Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bluebirds of Happiness

If bluebirds bring you good luck, are you extra super lucky when they poop all over your back deck? If so, 2010 is going to be a banner year for us at the new house!

Friday, January 22, 2010

To the New Owners

We recently bought a house. It's a nice log home in Montgomery Co., right outside of Christiansburg. We began moving and setting up the new house last week. One of the first pieces of mail to come to us at the new house was addressed "To the New Owners", postmarked January 12. At first we thought it might be an invitation to visit one of the local churches, but instead it's a somewhat puzzling letter from a couple who apparently had their offer on the house beaten by ours. I'm going to post part, but not all, of the letter here. I won't reveal the name of the couple who sent the letter to us, or any other identifying information. I've left the format, the spelling, and the rest of the letter as we received it.

To the new owners of the lovely log home on __________ Road:

You probably fell in love with the house as we did. And you probably plan to live there for many years. If anything should change, and you have to move, please give us a call.

We thought the house met many of the things we were looking for, a log home with large overhands and porches, a specially nice basement that my in-laws (in their 80s) could live in for 6 months a year( or even full time), near enough to Radford to hold home fellowship group meetings for the Radford church plant (PCA), plenty of space to have our 4 kids/spouses/grandkids home at Christmas, and a great setting. And close enough to Blacksburg where we go to church.

Perhaps we will find another nice log home, in time. Maybe it is best for us that we did not get the house, since we have a nice house one mile from VT campus, but in the country, that we paid $345K for 3 years ago. Who knows how many months it would have taken to sell, or how much we would have lost for a quick sale. So perhaps it is best. I have collected a lot of log home decor, that I thought was getting a home, but now has the thought of "someday".

The letter ends with "I bet you're really enjoying the house. I know we would have."

At first I was nonplussed by the letter. I've heard of people falling in love with a house for sale but not being able to buy it, so they give their contact information to the new owners just in case it becomes available again. Sure enough, the owners soon call to say that the house is up for sale again and the would-be-home-owners are soon living in their dream home. Seems like there's a story along these lines in the magazine Country Living every year or so. But then I reread the letter and realized what a hot mess of passive-aggressiveness it really is.

Are we supposed to feel guilty that the in-laws won't be living in the basement? That all the rest of the family won't be able to come home at Christmas time? That we're somehow impeding the religious activities of this couple?

Why on earth would you tell complete strangers how much you paid for your current home, or anything about it for that matter? To raise the specter that maybe we won't be able to sell our old house right away and we'll probably lose money on it when it does sell? And I can't decide if the author has been collecting log home decor for years now in the hopes that he or she would someday have a log home, or if he or she ran out and began buying it the second they saw this house advertised for sale.

Our offer on the house was accepted in early November. I get the impression that the author of this letter was so devastated to learn that someone else bought the house that he or she has been mulling over this "to the new owners" letter for two months. Sometimes therapists suggest that when you're really upset over something, you try writing a letter to the person who has wronged you, spelling out everything you want to tell that person in writing, but (and this is the important part) then you tear it up. Letters of this sort are to give you a chance for an emotional purge, so you can experience some closure regarding an issue and then move on with your life. You're not suppose to actually mail the letter.

I admit that we were tempted to respond to the letter, but nothing good would come of it. We're keeping the letter as a conversation piece and just in case we need a court order against the author. As a good friend mentioned, the first letter is a novelty, the second one indicates the need for legal action.

But why, yes, we are enjoying the house greatly. Thanks for inquiring.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Golden Rule

Heather Armstrong coined the word "dooced", which is to lose one's job because of one's website. Armstrong frequently wrote about her work in her blog, where she posted her less than favorable impressions about her boss and coworkers. Needless to say, she was fired over this. Armstrong now warns people that posting about your work on your blog is a big, fat, stupid mistake and you shouldn't do it.

I'm about to write a post about a family member. This isn't nearly as bad as posting a commentary about my previous employer, but hopefully I still won't be blackballed from the next family reunion. I'll refer to this family member as Nameless. Nameless is on my friends list in Facebook. Today Nameless posted two status updates to Facebook, both of which expressed frustration at how Americans are donating money to assist Haiti after the earthquake, but Americans do not donate money to help each other.

Nameless' first post today read "Nameless is upset about all of this focus on amazes me that we as a country can text,donate ,do live teleathons etc for a country that has done nothing to help us.. not on sep 11, not in Iraq , yet its big news that people are homeless over there. maybe the moviestars, president and congress should visit my town , cause I still passed the 4 homeless people this morning! just sayn~"

I was stunned to read this and surprised by the number of people who agreed with Nameless' comments. No, I don't suppose Haiti has done much to assist the USA, either after 9/11 or any other crisis. Hello, people? Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and it isn't exactly a wealthy country compared to the rest of the world, either. It's been colonized, occupied, dictatored, and corrupted. Its people are poor, with limited access to basic health care and few remaining natural resources. This is a country that, as they say in the South, is too poor to have a pot to piss in. What could a country like this offer the USA? The average per person capita in Haiti is something like $2.00 a day. Someone might suggest that Haiti could have at least sent troops to assist after Katrina hit the USA, but the Haitian Armed Forces was demobilized in 1995. Haiti does have a National Police, but this force is known for its corruption and mismanagement. Actually there's a historical record of human rights violations by the military in Haiti, but you could make the argument that this has been the case since Christopher Columbus made a pit stop there in 1492. Even if Haiti could have offered assistance in some form to the USA after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, I think Haiti should have kept it as Haiti certainly needs it more badly than the USA ever has.

Later Nameless posted...."is wondering when will Americans start the BIG HUGE fund raiser for all the AMERICANS who have lost everything? I believe in the "Do unto others as you'd have DONE unto you" but I'm 31 and still waiting to see the help for americans..... Not sure I ever remeber the "help out Americans Releif"....... Am I just stupid or Blind??"

The Golden Rule, as many of us learned in Sunday school, is to do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Note that the rule states nothing about a guaranteed reciprocity for your actions, just that you should treat others well because that's how you would like to be treated. The USA is the leader of the free world and is privileged in many respects. Associated with this stature, prestige, and power comes the idea of noblesse oblige and social responsibility. We should take care of others as we are able, because that's how we'd like to be treated if fortunes were reversed. Or to put it more simply, we should take care of our neighbors because we ought to and we can, but we don't refuse to help someone because they haven't done anything for us lately.

As for the idea that Americans do not assist their own, I recommend that Nameless reconsider FDR's New Deal of the 1930s, Medicare/Medicaid, and even Farm Aid. There have been numerous programs that have been initiated by Americans to help fellow Americans. Not all have been effective, and rarely has a single program resolved the issue of anyone who has "lost everything" as Nameless puts it. Asking for a celebrity telethon to "cure" homelessness and poverty is unrealistic and indicates a true naivete regarding the factors that lead to homelessness and poverty in the first place. Yes, it would be wonderful if the American people would donate money to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or even the local womens' shelter in the same manner that we're donating to Haiti this week. There's no reason why we can't or shouldn't help our own people here in our own country, but the harsh reality is that Americans are more likely to blame the homeless man living under the nearby overpass for somehow creating his own situation, unlike the blameless victims of an unpredicted earthquake. It's also a harsh reality that the outpouring of relief efforts for Haiti aren't likely to "fix" any of Haiti's long-term problems, either.

Just sayin'.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Now is the winter of our discontent

Ah, snow. You were such a novelty when you fell in late December. Never before had I seen 16 inches of fluffy white snow fall in Virginia. I welcomed your fresh mantle for a white Christmas. We were amazed that you were still with us at the end of the year.

Now, weeks later, I simply loath you. You're a guest who has outstayed his welcome and I can't stand to see your filthy, rotten presence anymore. I'd rather have a bare landscape of browns and grays than the stained, gray icy crust peppered with gravel that continues to lay around here. I long for a break in the weather that will allow the temperatures to climb into the 40s and finally melt this slush away.

The snow and ice and the continual subfreezing temperatures has left me in a funk. I am the poster child for seasonal affective disorder. The holidays are a distant memory and spring is still far, far away. I'm tired of hearing the wind howl outside the window. I hate having to go outside in 20 degree weather. The skin on my hands is dry and cracked. I hate the static electricity that comes from bone dry air and the wool or fleece sweaters I can't do without. I long for fresh air in the house, greenery outside, and birdsong in the mornings. I've seriously contemplated going to bed for a couple of months until spring returns. I figure with any luck I'd lose twenty pounds and Ally might be potty-trained by the time I wake up.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Cleaning of the Kitchen Cabinets

I've been cleaning out the kitchen cabinets in preparation for the move to our new house. We have one corner cabinet that's large, deep, and awkward to get into. Items in the front of the shelves eventually get pushed into the dark recesses of the back, never to see the light of day again. Cleaning it out has been the kitchen equivalent of discovering the La Brea tar pits. For instance, why do I have five containers of honey? Four bags of rice? Two unopened bottles of smokey chipotle hot sauce? And I certainly didn't need to buy another bottle of lemon juice because I already had two up there.

Obviously this cabinet is not the best design for organizing food and keeping tabs on what I've run low on and what I need to buy. However, I can't just blame the cabinet as I've done this before in other kitchens. When I packed up my apartment in Davis, CA, to move back to the east coast, I found four unopened boxes of brown sugar in the kitchen cabinets. Really. I don't know what possessed me to stockpile ten pounds of brown sugar unless I thought it would come in handy if there was a really bad earthquake and I needed to have an emergency supply of brown sugar on hand to make penuche fudge in the aftermath.

Moving on to our refrigerator I found two bags of ancient, mummified raisins in the bottom drawer. At least I hope they're raisins and not the bunny turds they look like. They were in storage bags, so I probably used part of a package and kept the remainder with the idea that I'd use them in another recipe later on. For a moment I stood there with the bags in my hand, considering keeping these rock-hard raisins even longer. I could soak them in hot water and then use them in oatmeal, even if it meant actually packing up these two bags of old raisins and moving them to the new house. Then I remembered the dried fruit in my mom's freezer.

Mom has a small bag of dried fruit, the kind you'd use in a fruitcake, in her freezer. This fruit is about as old as I am, but she's had it so long that she can't throw it out. When I was about 14 I used some of the red and green cherries to decorate sugar cookies at Christmas, and I think Mom was totally shocked that I'd use the family heirloom dried fruit in such a casual manner. Although, now that I think about it, maybe she was more shocked by the idea that the candied fruit was still edible, even back then, 25 years ago. I can laugh about this, but then reality smacks me on the head and I remember that I've got yet another bag of desiccated raisins somewhere in my own freezer. I decide to toss the first two bags from the fridge out for the birds and squirrels, then deal with the freezer raisins when I unearth them later on this week.

I can't clean out a refrigerator without thinking of my late grandmother. One day, as we were helping Memaw clean out her refrigerator in preparation for her to move to a retirement home, we found an old box of chocolate covered cherries. The expiration date indicated that Memaw had been saving these for a long time. I was about to toss the box into the trash when Memaw turned around with her hands on her hips and declared that she was going to put the cherries in some applesauce to give it more flavor. I laughed at the idea at the time (chocolate cherry applesauce? Yuck!) but now I find myself doing similar things.

I tend to save food, even small amounts, for a later use. Maybe there aren't enough cooked vegetables leftover from dinner for another meal, but I'll freeze them until there's enough to make a pot of vegetable beef soup. I know this is a thrifty behavior I've gotten from my mother and her mother. Mom puts her leftover vegetables in the same freezer container. When it's full, it's time to make soup. She pulls the container out and dumps it in the soup pot with cooked ground beef, onion, and whatever fresh ingredients she has on hand. The frozen vegetables thaw out in the hot pot, revealing individual layers of yellow corn, green beans, maybe a stripe of tomato sauce. The stratified colors always remind me of the Grand Canyon. We've always referred to this soup with leftover vegetables as "garbage soup" but it's always delicious. Much in the same way, we always boil down the leftover roasted turkey, meat and bones, into soup stock that we call "turkey carcass soup." I was delighted to see a recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook for the same thing, only they gave it the move delicate name "turkey frame soup."

I've made soup out of just about every ingredient, but I won't be using those pebbly raisins. I could make a batch of granola with them and the handful of dried coconut I also found in the fridge. Common sense tells me to refrain from tossing in the mint chocolate M&Ms that I found in the same drawer, but I can also hear my grandmother's ghost telling me, "Well, you know, they might not taste that bad in some granola."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hello 2010, hello midlife crisis

2010 is a brand new year, with all the usual resolutions and determinations to make this new year the best one ever. It's also the year I turn 40 in late October. I'm having a hard time processing this concept. I've only begun acknowledging it verbally, casually slipping it into conversations like I was contemplating this new stage. As if I had a choice to turn 40 or not, like whether I should join a gym or maybe get another dog.

The TV series thirtysomething was popular while I was in college, but I never watched it because it seemed too old. I couldn't relate to the characters in my late teens and early twenties. Good grief....they were in their thirties for pete's sake! Now, twenty years later, I can only call myself "thirtysomething" for ten more months before I'm officially "fortysomething." Time does fly.

But while it may be socially appropriate to lump me in the "middle aged" demographic now, I don't feel particularly old. I'm not really sure what middle aged means to my generation and I'm not sure how I'm supposed to act at this age. Heck, I'm still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. While I've left those wild college years far behind me, I'm in no rush to embrace the stodgy lifestyle that so defined my concept of "middle aged" back when I was in college. (That's college the first time around, not the 7.5 years I spent in grad school later on.)

Then suddenly in the past year, more and more of my cohorts began talking about having a midlife crisis. Buying motorcycles, getting tattoos....and those are the women. I have a strong suspicion that a former college roommate got a boob job as part of her midlife crisis. Mind you, none of these choices are particularly daring in terms of standard social norms, but they're big changes for the people who made them. I'm not sure if they represent a last grab at youth or maybe they're more of a thumb to the nose of that "middle aged" label.

I'd rather thumb my nose at the label than chase my youth. Frankly, my youth is so far behind me that I'd have to reverse directions and run a long time to catch up with it. And then what? I'll never be young again because I have experience now, I have learned how to avoid those awkward pitfalls of my younger years, and I'm glad to have them behind me. No, I don't need to go there again.

I'd rather continue going forward, but on my own terms. I won't deny my age, but why should I let it define me? And even if I'm not going to chase my youth, why shouldn't I have a midlife crisis anyways? It's a chance to do something fun, try something new. Oh, don't get me wrong. Often I wonder if I've made the right choices and I question the purpose of life and maybe, just maybe I worry about my mortality in the wee hours of the morning when the insomnia hits hard. But nothing is going to change the fact that I turn 40 this year and I'll be in my mid 50s when my daughter graduates from high school and packs up her suitcase for college. I can't do a damn thing about my age, but I'm determined to have a good time regardless.

I'm not sure what I'll do or how my midlife crisis will take shape. I think midlife crises are best identified years later with hindsight. Mine might be big or it might be small, but I'm ready to give it a warm hug whenever it shows up. I'm already taking fledgling steps down a new career path (or two). Maybe I'll finish that novel that's been floating around in my mind. Maybe I'll open a small shop. I could breed prize-winning amaryllis bulbs, travel to New Zealand, or start a dachshund rescue. Or maybe I'll just get that tattoo.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bovine Alert!

I'm spending the bulk of the day at our new house. As I write this, our dachshund Oscar is barking her head off at the cows she can see out the window. We must be at Defcow 4 based on the amount of noise she's making. Seeing cows out back is very exciting for a dog who's never really seen anything other than birds and squirrels in the back yard. I think Oscar is going enjoy living here. I also think I'm going to be spending a lot of time cleaning off those windows that are so low to the floor that Oscar can put her whole front body up on the window sills. Lord help us the first time she spies a deer out there.

I just spent the past hour vacuuming the walls in the living room and the bedroom. Yes, the walls, not the floor. The new house is a log structure with real, honest-to-goodness rough hewn pine logs on the exterior and part of the interior walls. I'm guessing that the previous homeowners were somewhat casual in their housekeeping based on the amount of dust, pollen, and spiderwebs I found on the walls. The logs have a sealant on them, but the wood is still pretty rough, making it a perfect surface to catch dust. There were lots of little bits of what looked to be paper caught here and there on the wood. I wonder if they dusted the lower portion of the walls with paper towels? I don't think the upper part of the log walls had been cleaned in awhile. At least I'm hoping that I just cleaned several years worth of dust off up there and they didn't just clean all that this past summer.

Shush, dog! You're so loud you're making the light fixtures ring.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside!

Holy schnikes it's cold! We've had several weeks of repeated arctic weather blasts where the wind chill makes it bone-numbingly cold. I need to clean up the yard where the dog has littered the few bare spots in the snow with her poop-sicles, but even if the temperatures spike into the 30s, the wind chill makes it feel like it's just in the teens. I don't function very well in prolonged, cold temperatures, so I haven't been going outside that much except when necessary. Frankly I just want to burrow into the couch and hibernate until this is all past us. This self-imposed confinement, along with the post-holiday let down, is starting to ferment into cabin fever. I'm entering that long, dark stretch of the year where I long for home-grown vegetables, fresh air in the house, and the chance to play in the garden. The seed companies are sending out their catalogues and I find myself drooling over the enticing pictures of fresh produce, pretty flowers, and oh-so-lush green foliage. It's just plant porn, and I force myself away from it by cleaning out closets and packing up our belongings for the move to the new house. Thankfully the move is distracting me from the frigid, bare landscape currently devoid of any color other than white and brown. It's awfully depressing if I let myself look out the window too much.

So I leave you with a picture of flowering crab apple taken last spring on the Virginia Tech campus. It's a shot of fresh pink and green, and it makes me feel warmer just looking at it. Enjoy!