Cheeky Mouse

December 9, 2011

“There’s a mouse in the house, get it out!”

My late uncle Gerald had that old Richmond/Tidewater accent that is slowly fading away in which “ou” sounds are pronounced more like the Canadians do. I don’t know if he ever actually uttered that phrase, but my dad uses it when story-telling about adventures had in Richmond in the late ’60s, mimicking the accent.

It came to  mind recently when we discovered a mouse (at least we hope just one) had sought shelter from the chill of fall in our house. We had a mouse last year when we moved in, but it was quickly caught and no more evidence was found til about a week ago.

First we thought he was hiding in the space below the gas logs and put glue traps out on the hearth, baited with potato chips as that had worked for the first mouse. This guy managed to extricate himself from one trap, leaving furry evidence behind. We left a second trap there, hoping it would still work. Meanwhile, I purchased some holiday candy, including Butterfinger bells, and put it in a decorative bowl on the counter. You hear of using peanut butter to bait traps, well, peanut butter plus chocolate is apparently irresistible to mice.

The next morning, I found two partly unwrapped bells on top of the stove. The gap between the stovetop and the control panel where the oven heat dissipates is where last year’s mouse liked to hide. This guy concurred. He’d also been in the fruit bowl nibbling on an apple. So we baited new traps with unwrapped bells, one on the counter near the stove and one on the floor. The candy, the fruit, and any other tempting morsels were moved well out of reach. That cheeky mouse, however, had stashed some bells elsewhere, and I found a half-unwrapped well-nibbled one on the stove the next morning, traps untouched, almost as if he were taunting us.

But either the allure of the unwrapped bell was too much, or he was unlucky in his travels and landed on the trap on the floor the next night. He was then dispatched and disposed of. End of story, right?

Not so fast. Today, on a much-needed day off from work, I’m attacking the dust bunnies and such that have threatened to start nipping at our heels. In the course of moving the couch to get underneath it, I decide to also flip some cushions and vacuum up the crumbs that gather underneath. It’s a nice L-shaped sofa, we spent a lot on it, so I want to take care of it. Lo and behold as I pull the corner cushion out where I sit most often, what do I find in the corner but nibbled on chunks of Butterfinger bells!! That cheeky mouse had been getting cozy in the sofa, enjoying his pilfered treats! Right behind my comfy spot!!



Letting Go

October 4, 2011

For some 15 years now I’ve created the playbills for productions at Live Arts. Early on, I enjoyed the creativity of choosing fonts and in a few cases, designing a cover. Later it became about working the puzzle to make all of the components fit and about increasing the professionalism of the playbills. I did the work as one of the cadre of volunteers that make Live Arts the success that it is. In exchange, I received tickets to any shows I wanted to see. It has been a happy partnership.

About a week ago, I was asked if I still wanted to continue for the next season of playbills. In the past, there hadn’t been any question; sure, sign me up again. This year, that wasn’t my gut response. So today, I decided it was time to let it go.

It’s been a labor of love all these years and I’m proud to have played that part for many many productions. So letting go isn’t altogether easy and perhaps I’ll have second thoughts. But change can be good. Live Arts just welcomed a new artistic director so a new vision for playbills might be just the ticket.

(yes, puns intended)


The wooden concrete bridge

June 27, 2011

We went to West Virginia last weekend for the annual Dad’s birthday-Steve’s birthday-Father’s Day celebration. Saturday’s agenda was a trip to Charleston for the 75th anniversary of Fiesta exhibit at the Culture Center and then on to Milton to the Blenko glass factory. The Fiesta exhibit was a bit disappointing. With the exception of the giant rainbow wall of plates and a couple of less common pieces, I could have mounted an equally interesting exhibit from my own collection. The piece I liked best was in the permanent exhibits down in the main museum: a prototype water pitcher with right and left spouts, reminiscent of the traditional Blenko water pitchers.

But I digress from the point of this post. The WV Turnpike between Beckley and Charleston has two toll plazas with a charge of $2 per car at each stop. So a round trip costs most drivers $8. But many years ago my Dad had a temporary job with Union Carbide in Charleston after being downsized from his long-time hospital accounting position. With money tight after several months of unemployment, he found a short back-road route to avoid the toll plaza near Chelyan. You take Cabin Creek Road from Sharon to Chelyan and you’re right back onto the Turnpike, toll plaza bypassed. This particular morning, there was a pickup truck in the middle of the road behind a temporary “Road Closed” sign and a couple of guys in neon yellow vests. It seemed a little odd, so we stopped and asked if we could get through. The answer went something like this: “Thar’s been a train accident. But you can take a back road and get through. You’ll see a bunch of churches on the left and a concrete bridge. It’s the only concrete bridge between here and the wreck. Go across there and that’ll take you right back to the main road on the other side. If you get lost don’t come back here ’cause I ain’t telling you again.”

He did make an especial point of it being a concrete bridge. So we decide we’re up for a bit of adventure and head down the road, watching for a bridge. We spotted one, almost turned, but saw it had a wooden deck and metal rails. No concrete. So we continued on, and soon came to a stop behind a fully loaded logging truck. We could see a train slowly moving and more guys in neon vests. Soon there were 4 or 5 more cars behind us who apparently also did not find the elusive concrete bridge. The detour involved crossing the tracks so we knew we were stuck until the train moved on. So we wait and eventually the slow-moving freight train moved on. Nothing seemed to be happening in front of us, but we could see cars moving on the other side of the tracks so we decided to turn around and try the bridge.

Now Cabin Creek Road is your typical WV back road. Two lanes, hugging the mountain on one side and skirting the creek on the other. By comparison to Neon Vest Dude’s back road, Cabin Creek Road was a major highway. The detour snaked between a row of houses on one side and the railroad tracks on the other with another row of houses just beyond the tracks. “Why would anybody choose to live there where you have to walk across the tracks to get to your house?” my Mother asks. Um, maybe because they can’t afford anything else? After avoiding being hit by a couple of giant pickup trucks headed the other way on the road that was barely wide enough for one, we get to the other end, where…. wait for it… there’s a concrete bridge! And a Jeep cherokee that had just been loaded onto a flatbed wrecker after its unfortunate run-in with a train.

Needless to say, on the trip home, we ponied up the extra $2 and stayed on the Turnpike. One adventure for the day was enough!


Feeling at home

May 19, 2011

We moved in to our new house about 9 months ago in the middle of August. The first few weeks of unpacking and organizing, sleeping in a strange place, figuring out which of the multitude of switches turned on a particular light was a time of transition. Yes, this was now our house, but it didn’t feel like home yet. We were making progress when in early October, before we’d gotten around to having the alarm system activated, the house was broken in to. The back door was bashed in, despite having a deadbolt, and a few large items were taken. Talk about unsettling.

By Thanksgiving, there were no more boxes in the living or dining areas and I’d painted part of the dining room and hung new valances at the windows. We hosted Thanksgiving dinner for our families. Other than slightly underdone turkey that had to go back for more roasting, it turned out perfectly. One step closer to home.

We got a real tree for Christmas for the first time in years as we finally had room for something larger than a Charlie Brown tree. More things went up on the walls. Friends came out to visit. We spent cozy evenings by the fireplace (gas logs — the benefits of a fire, none of the mess) and really started to feel we were in the right place.

One of the reasons we wanted an open floor plan was to do more entertaining without feeling crowded or having me be out of touch with our guests by being isolated in the kitchen. The galley kitchen we had before allowed only a couple of people to be in the area without getting in each other’s way. So we hosted the C’ville Arts Cooperative group for our annual meeting and potluck in March. I think I counted 22 people seated for the meeting! Then we had our annual shrimp party the first Saturday in April. It was the most fun I’d had at one of our parties in years because I was much more in the middle of it. I could hear and participate in conversations in the living room. People could talk to me in the kitchen while I cooked and help more easily. Exactly how we’d dreamed it could be.

A few weeks ago my parents came for a weekend and helped to finish painting the dining room, painted the guest bath, and a few other small things. Just not having to look at smudged walls and nail holes in that bathroom any more makes such a difference. The prior occupants of the house were the owner’s daughter and a bunch of housemates so a number of things were a bit worse for wear, mostly on a surface level. It’s a fairly new house, so structurally things are fine.

All this adds up to finally feeling at home in our house. There’s still some stacks of boxes to deal with, mostly in the garage, and more painting to do, but there’s no question we made the right choice when we bought our new home.


Kitchen therapy

March 2, 2011

I like to cook. Making tasty food to share with others brings me happiness. Sometimes even when I’m tired and stressed out, making dinner helps me feel better. Tonight was no exception. A couple of weeks ago I found a recipe for mushroom gruyère tarts in Real Simple magazine that looked and sounded really yummy and had been thinking about making them ever since. So I picked up the necessary items while grocery shopping last night: 3 kinds of mushrooms (shitake, oyster, and crimini), a shallot, a chunk of gruyère, and  a box of puff pastry. Salt, pepper, olive oil, and white wine were already in the pantry. A few simple ingredients and a little prep time yielded yummy flaky tarts. Paired with some storebought clam chowder (a girl can only do so much from scratch when she’s tired and fighting a cold!) they made a satisfying dinner.

The recipe gave me a reason to use my new pan, too. Steve has already tried to nickname it: pan-gea, gargantu-pan. It’s a 12″ Calphalon Tri-Ply saute pan. I like it both for its size and because its weight keeps it from spinning and sliding around on top of the stove while I’m stirring and sauteing. The tendency of pans to shift is one of the things I dislike about the smooth-top stove.

One of the things I like about cooking is the ability to be creative. Many times a recipe is just an inspiration. It’s a starting point that I can riff off of and improvise my own version. I also learn from dining out and the occasional food TV show. Paying attention to what flavors work together and how texture plays into a successful meal out translates into successful meals in.

Other keys in the kitchen: good knives, good pans, and a good all purpose cookbook. It’s totally worth the money to buy a few good knives and pans. A good knife makes chopping and prepping that much easier. I have two sizes of santoku knives that are my favorites along with a paring knife. I also have a collection of Calphalon pans that see lots of use. I picked Calphalon when I started improving upon the wedding-gift Revere Ware in part because most of their pans are made in the USA. My go-to cookbook is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. You might know Bittman as the author of The Minimalist column in the NY Times food section. I thought I wanted a different cookbook several years ago when giving my hubby holiday gift ideas. He bought me Bittman’s book instead and I’m glad he did. Lots of basic instructions along with variations to try. I’ve used the sushi-style rice recipe so many times that the preceding page has come loose from the binding.

I learned the basics of cooking from my mother. Although not adventurous in terms of flavor profiles or ethnic dishes, she has always tried new recipes and doesn’t hesitate to modify them to suit our family’s tastes. I learned from her to follow the recipe the first time and then make adjustments the next time if needed. I still do that in most cases, although I have become more comfortable with improvising and using a recipe more as an inspiration for my own creation. Most of the time, it turns out pretty well!


Turn on Your Headlights!

January 19, 2011

No, it’s not a metaphor for some profound insight. It’s me ranting: turn on your headlights, dimwit drivers! This morning was foggy, and even though it was beginning to burn off in spots by the time I left for work, there was still limited visibility most of the way. The number of cars that did not have their lights became more and more irritating. That’s one of my pet peeves: people not turning on car lights when weather conditions create poor visibility (or when in a dim parking garage). As much attention as seatbelts, airbags, booster seats for 6-year-olds, and other crash protection devices get, you’d think maybe a crash reduction device such as car lights automatically coming on when you put the car in gear could be a standard feature. This morning’s sheer number of cars without lights on made me wonder how many of those horrible multi-car pileups that happen in fog or other times of low visibility are caused or made worse by drivers who don’t have the sense to turn on their lights. Maybe the lights don’t help you see better, but they help others see you. What’s so hard about that?


What is it about housecleaning?

January 9, 2011

Cleaning house is not hard. It really doesn’t take that long, especially if you don’t try to do it all at once. Why, then, do I find ways to avoid it as long as possible? My mother has a schedule. Bathrooms one day. Vacuuming another, etc. You’d think I’d have learned to follow her example and do the same in my own house. Not so much. I thought when we moved last summer I’d have a fresh start and could get a routine going to clean more regularly. Well, that didn’t last long. New Year’s resolution? We all know how those tend to turn out. Right this minute I’m writing a blog post about cleaning instead of actually doing some. Short of paying someone to come do it for me, which really isn’t in the budget right now, I need to find a way to convince myself it really is manageable to do on a regular basis. I do laundry and help with dishes (Steve does most of those because I cook). But then again, if you don’t, you soon run out of clothes or pots and that provides motivation. The dust bunnies on the other hand don’t exactly bite you on the ankles to convince you to vacuum them up!