I ain’t afraid of no ghost–because I own a house

While home sick this week, I decided to take the opportunity to do something I never get to do now that I’m married. I watched a horror movie.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the Hubby can’t even handle the evil queen scenes in a Disney movie. The second there’s scary music and a darkened room, he’s out. When I started watching American Horror Story, I had to shut it off before he would even enter the room because the opening credits were too scary for him.  (Granted, I haven’t been in our basement since watching Murder House.  But the Hubby doesn’t need to know that!)

But he’s cute and he puts up with Downton Abbey, New Girl, Game of Thrones, and Orange is the New Black, despite claiming to hate all four of them (which is clearly a blatant lie, but whatever). And I prefer horror books to horror movies anyway, so I didn’t consider giving up my scary movies to be much of a sacrifice. And I can still watch them when he’s not home, which makes them even better because then I get the additional fear factor of NOT having him there to protect me from the evil monsters in the television.

So I sat down (okay laid down with Rosie, a cup of tea, and a box of tissues—I WAS sick after all) to watch The Conjuring. And wound up browsing Wayfair on my phone for living room furniture, the prices of which scared me more than the movie.

It’s not that I’m unscare-able. I’m quite scare-able. I still haven’t watched the clown doll scene in Poltergeist. I know the kid lives. I know the doll isn’t real. But as soon as it’s off that chair, I’m out. Too scary.

I think the real problem is home ownership. The premise of haunted house movies SHOULD terrify home owners. You’re moving into a new space and you have no idea what else could be living in there with you.   And that’s basically how every haunted house movie starts.

Although I’ve definitely gained a greater appreciation for why the family always stays in the house.  Like as a kid, I’d be yelling at the screen for the stupid family to just move out.  But now, I get it.  We sank our entire life-savings into our house, plus all of our wedding present money into fixing it up.  I don’t care if the walls bleed, there are monsters in the closets, or some demonic voices telling us to GET OUT.  I’ll tell them to either shut up or get out themselves.  We’re going nowhere!

However, since buying our dream house a year ago, I’ve discovered that there are far worse problems that a house can have than a couple of malicious spirits.

Like the toxic mold in our air vents. While the Hubby claims that I’m sick from October to April, that’s typically not entirely true. Yes, as a teacher, I get sick a little more often than the average professional (thanks, kids, for sneezing all over my computer keyboard every time you sit at it. I appreciate that oh so much). But I’ve had a chronic cough that no course of modern medicine or even good, old-fashioned chicken soup from my grandma will fix since we moved in. So the Hubby decided it was time to get the air vents cleaned. I agreed, bought a Groupon, and a nice Israeli man came and ripped all of our painted-over vents off the wall (thanks previous homeowners) and cleaned one square inch inside each one, then showed us what the rest of our vents looked like and told us the exorbitant sum it will cost to get that scum out of our house.

Pretty sure an exorcism is cheaper and more effective than that.

Not to mention the other problem that the air-vent skimmer showed us. Apparently our dryer vent was made of paper. Not metal. Not even plastic. Literal, flammable-as-all-hell paper.

Which, while scary, was not entirely surprising to us, because we have long-since discovered that the previous homeowners were the cheapest people on the planet. Mr. Previous Homeowner considered himself quite the handyman, and he therefore he did all of the wiring and electrical work in the house himself. Which means that everything is a fire-hazard. Our electrician’s eyes literally displayed dollar signs when he saw what was going on in our unlabeled fuse box.

But the fire hazards didn’t disappear when we fixed the wiring. When we pulled out the old, hideous wood-burning stove insert in the hopes of having a working fireplace, we discovered that there was no fireplace liner and that all of the 1970s tiles that predated liners in our chimney were cracked, coated in creosote from numerous chimney fires, and basically guaranteed to burn our house down if we even attempted to build a fire. Twenty-five hundred dollars later, we had a working fireplace.

Of course, the working fireplace was a necessity because every time the wind blows, a tree falls down in our backyard. Which was terrifying because many of those trees are close enough to our house to cause severe damage, but also because sometimes the trees don’t fall entirely–instead they have massive severed hanging limbs waiting to fall on poor innocent Rosie while she sniffs out the herds of deer and foxes that inherit our yard. And adding to the fear factor there is the price-tag that comes with any tree work.

Because as handy as Hubby and I can be, shimmying a tree with a chainsaw to hack off dangerously dangling limbs is not in our repertoire.

But the working fireplace is necessary for more than just the burning off all of the surfeit of wood that now takes up ¾ of our half-acre yard—because possibly one of the scariest things about home ownership is the cost of heating our house in winter. While I know that ghosts are said to lower the temperature in a house, they only do it in the rooms that they’re in. And our house is cold in all rooms. We replaced the ancient French patio doors that literally had gaps at the top and bottom and we put on fireplace doors, both of which helped. But keeping the house above 62 degrees costs more than a ten night Springsteen stand at the Meadowlands.

The bottom line of which is that I would gladly trade some poltergeists for certain elements of the realities of home-ownership. Granted, ghosts can interfere with a good night’s sleep, but I’m an insomniac anyway. And a haunting would provide excellent fodder for a new book, which could eventually help assuage some of the costs of our typical household horrors.

At least until we have kids. Because that looks like it hurts a lot and the cost of college these days is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

The real Hanukkah miracle? I didn’t burn my house down this year!

Hanukkah ends tonight, which brings me to my most thankful time of the year.

No, I don’t mean that I’m thankful for the presents I got (although I LOVE my new surround sound amp—thanks mom and dad!), I mean because I made it through another Hanukkah without burning my house down.

Which is MUCH harder than you’d think. Trust me. I’ve had a few close calls.

Granted, only two of my three major apartment fires have been Hanukkah related. The non-Hanukkah fire REALLY wasn’t my fault. Whoever wired my condo nearly a dozen years before I was born set up the kitchen outlets on two different circuits, so when I was on a massive home improvement kick and wanted to replace the really old plugs, I didn’t realize one outlet was still live after I shut off the main kitchen circuit breaker. Luckily when the sparks set the roll of paper towels on fire, I was right next to the sink and was able to put it out by myself.  Then I cried hysterically, called my dad, and told him I burned my house down.

The last two Hanukkahs, however, I wasn’t as lucky.

It’s a little known fact that Hanukkah is actually the most dangerous event of the Jewish year (assuming that it’s a year when no one is trying to exterminate us en masse, which DOES happen way too frequently for comfort). Christmas trees and deep fried turkeys may account for most winter house fires in non-Jewish families, but Hanukkah is responsible for approximately 97 percent of Jewish house fires (assuming that my household is the norm, not the exception).

Personally, I think it’s a conspiracy.

No, I’m not paranoid. Hear me out.

Menorahs are the most dangerous products in a Jewish household. As a people, we’re notorious worriers. I never even knew that they made non-safety scissors until I got to college. But Hanukkah candles are long because they’re supposed to burn for awhile to memorialize the miracle that started the holiday, and they’re put in these teeny tiny little shallow candle holding cups on a menorah.

The big problem though is that menorahs lull us into a false sense of security. When you first buy your menorah, the candles fit snugly, making you think that your house is safe. But after a couple of years worth of candle wax buildup, those mini-torches are wobbling in that thing like a fat chick eating Jello during an earthquake.

And there’s no effective way to clean the wax out of a menorah. It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s resistant to all things that could remove it. I’ve tried a knife, wax remover, Goo Gone, Draino, acetone, Windex (at my father’s suggestion because he seems to agree with the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding that Windex cures everything from acne to AIDS), diesel gasoline, the flesh-eating virus, Rogaine (don’t ask), termites, uranium, Everclear (which I’m pretty sure was far more dangerous than the uranium… the menorah didn’t glow on its own before the Everclear… just saying…), and Kryptonite. Nothing works.

But it never occurs to me to buy a new menorah.

It’s not worth buying a new one; I only use it eight nights a year. So even though spending an additional twenty bucks on a new menorah could save me the trouble of having to buy all new stuff when my house is destroyed in a fire, I’m still not going to do it.

The menorahs are only part of the conspiracy though. Because Hanukkah wrapping paper is made out of a substance that is 876 times more flammable than lighter fluid. Literally. If you look at it angrily, it WILL burst into flames. If it’s even in the same zip code as a lit menorah, you’re looking at a six alarm fire.

Which, believe it or not, isn’t the WORST thing that can happen to a single girl, because fire fighters are usually pretty hot. Not Jewish (sorry mom), but hot. In fact, after the last couple of Hanukkahs, my local fire department has ME on speed dial and they call me around sundown every night of the holiday just to see if my house is on fire yet. 

And it’s probably a bad sign when I can call 911 and say, “Hey, it’s Sara,” and they respond, “Oh hey! Happy Hanukkah! We already sent out a fire truck, they should be there any second. What’s new?  How’s Rosie?”

Hanukkah is also particularly frustrating in my condo, because I have the world’s most sensitive smoke detector. Literally. It goes off when I dry my hair and every time I cook anything, even though I’ve never had a hair or cooking related fire. And I get REALLY annoyed with it when there IS a fire and it starts going off like ten minutes later. It’s like, thanks Captain Obvious, the fire department just left and you’re going to go off NOW? Fail.

To be fair, I do try really hard to avoid needing to call the fire department. I keep my fire extinguisher out when the candles are lit, and I now open presents in the bathtub, where I can put the fire out pretty easily, and I only open them AFTER the candles have completely burned out. The wrapping paper still bursts spontaneously into flames sometimes, but I’ve found that keeping all presents in the freezer until it’s time to open them helps.  Which didn’t work out well for ANYONE the year that I got a pony as a present.

I’m sure I’ve jinxed myself for the last night of Hanukkah by writing about this, because I actually made it through the first seven nights with NO uncontrolled blazes. Of course, the only lighter I could find that actually worked was shaped like a naked chick, which felt kind of wrong to use for religious purposes, but maybe it’s been good luck.

Although, few people know this, but the fire department has a frequent fires card, and if I get ONE more hole punched in it, they’re going to give me a firetruck shaped menorah, and I’m not gonna lie,  really want to get that.  After this many fires, I’ve earned it!

Happy last night of Hanukkah everyone!  And if your house catches on fire and this fireman shows up, please send him my way… we’ll call it your Hanukkah present to me.