It’s a Jungle Out There

27 07 2010

My legs are sore; my back is stiff, my arms ache, my fingernails are permanently dirty, my hands are covered in little cuts.  But, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t have poison ivy.  Hooray!

The past two days have provided delightful weather, relatively speaking.  Yesterday’s high was only 89.  The humidity has been reasonable.

I summoned up the courage to go outside and see what’s been happening in the yard these last 37 days, 30 of which have seen the temperature top 90 degrees.

(Offering words of encouragement, the weatherman has reminded us, “At least you don’t have to shovel heat and humidity.”  On the other hand, you can always put more clothes on.  There reaches a point at which you can’t take more clothes off.)

But back to the yard…


We don’t have a large yard.  Less than a fifth of an acre.  But while we were huddled inside around the air conditioning vents, Mother Nature was wreaking havoc on our little patch of paradise.  The hill in back, the beds around the house, and the grass all looked woefully untended.

There were not one but two vines running rampant on the hill.  Weeds of every description were having a party and inviting all their friends.  They were spreading out to my neighbors’ houses on both sides.

I pulled.  I dug.  I clipped.  I cursed.  I sweated.  I prayed.

The yard finally looks good enough to where I can say, “Man, I really need to get out there and do some yard work.”

It’s a big improvement over just wanting to pave over the whole .2 acres.  I guess I’ll forgo  the call to hire Christo and Jeanne-Claude to hang orange curtains around the yard to hide the view.


Location! Location! Location!

23 07 2010

They say confession is good for the soul, so I’m thinking maybe it’s time.

The problem lies with the internet.

No, I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time at any of those gambling sites.  And I’m not addicted to any lewd or racy sites.  And I don’t like the celebrity-watching sites.  TMZ, take a hike.

But of late it seems when my eyes see the Google search engine box, my fingers automatically generate those three little words: Asheville real estate.

It’s not like we’ll be moving anytime soon.  With a sophomore in a Virginia state college, we won’t be crossing state borders for the next three years.  And with tuition bills arriving regularly, hubby won’t be retiring just yet.

So it’s not like I’m really looking in earnest.  It’s just a curiosity.

Or it was until it turned into an obsession.  I knew I had crossed the line when I started hiding my “little habit” from the family.

I’d wait until I was alone to log on.

Or if I couldn’t wait I’d turn the sound down so no one would hear that awful “virtual tour” music.  It’s a dead giveaway!  And I’d angle the screen so nobody would notice what I was looking at.

Looking for real estate on the web is amazing!

You can pull up all the multiple listings and see prices, lot sizes, home sizes, number of bedrooms and baths, heat source, exterior finishes, foundations, etc. etc. etc.

On the map you get a bird’s-eye view of the house, and see if your neighbors are mechanics who have 16 cars parked in the yard.  And how close the railroad is.

You can toggle on symbols to show you locations of schools, parks, banks, grocery stores, gas stations, airports.

You can get all sorts of test scores from area schools, and comments from parents.

There are discussion forums to learn about local issues, like where that highway might be built.

What I’m looking for is something not in the middle.

I want to either be in the city or in the country.  Not in the suburbs.  Do I want an “in town” house, within walking distance to shops and restaurants?  Or something more remote, with “lovely mountain views” (also septic systems and well water)?

And I want something either old or new, not middle-aged.  Asheville has an amazing number of charming bungalows that were built in the 1920’s, which have been lovingly updated, if you can believe what the real estate agents tell you.  (But is there any insulation in those walls?)

The area is also home to some great builders who are eco-sensitive and up to date on the latest products out there.

Perhaps the thing that most fascinates me is how low the prices are.  Compared to the DC housing market, it feels downright affordable.  It’s like playing limbo.  How low will it go?

I had decided I wouldn’t even look at the foreclosures and short sales.  I wasn’t going to salivate over someone else’s misfortunes.  But then I ran across the $134,900 short sale house (with central air! hardwood floors!)  We could practically write out a check…..  So what if it only has two bedrooms?  And that big highway running  past the back of the property probably shuts down at night.  Under Driveway, it usually says something like asphalt.  Or gravel.  But for this property, it says dirt.  Hmm…  Better keep looking.

Just a Coincidence

21 07 2010

A bit of serendipity yesterday…..

Last year the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF) began a program of selecting “ambassadors” to act as eyes and ears and helping hands across the country.

(The MSF focuses on providing services to make life easier for multiple sclerosis patients and their families.  It’s  a fairly lean and mean organization. (You can interpret that as LOW OVERHEAD.)  Its national headquarters (in fact, its entire paid staff) is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  But they can find a home health aid to help a patient in Weaverville, NC or a construction team to build an entry ramp in Nucla, CO.)

Anyway, I was one of the original group of 10 ambassadors from across the country to help with such opportunities as providing information to neurology offices, starting support groups, focusing public attention on issues, etc.  And now it’s year two and a new group is coming on board.

As a means of introducing the old guard with the new team members, our humble leaders in the Sunshine State arranged a conference call for a high-tech “meet and greet.”  They use a service called Spiderphone.  (Each line is a “leg” and spiders have lots of legs.  Also, there’s that whole “web” analogy.)

Spiderphone always works well, and I’m constantly amazed how the service can not only provide a list on the screen of all the participants but can even figure out who’s talking at any point in time.  It makes me nervous that if I cough or my chair squeaks my name will be prominently displayed on everybody’s screen and I’ll henceforth be thought of as “the noisy one.”

So yesterday I was trying to sit very still and stifle a sneeze as I followed the back and forth of people introducing themselves.  And there on the screen, right under the Spiderphone logo, I saw a big ole’ spider having a leisurely afternoon stroll.

Okay, so not all serendipitous moments are particularly momentous.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

17 07 2010

My son knows how to travel light.

He went to Disney World for five days with nothing but a back pack.  That’s a book-bag back pack, not a camping back pack.

He traveled over 3000 miles with two other guys in a Prius and they had enough space such that the guy in the back seat could catch a few zzz’s in a (sort of) reclining position.

He plans to move cross-country this fall carrying one—maybe two—suitcases.

So when he and I decided to drive south to visit my parents for two and a half days, when all we were going to do was sit around and talk and eat and talk some more, I certainly didn’t expect much in the way of luggage from him.

But when I came downstairs I was surprised to see a duffel bag and a back pack, in addition to assorted other stand alone items.

And then he asked if Grandma would have an iron he could use.

I may be slow, but I’m not stupid.  It finally dawned on me that this about-face with regard to packing strategy might be related to the fact that after the trip to see the grandparents he would be spending a weekend with a friend from school, a friend who is a girl,  a girl friend perhaps?, a friend for whom it is apparently worth hauling a bunch of stuff along.

The Doughnut or the Hole?

12 07 2010

A sales person reports to a remote outpost in Africa to sell shoes and reports that it is an impossible assignment because nobody there wears shoes.

His replacement reports it’s a great assignment because the market is wide open…because nobody has any shoes.

Working for Peanuts

10 07 2010

If I hadn’t investigated, I suppose that bag of bite-sized Reese’s cups would have sat in the trunk of the car for months.  Who but the mom would make the effort to determine the identity of the bag crammed behind the spare blanket?

We think the still-sealed bag had been there for quite some time, and based on the temperature readings we’ve been experiencing, the quality of the product was severely in question.

But, you must understand, Reese’s peanut butter cups are my second favorite candy in the world, behind Lindt truffles.  Maybe third, as I’m also pretty partial to Ghirardelli squares.  (Hmm, it definitely sounds like I’m going upscale.  Getting some at-ti-tude.)

In any case, I hated to just throw the bag away, given my fondness for its contents.  So I tossed the whole thing into the refrigerator for a while and then opened it.

I found the quality of the chocolate and peanut butter to be quite good.  The problem was that unwrapping each little piece had become very labor intensive, as they were all squished and misshapen.  Peeling off the foil resulted in many little pieces, some of which were half buried in the chocolate.  And then there was the brown cup to deal with.  By the time I had successfully isolated the candy from the wrapping, my fingers were a gooey mess.  If I hadn’t been such a fan, I wouldn’t have bothered.

The situation had a plus side.  Instead of eating half a dozen of those delectable delights before I knew what had happened, I’d struggle to unwrap a couple and then decide the cost versus benefit analysis had swung towards “this is too much work.”  So I was able to walk away rather than devouring half the bag.

Speaking of peanuts…

Hubby and I have always enjoyed sitting around shelling and eating peanuts, but decided early on that some restraint would be a good thing.  So we established a policy whereby we only ate what he could shell.  It basically cut our intake in half.  There were some initial issues, mostly centered around the fact that he eats that little red coating on each peanut, but I like to take it off.  So I had to convince him to go the extra mile on the ones he opened for me.  What a nice guy!

Fireworks Fiasco

7 07 2010

On the Independence Day hubby and I decided to forgo the fireworks down on the mall.  We just didn’t feel like braving both the heat and the crowds.  (Is this proof positive that we’re officially old farts now?)  But as darkness began to fall I sensed he was feeling that a Fourth without fireworks was somehow incomplete.

So we hopped in the car to head to the Fairfax fireworks.  It’s just a few miles from our house, easily viewed from the parking lot of the Home Depot, all in all a simple endeavor.  Plus, for local fireworks, they ain’t half bad.

Actually, I was more pumped for stopping for soft ice cream afterwards.  We thought we’d go to Woody’s, a barebones ice cream stand owned by a chap who retired from his work, but wasn’t ready to quit working.  He hires local kids to run the establishment.  Grabbing a cone there feels like helping the locals.

The first sign that something was amiss came when we turned in at the Home Depot and saw only one other car awaiting the evening spectacle.  By this time the sun was pretty low in the sky and we were expecting to see the masses gathering.

We drove a bit further to the high school which is ground zero for the fireworks and saw the sign. Fireworks, June 3.  We missed the show by 24 hours.

Since when are the Fourth of July fireworks on the Third of July?

But, a soft ice cream cone was just the ticket to boost our sagging spirits.

Strike two.  When we pulled up to wet our whistles we discovered that not only was Woody’s no longer in business, the building was entirely gone.

Joni Mitchell’s classic song came true.  They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.  Which we used for turning around.

But the evening wasn’t a total bust.  We found a Wendy’s and I suggested we get a couple of the 99 cent Frosty’s I’d seen advertised on television.  Except in the overpriced DC market they cost $1.39.  Even more surprising was the size cup they used.  A mere four ounces.  I’ve had ice cream samples bigger than that.  Shame on you, Wendy’s.

But as we drove home downing our mini-Frosty’s we could see just above the horizon in the distance the fireworks from the next community over.  I guess the folks in Vienna checked their calendars a little more carefully.

Little ice cream and little fireworks.

Time to Rhyme

2 07 2010

Until today I knew two things about Ogden Nash:

  1. When the daily crossword puzzle calls for a poet, there is at least a 50 percent chance he is the solution.  I guess that’s because N, A, S, and H are all nice, common letters.
  2. He wrote a delightful ditty that I can’t seem to forget.  “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.”  It’s unfortunate that I can’t remember my zip code but can’t forget that particular poem. Thus is life.

But at the library this morning in the New Books section I discovered The Best of Ogden Nash, edited by Linell Nash Smith (his daughter.) (Published by Ivan R. Dee)  I was enchanted.  A sample:


God in His wisdom made the fly
And then forgot to tell us why. (p. 175)


Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it and found it good,
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today. (p. 175)


The trouble with a kitten is
Eventually it becomes a
CAT. (p. 171)


I find among the poems of Schiller
No mention of the caterpillar,
Nor can I find one anywhere
In Petrarch or in Baudelaire,
So here I sit in extra session
To give my personal impression.
The caterpillar, as it’s called,
Is often hairy, seldom bald;
It looks as if it never shaves;
When as it walks, it walks in waves;
And from the cradle to the chrysalis
It’s utterly speechless, songless, whistleless. (p. 183)


The manatee is harmless
And conspicuously charmless.
Luckily the manatee
Is quite devoid of vanity. (p. 185)


The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn’t been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don’t anther. (p. 170)


The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk. (p. 163)


The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-l llama. (p. 163)


The pig, if I am not mistaken,
Supplies us sausage, ham and bacon.
Let others say his heart is big–
I call it stupid of the pig. (p. 164)


The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state the dog is full of love.
I’ve also proved, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest. (p. 189)


The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros. (p. 164)


A mighty creature is the germ,
Through smaller than the pachyderm.
His customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
His childish pride he often pleases
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, my poppet, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ. (p. 210)


One trouble with a cough,
It never quite comes off.
Just when you think you’re through coughing
There’s another cough in the offing. (p. 224)


I’ve never seen an abominable snowman,
I’m hoping not to see one,
I’m also hoping, if I do,
That it will be a wee one. (p. 240)

He wrote lots of other stuff, much of it longer and some of a more serious nature, but it is these charming bits of verse that I find so captivating.

The Doctor Is In

30 06 2010

Yesterday was my semi-annual (?) bi-annual (?) let’s go with “twice yearly” neurology appointment for multiple sclerosis.  The visit in a nutshell?

  1. The doctor asked how I was doing.  I said fine.
  2. The doctor read the sheet I filled out when I arrived for the appointment, on which I stated that I was having no problems.
  3. The doctor asked if I was having any MS issues.  I said no.
  4. The doctor said I was in good shape.

And how many years did he have to go to med school?

OK.  So maybe I’ve oversimplified.  Left out a few things.  Such as:

Sobriety testing. I walk in a straight line, touching my heel against my toe for each step.  Also, I close my eyes and touch my nose.

Pain tolerance study. Also known as “We have ways of making your talk.”  He drags a sharp object against the bottom of my bare feet to see if I cry out in agony.

Clown school curriculum. He hits various parts of my body with a rubber hammer.  One of these days I’m thinking that because of my uber-strong reflexes, I  might kick the guy (shades of the Three Stooges), but he’s pretty careful about standing back before he whacks.

Strength training. Like arm wrestling but for assorted muscles.  He pushes and I push back.  I’m thinking about enrolling in some intense boot camp training so I can amaze him by pushing back with super power force.

I guess I passed all the tests, because, as he said/I said, I’m in good shape.

(I’m actually very fond of my doctor.  Because he’s so nice whether things are going well or not.  And because he’s so knowledgeable when he needs to be.)


That is really just part one of my HEALTH ASSESSMENT which involves evaluating what a person can judge just by looking.  But that’s like seeing a nice, red, blemish-free apple.  Can you really say how the apple looks on the inside?

Hence, part two, the MRI of the brain and spine, which can reveal nasty white lesions, the hallmark of multiple sclerosis.  I haven’t had one in two years, since I changed my medicine.  Does that make it bi-annual?  Semi-annual?  Let’s just go with “once every two years.”  He suggested doing it in the fall.

Ideally, part one, the general assessment and part two, the MRI, both show that a person is doing well.  On the other hand, if they both say there’s trouble, well, that’s bad news but at least the two methods agree.

The ultimate frustration comes when a person knows he’s having symptoms but the MRI comes back clear.  People start looking at him like he don’t know what he’s talking about.  Like he’s full of hot air.  Like it’s all in his head.

It’s not a good thing.

Required Reading

29 06 2010

Remember when “text” was not a verb?

This week my son and I are all worked up over college textbooks.  But we’re coming at our issues from different sides.

In the process of sorting through some stuff in the basement, I ran across a box of old college textbooks.  I found volumes on math, chemistry, sociology, accounting, and education.  You don’t get out of William and Mary without being liberally educated.

But there’s one book I can’t remember at all.  It’s by Arthur Schlesinger and it’s on “The Newspaper War on Britain: 1764-1776.”  I can tell from the price tag that it’s from the college bookstore and that it’s VERY old–$4.98 for 318 pages!  My immediate assumption was that it must have been my husband’s because if it had been mine I would have highlighted it (not those awful pastel markers; I always underlined in pencil, neatly, using a flexible plastic six-inch ruler.)  Plus, he was a history major who became a newspaper reporter when he graduated.

But he looked at the book and noted that it was published the year he graduated.  So I don’t know; either way, it’s going in the DONATE pile.  I’m sure somebody wants to learn about the newspaper war on Britain, but they don’t live in this house.

My son, on the other hand, is looking to acquire a college text.  He decided to take Spanish I this summer at the community college.  The required textbook goes for $150 new.  For a Spanish textbook?!?  I can barely fathom that for an art history book, with all those photographs, or an organic chemistry book; that weighs a ton.  But for first year Spanish?  Perhaps equally astounding, he found it online for $15.  How can a $150 book be selling for $15?  Is it missing, say for instance, all the pages?

Anyway, after four years of exploring all the angles, my son is the expert on minimizing textbook costs, though sometimes my husband and I do have to insist that when taking a course it is expected that he actually have access to the reading material.  So I trust he’ll figure this out as well.

Buenos Dias!  (Did I say that right?)