Friday, June 30, 2006

Once more into the bleach

I made it in to work yesterday without a problem. Actually, with the bright sunshine, cool air, clear skies and freedom of the road, it was the nicest commute I've had in a while. It felt good to be driving to work.

On the way home I was in a race with approaching thunderstorms. I wanted to make it to my new house before they hit. All I need is a half hour or maybe forty-five minutes with my reel mower and I can have the whole lawn mowed neat as can be. (The effect you get with a reel mower is not one of a shaved carpet of grass, every blade a uniform height, but rather something that looks more like a lawn that has just naturally grown to exactly the height you want it.) I lost.

I stopped at home to grab something to eat and check the weather radar. The storms looked to be a half-hour or so to our West, but within a few minutes the wind had picked up outside followed by rain. Mowing the lawn was now out of the question at either house. On to Plan C.

I grabbed a broom, a mop, a bucket, and some bleach (actually stuff called Clorox Clean-Up, pre-diluted bleach that probably cost me ten times as much as just diluting some bleach myself.)

Mopping with bleach is always fun and hazardous to your lungs and your clothing. Make sure the area is well-ventilated. Make sure neither the mop nor the bucket have any traces of other chemicals, especially anything with ammonia - mixing ammonia with chlorine bleach, even in small quantities, will produce clouds of toxic gas. Finally, make sure you're not wearing anything that will be ruined by bleach. Either wear junky clothes, or do your mopping in your underwear with sturdy, sacrificial boots, preferably with clean soles. (This works best if you're not expecting company.)

So the major mopping work is done, though I may do a touch-up mopping to remove residue just spread around by the first mopping. And, weather permitting, tonight I will take another stab at mowing my lawn. One of them, at least.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Once more into the breach

Today I'll take another stab at getting into work. The river crested at 2:00 this morning, so things are probably not going to get any worse. I'll take an alternate route if I have to - I don't expect anything that is open this morning will be closed at the end of the day.

I shut off one of the pumps in my basement before I made my failed attempt at getting to work yesterday afternoon, and I shut the other one off a few hours later. I sopped up any residual water with towels and I've had fans running all night. They'll probably run all day today, too.

Depending on the weather when I get home I'll either finish mowing the lawn here (which I started at 8:00 last night), mow the lawn at my new place, or wash the basement floor down with bleach. All three things need to be done today, or tomorrow, or this weekend.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to finish painting my porch sometime soon, too.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Greetings from the Isle of Nanticoke

Well, I tried.

After pumping water until 2:30 in the morning, and waking up at 5:30 in the morning to resume pumping, and continuing flood recovery and cleanup until about 12:30, I decided to take a shower and head into work...if the roads were open.

They're not.

There are several ways of getting from Nanticoke to work. You can take Main Street east out of town and pick up Route 29 South and take that to Interstate 81 North. If the exit for Route 29 is closed due to being covered in water, you can continue along to Dundee Road and follow it south to Middle Road and pick up Route 29 there - unless the intersection with Dundee Road is under water.

It is.

There are still a few other options. Several of them take you to the other side of the Susquehanna River, so we may rule all of them out. Some would involve driving west and getting creative with back roads through places even smaller than Nanticoke. The only real alternative would be to go south through Nanticoke and pick up Middle Road. This has also been known to flood, but only in extreme conditions, like we're likely to be subject to tonight when the river crests at levels never before seen, or at least not since the flooding brought on by Tropical Storm Agnes in June of 1972. (But this time it's not from a hurricane, not from a tropical storm. Just from rain. Welcome to your new climate. Don't like it? Sorry, it's not returnable.)

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1972. The Luzerne County Commissioners have ordered evacuations of all areas affected by the Agnes floods, the worst flooding in the history of this area. Not that anyone expects this to be like that. No siree. But better safe than sorry.

And I shall be here, dealing with groundwater seepage but otherwise safe and sound, high in the hills of the Isle of Nanticoke.

We survived the night

I didn't fall asleep until after 2:30 this morning, after I assured myself that I had done everything I could do to protect the house from the groundwater that was seeping in from every direction. I woke up three hours later to find that the situation was not much worse than when I went to bed. My pumps had held the water steady in the unfinished part of the basement, and my towel dams had helped to contain the water that had intruded in other parts. Fortunately I just went through a major cleanup this weekend whose primary focus was to get non-waterproof stuff out of contact with the floor.

Don't know when I'll get to work today, which is unfortunate because we've got a major project going through right now. But all of the roads between here and there may not even be open. I'll have to keep pumping and play it by ear.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Basement flooding

Well, our luck couldn't hold out forever. Around 10:30 water started to come into our basement. It's still raining, so it's still coming in. I've got two pumps running. This is going to be a long night.

It's supposed to rain more tomorrow. And the next day.

Suburban Commando, Hydrology Division

Well, that was fun.

I was chatting on AOL when I heard a car drive through the intersection in front of my house.


Then I heard another car go by.

RRRRAAAAAAAAW RRRRR RRRRSH HHH, agreed the second car.

That's odd, I thought. Cars shouldn't sound like that. I went outside to investigate.

The storm drain across the street was totally blocked. Water was coming up over the curb in front of my neighbor's house, and was flooding the street in front of my driveway. At the rate it was raining, it wouldn't be long before the water was coming in my garage from the street by way of the driveway. Somebody had to do something.

I went out with a push broom and tried to brush away whatever was blocking the storm drain. No luck. I got frustrated and jammed the handle in the grate, but that didn't seem to do anything. I gave it up after I got splooshed by a bunch of passing cars.

I ran back to the house and told my mom to call the fire department to have them blast out the drain. Then I went back out...and the flood was GONE. In less than five minutes.

The drain must have been blocked with stones and gravel, and I must have opened just enough of a hole to let the water force its way in. There are piles of small stones all around the grate. I used a snow shovel to clear the stones out of the road, and used the broom handle to make the drainage hole bigger.

It worked, for now. I hope it doesn't rain much more tonight.

There's floodin' down in D.C., all of the telephone lines are down...

Well, not quite yet. The phones are still working, but much of the Federal City isn't.

The last time I saw Washington D.C. was when I flew in to BWI from Newark on the last leg of my Ireland trip in March. As the plane soared along the Chesapeake Bay (I think it was the Chesapeake Bay) I couldn't shake the impression of buildings and human activity precariously built and conducted along a flood plain. But for the grace of the Cosmic All they would be underwater, I thought.

In the early 1970's Frederik Pohl wrote a story called The Gold at the Starbow's End. It's a depressing story of manipulation, deceit, and unexpected consequences set in the near-future - probably our present. In one passage Pohl envisions an America torn apart by Civil War, where several regional leaders lay claim to the title of President of the United States of America. One of them is a dimwitted thug who seeks to legitimize himself by clinging to the trappings of past Presidents in the soggy ruins of Washington, D.C., flooded by rising ocean levels.

It's not rising ocean levels that are responsible for the current D.C. flood - there will be plenty of time for that later. No, it's just unusually heavy rain that's pounding the entire East Coast. Other parts of the country are being cooked by unseasonably hot weather. Meanwhile, Gypsy Moths and Tent Caterpillars are responding to the situation by experiencing a population explosion and eating their way through the lush forests of Northeastern Pennsylvania, while a blight is killing all of our pine trees, painting large swaths of the mountains rust-red and setting up ideal conditions for devastating forest fires. And in the midst of all this, a National Academies of Science report released last week stated that climate change is real and not just something that Al Gore invented so he could go hang out at Cannes.

So I think in this environment it would be great if Congress were to put aside their debates on flag burning and gay marriage and baseball and pick up the issue of climate change. It's overdue - long overdue, by more than thirty years, since scientists and environmentalists began to sound the horn warning that human activity was changing our environment. We've spent well over 100 years building our greenhouse, molecule by molecule. It's unlikely that any speech presented on the floor of the House or the Senate would reverse those changes, today or tomorrow or next week or next month or next year.

But it would be nice to see such a speech anyway. Especially if the opposition's response were to be presented by someone standing ankle-deep in flood water.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Another milestone

Today I had my 25,000th page view since I began counting in May of 2004. For some people, for some sites, that's nothing. For me, it's mind-boggling.

Thank you all for visiting. I hope I make it worth your while.


Last Fall my mom and the woman next door began feeding a group of local stray cats. The roster of cats that would show up every day and night would change, gradually, but we were able to recognize some regulars and learned their personalities. There was the timid little black-and-white who would run away if other cats approached, and the little gray tabby who would only eat soft food. There were cats who would run away at the sight of a human, and cats who would sit on the steps and cry until someone brought them food.

I warned my mom not to get too attached to any of them. We live on the busiest street in Nanticoke, and it seemed inevitable that with so many cats crossing the street on a regular basis, at least some of them would wind up as roadkill.

I only named one of the cats. It was a big orange cat who was completely friendly and absolutely fearless. He - or she, I don't know - would run up onto the steps as I was pouring food (yes, even I got into the act) and rub his head against my hands as I poured. If we left the door open for too long while he was in the area, he would come up onto our back porch and look around. My mom thought he was not really a stray but was actually somebody's pet. He showed up so often and interacted so much that I decided I had to give him a name. I named him "Sammie", which I figured would work for a boy or a girl.

Winter was the major time of feeding, when our food probably meant the difference between life and death for some of these cats. We also set up little shelters here and there where the cats could seek refuge against the wind and the cold, dark sky. I'll never forget Christmas Eve - well, Christmas Day, since it was after Midnight Mass - stepping out onto the back porch and being greeted by a chorus of hungry cats, gathered on the steps by the door like so many Christmas carolers. I fed them, wished them a Merry Christmas, and went to bed.

This weekend there was an orange cat dead on the street a few blocks from my house, its head shattered into a bloody pulp. Was it Sammie? I don't know. I haven't seen him in months.

I wish I had taken my own advice about not getting too attached to stray cats who are probably destined to be roadkill.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Keep it or toss it?

I discovered a new physical law yesterday: a pile of junk, once disturbed, will always increase in volume, regardless of how many items are removed from that pile.

My friends came over yesterday to help me move heavy items, since I had canceled the plans for painting due to the forecast of rain. The heavy items in question were six footlockers filled with books. These are heavy, heavy things, and as the basement/bedroom/storage area/laundry room where they were being stored wasn't configured to make it easy to get these things out, I chose another approach: out through the sliding cellar window.

These footlockers were themselves buried under storage crates and clothesbaskets and loose piles of things that all needed to be moved first. We got the footlockers out of the window and over to the new house in no time at all, and so we had plenty of time for touring the house and shopping for a bookcase (my friends bought me a bookcase as a housewarming gift!) and going out to lunch (which my friends also paid for!) After returning to the house to drop off the bookcase and tour the parts we had missed the first time, my friends headed back down to their place and I headed up to my friend's cousin's granddaughter's book signing. This was followed by a stop at a nearby cookout for some pink lemonade (25 cents a cup) and then I zipped back into town for 4:00 Mass.

After which I had to confront the mess that I had made in getting out the footlockers.

Cleaning this up consisted of several parts: staging additional items near the window for easy removal, deep-storing items that wouldn't be needed for a while, discarding or salvaging items that had become ruined by long contact with the basement floor, and cleaning up certain other messes of which I shall not speak. In the end I was up until after midnight shuffling the piles and hauling out the junk.

I came across a treasure trove of old receipts and pay stubs and letters from friends. The receipts I shredded, the pay stubs and letters I saved. I'm not sure why I saved the pay stubs. While waiting for my PC to boot up today (after several tries it's still not right; I'm writing this entry in WordPad and hoping I don't run into any problems when I try to post it to Blogger) I leafed through last week's Newsweek and came across the "My Turn" piece called "C'mon, America, Fire Up Those Shredders". In this essay Lisa Johnston bemoans what she calls "infonoia", the fear of discarding any little scrap of paper because it might someday turn out to be useful, or important, or even required. Better to save every scrap of paper than to throw away the one which we might need later.

Infonoia isn't all in your head. I compulsively save all of my emails at work in an easily-searchable form for those two or three times a day when I need to look up something somebody said last week or last month or last year or in March of 2001. My mom is currently collating receipts and records of all of her expenses to allow her to appeal a decision made by Social Security to begin withholding money from her monthly check due to a bookkeeping error on their part made ten years ago.

When my father died last year, my mom was advised that she would be receiving a reduced portion of his Social Security payments based on a specific formula. When these payments began arriving, they were considerably less than promised. After several months of fruitless calls to Social Security, with repeated promises of action within specific time periods, Social Security finally determined the source of the discrepancy: Seems they had been overpaying my father's Social Security payments for ten years. After his death, the payments were recalculated based on a reduced version of the correct figure. But because my mom brought the error to their attention, they have decided to recoup the past overpayment by withholding it from future payments. Not all of it, mind you, just three years, three months, and three days' worth - the maximum permitted by law. Had she not brought it up and forced them to investigate, they might never have discovered the error. She is appealing the decision, but to do this she has to prove that her expenses will make this withholding an undue burden. Given the beauracratic sluggishness she has encountered so far, I have no doubt that the appeals process will be completed sometime around her 99th birthday.

So, keep it or toss it? I don't know. I hauled out two garbage bags full of damp-ruined old clothes and shredded credit card receipts from ten years ago. I wonder if I've tossed anything I should have kept?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Rain, rain, go away

I have some friends coming up to help me with the new house. The plan had been that they would help me scrape, sand, prime, and paint the porch and put a second coat on the steps, and maybe repaint the silver spikes on the tips of my wrought-iron fence - the only parts that don't need to be extensively scraped and sanded. But it's raining today. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, and the next day, and every day for the foreseeable future. We can't paint when it's raining.

So we'll try to figure out something else. I'll see about breaking out some heavy-lifting stuff - trunks of books and other things that need to go from being in storage here to being in storage there. And I'll give them the grand tour, and go over the list of projects that need to be done, and the order that they need to be done in.

Then, at 2:00, we're off to a book signing. I wonder if it will still be raining then?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

How to end a drought

Everybody knows how to make it rain. It's easy: wash your car. There is a perfectly logical scientific explanation for this involving the evaporating water droplets from your newly-washed car serving as nucleation sites for moisture in the atmosphere, effectively seeding the clouds and making it rain.*

But that only works briefly and locally, usually directly over your car. What if you're going through a long dry spell? How do you end it and make it rain in your entire region?

The answer, I have discovered, is equally simple: begin painting your porch and steps. Any major outdoor painting event will probably do, but one that involves multiple days and multiple coats is probably the best suited. The science probably involves the evaporation of paint solvents. In this case I'm using latex paint, so the solvent is water.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a major storm system headed this way. I think I need to take shelter.

*I seem to recall reading this explanation in a scientific theory contest in OMNI magazine more than 25 years ago. Another theory involved a proposed system for levitation created by strapping a piece of buttered toast butter-side up to the back of a cat and throwing it from some height. Since the inviolable physical requirements that the toast land butter-side-down and the cat land on its feet cannot be simultaneously satisfied, the toast-cat system will be incapable of ever touching the ground and will continue to spin and hover just above it.

My Friend Sluggo

After we* finished repairing the broken boards on my porch, my cousin's boyfriend and I headed down into the cellar to turn up the temperature on the hot water heater. Once we moved the knob from "VACATION" to a position midway between "WARM" and "HOT" (after clearing about an inch of dust off the knob itself), I glanced up at the years of cobwebs in the rafters above the water heater. What do the spiders eat?**, I wondered. I hadn't really noticed any flying insects in the basement. How does an ecosystem work down here?

We were making our way out of the cellar back to the steps that led to the kitchen and we noticed recent-looking water stains on the floor. There has always been some water in the basement, and last year there were several inches of standing water during a period of heavy rains. I have plans to improve drainage around the foundation, but those are a few items down on the to-do list.

We noticed that one of the water stains looked more like a track. We followed the track with a flashlight to the point where it ended in a six-inch-long slug.

Now, this wasn't your garden-variety slug, which is good because I can't imagine most gardens lasting very long against a slug of that size. It was huge and actually quite beautiful, with a mustard base color and stripes and spots of darker brown. (The spots might have been stripes broken up by the slug stretching, or the lines might have been spots squished together by the slug compressing.) We called down the other friends who were visiting to come and have a look.

When my cousin crouched down in front of the slug to get a better look it did an amazing thing. It reared up, raising its front third off the cellar floor and extending both sets of head tentacles to maximum. I don't know what it was doing, but it reminded me a lot of a spider that will raise itself up and wave its forelegs in the air as a threat, even when the thing it is trying to intimidate is a human hundreds of times its size.

I named him*** Sluggo and declared him to be my friend.

It took a few minutes on the Wikipedia to identify this slug. It is the Great Grey Slug, more appropriately known as the Tiger Slug or Spotted Leopard slug. It can live up to three years and grow up to eight inches and is allegedly commonly found in basements, though this is the first one I have ever seen.

I plan to install a dehumidifier in the basement, to wash down the floor with bleach, and to reroute rainwater into a garden irrigation system - none of which will probably be very good for any Great Grey Slugs living in my cellar. But I will try to get along with Sluggo as long as he's there. Maybe I'll write another twisted children's story: "My Friend Sluggo, the Giant Slug Who Lives in My Cellar."

*I say we, but my participation consisted of holding some cut boards, driving some nails, locating some paint stirrers to serve as shims, and retrieving a board from the coal bin after it fell in.

**This story doesn't answer this question. I don't think slugs wind up in spider webs very often.

***Slugs are hermaphrodites. I'm calling Sluggo a "him" for the sake of convenience.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I decided yesterday that since AOL is marginally more stable than Firefox for me these days, I would compose all of my blog entries in AOL Mail and use the Blog-By-Mail feature of Blogger to post new entries. Then I would open Firefox and use it to edit the post and add links.

I was working on a longish post in AOL Mail today when I watched Firefox crash. Fine, I thought, I'm not there.

Fifteen minutes later, as I was adding the finishing touches to the post, AOL winked out of existence. Not even so much as a "Goodbye". Just there typing away one second, and gone without a trace the next. Along with my entire post.

Screw it. I'll rewrite it in the morning, when it's cooler and things are less likely to crash. In the future I think I'll print my entries in block capitals by hand and scan them into AOL Mail using Optical Character Recognition software, then e-mail the entry to Blogger, then use Firefox to edit it. Yeah, that should work.

If only my scanner didn't crash so much.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Progress report 3

All Tier 1 items are complete. These were the three items that were required by my insurance company: replace broken boards on porch, replace broken storm window in kitchen, replace broken window in garage.

The storm window I took in to get repaired the weekend before last. Actually, what I took to the glass repair place were four strips of metal that used to be the storm window's frame. I picked up the repaired window this past weekend, but I need to get new clips before I can rehang it.

The garage window I had professionally replaced. It was well worth $75 to avoid having any major nerve, artery, or tendon damage cased by ham-handedly trying to fix the window myself.

The porch boards were replaced tonight. We started much later than I had hoped, and it took more than an hour to do, and required the sacrifice of two paint stirrers to serve as shims, but we put in the last nails at something like 9:15. That must've delighted the neighbors.

Reviewing the list I see I have also dealt with some Tier 2 items (heavy lifting and heirloom dispersal, the weekend before last), and started on the Tier 5 items (painting the porch) and the Tier 7 items (bringing in my kitchen table, chairs, rocker - which I assembled today while I was waiting for everyone else to show up - frying pans, and assorted kitchen odds and ends). Still a lot to be dealt with, including new projects that weren't on the list - like replacing the leaking drainpipes for the kitchen sink.

Oh, I made my first mortgage payment today - with a little (well, a lot) extra thrown in towards the principal.


I just got the 15,000th visit to my site. Granted, this number is a little bit off, since I was rsponsible for a couple dozen self-hits before I figured out how to keep my Sitemeter from counting my own visits.

The odd thing is, I know who this person is - or suspect I know who they are, based on their domain name. As a prize for being the 15,000th visitor, this person (and his family!) wins a weekend of hard labor at my new house - lugging books, painting stuff, shaking their heads in disbelief at the amount of work that needs to be done! CONGRATULATIONS!

I AM somebody!

No, the new phone books didn't come out today. But I did receive my first bill at my new house, for the mortgage, due in 10 days.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sammie's back, sort of!

Sammie's is finally showing something more than the "Coming back soon" message, which was itself a big improvement over the "Page not found" message that was being displayed for nearly three months. Click on over and check it out!

In another development, Sammie has posted new webcam images for the first time in 15 weeks. Go to Sammie's Camsforall page and see! And while you're there, be sure to check out the cat pictures from 28-Feb-06!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Progress report 2

Front porch and steps,
May 29, 2006

Front porch and steps,
June 18, 2006
(Yes, that's really the color!)

I decided to attack the walking surfaces of the steps today. My logic was that, since there is no mail delivery today, I would get the maximum amount of downtime from the steps after I painted them, allowing the first coat to dry thoroughly.

Hah. My neighbor told me after I strung up the "WET PAINT" sign that the mail comes at 8:30 in the morning. I'll be getting my mail before I head for work. How weird is that?

I had myself on a tight schedule today. 8:00 - 8:45: Church; 9:00 - 9:30: Grocery shopping; 9:45 - 10:00: breakfast; 10:00 - 11:00: Scrape, sand, sweep, and mop steps; 11:00 - 12:00: prime steps; 12:00 - 1:00 purchase Floor & Porch paint from Home Depot while allowing primer to dry; 1:00 - 1:30: Apply first coat of regular exterior paint to left-side vertical boards around porch; 1:30 - 2:00: apply first coat of Floor & Porch paint to steps....

Of course that wasn't how it worked out. It was so hot I had to take a 20 minute water break every hour. Scraping the steps took a very long time, although my cousin's electric sander helped a lot. Add in sweeping, mopping, priming, laying down a first coat of paint on the left-side boards, and taking a few long-distance phone calls, and I didn't head out to the Home Depot until nearly 5:00. Didn't start putting on the first coat of Floor & Porch until after 6:00. Fortunately it takes only 4 hours to dry, but 24 hours to be ready for the second coat, so I didn't feel too bad about only getting one coat on. I might not even be able to get a second coat on tomorrow - it will technically be too soon to start when I get there.

I'm gearing up for Tuesday. I hope the porch repairs are as straightforward as I'm being told.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

An incident witnessed while scraping and painting the porch of my new house

We weren't able to do the repairs to my front porch - which, I have been assured, will take only a half-hour and will not require a building permit - today, but we're scheduled to do it Tuesday. I'll be there.

So instead I began scraping, sanding, priming, and painting the vertical boards that run around the sides of the porch today. Why just the verticals? I wasn't exactly positive that the color that I liked on the sample card - Behr's "Thoughtful Spot" from the Disney collection, a light sky/robin's egg blue - would look just right on my porch, so I wanted to start with the smallest container possible, which is a quart. Unfortunately, exterior floor (high wear resistance) paint only comes in the gallon size. So I had to settle for normal exterior paint not designed to be walked on. Fine, I thought, I'll just paint the non-wear areas of the porch.

So that's what I did. Four boards running along the sides of the porch. Each one needed to be scraped, sanded, wiped down, primed, and painted with two coats. I started off scraping, sanding, wiping, priming, and painting one coat on one board to get a sense of the color. Then I moved on to the next board - scrape, sand, wipe, and prime, by which point it was time to put a second coat on the first board. (It is amazing what a difference a new coat of paint makes appearance-wise. That, and the removal of all the curling, flaking, improperly-applied paint.)

It was while I was scraping and sanding the third board that I witnessed the incident.*

My new house is at the bottom of two long and steep hills. The one coming from the South begins about half a mile away - the street terminates at the top, so I can actually see all the traffic coming down it from the very beginning. Haley and I used to walk up to that point - the second-highest point in Nanticoke, after my church - and walk down the street past my grandmother's house. I always thought it would be cool to close off all the side streets and use the hill for skateboarding sometime.

The other hill comes down from the West just a block below the church. It terminates in a STOP sign. Not that that means much.

So I was there, scraping away at the third board. It was a beautiful day, a perfect day for painting, a perfect day for a motorcycle ride. Lots of people were out on their motorcycles. I watched one of them come down the long hill from the South. He was taking advantage of the relatively recent change in Pennsylvania law that has allowed motorcyclists to ride without helmets.

I watched him come down the hill from the South, and as I watched I was thinking about some friends who have motorcycles. Then I watched a car roll up to the STOP sign at the bottom of the other hill, the one that comes from the West, perpendicular to the path of travel of the motorcycle. Then I watched the car roll through the STOP sign at the bottom of the other hill. The driver came to a "slow", which most people believe is the functional equivalent of a STOP. It isn't.

It is difficult to see oncoming cross traffic at that intersection even when you have come to a complete stop, and cross traffic does not have a STOP sign - two excellent reasons to come to a complete stop there. The car was halfway through the intersection when the driver (or his passenger) noticed the motorcycle coming at him. Then the driver made another mistake. He hit his brakes instead of the gas.**

Had the driver hit the gas he might have avoided the collision, sailing past the point in space where the motorcycle was shortly going to be. Instead the accident unfolded in slow motion. The car had slowed to almost nothing, as had the motorcycle. I watched the helmetless motorcyclist lurch as his motorcycle coasted at a low velocity into the side of the nearly-stopped car.

I had my phone in my hand - I had had it outside with me, in case anyone called while I was painting - but something stopped me from calling 911. I don't know why. I haven't been shy about using it when I've seen dangerous debris on the highway, or burning cars on the side of the highway, or suicidal-looking teenage girls sitting on the sides of highway overpasses at midnight. But for some reason I didn't call today.

Quickly the motorcyclist got up, and the driver and passenger got out to assist, and everybody had cell phones out. Then the police showed up, and a fire truck, and an ambulance. All was well. No intervention on my part required, unless somebody needed a witness.

After a half-hour or so the accident scene was cleared and everyone was leaving. My mom and my aunt stopped by on their way home from church and I showed them my handiwork and told them about the accident.

About another half hour later another helmetless motorcyclist zoomed through the same intersection, doing about 75 in a 25 mph zone.

I wonder if he would have gone so fast if he knew about what had just happened?

*It was also while I was working on this third board, on the "spare" side of the house, the side that used to be rented out, that I discovered that the last tenants apparently had a staple fetish. Dozens of staples sticking out of the wood decorate every board on this side of the house. Why? Why? WHY?

**I was once driving home from work on the 4th of July, my first 4th of July at my job. I was taking advantage of the triple-time overtime pay that used to be paid for working offshift on a holiday. I was paying attention to traffic and cast my awareness about a quarter mile in the distance, a point where I would be in a little over 15 seconds. I noticed two deer, young, running at full gallop across the other side highway, miraculously being missed by oncoming traffic. As I got closer I saw them enter the grassy median. I knew that in a few seconds I would be on top of them. If I hit the brakes I might avoid the deer by having them pass in front of me, but I might then be rearended by all the highway traffic befind me. Instead I hit the gas, floored it, and watched them cross the highway through my rearview mirror.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Not alone when it comes to restoration

Of course I'm not alone in my restoration project with my new home, my grandmother's old home. I've got friends, and relatives, and friends of relatives, and relatives of relatives, and friends of relatives of relatives, and people I've helped move in the past. For the most part I technically don't know what I'm doing, but that will change.

Today I got a hit from someone doing a blog search on the word "renovations". I think it was basically someone out to leave comments that would drive traffic to a specific website - a website that might simply be selling some good or service, or might also be a virus-laden trap. In any event, I poked around the blog search results for the word "renovations" and found the blogsite Renovating On The Cheap , which promises "This website will teach you how to renovate without spending your life savings." Most of the projects look a little more sophisticated than I'd care to get into, but it seems worth a look.

Tomorrow we will either repair the front porch, or I will lay a color test patch of paint down on a relatively inconspicuous part of the porch - or both. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My Reality TV show concept

It's called "House of Lee".

Here's the idea. You put Stan Lee (former head of Marvel Comics), Jason Lee (skateboarder/actor, appeared in many Kevin Smith films, currently in the popular TV series My Name Is Earl) , Spike Lee (angry, edgy director), Ang Lee (director of movies about a not-so-jolly green giant and a couple of overly friendly cowboys), Jason Scott Lee (actor who once portrayed Bruce Lee - no relation) and Geddy Lee (lead singer of Rush) together in a house in need of extensive (but layman-doable) improvement. Armed with home improvement books and a weekly allowance of gift cards at a major home improvement store, each week our gang of Lees must tackle common home improvement tasks - remove and replace a toilet, fix a sink, replace a window,hang a door, install a deadbolt, paint the house - all while trying to deal with their varying levels of home improvement experience, overcome the egos that come from being both a man and a celebrity (or semi-celebrity), and work together as a team.

Wait, there's more. Each week the Lee Men are given their assignments by a distaff Lee - Lee Meriwether, LeAnn Rimes, Lee Ann Womack, Leelee Sobieski, Cathy Lee Crosby, Jamie Lee Curtis - who will then explain to the viewers the correct techniques that should be used, and will point out the errors being made by the men of the House of Lee.

And the host for the show? None other than Lee Majors!

The birds

On the day I took ownership of my new house I stopped over for an inspection tour - not my first inspection, of course, but my first as the owner. I noticed some loose grass clippings over the doorway on "my" side of the house, in the recess of the transom window. I swept them out with my hand, wondering how the hell they got there. I turned to the corresponding point on the "storage" side of the house and discovered that it also had grass clippings - neatly arranged into a bird's nest. I touched it without thinking and realized it was solidly mounted. This was not a leftover from last year. This was a current nest.

Over the next week I became acquainted with the owner. She was a robin who took a dim view of this new human who was making himself at home in close proximity to her home. When I would arrive at the house with a load of stuff she would cheep at me in annoyance. Once she even paced the front porch at the top of the steps when I pulled up, keeping a careful eye on my car the whole while. (I've never seen a bird do this before. She was hopping back and forth across the porch exactly like a guard on patrol.)

About a week ago her eggs hatched. She has three baby robins in the nest now, and they're getting big.

We've come to a sort of accommodation. I don't disturb her nest, and she doesn't peck out my eyes. I am as gentle as possible when opening and closing the front doors, and I have put off any plans to replace the storm doors until the babies have left the nest.

She isn't the best of neighbors. Apparently the kids grew tired of a diet of worms, so she's been feeding them cherries and littering the porch with the pits. She spotted me watching her from inside the house through the transom window yesterday and flew off in a huff. This evening I'll be spending some time on the porch with a broom sweeping off the cherry pits and the loose bits of grass that never made in into the nest. I hope she doesn't mind too much.

UPDATE: As of 8:30 PM the evening of the day I wrote this, the birds are gone. I went out on the porch to sweep away the cherry pits and the nest was empty. Could the birds have been out getting flying lessons? Or have they left the nest for good, never to return?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Everything I needed to know about home renovation I learned from Anne's Almost Quintessence

Yes, it's true. She covered it all in this post from April 2005:

Gather 'Round All You Home Renovators

A key insight:
What you will find is that every single item in your old home is inextricably tied to every single other item. That roofing nail in the uppermost corner of your peak is directly in contact with the foundation walls. You want to replace one, you better be prepared to replace both.
She also focuses on the importance of beer, which is why I have made getting the kitchen in working order a top priority. Need to fire up the refrigerator to store the beer, and I need to have chairs and a table so we have somewhere to drink it.

And I am also gearing up for lead poisoning during the sanding-and-painting stage. I wonder if lead-specific respirators would be an exercise in futility?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Camilla's back, and Sammie's coming soon!

Two of my favorite bloggers, the first two bloggers I ever read regularly, have been offline for the past few months due to technical reasons. Sammie's went offline sometime in mid-March due to server, or hosting, or some damned sort of computer doohickey problems. Camilla Henrikke's, until recently, hadn't been updated since early April due to a massive hardware failure - her motherboard died, or something like that.

Camilla's finally back online with her first post in over two months. Sammie's is now showing a "Coming back soon" message rather that just looking like it isn't there anymore, like it has for nearly a quarter of a year.

These are both fantastic developments. I look forward to reading Camilla and Sammie's blogs on a regular basis once again sometime soon.

A joke told at a priest's retirement dinner

This Sunday, as I have mentioned before, was the 50th anniversary of our parish priest's ordination. Since he is also retiring in two weeks we had a dinner to celebrate both events.

The dinner was not as dull as you might expect from a parish composed mainly of Polish 70-somethings. It had a few highlights. (Note to the paparazzi and fanboys everywhere: Keira Knightley is apparently doing role research by bussing tables at the Ramada in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I didn't get her number, unfortunately.) One of the highlights was this joke, told by the toastmaster:

A man has been confined to his bed in his house for several weeks. He is sick, dying, and does not expect to last long. One morning he wakes up and finds his room filled with a wonderful aroma, a smell that takes him back to the happy days of his childhood: the smell of home-made peanut butter cookies, his favorite treats, fresh out of the oven.

Am I dead? he thinks to himself. Am I in Heaven? Or maybe I'm asleep and dreaming? He decides to find out. Calling upon strength that no one realized he had anymore, he manages to pull himself out of bed, slithering onto the floor. He then decides that he is neither dead nor dreaming, and sets out to find the source of the smell for himself.

Slowly, painfully, he pulls himself along the floor of his bedroom and through the open doorway into the upstairs hall. He then manages to crawl down the steps, headfirst, slowly, carefully. Finally he is on the ground floor and begins to crawl towards the kitchen. He gets to the kitchen, pries the door open with his fingertips, and is overwhelmed by the smell of the cookies. He crawls along the floor to the table, which he knows is full of cooling cookies. Dragging himself to a table leg, full of joy that he has reached his goal, he pulls himself up partway and reaches his hand out for one of the treats from his childhood. Suddenly a spatula smacks his hand away.

"Hands off!" says his beloved wife sternly. "Those are for the funeral!"

Monday, June 12, 2006

NPR and PBS on the chopping block again

Yep, it's true. Didn't we just go through this last year? The goal of these cuts is not to save money - the amount saved would be miniscule compared to the amount that is being wasted in the national budget (or on non-budget items, like the "Emergency Spending Bills" that fund Bush's Discretionary War.) It's a purely political act. Contact your Representatives and Senators and tell them to cut the crap.

Here's a message from

Subject: Save NPR and PBS (again)


Everyone expected House Republicans to give up efforts to kill NPR and PBS after a massive public outcry stopped them last year. But they've just voted to eliminate funding for NPR and PBS—unbelievably, starting with programs like "Sesame Street."

Public broadcasting would lose nearly a quarter of its federal funding this year. Even worse, all funding would be eliminated in two years--threatening one of the last remaining sources of watchdog journalism.

Sign the petition telling Congress to save NPR and PBS again this year:

Last year, millions of us took action to save NPR and PBS, and Congress listened. We can do it again if enough of us sign the petition in time.

This would be the most severe cut in the history of public broadcasting. The Boston Globe reports the cuts "could force the elimination of some popular PBS and NPR programs." NPR's president expects rural public radio stations may be forced to shut down.

The House and Senate are deciding if public broadcasting will survive, and they need to hear from viewers like you. Sign the petition at:


P.S. Read the Boston Globe story on the threat to NPR and PBS at:

Progress report 1

This weekend was fairly productive, even though it was interrupted by two different parties - my cousin's daughter's eighth-grade graduation party on Saturday, and our parish priest's combination 50th Anniversary of Ordination and Retirement Mass and Dinner yesterday.

Saturday was full of projects at the new house. Project 1 was to remove the broken storm window from the outside of the kitchen window. Tools required: ladder (still in package), leather gloves, goggles, long sleeves and sweat pants, bucket, and a hammer/hatchet combination for the dirty work. It took me a while to get the ladder situated properly, and it took me a longer while to realize that by putting the cardboard from the ladder's packaging on the ground I would avoid having to deal with glass shards in the grapevine walkway for the next few years. The window glass had conveniently fractured into long, dagger-like pieces that were pretty easy to remove from the storm window frame, but about halfway through I realized that the glass was the only thing holding the window frame together. So in the end, rather than taking a broken window to the glass shop for repair, I handed the woman at the counter four strips of metal and asked if they could make a storm window out of them. I also made arrangements to make arrangements to get the glass in the garage window replaced. They'll be calling me sometime this week.

While I was working at the house the phone rang. I picked it up and was presented with a long recorded message from my phone company congratulating me on having activated my phone service with them and providing me with numerous helpful phone numbers to call to verify this and set up that and protect myself against the other. Unfortunately, as I am still going through the moving-in process I didn't have a pen near the phone, so I missed 90% of the information. I'll have to call them back.

On my way back from the glass repair shop I stopped at home to get some moving straps that I had forgotten to take with me. As I got out of the car my cousin Dena and friend Darren pulled up in Dena's SUV on their way to help me. I took advantage of the presence of the truck by loading it up with all sorts of stuff-to-be-moved that was sitting in my garage - much of it having been there for over ten years. Once we had a full load we headed back to the house, and unloaded the stuff - almost all for the kitchen, which is the first room in the new house that I am getting in working order, but also including three different mail sorters I have picked up over the years, which was good since I had just gotten my very first piece of mail and it was actually something important.

When we were done unloading we got to work relocating furniture from "my" side of the house (which needs to be rewired and repainted) to the "storage" side of the house (which stinks of cigarette smoke and two dogs and several humans.) We also moved the heirloom items out of various rooms and into a staging area for pickup, originally the front hall, but later the front porch. While waiting for a cousin and her husband to come and pick up the items, we began the arduous task of unloading the rocker box from my car.

After that was done my friends had to skedaddle, so I spent a little bit of time mowing the lawn with my old-fashioned reel mower (it took about 15-20 minutes to do the lawn, in a quiet and meditative fashion long-forgotten by those who use gas-powered mowers.) Then I closed things up and headed home to finish mowing our lawn with my electric lawnmower before heading off to a graduation party.

Yesterday I was a little more constrained. Our priest's Mass was at 3:00, so I had to wrap things up no later than 2:00. I decided to spend the day "garage mining." I knew my kitchen table (purchased 12 years or so ago) was in there somewhere, I just had no idea where it was or what the box looked like. I also knew that there were lots and lots of other pre-purchases in there - glassware and an iron skillet set and all sorts of kitchen stuff - that I needed to get at. So I chose a likely-looking seam and began tunneling my way in. Unfortunately, I cleared nearly the entire left side of the garage without finding the table, although I did find another truckload of stuff for the house. I had to take another approach.

I opened the garage door and went in from the front. I found the table almost immediately, in a large, flat, beaten-up box flush against the outside wall of the garage, blocked in by buckets full of ancient blacktop repair stuff (I really need to fix some holes in our driveway - but later, after the must-do's are done), rock salt, and an old headboard from a bed. With much effort I got the table free and accessible, but by this point it was nearly time to get ready for Mass. I rearranged my findings in a manner that would allow us to once again walk through the garage, gathered my outfit for the Mass and dinner, and headed in for a shower. My weekend of work was over.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Edits to the previous post

I don't like making substantial edits to my posts. I have done a major content edit exactly once, and I think that doing so on a regular basis indicates a lack of conviction, a lack of willingness to stand behind what you have said, perhaps even an impetuousness or a lack of maturity in your writing. If you find yourself having to go back again and again to delete or modify things you have previously written, perhaps you need to learn to think things through before you submit them for the consideration of the world.

But I will edit for typos, for basic errors, or, in the case of the previous post, for major omissions. I forgot some of the stories my cousin's husband and his brothers told last night. Then I remembered. So now I've added them.

In case you're wondering, the additions are "bendy-bow", "Horsey", and "belt tag". Without these, the stories just sound like a lot of juvenile mischief. I'm sure that I'm still missing some stuff, but now you have a more complete account of the tales of growing up in Nanticoke in the early and mid-1970's.

My misspent youth

I had a productive day yesterday. I wrote a blog entry, removed the broken storm window from the kitchen, set up my telephone service, and arranged to have the garage window replaced. Some friends came by to help me move a lot of stuff out of my garage and into my new house, and move a lot of furniture from the to-be-remodeled side of the house to the "storage" side of the house. We also moved out the heirloom items that people wanted to pick up, and got the rocker out of my car. Finally I mowed the lawn at my new house, and finished mowing the lawn at my current house.

Then I was ready for a party.

It was a graduation party for my cousin's daughter, who just graduated from eighth grade. It was a fairly mellow party, and the second family get-together in as many weeks - the last one was for my uncle's funeral. My cousin lives in a house at least as old as the house I just bought. My grandfather's sister used to live there, but before that it belonged to their mother (that is, my mother's father's mother). Where I am aiming for restoration with my house, my cousin and her husband opted for total remodeling, resulting in a modern-looking house that bears very few traces of its previous identity.

The sun had set and the party was winding down. My cousin's husband and his two brothers began sharing stories of the hijinks that they got into back in their younger, pre-High School days - hiking up and jumping down culm banks (or sledding down them on car hoods), hopping on the train that rumbles throught Nanticoke*, robbing the train that rumbles through Nanticoke**, playing bendy-bow with birch trees (a game which involves climbing to the top of a birch tree, rocking back and forth until the top touches the ground, and then getting catapulted through the air as the tree springs back), playing a game called "Horsey" which sounds a lot like the game "Buck Buck" described by Bill Cosby in the classic routine where he introduced the character of Fat Albert , playing "belt tag" (a lot like regular tag, only instead of "tagging" people who aren't "home free", the "it" player was allowed to beat them with a belt until they got to "home free"), stealing corn and melons and other stuff from the farms along the river flats (and running like hell from the farmers with their shotguns full of rock salt), getting in all sorts of trouble in school, hanging out with people who got in even worse trouble at school...

I told them they should write a book (read: start a blog) that details all this stuff. This is a world that doesn't really exist anymore, a world that died when video games became common. One of them pointed out that if they made a movie, it would look a lot like Stand By Me. But these aren't stories from the 1950's or even the 1960's; these are guys just a few years older than me, who were doing these things back in the mid-1970's. Just before 1977, the start of the Modern Era. You know: the year Star Wars came out.

I never had adventures like this when I was the age they were describing - 12, 13, 14. I never hung out with a bunch of guys in the strippings***, I never drank beer around a campfire in the middle of the woods. I never hopped a train or stole produce or rode a car hood down a culm bank. I was a good kid who kept his nose clean and in a book. I spent most of my free time reading. I guess it paid off in the end, with a full-tuition scholarship to a good college. But I can't help but wonder how things might have turned out if I had lived my life a little differently back then.

*Freight trains roll slowly through Nanticoke several times each day. Back in 1999 some convicts broke out of the nearby State Prison and hid out in the woods behind a supermarket not far from my house, about 100 yards from the railroad tracks. Philadelphia boys, not very bright. They could have hopped the train and been halfway to anywhere in no time. Instead they lived off waste food in a dumpster for a week before deciding to carjack a little old lady, who promptly beat the crap out of them.

**Well, sort of robbing. Another group of kids would break into the freight cars. Then everybody would help themselves to the cases of Schlitz inside.

***Strippings = Strip mine pits, usually filled with water and very deep and dangerous. Stick to the "shore" and you'll be fine.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

How I embarrassed myself three times with one purchase

One part of my new house that I plan to keep substantially the same as when it was my grandmother's house is the kitchen. The kitchen worked, and worked well. But I will be doing it with new furnishings, since the kitchen table and chairs are an heirloom hand-finished by my uncle and my grandfather (and the chairs were always too spindly for my tastes, anyway) that are now passing on to my aunt, as is the pantry cabinet.

There had always been a rocker next to the stove. The original rocker that I remembered my grandfather sitting in smoking his pipe after Sunday breakfast is long gone, replaced about 15 years ago by a more brutish model painted an ugly pinkish-gray. That rocker is now stored in a room upstairs. I wanted to get a rocker of my own to put in this spot.

On Closing Day I went on a shopping expedition to buy things for the house that I knew were on sale: fans, a steel chair, a kitchen cart. I stopped in the Country Junction in Wilkes-Barre Township just for the hell of it - I figured that they wouldn't have anything I would want immediately, but it would be a good place to look around for ideas down the road. I quickly came across exactly the living room suit that I wanted even before I knew I wanted it. While making a sweep of the back area, I also spotted a rocker for only $39.

I tried it out. It fit me just right. I leaned back, and my head rested comfortably against the high back. Perfect. I'll take it.

Only I couldn't. There's only so much stuff you can fit in a Tercel.

Fast forward to yesterday. I had a plan: hit the Country Junction for the rocker, cross the road to the Wyoming Valley Mall to get the latest copy of Wizard with a Borders/Waldenbooks Gift Card that I got as a cashback bonus from Discover Card, and then go down the road the Home Depot for paint swatches and storm door brochures. One, two, three, in and out, nobody gets hurt.

I arrived at Country Junction. I went in to buy the chair.

Embarrassment #1: I couldn't find the chair. The display chair was still there, but I couldn't find any boxes of chairs for sale. Surely the big flat things next to the display model did not contain rockers? They did. I had looked at the box, but not hard enough - the picture label was on the underside.

Embarrassment #2: Two of the girls who work at the Country Junction carried the chair out for me. I could have carried both of them around on my shoulders, and they did this thing for me. Which I suppose is just as well - a big, flat box like that is a pretty awkward thing for one person to handle, and I would probably blow my back out trying to do it. (I'll find this out soon when I try to get it out of my car.)

Embarrassment #3: They had me bring around my little Tercel to see if we could get the box to fit. My little, tiny, crap-filled Tercel. Suddenly the issue wasn't whether we could get the box through the door of the car - we could - but how many empty water bottles and church bulletins and other assorted bits of accumulated crap we would have to move to clear a place for the box. (Answer: a lot.)

The rest of the trip was unembarrassing. And I saw a huge double rainbow when I got to the Home Depot. I just hope I don't run into those girls from the Country Junction again. I feel like saying what Lenny from The Simpsons said when his house blew open to reveal him sitting at a table in his underwear eating from a can: "Please don't tell anyone how I live."

Maybe I should just clean out my car.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Scheduled Blogger outage at 11:23 AM today

There is a Blogger outage scheduled for 11:23 AM EST (8:23 AM PST) today. This will be a refreshing change of pace from all the unscheduled outages that have been happening lately.

Blogger has its own Blogger status blog. It can be found at For anyone wondering what the heck has been going on with Blogger lately, here are the latest posts from that blog:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

For many users, Blogger will have been extremely slow or down for most of the morning. We continue to work on fixes for this problem and hope to have it resolved as quickly as possible.

Update (4:45p): We are planning another infrastructure overhaul to address the significant problems we've been having in the past several days.

Update (6:59p): We've made another change that has improved performance, but we are also planning to make additional changes this evening.

Posted by Jason at 11:14 PDT

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

This morning, a hardware problem we had been struggling with over the past several days suddenly worsened. As a result, and to stave off future downtime, we have had to take Blogger down for an extended period of time as we address the problem. We will continue to update this blog and the homepage with more information.

Update: We've brought up new hardware which has allowed us to restore the site. We try hard to avoid downtimes of this length and apologize for the inconvenience.

Posted by Jason at 15:37 PDT

Monday, June 05, 2006

Photo uploading will be disabled for 30 minutes this evening starting at 10pm (Pacific Time).

Update: This is taking longer than expected. Hopefully we will be done by 11:45pm (Pacific Time). We will update as we learn more.

Update: We are now finished. Thank you for your patience.

Posted by Jason at 15:46 PDT

We are now recovering from an unscheduled downtime, related to the problem from last week.

There is still some residual slowness as a result of emergency maintenance we are performing on the system.

Posted by Jason at 10:20 PDT

Friday, June 02, 2006

We are having intermittent downtime because of a hardware problem. We are working to resolve this issue.

Update: This has been resolved.

Posted by Jason at 11:22 PDT

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Some users will be seeing an error at login because of a change made last night. We are working on a fix for this problem now.

Update, 10AM Thursday: This was fixed at about 2PM yesterday afternoon.

Posted by Jason at 11:01 PDT

Saturday, May 27, 2006

From approximately 5:45pm to 6:30pm, some people may have had trouble accessing their blogs as a database job was causing queries to be slow. Things have been restored to normal. Sorry for the interruption. Posted by Steve at 18:47 PDT

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Post-dinner follow-up

Just had dinner with some friends. Here is my promised follow-up research:

Wobblies: Industrial Workers of the World, an international trade union whose membership numbers peaked in 1923. (See, I told you it was before your time, li'l missy.) Not a lot to do with England or skinheads as far as I can tell from the article. Must've been some crosstalk in my cerebral circuitry. Or maybe there's some link that I've forgotten.

The "...never got a dinner" routine was by Red Buttons. I first saw it on the 1970's TV show "Make Me Laugh". This is where I saw a lot of old Borscht Belt comedians as well as some up-and-coming young ones, including a big-chinned kid named Jay Leno and his "Hot Plate" routine.

Ding dong, Zarqawi's dead

Reports are coming in from every direction this morning that al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been killed by a U.S. airstrike after allegedly being sold out by some of his own people.

I'm not seeing a downside to this news. I'm hoping that there are enough bits of him left that not only a positive identification can be made, but also so that they can all be gathered together and fed to pigs. Not that I'm anti-Islamic like some people I know, who think that all Muslims should be prohibited from traveling by air in the U.S. and prohibited from immigrating to anywhere in North America. (A word of advice: if you feel this way, maybe you should have "NO MUSLIMS" tattooed across your chest. I know a few Muslims who are also surgeons and heart specialists, and you might feel more comfortable not having them poking around your insides with a scalpel while you're unconscious.)

This may not change anything. The capture of SaddamHussein and the deaths of his evil bastard sons Uday and Qusay didn't change anything. But for the moment, I'm going to let myself feel a little bit optimistic.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Two things make me feel absolutely incompetent: graduate school and home improvement stores.

My graduate school career was nasty, brutish, and short* and made it quite emphatically clear that I am not cut out for specializing in one particular field of knowledge while ignoring all other aspects of the human experience.** There are few feelings like walking into a situation feeling some trepidation but having a general sense of optimism that with enough hard work and determination you will be able to succeed, and walking out a few months later feeling like the biggest idiot in the world.

Home improvement stores are another matter. I think some latent form of spatial dyslexia kicks in as I walk among rack upon rack of almost-but-not-quite identical items. Everything looks the same to me and my planned purchases become ordeals. Do I want this ladder, or this ladder, or one of those ladders? These are drill bits, these are screwdrivers, where are the nail sets? Are there any safety glasses here that don't make me look like a Bono wannabe?

I spent nearly twenty minutes after work today walking up and down aisles of cleaning supplies, paints, and mailboxes (with a side trip to the storm door department to discover that, alas, the storm door I have in mind does not come in red) before I stopped a clerk on a ladder who was stocking shelves in the cleaning supplies area and asked her where I could find the dehumidifier-in-a-cup thing. She simply stretched out her arm, pointed, and said "Damp-Rid? Right there."

I hate home improvement stores for the way they make me feel about myself. I don't like being made to feel incompetent, and home improvement stores are very good at that. But I know people who love them. I once went on a date with a girl who had recently become a homeowner and who took great pleasure in doing hardcore home improvement shopping. Aside from that we got along great.*** I haven't heard from her in a very long while.

Too bad. She would have really been helpful right about now.

*Senior year in college the Philosophy Honor Society had an end-of-the-year cookout. At my suggestion it was called "Back to the State of Nature" with the promise that it would be "Nasty, Brutish, and Short." It was. It started to rain just as the burgers and hot dogs were almost ready, and we had to call it quits early.

**I have also compared it to being mugged while drowning. My graduate school experience sucked.

***After dinner we went out for a drive. We talked for hours that night, and I talked so much that
the next day my upper palate swelled up and nearly killed me by closing up my windpipe. It was all for naught, as she was on the rebound when we went out and she quickly took up with her treacherous ex again...but that is a story for another time.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


The neighbors on either side of my new house are the same people who were the neighbors when my grandmother lived there. Well, sort of. This is true on the South side of my property, but on the North side there has been a bit of attrition. The house there is also a double-block, and half of it still has the same people who used to live there - nice people who remember me, even though I do not remember them. I remember the people who lived on the other side of their house better, but they have all died or moved on.

These neighbors are really nice people. Friendly, chatty, a bit, shall we say, inquisitive, which is as good as an electronic intrusion detection system any day. And more than that: when I stopped over yesterday to mow my lawn with my Sears Craftsman reel mower, I was a little surprised at how thorough a job I appeared to have done on the front portions last Thursday, since everything still looked neat and trimmed. Then I walked into the back to get my mower and received a shock: the entire lawn was freshly mowed. I don't know for sure who did it, but I suspect it was my North-side neighbor. I had been warned that he has a riding mower for his relatively small lawn, and he enjoys using it. But to get to my yard he would have had to drive out through his back gate, down the alley to the far side of my property, and then through the opening where the fence used to be. I'll have to remember to thank him the next time I see him.

Sadly, the neighbors on either side are in their late 70's or early 80's and probably will not be my neighbors for too long. I'll try to enjoy their company while I have them.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Things I learned while trying to change over utilities today

1. Every utility company has a record of your Social Security Number as part of their billing system. As a past victim of Identity Theft - and there really is no such thing as a "past" victim of Identity Theft - I have a huge problem with that.

2. Never, ever name your kids after yourself. Never. It may feel good for your ego, but having two people with the same name at the same address will cause no end of difficulties when it comes to things like keeping social security numbers and identities from getting confused on medical records and utility records.*

Sonofabitch. I have to head over to the Social Security Office to get a copy of my Social Security Card.** Goddamit.

P.S. Utility company and Social Security Administration voice mail systems suck ass.

Oh, and it seems like everybody is experiencing "unusually heavy call volume" today.

*Actually I learned this a long, long time ago. Today is just another day where I am dealing with the consequences of a decision made nearly 40 years ago by somebody else.

**I got lucky. My mom had my original card (and the original cards of all of our family members) stored in her fireproof safe. I never knew that. I bought both of us fireproof safes about ten years ago. Mine is just stuffed with old letters from girls I think I used to know.***

***Name that tune.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

To-do list (revised & expanded edition)

Here's a new version of the list of things I need (Tiers 1-8) or want (Tiers 9 and 10) to do with my new house, grouped in descending order of immediacy. Goal dates, except for those required by the insurance company, are generally pretty arbitrary - a trick I've learned from the business world.

Tier 1: Required by Insurance company to be done by end of June
- Replace rotted/broken boards on front porch. This may get taken care of next weekend.
- Remove broken window from kitchen, take to glass place for replacement. Also get 20"x20" pane of glass for garage window and replace. Must buy: ladder, preferably "Little Giant" style; glazer's putty; glazier's points (no idea what they are, but that's what the "Lowe's Complete Home Improvement and Repair" book says I need); putty knife; extra pairs of leather gloves.

Tier 2: Heavy lifting (help needed)
Goal: By June 17

- Remove heirloom items being distributed to relatives and place in "spare" side of house. This will prevent them from being damaged, and will prevent me from having to open up my house again and again and again to people who might be looking to pick up a few other items for the Antiques Roadshow. Will need some heavy lifting help here.
- Discard furniture slated to be discarded. Right now this amounts to a single couch that my grandmother inherited from my house when we redid our parlor back in 1984. It's in very bad shape. Heavy lifting help needed.
- Move other furniture. I dont want to be "living in my grandmother's house." I have to make this place my own, and that means I need to get some new furniture, even to replace furniture that's perfectly good. Well, this stuff isn't "perfectly good", and is downright uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be discarded. It will now furnish the "spare" side of the house. Heavy lifting help needed again.

Tier 3: Replace electrical service (Contractor required)
Goal: By end of June
There's no getting around this. Half the outlets don't have grounding plugs. The two-prong outlets won't accept polarizing plugs. The wiring is ancient, and the fuse box is a museum piece. (Literally. Must remember to keep it.) And most rooms only have one or two outlets.

I need to bring in someone from the outside to upgrade the electricity - yet another reason to get the heirlooms the hell out of there. The poured plaster walls themselves are antiques that I want to preserve. Where possible, we'll use existing outlet locations - but where that isn't possible, I think I'll go with surface mounted fixtures to minimize wall damage.

Tier 4: Clean and paint (help needed)
Goal: By second week of July
I'm not replacing the carpets yet - they're good enough for me. But I expect the electical work will probably produce plenty of dust, as will the painting prep work. I want to paint the front room (currently a parlor that never really worked as a parlor, slated to become a library) and the middle room (a living room, to become a living room.) Both will be slightly tinted shades of white to maximize natural light reflection - the library will be a slightly golden white, the livng room a greenish-yellowish white like the flesh of a pear or the rind of a watermelon. This will contrast well with the furniture I've got in mind for that room - I'm thinking red fabric.

The stairwell and upstairs hallway need painting, too. Neither is particularly bright or inviting right now. Still, since neither of these have any furniture, there's no rush to paint them.

Tier 5: Paint porch and fence (help needed)
Goal: July (during dry period)
May as well do both of these at once. Both need lots of sanding and scraping. The porch will probably be a saturated shade of aqua. The fence will be traditional black and silver, but may also need some spot-welding...if any of my friends with welding gear would be so inclined. Otherwise I can probably come up with some other solutions.

Tier 6: Replace front storm doors (vendor installed)
Goal: Anytime before September 1

This can really be done at any point, but I want to minize the chances of damaging them. Maybe I'll wait until I've moved in my stuff. I'm thinking of getting doors in the style of the one I got for our house...
...but in red. And minus the Christmas garland.

Tier 7: Move stuff in (help needed)
Goal: Whenever all previous items complete
There are some advantages to being a semi-compulsive shopper. I've got a kitchen table and chairs, cast-iron skillet set, a set of Revereware pots, some Pyrex bakeware, a knife set, plates, drinking glasses, wine glasses, cutlery - all purchased over ten years ago. I have a chrome rack that will become a pantry that I purchsed over a year and a half ago. A lot of this stuff has two things in common: it's heavy, and it won't fit in my Tercel.

Ditto on my books. Thousands and thousands of books. I do need to start buying bookcases - my library will be a happy jumble of mismatched cases, so I don't need to worry about getting them all from one source.

I guess I'll want to look into getting a DSL line installed at this point. I'm not too interested in the latest and greatest TV access - I don't plan on making the television the focal point of my living room, though there will be one in there, hooked to a cheap little DVD player. But the computer will be fairly important, and I may as well get DSL from the start.

Tier 8: Required by Insurance company to be done by May 31, 2007
I've covered this list previously - and actually, the only projects I haven't already mentioned in this post are painting the porch railings, painting the garage, and repairing the concrete grapevine wall and sidewalk. Most of these projects really will need to be done by late Fall 2006. I'll be needing help on them, too. I see these as "learning" projects - any fix will be an improvement, the consequences of failure are low, and they require skills that I think I and anyone who helps me will develop as we go.

Tier 9: Begin prepping gardens for Spring 2007
Goal: By December 1
Lots of contractor's paper (the brown stuff on a roll), lots of bricks, lots of compost. Let the worms do most of the work. Also, string up temporary grape trellises until more permanent replacements can be installed.

Plans for Spring planting:
- Rosebushes and daffodils in front
- Butterfly bushes on sides of porch
- Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries along North property line
- Dwarf cherries along South sidewalk in back yard
- Two vegetable gardens in back, either side of stumps
- Forsythia in front of garage
- Magnolia on South side of garage
- Lilac on North side of garage
- Additional lilacs and butterfly bushes as privacy screens

Tier 10: Spring 2007 projects
- Replace back fence
- Repair and replace grape trellises
- Install clothespoles and clothesline
- Repipe downspouts into linked barrels to serve as irrigation system

My goal was to have a backyard party before the end of this Summer. That may be overly ambitious. But I think the house will be ready to serve as host site for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas this year.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Day of verbs

Today started off bright and early with a funeral. It wasn't really that early, or that bright; my uncle was buried in his wife's family plot in Hanover Township (just outside of Wilkes-Barre) after a graveside ceremony that started at about 11:00 in the morning under gray skies and a light drizzle. He died last Sunday in Maryland, his funeral service was held there on Thursday, and his body was transported to Pennsylvania for burial this morning.

Afterwards we had a luncheon at a local restaurant - the same restaurant where my aunt and uncle had their wedding reception. The photo album that my cousin Dena and my friend (and friend of the family) Darren put together from scans of photos and newspaper clippings that we retrieved from my grandmother's old house was the hit of the day.

After that I went home, changed, and went up to my cousin's house for an informal after-lunch get-together. I was able to sit still for about five minutes before I decided that there were a few things at my new house that needed my attention. Nothing major - checking the mail, assembling the second of two steel chairs I bought on sale at Kmart, and trying to power up some of the clocks I just bought for the house (I need to remember to take a Phillips-head screwdriver over there next time to remove the clocks from their packages.)

While I was there my cousin's boyfriend came over to have a look at the items on the 30-day list. The front porch he figures can be repaired in a matter of hours, once he gets the supplies, and the broken kitchen window is actually a sort of storm window held in with clips and can be removed easily. The cracked garage window - the upper left non-movable window rather than the lower right movable window - will be more of a trick. The glass is held in place by decades-old putty, and the window cannot be removed from its sash without potentially demolishing the garage. Can the glass be replaced with the window in place, without severing any major body parts? That will be quite a trick.

We looked things over until it was nearly time for 4:00 Mass. Fortunately my new house is just down the street from the church, so we made it there no problem.

After church I returned to the house to address one of the issues with the grapevine.
This grapevine has been in existence for as long as there have been pictures of the house, and not long ago it stretched from one side of the lot to the other. In recent years disease, neglect, and intentional destruction have reduced it to a single remaining group of vines of white grapes - the purple and the red are gone. (There is another vine in another location with what may be the same sort of purple grapes, so I will be doing a little bit of propagation in a few weeks.)

But there was another issue I wanted to address immediately. The remaining vines were under attack by something that was trying to crowd them out - several somethings, actually, three of them, though I was only able to identify one.
This vine with five-lobed leaves resembles some sort of horse chestnut, but I have no idea what it is. Was. I pulled it all off, cut any vines I could find, and uprooted it where I could. I did the same thing with the other, finer vine that seemed intent on strangling the grapevine, not merely smothering it. Same also with the Deadly Nightshade, which I smelled before I saw it. Deadly Nightshade doesn't have an entirely unpleasant smell, but it's a smell you'll remember.

I had all this wrapped up by 6:30 or so, and now I'm tired. Tomorrow I want to do some furniture shuffling to get the house ready for the major painting and rewiring projects coming up in a few weeks. But right now I just want to go to sleep, and it's not even 8:00. Maybe next time I should wear gloves while handling Deadly Nightshade!