Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'M FINALLY GOING TO MEET MY PENPAL

Back in the 1970s and '80s, I used to buy a magazine called Women's Circle. It basically was a crafts and recipes kind of publication, with a section where women could list their names and get penpals with similar interests from all over the world.

I was very much into collecting and using decorative rubber stamps at the time, and so, according to her penpal listing, was Colleen, a married woman with two young children, in Oregon. Thus began our correspondence.

Through the years, Colleen and I faithfully wrote, sent cards and gifts on holidays, and even spoke on the phone a number of times. After a while, we decided to become tape friends, which, to this day we still are. Instead of writing, we talk to each other on an old cassette tape that we keep recycling by sending it back and forth to each other.

Colleen's tapes are fun to listen to. Before she retired, she liked to tape to me during her long drive to work. Her conversations would go something like this: "The other night, it was so cute. My baby is learning to walk and he was standing up in the kitchen, shaky as anything…what kind of idiot are you? Where did you get your driver's license? Woolworth's?" Then there would be a pause and she'd say, "Sorry, some guy in a truck just pulled out right in front of me! Now what was I talking about?"

Colleen was a quiet housewife and mother who liked to do embroidery when I first started writing to her. But over the years, she decided to come out of her shell. She divorced her husband, got a job with the IRS, dated a string of exciting men, battled cancer, started her own magazine, and got remarried.

She's now retired from the IRS, but is still publishing her monthly magazine, which has an impressive circulation. She loves to travel, but because her husband wouldn't set foot on a plane even if the ground where he was standing began to crack wide open, she goes on vacation by herself. Just recently she's been to Mexico, Hawaii, Europe and New York City, and currently is looking into travel packages for a vacation in Australia.

But first, she wants to come to New Hampshire to spend a week with us during the fall foliage season. "It's about time we finally meet," she said on her most recent tape. "After all, it's been nearly 30 years since we started writing. Plus that, I want to see your new house!"

"Her husband's not coming?" my husband asked when I later told him the news.

"No, he has a huge phobia about flying."

"You mean I'm going to be stuck here with two giggling, chattering women for a whole week?"

I smiled and nodded.

"If we haven't sold our other place by then, can I go stay over there?"

"We'd better sell our old place by then," I said. "Otherwise, I won't have enough money to take Colleen to any of the tourist attractions…and I'll be feeding her Ramen noodles all week."

"What if the two of you meet and can't stand each other?" he asked, optimistic soul that he is. "You're so used to talking to each other on tape, you'll probably need to have a cassette recorder running just to carry on a conversation!"

The thought had never even crossed my mind that Colleen and I might not get along in person. "I have no doubts whatsoever that we we'll get along just fine."

"But you know what they say," he persisted. "You never really know a person until you live with them! She could have some really bad habits that will drive you crazy."

I wanted to tell him that if anyone's habits were going to drive anyone crazy, his definitely would be in the driver's seat. Two of his worst habits, for example, are keeping the heat turned down to a goosebump-inducing 58 degrees, and bursting into song without realizing it.

Seriously, the man spontaneously bursts into song at least 25 times a day. He even unconsciously sings rather than talks: "I'm – la, la, la, doo wop – going to the – hey, hey, hey – bathroom now – baby, baby, woo-ooh."

It drives me nuts. Poor Colleen probably will think she's staying in an asylum – that's if she doesn't freeze to death first.

Another concern of mine is that she is a cat person…and we have two huge rottweilers. Visions of her peacefully lying in bed and getting awakened by a slobbery rottweiler tongue licking her face made me suddenly feel panicky.

My panic only increased when visions of our youngest dog, Willow (a.k.a. "The Shredder"), with just the elastic waistband of Colleen's underpants hanging out of her mouth, popped into my mind.

"We'll have to buy a deadbolt lock for the guest-room door," I said to my husband.

"Why, so Colleen won't escape and go screaming back to Oregon?"

"No, to keep out the dogs. I think maybe we should soundproof the room, too."

"So she can't hear the dogs barking?"

I smiled. "Uh, yeah…(la, la, la, doo wop)."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I'M GOING TO HIRE SOMEONE TO CHEW MY FOOD

I've spent more money on my teeth over the years than most people spend on their mortgages.

And as a result, my mouth looks like a training manual for future dentists. It contains crowns/caps, permanent bridges, partial dentures, root canals, fillings, posts, temporary caps, chicken wire and Elmer's glue. Oh, yes…and maybe even a few actual teeth.

But I figure the endless suffering I've endured and money I've spent over the years were well worth it if the results meant saving my teeth, right?

I'm not so sure.

A couple weeks ago, my permanent bridge, which filled the gaps of what used to be five top teeth from the eye-tooth back, fell off. The end result was a smile that looked like a piano keyboard.

Ironically, just a few days before, I'd received an item from England I'd won on Ebay – a tube of permanent dental cement that supposedly could be used to reattach just about anything in the mouth…including your tongue to your teeth, if you weren't careful.

I grabbed the tube of cement and slathered it onto the bridge. Then I shoved the bridge back into my mouth…or at least I tried to. I couldn't find all of the holes where the little metal posts on the bridge were supposed to line up and fit into. As I frantically tried to find the holes, stabbing repeatedly at my gums with the posts, the glue on the bridge dried and turned into concrete.

I spent the next 20 minutes muttering and scraping the cement off the bridge. Then I applied some fresh cement and tried again. This time, the holes and pins lined up and met their marks. I held the bridge in place and waited for the cement to dry – five minutes, according to the directions.

The minute I took my hand away, the bridge fell out and landed on the bathroom counter. That did it. I rushed off to see my dentist, Attila the Driller.

I could tell he wasn’t pleased with my handiwork the second he eyed the cement-caked bridge. "I'm going to have to scrape off all of this cement before I can reinsert the bridge," he said. He grabbed one of the nearby dental tools and started attacking it.

"I hope you can get the bridge to stay in," I said. "I couldn't."

He abruptly stopped scraping. "I'd better have a look in your mouth first, then."

When he checked my mouth, the sound that came out of him was similar to that of someone who'd just been kicked in the stomach by a horse.

"I'm really sorry," he said. "There's not enough tooth structure left to hold the bridge. If I tried to put it back in, you'd probably end up swallowing it."

Swallowing something with metal posts sticking out of it didn't sound too appealing, not unless I wanted to turn my intestines into Swiss cheese. "But you can't let me go around looking like this! I'm hideous!"

"I can make you a temporary denture," he said. "It will serve the purpose until you have those top teeth extracted and get a permanent denture."

Extractions? Dentures? What on earth was the man talking about? All I'd done was lose a bridge. "Excuse me?" I managed to ask.

"The time has come," he said. "There's nothing else that can be done to save your teeth. Look at this one," he touched the tooth next to my eye tooth. "It's so loose, I can wiggle it back and forth. When that falls out, you're doomed. It's time for a denture…or implants."

I momentarily wondered how having bigger breasts would help my teeth…unless maybe people would be staring at them so much, they wouldn't even notice my jack-o-lantern smile.

"But even with dental implants," the dentist was saying, "you'll still need dentures for a few months during their preparation. So you may as well get the dentures now."

I then dared to ask him about the cost of dentures and implants. Expensive? Let's just say that for what they cost, I could hire someone to chew all of my food for me…in a room at Caesar's Palace.

The dentist made an appointment for me to permanently part with my remaining top teeth on March 11. He then fitted me with a temporary partial denture so I'd look slightly less Halloween-ish till then.

Ironically, when I got home that night, the tooth he had been warning me about – the one whose demise meant then end of my teeth as I knew them – fell out. I could swear I heard a demonic little cackle coming from it. I examined it and noticed that it was only the crown, with a post in it. No pieces of the tooth were attached to it.

So once again I took out the dental cement and slathered it onto the crown. In an instant, the crown was neatly reattached and as solid as a rock…albeit a bit crooked.

And the temporary denture, which looked and felt great, cost only 20 percent of what the real one was going to cost me.

"You know, my mouth feels really good, nothing hurts and my smile looks fine now," I said to husband that night. "So why can't I just stay like this and not bother having anything extracted? I'm really not too fond of baby food, you know."

"Because it's inevitable," he said. "You should know by now that any dental work you have lasts only a few months before is screams for mercy and commits suicide."

"Well, it's around $12, 000 for implants and $2,500 for the denture," I said, "And the extractions are between $200 and $300 per tooth."

He let out a low whistle. "You know, now that I think about it, maybe you're right. Your current smile looks just fine. Why tamper with it? It probably has a good 10 or 20 years left if you lay off the caramels."

So I called the dentist and canceled my appointment.

I feel as if I've been granted a stay of execution.

In the meantime, I'm going to stock up on another gallon of that dental cement…and toss out my bag of caramels.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I'D BE LOST WITHOUT MY DUCT TAPE

Ever since the Union Leader ran a front-page story last week about the problems we've had building our new house (if you missed it, go to www.unionleader.com and click on "prior editions" then enter January 30), with a photo of me sitting surrounded by water in our basement, people have been asking me if we've fixed the flooding problem yet.

In a word…no.

It's not that the new perimeter drains we had installed a few months ago are faulty. They're just frozen.

Drainage was no problem in warmer weather when the open ends of the three drainage pipes were visible and I could keep them cleaned out and flowing into their respective ditches. But now they are buried beneath snow…and I have no idea where the openings are.

So a couple weeks ago, when I heard that torrential rains were headed this way, I panicked. I figured I had no choice other than to find the ends of the pipes and somehow open them. Even if they turned out to have more ice in them than the iceberg that sank the Titanic, I was determined to clear out those pipes

I grabbed the snow shovel and started to dig, moving a few feet forward at a time. That's when I came to a huge pile of snow-turned-to-ice that the snow plow had left behind. From what I could calculate, the ice mountain was sitting right on top of the main drainage pipe.

I found the ice chopper and started to hack away, all the while hoping I wouldn't chop through any vital piece of hardware. As it turned out, I had nothing to fear. After an hour of serious chopping, there still was a good foot of ice on the ground.

I chopped until I no longer could feel my arms, then decided to throw in the towel and use my backup plan. I went back inside, grabbed my trusty giant roll of duct tape and headed down to the basement.

"What are you going to do with that?" my husband asked. Years of living with me had taught him that I whenever I reached for duct tape, something that would require him to either run for shelter or don a safety helmet was about to happen.

"I'm going to duct tape all of the cracks in the basement walls so the water can't come in when it rains tomorrow!"

He gave me an unmistakable "you can't be serious" look.

But I was very serious. In the past, I had used duct tape for everything from hemming my raincoat to holding up the air conditioner in the kitchen window, so I saw no reason why I couldn't use it to seal cracks in concrete.

The first basement crack I tackled was the King Kong of all cracks, the one that a river of water usually flowed through whenever it rained. I slapped enough duct tape over it to support a human body.

As I moved on to the next crack, I cast an evil look at the sump-pump drain. The contractor had installed it in a far corner at the highest point of the basement. By the time the water rose high enough to reach that corner, the rest of the basement would look like Captain Nemo's underwater-adventure ride at Disney World.

"Well, everything is sealed with duct tape!" I announced when I came back upstairs. "I'm ready for the downpour!"

"What happens if the water backs up until it makes the duct tape bulge out and then pop off the wall?" my husband asked. "It will be like a fire hose blasting water. The 'duct' in duct tape doesn't stand for 'aqueduct,' you know."

Just to be safe, I went back down to the basement and built a small dam around the base of the biggest problem crack, using boards, cinder blocks and a plastic tarp. I was ready.

For once, the weather forecasters were right. The rain arrived with a vengeance. Throughout the day, I kept running down to the basement to check on my duct tape. Everything was holding. The basement was dry.

Four hours later, with the rain still showing no signs of letting up, the basement remained dry. I was ready to declare a duct-tape victory.

Then it happened. The tape on the monster crack began to get soggy and loosen around the edges. Water began to pour out from the base of it and spread out onto the tarp in my makeshift dam. I tried to re-tape everything, but the wall was too damp.

Luckily, my dam held. By the time the rain ended, I had a nice little enclosed pond down there. And I had managed to keep the water from ruining any of my prized possessions stored in the basement, like my dancing Jar-Jar Binks figure or my Hunka-Hunka Burning Elvis doll.

"You know," I said to my husband, "if duct tape worked on those cracks and kept the basement dry for a few hours, why wouldn't a professional crack sealer work?"

Granted, I previously had sprayed some sealers down there, but they were concrete pore-sealers, not specifically for cracks.

He shrugged. "Can't hurt to call someone for an estimate, I guess."

So I decided to go straight to the source. I called Mike, the guy who'd originally poured the foundation. He came over the next day.

"You sure have a lot of cracks down here," he said, his gaze lingering on the King Kong crack. He then walked over to the corner of the basement where the floor slowly has been cracking and sinking. "Hate to say it, but you may have to have the whole foundation dug up to prevent any future structural problems."

"Will it cost more than $100?" I asked. "Because that's all I have."

He shook his head and laughed. "I guess we'll try sealing the cracks first then, and see what happens."

"Will that cost more than $100?" I repeated.

"The sealer's actually pretty cheap – only about $20," he said.

So now I'm waiting for Mike to return and attack the cracks. And I'm praying it won't rain again till then.

But just in case it does, I'm going to stock up on duct tape…and maybe buy some tropical fish.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE

Maybe it's because I'm getting old and my skin is thinner, but I seem to be more sensitive to the cold lately. In fact, this recent Arctic blast has affected me more than any cold weather in the past.

When I was a kid, I'd go out and play when the weather was so cold, my top and bottom eyelids would freeze together. Yet, I would stay outside until dark…or until my nose turned purple, whichever came first.

Last Friday, when the wind was howling and the wind chill was 20 below zero, I decided to go shopping. Not the smartest thing I've ever done, but I was in desperate need of groceries. And when it comes to food, I'll battle everything from avalanches to molten lava to get it.

The minute I stepped out of the car and into the store's parking lot, the wind viciously attacked me and beat me to within an inch of my life.

By the time I set foot in the store, I had no feeling in my lips. And my eyes were so watery, everything was a blur. I couldn't tell a head of lettuce from the bald head of the produce clerk.

As I walked down the aisles, I couldn't help but notice how many people were smiling at me.

"Friendly store!" I thought. I would have smiled back at them, but I was afraid my frozen lips would crack.

A few minutes later, I happened to pass a mirror in the cosmetics department. I stopped dead. My windblown hair was sticking straight up on my head. The front part of it had formed what looked like two big horns. In spite of myself, I started to laugh. I looked like a steer…in a winter coat.

I guess that explained why people were smiling at me.

I'd dressed in layers for the cold – two sweaters, a coat, scarf, mittens, woolen knee-socks, fur-lined boots and flannel-lined pants. After about 10 minutes in the store, I began to feel faint, I was so hot. The fact that their thermostat was cranked up to about 95 degrees didn't help. So I stripped off a few layers.

Then when I went back outside, I nearly froze off an essential body part.

By the time I got home, I was chilled to the bone, mainly because my car takes 17 minutes to warm up and I was 16.9 minutes from home

"What are you doing?" my husband asked when I walked past him and directly to the thermostat to turn the furnace up to "rotisserie" level.

"Trying to thaw out. I'm frozen!"

"But we agreed to try to conserve fuel," he had to remind me. He'd practically needed a defibrillator after seeing our last fuel bill. "Go put on some sweat clothes, grab your fleece blanket and some hot tea, and you'll be fine in no time."

I glared at him as he sat there in his shorts and T-shirt. For some reason, the man was always hot. Looking at him, you'd think we lived in Hawaii. The last time he wore a pair of socks was back in 2007.

By the time I sat on the sofa, I was so bundled up, I looked as if I were about to enter the Alaskan Iditarod. Trying to thaw my lips, I gulped down the hot tea so fast, I was worried that I'd blistered my throat and might need a skin graft. I recalled seeing a woman on TV who'd needed a graft and the doctor had taken some skin from her buttocks for it because he said she wouldn't miss it there.

It wasn't a pleasant thought.

Meanwhile, my husband sat sipping ice water. I was half expecting him to drag out the floor fan at any minute.

"Aren't you warm yet?" he asked me, probably because the sound of my teeth chattering was drowning out his favorite TV show – old reruns of Dragnet.

I shook my head and pulled the blanket more tightly around my shoulders.

"Then have some more hot tea," he said.

"Can't I just turn up the heat?" my voice came out in a whine. "It'll be all your fault if I have to have skin taken off my buttocks and put down my throat!"

He had no clue what I was talking about. And the look he gave me all but told me he was debating whether or not I'd finally gone off the deep end (something he's been debating ever since he said, "I do").

So when he later excused himself to the bathroom, I cranked up the heat another five degrees.

"Is it getting hotter in here?" he asked about 15 minutes later.

I shook my head. "You're probably just going through male menopause."

I think he might have bought it. Now I'll just have to find a safe place to hide the heating bill when it arrives.