Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's a Theory

My first year living at Alegria started with a flood of tears.  So tangled were my emotions one year ago today that all I could do was sit amid the stacks of boxes and bawl my eyes out.  I’m happy to report that things got better.  This past year has been awesome!

My second year started out much worse.  I went to bed on the eve of my one-year anniversary feeling a bit out of sorts.  My tummy ached a little, but I didn’t give it much thought.  I laid down, propped up my book and started reading.  Barely a page into this evening ritual, a devastating pain shot through my mid-section the likes of which I have not experienced in several decades.  I’m not one to get sick often and in spite of the gut-wrenching cramp, I forced myself to relax and breathe and focussed my attention back on the story.  The pain passed.  Momentarily.

For the next five hours I laid in bed hoping that the waves of agony would subside and pass.  They only got worse.  With each new cramp, a fresh patina of cold sweat oozed out of my skin.  I laid there shivering under the blankets, concentrating on staying as relaxed as possible and keeping my breathing deep. 

I hate vomiting.  I cannot overstate that fact.  The very idea makes me nauseous!

But at 3 a.m. I conceded to the barf gods and made a dash to the bathroom where I spent the next 45 minutes hurling rejected hotdogs and chips into the bowl.  When, at last, my stomach was empty of the offending repast I managed to clean up, rinse my mouth and stagger back to bed.  I was exhausted.

All I could think about was all my plans for my one-year anniversary being flushed down the drain.  Literally! 

I had planned to go yard saling with my daughter first thing, then wash Alegria’s windows, then go to Smithers with a friend for lunch followed by an eye appointment.  At that moment, though, desperate for sleep and feeling like I’d been run over by a truck, none of it seemed even remotely possible.  I texted my daughter to let her know that I was not likely to show up and then fell fast, fast asleep.

Oddly enough, my eyes popped open at 7:40 and I knew that I was not going to go back to sleep.  I didn’t feel terrible, so I put on a pot of coffee and got dressed.  At a few minutes after eight, I was out the door and on my way to pick up my daughter and hit the yard listed in the PV Express. 

It was a disappointing venture.  Of the three I was aware of, we only found one and it didn’t have much to offer.  Oh, well.  There was always window washing!

The window-washing fell prey to a decided lack of vim or vigour.  I puttered about for a while, but never managed to pick up the vinegar, let alone go into the basement for newspapers to clean the windows with.  

I was determined to make the lunch and eye appointment, though.  At 11:30 I left again to pick up my friend and drive to Smithers.  I was hungry, but didn’t trust my tummy just yet.  We opted for a light lunch at a diner on Main Street after a Canadian Tire run that netted me a 428-piece tool set, a BBQ and some new cups and glasses.  The eye appointment was uneventful.  I managed to avoid having my pupils dilated again (I hate that almost as much as I hate vomiting) and also managed to obtain a pair of glasses that did not require me to re-mortgage the house.  It was then time to go home.

Not a total loss!

I had hoped to add a nice gathering around the fire pit to top off my anniversary.  But I’m must too tired to bother. 

Some would say that puking is not a very good way to start my second year of independence and self-finding.  (I’m pretty sure I’m around here somewhere!)  But if the first year started in tears and got so good, I can only imagine the wonders the second year will bring after such a purge. 

It’s a theory!

Kolchak Knows

When I was a kid I used to babysit to make money.  It’s what kids did back in the day.  Rarely a weekend passed that I wasn’t left in charge of someone’s children at a rate of a dollar an hour, which, by the way, was enough to keep me in records and clothes and movies and stuff.  I didn’t have much of a social life, but I did have money and I did get to watch a lot of late night TV.

A well-dressed werewolf terrorizes Chicago.  
Late night TV consisted of Saturday Night Live and Midnight Special, followed by B horror films like The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston (the movie’s only redeeming quality, I might add).  It took me three years and at least a half-dozen tries to get through the entire movie, because the people I babysat for kept coming home before it ended.  Each time it came on, it came on later and later.  Obviously it was filler for those hours between the better B movies and sign off.  Possibly, it was designed to assist insomniacs in getting back to sleep.

The Energy Eater lived on
Spanish Moss
There were, however, a few gems among the shows that were broadcast.  One of them was Kolchak: the Night Stalker.  Twenty of the contracted 26 episodes were aired during the 1974-75 season before it was cancelled for reasons which I cannot begin to fathom.  It was – and still is! – a great show.

I recently watched all 20 episodes again on Netflix (the best thing to happen to television viewing since… Well, since it was invented!).  From the first episode, The Ripper, to the last episode, The Sentry, reliving those hours of my youth was just as fun now as it was back then.  Though this time around the element of terror was somewhat reduced.  To nil, in fact.

I remember watching wide-eyed as giant lizards and voluptuous vampires wreaked havoc throughout the fictional United States as the equally fictional INS reporter, Carl Kolchak (played by Darren McGavin) courageously tried to expose them.  Inevitably, the evidence he always found was always destroyed and his long-suffering editor, Anthony Vincenzo narrowly escaped a stress-induced heart attack attempting to rein him in.   Every light in the house was on, ‘cause, you know, that kept the scary monsters at bay!

A guy in a modified leather jacket - pre-CG - played the
 headless motorcyclists out for revenge in Chopper.
By today’s standards, Kolchak: the Night Stalker is barely even a B-grade horror show.  The creatures wore rubber suits.  The Vampires sported plastic teeth.  The violence was implied rather than explicit.  There were no special effects, no CG animation, no life-like animatronics and very little make-up artistry.  What there was was imagination.  You didn’t have to see the gore to understand that dude was just beheaded by a headless motorcyclist wielding a razor-sharp sword!  And you still checked under the bed and in the closet and slept with the lights on when you got home.

Even scarier than those wicked plastic
fangs was this vampire's hoarse screech.
I have been unable to determine exactly why Kolchak was cancelled in 1975.  (Then again I am unable to determine why Firefly was cancelled in 2002.)  There’s just no rhyme or reason to it.  Kolchak was resurrected for an even briefer stint in 2005 when 10 new episodes were aired and was cancelled due to low ratings.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t.  But from all that I can find about it, it’s just as well. Apparently, the 2005 series lacked all the charm and wit of the original show, trying and failing to be a 21st century X-files, which, it is claimed, but also unconfirmed, was inspired by Kolchak.

The paranormal isn’t an easy sell.  Those who believe find fault in the dramatization and/or poorly-researched story lines.  Those who don’t believe just think it’s foolish.  The X-files was successful because it somehow managed to remain neutral in its presentation of super-natural and alien possibilities.  Until, that is, it stopped being neutral and Mulder was taken away on a UFO.  It was the beginning of the end for the show.  And the new guy just didn’t cut it as the sceptic any more than Scully cut it as the believer.  But, all good things come to an end, like Kolchak, even if it was premature.

Tom Skerrit made a deal with the Devil.
Kolchak made sure that  the deal fell apart.
I have to admit that I am a bit of a fan of these off-beat and unconventional programs and movies.  I’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show at least 10 times.  And while that may not give me cult fan status, I dare say I’ve seen it more than most people, for who once is often more than enough.  I even own the DVD. 

Kolchak was always prepared.  Items like this crucifix
were kept in his handy satchel.
Odd-ball characters intrigue me.  And Carl Kolchak is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve ever come across.  A hard-nosed crime reporter, Kolchak is an endearing mixture of cowardice and courage, overcoming his inherent fears to serve the greater good.  If he isn’t pouring salt into the mouth of a zombie and sewing its lips closed, he’s destroying Hecates’ temple to prevent Helen of Troy from sucking the life out of youth in order to stay forever young.  His satchel, filled with crucifix, holy water and wooden stakes is as dear to him as his rumpled, sear-sucker suit, pastel yellow Mustang and consummate bachelorhood.  He follows the facts.  He’s resourceful and cunning, in a bumbling and comical way, always skirting the attempts by the police to foil his search for the truth. 

Kolchak's long-suffering editor, Toni Vincenzo
Like Fox Mulder, Kolchak never quite manages to bring the truth to light.  Something always conspires to keep him from exposing the werewolves and witches and sinister, ghostly knights for what they really are.  People never find out that swamp things and shape-shifters and even the Devil, himself, really do walk among them.   But Kolchak knows.

Kolchak, with his trusty camera and tape recorder, knows.

 I am about to retire for the night.  The doors are locked.  The windows are latched.  And I’ve checked under the bed and in the closet.  I may even leave a light or two on…

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Branch is a Terrible Thing to Waste

It all started last fall when the town told the manager of the apartments on the corner of Butler Avenue and 14th Street that they had to cut back the branches of a huge cottonwood tree that were hanging over the road.  I pass that apartment and that tree every day and when I saw the beautiful old tree pruned back the way it was, I nearly cried.  But there was a silver lining…

The branches that were cut from the cottonwood were bucked up into firewood and left stacked at the base of the tree.  I figured that someone would come and haul the wood away eventually.  No one did.  All winter long the wood stayed there, unused and un-pilfered.  More than once I thought about sneaking over in the middle of the night and correcting that mistake, but I am not a thief and so did not succumb to the temptation.  I did, however, determine to find a number for the manager and ask what they planned to do with it all.

Facebook came to my rescue.  As I was perusing the postings on the Houston BC Buy ‘n’ Sell page, I noticed a request by someone looking for a one-bedroom apartment.  The manager of the very apartments where the wood was stacked answered the request and so I shot off a quick private message to her inquiring about the wood.  She told me to help myself!  (for $20.00)

And so I did.  With the help from my beloved daughter.

Our day had been planned out quite nicely.  Bizz and I were looking forward to spending the morning at her house drinking coffee and working on a secret project we have on the go.  The wood offer, though, put the first damper on our plans.  We decided to get the wood first and then settle in and work on our project later.  Then I got word that out of town guests were going to be stopping by on their way through to Smithers in the morning.  No problem!  Bizz would come to my house, we’d work on the project while we waited for the guests to arrive, visit with them and then go and get the wood. 

Before we tucked into the project work, I asked Bizz for her help in getting the bed out of the spare room so that I can finally get the carpet out and – hopefully – start making some progress on that wee project as well (before the snow is completely gone and the yard takes over my life).   As we were moving the box spring, it slipped and landed on Bizz’s toe.  She hopped around in minor agony for a few minutes until the initial shock wore off and she deemed her foot usable. 

Once the box spring was downstairs, I took the frame that it sat on and started down into the basement with it while Bizz brought the playpen down behind me.  About a third of the way down, my slipper slipped off my foot, causing me to lose my balance and stumble on the steps.  I grabbed for the railing to keep from falling, but kept my eyes on the frame I was carrying.  Instead of wrapping neatly and safely around the railing, my hand came down thumb first onto it, very hard and very painfully. 

I managed to keep my footing somehow.  Thank goodness!  The shooting pain from my obviously sprained thumb spread across my hand and up into my wrist.  A few choice words escaped my lips as I gripped the railing and kicked off my slippers.  I really should have known better than to wear them while I was carrying something so awkward down the steps.  Usually, I do take them off.  They may be comfy and they may be warm, but they are a clear and present danger on stairs!

With the bed finally moved, we attempted to get started on our project work.  Bizz dove right in, but I found myself distracted by several little details that I needed to get out of the way before a) I could relax and enjoy the project work; and b) feel like the house was presentable for the pending guests.  By the time I sat down, the guests had arrived.  A brief, but happy visit ensued.
When my guests left, it was time to go and get the wood.  My thumb was throbbing and when I pulled Gracie up next to the pile, it seemed to have at least doubled in size.  It wasn’t going to toss itself into the van, so I pushed the pain out of my mind and started loading my firewood.

We quickly realized that Gracie was not going to hold much and that it was going to take several trips to get the wood home.  Bizz offered the use of her Kia and I accepted.  The Kia cut our loads down from probably six or seven to a mere two more.  In the process of putting the wood into the Kia, I somehow managed to smash the second phalange of my middle finger between two logs.  A lovely blue bump rose immediately on my aching digit.  I refrained from swearing, but did the ouchie dance for a while before carrying on.

A short while later, I managed to repeat the finger smashing, this time it was the third phalange of my ring finger, which now sports a bright red bump with a scab for a centre piece.  (That’s three, right?)  My pinkie and index fingers remain unscathed! 

My right hand is aching.  I can still type, but only barely.  Any pressure on my thumb reminds me of my near miss.  It isn’t swollen and I can bend it – though it prefers that I don’t.  My middle and ring fingers are tender and no longer care much for hot water or soap or any other potential irritant.  I would like to massage some much needed lotion into my hands, but I fear that it would only exacerbate the painful state my hand is in at the moment.

On the upside…  I got wood! 

This should keep the fire pit warm this summer!
Let the fire pit gatherings begin!   

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Trouble Comes in Threes (but not always in a row)

You know how they say trouble comes in threes?  What they don’t tell you is that the three don’t always come in a row.  You’d expect they would.  I mean when two things go wrong and you’re waiting for the third – because “they” said so! – and then something wonderful happens, you tend to regain your optimism and stop looking for the third thing, which would have brought relief and restored your confidence without false pretences mucking up the system. 

So when my shelving project last weekend turned out really, really well, I cast aside the discouragement of the catastrophic candles and the arduous Argyll and thought that I had side-stepped the troublesome triplets.  Not so!  (See the Dinner Disaster posted earlier for details.)

My original design -
with incorrect measurements!
Apparently, the DIY gods were in favour of my project.  The fact that it occurred successfully in the midst of three things going wrong just goes to show how much the Universe wanted me to have proper book shelves.  They have been keeping me waiting for nearly a year, but, at long last, they permitted all the pieces to fall into place and graced me with success.  The respite from things going terribly wrong was more than welcome.  I must say that I am grateful for the break from calamity and pretty darn proud of how the project turned out.

I started with a plan.  I didn’t want plain rows of shelving.  I wanted something a little more interesting and unconventional.  So I came up with what I thought would be a versatile pair of shelf units.  My original math was incorrect, but I double and triple checked my figures and did eventually work out the right measurements for the pieces.  And that is where the plan came to an abrupt and seemingly impassable halt. 

My tool collection is minimal.  I have a hammer, a tape measure, a level, a mouse sander and a cordless drill.  Oddly enough, I have been known to look longingly at the circular saws in the hardware store, but my fear of using one has prevented me from releasing my Visa and adding one to my collection.  I kept telling myself that I would find someone to build the shelves for me, but that just never seemed to pan out. 

The shelving material cut to length and
laid out on the living room floor
awaiting assembly.
Last Saturday a little voice told me to hop in the van and go to the lumber yard and buy the material for the shelves.  I didn’t argue, but the mission filled me with dread.  I am terribly out of my element in lumber yards.  I knew what I needed, I just felt bizarrely out of place going up to the counter and asking for it.  It was even weirder taking the yard slip out to the area where the material was and handing it to the yard man, who took it from me and disappeared into the shadows of a shed where, presumably, the material was stored.  A few minutes later nine pieces of 7’ x 12” rough pine shelving was loaded into Gracie and I was one more step closer to having book shelves. 

It took an hour to get this far!
The first shelf unit fully assembled
and waiting to be stained.
 On the way home, I stopped at my daughter’s grooming salon to say hi.  We chatted for a few minutes and when she asked me what I was up to, I told her that I had just bought the shelving material for my shelves.  I didn't think any more of it and when I got home I unloaded the shelving into the basement, wondering how long they would be stored there and if they would ever morph into the shelves I wanted and needed. 

The following Monday, my daughter stopped by the library to see me.  When I asked her what she was up to, she informed me that she needed my house key so she could get the shelving material and take it to her father-in-law to have cut to length for me.  I nearly cried.  What a sweet and awesome thing to do!  As it turned out, I was pretty much done for the day and so I went home and helped her load it into her Kia and take it away.  Less than an hour later the nine pieces of shelving were returned in sixteen pieces cut to spec, along with some assorted end cuts, which may – or may not – someday become something else. 

My daughter and I carried the pieces into the house and put them in the living room.  I set to work immediately assembling them according to the plan right between the sofa and the TV and by eight o’clock that night I had both units put together and out on the deck ready to be stained.  I ignored the dipping thermometer and began brushing dark brown, semi-opaque wood stain onto the shelves.  I was amazed at how well everything was going and still waiting for the third disaster to befall me.  It didn’t come.
It was raining and cold outside, but
that didn't stop me from forging ahead!

The following evening, I flipped the units over and stained the bottoms of the shelves.  My daughter and son-in-law came over for pizza and a movie, which kept me from running outside and touching the selves every five minutes  to see if the stain was dry.  The can clearly said that the drying time was five hour (longer in lower temperatures), but I would have kept checking anyway, had I not been distracted.  When the movie was over and both the pizza and guests were gone, I succumbed to temptation.  Though only three hours had passed, I declared them dry enough and dragged them into the house so I could see them in place under the book mural.  It was all I could do not to start schlepping boxes of books upstairs and start unloading them.  The stain was not dry.
The shelves in place under the mural.  

On Wednesday morning, I broke out the drill again and bracketed the shelves to the wall.  Just to be on the safe side!  That night I transferred all my books to the shelves and stood back to admire my handy work.  Not too bad.

I’m fairly certain that the shelves would not be up to book shelf code and would not pass book shelf inspection if such a thing existed.  And I doubt very much that I will take up carpentry in any serious form any time soon.  All things considered, though, they look pretty darn good and I’m pretty darn proud of myself.

I’m almost feeling brave enough to buy a circular saw of my own and learn how to use it.  Who knows what cool and crazy things I might create with just a few more tools and a bit more confidence? 
The finished project!

  • A writing desk
  • A new bathroom vanity
  • A bench and coat rack thingie for the kitchen entrance
  • A TV stand
  • A bed frame

The Dinner Disaster

It cannot be overstated!  I am not a very good cook.  Cooking is not a skill that I have honed to any notable degree in my nearly 50 years on this planet.  I have learned not to burn steak to a crisp, even though that’s how I like it.  I have figured out how to time different elements of a meal so that they are ready at approximately the same time.   I have a small collection of simple, yet fairly impressive dishes that I can whip up when necessary.  My greatest culinary achievement remains not having given anyone food poisoning (touch wood).

The meals I prepare for myself are simple.  I’m happy with a salad and garlic toast, or a bowl of soup, or a plate of cheese and crackers.  Eating is something necessary to sustain life and I harbour no desire to spend any more time preparing and consuming food than what is needed to fill that requirement.  Fancy dishes don’t impress me.  I am not likely to be found haunting classy restaurants any more than I am likely to be found in my own kitchen creating extravagant banquets of multiple courses. 

Yet, I do enjoy having people over for dinner now and then.  When the occasion arises, I will don my proverbial apron (keep thinking that I should invest in a real one someday) and plan a real meal for my chosen guests.  Last night was just such an occasion!

I was inspired to invite my husband, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law over for a turkey dinner.  Turkey dinners are relatively easy.  I throw a turkey in the oven, boil the hell out of a pot of potatoes to mash, steam some veggies, whisk up some gravy, toss a salad together, put out some pickles and buns and cranberry sauce, zap some Stove-top Stuffing and make something for dessert.  Voila!  Dinner!  Add a bottle of wine – or two! – have some coffee ready, throw in some juicy local gossip and usually the evening is deemed a success.  Usually!

I had everything planned out.  I had all the ingredients.  I was excited about the prospect of feeding my guests a meal that I knew without doubt that I could pull off.

I started in the morning by making dessert – a tropical fruit cobbler, which I would put back in the warm oven after the turkey was done to re-heat in the cooling oven and be served with real whipping cream.  It smelled delicious and looked fabulous.  I was pleased.  While the cobbler was baking, I started the tedious process of turning 10 boiled eggs into Deviled Eggs.  The original plan was to slightly over-fill the bottom halves of the eggs with the filling and then put the top halves back on, add two walnut-piece eyes and a carrot-shaving beak and make them into Easter chicks.  Wasn’t happening!  The process proved far more tedious than my patience could withstand and so they became regular Deviled Eggs with a smattering of paprika, of course. 

The failed Deviled Egg chicks could have been a sign of things to come.  I could have taken heed at that point and been warned of the impending doom that hovered over my dinner party.  But I didn’t.  I remained optimistic and excited about the evening, looking forward to spending time with the guys, and continued to prepare the salad and get the pickles (that never ultimately made it to the table) and cranberry sauce ready.  I was enjoying myself, reveling in the immense enthusiasm I had for my little party.

Dinner was scheduled for six o’clock.  I estimated that the smallish turkey I bought would need about 2 ½ hours to cook properly and so just before 3:00 p.m., I prepped it for the oven.  I dutifully removed the giblets, gave it a wash, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, placed it in the roaster, added an inch or so of water, tented it under tin foil and popped it in the oven. 
At ten to four I realized that I had forgotten to turn the oven on!

Crap on a cracker!  My confidence felt the first inevitable shake as the cloud of doom burst overhead in a thunderous mocking jolt, enlightening me at long last to the fact that this dinner party was not going to get any rave reviews. 

My response was to turn the oven up to a higher temperature and hope for the best.  I altered my potato and veggie schedule, moving it up a half hour, and adopted the mantra, “It will all work out.  It will all work out.” 

The guests arrived at the appointed hour.  I apologized immediately and explained that dinner would be slightly delayed.  They are all pretty laid-back guys and politely said replied that it was not a problem.  I offered drinks and got them settled in the living room where guy-talk blossomed over beer and coffee while I checked on the turkey.  It was far too pale.

I poked it with a fork and was horrified to discover blood dripping out of the holes.  My heart lurched.  My stomach knotted.  A lump of fear swelled in my throat.   I asked my father-in-law to provide a prognosis.  “Was it completely thawed when you put it in the oven?” he asked.  I assured him that it was.  It certainly should have been.  I had taken it out of the freezer the previous morning.  It wasn’t that big of a turkey.  He kindly told me not to worry and returned to his beer and the guy-talk. 

I was determined not to panic.  At seven o’clock the turkey was still not done.  We gathered around the oven positing possible contributing factors.  At seven-thirty, my husband took on the mission to go to the store and purchase a meat thermometer.  I had visions of the bill to fix the oven and it wasn’t pretty.  The guys, in true guy fashion, kept assuring me that it was no big deal.  The rest of the meal was congealing on the counter and the meat thermometer confirmed that the turkey was nowhere near edible condition.  It was a big deal. 

More beer, more coffee, more wine, more guy-talk, desperate attempt to stave off tears of defeat…

I offered the Deviled Eggs, an ironic choice of appies, I must say.

At quarter to nine, my father-in-law pronounced the turkey cooked and I quickly rallied to re-heat the potatoes, veggies and gravy.  We sat down to eat what was not an altogether horrible repast.  At least, I told myself, I got to spend some extra quality time with my guests.  They even went – probably politely – back for seconds. 

When the plates were all empty, I cleared the table and started to get dessert ready.  The cobbler was warm from the cooling oven and, with the aid of my handy-dandy food processor, the whipping cream was whipped in less than two minutes.  I started to dish up the cobbler.  The final blow struck my heart with relish.  The cobbler crust was not cooked.  With all the fuss over the turkey, it hadn’t occurred to me to check it.  The top was a lovely golden brown.  The fruit was tender and sweet.  But the inside of the crust was raw dough. 

Again, in true guy fashion, my guests comforted me by diving instead into the Easter basket full of chocolate that had been the centre piece on the table.   Thank goodness for back-ups!
At 11:30, fully sated, my guests departed, leaving me with the sound advice to purchase an oven thermometer and test the temperature before I called in a repairman.  The general consensus was that the temperature probe - a simple fix, they said – would have to be replaced.  No one, however, knew who repairs appliances in Houston, though they had all regaled me with anecdotes of their DIY prowess in fixing their own various appliances, including ovens, over the years. 

I cleaned up the kitchen, loaded and turned on the dishwasher and got ready for bed.  Exhausted, embarrassed beyond measure and thoroughly discouraged, I couldn't help but notice the full moon hovering in the south-eastern sky as I closed my bedroom blinds.  I sighed.  I should have known…