Material Things

Another ball drops (“Why is it just one?” our boys like to ask) and 2014 is here at last. And is it ever going to be a good year! In fact, 2014 will be a record-breaking, no-holds-barred first-class kickass whammin’ jammin’ funfest. And you know how I know that? Because it’s the year of the Leather Jacket.

A leather jacket is one of those you don’t know how badly you want until you have one. It’s a style fantasy come true; a guilty pleasure, especially for us animal rights activists. And this particular jacket was all that and more: it was free.

Mr. W and I had business in the next town south yesterday, and as we rolled down our street, the Mr. said, “That looks like a leather jacket on the sidewalk.”

“You want to stop and take a look?”

He shook his head. “If it’s still there on our return trip, we’ll stop.” And we motored on.

On the way home, we rolled by it again. “Go on, you know you want to,” I said, and pushed him out of the car (we were stopped at the time, fortunately.)

A minute later Mr. W returned with the jacket. We took it home and examined it. It was stylish. It was real leather, from cows that died peacefully of old age. And it was for ladies.jacket

It also didn’t smell too good, but to paraphrase the immortal words of “Christmas Vacation’s” Uncle Eddie, “If you don’t mind, Clark, I’d like to try to fumigate this here garment. It’s a good quality piece of clothing.”

I tried it on and the fit was perfect, if my arms were only about four inches longer. And I thought I looked pretty damn good, the holiday season’s “turbo nacho” excesses notwithstanding.

So it was a great start to the year. And in the fine W family tradition, today’s adventure involved a long drive, a big hike and Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate – which now can be had with almonds, as if 2014 wasn’t already fabulous enough! Well, I have to say that this proposed adventure wasn’t met with any more enthusiasm that it ever was in 2013. In fact, our youngest, operating from the mistaken belief that not just professing to be carsick but producing actual vomit would somehow excuse him from the hike, managed to negotiate a more favorable seat up front where the upholstery is Scotch-guarded.

treeBut once we were out of the car and on the trail, the beauty and serenity of the majestic forest was a balm to our souls. As we hiked through lush fern-filled canyons as old as time itself, Mr. W and I lagged behind our children, exchanging misty glances and occasionally holding hands. How wonderful it was to be starting another year together, experiencing that mirroring of thought and emotion that only comes after decades together.

Here, in fact, are our actual thoughts:

Me: “What a great start to the year. So many possibilities. Maybe we can get away for a romantic weekend this year and the boys won’t burn the house down. Who would have guessed Mr. W would turn out to be such a nurturing and sensitive guy? I just thought he had great calves. And he looks hot in sweat pants. I’m a lucky woman.”

Mr. W: “This is the year that rebuild is going to stick. I’m a little troubled about exhaust stud number two. Maybe I should have insisted the machine shop rebore it. No, I’m sure it’ll be okay if I just baby the motor through the break-in period. And I’ll switch to high-octane. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. You #%$%@# get what you pay for.”

See? Two minds that function as one!

Well, it wouldn’t be a new year without the traditional New Year’s List. So here goes:

 What Your Cat Can Teach You in 2014

1. It isn’t a party until someone horks a hairball onto the Oriental rug.

2. Even the softest lap can be improved by kneading.

3. The God-given ability to lick one’s own genitalia should never be taken for granted.

4. To err is human; to be perfect is feline.DSCN4668

5. When you start the year with a clean, fresh litterbox, the possibilities are endless.

6. If one’s litterbox doesn’t appeal, the fluffy new bath mat makes an effective substitute.

7. When money’s tight, releasing a live field mouse under the living room sofa can provide hours of entertainment for the whole family.DSCN5314

8. Curling up in a patch of sunlight is not indolence; it’s a moral imperative.

9. Contrary to popular belief, it is sometimes necessary to bite the hand that feeds you.

And last but not least:

cat10. Go easy on the catnip daiquiris.

Happy New Year!

Paddle Me

You might recall I’ve had a boat jones since last February, when that totally free wooden boat was so cruelly claimed by some undeserving person with a pickup and a tow hitch.

Well, great news: I have my boat at last!

It all started with the bathroom floor. Thirteen years ago when we moved into our home, we knew the bathroom would need a complete remodel, its only attractive features being that it’s larger than our kitchen and sometimes smells better. Well, the years passed, and except for occasionally replacing the roll of toilet paper on the spindle, not much happened.

It’s funny – ha ha! – how things you tolerate for years, even decades, suddenly start to become unbearable. Like underwear, for example. Suddenly that textured orange linoleum, so cutting-edge in 1955, was an anathema to me (I’m pretty sure I’m using that word correctly, even though it sounds like an uncomfortable medical procedure.)

I broached the subject of the bathroom floor with Mr. W. Now, Mr. W is a man of vision. He was quick to point out that our “big picture” plans already included a floor-to-ceiling remodel of the entire room. He assured me no expense would be spared in transforming the space from a simple craporium to an oasis of comfort for me, his treasured bride. He described for me in wondrous terms the deep, jetted spa tub nestled in natural faux stone flagging, with a window of glass squares offering me a panoramic vista of our driveway.

My dream tub

My dream tub

He painted a picture of me gently lowering my aching body into the lavender-scented water, my breasts bobbing lightly on the swirling surface like soft pillows as I adjusted the setting to “liquefy” and let my cares melt away. In a crescendo of poetic imagery, he concluded by describing the bowl of chocolate bon-bons on the surround, the semi-erotic reading material (“Threaded Fasteners: An Educated Re-look”) at my fingertips and the flock small colorful birds flitting about the room, all highly trained to poop directly into the toilet.

Well, it sounded pretty tempting, let me tell you. But three things held me back. First, I had a feeling that by the time this dream lavatory was a reality, I’d need a slender Estonian bath attendant to help me in and out of the tub, lest I slip on the stone flagging and break a hip.

Second, I had a sneaking suspicion that Mr. W was secretly rather attached to the orange linoleum, ever since he discovered an image of Sarah Michelle Gellar topless in its swirly pattern.

"Are you there, Buffy? It's me, Mr. W."

“Are you there, Buffy? It’s me, Mr. W.”

 

And third, you never want to get in the way of a woman possessed of both poor impulse control and a wrecking bar. In just over an hour, the lino and its soggy particle board underlay were in lawn bags out in the driveway.

What does all this have to do with my boat? Hold your horses, I’m getting to that. You see, in order to remove all the old flooring, we had to pull the toilet, leaving only two working toilets to meet the elimination needs of our family of four.

You might think that would be more than adequate. You’d be wrong. Because in a bizarre twist of fate, we were walking past the apartments down the street and came across two sackfuls of TOTALLY FREE canned goods!

Rescued from a hot sidewalk & totally FREE!

Rescued from a hot sidewalk & totally FREE!

We collected all the cans we could carry and toted them back home, where I incorporated them into our weekly menu. Wednesday we feasted on “Tuna Surprise” (the surprise was that the cans of tuna were only slightly distended); on Thursday, we enjoyed “Frontiersman Hearty ‘n’ Savory Chili Beans” (now we know what really fueled those covered wagons.) By Friday, after I secretly replaced part of our burgers with mashed garbanzo beans, a cloud hung over our happy family, one that even an exhaust fan set up by the east door couldn’t dispel; and Saturday morning every porcelain throne was occupied, even the one out in the yard. I was forced to go down the street to the gas station.

On the way, I passed a yard sale in progress. And there it was: a beautiful twelve-foot kayak. Right away a vision formed in my head: I was alone on the bay, my paddle dipping smoothly in and out of the water, the prow of my kayak cutting through the surf like chili through an accountant. Peace and tranquility washed over me; my soul was soothed by the music of sandpipers and the sweet perfume of minimally treated sewage as it was pumped into the bay through cast iron pipes.

I made the deal on the spot, then fetched Mr. W to help me load Omoo into the brown bus. Stay tuned!

The adventure begins

The adventure begins

Coming soon in Part 2: “Why it’s never a good idea to name a boat after Herman Melville’s tragic sea voyage”; and Part 3: “Dropping your deodorant down an open heat register really stinks.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Summer of Love, Love, Love

Since I posted last week, a lot has—what’s that? It’s been HOW long? What a total slacker!

I can assure you that many, many significant—even life-changing—events have occurred since then. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. The Giants, after peaking in June with an inside-the-park walkoff home run, went into a dreadful slide and are currently in last place, Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter notwithstanding.

2. A two-pound block of cheddar mysteriously migrated from our refrigerator to our freezer.

You see what you missed? Things are crazy around here!

It all started Saturday night, the very same evening that Lincecum pitched his gem. Coincidence? Hard to say. Here are the facts:

At approximately 5:53 p.m., a report came in that a one-pound loaf of mozzarella had vanished from the Dairy Goods drawer without a trace. A grid search was immediately initiated, whereupon the wheyward cheese was located in the freezer, solid as a rock. We were making pizza, so we were compelled to cut the cheese immediately and with urgency. This we did in fact accomplish.

Scene: Two days later. Same kitchen, 11:00 a.m. In the course of his regular refrigerator patrol, Mr. W reported that the CHEDDAR had now gone missing. Again, the lost curds were subsequently discovered in the freezer. As a result of these egregious crimes, a number of suspects were interrogated but denied involvement in “Cheddargate.”

The victim

The victim

Mr. W was despondent over the state of his cheese. “Cheese doesn’t belong in the freezer,” he kept saying over and over. “It’ll be impossible to cut.” (Not in this family, buster).

Well, we didn’t like to see Mr. W so distressed, so we set up a sophisticated surveillance system in the kitchen so that the culprit could be brought to justice. We should have the results later today.

On a sad note, our wonderful guinea piggy Hooper died of old age in March. Some time in April, two adorable bunnies moved into his empty cage. How do these things happen?bunny1bunday small Well, of course we had to build them a gigantic bunny condominium, so now they have a forty-square-foot run in the yard where the dogs used to go pee. Our bunny book said they needed lots of obstacles to jump on and around, and right away I had one of my Brilliant Ideas.

“Grab the wheelbarrow and let’s go pick up that stump at the bottom of our street,” I told my youngest, with visions of “lapin parkour” all around and over the stump. So we walked the wheelbarrow down a steep hill, steering around the two concrete barriers that keep the riffraff off our street.

We arrived at the stump and immediately realized it weighed at least 100 pounds, four pounds more than my strapping lad and ten pounds less than myself. Okay, twenty, but not an ounce more! We rolled it to the street, but couldn’t lift it into the wheelbarrow.

Just then a nice young man with a cigarette dangling from his lips walked over from the apartments nearby. “You want this stump in that wheelbarrow?” he said, keenly grasping the salient points of the situation. Just like that, he picked it up and deposited it in the wheelbarrow. And they say chivalry is dead!

Our troubles, though, were only beginning. Even between the two of us, getting the wheelbarrow back up the hill and around the barriers was a Herculean task. Before we were halfway, the front tire went flat and the whole loaded threatened to spill. We pushed and pulled our way into the driveway and finally arrived at the foot of the stairs, sweating profusely, to wait for Mr. W.

Of course Mr. W is built like an Olympic weightlifter. With one “clean and jerk” motion he lifted up the stump and carried it up thirteen concrete steps to the the bunny run, where we discovered it was three inches wider than the door.

“You measured first, didn’t you?” he said. That’s one of those tricky questions with no right answer in my opinion.

But the great news is, we decided to keep the stump after all, as yard ornamentation. I prettied it up with a wilted geranium and some pine needles and it looks great. I even named it after Mr. W to show my appreciation for his efforts!

Say hello to Big Stumpy!

Say hello to Big Stumpy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIS JUST IN:our surveillance system has been tripped! Here’s what it captured on film:

Cheese

 

 

Presidents, We Salute You

A big shout out to all those presidents who not only worked so hard to build our nation, but gave us a week off right in the middle of February. Is this a great country or what?

It’s been a pretty interesting week. Of course with any vacation week, there are always home improvement projects. The fact is, we’re actually starting to run out of projects. The last big thing is installing new bathroom linoleum, but that’s a little pricy for our current budget. We also have to wait on replacing the landlord-grade bathtub with a jetted soaking tub, a personal dream of mine. Hey, I’m not greedy or anything; I just want the entry-level model with three basic settings: “stimulate,” “arouse” and “frenzy.” I think I deserve that.

stairsBut this week’s projects were pretty simple: we cut and hammered in some wooden risers onto our stairs so that no more underwear would tumble into the closet below and be lost for eternity. No wonder everyone’s gone commando around here! We also made a little bookshelf at the top of the stairs and shelved the big pile o’ books. In the process of sorting and organizing, we found Mr. W’s missing nuts. He’d been looking for them since last fall. Well, I’m glad to report they’re safely back in his hands.nuts

Speaking of nuts, I saw a new product being offered at the checkout of our hipster grocery store. It’s a party mix of walnuts, almonds and cashews called “Doug’s Nuts.” This is the actual text from the label: “To serve DOUG’S NUTS, place in a warm and receptive hand and enjoy. If you are not 100 percent satisfied with DOUG’S NUTS, return the unnibbled-on portion for a full refund. To learn more, visit our website—Doug likes to go on and on about his NUTS!”doug

Well, I shared that with the boys when I got back to the car, and pretty soon we were brainstorming some varieties we might see on the shelves soon. “Doug’s Roasted Nuts,” I said.

“Doug’s Salty Nuts,” the 11-year old put in.

“How about ‘Doug’s Hairy Nuts?’” our teen suggested. At that point I had to pull over. Honestly, I don’t know where these boys get their low-brow humor.

That reminds me: earlier in the week, our big brown retriever ate an entire grocery store receipt. Then yesterday, she pooped it out on the trail during our morning hike. Unbelievable! Pop-Tarts at a buck eighty-eight? Now that’s a great price!

But the really big thing that happened this week is that I temporarily (I hope) took leave of my senses. It all started with the Cadbury Cream Eggs. The regular kind with the sugary yellow centers don’t excite me too much, but Cadbury used to make one with a fudge center that rocked my world. Well, we found the chocolaty kind at Target and picked up two boxes to last the whole week. I’m not really sure how it happened (I might have blacked out) but I ate an entire box while measuring for the stair risers. Then after the stairs were done I ate the other box. Immediately I was overcome with a sense of complete and utter happiness. The blood was pounding through my veins and if I held the empty foil wrappers up to my ear, I could hear the ocean. What a rush!

But here’s where things started to go wrong. The next morning, while the boys and I were walking the dogs along the railroad tracks, we spotted an old wooden boat on a trailer. There was a sign flapping from the prow that said, “Boat and trailer FREE!” We climbed up on the trailer and looked in. The boat was filled with trash, but there was a cute little captain’s cabin and wheel.Boat 2 Boat 4

Right then and there, I wanted that boat more than I’d ever wanted anything in my life. The boys tried to talk me out of it. Finally I agreed that if it was still sitting there, TOTALLY FREE, by the time we got back from Loleta, I would borrow a truck and tow it home.

We went to the Cheese Factory in Loleta and filled up on free samples, then cut the cheese all the way home. But my mind was already busy with plans for my new boat. We drove to the railroad tracks and it was gone.

I was devastated. But as the last vestiges of the Cadbury Cream Eggs wore off, I tried to rationalize my loss. What would I have done with a boat? I don’t fish. I don’t even swim well; as the great Paul Stookey said, “Swimming to me is like staying alive in the water.” And speaking of water, the nearest body of fresh water is more than three hours away. What was the plan, to tow the boat there with our Prius? And I was setting a dreadful precedent for Mr. W, who is just one junk vehicle away from being required to hold a scrapyard license. The thing is, this experience gave me a glimpse into the dark recesses of Mr. W’s mind. It was a scary, compelling place.

And if I’m honest with myself, all I would have done with my boat is park it in the yard, paint it pretty colors, hang a bell from the cabin and every once in a while stand in the wheelhouse and shout, “EAT MY WAKE, LANDLUBBERS!” Clang clang!

Well, today looks like a pretty peaceful day after all the week’s excitement. My youngest is overdue for a haircut and that’s definitely on the list, if I can tear him away from the nuclear reactor he’s building. Unfortunately the boys hid my salon shears and all I have to work with are some left-handed safety scissors, but I’ll do my best. My eldest is working on his “controversial topic” essay in between bouts of trying out his vintage “Sega Genesis” game console he bought yesterday at the thrift store and got working within the hour (the kid’s a freakin’ genius!) Mr. W is hard at work at the home office doing taxes, but I’m hoping I can persuade him to fill my inbox later.

And me? Well, I’m not up to anything much. Just out on the water doing twenty knots.

Clang clang!

Women Who Love Men Who Love Cars

Psychologists say that even after decades of marriage, many husbands feel more closely bonded with the family automobile than with their spouses.

Don’t believe it? It’s true. I know, because I married such a man. Mr. W was born with 10W-30 coursing through his veins. As a babe in arms, he dreamed of a ground-up rebuild on his pram. He cut his first tooth on a piston ring, spoke his first word (“camshaft”) at ten months and would only drink his milk if his mother set him in the Winner’s Circle. As a toddler, he tricked out his tricycle with three-wheel drive and all-terrain tires. When he was four years old, he traded in his training wheels for a kickass exhaust system; at nine, he turbo-charged his Schwinn with parts he’d lifted off his dad’s gas mower.

By the time we met ten years later, Mr. W was ready for love. And he found it: in a 1975 powder-blue Volkswagen Beetle.

As young lovers, we crossed the country in that Bug, jammed to the headliner with all our worldly possessions and with three bicycles strapped to the roof. It was when we reached Minnesota that it began to dawn on me there was something a little different about this man. Just west of the Twin Cities, the temperature hit 90 and Mr. W began to fret. “I’m not sure she can take the heat,” he said.

“That’s sweet of you, honey, but I’m fine,” I told him. “We can just roll the windows down.”

“I meant the engine,” he said. “Between you and all those bikes, she’s under a lot of load.” He thought a minute, then snapped his fingers. “Got it,” he said. “We’ll just crank the heat up.”

“Are you crazy? It’s a hundred degrees in here!”

“No, it’s the only thing to do. And we should close the windows to reduce wind resistance.” He turned the heater knob to maximum and smiled with satisfaction as the ambient air temperature inside the car climbed from “bake” to “liquefy” within seconds. Sweat rolled down our faces. After a few miles of this, I spotted a convenience store and suggested we stop for cold drinks. “She’d probably appreciate a chance to cool down,” I said cannily.

He gave me an odd look. “Do you always talk about yourself in the third person?”

It was a strange little episode, but was easily outweighed by Mr. W’s other considerable attributes, so I married him. Now don’t get me wrong: there’s really nothing fundamentally awry with these men. Far from it, actually. They’re often highly intelligent, with advanced problem-solving abilities and superior hand-eye coordination. They think nothing of whipping out a roll of duct tape, patching a faulty distributor and driving 300 miles on the repair (true story). These are men who can be relied upon in a crisis. They’re nothing short of modern McGyvers.

So if there’s any problem at all with men who loves cars, it’s, well… you.

Do you sometimes feel like a fifth wheel in your relationship? Sister, it’s not just your imagination. Unless you can squeeze yourself into a chrome jumpsuit or have boobs that light up on foggy nights, you simply may not be measuring up.

If you think I’m talking out my exhaust pipe, ask yourself the following questions:

- At your wedding, did your mate slip a 14-carat gold band on your finger or a 14-millimeter chrome plated box end wrench?

- How many times a year does he rotate your tires, lube your joints or take you out and fill you with high octane?

- Does he agonize over every ding and dent to your chassis, apply expensive polishes and waxes and buff you for hours? Or does he suggest that as a daily driver, you should expect a little wear and tear? Has he ever recommended that at 50,000 miles you have your front end lifted and your sagging rear bumper tightened, insurance permitting?

- When you break down, does he arrange for a flatbed to get you safely home? Or does he wait for the county to transport you to one of their secure lock-down facilities?

- After you gave birth to his first child, did he tenderly wrap your bottom block in a thermostatically-controlled quilted blanket and pledge to rebuild you to like-new condition? Or did he give you a pat on the back and an inflatable rubber donut to sit on?

- Is he a fanatic about your timing—adjusting, fine-tuning and often employing state-of-the-art equipment—in an effort to bring you to peak performance? Or does he simply fiddle around with whatever tool is close at hand and hope for the best? Does he frequently leave you over-revved? Has he ever told you that premature ignition can happen to any guy?

If the answers to any of these questions gave you pause, you’re a Woman who loves a Man who loves Cars. But you’re not alone. We’ve all been there.

For the first ten years of our married life, we drove nothing but classic Volkswagens. And we were happy. But as it so often happens, as our family grew, a modern car found its way into our fleet. I was delighted by the wide array of features I never knew existed and pointed them out to Mr. W.

“Look at this,” I said eagerly. “I think they call this a fuel gauge.”

“That’s for people who can’t do math,” Mr. W said stiffly.

“Check out these seatbelts. One for every member of the family.”

“Then why did we invest in that case of duct tape?”

I flicked a switch on the dash and two wiper blades swished across the windshield. “Honey, it has windshield wipers! Isn’t that great?”

“I suppose,” he said. “But what’ll the kids do on long trips?”

Of course, we still kept our fleet of classic VWs, and Mr. W maintained them with consummate skill. Except for one.

I suppose it’s only fitting that a man named after Herman Melville would have his own white whale to haunt his dreams, to pull him into an impossible quest that might ultimately lead to his ruin. For Mr. W, it was a 1974 Volkswagen Westphalia camper.

We bought it in 1999 for $400 and thought it was a steal, even after we discovered we were responsible for $940 of back DMV penalties. It came with a poptop tent, a sink with running water, an ice box and a baggie labeled “oregano” under the back seat. It also came with an engine in approximately four hundred and thirty-seven pieces.

Mr. W set to work. In his first Type 4 rebuild, he used 396 of those pieces and installed his creation in the bus. It looked great, but it wouldn’t go.

For his second rebuild, Mr. W took his heads to Hermann at German Motor Works for machining. Hermann spoke with a thick accent and had a tattoo of Dusseldorf on his bicep. Unfortunately, we later learned his real name was Stan Leftwich, he’d been born and raised in Duluth, he thought a valve guide was a tourist pamphlet and he’d relied on JB Weld for most of his work.

For rebuild number three, Mr. W ordered parts by mail, which arrived in the middle of the night in an armored truck. He worked day and night on the engine, consulting experts by phone, internet and psychic emanation. His family gathered round as he turned the key for the first time. There was a rumble, a squeal, and then a steady metallic rat-a-tat. Mr. W turned off the ignition and scratched his head. “Sounds like there’s something in there,” he said.

The next day he pulled apart one of the heads and showed me a small object, crushed and yet strangely familiar.

“It looks like a little bell,” I said.

In what has to be pure coincidence, our neighbor was out that day posting flyers all over our street that said, “Have you seen Fluffy?” The photo showed a black cat with a red collar and a little silver… uh oh.

Well, Mr. W has just announced his intention to start rebuild number four. And I’m sure, this time, it will be successful.

But until he’s done, it might be best if we keep the children and the animals inside.

My favorite half of Mr. W

My favorite half of Mr. W

Mr. W Goes Back to Work

Well, it finally happened: Mr. W returned to work yesterday.

I thought I’d be glad. The boys had the day off from school in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and I was looking forward to some time with just the three of us, packed with wholesome and rewarding experiences.

sweat2

Mr. W shows dishwasher who’s boss

But I miss him. He’s a really useful guy to have around in a lot of ways. Take this repair he did on the leaking dishwasher, for example; he really put his back into it.

 

 

repair

 

Task completed!

 

 

There are a lot of other ways in which Mr. W is irreplaceable–I just can’t put my finger on it. The way he does, anyway.

But a change of routine is always nice, though I admit things got off to a rocky start right off the bat. Since there was no compelling reason for me to get up early and make breakfast as usual, I’d decided to sleep in. I was deep in a dream where I’d just removed my glasses to take a closer look at the inspirational words tattooed across Colin Kaepernick’s chest and biceps (go 49ers!) when my youngest leaned in and hollered, “MUFFINS!”

Still groggy and with a little slumber drool dampening my chin, I staggered into the kitchen to start the day. Mr. W was just getting ready to leave for the office, looking sharp in a shirt and tie and with a few fragments of toilet paper dotting his face from his first shave in six days. We shared a perfunctory kiss—Mnch!—and he was off in a haze of exhaust to slay the demons of inadequate withholding.

The boys and I leashed up our dogs for their walk, and that’s when I got the first inkling the halcyon day I’d pictured just wasn’t in the cards.

“What’s for dinner?” my eldest said as we trudged along.

“Chicken.”

“What kind of chicken? Fried?”

“No.”

“Barbecued?” the 11-year-old guessed.

“Nope.”

“Roasted? Grilled? Stir-fried?”

“Boiled.”

The teenager groaned aloud, while his brother halted in his tracks. “No way! You promised you’d never serve boiled chicken again! You swore it!”

“I did not. It’s nutritious.” Plus it gave me a chance to throw in everything I couldn’t identify from the back of the vegetable crisper.

My youngest dragged his feet along the ground. “This day sucks,” he said.

DSCN7176

When 2012 looks like this, it’s time for a new calendar

Not an auspicious start, but I figured things were bound to improve. Before we left for the mall to score 2013 calendars at fifty percent off, I suggested we do a little work under the deck, where we needed to replace some wire netting torn up by our recent beam work. Had I suggested we don matching outfits of raw meat and go taunt some pit bulls, that would have better corresponded to the level of enthusiasm with which my idea was greeted. But off we went with a staple gun, a sledgehammer and some tin snips. Well, it probably doesn’t need to be said that if you ask your 11-year-old to swing a sledgehammer in order to drive a stake in the ground, you probably shouldn’t brace the stake with your foot. I’m sure the swelling will go down in a day or two.

At last it was time for the mall. But as we motored down the highway, I found I was having trouble keeping up with the conversation that ensued between my offspring, which went something like this:

Boy #1: My new texture pack is over the top. I had a custom brick block and three sheets of sprites in my inventory and my cows were dropping maximum leather. But I got jammed by a troll when I tried to summon my ore and got bumped down to obsidian level.

Boy #2: Dude, have you tried the LAN upgrade that puts you straight into hyper build mode? It takes a graphics card tweak but it’ll like totally boost your spawning power. I netted two Nether Reactors and was outta my skin with redstone and coal.

Boy #1: That’s the power of creative mode, man.

Boy #2: Rad.

I could be mistaken, but I believe they were discussing a wildly popular computer game that looks like LEGOS on crack. On a few occasions I’ve watched over their shoulders so that I could better understand the game, but when the imagery started giving me seizures, I gave up.

It wasn’t long before I was included in their conversation, though, because pretty soon my youngest mentioned that his friend “J” didn’t have any restrictions on how long he could play on the computer. “None of my friends do,” he said. “And they can play any game they like and surf the Web.”

“Different families have different rules,” I said.

“Worst…mother…ever,” he muttered.

I had to defend myself. “Look, guys, it’s my responsibility as a parent to prevent you having even a minute’s fun. You think I like to thwart you at every turn? Of course I do! I lie awake at night dreaming up these horrible, unfair restrictions. But you know what? When you get to be my age—”

“Ancient,” the teen put in.

“—and have children of your own, you’ll look back on this time and say, ‘I sure appreciate everything my mother did to make sure I was miserable. Thanks, Mom.’”

“That reminds me,” my teenager said. “I heard about a 15-year-old girl whose parents wouldn’t allow her to surf the Web after 10 p.m. So she and her boyfriend had this great plan where they crushed up sleeping pills and gave them to her parents in milkshakes every night.”

A silence fell in the car. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I saw the boys exchange a sidelong look and smile in a way that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Thank God I’m lactose intolerant!

A little after two, I got a text from Mr. W: “Meeting with new clients who haven’t showered since tax year 2010. Had big-ass burrito for lunch. How’s your day going?”

I texted him back: “Don’t drink the milkshake!”

Everyone misses Mr. W

Everyone misses Mr. W

 

 

A Brand Spanking New Year

There’s nothing I love better than a bright, shiny new year. It’s a clean slate, a fresh start, a blank template with unlimited possibilities. Anything can happen. And I’m not one of those superstitious types who contend that a year in which the number thirteen appears is bound to be unlucky, knock on wood.

True, the year’s off to a bit of a rough start, but it can only go uphill from here, right? Or is it downhill? I always find that expression confusing. Financially things are a bit unsettled, but  a bounced check can happen to anybody, especially when your near vision’s a little flaky. And our fortunes are bound to change now that my book has sold an astonishing nineteen copies (and only eleven of those were relatives!)

On the other hand, today, just the fourth day of the new year, we completed the shingling of our shop face, a painstaking job that’s been dogging us since the end of 2012.

We have shingles!

We have shingles!

It was a wholesome and satisfying family experience that taught our boys a number of useful new words. And a learning experience too: I’ve been married to Mr. W for 22 years without knowing he had a deep spiritual side, because every time I told him, “You’re going off your chalk line,” he’d yell, “This is not the Zen experience I was looking for!” I couldn’t figure out why he was wearing ear protection for the job even after we were done with the power tools, but I suppose everyone marches to their own drummer.

I did relish the opportunity to school my youngest in the art of driving nails, something my mother taught me as a child (or was that the cross-stitch? I always mix up those two.)

I showed him how to start the nail with a few light taps and then adjust his body angle to maximize his power. “Now you’re ready to address the nail,” I said.

“How do you do, Mr. Nail?” he said. Then he smacked the shit out of it.

The best part of any new year is the opportunity to make resolutions. I LOVE making resolutions! Let’s take a look at my list from 2012 and see how I did. Check, did that; check check, took care of those; yep, did that too. I kicked ass on this list! Oh wait, these aren’t my 2012 resolutions, it’s my grocery list from last week. Well, at least I remembered to buy the naturopathic massage gel guaranteed to plump up and energize my lady parts. Won’t Mr. W get a surprise in 2013!

I know it’s a little late to be writing up my goals for this year (putting an end to procrastination should probably be the first item on it, but I’ll do that later.) However, I always say as long as the list gets done before the end of the year, it’s valid. In fact, I’ve been known to put items on my list after they’re already accomplished, just to experience the satisfaction of crossing them off. So brace yourself—here they are:

My 2013 Resolutions

1. In 2013, I will finally learn what a “hash tag” is, figure out how to “tweet’ and listen to the sensitive lyrics of “Gangnam Style.”

2. In 2013, I will not claim that space aliens shrunk my “skinny” jeans. I will eat more bran and cut at least fifty percent of the fat and cholesterol from my diet by switching to dark chocolate exclusively.

3. In 2013, before touching Mr. W in an affectionate  and loving manner, I will first warm up my hands under hot running water.

4. In 2013, I will be a source of infinite patience and wisdom to my children, unless they really tick me off.

5. In 2013, the word “multiple” will become part of my intimacy vocabulary. After all, what does “Fifty Shades” have that I don’t?

And most importantly:

6. In 2013, I will NOT serve Red Bull and bean dip at the same New Year’s Eve party unless I have an adequate supply of industrial-strength toilet bowl cleanser on hand.

Happy 2013!peanuts

It’s the End of the World

“It’s the end of the world as we know it,
And I feel fine.” (R.E.M., 1987)

 

I’m a little fuzzy on this whole Mayan calendar thing. I mean, isn’t it possible the Mayans just ran out of papyrus or whatever before they had a chance to write up 2013? It’s not like there was a Staples just down the street back then.

And I’m almost certain the nonstop rain, wind, sleet, power outages and mudslides over the last three days are just a coincidence, right? (Hey! I just saw a unicorn fly by!)

Here at the W household, we’re celebrating the end of the world with frozen yogurt, pizza and beer, plus a few other activities I’m not going to describe in detail (Mr. W assures me he’s saved his best for last.) And since my teenager tells me this is the right time to make my End of the World confessions, I’ve put together the following list:

imagesTo my eldest son: Remember the Talking Buzz Lightyear™ you got when you were four years old? Well, I accidentally spilled my strawberry margarita on it and without thinking, held it under the faucet to wash it off. That’s why, instead of saying, “To infinity—and BEYOND!”, Buzz says, “Brrrzzzp.”

To my youngest: The reason so many moms were volunteering as classroom aides and field trip proctors when you were in third grade was not because we believed parental involvement was a vital part of your academic and social success. It was because your teacher was super hot. (Didn’t you wonder where all those volunteers went when you hit fourth grade?)

To Mr. W: There’s no such thing as a Towel-Eating Toilet. That was me all along.potty2To my mother: The driver’s side mirror on your Chevy Chevette was not busted off by some careless Kmart geriatric in 1979. I was backing out of the garage and I cut it too close.

To my mother-in-law: One of my sons peed on your matched Samsonite luggage while you were checking flight times and we were waiting for you in the airport parking lot. Give ‘em a break: they were little! (Oh wait, this was last year).

Heck, I’m feeling better already! Now for some confessions from my not-so-stellar career in real estate:

—I crawled through a doggy door to unlock a deadbolt so I could show a house to some clients (this incident was chronicled in my real estate mystery, “Good Bones,” but for the record it was a pug I came face-to-face with, not a pit bull.)

—That old gas line that ran ankle-height along the ground and was a serious health and safety hazard? I stacked a bunch of firewood around it so the appraiser wouldn’t see it. He didn’t.

—I hung a picture over a hole a client had punched through the drywall of his living room so the buyers wouldn’t notice it. They bought the place.

You know, confession really is good for the soul! I feel ten pounds lighter!

That reminds me: boys, remember all those times I told you your Halloween candy had been recalled by the manufacturer? That was, um, well…look! Another unicorn!images-1

 

About Parents

Somewhere in the bowels of my hard drive I have the beginnings of some posts that are a lot funnier than this one. But like much of America, my funnybone is temporarily on the fritz. So bear with me.

Until this week, I never fully understood what it means to have “a heavy heart.” Maybe because I don’t follow country music. Now I know it’s the dull, persistent ache under your breastbone that is impervious to antacids, that imbues the most joyous activities—hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree, for instance—with an undercurrent of sorrow.

Becoming a parent is something a lot of us undertook rather lightly. It required less hand-eye coordination than getting a driver’s license, fewer organizational skills than writing a high school history essay on “A Colonial Boy in Jamestown” and less pre-job screening than working for the county road crew (though half of us still had to piss in a paper cup).

Sure, we knew there would be inconveniences. Any pretenses of dignity you might have had go out the window when your fourth-grader introduces you to his teacher as “My mom who farts a lot.” Any disposable income you might have enjoyed ends up invested in LEGOs. And your social life is transformed from late nights, short skirts and high heels to fluffy slippers, old reruns of “Remington Steele” and bedtime by 9.

What we didn’t expect is that parenthood would require courage, more courage than we ever dreamed we could summon. Because the minute you become a parent, the fences you built around your heart to keep it safe get torn down. Any illusion you cherished that you could never be hurt beyond hurt is gone. You’ve done the one thing that guarantees you can be totally unraveled and exposed. You’re dancing on the edge of a cliff, unable to tear yourself away from the spectacular view. You’re Superman in Kryptonite underwear.

And you don’t care.

Courage is dancing on that cliff and managing not to look down. Because you have a job to do. And you’re a better, more complicated, more compassionate person for doing it.

Our country has a job to do too, but governments move slowly. So let’s work and pray and push for change, and make it happen. Before we forget.

I hope that all those touched by senseless, cruel acts can heal. My heart aches for you.

For those evil enough to perpetrate such acts, I hope you enjoy an eternal stay in a very hot place, and that they lose your luggage.

And for my own children, you remind me every day what it means to be human, to laugh and cry and hurt and love. Maybe it’s been a while since I told you how much I love you. You’re the long, nerve-wracking climb to the top of the roller coaster track, and the heart-stopping, cussword-riddled descent. You’re Mel Brooks, Weird Al Yankovic and Clark W. Griswold all rolled together. I love you more than Rocky Road, more than Snickers, more than hot cocoa on a cold day, more than life itself. Thank you for being my kids.

Now go take out the trash.

LaserCat will protect your heart!

My Cups Runneth Over

This morning I got up on the wrong side of the bed.

It’s hard to put a finger on what’s bothering me. Maybe it’s because yesterday I awoke with such a gargantuan zit on my face that the lady checking my groceries complimented me on my high cheekbones. Seems to me I should be able to move on to liver spots by now.

Maybe it’s that we’re on Day 2 of a winter storm system that’s supposed to dump a ton of rain on us over the next six days, accompanied by 50-mile-an-hour winds. I’m not looking forward to the hardships that will surely result: I like a good storm as much as the next guy, but with no power to run my blow dryer, my hair just won’t look right.

Maybe it’s the fact that I heard a strange sound from the kitchen, and upon investigation, found that our roof was leaking all over our display of musical holiday greeting cards. It’s bad enough there’s so much water outside I swear I saw salmon spawning in a low spot on our driveway, but to come inside and deprive us of  the theme song from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”? That’s just not right.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m suffering from that little-understood phenomenon known as TML. That’s right, Too Much Love. Because everywhere I turn, I find Mr. W, the Sweetest Man in the World, eager and ready to please me in any way I can imagine—and in some ways I haven’t dared to imagine—and I’m slowly being driven insane.

I know it sounds strange. Here I have this charming, sexy man at my beck and call 24 hours a day. He’s good with his hands and smells nice, more often than not. He’s funny and attentive, shaves every day and is generally out of his sweat pants by 10 a.m. And let’s face it, there’s something about a man who can coil up a 100-foot extension cord with machine-like efficiency that really gets my juices flowing. So what’s the problem?

It’s hard to pinpoint. Let’s take last Tuesday as a typical day. I woke up to find Mr. W at my elbow. “How was your night’s sleep?” he said eagerly.

I yawned and stretched. “Not that great, actually. I just felt sort of twitchy and wound up. Think it might have been Restless Leg Syndrome.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?” he said. “I could have helped you with that.”

“Because it wasn’t Restless Vagina Syndrome.”

“Same difference,” he said.

After the boys were off to school, I got ready to walk the dogs. As if on cue, Mr. W started lacing up his trail shoes. “Want some company?”

When we returned from our walk, I felt more stressed out than ever. I needed a nice hot shower to help me unwind. As I stepped into the tub with a sigh of contentment, the bathroom door opened and there he was, stripped down to his socks. “You look like you could use some company,” he said.

Thinking fast, I said, “Sometimes I pee in the shower.”

“I’ll take mine later.” The door closed.

After my shower, I was shrugging myself into my clothes when Mr. W magically appeared at my elbow. “Let me help you with that,” he said, manipulating a lacy undergarment like a 20-year veteran of the Macy’s fitting rooms.

I had a little business in town. The jingle of my car keys brought Mr. W catapulting out of his chair, just as the rattle of kibble into the food dish brings dogs running. “Need some company?” he said.

You see what I mean? A lot of women, I suppose, would love to have my “problem.” They complain that their husbands are chained to their work and they never have any quality time. So it seems churlish to say that quality time is unraveling me. Sometimes I just need time to myself.

I consulted my reliable marriage and relationship book. This book has withstood the test of time and is the backbone of our 22-year union (except for the chapter on Special Occasions, where it advised me to shave my pubic hair in the shape of a heart for Valentine’s Day and I developed a rash the shape of Slovakia, it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.)

The author suggested Mr. W might be suffering from “displacement syndrome,” wherein he was unable to find an appropriate outlet for his professional skills. This made a lot of sense to me, because right after he was laid off, Mr. W spent a lot of time poring over the family budget, first laying everything out in an Excel spreadsheet, then creating a bar graph and then a pie chart (we ate that) to illustrate the debits and credits; then he folded the various documents into elaborate paper airplanes to see which would fly the furthest. But for a man of his considerable financial expertise, there clearly wasn’t enough meat in our budget to satisfy his numbers-crunching craving (indeed, it’s much like the carpenter who complains, “I keep cutting and cutting and it’s STILL too short!”)

So I decided the best thing to do was to give Mr. W a task to complete in order, as the book said, “to allow him to recapture a sense of his special purpose.” And the task I so generously gave to him was cleaning the litterbox. Strangely, he balked at the gesture.

“I can’t do that,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because I had a vasectomy.”

The non sequitur threw me off for a moment, but I rallied. “So?”

“Well, remember when you said if I got the vasectomy, I’d never have to clean the cat box again?”

“No, no. The deal was that after the vasectomy, you’d never have to buy me tampons again. The litter box was never mentioned.”

While he pondered this, I stuffed a kitchen trash bag into his hands and told him not to get any litter on the floor. Then I went outside for some “alone” time.

When I returned, Mr. W was nowhere to be found. But he’d exacted his revenge by leaving a pile of soiled kitty litter where I couldn’t fail to step in it. So then I used his towel to clean it up. Ha ha! Take that! (oh jeez, he’s going to read this! Never mind that last part, I just made it up!)

Anyway, it looks like the Special Purpose plan is down the tubes. I’ll have to think of something else.

In the meantime, I’m drinking sixteen ounces of water before every shower.

Apropos of nothing, these two headlines appeared in our paper THE SAME DAY: