Thursday, July 31, 2008

Deconstruction Chronicles

With the brief rain overnight, I became more acutely aware that I was losing the dry season time to make exterior changes to the house. So I decided it was a good day for tearing out more things. In this instance, the two rickety wood-frame awnings over the twin back doors (this house has five entrances, which is a bit much for 945 sq ft!). They had been built from scraps such as a steel strut, a slice of metal gutter, several L-brackets and old wood lattice - and covered with plastic tarp that had disintegrated in the sun. I have plans to re-install them with some nice blue duckcloth awnings, and maybe even proper supports. But for now I wanted them off so the back of the place doesn’t look like it’s on welfare.

They were just a bit too high for me to reach, and a bit too low for the extension ladder (which had no place to lean except against the awnings, anyway). So I brought out what I had: the 3-step wooden stepladder and my electric screwdriver. Of course, there was no flat ground for the stepladder, so I did the usual dance: plunk it down, step up gingerly, leap back as one leg sinks - repeat. Mole holes, chunks of concrete and large pulpy weeds made the ground as flat as a compost heap. Finally I was able to step up without being jettisoned by the stepladder, and I started to unscrew the fastenings, very aware that -- as someone whose feet were not on the ground -- I might have some difficulty if the awning suddenly fell on top of me. I had cleverly positioned myself under the large rip in the plastic, so if the awning fell straight down (a 10 million to 1 chance) it would drop around me to the ground. Other than that, I hadn’t much planned. We don’t need no stinking precautions… But I did remove the secondary screws first, and left the corner ones for last, thinking I could swing it down on one corner and then let it drop. What I hadn’t seen -- until I had all the other screws out; the frame was sagging and partly leaning on the open screen door and partly on my hand -- was the very small paperwasp nest in the left corner, right by the last screw. I suddenly realized I’d be fighting four wasps for the privilege of undoing that last screw.

Gingerly I set the awning on the screen door top (listening to the door creak as the hinges stretched), slowly eased down the step ladder and went inside for the Raid. I’m not a vicious person, but I knew my chances against a quartet of wasps. But of course, the Raid was nowhere to be found…. I spent an annoying ten minutes looking everywhere. First the logical places, and then under the bathroom sink, even in the food cupboards and in the coat closet (when I’m not paying attention, all bets are off!) I know I’d used it just recently, but it had vanished. Murphy‘s law strikes again. I looked at all the other spray bottles, but fertilizer and blackspot spray would probably just make them mad. And of course there was no way I could leave the awning as it was! The groans from the screen door were getting urgent.

I decided to put on some protective gear and see if I could move fast enough…. the photo shows the long jeans shirt, nylon gardening gloves and glitter vinyl baseball cap -- okay, I didn’t have a bee helmet, and this was the best second choice - made from the vinyl used in 50’s kitchen chairs -- nothing could sting me through that! I was glad none of the neighbors had cameras though. .. I looked like I’d been sniffing Raid and wandering through a Goodwill.

I was a bit more awkward, also, in this get-up, but I carefully eased under the cockeyed awning, moved the stepladder under the corner with the wasp nest, grabbed the power screwdriver firmly in my non-dominant hand (needing my more clever hand to keep the awning from collapsing on me) and slowly climbed up. Almost face to wing with the fiercesome foursome, I waved them aside with the metal tool, knocked the paper nest down and quickly slotted into the rusty (of course) screw. To my great relief, it turned - mostly. But the wasps weren’t happy with their eviction - they came back and circled where the nest had been. Luckily they were laughing too hard at the glitter hat to make any serious forays. Okay then - time to get down! I dropped the powertool, jumped back off the stepladder and grabbed the far end of the awning in both hands -- and wrenched. For a moment, it hung on by the rust and cobwebs, but then crashed down, taking two sunflowers with it, but scattering the wasps. Before they had a chance to regroup, I grabbed the powertool and scooted inside. Mission Accomplished!

The second awning was not nearly as interesting a job, and I could hang up my glitter hat within the half hour. And after I’d put all the tools away, and shifted a nearby tarp to recover some shingles.. there was the Raid, not a foot away from where I needed it. I grabbed it and started stalking every wasp I could find.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nothing Doing...

Another wonderfully boring day here in the country… it’s quiet except for the shrill of the woodpulper in the distance; the sky is dappled blue; the weeds are glowing in the sunlight. All the sunflowers planted by the birds are blooming like little suns around the yard. I have decided they are deliberate - they’ve figured out the connection and are anticipating a fall bumpercrop of seed. The yard is developing a typical country junkyard look -- the tarps, buckets, piles of treebranch, old strips of tire, etc. that I’ve left around after my various attempts to garden have taken on the mossy look of abandonment. The neighbor offered to “relieve me” of the heavy steel water tank -- somehow he didn’t mention that he’d get a good sum selling it as scrap. I declined - I need the money myself.

We had our first rain last night after about 40 days of misleadingly dry weather -- it soaked all the porous objects me and the neighbors finally had been lulled into leaving out overnight. I thought about the house I’d passed last weekend that basically had re-created the living room outdoors… hopefully they at least brought in the tv and stereo.There’s a tang of Fall in the air, and the bit of rain did at least wash the pollen and the dense smoke from grassfield burning out of the air so I can breathe without coughing. Am I missing something, or is it ironic that the state which has banned tobacco smoke in every public area, including some parks, still allows acres of grass fields to be burned off after harvest, creating miles of orange acrid smoke that hangs in the air and in some places actually creates traffic hazards?

Anyway, I’m sitting here in the deck chair, eagerly anticipating absolutely nothing happening. Boredom is the cure for that urban plague, Novelty. I ran out of adrenalin years ago, after living in NYC and then in So. Cal (which is supposed to be mellow, but compared to Oregon is on fast-forward), so I’m just as happy to have a day -- or even a week! -- when no water pump breaks, nor stove smells like burnt wires nor truck sounds like metal fatigue. A week when I can manage the same schedule 5 out of 7 days, and not have to drop everything to wait for some emergency repair guy. I did have a painter in to estimate the exterior house painting job - a bit steep, but I know I’m leaving a lot of prep work for him… the stuck point is that the repair guy who has to do the job first has not called back… everyone’s on “country time” around here, or they haven’t paid their phone bills….

I’m sure there’ll be new crises to write about soon, but for today I’ll just sign off: Happily Bored.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Know my Thoughts Are In There Somewhere….

Along with the new desktop (that continues to be a joy - NOT!), I also had bought a digital recorder, with the logical thought that audio tape was becoming as scarce as blog sites without advertising… and now instead of just a record-stop-play process, I have fallen into Beginner’s Binary Bewilderment, as I push beeping buttons with increasing frustration, looking for the notes that I am sure I taped during my last car trip -- I know I saw a red light at the top of the little machine, dagnabit!! It’s not that I’m computer illiterate, it’s just that I don’t have several hours to learn the many, varied (and I’m sure, delightful) new features of this sophisticated tool that is the size of a pack of cigarettes, (and at $29, costs about the same amount). And there’s also the fact that my own organic “processor” seems to have flaked off enough cells that erasing old procedures and recording new ones takes as many tries as getting this old body out of bed in 20 degree weather. Basically, I forget the damn instructions as fast as it takes to tuck the recorder into my purse, and so when I‘m driving, eyes (mostly) on the road, I‘m squeezing buttons, hearing beeps and feeling like I wandered into Candid Camera.

Back at home, my summer garden grows weeds like the castle in Sleeping Beauty as I waste precious hours trying to get my new digital “toys” to behave. The digital recorder has four virtual “folders” in which you can “tuck” the individual “recordings”. No longer can you just back up the tape and find what you’d said just before screaming and slamming on your brakes… now you have to find the right folder and the right snippet to play back. Supposedly, I can download any/all of it onto my new computer now, and sort it all out with the mouse and keyboard… if only I knew how. Honestly - what I said wasn’t worth all this!! But it’s all part of the Revolution that will Make Our Lives Easier (yes, and there is no global warming…. and the Brooklyn Bridge is still for sale). There comes a time when even the most enthusiastic technie begins to wonder if the digital devices have deliberately created a world where it take 15 minutes to input/read/print a paragraph that could be handwritten in one. Oh, yes, you say - but after it’s input, you can do so much more with it! Yes, but do I need to? Or was that “need” created to fill the existing capacity, just like appliances were made to go obsolete in order to fill the need to sell us more stuff each year? Ah, dang it - I’m starting to sound like a Luddite.

But I know I moved here to live more simply and to spend more time in the garden, or working to make my little bungalow a cozy nest… so I’m gonna give up on whatever witticism is parsed in the tiny bowels of this contraption, and go out and hoe weeds. And I’m gonna bring a notepad and pen. It fits in my pocket just as easily as the digi-taper, and if I turn my back on the sprinkler, it’s not as big a disaster.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Country Sayings

After having heard a young kid puzzle over the saying “alike as two P’s in IPOD” -- for obvious reasons it didn’t make sense to her -- I decided that as a public service I would help the younger generation with some of the simple, old country phrases that have no physical equivalent in their world.

The first example doesn’t concern digitial typography at all, and is in fact “two peas in a pod”, a reference to the similarities of the little round green things of salad bar and potpie fame, when they are harvested from the little green cocoons that they grow in. It looks like a green banana, but smaller, and is attached to a vine that looks like a tangled ball of yarn. Around here, they are planted “when the ground becomes dry enough to work”, which is supposed to be February but often is June. Each individual pea grows into its own vine full of new podded peas, which have to be plucked, opened, and the peas removed for cooking -- this half hour or more of work is balanced by the fact that the bag didn’t cost $1.59 to buy. (Although, if you factor in the time spent protecting those suckers from snow, wind and birds, not to mention fertilizer and chiropractic visits, the savings doesn’t appear to be that great). For those of you young’uns who doubt me, you probably can take one of the frozen peas from the bag and plant it amongst your mother‘s houseplants (if it hasn’t been treated w/radiation - excuse me, “cold pasturization“) and discover the truth for yourself. It will take longer than downloading your favorite album, so be prepared to check back with the clay pot from time to time.

“to separate the wheat from the chaff” - this is not about finicky breakfast eaters separating “the wheat from decaf”, but refers to the process of taking the very tiny wheat seeds off the long stalks it grows on and then sorting it out from all the inedible stuff… and by extension, to separate out the important stuff from the b*llsh*t. Frankly, if I had to go through that much work for my Wonder Bread, I would have stuck to meat and potatoes. I believe that the related verb “to chaff” has to do with the rubbing/scratching process that frees the grain - though how they transferred it to itchy skin is not an image to be contemplated for long. After the wheat seeds, or berries as they are called (in yet another humorous country technique to utterly confuse the rube), are removed from the plant, they must be dried, then ground up via a big stone wheel (or, nowadays, some gigantic metal factory machine) to become the flour that some people use to make the bread that magically appears on your grocery shelf in colored plastic bags. (The process of harvesting the plastic berries and pounding them into flat sheets is another story entirely).

“who let the cat out of the bag?” - this may have referred to the ancient custom of killing extra cats by dumping bags of them into the main river… any cat that escaped that fate would be a very mad cat indeed, and something to be reckoned with. The secret nowadays revealed in these situations end up with the proverbial sh*t hitting the fan -- another country saying that has to do with the foolishness of combining modern cooling equipment with old farming chores… mucking out the barn is sweaty work and no trying to get around it.

“One bad apple spoils the whole bunch” - this was pre-wax, and even pre-pesticides, when farmers noticed a basket of apples with a brown one spoiled faster. Now we have nothing to worry about - at the price we’re paying, those apples are irradiated, pesticided, individually wrapped and labelled -- I have had a couple of those keep in my fridge for months, thus proving there was nothing alive in them to deteriorate. That crunch isn’t natural - it’s injected plastics.

making bacon” - I’m not gonna touch this one, though I expect with the passion of the media for off-color phrases, this one has been kept in the vernacular even unto the present generation.

“what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” - An old “fair is fair” line, which loses its meaning if one doesn’t know that goose is female, gander is male (as in “take a gander at that pair of legs!”) - I have yet to find out what natural circumstance was actually slanted toward the women, since generally the guys had all the plusses back then.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees” - I have seen the totally incredulity on young faces when some grandmother makes this remark in public. You’d have thought they were ready to call for the van with the straight jackets! Well, duh!! they are thinking. But listen up, youngster - once upon a time, most of the things we had in our lives grew on trees, shrubs or vines… it was a symbol of the abundance of Life that you had enough fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and then the whole panoply of vegetable plants that sprouted the food you ate. Children grew up with the ease of picking their breakfast and lunches (and if they were handy at milking, could even grab a quick drink!) with little or no effort on their part, and therefore when they started being too free with money, their parents began to lecture them about how much harder it was to get money than just about anything else… now, I suppose, the new saying is “Money just doesn’t pour out of a machine”… although to see the way the parental units are frantically pulling handles at the casinos, I’m not sure if anyone believes that anymore. And soon it will all be on a chip, or embedded under our skin, and you youngsters will be explaining to future generations (if any) that “money” was a concept of pretending bits of paper and metal were actually worth something, so that people could transfer enough of their credit to get into the museums to see the dioramas of ancient things like trees, cats, geese and apples… sigh… this is most likely why ancient civilazations left their elderly on mountaintops to die… when granny started cackling “In my days, youngster…“ one too many times… just just tie me in a bag and throw me in a river…

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Three Days Away, Three Days of Retribution

My house greeted me when I got back in the same way a cat would -- with savage vengeance for my abandonment. Cats do it by vomiting on the carpet or shredding a couch; the house managed, in my absence, to burn up or break the water pump even though I’d turned off all the faucets before I left. I had a good hot shower when I got home, and then found that was the last of the water! So I’m back to flushing toilets with buckets of water from the neighbor’s hose and stacking dishes in the sink… and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna incur double-overtime by calling the pump guy today. I already have gallons of drinking water stored, so the only thing I worry about is the garden, which has gone three days w/o watering already, and which I’d planned to water last night on my return… since I still have chest congestion that makes me feel like I’m breathing underwater, I haven’t the strength of the old washerwomen to haul 15 buckets or so for the veggies… I may try one or two later…I’m doing it in shifts: carry water, collapse on couch; repeat.

Possibly the house bribed some of the appliances as well: the bread machine failed for the first time in perhaps a year, so when I dumped out what looked like crisp brown bread on to the rack, I got a bread shell and a pound of batter all over the counter (and no water to wash it off, of course). I’ve been stroking the fridge and saying soothing things to it, in the desperate hope that it won’t turn against me as well.

And I don’t know what it is about lacking proper plumbing facilities that gives me the runs… it happened last time, when the toilet exploded - instant cure for constipation. And I’ve been “irregular” as the ads say, for two weeks.. and now is when the internal plumbing decides to unclog?? I’ve read books that say we have another brain in our gut, but mine has a very low IQ… I’m going to bed, hoping the sheets don’t explode.

The guy got here an hour late, and switched the pump on in about 30 seconds. He fiddled around with it a bit to cover that up, but really it was a $120/minute service call. I made him show me how to use my complicated voltage meter just to get some additional benefit. But that didn’t matter, since apparently the batteries are drained and it doesn’t work. Bought it a year ago; haven’t used it yet. He says he doesn’t know what’s wrong with the pump, but my tank needs replacing soon - at least $500 worth of work… and my first thought was that I’d carefully stacked/hidden all those old shingles in their black plastic up against the pumphouse wall, figuring there was no way that I’d need to get near that wall this year - how does the house know to do this?? Those bags are 50 pounds each, if they’re an ounce! I didn’t want to move them again until I haul them to the special dump. Now I might have to shift them another two or three times? Because - as I described in another water-pump posting - the weird “door” (hatch might be a better word) to the shed is way too small to get the pump in or out! They must have built the shed around the dang tank! At least the water is on and the garden is getting soaked… now to wash all the dishes and clothes, and flush the toilet properly…

Ah - I don’t know where to start. With the water pump, out again, the day after the $65 visit?? With the carpenter ants nesting in the shingles that I’ve just struggled to get into their black plastic bags and away from the shed wall?? With the wood covers for the crawlspaces that won’t come out for me to paint them?? With the twitter of birds… or bats.. that I am now hearing hourly through the woodstove pipe?? There was an old movie in the 70’s called “Burnt Offerings” about a house that was demonic, and would basically destroy any family that moved in… I’m beginning to wonder…… maybe taking the shingles off is revealing its true demonic character…. but no - this is such a cute house… that twitter isn’t the laughter of ancient ghosts… the water pump isn’t possessed… [theme from Twilight Zone kicks in] Nooooooo!!!

Sigh… the manager of the pump company says he’ll be out here by dinner time, and promises he’ll get the water running again… it’ll probably take 30 seconds… and then what? I’ve never been psychic, but I’m seeing shades of a depleted bank account in the near future… maybe I can ask how much it costs to put in a bucket and pulley…. I’m getting good at flushing toilets with a bucket…

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On location

I am halfway through my trip to the Big City -- Portland. I do this about once per month and it increasingly feels like I’m driving into a whirlpool or hurricane… starting the wind-up far outside the city proper, but getting faster and more chaotic as I get closer. I used to live in Portland, but I have taken to the country like moss takes to a shady roof, and I now go in under duress only. There are noticeable differences between the country and city, such as:

- the country truck stops advertise “free side of bacon“; the city stops lure with “free internet”
- in the city, the truck stops/rest stops are spaced much closer to the approximate capacity of a middle-age woman’s bladder; in the country, they are set up for truckers who have access to lots of empty bottles
- one truck stop is still advertising a free cup of coffee with fill up -- for $100, you should get a free meal… or motel room!
- as I get closer to the city, the sky changes color. Right now it looks apricot, laced with lead gray
- the corrugated concrete walls that line the city highways remind me of community college campuses, where they were too poor to afford architects and/or they gave the architecture students the job, and ended up with poured concrete bunkers.. perhaps the students were visualizing the full weight of the loans they were incurring…
- all the cars and trucks are hospital-clean and sparkling in the city, despite the drought. Most of the time, I don’t notice that I haven’t washed my truck in a year, but now I feel like a Beverly Hillbillies advertisement. In fact, the gas station attendant (yes, we still have them in OR) was trying really hard not to lean against my truck as he washed the windows…. a hint? And hey - how much are we paying taxes to wash and re-wash all these state, city and federal cars that I see on the road?? Is this a good investment of our tax dollars? I think not…

and speaking of ads -- in the city they’ve migrated from the billboards onto any moving vehicle (the little Zap electric trucks can only handle a website address, the SUVs have four-color photographs wrapped around them) and at least half of the multi-storied brick buildings! Five-story Pabst ads a block wide leave me nauseated and bloated - much like the beer itself

- and ads have gotten more stupid since I left the city. Shell is now pleading, “Avoid gunking up your engine” with a big arrow pointing to some greasy part and the words “Engine gunk” -- that’s the level of comprehension they believe drivers are capable of??
- I notice they’re now advertising motel rooms as “economy studios” - as if they haven’t always been one room with multiple uses…

…and of course, the ever-present beggers on every highway and major arterial ramp in the city: men and women from teen to tottering, with cardboard signs and sometimes a dog, presenting their hopeless condition to the drivers forced to stop within shouting distance at the ramp lights (which we also don’t have/need in the countryside). I don’t know why these hobos -- excuse me, "rural nomads" (city-speak)-- don’t show up in rural areas, but it might be that their offers to work might be taken quite seriously by the farmers and other businesses. The pristine track shoes that many of these guys wear suggest they haven’t even walked that far, let alone worked in the dirt much. I feel ganged up on when I have to run the gauntlet of these beggers, who do tug at my heartstrings, despite the fact that I know they are dropped off from a van every morning and picked up again that evening (I have friends in social services). City folk have long since become cynical and immune, but I guess my immunity has worn off.

During the two hour drive I didn’t notice more than two very large RV “buses” of the type that used to cram the highways in summer… like the dinosaurs, they seem to have gone extinct… although I passed several car lots selling them - and advertising free lottery tickets with each RV bought - probably so you can afford gas. I wonder if all the Gramma and Gramps who got stuck in some “scenic” single-grocery hamlet, a day’s drive from any coffee shop, are now busily writing postcards home: “Dear Junior and Sue - weather fine, Oregon is very big. Please send money. Love, your parents.”

Passing by all the fields where harvest is in full swirl, I wondered at the strange, convoluted machines that they’ve got to pick and cull and sort. How did farmers figure out how to mechanize all of these hand-picking processes? And how many fields did they destroy while they were testing?? I can just see the vineyard: “Grab,grab, grab - oops!… Next row…” One gizmo looks like a little house on wheeled stilts,with a peaked roof above the driver, and just enough room for a stack of empty berry flats behind his seat. I wasn’t close enough to see if they were like a Dixie-cup dispenser - drop the empty flats down one by one, fill the bottom one, drop it on the ground for the “flat-picker-upper machine”… the gophers and rats must think they’re hallucinating sometimes… “Wow, dude - look at that monster with the seventeen spiked tentacles” “Man, you’ve got to stop nibbling that Jimson weed!”

I notice our native species adapt pretty quickly: since we’re chopping down the tall firs, eagles have colonized the cell towers with huge stick nests in the metal crown of antennae. Animals are in many ways more clever than we are at using whatever is at hand. And since they’re endangered, they probably get to flip a feathered finger to the Sprint and Verizon engineers.

I passed a sign for the Jefferson Museum of Power - this is the country, so they are referring to trucks and machines of all types, not political bigwigs. Country museums are so much more fun than city museums. The city museums only display pieces that are worth at least as much as the fancy display cases they use; the country places have gotten their cases from bankrupt Sears and Woolworths’ and cram them full of anything and everything. The city has stenciled plaques on each piece listing the “provenance” or pedigree - the country might have a handwritten note of who donated it and when; I guess you’re supposed to find that fellow if you want mre info. The city now has audiotaped tours to create an autistic experience as we roam in herds through the huge, 80 percent empty rooms; the country has some old guy watching the front door who’s so bored that he follows you around and tells you stories about the stuff as he keeps you from tripping over the worst of the clutter.

I think it was funny that I actually had a harder time staying on the road using my new digital recorder than I used to when handwriting on my lap. But I have to keep looking at the recorder to see if it is recording and where (what file folder, was it overwriting, etc.)… with a pad of paper, I know I’m recording unless the pencil point breaks or the pen runs out of ink. But OTOH, it has been difficult to listen to my smug voice as I relate some joke I think is brilliant, which on second listen is actually quite lame.

Anyway, that’s it for now… more city life later…

Monday, July 14, 2008

Opening up New Vistas

My rural bliss was shattered today with the arrival of the new computer. It had been two years since I’d gotten one, so of course everything was different. Well - not everything: it was still impossible to open the box and wrench the pieces out without using both hands and feet. But opening that box, taking out the new flatscreen monitor and glancing through the instructions made me feel older than watching Goldie Hawn talk about her grandkids! Fogey-hood, here I come! For one thing they have reduced the Quick-Start instructions to four paragraphs, but have written them in five extra languages for a total of six pages, most of which can be cut away with scissors. I also noticed that the machine had 134 gigabytes of memory -- that’s more memory than I have now! (me, I mean - not my old computer). Now, if only I can fit it with a camera so it can watch where I leave the keys…

Second, I was amazed by the incredible ease of the new “plug and play anything” -- color-coded plugs and holes so that even if you can’t read the cartoon directions, you can hook the system together and be up and running in five minutes. Balancing that off, though are the incredibly complex-bordering-on-deceitful cascade of legal notices that you have to agree to in order to get to the desktop for the first time!! By the end of the first ten minutes I was as paranoid as if I’d read an hour’s worth of conspiracy blogs. My brain was buzzing with legal-ese and disclaimers. I wonder if grocery stores would sell any food if the side of the milk carton, for instance, said, “THIS IN NO WAY REPRESENTS THAT THE CONTENTS OF THIS CARTON IS BOVINE OR EVEN LIQUID AND THE MANUFACTURER ASSUMES NO LIABILITIES FOR THE RESULTS OF DRINKING THIS, USING IT IN COMESTIBLES OR FOR ANY USES THAT COULD CONCEIVABLY BE MADE OF THIS SUBSTANCE, WHATEVER IT IS. READING THIS LABEL CONSTITUTES YOUR AGREEMENT TO ALL OUR POLICIES, WHICH MIGHT CHANGE AT ANY MINUTE.”

I was really amused by the fact that the start-up process assumed that the computer was cabled and ready to go online for numerous “immediate updates” (before I‘d gotten to the desktop) -- I was not, and after the first 20 minutes of start-up, I was glad. I haven’t been so patronized since my philosophy professor assumed that a 17 year old girl couldn’t possibly understand logic. I know that teams of really bright people spend years writing these programs and are understandably irritated that we might want to know how they work, but Windows has now made their “details” of their updates as vague as a politician‘s promise. Nothing that might give you any idea of what was being downloaded. I mean, they practically said, “Just trust us, you need this”…

I was less amused to find out the system didn’t come with speakers -- I know I got a low-end deal, but those used to be as standard as a keyboard and mouse… luckily this was a Friday, so my town was full of garage sales. I hit pay dirt on the third one and brought home a pair of speakers for $2. And a half gallon of ice cream, to steel my resolve for the rest of the set-up. I had to convince the delicate modem/ router provided by the phone company that it wanted to talk to the new computer - actually, I played bait and switch - I hooked it into the internet via my laptop and then just moved the ethernet cable to the new box… it worked, and I don’t know why. But just as I could see success looming, I found I was down to exactly one electric plug in the whole room, and two items left to be plugged in! This being an old house, there is exactly one outlet in the office and I had once blown the fuse by trying to vacuum while the old computer was on… so even with the power-surge strip, I was anxious… but a piggyback plug seemed to work.

I finally was able to see my new “desktop” (home screen) and it seemed the system was set up, but anyone who’s started up a new computer knows that half the crap that’s put on there needs to be junked and then there’s at least three hours of transferring data from the old system. This spiffy new one proudly informed me of a fast-transfer option: just bring over your whole old computer, desktop, files, programs -- I actually shuddered when I read that… Not sure how many innocents were burned, but that seems the equivalent of pouring the half-moldy contents of last week’s coffee into the new pot! First of all, it was an entirely different operating system. And why would I want all the fragmentation and random crud from my old computer? Now, I suppose they might have given me some choices about how to port it over, but I wasn’t able to find out -- because it required a special fast-port cable which “you can order online” - and pay $32 to overnight or wait another two weeks to get your system working… gee -- what convenience! So I just used the 1 gig flash stick to bring over what I need for now… My eyes were more glazed over than a Bundt cake, and I had to drag out the emergency crochetting to keep me from clicking too fast with the mouse and double-installing everything. I knew I couldn’t take much more of this. I glanced longingly out the window, where the plants were frying in the heat. Ah, for the simplicity of hoeing weeds, or picking berries!

What finally stopped me was finding the ice cream in the fridge. The topping had made it into the freezer. A clear case of brain-melt. So I gave up the quest and sat down to eat ice cream soup while I played a game of spider solitaire on the new computer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Has One Plus One Gone Quantum?

I pulled out my carpenter’s tools again recently, to finally make some crawl-space covers. I have two openings in the foundation (due to someone having put a solid concrete wall down the middle of the house) and the covers had been so rotted when I got here that they seemed like the Hot L Baltimore for termites. I’d pulled them immediately, but since it was November, I just piled some cinderblocks and bricks in one, and for the other I’d tried an old window and some bricks, followed by a very large piece of cardboard and some bricks (obviously I didn’t have enough bricks for the opening… should tried shifting some from my head… or is that rocks?). I’d promised myself that “as soon as the dry weather came” I’d get a decent pair of wooden covers made. But various other crises intervened, and I’ve only just now gotten to them.

I have a tshirt with the Measure Twice Cut Once reminder, and -- just in case of inflation -- I measured three times before I began to cut the 2x4s. The first problem was that the rectangular hole had developed a parallelogram shape -- either the deceptively upright concrete was leaning, or the house was sagging… or I couldn’t measure (always a likely culprit!). I did what I usually do in these cases -- I averaged. If one side is 15.5 inches and the other is 14.5, then the best measurement for both will be 15, right? It generally works for fabric (as long as I keep moving so no one notices one sleeve is longer than the other). Apparently this is not as helpful with rigid things like wood. I cut all four uprights and one set of horizontal studs, then wisely decided to test them out in the actual opening. I immediately discovered that I had neglected to allow for the fact that, nailed together, one measurement would be lengthened by the thickness of the attached 2x4 (which is not, as you might think, two inches, but is in fact one and a half inches - all part of the conspiracy of the Milluminati to control the world by shrinking all numbers).

Suddenly the project had taken on the characteristics of those math word problems that I so loathed in middle and high school: “If two boards are each 1.5 inches too long, and the matching uprights are 1.5 inches too short, how do you cut the boards to get them to fit the damn opening???” Alright, the book didn’t swear - but the book never had to figure out the answer. I was running out of 2x4s but I realized that the larger of the two uprights (cut too short) would do for the smaller opening, so I only had to re-cut one pair. Quantum physics was obviously attacking my simple rural cosmos again, so I switched to my guaranteed way of measuring -- putting it against the item you want to match and drawing a cutting line. Who cares if it’s 15.5 inches or the square root of pi? It fits the place it’s gonna be in! So back and forth I went, around to the openings, back into the garage -- where I had graduated from cutting on stacks of cardboard boxes to cutting on a side chair and an end table -- and back to the opening, etc. When I had the rectangle cut, I tentatively hammered the studs together -- in my studio, starting with one board propped on a spare suitcase. I had a handful of really big nails, and a couple dozen that were too small for the framing, but would work for the plywood. So I rationed the big nails, one to a corner; I figured this cover wasn’t gonna get a whole lot of use, unless skunks had learned how to work in teams.

I checked the frame out before attaching the plywood sheeting -- and found that while the measurements were pretty darn close, that meant that it was almost impossible to wedge the damn frame into the opening! There is a concept known as “leeway”, and rigid objects need more of it than stretchy things like fabric and some people’s patience (not mine!). In order to get it to slide/shift into the opening, it had to be slightly smaller than the opening. Back to the drawing… well, the big sheets of paper and the black crayon. I examined the issue from as many sides as I could (including inside the house with a cold drink), and concluded that the easiest thing was to dig out just a bit of the dirt and then push it back into place later. With that inspiration, I felt free to place the 2x4 frame on the plywood, trace a rectangle (parallelogram) and cut it out… it mostly fit, and the extra nails I used to attach it to the frame made up for the dearth of joist nails. I can always tell when I’ve exceeded my patience, because I begin to pick up steam like a locomotive, or a snowball on the top of a hill.. and obstacles begin to fly sideways as I crash into them or sweep them from the area. I was developing this kind of reckless speed, and so, with the covers wedged in place and only enough room for mice, rats, squirrels or a determined skunk to squeeze past them, I considered my job done for the day. I’d get to the sanding and painting another day… and if this is anything like the living room curtains (that hang so lovely and so un-hemmed), probably another year.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Everything Is Beautiful….

I have found a new obsession, a new toy. In fact, I think it’s a crime for people to sell these things during the busy season, but that’s one of the dangers of going into the city…toys waiting in every shop for hapless bumpkins. This one is called Kaleidoscope Kreator, and it hit me in an Achille’s heel - I love playing with patterns, and I love to avoid all the work (and skill!) of cutting and pasting. I used to make similar designs by color-copying random bits of images and then repeating them… but this is so much easier that I feel like a rat pressing a bar to get a hit of speed -- press, press, press… :-}

The moment I got home, I loaded it, and starting bringing up all my photos to see how they would slice and dice -- and before I knew it, I had missed dinner (folks - that’s amazing), it was dark, and I had two dozen “to die for” designs that I just had to print immediately!! Of course, the first thing I discovered was that Windows does not understand circles or squares… Picture Manager assumes that anything worth looking at will be in the center of the photo, and crops accordingly. This felt like having bought a candy bar and not being able to get the wrapping off, or hitting a large rock with your speedboat. I could almost feel the whiplash. Grinding my teeth, I searched the computer for software that understood “shrink to fit” and finally found one that had come with my printer. Then figured out how to load the photo paper so that it didn’t go through 7 sheets at a time, and was in fact printing on the right side… and voila! I had four sheets of -- tiny -- mandalas to use for cards, magnets, coasters, frisbee inserts… the possibilities were endless, but my supply of ink and paper wasn’t.

It occurred to me, painfully, that I was gonna have to choose some files to print and leave others… and fairly quickly realized I actually had to choose which to save, unless I wanted to choke my computer! Since my motto since childhood has been “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” I was sore grieved by this… but I’m getting some sense of balance now… it’s been a whole halfhour since I made a kaleidoscope image… I can last until the timer goes off … I know I can…

-- Actually, I couldn’t. Just writing about it brought an overwhelming urge… I tried a couple of new photos, and moved from template to template… backed off a bit after a fairly frightening kaleidoscope of my face popped on the screen… back to Nature images… I started humming that old song “everything is beautiful, in its own way…” It’s almost true… and to prove it, the three images I posted with this blog entry are: an iris, a peony… and one of the mega-slugs in my garden.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Waiting for Good’o…

Water Wars, Part Two
If only I’d stayed burrowed in the envelope! But my do-it-yourselfer genes hijacked me, and the Evil Genie of “this looks simple enough” sang its siren song in my ear… I would have waited, honestly, but at 4pm (just before the holiday) I called the repairman, who hemmed and hawed, and allowed as how he could come by after his prayer meeting at 9pm that night, “to take a look”, figure out what parts he’d need, and “get to it in a day or two” -- the alarm bells started clanging, and I decided I needed Plan B (or was that C? I‘d lost track). I raced out, bought the pieces it looked like he’d need so maybe he could do it that night… and it looked so straightforward, and the wrench was just sitting there… I couldn’t help it - I dove in (almost literally) and started trying to get the bad pipe off. At first it was much too much for my clerical strength, but after running over to a neighbors and getting a much bigger pipe wrench, I must have scared it -- it started to wriggled free - and I discovered the middle piece wasn’t a filter but a “compression connector” put on there to bridge a 3 inch gap in the PVC pipe (why they needed to cut 3 inches out of the plumbing will the be subject of a few nightmares, I’m sure)… so I tried to tighten it -- and when I turned the water back on, it looked like some kids’ water fight! Hurriedly I turned it back off and adjusted again; turned it on - and the motor hummed a moment and clicked off. Dead.

I went through my seven languages worth of curse words, and then reluctantly called the pump company…. by this time it was after hours on a holiday, but I knew I didn’t want to go three days w/o water, so I sucked it up and had them send a guy. The kid that came out could have been my grandson, but I’m guessing anyone with seniority was already enjoying a beer and the fireworks somewhere. The first thing he said after he’d checked the motor was that it wasn’t broken - it had properly shut off because no water was required, therefore no need for motor. The fact that everything was sitting there quietly meant -- have you guessed it? -- that I’d fixed the leak and nothing was wrong now. I think I staggered at that point - he was looking at me like I was his senile granny, anyway. I swore to him on a stack of plumber’s cracks that the stupid pipe had been spraying water not 30 minutes ago! He fiddled with it some more, and allowed as how the shut off value wasn’t real good; it probably needed to be replaced. Since I was paying for him to come out, I agreed. Mistake number one.

He got his tools and glue pots, and found a new valve in the truck, brought it all back, along with a mini searchlight headpiece that did a much better job than the antique worklight I’d found in the garage. He removed the compression connector and began to replace it with the new pipe I’d bought, all the while telling me about the long hours he’d put in that week. A sudden silence, then… “Damn!” under his breath. Only thing worse to hear is an “Aaarrrgh!” of pain because that might be a lawsuit.

Sure enough, he’d forgotten to add a whole auxiliary L-joint of pipes that he’d removed when started to replace the leaky one. No problem, he just cut the new PVC pipe and said he’d add another connector. Got the jigsaw puzzle re-assembled approximately as I remembered it, and then we tried the water. Turned out that the wonderful new seal on one joint made another one leak! Cut the new pipe again, remove pipe, fix another joint. Try the water again. Inside it was great -- the water in the sink was flowing; outside it was a trickle. I didn’t want to ask if he’d glued up the wrong end of the pipe, but perhaps he was thinking that as he cut the pipe yet one more time (it now would have more patch joints than it started with) and he looked at the valve, then played with the pipe for a while, put it back. Then told me to go try the water outside again. Still trickling… Okay - what next, Sherlock?

He did something weird by “flushing the water back through” - connected the hoses in some sort of circle, took the head off one outside faucet and washed his hands a couple times. I was watching the dollars fly away on the summer breeze, and biting my tongue to keep from asking if his hands were clean enough, because it was obvious that he didn’t have a clue what was wrong, and he needed the silence to think in. He did something else inside and said, “Try it again” - and this time it was full pressure! I was very relieved; he said he thought some big bit of rust broke off in the pipe when he was repairing it - apparently I have waterial sclerosis… but it was back to normal, that was the key point, even though there are now four - count em! -- joints along that 1 ft. pipe. And today, when I tried to water the garden... it was back to half pressure. I’m definitely at full pressure though - just about to bursting, actually. Plan Z, anyone?

A Patriotic Red, Black and Blue

Coming up on the long holiday weekend -- that mainstay of all emergency repair guys -- the pump to my well sprung a leak. I had been antsy about it because I’d been warned when I bought the place that using the sprinkler would turn the pump motor “on and off”, shortening its life, and of course with the heat wave, I’d been using the sprinkler a lot. So when I could hear it turn on/off even when the water was all shut off, I started wincing even before I finished clearing away the lumber, boxes of photos and other doodads from in front of the pump house door. As dark as it was in there, I had no problem interpreting the sound of rapidly dripping water on a subterrean lake. Looked like it was rising almost to the level of the motor - talk about life-shortening! I panicked very efficiently, and tried to simultaneously turn off both water shutdown valves while tearing away at the heavily duct-taped bubblewrap with which I’d insulated the pipes shortly after I moved in. Only partly succeeded at either. Time for Plan B.

I need to describe this “pumphouse” so that you can get the full effect:
A lean-to or bump-out off the garage, about four feet by 8 feet, with the doorway about 3 feet off the ground on the garage side… and about 4 ft above ground on the pump side! Someone had installed a bathtub handle on the left wall, testifying to years of insanity trying to get in/out of this damn crypt to fix problems! There is an open (!) juncture box on one wall, and the pump is propped on plywood about 6 inches off the dirt floor (more on that later). The walls had been insulated, but due to the Night of the Living Carpenter Ants last winter, that had all been torn out (rather quickly and inefficiently, I might say), but otherwise, it’s studs and exterior siding. No light, of course, and the choice to work within is either to lean over on your stomach on the doorsill, or step awkwardly into the 1x2ft space on either side of the large pump and primary pipe. If, in that position, you try to bend down, you will bump your head on the pump tank and simultaneously rip your jeans on the rusty stud nails. Has this become clearer? All you need to add is a few thousand dead ant bodies, enough spiderwebbing to decorate Castle Dracula, and you’ve got the photogenic situation facing me.

As far as I could tell, the water wasn’t draining nearly as fast as it was dripping, which puzzled me since it was plain dirt under there… but I raced to the main fuse panel and flipped off the pump switch, then called Bob, an 80-something repairman who had helped me when the toilet had shattered, and when the bathtub was discovered to be draining directly out onto the subflooring. He asked how big and long the piping was, and what kind - I had to confess I hadn’t gotten all the duct tape off yet. He says he could come out and fix it sometime that day or the next, but knowing pipe specs would help. So I went back to the flood and this time attacked it with scissors - finally pulling off enough insulation to see that it was another pipe entirely that was leaking… about 12 inches of “klassic kludge” - there were three (count em!) joints along that one stretch, none of which were needed, that I could see… of course, that triples the chance of leakage… but on the other hand, a short straight length of PVC pipe would easily fix the issue. Hurray!

Then I tried to figure out why the soil wasn’t draining… and dear readers, you will never guess -- that four inches below the soil was the most amazing hard surface, which after a bit of nasty, filthy digging revealed itself to be the concrete pump house floor! At this point, I stopped, too flummoxed to continue. What plumbing textbook would recommend dumping four inches of dirt over an entire concrete floor?? Was this some sort of crude insulation? Was this - perish the thought - a leftover from some flood of decades past? Could the carpenter ants have banded together with the mice to create a mini Club Med? I couldn’t wait to ask Bob. But meanwhile, since I couldn’t see the sense of it, I began to dredge Lake McGuire with a dustpan -- a trowel was about as effective as a teaspoon, and I wasn’t really enjoying hanging over the doorsill reaching into a dark, wet, smelly unknown. I actually cleared down to floor on the side that I could reach, and found the place where the main pipe came through the floor - and water started to gurgle away. I left it to gurgle and tottered back inside. Overheated and bruised from having to balance on sensitive bodily areas, I was approaching the requisite coloration for the holiday.

Meanwhile, I’d started to copy some files to disk, and had obviously totally forgotten about that! I took a break and checked on it… and watched with growing fear as it sat there with “5 seconds remaining” on the screen for a good 5 minutes! When the system wouldn’t even shut down, and had to be cold rebooted, I started thinking in terms of voodoo curses. But more likely it was just the “long holiday sensor” that has been designed into every piece of power equipment since the first Model T. I got the CD glitch to repeat - and since it was a 25 minute save-to-disk operation, that was one hour gone - so now I can’t save anything. There are days when you push the envelope, and days that you sensibly hide as deeply in the envelope as you can burrow. Today you will have to do quite a bit of digging to find me.. I’m burrowed in and waiting for the experts.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


It’s that time of year - the berries are ripening fast, and good homesteaders are assembling the jars and canning pots to preserve the harvest. I was excited last January, when I saw the bushes growing out of the lawn, and envisioned mega-crops of raspberries, boysenberries and strawberries. I had conveniently forgotten both that I tend not to eat fresh fruit (I prefer coffee and potato chips) and that my last several “brushes” with canning and making jam had ending in the kind of sticky chaos usually reserved for pre-school lunchtimes. I suppose it’s like childbirth pains (not that I’d know) - we forget the worst of it and put a golden glow around the rest.

I started as I usually do (as befits my Attention Deficit makeup): I grabbed some berries, threw them into the Cuisinart and then into a pot and started to cook. While they were heating, I rummaged around for the Joy Of Cooking book in order to find out what was next. (note to experienced canners: stop here unless you want to give yourself a headache.) It reminded me that I needed almost equal parts sugar, depending on how sweet the berries were. Apparently one doesn’t usually blend strawberries and raspberries, but I didn’t have enough of each, so what the heck… I hadn’t measured them, either, so I did a visual approximation, and poured white sugar into the hot pulp. As the mess - uh, mix - started to simmer then boil, I realized I needed those canning jars that were in the garage, and probably the canning pot as well… with a quick glance at the stove, I raced out to get them - of course they were buried under my last project and it took me a moment to unearth them. The canning pot lid was nowhere to be found, so I hauled the rest of it back into the house, where the jam was boiling like red soapsuds. It smelled great (except for the faint hint of burnt sugar) and I gave it a vigorous stir and checked the recipe book again.

The quantities called for seemed much larger than what I had - in fact, putting a couple gallons of water on to boil up two half-pint jars seemed hardly worth the trouble. But I did put the canning jars in the water, turned on the burner (it was about half the diameter of the pot, which made me a bit worried about how long it would take to boil), and raced out to the garden to see if any more berries had ripened overnight. Fortunately quite a lot had, and I fumbled with the bird net, trying to reach the ripe ones (the bird net does not seem to have stopped the birds, but it sure has me flummoxed). With another pint in the container, I raced inside. The smell of burnt sugar was stronger now, but when I’d washed and tossed the new berries in, crushing them in the pot to save time, the bubbling mixture subsided a bit. The canning water was still tepid around the empty jars - in order to raise the level of the water without pouring in another gallon, I had added about five quart jars that I knew I wouldn’t need - finally, my high school geometry class paid off!

I remembered that I wanted to do mini-jars for gifts, so again I raced to the garage- I’d bought new ones of these, so they didn’t need washing (I hope). By then, the mix had thickened - Joy of Cooking has this test: if the mix falls off the spoon in one drop rather than two split drops, it’s gonna gel. That hadn’t worked in the past, but hope sproings enternal, as they say. So I spooned the mix into the baby jars- damn, that stuff was goopy! Probably as much fell to the counter, and I was really tempted to re-capture it using a piece of bread (that was months of watering, growing, and a fair amount of fertilizer - wasted on the counter!) but I restrained myself - only a couple finger-fuls hastily lapped up. I screwed the lids on the jars, remembered that they stick when they’re goopy, unscrewed them, wiped off the threads (isn’t that what they call the long lumps of glass around the rim?) and re-sealed them. I dumped them into the large canner pot, where the water was finally a bit too hot to touch (and how was I gonna get them out of those many gallons of boiling water?? I’d burn that bridge when I came to it). Then I hemmed and hawed -- the larger glass jar had not had its pre-requisite boiling before filling. Reasoning that this jar was for myself alone, I decided to take the risk - the jam mixture was already congealing on the sides of the cooking pot. So I spooned the rest of the muck into the larger jar - of course there wasn’t enough to fill it (how do cooks get these dang things to work out evenly?? I suppose that’s what the specific quanitities mentioned in the recipe are for?)

Once again, it seemed very sad to have boiled all this water, and dragged out all the jars, strainers, etc. for such a small batch… so I grabbed the oranges sitting in the bowl and decided to follow it with marmalade. The recipe said the oranges had to sit for 15 hours after they first boiled, but I decided I could skip that part. They were scrubbed, quartered, thrown into the food processor, and the lumpy orange goop poured into another pot. Here we go again… What with all the taste-testing and spoon licking (not to mention the counter), I now had enough sugar in me to spin out a whole classroom of kindergarteners. While the jam was getting up to sterilizing temps, I stirred the marmalade down, then filled a mini jar and an actual quart jar (but I live alone - when will I need a quart of marmalade??) then sealed and plunked them into the canning pot. While waiting, I re-read the recipe… and realized there was no mention of canning/boiling after sealing the jars! Apparently, that’s just for vegetables… all that water, boiled for nothing. Sheesh… With much difficulty and a couple of burns, I fished the jam and marmalade out of the pot and let them cool on the counter for a bit, then tossed a couple in the freezer and some in the fridge.

I really hope my family is happy with their gifts of homemade jam. It’s not that I mind all the chopping, stirring and boiling -- but having to wash three sinkfuls of jammy pots, pans, ladles, bowls and spoons is what I call a major pain in the canning jar!