Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mouseblogging Update

Nothing to see here, folks.

The mouse is still at large. I am beginning to suspect that the mouse has been in residence for a while. A few weeks back, I happened to look up at the top shelf of the pantry and found an open, half eaten quart of apple pie filling. I am now given to understand that what I took for insect larvae in the jar were, in fact, mouse scat. This means that the mouse has managed to a) climb to the top shelf of the pantry, b) pop the top of a mason jar of pie filling and c) eat approximately 12 times its volume of apples, sugar, spices and modified food starch. We may be dealing with a cleverer-than-average rodent here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Live MouseBlogging

The first installment here will be on tape delay. About an hour ago, I saw an example of your standard issue field mouse scampering across the living room floor into the kitchen. I don't much blame it, since it is 22 degrees outside and we have roughly 2 feet of residual snow covering anything that would pass for a field around here.

About half an hour ago, Chakaal decided to get her 18 pounds, 14 ounces of inborn mousing ability trotting into the kitchen. She is now staring at a nook where, I assume, the mouse is hiding. The other two cats are taking the flanks.

More if it happens.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

The good news is that the writing has been taking off like a shot. It's not the sort of thing that would make my BFA professors proud (then again, I doubt that any of them except one would be proud of anything vaguely comprehensible). Mostly, I write short summaries of this, that and the other thing, chock full of keywords to make it Googleriffic.

Which brings me to why the blogging has been light lately. I'm writing all day, for pay. Good for me, bad for you all. I will try to keep this up as much as I can, but I hope you all will understand that the paying gigs have to come first, and there will be times when neither my brain nor my fingers can stand any more time putting letters in order.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How Cold Is It?

The Rookery is currently enjoying--OK, not so much enjoying as experiencing--an ambient air temperature of -3 Fahrenheit. Just how cold is three below zero? I looked out my kitchen window this morning and my icicles have frost on them.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Finally, The Government Understands the Real Danger

The government appears to have unwittingly caught on to the truth: the common cold is far more dangerous than terrorism. How do I know? As of this afternoon, I have had to show my ID more times to get rid of this blasted cold than to fly across the country, and that was before the identification shakedown to get nasal decongestant.

Since airlines have cut back to what appears to be a national average of 2/3 of a ticket agent per airport, no one checks ID when you get your boarding pass anymore. Quietly, over the past few years, they have reduced the airport ID checks down to one flash with your boarding pass at the TSA checkpoint as the person makes sure that your driver's license name matches your ticket name. Emp. Peng. and I flew from Columbus to Seattle and back, showing our identification a total of twice.

Coincidentally, that is exactly how many times I had to show my ID to buy 8 ounces of cold remedy. Since I tend to treat symptoms as I get them, I eschew the gazillion-in-one cold syrups in favor of ones that do one thing. The thing I need. I don't need to take a fever reducer if I am not running a fever. During the course of this cold, I have had chest congestion and a nagging cough, so I separately bought a bottle of expectorant and a bottle of cough suppressant, carded both times to prove that I am not a teenager looking to get 'faced on dextromethophan.

With chest congestion and cough having already put me on par with cross-country travel in terms of ID checks (although, thankfully, I did not need to have my shoes x-rayed at the Kroger pharmacy counter), I decided that my head congestion had become intolerable. I could actually feel the snot backup from the outside of my face, and the combination of painful congestion and a general inability to breathe through the standard oxygen-intake portals was leading me to emit a pathetic puppy whimper in my sleep and keep Emp. Peng. up half the night.

Time was, the remedy for this was to go to a store, pick up a box of Sudafed, pay for it and leave. That time was before someone figured out that you could use Sudafed to make methamphetamine and the DEA turned it into a List I chemical (basically, harmless enough on its own, but can be used to make controlled substances). Now, to get the Sudafed that contains pseudoephedrine, you have to show ID and fill out a form with your name, address and DOB and time and date of purchase, which will be kept on record for 2 years. Plus, you can only buy 9 grams of the stuff in any given month. That last one is not too onerous for the average cold sufferer, since it represents 300 doses. If you are that congested, you may have bigger problems than maxing out your Sudafed allotment. Nonetheless, that does mean that a three-symptom cold requires more ID check than a round trip airline flight.

You can, of course, walk into a store and get the new pseudoephedrine-free formulation of Sudafed with no questions or ID required. However, I find it telling that retailers and manufacturers have chosen to keep the old decongestant on the market, even with the inventory controls and extra work for the pharmacist that stocking it entails. I have to assume that, from a purely business perspective, if the new stuff worked as well as the old, no one would bother with the added work and expense of keeping the old stuff on hand, and the manufacturers would simply stop making it. But they don't, seriously implying that the new stuff could be about as effective as the blister pack it comes in.

Which is how I found myself this afternoon handing over the details of my identity to a lady at the pharmacy counter in exchange for nasal decongestant. When I am sick enough to need a decongestant, I'm not fooling around with the namby-pamby stuff. There ought to be some provision in the control of pseudoephedrine that, if you have to dig through pockets with more than half a travel pack of used, snotty tissues to get your ID, the pharmacist can assume you need the drug for legitimate nasal decongesting purposes and you are exempt from the background check.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Dispatches from the War on Christian Holidays: The Holidays are Winning

On my voyage to buy cough syrup, I noticed something even more disturbing than the newfound fear that kids are managing to get toasted on tiny bottles of 3 proof liquor spike with guaifenesin: the Cadbury Cream Eggs are out already. Stores that have not finished moving their Christmas displays to the clearance bins are already putting out Easter merchandise.

The Christmas stuff started popping up November 1. Easter is on April 12 this year. To put it in perspective, we are getting the one-two punch of major Christian holidays for longer than we are on Standard Time this fall/winter/spring. If the Christian holidays are not winning this War on Christmas, they are certainly doing a good job of getting the advance scouts out there.

Bonus Tip for the Sickies

If you have a lamp connected to The Clapper, turn it off when you have a cold. The audio sensor doesn't know the difference between "Clap on" and "Hack on."

Warning: This Post Involves Mucus

As I alluded to before, Emp. Peng. and I have colds. Had, really. We are at the stage where we are just getting rid of residual phlegm. The human body's capacity for snot production is quite astounding, and seems to take its sweet time ramping down once the virus is cleared out. As a result, the Rookery is awash in used tissues and the sound of two people trying not to cough up a lung. I believe in working with my cold, not against it. I will take expectorant like candy to help clear out the congestion, but I don't take cough suppressant if I can help it. I figure the cough is doing something, so better to let it get its work done. Cough suppressant just drags things out.

However, a couple of nights ago, the coughing kept us both up most of the night, so I broke down and went out for a bottle of Robitussin. Some time between my last cold and now, the stores made a new rule that you have to be 18 to buy cough syrup. At the checkstand, I casually asked when it was decided that kids don't get sick. Apparently, the ID rule was put in place because teenagers were buying up cough syrup to get drunk.

As a service to these teenagers, I am going to do the math here. The bottle of cough syrup I bought was on sale for $5 for 4 ounces and contained 1.4% alcohol. A little bit of multiplication shows that the cough syrup bottle contains .05 ounces of alcohol, or approximately 1/10 of a tablespoon. A standard "drink" (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces wine, or 1.5 ounces hard liquor) contains 1.2 tablespoons of alcohol. In order to get the alcohol equivalent of one drink, you would need 12 bottles of cough syrup. At $5 a pop, that is a $60 beer. I am a lightweight in the alcohol tolerance department, but even I would require more than one beer to get intoxicated once you factor in the calories from 4 cups or so of corn syrup that comes with that 1.2 tablespoons of alcohol. Either this is another example of adult paranoia over the activities of the young folks, or teenagers have an excessive level of disposable income. I tend to lean toward the former explanation, since any teenager with the brains required to earn enough money to develop cough syrup alcoholism has enough brains to figure out at least one of the 6 or 8 more efficient and cost-effective ways of coddling their budding drinking problem.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Holiday Moves Henceforth Referred to As Mistakes 1-8

Yes, yes, I know I haven't been blogging much. Between work and the migration, things at the Rookery have been getting quite busy. When the economy tanked back in September, a good chunk of our passive income evaporated, ending my days as a part-time housepenguin and throwing me into the workforce. I have managed to land in the You Can Do It In Your Jammies industry (self-employed working from home), but that is a blog post for another time, if I can squeeze it in between paying jobs.

This post is about the winter migration. A few months back, Emp. Peng. thought we might take advantage of the normal between-Christmas-and-New-Year's lull in his business to migrate out to the relatives for a visit. When we presented this idea to PengMom, she (cunning momma bird that she is) and I developed a plan by which PengSis would not know of the impending migration until we landed on her doorstep on Christmas Eve.

Mistake #1. We have a rule about not seeing relatives at the holidays. Let's just say that was a terrific idea on paper--paper that did not include such interesting developments as record snowfall between the airport and Casa de PengSis, contagious upper respiratory tract infections in the two migratory pengs, dispatchers that kept the PengParents (aka "our ride from the airport") in Salt Lake City up to the day we left Ohio for Seattle, or custody issues that left the itinerary of half of the fledglings up in the air where penguins have no business. Don't get me wrong, here. The look on my sister's face when it finally seeped through the first six layers of maternal sleep deprivation that, yes, her sister really was sitting in her house was priceless. Had we turned around right then, driven back to Seattle and hopped the next flight home, things would have been perfect. But no, I had to try to do laundry.

Mistake #2. We flew in on one of the most pleasant airline experiences I have ever had, and I am not sure if that was because of or in spite of being booked on two canceled flights and being 2 hours late out of O'Hare because of the snow and subsequent de-icing of the plane with what appeared to be The Incredible Hulk's urine. We flew American, one of the airlines that has started charging a fee for the first checked bag. Not wanting to pay for the privilege of letting an airline lose my luggage, I determined that we could manage for a week with just our carry-on allotment, since we could wash the clothes while we were there. The day after Christmas, having almost exhausted our underwear supply and coated the sweaters with yams, I determined it was laundry time. The washing machine had other ideas, and promptly barfed up a belt, leaving every bit of clothes we had packed, except for what we were wearing at the time, wallowing in soapy ice water.

I fished everything out and finished the wash and rinse cycles, grape-stomper-style, in the bathtub. Unfortunately, the bathtub does not have a spin cycle and I was washing some very absorbent clothes. Underwear could be squeezed out easily enough, but there was no chance that jeans, cable-knit sweaters and fluffy towels were going to get wrung out enough for the dryer any time soon. Giving the problem what Nimrod calls "a coat of looking at," I arrived at what seemed at the time to be a good idea: hang the laundry in front of the fire to start drying.

Mistake #3. Normal people would have gone to a laundromat. PengDad and I are not normal people. Not only is he the one who coined the phrase, "If there is an easy way and a hard way, Janet will find a third, yet-more-difficult way," he is probably where I inherited such tendencies. I thought we could rig up some rope between a couple of chairs. PengDad settled on bringing in the umbrella-style clothesline from outdoors, and since it was his house, we went with his idea. Umbrella clotheslines are great things, but they depend on a certain amount of in-ground mounting structure that is absent from the living room of a double-wide manufactured home (however, in a later and unrelated development, we did shoot a hole in the floor of the other side of the living room which would have worked nicely to stabilize the clothesline, but at the time, punching a hole in the floor seemed like a bad idea). In our first attempt, PengDad simply leaned the clothesline against the wall.

Mistake #4. Trying to maintain perfect balance while hanging clothes on an unsupported clothesline is a bit like trying to play Jenga with your feet. I am sure someone out there can do it, but that person is not me. I began looking around for some way to brace the base of the clothesline and settled on the kindling bin, figuring that the wood would keep the pole vertical.

Mistake #5. I was wrong, but at least the clothesline missed the fireplace, breakable hearth ornaments and the laptop computer as it came crashing down. PengDad decided to rig up a hook in the ceiling to suspend the clothesline from. This actually turned out to be quite a good idea. Less good idea: not checking for the cotter pin that held the umbrella clothesline open once the suspension rig was in place.

Mistake #6. Have you ever been eaten by a clothesline? I have. We got the pin problem fixed and finally got the laundry hanging and dripping all over the floor. Still unsure who won, me or the clothesline, I retreated to the kitchen for a brandy-spiked eggnog.

Mistake #7. Brandy may be good in many things. Eggnog is not one of them. Irish cream eggnog, however, is good. Enough fat, sugar and calories to kill a person, but it tastes good and manages to make life look less sucky (we at Penguin Perspectives do not condone drunkenness as a a cure for stress, except when that stress involves being prey for a rabid clothesline). Things started to look good after the first eggnog, but I still failed to see the humor in the situation that the others were seeing, so I mixed myself another.

Mistake #8. Always let the first spiked eggnog hit before going back for seconds. Just trust me on that one.