Category Archives: Married life

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.

A treatise on Boise: what I will and will not miss

This is a time when I am mostly unable to do a lot of blogging, but as I enter my final couple of months in Boise, I find myself reflective, and desiring to do the same sort of reflection I did when we left Washington for Idaho. Thus, the positive first:

I will miss:

  • The potato skins at Goodwood Barbecue. I’ve never even tried their barbecue. Once I had the skins, the rest of their menu officially no longer mattered to me.
  • The easy friendliness of the average Boisean.
  • The good people we met here, which was most of the total people we met here.
  • Basque food ranging from bar food to cloth-napkin restaurants.
  • A healthy distrust of our precious government.
  • Traffic insignificant by comparison to larger cities.
  • Surprisingly cool museums for a town its size.
  • A superb library.
  • The ‘Idaho stop.’ In Idaho, bicycles treat stop signs as yield signs, and red lights as stop signs, and it works very well. Since that’s what cyclists are going to do anyway, for the most part, making it legal is one less thing for the police to ticket people over.
  • Idaho characters. While characters can be obnoxious, Idaho tends to embrace them, and at heart, most are good folks.
  • Division I-A college football and a passionate fanbase for a team I at least can bear.
  • The Idaho Potato Drop at New Year’s. It’s hilarious, and best of all, it’s owning it.
  • The tremendous and diverse natural beauty of a state that I can’t believe anyone would willingly pollute.
  • A large number of ways to experience that outdoors, with plentiful hiking, fishing, camping, skiing, boating, hunting, and other ways to get out from behind a computer screen and live.
  • A high incidence of volunteerism and generosity.
  • The state liquor stores have a lot better selection than the Washington ones ever did.

I won’t miss:

  • Predatory law enforcement that has revenue generation as its obvious primary purpose, and thus is morally little better than when the Federales stop you in Mexico and you have to bribe them.
  • The perpetually flat coke at Goodwood Barbecue. How hard can it be to fix a pop machine?
  • Zoomtards. You don’t know what that means? Suppose there are two lanes before and after the light on your side, but anyone can see that the right lane will have to merge after the light. A zoomtard is a person who zooms past just to get ahead, rather than merge in at the safe and obvious place, and in Boise there seems to be one in every situation where it’s possible for one to exist.
  • Coal rollers. These are the jackasses who find it amusing to show their hatred for environmentalism by using their diesel trucks to produce a noxious cloud of ugly smoke when a Prius (or whatever fuel-economic vehicle) is behind them.
  • Deep ignorance and corruption entrenched in state government. It’s not your imagination; they really, truly, authentically are that ignorant and corrupt.
  • Lousy schools that produce subpar education.
  • ‘Inversion.’ Since smog is for Californians, Boise is not supposed to have smog. However, it does, but it’s only a problem when an inversion traps it. Thus, people complain about ‘the inversion’ when the real problem is the smog, which is a naughty word. I find the euphemism more annoying than the air quality issues.
  • The idea that a potato mogul could be Very Important. Nothing against J.R. Simplot, but we don’t have to talk about his family name like they’re the House of Windsor.
  • Must surely be the world capital of pawnshops, payday/title loan places, and other vampiric business that, if it were up to me, I would crush without compensation or remorse.
  • Political incontinence. You can’t meet five random people in Idaho without one of them trying to work up a political hatefest. Politics, like defaecation, are bearable when done in the proper venue designed for the purpose. The random person who can’t shut up about politics while people are trying to do civilized things, I rank right down there with someone who gets up from the restaurant table and takes a dump in the aisle.
  • ‘Murrica f*** yeah’: the macho mentality that in my opinion has caused so many of our national defects.
  • What must surely the the world’s largest concentration of native English-speaking call centers on earth, mostly so employers can take advantage of Idaho’s serious wealth disparity, rudimentary social services, and of course low minimum wage.
  • Having both a state sales tax and a state income tax.
  • The general halfassedness with which so much is done, from road maintenance to customer service.
  • Dogwhistle racism. As in eastern Washington, ‘rough area’ is code for ‘has Hispanics.’
  • Denial about racism. Here’s the denial standpoint: “in Idaho, racism was Brought From Outside by A Bunch of Neo-Nazis who Do Not Represent Idaho.” That is not 100% true, as comforting as moderate Idahoans may find it to be. A fairer statement: racism has long had a significant presence in Idaho, and while most Idahoans rejected the more extreme versions, there was a hefty minority who looked at the racists and more or less thought: “Well, they’re pretty nutty, but they’re right on at least some things.” And that’s fertile recruiting ground.

Real estate protip: identify stupidity early, and back away

Deb and I are in the process of looking for a hovel, hut, or well-appointed army tent in the Portland area. Those cost $250K and up.

San Franciscans can laugh all they want, because I’m laughing at the idea that anyone anywhere thinks any dwelling is worth $750K unless one is so rich one doesn’t care what houses cost, or is an investor. So there.

We made an offer on a house in a Portland suburb, and we saw what we should have realized was a combination of listing agent stupidity/apathy and seller loopiness. The way this works is that the seller either accepts the offer or counters with another. In this case, the seller came back with a weird counter offering two options: raise the price and get a credit at closing, or accept our price but refuse to perform repairs. Well, you don’t want the seller to do the repairs anyway. Better to just negotiate a price reduction and hire the repairs done right than have the seller pick the lowest bid that will satisfy the obligation. However, the counter was too weird, so we rejected it and just reiterated our original offer. They accepted, and quickly.

We should have seen that goofy counter as the first serious trouble sign, and not gotten too hyped up. That’s the message of this blog post.

Then the fun began. First, our highly capable agent began to worm details out of her inept counterpart. The gist: she wasn’t paying her clients much attention, her clients were cash-poor with the wife pregnant and them needing a new place, and the seller fancied himself a Master of Home Repair/Improvement Space and Time. We hired the necessary inspections and awaited the results.

Sadly, the seller had neglected the roof for years. Portland is a very wet climate where all conscientious homeowners must look very carefully at roofs, the weather side of houses, and drainage. The seller had done a remarkably poor job caulking the weather siding, had permitted a lot of moss to grow on the roof, and was unaware (or did not disclose) that he had water and rodent turds in his crawl space. There were other issues, with added potential for mistakes on his part that might be behind walls or bathtubs or sinks he had installed without benefit of professional guidance.

After estimating that it would cost us $12K to bring the property up to basic standards of good weather resistance, we sent the seller two offers: either fix a list of problems himself, or give us $6K off the price and we’d handle the repairs on our own. Lenders won’t lend on worn-out roofs, so we were sure he would just sign the one with the discount. If he wasn’t very careful (or if his agent was a moron), the evil word ‘roof’ would become part of his necessary disclosures should he choose to sell. We sent selected inspection pages to show the problems.

Incredibly, he put into writing that he rejected both our offers (thus making the one with ‘roof’ part of the record, because he acknowledged that one’s existence) and reiterated his price. His agent over-revealed, complaining that he had so little equity he couldn’t lower his proceeds. (However, he did have a very nice boat in his garage, and had wanted a long closing date, because he and his wife had a big vacation planned.)

I cyberstalked him a bit and found out that he worked in accounts payable. Accounts defaultable is more like it.

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt about the place. Who knew what troubles lurked? I had visions of having to pay tens of thousands to rip off an entire mold-filled house side. Plus, he was being a general pill. He had under-disclosed the condition (a polite way to say that he lied), and was now being an ass when caught in his under-disclosure. Deb and I talked it over and decided to trigger the inspection contingency. Back to the search.

Fortunately, the guy will get his just rewards. Now he must disclose the conditions. If he refuses, his agent will dump him. If she doesn’t, she could be in major trouble. In any case, he has to hope for a sucker to come along, a sucker of such magnitude that said sucker will box him/herself into accepting a home with enormous potential downside. He needs a first-time home buyer represented by a lamentable agent. And even then, when the roof is inspected, he’ll have to either fork out himself or convince a buyer to do that–before closing. In the end, if he’s that strapped, he’ll have to keep the house, because he evidently can’t afford to fix it and won’t compensate a buyer for doing so.

And that’s hoping that after the sale, no one happens to send his buyer a copy of the previous inspection report, proving that the seller knew of the problems and failed to disclose.

I really, really don’t like dishonesty in business transactions. Maneuvering is fine; negotiating is expected; compromise is necessary. Lying is punishable.