Thursday, December 18, 2008

I Can't Think of a Clever Way to Say I Hate Snow

We got dumped on here in Spokane, Wash., with almost two feet of new snow in a little more than a day. I want out. Right now, I want out. I want to live somewhere greener and warmer. Not too warm, like Phoenix or LA, just warmer than zero degrees with a wind chill of minus 20. You know, like Portland or Seattle – okay, they got snow and cold today too, but it's still about 20 degrees warmer there than here.

Warmer would definitely be better for our critters. You can see from this pic that our dog, Maverick, didn't know what he was getting into when he rushed past me out the door this morning. We could trace his journey out to the field for his pit stop by the trail he plowed. Poor old guy, he's past 12 and arthritic, so it's a wonder he even made it home.

As for Snickers, that barn cat has decided being inside isn't so bad. When the temps went lower than 15 and we brought him in the house, he haunted the doorway, waiting for a chance to dash outside, back to what was familiar to him: his heating pad in the garage. Three days later he's sleeping on our bed and following us around the house like a puppy. When the door opens, he yawns and turns away. Smart cat.

Maverick and Snickers are lucky. They don't have the drudgery of back-breaking shoveling or the worry that the power will go out and we'll be stranded with no water, no heat, no lights, and busted pipes. They don't have to get the sprinkler system blown out or scrape car windows or agonize over Christmas presents that will be mailed too late because we couldn't get to the post office.

They don't have to stand in a three-foot drift and extend a golf-ball-getter to its full length to scrape snow off a satellite dish that's 12 feet off the ground. Neither do they have the joy of bribing the neighbor who owns a tractor to plow our driveway (as always, the promise of an apple pie worked its magic – we love our neighbors). The critters just sleep and eat and do that other thing you have to clean up after.

I used to like that song from The Sound of Music, the one that goes, "Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver-white winters that melt into springs..." Now I realize these are a few of my un-favorite things. These are things I won't miss about living in Spokane when, someday, I do not.

Snow drifts and cold temps and power that flickers
Shov'ling and scooping up after my Snickers
Scraping the icicles off of my nose
I am so sick of this climate I chose...

Or, to quote a character on tonight's episode of The Office, "One day we're going to move to Disney's Celebration Village in Florida and leave all of this behind." Want to come along?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Toys for Tats

I bought a lot of toys when my two boys were little. To their great disappointment, many of those toys went into the toy closet, unopened, and have stayed there for years. These were not-to-be-played with toys. These were, in fact, investment toys, meant to be sold later when they had increased in both rarity and value.

I've put a few on eBay over the years. Like all investments, some turned out to be a bust, like the Willow action figures that wouldn't even bring a dollar each. Others were absolute steals that paid off very well – a Star Wars Micro Playset bought for $5.99 brought $59.99. I don't do math well enough to know exactly what kind of payoff that was, but I liked it.

This fall I heard eBay was running a half-off-listing-fees sale, and I jumped on it. After I listed fifty-some toys, I sat back to watch the bidding action. I figured the Disney "Dinosaurs" talking Baby would be a sure thing because they'd been selling for big bucks. But no, the auction ended without one bid, and I still have my Baby. But every New Kids on the Block doll went fast. Those Jonathans and Jordans I bought in honor of my boys' names are still popular with ex-teenyboppers, I guess.

The last sale I made was a 1990s Batcopter. The buyer said he lived in Spokane, and could he come pick it up? Knowing how lost people get when they try to find our home in the country, I said I'd drop it off at his workplace in Spokane Valley. Turns out he works at a tattoo parlor, and so yesterday I made my very first visit to such an establishment. The young receptionist was very much like Abby on NCIS: black hair, cheerful, tattooed. She said my buyer wasn't in, but she'd give him the toy.

Later the buyer emailed me and asked if I had anything else to sell, because he and his brother collect 1980s and 1990s toys. Oh Joy! I can give him a list and maybe, just maybe, he'll take those Willow action figures off my hands. And maybe I can finally get that little butterfly on my...

Although if he's thinking of trading tattoos for toys, I guess he'll have to think again, and my butterfly will have to wait. It just wouldn't be appropriate. As my Scotty said, "No Toys for Tats, Dearest." ;)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Last of the Fab Fifties

Four friends and I turned fifty this year. We're all part of the close-knit staff of Spokane's Union Gospel Mission homeless shelter, and our birthday bashes stretched from January through December. But that's not everyone – my husband, Scotty, and our friends John and Ann also hit the mid-century mark in 2008. We're the tail end of the Great Baby Boom, and my December birthday made me the tail end of the 2008 Fifties Club.

I'd heard from my husband that turning fifty wouldn't be easy, and he was right. It was a shock when I filled out a form online yesterday and had to type in 50 instead of 49. More than any other birthday, this one portends the downhill slide toward old age. I'm noticing more of the gray I've been struggling to cover (see "Why I Decided to Go Gray"). I can feel a little stiffness in my knees, and my clothes seem to have shrunk.

On the other hand, I have countless blessings, including amazing kids & grandkids and a wonderful husband of two years. May the next fifty far surpass the first.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bidding Goodbye - to Stuff

Stuff. Too much, far too much, the accumulation of 25 years of living in the same place. A place that has far, far too much space in which to store the stuff. I have a house with large closets, a full basement, a big and very accessible attic, a garage that fits two cars with plenty of room left over, and an enormous barn with three levels of empty just begging to be filled. And, regrettably, it almost is.

And it isn't just my stuff. There's also the stuff I've kept that belonged to my late husband - tools, mostly, and some glassware he liked to collect. Then there's the kids' toys, only the kids are now 23 and 25. The attic is half full of empty Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles boxes waiting to be reunited with the proper vintage of Donatello, Rafaelo, or Michaelangelo.

There's also a bit of Scotty's stuff, although he is the antithesis of a pack rat. He packed pretty light coming into our marriage.

Mostly, though, it's mine, and that "mostly" consists of books I've never read and never will, though they look interesting; books from my children's childhood days that they may remember and want for their own kids someday; toys, either from my own childhood or from the childhood I thought I wanted, where every toy-related wish is fulfilled; clothes of various sizes fitting the skinny me, the average me, and the upsized me; a pantry full of things like brownie mixes that are going on four years old; and around 450 video tapes full of old tv shows, movies, and home videos.

That's not to mention the antique stove sitting in the basement that looks pretty, doesn't work, and isn't attracting any bids on eBay. What do you do with a "Monarch Malleable Range" that's too valuable to give away but nobody wants? (Want to look me up on eBay? I'm "gibbsj.")

Then there are all those antique vases that are probably worth something, but I don't know what. So I might list them for $20 on eBay only to find they're actually worth $400. Oops. I could sell the whole kit'n caboodle to an antiques dealer, but she'd know exactly what it was worth and I still wouldn't. That stuff doesn't always come labeled with a convenient tag, like, "This is a very rare, very desirable, very expensive lemonware glass shaped like a tulip with a solid sterling base and made in Holland around 1900, and you shouldn't take any less than your firstborn child for it."

Lamps. I got lamps. We closed down the lake house and brought a whole houseful of stuff back, and most of it is still stored in the barn, including all the lamps, which joined ranks with the overflow of lamps from the house. I must have 30 lamps. Extras, that is. My aunt offered me $75 for one of them, but it was so Art Deco ugly that I gave it to her just to get it out of my sight.

It's funny what people want. I advertised a faded red fire hydrant labeled "1949 San Francisco" on Within an hour I had an offer, and later I had two more. I got a bit of welcome cash for it with only ten minutes' work to take a photo and list it.

But nobody wants the Arnold S. "Terminator" doll with glowing eyes. Come on, he even talks! But there's a few dozen of his clones on eBay, and none of them are selling either. So my "investment" just sits in the toy closet and gets dustier.

Not so with my talking Steve Urkel doll (remember Family Matters?). Someone snapped him up within a couple hours' of his appearance on eBay, and they paid a pretty penny for a doll I got for a few bucks on a clearance table.

There are other, non-eBay ways of clearing the clutter, and I don't mean the illegal burn barrel next to the barn. We have at least ten charity-related thrift stores in Spokane that will take most anything, as long as it isn't stained, ripped, or missing pieces. (They wouldn't have taken my vintage Star Wars C-3PO model kit, but some guy in Ireland did.) I have four big bags and a box full of stuff in the trunk, ready to go to my favorite, the Union Gospel Mission's Classy Rack in Spokane Valley. Great people work there, including some who are recovering addicts or formerly homeless. People who are working hard to restore their lives with God's help.

My goal is to dejunk, declutter, and clean out the freezer in the next two months. I sold 19 toys on eBay in the past week and a half, so there's hope the next 26 items will sell too. And after that, I only have 4,368 items to go. Pray for me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why I've Decided to Go Gray

Have you ever had a rash from poison oak or poison ivy? Red, raised, fiery, welted patches of pure agonizing itch that spread... if you've had it, you remember it well. It's called contact dermatitis, and it happens when sensitive skin is exposed to an allergen.

Common hair coloring dyes can have the same effect in some people. Unfortunately "some people" includes me. When I was young and didn't have any gray hair to cover, any old dye would do. I had some fun experimenting with exotic sounding colors like "Warm Golden Sable Brown," which looked a lot like brown, and "Honey Champagne Rosewood Sable," which also looked a lot like brown.

Now that I'm approaching 50 and really need the helpful coverage that little box of Clairol can render to my aging brunette locks, I can't use it. The slightest touch of any dye with p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) will send the nearest patch of skin into an itchy hell. And I don't use that word lightly. I had a reaction so bad once that I had to go to the emergency room and get a steroid shot to get me back to normal. It took a week.

I looked online for a hypoallergenic alternative and found Herbatint. Yes, it still has PPD, says the hype, but so little that "most allergic people don't react." I bought a box of "Honey Warm Sable Ash," or something like that, at the local health food store. Following the directions for once, I did what's called a patch test. I mixed some of the chemicals, smeared the mixture inside my left elbow, and didn't wash it off. "Leave for 48 hours," said the directions, "and if no reaction is seen, proceed with coloring hair."

Oh my, it didn't take 48 hours. It didn't take 24 hours. It took six hours for the inside of said elbow to become inflamed, well beyond the two-inch spot where I dabbed the dye. Because I have friends who read this blog who have an averse reaction to any mention of "swelling," I'll leave it at that.

Three days later, I am in a daily regimen of swathing my poor arm in burn gel - it's the only thing that helps - covered by sterile gauze and wrapped in that stretchy athletic wrap stuff. This was my last try at covering up my encroaching age. I give up. And so I will go gentle into that dark, er, gray night, and I'll go proudly.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Disaster Averted, Pumpkin Pie Triumphs

I failed the holiday acid test. Thanksgiving Day was PP-Day: it was high time for me make my first pumpkin pie, especially since it was on my husband's "it isn't Thanksgiving without it" list.

I already had an apple pie and a chocolate cream pie sitting on the counter - sure things I'd made many times. I pulled out the recipe for pumpkin pie and found it required two eggs. Oh no. I had just used my second-to-last egg in the pie crust recipe, so I was down to one egg in the carton.

There was no way I was going to drive 22 miles round-trip to the nearest little neighborhood market on the chance they'd 1) be open and 2) have eggs. No worries, I reassured myself. I'd just flip open my laptop and Google a one-egg pumpkin pie recipe.

Good idea, but no luck - every recipe started at two eggs and worked up to six, depending on the fat & calories one desired in their pie. So out the window went the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I was appalled by my lack of planning, but my gracious and understanding husband said it was fine, two pies of the non-pumpkin variety were plenty.

So Sunday (yesterday) rolled around, and I removed my homemade, waiting-for-pumpkin pie shell from the freezer. I had a full carton of eggs, my son and his special girl were coming over, and pie would be had. Pumpkin pie.

As the guests were arriving, I emptied out the can of pumpkin into a bowl and snipped off the recipe on the back. I couldn't read the micro-sized type, so after a failed attempt to blow it up on the copier (which just made it fuzzy), or decipher it with reading glasses (which weren't powerful enough), I peered through a magnifying glass and found, to my horror, that the Libby's recipe required a 12-oz can of evaporated milk.

I usually read through recipes first, but not this time. I had every ingredient mixed and waiting except the canned evaporated milk. I went to the basement, where I have a pantry that would feed the whole neighborhood during a six-month siege - but no evaporated milk.

I did have just over one cup of heavy cream. My son's special girl, who is in her second year of studying culinary arts, agreed that maybe I could substitute it for the evaporated milk. My thought process went like this: evaporated milk is like double-strength milk, and heavy cream is, well, rich and creamy. There was no way I was going to drive 22 miles round-trip to the nearest little neighborhood market for a can of evaporated milk. So why not try? All I had to lose was a homemade pie crust, some inexpensive ingredients, and my reputation as a pie-maker.

I baked the pie per instructions, which seemed kind of odd: a few minutes at 450, and quite a while at 350, then test the middle with a sharp knife. The pie took longer to set than it should have, and both my boy and his girl refused to try it (neither one is a pumpkin pie fan, so I can't blame them; I would've declined too).

My husband galantly stepped up and tasted a still-warm piece slathered in enough Cool Whip to drown out the flavor. The pie was lighter colored than the pies I remembered from family Thanksgivings, but Scotty pronounced it "very good!" And he wasn't just humoring me. He asked for another piece. I then tried my second piece of pumpkin pie ever (my first was a commercially baked "sugar free" pie), again with the Cool Whip. Dang tasty. I don't want another piece, and it'll never be something I make because I enjoy it, but I would've been proud to serve it.

Next year at Thanksgiving, I'll keep the heavy cream handy. Because everybody needs a secret ingredient.