Friday, May 29, 2009



The rain is back, this time with the kind of mid-summer mugginess that forces you to turn on the air conditioning even though it's not really that hot. I await trash and recycling pickup today so I can get out and start filling the bins again with more trash stored in the garage awaiting its turn--it wouldn't fit this time around. Once the garage loses the trash, it will gain as many of the boxes now adorning the rooms in our house as possible. That will be the last staging area before the truck comes on June 18. With boxes out of the house, we'll have room to start filling a few more....

Tomorrow we are having our buyer and her partner over for a little tutorial on how to run this place--what's what in the various gardens, how the water filter system works, the sump pump...all the little things that are integral to smooth sailing here. It's something we had always imagined we would have to do when we sold this place, anyway, and she asked for it before we ever even suggested it. We always said this place needed an owner's manual. We'll give them the overview tomorrow and if they still need written directions, I'll be happy to supply them.

This is one of the recipes I collected last year during an email round robin at Christmastime. That exercise turned out to be more of a success than I'd dared hope it would be, netting several delicious looking dishes. This is among the best. Don't let the bland colors in the picture fool you--the salty shock of the olives and interesting spice mixture create a different sensation with every bite. It's very quick and easy and will become one of our staples. Credited by the donor to Rachel Ray.

2 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
3 medium shallots, coarsely chopped
1 zucchini, coarsely chopped
2-3 cloves to garlic (or to taste) minced
Zest and juice of one large lemon, separated
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
Pinch ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup stuffed green olives, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
10-oz. box instant couscous
1/4 cup parsley, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves. chopped fine

In a skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium high heat. Add chicken chunks, lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté until lightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Add shallots, zucchini, garlic, lemon zest, pepper flakes, fennel seeds and cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste. Toss for about 5 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through and vegetables begin to soften. Add olives and stir to combine.

Stir in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover pan, turn off heat, and let stand for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Add parsley, mint and lemon juice, toss lightly to mix, and serve.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Today will be as close as I ever get to living out that retiree dream of lounging around eating bonbons. It's something of a guilty pleasure, because Steve is still working his butt off at the office, supervising the loading of trucks, maintaining records and schedules as tight as only he can make them as the office itself is dismantled and returned to its owner, Uncle Sam. Today through Friday are his last four days in the office. He will work from home two more weeks, which should be a relatively easy time of decompression until June 12, when he will be free. I'm positive that as harried and oppressed as he feels now, he won't know what hit him come Monday, June 15. But it will only be a short period of dislocation for him: on June 18 the truck comes to pack us out, and on the 19th, after a 10 AM closing, we will be gone.

We worked a lot this "holiday" weekend, packing into boxes most of what we can do without until we are in the North Carolina rental. The photo above shows you what the dining room currently looks like. (The basement looks the same.) Note the fake fruit in its fancy bowl on the table, put there for showing the house. Oops! Guess I overlooked a small detail....

Cleaning the garage was a truly gargantuan task which Steve nevertheless completed in two days. In the process we filled two trash bins and a recycle bin, and are working on a second recycle bin. Some things that were just too good to throw away found good homes via the miracle Freecycle; whatever else we couldn't give away will end up, alas, in the landfill.

There is still more packing to do, but it will create more trash, for which there is simply no room until what's currently gathered is taken away Friday.

The last-minute stuff is the hardest to keep track of. What will we need after all the boxes and furniture are gone and we want to clean the place up one last time? A vacuum cleaner. A duster. Some rags. Toilet cleaner. All this will take up space in the cars, along with all the other things not going on the truck: the cats, their food, water, and litterbox, the fish, the house plants.....

But I'll think of that tomorrow. Today is a day of rest.

Friday, May 22, 2009



Just for curiosity I looked at my post for last year's Memorial Day weekend to see what we were up to. Oh, yeah. We were at the Delaware trailer, of course, and I had prepared a feast for our visiting friend Gloria. We ate it that Friday night, and then I got so sick I couldn't even get out of bed for the rest of the weekend. Oh, well. The company was good. But I also marveled at the drastic changes that have been wrought. This time last year we were deep in the throes of designing a house for that little piece of heaven. Financial writing was on the wall, but for a while longer we could ignore it, and we had what became the last of four idyllic summers there. How I did love that place! But life pushed us in another direction. Bowing to the inevitable, we kept our dream but relocated it. In the process we have met a whole new cast of good people and learned about a beautiful and virtually unknown corner of the country that will soon be our home. Doors close, but new ones open. When all you can see is the closing part, you're devastated. But you must keep your head and remember there are other doors waiting. All you need to do is look for them. This is advice so many of you gave me in your various gentle ways. Thank you. I've demonstrated to myself that it's true.

This recipe is a bit jazzier take on one I found in a Taste of Home magazine of a year or so ago. Taste of Home is a fun and quick read, a monthly presentation of exclusively reader-contributed recipes, guaranteed simple, home-style cooking. It's much in the tradition of Southern Living before it went Hollywood South. Since the recipes are so simple (OK, sometimes downright basic), they're easy to gussy up. No matter what else you add, the basic recipe, with its cornbread, creamed corn, cheese, milk and eggs, is rich. It's delicious, but a little goes a long way.

2 pounds fresh chorizo sausage, squeezed from links if bulk is not available
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 jalapenos, seeds and pith removed according to your heat tolerance, coarsely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 package (8 1/2 oz.) corn bread/muffin mix, such as Jiffy
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 can (14 3/4 oz.) cream style corn
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
10 oz. package cheddar cheese, shredded and divided

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large skillet, cook sausage, onion and peppers over medium heat until vegetables are softened and meat is cooked through. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine corn mix, salt, and baking soda, and in another medium bowl beat eggs into the creamed corn, milk, and oil. Stir wet ingredients into dry to combine.

Pour half of the corn bread batter into a greased 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish. Layer with half of the cheese and all of the meat mixture. Top with remaining cheese and then carefully spread remaining batter over top. Bake, uncovered, 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to rest 10 minutes and serve.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Moving Right Along

Well. What started out as one of the darkest days I've had yet during this real estate adventure ended with another one of those unexpected gifts of pure grace that we have also experienced during the same period.

The appraiser did talk to Ron, our agent. He looked at the alternative comparable sales that Ron thought could have raised the value on our house, but refused to amend his work. This was bad news. But meanwhile, the buyer's agent informed her of the new, drastically lower value, and, far from jumping for joy at a the prospect of a smaller mortgage, she was sorry for us, actually saddened, and wanted to do what she could do to help! She said that if she had all the cash to make up the difference, she'd have paid it, but she did put up $4000 of her own money, the liquid cash she has left, to help close the gap. I was floored. It isn't much, but the gesture is beyond valuation and a clear sign that this thing was meant to be. Just like our Delaware neighbor Paul, who talked himself as we stood there, agape, into paying $300,000 for our land there when he knew it was only worth a third that amount in the current market, our asses were saved by people with good hearts. I can only hope to measure up to that kind of generosity if I'm ever given the opportunity.

Both agents attribute the buyer's generosity to the fact that we had a chance to meet and share our aspirations, purely by accident, the day the construction engineer was here to do his inspection. That meeting changed a purely financial transaction to a human one. In the back of my mind was the hope that the relationship created that day, however short, would color the outcome, but I dared not put any faith in it. But sheer grace did its work. With the little extra on the house, plus the efforts of Gary, our builder, to shave more costs, we will probably still have as much left over after construction as we hoped we would to make the needed finishes on the pier and the furniture. (Oh, Steve still cherishes his disappointment at losing so much value since the bubble 4 years ago pushed us into the stratosphere, but he's getting over it. More friends than you can imagine want to talk some sense into him.)

So it's full steam ahead. Today is "admin day." I'm calling all our vendors, here and in North Carolina, to close old accounts and open new ones, report address changes, etc. The list is endless--you don' realize how many of these financial relationships you have until you go through something like this--and I'll no doubt forget at least one. Hope it's not a biggie.

A special thanks to all of you friends who have been following this roller-coaster ride and putting up with my angst. Who knew what we were in for when I started this chronicle over a year ago? You must be tired of all the crises--I certainly am--and in spite of that you offer expressions of courage and sympathy. I'm blessed with you, too. Thank you for your lessons in forbearance and generosity.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Black Day

There is no other way to describe the events of yesterday. I hasten to add that my mood is somewhat better now, but real depression was at the door yesterday.

The new appraisal came in. It is $20,000 lower than the offer we had accepted from the buyer. The appraisal was mandated by the buyer's bank, through the buyer--we have no idea how the buyer herself felt about having to get (pay for) a new appraisal, but we do have every reason to believe she's not weeping at the prospect of paying $20,000 less for the house.

Our agent is working a few angles, trying to call the appraiser to see why he used certain houses and not others as comps, calling the bank to see if they'd accept an amended appraisal if the appraiser would agree to do one, (this is a very long shot because if anybody were going to dispute the appraisal, it would have to be the one who ordered it--the buyer--not us) and talking to the buyer's agent to plead our case, hoping she'll meet us in the middle and agree to pay half the difference--$10,000-- in cash to save the deal. This woman who is our buyer spent 2 1/2 years looking at houses before she broke down and made an offer on this one. She is clearly in no hurry. But we have met her and her partner; a tenuous personal connection has been made beyond the only-through-agents protocol. We gave them some priceless historical pictures to reinforce their sense of stewardship of the house. How much does she want the house? How much has she bought into this idea psychologically? She is our best hope.

I immediately called Gary, our builder, and told him the bad news. The guy is amazingly accommodating; he has told us not to worry, that he is sure some more dollars can still be squeezed out of the plan and still maintain the house that we want. Receiving that word this morning is what changed my mood from blackest black yesterday to somewhat hopeful today.

Steve's first response to this setback was the same as it was before: to call everything off in an insulted huff and "wait for the market to improve." He has this notion that we are "giving away" this two-bedroom house, which even at this lower price is still fetching more than a half-million dollars, because it is not sufficiently more. For the second time I had to remind him that we could die waiting for the almighty dollar to decide to dance to our tune alone. He agreed, but he didn't like it. Trying to stay positive when half the partnership is kicking and screaming as he backs away from the brink is not easy.

More to come, of course.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mission Accomplished

We went to North Carolina this weekend to find a place to live while our new home is being constructed, and we did it. We now have a temporary forwarding address in North Carolina, and the little place above is it. Very conveniently, our builder will be our landlord, too. He is rehabbing the place now. We looked at two houses, but this, the smaller one, came out the winner because of its two-car garage (storage!) and a dining room we won't use (more storage!). What really sold us, though, is the fact that it adjoins a farm. Our nearest living neighbors will be goats and chickens, and a rooster's crow will awaken us. I can't wait. Here are a couple more pictures.

I mentioned that we had the final appraisal on the house Friday. We should have the results today or tomorrow, and, assuming we can live with them, I will start in earnest with closing old accounts and setting up new ones, forwarding mail, changing health insurance--all the administrative details of life that must be attended to. The biggest challenge I'm anticipating is the internet provider/cable company down there, only because dealing with Comcast here is always such a pain. But starting with the iced tea, everything in the south is sweeter. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, May 15, 2009



I must be quick today. The appraiser will be here in about two hours and I want to at least get the latest layer of pollen off surfaces that are meant to be shiny. I know appraisers aren't supposed to notice the cosmetics of a house when they do their work, but they're human and must on some basic, subliminal way like a clean house more than a dirty one. Since so much rides on this appraisal I'm taking no chances.

Steve will be home from work early, and at around 2 o'clock we'll set off for a quick trip to North Carolina to take a look at the builder's latest estimate and, very importantly, decide on a rental house. (I'll take pictures.) When we come back Sunday night we'll know where we will be living for the second half of 2009. We'll have that all-important forwarding address for final bills, and we will be able to set up utilities in North Carolina so the fridge will be humming and we can turn on the lights when we pull in the evening of moving day, June 19. We're starting to think about the fine points.

We had this for dinner last night and it tasted like a million bucks. Very flavorful, quick, easy, and inexpensive

5 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 5 teaspoons)
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed but kept whole
1 lb. large (21-25) shrimp, peeled, deveined, each shrimp cut into 3 pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
Table salt
1 lb. short tubular pasta (but spaghetti or linguine would also be fine)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1/2 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
3/4 cup clam juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Parmesan cheese

Toss shrimp with 2 teaspoons of the minced garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon table salt in a medium bowl. Set aside to marinate at room temperature while you prepare the rest of the dish, about 20 minutes.

Slowly heat the 4 smashed, whole garlic cloves and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is light golden brown, 4-7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and discard garlic. Set skillet aside.

Bring water to boil and cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain when done and set aside.

While pasta cooks, return skillet with oil to medium heat; add shrimp and marinade to skillet in single layer. Cook shrimp without stirring until oil begins to bubble gently, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir shrimp and continue to cook until almost cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to a bowl. Add remaining 3 teaspoons minced garlic and pepper flakes to skillet and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly about 1 minute; stir in vermouth and cook 1 minute; add clam juice and parsley and cook until mixture starts to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes.

Off heat, whisk in butter and lemon juice. Add sauce and shrimp to cooked pasta, stir to mix. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Take Me Out To The Ballgame: Harpo marx

I decided to go searching for this and am overjoyed to have found it. It brings tears to my eyes. Enjoy.

Reflections on the life of a house

For the first time in recent memory, no major chores await my attention, though there are always the minor ones. I've been enjoying the small luxury of taking a few pictures and dawdling among friends in Facebook as I reflected on the end of our tenure of this house. The picture above is the last one I'll take of the huge peony at the end of the driveway and of the irises that march along behind it. The irises are heirlooms, offspring of plants that graced the house I grew up in, my mother's pride. We are taking with us corms of every color, plus a piece of the peony's root, so that they will eventually live on with us at our new home.

My thoughts strayed to the very first thing we did for this house, even before we took possession of it. It was to dig a small garden, a narrow bed along the side of the garage. It was never much of a success because it got no sun (therefore no picture here--nothing much to look at), but it was a harbinger of future projects. After we moved in, we dug a huge garden behind the garage, the one that eventually became so overshaded as neighbors' trees matured that the only thing to do, last year, was to put the grass back.

The house when we bought it was a study in lushness done on the cheap, features we would not have included had we the choice. There was a beautiful, huge, and therefore aged, willow tree dominating the back yard. We enjoyed it for a few years until it collapsed upon itself, as willows will, and had to be removed. The main ornamental now in the back is a silver maple. It shades the deck and during the summer months is a faithful and shapely shade tree. But silver maples are the gift that never ends. There is constant cleanup after them, from their "helicopter" seeds that fall in their millions every spring, creating a potential maple forest if the resulting seedlings aren't removed, to their dead leaves in the fall, which leave this pale without the slightest last hurrah of color with which other maples so joyfully exit the season. The street was originally bordered with silver maples and I can only imagine the mess that was created every change of season. When we moved here there was one on the curb in front of our house. Very early on, the county told us the tree was on its way out and, since it was on the county right-of-way, they would remove it for us and replace it with another tree further back on the property, all for free. This created the opportunity for us to build a terraced garden along the curb, with azaleas on the top level and varying colorful annuals on the lower. We still have that garden and it dazzles. The new tree that the county gave us was the 1990s version of the silver maple: a Bradford pear. It turned out to be another ill-conceived urban design fad. One Bradford pear is lovely. Its disciplined, "lollipop" shape, blanketed in the spring with fragrant white blossoms, is pleasant. A group of Bradford pears, however, is the definition of Stepford gardening, a procession of uniform white lollipops stretching as far as the eye can see. And the tree grows fast, so fast that it can't support its own weight. Whole trunks will split from the parent in a big wind. We know, because when we drove back from dinner on my 50th birthday on a blustery November night in 1995, what greeted us was the sight of half of our county-gifted Bradford pear lying across the driveway. Soon it was gone altogether.

This house has been our "child." Other couples without children spend their extra money on travel, restaurants or the theater; with no discussion, indeed having given it no thought whatsoever, we concentrated on our home. We started by installing a fireplace, and then we dug the underground wine cellar off the basement. In 1989 the real fun began, the defining project: a two-storey addition to the back of the house which created a brand-new kitchen downstairs and an expansion of the bathroom upstairs. This led to major re-alignment and re-design of the entire house: the flow through it changed, interior vistas were created. And it wasn't just the inside that got our attention. We stripped the exterior sheathing down to the original 1930s, unmilled 2 x 4s, put in insulation, new windows, and new siding. Then we knocked the concrete stoop off the front of the house and built the "painted lady" porch. Finally, we knocked down the wall between the living room and the den, creating one spacious room in which the fireplace could be enjoyed from any vantage point. That last project was finished in 1999. Since then, we've simply enjoyed the place and kept it up. We've learned many lessons along the way and have created a reflection of who we are. And Steve did it all. The only job that was contracted out was the first, the fireplace. That experience was so unsatisfactory we decided we'd never repeat it. We got all the building permits ourselves, Steve learned as we went along, and passed all inspections, usually with compliments from the county inspectors who weren't accustomed to seeing such good work.

I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without Steve. I'm like most people, lucky to know how to screw in a light bulb. With his creativity and enormous energy, he decorated my life in ways I'd never imagined possible. It's a reality I never forget and for which I am always grateful.

When the time came to put our house on the market, its opening took on the importance to us of a daughter's debutante cotillion. Turning her over to new caretakers is like giving her away in marriage. The woman who is buying this house had been searching for 2 1/2 years, and this was the one for her. We are honored to be the end of such a thorough quest. Soon, it will be her house, no longer ours. Just as what we created is a reflection of who we are, she will make it a reflection of who she is. But the bones will always be ours. Our handprints are in the concrete foundation; our initials are hidden secretly in the mosaic tile on the shower floor. Our creation will live on, giving joy to a new generation, and knowing this makes "farewell" a little easier to say.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another waiting game

More about the house today, of course. I have something new to worry about. The buyer's bank won't approve her loan until a new appraisal is done on the house. They have until May 22 (9 days from today) to complete the appraisal--that is, come to the house to do it and turn in the results. At the same time, we hear that appraisers are so busy now they need lots of lead time, certainly more than 9 days. We have a sort of dam building up of contracts and other commitments that we can't make until we know this thing is going to happen. We're going to North Carolina this weekend to choose a rental house. We can't commit to it. We can't sign contracts with the builder or the mover. We can't act to close down accounts with utilities. And on and on.

Meanwhile there are things we can do. Today (instead of when I thought I'd do it on Monday) I will paint the wine cellar with Kilz to get rid of mildew. We actually think a wine cellar is supposed to be a little musty, but if the buyer wants pristine, she'll have pristine. We've left the door to the cellar open the last two days to let dryer air in, and have been running a fan in it. It's as dry as it's going to get now.

I also have to buy a couple of things for the move itself. We will leave here after closing on June 19, but the movers won't arrive with our furniture (including beds) until the next day. Today I'm buying an aerobed so we can sleep in the house on the night of the 19th, instead of in a hotel. (We'll have the cats with us.) We'll also have all the food we haven't consumed by June 18, so I need to by another cooler.

Does anybody know how to move a fish?????

Monday, May 11, 2009

Resting Up

We had quite a full weekend. Steve worked like a dog both days doing repairs--contingencies for the sale of the house that became required after the engineer's technical inspection. They were mostly simple (to Steve, anyway) electrical and carpentry fixes that the normal person would hire somebody to do but that Steve could do himself. I did what I could to help Saturday until I had to leave for a little ad hoc high school reunion (more on that below) and then Sunday we both worked like crazy, to the point where Steve overdid it and had to stay home today to recuperate. (Overnight road construction, seemingly right below our windows, in the cool, open-windows hours didn't help anybody get a decent sleep). One thing is left do: remove mildew from the wine cellar. I'll tackle that this week by spraying with Tilex and then painting the walls with Kilz primer. Steve fixed the cause, misdirected rainspouts, during the weekend.

The high school get-together was a wonderful break, though I felt guilty leaving Steve here still working. This was an ad hoc party, really, for about 20 people that my wonderful friend Jane has kept up with over the past 40+ years. I'm from the class of '64 and Jane's from '65; I was added on at the last minute when Jane stumbled upon me in Facebook. All the people at the party except me were from Jane's class, but that was OK because I actually had more good friends from the classes immediately before and after mine than I did in my own. Warm friendship is a wonderful institution. We fell into comfortable conversation immediately, as if no years had passed.

There's a special, intimate quality to friendships formed during our early years, when entire families by necessity became part of the relationships. Moms and dads ferried groups of us to parties and got to know everybody. Brothers and sisters were often hangers on and known to the group, too. When we meet later and reminisce, there's as much catching up to do about our families as about ourselves, and old bonds are strengthened that much more.

I'm so grateful to Jane for opening these old doors and allowing wonderful, dearly missed friends back into my life. Being back in regular contact with them is a gift beyond value.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Here's a recipe from author and Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary. Her column is called "The Color of Money"--perhaps it's syndicated where you live; she writes economic advice mainly for minority communities, but her down-to-earth voice is a comfort to all. In this article she wrote for Wednesday's Food Section, she talks about one of the perils of being a black woman of a certain age, who was led to believe by the politics and resulting cultural influences of the day that cooking was a form of subservience, and black folk were no longer supposed to be about subservience. The expression "slaving in the kitchen" hit too sensitive a nerve for her and she swore for many years that she'd never do her own cooking. It was only later in life, after she started a family, that she began to see cooking and sharing food as a way of bringing family together and honoring ancestral traditions. This is one of the recipes that her kids love preparing with her. It's such a favorite that "there are never any leftovers to take for lunch the next day." She adapted it from

In turn, I've adapted the recipe myself by adding green pepper and onion and celery, mainly because I just can't imagine a casserole of meat and tomatoes without them. Maybe these additions make the dish "less Mexican," but what the hey. We're supposed to be a melting pot, right?

8 oz. mostaccioli, penne regate or similar short pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey breast
1 medium green pepper, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 large stalk celery, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup mild salsa
10 oz. frozen corn (defrosting not necessary)
1 lb. low-fat cottage cheese
1 large egg
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 oz. grated sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, or a mix of both

Cook pasta according to package directions and set aside to cool

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a 2-quart (ungreased) baking dish or casserole.

Gently heat oil in a deep frying pan. Break up turkey in the pan, add chopped pepper, onion, and celery. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and sauté together until turkey is no longer pink and vegetables are slighlty softenend. Stir in salsa and corn, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Combine cottage cheese, egg, cilantro and pepper in a large bowl, then add cottage cheese mixture to reserved cooked pasta, stirring to combine well.

Spread half of the turkey-salsa mixture evenly into bottom of casserole, then layer with pasta-cottage cheese mixture.

Spread half the grated cheese on top of pasta, then spread remaining turkey-salsa over cheese. Finish with remaining grated cheese sprinkled evenly over top.

Bake 30-40 mintues until bubbly and slightly browned. Allow to rest 15 minutes and serve.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I can squeeze a few words in here before I have to go to the dentist, for the third time in a week. There's no huge problem, just that he can't get a crown to fit properly. Every time I go expecting to have a new tooth in my mouth I end up having to bite down on what feels like unflavored chewing gum for 3 1/2 minutes while he makes yet another impression. The dentist is actually more frustrated with it than I am--the first time it happened he was sputtering in anger and I actually thought he was going to start flinging his instruments about the office. I had to calm him down. I take it as one of those things that can't be helped and just roll with it. The stainless steel temporary is working just fine and frankly I could be happy just leaving it at that. It's way in the back, upper, so nobody's going to see it anyway.....

We passed one more troublesome hurdle yesterday on the house: a successful radon test. To test for radon, a technician installs a meter in the basement near an obvious entry point--in our case, adjacent to the crawl space beneath our living room extension. The meter stays in place for 48 hours and does a reading automatically once every hour. During that period, you can't open any windows, and doors you can use only to get in and out of. It was a bit worrisome because radon is so common everywhere, and the fix, a fan system, isn't that cheap. And it turns out that rain, of which we have had amounts in biblical proportion lately, can cause high readings because moisture traps the gas in the escape seams underground, making it more likely to get into the house. So with all that, I was a bit concerned. But we passed with flying colors. Any reading over 4.0 mandates a fix. We were consistently at the 1.2-3 level. My fellow males will understand when I say this is like receiving a good PSA reading. Like prostate cancer, radon is a silent menace. And the readings are similar in scale. A low score is a relief.

The very last possible stumbling block is the requirement of a new appraisal by the buyer's lending bank. Could a different appraiser come in with a lower number? That would certainly throw the whole deal into jeopardy for us. But Ron, our Realtor, tells us that there is so much refinancing and real estate marketing going on at the moment that appraisers are booked solid and the mere lack of time may obviate this step. If an appraisal were going to take place, it would have to be done and turned around by May 22. Ron says if we don't hear something by the end of this week, we're probably home free. Besides, our current appraisal is only three months old, and a new one could just as easily come in higher as lower.

Steve will be spending Saturday doing the minor repairs found necessary by the engineer visit last week. The brick furnace-exhaust chimney has a few rows of loose bricks at the top and needs a new cap, and for that I engaged a bricklayer who will do the job for $1100. That's the most expensive item on the to-do list, so we're getting out of this part of the process pretty inexpensively .

I've also been interviewing movers. We were hoping we could avoid having to use professional movers--we are both able-bodied, and lifting boxes and furniture is well within our capabilities, but 10,000-12,000 pounds of belongings is just too much for non-professionals to handle--you can't even rent a truck that's big enough to take it all. So the move should be the only major debt we'll incur in this entire venture. Prices are all over the map. An invaluable tool we have in this area is the Washington Consumers' Checkbook, a Consumer's Union-type organization that covers only the DC area. Think Angie's List, but much more comprehensive because it's been around for decades. For $30 a year you can check their enormous database of user ratings, comparisons between cost and quality, etc., of every service you can imagine, from drycleaners to pet sitters. It's a natural go-to for movers, and that's how we're choosing.

Off to the dentist. Third time's a charm.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beats and Boomers

Recent writings and readings have given me a welcome respite from constant thought about matters real estate. (I believe my brain has a Grand Canyon-size furrow in it by now full of neurons labled "real estate." I won't mind if one day those synapses deteriorate from blessed disuse.)

I've been writing about attaining young adulthood (or more properly, starting a still-unfolding post-adolescence) during the 1960s, immersing myself in those magical times, and then I encountered The Beatles song "Girl" in E's space today, which only reinforced that turn of thought. And I came up with an insight.

There is an entire cadre of artistic icons, especially musicians, associated with that '60s era whom we early Baby Boomers honor as the voices of our generation. But none of those oracles are Boomers themselves. Their years of birth range mostly from the late-1930s to the early '40s, all of them predating the post-WW II Baby Boom. (And Dr. Spock, on whom many blame the supposed self-pre-occupation of the generation, was born in 1903!)

So questions arise. What was it in the formative years of those people that caused them to question the society around them, and even more interestingly, what in their education and musical traditions led them to such a burst of creativity?

A possible theory, one I've come up with: these people were inspired in their questioning attitudes by the 50s Beats, to whom they were slightly junior, and then were able to popularize their work by hitching on to the folk revival and all that entailed--what we now call "roots" music (also an offshoot of the Beats), which inspired the R&B and Rock threads of the "new music." We were slightly junior to them, this nameless group between the Beats and the Boomers, just as they were to the Beats, and something in our own mass upbringing primed us to respond in a big way to what they had to offer. Was it Dr. Spock?

Just sayin'...........

Monday, May 4, 2009

Things are moving!

I don't believe we have seen such a rainy spring since 1989, when we were trying to begin construction on the addition to our house and progress was constantly interrupted by weeks, literally, of downpours. That year stands out as a benchmark for us because the rain was so damn inconvenient. Now we aren't trying to build, but the dreary and cool weather does get boring and confirms for me that I don't think I'd like the Pacific Northwest if this is what they get. Yes, the pollen's down and the flowers are rampant, but it's chilly and just dreary. Not even the flowers can cheer up the looks outside.

It was an eventful weekend. We started out knowing Saturday would be somewhat curtailed because we were attending the wedding of the son of dear friends ours. It was about an hour away at 5 pm, so we planned our day accordingly. Then, around 1 PM, Ron, our real estate agent, called and told us our buyer wanted to do the technical inspection with her engineer "tomorrow at 10 AM," meaning yesterday, Sunday. Surprise! Ron had previously told us this would happen sometime later this week. Steve was in the middle of a messy, all-day kitchen project (reducing 50 pounds of chopped green tomatoes to mincemeat pie filling) and I was doing usual weekend chores. We had to drop everything and get the house back into ship-shape for this final showing. Yes, the buyer has already committed, but we wanted to make sure she and her husband were happy with the purchase, and maybe even wow the engineer enough to make him ignore whatever (unknown to us) problems there may be. (Fat chance, but it was worth a try!)

So the inspection came and went. We left the house at 9:30 yesterday morning, had huge breakfast at a local favorite diner, and then went to an early showing of the movie "American Violet." (You should see it. It's a gripping, true-life crime/courtroom drama about a young black woman falsely accused of drug dealing in small-town Texas in 2000. It deserves more attention than it's getting.)

We came back home at 1:30 and the buyers, the engineer and their agent were still here. We camped out in front of the house until the agent saw us and invited us in, so we had a chance, finally, to meet these angels from heaven who are buying our house! We fell into conversation immediately. They were full of admiration of the house (ah, the ego gratification!) and questions about how things work. We gave them "before" pictures of the house, one of what it looked like when we bought it, and two others, much older, of the house on a truck actually being moved here in 1957. They loved the pictures. It was a fun meeting and we will invite them here for drinks sometime just to walk them through again and get the inside scoop on how things work here. We're also thinking of inviting them to the huge farewell bash we're having on June 13, to celebrate Steve's retirement and say farewell to the house, which so many of our friends have enjoyed over the years. It would be a great way to meet their new neighbors.

The engineer found a couple of big "problems" that didn't exist--the furnace "doesn't come on" (it's brand new!); the shower "doesn't work" (we don't know what he did to it, but it does) and a few small ones, either easily fixed or not worth the trouble. Things we were worried about such as the intricate outdoor watering system, dicey sump disposal and some missing light switches went entirely unnoticed. So, no deal- or bank-breakers here.

I could ramble for another hour but you have better things to do and I have a dentist appointment. Will post music when I get back.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Sorry, folks, no Food Friday today--I've been too scattered and off-routine lately to experiment in the kitchen. (Well, I did throw together a candidate for this space last night, actually, but it needs a lot of work!)

This infernal house saga is finally at an end. We are accepting a best and final offer that is $15K below the appraised value, but is as high as we're going to get in the current market. We're still getting over a half-a-mil for a two-bedroom house. This is not chopped liver.

As usual in matters financial, this achievement is bitter-sweet because of Steve's initial reaction to it. He was ready to abandon the whole enterprise and wait "a few years" until the market turns around and then try again. I had to tell him that doesn't work for me. One thing that passing the threshold of 60 did was make me acutely aware of the passage of time. In "a few years" I'll be closer to 70 than to 60. The line in the horizon ahead is more and more visible, and I want to cram as much joy as I can into whatever time is left. Living in limbo, looking at an uncertain future for "a few more years" is the opposite of joy. Once I explained that to Steve, he relented. This is now a less-than-joyful conclusion for Steve, but least I know him well enough to realize he'll come around.

Life will not be perfect. It never is. We will no doubt face financial challenges in the time ahead; the issue of health insurance for Steve as he approaches unemployment is huge, but we'll make it work. Maybe Uncle Sam will finally see the light and let me put Steve on my policy. Wouldn't that be something!

At last we can move on. Today we're having a conference call with our builder to discuss possible savings on construction. (I called him to give him a heads up on our situation and he says he already has ideas for saving $12,000! What a guy!) Tomorrow we'll come closer to finalization on extension of the pier. I'm starting research on cat-friendly house rentals in the area of Deep Creek Shores, North Carolina.

I should be full of news and more news over the next few weeks!