Website an addictive cork board of pin 'likes'

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Like heroin, the first Pinterest.com hit is free.

Last summer my 22-year-old friend and writing colleague, Andi Teggart, told me about Pinterest.com. She knows how much I fret about losing my way on the Internet as a baby boomer with Luddite tendencies.

At that time Pinterest.com was in Beta, meaning it was not officially released and open to the public. It was hard to get an "invitation" to use it. We sat shoulder-to-shoulder on my couch with our open laptops balanced on our knees so she could show me why Pinterest was quickly morphing from a noun into a verb.

Within 10 seconds I knew I was hooked. Like winter boots hooked. Like fancy cupcake hooked. Like Sam Shepherd-should-be-my-husband hooked. Unlike heroin, however, every hit after the first is absolutely free. Consider yourself warned.

Remember how in "The Wizard of Oz" the film starts in black and white and then the tornado hits and Dorothy wakes up in the colorful Land of Oz where everything is shiny and bright? Remember when Munchkins tip-toed out of the underbrush and starting singing?

That's how it felt my first day on Pinterest.com.

That's where Andi was finding all those amazing images for her blog, Polish My Crown. I thought she was paying someone to create all these fashion shoot tableaus and positive affirmation posters.

For my fellow P-addicts no explanation is necessary. But for those wearing techno-blinders like I was, here's how it works.

Pinterest.com is a free image hub. Technically, an existing user has to send you an invitation via e-mail to become a user, but I've also heard of people just applying direct. You receive an e-mail saying you're on The Waiting List. The Waiting List? Like there's a guy named Vinnie guarding a velvet rope or something?

Think of Pinterest.com as a gigantic virtual cork board for a gazillion images in dozens of categories including "design," "motorcycles," "DIY," "fashion," "Geek," "kids" or "pets." It allows "pinners" (that would be you and me) to post images (called "pins") with our own descriptions for others to re-pin onto their own boards.

Forget checking someone's credit score. Check out their Pinterest boards. You want to get to know someone quick? Check out what they drool over.

The website where Andi compiled 89 empowerment images while watching a "Perry Mason" episode became my first stop for wonderful images to use on my own ToxicMomToolkit.com blog and Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook. But Pinterest.com quickly sunk its golden teeth into my brain, forcing me to compulsively archive proof of my exceptional good taste and curiosity for the artistic and collecting life.

That first day I experienced a new hype's exhilarating high of amassing 40 English bull terrier puppy photographs in one place in a matter of minutes. Look it up. There can't be that many boards entitled "Bullet Heads."

Oh, yes, Jesus. I was hooked. Like Santa needs snow.

When I realized I could "pin" just about anything posted on the entire Internet, I dove in. I created "Vintage embroidery" and "Mexican blouse" boards culled from etsy.com and eBay sale items, which led to a board for vintage dishes - all mint green - which I entitled "Fire King Porno," which led to ... well, you get the idea.

Pinterest tracks when others "re-pin" your posts, thus allowing you to believe that others share your obsessions, fueling virtual acquisitiveness to new heights.

Recent reports indicate that Pinterest.com has surged into the top five Internet destinations. Google schmoogle! Driven primarily by women in the 24-to-55 age range, is it surprising hits have surged 4,000 percent when a decent Pinterest session equals an hour plus thousands of clicks?

Pinners joke that if it didn't happen on Pinterest.com they are "dis-Pinterested." That's how addictive it is. For my circle of friends who like to create, repurpose and reuse, we are always citing Pinterest as the source of our inspired dcor. We point, our eyes meet, and I need only see the pursing of lips and I already know. She saw it on Pinterest.com. We are the hip, the clever, the "pinspired" ones.

I think that Pinterest surfing triggers the same feel-good hormones in your brain as shopping. I have been Pin-drunk. The big difference is that I may awake satisfied yet bleary-eyed but I won't be afraid to open my charge account statement at the end of the month. It's like shopping with no price tags.

And Pinterest.com makes you smarter.

Not only can you develop a deeper understanding of a particular form of collecting - say Danish Modern china cabinets - you can also use Pinterest.com to cull your existing collections. For example, I started a board called "My Ideal Wardrobe." And through a lovely and languid couple of days thinking about what I like and what works for my body type I discovered my inner Amelia Earhart. I realized that she and Edith Head and Meryl Streep in "Out of Africa" truly define my fashion loves.

I set up my laptop near my closet and Goodwill Industries reaped the benefit of six huge bags full of fashion-of-the-moment pieces that never did and never will make me happy. Give me my cotton safari jackets. Give me my aviator sunglasses. Give me brown boots with buckles and a white scarf and I'm so very, very happy. Thank you Pinterest.com.

Pinterest.com is also where I learned to turn all my clothes hangers around the wrong way on Jan. 1 and each time you wear something hang it back up the right way. That way, by June 1 you'll see exactly what is just taking up space.

I have Pin-boards - 28 at this moment - like druggies have track marks. Don't judge me, lest ye be judged. Go ahead, call me the Keith Richards of Pinterest. I can live with it.

Rayne Wolfe is a former New York Times regional reporter at home in Sonoma County, Calif., completing her first book, "Toxic Mom Toolkit." Find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook or reach her at newsyrayne@gmail.com.

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