Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

The crazy ants in my Salem kitchen

July 17, 2010

A single ant can seem almost heroic.

There he is on the counter searching for food, lifting one hundred times his own body weight in – what?

Cupcake crumbs? Dried juice? Spilled honey? Maybe I left a few granules of sugar on the counter after serving guests coffee one evening and forgot to wipe down the surface.

But there he is.

Surely, we all can identify with a tiny ant going about his business, one working, walking stiff just trying to find his way.

I don’t always know what it is that I’ve neglected in the kitchen the night before, but I can tell you there is nothing heroic about waking up to an army of ants moving in a silent mirage like a Salvador Dali painting come alive. In fact, the word that springs to mind is always “teeming.”

And that’s when my skin begins to itch and I become an angel of the ant apocalypse, raining vengeance on them with a spray bottle of Clorox Green Clean. I leave them in a mass grave, crumpled, wet and destroyed.

My brother-in-law Jeff says the ants that share our kitchen here in Salem are similar to the “hormigas locas,” or “crazy ants,” that live in Panama. Crazy ants are travelers foraging far from their nests – our guess is that ours actually live under our herb garden about seven feet from the outside wall of our kitchen.  These crazies are highly adaptable and prefer moist environments. The more I learn about them, the more I have started to consider them just part of the fabric of living here in Salem.

But the word on the street (okay, on NPR) is that these swarms are becoming increasingly more common across the United States.

The other, infinitely more troubling characteristic of these buggers is that they move in what entomologists would call a highly erratic fashion. At the moment you discover them, they scramble, exploding like fireworks in every direction.

In Panama, Jeff found, the way to cure the crazy was to accept a life lived in balance with the ants, which is the only real solution when your house is basically an unsealed wooden shack and your Peace Corps stints lasts only two years. But we live in a 1910s cottage in Northeast Salem, near the State Hospital, and we didn’t sign up to live in a group home.

So naturally we’ve done what everyone else has done – buying plastic white ant hotels, dribbling boric acid at the baseline of all the cabinets and at the all of the edges of our house.  These are temporary solutions that fail when these tiny travelers revisit, or as I often imagine, get smart.

Pesticides can only offer a short-term relief –real peace of mind comes from scrubbing down your surfaces and evolving into your own Mini-maid. This is no small task for someone like me, who once thought that doing the dishes after dinner spoiled the meal.

These ants have brought out the best in me.  Ant season may only come for part of the year, but now, I’m like a woman on fire who has her settings set to “hospital-grade clean.” It’s so sparkling in here that no one is eating off of our floor.

I still come across the occasional ant scouting for food. But he’d be crazy to stop here.


Welcome to the Secret Society

May 21, 2010

I had to giggle a bit a while back when I got lumped into Salem’s new creative class, but that got me thinking. An influx of new creative folks into Salem’s affordable, sometimes charming, often grubby Northeast city section? Is there any legitimacy to that?

There is!

I’ve always held that stuff happens in Salem — it’s just laughlingly under-the-radar. Well… something is definitely afoot in the Northeast Salem neighborhoods.

All it took was one party at my friend the poet’s house (also in NE Salem) to determine that there are a lot of us small-housers out here milking the city for its historic properties and living large on a tiny footprint. In addition to me, my sculptor of a husband and my baby Dash, a.k.a. The Next Alexander Calder, we have:

Michael Chasar, a Poet with an Penchant for Pop

Stephanie Lenox, editor of Blood Orange Review, a well-received online literary mag

William Bragg, photographer – or you might know him as a champion for the underpriveleged

Jonathan Bucci, multimedia artist, and his writer wife, Rachel Bucci

Any more you can think of? Whom have I forgotten? Whom haven’t I met yet?

As far as I know, all of the people listed here have been in Salem for five years or less. Yay for new blood — and for E.B. White quotes that can lend themselves to cities other than New York.

January Salem Monthly out

January 6, 2010

I’ve often wished that everyone I know in Salem could meet my neighbors, Keith and Sarah Chilcote. They have introduced us to some of the secret sides of the city (he’s my pick-your-own pinot hookup) and have overwhelmed us with their generosity and good natures.

Well, now you can! Salem Monthly just did a little story on them and their business, American Antique Hardware.

Keith is one of the most loquacious people I have ever known. I am consistently amazed that he can manage a dozen properties, run a business and be father to three darling children when he can barely remove himself from a good conversation. Adam and I both have dad crushes on him.

Sarah is a fabulous mom who has found a way to work from home and raise her kids there — a goal I’m striving for myself. All new parents need role models, and we seem to be surrounded by them.

They have built this mini-Eden in the middle of Northeast Salem, a secret city alcove the is all but overflowing with pears and apples and blueberries and plums in the summer.

Oh, and they sell awesome antique hardware at decent prices. Eat it, Hippo Hardware!

By the way, if you are one of the 2.3 people out there who are wondering why there is no Desperately Seeking Salem column in the January issue of Salem Monthly, I’ll enlighten you.

I totally dropped the ball!

Well, kind of. I’m generally gestating these pieces until about the 23rd of the month, when I write them out in a spontaneous burst of literary activity that lasts about an hour. I was working on such a piece when I went into labor.

Thankfully my editor gave me a reprieve for January. Thanks, Eric!

So sorry to my readers: grandma, Jan and my cat De Kooning. I’ll be back in business next month.

Great Expectations

January 2, 2010

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Now it’s the New Year, with a new family member, new aches and pains, and I’ve got new ideas of what counts as “getting sleep.”

I will spare you all the really gory details of the birth of our first son, a whopping 9 lbs. 3 oz., 21 inches, who arrived December 26 at 5:30 p.m. at Silverton Hospital after I was in labor for three days (I blame that Dungeness crab dish at La Capitale, which I ate over lunch on the 23rd…).

By the way, if it’s not “progressing” apace,  it’s not true labor.

Uh huh. Well, I was sure in crabwalk labor for a long time — it never let up.

So yeah. I’m exhausted.

But let me tell you something. As he was flying in the air from my doctor’s hands to my belly, the only thing in my head was that I could do it again.

And I probably will.

Just not this week. Or this month. Or this year.

Say hi to the world, James Dashiell Diesburg!

Flower Bouquets in the Coraline Economy

May 23, 2009


Two Asian flower stands had gorgeous bouquets at the Salem Saturday Market today, of peonies and lilies, all sorts of gorgeous.

But I just can’t bring myself to buy flowers when my garden is exploding in them. The woman who lived in my home before me had a rose fetish and planted them all over my yard — along with poppies, columbine, hyacinth (now gone), lilac, and all sorts of wonderful color explosions.

I’ve always thought of roses as an older woman’s flower — scientists have actually confirmed this — but in yet another sign of my getting older (and now I’m even older, and now I’m even older), I can’t help but bring them indoors.

So I put together this small bouquet of roses, columbine and buttons. It is one equal parts grandma and grandma’s attic, and I kind of love it.

And though I have vowed never to start blogging or tweeting about my cats, one of them, DeKooning, 2, kept inserting himself into the frame.

Desperately Seeking… Happiness?

March 3, 2009

kitchenI’ll admit it. My husband and I were among the people who had Portland in sight when we moved to the Pacific Northwest. We went there seeking home brewers and odd-ones and rapid readers, fierce nomads and constant gardeners. We’ve actually found all of those things in Salem.

Basically, we had fallen prey to all the hype — proof, at the very least, that Portlanders have found the means and the language with which to tell their story right to the rest of the country. And now, today, news that a move to Portland may not be all it’s made out to be.   In a distinction that is sure to draw much attention and not a single new immigrant to the city,  Business Week just named Portland UNHAPPIEST CITY IN AMERICA. The magazine rated 50 U.S. cities on the basis of suicide rates, depression, joblessness, lack of green space, weather, and crime. Within that rubic, the Rose City topped its list.

While some are touting the “Coraline Economy” as a possible savior to the area’s economic woes, the future cannot lie in creatives alone. After all, creative people need jobs to fund their projects. That’s why everyone in Portland is a waitress/barista/retailista in addition to being an artist/writer/filmmaker.

Or, you could just move to Salem and be able to afford the rent on your 1920s hipster cottage.