Batdog on aisle 1

Sometimes, BatDog happens on the way home from work.

It started when I got in the wrong line.  Again.  It’s as predictable as an ice cream headache.  I get in a line and it’s going to be the slowest line.  Usually in the weirdest possible way.

I was in Trader Joes a few nights ago.  It was busy and every checkout line was open.  I got in line behind a guy holding a basket and realized after a few seconds that the guy ahead of him had a cart with 10,000 small packages of frozen food.  It looked like he had meticulously selected one package of every single item in both freezer aisles.  That’s gonna take a while.  I glanced over and saw another line with only 2 women in it.  They had similar builds, identical frizzy henna red hair and were standing less than a foot from each other.  I guessed they were family – sisters, maybe mother/daughter, and they only had one half full cart, that’s got to be quicker than the line I was in.  So I switched.

What was I thinking.

The checkout guy was suuuuper slow.  First day on the job confused and slow.  Oh good, I’m in the new guys lane.  Fine.  It’s not his fault he’s slow and the next time I’m in, I’m sure he’ll be much faster.   I watched as he pulled each item out, checked every side for the bar code, scanned it, then set the item in oddly precise columns on the bench next to him.   Not in a bag mind you, but in columns on the counter.  Meanwhile, I’m hungry, my uncooked dinner is in my basket and my patience is wearing thin.

Ten minutes later, one of the women ahead of me left with her groceries without talking to the second woman.  So the second woman just spent 10 minutes standing disturbingly close to a complete stranger.  That’s not weird or anything.

Ok, maybe they’re family and not on speaking terms.  Two sisters go shopping for groceries together and one of them accidentally mentions in conversation that she’s the one who knocked over the bunsen burner in their freshman science lab igniting a beaker filled with ethanol, causing the antiquated fire sprinklers to go off in every room in the school.  Unfortunately those sprinklers went off while her sister was presenting her paper mache scale replica of ‘The Thinker’ to the selection committee for a summer scholarship to intern at the Louvre. She didn’t get the scholarship because all the committee saw was a gooey grey mass glorping slowly onto the carpet.  So the sisters part without talking at the checkout stand.

Yeah, I don’t think so either – that was a total stranger climbing all the way into someone else’s personal space bubble and hanging out so close they were sharing eyelash dust.

The lady who had no food to buy at the grocery store then proceeded to buy an $80 gift card.  Using one $20 bill, two $5 bills and FIFTY FIVE $1 bills.  Which the new kid had to count, face, then recount.  While I stood there watching everyone else in every single line checkout and left the store.  If you’re wondering why I didn’t change lines, its because something else would have happened in the new line.  Exploding bag of frozen peas, Lithuanian tourist paying with pesos, Confused PETA protester blocking everyone from buying frozen Tofurkey….really, it could be anything, but it would happen in the line I was in.

When the Bunsen burner sister finally left, the poor clerk started carefully examining and scanning my dinner packages before precisely placing each item into columns on his counter. Still not bagging anything.  A woman I think was a manager came over and started bagging my food while he finished scanning.  Briefly, I thought I was moments from leaving the store with the dinner I was beginning to wonder if I could eat raw.

But no.  Instead, BatDog happened.

The manager stopped bagging groceries and looked behind me at the entrance doors.  Her eyes lit up and she shouted 2 feet from my face: “He’s back! Our mascot is Back!”.  Then with extra volume still too close to my ears: “BatDog!”  She gestured behind her to another employee, then left my half bagged groceries and went outside.  To coo over the ugliest dog on the planet.

I paid the bill, finished bagging my own groceries and after a sympathetic thought for the completely flummoxed kid at the check stand, I left.  Or tried to.  The two employees and a passerby were blocking most of the door exclaiming over the dog.  As I shuggled my way between them and the outer wall of the store, I heard her exclaim “We call him BatDog because he looks like someone hit him in the face with a bat and he’s a dog!”  The cooing squeeing sounds faded slowly as I walked through the rain to my car.

My 5 minute errand on the way home turned into another 30 minute show in the theater of the absurd.  I’d worry something is wrong with me that this keeps happening, but I live in Portland and I like to write.  I think its the cosmos giving me what I want in the oddest way possible.  That happens a lot actually….

Circle of Life

When I’m forced to witness that whole ‘Circle of Life’ crap at high speed, I expect Lion King music at least.  If the universe can’t supply that, I’m going to need an ice cream sundae, a lot of hugs and a flapper dress.

My favorite aunt turned 85 last weekend.  I was going to race down before work on Monday and decorate her breakfast place with balloons, but instead I got a text on Friday that there was going to be a party on Sunday.  Since my husbands family was spending the weekend with us and helping us paint every-freaking-thing in the house, the timing was inconvenient.

But: Favorite aunt.  85 years old.  Yeah.

Instead of painting walls Sunday morning, I found myself snuggled up at the computer with my 4 year old nephew playing Guild Wars.  I steered our character around with the mouse, while he carefully found and pushed on they keyboard (ONE time) the letter or number I called out.  Together, we vanquished monsters, helped farmers harvest crops and explored the virtual world for about an hour.

A few hours later, I headed down to my aunts retirement facility to be a part of the other end of the spectrum of life.   We spent a little while decorating the social room under the erratic direction of the 6 residents scattered around the room when we arrived.  After we’d made the room suitably festive and garish, my aunt was wheeled into the room and immediately harangued by this guy I didn’t recognize.  He was tall with a full head of iron grey hair and a lean, hollow frame that outlined how muscular he must have been when he was younger.  His plaid shirt was snapped neatly up to the collar and matched the turquoise and silver ring that covered the entire first joint of his middle finger.  He and my aunt started the kind of rapidfire back and forth harassment that sounded like something out of a buddy-cop action movie.  If anything they said had been between strangers, there would have been flying fists and thrown chairs.  Instead, it was hysterical, naughty, and I’m positive it was ratcheted up to 11 because they had an audience.

As I walked around handing out diabetic comas in the form of sherbet filled punch cups and slabs of cake  overflowing the confetti patterned paper plates with enough icing to fill a pothole, I heard the funny old guy talking again.  He was looking down at the blue plastic party table cloth and said “Thats what the ocean looked like the day we bombed Hiroshima”.  And just like that, he had my full and undivided attention.  I knelt down at the end of the table and listened until my knees went numb and he was done talking. Every once in a while one of us would ask him a question and he’d be off on another fascinating story about his life.

In the Navy during WWII, the day the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, he was on the ocean.  For 2 hours afterwards, he said the ocean was as flat and still as a table top.   He remembers animals from the islands being blinded and deafened.

He described the day he and his two buddies were manning one of the big guns on their ship during an attack.  They needed a different kind of ammunition to shoot at the planes and he was the one that ran below decks to get it.  When he came back, the giant gun was split in two and both of his buddies were dead and blown off the ship.

Not long after that, when he left the Navy, he bought 12 military jeeps still in their crates for $100 each and had friends truck them to where he sold them for $500 each.   He’d been in trucking before the war and still had friends in the business.  He remarked in a very irritated tone that you can’t even get those jeeps for $1,500 now-a-days.  I quietly wondered at the… “logistics” of a dozen jeeps owned by someone in Hawaii making their way over the ocean to the continent where they could then be trucked “somewhere”.

Back stateside, he started working as an animator for Walt Disney.  Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, he worked on all of them and he liked Walt Disney.  He loathed Walts’ brother – who took over after Walt died.

He worked in Hollywood for years.   His best girl is still Linda Carter – he has a signed picture of her on his wall today and swears she winks at him every time he walks past it.

When he was done with his cake and punch, he told my aunt happy birthday again and wheeled one of the other residents back to her room on his way.

After he was gone, I talked with some cousins I haven’t seen in years.  The trio of sisters are all retired now and having grand adventures they regaled my aunt with.  One of them drove a horse drawn wagon across Ireland – camping each night with people from around the world.  The horse was uncontrollable and they remember him only as ‘Red devil’.  Another cousin Volkswalked in Europe, Ecuador, every US state and she’s almost completed every US State capitol. All three have been visiting family across the country.  They brought my aunt her high schools’ yearbook from 1943 and we looked at  all the pictures of her husband when he was an athletic and very handsome 18 year old.  The whole conversation was fun, funny and filled with a zest for life.

As I was driving home, I kept thinking about my aunt and the man whose name I forgot to ask.  They aren’t angry about slowing down and getting old.  They’re present, and filled with treasured memories.  Even the memories that aren’t joyful have the weight of making them into the people they are.    My aunt likes hearing about my adventures but she doesn’t need them to live vicariously through.  She’ll tells me that she’s had a full life and a lot of memories.  She doesn’t regret anything because she seized every moment: every opportunity to experience life; every chance to meet someone new or try something different.  I grew up delighted by watching her horrify our family with her adventures and shenanigans.

When she moved into a retirement facility, she gave me one of her flapper dresses with a matching hat.  At some point in her 50s she discovered Jazz festivals.  That led to her and her best friend learning to make gorgeous flapper outfits complete with hats, boas, feathered headbands, ropes of pearls: the whole 9 yards.  They traveled all over the place wearing their fancy duds to dance to live Jazz. One of my earliest memories of her is at a Jazz festival in Old Sacramento.   A few days a year, OldSac packs every building, stage and alleyway with bands that play late into the night.  I remember being up long past my 5 year old bedtime and wandering from alley way to alley way seeing my larger than life auntie dressed up as a flapper as our guide to Jazz.

Her favorite phrase is: “Well, it’ll be a new experience”.  From the tone of her voice, I’ve never taken that to be defeatist or depressing.  I’ve always heard it as a celebration of life and gathering in its fullness – there’s always value in a new experience.   At the very least, it will be interesting, but until you’ve tried it, you won’t know if it will be spectacular.  That horrid phrase ‘It is what it is’ sounds like its antithesis to me.

So what about us my friends?  When we’re 85 will you look back with me and rejoice in all the things we did or bemoan all the things we could have done, but didn’t?  Put on your flapper dress or fancy duds, lets go find some shenanigans to get up to.

Creative Killer

Cynicism is a gleeful, gore splashed serial killer of creativity. Like Dexter, but with less of a sense of humor. I’m a programmer, obligated by a contract with the Tech gods to consume levels of caffeine non-tech people can only shudder at the thought of. We sign the contract with ink made from pure white caffeine and rage, making a murky magenta ink on the contract. So pursuant to my contractual obligations, this morning, I walked over to Starbucks to get some coffee. Don’t judge. The people are nice and I can get a coffee for $.50. I always take my own mug with me so I don’t have to listen to the voice in my head telling me I’m going to hell for creating unnecessary fodder for the landfill monsters. Ok, not always, but enough to keep the screaming environmentalist in my head at bay.
I actually think that particular voice isn’t me, it’s the disembodied consciousness born from the unwashed thousands in the Northwest forests wearing tie dye, communing with nature, lighting up and trying to cover the smell with rancid patchouli. If you’ve lived here long enough, regardless of what you do with your days, you will start to hear that voice. I was born here, I never had a chance.
I am a very forgetful person at work. I get totally caught up in what I’m working on and will literally bump into walls because I’m still re-coding web apps in my head when I take a bathroom break. We don’t really need to discuss what that looks like. I used to bring cool mugs to work for my drinks because they’re fun and can make a bad day a little better. But I’ve lost, forgotten, or misplaced all of them. For a while I downgraded to totally generic mugs so it didn’t matter if I lost them, and those disappeared even more quickly in conference rooms because everyone thought they must be their mugs.
It doesn’t escape me that this could be prevented by putting our names on our mugs like we did on our clothes in first grade. But I’m not doing it. Because how awesome would I look bumping into walls WHILE holding a mug with my name on it. No. Just, No. As a side note, it has occurred to me to carry a mug with someone else’s name on it and see who calls me by that name because they can’t remember mine…
In a perfect world, my coffee mug would be inexpensive to replace, easily replaceable, unique enough that I won’t forget it, but not so unique that anyone else wants it. You didn’t know coffee cups were so complicated did you? Solution: a travel mug that has a paper insert space. People usually put pictures of their kids in them – then we all watch as their kids faces slowly yellow and dissolve over the course of years from the daily exposure to coffee. No matter how cute the kid was, they look like a picture from a depression era side show in 6 months. Instead of a picture, I made mine a lunchtime craft project. I spent about 2 hours picking my favorite movie quotes and writing them all over the paper in different fonts. Geeky, distinctively mine, and as a bonus, it acts as a sci-fi nerd detector. I think it’s neat, but if it disappeared tomorrow, I’d happily make another one and not miss it.
So today, I go over to Starbucks and hand over my mug for a fill up. While they waited for my brew the two overly chipper baristas behind the counter started reading my mug. Do you think they’re required to drink 2 espressos an hour to maintain that almost psychotic level of cheer? They were smiling and pointing out quotes they liked and asked if I’d made it. I said yes and they smiled and said it was cool looking. And I felt briefly awesome, because I’d made something that other people admired.
Then that nasty cynical voice that’s always hanging around just out of sight hissed forth: “Of course they’re admiring it, it’s good business to make your customers want to come back. Personal compliments are an easy way to do that. It’s probably part of the corporate culture to require them to make positive comments about customers.” And for a second, I looked away from the creativity I’d enjoyed and cynicism murdered it. So quickly and so quietly, that no one would ever know, and even I almost didn’t notice.
For just a moment, there in the corner of the coffee shop, I could see a dissolving corpse: splashed with fading vitality, dusted with tarnished pieces of joy still clutching colored pens. I wonder how many times today he shanked other people’s creativity with whichever implement was nearby. A cutting remark from a passing pedestrian, a confused look from a friend, or just directing attention elsewhere so wonderful things go unnoticed.
Well F**K THAT. Today, I’m writing and keeping an eye out for people to encourage. Tonight, I’ll cook something without the recipe and afterwards, I’ll make a piece of jewelry with whatever supplies inspire me. I may not be able to kill him, but maybe I can starve him into submission. Gotta go, I need to get a pie crust, copper wire and a piece of rebar on my way home.

House Hunting Episode 4

Episode 4: It was supposed to get less weird when we found a house!  OR If you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning.

We found a house!

Hallelujah!

Life can start happening again!

Oh, wait, this reality is just as bizarre as house hunting.  At least it’s less time consuming… that’s something right?  Right?

There’s this phrase that I love ‘If you can’t be a good example, at least be a horrible warning’.  Let this be a lesson to those who come after us.  The laws governing house sales and finance changed in 2008 and some of the after effects are looking-glass weird if no one explains them.  Ok, even if someone explains them, they’re still mock-turtle weird, just easier to accept as reality.  Here’s my disclaimer: This is the information as I understand it.  I’m not a mortgage broker or a realtor.  I’m just a person buying a house.  If you experience any of this, for the sake of your diminishing sanity: Ask all the questions!  No, don’t ask me, ask your realtor, broker and bank.

So, before you even started looking for a house, you got pre-approved for financing.  You did that, right?  You spent hours digging up last years W2s, figuring out how to print your bank statements (Who does hard copies anymore!), and pulling pay stubs before you went to the broker’s office.  Then you spent an hour or more answering questions, signing documents and generally verifying that you’re worthy to be their client.

A little while goes by and the broker tells you that you’ve been approved for a loan of ludicrous size and they send you a copy of your current credit score as a courtesy.  Actually, they’re legally obligated to let you have a copy – which is neat.  I still don’t have an explanation for the size of the ludicrous loans people are ok’d for: Sure, we could cover the size loan we were approved for, but we’d never eat anything but Ramen again.  What’s the fun of owning a house if your cabinets only have cardboard noodles and MSG in them?

Next, you spend a painful, emotionally distressing period of time house hunting.  It’s amazing how stressful just the thought of not having a home is.  I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience homelessness and just knowing that our house had sold and we didn’t yet have a place to move gave me a tick of stress that ratcheted up just a little every day.  The day I get the keys to our new house I need to make a donation to a homeless shelter – because damn, that was stressful and it was nothing in comparison.

Now, you’ve bid on the house, had the offer accepted (Hooray!) and everything that’s left is supposed to just be paperwork and details.  This process uses so much time and money from so many people it’s  like a flaming tar pit that you just sacrifice dollar bills and pocket watches to. There has got to be a more efficient way to do this now that we have computers. And calculators. And freaking email!  It feels like it’s all still getting done by abacus and pony messenger.

Now you get to talk to the Title company – they’re this neutral third party that makes sure the house you’re buying is something you can legally buy.  The Data Analyst in my brain screams that all of this information should be in a single database somewhere in the country since house sales are PUBLIC RECORD.  Title insurance should have become unnecessary 10 years ago – between the IRS, NSA and Homeland Security I find it hard to believe that ownership of any property is still in question unless there’s an active lawsuit.  Sigh…yes, I’m sure there’s real legal needs for it, but from an average house buyers perspective, it all looks incredibly stupid and wasteful.  The Title company also often takes care of Escrow accounts to cover property taxes.

Which brings us to Oregon property taxes.  Fun fact: Oregon property taxes are paid in November of this year for July of this year through July of next year.  So if you’ve ever wondered why escrow amounts always look strange: its because they are.  The good news is if you sold your house, the bank has to give you back the money left in your escrow account almost immediately.   They can’t legally keep it for a year…Which a bank did to us pre-2008 when that a**hattery was still legal.

Then there’s the mortgage broker.  The weird financial matchmaker for love-less loans and their hair raising paraphernalia.  This side of things, I think they were probably a good idea for us.  If for no other reason than I had a person with an accessible office that I could send all my questions to and get answers..  The mortgage broker handled getting all the documentation from us that the lender required.  So when they asked us for something I thought was weird, I could email or call and say something like ‘WTF do they need to know that for – it’s creepy!’

The first time I saw the list of documents from the broker, I freaked out a little bit because it’s creepy from a privacy standpoint.  They want to know way more than I’m comfortable telling.  Before I handed it over I made them tell me why they needed it.  It went something like this:

  • Most recent 30 days pay-stubs for each of you – Sure, they need to verify that we’re still making the money we were when they approved us for the loan
  • W2 forms for the past 2 years:  Ok, sure, they’re making sure we’ve continually made the money they expect for the past 2 years.
  • Federal tax returns for the past 2 years.  Not the summary sheet, the ENTIRE tax packet for the last 2 years.  Including contributions to charity, union membership, medical expenses and anything else you had to claim.   This was getting personal and a little creepy to me.  I don’t like sharing that information with anyone – it reeks of giving someone enough information to deny you a loan because they don’t approve of your political party or union or church.
  • Most recent 2 months statements from all checking and savings accounts.   This is what sent me over the edge – I definitely don’t think it’s any financial officers business where I ate dinner, what stores I spent money in or how often I go to the arcade.  We live in an age of debit cards so the details of all those purchases show up on our bank statements now.

I got the list first and called my partner in crime about it.  His immediate response was ‘No, that’s crazy.  That can’t be what they’re asking for’.  Except it is.  That 2008 law made changes that allow lenders to look for undisclosed expenses and unreported debt/income ratios.  They’re not supposed to care that I donate to Planned Parenthood or buy fudge sundaes way more days than is healthy.

That Federal tax return is so they can see undisclosed rental properties, self-employment, and spousal support that was recorded out of state.   The bank statements are so they can see if you borrowed against a credit card to make your down payment, got  a down payment from the seller without telling the bank, or if you got the down payment from friends or family that you’ll have to pay back.  So, there’s a pretty good reason for the bank asking for the documents, but I’m still a little squidgy about it.

Once you turn all the documents over, you wait. For WEEKS while paper acolytes pin each document to the sacred vault wall and perform intricate supplications to the gods of Wall Street and Hysteria for a sign that you’ve been approved to receive the holy grail of house buying: The Closing Documents.  I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but every time I called to ask what day we’d be ready to close all I heard was chanting and muffled drumming.  Once I thought I heard a human sacrifice screaming in the background but it was probably just someone getting a paper cut.  Yeah, I’m sure it was just a really bad paper cut.

Magically, one day you get a call and they tell you that you have to be at an office you’ve never seen before to sign papers and you have to get to the bank today (Right Now!)  to get a cashier’s check for the closing costs before they close.  The call to your boss that you’re going to be out of the office for 2-4 hours the next day has to happen too.  Cue the irritated sigh from my boss right here.  Actually I’m pretty grateful on that front: having a boss whose only irritated at the inconvenience is awesome.

The next day you sign a thousand times on a stack of forms the size of a bible.  This time the updates in the laws were fantastic.  All the forms had to be in a text size we could read.  On our first house, there were literally dozens of pages printed in 6 point font – not even kidding about that.  We spent hours in the too-hot, too-bright office of a set of angry angry brokers and lenders reading the tiny script on every page before we signed it.  Heh.  Good times.  But this time was way better.  We could read everything and there was a third the paperwork as last time.  After that, you wait 24 hours or so and get an email from the broker, the lender, the title company AND your real estate agent telling you that the sale has been recorded and you are officially the new owners.

Because the Portland market is still nuts, now all you have to do is wait to get the keys.  Because almost everyone is doing a rent-back on the house they’re selling.

So here we sit.  Waiting for the keys….. And Waiting….. Buying furniture that doesn’t fit in our current house and tripping over it until every toe and hip is bruised….And waiting some more…Then buying nerf rifles and using the furniture as cover for an indoor battle because being an adult is occasionally the best thing ever…  Then waiting some more……

Please, can I have the keys to my house now?

Do you know what happened to the girl who got everything she ever dreamed of?  She lived happily ever after.

Bad Medicine

Why in the name of Hippocrates hasn’t medicine for common ailments changed in TWO THOUSAND years?  We’ve landed an interstellar probe on a comet moving at 40,000 mph – It was launched a decade ago, powered itself from the heat of the sun and landed on a moving rock in the middle of space billions of miles from here.  Why can’t we cure Bronchitis or the Flu? Maybe that’s asking too much, but I think we should be able to at least treat them with something more advanced than honey water and opiates.

I will grant you, we have fancier medicine bottles, and less mold than our ancestors but all we’ve got in the 21st century is Honey Water?!  I’m beginning to suspect the long words the nurses and doctors chant are really incantations to an elder god instead of legitimate science, because the words they are say to me are not the words on the papers they hand me or on the bottles I take home.  I think calling medications the ‘generic substitute’ is their way of covering up using the language of the old gods in front of the uninitiated.

After 6 weeks of interactions with the medical community, I find their lack of science disturbing.

This is how the thermometer episode of our fiasco began.  Kris had the flu: fever, chills, the whole bit.  A few days later, I started feeling unwell and took my temperature.  It was a little high, but not strangely so.  3 bottles of NyQuil, 6 boxes of Kleenex, 2 seasons of Arrow and a week later, Kris felt a little better and I was feeling worse.  According to the thermometer, we both still had a fever.  That seemed… odd.  I used our other thermometer and discovered that we both had temperatures so low we were probably dead.  I looked a little zombie like but I’m pretty sure I would have remembered dieing.  I stumbled off to the pharmacy and bought a new thermometer which said we weren’t dead, but our fevers were lower than the first thermometer.  3 thermometers, each different from the other by more than 2 degrees.  After some groggy interneting, and asking every medical professional I encountered in the following 2 weeks, I learned that:

1) There is no way to calibrate a modern digital thermometer (removing and replacing the battery does dick-and-all).

2)The only way to be sure a thermometer is accurate is to buy a mercury thermometer (only sold to scientists and veterinarians now) and compare the result to your digital thermometer.

3) You should never take a persons temperature with a mercury thermometer because it might implode spectacularly on contact with human skin causing instantaneous and horrific death by mercury poisoning.

If you’re wondering how they know that the fancy thermometer in the Dr. office is correct, so am I.  Not a single Dr., Nurse, Tech or Pharmacist could tell me how they know they’re correct.  Digital devices are always right, why would you calibrate anything….

Episode 2: Sudafed is daaaaaaangerous.

I sounded so awful on the phone when I called, that the nurse asked if I wanted them to call in a sudafed prescription for me.  Foolishly, I thought “The pharmacy is closer to my house than Vancouver, so that will take less time and energy.  Yes please, I’ll pick up my sudafed after work today”.   I stumbled into the pharmacy on the Kaiser campus that had the shortest walk from my car to the counter because I’d hit the walking-dead, rattle-when-I-breathe, shake-when-I-cough, starting-to-wonder-if-I-have-pneumonia stage of bronchitis.  When they called my number, the pharmacist told me they couldn’t fill my prescription.  Not because they’re out, mind you.  Because Sudafed is so dangerous, I have to go to the pharmacy that has the physical copy of the prescription my Dr. filled out for me.  Everything is computerized!  I didn’t even know they still had physical prescription pads.  Well they do, but only for the super duper dangerous drugs like Sudafed.  Codeine and Vicodin cough syrup on the other hand you can just pick up whenever from any pharmacy with only your ID.

I drove across the campus to the other pharmacy, waited in line again and presented my ID to another pharmacist.  After another hour, 2 consultations with a pharmacist and exposure to enough germs from other people in the waiting room to cause the spontaneous creation of a virus that could kill cockroaches, I had a bottle of Sudafed.  I really should have just driven through rush hour traffic to Vancouver, it would have taken less time.  I almost had an aneurysm when the pharmacist agreed with me.

Which leaves Fiasco The Third.

After 2 weeks of coughing day and night I was a whiny, sleep deprived 10 year old with a twitch under my eye that acted up every time I thought about being in the pharmacy again.  After a game of medical phone tag that should be a Flying Circus episode, I was given 2 pieces of sage advice from the combined medical community:

First: “Cough more carefully”.  WTF that means, I still have no idea.  I had bronchitis, not surgery.

Second: Drink honey water (as in hot water with honey dissolved in it).   Seriously.  The only other option I was given a choice of 3 cough syrups – all of which are variants on something that China had at least 1000 years ago and used similarly… probably mixed with honey.  I could have taken any one of the three, but all of them would have resulted in an unfortunate weight loss regimen generally disapproved by medical experts and rendered me the unmovable owner of the single bathroom in our house for the duration.  So honey water it was.

There was a third bit, but it wasn’t sage advice, it was just stupid.  I knew perfectly well that antibiotics would not help, and I turned them down because the Dr. admitted it would just be a placebo.  I’m horrified it’s still even offered as a placebo to people it genuinely won’t help.  And really – that’s what we’ve come to?  We can’t help you, so we’re going to give you a placebo?  For something as common as Bronchitis?  As a consolation prize, I was prescribed an inhaler.  Given the previous antibiotic-placebo conversation, I’m highly suspicious of how useful that was.

So in 2000 years, we have honey water, digital devices that medical professionals don’t understand (but use daily) and a medical system terrified of giving people something that will keep their sinuses clear for a few hours.  But we can make a rocket that can land on a moving comet.  Earth is really the comedy channel of the galaxy isn’t it.  Is that a laugh track I hear?

Can anyone see the cameras from where they’re sitting right now?  They have to be here somewhere…

House Hunting Episode 3.5

Episode 3.5 – Fixing all the things. Wherein our heroes discover that a dead rat is an upgrade, lonely boards cry dry rot tears and daisies are awfully cute.

As our final act of home-ownership, we needed to fix the things the inspector found on our house. We negotiated away the ones we thought were a little silly, and that left two fixes – one big, one small. The small one was a piece of flashing on the roof that needed to be replaced. No problem, easy quick fix. The other item was more worrisome, but we’ve worked really hard on this house for 8 years undoing all the dumb it was subjected to before we bought it (and believe me, there was a lot of dumb). We didn’t want to screw up the new owners chance at a happy home by throwing our hands up in the air and screaming ‘Not our problem anymore’ as we ran out the door. We tried putting our fingers in our ears and yelling ‘LALALALALA’ at the top of our lungs instead, but after a couple of minutes my arms got tired and Kris was laughing too hard to keep saying ‘LALALALA’. So we got to work on the fixing.

See, the inspector found some dry rot in the crawlspace and the told us we needed to “pull out all the insulation, remove all the animal waste, replace any rotten wood, then re-insulate the whole thing”. Which sounds terrifying right? Also, definitely something that needed to be fixed by a serious professional. We hired our favorite contractor to come out and do the fixes and he agreed we could work as his assistants to make the job go faster. The only day he could come out was a day Kris was at work, so it had to be my job. Lucky, lucky me. I thought really hard to come up with a reason, ANY reason, that I had to be at work too, but I came up empty. I spent the whole morning trying to reach a zen place about being in a small, dark, smelly crawl space cleaning out literal crap on my hands and knees. By the time we bought the industrial box of garbage bags and a filtered dust mask, I’d lost the zen attempt and tried to just hang on to an I-don’t-really-hate-the-entire-world mantra.

While our contractor figured out the extent of the dry rot, I got to pull all the insulation out of the crawlspace. So on the first 80 degree day of the year, I armored up with jeans, a sweatshirt, gloves, respirator and a kerchief over my hair as I crawled and shimmied around in a 24 inch high lightless crawlspace. Remember that ‘animal waste’ part? I thought cats or raccoons had managed to get under the house and do something horrid and I’d spend the day laying on my stomach, in the dark, gagging while cleaning it up. About 2 minutes after we started (before I’d even crawled in) I found a dried up dead mouse just inside the door to the crawl space. I said ‘Eww, dead mouse’ and tossed it into the garbage with the first wads of insulation. A beat later, our contractor said kind of slowly: “You handled that better than most people would”. Which made me feel super cool and really grateful it hadn’t been alive. There would have been squealing and maybe running if it had still been alive and I wouldn’t have looked cool at all. That was the end of the animal waste episode – we went over the whole crawl space a couple of times and never found anything else. All that perfectly good angst was completely wasted.

Over the next hour I pulled out 10 garbage bags of insulation in 2ft chunks. It would have taken about 20 minutes, but there were dozens of small pieces instead of a couple of long pieces. The easy part of the job was done and I got out and away to breathe normally for a bit while our contractor finished the wood repair. Repair makes it sound like it was important. It was really cosmetic, but we didn’t know that until we took all the insulation out.

Many years ago, a previous owner poured a concrete porch with stairs. They built a wooden frame to create the shape the concrete would fill. They just used cheap wood because it was a temporary frame that would be removed when the concrete dried. But they didn’t remove it, the just left it there for 30 or 40 years. It wasn’t holding anything up, or in, or down or anything else. It was just sort of there: sadly crying rot tears onto itself because someone decades ago forgot about the 4 boards hidden by the stairs.  A couple of decades ago, the sad little boards briefly got some company when a previous owner insulated the crawlspace. Whoever it was must have looked directly at the boards, custom cut some insulation, then covered them up. So our contractor replaced everything with pressure treated boards that will last almost forever. Then all we had to do was put new insulation back in. Which should have been half an hour of easy work. 6 long strips fit between the joists and we’re done. Yeah, not so much.

I cut the strips and started feeding them through the panel for him to place. After the first two, his voice echoing out of the back of the crawlspace started sounding really irritated. He gave me a MacGuyver list of supplies to find then went quiet for 20 minutes after I delivered them. It turns out, there were dozens of pieces of insulation because the joists were all different spaces apart by a couple of inches. They didn’t have cotton candy insulation when they built the house, so of course, what’s standard now was incomprehensible to them. When his string based MacGuyver fix didn’t work, he fed all the insulation back out the hatch to me. I spent the next hour comfortably cutting sections of insulation in the breeze outside while our contractor wriggled around the crawl space measuring, then fitting in each piece I handed him. Which led to my favorite moment of the day: I got to call my husband a daisy, mean it and still make him smile.

Himself came home to find me covered in dirt, insulation and sweat still cutting insulation chunks. When our contractor called for the next piece, I asked Kris to hand it to him. No, I didn’t really think that through. Kris looked at me, looked at the pile of toxic cotton candy I was standing in, looked back at me sort of baffled and said ‘I’m not touching that stuff’. And I about died laughing. There I was an exhausted, filthy mess facing my husband dressed in his dapper librarian best looking handsome as could be. It was a 180 switch from the days when I’d come home from work and he was the one who’d been doing whatever filthy repair or upgrade the house had needed that day. So I got to call him a daisy and hand the contractor another piece of insulation.

It turned into a pretty good day. The scary things were all fortuitously less scary and everything got fixed on time. And now I can honestly say there was a day in my life when a dead rat was an upgrade.

House Hunting Episode 3

Episode 3: Where’s the guy behind the curtain, and why is he so angry?

The goal of this house sell/buy game is to use the equity from our house to buy something that suits our lives a little better. We would like to go from 1100 square feet to 1800-ish square feet and have 2 toilets. We need enough yard for the dogs – it doesn’t need to be big, and we need to be able to put a fence around it. Ideally we would have 3 bedrooms and a house design that has a great room (Kitchen, Living room and Dining room don’t have walls between them). We also discovered in the first week of our hunt that we want to live in a good neighborhood – which for us, just means, walkable streets and a neighbor whose front yard isn’t also a junkyard. Everything else is negotiable. Oh, except for livable – the house has to be in good enough shape that we can live in it while we repair anything thats wrong.

Here’s where the whole thing goes sideways: Low Inventory. That’s the innocuous term realtors use to describe the situation when there are not enough houses on the market. It hasn’t been this bad in almost a decade.

Ideally, we’d buy a house in Milwaukie, so here’s a fun exercise to see what ‘Low Inventory’ really means: Go out to Redfin right now and search for Milwaukie. (Yes RMLS.com lists houses before Redfin, but their UI is crap. Redfin illustrates the problem more clearly)
All houses for sale right now: –15
Exclude the short sales: –14 left
Exclude prices over 300,000: –8 houses left
Exclude houses smaller than 1250 square feet: –3 houses left
Exclude houses that have been on sale for more than a week – because we’ve already seen ALL of those and we’re down to 1 house in the entire city of Milwaukie. And we’ll look at it if it’s still for sale this afternoon.

Now, do the same thing for the entire city of Portland
All houses for sale right now: –841 (just houses, no condos, apartments or empty land)
Exclude the short sales: –804 houses left
Exclude prices over 300,000 and houses smaller than 1250 square feet: –122 houses left
Exclude houses that have been on sale for more than a week – because we’ve already seen ALL of those: –27 houses left
Exclude the ones that will give us more than a 45 minute commute: –25 houses left
Add in our craaaazy desire to have 2 toilets (not even 2 bathrooms, just 2 toilets): –19 houses left

–I got all of these counts this morning, so these are real numbers as of April 10th

Here’s where it gets exciting. Of those 19 houses currently on the market, several of them, will have one of the following characteristics. Keep in mind the market is so tight right now that sellers don’t need to negotiate anything to sell their house.

Cash Only Houses
You can list your house and tell people “Only cash offers will be entertained”. Thats code for: If you can’t write a check for the full amount of the house, don’t bother looking at it. Portland has lots of those right now and they’re not slowing down sales. They’re great for the sellers, but it does mean we can’t even consider those houses.

Teardown Houses
That means the house is in such bad condition that no bank will mortgage it and its only on the market for developers who can tear it down and build a new house. Usually 2-3 new houses where the one house was. But you have to read between the lines of house listings to figure that out – I ran into a listing that looked really good from the pictures only to find out it was a teardown when I asked to see it in person. What possible reason is there for taking flattering pictures of the rooms in a house if it can only be torn down? Why wouldn’t you just put up a picture of the yard and the outside of the house when you know no one can ever live on the inside again?

Bid first houses
Telling people they can’t see a house until they put a bid in. I had to have that explained to me because I was certain I’d misheard it. It’s a common thing to do around Portland now: You list your house and tell people they can’t step foot in the house to evaluate it unless they’ve put a bid in for the house first. You’re supposed to just guess what you’d be willing to pay based on the pictures online, put in a bid and cross your fingers. The theory is, you ‘just pull your bid’ if you don’t like it. But if you do like it and discover you overbid based on what you actually see in the house, you’re SOL. And I can tell you that the pictures online are NEVER a good enough representation of any house.

And then theres this nifty trick
Listing a house for sale on the RMLS website for just a few hours then pulling it back off the site. When contacted, the listing agent said they were doing it to ‘advertise’, and it wouldn’t be on the market for real for another 3 weeks. And no, they wouldn’t entertain any early visits or offers. I believe the technical term for that is “AssHat”.

So say you’ve gone through the entire backlog of P.O.S houses and made certain sure there was nothing there you want to take on. Now, you have to play the game to get a house with all the above oddities in play. Here’s the last 3 pieces of the game I know about. <>

Good houses inside Portland are only on the market for 24 hours sometimes less. We looked at a house this week and we put our bid in for it above market price. 24hours after it was put on the market, it had 6 offers and it went to someone who bid a lot more than we did. I got a listing today for a house that will be on the market for 12 hours. 12 hours.
The top of our price range is the bottom of someone else’s price range. When we bid for a house near the top of our range, we are competing with people who have buckets more money to throw at a house. Our realtor was telling us about a client a few weeks ago who bid 40K over asking and was outbid. I’m looking at you St. Johns. Stop wiggling your friendly neighborhood, good friends and pretty houses our way.
If you bid significantly over the actual value of the house, you must cover that overage out of your own cash, because the bank won’t include that in a mortgage. So we need to be very careful to never bid over the amount we think a bank will estimate the house at.

So my friends I’m left hoping that the bubble will burst and dreading it all in the same breath. We’re looking at more houses tonight. Wish us luck.

House Hunting Episode 2

Episode 2: Portland’s Housing discard bin

Our realtor is a very kind, very patient woman.  She’s been doing this a while, so she didn’t even hesitate: she told us there was lots of time, she’ll help us find the perfect house and she’s never had a client be homeless because there wasn’t enough time to find the house they wanted.  Mostly I believe her, but our first day out was surreal and disheartening.

Right now, in Portland, the housing market is so tight that if something has been on the market more than 2 weeks, there’s probably something wrong with it.  But it might be something wrong that we could fix or just something weird that we’d actually enjoy.  Like built in floor to ceiling bookshelves painted fuschia and teal.  That would put a lot of people off, but a day with sandpaper and paint and we’ve got a dream study.  Or a yard thats just a muddy mess with junk scattered all over.  A weekend of work and a couple trips to nurseries and we’ve a yard that looks good and has the bones for us to work with over the next couple of years.  We were looking for a diamond in the rough.  What we found was a bin or cracked agates and a couple of pieces of fools gold.

Nothing we saw on our deathmarch discard bin tour day was fixable.  Really really not fixable with our time and budget.  But I can say this: Portland is keeping itself weird inside peoples houses all over the city.

The Cute Green House

Its a light green on the outside with two porthole shaped windows in the living room.  The yard was even nice.  We opened the door and the strange started happening.  3 feet directly in front of the door was the stairway to the basement.  I could just imagine walking into the house, having a cat or dog trip me and tumbling to my death.  A death which would have been witnessed on one side by fish (probably) and on the other by a bear.  Mounted to the banister of the stairway was a 50 gallon aquarium so overgrown with algae I wasn’t positive there were living fish inside.  Opposite the tank was an 8 foot bearskin complete with glass eyes and teeth  gaping a horrifying welcome towards the front door.  As an added touch, the bear skin was mounted on a frilly cut red and black flannel backing.  It was like the hunters crafty wife had tried to soften the look and just made it look like the bear could still bleed.

Off to the right of the entry was the perfect kitchen.  Seriously, I covet that bakers, entertainers perfect kitchen and dining room with a view.  To the left of the landing was a little living room with a glass block wall divider and a pellet stove in cream enamel.  We slid through the fish and bear gauntlet to the basement where all 3 bedrooms were.  The deep pile emerald green carpeting was a little smelly and when I mentioned it to our realtor she told me that there was a $1,700 allowance in the house listing to replace the carpet after the current owners left.  Bit of a red flag there: If you’re advertising that the carpets must be replaced, $1,700 is not going to cover the damage under the carpets and probably in the walls.  Cat pee being what it is…  But on we went, because we had to see it all.

The master bedroom had the bed area and a little hallway with closets that led to the master bathroom.  It was a pink bathroom complete with light pink toilet, but whatever, we can fix that.  Then I realized there was no bathroom door and the closets on both sides of the hallway made adding a door not-simple.  Someone deliberately designed their master bedroom so that when you open the door you’re looking down the closet hallway at whoever is enthroned at the moment.  When I pointed it out and laughed, our realtor said its a pretty typical design.  Who does that?!  No matter how good the kitchen was, it wasn’t worth the house it was attached to.  Off we went to the next house.

The House Filled With Guilt

We drove down a ‘private’ drive past 4 houses one of which had a condemned notice on it.  The house we were there to see was one house past the condemned one.  The renters and their small children were still inside which adds the perfect touch of ‘Yes, we’re the assholes considering making you homeless, please leave your home while we evaluate it for our needs’.   There were adorable pictures of their children all along one hallway.  The yard was lovely, and the house was ok, but, honestly, it would have had to be a mansion sold for peanuts to make it appealing after that.

The Drunken Escort House

This house had a gorgeous front and back yard: perfectly manicured, not too big, not too small.  It even had this lovely archway in the back with bird feeders on it.  I’m not a big fan of bird feeders and I thought it was lovely.  The problems were inside and started with the guy who needed to escort us into each room of the house.  His lady friend swayed along behind with her 1pm glass of wine and ice cubes that she rattled and swished with every step.  The other guy just stood on the porch and chain smoked.  Highlights of the tour included: their geriatric cat and his 6 unchanged cat boxes, basement windows that were boarded over “because the windows broke too often” and asking me what nationality I am when I got a step too far behind my husband and our realtor.  I told them I’m an American and walked away in a ‘did that just happen?’ haze.  I could hear them whispering and giggling which just made the encounter stranger.  I thought about it afterwards and the best guess I’ve got is they don’t trust ‘them damn Irish’.  The basement portion of the tour was a tidy version of a hoarder’s paradise.  Pseudo rooms packed with canned goods and furniture.  At one point I thought we’d gotten to the end of the basement and the old guy moved a piece of wood paneling to showed a hidden wood panel room with the windows boarded over.  Cause, y’know the windows get broken too often.  That was when I started wondering if the windows weren’t being broken from the outside and made a barely polite march back to sunlight and our car.  We waited just outside the door long enough to make sure our realtor made it out too.

The Dead Animal House

From the outside it looked a little worn and was right next to a school but it might have been awesome on the inside.  The living room right next to the front door had couches so broken down they looked like they had a ‘free’ sign taped to them on the sidewalk for weeks before they were claimed and brought here.  And they were right next to a beautiful baby grand piano.  The carpet going up the stairs to the bedrooms was worn and so dirty I don’t know it had ever been vacuumed.  The bedrooms all had at least one bed, at least 2 musical instruments and rumpled everything.  By the time I came back downstairs and saw the picture I already knew: single dad and 4 teenage boys.  There probably wasn’t anything we couldn’t fix, it all looked like it just needed a lot of elbow grease, so we kept looking.  The family room had 6 or 8 dead animals mounted on the walls which wasn’t weird all by itself.  What was weird was that everything that had eyes was mounted to stare directly at the chair in front of the computer desk.  Deer, pheasant, small mammal so dusty I couldn’t identify it…all staring.  How could anyone work with all those dead eyes staring  right at you?!  I walked through the accusing eyes and opened the door to the garage where I saw the only clean, new rug in the house.  It sat proudly in the center of an empty garage with a gleaming, perfectly polished black Harley Davidson parked right in the middle.  I took a last turn around the kitchen and opened the pantry door to see how much actual storage space there was and found that last straw.  In the pantry was a monitor with a live feed from cameras mounted on each external wall of the house.  So you can make dinner while watching all approaches to your house.  I don’t have to live in a neighborhood that requires me to spend more money on a security system than on all the combined furniture in my house.  I’m really grateful I have that choice.

Double 41s And A Squatter

Our realtor was away so she got us a sitter to see a few more houses.  We headed up to the house we wanted to view and waited in the driveway for her to join us.  Eventually she sent a text asking if we were lost.   After a ‘who’s on first’ text conversation that almost gave me a nosebleed, we discovered that there were TWO houses with the address 41 on streets with the same name but one of them was ‘Place’ and one was ‘Street’.  After I mapped the address she was at, we walked the half block to where she was waiting for us.  The house was not the one we were excited about, but cost a lot less money so we thought we’d look around anyway.  There were hardwood floors and a 6ft free standing painting of a boat in the living room.  There was a 15 ft concrete wedge that separated the back yard from the neighbors yard and the concrete folded into what looked like a bomb shelter attached to the basement.  I went down to investigate with our backup realtor and walked into a wall of cigarette smoke so thick I thought I was going to get addicted to nicotine on the spot.  In the dimly lit basement was a wall of windows, a backpack and a tidy bedroll ready to be used.  Each of the rooms off the basement were closed and as our backup realtor opened the first one I thought to myself: “This is how horror movies start”, directly followed by “don’t be a weenie”.  I let her open each door and feel around for the light switch in each of the 5 rooms while I stayed where I could see the exits.  We didn’t find the squatter and we didn’t try to buy the house.  There wasn’t an actual bomb shelter, so I was too disappointed to buy it anyway.

The Farm House

It was a super long shot but we had to see it to be sure.  We knew it would need a lot of work because of the price but it might have been an epic opportunity.  It was a turn of the century farm house with all the cool built ins anyone could want, tons of space inside and half an acre outside.  It also had not one but two outbuildings that needed to be pulled down.  The property ran parallel to an active railroad line 10 feet beyond the fence.  And to make the decision even easier: everything inside would have to be fixed.  Never mind comfortable, it was so neglected it wasn’t livable.  The stairs to the bedrooms were so broken I’m surprised they let people walk on them without signing a liability waiver.  If we had buckets of money it would have been worth it.  That house is going to be gorgeous if it gets restored.  Without those buckets of money though, it would be a horrible reenactment of The Money Pit.

So the hunt continues.

Stay Tuned for Episode 3: Wherein our intrepid house hunters discover that ‘low inventory’ is the new code word for playing Calvin ball with housing in Portland Oregon.

Epilogue

Our realtor is buying  a lion.  Several of the houses we looked at had mounted heads or antlers.  One of them had a pair of deer heads and a series of antlers.  I mentioned offhandedly that if I had them I’d need to hang Christmas lights from them.   She responded: “I’m buying a stuffed lion from a antique shop for my bar.  I’m going to call it Mittens and dress it up for holidays.  There’s an alcove above a couple of the booths that he’ll fit perfectly in”.

It sounded like a very strange decor choice right up until I thought about all the quirky things my favorite restaurants in Portland have:  Ghosts painted on the bathroom walls, trains around the top of the dining room, pie holes, voodoo donuts, it’s a long list really.  So: long afterlife to Mittens the bar lion.

Rafting Madness

I met a river monster who feeds only on terror, and he was charming.

I’ve been white water rafting a couple of times before.  Lovely excursions on a sunny day with friends and family.  Always group trips with a guide who knew what we were going to see and do.  At no stage in any of those trips was I afraid.  I may not be a water person, but I know how to swim.  I know that if I fall into the river, I should try and stand up in the water before I even start considering panic.  So this latest trip, occupied the same space in my head before we started.  A relaxing, fun day with friends on a beautiful river.  They didn’t tell me about the monster traveling the river feeding on the terror of the unsuspecting tourists.

Outside the rafters shop, we started off with a lecture about safety and gear as the cars whizzed by on the road 4 feet behind us.  I should have realized right then that something wasn’t right about the whole set up.  Who lectures people about safety while having them stand with their back to a rural highway?  2 steps backwards and their clients would be doing smashed strawberry snack-cake imitations.  I was lulled into a sense of security and amusement by all the safety gear we were required to wear: full wet suit, wet suit booties, splash jacket, life vest and helmet.  Who needs all that stuff to go down a river in a giant raft with a guide?  We all got our load of gear and suited up on the lawn.  I’m not sure theres anything that can make me feel more ungainly, awkward and cause serious adolescent flashbacks than trying to put on a wet suit on a green lawn filled with frigging teenagers showing off their bikinis.  But, whatever: white water rafting with friends who are funnier, wiser, kinder and wittier than teenagers ever were.  So, fully outfitted and quickly overheating in our rubber suits, we boarded an ancient school bus and headed to the river.

Off the bus in a sunny park, we heard another safety lecture from a stout man who could have bench pressed the school bus.  Two things were really clear: 1)The leading cause of head injuries on rafting trips is the oars of other rafters and 2) ‘Aggressive self rescue’ is a euphemism for ‘Don’t be an idiot, if you fall in the water, start swimming’.  And with those two gems, we trooped down to actual water.

Three minutes after splashing into the river I was grateful for my silly wetsuit and splash jacket.  The water was in fact glacial even on a warm sunny July day.  The first hour was a joyous ride down a river surrounded by high stone walls  and the most amazing variations on water color.  Blue into grey into green and eddying back to blue then bright white where the rapids reflected the sun.  There was no sound of traffic or crowds.  I forget how accustomed I am to city noises to until they’re completely gone.  I could actually hear the light breeze rustling through the trees on the riverside a few times.

The guide for our raft was a slim tall man with red hair and a well worn set of gear.  He was charming and sounded like he knew what he was doing.  He even pointed out interesting things about nature as we went past.  We listened to him with some interest right up until he explained that the pipe crossing over our heads was a migratory tunnel to support nocturnal woodchuck mating patterns.  After a hysterical story from one of my companions about carnivorous water mammals (told with a completely straight face) he stopped trying to convince us he was a wildlife expert.

We went through some fun rapids and cold water splashes before we pulled off with the other rafts onto a muddy section so we could talk about going over the falls.  Up until then, I was convinced that ‘the falls’ was just a slightly bigger rapid that the guides were legally obligated to talk about.  Yes, I saw the falls as we walked past, but I didn’t understand.  It didn’t occur to me that you would take a raft over a 15 foot waterfall on purpose.

As I listened to the third safety lecture, I started thinking that this was insane and by the end I was completely convinced.

“Going over the falls is risky” …That makes sense…

“If you fall out of the raft going over the falls, you should swim to safety” …That’s sensible…

“There will be people on the shore with ropes at the bottom of the falls.  If you need them, they’ll throw a rope and pull you to shore.” …That’s a good precaution, I approve of the forethought…

“If they look right at you and don’t throw the rope its because someone else needs the rope more than you do, you should swim yourself to shore (Aggressive self rescue)”  ...well that’s mildly concerning, how often does that come up I wonder….

”Be aware that water recirculates at the bottom of the falls and if you fall out of the raft and get sucked under, you could get recirculated with the water” …Well that sounds bad….

“The smaller you are, the more likely that is to happen“ …uh oh….

“The only way out in that circumstance is to tuck yourself into a ball and let the water shoot you out the bottom, don’t struggle”… oh sh*t, I’m gonna die…

I looked around at all the calm happy people and thought, they’re all relaxed, the guides do this literally twice a day, it’ll be fine.  I’m panicking for no good reason.

For the next ½ hour or so, we practiced the “procedure” for going over the falls as we went through smaller rapids.  When the guide said “Get Down!” we each grabbed the rope around the outside of the boat in the same hand as our paddle, jammed one foot over and one foot under a strap that ran under the inflatable support in front of us, then reached over the inflatable support behind us and grabbed the strap the people behind us were  holding with their feet as we moved our buts down to the bottom of the raft and assumed a sort of frantic upright fetal position.  The whole thing should only take a second or two to do as we rushed towards the falls because we’d be paddling right up to the last second to build up the speed that would keep our raft from flipping as we went over.

When we got to the calm just before the falls, all the rafts pulled off to one side to let the people who wanted to walk around the falls off at the shore.  Then our raft rowed across to the other side to act as a sight line for the other rafts.  From where we sat, we couldn’t really see the falls, we could just see the bridge over them and a little white froth where they had to start.  As we watched the first raft in our group raced towards the falls, I heard the guide yell ‘Get Down’ then they were gone.  And a second later, we saw 1…2…3 ropes arc into the sky towards people who had fallen out their raft.  The ropes that wouldn’t be deployed unless people couldn’t swim to shore.  As I sat there, I was seriously considering jumping out of the raft and swimming across the river so I could walk around the falls.  Because who goes over a waterfall in an inflatable raft with nothing but a twizzler stick of a paddle and a thousand year old life vest as their only defense on purpose?!  Only crazy people do that.  And as I took a second look to make absolutely sure the water where we were wasn’t strong enough to pull me into the falls, our grinning funny guide said ‘Let’s Go!’.

I glanced back at him and saw an inhuman grin on the guides face as he pulled a green mouth guard out of his pocket and popped it into his mouth.  Why did he need a mouthguard and why didn’t we need one?  What the h**l was about to happen.  And with that thought, more adrenaline shot into my brain.  Then we were paddling as hard as we could towards the falls.  Not away from the falls like sane people would: Toward the falls.  I heard the guide say ‘Get Down’ and grabbed the rope and the strap and slammed into the bottom of the boat and screamed.  Because what else can you do with that much adrenaline?

Screaming while going over a waterfall is fine, but if you’re still screaming when you hit the water at the bottom, you choke.  Important safety tip for someone else to learn from.  I hope I’ll never need to know that little nugget of wisdom again.  While I was still choking and sputtering and swearing my undying love for blessed oxygen, I popped up and started rowing with everyone else because there was a flipping boulder on one side at the bottom of the falls and we were headed right for it.  We hit it and sort of ground along it for a few feet before we were into the clear water on the other side.

We drifted for a little ways down the river then pulled off to pick up the smart person who’d decided to walk around the falls.  While we sat there, in the calm water I was shivering so hard the guide asked me if I was cold.  Nope, not cold.  Just the totally predictable shakes that come from being completely convinced for a few seconds that I was going to die a bubbly frothy white water death.  As I glanced back at the totally relaxed guide I felt a spike of ice go up my spine.  I’d been merrily rafting down the river with a mythical creature for hours and not suspected it.  He wasn’t frightening to chat with.  He’s really quite charming.  And of course, no one ever suspects a gawky ginger of being a monster that feeds on terror.

We drifted quietly downriver for  a while, there were a few more rapids, then we were pulling in to the shore and hauling the raft back to the bus.  We rode back to the shop and peeled the wetsuits off before heading towards town and food and normalcy and away from the ‘people’ who run the rafting tours.  The next group of rafters didn’t see us leaving because their backs were to the road, listening to the ‘safety talk’ as we drove away.  The guides were standing around, smiling, waiting for their trips to start and their next meal on the water.

You’ve been warned.  Travel the rivers at your own risk.

House Hunting Episode 1

Episode 1: It’s not an adventure yet.

Adventures are what you call it when the experience is over and you’re resting comfortably at home with a cold drink by a roaring fire.  It’s not an adventure yet.  Between getting our house ready for sale, selling it and now hunting for a new house, I feel like I’ve dropped off the planet into a bizarre parallel world that eats all of my non-work time with lunacy and bafflement, occasionally laced with nausea inducing stress. Between email and texts I’m drowning in messages about house madness while I scurry around trying to understand WTF is happening in this new dimension.  I keep expecting the red queen to appear and screech ‘Off with her head”.  I’ve been watching our realtor, Toni, since we started this journey and I’m pretty sure she’s our White Rabbit. We follow her from house to house as she checks her pocket watch (cleverly disguised as a cell phone) occasionally looking startled and saying we’re late to view the next house.

Several months ago, we had Toni visit and give us a list of all the things we could do to make our house more likely to sell.  Over the next 3 months we worked through all of them.  Box up all our books and bookcases and move them to the garage.  Repaint 4 rooms.  Touch up all the trim.  Finish the flooring in 2 rooms.  You get the idea.  For 3 months its what we spent every spare minute on.  The …exciting… part of the journey didn’t start until our realtor called us a month earlier than we’d planned and and told us that our neighborhood had a bubble that was increasing house prices.  If we could have our house on the market in the next week, we could take advantage of it.  In a mad scramble, we (mostly Kris) got everything finished and beautified by Friday then packed up the dogs and evacuated the house for a weekend so realtors could show the house any time over the next three days.

Over the next week, 60+ people walked through our house and left a stack of realtor cards 2 inches high.  Monday through the following Sunday, with less than an hour notice, we had to have the house spotless, then evacuate until the realtors were done showing their clients around.  Some very kind friends of ours housed our dogs for the entire week because the dogs couldn’t be home while people looked at the house.  Our cats, however, could be home and were the star attraction according to feedback our realtor got.

Friday afternoon Toni asked if I’d be willing to spend an hour on Sunday with a potential buyer answering her questions.  Yeah, that’s as weird as it sounds.  The prospective buyer seemed really  interested and maybe she was just a bit eccentric but she really wanted to meet the sellers and talk about the house.  After some hesitation, I agreed.

Sunday afternoon, an elderly lady with a written checklist and a silent male companion appeared on my door step.  She sent him to look around the house while she sat at my kitchen table and worked through her list.  I’m not sure how or even if the man was related to her because the only words I heard him say were ‘Hi kitty’ as he reached out to pet our cat Blix and ‘Yep’.  The single ‘Yep’ was after he’d looked at the plumbing, furnace, electrical and garage and she asked if everything looked good.  Then he left.  She stayed for another 45 minutes asking questions.  It was less weird than I thought – she’s got a health condition and she wanted to know ALL the things you need to know about your house.  Exact dimensions of rooms (she brought a tape measure and the exact size of her bed), where all the plugins are, what are all the trees and plants in the yard.  It was all normal stuff and she was planning ahead.

Sunday night we had 3 offers on our house and it had been on the market 9 days. .

With an accepted offer, the clock started ticking in our heads for finding a new house.  We’ve done this before so this time should be easier.  Not easy, but easier.  Fewer shocks to the system anyway because we know what to expect.

Wow, we were wrong about that.  I think Portland stopped taking her meds because her housing market is schizophrenic.  Or maybe just psychotic.  Yes, I know what those words mean, and no, I’m not using them inappropriately.

Next episode: Our intrepid hunters visit the Portland housing discard bin searching for a diamond in the rough.  Wherein ‘Keep Portland Weird’ derives new depths of meaning.