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Friday, August 29, 2008

I do plumbing and what I wear

My house is very old - the house under the house was built sometime before 1790, when the first deed was recorded.  My apologies to my friends in England, but originally my land was a grant from the King to William Penn.  The Penn Family was...ah hem...loyal to the King what with all the land gifting and after that little relationship hiccup we call the Revolution, the disgruntled newly autonomous Colonials took all the land and gave it to the people who had been squatting on it.  I am sure there was all sorts of outrageous justifications all around, because these same squatters had ousted the Lenni Lenape Indians who were here first.  The well documented currencies of exchange for these transactions are very interesting to me as a Realor (or Land Agent - which is what I think they call us in England).  For instance, the Squatters like my John Alford gave the Lenni Lenape small pox which drove them out, and then, in 1790,  gave the new Government of the United States $204.00 in newly minted dollars and any of the Penn Family that showed up on May 4 each year thereafter one black peppercorn.  I don't know what year the Penn Family opted not to collect the peppercorn, but I have one framed next to my front door in case they ever show up.  At any rate, eventually the house under the house became too small and somewhere around July 1876,  a state of the victorian farmhouse art was built on top of the one room stone home.  With 32 windows and lots of intricate gingerbread, ample porches and high high ceilings and warm golden pine flooring, it must have been quite a sight.  I have a map which shows that we were much larger (at 162 acres) than our mere 8 acres now.  If I ever win the lottery, I won't move - I will just buy all the houses I can see from my upstairs and return my view to what once was.

It's the best place I have ever lived, even though the source of most of my frustrations and adventures.  When Charles and I bought what I now call Blue Sky Farm twenty years ago, it was a hot mess.  Most of the plumbing had been installed during the Rural Electrication Period following WWII and we made it the first priority in decades of repairs.  Now, it all needs to be done again, and this time, just by me.

About three months ago, the shower drain upstairs just slowed down.  I would be taking a shower standing in several inches of my own soup and that water would stay there for hours.  The mold from this was outrageous! Not to mention the foot fungus.  

I tried plungers.  I tried a traditional cup shaped one, and one I found in the barn with a more aggressive bulb kind of thing.  Nothing but burping. I tried everything on the shelves at the grocery store - foaming things, burning things, gel things, foul smelling nasty things.  Blue, Green, Red.  Twin Bottles that ominously mix only in the drain, where the magic is supposed to happen.  All these potions and mixtures are supposed to dissolve grease, hair, and I guess flesh and bones.  If these didn't work - and they didn't - I was AGHAST at what might actually be causing the clog!  I mean, what the HELL could be down there?

I started a very thorough search for another effective method.  Which means simply that I started whining to everyone I know about the water and the clog and the slow drain and my soupy feet.  My Daughter In Law, tired of hearing about it and suspicious that somehow this was going to end up a project for her overworked Husband My Son, finally said, "Why don't you get one of those blaster things?"


 She said SHE had a clog in her shower drain and she went to Home Depot and bought a WEAPON which had cartridges and BLASTED the CLOG out with a HUGE AND TERRIFYING NOISE!

Now THAT's the ticket!

I went directly to Home Depot, described what I wanted to several working members of AARP wearing orange vests and no one knew what I was talking about.

I stopped at the office and whined at Patient but Amused Male Business Partner.  He said, I have one of those and it really works but the noise is AWFUL.  Patient but Amused Male Business Partner is hearing impaired so I could not imagine what that meant.  

I convinced him that he should get in his car right now and drive me to Home Depot and show me exactly what shelf, what pegboard fixture he got this miracle from.

We found it right away. It is about two feet long, oddly like a bicycle pump with a red knob and yellow handles.  The package had four cartridges that looked like bullets which Patient But Amused Male Business Partner explained were CO2 cartridges.  I felt comforted by their bullet like appearance.  Like - if it looks like a bullet, then it must be effective, right?  I also found BLACK FLEXIBLE TAPE to use on the kitchen faucet which was spraying water out the top right at my breast bone, through holes eaten in the metal tap by our water.  (note to self - get a water treatment system, don't BE a water treatment system) They also had a huge array of parts and crapdedoodle that I know I will eventually need as I rebuild my house piece by piece.

So I bring the shooter thingie and the tape home.  Grandsons and Sons are drawn to it as moths to a flame, until they find out that it is for opening drains.  Eldest grandson begs to be allowed to shoot just one cartridge, nana please, c'mon, let me shoot it just once to see what it does i won't point it at my brother.

I'm sort of curious about this huge noise it is supposed to make so I tentatively agree to the experiment, as long as it is on the lawn and not pointed at any one or thing.  At just this point I am distracted by some other near catastrophe and forget all about it, for a couple of days.

Meanwhile, the open package is sitting on the steps.  I walk past it every day.  I glance at the cartridges, a SPLATTER MAT thoughtfully included but not noted earlier.  Rubber Washer Things.  Multi page instruction manual with many many translations into foreign languages. Cautionary Alerts in BRIGHT ORANGE AND RED.  Circles with Crosses.  People missing eyes.  No, I made that up, but you get the drift.

So, of course, the thing now looms large in my imagination.  I actually dream about it, puncturing my ear drums and shattering the pipes in the dining room ceiling.  And every day I am standing in that water with my now stinky feet and moldy bathroom walls.

As often happens with me, the fog lifts one day and I mend the kitchen tap.  Well, I wrap the stretchy black tape around it and feel totally inappropriately proud of myself.  Now, you may be wondering why I just didn't get a whole new tap, but the kitchen is going to be gutted any day now (this would be comical if I hadn't been saying it to people for twenty years) and it doesn't make sense to buy a new one if I can literally put a bandaid on this one.  See video below  of how well this is working.  Daughter In Law said yesterday that it was going to blow.  Noooo it wouldn't.  I wasn't dressed for work.

With the faucet repair so successful, I decided to tackle the plunger blaster thingie.  I don't read the instructions - I can't find the english ones anyway.  I unscrew the top and insert a CO2 cartridge.  I screw the top back on.  So far, so good.

I ignore the splatter mat.  (I'm in the shower stall) I strip down.  Why get my clothes wet?  I put on a shower cap and safety goggles.  No picture.  Thank me.

I place the plunger blaster thingie over the drain.  I pull the handle.

A farty, slightly like a balloon losing air noise.  Some white foam.

That's it.

I simply can't believe that this worked and I still have my hearing.  I wonder what ails the rest of them - what were they doing that I didn't do?????  I run the water.  It goes right down.

Right. Down. The. Drain.

No noise.

Just to make sure, and because I now have a ridiculously high level of confidence about plumbing, I do it again.

I run the water.  EVEN BETTER.  Much congratulation of self.  Much ironic reflection of how proud C would have been, maybe.   Can't wait to tell Patient but Amused Male Business Partner.  

Maybe I will buy a new faucet and install it myself.  And I have that new chandelier in the dining room I could tackle.........

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Life, Death, Toilets, Ice Makers and Motorcycle Axles

Don't know about you, but I hate mornings that start like this:  Reaching in to the toilet tank to pull up the rubber stopper thingie, getting wet to the elbow with water you aren't sure is bacteria free, flushing it, waiting for the tank to fill, replacing the crapper flapper thingie,  figuring out which is left and which is right to screw on the nut thingie,  washing the toliet bowl to free it from the remains of yesterday's use because no one had the energy to do this although the part was sitting on top of the tank all day because they were busy with OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS.  I mean, you would think that after THAT, the rest of the day would go pretty smoothly.  However, after you do THAT, you want a nice glass of ice tea, with crushed ice.  And that is when you discover that yet again, there is a motorcycle axle in the ice maker, thoughtfully wrapped in plastic.

Which is now wrapped around the crusher mechanism.  

This is not the first odd item to be stuck in my icemaker.  It's sort of a common situation at our house, but I have not heard others complain of anything similar.  It starts like this.  The freezer is crowded.  And disorganized.  People come to the freezer with a situation, like needing to freeze a motorcycle axle, or they are rooting through the freezer looking for the last fudge pop, or they need a place to put something that might spoil.  So the obvious solution is to put Whatever in the icemaker which is usually pretty empty.  These Whatevers have included but are not limited to: a dead parrot, a pound of hamburger meat and a buffalo penis.  I am actually happy to reduce this to ONE domestic episode when in reality, there have been dozens.  There was the dinner party when everyone's drink had little red flecks of flesh in them....you know, from the hamburger getting ground up into the ice bucket.....

But this time it's a motorcycle axle and I try to lift it out. I can't get my arm into a position where that works. I get a chair, jam it in the small place between the freezer door and the stove, climb on, wedge my head into the small opening between the icemaker and the top of the freezer so I can see that yes, my fingers didn't lie, it's a motorcycle axle, wrapped in plastic, on top of the ice cubes.  

OH there is the problem.  The action of the icemaker crusher thingie, like an axle itself, has snagged the plastic bag the axle is in.  SO, I reach for a steak knife (from the wedged chair) and start sawing away at any loose bit of the bag, thinking this will free it so I can lift it out.  But it won't budge.  I decide to move on from this til someone comes over to work on the addition.  I make ice tea with the ice from the trays - oh, I have ice TRAYS in the freezer because during the construction they cut the supply line to the ice maker, so I have to freeze cubes and then dump them in the ice maker for crushing.  

My phone buzzes.  Its a text from My Son.  The genius who put the axle in the freezer.  I am thinking it is some kind of apology.

No.  Earl is dead.

My Daughter-in-Law's Uncle Junior has died peacefully at home of the liver cancer he was diagnosed with two long weeks ago.  The minute the words were in the air, he started to fade. This has given his family time to organize his affairs and come in from all over:- Shug, ChaCha, and Suki in from the Carolinas.  A sister to Earl who is married to a Japanese Ballet Dancer has come in  from her home in the hills above Tokyo.  Other relatives from Oklahoma and Delaware.  His daughter Melissa put her life on hold and spent the last two weeks at his side. For two weeks, hushed voices, purposeful consideration of feelings, embraces, tears, laughter, memories.  Photo albums brought out and shared.  Communal meals with disaster-oles brought over by neighbors.  A switch to the time frames we have when everything else stops for a while, sort of like a snow day.  Some things fall to the side, the really important things come to the front.  Intensity.  Intimacy.  I am almost jealous of them because as a family they seem to navigate the toughest waters with grace and affection.  All of them emotional gymnasts, not afraid of the big feelings.  They don't flinch or look away when someone cries.  

So, I put the steak knife down.  Walk away from the axle.  Leave that for another day.  I'll buy ice when I am at the grocery store getting stuff to take over.  The stuff that sustains us during bad times:  wine, plastic ware, cheese, strawberries, paper napkins.  Ice.  Family.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Nola, Petey and Daisy on their summer Stay Cation.

And she couldn't even make it back to the sofa.  Next life, I want to be my dog.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


 After I used the bulb in soup I put the stems in an old jar.  The vascular system of the leek continued to pull water up and it swelled the different stems inside, and each morning when I come down, the protrusion is about half an inch higher.  Fog the cat keeps nibbling on them.   

I am posting this for Greentwinsmummy - over at the Simple Life blog, because I was startled to see that she and I - thousands of miles apart, bought leeks the same week.  

I was going to post this picture last night but I was distracted by Presidential Politics on Tv.  Sorry, Greentwinsmummy!  

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Four minutes with the chickens...

They Laughed Til I Cried

My son is a genius.  No, seriously.  A bonafide, card carrying genius.  I should know to trust him, after 34 years. However, when someone hooks a chain up to your house and starts ripping things off, you get nervous.  When you are watching this video, make sure you notice the "pole vault sticks" that hold the roof up and away as it is wrenched from the building.  THAT's why you don't need plywood over the windows!  (despite my pleas)  He says, "You think.  Then you do.  You THINK, then you do."   

The videographer is Eldest Grandson - and yes, he's the giggler at the end.  The fun never ends for this father and son!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How I spent my summer Stay-Cation!

It wasn't the price of gas or the state of the economy.  It wasn't even the election.  I wish I could say it was a conscious decision.  But it wasn't any of those things.  It just happened.  I find myself accidentally trendy.  This summer I am having a Stay Cation.

The house is under construction,
Gas is expensive.
All my playmates are doing something else.
Work is soooooo slooooooooow.
I am a bad travel planner, much better at being a go-alonger than an initiator.  

So, I am not going out of town any time soon.  

One night I was watching a commercial for something called Joe's Crab Shack where you eat out of buckets.  They were showing all kinds of hip people laughing and eating out of buckets, drinking fun drinks and I was overcome with a longing for camaraderie, food in buckets, and general summer fun.  I looked up the nearest Joe's Crab Shack and it's in Wilmington.  If I could get one of my friends to go to dinner, I knew they wouldn't go to Wilmington just to eat out of a bucket.  Seldom do they share my complete vision.  Which led me to the question, Why Can't Chester County Have a Crab Shack?  We have thousands of restaurants, some even sell Seafood, or specialize in seafood, but nowhere can you eat from buckets.  I wanted to dress in shorts and colorful linen tops, feel the late afternoon breeze on my sunburned skin, have silly conversations with clever hip people, linger for hours over buckets of clams, lobsters and corn on the cob.  (In this fantasy I am thinner and more blonde. My blue eyes dance while I engage in clever repartee.)  I could not remember the last time I had fun.  I was tired from worry and work and worry about work.  I have spent weeks packing up all my things and moving them to the basement in 100 degree heat to accommodate the house construction. Imagine a summer highlight being spending $2000.00 on plastic bags, totes and shelving. When I got too hot and too exhausted to make the trip from the kitchen, out the front door, down the side of the house, in the basement of the addition, up a plank into the old basement carrying a rubbermaid tote with a 12 piece dish set I have not used for three years, I was drinking home brewed too strong ice tea and playing freecell for hours on end.  Then I would call some previous client that I thought might have a lead to some business which I hoped would save me from having to make the trek with the next box of ceramic mugs or dinner linens.  I only left the farm to go to  Lowes or Walmart and although they have buckets, there are no crabs or corn.   Every day I was being serious, hard working, woefully adult.  Setting goals  to prove my maturity. Killing my own buzz with Teutonic Task Angst.  

Suddenly it all became clear.  I would take a vacation from feeling like hell, and have some fun!  Simple!  

These might not be how you would choose to spend your stay cation, but any way you do it, make the commitment and cut the tether on your woes, and watch that balloon just drift away.  For me, it was a simple decision to just not worry so much for a short time.  Sort of just let go and say yes to some urges and whims.  Here is what I did:

  1. I was quoted in The New York Times.  
  2. I auditioned for a tv show.
  3. I started a blog.
  4. I took up smoking.  
  5. I did a good deed.
  6. I had a fine dinner with friends.
  7. I was quoted in USA-Today and had my picture taken by one of their staff photographers.
  8. I had Ghost Busters Over to the House.
When Charles died, my friend Lynda told me it was like he and I were playing tug of war and he just let go. I have spent some months holding on to my end of the rope, looking at the other end and wondering who was going to pick it up.  Maybe nobody.  I know that in my old life as a wife to Charles, I would not be talking to reporters and bagging work to go off and audition for tv shows.  This is not to say that I chaffed at my responsibilities and obligations.  They were what I was doing then.  I am doing something different now.  Now being different was not something I chose or planned for.  So I am thinking I might wing it for a while.  Maybe stay on Stay Cation for a while. 

Sunday, August 3, 2008

By Way of Explanation: Itty Bitty Committee

I mention in my episodes an entity called The Itty Bitty Committee.  This is an imaginary group of critics and backbiters that live in my psyche.  They are the product of my upbringing and culture.  They were inserted through my ear canal at different developmental stages.  Picture either The Last Supper or a gaggle of Gods and Goddesses peering over the edge of Mt. Olympus.  

  • Green Guilt Giant:  Environmentally Militant, it could be noble to have such a thing as one of your sensibilities if I didn't know this was just another way to manifest guilt about something.
  • Frightened Adult: Wearing a beige sweater and skirt, FA is a hand ringing alarmist who is terrified of lead pencils and other sharp objects.  She is responsible for making me wear my seatbelt and never letting me get drunk.
  • Naugahide Man:  He wears a dirty white undershirt, blue plaid boxer shorts and one of those baseball caps that holds two beer cans and a long straw and sits in a fake leather recliner at the left of the long table.  He hates everything I do. He knows nothing is going to work and that if someone likes me, they just haven't known me long enough.  He is single handedly responsible for keeping me from having a writing career twenty years ago.
  • Librarian:  Has no other function other than muttering "Oh, really?"
  • God Bothering Gospel Dependent Bible Banging Foot Dragger:  Morality Watch
Other members come forward every once in a while but these are the major players.  By the way, this group is not meant to be ever confused with The Itty Bitty Titty Committee - that is a lesbian movie about plastic surgery.  

When Balloons Go Wrong

When Balloons Go Wrong

It's Sunday and some people go to Church (like real Church, not Talbots) and Realtors run Open Houses.  This is an activity that I think the general public has a lot of shallow uninformed opinions about.  For instance, clients have told me that Realtors run Open Houses just for themselves, to pick up clients. Yes, we do. That is how we sell your house.  It is not true that we enjoy littering the landscape with signs and once we shove them into the ground next to that stop sign, we forget all about them.  Well, just because you go past the same spot ONCE a week on Sunday morning, and Every Time you DO, that sign is there, it doesn't mean that I haven't picked up it by 4:15 the previous Sunday, ridden around with it in the back of my car all week, and then pounded it back into the roadbed at 12:45 today.  

Think about it.  It's  Sunday.  Sunday you could be going to Church as I said before or Sunday you could be spending with your family, or doing laundry or mowing the lawn of your own house.  I work seven days a week even in a challenging market like this because I have to be always available.  But Sunday is also the day I could be driving my clients around to look at houses.  Or Sunday is the day I could be answering phones at my office. I could be doing that, but instead, I am sitting in a sparkling clean, cool house for sale waiting for buyers to show up. In order to get to the point where I am waiting for buyers though, I have to go through a certain number of steps.

I have to get balloons.

I do not know why balloons are a perquisite for selling houses, but Real Estate runs on five things:  Paper, Money, Food, Signs and Balloons.  If just one of these elements is missing, the national economy will tank.  I think MSNBC ought to launch an investigation into who forgot to put their balloons out in Florida. Wasn't me.  Anyhow, I can not hold an Open House without balloons and they must have helium and they must be filled up the morning of the Open House.  The tank I can use for free is at the office, a twenty mile one way trip and it just seems silly now to send eight dollars in gas dollars to drive down when I can get five balloons filled up for five dollars at the grocery store which is only 11 miles away.  If I start to think of the mammoth Paul Bunyan size carbon foot print this activity produces I get a headache. Once you get the balloons blown up, you have to transport them.  In your car.  Normally I have a plastic bag (I KNOW I KNOW IT JUST GETS WORSE AND WORSE) that I use and you can fit about five balloons in a contractor size clean up bag.  I have seen other realtors with nets and anchors and stuff in their cars.  You can not put six helium balloons into your car for transport without the Itty Bitty Committee in your head going absolutely nuts.  The bickering is relentless.  The Green Guilt Giant is pissed and flashing pictures of sea lions wearing collars of (YOUR COMPANY HERE) balloons on ice bergs.  The Traffic Cop is writing out a warning for obstruction of the rear view mirror.  The Mother is beating you up for not spending Sunday with your family baking casseroles and other memorable meals.  The Frightened Adult is wringing her hands and speaking in low tones of Accidents that Are Avoidable.  But, you know, you go ahead and do it anyway because on a good day you can only listen to about ten percent of what they say, anyway.

So this morning, I am already at the office for phone duty so I can blow up my balloons for free but I do not have a plastic bag and I anchor the five strings of my balloons around a bottle of Mother's Sealant and Wax I get from behind the passenger seat.  I bought the wax but apparently you have to apply it for your car to shine - you can't let the bottle fall out of the Pep Boys bag and roll under the seat of your car if you want a showroom shine.  Now that is an activity you could spend a Sunday afternoon on.  But, I secure the balloons and the wax snugly behind the passenger seat.  This is going to be fine.

Since I am obsessing about gas and the environment, and since the interior of my car is about 150 degrees because of the black leather and the August midday sun,  I open the sunroof.  I just saw on tv that UNDER 45 mph, you are getting better gas mileage with the windows down and the sunroof open.  If you are going OVER 45 mph, you are better off running the air and cutting the drag.  Once underway, I open the windows and appreciate the breeze.

Which toys playfully with the knot I tied around the wax bottle.  Coyly, the balloons rise over the back of the passenger seat and flirt with me in the rear view mirror.

Then, predictably, one pops through the sunroof.  At this point, I have pushed the button which closes the sunroof s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully. It  slowly mashes one of the balloons like a toddler's head in the opening.  One balloon is out flapping in the wind at 46 mph, one is caught by the window against the frame of the car, the rest are jammed behind the headrest of the passenger seat.  It is several miles before the one on the outside pops - I didn't pull over because...I was just struck that it might be interesting to see where this controlled event would take me. 

Well, of course, one place it took me was being pointed at by small children in passing mini vans.  Another place was a feeling of living on the edge...in a non -sky diving, no bungie cord sort of way. 

When I get to the first place I am putting out signs I take the pictures above.  Now I have a blog.  It seems silly not to share.   This morning I was talking to another agent about going with flags instead of balloons.  I am going to order them right now.