Category Archives: Married life

Dear Ophelia, part one

The trip was, in a way, misbegotten.

Maybe it fits well that I drafted this account in a hurricane that appeared destined to centerpunch our location.

Like most people in the modern age who are comfortable with computers and the Internet, Deb and I handle our own domestic travel arrangements. It isn’t that hard, and a travel agent can’t offer much value helping you plan your dream trip to Wichita. We knew the travel agency industry was in decline, but for a trip to Ireland using some unfamiliar means through an unfamiliar entry point, we felt it was of value to consult a specialist.

Nah.

We went to one of the longest-established travel agencies west of the Willamette (the river that divides eastern and western Portland, Oregon), and contacted the individual billed as their Ireland/England specialist. On everything we could as easily have done ourselves—flights, car rental, hotel nights at the airport—she seemed to perform fine. All that remained was to pick out two cottage stays, a week apiece. We had given her a three-week window and asked her to time our two weeks of travel so as best to fit the cottage schedules.

That seems logical, right? Flight day, jetlag airport hotel stay, then pick up rental car and head for cottage. Week later, transition to next cottage. Departure day, drive to jetlag hotel, drop off rental car, enjoy last day in town using mass transit, fly out in morning.

She sent us three options for cottages. In all three cases we thought perhaps we could do better, and asked for more options. What naïfs we were. We waited patiently, and time marched on. Options were disappearing daily as places booked up. After a week’s strained patience, we contacted her and asked could we please move this forward. She made a number of unverifiable excuses, the kind of plausible deniabilities one usually hears from people who have learned how to lie by habit, including that she had not forgotten about us. I grew uneasy, but presumed that she would not simply cease to bother helping us to complete our plans. A blistering review online—and if I may say so, when a professional writer wants to blister someone, he or she knows how to make sure the marks hurt like hell—would be exactly what she did not need.

It is a weakness of mine to underestimate human stupidity, laziness, and shortsightedness until nearly too late. I show no signs of improvement.

After another week, she sent us a batch of .pdfs of cottages, nearly all without prices. A rather important bit of information, one would think, and I contacted her to explain that this was hardly workable. She ignored me. I went over and over in my head: had I done something wrong, somehow alienated her? Or, more likely, had she just decided she had gotten all the money she cared about, and that we could now fuck off until her convenience allowed her to deign to finish booking our trip?

I was sure I had been very restrained and non-alienating to this point, but in case I had somehow been socially ham-handed, I asked Deb to take over the interface. Deb got no better response, not even with a message for the owner. Now we saw that the firm’s rot seeped from its leadership. After one full month since first meeting and arrangements, and with barely that long to go before departure, and no further anything from the agent or her chieftain, we realized that we must book our own cottage stays. All right; go to hell, lady, we’ll muddle through without your expertise.

We soon learned that she had botched the flight dates. Irish cottages typically run on the calendar week with Saturday as the beginning and end, and she had scheduled our flights so that the two weeks did not fit calendar weeks. After checking dozens of cottage prices, we learned was we were welcome to book an available cottage any time that suited us, but that each cottage stay would mean paying the equivalent cost of two full weeks. It would transform about a $650 experience into well over $1100, exactly the sort of blunder we had expected a travel professional to avoid. As I’ve often said to errant vendors (especially contractors), if I wanted it all fucked up, I could have done that all on my own without professional assistance.

It was either change the days off, the flights, the hotels, and the rental cars, or swallow the cost. The flight alone would be problematic to change without a large cost.

Nothing for it but to pay up and hope, and we did. Our plan was to fly into Dublin (mistake #1; we saved a lot of money we later wished we had not, as Shannon is far easier to deal with), hotel stay, then pick up the rental car and take it deep into the wilds of County Donegal. That part at least went well enough, and after overcoming the lunacy of getting out of Dublin with right-hand drive, we were free and making for the village of Leitir mhic an Bhaird (in Irish; say it, LAY-chur WICK-a-word, in English, Lettermacaward pronounced LET-er MACK-a-word).

Ireland doesn’t have much freeway kilometrage, but most of the roads have good enough surfacing. There often is no shoulder, so there’s the rock wall or dropoff to avoid, and oncoming trucks can be harrowing when their right tire is over the line and won’t move. It took about four hours to reach Leitir, as locals call it, complete with confusion over directions to the cottage. This being a Gaelteacht (Irish-speaking area), some of the signs are in Irish alone, some bilingual. Our turnoff was at a place called Dooey Beach, and had I not seen the sign saying ‘Dumhaigh’ (roughly, ‘Dooey’) and figured out that part, we wouldn’t have known where to go.

The cottage had a number of disappointing aspects; no Internet (I admit that failing to note this in advance was my bad; I had been very flustered), an odd mixture of interactions between electrical devices (where you had to turn on this switch over here to make that device work, but please kindly turn it off as soon as you are done), an absentee owner, and a local caretaker who seemed put upon, leaving us to figure out much of the house for ourselves. We gave serious consideration to just leaving and finding B&Bs, but we decided to buck up and make the best of it. There we were, on a one-lane country road without Internet service, a forest behind and north of us, a pasture to the immediate south with rooks (think of a crow with a light gray beak) scavenging all around the livestock, and not much of anything in near walking distance except an elementary school. Oh, and an obviously closed-up bar. There had been a bar just after the Dooey turnoff, though, which looked like about a ten-minute walk. Fine.

One way you know you’re in a Gaelteacht: the school zone signs are in Irish alone. Just south of our cottage, painted on the road in big letters:

AIRE (AR-rah)

GO MALL (guh MAWL)

SCOIL (SKULL)

“Attention, slow, school.”

Over the next few days, we explored western Ulster by day. By night, we became part of the scene at the local pub; we’ll get to that later.

One of our trips was to the southwest Donegal coast, to visit the cliffs of Sliabh Liag (‘SLEEVE LEAGUE’; I am not going to render all the Irish names in English as well, but I will help you say them right). Great slate-layered rocky upthrust headlands gazing down talus slopes and sheer faces into the North Atlantic, with coppery sheen in the broken black stones at your feet, astonishingly white quartz chunks here and there, and of course Ireland’s ubiquitous grazing sheep. One might say, with justice, that any attraction where there is no risk of stepping in sheep crap isn’t very Irish. True to form, one had to pass a gate posted with a fógra about keeping it closed in order to avoid letting the sheep out.

I had better explain about fógraí, which means ‘notices’ or ‘warnings’ (depending on how one chooses to take them). At antiquities, the Fógra advises one in Irish and English that the site is under the protection of some state ministry, and requests visitors’ aid in preserving them. It then advises that there are severe penalties for doing the opposite. Last time we visited, Deb and I picked up the habit of giving each other ad hoc fógraí as we perceived each other’s demeanor and actions demanded it.

Another day, we took a drive up to Ros Goill (ROSS GULL), a narrow rocky peninsula sticking out of north Donegal. On Donegal’s coast, which is part of a long drive called the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s hard to find an ocean view that does not offer some kind of holy-shit-you’ve-got-to-see-this scenario. That happened to be my birthday, a fact which my treasonous wife revealed of course to our waitress during a wonderful early dinner in Dunfanaghy (dun-FANN-a-hee). Irish food has gotten a lot better since the early 2000s, though hotel bar pints are still the soured monstrosities they once were. Guinness does not travel, and responds badly to long supply lines not merely between keg and tap, but brewery and delivery.

Other trips took us to Beltany Stone Circle near Raphoe, the Giant’s Causeway in north Antrim, and Killybegs, an important port for the North Atlantic fishing fleet. The latter had delicious seafood, eaten in sight of the giant looming trawlers. We will have a lot to say about the Causeway later; what has been done to it, and to other Irish signature sights, deserves its own cross-hairs.

Back in Leitir, I learned why Guinness traveled badly by asking at Elliott’s Bar… (To be continued)

 

[The title is a stupid self-indulgence. Stupidly self-indulgent titles are a peeve of mine, and I deal with them in clients on a regular basis. The client thinks she has just come up with the coolest title ever. She should kill this Faulknerian darling, but she will not, so she ends up with a garbage title. In this case, the title is stupid because it barely says anything clever about the story, and in fact is just a lyric from an Abney Park steampunk song. It’s like the author had only heard two instances of the word ‘Ophelia’ in his life and decided that somehow they deserved connection even when every reader would be left asking: “and what was the point of this?” However, I went through a lot to bring you this story, so I am stupidly indulging myself in this, covering the privates of my indulgence with the fig leaf of intellectual honesty.]

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Narrow gauge, open mind, numb nuts

There haven’t been any posts for a couple of weeks because Deb and I went on vacation. We drove to Colorado via Utah, then back to Oregon via Wyoming and the Teton Valley (Idaho). Part of it was to celebrate our anniversary, part just that we needed a getaway and one can rely upon Colorado for natural beauty.

One thing we did, which I had never done, was take the narrow gauge train from Durango (Colorado) to Silverton and back. One would never do this for practical means: it costs about $90/each round trip in economy, and it’s three and a half hours to go about 45 miles each way. But for those of you who have heard of this excursion, and wondered what it was like, I can now tell you.

We could have paid double for what presumably would have been a more comfortable ride. Our rather spartan coach car had padded seats, but they weren’t very pleasant for three hours of sitting. In fact, to my alarm, I lost all sensation down below. It took a couple of days for it to return, which is not something I had envisioned. If you are riding in coach, my advice is to bring some pads.

The train pokes along at about the speed a cyclist might ride, so there is lots of time for photography. If your seats are on one side headed for Silverton, they will be on the other during the return to Durango, so you will get both sides’ views. You will also be treated to a few steam expulsions, because the coal-fueled train has to stop and blow off steam to both sides. I hope there are never any animals over there to get scalded. The train also stops at a zipline adventure place and a couple of other locations, in addition to three watering stops from pipes rigged up to stream-fed catchbasins. While its public presentation is as a pure tourist line, the train serves communities along its length for some freight and milk-run passenger service.

The coal smell isn’t as strong as I expected. I wouldn’t want it all the time, but for a finite period I found it immersive. A brakeman gave us instructions (mainly, don’t stand on the platforms between rail cars) and warnings about cinders. The combustion kicks off small cinders that tend to get into riders’ eyes. He assured us he carried eyewash materials. I got a couple cinders, but nothing serious. They weren’t hot.

By late September, Silverton (never a thrill a minute at the best of times) isn’t a very big attraction. It’s mostly tourist traps and dirt roads (no pavement), and there’s nothing there you couldn’t get just as easily in Durango, plus half the shops are closed up for the season. The purpose of this trip is not to obtain two hours in Silverton; the purpose is to ride an old school train through the mountains. We had a nice time, except for the wasp moment. As our car sat in Silverton half-boarded, with all the windows open, a wasp entered the car and buzzed Deb. She is not allergic, but is highly apiphobic. As the wasp headed for the car’s rear, she ran for its front, commanding me to slay the creature. I am not apiphobic, but I hate being the center of a bunch of strangers’ attention. Didn’t matter; what mattered was my wife expected me do courageous battle against the marauding insect. I radiated resignation and ennui as I heaved my numbed regions out of the seat and followed the wasp to the back of the train; one swat with my Thor Gasket cap and it was on the floor, one smoosh of a sneaker and it was no longer among the living.

Upon my return Deb questioned whether I had truly slain the beast. She finally accepted my insistence that I had observed its smashed body. In hindsight, I should have offered to go get the corpus delicti and show it to her, as that would have made her cease to question me.

Overall impression: it’s a beautiful if very lengthy and uncomfortable ride, and in late September the aspen are in full fall color mode. Just remember that it’s a seven-hour round trip sitting on a train, and be sure that you want to spend seven hours on a train. And that you brought cushions to sit on.

Deb got hundreds of great photos, and we both appreciated the novelty of the trip (me especially when sensation returned to all suitable parts of my body). On top of it, when we got back to Durango, we had a great dinner at the Strater Hotel in spite of the fact that some nincompoop had just ruptured the gas main to the entire Durango area. How could this be?

How it could be was that we knew the Strater from our anniversary dinner the night before. It had been phenomenal, as near to dining perfection as one is ever likely to experience, but we wouldn’t normally go back to the same place the next night. We did not have much choice. When the gas is out, most of the restaurants have no real choice but to close down. Not the Strater, which is made of sterner stuff. They reviewed their menu, came up with an abbreviated version, set up a grill behind the establishment, and the show went on. And it was just as good as the night before. If you’re ever in Durango, and you don’t hit the Strater at least once, you should have stayed in Ouray (pronounced your-EH). I admired the way the restaurant combined business opportunism (thinking of a way to be open for a whole townful of tourists with dinner money to spend and very few places to spend it) and a high standard of food and service. And no, they didn’t raise the prices of those menu items. The Strater would be a success in downtown Portland. In Durango, I doubt it has an equal.

Scarf pythons and ruined sweaters: doing women’s laundry

If you are a man married to a woman, and your wife is not 100% the jeans and t-shirt type, and you have any sort of a conventional modern marriage at all (i.e. you are under seventy), you probably now and then have to do women’s laundry.

Well, a woman’s laundry, anyway. If there’s a chance that any other women’s laundry might show up in the laundry, and you do not have adult daughters living at home, you will soon have (and deserve) greater problems.

Nothing is so calculated to showcase for a man the complexities of women’s lives. Our laundry? Shirts. Pants. Shorts. Socks. Maybe a few other things. None of it is complicated. At most, we might once in a while need to exert ourselves with an iron. Women’s laundry?

Good lord.

My first challenge is always to determine what part of her body it goes on. Key discovery: where does the head go? My wife turns all laundry inside out by reflex, and if it’s the kind with some hidden liner, that part is sure to hang out. It can take me a minute or two to locate the head-hole. If it has a head-hole–and that has to be it, because I know her legs would not fit through those holes on the side, and in any case I’m pretty sure she would not want a large opening in her clothes right down there–then it could be a blouse or a dress or a tunic. None of it can be folded, as it is all sheer and comes in odd shapes. All of it must be hung up, and no matter how many hangers we buy, there are never enough. Women’s laundry includes an invisible creature that consumes clothing hangers, not enough to ruin us, just enough to inconvenience us. She also breaks a few over time, or rather, those inferior pieces of crap fail to give proper service.

The scarf python: a phenomenon of the dryer. Each scarf placed in the dryer increases the chances of a scarf python by 10%, so at ten scarves, a scarf python is automatic and certain. The scarf python, usually twisted together with whichever item of head-questionable clothing is most susceptible to wrinkling, is a combination of all the scarves in the load, braided as if to make a low quality battleship anchor rope. They do not get dry, and in a wet climate like ours (Portland’s annual rainfall is measured in fathoms), must be hung up to dry or they will mildew. One’s wife does not like mildew, thus one must disentangle and hang up the scarf pythons and their victims.

Bra hooks: if you put her bras in the dryer, you soon learn that bra hooks are as good at seeking out sweaters and knitted materials as she is at seeking out your porn cache no matter how you camouflage it. (You can zip it up and rename it as a Windows .dll, bury it in the system files, and she will find it.) If permitted, the bras will destroy all her sweaters, and it will be your fault. Just hang the bras up. Think of the pleasant thoughts they inspire.

Socks: you, of course, will either have ten pair of socks that match precisely, times three, or perhaps a lesser number, but your socks will always have matches and be easily told apart. Hers are unique, hand-selected because they were ‘cute.’ She would rather hang herself than own two identical pair. However, she is fine with having seven pair that are identical except under 10x magnification, or by use of a tape measure. Each load of her laundry will contain one of each pair, but never two.

Putting it away: you will only be asked to do this once. That’s because, despite every good intention, you will fuck it up so catastrophically that she will never, ever, ever want you to do it again. It won’t matter how honest your effort is. You will fail to understand her basic clothing categories, folding methods, where things go. It will take her longer to unfuck your work than it would have for her to put them away herself. So yeah, go ahead, step up, man up, put it all away and do your best. Even dump out her whole sock drawer, which is 80% singletons whose partners are long gone, and attempt to match up every loose one. This is the best way never to be asked to do this again. Since you will not learn from experience, at most, she might correct you, then ask you to do it again. She will soon learn that you are incapable of learning how she does it, much less keeping up with her monthly changes in organization, and will just be happy you ran laundry.

Fabric softener: I was once talking with a platonic female friend about my wife’s habit of using four fabric softener sheets at the very minimum. I did not see why this mattered. Her rejoinder: “You obviously have never worn a skirt.” Well, couldn’t really argue with that. Anyway, just give in on this and use however many sheets she wants. Never take the spent ones to the trash until you are done with all laundry tasks, because spent ones will continue to crop up to the very end. If you have one sock left to go, there will be a fabric softener sheet stuck to it. If you need a hose filter, or some other shop or yard filter, spent dryer sheets are pretty good for that.

Lint screen: this may vary, but if I didn’t clean that thing, all our houses would have burnt down at some point. Happily, the lint screen meets all of our masculine criteria for a desirable task: it needs frequent doing, it means not bugging her about it, it’s easy, the dust can be mopped up with the lint roll, and it counts as a silent, helpful thing that you just do, take care of, solve, without ever bugging her. It’s a thing she appreciates even when it never comes up. Just do it, glad to have this way to contribute, bearing in mind that you could instead be trying to identify one of her odder garments.

Colors: this is laughable, because she is not like you. You have clothes that are white, gray, blue, or black. At the very most, three color categories; more likely two. Biracial laundry. Hers is the U.N. Hers has all colors, and the instructions for each are kept on carefully hidden tags, all of which you cannot possibly be expected to read. Simple guess: if it’s real cloth, it matters. If it’s plastic cloth, not so much. Anyway, do your best, mainly avoiding putting white things in with dark things made of real cloth.

Folding: you will never fold anything correctly. Try anyway. Look at it this way: of all the things she could get mad at you about, she will get the least mad about your valiant effort to decipher her incomprehensible regulations as to clothes folding. You tried. Sometimes, wives even sort of find your clumsiness, stupidity, and learning disabilities endearing, as long as they don’t happen in the wrong situations. Folding laundry wrong = okay. Paying bills wrong = not okay.

Doing women’s laundry is like a syndrome. The best you can hope to achieve is a sort of high function. Even that will help you, because at the very least, you tried. And she will pardon one hundred errors before she will pardon a single bout of apathetic, entitled sloth.

And when you find yourself confronted by a scarf python twined together with four indeterminate garments, with singleton socks falling loose everywhere and towels that somehow never get dry, know that you aren’t the only one. Stay strong, brother.

Spar treatments

Deb and I can be very juvenile. I’m talking ‘mocking Phil Keoghan’s accent’ juvenile.

For those unfamiliar, Phil is the New Zealander who hosts The Amazing Race. He’s balanced, entertaining, and has a reality show that is intriguing without appealing purely to vicarious sadism (Naked & Afraid) or glorifying the stupid (Jersey Shore). His accent isn’t heavy, but it does append an R to all words ending in an A sound. Thus Uchenna and Joyce became Uchenner and Joyce, etc.

On each leg of the race, the first team to finish gets a special prize. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s a Productplacementmobile from Uncle Henry’s Car Company, but usually it’s a trip for two from Travelocity. Not all the trips are to someplace stupid like Nassau, either. Some actually go to interesting places, and all the trips seem to include a spa treatment, so Deb and I start heckling as the racers hit the mat: “Ready for your spar treatments?” Phil begins to tell them what the trip entails. “Shut the hell up about the ziplining, Phil, get on with the spar treatment!” Phil actually omits the spa treatment. “No! This is fake! It isn’t a trip from Travelocity without a spar treatment!”

We suck. But now that we have our own spar, we can give ourselves spar treatments. And I’m learning to maintain this spar, which is a process. I’m going to present what I’ve learned in mock softball Q&A format.

Q: Is it a lot of work?

A: Nah, except that draining it and refilling it is a little involved. Sometimes I’ll close some of the jets for more pressure on the rest, but that’s easy.

Q: My cousin had one and they all got a rash.

A: Let me guess: your cousin is one of those braying donkeys who ridicules anyone who takes time to do things exactly right. He fell down on the maintenance, didn’t think he had to worry unless he could see floating green things, and met cautions with derision. Now his whole family is on antibiotics. Right?

Q: Is it that risky?

A: Not if you stay on top of the maintenance. If you don’t, it changes from a chemistry project to a dermal immune biology project. If the water doesn’t get treated, it will develop an algae ring. We found that out when we first moved in and took a look before starting the treatment process, and I had to scrub that crap off.

Q: What is the maintenance?

A: Weekly, run a test strip and add chemicals as necessary. If the water level has dropped enough that the filter intake is rasping, add some water. Every four months, drain the whole thing and refill it.

Q: Can you put bath salts in it?

A: I’m told you can, but haven’t tested it myself. I may test it one day just before it’s drain/refill time, just to see what it does to the chemical balance.

Q: Is it spendy to operate?

A: Between the electric bill increase, water bill bump, and the chemicals, I’m told $750 per year is typical. So yeah, kind of spendy to do right.

Q: Do you have to leave it on all the time?

A: Yes. If you’re going to take it out of service, you shut off the breaker and drain the water. It runs on its own cycle for heating and filtration.

Q: Aren’t you worried that people’s kids will pee in it?

A: No, because no minors are allowed in it, ever. Age seventeen and your eighteenth birthday is tomorrow? Sorry. Tomorrow you can. But your child is special and mature and wonderful? I agree, and when she is eighteen and a young woman rather than a girl, we will welcome her. Hot tub = adults place, at least under the lodgepoles.

Q: You expect me to believe you’ve never done it, when you were by yourself?

A: It would immediately cloud up the pool. Therefore, since there are only the two of us, my wife would know. But even if it were just me, no, in fact I would not add urine to a large reservoir in which I planned to soak several times a week for four months, nor would you. I have learned that it is wise to take a leak while changing into one’s bathing suit. It would be horrible to have to get up, go all the way inside, and come back out. Especially in winter. But adults would do that, whereas kids might be too embarrassed, and just hope to get away with it, figuring they can always say they’re sorry and adults aren’t allowed to hold things against them. Problem: no matter how sorry they are, I still have to drain/refill it, and sorries won’t help reduce the cost or headache of that.

Q: But that’s unfair to my snowflake, who is more special and mature and wonderful than all others! Yes, she’s only six, but she would never do that!

A: Here’s the situation. Yes, your snowflake is wonderful, a joy to know. However, children will go to absurd lengths to avoid embarrassment. An adult will make an adult decision (and trust me, there are adults I wouldn’t let near the thing). If the water gets contaminated, I will have to spend a lot of time, money, and effort that need not have been. No, it wouldn’t cause me to hate your snowflake. Yes, I understand that snowflakes make mistakes. All the understanding in my soul will not eliminate my sudden requirement to do a full water change, well before I would otherwise have had to. So, since I recognize that children are children–yes, even yours–and since I do not want to have them learn a life lesson at the cost of me having to pretend not to be very angry while doing an early drain/refill, no kids in the tub. It’s much easier that way than explaining to Parent A that Snowflake A Jr. can’t get in when we let Parent B’s Snowflake B Jr. in. No discrimination, no exceptions, no kids, not even your special angel.

Q: It must be great in winter.

A: In some ways, yes. The only drag in winter is the interval between getting out and getting back in the house. Nothing like standing outside in freezing weather, in your bathing suit, trying to wring as much water out as you can. I think we will get enormous thick terrycloth robes made from actual towels, so that people can dry off by putting them on.

Q: When you go to drain it, do you just siphon out all the water?

A: It’s easier to buy a cheap sump pump attached to a long hose. My drain hose burst this time, oh joy, so I need a stronger one. I want to send the water right into the eave-trough drain, not into the yard. Once I drain it, I climb in with a turkey baster and slurp out any residual sand or dirt or crud. Then I refill it, put in a new silver nitrate stick, change the filter and put the dirty one in a bucket of horribly caustic filter cleaner, and flip the breaker on. Once the water hits about 85º F, I can start the treatment process whenever I’m ready. No spar treatments until I’m happy with the balance.

Q: What do you treat it with?

A: The test strip checks for chlorine level, alkalinity, pH, and calcium hardness. It gets an ounce of chlorinator (which will boil off each week), however much baking soda it takes to raise the alkalinity (which will typically raise the pH as well), some more calcium if it needs it (shouldn’t, except when refilling), and three ounces of shock sanitizer. Thus, we are hitting biology with silver nitrate, chlorine, and shock (potassium peroxymonosulfate). On the first treatment, it’s a gradual process that requires several tests to get the alk and pH where they belong, without overshooting the sweet spot.

Q: Does it get gross when it’s time to drain and refill it?

A: Not with regular maintenance, but it will get sudsy. This is caused by the amount of total dissolved solids plus whatever action has happened on skin oil, stray pine needles, and so forth. If it starts to look like a bubble bath, it’s time to replace the water.

Q: Do you have to shower before you get in the spar?

A: No, but if you’re filthy, it’s the logical thing to do.

Q: Is it worth all that?

A: The expense and effort amount to about $60/month, five minutes once a week, and a couple hours of work three times a year. The payoff is when your whole body aches from a lot of lifting or hoisting or driving or walking, and you can get into a place that will dissolve the pain away. The payoff is when it’s freezing out, and you gaze up from your little amniotic cocoon through lodgepole boughs at the stars and moon, hoisting a libation with your best friend in a non-glass container. The payoff is the ability to make guests feel welcome and relaxed. Yeah, I’ll make that trade.

Q: Any advice for people thinking of getting one?

A: Spend a weekend at a resort where your room comes with a hot tub. Go hiking and get really sore, then come back and hit the tub. If you find you love that feeling, that’s a good sign. If you find you never want to go anywhere else but in and out of the tub, that’s also a good sign you would like and use one.

Get one with a lot of jets and enough pump to power them; pointless to get a tub with skimpy jets. Don’t get it from Costco, because everyone who sells them through Costco seems to go broke, which means no one to call with questions down the road. Look into buying a used one, because quite a few people don’t like them as well as they’d imagined, and wind up selling them at just-get-rid-of-it prices on Craigslist. (Don’t buy one without a manual and a copy of the original receipt, so you know the model, manufacturer, and store that sold it. Or if you do, make sure it’s very cheap.)

Make sure your electrical system can handle a new breaker, because there needs to be one hardwired and probably dedicated solely to the tub. Fairly sure it gets its own circuit, so spring for a professional electrician. Needs to sit on a very sturdy surface, such as a concrete pad; hope you have one. Plan to have a pro come out and walk you through it the first time, so s/he can check out its operation, answer all your what-does-this-dial-do questions, and tell you how to maintain it.

Cleaning eave-troughs at two in the morning

Years ago, I learned the fine art and essential wisdom of clean eave-troughs (some of you call them gutters) from my grandfather. Grandpa farmed and ranched in Kansas for a good percentage of his life, in some fashion or another. Every time I came back for a visit–always understood to be a working visit, in which I would assist him with whatever project came to hand–one of my first jobs would be to clean the eave-troughs. Always on the farmhouse, a sprawling limestone building that has to be 4000 ft² or more with a Shakey’s roof shape that means eave-troughs 360º, and often on two of the three enormous stone barns. (The third lost a roof long ago, I believe to a tornado, and thus no longer needed my assistance.)

Eave-troughs have been part of my life all through adulthood, even before I was a homeowner. The only ex-girlfriend I make an effort to stay in touch with, on my first visit, I had volunteered to tackle her house’s eave-troughs. This was in Seattle, and it poured that day. Of course, she made protestations that I didn’t really need to do it. Of course, being a young male, I was going to do it hell or high water. The metaphor never fit quite so well. It was a Midwestern thing; she was an Oklahoma native, I was a Kansas man, and she knew that I had to do it for my own sense of rugged pride and promises kept. Some would say I was an idiot. Others would understand, and think it meritorious to keep a commitment and assist a nice lady. It sparked a relationship with the nice lady, one that would teach me a great deal about good ways to help my future wife when I met her.

One day, should we ever make it to Hawai’i, my beautiful bride has many reasons to thank this lady. And being the class act that she is, my wife will do so.

Thus, in Kennewick, I took one look at our first home’s ludicrous eave-troughs and ordered them replaced. Unfortunately, I hired a professional contractor, who promptly sent out a disgruntled employee on the verge of quitting his job. He didn’t even screw the corner pieces together. The foreman treated me like a liar on the phone, at least until he finally came out under legal threat. That was my first experience with contractors, and it gave me an idea of what to expect from there on out.

Never needed them much in Boise, but when we moved back to the wet side, one of my first surveys of the home I’d just bought was of the eave-trough situation. (Yes. I signed on a house I had only seen in pictures. My wife had chosen it, and in married life, it’s one thing to talk a good game about trust and respect; quite another to lay those cards on the table and gamble six figures. If you refuse to trust your spouse with a major decision, it’s my opinion that you’ve got a problem.) They looked rock solid, but filthy, so I borrowed a ladder from a neighbor and cleaned them out. Thought I’d taken care of the problem for the near future.

Then it didn’t rain in Portland for two months. I dawdled buying a ladder, mostly out of a silly reluctance to cough up money that I knew without doubt I would need to spend before long. This very day, so happens, I broke down and bought one. Good thing.

Friday night was windy, and a lot of pine needles had come down. This evening, Portland began to return to its normal weather pattern: steady intermittent rain. Since I had cleaned the eave-troughs earlier, I remained serene.

Around 1:45 AM, I was taking my ease in the library, reading a library book (not one of mine), contemplating going to bed. I heard a mighty pouring sound. Exactly as tradition requires, I swore before getting up to survey the situation. At the midpoint, the eave-trough was blocked enough to overflow. I could see enough needles sticking up in the cloudy moonlight to grasp the problem.

I said some more bad words, then went in to wake Deb up. Nothing would freak her out like awakening to the splucking sound of wads of eave-trough crud hitting the patio outside her window; better to wake her now and explain than to scare the hell out of her. (That, and I didn’t want her coming out with her Gurkha knife to investigate me. Deb is Alaskan, and more prone to handle her business than to call 911 and cower.) Bless her, she offered to help, but that wasn’t needed. No reason for both of our lives to be unpleasant.

So: jacket (where the hell did we put it?), tuque, shoes, brand new ladder, eave-trough tool I’d bought, flashlight, and out I go. Of course, the clog is where the hot tub will not permit me to put the ladder, so I will need the reach of the tool. It’s pouring, I’m up on the ladder in my summer attire plus jacket and tuque, and every time I grab a spiny handful of muddy pine needles, I slosh about a pint of water onto myself. In the dark, not so enjoyable, but the nice thing about getting wet is that once you are soaked, you can’t get any more soaked. I used the tool to drag a clog of needles toward me, dug them out, threw them wherever, and repeated until one section was clear. Then I moved the ladder and repeated, working my way toward the downspout. It was clogtacular. It wouldn’t be worth writing about if it’d been daylight, but 2:00 AM in the rain is not when most of us experience a sudden impulse to set up a ladder and begin eave-trough maintenance.

The only sound sweeter than free-flowing water into the storm drains was the pouring of Laphroaig into my favorite whisky glass. One drop of tap water, as is traditional, and a return to my calm reading. Then I decided you folks would find most amusing the image of a fat balding middle-aged guy up on a ladder in the rain at 2 AM being uncomfortable, and decided to write while I rewarded myself with a snort of single-malt.

Good night, folks.

My own Alexandria

Most people who know me assume that my first outing in a new home, assuming I’m not low on gasoline, is to obtain a library card. Not so much. Oh, I eventually do, and I venerate libraries much as you might imagine, considering that the written word has been essential in my life since the aftermath of the Watts riots. (I was pushing age 2, and thus on the verge of learning to read. I do not remember learning to read; by my earliest awareness, reading was something I took for granted.)

My family helped this along. When I was about four, my Great-Great-Aunt Nell (whose little sister was my great-grandmother) gave us a full set of 1955 World Book encyclopedias. Before I went off to kindergarten, I had read them. I continued to do this through high school. The encyclopedia was my first library, if you will–a place where I could always go and find reading, an inexhaustible well of enjoyment.

Aunt Nell is nearly half a century gone now, her little niece who is my grandmother is ninety-five, and I often wonder if Aunt Nell had the faintest idea what her gift would do. Giving her credit for the wisdom of an educator who lived to be ancient, perhaps she knew precisely what she was doing. If Aunt Nell could or can see how it all played out, I believe she would be pleased.

In adulthood, surprising no one, I ended up with a lot of books. By age thirty-five, I needed about fifty linear feet of six-foot-high shelving in order to house most of them. My office was right outside the library, so when I went to work, I walked past the stacks. The library gave me reading material, emotional comfort, and a sense of home. I didn’t very often go to a local library simply because I liked mine better.

When it came time to move, and the library was dismantled, I had to leave for a few hours while the packers worked. And once it was gone, that was no longer home to me. If a residence has my wife and my books, it is fully home. If neither, it’s glorified camping. I made the mistake of sharing my honest feelings about that on Facebook, and was mocked for it by acquaintances, which taught me why you never ever share anything on Facebook when you are authentically vulnerable, especially if you know as many callous wiseasses as I do. On Facebook, always be ready in case someone says something mockingly scornful, because they’ll do it when you can least handle it, convinced of their towering wit and that there is never a time not to show it off. And they know beyond doubt that if you don’t think they’re funny right then, you should just get over it. It does not occur to them that you might instead just get over them.

Can you tell that I’m coming to care less and less about making people happy on Facepalm? Maybe the best way to deal with obnoxiousness that shows one no consideration is to stop showing it unreciprocated consideration, and just tell it what you really think.

Or maybe I am simply aging past the point of tiptoeing around people in life.

Three years and two states later, I again live with my wife, and can set up the library once again. My little Alexandria.

For a number of reasons, this time we abandoned the breezeblock-and-lumber method. In that situation, the shelves actually cost almost as much to move as the books, and that’s just stupid. Plus, my wife hated them. When your wife picks out a house with a space specifically in mind for your library, and embraces the concept, and you do not meet her halfway by designing the library in a way that will please her, you are an ungrateful and selfish sod. Setup could not begin until we got the floors done, so that delayed us six weeks, but now it’s under way.

This means seventeen Ikea bookshelves, interspersed with six knicknack shelves so that my wife can display doodads and small items. The room is what most people would use as a large den or game room, 15′ x 20′. It will have a big leather recliner plus a couple other comfortable chairs, the bare wall adorned with maps and my wife’s artwork, daisychained lamps to illuminate the aisles, and eventually French doors. (These are more my wife’s idea. If the doors are French, do they go on strike once a week, as ancient French custom specifies? Mes amis français, qu’est-ce qu’on pense ?)

Since most of the boxes of books are piled in the library, this means some creative thinking in terms of setup. One needs physical space for bookshelves, yet one cannot put up any more until one puts some books on shelves. I decided to just put whichever books wherever, on the logic that I can organize them at leisure later. My uncle, who is a civil engineer and spends a lot of his working life figuring out how to build structures that are sturdy yet aesthetic, is a bigger influence than he knows. The only shelves that should hold the larger hardcovers on are the bottom or the middle bracing shelves, which are the sturdiest, and in any case we do not want the shelves overly top-heavy.

Little felt pads go on the bottom of every shelf, to protect the hardwood (well, hardgrass) floor. When they’re all up, then will come cross-bracing across the top and bolting them together at the base; we live in a subduction zone. While I’m under no illusions about what a serious earthquake would do to the library, if a whole full shelf were able to fall directly over, that is much more dangerous than all the books simply being shaken off and cascading to the floor. No entombed electrical outlets; each one has a power strip with a long enough right-angle plug cord to set it on top of the shelves, since those will hide that outlet from view for what may be the remainder of my life. I’m hoping my uncle will one day come to visit me and examine what I’ve designed, and give it the Good Engineering Seal of Approval. I’m hoping my aunt, to whom Great-Great-Aunt Nell was a great-aunt, will take satisfaction in the way the library will honor Aunt Nell.

One improves rapidly at the fine art of assembling Ikea furniture. I like that they are more likely to give you too many small parts than too few.  We got an extra shelf per unit, which was a spendy addition to an already spendy process, but we are united in the belief that we should do this one right. So I horse some book boxes around, build a couple of shelves, unpack some book boxes that are in a spot where I need to put more shelves, repeat.

I don’t like taking or posting pictures here, and am not good at it, but when it’s done, I just might make an exception. That would be more interesting than posting pictures of a dinner, or a cat, or yet another salvo in the endless, unwinnable cultural Afghanistan that American society has become, atrocity and reprisal fought out on social media between people who could be friends if they could at least agree that someone who disagrees with your politics can still be a decent human being.

If we turn out to have too many books, we will just have to cull some down. By that time, I hope we’ll have a good idea where to donate them. Libraries will just sell them, mostly. I think instead we will advertise them as donations for low income families with children who adore reading.

I can imagine Aunt Nell doing that, too.

How not to make dried apple chips

Some of us don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. In my case, it’s because most vegetables do not taste like food to me. Some actually make me gag, others simply disgust me, and a few I can stand in some way. I usually put it this way: broccoli or cauliflower smell and taste like something I’d eat if I were starving on Naked & Afraid, unless there were snails available. Or rat kebabs. To all you vegans out there, congrats, you have a different palate than I do. I wonder what it would be like to eat a raw tomato and not come close to throwing up, or to smell cooked broccoli and still be hungry. How strange that must be, to put cooked carrots in one’s mouth by choice, and to like them. I guess I will never know. If my doctor forbade me all forms of meat for life, we’d go with bread and cheese. If I were forbidden cheese as well, the good news is I’d lose a lot of weight. The bad news is I’d come down with deficiency diseases, and my health would be worse than if I’d never changed.

There are people to whom cilantro tastes like soap. I think I have something like that with regard to cooked vegetables. It’s the only way I can explain how so many people will so willingly tuck into food that can ruin my appetite by just the smell.

As for fruits, I like most of them, but most are sugary and get my fingers all sticky. I’m a freak about that. Suppose I’m headed to the grocery store, and my bladder is at Code Orange, and I just sloshed pop on my fingers. Before using the store’s facility, I will wash the stickiness off my hands, though that means two hand washes. Now, if the fruit is dried…that is the stuff. Plantain chips, banana chips? Yes. Blueberries don’t leave much stickum on my fingers; long as they aren’t mushy, I’ll wolf them down. I love oranges, but they’re a lot of work to eat, which is too bad because I have an unerring eye for a delicious orange. I’m willing to work at the fruit thing in service of healthier eating.

A few days back, I bought some ‘dried’ apple chips. They weren’t really dried, as I reckon it. I would describe them as apple leather, not sticky but still not very appealing. So I got one of my harebrained ideas: what if I dried them out myself? If this worked, I could buy them in bulk, dry them out in bulk, and have chips that I would eat in preference to tortilla or potato chips. So utterly healthy!

My plan was to dry them out myself, next time I was in charge of foccacia. I am our household foccacia prep cook; it is my duty to select bread, slice it, season it, and crisp it appealingly to go with meals. I have it down pat. Twelve minutes at 400º F on a pizza pan with olive oil coating, and your bread is deliciously crispy. Since that is what I know, I just added a pan of not-really-dried apple pieces to that process. I assumed that in twelve minutes I would return to find my neatly dried, delicious apple chips.

Instead, in six minutes, I heard a feminine voice from the kitchen, advising me that my chips were burning. Didn’t quite charcoal them, but definitely seared them. Tried them anyway: tasted of burnt apple leather. I had never known this before, but burnt apple tastes awful. Unlike cheese, high heat does not help apples. They were still leathery, with a bouquet and hint of charcoal. Blech. I did a thing I so very rarely and grudgingly do: I threw away food.

I would have eaten them in preference to Brussels sprouts, I guess, but that isn’t really saying much, since I would eat the grass clippings from my yard in preference to Brussels sprouts. Sorry, Belgians.

I suppose doing this correctly involves lower heat and longer cooking, since it is now proven fact that at pizza temperatures (the only oven science I fully understand), apples burn.

When I’m in the kitchen, I always imagine Gordon Ramsay. “YEW DAWN-KEY! YEW STEW-PID COW! IT’S RAW! AH YOU TAKING THE PISS OUT OF ME, SEHVING THIS? YOU’LL KILL SOMEONE! GET IT THE [BLEEP] TOGETHAH!” I’m pretty sure that unless I’m making sandwiches (the famous Bricks) or chorizo chile (which everyone loves), Gordon would simply sit in the corner and bawl to watch me.

Perhaps the only way to learn to do anything right in the kitchen is to commit flagrant blunders, like this one.