Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Adventures in Urban Living

Over some weeks we have been dealing with a rodent living in our home. Not a domesticated rodent, like our little chinchilla, CC, but an uninvited, neighborhood type rodent.

Initially we noted that the new bag of sunflower seeds we had purchased for CC had been chewed at the corner. We followed the trail and discovered what we assumed to be a small nest area behind the sofa. Dutifully, we cleaned the area, disposed of the nesting material, disinfected the area & vacuumed. We placed all of CC’s food, seeds and dried fruits in glass jars and congratulated ourselves.

A few days later, we found a hole chewed in the large bag of dog food in the kitchen. At this point we decided that it was necessary to set traps. Especially when we discovered yet another nesting area behind the other sofa in the computer/reading room, as well as behind the living room sofa – again!

Traps were set in all areas where we suspected rodent travel. After several days, not a single trap had been sprung. Indeed, none of the traps looked like they’d been touched at all. Perhaps, we thought, this is not a family of mice we’re dealing with. After consulting with a friend who lives nearby and had fought her own battle against urban infestation a couple of years back, it was decided that we should borrow her rat traps.

First, let me say that if you’ve never seen a rat trap, you should imagine a mouse trap, but about five times larger. That, in itself, is kind of creepy. But in addition to being mouse traps on steroids, it seems you must hot glue the enticements to the trap, in order to prolong the amount of time the critter spends attempting to feed, to be certain he places enough pressure to spring the trap. As my dear friend was explaining this to me, she painted a visual of herself at her antique dining table, spread with newspapers, fresh nuts, seeds and raisins, as she did her very best urban Martha Stewart impression, hot gluing the tasty temptations to the aforementioned traps.

Since I lack a glue gun, I used Elmer’s Glue, I figured as long as the seeds were affixed strongly, it shouldn’t matter what type of adhesive you use, right? There were only two rat traps, as opposed to the six mouse traps we had previously set, but I had complete confidence they would do the trick. After all they had worked for ‘Martha’ over in the next block.

Daily inspection of the traps, one behind each of the sofas became our routine. My husband checked them at 4:30 AM when he got up. I checked them at 9:30 PM, before going to bed. And we both checked them at various times whenever we thought about it, which was frequently. We caught nothing. We began to think that the creature(s) had moved on. We allowed ourselves to imagine that having removed the easy food sources, we had frustrated the rodent(s) to the point where he had decided to leave and look for a more gracious host & hostess. We actually thought that the bugger(s) had moved to the grocery store across the way from our house.

We lived in happy stupidity and ignorance for awhile… Then we began moving the furniture…

My dear husband was vacuuming the living room couch. He had removed the cushions in order to vacuum up dog hair, and decided he would open it up all the way, since it’s a sofa bed. Let me say, the mattress hasn’t been used in at least three years. And although the furniture is nearly twenty years old, the mattress had only been used a handful of times in that period and was in relatively pristine condition. No more! When hubs opened the mechanism, we were shocked and appalled! Seems the rodent was living in the mattress of the sofa bed! He had chewed a multitude of entry and exit holes. There were a couple of spots that looked like urine stains (rodent urine? Ewww!) We hauled the mattress out onto the deck and came back inside to finish cleaning, scrubbing and disinfecting the sofa bed.

Once that was accomplished, we went back out on the deck to roll the mattress up, tie it and tape it so we could put it out for trash. Apparently our univited guest had stockpiled loads of dog food in various areas of the mattress. When we lifted it on its end, the sound of the dog food rolling through the springs inside the mattress was reminiscent of those rain sticks that they sell in nature stores.

Gross, huh? But wait, it gets even worse!

While hubs was taking a well deserved break to watch some college football, I moved into the computer/reading room to move furniture, clean and vacuum. There are French doors between the two rooms and I was standing near the doorway, saying something to Raymond while replacing the dust collector on my Swiffer duster. Our dog, Greyla, was velcroed, as usual, at my side. I felt something run over my right foot and glanced down quickly enough to see the rat, (yes, it was a rat, hereafter known as Ratzo) as he disappeared behind the sofa in the computer room. I screamed! I’m not sure it was fear that brought the scream forward, but rather shock at the weight of the thing as it ran over my foot. I was also appalled by the boldness of the creature and by my dog’s lack of response. OK, in fairness she’s a Lab and NOT a Rat Terrier, but she was oblivious!

Needless to say, my scream motivated the husband and we moved into the 'Battle Against Ratzo'. Now it was personal.

We were ready to move the couch in the computer room, after removing all the cushions. My dear husband, who had suddenly transformed into Raymond, the Great Urban Rat Hunter, thought it best that we flip the couch forward, rather than just moving it out from against the wall. With me on the end near the living room and RGURH on the end near the kitchen doorway, we positioned ourselves to flip the sofa. There is a tall telephone stand against the wall on Ray’s side, upon which we keep the phone & answering machine and at the bottom, it has a shelf where we keep the phone books. We flip the couch and as we do, Ratzo runs from under the telephone stand behind Raymond, brushing up against his pant leg, and across the room to the computer desk. Now I’m really freaking out, upset and shaking. Ray, my Great Urban Rat Hunter, just keeps saying, with something that sounds uncannily like awe, “Holy crap he’s HUGE!”

So… we load and set the two rat traps again. This time, in addition to the nuts, seeds and fruit, I've added organic cashew butter! We place one trap behind the sofa in the living room and one under my desk. Both are in areas that are inaccessible to the dog. Unfortunately for us, Ratzo seems to be exceedingly intelligent. He avoids the traps. And he seems to have expanded his domain, to include the basement. His personal peculiarity appears to be a love of electrical cords, which he chews until he breeches the copper wiring. Perhaps he's some sort of rat adrenaline junkie. He prefers cords that are in use. He's killed one lamp cord and the cord to the dehumidifier in the basement. It would simplify things if he would simply electrocute himself!

Well, this is war! We are being humiliated by a fat rodent whom we assumed had moved on when, in fact, he had been living in our sofa bed mattress, developing a kind of rat condominium, complete with food storage! If he wasn’t going to be lured to the traps, we’d take the battle to the next level! Off I go in search of rat poison.

The poison comes in little trays, about two and a half inches square. Since we were now on the offensive, we decided to use all four trays from the box. Ray thought it would be a good idea to mix some dog food in with the poison pellets to make it more appealing to Ratzo. So, being careful to place the trays in areas the dogs could not reach, we set them, one each, in the sun porch, the living room, the computer room and the kitchen.

Ratzo didn’t touch them! He did, however, munch a couple of red potatoes from the bin where the onions and potatoes are kept near the kitchen door, as well as some drywall in the kitchen and a container holding flour. We’re being bested by Ratzo! We’re frustrated. We’re completely grossed out. We’re humiliated that we can’t outsmart an urban rat!

Apparently it’s time to move the war to the next level. It’s time to get the mercenary fighters involved. I think it’s time to call an exterminator.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I have spent a large portion of my life wishing my family was "The Waltons". Unrealistic? You bet. And even after years of therapy, I still long for the Waltons, especially around the holiday season. I want my big, extended family gathered around the table for Thanksgiving, enjoying our time together, playing some games, watching football, and pitching in together for a joyous experience. This year, I asked my Dad if he and my brothers (the three who who live together, with my Dad) would like to come to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of a yes or no, I got, " Your brothers can go to your house and I'll have peace & quiet here alone." It's my Dad's standard answer. Why do I continue to ask when the response is always the same? Is it that hope indeed springs eternal? Or am I insane, according to Einstein's definition? (Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results) Perhaps, I need more therapy : ) Why do I expect that just because we are all related that we should spend joyous holidays together? Why am I the only one in our family to have the 'let's spend joyous time together' gene? I need to let go of this unrealistic desire for quality family time. The problem is, I don't know how. For someone who wasn't able to have children and create her own "Walton" scenario, and who, truth be told, was terrified of the idea of being someones Mom, it all seems like, too little too late. Had I matured at a more reasonable rate, perhaps I could have developed some sense of 'family' with my husband and adopted children. But, that ship has long since sailed. Instead, I find myself longing for something that probably exists only in TV land; the big, happy, in spite of trials, family spending time together and actually enjoying it! What to do? Not the same thing as usual, that's for sure. The usual most often included my husband's now deceased parents and his brother and sister-in-law, their kids and sometimes, the sister-in-law's family. This year the sister-in-law's family is having Thanksgiving at the beach. And they would've included us, but the husband has to work the day after Thanksgiving, as well as the day before. There have been times when one of my married brothers has invited us to their house with their kids and grandkids, but not this year. Perhaps the simple truth is that I am not really liked by my siblings. I mean, I have my Dad, one sister and and six brothers along with various spouses, their children and their grandchildren to whom I am related. Yet, I can't, in all honesty, say that I would welcome ALL of them with open arms, holiday or not! Ah, there's the rub. The fly in the proverbial ointment. I want to pick and choose who gets to be in my Walton fantasy. The ones with whom I have little desire to associate are the very ones who would always show up! If I truly wanted the big happy TV land family, I would be willing to invite and accept the whole famdamily. It is silly and unrealistic to expect the Balkovecs to ever be the Waltons. I want the people I love to love me and those I like to like me back, but that's not how families or the world, for that matter, works! It's always the club that doesn't want us as members that we really wish to be a part of, right? Not this time! I accept that I have only Raymond. That's way more than some folks ever get. I'm going to make the turkey, mashed potatoes, and all the trimmings. The invitation is open. Just let me know if you're coming so that I have enough seats for everyone. And if it turns out to be just the two of us, that's OK too. The idea is to be thankful for what we have, not what we wish we had.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's not often that I actively post anything that smacks of politics or social commentary. Most times my instinct says there are enough people speaking out on these things without me adding my two cents worth. Today is different.
While the challenge of the health care debate rages on, I am appalled by our lack of compassion and our inability to care for "the least of these". I have a friend whose husband is diabetic. He lost his job last year and for some reason, cannot get medical assistance, even though the cost of his supplies is devastating to their extremely limited budget. They are not slothful drains on society. They are an intact family consisting of mom, dad and two children. Yet, they are without health care resources.
Yesterday, I got am email update from a friend whose sister, a 40ish RN has lupus and is being told by her docs that she shouldn't plan to go back to work. She is basically broke, and broken. She is attempting to get medical assistance, as well as SSDI, but her plight is compounded by her physical, mental and emotional pain. It would be hard enough to deal with lupus, without the additional burden of trying to find your way through the maze of public assistance interviews and requirements. This is some of what she wrote:
"Now, less than $250 in my bank account, what SSI needed.
Now, No healthcare coverage for 2-3 weeks as we wait for the process to switch to medical assist. It means, obviously, I see no docs nor can i afford meds.
Now I wait a week for food stamps, I'll get $180/month to use on non taxable food. Plus there's food shelters/dropoffs, whatever.
I don't know if/when I'll get some help with home heat. I applied.
They'll give me at some point $200 a month to live on.
(that won't include the med. assist when I get (WHAT I NEED THE MOST)...."
When I finished reading her update, I cried. This is a young woman who has been through challenges like many of us. She has battled cancer in her 20s. She adopted and and spent a small fortune on a shelter dog whom she fell in love with, who turned out to have numerous health & genetic issues. She is everywoman. Now, she is facing a health matter that would be hard enough without all these "how do I get care, now" questions.
These are just two examples of why we need universal health care.