Eventually everything involved will have to be totally sanitized, don’t you agree? A sanitized end to a messy situation.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Who's Siding are They On?

Update on the ants: I discovered that the exterminator -- either in an excess of enthusiasm, or because the problem seemed so extreme, or because he noticed other large holes in my siding -- started drilling random holes in the siding! Instead of being under the lip where it would not be visible and probably not attract water, these holes were smack in the middle of a board, and veered all over the place! My house looks like it has woodpeckers! And of course, in the rainy season, those holes are gonna let rain in… I doubt if they make corks that small, so I went around with woodglue and tried to at least waterproof the siding. And of course, realized that probably was silly as long as the other, larger holes, cracks and gaps are there, so then I went back with the foam insulation.

I don’t know if you’ve worked with foam insulation -- it’s like toxic silly string, and doesn’t come off of anything. The side of the can says that “uncured” foam can be removed from non-porous surfaces with acetone, but that’s it. Forget it if you dribble on clothes, hands shoes, grass… they state that it has to wear off your skin! And just like Super glue, as soon as you start to squirt it out, it just keeps oozing -- forget trying to patch a small gap or hole - you’d better have an 18” cavity to fill! I had tried this stuff several times, luckily never video’d or I’d have made YouTube. This is pure Lucille Ball material. This time, I decided that 1) it was gonna be a one-time, disposable situation ($5 for a can that can’t be used more than once, due to the foam hardening in the applicator straw) 2) I would sacrifice a pair of gloves and my worst work jacket and 3) I could always cut the grass after it hardened. That helped some, but I still ended up squirting too much into the gap, thereby having bright yellow “snot” hanging off the house. I also tried to catch the strings of goop that kept oozing from the applicator, by holding the can’s cap under them - I ended up with about 5 inches of foam piled in the cap -- more than ended up on the house! But I did manage to keep from getting on my skin, tho the gloves were caked. And getting the can and the pile ‘o foam into a garbage bag without touching anything, while still wearing the gloves now stiff with the dried foam -- that is Advanced Foam Insulation, and maybe I’ll get that right next time.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

cAnt Escape 'Em

The saga started slowly:

"I just spent 40 minutes watching an ant. No, this does not represent the entertainment limits of country living. I have large ants parading across the room like they’d heard the siren call of “Happy Hour” somewhere under the couch… and after Googling them, I discover that 1) carpenter ants are the kind of guests that rank up there with impecunious college professors (they burrow in, make themselves at home, and never leave if they can help it), and 2) in order to get rid of them effectively, one must find the main nest. This is where the satiated ants wobble back to, probably at 2am which is why I can’t locate the central point. When I start to track them, standing over one like Goliath while he was considering stomping David, they wander around like me in a large mall without a shopping list. Veering this way and that, pulled by unknown sales or tidbits, they tease me by veering close to a wall (is this the Exit?) but then re-covering their old path, like they’d left a glove somewhere. After 40 minutes, I generally reach the end of my patience and stomp it… any ant that is that lost probably would have died of exhaustion before reaching the nest anyway. And then I start all over again with the next ant, which is usually already weaving and dodging across another room’s floor."

However, it got really hairy when I was sitting at the desk, answering email; I’d glance down, and in the middle of the floor, where there were no ants a moment ago, I’d find two! Now, either they had a antian Transporter hooked up, or they used a “Ricochet Rabbit” speed and a “for show” speed, or they were dropping from the sky. And the scary part was: they were dropping from the sky! Not sure what made me look up, but dang if those ants weren’t hobbling between the grooves of the beadboard, and then -- in a moment of distraction, plummeting to the floor! This suggests penthouse accomodations, ie: my attic. So I wasted no time in getting the exterminators out. Finesse be damned -- we need the Marines!

The guy showed up on time and nodded thoughtfully as I described the various places I had seen them. He pointed out some of the rotted trim boards that would attract them; I told him they were on my list to replace (I didn’t mention how long my list was, but I think he suspected -- he gave me the card of a carpenter friend of his). Then he described the procedure -- drill into the siding just under the lip of the clapboard and puff a borax-like substance into the open spaces, to cover all the entrances and exits. His description of the ants going out for a bit to eat in the evening coincided with what I’d read, so I let him get about it. Didn’t take him long and he said that I’d see more of them for a while, but then much less of them.

He was right - that evening I witnessed “Kraatoa East of Anthill” or “The Last Days of Pompeiiant” -- there were ants of all sizes, winged and not winged, racing or wobbling across the floor. Many were obviously on their last breaths -- I felt like a monster. Some “B” movie producer was missing a great opporuunity for special effects filming (“The Ants that Ate Mudville“). But this ant motel had just gone out of business, taken down its shingle and closed the door. I closed my heart to the unfortunate critters and swept the floors several times a day for the first week. They have now gotten the message (and/or I will open up a wall someday and be inundated with dead ant bodies)… life is now quiet again. I haven’t had the courage to peek into the attics, though.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

To Fix or Not to Fix

More disconnected snippets from an overworked brain:

My genius lies with destruction, unfortunately. It is a forgone conclusion that if I investigate why something is slightly askew, it will soon be completely askew, if it is even still recognizable. The backsplash on the kitchen sink is a good example… tear it off, decide I want tiles, realize I don’t have tiles, or even a plan for which I want! And suddenly a longterm decision becomes an emergency one. Fortunately, I managed to get to a tile outlet on my monthly trip back to the city… unfortunately, I can’t measure and am woefully short of tiles. Now I have several jars sitting hard against the backsplash, trying to wedge it in place rather than glue it and then tear it off a week later (which of course is homeowner slang for “next decade”).

Having my own home allows me to have more greenery -- but, sucker that I am, on my first attempt, I adopted two forlorn houseplants from Thriftway. How cruel of them to post a sign: “Help! We want to Live! Take us home!” and offer them at half price… I can never callously allow a plant to die… I am now auntie to an ornamental pepper and some tropical with corrugated leaves -- and my houseplant books are buried at least four boxes deep…

My hands look like I’ve been trying to grate them… but only one wound was the grater - the others were the broken toilet, the large hunks of wood I wrestle into the woodstove, the staples I’m trying to pull from the wood floors… I need tiny knuckle-pads like they have knee pads… I’ve tried using gloves but I’m enough of a klutz without them, and besides, the spears that emerge from these behemoth chunks of wood just laugh at my garden gloves. “Splinters” doesn’t even begin to cover it. These are toothpicks for Godzilla.

Despite my best efforts to slow down and plan rationally, my “I Love Lucy” imitations occur daily, especially in the cleaning department. Can’t tell if I used to be a vaudeville comic in a previous life, or if there’s a short-circuit between brain and limbs. Or possibly the Dual Processor gives out after age fifty. Anyway, a week before the move, after having torn up all the rugs (I’d made an honest effort to vacuum, but when you fill a bag on one 8x10 rug and it’s still dusty… time to rip up!!), I found oak floors that had obviously been lived on pre-rug -- by someone who believed that paint-can circles make a stylish statement on oak. Okay, I decided, I have three days to do something about that before the heavy furniture comes in… I remember about Murphy’s Oil soap, though I’m not sure it’s meant for semi-polished floors (if by “polished“ you mean covered by congealed resinous goop). I decide to try it… first one corner of the office floor, just so I can see what the difference is when dry -- none, though I know I’m removing dirt because the water instantaneously turns the color of slate. I then proceed to a portion of living room floor where the couch will be. I’m preparing the sections of floor in each room that will be covered by furniture, because I haven’t the strength or back-flex to do all of them in three days. I figure the rest of the flooring will be a winter project.

Within two shakes of the mop, I’ve knocked the whole bucket of water across the floor! I barely have time for the signature “Waaah!!”… it’s heading toward the Sunday papers I just bought (quick! Are they water-soppers or news?), and (of course) heading straight for the unfinished wood bathroom cabinet that I’m also trying to assemble on the living room floor -- like a mini tsunami, the water gushes toward disaster -- I shriek, grab up the papers (save the comics!!) and run for the bathroom towels! I only have one of each, bath and hand, and they are dropped down and swabbed around on a floor that resembles a NYC subway station floor! Now, any sensible person would have immediately reclassified them as “rags”, but I - quickly thinking, “I have my work clothes in the wash”, run and drop them in too… (fortunately the work clothes look like rags in any case). Anyway, I’m grabbing stuff out of the way, cursing and mopping… and grateful that the very hot woodstove may quickly dry up the mistake… and if it leaves a stain the size of Lake Erie, it will be one of a dozen on the floor… we’ll find out if Murphy’s oil soap is a preservative…

I finally got the bathroom cabinet up and into the bathroom -- by ignoring two screws that refused to go in, even when I drilled a small hole, and the slight gap between parts caused by a single person’s inability to hold together two large planks of wood. Due to the fact that the room itself is crooked, and especially the toilet is cockeyed from the wall, the little cabinet looks skewed… and it is leaning away from the wall dangerously… but if I bolt it to the wall, can I unbolt it when I want to paint the wall?? For about a day, I had it wedged upright by pieces of cardboard and by the Kleenex box… finally had to decide to bolt it in or risk being crushed as I sat on the toilet -- not the epitaph I want for the headstone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Short Takes from a Short-Circuited Brain

Because my brain is short-circuiting, due to all the calories going to long-overused muscles, this entry is in the nature of snippets…

I have stepped back in time, in a wonderful way -- the local library is still using the card-punching process; I haven’t seen that since I was a page at the Westfield NJ library in the 70’s! My job was to pre-datestamp the cards to slip into the books: the cards had large numbers 1-4, which if I remember meant the number of weeks they were checked out for… no receipts, no online tallies… I’m going from a system where they send automatic email warning me when the books and DVDs will be due, to a place that I have to look at each individual book! And they don’t even trust me with the card! Apparently they just keep my number, and I give them my name every time I walk up… that’s a small clientele!

I have so far been unable to unscrew the tub drain that has a chip in it, so I finally got desperate and used some of my modelling clay to fill the gap… should hold until I get the contractor in (he came the first week, but since he has other pending clients, it‘s scheduled for after Christmas)… I went ahead and got the exterminators to spray -- if the repair work continues to slip as it has, the toxins will be pretty much soaked in by the time he gets under the house…

I can barely move to type, having just ripped up three wall to wall carpets and their underlayment in the space of about 5 hours… this from a woman who would often have to fold her laundry in shifts because she couldn’t keep her arms up long enough! Not only torn them up, but got two of them into the bed of my truck and over to the dump -- if I wake up tomorrow and find I can’t push myself to a sitting position, I’ll know why. That, and my hands feel like they are so dry they are sucking moisture out of the air…I could probably dry dishes with my bare hands at this point.

I also shovelled out the gutters; apparently the last time was about 1960... if I was counting the tree rings correctly. I’m not sure if it was fertile soil, but there were actually a couple worms up there -- the vermiculture version of Penthouse dining… and that’s got to be gourmet stuff if they devoted a decade or so to climb the gutterpipes… they got impatient with trickle-down theory, too, I guess…I took the toilet brush up onto the roof to brush off the moss -- I’m not saying the moss balls were oversize, but they put up such a defense that it felt like the Attack of the Green Tribbles.

I toasted my first night here with wine -- boxed wine, of course; it’s only fitting.
Now I have to go blow up my bed again so I can keep far enough away from the dust to be able to breathe through the night. A bien tot!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Moving Saga

(Still neck-deep in boxes: here's the move-day story:)
I know I’d hired professional movers when they called me at 7:25 the day of the move… to ask if they could be, oh, an hour and a half late. Definitely pros. They’d probably had me double-booked for weeks, but knowing I can’t say no when I’ve just packed my last roll of toilet paper and my last spoon, disconnected my phone and internet… I was as much a hostage as the people sitting in row 17 of Northwest Air-Lies… so I sat there, gnawing on cold Mexican leftovers (okay, I saved out one fork-- I‘ve moved before too, you know) and re-reading old computer files… no sense moving them if I can toss them in the trash ahead of time, right? I kept seeing more and more items that I was too afraid for them to move, and putting them into the pile for my truck -- soon I’d be moving everything except the furniture… which is probably a good thing because they also asked if they could bring a smaller truck.

When they did arrive, they worked very hard to cram the smaller truck full of my stuff. No tossing boxes, at least, but there were a few things that were definitely a size smaller when I finally unpacked them… to their credit, I have never seen a truck packed that full -- safety line be damned -- that space had boxes to the roof, and probably a mouse couldn’t have fit between them. And they managed to get the steelcase flatfile into the truck without taking out more than half the drawers, which was more than my friends and I could do. However, despite their best efforts, and despite also piling my truck as high as was safe, they managed to only get 99.5% into the truck… as the got to the back of the garage, the guy’s patter went from, “Oh, sure - no problem! That’s why we’re professionals” to “Oh, I think we can do it” to “Well, we’ll get close, for sure.” The problem is: close doesn’t get all my stuff down to the new house! I pursued the theoretically possibility: and if you can’t get it all? What then? Unfortunately, I’d let slip that I was coming back the next day to clean up the apt. His cheerful solution was that there wasn’t more remaining than could fit in my truck. However, he didn’t offer a .5% discount for only doing a partial job… which is why I didn’t feel much guilt as I led them along ever more rural roads, as the sun dipped closer to the horizon (hey, they said they’d be there at 9am!), and when they got out of the truck at the new place with glazed, exhausted looks on their faces, I was minimally sympathetic… after all, they had to drive back after they’d unloaded it all!

And they did -- stuff poured out of that truck like it had legs. And since I’m sure the boxes weren’t groaning, I assume the guys were throwing their voices. They put the furniture where it needed to be with only minor gouges in the plaster (left unremarked by them) and piled the boxes 5 high in the new garage -- in front of the pump house door, I later realized. By the time they were done, they looked like it would take a gallon of coffee to get them back up the highway, so I tipped them despite the residual packing still facing me. I was grateful it all got there, presumably in one piece, and that I had an off-the-floor bed and towels for that hot bath I’d be taking!

Hot water is one of the first necessities … and it’s amazing how we just assume it’ll be there… as dusk was closing in,I first unloaded my truck (I'd been too busy directing before that) and made sure I knew where all the light switches were, and then decided to try the hot water. Cognizant of the fact that you must get the trapped air from the line before you try the hot water, or you will burn out the heater motor (learned that at the cabin), I first ran the cold til it was smooth, and started on the hot… at first it was the usual spluttering (like Rush contemplating Hilary), but then it sounded more like hissing. Uncertain, I actually consulted the manual -- a good thing: apparently hydrogen gas (very explosive) can form when the heater hasn’t been used in a while (like, say… 2 years??) and it is very important (duh!) to release it safely while not using machinery that can spark… I rushed to shut down the baseboard heaters, turned the faucet on full and backed away… contemplating the fact that I had not yet physically signed the insurance papers. After what seemed like forever, the hissing stopped and the water sounded like… well, water. And smelled like rotten eggs! Back to the manual. Apparently the anodes (Anode? wasn‘t that Luke Skywalker‘s father?) can react with certain kinds of water (Ah, Murphy‘s Law….!) to create this lovely sulfurous odor… and the only solution is to chlorinate and hope for the best. Okay; I’m supposed to add chlorine to sulphur? Isn’t that a Chemistry 101 taboo? Or am I thinking vinegar? And it states that it may still persist and in that case your have to get a chlorine filter… or walk around stinking of rotten eggs. I’ve just gotten to that age when everyone would immediately assume my gut was betraying me… what a great way to meet the new neighbors! Not.

I also have a 1940 era stove -- quite a feat, since this house was supposedly built in the 50’s… I can’t see how the burners are detachable, which means the saucers under them look like the floor of a theater after a Star Trek weekend marathon… and it has a combination clock and timer… which is unfortunately 6 hours off, and there is no way to reset the clock! Proof positive that this stove was built before Daylight savings time! It also ticks like the logo noise from 60 Minutes, which has put me on edge a bit… I am guess that one of these days soon, I will be disassembling that piece, and hoping that it’s not an essential part of the damn stove!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

On Your Marks, Get Ready….

(still nuts unpacking; posting this one, written mid November):

On hearing that the septic tank was in the ground and that one small inspection stood between me and putting down tens of thousands on my new house, I understandably, developed a few butterflies. These might have been a new species - each specimen felt like it was a foot wide, fluttering in my gut. Yes, I have been pushing and working very hard to get this to happen, and yet -- do I know what I’m doing?? I am making a huge commitment… it feels a lot like the nerves I got just before my wedding (and considering how that turned out, it should have told me something!) -- can I trust that this will end better?? Me and the house, til bankruptcy or nursing home do us part. I think it’s an excellent sign that the former owner is in a nursing home -- this is a faithful house that does not chase people away… but am I too young for commitment? I barely have gray hair!

Yet here it is, the week before the “I do’s”, and I am starting to label boxes and bags, “First Truckload”, “Second Truckload”, etc. I am trying to conserve the tiny sliver of bath soap so that I don’t have to open a new one before the move, and yet I am buying large extra pounds of stuff that I imagine I won’t be able to get outside the metro area (at least as cheaply), like gluten-free flours (I just bought $63 worth). And of course, not wanting to open any of them because they will be that much harder to move. Conserving and/or stocking up -- I feel like a PushmePullyou! I broke down and bought a few more tools yesterday -- not wanting extra things to move (and lose), but fearing that once I move to the house, or even before, I will need them to fix things and then will have to detour a half hour or more out of my way to buy what I need. This new place is just close enough to drive back and forth a few times, but not nearly close enough to run back if I forget a tool. So I’m watching the gas prices, planning the first immediate tasks and gathering the boxes that match. And there are precious things that I am torn between moving first to be sure they don’t break, and moving last to be sure they are safe (the new place will still be empty for a week or two).

And I think it’s probably much simpler than I’m making it, but I also realize that keeping busy is very effective in distracting from the terror. I believe that’s why weddings are such big deals. If all you and your fiance had to do for the months leading up to the date was stare at each other and say, “Do we really want to do this?” most marriages wouldn’t happen. It’s only because the woman is so distracted by the party favors and gown colors that she doesn’t see how pitifully ineffective and even reticent the male has become. And why is it that my taste in houses runs the same as my taste in men? I keep getting fixer-uppers! But I digress.

I can’t blame the house for the septic issue, and it has withstood the rain that came in with October and shows every intention of staying… so the next step is to tie the knot and then… oh, the list is so long that those butterflies begin to gallop up and down my spine, fluttering in my braincase until I can’t even read the list! Tear out the rugs, clean every surface, cover shelves with shelf paper, take up the plywood that covers the gravel in the garage…come to think of it - a house will stand for all this change a lot better than a husband. I’d hire a service for all of it, but suddenly I have two weeks and one of them is Thanksgiving week! I’m lucky to get the movers… so Plan B has become, “Do whatever the minimum needed so that the strong guys can move the heavy furniture where you want it for the next six months, and then do everything else later.” And I’ll be so exhausted that I suspect that “later” might be after Christmas.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Just Packing It In

(Up to my neck in boxes on the other end -- so I'm posting something written back when I had nothing to do but wait and write)

I’m now up to my neck in boxes, waiting for that final frantic push of packing, when I give up doing anything else in my life until I move. Technically, I’m about two weeks from that, I think, so I have to keep enough items out to live on, and somehow I keep changing focus as to what that consists of. Do I keep the food processor out, or can I live on more simple foods for two weeks? (yes, but since I packed it a month ago, it came out of its box again last night). Do I pack all my reading material and live out of the library? (Yes, except for one unsealed box of “essentials” - my guide books to this current life, a motley crew of spiritual, renovation, and comedy books). Do I pack up the art and look at naked walls for two weeks? What if it stretches out again? So far, the oil paintings are still on the wall, but if the tank gets into the ground Friday, there will be a packing spree this weekend for sure!

Meanwhile, I veer around brown square stacks, stare again at those pieces that utterly defy packing (someday I’ll watch a professional -- just to see how the huge, crook-neck magnifying light contraption could find a wrapped degree of safety), and give up again for the moment. That’s one of the blessings of panic -- all the finer nuances of possibility drop away, and there is only the crisis. In those moments, it is irrelevant if I put great aunt Sarah’s ceramic jug in with the cupcake tins -- eventually it’ll all get there, and I’ll unpack it again… eventually. An irrational segment of brain takes charge during crises; logic, sense and even frugality are tossed with the receipts that you will eventually be wanting desperately, and you plunge ahead any which way to the end. “A certain amount of breakage is to be expected” and other such platitudes act as Teflon coating to the brain as the clock ticks like an unexploded bomb and you grab anything not yet boxed, stuff it into one of several large boxes labelled, “Last Minute Misc. - Open Immediately” that inevitably end up four layers down in the new place and emerge next Spring as either compost or treasure. I have actually, in these situations, been able to reassure myself that any priceless pottery piece that is broken can become some wonderful mosaic collage, in fact even better than the original. I am actually a mover’s joy because I am just so grateful to get it all there without me having to end up in ER, that I don’t particularly care what state it’s in when it arrives. The days of having robust friends move me are long over; in our 50’s, we are connoisseurs of back, neck and joint pain, and a household full of furniture must be left to the next generation. And my ecologically-conscious friends have refrained from having more than one child each (if that), so that generation is in short supply to help their parents’ friends move… unless you contact them at their local moving company and hire them at the going rates.

-- Listening to an old Irish air, ‘Farewell but Whenever”, I am again reminded that my ancestral melancholy is an irresistible, blood-deep attribute. This song has lines such as “let Fate do her worst, there are relics of joy that come in the nighttime of sorrow and care, and bring back the features that joy used to wear” …“you may break, you may shatter the vase if you will, but the scent of the roses will hang round it still.” Good old Irish - we know what it’s like to be crushed underfoot, and our stubborn refusal to concede that we are miserable is only matched by our stubborn refusal to concede that we are happy. It makes for wonderful conversation, and many a confused outsider… but I digress.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Eversprouting: Optimism, Mushrooms, and Spam

Mushrooms: I think it’s a sign of my country madness that I am even excited about the possibility of gleaning mushrooms from the countryside. I’m not particularly fond of mushrooms, but part of that has always been the insane prices in the markets for fungus. Free is always a good price to me, and so I dream about recognizing the tastier varieties, and even try to look up the ones that appear audaciously in my own backyard. (Once, I had one that really looked like a morel grow up through a crack in the basement floor -- but of course, I was too cowardly to eat it!) And the prolific rain combines with the fertile spongy soil, apparently, to create Oregon fungi that in some places stretch out for 144 acres! (That one, a Honey Mushroom, is too big to start with, definitely; I will try something smaller). But most likely I will start my gleaning with items that I easily recognize: fruits and nuts. It will be interesting to see if they are left on the roadsides like in suburbia or if the country folk share the same value I do. And who can get there faster.

Optimism: One thing that comes out in great quantities, like oil slicks -- or mushrooms -- after a heavy rain, is your friends’ optimism. Of course there’s always one who has a ready list of imminent dangers, but in general, my complaints about the intricacies of the real estate process, and the confusions of home ownership in general, is met with a wave of sunny optimism, behind which I sense a backwash of “better you than me!” The original closing date is already a month in the past? “These things happen -- nothing to worry about!”. The new closing date is just before a holiday that shuts down the country - except for shopping -- for four days? “I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I am amazed - flabbergasted (love that word - how does one flabber a gast? or is it gasting a flabber?) by their steely confidence in the face of my concerns. But I guess that’s what friends are for: to sit at their tables, firmly ensconced on their settled kitchen floors, and encourage me with great gusto to set out for parts unknown. Where would I be without them? Probably more to the point, where will I end up with them? At this point, somewhere left of “Hic Sunt Dracones” [Here be dragons]…

Spam: The other thing that comes out in vast numbers before, during and after a move, are the advertisers who target you as someone desperately in need of their services. It’s uncanny -- scary, really -- how they know you have just moved in to town, or are looking to renovate something. Of course, if you’ve used a US Post Office “moving notification form” recently, you might begin to suspect the prime culprit. It literally took me five minutes to find the actual moving form in the incredible welter of offers and “helpful” forms for services now crammed into the “moving packet”… the only kind of packet that thing qualifies as is a Spam Packet. Speaking of which, my spam filter used to be full of Rolex watch offers and Viagra deals (apparently assuming women like to be pro-active?) -- now I’ve got message after message offering me free hardware store shopping sprees or consultations with interior decorators. I’d go to an interior decorator about as fast as I’d take a pet to therapy. These “room whisperers” might have some use in the big cities where you desperately need to know whether you are in your own apartment or the identical box next door, but the house of a writer usually has one d├ęcor anyway - piles of papers and books (and books are -- after all -- just a more compact pile of paper). Even with the advent of computers, we produce enough paper printouts to create shredded bedding for an elephant. So interior design consists of stacking those papers in slightly different configurations, mostly to find a chair(or make a chair!)for a guest. And since the majority of guests to a writer’s house are other writers, what they most look at are the bookshelves and the fridge -- generally areas not a focus of your typical interior design wizard. Writers can sometimes proliferate like mushrooms...but I digress.