Tuesday, March 30, 2010


It's strange how life can take an unexpected turn when you least expect it.

Take last week, for example. I had barricaded myself in our old homestead and was sorting through the mountains of stuff we'd left there when we moved to our new house. Simultaneously, I was trying to paint the kitchen cabinets. In an effort to do both, I had dumped everything out of the closets and onto the floor so I could sift through them, and I'd moved furniture to the center of the room so I could paint behind it.

As a result, the place looked as if a tornado had picked it up, spun it around a half-dozen times and then dropped it.

I stared at the stack of sneakers on the living room rug, the rolls of wrapping paper on the coffee table, the casserole dishes on the recliner and the battery booster cables draped over the back of a kitchen chair and groaned. It was going to take me 20 years to get everything in order so I could finally list the place and sell it.

I was in the middle of trying to round up the world's biggest herd of dust bunnies when a knock at the door interrupted me. I stood there a moment and debated whether or not to open the door. Not only was the entire house a mess, I looked as if I'd been living underneath a bridge for the past month.

Still, I opened the door. There stood one of my neighbors, his wife and another man.

"Can he come in and take a look around?" my neighbor asked, pointing to the man behind him. "His name is Ray and he's looking for a place to buy for his daughter."

My first thought was that if his daughter could see the place the way it currently looked, she would threaten to disown her father if he even so much as thought about buying it for her.

"It's too messy," I said, trying to block their view with my body. "And it's not even on the market yet. I'm going to be cleaning it out and doing some remodeling. I'd rather you wait till then to see it."

"But I already called my daughter," Ray said. "She's on her way over."

I prayed he was joking. Visions of the poor girl rushing over, eager to see what Daddy wanted to buy for her, and then running off like an Olympic sprinter, screaming in terror the minute she set foot through the peeling doorway, flashed through my mind.

Despite my reservations, I finally decided I had nothing to lose...other than my pride. I opened the door wider and invited them in.

It was amazing to watch Ray as he roamed through the rubble. "Oh, this is great!" he fairly gushed. "I can put a bay window here, sliding doors here, Pergo floors throughout. And I really love the ceilings!"

I wondered if he might be wearing rose-colored contact lenses. He saw a potential mansion, while I saw something that looked as if it should be featured on the TV show "Hoarders."

"I want it," Ray said. "And I'll pay cash for it."

I just stared at him. Then I blurted out, like a dummy, "But I bought paint and curtains and new blinds… I still have a lot to do to fix it up!"

A man was offering me cash for my place and I was protesting? Was I crazy?

"Don't do another thing," he said. "I'm a contractor. I can finish everything, no problem. All you have to do is move all of your stuff out. And I'll be more than happy to help you with that, if you'd like."

I couldn't believe my ears. No more painting, scrubbing, refinishing, or window washing? No more paying two heating bills or two property taxes? No more paying two electric bills or home-owners' insurances? I felt like doing cartwheels.

I stopped myself from getting too excited, however. There still was Ray's daughter to impress. Common sense told me she just might not want to live in a place that looked as if it had been used for a nuclear test site.

Ray's daughter arrived a few minutes later, her young eyes wide with anticipation. I held my breath, waiting for that anticipation to turn into an "are you nuts?" look, aimed directly at her father.

"Ooooh! I love it!" she gasped, making her way through the maze of books, boxes, newspapers, buckets, disembodied doll parts and curtain rods all over the floor. I silently prayed she wouldn't trip and accidentally impale herself on one of my unicorn figurines.

"So, how soon do you think you can be moved out?" Ray asked me. "I'm really anxious to start working on this place!"

I wanted to tell him 2012. Instead, we decided upon April 19.

So here I am, trying to get rid of 38 years of clutter in a matter of days.

I wonder how much it would cost to rent a steam shovel and a backhoe?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I have a friend who is always telling me that if it weren't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all. But lately (and I'm afraid to actually write the words because I may end up cursing myself) I actually have been having a streak of good luck.

Good luck is so foreign to me, I have a row of black-and-blue marks on my arm where I've been pinching myself to make sure I'm awake.

It all began when I wrote a column about how I'd used duct tape to cover the cracks in the basement of our new house to prevent water from coming in. Shortly after the article appeared, I received an e-mail from Chris Brown of Rescon Basement Solutions in Londonderry.

Basically, my temporary cure for my leaky basement caused the poor man to hyperventilate.

"Sally, Sally, Sally!" he wrote. "Stopping water infiltration in concrete structures is a specialized industry that requires a very specific set of knowledge and experience. I can't read another article about sticking duct tape over a crack…really! I want to help, I need to help, please let me help!"

I've lived long enough to know that anyone who is labeled an "expert" or "professional" in any field doesn't come cheap. In order to reap the benefits of his expertise, I figured I'd probably have to sell a kidney.

I wrote back, thanked him for writing, and told him I was sorry, but I was so broke, I didn't have two nickels to rub together to make a dime, so all I could afford was the duct tape.

He answered with, "Not a problem. We'll do it for free." Then, probably reading my mind, he added, "This is not a joke."

I just stared at the e-mail, not knowing if I should laugh or cry. I bolted down the hallway to tell my husband the news.

"My dad always said there's no such thing as a free lunch," he said. "There has to be a catch."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Like maybe the sealant is free, but we'll have to pay for the labor. Or maybe they'll patch half of each crack and then hold out for the last half."

I thought it highly unlikely that anyone would hold foundation cracks hostage, so I wrote back to Chris and arranged for a time for him to come over.

Chris arrived with an advertising mug filled with Hershey's kisses. In my opinion, any man who came bearing chocolate had to be a saint.

He made a thorough check of the "Basement from Hell" and said he could fill the cracks…except for the biggie in the corner. That one was a bad crack, a potentially destructive crack, he said, and it was beyond his capabilities. It would need the expertise of a professional engineer

Just the word "engineer" made me not only contemplate selling my own kidney, but also one of my husband's.

"I'll have my office call you to set up an appointment to have the cracks repaired," he said. He gave me his business card. I couldn't help but smile at his phone number: 877-WHY-B-WET.

"He won't be back," my husband said, shaking his head after Chris drove away. "Our basement is such a mess, he's probably got the gas pedal floored right now, breaking speed records just to get away from here."

But bright and early on St. Patrick's Day, Chris's men showed up to patch the cracks in the basement.

I thought it would be a simple project, that they'd mix up a batch of Redi-Mix, slap it over the cracks and be done in an hour.

I couldn't have been more wrong. I wasn't down there observing because I didn't want to be in their way, but from upstairs I could hear drilling, hammering, pounding, some kind of compressor running, and assorted other sounds I couldn't identify.

Two-and-a-half hours later they showed me their handiwork – beautifully sealed cracks. They truly were works of art.

"How much would this job have cost me if I had to pay for it?" I dared to ask.

"About $850," one of the guys answered. "And believe me, we have the lowest rates around."

"And if I get an engineer to fix that King Kong of a crack in the corner?" I also dared to ask. "How much might that cost me?"

"Probably around $40,000," he said.

Forget about selling a kidney, I nearly needed a heart transplant.

So, as I said, my luck is changing. I thought that getting $850 worth of free crack repair was the epitome of luckiness, but little did I know that on that very same day, something even luckier was about to happen to me.

I'll tell you all about it next time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


If there's one thing I learned last week during our nearly six days without power following the terrible windstorm, it was how unprepared we were.

We had only two flashlights, one of which had to be recharged by plugging it into an electrical outlet. We also had only two small candles and an oil lamp that was so old, the wick disintegrated when I tried to light it.

And we had two battery-operated lanterns that had batteries in them that were so corroded, they looked as if they'd been rolled in green powder.

So, in other words, we were doomed to sit in the dark and freeze.

It didn't take long for the house to get cold. I tried to warm up by wrapping myself in a blanket and drinking hot tea. Making the tea, however, which required lighting the gas stove with a match, was pretty intimidating. I had a bad habit of turning on the burner and then trying to light the match. Unfortunately, lighting matches is not something I do very well. By the time I actually saw a flame and held it next to the burner, there was enough gas in the air to blow me into the next room. I eventually got used to the smell of roasted arm hairs.

As we grew chillier, I glared at our fake fireplace, wishing it were real. It burns a Sterno type of alcohol-based gel fuel. I'd just sent away for 12 cans of the stuff, so I was eager to light one and see if it might throw some heat. The instructions said to remove the label from the can before lighting it.

"I can't get this label off!" I complained to my husband after I'd practically worn off my fingernails trying.

"Oh, well," he said, "If worse comes to worse, instead of lighting it, I suppose we can always drink the Sterno like the drunks down in Hobo Jungle do!"

I had no idea what he was talking about, but at that point, I was so chilled, I probably would have taken a swig of the Sterno and then sent a lit match down after it, just to thaw myself out.

The problem with drinking a lot of tea to keep warm, I soon discovered, is that tea has the tendency to head straight for the bladder, which isn't a good thing when the electric pump in your well has no power so you have no water for the toilet.

To make matters worse, my husband's doctor has him taking enough diuretics to drain an elephant, so he's usually in the bathroom every 20 minutes.

"Why don't you go outside and do that?" I snapped at him after his 11th trip to the bathroom. It had been only six hours since we'd lost our power, and already I was feeling irritable. I knew there were a lot of people much worse off than we were, but still, I felt really grumpy. "You're a man. Men can 'go' outside a lot easier than women can!"

He looked genuinely appalled. "You want to send me out there in the howling wind, with big broken branches dangling dangerously overhead at every turn, and risk me being killed while embarrassing body parts are exposed?"

"If you were killed, you wouldn't be alive to feel embarrassed about your body parts anyway!" I (alias Grumpy Woman) shot back.

I grabbed a bucket, took it outside and solidly packed it with snow. Then I waited for it to melt so we could use it for flushing. I soon learned that a bucket of snow in a 50-degree house takes about 18 days to thaw. I began to feel as if we were living in a public restroom.

"Why don't you just melt the snow on the stove?" my husband suggested.

"Because we could be without power for a week…or even longer." Just saying the words made me wonder how to tie the scarf I was wearing into a noose so I could hang myself. "I don't know how much gas we have left so I'd rather use it for eating than for flushing. The snow in the bucket will melt on its own. It will just take a little while."

Adding to my irritability was the fact that every time I opened the door to let the dogs out, I could hear the chugga-chugga sounds of all of the neighbors' generators. I envisioned the families in their nice warm houses, flushing their water-filled toilets and reading or playing games by an actual light instead of a flickering candle that didn’t provide enough light to even find a book, never mind read one…and I muttered not-so-nice things under my breath. Not that I was jealous, but I found myself wishing that all of the houses within earshot would run out of gas…after every gas station within a 50-mile radius had closed for the night.

My aunt and uncle finally came to our rescue by sharing their generator with us. Every morning they'd show up with it, hook it up, and let us use it for a couple hours. The minute the generator kicked into operation, I'd run around flushing toilets, filling jugs with water and washing dishes that were so dried up with food because I couldn't soak them, I nearly needed to use sandpaper on them.

And best of all, for those two wonderful hours we'd finally have heat, glorious heat. I'd crank up the thermostat until my husband's face turned red and he began to peel off a couple layers of shirts. That's when I knew the house was hot enough.

When we finally did get our power back, five-and-a-half days later, one of the first things I did was fill the bathtub with really hot water and jump in. I was craving a long, hot soak to thaw myself out.

I think the water was a little too hot because soon my skin was neon pink, I was sweating and began to feel lightheaded. I even had visions of cannibals slicing carrots and potatoes and tossing them into the tub as I slowly cooked.

I didn't cool off until the next day.

I think that's also when my bucket of snow finally thawed out.