Sunday, October 30, 2011

Au Gratin Party Potatoes

I have reached a point where there is no more cleaning or research I can do regarding the bedbugs (Since laying down the diatomaceous earth on my mattress, I haven't received a new bite in 4 days—I can almost imagine they're gone), so I am forced to go back to an almost normal mode of living. Almost normal inasmuch as I still choose my daily outfit by whatever I can find near the top of my storage bags, and am continually stymied by simple tasks such as cutting my toenails (can't find the toenail clippers) and washing my hands (the towels are all in bags in the basement). But there is one thing I still have all the supplies for: food preparation!

Today, I decided to make my lunch another Adventure in Cooking! and prepare some au gratin potatoes from scratch. Here's how you do it.
1. Find a recipe for au gratin potatoes on the internet, such as this one. You know you've picked a good recipe for dinner for one, when you see the word "party" in the recipe title. This will enable you to practice your recipe-dividing skills. is kind enough to do the dividing for you, so if you scale your recipe down to use about 2 1-lb. potatoes, you will be presented with nice, easy-to-measure amounts such as 1 Tbsp. + 1¾t tsp (margarine) or 3/8 of a can (evaporated milk), and you won't have to do any math!

2. Scrub and slice your potatoes (2 of them). The recipe may tell you to peel, cube, and cook them, but you are too Galorious for that, so decide not to peel them (the peel is where all the fiber is!). Also decide to slice them (that's the way real au gratin potatoes are done), and not to bother with the pre-cooking (they're thinly sliced; they'll cook just fine during baking, and besides, you're hungry now!).

3. The recipe tells you to mix your ingredients in a mixing bowl. To save on supplies as well as washing time, decide to forgo this as well, and mix all the ingredients in your 9x13 baking pan, which you have not greased, despite the instructions. Spread the potato slices on the bottom of the pan.

4. This would be a good time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

5.  Now for the hard part: 3/8 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk. Honestly, who keeps evaporated milk around the house? You'll have to use powdered milk. Since the powdered milk comes in 1-qt packets, there are no instructions as to how much powder makes 3/8 of  12 ounces. You'll have to guess. 3/8 is almost 1/2, so just assume you'll need one half of 12 ounces, or 6 oz. Six oz. is 2/3 cup. Fill your 1-cup measure up about 2/3 full with milk powder. Then fill it to the same level with water. Add a little more milk powder because it doesn't look thick enough to be "evaporated." Mix with a fork and dump over the potatoes.

6. The recipe calls for 1/4 pound of processed cheese. Since you find processed cheese totally unpalatable, use colby-jack instead. Cube the cheese nicely and distribute it over the potato slices.

7. 1 tablespoon and 1-3/4 teaspoons butter or margarine, cubed. That's what the recipe calls for, but who has time for such finicky measurements? That's just about 1.5 tablespoons, so cut that approximate amount off your stick of margarine and cut it into little pieces over your potatoes. The pieces will stick together, so you'll have to cut them up more later on.

8. The recipe also calls for:
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Paprika
1/2 teaspoon = approximately a few pinches, so go ahead and sprinkle on the salt. Since you don't have pepper, you'll skip that, but you actually do have some paprika left over from when you made deviled eggs for Easter.Sprinkle that on, too. Realize the recipe said to put on the paprika after cooking, but figure it won't make that much difference.

9. Mix your ingredients in the pan. I find that a fork and a knife make delightful little screeching noises when you use them for this purpose. A spoon may also work. Pick up all the cubes of cheese that have fallen off the potatoes and put them back on top of the potatoes. Use your knife to cut the cubes of margarine into smaller cubes of margarine.

9. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes or until bubbly. Since the oven has only reached about 200 degrees at this point, just set the timer for 53 minutes and go ride your exercise bike. Take a shower, excavate your nail file from the car, and remove the potatoes from the oven with one minute and a few odd seconds left on the timer. Serve hot. 

I suppose if you're an au gratin potatoes connoisseur, these would not go over very well. The cheese pretty much stayed where it was put originally, leading to patches of bald potatoes and other patches of overly cheesy potatoes. The next time I try this recipe, I'll melt the cheese with the milk first for a more even consistency. Still, the potatoes cooked, just as I expected them to, and they were tasty and the cheese was cheesy, and I had a good lunch.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Or just blow all my theories out of the water.

Yesterday, I surrounded the entire base of my bed with a thick layer of diatomaceous earth. This is what Josh did to his bed months ago and it seemed to protect him from any new bites. However, in reading about bedbug prevention, I have learned that more is not better, in the case of diatomaceous earth, as a thick coating acts as a bedbug repellant, whereas a light dusting doesn't deter the bugs but kills them after they walk through it (in the yuckiest way, by perforating their exoskeleton and allowing them to slowly die of dehydration).

This morning I woke up with a new bite on my torso, just behind my right armpit. So much for only getting bitten on the butt. I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed. On the one hand, it means that my diatomaceous earth barrier was not effective, or else my sealing and sterilization of the bed frame and contents was not effective. On the other hand, it means the bedbugs are still getting to me and likely walking through the deadly diatomaceous earth to do it.

To be sure, I dusted more DE around the edges of my mattress. recommends against this, as inhaling diatomaceous earth isn't really good for you, but I'll sacrifice some lung tissue if it means being rid of these parasites. I guess for now, I'll be satisfied with this result.

The question remains, though, whether to bring in an exterminator or not. I have an appointment with the sniffing dog on Wednesday. If the bedbugs are gone or dead, the dog should be able to detect this, thus saving me a thousand dollars. On the other hand, if the bedbugs are not gone, then I will have spent 200 dollars on top of the extermination costs for no real reason. Perhaps I should just cancel my appointment, wait a few weeks, and then see. But can I stand a few more weeks of living out of garbage bags?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blow those bedbugs out of sight

Alas, two new bites last night. Some people say you can get delayed reactions to bedbug bites, but I'm not biting (er, buying) it. I guess some head-wall-interaction is in my future.

I'm also beginning to think that I may just have to fork over the couple of thousand dollars needed for the big guns.

Called another exterminator today (we're calling them PCO's [for Pest Control Operator] over at, which has been my best friend in recent weeks). This one has a bug-sniffing dog that can pinpoint the exact location of the infestation. Unfortunately, it costs 200 dollars just to have the dog visit (whoa, sounds like this crazy auction I saw on eBay recently), and a thousand-some dollars to have the whole house heat treated (but the heat treatment comes with a six-month warranty, so I'd be pretty confident that it would work).

All my research in the past few weeks has missed a few important points that I just learned (too little, too late) this evening (instead of doing my work, again!).
  • Setting off foggers will make your problem worse because it can cause the bugs to retreat into new hiding places. I'm not too worried about this result, because we set them off in every room, so it's not like they could have retreated very far. And I'm pretty sure they'll come right back to me and my delicious blood before long, anyway.
  • A metal bed frame is not a solution, because it is so good at thwarting bedbugs, that it will cause them to migrate elsewhere in search of food. Again, I'm not so sure I subscribe to this. If the bugs can't bite me, then it doesn't matter where they migrate. They will die eventually (I just have to wait 18 months to be sure).
Today I followed my housemate's lead and put diatomaceous earth all around the bottom of the bed. There's tape on every crack in the bed, making it look rather like a pair of pajamas. Should be conducive to sleeping.

In other news, the bedbugs seem to think I have a great butt (thank you, thank you) because that is all they've been biting for the past few days. I'm beginning to think that maybe the duct tape around my bed really has been deterring them, and they've been forced to bite me from the comfort of my computer chair (where my butt spends most of its time when not in bed). Interesting thought.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wish I may and wish I might...

The past two days, I did nothing but battle bedbugs. I got home Friday afternoon and continued the neverending task of bagging all my possessions and getting ready for some chemical warfare.

On a related note, after seeing the giant pile of garbage bags in the basement, my boyfriend forced me to watch an episode of Hoarders, which is a documentary TV show about people with hoarding disorders. While I may not have a hoarding disorder (I do not accumulate rotting pumpkins and 4-year expired yogurt in my house), I do realize that I have a lot more possessions that I formerly thought I would like to have. Living simply seems to have gone out the window in favor of living as complicated as I can, as long as I have space to store it all (such is the hazard of renting an entire house--you feel entitled to spread out all over it). Something has to change. Do you think I can survive without always having a craft supply for every possible occasion? Do you think I can start getting rid of some of the clothes I only wear once a year because I don't like them? Do you think, next time, I can resist when someone is Freecycling the entire Doctor Who series on VHS plus a few miscellaneous other Sci-fi videos?

But I digress.

Saturday we did it. It was so tiring, I don't even want to think about it any more! Yet, in spite of that, in spite of being two days behind on my work, I am compelled to blog about it. Perhaps I have a blogging disorder.

We cleaned every bit of furniture with Pine-Sol. We put (almost) every loose item in our bedrooms in plastic bags. I laundered my mattress cover. We sprayed in all the corners. We set off foggers, which were kind of unimpressive, considering they were supposed to be our coup de grace, in every room in the house. The only thing left to do is for me to put masking tape over all the cracks in my bedframe (and let me tell you, there are a lot) and put the duct tape back around the skinny parts. I am overcome with fear. Last night, I was so afraid that there might still be living bedbugs lurking about, that I begged my boyfriend to let me stay over, even though it meant driving a half hour to work at 6 the next morning.

But tonight, I have to stay here. If I get another bite, I think the only thing left to do is destroy my bed frame and buy a new one, remove the wall-to-wall rug, and sleep in plastic bags. And probably also beat my head against the wall until I have brain damage. I hope it doesn't come to that!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

This time it's for real

Yesterday and today, I eviscerated my bedroom. Everything must go. I put more loads of junk in the oven than I can even count; I laundered the last of my clothing. Towards the end of the day, running out of things I can safely bake, I decided to make some room in the freezer and take my first load of freezer-treated possessions out to the car where I'm keeping all the other treated possessions that are too pointy to store in garbage bags.

When I opened the freezer door, 10 days since I had placed my most recent load inside, the first thing I noticed was the multitude of dead insects arrayed near the door. Most of them were clearly fruit flies, all wings and legs, but some of them had the distinctive teardrop shape of bedbugs.

Bedbug. Teardrop shape and dark posterior.
No, this isn't one of the ones I found.
I really don't feel like getting close to them.
My stomach dropped. I grabbed my tweezers and with shaking hands, I managed to collect the three bedbug-shaped corpses (after crunching off most of their legs and crushing one of them entirely). They had long antennae and that characteristic darker posterior that screams "bedbugs." I about screamed myself.

Well, they are safely in a plastic bag now. Without their legs, I doubt that even if they revive, they'll be escaping anywhere, but I am totally freaked out anew!

These three bedbugs are the first hard evidence I've seen of them living in my house. After all my flashlit inspections, all my cleaning, all my scrubbing and vacuuming and high-temp washing and baking, I still hadn't seen one bug, nymph, egg, or even fecal stain. Yet these dudes prove that there are probably others. And if the others haven't been creeping out of their hiding places to die when I cooked them, then maybe they're still alive!

My car is probably now swarming with living bedbugs! I'm doomed.

The only stuff that I had in the freezer were the art supplies that I'd stored under my bed and the cardboard box of CD's I'd stored in my closet. So did they come from the closet or under the bed? Curse me for not trying harder to isolate the sources! If they were under the bed, I might still be OK, because almost everything that was formerly stored under the bed was in cardboard boxes that I subsequently threw away.

But then there were all the sewing supplies in the giant sewing box I'm so proud of. And the wrapping paper collection in the briefcase! Gaah!

Now, even if the house treatment is successful, I'll still have to re-treat everything I take out of the car! And then treat the car! Thank goodness I don't drive very often. Maybe I can just wait until summer and let the greenhouse effect do its work.

(I left the freezer stuff in the freezer for good measure. I'll take it out after I'm sure my 3 stooges don't wake up).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bedbugs, week 3

After a pleasant 3 days in Florida, during which I discovered only one new itchy bump, I returned to my own bed with some trepidations. Over the course of the following day, itchy bumps appeared all over me--mostly in places I'd rather not mention. This, combined with my return to a climate where winter is just around the corner, combined with being unable to find any of my stuff since it's all packed up in plastic bags or piled in the back of my car, made me quite cranky.

So after work, I decided to escalate the battle a bit. I'd been waiting to aggressively treat my bed until we could treat the whole house, but I decided to give it a go anyway, because there are only so many itchy bumps I can stand before I lose my mind completely. So I stuck a sprayer nozzle in my electric teakettle and blasted every crevice in my bed (above the level of the duct tape) with boiling water.

Then I squirted hot glue in in all the places where bugs might conceivably be crawling under the tape. I wish I knew for sure whether the tape is actually enough to deter the bedbugs. It's certainly not catching any of them, but from forum discussions, I gather that that's to be expected. But if they're walking right over it with a grin on their faces, well, I'm wasting a lot of my time. It's the industrial-strength duct tape. If it's not good enough, I guess my only recourse is to cry.

My other housemate (the one that's never here) finally found time to bag up most of her possessions. She did it while I was gone, and I have to say that when I saw her handiwork, I was way impressed. She did more in 2 days than I've done over the course of several weeks.

On the other hand, she's never here! She doesn't have to pick and choose and try to decide what stuff she's going to need and what stuff she can safely pack away, because she doesn't need any of it! So now that she's done her part, we are almost prepared for our major offensive.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What's eating me?

On Wednesday, an exterminator came to do an inspection (thank goodness the inspections are free; the other exterminator who gave me a quote quoted 925$ for the whole house! If I'm repeating myself, it's because I'm in shock, and I'm only a few steps away from "buh buh buh")

When he came, he looked all over my bed and couldn't find anything, then he looked at my housemate's bed and found fecal stains around the edge of the mattress! Success! Validation at last! Then he looked closer and realized that the stains were actually the dark varnish Housemate had used to finish his bed frame. Failure. He did find bloodstains on Housemate's pillow, but no evidence of live bugs.

I got out my undeniable evidence: the live bugs I'd captured under my bed the previous week. They're in there, I assured him. They're just really tiny. But they weren't. The one that I'd so carefully sprayed to the piece of paper was no longer there. The live one that had been crawling around on the plastic lid was nowhere to be found. They must have died of asphyxiation and shriveled away. One of the ones attached to the ant was still there, but looking a little worse for the wear, and the exterminator wouldn't look at it in my pocket microscope, instead summarily dismissing it: "That? That's not a bedbug."

It was a bedbug! I knew it. It was just a little too young and a little too old (that is, a little too small and a little too decomposed) for a positive ID. But I knew it was a bedbug. I had the bites to prove it.

That afternoon, after he had left, I decided to check my clothes in the storage totes in the closet. I'd asked him whether they were safe, and he said they'd be fine and I should just concentrate on getting a bedbug cover for my mattress (which sounded like a lame idea to me, since my mattress didn't have any bugs on it, and the bedbug covers are around 50 dollars each), and I didn't trust  him anyway since he'd rejected my sample.

First I started poking around inside the My Fair Lady DVD that was sitting on top of them. And when I shone a flashlight into the depths of its cardboard cover, I found (egads!) Two tiny translucent insects crawling around inside it. Despite my immediate horror, I set out to get better documentation of my infestation. So I got those little guys on tape. Meaning I stuck a piece of Scotch tape inside the DVD case and snagged the bugs. The box went into a plastic bag, and then, with great trepidation, I opened up the storage tote, and then started looking around on the lid. Closely. There were more of the vile creatures! These are the "host" of bedbugs I mentioned yesterday.

Since I didn't think it would be easy to identify insects that are all squashed between two layers of semitransparent tape, I decided to try to get photographic evidence as well (I recalled one website was offering money for good photos of bedbugs). It was time to put my new camera's super-macro mode to the test.

This was not easy. Try sticking your camera lens within centimeter of a miniscule insect that keeps walking around on a recessed surface whilst lighting it with a flashlight. After a few attempts, I was exhausted, and set about the daunting task of discovering just what else had been infested. The discovery of my bedbuggy boots transpired, and I was overcome with woe.

My housemate's comment about my space-bending storage abilities cheered me up a bit, but mainly I was too depressed to do anything else that night but quarantine everything in plastic bags and crawl into my no-longer-safe-haven of a bed. I didn't get any new bites that night, and I thought maybe this time I had 'em licked. But no, two new bites this morning.

After my requisite 5 hours of work today, I decided to find out whether my photographic experiment had been successful. And lo, it had! I found on my SD card more than one in-focus, well-lit shot of the insects I had subsequently consigned to their adhesive graves.

There it is! Between the A and the 7!

Well, something compelled me to double-check my findings, so I searched Google for "bedbug nymph." And the first result I found was "Booklice vs. Bedbug nymphs." I clicked.

"Several bedbuggers," said the article I found, "have mistaken [booklice] for bed bug nymphs. Notice the shape of the body is elongated, with three clear segments. There’s a pronounced head." Yes, that is definitely the shape of the creatures I found. Bedbugs, on the other hand, are supposed to have a flat, wide body.

1. Bedbug                         2. My bug                                        3. Booklouse
Well, it seems pretty clear that the samples I've found are not bedbugs, but booklice (also known as psocids, if you want to sound more scientific). Booklice, as their name implies, live in books. They do not eat blood or any other human byproducts. They eat mold and mildew.

So what this says about my house is that we may have some mold growing somewhere that I need to take care of. But what it does not say is why I got two new bites since yesterday!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Night night, sleep tight

It's my bedtime, and I'm avoiding going there for obvious reasons. Instead, I am going to tell you more of my bedbug saga. Don't expect the brilliant telling you received in last post; my 17 hours of wakefulness have not been kind to my writing ability.

Following my great revelation of 2 weeks ago, I went into cleaning overdrive. I vacuumed every corner of my room, washed every sheet and blanket on my bed, stuffed all of my stuffed animals unceremoniously into a plastic bag, and began researching.

My bedbug infestation, as with most things in my life, does not follow the typical pattern.

For one, I insist on calling them bedbugs, even though traditional terminology would prefer "bed bugs" (with a space).

Hey, now, they're the scourge of humanity. Doesn't that at least make them worthy of a compound word?

But aside from my usual nomenclatural stubbornness, what sets my bedbugs apart?
  • They aren't in my bed. Oh, I've checked high and low. Every day I do a flashlit inspection of my mattress, hoping and fearing that a bedbug might rear its ugly head. Yet, I can find no sign that they are in my bed, or indeed, have ever been there. Other than the marks that they leave on me while I'm sleeping.
  • They seem to shun soft surfaces. Although I do tend to find them around cracks and crevices, which they are said to enjoy, my bedbugs seem to congregate around the very materials they are supposed to avoid. I found a whole host of them on the plastic storage tubs I keep in my closet (by "host" I mean approximately 5) when bedbugs are supposed to dislike plastic. And as I've already said, they left my mattress high and dry.
  • They do not bite in a "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" pattern. I have noticed I find their bites in pairs, but never in threes. Apparently my bedbugs are trying to lose weight.
I have concocted a plan to rid myself of bedbugs. Unfortunately, this requires doing a lot of laundry.  There are now 6 rather large garbage bags in the basement full of my clothes and other fabric items (ahh, now I know why sewing is a bad hobby) and I haven't even gotten to my winter clothes collection yet! When my housemate saw all the junk I had dredged out of my closet (just my closet, mind you, and just the bottom level...not the shelf on top, or the storage area under my bed, or my second closet, or any of my shelves and tables), he said, "How you fit all that stuff in your room, I'll never know." Yes, there is a time when it sucks to have the remarkable ability to store a whole house's worth of stuff in a single room, and that is when you have to clean it to remove bedbugs.

I have put duct tape (sticky side out) around the narrowest parts of my bed frame (being a sturdy bed, it doesn't have legs as such) and pulled the bed away from the wall. Then I removed the ladder from the bed, too, and am slowly mastering the art of jumping into a bed that's 5 feet up in the air. In the three days that I have been taking these precautions, I haven't gotten a bite. I don't think. Unless this itchy spot here is one. It's too bad I'm itchy by nature. I'm probably causing spots to spring up simply by the power of anxiety!

I vacuum all exposed areas of the rug every couple of days, and am about halfway done cleaning out my closet. I found bedbugs crawling around the zippers of all my most fabulous boots. Other clothing items, you can throw in the washer or dryer and be done with them, but boots are another matter. I had to put them in the oven on 170 for 20-40 minute periods. I'm storing all my heat-treated items in the car. Good thing we're having an unusually warm spell coming up. It will hopefully bake out any survivors.

I also learned you can freeze bedbugs to death. So I have put many of my paper products in my housemate's freezer downstairs and will leave them there 2 weeks. She's never here, anyway.

My other housemate bought some diatomaceous earth, which he sprinkled liberally (OK, he "dumped") all around his bed. He claims he's not getting any more bites...but he claimed that once before. When this is all over, I shall avail myself of the diatomaceous earth and put a protective circle around my sleeping area, and another one around the perimeter of the room.

But first, the major offensive: pesticides. I will show no mercy. I'm having trouble getting my housemates on board with this campaign of destruction (mostly because I don't believe they're as horrified by this whole mess as I am, but also because they're a little less Type A than me about pretty much everything, including basic housekeeping), but if we don't take every precaution we can, we risk having them come back and having to pay around a thousand dollars for professional extermination.

So here's the plan: Clean, clean, clean. Strip the house down to essentials. Should I throw away the couch? I don't think it's infested, but it's ugly anyway, and I got it for free, and it would be one less thing to worry about.

Then set off a bedbug fogger in every room. Then once the dust has cleared, go back in and spray every corner the fog might have missed. Saturate those suitcases. And my rug. Every inch of it. Then break out the diatomaceous earth. I won't let my bedspread near the wall for months. I have been thinking about moving out, and if I'm not confident the bugs are gone by the time my lease is up, I'll be out of here!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bedbugs Bite

The great plague of the 21st century has hit Val's Galorious Galaxy, and let me tell you: it is not Galorious.

On the plus side, in one week, I have become my own foremost expert on bedbugs and have never been more intimately familiar with the microscopic subculture of the biome that is my bedroom. But on the minus side, why couldn't I have become this Destroyer of Bedbugs a few months ago, before they invaded my little biome?

Early in August, my housemate casually warned me, "I think I might have bedbugs." Oh, I was a little grossed out, and I vacuumed a little more thoroughly the next time I cleaned, but after he washed all his bedding and told me he wasn't getting bitten any more, I thought no more of it. Biggest mistake of my life.

About two weeks ago, he casually mentioned that he, in fact, was still getting bit.

"Do your bites look anything like this?" I asked him, revealing a red spot the size of an apple and another one the size of an apricot, which had bloomed on my arm, followed by a smattering of smaller itchy dots up and down the arm and on select other parts of my body over the past week or so, and which I had assumed was poison ivy until my boyfriend informed me that it looked like scabies, and I had suddenly remembered that the whole reaction had started as two itchy bumps. Well, no, my housemate's bites hadn't broken out like mine had, but I always have had a knack for going into immune overdrive, and so I decided that I actually had bedbugs. Later I revised my theory to accommodate all possibilities by concluding that I had had 2 bedbug bites on my arm, which I scratched with fingers covered in poison ivy residue (I had pulled some up 1 day prior, wearing gloves of course, but poison ivy is insidious stuff).

But anyway, the point of this story is bedbugs. I cleaned a little more thoroughly after I began to suspect fauna, rather than flora, as the source of my rash, but bedbugs are just as insidious as poison ivy, and the bites didn't stop.

Early last week, I made an "indicator" out of corrugated cardboard glued to a white sheet of paper (which theoretically would provide a nice retreat for bedbugs with all its nooks and crannies, and which would show the presence of said bedbugs by all the fecal matter they would deposit on the nice white paper before scurrying into their cardboard home for the day), and stuck it under my mattress.

Well, three days passed, and when I went to check it, it was gone! Gone like my pair of Spenco insoles! Gone like my maroon arm warmers! What kind of unscrupulous creature was stealing all my stuff? I mean, usable things that both happened to be stored in the same place are one thing, but a piece of carboard glued to a piece of paper? It couldn't have been stolen! I got under the bed to look for it. I looked and looked, but it was not there. I moved all the boxes off the table under the bed (loft bed, remember). Not there. I pulled out both sets of plastic storage drawers, and then all the boxes piled on top of each other beside them. No indicator.

But while down on my hands and knees, trying to maneuver my flashlight into the crack between my bed and the wall, behind which lies the crack between my bookcase and the wall, I saw motion off to my right. Looking down, I saw its source. A tiny, almost indiscernible creature, scuttling along on a plastic lid that had fallen behind the bed. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before! It must be a bedbug! I found a plastic bag and shoved it in, lid and all.

My memory of what transpired next is a little hazy, because it seriously freaked me out! But following that I somehow found another live bedbug, which I affixed to a piece of paper using artwork fixative spray (living with cockroaches has taught me to have no mercy for certain kinds of pests) and two more dead ones, tethered to an equally dead ant by bits of spiderweb or hair.

I do recall that I finally got to make use of both the magnifying devices that have been sitting untouched in my desk drawer since time immemorial. My Fresnel lens (thank you, Sister Irene!) proved that the big bug was indeed an ant and not a bedbug, and my pocket telescope/microscope (thank you, uh, I don't even remember) revealed the dark center of the translucent insect that proved it had been feeding. Ewww.

I vacuumed like I had never vacuumed before, and when I pulled out the bookcase from the wall, I found my indicator underneath it, unmarred by insect fecal matter. Interesting that my bedbug indicator, by disappearing, accomplished what it would have failed to do by staying where it belonged.

That night, I had a great deal of trouble sleeping. The next night, I might have slept better but for waking up at the crack of dawn with two new holes in my butt. If there is a plus side to this, it is that the bedbugs enabled me to find my missing maroon arm warmers in another cleaning spree this afternoon. The insoles remain missing in action.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Contracting is for malaria

I'm noticing a pattern. I begin to hate my life and start searching for jobs. I become desperate! I will do anything for a new job! I put my resume up everywhere, apply left and right, and then when the offers start to come in, I get cold feet.

Many job offers never pass the DIRQ (Do I really qualify?) test. Flattering as it may be that you want to hire me as a Web developer, I am not a Web developer. I don't know Java from Bali. I don't know Python from Cobra. If you ask me about Oracle, I'll be just as cryptic as one. Oh, and no, I don't want to sell insurance. No matter how much my experience as a designer qualifies me for it.

So after deleting all the unwanted job offers from my inbox, I get on to replying to the recruiters who remain. Some of them are very up-front about the details of the position. Others are as informative as, "My client is in need of a Web designer. Please tell me a good time to call you, so we can discuss."

And so we discuss. Which is a big waste of everyone's time.

"This is for a position in Reston, Virginia."

Stop right there. I'm not driving an hour and a half to work every morning!

"This job is a three-month contract."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What happens when I get dumped after those three months?

"But it has the potential to turn into a permanent hire."

Or it doesn't.

Sometimes I make it through an entire interview. One of those hair-raising interviews where you think you're just going to talk about how great you are, and you end up having to answer a pop quiz about semantic markup, the box model, and how to stop propagation in jQuery. I actually, surprisingly, made a good enough impression in that interview that the client was interested in hiring (er, contracting with) me.

And so the next day I got a call from the recruiter. "I told them you were available immediately, so if they choose you for the position, would you be able to start tomorrow?"

Um, no! You saw my resume. You saw I'm already working 2 jobs. I even discussed my current employment situation with you yesterday! I need to provide a minimum of 2 weeks' notice.

"Oh," says the recruiter, sounding surprised. "Well, they may be interested in hiring you anyway. I will let you know by the end of today."

He didn't.

And that was OK. I had totally changed my mind. I didn't want that 3-month contract for that job that would require me to work in a team! We all know I'm not a team player. Put me in a room with more than one other person in it for more than one hour, and my head might explode! Or at least I'll have an anxiety attack.

My problem is not that I'm too picky. It's just that I have too much to lose! I heart my nonprofit. I would give my soul to my nonprofit if only they could afford to pay me for it. But such is not the nature of nonprofits. So, much like an old spinster, I'm still looking for "the one:"

a) It is part-time enough that I can do it and work for my nonprofit at the same time.
b) It is so awesome that it makes me actually want to abandon my beloved nonprofit, rather than making me heartsick at the thought.

Am I a sentimental old fool? Well, yes. But I just realized I have a perfectly practical reason not to leave the nonprofit for just any old job. And I made this discovery just in the nick of time. The next day, I found I had a voicemail from the recruiter, telling me the employer had actually accepted my terms. It figures. Only the jobs you don't want keep chasing you down like the hounds of hell.

So I called him back (on a Saturday, because I am also still a coward) and told him I couldn't accept. And I told him why: My nonprofit job just happens to pay 100% of my health insurance. So quitting it to take a temporary job with no benefits would be a pretty bad business decision--even if the temporary job pays a little better.

We'll see what unfolds next in this saga. Perhaps the employer will offer a permanent position and a higher pay rate. And then, I'll have to come up with some other reason why I don't want the job. Funny how I feel like I have to use all my wiles just to avoid getting hired!