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Dear Friends,
    We made the promise to ourselves last New Year's to travel more in 2007.  We were duly punished for this promise by being exiled from the happy, cozy House of Tonic for weeks at a stretch this year.  We enjoyed such trips as:

* A trip to NYC in January that coincided with the coldest day of the winter
* a trip to San Jose in late July
* three more trips to San Jose in August (taking a trip to San Jose is akin to taking a trip to the epicenter of faceless suburban sprawl)
* three more trips to NYC (for work again, naturally)
* three weeks in late October for two good reasons (Curtis' wedding in NYC; Christina's Cancervsary in ATL) and one sad one (Deans' funeral)

Add in coincidental trips to Dallas (love seeing Ernie and Glenda, but that drive doesn't have anything to recommend it), a quick trip out to the Real Ale brewery with Dad (which actually was great), and some tag-along trips from SJC to San Francisco and Napa Valley, and we have spent a lot of time away from the house this year.  Be careful for you wish for and all that.
    Traveling is a good thing, taken by itself.  However, I am tired of it this year.  I am tired of driving to the airport, hotel, or train station. I am tired of walking through the anonymous terminals of which I remember nothing.  (Curtis tried to commiserate with me about La Guardia, asking me about the more annoying aspects of the airport.  I had to admit to him that I've gotten so tired of traveling that as soon as I set foot on airport soil, I go into a kind of fugue state;  Wikipedia accurately describes this as "a state of mind characterized by abandonment of personal identity, along with the memories, personality and other identifying characteristics of individuality".  Every airport looks the same to me, other than perhaps the nightmarish quality of endless door-after-door of O'Hare.)  I am tired of TSA goons who obviously relish the minor power over me, just as if they were BTK and his farking dog catching job.  I am tired of having the internet reset at 6 o'clock in the evening from my hotel room, I am tired of squeezing all of my toiletries into 1 oz containers,  I am tired of squeezing my fat butt into an airplane seat. I am tired of trying decide if I am getting my Wall Street Journal too far into my neighbor's air space while cramped into cattle class.
    As I wrote my father just before Thanksgiving, my goal is to spend the remainder of 2007 within 5 miles of my own house.  Except, of course, for one more drive to Dallas for the actual holiday.

    Okay, it wasn't all bad.  I rode a variety of mass transit, which is always a pleasure for me.  We ate and drank like kings in Napa.  I got to go spit on the statue of Sherman in Central Park not once but twice this year (this is a private, and somewhat sociopathic, ritual I engage in whenever I go to New York).  We had sublime croissants at Claude's Patisserie in the Village, ate dinner at what used to be my very favorite vegetarian restaurant in the world (Millenium in San Francisco; they had moved locations since I ate there last, and it wasn't quite as awe inspiring this time as it was then), and ate the amazing Iowan corn straight out of the freezer.  We met folks you'd never forget, like Dale's friend "Draino" (sample conversation: "Draino, you're looking good": Draino: "Well, I was going to say I quit drinking... but I didn't do that."), or the woman at the champagne winery who gave up her office job to run champagne tours, or the guy who gave the tour on the circle line ("When 9/11 happened, I had the day off.  When the power went out, I also had the day off.  Aren't you glad I am working today?"), or even a friend of Christina's who has a "real job" at the bank but keeps putting in one night a week selling tickets at the movie theater (for 20 years!) so she can get in for free
    The Napa trip in particular stands out.   I had not been to Napa Valley in ten or fifteen years.  It has become much more developed in that time.  Whereas before I remember waiting at a stop sign behind fifty cars on Highway 29 (next to the ridiculously seedy "Chardonnay Inn"), these days Napa has stop lights, traffic, and a Target.  I don't remember what the prices were like back in the day, but the prices now are the kind that encourage you to hold on to your wallet with both hands in order to staunch the arterial spray of cash (Michelle: "This wine wasn't very good."  Alan: "Well what do you expect for $50 a bottle?").  And it's really a glorified Bourbon Street - all those "tastings" are simply excuses to drink too much wine and stuff yourself on hors d'oeuvres.
    All that being said, I told Michelle that every time I had been out this way, whether for Napa or Sonoma, that there's always a point in the trip where you think, this is so great.  Through some confluence of the perfect weather, the soft breeze down through the valley, the thoroughly animal contentment of consuming too much fat in one sitting, and the three glasses of wine you had with lunch, you find yourself thinking, this is the life.  This is what I want to do.  How can I stay here forever?
    We stayed at some precious little cabin/resort/whatever thing (evening wine tastings!  breakfast included!) just north of Napa.  Before we went Michelle had gotten excited about a passing mention of "bike touring" and "wineries".  She found a place in Calistoga, on the northern end of the valley, that would rent you bikes for the day and give you a wristband for free tastings at some of the smaller wineries around town.  Waving the usual $10 tasting fee probably works out for the wineries in the end.  I felt compelled to buy a bottle or three at each place we stopped, so we ended up spending a lot more than if we had just gone ala carte. But ah well.
    As we were renting our bikes, I suggested to Michelle that we should have a picnic at some point during our ride.  The bike person suggested the winery at Bennet Lane.  Sounded good to me.  I asked Michelle what she'd like for lunch and she said, "surprise me!"  We stopped by the grocery store down the block from the bike shop and I assembled my secret lunch.
    Calistoga is an ideal place to ride bicycles in.  First of all, it's supernaturally flat.  Second of all, it's at the north of the valley and isn't quite as tony as St. Helena and Yountville.  This means there is much less traffic.  Third of all, it really isn't that big.  So you're not looking at bicycling sixty miles just to get the lay of the land.
    Bennet Lane ended up being the second winery we went to.  It was much more substantial than the other two establishments we went to that day; the tasting house was actually two stores tall.  We had ridden a long, slow, scenic route through some of the back roads of the town.  In particular, the long loop to Bennet Lane itself rode past countless acres of grapes slowly soaking up the August sun.
    We parked our bikes out front and tried a few different wines.  They had one called Maximus that was exceptional.  Not only did we buy a couple of bottles to ship home, and one to drink there, but I entertained everyone with my Gladiator references while drinking it.  I asked the Bennet Lane guy if he had a place we could eat at on the grounds.  He suggested an arbor out in the vineyard.  He handed us a pair of glasses and opened our bottle.  Michelle grabbed the bottle and I unpacked our lunch.
    Now, part of the whole Bourbon Stree cum Disney Land experience is that you are out there in the winery imagining that you're some sort of country chateau owner, enjoying your unearned life of leisure and largess.  At least, that is part of the experience for me.  So to choose what we were going to have for lunch, I tried to picture myself in said role, and wondered, "If I was a rich and indolent land owner, what would I be eating?"  It probably goes without saying that I further imagine myself as French.
    Our indolent land owner lunch consisted of pair of unbelievably ripe peaches, a gooery hunk of Gruyere, and a half pint sized baguette.  The peaches literally burst when you bit into them and soaked your arm in warm, fragrant juice.  The cheese had a salty, gritty taste that perfectly offset the sweet peaches.  The bread bound it all together and the wine was simply full and rich.  Grapevines grew up over the arbor and gave us just enough shade from the sun.  As I refilled our glasses, the valley breeze kicked in, and I looked over at Michelle.

Alan:  You're thinking it, aren't you.
Michelle (surprised): What do you mean?
Alan: You're thinking, how can I stay here forever?
Michelle (smiling): Well, it's pretty awesome, isn't it?

Sitting out in the vineyard, feeling pleasantly tired and sweaty from a bike ride, drinking a cool glass of wine and eating some warm cheese - it was truly wonderful.  We sat there for an hour finishing our bottle of wine, watching the bees that came to investigate the peaches and talking about our lives.  We couldn't have been happier.
    As we rode to the next winery, we passed an empty lot for sale.  Paradise on earth will set you back $800,000 per acre (undeveloped).

    For our long jaunt during the end of October, we first went to New York for Curtis' wedding.  I mentioned above how fond I am of public transportation.  When it goes somewhere you want to go (e.g. not Atlanta's or Washington's), and is sufficiently reliable, public transport is the way to go.  I caught the subway connection from JFK to the A Train and rode the subway out through Brooklyn.  I looked at the map and found the closest station and got off with no problems.
    Well, a slight problem.  I had misjudged not the stop but the line, and the walk ended up being quite a bit further than I had anticipated.  And then it started to rain.  I was very wet by the time I got to the hotel, even with the $1 umbrella I had quickly bought at a convenient Salvation Army.
    I get into the hotel, call Ernie, set up in the room, call down to the desk and ask about a dryer. No laundry in the hotel.  Oh.  There is one several blocks away, but that would mean walking out into the rain again and getting further soaked.
    One of the best pieces of advice about traveling I have ever read was to perform the following procedure whenever you are about to go somewhere

Step 1: Take all of the clothes you are going to take with you and lay them out on the bed
Step 2: Take all of the money you are going to take with you and lay it out on the bed
Step 3: Take half the clothes and double the money

This is great advice that has served me well across states and continents.  What it means, however, is that I usually have one pair of pants with me whenever I go somewhere.  And these were now soaked, with no dryer in sight.
    No clothes dryer that is.  Our room, though, had a hair dryer.
    So I spent the next hour sitting on the toilet with my pants hanging from the shower curtain rod.  In one hand, I held a book.  In the other, I held the hair dryer.  Every two pages, I would point it at a different part of my pants.  For the record, this is a miserable way to spend an afternoon and a very inefficient way to dry one's clothes.

    The rest of the week in New York went mostly great.  We ushered various family members through the complexities of the New York Subway system, we took the Circle Line Tour of Manhattan (which was much, much, much more interesting than I had anticipated), we took a nap in the planetarium of the Museum of Natural History, ate at a kind of Palestinian food place (with Bible verses paired to each dish), and we walked much more than was strictly good for us (I would pay for this later by incurring incredible back pain that was caused by putting on my socks).  We also went to a wedding for Curtis and Wendy - I figure the details of that are best gleaned from their letter.
    But the week was only mostly great.  The Friday before the wedding Dean collapsed in the elevator of the hotel.  When we left New York mid week, Dean was still in the hospital.  The diagnoses were both serial and uncertain: mild heart attack, mild stroke, pulmonary embolism, renal failure.  No one knew what to expect, but at that point things did not look dire.  Ernie, Glenda, and Sheryl stayed behind with Ester while Michelle and I tripped it on to the ATL.
    Things seemed to get progressively faster as we headed south.  We spent a night in Atlanta; then drove down to Warner Robbins to spend a night with some further Warcraft compadres playing Wii and drinking margaritas; then back to Atlanta for Christina's Cancerversary celebrating her fifth year since diagnosis, and eventual defeat, of that rotten disease.  As we flew back to Austin on the Sunday after the big party, I was looking forward to spending a nice long stretch back in Austin.

    It was not to be.  That Monday, October 29th, Dean died in Brooklyn.  The funeral was set to be in Peterson the following weekend.  So we sadly gathered up our clothes, our bags, and tickets and got ready to make one more trip.
    The puddler jumper from Austin landed in Saint Louis, and we ended up connecting with Curtis and Wendy for the Des Moines leg.  Waiting for us at the Des Moines airport was Derek, who had graciously offered to put us up for the night and let us borrow a car for the drive to Peterson.
    On the way to his house, I tried to make small talk.  Perhaps my mind wasn't thinking so clearly due to the traveling, or due to the wracks of my sock induced dorsal affliction.  But for whatever reason, the topic of conversation I chose was the surprising amount of crystal methamphetamine that is consumed in the Midwest.  And as I began to talk about it, I realized that not only was there a surprising amount of use in the Midwest, but that I also knew a surprising amount about this usage.  Where the heck did I learn that anhydrous ammonia was used in the manufacture of crystal meth, let alone that this is a readily available farm supply?  Egad.
    At one point, Derek told me that we were getting near the "bad part" of Des Moines.

Derek:  Okay, Alan, right down there is where you want to go if you're interested in crystal meth.
Alan: Yes, thank you Derek, that is exactly where I was wanting to go on this trip.

    I managed, somehow, to steer away from talking about drugs and we made it to Derek's house.  Pam, Dean, and Emma were all waiting for us.  We poured some wine and they started telling us about the neighborhood.  Dean showed me the basement and we bonded over Star Wars trivia ("Boba Fett was one of my favorites you know").  We drank some more and Pam took a stab at dinner; we got distracted and the pasta boiled for an hour straight into a giant Flying Spaghetti Monster mass.  Derek made an emergency run to "The Beer Vault", we opened another bottle of wine, and took another stab at dinner.
    By midnight, Derek, Michelle, and Curtis were down in the basement talking about The Old Days.  Emma, Pam, and I, however, were rocking out to the i-pod upstairs.  Wendy found her way up just as Pam began to blast, of all things, Toto.  I was sitting on the couch with Emma rocking back and forth on the couch trying to fake the words to the song.  The only lyric I really remembered was "Africa", so I tried to make up for my lack of knowledge with enthusiasm.  Every time it came around in the song, Emma and I would both start shrieking, "AAAAAAFFFFRRRRREEEEEEEEKKKKKAAAAAAAA!!!!!"
    The next morning Pam remarked, "You're a lot more fun than you were last time."
    The next day we drove up to Peterson.  The last time I had been here was for Dean and Ester's 60th wedding anniversary.  Michelle and I had just gotten engaged.  I was plopped into the middle of forty people who all knew each other intimately and felt very distinctly foreign.  It was a bit like that scene in "A Room With A View" where Cecil tells Freddy, "You know how you said you didn't much like the sort of chap who doesn't play tennis?  Well, Freddy, I'm afraid I am that sort of chap."  In the midst of the farmers, base ball players, and general salt of the earth, I didn't feel like I had much to say.  I had nothing to contribute on the topics of "tiling" (buried tiles used to dry out swampy farm land), bow hunting, or Nascar. 
    Peterson itself is 372 people (as of the 2000 census).  Dean and Ester live just a few miles north of it.  The last time we were here, it was midsummer, and the drive was one long undulation of supernaturally straight rows of corn and soybeans.  It felt almost like being underwater, seeing all the green waves of the crops sliding by the window in the bright summer sun.  This time, it was winter, and the majority of the crops had been taken in.  Instead of the rows and rows of green, the fields stood empty.  The black earth laid bare to the sky, covered with a stubble of brown stalks or marked by the regular spiral humps of baled hay.  Here and there a stand of brown corn had yet to be harvested; when I asked the family members, I got various answers that perhaps the field was wet there when they initially harvested, or the corn was wet, or it had been planted later, or it was somehow damaged.
    In the middle of the Great Plains, with just a few hundred fellow souls to call on, the great mystery of human distance is played out in sharp relief.  I believe that there is some algebra at play here, that when you add together the psychic distance between people in a community with the physical distance between them that you end up with some unknown constant.  The social contract in NYC, where you are pressed against thousands of strangers every day, is to not make eye contact.  The social contract in Iowa is that even though there may only be 10 people per square mile you will know a surprising amount about each one.
    This was made clear the night before the funeral when they had the viewing.  For two hours straight, people who had fished with Dean, or had been in the American Legion with him, or who had ridden the bus to school with Glenda, or who were related in however a distant fashion by blood or marriage, filed their way through the small funeral home in Peterson.  It would become even clearer over the following days as Ester received literally hundreds of cards from people in the community.
    It was very strange in a way.  Perhaps it comes from living close to the land and seeing the daily drama of life and death played out in livestock and crops.  Commingled with the sadness was a methodical and practical approach to the business of grief and saying goodbye.  People dropped off food or other items at the house and we marked their names down in a book so that they could be properly thanked later.  Ten members of the family assembled around the dining room table and passed cards hand to hand; each one marking down someone's name to thank, or the amount of money contained; and then passing the card on to the next person to record the return address.
    The morning of the actual service, we got dressed and drove down to the Methodist church.  It is just a block away from the funeral home.  Seemingly over night, the tree in front of the church had begun to drop its leaves.  Underneath the cold gray sky, we filed through drifts of yellow leaves to go inside and pay our last respects.
    Ester told me when she saw Dean that he didn't look quite right.  No smile, she said.  "He looks way too sober."

    The night after the funeral, Draino (who has suffered through the loss of three family members in the past years), told us succinctly, "It sucks.  And there's no way for it not to hurt but time."
    We went back to Des Moines on Sunday.  Derek & Co. stayed behind another day or two and told us to stay at their house.  Derek had written down directions to the airport and where to leave the car the next morning.  In his neat handwriting, he ended the note with, "Now get on the plane and know that we miss you."
    So, anyway, traveling has its ups and downs.  It always does.  One of the things that traveling always entail, naturally, is leaving home.  This means that our little House of Tonic was unoccupied for a substantial amount of the year.  Or at least, unoccupied by humans. 
    In general, I don't hold much to the whole pest control thing.  We've gotten fleas once or twice, and I have no qualms about calling in the nuclear house bombs to kill those little bastards.  But in general, I figure that the circle of life will take care of itself.  The spiders and lizards will eat the roaches, and something is bound to eat the damn ants, and if anything is rooting around outside, that is fine with me.  I try to draw the line at anything bigger than, eh, a gecko actually inside the house.  However, our house is so old and rickety that we've had all sorts of things show up.  For instance, a month after I bought the house, I came home one night and found a bat flying around in my bedroom.
    My bleeding heart vegetarian libtard outlook, coupled with my extreme desire to pursue interests other than animal control (such as sitting on my aforementioned fat butt), means that we rarely have traps or poisons or anything hanging around to kill critters.  I explain away the occasional scratch you might here as a squirrel on the roof, and keeping the dishes washed takes care of pretty much all the insect issues.  That and the little geckos, of which we have swarms, God love 'em.
    All of this has been fine in theory.  And most of the activity around the house has been on the outside.  We had a deer show up one morning in our backyard.  Michelle was worried that she was going to scare it into traffic.  I told her, with an astonishing display of insight, that since "it found its way in, I bet it will find its way back out tonight".  Our little neighbor kids were fascinated to see the deer in the backyard all day, where it settled in under the bamboo.  It was an amazingly cute little doe (I guess, no horns.  I am sure our deer killin' kin would be more adept at identifying it).  And it was gone the next day.  The neighbor kids however kept asking Michelle after it.  "Where did it go?"  "Did you pet it?" "Did you name it?" "Did you let it in the house?"  Michelle patiently answered "No" to each of their questions.
    These are the same neighbors that have a steady supply of outdoor cats.  Which is fine by me, not only do the contribute to my master plan of "the circle of life" keeping the critter control down, but also Michelle likes to play with them. 
    The neighbors just recently got two little Manx kittens named Buffy and Little Bear.  One morning we came out to go to work, and we heard plaintive mewing from the little guys.  We looked around, couldn't find them.  Looked under the car, couldn't find them.  I had the thought to look up, and there they were - about thirty feet up the pecan tree, mewing like crazy.  The little boogers had probably been stuck up there all night.
    I quickly found out that unlike every kid's story you read, the fire department will not, in fact, come out with a ladder truck to rescue cats from trees.  One more childhood dream dashed.  Their not unreasonable position is that the cats can, in fact, get down themselves.  So we stood on the ground hollering directions at the cats like a couple of jackasses:

"Buffy! Come one down!"
"Little Bear!  Don't jump!"
"Okay, go to that branch!  No, the other one!"

    All of this to little effect.  Obviously.  Our neighbor, who works nights, came home while we were standing there hollering, so he started hollering as well.  Buffy, who seems a little wiser to trees than Little Bear, finally figured out that he had to come down backwards.  He made it about halfway down and got scared.  Ugh.  So we got out the ladder and Michelle managed to grab him by the scruff and yank him out of the tree.
    Little Bear, however, was still up in the tree hopping from branch to branch.  On seeing Buffy successfully on the ground, Little Bear decided it was time for him to come down as well.  Rather than scooting down he chose the expedient method of jumping out of the tree.  Brilliant.  Luckily, he hit a few branches on the way down.  I picked him up after he hit the ground.  He was a little stunned... and then he peed all over me.  Great.  I guess cats won't pee if they're stuck in a tree, because that little son of a gun peed for two minutes straight, and then hopped away.
    So, short version was:  Michelle saved a cat, I got peed on.  The little guys are hopping around all over the place still and are still climbing trees.  They haven't gotten stuck again, so they either figured out how to get down or figured out how not to get too far up.

    Deer and cats, all fine.  The great outdoors and all creatures great and small.  Yeah yeah yeah.
    As a coda to the Plumbing Campaign of 2006 (you may have heard about this), the plumbers may have done a few things that made our rickety old house a little more accessible to some of our four footed friends.  For instance, they broke the crawl space door, which in my state of handy-noobery I took approximately eleven months to fix.  And they also apparently didn't seal around all the pipes that they put into the house.  This ended up providing a "rodent super highway" from the cold crawl space the them warm, inviting attic.
    Sometime in November, after coming back from Iowa, Michelle and I were laying in bed.  We were not sleeping.  Instead, we were listening to all the god forsaken rustlings, scratchings, and scamperings throughout our house.  Michelle kept looking at me in the dark.  You may not be able to tell when someone is looking at you in the dark, but I certainly can.  You can tell by the feelings of blame and unease that flow from the other side of the bed. 
    I could tell that she wanted me to do something.  So I would do such things as close the door so you couldn't hear the noise.  Or I would helpfully assure her that the noises were "nothing".  These actions did nothing to actually reassure Michelle.  Instead, she started imagining that there were mice coming down through the walls at night and running away with things. 

Alan:  Have you seen my shoes?
Michelle: Maybe the mice took them.

She quickly became fed up an called the flea nuking pest guys.
    The pest guys come out and diagnose our problem as "roof rats".   After crawling around under the house, they tell me about the straight shot from the crawlspace to the attic up the vent pipes.  They also tell me to fix the damn door.  They seal up the house from below, put a mess of traps up in the attic, and then tell us they'll be back in a few days to clean them out.
    That night, the rustlings and scurryings are replaced by SNAP SNAP SNAP.  Egad.
    Pest guys come back in a few days in to clean out the traps (one of my coworkers said, "oh, are they they humane have-a-heart traps?" I tell him, "no, dude, these are the old school, wire and spring, have-a-rat traps").  Michelle asks the guy if there are a lot.  With the undisguised glee of someone telling you something that they know you will find repulsive, he explodes, "You got the record - ELEVEN OF TWELVE TRAPS!"  He reset them and was going to come back in another few days for another haul.
    This was on a Thursday.  The Friday, Michelle went to Dallas to spend a day shopping with Glenda. 
    That Friday night, I'm sitting around playing video games on the computer, and I hear a noise.  In the bathroom.  I go in there, and open the one cabinet that we never look into.  It's always been a kind of spooky cabinet, that you're not exactly sure what it connects to.  Looking into there, apparently the plumber guys had opened a wall from the cabinet to under the tub.  By this I mean that you can look in the cabinet and see the hollow area between the wall and the tub.  And down apparently to the crawlspace from that hollow area.  The sound had stopped when I looked in, but I could smell... something.  Ugh again.
    So I return to playing, and later I hear the noise again.  I go back, look again, and sitting in the cupboard is a mother farking possum.
    I took the courageous course of quickly of closing the cabinet door.  I then proceeded to minorly freak out.
    After that, I went back to the computer.  I fired up Google and typed, "possum in the house."
    You'd be surprised how many hits you get for that phrase.
    The hit at the top was to the surprisingly helpful website of the Opossum Society of the US.  This in turn taught me numerous interesting possum facts.  For instance, the Virginia Opossum, which is what we have in North America, has 50 teeth, the most of any mammal.  They are very opportunistic (read: lazy) in their dwelling options and will climb into any snug abandoned hole.  They are also opportunistic omnivores, eating trash, plants, frogs, and rats (go go circle of life!).  They almost never carry rabies due to their low body temperature of 94 degrees.  They are very docile; while some will hiss at you if they feel threatened, the possum's natural reaction to extreme fear is to go into a death like coma, e.g playing possum.  They are good climbers but cannot jump.  They cannot grip smooth surfaces and do not have sharp claws.
    As I read through the site, they suggested that if you have one in the house, figure out where it came in.  You should put some flour down around where you think they are going in and out.  This will let you see their tracks.  Check it around dusk (since possums are nocturnal, natch).  When you see the tracks leading out, seal it on up.  What could be simpler?
    I theorized that I trapped the possum in with my recent door renovation.  So I propped open the crawl space door, spread out the flour, and sat tight.
    Next night, I check the door.  No possum tracks.  However, at about 8 o'clock, I hear noises in the bathroom again.  So I look in the cupboard again, and there he, Mr. Vir-farking-ginia Possum, staring back at me, sitting on his haunches and looking at me.  I now theorize that it was not the door that stuck the possum up there, but rather the "sealing" that the pest guys did.  So that possum ain't going out the way he came in.
    Okay, back to the opossum site.
    The site advises that you should never pick up a possum since they're wild animals (yeah, thanks for the warning.  Like I'm going to friggin pick up the friggin possum and give it a friggin hug).  But if you simply must get a possum out of the house, the site provided instructions on how to construct a simple possum trap.

1) Take a tall kitchen trash can.
2) Put something that the possum will eat into the trash can, such as catfood or ripe fruit (see:opportunistic feeders)
3) Lean the trash can over at a 30 to 45 degree angle
4) Place a way for the possum to get into the trash can, such as "stack of books" (see: possums can't jump)
5) The possum will get into the can, which will then turn upright from his weight.
6) The possum will be trapped in the can (see: can't climb smooth surfaces)

So I constructed my possum trap.  I ran to the gas station and bought some cat food.  I propped up the trash can in the bathroom on a tool chest.  I laid a board down as a ramp so the possum could get up to the trash can.  I then opened up the cupboard, turned out the lights, and shut the door to the bathroom.
    I thought to myself, "This is the stupidest frigging thing I have ever done.  There is no way this thing is going to work."
    I sat in the living room and watched Star Wars on HBO.  I thought about what I was going to do if the possum got stuck in the bathroom and crapped all over the place.  I thought about what I was going to do if I had to chase the possum through the house and out the front door.  I thought about how I was going to have to explain to Michelle that we had a farking possum infestation.
    About an hour later, just as Ben and Luke are walking into the bar in Mos Eisley, I hear a distinct "thump" from the bathroom.
    I go and open the door, and inside I find an upright trash can with one possum at the bottom.  The possum takes a look at me and goes back to eating the cat food (the disgusting smelling "Super Supper" from Nine Lives).
    I can't believe this worked.  I put the lid on the trash can, go wrestle it into the Stanger, and drive our possum friend down to the Barton Creek green belt.  I tip over the can.  The possum takes a quick couple of steps out and looks at me.  Then he high tails it for the bush and disappears; well, high tails it as much as he can, since possums can only run seven miles per hour (don't ya know).
    I call up Michelle and brag to her how I am going to append the letters "PC" to my name for "Possum Catcher."

    Sadly, we were not completely possum free.  Two possums had gotten stuck up under the tub, and one didn't make it.  We didn't realize this until a few days later when the smell started to become truly shocking.  Not to mention more flies than the Amityville Horror.
    Pest guys came out again, cut a hole in the wall behind the tub, and pulled out the second, late possum.  I spent a half hour on Saturday morning cleaning out what was apparently an advanced possum palace from behind the tub (oh my friggin god), and I now have another handy man job of covering the hole in the wall.  I plan on addressing this one sooner than thirteen months from now.

    Now we're at the point where I give the quick run down of those things you read in other Christmas letters.  I've got the same job, Michelle has the same job.  Health is fine, finances are fine.  No kids yet but you never know (well, hopefully we will know).  We finally joined the library this year and I've been chewing through books with abandon. Michelle and I both have fallen out of the habit of working out since our October journeys; hopefully we can rectify this as the new year approaches.
    This space is also good for errata and addenda.  Last year, I sent out the letter before we had seen Christina's new house in its completed state.  I have said in the past that I couldn't see the vision she had (I may have possibly used the term "bat crap crazy").  Let me as of this moment heartily and thoroughly repent of that opinion.  Her house is a truly beautiful space.  In the course of a year it went from "Dirty Jobs" to "Dream Homes".  As we all sat at her long dining room table last Christmas with the family around, I told her than and there how wrong I was and how great her place looks.
    Let me wrap up with the sentiment I expressed last year: I believe that if you're only going to write one of these things a year, it's worthwhile to make it long.  All last year, I had people remark about the length of the letter; some folks even told me, "I kept putting off reading it because iit was so long."  But folks also said they enjoyed it, so I tried to aim for the same thing this year.
    There's always more to say, but that is what next year's letter will be for.
    My final thing is this.  I told Michelle a long time ago that I found, when traveling, that after awhile I tend to forget the mountains you climb up, or the art you see, or the innumerable inconveniences that go with the endeavor.  What I remember are the people I meet and the stories they have.  This year has certainly made me feel that more than ever.  I  cannot adequately express our depth of gratitude towards our friends and families that have made such a difference in our lives this year.  Traveling to San Jose may not be so hot, but you guys make it a wonderful life to lead.

With great love and affection,
Michelle and Alan Arvesen

P.S. For what it's worth, when Michelle first mentioned years ago that her grand dad was named "Dean", I immediately started calling him, privately, Deaner.  This was because of the Ween song "What Deaner Was Talking About".  I don't know that Dean ever knew anyone else who associated him with this song, and Lord knows I never told him, so I wanted to stick it here at the end of the letter.

The wash is out
It's hanging up
And all I have
Is nothing
Nothing to do
Nothing to say
I think I must be dreaming

The sun comes up and I'm all washed out
Is this what Deaner was talking about?
I don't think I will ever return again my friend

Go well, Deaner.  And know that we miss you.