Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why am I surprised?

Written 25 August 2008

We’re travelling again. The Honda is still in the shop, but Bertha has recovered (and at about half of what we expected to pay) so she was our chariot to the airport early Friday afternoon.

Even though we don’t live in the US, we still have to deal with airport security. Just like in American airports, we have to queue up, put our hand luggage through an x-ray unit, and step through metal detectors before being allowed to enter a boarding lounge. And so it happened, a queue of impatient people gathering behind me wanting to get to their boarding gates, and I beeped going through the metal detector. The unsmiling guard directed me to “wait right here” until a female security agent could search me.

I retrieved my handbag from the x-ray machine and the guard scowled at me, so I returned to the spot he had designated for me to wait. A few seconds later a smiling black woman approached me and began to pat me down. And suddenly I was jostled…first lightly, then firmly…and then I was shoved most unceremoniously by a scrawny little hunched over man who was muttering something about me being in his way…as if I had chosen to park myself in his path…and as if he couldn’t see a large uniformed black woman running her hands all over my body. And it really wasn’t that I was in his way…I was exactly where I was supposed to be…he simply was unwilling to stay in his own line to the end of the x-ray conveyor and was trying to go around the people who were taking their turns. Unfortunately for him, the security agent has stationed my not inconsiderable bulk beside his queue for her search.

“That was really rude!” I said to the security agent, who appeared to be as surprised as I was, but the culprit ignored me. Like a twitching little weasel, he scurried over to the end of the x-ray machine and began collecting items, at one point reaching his arm across my husband’s body to retrieve something…Hubby was collecting our hand luggage, his pocket goods, and our laptop from the end of the x-ray machine while I was being patted down by security. Nothing that even vaguely resembled an apology came out of his pursed lips, either to me or Hubby.

The security lady finally decided it was probably the underwires in my bra and waved me onward. We headed down the concourse and found our boarding lounge, only to find Mr. Weasel already there. Being in our boarding lounge signified he was booked on our flight and, since we had at least half an hour until boarding, it was obvious that his ill-mannered rush at security was not motivated by an urgent need to make a departing plane, it was just self-centred boorishness. I found myself hoping the little weasel would try shoving his way past one of the bullishly built rugby fans that were on our flight to Durban as we queued up to board, but they called us to board by row numbers, so the gnomish Mr. Weasel was unfortunately able to board unmolested.

Three hours later, we were deplaning in Durban. Ordinarily, Hubby and I wait until the plane is nearly empty before we leave our seats and take down our carry on luggage, and this was no exception. As we were seated in the 24th of 29 rows, it wasn’t long before the traffic past our seat thinned to a trickle and I stepped up to take our bags from the overhead bin (I was in the aisle seat). I try to be as polite a person as I can, so I did not step into the aisle and block it, but unbeknownst to me, my handbag was protruding out into the aisle. Instead of calling it to my attention, a sturdily built blonde woman tried to shove past me, nearly knocking me over. In a struggle to keep my balance, I thrust myself back upright…causing my bag to protrude back out into the aisle…and she said, testily “I’m trying to get past!” Well, I’m sorry, but the plane isn’t going to take off again with you still on it and a simple “Excuse me, you are blocking the aisle with your handbag,” would have resulted in an immediately cleared aisle and an apology!

Ironically, ShoveyPushy Woman and I met again at the baggage carousel where my bags were among the first out and hers…well who knows when hers showed up? There was no need for her great hurry, no reason for her rude pushiness, other than an urgent desire to get out of the plane before some people in the aisles ahead of her.

The return was no better. My husband, an ordinarily laid-back sort of gent who is normally difficult to ruffle, actually left our seats to go stand near the boarding gate because of an uncommonly annoying boy. He looked to be about 12…certainly old enough to know how to behave in a public place…and he had a soccer ball in a plastic shopping bag. He wandered up and down in front of our row of seats, his parents completely oblivious, kicking that soccer ball through the bag. Since the bag was in his hand, the ball did not leave the vicinity, giving us some respite. No, the ball never moved more than a few inches, allowing him to kick it over and over and over again. Thwack thud thwack thud thwack thud…endlessly.

Hubby and I took up a position near the boarding gate and turned our backs on the annoyance. A few minutes later a black soccer ball rolled past, and a few minutes after that, I saw the ball impact the shoulder of a fellow passenger. Hubby moved us again while I kept a jaundiced eye on that ball. The boy was bouncing it off one of the support pillars of the building, completely ignored by his family: his parents were reading and his teenaged sister, badly bleached blonde and dressed in obscenely tight white capris, a pink and black designer top (at least it said Chanel on the front) and a white bra…the straps were tackily exposed by the racer-back design of her shirt…was busily picking the zits on her face.

Because the support pillars were cylindrical, the kid was unable to anticipate where the ball was going to rebound to and, as a result, the ball was akin to an unguided missile. As it sailed past us on one occasion I leaned to Hubby and said “If that ball hits either of us, it’s mine!” He nodded, obviously as weary of the kid’s antics as I was.

Durban is a hot and humid place and even though the boarding lounge was air conditioned, it was muggy and uncomfortable in there. Boarding was delayed by half an hour, so passengers were grumpy and restless, and when they began boarding the plane by seat number, people began to queue up in anticipation of their number being called. I kept looking out the window onto the tarmac (there are no jetways at Durban’s airport) trying to find the distinctive bright green paint job of a Kulula plane, but despite a steady stream of people walking out the boarding gate and out of sight to the right, I could not locate our aircraft. A wholly irrational frisson of fear trilled down my spine…or sort of a Twilight Zone moment…as I watched fellow passengers file confidently out the door into the unknown.

Our turn came and we made our way out the door and turned right. Somehow I had expected to see the distinguishing green of a Kulula plane out there, but nothing. “Where’s our plane?” I asked Hubby. He nodded towards a blue and white 737 to which the passengers from our lounge were streaming. “That must be it.”

It had nothing on it! Just white paint over dark blue. No insignia, no company name, nothing at all. To call it “nondescript” would be banal, but that is exactly what it was. There was no way to tell if it was a commercial plane, a privately-owned jet, or a government craft. That frisson of fear tickled my spine again, this time feeling not quite so irrational.

When we took our seats the first thing I noticed was how hot the plane was. I reached up to adjust the little air-blower thingie and encountered a solid clear plastic panel covering the reading lights and no air nozzles. A flight attendant was standing nearby and I asked her how to adjust the air…she reached up to the plastic panel, bumped her hand on it, did a double take, then said “I guess they don’t have them on this aircraft.” Very comforting thought…the flight attendant doesn’t know how our airplane works…

No air conditioning…29 rows of 6 passengers each…174 souls plus crew crammed into a narrow aluminium cigar sitting on the black tarmac of the Durban…hot, humid Durban…airport and the air conditioning doesn’t come on until the plane is underway. What genius thought that up? OK, granted the plane’s designers couldn’t know it would sit on the tarmac in sweltering conditions, but whatever made them think that 174 people of varying sizes, shapes and metabolisms would be comfortable at a single uniform temperature and only then after the plane was fully boarded and under way? Calling them unthinking morons would seem to be an understatement.

We were seated in aisle 12…an exit row. Why didn’t the check-in agent ask us if we would take exit row seats? OK, Hubby is a sturdy fellow who can easily lift the 45 lb (20kg) emergency door and the emergency rows do have more leg room, but at what cost? For one thing my handbag…with my money, ID, good jewellery, and diabetic emergency supplies for Hubby…was not allowed under the seat ahead of me like on normal rows. I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable with my handbag being stowed in a place easily accessed by a lot of strangers. Secondly, the seats in our row did not recline, which made for a very uncomfortable flight. And third, the plane was absolutely booked full, so we were stuck with these seats as there was no place to which to move us.

The plane was full of rugby fans who had flown to Durban for a game against Australia. South Africa lost, but it didn’t stop the guys from drinking and carousing as if we had won. SoccerBoy was someplace else on the plane, thankfully, but the rugby okes did their best to make up for his absence, the thrumming silence of the plane frequently broken by loud yips and yells. I tried to sleep but between the stiffly upright seat, the inability to regulate the temperature, the turbulence, and the sound effects from the rugby crowd, all I could do was doze. By the time we got to Cape Town I was exhausted, cranky, and had a stiff neck.

Bertha was waiting for us where we left her and sinking into her cushy leather seats was an unmitigated delight. The doggies were hysterical with joy at our return and it was with great relief I sank down into the comfort of my own bed. After a solid night’s sleep I was back to my own cheerful self, but now I find myself wondering…

Why do I continue to expect even the barest of courtesies from people I meet outside my house? Do I set myself up for disappointment by expecting people to wait their turn, politely ask me to step aside if I am blocking their progress, restrain their children from being public nuisances? Should I expect this kind of rudeness as a matter of course now? And if I do, won’t that turn me into a dour old cynic…someone I find miserable, pathetic and pitiable?

What has happened to the barest minimum of courtesy and politeness in public? And why, after all these years, do I continue to be surprised when confronted with the rude and uncivil?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Symbols and dreams and the life within

It’s no secret that my mother and I had a poor relationship…toxic, in fact. But I spent five years in therapy and she has been dead for at least ten years now, so you’d think it would be over, right? At least I thought it was over. But last night I had a disturbing dream and this morning I am struggling to puzzle it out.

Some facts from my childhood that have bearing on the dream:

My parents were divorced (for the second time) when I was ten years old. My mother made my brother and I choose which parent we wanted to live with. My younger brother chose her, I chose our father. My mother insisted we make this choice even though she knew the court would give custody of both of us to her. This labelled me a traitor and my brother the fair-haired boy.

In our post-divorce household, the only alarm clock in the house was in my room. I was designated the one to awaken first, figure out ways to get my sluggard brother out of bed, make breakfast and pack lunches for the two of us and, as my last act before walking out the door to school, awaken my mother and make sure she was out of bed before my brother and I left. We had to be quiet…waking her before it was time for her to get up was an offence punishable by a beating (quite literally), so I was thrown upon my own devices for solving problems or risk a beating if Mother did not think the problem was sufficient to awaken her early.

Mother was capricious, but not in a good way. What she considered funny and cute on Monday was, inexplicably, worthy of a beating on Wednesday, and fodder for complaining to her friends about how difficult her life was on Saturday. I seldom knew what was acceptable or not, especially when it came to approaching her. I considered my mother completely random, so bringing a problem to her had equal chances of being perceived as something worthy of her attention and worthy of a beating for bothering her with stuff I should be handling myself. Going to my mother for anything was fraught with peril. I got a beating for outgrowing my dresses, I got a beating for having holes in the bottoms on my only pair of shoes, I got a beating when my brother misbehaved because I, as the oldest one, was expected to make him behave (never mind he was bigger than I was). I was afraid of my mother and avoided her as much as possible.

I never talked back to my mother. I was terrified of her, and to say anything that she might interpret as a criticism or retort was to invite punishment. While a thin leather dog leash…“the strap”…was the most popular instrument of discipline, other things would unexpectedly turn up as punishment…giving my pet animals away, giving my toys away, refusing to allow me to go to a Girl Scout meeting (I was eventually dropped for poor attendance), rescinding permission to attend a school choir performance in which I was the featured soloist… I was very careful to keep my mouth shut around her and stay as much out of sight as possible, lest I inadvertently open the door to new and more devastating retribution.

I married at 17 and left home, never to return. Mother and I often went years without speaking to each other, sometimes not even knowing where the other one was. We never shared a roof after I moved out, nor did we ever share any possessions…my mother did not share, she simply took from me what she wanted and handed down to me what she did not. My needs were immaterial in the face of what she wanted me to have…or not have.

And so I found myself dreaming that I was going to be late for work because I couldn’t find the keys to my car. I searched the whole house until I happened to look out a window and saw them hanging on the branch of the tree that was growing outside the window.

I reached out the window, straining to grab them, but they were just out of reach. They were hung on a new shoot, fairly green and tender, and I surmised they would just fall into my hand, if only I could reach them.

I went outside, but it was quickly apparent that they were even further out of reach from outside the house.

I went back inside and asked my brother if he could reach them. He looked out the window and shrugged “Why should I?” he asked.

“Because I’ll be late for work,” I replied.

“Not my problem,” he said with a shrug and walked away.

I was standing at the door to a bedroom, pondering if I should open it or not. I really needed those keys, but waking my mother up was always a risky thing. She had had the car last and she had somehow been able to put those keys on the tree limb, so she should be able to get them back down. My reasoning was impeccable, but it didn’t assuage the cold knot of terror that choked off my breath. Slowly I opened the door.

Mother was asleep on her side, a white blanket pulled up to her chin. I gently shook her shoulder. “Mother, I need your help.”

One green eye flicked open. “What it so important that you’re waking me up?” she asked sharply.

I started to hyperventilate. “The car keys…you left them on a branch and I can’t reach them. I need them or I’ll be late for work.”

“Oh, for crying in the apple orchard,” she said with a sneer, her eyes rolling. “Can’t you do anything yourself?”

Reaching out her bedroom window she snatched the keys from the limb and clapped them forcefully into my hand. “Now, can I get some sleep, for god’s sake?” she asked and stomped huffily back to bed.

I stood there holding the keys, looking at the branch, and suddenly realized that the house keys were on the rings as well as the car keys. And the peril we had been in…anybody could have climbed that tree and had access not only to the car, but to the house as well, while we slept obliviously through the invasion.

A rage came over me…how dare she endanger us all in such a cavalier fashion? My fear of her falling away with this realisation, I clutched the keys tightly and shouted at her sleeping form.

“Don’t you ever leave these keys outside again! We could all have been killed! If this ever happens again, I won’t let you use my car, you’ll have to get your own!”

She did not stir.

Still furious, I ran down the hall, snatched up my handbag and ran to the front door. Snatching it open, I came to an abrupt halt. There, at the curb where my car should be, was a car I didn’t recognize. It was an old…perhaps a mid-1980s model…Ford Grenada. The paint, an almost iridescent purplish midnight blue, looked new but the rest of the car was a mess. Excesses of chrome hung off the body, flashing brightly in the morning light but dented and falling off the car. The seats were sagging and soiled and when I sat behind the wheel, I could barely see over it. The car was old and dented, tarnished and tawdry, and it wasn’t mine…but when I fit the key into the ignition and turned it, the car started with a mighty roar.

I put the car in gear and drove away without a look backwards.

Dream Symbol Definitions from

automobile The means by which you move forward in your life, the context within which you grow personally and learn your life lessons;Your personal integrity and the "sum of all our parts" (our knowledge, intentions, abilities, etc.) at the time of the dream. Your car being stolen can represent a feeling that someone or something is trying to compromise your integrity, take advantage of you, or take something that belongs to you—in a dishonest, sneaky, or manipulative way.

blaming Blaming someone can represent an effort to understand a situation or identify the cause, or an unwillingness to take responsibility for events in your own life. Suing someone would be an extreme example of blaming.

blue Royalty or distinction, honesty or sincerity (as in "true blue"), average or "regular" (as in "blue jeans" or "blue collar"), relaxation, or spirituality

broken object A broken or damaged object can represent a less than perfect, impaired, less effective, ineffective, or useless version of whatever the object represents. For example, a broken steering wheel in a your car could mean you're feeling less than effective at staying on track in your life right now. A broken or damaged wedding ring could mean you're feeling that your marriage is going through challenges and could use some "repair."

keys Your self-identity and personal power. Losing your keys can represent compromising yourself or giving away your personal power somehow in your life, or possibly shirking responsibility for yourself.

late Arriving late for something can mean: Whatever you are late for in the dream represents something very important to you in real life; You're neglecting a responsibility; You'd like to avoid the thing you're late for, you're dreading it, or you're afraid of failure; You're feeling passive-aggression towards an authority that is represented by whatever you're late for; You feel you have too much on your mind or on your schedule, or that you're feeling disorganized; Being late and feeling bad about it can mean you are experiencing or fearing a loss of control, or of being controlled by outside circumstances, somehow in your life.

midnight The end of one time period or beginning of a new one

Mother Your real-life mother, an authority or caretaker figure (such as your employer), or your spiritual parent (God); The idea of motherhood, motherly qualities, or parenthood in general

purple The color purple can mean a sense of royalty or distinction, fun, richness of life, or a sense of individuality and not afraid to be yourself and express yourself.

reaching for Reaching for an object or person can represent: Wanting or needing the object or person; Wanting to achieve something that object or person represents; Thoughts or intent of certain actions (kindness, aggression, etc.)—consider the intention behind the act of reaching

tree Life. A tall, healthy tree is often a symbol of a flourishing, vibrant life. Consider also what comes to mind when you think of the particular tree, and the state and setting of the tree.

window Your view of the world around you, or how you view or perceive people, events, and situations in your life.

workplace Your work or job, even if the dream workplace doesn't represent real life. The idea of working, being productive, being forced to do work, or the idea of a job in general (having or not having one, needing one, getting one)

Monday, August 18, 2008

If bad things really do come in threes, then it’s time for me to find a rock to hide under…

On Wednesday evening my husband was scheduled to take an evening flight to Joburg for a two day sojourn at corporate HQ. So, being the organized sort that I am, I scheduled us a trip to Canal Walk, the big mall, to run all the little before-travel errands…like refilling his prescriptions for insulin and other meds…for Tuesday evening. Since the mall is open until 9 but the little local shops close at 5 we decided to stop by the aquarium shop on the way to the mall and collect some new filter fluff and a few new snails to graze the algae off the glass. Imagine our surprise when we returned to the car, bagged snails and aquarium filter fluff in hand, and Bertha wouldn’t start!

For the edification of new readers, Bertha (pronounced “BEAR-tah”) is my Mercedes ML430, a great lumbering beast of a car that has enough cargo space to actually carry a refrigerator…we carried one just a few weeks ago to our maid’s place for her, and I’m not talking a puny little bar fridge, either! Hubby has the spiffy little petrol-sipping 2 litre sports car, I have the massive gas-guzzling cargo hauler…she may be a luxury SUV to you, but I use her like a bakkie (mini pickup truck). Why? Because we need a car that will seat the whole family when the family comes to visit, but will haul bricks and trees and bags of compost and mountains of groceries and bookcases…and refrigerators…in everyday use. No, a double-cab bakkie would not have worked…Hubby’s grandmother is 80 years old and frail…we’re not cramming her into the back of a bakkie!

Lest anyone get frothy about the lips about my fuel-sucking automobeast, however, allow me to point out that I seldom use more than a single tank of fuel a month...considerably less than the average commuter…because I don’t drive that much and when I do, a round trip is usually less than 10km (1.6km = 1 mile).

So Tuesday evening saw us stranded in the parking lot in the winter twilight, shops closing all around us, the darkness rapidly gathering. My friend Sally came and picked us up and, after an hour of searching documents and the internet, we finally found a telephone number for the Roadside Assistance for our insurance…why isn’t it prominently displayed on their website??? We hopped into The Pretty Baby, hubby’s sports car, and returned to the parking lot where Bertha sat alone in the dark.

While waiting for the tow truck, Hubby stuck the key into Bertha’s ignition and turned it and, to our amazement, the car started! He tried it several times and each time the car kicked over. When the tow truck arrived, however, another attempt at starting the car failed. The engine cranked and cranked, but it did not catch. Off Bertha went to the tow truck company’s impound yard where she would spend the night and then be carted off to the nearest Mercedes dealership.

The following day the dealership gave us an estimate of R3000 ($400) to replace the crankcase sensor. The day after that I was delighted to hear from Mercedes that the job was done, the bill was only R1750 ($233) and they were delivering the car to my house! They took my credit card info over the phone and just an hour later Bertha arrived, freshly washed and sparkling clean.

Hubby was in Joburg all this time, the Baby tucked away in a parking garage at the airport. I can’t shift with my left hand (we sit on the wrong side of the car, here, and drive on the wrong side of the road…it’s too much to add shifting with the wrong hand, too!) so he didn’t bother to leave The Baby home for me to drive while he was away. But Friday night finally arrived and at 9:30 I got the customary SMS “Arrived safely,” which meant he’d be home in half an hour. I got up and started tidying things in anticipation of his arrival.

Half an hour later, just about the time I expected him to come through the door, my cell phone rang. It was my husband.

“Dear,” he said, “I’ve got a little wrinkle here and I’m going to be home late.”

Late? It was after 10 already! “What kind of wrinkle?” I asked him, suddenly worried.

“My car won’t start,” he replied. I was dumbstruck.

He and some fellows at the airport tried jumper cables but no go. Eventually they pushed the car and Hubby was able to start it by popping the clutch. The battery was well and truly dead. He was able to get home and put the car in the garage whereupon he shut the engine off and then, just to test it, turned the key again. Deader than a doornail.

Of course, by this time it was after 11 pm and you can be sure that there was nobody hanging around at our preferred Honda dealer. It wasn’t until Monday morning that he was able to contact the dealership and it won’t be until tomorrow morning that they’ll come to collect her.

So, two identical car breakdowns in a single week. Both of our cars are top-of-the-line for their makes (at least as sold in South Africa), both are regularly maintained. I am now sitting here waiting for the other shoe to drop…so far only two disasters have befallen us and I dread to think what might be the third.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I didn’t cry when my husband died

It was the worst kind of phone call…the kind you dread, without even knowing it.

My husband was in the hospital after suffering chest pains but being cleared of having a heart attack. In the morning he was scheduled for additional tests to determine what was causing his pain, nausea, and dreadful pallor. I came to spend the evening with him in the cardiac unit but at 7:30 he said he was tired and needed a nap, so he would see me when I came to visit him in the morning. He kissed me goodbye and told me he loved me. I kissed him back and told him that I loved him and I would be back first thing in the morning.

I never saw him alive again.

It was 9:30 and I had just gotten off the phone with my daughter, telling her that we should come to the hospital the following evening to visit. His mother was planning to be there, and I needed some moral support in the face of my judgmental, hypercritical French mother-in-law. After putting down the phone I stood up and started for the bathroom, more than ready for a long, hot shower, but the phone rang before I could get to the end of the bed. Expecting my daughter again, or perhaps my MIL, I sat back down, picked up the phone, and gave the cheeriest hello I could muster in my increasingly exhausted, worried state.

“Hello?” came a weak, soft, hesitant voice. “Hello, is this Mrs. Smith?”

My heart stopped and my stomach shrank into a cold little knot…already I knew. “Yes, this is Mrs. Smith. Who am I speaking with?”

In badly broken English this timorous voice stammered and stumbled around the point. It was the hospital calling, I was able to deduce, but my caller was not making herself clear. After several repetitions of what sounded like “we did what we could” and “we are very sorry,” I finally couldn’t take the suspense any longer.

“Are you telling me that my husband died?” I blurted out.

“Yes,” came the timid little voice.

The earth stopped spinning.

“How did this happen?” I finally demanded, an eternity having passed. From a place detached from my own self, I could feel that my toes were ice cold and the feeling was creeping inexorably upward in spite of the late July heat.

“Do you want to see him?” the little voice inquired. I realized I had an iron grip on the receiver and my hands felt frozen. Time seemed to have slowed to a crawl.

“I’ll be right there,” I said and slowly, numbly put down the phone.

I felt paralyzed, frozen. My insides dissolved into a quivering mass of jelly and this queer, trembly feeling enveloped me, rather like the time I fainted so many years ago after giving blood. I steadied myself on the bedside table and told myself to breathe…breathe….breathe. I had to call his mother and it was something I dreaded even more than going to the hospital and confirming the unthinkable news I had just received.

It was nearly ten by the time I could call her.
“’Allo?” she asked imperiously, her accent undimmed by more than fifty years in America. “’Allo? Who eez dees?”

I opened my mouth to speak but my throat closed into a hard knot, no sound escaping. I gasped a few times, trying to respond to her increasing annoyance, but to no avail.

What could I say? How do you tell an 80-year-old woman that her 50-something son has just died unexpectedly? The doctors had assured us just hours before that it wasn’t a heart attack and they would run tests in the morning to come up with a confirmed diagnosis…we shouldn’t worry, we should go home, rest, and come back in the morning to be supportive.

“He died,” I finally gasped out, and heard a sharp intake of breath.

“What?” she demanded. “What deed you zay?”

A shaky, reedy version of my voice, unrecognizable to my own ears, replied “The hospital just called. Chuck passed away. I am on my way there now…”

“What? What?” she was almost screaming. “What are you telling me? Shuck hass died?”

“Maman,” I tried to soothe her but my voice was breaking and cracking. “I don’t know what happened. I have to go to the hospital to find out. The doctor who called me could barely speak English. I will call you when I know something.”

“But what heppened?” she asked, her voice calmer. “I t'ot he wass going to be hokay?”

“I don’t know,” I told her, calmer myself. “I will call you when I do.”

I sat by his bedside. He looked asleep. I touched his still-warm hand, as huge and strong-looking as ever, and fondled his wedding on my thumb where it kept slipping off. He was a big man, nearly six and a half feet tall and built like Paul Bunyan. His wedding ring was a size 16, his hands dwarfed my own. I had always loved his hands, so strong yet dextrous enough to sew a log cabin quilt for his first grandchild’s birth.

Without thinking, I smoothed the blanket and pulled it up to his chin, as if it would keep him warm. I kissed his lips gently, they were soft and resilient and I felt the faint tickle of his moustache for the last time. Never again would I see the flash of his deep, boyish dimples, the twinkling moss-green eyes. My mind knew that it was over…he was was over. But something within me remained cold and paralyzed.

It was nine days before he was buried. I demanded an autopsy because the hospital claimed he had not had a heart attack yet the attending doctor wrote on the death certificate that he died of cardiac disease. What did that mean? For days I ferried his mother around, made funeral arrangements, scoured the house for financial documents, found his will, and stared blankly at walls.

I did not sleep.

I did not cry.

Food revolted me. I could drink water. I could drink cold soda. But the smell of food made my stomach turn over and threaten to leap out of my mouth. I had to keep the windows rolled up in the car lest I smell something foodish and be overwhelmed with sudden nausea.

I borrowed the money to pay for his funeral. I designed the memorial card and had it printed. I called people and told them when and where the funeral was going to be.

I began sleeping an hour or two a night. On his side of the bed. In his nightshirt. Comforting our little dog who had finally realized he was gone.

My best friend Helen came over and asked me when I last ate. I couldn’t remember. She went to the store and came back with a small container of cottage cheese, knowing how much I ordinarily liked it. I managed to choke down two bites before nausea claimed me. I was able to keep it down, but it sat in my stomach like a lump of clay for the rest of the day.

Finally it was time to bury him. His daughter, whom I had never met, came to the funeral, instantly recognizable by her big moss-green eyes. They had been estranged for the entire twelve years he and I had been together. “I thought I had more time…” she kept saying. “I thought I had more time…” She cried. I patted her shoulder comfortingly, my own eyes dry and burning. I had slept no more than a few hours since his death nine days earlier. I felt like a column of ice, frozen, rigid, fragile.

He was buried next to his second wife. We threw roses into the grave. His mother cried. My daughter cried. I could only clench my fists and my jaw until they hurt, my throat closed tightly, my eyes dry as the Namib.

He had been a widower when I met him, five years widowed when we married. He had bought a double plot when Brenda died and I saw no reason not to use it. Sadly, there was no stone over Brenda’s grave, so I determined to have one made for her when I ordered his. My mind drifted as I stood at the grave in the hot August sun, clad from head to toe in black. I was so cold my fingers should have been blue.

“Let’s go get something to eat,” his brother said. His brother, a millionaire several times over, had grudgingly loaned me the money to bury my husband…and only at his mother’s insistence. Now, Chuck was safely tucked beneath the mountain of flowers and wreaths and Armand assumed command of the family, his mother ever ready to excuse his discourtesy, his disrespect, his unashamed avarice. He looked pointedly at me, “Let’s go have lunch…I’ll pay.” His voice was condescending.

I gave him a wan smile and, thanking him for his kindness, I declined. “I’m very tired,” I told him. “I must go home and rest.”

I lay down on the bed…on his side of the bed…and waited for the tears to come. Surely now that he was buried I could cry? The numbness felt like it was a part of me now, my muscles were sore from their extended rigidity, my neck so stiff I could barely turn myhead. Curled on my side clutching his pillow, I waited for something…anything…to happen.

I fell asleep.

Twenty hours later I awakened and my stomach grumbled. In the refrigerator I found the cottage cheese that Helen had bought me and was able to eat three or four bites before I felt sick. I had not eaten for ten days.

My eyes could suddenly see the state of disarray the house had fallen into and, like a mad woman, I fell into a cleaning frenzy. Even the dog, to her dismay, got a bath. I washed clothes, I mopped floors, I disinfected the bathrooms, scrubbed countertops, and vacuumed with a vengeance. Anything to keep my mind occupied.

Eventually I had to return to work. I had to drive past the cemetery on my way, so every evening I stopped, walked through the green lawns until I came to his grave. Every day I spoke to him and waited for the leaden feeling in my chest to release, waited for the tears. Every day I went home dry-eyed.

Five weeks after he died I had a dream. It was more like a visitation, actually, than a dream. He was lying in the hospital bed, the pale terra cotta coverlet pulled up to his chin, his body pale and rigid in death. And yet he spoke to me; I could clearly hear his voice and feel his arms protectively around me. “You’re going to be fine,” he said. “Everything will be ok.”

I felt comforted by the dream, but still, I did not cry.

The headstones were delivered after six weeks. A black granite stone with gold inscriptions for him, a pink granite stone engraved with a rose for Brenda. When she died, he bought a double plot and couldn’t afford a headstone. When he died, I didn’t have to buy a plot, so I could afford two headstones. It seemed like the right thing to do.

I stopped driving my little black sport truck and began driving his cherry-red minivan. I moved to his side of the bed and took over his pillows. I wore his nightshirts instead of my gowns. I bought a long gold chain and threaded it through his wedding ring and wore it around my neck. I kept his picture on the nightstand, I used his towels in the bathroom, I despaired of living without him. But life went on and I had to, so I did.

One afternoon, driving home from work, I realized that I had not heard music in months. Chuck and I enjoyed country music and had a large collection of CDs and tapes and often sang along as we zipped through the countryside. We were not fully prepared for the 12 hour drive to Oregon to visit my father until we had a carefully chosen selection of music to accompany us. Without thinking, I turned on the CD player and a mournful country ballad came pouring from the speakers and without warning my throat closed up, my nose became congested and my eyes spouted tears.

Unable to see through the tears, I pulled over to the side of the road and sat in a silent agony as the ice around my heart turned to an expanding mass of throbbing pain. I didn’t cry, at least not in the sense of sobbing, but tears ran uncontrollably down my cheeks and I actually began to drool a bit because my throat was so tight I couldn’t swallow. I found a tissue…and turned off the music…and within a few minutes I was back on the road.

Over the next few weeks I realized I couldn’t play music if I was alone. The presence of others would keep the waterworks at bay, but alone I would dissolve into this peculiarly paralyzed kind of crying…closed throat, rigid body, tears flooding from beneath closed lids...but only for a moment. Sometimes at home I would feel a sudden, overwhelming sensation of being light-headed and on the verge of fainting as tears unexpectedly poured down my cheeks, only to have it over a few seconds later, leaving me with a headache from my clenched jaw and suddenly overstuffed sinuses.

It’s been years now. I never did really cry. I’ve moved on, remarried, sold our house and moved away. I can talk about Chuck as if he just lived down the street…he and my new husband would have liked each other a great deal. My new husband is a good man and talks with me about Chuck as if he were a mutual friend.

But there are times…last week was the anniversary of his death and burial. He came to me in another dream, smiling and laughing, his dimples flashing, his moss green eyes a twinkle. “I told you it would be ok,” he laughed. “I told you.”

Later in the day I remembered the dream and I felt the familiar tightening in my throat. My eyes grew moist.

But still, I did not cry.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

It’s official…you’re fat!

From the news: Parents of overweight British school children will soon be receiving letters from their local schools informing them that their children are overweight.

I dunno about you, but if I got a letter from the school telling me my kid is fat, I’d be pissed and the school would hear about it on no uncertain terms!

Sending me such a letter would imply that I cannot see that my child is overweight…what next, a letter telling me my child is white? …or has blue eyes? …or belongs to one gender or another? Aren’t some things just patently obvious?

Maybe by the voodoo charts a kid is overweight, but do we all have to ascribe to those charts? In an era when everyone seems to be obsessed with skeletal thinness, what is to say the charts aren’t skewed in favour of current trends? Some years back the charts were simply changed and I went from “normal” weight to “overweight” without gaining an ounce. Who says one chart fits all and I have to agree that protruding rib bones is healthy?

Everyone, especially children, need a little fat. You don’t have to like it, but it’s a fact. Nature selects for some meat (and fat) on the bones by giving fertility problems to women who are too thin. Humankind has suffered aeons of war and famine and pestilence that has left only those with an excess of adipose tissue left alive to breed. If it was natural to be wafer thin, then few of us would find it necessary to diet or even be concerned about our weight…our metabolism would zip right through those calories and leave us panting for more.

This is not to say that there are not overweight people among us…there are. But the obsession about other people’s weight is unhealthy, judgmental, and harmful, both to the judge and the judged.

One of the worst things about this campaign to letter-bomb the parents of podgy school kids all over Britain is that apparently the letters will not contain any kind of helpful information about getting the kids to shed some pounds. Basically, these are a kind of “Neener neener neener, your kid is a fat pig!” kind of communiqué to parents who probably already know Junior is on the porky side but don’t know what to do about it. As the mother of two thin kids and one fat one, I can attest to how difficult it is to get your ten-year-old to shed weight, and I’m not convinced that it is emotionally healthy for kid #3 to be constantly reminded about what goes in his mouth while kids #1 and 2 can eat anything they want in any quantities they want. You give a kid a complex about his weight and eating and you create an eating disorder.

So why aren’t the Brits including help info in the letters? Do you know how to get a child to slim down without impacting his nutrition or his self-esteem? Do you wire his jaws shut so he can’t eat at a friend’s house? Do you keep his pockets empty so he can’t buy a packet or two of chips on the way home from school? Do you give his siblings cookies for an after-school snack but give him something “healthy” like carrot sticks. Do you really think that will work? Or do you think your child will feel singled-out, picked-on? Are you going to put padlocks on the fridge and cupboard doors? Exactly how, once a parent is informed by the school that their child is a porker, does the parent go about remedying it, especially if the child would rather eat things that taste good than be thin?

The chief advocate of this intrusive nanny-state intervention is a cruelly insensitive busy body by the name of Tam Fry. He has been quoted in the media with such gems as the following “We have gone past the stage of being nice, we have got to bring people up short and tell parents, your child is obese do something about it or it will die before you do.” IT? He is referring a human being as “it”? The gender-neutral pronoun “it” is specifically intended to be used in non-human references; for humans we have “he,” “she,” and “they.” Referring to a human as “it” is pointedly dehumanizing. Is this what Fry thinks of overweight kids…they aren’t human? Mr. Fry also advocates using the word “obese” in letters to parents, despite the Department of Health stating that research has shown using the term “obese” risks alienating parents, and turning them off from the key message. Fry’s comment: “I find this whole approach from the Department of Health a bit prissy and namby pamby.” ( Well, bravo Mr. Fry: who cares if the parents get the message as long as it is couched in the most brutal and cringe-inducing words available? Why worry about people’s feelings when you’ve got a cudgel close at hand?

Something not addressed by any party in this debate…or even by the media…is the school yard repercussions. What happens when the letters arrive home and the word gets back to the school yard? This affects more than the overweight kids and their parents, this affects the thinner kids as well. The letters are supposed to contain the child’s BMI (Body Mass Index)…will kids with the lowest BMIs become the playground Poshes and Nicoles? Will the efforts of the program be hijacked by the schoolyard social engineers to provide incontrovertible proof of worth, those with the lowest BMI having the greatest envy factor?

I can see it now…one preteen girl to another: “You want to join our clique? Where’s your BMI letter?” and then “Ewwwww! 21! Ewwwww! It’s official…you’re fat!”

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Making Moving Day Easier...

Everybody dreads moving day. The frenzy of packing, the agony of getting things loaded, then transported, then unloaded again, and finally the struggle to unpack and find a place for everything.

The worst part of moving, for me, was finding stuff, especially in those first few chaotic days. Where is the breakfast cereal? Which box has the toilet paper in it? Where are the sheets and pillow cases? What happened to the box with my make up in it?

I have moved quite a bit in my life, although in later years I started staying in one place for more extended periods, but one thing frequent moving has taught me is how to organize to make it as painless as possible. Let me share some of my techniques with you:

Start Immediately: We almost always have at least a month’s advance notice that moving day is coming up. If you are selling your home, you probably have even more. So, don’t procrastinate…get a bunch of boxes and drag that stack of old newspapers out of the garage and get started right away. Oh yeah…invest in a big felt-tipped pen…it’s key to finding stuff later.

Most of us have too much stuff and if we are selling a house, that sense of clutter that our collections and ornaments creates can prejudice buyers against us by making the house seem too small. So, start by severely editing your bric-a-brac, books, doilies, videos, CDs/DVDs and other items that are filling book shelves and covering your flat surfaces. You’re moving and you have to pack them up anyway, so do double duty and de-clutter while you get a head start on the packing. Rule of thumb: leave no more than three things (small things) on a shelf or flat surface, no matter how big it is. This includes china and display cabinets.

Another place to pack up early is the linen cupboard. You only need two sets of sheets per bed (one on the bed, one in the wash), none of the spare blankets and table linens (just keep out one good set for setting a nice table for viewers of a house for sale), and probably very little else you have in there. Such things as light globes, extension cords, etc….things that you may need before you depart...should be placed neatly in small labelled boxes and returned to the shelves. That makes them available for use, but easy to grab and put in the moving van.

Mark your boxes: We all know to wrap breakables in paper, but do you know how to properly mark a box? Boxes, which should be taped shut on the bottom, not tucked, should be marked on the top and on one side. What should you mark? Mark a large “F” (for “from”) on the top and the side, followed by the place the contents came from: “M Bedroom,” “Hall cupboard,” “Big Bath.” This will help you find stuff when you remember where you used to keep it, but not which box it is in. You can add a notation as to the contents if there is more than one box from that area: “bedding,” or “laundry supplies” or “big pots.”

Next, below the “F,” mark the letter “T” (for “to”). This tells the movers (and you) where the boxes belong. “Dining Room” or “Bedroom 1” is usually sufficient. This way the boxes get placed in the rooms where you are going to unpack them.

But what about those boxes you are packing in advance? If you haven’t secured a new house, how do you know what room they are going into? Well, that can be left to later…just make sure you clearly mark the contents and original location clearly: “bowling trophies,” “train schedule collection,” or “tall display cabinet.”

Logical order: when moving day actually arrives, it is important to make sure that things are packed into the van in logical order. Ask yourself: “what am I going to need immediately?” and pack that stuff into the van last.

Here’s a list you can add to:
Toilet paper
Drinking glasses
Toiletries: toothbrush/paste, hair brush, soap, creams, razor, shampoo, conditioner
Towels and wash cloths
Change of clothes, including socks and underwear
Feminine hygiene products (stress can bring it on!)
Black plastic trash bags (for the trash that accumulates while you are unpacking)
Cleaning supplies and tools (vacuum, mops/cloths, bucket, broom, bleach, etc)

If you have children:
Breakfast cereal, bowls, spoons
Change of clothes and shoes
Special toy or blanket
Toys or games to keep children occupied

If you have a baby or toddler:
Baby gate if the new place has stairs
Baby food/formula
Bottles, spoons, etc
Diapers (nappies) and disposal bags
Baby wipes
Means to heat baby food/formula (maybe your microwave)
Playpen/bouncy chair/swing or another safe place to leave child while doors are open and you are preoccupied.

If you have pets:
Pet’s bed, bowls
Pet food
Pet toys
Leash, carrier, or means of restraint/confinement

With the exception of the pet restraint/confinement items, you should pack up the items on the list before the movers arrive and set them aside. Packing as much as possible into luggage and duffel bags allows you to avoid moving empty luggage and gives a visual signal to movers that this is not just another box to toss into the truck.

As soon as the moving van arrives, round up your pets and confine them where they can’t be underfoot or sneak out the open doors. Cats, in particular, are sensitive to this kind of thing, so it is best to collect the cats first thing in the morning and put them in cat carriers. This is not cruel…cats don’t mind small confined spaces, and if you turn the door of the carrier to a wall and toss a towel over the carrier, the cat will feel safer.

Make sure the listed items, including the beds, are the very last things packed into the van. This will make them the very first items removed and taken inside. If nothing else, you will have clean clothes, the ability to take a shower, and your own bed on your first night in your new home.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

High class troubles...

Don’t you just hate a whiner?

For the record, there is a difference between whining (or whinging, if you prefer) and complaining. Complaining has a legitimacy to it, like when your soup is cold and your drink is warm and your waiter cannot be found to rectify the situation. But whining…well, that has an air of petulance, peevishness, and self-interest above all else.

I cruise several sites for interesting blogs to read and this morning, on a new (to me) site, I came across what I consider to be one of the championship whiners of all time:

Ok... I'm in Hawai'i... the island of paradise... right?

Or... am I just bored to tears, waiting to waste my day away playing cards with my sick mother, sipping ginger in water to keep myself from getting sick... and wondering when the rest of my family is going to come home from the beach at Mauna'Lani so that we can go eat at Cafe Pesto... where the only thing that I can eat (being a food allergic vegan) is the salad with oil and vinegar and their pizza crust. Erg...

I'm actually happy to be coming home to the snow... at least I'll be spending a few days in Santa Cruz WITHOUT my family - my hair is whittled down to the roots... I need to come home.

But what is home, really? Growing up, it was where I lived. But, now, since I've moved out and have never really had a very stable home base for three years now... living in one place or another for no longer than one year or so... where am I? I feel like I've found a home now... but it's still not my own. It's in St. Louis... the place a couple hours away from homey ole' Columbia, MO. I'm uprooted, it seems. I just want to go to the bar down the way in that restaurant, I think it's called the Beach House or something, and have a friggin' Black Russian... or a Mind Eraser... hmm... Kahlua and vodka... yummy... Erg.

It's 4:22 here in Hawai'i time... wow, I've really wasted my day away.

I got a new pair of sneakers from my aunt that she bought from Wal Mart or something - her *favorite* store... erg again... granted, I'm guilty of shopping there sometimes... but still... it's covered in Leather, and I may just sell them on eBay if I don't get coerced into using them, so that I can buy a pair of vegan friendly sneakers to go running in. Hmm... and... I HAVE NO MONEY... AND NO CAR INSURANCE... AND I HAVE TO ... agh... okay *breathe* *breathe*


Where's that Black Russian...

(can anybody tell me where that guy is with the obnoxious mai tai with the umbrella and the Swingline stapler on the reclining chair on the beach? Because he has my brain...)

I've become addicted to Macadamia nuts and Papaya since I've come to Hawai'i for the 4th time in my life... oh wait... 5th time... I think... Whatever...

Mmmm.. Macadamia nuts are sooo good! but so bad for my *svelte* figure that I have to maintain for this dancy thing... and my mental health... uh oh... Lily.... Oh, whatever... I like them...

So... what else was I thinking... *purge, Lily! purge!* Well, I guess that's it... you know... feeling like I should be having more fun here in Hawai'i, but instead, I'm nervous about how much I'm changing... but one must welcome change to be a better person, right?

MM... Macadamia nuts...

So, sorry folks, not much of a tan becoming here... I wasn't into the beach thing that much... don't really know why... just wasn't into it.. exploring Hawai'ian villages? All about it, Baby! But beaching every day? Not so much... so, oh well.. my skin is one step further behind skin cancer than everybody else... and swimming in a pool in the condo complex is just Pointless, when you're in Hawai'i. It is a salt water pool tho... that's pretty cool... easier to float!!

Lots of stray cats here... that's pretty cool... I Like to make eye contact with them when they pass by - as If I'm making mild conversation with another being...

I just had a craving for chestnuts... hmm, I wonder what that means? I wonder where I can find chestnuts...?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Some people and their houses!

Hubby and I are considering buying another investment property. The property market is sluggish here with prices either stagnant or declining, which makes it the best time to buy, whether for a personal dwelling or an investment.

There are several kinds of investment buyers…some want to buy the property and “flip” it for a profit: these buyers need an undervalued or distressed property that they can buy, wait a few months for property values to rise, then sell at a profit. Other investment buyers specialize in fixer-uppers: they buy properties in need of repair, fix them up and then sell the property at a profit. These investors need in increasing property market in order to profit from their purchase. We, on the other hand, are landlords: we buy a property and rent it out, using the rental income to pay the monthly payments on the property. To make this kind of purchase work, the price and the condition of the property must be such that it can be rented out as soon as possible and at an amount that will pay the mortgage. Pretty much a no-brainer in my eyes, but I am constantly amazed at people who simply don’t get it…especially estate agents!

We were supposed to go look at a possible investment property last night, but at the last minute, the estate agent had to cancel our appointment. Seems the property is occupied by a renter who decided she had better things to do and was not going to let us in to see the property. I wonder if Judy, the agent, has any idea how bad that looks to a potential buyer? Why didn’t the owner show up with keys to let us in? Why is a tenant being allowed to determine when…and if…a potential buyer will be allowed to see the property? I own rental property and if I was keen to sell it, I’d be there with keys in hand if it was inconvenient for my tenant to admit potential buyers...I certainly wouldn’t allow my tenant to control whether or not potential buyers would see the property!

After our experiences with Lynda, who couldn’t seem to wrap her head around the concept that landlords trump tenants, Hubby and I no longer want to see this property because it is apparent that if we do, we will inherit a tenant who thinks she is in control of things, not the owner. Sorry, been there, done that, and don’t have any desire to do it again!

I am astounded at some of these properties…and at Judy’s attitude. I saw four properties yesterday and three of them were appalling. One required a huge investment in repairs, another one was grossly overpriced and inhabited by messy tenants, the third was an absolute pig sty, with things strewn about and washing hanging everywhere, dirty dishes in the sink, even a chunk missing out of a corner of a masonry wall!…the kind of place that “Clean House” moves in and makes over. Amazingly, the estate agent defended not only some outrageous prices, but the filthy, rundown conditions of the properties as well! She knew full well that if we buy it will be an investment property…maybe she doesn’t know what that means in practical terms.

You see, the whole purpose of owning investment property is to make money on it. If you are a landlord, to make a new investment property pay it has to get rented out as quickly as possible because every month the house is unoccupied is a month that the owner makes the payments out of his own pocket. This means the more work the property needs, the longer it will be off the market, which effectively means the buyer’s cost for the property is increased…not to mention the cash outlay for fixing the property in the first place. There is nothing emotional in an investment property purchase (or at least there shouldn’t be), the whole thing is driven by the numbers.

What are those numbers? Well, the first one is “How much rent can I get for this place?” The second one is “What are my monthly payments going to be?” (If you don’t have an idea of what interest rates are and how to calculate your monthly repayment, then you should not be looking at buying rental property!). Now, if the discrepancy is small and something you can make up out of your own pocket without too much pain, then you ask the rest of the questions: how quickly can I have this ready to rent out? How long can I make the entire payment out of my own pocket? How much is it going to cost to make it ready to rent?

These last are the questions that make or break a deal. If you can assume the estimated rental is approximately the same as the estimated monthly house payment, it looks like a good deal, right? But suppose the house, like a house I saw yesterday, has a garage conversion that was so badly done that it now has a leaking roof, sodden ceilings, and the only access is through the master bedroom. And, to add to the trouble, the main bathroom has badly broken tiles and the toilet has had a serious leak in the past which was very amateurishly repaired. Now what?

Well, the first thing you have to do is come up with a rough estimate of the cost of the repairs. Will you do the work yourself? How much time will it take? Each month the building is under repair is a month without rental income, so you are actually adding to your acquisition cost.

Look at it this way: let’s suppose you feel you can afford R800,000 for a rental property:

Cost of property (including fees ): R800,000
Monthly repayment: R7,000
Three months to repair: 3
Cost of repairs: R50,000
Actual cost of property: R871,000

Why R871,000? Because that it what it is going to cost you before you can rent it out to the first tenant: R800K for the house, R21K out of pocket for the house payments, and R50K to fix what is wrong with it. So, to limit your investment in the property to R800K, you’ll have to buy it for R730K or thereabouts…That way, when the property is ready to be rented out, your property investment is actually the R800K you figured you could afford.

Now Judy tried to convince me that the house was priced at its fair market value, but it had been on the market for months and it was vacant and the sellers were getting desperate. If it was truly at its fair market value, wouldn’t it have sold already? Obviously, those who had viewed the property were not inspired by the obvious work that was needed. What the estate agent was refusing to face is that when a buyer is quoted a price, s/he expects to have a property ready for occupation at that price, not a property needing further investment in order to be habitable. “It’s a fair price,” she kept telling me. Yah…if it was ready to move into, I might agree…but not if it is going to cost me another R70K before I can put up a for rent sign!

Investment buyers are, by definition, people who seek to acquire property with the least expense to themselves and then profit from their purchase. We look for properties that are ready to be rented out very quickly or that are priced low enough that a month or two off the market for repairs won’t be deadly to the pocket. And the properties have to be in neighbourhoods that will attract renters who have pockets deep enough to pay a rent that will cover the majority of the monthly bond payment. Over time rents go up and eventually the property will go into a positive cash flow mode, but if you’ve paid too much for the property, either through extensive repairs and off-market time, or by failing to resist an agent’s platitudes, you’ll never get into profit.

One of the things a potential landlord looks at is the condition of the property at the time of showing. A lot can be inferred by the way people are living in the house. I viewed one place where I could not see the bathroom fixtures and floors because they were strewn with clothing. I could not see the condition of the carpets in the bedrooms because the rooms were dark and there was junk and clothing strewn all over the floors. I could not see the condition of the kitchen counters, sink surround, or anything else in the kitchen because it was jammed with dirty dishes and clutter and stuff strewn around. We entered through a patio door…was there something wrong with the front door? The resident’s dog was busily digging a hole in the back garden while the resident ignored him (he couldn’t’ have been shut in the garage for the short time we were there to view the house?).

So, as a possible new owner for this place, what was my impression? I had no way of determining the condition of the property because the place was a pig sty and I couldn’t see the windows or the lights or the walls or the carpets or the floors or the kitchen or bath fixtures. Were the tiles in the bathrooms intact? Was the shower grout in need of replacing? Did the kitchen drains work well? Did the cupboard doors close properly? Was there water damage under the sink? I couldn’t get to these areas, they were blocked by the clutter and mess of the resident. But, when you consider that these people obviously have no interest in cleaning up after themselves, what is the likelihood that they made any efforts to keep the place in good repair? I did notice a big chunk out of a masonry wall and when I pointed it out to Judy she just shrugged and said “Oh, it’s just cosmetic.” Excuse me? A pyramid-shaped chunk of cement nearly two inches across gouged out of the corner of a stud wall is just cosmetic? And who is supposed to pay for that fix and the painting of the room that will inevitably follow?

Judy hasn’t called me back to see any more properties. I think she thinks I’m too picky. But not being picky when you buy a property, unless you can get it at a low enough price to make up for the deficiencies, is just stupid.

Which I, of course, am not.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Rainy days and warm, homey smells...

My house smells wonderful! The bread machine has been churning out fragrant loves since this morning and today Thandiswe reminded me that I wanted to make chocolate chip cookies with the chocolate chips I found at the market last week.

Believe it or not, it has been five whole years since I’ve had chocolate chip cookies. It’s one of those odd little things that you don’t notice are missing from the shelves until you get a craving for choccy chip something and discover nobody has a clue what you are talking about!

But last week I saw Chips Ahoy! cookies in the biscuit aisle (cookies are known as biscuits here) and suddenly I was on my way to the baking goods aisle to see if South Africa had discovered chocolate chips yet. YES!

I suppose I shall have to wait a few more years for milk chocolate chips and white chocolate chips, but that’s ok…my cookie recipe originated with only dark chocolate chips, so although I’ll be stepping back in time a bit, the cookies will be fabulous.

Thandiswe has never tasted chocolate chip cookies, so I guided her through making them and left her to bake the last two batches. Sixty cookies later, the house smells divine, the cookie jar is full, and Thandiswe is grinning from ear to ear…I gave her a bag of cookies to take home for herself and her kids. She thinks everything I cook is “American food”…except for the curries, of course…and after tasting the cookies, she declared she very much liked American food!

It is raining again, but the wind has died down.

It’s a good day to stay snug inside.