Monday, June 27, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of a Carpet Beetle Infestation

Wherein you go through everything you own, hold it close to your heart and ask yourself: "Does this item spark larvae?"

Sorry for the snark, I realize I should not mock a book that I have not actually read, but apparently I'm a bit tired.

So the carpet beetle battle continues. Suffice it to say, the infestation is pretty wide spread. I've found nests of larvae in pretty much every room, closet, cupboard etc. Well, that's not entirely true, and I haven't completed my scouring of the house, but let's just say that this is not a small problem.

At this point, I think most people would probably call an exterminator, but I'm not willing to go there yet, so instead I'm trying to deal with the problem in a more organic fashion.

Basically this means that I've been cleaning like a woman possessed.

I'm emptying every closet, drawer & cupboard - there are still a few to go - cleaning all of the contents, getting rid of whatever I can, and storing the rest an a way that will hopefully prevent the beetles from getting to the stuff, and make the next cleaning round (there will be many before this little adventure is over) much simpler.

Along the way I have gotten rid of a phenomenal amount of stuff. Seriously, I think the tally so far is 2 over stuffed chairs, one surplus (and ancient) bed, two area rugs, one kitty tree, one kitty house, about 12 garbage bags full of clothes, linens, pillows and the like, 3-4 boxes of random "stuff" and dozens and dozens of cardboard boxes that I was saving "just in case." OY!

While I was able to clean and donate some of the above, some of it just had to be trashed. I just can't give someone a piece of furniture or a rug that's infested with larvae - that would just give them the same problem I've got. Thankfully this is large item pickup week, so I only had to haul it all as far as the alley.

Don't worry - they still have 2 other much more loved kitty trees, and I'm replacing Smoky's "lookout" with an easy to clean, non-infestable shelf.
And while I have not yet resorted to chemical warfare, I have had to make a few compromises. Since carpet beetles eat wool, silk, feathers (like down), and any other animal products (presumably that means leather) I needed to find an air-tight way of storing those items. And, since the larvae will nest in any sort of fabric, and/or any place they can find collected dust, I really needed to find a way to store things that would keep the dust, cat hair and beetles out. And, that meant plastic. I'm not really wild about the idea, but honestly, at this point it seems like the lesser of many evils.

I'm using a combination of Ziploc bags, vacuum seal space bags, and air-tight (meaning it has a gasket) plastic storage bins for pretty much everything that isn't really easy to wipe clean or doesn't get regular daily use. So here's a glimpse inside my closets & drawers.

Bedroom Closet (including winter bedding)

Sock Drawer

Bathroom and Hall Closets

Holy Moly! Seriously, part of me looks at those pictures and thinks: "Eee Gads! This is the kind of stuff that OCD crazy people do." But after I found myself washing the same theoretically "clean" stuff for a second and third time to ensure it wasn't getting re-infested... well, air tight storage started to make sense.

Anyhow, when one is storing things in air tight containers, it's apparently important to use some sort of desiccant to deal with any lingering moisture. Fortunately, the Googelators were able to help me with that one - apparently silicon gel kitty litter makes a great desiccant!

So for smaller Ziploc bags I've made desiccant packs by filling coffee filters with the stuff - you can see them in the sock drawer photo, and for the larger bins and space bags I put about a cup of it inside a nylon and tied the end off. I guess time will tell how well it works!

I also determined that moth balls were just too dangerous to use inside my house - plus they aren't effective in places like closets that aren't air-tight. So for things that are hard to clean other ways, I've set up some air-tight bins out in the garage where I'm moth-balling things like my sheepskin snow boots. In theory it takes a few weeks to kill any larvae or eggs, and then they can return to non-mothballed air-tight storage inside.

But, while I'm definitely feeling exhausted from so much purging and cleaning, I'm also still feeling inspired by the idea that I can use this as an opportunity to make my home more functional and comfortable. And, as fate would have it, the universe has provided me with some much-needed inspiration on that front.

In one of my runs to donate a bunch of stuff to an organization that helps the homeless, I happened to find myself in the neighborhood in which I grew up. Turns out the house I grew up in is for sale! So I popped online to see if I could find any pictures of what the inside looks like now. I'm not sure you'll be able to appreciate the full impact of the improvements from these photos - but since I've just finished packing away all the old albums in plastic bins, well, we'll have to make do with a few shots that I already had scanned.

Living Room Then...

Living Room Now.
Kitchen Then...

Kitchen Now.
It's rather incredible actually. I think they must have taken things down to the studs and done a complete remodel. Actually, they've knocked out a few walls (it didn't used to be an open-concept design) and made other significant changes - like... my childhood bedroom is completely gone! It got sacrificed to make way for the "master suite!"

Master Bedroom (formerly my mother's bedroom and half bath)
Master Bath (formerly part of my bedroom)

Walk-in Closet (formerly the other half of my bedroom!)
 Seriously, just about the only thing I still recognize are the furnace vents!

Note the furnace vent - they've painted them white but they're still there!
Anyhow, I don't plan to go knocking out any walls or adding granite counter tops to my current abode, but something about seeing those photos of the cluttered, grimy, never tidy home that I grew up in transformed into a gorgeous living space... well, it does give me inspiration to keep going in this little beetle battle of mine.

So there you have it... I fear the kitties are sensing the turmoil and disruption as they've been sleeping in all kinds of new and interesting places, and have just generally been acting a bit out of sorts. I think this photo of Smoky sorta sums up how I'm feeling at the moment.

I just wanna hide until it's over!

But we're a loooong way from done, so in the meantime, I'm just gonna keep thinking of those beautiful photos of the home I grew up in, and keep reminding myself that this is an opportunity. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

First Memories

I spent Sunday with my Dad for Father's Day. We went out for Thai food (Dad's favorite) and on the way back we happened to drive past an apartment building that has always been a puzzle for me.

I have a memory of my grandmother (my father's mother) taking my brother and I to visit some elderly couple who lived there when my brother and I were quite young. Somehow I thought the people were related to my dad's father (who died when my dad was still a child), but it was one of those memories that was so murky that I almost thought I might have dreamed it or otherwise made it up.

So I asked my dad about it, and it turns out that his aunt had lived there - his father's sister. My grandmother had apparently maintained a friendship with her even after she divorced my grandfather. Mystery solved! It was kind of validating to learn that I hadn't just made up the entire experience.

Anyhow, that got us to talking, and I asked my dad how old he was when his parent's divorced. He said he was only about 2, but that he could remember back to when they were married.

In fact, his earliest memory was of his father beating his mother. He proceeded to relate the story - for some reason the two of them were fighting (likely, his father was drunk) and his father started to hit his mother. His mother was all dressed up for some occasion wearing a fancy chiffon dress with flowers on it. My 2 year old father, ran to defend his mother. He said he could vividly remember the feeling of the chiffon fabric as he clung to her legs and cried "Don't hit my Mommy!"

Wow. How's that for a first memory? In a funny way though, it sorta reminded me of my own earliest memory.

I was about 2 years old, and I was in the dining room with my mother. I wanted her to pick me up, but she refused. The more she refused, the more panicked I became, until I descended into a full-on tantrum, clutching her around the leg, with both my arms and legs wrapped around her calf. At that point she got very angry, kicked me off of her leg, dragged me down the hall by my arm, threw me in my room and locked the door.

Now, if I had to choose one word to describe my father's personality, It would be: fearful. And I find it very interesting that this emotion is so clearly expressed in his earliest memory.

Likewise, one of the defining themes of my life was a feeling of desperation trying to find a way to get my mother to love me. And if you look at my earliest memory, well, there it is.

So what do you suppose the mechanism is here? Is it that those powerful early experiences leave a profound mark on our psyches? Do certain memories that stick with us because they are somehow representative of our life experience in general? Maybe we simply choose to remember certain things because they fit with the narratives we have created for ourselves. Or maybe it's none of the above and it's just totally random what we remember and what we don't.

Anyhow, I'm curious. What's your earliest memory? Do you see the emotional themes of your life reflected in that memory? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this whole topic.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Impromptu History Lesson

So I decided to take a break from the carpet beetle battle (which I will write more about later) to go for a bike ride with CatMan.

It was a hot day, so we rode west into the relatively cool foothills, up the shady Bear Creek bike path to the town of Morrison.

"Downtown" Morrison Colorado

Morrison sits just across the way from the famed Red Rocks park & Amphitheater, where many a musical hero has performed.

The bike path goes through Morrison and ends up in a little park just outside of town. At the far end of the park is a curious little bridge with a gate that's always locked, so our rides to Morrison generally end here:

But, as fate would have it, this day the gate was open, and there was a sign with an arrow reading "CCC Camp tour." We had no earthly idea what the CCC Camp was, nor why someone would be giving tours of it, but we weren't gonna pass up a chance to explore uncharted territory!

So we rode onward. The road winds around on some VERY steep hills, and soon we saw this:

At which point CatMan put it all together and realized that it was an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

We missed the official tour, but around the corner from this photo there was a group of park rangers who were just thrilled to tell us all about it.

For those who don't know the details (as I didn't) the Civilian Conservation Corps (or CCC as it was known) was one of those New Deal programs back during the depression, which "employed" young men for the bargain price of $30/month. The men were housed in camps across the country, and worked on projects including roads, bridges, dams, irrigation, and of course, our National Parks.

And... the men housed at this particular camp actually built Red Rocks Amphitheater!

This photo was taken from the stage area, showing the seats roughed in

Turns out this is the 75th anniversary of Red Rocks, and there are lots of events commemorating the construction, so that's why they were giving the tours.

This is one of the few remaining CCC camps in the country (it's called the Mt. Morrison Camp), and it's been beautifully restored using "period appropriate" materials.

Anyhoo... we pedaled on through the camp and up another incredibly steep hill, where we were treated to an amazing view of Red Rocks. (I'm not sure if the view was quite as amazing as the pain in my legs, but it was pretty.)

All in all it was quite an enjoyable day, and such a treat to get a free history lesson with our bike ride!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Finding Opportunity in Crisis?

I didn't really mean to disappear from the interwebs for such a long time, but... well... suffice it to say my feeling of being overwhelmed has not exactly subsided.

First of all, I've been sicker than a dog. To be fair, I'm not exactly sure how sick "a dog" is, but I think I'm givin' him a run for his money. Seriously, it's been over 2 weeks now, and while the coughing and sneezing has pretty much subsided, I'm still a bit of a snot factory - which has made sleeping difficult. And, when my sleep patterns get disrupted I get migraines... so yeah... I have not exactly been a happy camper.

But... being sick is not actually the crisis I was referring to with the title of this post. No... actually there's been another little issue here at chez CatLady - the invasion of the carpet beetles!!

Now, to be honest, I've been dealing with the carpet beetles for years now. They're more annoying than anything else - they don't bite people or animals, and don't carry diseases - they just lay eggs that hatch into disgusting larvae that eat things like wool and animal hair.

Hmm... where could they be finding a source of animal hair in this household?

Well anyhow, as I said, this issue has been brewing for years now.  Last year I figured it was just the cat hair, because I had been avoiding frightening Princess with the vacuum while she was sick. So I made an effort to wash their beds and vacuum more frequently. Still, the little black bugs persisted.

Thinking back on it though, I realized that this issue has been slowly building for a looooong time. I first noticed it back before I bought this house, when I took my long-neglected violin out of its case only to discover that most of the hair was totally missing from my bow.

Not my photo, but that's pretty much what it looked like.
At first I thought it was just a "musical" problem - you know, the gods were punishing me for neglecting my violin for so long. But one of the teachers at the music school said it looked like damage from a "bow hair bug" - which is essentially a carpet beetle that has gotten into your case and decided to feast upon the horse hair bow.

I got a new case and re-haired the bow, but the problem persisted. But as I was thinking about it this past week, I realized that the bug had to have come from somewhere... and I think I have finally figured out the culprit.

Yup... me beloved old recliner. The timing is right... the bow hair bug appeared shortly after I found this thing at a yardsale for $20 (that was over 20 years ago). But you see that crease between the headrest and the back... well, every cat I've ever owned has always gone crazy pouncing on "invisible" somethings in that little crease. And I'm pretty sure that I now know what it was!

Anyhow, long story short, I left one of my beloved Smartwool tops on the recliner (which was slipcovered) for a few days, and when I retrieved it to put it away I discovered to my horror that there were about half a dozen holes in it! Then I saw the larvae fall out of it. Eeeeewwww! I ripped the slip cover off and saw a bunch of larvae retreating into the stuffing of the chair.

That was it. I finally reached my "ick factor" tolerance level. So the recliner is now gone and I've been on a carpet beetle eradication mission.

Folks, between my coughing and sneezing I've undertaken a deep cleaning frenzy the likes of which I've never taken on before, because those little suckers have pretty much invaded the entire house. Along the way I've gotten rid of huge amounts stuff - most of it having to be tossed rather than given away - because I can't in good conscience give away something infested with carpet beetles. I do have to say, it feels great to let go of stuff.

So, here's the "opportunity" part. As I've been cleaning, scrubbing, laundering and vacuuming, I've decided to make some upgrades around here.

First on my list is the kitchen.

This started because I pulled a rag out of a kitchen drawer to clean something and discovered carpet beetle larvae on the rag! Oy! So every drawer & cabinet has been emptied and scrubbed, and I replaced the horrible curtains and mini-blinds with easy to clean, cord-free roller shades. I also laundered the rag rug (and discovered that there's a cheap and easy way to keep it from slipping on the floor - duct tape - who knew?!)

Along the way I figured out why my silverware drawer was so hard to pull out - long story, but a little roller piece had fallen off the bottom of the drawer, which was causing the bottom brace to rub against the bottom of the drawer, literally wearing a groove in the drawer bottom itself. Anyhow, I didn't take any pictures, but here's one I found on the web that shows you the little roller.

I re-attached the little goomer, and wow! It's really nice to have a drawer that's easy to open and close!

Anyhow, somehow having functional drawers and window coverings made such a huge difference that I decided I'm gonna make some further improvements. Eventually I'd love to replace the floor and countertops, but for the moment I think I can make a huge improvement by just painting the kitchen. I'm thinking white cabinets and trim with contrasting brown walls to help tie it into the floor. Most of the walls are covered with cabinets, so it will be mostly white, but the brown will provide a nice contrast. I'm thinking something about this color - because there are flecks of this color in the horrible yellowing floor tile:

BTW - I've tried EVERYTHING to de-yellow that tile. I've stripped it and scrubbed it and bleached it and even tried a crazy science experiment with peroxide, oxy-clean and UV light - no dice. So I'll just live with the floor for the time being.

But I'm gonna replace the cabinet hardware and do a bit of work on them so they'll close properly and stay closed. And I found a trash/recycling combo can that will actually fit in the space next to the microwave - it's been ordered and I can't wait to stop tripping over that second can that doesn't quite fit into the space.

Maybe if I hate my kitchen a little less, I'll be motivated to keep it cleaner.

Next up: the window coverings. I've been washing all of the drapes because carpet beetles like to hide in the pleats, and along the way I'm realizing that many of them are literally falling apart, plus I sort of hate them.

So I'm working on slowly replacing them with easier to clean alternatives. It may take a while to figure out what works - the cats seriously complicate the matter. The ideal window coverings would be cord-free, plastic free, easy to clean, insulating, and cat proof. I may have to compromise a bit, because finding something that fits all of those requirements is a tall order, but I've ordered a cellular shade to replace the horror pictured above, and we'll see how it works. In theory, it will look something like this:

I've also decided to lower my "eco" standards a bit and put some moth balls in the closets. Moth balls kill carpet beetles and their larvae, and since the little buggers LOVE dark places like closets, I'm sure it's a prime breeding ground for them.

This means that I'll need to keep the closet doors closed and latched - both to make the moth balls more effective and to keep the cats out of there. So I've done some work on the closet doors to make them work better, and I have to say, having closets that close easily and stay closed is sort of huge in terms of how the house feels.

And speaking of repairing things so they'll close and stay closed... We've had a few somewhat concerning incidents in the neighborhood recently. One involved random people walking through backyards (including mine) in the middle of the night. Could have just been kids "cutting through" so they didn't have to walk all the way around the block, but it was a bit un-nerving.

The other thing was, I was working in the front yard one afternoon when a strange SUV pulled up and a woman claiming to be a "new neighbor" from a few blocks away started asking me questions about garbage collection. It struck me as odd, and I had a fleeting thought that it might have been one of those things where one person distracts the homeowner in the front yard while another slips in the unlocked back door and robs the place. Fortunately my back door was locked, but both of those incidents convinced me that I needed to do something about my ill-functioning gates.

It took some creativity because the land has settled over the years, so the gate latches were no longer close enough to the pole to function properly. But I rigged an extra pole in the gap on each gate, and then I put a padlock on all of them.

It's not gonna stop anybody who really wants in, but it should make my yard less attractive for random midnight wanderers and anyone looking for an easy "crime of opportunity". It will also stop the things from blowing open in windy weather.

Plus, and I know this will probably make me sound like an un-neighborly recluse, but it will stop my neighbor from letting herself into my backyard and peeking in my back door every time she wants something. Part of me thinks that I should feel fine with her doing that because it hearkens back to the era of Lucy & Ethyl or Laura & Millie - apologies to anyone who didn't grow up watching I Love Lucy or The Dick VanDyke Show.

But honestly, it just really feels like an invasion of privacy to me, and somehow knowing that she can't just suddenly appear out of nowhere is very comforting to me.

And finally... I've decided that it's time to get rid of the hideous avocado green shag carpeting once and for all! I mean not only is the stuff ugly as sin, and full of god knows what kind of dirt (and carpet beetle larvae) it's also completely falling apart.

It won't be a simple project because god knows what sort of shape the oak floor is in underneath there, but I'm resolved that I'm gonna get it done before the end of the summer. The other complicating factor is that the house was remodeled somewhere along the line and a wall was taken out, so I'm pretty sure there's a gap in the hardwood where the wall used to be. I won't know what the gap looks like until I get the carpet up, but hopefully I'll be able to come up with some sort of a fix. I sort of like the idea of just having hardwood floors with a nice rug in the living room, but depending on how it looks, I may end up just having new carpet installed. Stay tuned...

Anyhow, I was gonna show you some pictures of the garden too, but this post is already too long, so I'll save that for next time.

Oooooo!!! But I do have one last photo for you. While I was writing this my new trash can arrived!

Not only does it actually fit into that small space, it's pretty nifty too. The bottom section is for trash, and it tilts out when you step on the little grey goomer. The top bin is for recycling, and it easily lifts out so you can take out the recycling without having to haul the whole can out to the alley.

It's sorta crazy how happy this thing makes me, but hey... it's the little things, right? (Made by Rubbermaid, $35 ordered online from Home Depot in case anyone is curious.)

Anyhoo... that's the news from the funny farm. Hope you're all enjoying the beginnings of summer (or winter for you southern hemisphere dwellers!)