Friday, August 28, 2009

Chemicals and bugs. . . Ugh!

When we were preparing our Berkeley house for sale, we took three carloads of household chemicals to the hazardous waste disposal site in Oakland where guys in Hazmat suits picked through our bottles and cans of auto fluids, garden products, paints, and cleaning supplies as if they were handling Agent Orange. I was amazed at how much toxic junk we had accumulated over 22 years, and I resolved to make a fresh start in our new home – not just to save the environment or ourselves, but also and especially because of Honey.

So as far as I can do it, I’ve banned all chemicals from the new house. I make up my own cleaning supplies from baking soda, castille soap, lemon juice, and the like. And what I can’t make for myself, I’ve been buying from Whole Foods – chemical-free shampoos, dishwasher soaps, and laundry detergents. And I found a guy who promises to keep our big lawn looking good without using any garden chemicals, even though he probably thinks I’m crazy not to just spray away like everybody else does.

I was feeling pretty successful until yesterday when I got a letter from Curry’s Termite and Pest Control Company here in Little Rock. The letter says that the former owner of our house had a contract with them for quarterly pest treatments – and they’d like to offer the same arrangement to me. I asked them what chemicals they have been using, and haven’t yet had an answer - apparently, nobody asks this question and they're composing a response. It brought me up short to realize that some guy has been spraying the house every three months with who-know-what-all substances for the past ten years. There’s probably a ton of nasty stuff seeped into the walls and crawlspaces. And I can only guess how much stuff has been applied to the gardens, too. Will it take ten years before the place is really clean again? In such a context, what good does it do to buy organic foods and cleaning products?

I know there are more pests in this Southern climate than we had in California and I don’t want to be stupid about this. I don’t want to live in a bug-infested house just because I don't like bug spray or weed killer. And if you look closely at some of the houses down here, you can see how much unrestrained wildlife damages a property over time. Complacency is not really an option. But I'm not at all sure what to do.

My mother-in-law, Evelyn Wiggins, lived in Central Florida. I remember how she used to take the kitchen trash out to the street every night to keep the roaches out of her house. And I’ve been reading that you CAN keep pests at bay by being scrupulously clean, caulking cracks leading into the house, and controlling moisture. Evelyn was one of those extremely vigilant and determined people, but bug control was a never-ending challenge for her. I never asked her, but I would not be surprised if Evelyn didn’t also have a quarterly pest control contract. I certainly saw the cans of RAID in her cabinets.

So here I am with another one of those Arkansas-is-not-California dilemmas, researching options, learning something new. I guess this is part of why we moved here – to get a fresh perspective on life. And, still, it’s not always easy to feel this kind of confusion about the most basic details of life. I welcome your advice and suggestions, if you want to share them.

Katie and Honey came to visit this week. They had tons of fun attending Vanessa’s wedding in San Francisco last weekend – and we got to hear all about it. Katie saw her high school friends, the people she grew up with. She says it was strange to visit Berkeley without us living there, but her friends had made her feel at home anyway. And besides, she's glad we're here now.

Anyway, here's Honey bringing home her leftover organic, chemical-free french fries after lunch. I won't bother to ask the restaurant about their pest treatment program. I'm sure I don't want to know!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Venturing Out

We're still preoccupied with ourselves, our house, the office space, and other details of life (like health insurance, veterinaries, and car repairs). But this week, we felt settled enough to start exploring somewhat. First up: a baseball game.

Dickey-Stevens ballpark is about 6 miles from home, across the river in North Little Rock. Thursday night, we went there to watch the Arkansas Travelers play the Corpus Christi Hooks. The Travelers are a minor league farm team for the Los Angeles Angels. Tickets cost $8 each for reserved seats behind first base, popcorn was $1.50, and beer was $4. We also enjoyed a pretty decent meal at the Umpire's Pub inside the ballpark. And we enjoyed spending the evening with so many Arkansans. People were very friendly.

The "Cash for Clunkers" program was in full sway this week, and they were giving away clunker cars at the game that night. Each of us got a bingo card with our tickets, and seven lucky folks went home with a car. It sounded like the average mileage on the cars was over 200,000, but the presentation was fun (see the girls on the roof tossing balls out to the crowd) and people seemed to enjoy the drawings - which came between each inning - more than the game itself. The teams obliged by making very few hits and clearing each other off the field real quick. I mean, the first three innings were over within about 30 minutes. The Travelers eventually won 2 to 1.

Having satisfied our search for baseball fans, we went looking for meditators. Online, we found a local Buddhist center listed and this morning, we went to see what's doing there. The place is called the Ecumenical Buddhist Society of Little Rock and it hosts a variety of Buddhist practices, including both Zen and Tibetan. We were greeted warmly - what else would Southerners do? - and I'm sure we will be able to connect with like-minded people through this place. It is a nice find.

After a little meditation in the morning, we decided to do some exploring by foot in the "River Market" district downtown. Apparently, the area blazes with activity at night, then catches up on its sleep Sunday mornings...even the museums do not open until 1 pm on Sundays. We were able to get coffees (thank goodness!) but we weren't ready to go back home and so we decided to walk around by the river.

The Arkansas river bisects Little Rock and all of the creeks in town - including the ravines in our neighborhood - eventually wind up in the river. Its headwaters are in Leadville, Colorado and it travels east for 1500 miles until it joins the Mississippi at Napolean, Arkansas, on the eastern border of the state. According to Wikipeda, this river marked the US boarder with Mexico until the Mexican American war in 1846.

Little Rock's city government has developed walking and biking trails along both sides of the river, and you can also walk across a couple of the bridges. In fact, there is a 17-mile loop you can take from where we were this morning, across one bridge, down the far side, across another bridge, and up the near side - but we left that trip for another day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Where We Work . . . Or Try To

I know that some of our friends work from home or have office spaces that they rent for themselves. A couple of people have asked me about our workspace, so I decided to show you. This is our office building on Kavanaugh Blvd in Hillcrest. Our space is on the top floor, opposite side, and our room has three windows overlooking a small grove of trees.

Mick works in one corner of the large, square room and I have the other. His corner is furnished with the desk and credenza that Travis built for him. We also bought a bunch of bookshelves to provide a border to Mick's space, and it feels pretty good to him now. My corner is not so nicely fixed up yet, so I'm not showing it. Besides, I don't create such nice artwork to hang over my desk as Mick does. I'm thinking maybe I'll make a collage of magazine covers or something. Stay tuned for pictures of my corner.

Between Mick's corner and the windows, we put our Chinese table and chairs. Both of us like to sit at this table for projects that require elbow room. I'm aiming to hang a bird feeder outside the window once I figure out how to regularly restock it with feed, without breaking my neck.

We found this funny cabinet in an antiques store for $150. Its actually a pie safe, but we use it for our office supplies.

Mick has been working steadily all summer, while I have been focused on getting the family moved and all the millions of details involved in that transition. Also, to be honest, publishers are not beating down my door looking to start or grow anything in this terrible economy. I'm trying to be ready for them when they come out of hibernation, which will be soon, I hope. Meanwhile, I read the job listings every day and fantasize a new career - one with steady demand and decent wages. Hummm, could I dust off my waitressing skills?

Yesterday, Mick and I took a hour off to hike the trails in the park across from our house. This park is really just a small ravine with about 2 miles of trails going up one side and down the other. But its pretty - and close by - so we will probably make a habit of going there. I could almost imagine the sound of banjos coming from some settler's cabin across the woods, or a bear crashing through the trees. But mostly, we heard the sound of commuters driving home along the roads at the top of the ravine, and air conditioners humming behind the apartment buildings at the end of the trail. I guess that's what you get from a city park. Meanwhile, it provides a very nice break from everything, and good workout.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dragonflies, Bacteria, and Chefs Who Love Chickens

Dragonflies were swarming around like helicopters when I went to pick up Leo at Coffee Creek today, hundreds of them. They are two or three inches big – bigger than a large wasp, for example – and moving very fast. At first, I thought they were wasps, and was very frightened by the mass of them moving around my head. But when I realized that they were dragonflies, I relaxed and enjoyed watching them.

Apparently, there are over 100 species of dragonflies in Arkansas. They live near water, and Coffee Creek is a fish camp set on the side of a large lake – a very watery place. They eat mosquitoes and swarm in hot weather when the feeding is good. I don’t know what kind of dragonfly I was watching this morning. It could have been the Swamp Darner like the one in this picture, which is common here.

According to this article in Bay Nature magazine, you can see dragonfly swarms in California, too, in the wet places (like the Delta) or even on Mt. Tamalpais.

We also had a frightful near-miss with Honey today. All last week, she had been sick and feverish and twice went to the doctor for tests. On Friday evening, the doctor called to tell Katie that it was an E-coli infection, and ordered them to take Honey into the hospital today for more blood tests. The morning was very anxious, naturally, but by lunchtime, we learned that Honey is not suffering the dangerous effects of E-coli, and we could all stand down. Actually, she’s well past the worst of it and already on the mend. She certainly looked the picture of health this afternoon, climbing through our furniture.

After we got Honey's test results, and while we were all gathered here in Little Rock, Leo showed us a funny video from The Onion. Its very funny - or at least we enjoyed it this afternoon - and I’m giving you a link to the video. But I have to warn you: the video is laced with four-letter-words and it takes a long time to load on most computers. And you have to watch an ad before you see the video, but if you're really bored sometime, you might like to watch it. Here's the link. Honey looks grumpy in this photo taken while we were taching the video because she wanted to play with Leo’s computer and we would not let her. Hopefully, she was too busy trying to mess with the keyboard to retain any of the bad words in the video.

Even though she had a sick baby, this was a notable week for Katie. She made her first delivery of chickens to the Capitol hotel, which has one of the classiest restaurants in town. Lee Richardson is the executive chef there. He is the Alice Waters of Little Rock – a big proponent of local foods who trained in New Orleans and relocated here after Hurricane Katrina. Anyway, Chef Richardson secretly bought one of Katie’s chickens at a farmers market a few weeks ago, and then called her to arrange an order for his restaurant. And this morning, people swarmed Katie's booth at the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market asking for chickens because he has been telling everybody to try them. Way to go, Katie!