Saturday, July 30, 2011

What's Bugging You?

WARNING: this post contains graphic descriptions of creepy-crawlies and may result in headscratching

Bugs rule the world. Okay, maybe not. It just seems that way when they overwhelm your world and make your life miserable.

For being so small they have such sneaky, steadfast ways.

Living in the country holds many advantages, but what really 'bugs' me about it are 'bugs.' Even if they come with the territory. The 'plus' side of enjoying our wildlife are the 'down side' of the bugs that accompany them.

Last September we had a tick epidemic some creative soul could make into a real spine-tingler. Francis Fox had taken to sleeping under my car and hanging out in the gravel drive. She dug a smooth shallow trench to keep cool and sheltered, away from the kits but close enough and within eye-distance of the tack room to keep a wary eye on them. They were too young to venture down the drive. At first I thought it was cute. It certainly was clever. On a 'good' week, I only drive to town once or twice, so the car doesn't move that often. Then -- disaster. I was driving and noticed small brown spots on the windshield. Then the dash. Then the side windows. Then the roof of the car. My god - it was a horror movie -- a tick epidemic of crisis proportions. When I got to my destination I dashed in the bathroom to do a quick 'tick-check.' Found quite a few on my jeans. Hours later had to drive home. Repeated the tick-check and threw all my clothes in the washer. Checking the shoes showed more ticks. Yuck and double-yuck.

Excy got super-duty spray bomb for inside the car and then tackled the drive. When he came back in, we must've picked a hundred ticks off his clothes and off him. It was incredible. We had to bomb the car three times. Excy developed tick-fever. Fortunately we caught it right away, but with his heart issues and the meds he was already taking, it was a worry.

Finally, I could get in the car and not start jerking at every sensation. Francis didn't seem to mind the inconvenience, she just moved into the tall pampas grass.

This year, it's ants in the roof of the addition of the house. And it's a metal roof - somehow they got in the insulation. White flakes of insulation drift down gently like tiny snowflakes, coating the walls and the floors. Every time Excy conquers one spot they just move to another. It seems to be slowing down, but maybe it's my optimism.

I learned the hard way not to use Orkin type outfits -- yes they 'killed bugs dead,' but they also killed the 'good' bugs that kept most of the 'bad' ones at bay. We had more of the horrible spiders and others I won't freak you out with than we ever did before -- fortunately outside, but still...

Now we are encountering a problem we haven't had since the cats became strictly indoor cats in '99. FLEAS. Mama 'coon and her three babies hang out underneath the screen porch, which is the cat's 'outdoor room.' They lounge out there hours at a time. Last week I noticed an inordinate amount of scratching going on with our three and Dixie, our semi-permanent houseguest. Then I trapped one on the bed. Eeewwwwwhhh...

A thorough flea-combing revealed it was a problem of epic proportions. They all got treated three days ago, and there's been a lot of unpleasant side-effects, and it's still not resolved. I'm afraid I'll be bathing them and giving them another dose in a week or so. Excy sprayed the ground.

BAD BUGS. The bane of my country existence. You 'city folks' can thank your lucky stars.

On another note, though, a walking stick the size of an asparagus stalk has been providing entertainment for days -- I've never seen one as big before...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Final Run-in with a Whack-a-do

part two of the story:

About eight months after we moved in, I found myself back in DC having my second brain surgery (nine years after the first - also discovering I had VHL, a chronic disease that would require kidney surgery that year, once I recovered from the brain surgery). It was a rough surgery and I needed to stay up there to go into PT and OT to relearn how to walk and write. They figured we'd be away from AR about 4 weeks, maybe five.

The end of the first week Ms Thing the landlord called my room. I was not expecting to hear from her, and I was definitely unprepared to hear the real reason she called.
"Hey. Sorry to hear about your operation. I wanted you to know, I sold the house."
me, slightly panicked: "You what?! The house you said we could live in for four years?"
Cuckoo-batshit-crazee: "Yeah, well, I changed my mind. But don't worry: you have 6 to 8 weeks."
me: "Well, gee, that's just great, since I'm in the hospital up here for two weeks and then in rehab two weeks after that -- leaving about two weeks or maybe if we're lucky, four, to find a house and move when we get home, in addition to continuing my therapy so I CAN WALK AND WRITE and go back to work. Thanks soooo much -- you're a real gem, and your timing is incredible." CLICK

When we got back to AR, we drew a circle around my work place and decided we wouldn't look at anything outside the circumference. Not buying a house wasn't an option. I never again wanted to be at the mercy of a landlord. We saw a lot of dismal prospects. We wanted to live close enough to commute to town and my work within 30 minutes, and ideally, have room for Excy's studio, and land for future horses.

We were down to the last two weeks when we were aimlessly driving the backroads yet again, when I spied a 'for-sale-by-owner' sign in front of a ranch house. "Pull in, pull in!" I shouted. The house and yard were a real mess, but I saw the possibilities right away. It was a decent house (good bones), had 7 acres, and a detached shed Excy could use for a studio, now being used as the owner's carpentry studio (he built lawn swings).

It was one of the quickest sales in history -- amazing when I think about it. They promised they could move out and we could move in even when the final papers were still being filed. We had all of a week to pack, move, clean the rental and clean the new house and pull up the disgusting wall-to-wall carpet and paint everything. Luckily (!), I was still out on medical leave from work. Excy also had to patch nail holes and repaint walls in the rental. I cleaned the rental and scrubbed the bathrooms as well as I could, but the water stains were permanent. But we left that place spotless -- which it hadn't been when we moved in. Then we worked like dogs on the new house. Thank the goddess for friends and family, who were enlisted to help. Because this place was horrid. It was like instead of cleaning a plate, they'd toss it into the yard. One bathtub took all afternoon to clean and the pumice stone my friend started with looked like a pebble when she was through. (And I swear to you, I like things clean, but I am not a neat-freak by any means).

So when Ms Cuckoo called and proceeded to berate us on how "filthy" she had heard from the new owner (her friend and former hairdresser) we had left her house, I lost my mind. Anyone who knows me well knows I seldom go ape-shit. I avoid confrontation. I swallow disappointment. I turn the other cheek. And when you finally punch that last nerve, you better hope you have a plane ticket out of the country, because I will make you regret you ever heard my name. Back away slowly because there will be a smack down and you will not be the one left standing.

After vomiting all over her punk ass on the phone, I proceeded to follow this up with a two-page, single-spaced letter. Then I made sure everyone at Winrock (her former work place) heard the whole story. And then I found the hair stylist and told him how great I thought he was, and how I'd definitely recommend his services to everyone.* Finally I made sure his only neighbors (who adored us, and are friends to this day) knew how Mr Wonderful treated us via Ms Cuckoo.

Never heard from her again. At least she was smart enough to do that much.

Months later, a mutual friend ventured that Ms Cuckoo was "really a good person."

I gave her a long look. Silence. "Are you friggen' kidding me?! You saw what we went through..." I made her promise not to say the name again.

* I told you I can summon my mean-streak...

Friday, July 22, 2011

AR is Not in a Third World Country

This drought reminds me of a story. After we moved to AR in 1991 we needed to rent a house while we debated our options. One of the scientists at Winrock was preparing to go to Harvard for a PhD and said she'd rent her house to us for 4 years. When we went to discuss it I fell in love - the house was darling, newly designed by an architect, barely lived in, nestled into a wooded lot on the edge of town....tiny, but we could make it work. Excy was concerned that the only water was from a well, and asked her many questions about it and whether or not she had ever had a problem. She assured us she never ran out of water.

After she left town we moved in. The house may have been new but it was filthy. After cleaning two days and moving in, and running two loads of laundry - You guessed it - we ran out of water. Zip. Nada. Excy primed the well pump and did all the voodoo one has to do and concluded we were out of luck. Driving to friends who also worked at Winrock so we could fill bottles of water from their tap (they were in the city limits) that night, they told us that this happened to X "all the time," and she had been to their house for water or had heard about it happening at least 2-3 times a week. On the second day Excy ruined his truck's transmission hauling a heavy water tank up to the house, and livid, called X yet again -- she wasn't returning the messages -- this time telling her she had until the end of the week to make a decision: we were moving and canceling the rent check if we didn't hear from her within the afternoon.

When she called, she said she had no intention of paying for another well, and thought what we should do is put up devices on the roof and rain barrels so we could catch run-off and use that. She had "discussed it with another employee at Winrock and he agreed it would be a sensible solution." Okay, I knew she was odd, but BSC??? Number 1) AR doesn't tend to have much rain in the summer. This didn't solve our immediate problem. Of. No. Water.

Number 2) I didn't really see the necessity of living like we were in a third world country when we were not in a third world country.* She hemmed and hawed. We stewed and argued -- then we realized there wasn't a way to bring a person back to earth when she was so far-out of range. So we told her we'd be moving on Monday, having lived there for seven miserable days (well, five, since the first two days were fine).

Sunday night she called and said she'd pay for another well on the property. Duh, she'd have to do it anyway regardless of who moved in. This 'ole boy came and witched it and taught me how to witch, too, and we found a spot and it was a great well. Never ran out of water again, though it did turn brown at times and stained the porcelain in the bathroom, but her well did that, too.

We paid the rent on time and never contacted her again - thankfully never had reason to -- but this left a bad taste in everyone's mouth and she really got back at us. I'll tell you part two in another post.

*yes, I know it's correct to say 'developing country' now - then it was accurate lingo.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Excy and Steven Tyler

Several years ago, one of my closest friends moved to Kansas City for her husband's job. Her son, Seun, asked us to participate in a 'Flat Stanley' project for his 6th grade assignment. Apparently, 'Flat Stanley' is a writing exercise where the kids make paper outlines of themselves and then send them to their preferred destination, where the people chosen take the cut-out, in this case 'Seun,' around their town and take photos, then send them back to the kid and he writes up a 'What I Did on my Spring Break' sort-of paper. Seun choose us over PA and DC, and we were flattered, though a little concerned about how to show a paper cut-out a good time for the week. Anyway.

We were remodeling the house, so had plenty of wood lying around, and one of the carpenters decided to make a wood cutout of 'Suen' so he could stand up when posing. Seun was busy that week. We have photos of him feeding hay to the horses, painting walls, on the roof of the house, even visiting his old house and favorite neighbor's yard.

Seun has a mask on to protect his face while working with chemcials...

Finally we needed to wrap it up: He went to church and posed with his old friends and the priest. As we were driving home, I got the brilliant idea that 'Seun' should pose in front of the Clinton Library downtown, which was being built at the time. it was then Excy started to whine.
"I have too much going on go."
"He's your godson, too. I am not driving all the way home and then back downtown."
"Okay, damnit, but hurry up..."

We get to the Library. Take the picture. I decide as long as we're there we should take 'Seun' to the Riverwalk.
"Oh, come on...the horses need to get out this afternoon..."
'Please? Just to make his stay more interesting to write about..."
((sigh)) "Okay...damn..."

Driving home, I have another idea.
"I know! As long as we're here, let's go by the Old State House."
"Seriously??!! Amy, let's go HOOOMMMEEEE..."
"It'll just take a minute.." I'm driving so I win the argument.

By this time Excy is hot cross and double whiny.
"Should I go with you?"
"Stay in the car! You can't walk fast! I'll just run up and pose him!"

I park across the street and watch as Excy hauls 'Seun' up the steps and then deliberates where to prop him up. What looks like a slender woman with dark hair is sitting on the bench with a man. They engage Excy in conversation. Now, Excy is a talker. I mean, A TALKER. But since he's done nothing but kvetch about this exercise since the day began, I feel certain he will cut it off -- or at least respect the fact I'm sitting in a hot car waiting for him.
No dice. Eventually the woman-figure goes over to where Excy has propped up Seun and wraps an arm around him while Excy takes the picture. Then, does Excy leave?? Nooooo.

Five more minutes pass. Then ten minutes. Finally it's been 20 minutes and I am peeved. I am not known for my patience, either, but I'm more than a little annoyed that he's bitched all day about having 'no time,' but then seems to have all the time in the world to chat up this person while I'm waiting in the car. the sound of the horn all three heads turn my way to stare in the direction of the car. Excy makes his goodbyes. Trots across the street.
"Sure as $%#@ took you long enough for someone who couldn't wait to get home," I grumbled.
"Know who that was? You know the girl I think kinda looks like you, the one in the Lord of the Rings?''
"That was NOT Liv Tyler," I snap.
"No,that was her dad, Steven Tyler. He played here last night and was just hanging out before making a plane."

Oh no -- you did NOT just meet Steve Tyler and not even bother to wave me over.
I did NOT just honk my horn at a celebrity.

The next day I take two rolls of film into Walgreens for the fast photo process. Return within an hour. "Sorry, mam, but we ruined one roll of your film."
"You gotta be kidden' me....I had Steve Tyler on one of those rolls!"
This would be a 'big fish' story -- where we'd tell it to people and they wouldn't believe us.
The fat cow sat at the desk, mouth agape, blinking a bit. I could tell she had no idea what I was talking about (this was before he was on American Idol).

Fortunately, that roll survived.

But we had to replicate one entire roll -- going around to all the places again, for Seun.
His teacher was apparently crazy for Tyler -- she gave him an A+++ and still keeps the photo as her screen saver.

We, however, have yet to even read his report. I finally quit asking. But we've got our own story.

Tyler's rock-star pose with Seun...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hill Country and Then Some...

My favorite way to visit, especially these days when the weather is so BSC* hot, is by sofalizing -- wish I had thought of the word, because it's brilliant. I'm finally feeling some strength ebbing back, but that still means I'm good for about one thing a day, with rest in between. Please Lord make it rain, and this summer weather to end in the fall, earlier than it usually does. Hate to be a whiner; I know this heat is miserable and sapping everybody. I think people deserve a medal for just getting out in it. Poor momma 'coon practically drags up to the terrace and those babies hang on her legs, just like the toddlers I see with their mom at the grocery store.

Last leg of Texas: We left Houston for San Antonio. I have never been to the River walk and have always wanted to, so it seemed a logical choice for celebrating our 20th, since we were in Texas anyway. My dad's architecture firm had designed a hotel on the River but we ended up at the Hyatt, which was also on the River and quite nice. They had glass elevators and I tried not to swoon when we went up and down; heights are not my thing.

It was boiling hot but jam-packed with tourists like us and fun to people-watch. We took a boat tour. Met an old high school friend for dinner with her boyfriend. She hasn't changed at all, still a force of nature. Decided to take advantage of the breeze to walk to the Alamo at midnight, which was pretty, all lighted up. I was struck by how small it actually is. Made the story seem even more romantic. I was surprised by how many people were still in the streets.

They're making plans to turn the River walk more into Times Square in New York, and hearing this made my heart sink. Right now it's quaint and has lots of architectural integrity...reminds me somewhat of a more thriving B&O canal, which winds through Georgetown in DC. Foreseeing another Disneyland-like Times Square in the future, made little sense, but I guess I'm just a purist. Definitely against all cities blending into the same look, anyway. I was glad to get to Vegas a few times before they made it all 'kiddy-friendly.' I wish I had been there as an adult in the hey-day, when people dressed up to catch a show of the Rat Pack...

The following day we drove on to Kerrville. The hill country is beautiful, even if it was choking for rain. We strolled the downtown and had a great lunch, and stayed at a B&B called The Painted Horse that actually is a painted horse ranch. We had a lovely two-bedroom cabin with a kitchen and living room to ourselves. The long front porch was full of rocking chairs to sit when it cooled off (a little) at night to watch their Axis deer and horses roam around. The cabin is the only thing they rent out so we were glad to stay there; it can get popular at foaling time.

Unfortunately we didn't get to meet our appointments. I told Excy to go, but he didn't want to leave me. I fell quite ill. Terrible GI problems. Tongue as black as a chow dog's. (Kidney remnant doesn't like getting dehydrated and we were too active - getting up early and staying late - and I pushed myself too hard). For two days I rested in front of the a/c and downed glass after glass of water. Going into an ER in Kerrville didn't strike me as much of a good option.

Not what we intended, but at least I was able for us to continue to Austin for a night. Going through Fredericksburg we bought some awesome peaches and produce and jams to take to the kids. Excy's kids and our 2-yr old grand daughter are in Austin, and we were able to stay a night before heading home. Seeing the kids is always fun. Only wish we had more time.

*Bat Shit Crazy

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Houston We Have a Problem

I've fallen down a hole the past three weeks. Haven't been able to rebound from the Texas trip, and am spending the days resting and rehydrating. A lot. Even sent Excy off to a 4th of July party with a platter of deviled eggs. Hated to miss fun times, but it's taken me years to learn to stop and hibernate when I must, and not push myself and feel worse. What I lose, I don't regain. At least Sci-fi was running their annual Twilight Zone marathon, so the cats and I were able to enjoy our quiet evening...yesterday I got cabin fever so bad we decided to risk a movie. (Midnight in Paris - which was entertaining.) But now I'm down for the count again, and spent most of the day reading The Help. Always want to read the book before seeing the movie....

Critter update: Three weeks ago just before we left, Francis fox and Mr moved the kits into a deeper part of the woods. Usually she doesn't do this so soon, but those damn yippy dogs of our trailer neighbors (dachshunds) came over twice, and scared her, I's not like her to not come back when they are settled, though, so I'm worried. Our neighbor who has a cattle farm behind us has seen coyotes, and the raccoons haven't been up, either, so I think that's what's up. I miss watching the kits grow, but would rather have them safe. Today a mama 'coon came up with three babies -- tiny ones -- so I threw out some dog food, as it's insufferably hot and mama needs to eat, and I'd prefer that than having them disturbing the bird feeders...If anyone needs a sure-fire recipe for keeping 'coons from digging up their flowers, I found one. You must reapply it after watering or the rain, until they get the idea the pot or patch isn't a good's far more effective than the expensive pellets, sprays, and liquids I've bought in the past. Though it smells awful, it doesn't overpower the flowers, for some reason.

On to the Texas posting:
the first leg of our trip was to MD Anderson in Houston for the VHL conference.* The medical conference was incredibly well set up. Maybe 50 patients and caretakers were there, and a panel of doctors. Having lived with this for 27 years, I knew most of what they had to say, but I was surprised to learn only 10,000 people have it in the US. (reminded me of the cartoon I liked in The New Yorker -- a woman is in a waiting room and replying to a man beside her that 'her disease is so rare, they don't even have a spokesperson for it'). Also, learned that since I can't handle contrast dye anymore they can do an endoscope of my GI to 'see what those tumors are doing'. Still no luck on the brain or spine, though. My doctors said that at this point, I'd know something was going on, before they'd see it on a scan.

The last hour of the meeting the facilitator, Joyce, who I've known since '92, blindsided me by sticking a microphone in my face and telling the group that I was now going to tell my story. Yikes. I don't mind speaking in public, and I am used to lecturing med students at our local teaching hospital, but I like a little warning. I was shaking so badly I could feel my lips trembling when I was through! Fortunately, Excy is a deft hand at handling the follow-up questions and elaborating when I skim over details. Afterwards Joyce tells the crowd that 'I'm a pioneer who has paved the way so hopefully their cancer journey with VHL will go more smoothly than mine.' I've always dreamed of being a pioneer, just hadn't realized I was...

A few folks come up afterwards to say they thought they had gone through the wringer until they heard my story...I have yet to meet anyone who has had full-blown VHL activity like I've had, but there were so many brave souls in the audience who have undergone a number of surgeries. Talking to other VHL survivors made me feel strangely optimistic and depressed. It was a very long day and after a mojoto and some Mexican food, I fell into bed to get ready to get up early and drive to San Antonio....

* if you don't know what VHL is, google