Stella Benson wrote, "Family jokes, though rightly cursed by strangers, are the bond that keeps most families alive."
If only other families could swap insults with impunity the way mine does, there would be no petty or protracted estrangements and Jerry Springer would be out of a job. While we looked forward to Thanksgiving that year, we all were a little apprehensive as well. It was the first one without my dad. Before we all got to my mother’s house, my sister e-mailed me and my brother to say, "I'm looking forward to y'all getting on my nerves this weekend."
The year was 2006. Picture seven adults, six kids and a few dogs cooped-up in a three-bedroom, two-bath farmhouse the size of a double-wide. (Well, it may technically be a double-wide, but it's so well-disguised that my dad always joked a tornado could never find it.) It's probably the only 20-year-old pre-fab dwelling with hardwood floors and ceramic tile. The Winnebago-style Fiberglas showers have yet to be upgraded to imported Venetian marble, however. I say “cooped-up” because I am a spoiled upper-middle-class American brat. A lot of families in this world probably happily sleep that many in one room. In fact, my Russian sister-in-law told me she felt right at home with so many people in what seemed like such a small space.
When we got there late on Wednesday night, everyone else was way ahead of us in the celebrating department. They started the party without us. That's the way we roll. You'll be there when you get there, fend for yourself on the food and drink and snooze you lose. Music was blaring, margaritas were flowing, and my sister-in-law was dancing as my nieces and nephews ran amok. My brother was vegging on the couch while my sister and mother were in the kitchen probably making sure all the tequila was either gone or well-hidden before I arrived. My mother already looked pale and what my sister refers to as "beat down" while my sister raged in full party mode. My sister-in-law wanted me and my sister to take her to a nearby dive bar frequented no doubt by truckers with more wheels than teeth, bikers (not the Lance Armstrong kind) and leathery tattooed barflies. Sure, it would have been a good time, but we would have been torn apart and eaten alive while the jukebox played the theme song from The Dukes of Hazzard or maybe some ZZ-Top or 'Skynyrd. My sister-in-law had hoped to pretend to be a deaf mute when we got there. Just for fun. It would have provided some great material, but we opted to stay in that night.
My mother and my kids have late November birthdays, so we always celebrate them the day after Thanksgiving. We all also brought gifts for each other's kids. Not so much to keep them from feeling left out as to cover birthdays we forgot or to go ahead and get Christmas out of the way. That's just how we do it. We're slackers. We did hold off on the real birthday presents for the designated days, but the others were distributed at random when whichever kid or kids seemed to need a new distraction. Thank God one of the girls got the High School Musical soundtrack so we could be subjected to it at max volume while they danced and sang with such pure joy that the pleasure we got from watching them almost cancelled out our collective desire to beat the stereo to death with a sledgehammer. My son and the boys went about their business oblivious to the chaos they were both surrounded by and supplementing. The little ones played contently with lead-painted Chinese toys or tackled the older one as necessary.
My sister outdid me again on our mom's birthday gift. She probably found it on a clearance "As Is" shelf at a dollar store. She got her a fancy, tricked out, under the cabinet stereo, radio/CD player, with speakers and a clock and a remote. It was meant for the tiny kitchen in Mom’s glorified double-wide. The remote handily attaches to the nearby fridge with a magnet. Mom reacted with mock awe, "Oooh, a remote. Just in case I'm at the fridge and can't move that extra three inches to reach the stereo itself." And the thing probably also had a built-in can opener, corkscrew and egg separator, too. Whatever. Then my mother said to me, "Didn't you give me some foot cream last time? And what does this mean—'extreme repair'? What are you trying to say?" I also gave her a $50 Target gift card. My sister was then kind enough to point out, "Oh, like there's a Target in this town." As if our mom never goes anywhere.
My sister and I spent most of the weekend making puerile and vulgar references and gestures (one involving the raw turkey neck and some "giblets"). And we couldn't resist adding "so to speak" or "that's what she/he said" to any conceivably vulnerable word or phrase that popped up (so to speak). Our mother and brother tried to look down their noses at us, but they couldn't help piping up with their own tasteless jokes at every opportunity.
We had dinner later than usual, mainly because we are not planners and because we wanted to overcook everything and get the turkey nice and dry. Because we had decided to cut back on the gluttony a little, we only had four starches instead of the usual 16. And we decided to break tradition and have just plain green beans (mistake). We have this phrase we use, usually at Christmas, but often at other special occasions. As we surveyed the spread, Mom shook her head wistfully and said, "Just another disappointing Thanksgiving." And it really was when we tried to eat the chocolate pie. As Mom made the pie, my brother told her to cut back on the sugar, so it would be more like dark chocolate (which is theoretically fine). He is normally a good cook. Well, she decided to sneak in some Splenda which only made it worse. I can't blame her for trying. But thanks to my brother and my mom, the pie sucked. It tasted like, well, crap. Even my son wouldn't eat it. That's how bad it was. My husband reminded me that when he and our son made an escape earlier that day for a visit to his aunt's house, they enjoyed pecan and coconut crème pies not cooked at my brother's direction or doctored by my mom.
When my husband and son made that escape, it was a wet and windy 34 degrees. My son needed a warmer coat, so my brother-in-law (a baseball coach at a rival college) offered up a hoodie sporting his team’s logo. My son said, "I'm not that cold."
One night, my sister, my brother, and my sister-in-law sat at the dinner table drinking wine and trying to top each other with "my kid is more messed up than yours" stories. Then my brother decided to rank the kids mainly in order of cuteness. We were trying to determine the criteria and see if age was a factor (no it was not) and if intelligence played a role (to even the playing field, no). So we were pretending seriously to decide which of the six kids was the cutest or best-looking when Mom approached to see what we were discussing. She acted mortified and appalled, but I know she was mentally trying to put them in order herself. We all wanted our own kids to win, but I truly think my nephew Ben would have been the winner, had we really had to do a pageant. My other nephew Peter would have been first runner-up only because he was a year younger and still had a shot at winning the following year.
My brother is a philosophy professor. I told my sister that I get nervous every time I talk to him about anything more important than wine. (Is there anything more important than wine?) She reminded me that I was smart too and that she's always been the outcast middle child who got her degree in Home Ec. She said, "Our brother is only like on a balcony above you as far as intelligence. He's a Mount Everest above me." So that made me feel pretty good.
We left Saturday morning so we were going to miss the small-town parade that was planned for that night where my mother was to judge some no doubt fabulous crepe paper floats and the highly-anticipated doggie fashion show. I was disappointed to miss that, only because of the great fodder I could have collected.
If my dad had been there, that Thanksgiving weekend would not have been such a loud, wheels-off free-for-all. We would have had dinner on a schedule so we would be done in time for his football game. The kids would have been a little better behaved and my sister, brother, and I would have had even more wine and probably more civilized conversation. Things were not the same. Even sameness is temporary. I could see him rolling his eyes at our absolute lack of control and I think he was probably glad he wasn't in the middle of it. We filled the empty space with such deep gratitude for six healthy kids who rarely see each other and when they do, pick up where they left off just like old friends do. They were scattered like the clutter under our feet, then clicked together like perfect little puzzle pieces. Through all the rude and crude, under all the noises and voices, inside all the motion and emotion, over all the laughter and quiet after, we could hear Dad's voice (my brother imitates it so well). We could feel his peaceful pleased presence and we knew he was glad to be (somehow literally) above the fray, smiling on our irreverent reverence. Approving and glad that, even so soon without him, the laughter will continue to be the bond that keeps our family alive.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Stella Benson wrote, "Family jokes, though rightly cursed by strangers, are the bond that keeps most families alive."
Posted by Jill Mitchell-Thein at 1:30 PM
Monday, November 12, 2012
My parents were always amazed at how different their three children were. We still question my sister’s paternity, but then she is quick to remind us that she has the upper thighs of our maternal grandmother’s side of the family. Bless her heart.
As we were growing up, my sister and I could not have been more different. I was the wild child, and as the oldest, I got away with everything since our parents had no idea what I was getting into. My sister was the popular one. As she progressed through high school, she went from homecoming duchess to princess to queen. She is three years younger. I’m sure my teachers would dread getting my little sister in their classes, but then would be pleasantly relieved. I was like the Ally Sheedy character (without the dandruff) in The Breakfast Club while my sister was Molly Ringwald. We fought mercilessly for years. Mostly about the phone. We had those mod, donut-shaped, coil-corded phones, just heavy enough to throw and leave a good size hole in the sheetrock, with receivers perfect for a good headlock/forehead pounding or punch in the eye. All kinds of hair-pulling, biting, spitting, door-slamming, and clothes-stealing. All taking place as I cowered in a corner. She was mean. All I ever did to her was try to steal her boyfriends. When we sold the house we grew up in, a splintered hole remained in the door of our shared bathroom. I think I was the one who kicked it in. She was probably taking too long in the shower, and I needed to get in there to check on my hydroponic pot plants. We often laughed at that hole later, along with all the boys’ names we had carved into the door’s latex-painted trim. Goood times.
We didn’t really become friends until we both had husbands and kids. Finally we had similar things to commiserate about. We also discovered the joy of junk shopping. My flea market addiction is fairly well under control, but she is wheels-off insane. I pity the grandchildren who will be stuck cleaning out her garage. Her mission is to encourage novice home decorators to pause to reflect on the aesthetics of their dwellings, to avoid objects of mass production, and perhaps to incorporate some American Feng Shui by replacing all fake plants with real ones. Even though we don’t look alike, there is no question that we are sisters when we laugh. We have exactly the same rhythm to the breaths and the ha-ha-ha’s. When we laugh together, we have to laugh again at how our laughter is perfectly synchronized. Or maybe one echoes the other, depending on who was a little bit behind on their latest margarita swallow.
My brother and I seem to be a little more alike, seeing as how he’s a philosopher and I fancy myself a connoisseur of logic, law, literature, and apparently alliteration. He studies consciousness; I work on my conscience. He’s an intellectual academic; I’m an ineffectual apathetic. He’s a member of Mensa; I can spell Mensa.
While I share similarities with each of my siblings, my sister and brother seem to be from two different planets. It’s not that he is the smart one and she is the idiot. It’s that he is the smart one and she is the idiot savant.
My brother was hosting a “Self-Awareness Workshop” in a small town. Several brilliant and scholarly minds from around the world would converge on this tiny podunk village to discuss the theory of consciousness. Picture Einstein meets Green Acres, Stephen Hawking vs. The Beverly Hillbillies, or Marilyn vos Savant in any Will Ferrell movie. That town would have more brain cells and IQ points in it than the number of Jolie-Pitt children multiplied exponentially by the national debt. Here is a brief synopsis of what my brother’s workshop was to cover (these are quotes lifted directly from his brochure):
[P]henomenology of self-awareness, its computational and neurobiological modeling, the philosophical problems surrounding it, and its role in the formulation of a general theory of consciousness with particular emphasis on formulating ways of empirically testing the thesis that all consciousness involves some form of self-awareness.
[T]he computational, functional, and mathematical modeling of self-representing systems; various forms of incompleteness and computational irreducibility and their relation to the phenomenology of cognition, to self-knowledge, and to the opacity of sensory qualities; and virtualization (the computational process whereby the complexity of the “hardware” is systematically hidden from the “user” through the construction of virtual interfaces) as a possible paradigm for understanding the relationship between consciousness, the subject, sensory qualities, and the brain.
After agreeing on the theme, participants will be invited by the chair to propose views about the theme in the form of succinct statements. The statements will be listed and briefly reviewed for their salient logical and probabilistic connections. . . .
My sister and I shared the same reaction: “Ummm . . . What?”
My Sister’s Written Response
(a direct quote, with only some participants’ names redacted to protect their reputations):
Cannot help but notice that I was NOT listed as a participant. I thought I could bring some of my decorating books and present a lecture, complete with a PowerPoint, on how self-awareness is expressed through decorating your environment. Some of the self-representing systems I would touch on, but not limit myself to are as follows:
* Creative use of fabrics and textiles
* Exploring the limits of self-expression with a jar of Mod Podge
* Using an array of differing textures to promote sensory awareness through touch and sight
* Function and aesthetics: the ability to forgo function when aesthetics are being compromised
* The computational process of hiding the - what I like to call “necessary evils” of a dwelling – i.e., light switches, doorbell speakers, thermostat boxes, trash cans and construction and design flaws. The “hardware,” if you will, is hidden from the “user” by creative placement of home decorative items. Leaving us with the question, is one capable of learning this application of virtual interfacing in the realm of interior design, or is it inherently born in the consciousness?
* Various forms of in-completion in the mind and rooms of those who are handicapped in creativity and decorating in all of its manifestations
* How to gain a self-representing system through a collection of material objects that stimulate cognitive and sensory qualities upon entering a dwelling
* Being conscious of the role of accessories in a dwelling and their role in inspiring self-awareness - with that said, also being aware of the role that poor choices in home interior design and decorating play in sucking the very life OUT of the dwellers and their visitors
* The philosophic problems created by surrounding oneself with mass-produced, resin material, and big box home store accessories lacking in quality, character, and design
* I would like to close the PowerPoint with a field trip to a local flea market. This would (in theory) allow the participants to apply their newfound knowledge by selecting discarded items and giving them new life in their respective dwellings. Hence, allowing the participants to experience self-awareness through creativity and application of decoration.
I was thinking you could slip me in (so to speak) somewhere between the lectures. Or maybe my material would be a better fit (so to speak, again) with your material. My lecture could serve as a trailer - “Persons, Shelves, and the Decorative Brain.”
While my brother may be known as the smart one, my sister exhibits her own brand of genius. What she lacks mentally, she makes up for with mockery. And while she may not be able to cogitate or pontificate, she can certainly decorate and renovate. My brother’s workshop was a success even though my sister was not allowed to offer up a presentation. I guess it was all for the best. I have heard that the higher one’s IQ, the more likely one is unable to open a can of spray paint.
Posted by Jill Mitchell-Thein at 10:43 AM
Sunday, November 4, 2012
(or How to Spend $600 After Almost Killing Your Dog)
First, a little bit of background. Our dog Buzz is a 50-pound Australian Shepherd mix. We think he’s about our daughter’s age, so that would have made him seven or eight years old when I almost killed him. He was named after Buzz Lightyear, but we didn’t do that. He came with that name when we adopted him six years before from a local no-kill shelter. We decided to go for a mutt this time, seeing as how Buzz’s two predecessors (one disobedient inbred AKC-papered Lab after another) brought us nothing but grief.
Our first dog, Boo Radley, was a 100-plus pound black Labrador Retriever, who found it necessary to bust through our fence and get hit by a truck on the highway before he reached the age of two. His remains are supposedly resting comfortably in a pet cemetery in Lubbock, Texas.
Our second dog was a yellow Lab named Rex. Soon after we brought him home, at the age of about eight weeks (even though his parents were what they call “hip-certified”), one of his hips popped out of joint. The vet said it was the worst case of hip dysplasia he had ever seen. After losing Boo, we were not about to give up on another dog. (Mind you, this was before we had kids, so we had no perspective about how the value of an animal’s life declines dramatically once you have a human child’s life to value.) So of course we took Rex to a special orthopedic veterinarian who charged us about $3,500 to fashion and install some new and improved titanium bionic hips. Not long after Rex healed up, he used those damn hips to run away from us at every opportunity. As soon as we would let him out of the house, he did nothing but try to dig under the six-foot fence, climb over it, gnaw his way through the wood, or tear away enough boards to squeeze through. The puppy Prozac we dosed him with did nothing to make him realize that he owed his powers of locomotion to us, not to mention his life. The electric fence wire we installed acted as more of a challenge than a deterrent. Then he would simply howl as he gnawed at the fence with a mouth full of splinters, leaving his signature bloodstains behind. Anyway, after the kids came along, Rex took a back seat and was none too pleased with the lack of attention. When our daughter was a baby, right before we moved out of state, I had occasion to meet quite a few of our neighbors when they would return Rex to our door thinking they were doing us a favor. Most of them would say, “You missing a dog?” “Not really,” I would always reply, “but thanks anyway.” After we moved, I tried to give Rex away, but I forgot to include a no return policy. It wasn’t long before the first victims brought him back. The next time I gave him away, I removed his tags, left no forwarding address, and promptly took off. If Rex were still alive, which he surely isn’t, he would be about 20 years old. I only know this because he was born the night that O.J. Simpson (allegedly) got away with murder. June 12, 1994. I’m sure Rex’s remains amount to nothing more than a couple of titanium hips that some Boy Scouts will find one day while hiking through the woods of East Texas.
This brings us to dog number three. Our daughter was two years old when we went to pick out a dog. She was terrified of every one we put in front of her. We were about to give up when they told us, “Well . . . there is one more dog you might consider.” They told us Buzz had been there for about two years and no one wanted him because he was so standoffish. (And I think also because he has one brown eye and one blue eye, so people thought he was either defective, vicious, or just hard to make eye contact -- and therefore communicate -- with.) As soon as we put our daughter on the ground, she ran up to him, put her arms around his neck, and said, “This is my dog.” My husband and I looked at each other uneasily, verified that there was a return policy, and decided to give him a try. When we brought the dog home, he was terrified. He acted as if he had never set foot on carpet before. He rejected treats as if he felt unworthy of them. It was obvious that he had been abused. (He would tremble at the sound of thunder, gunshots, and fireworks, and at the sight of -- of all things -- fishing poles.) So it took a while for him to warm up to people. But once he did, he was the perfect pet. He would rarely bark, never sniff crotches or chew on things. And he was too smart and grateful to run away. He would usually curl up in a corner and sleep most of the day. The only problems we had (aside from the time he brought me a bloody headless rabbit carcass), were his odd habit of throwing up in our daughter’s bed, and the few times he found it necessary to leave a big dump in our son’s floor. We solved that problem simply by shutting the kids’ doors every time we left the house.
So, long story longer, here’s the story of how I almost killed Buzz at a most inconvenient time:
Most military wives know the obscure Murphy’s Law that encourages all household hell to break loose every time the husband goes away. In accordance with Uniform Code of Military Injustice § 13.666, events such as this are required to take place during every deployment of any duration. This code section mandates the following:
(a) Each child must suffer moderate to severe stomach bug or flulike symptoms over the course of at least two consecutive weeks. (This is standard operating procedure.)
(b) Some sort of kitchen mishap is required to occur. (In my case it was a dripping faucet and replacement thereof.)
(c) At least one large appliance must malfunction. (This time, it was a water-heater-over-flow incident and its attendant $100-extra water bill.)
(d) One more dramatic and costly event caused by any seemingly innocuous act that in hindsight appears to be quite negligent must occur.
My military-wife friends can rest assured that I began working tirelessly to repeal this archaic law as soon as I returned from an extended spa vacation that I took not long after my husband’s jet landed somewhere in the contiguous United States.
I was just hoping that his deployment to Iraq in 2008 wouldn’t bring on the scorpions, rodents, injured children, electrical or cable outages, car problems, or major appliance malfunctions. Of course, worrying about them all but ensures that they will happen, even if you knock on wood. Or worse yet, something you never could have imagined happening threatens to make you question, for example, where one could find an exact replica of your pet so as not to arouse suspicion in your spouse when he or she returns from an extended time away.
Again, long story short (by the way, I hate that phrase because it really just makes the story three words longer—so does the phrase “by the way” by the way) when no one was looking, Buzz ate four huge bars of dark chocolate. I had always heard that chocolate was like poison to dogs. He did not seem the least bit ill, and if my daughter hadn’t found the wrappers, we may not have realized that this had happened that night until he tossed it up in my daughter’s bed or left a pile of chocolaty diarrhea in my son’s floor.
I immediately called the emergency vet. They gave me an 800 number for a pet poison control advice line and told me I needed to follow their instructions first before bringing him in. After sitting on hold a little bit longer than forever, a veterinarian answered the phone, and, after asking what the problem was, told me that there was a $60 charge for their service. So of course I gave her my credit card number so I could get information that I probably could have Googled myself if I hadn’t been in such a panic. She told me that the amount of chocolate he ate for his weight was probably less than half the dose that definitely would be lethal. But I certainly wasn’t going to take any chances. She told me to give him three tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. She said that he should vomit in about 10 to 15 minutes. Well, I got tired of waiting for him to throw up. I even gave him more peroxide, and stuck my finger down his throat. After all the vomiting this dog has done, I never dreamed that I would want to see him toss his cookies as much as I wanted to see him toss his cookies that night. I even went so far as to consider guiding him to my daughter’s bed where he would feel most comfortable about puking -- but I didn’t. I decided to go ahead and start heading for the emergency vet hospital. I lined the back seat with towels and hit the road.
The clerk and the technicians seemed pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, as if dogs overdose on chocolate all the time and they always see overreacting owners. Well, as I checked him in, they informed me that there was a $300 charge just for walking in the door. What was I going to do? Say “Oh, well then, nevermind,” and leave? They took him to the back to check his vitals and do whatever they needed to do. My head was spinning, and I thought I would be the one to throw up first.
After I had waited for about an hour, they said he still hadn’t thrown up. I started raising hell when I realized that they hadn’t given him anything else to induce vomiting, and had just been observing him all that time. Holy shit, I thought. I could do this at home for free. I insisted that they make him throw up immediately. I wanted my money’s worth after the $300 cover charge. The vet told me that chocolate camps out in their stomachs for a long time blah blah blah and does not travel into their intestines blah blah blah and into their systems for several hours. I said, “I don’t care; I paid $300 to walk through the frickin’ door. The least you can do is make my dog puke!” After another half hour or so, I sent the receptionist back to check on him. Apparently, as soon as they gave him some injection, he barfed all over his kennel. They said it looked like gallons of chocolate syrup. The receptionist came back smiling and laughing. I thought, well that’s a good sign. She said that someone came in the back door and said, “Smells like brownies. Who brought the brownies? Where are they?” The vet and another tech confirmed this story later and said that it indeed smelled like someone had just baked a fresh batch.
They then told me they needed to give Buzz some IV fluids, some activated charcoal, and monitor his heart rate. Overnight. The vet said that his heart rate was a little elevated when we first came in. I told her that his heart rate always goes up when we bring him to a vet or kennel or even to the groomer. I explained that he’s a bit skittish and shaky even in non-emergent situations. After he vomited, she said his heart rate increased further. I said “Well, maybe that’s because he just upchucked.” She said that in terms of absorption time blah blah blah, we brought him in very early, and considering how much he threw up blah blah blah, and that he hadn’t had any diarrhea, the majority of it had not hit his intestines and spread to his system. I said, “Then it should be safe to take him home, right?” She said that there was no way we would be able to replace his fluids with just water at home, and that she would be uneasy about letting him go without monitoring his heart rate and blah blah blah for a few more hours. I was thinking, I wouldn’t even go through this crap for my kid, much less a dog. Of course the vet said that if it were her dog, she would leave him there. (I thought, well yeah, you work here, hello?) So she brought him in to the little examining room to see us, where he seemed perfectly fine, wagging his little nub of a tail, a little bit shaky, because of course he was in an emergency veterinary hospital.
The next morning, they said the only problem was that he would not urinate for them even though they knew he was full of fluid. I told them that he could hold it for days and that he doesn’t like to pee when he’s nervous or on a leash or when anyone is watching. They finally agreed to let him go with a full bladder. The final bill for the pet E/R came to about $400. They had faxed his records to our personal vet, and told me that he needed to finish his IV bag there. Holy shit, another bill for this.
So I dutifully took Buzz directly to our vet’s office. He ended up spending most of the day there “under observation.” The doctor did some sort of test and decided to flush him with one more IV bag. He said it took that dog forever to finally pee, but when he did he peed forever. They were able to get him to eat and then make sure that he didn’t have any diarrhea. So I guess that extra day of vet care was worth the $130 I was popped with. Doesn’t everyone want to pay $130 to know that their dog doesn’t have diarrhea? Really, a bargain at twice the price.
Those damn candy bars cost me about $600. If my husband hadn’t been deployed at the time, this probably never would have happened. So really, I should blame him for being off in Iraq. Come to think of it, it was really George Bush’s fault. But the president gave us a tax rebate that year, so I guess he actually did pay for it.
The next time our dog ate chocolate (in the form of three boxes of Girl Scout cookies) I just looked the other way and crossed my fingers. I figured the money we saved could pay for a pretty fancy funeral.
Posted by Jill Mitchell-Thein at 2:38 PM
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Before my husband left for a deployment to the Middle East, he fully briefed me about all the things he does outside while I am in the house watching A&E or Bravo marathons and pretending to do laundry. The only indoor item I needed to worry about was the humidor. Apparently, it needed watering not unlike my thirsty houseplants. One spring day, he spent what seemed like four hours or so giving me detailed instructions on the use and/or maintenance of: the riding lawnmower, the gas-powered Weed-Eater, the leaf blower, the septic tank, the water softener, the sprinkler system (which I incidentally had theretofore been unaware that we had), the propane tank, the soaker hoses, the Miracle Gro plant feeder, the weed killer, various insect killers, and, of course, the humidor. He checked me out on all of these as I took notes in hopes of remembering what should be done twice a week as opposed to what should be done every two weeks.
After I tried out the leaf blower, he kindly took it out of my hand and offered, “A smart person would do it like this…” Apparently, one should get behind the blower’s targets rather than mill about aimlessly in the middle of it all. (His remark reminded me of what my brother told me they say in Minnesota when someone displays lower-than-average intelligence. According to him, certain mild-mannered Midwestern pasty yet somewhat redneck Lutherans will say, in that charming Minnesota accent, “Y’know, a lotta guys’d done it this way…” But I digress.) When my husband was training me on how to feed the plants in the garden, he must have picked up on my anxiety about the whole thing. He said, “Don’t worry; this will be a lot less stressful after I leave.” (No shit, I thought.) So then I just had to make sure I kept everything alive and in working order so I wouldn’t have to pull some Lucy Ricardo stunt and go out and replace all of our landscaping and the entire garden before he came home. And God forbid I let those Cuban cigars dry out. As I like to have a contingency plan in the event that I do fail (because I like to remain cautiously pessimistic about my ability and care level) I wondered if he’d notice if I were to put the Cuban labels on some Dominican Republic replacements.
So my husband went off to war. I was less worried about his well-being than I was about that of our lawn and garden. And the cigars. He sensed my anxiety as we said goodbye. As he hugged me, he said, “Don’t worry. You took some good notes. Everything will be fine. Oh, and I’ll be OK, too.” The truth is, I’ve never minded being on my own and I’ve never felt helpless when he’s gone. I had a full calendar, a full Netflix queue, and a full wine cabinet. No worries.
I mowed the lawn all on my own for the first time. Our Craftsman riding mower had an amazing turning radius. And the horsepower (whatever that is) was impressive as well. Here’s a tip: You can cut the grass better if you engage and lower the blades. I covered half of our small front yard before I realized I wasn’t cutting anything. Also, fill up the tank while the mower is still near the gas, so you don’t have to lug the gas can across an acre and slosh it all over yourself on the way. Here’s the mower casualty list from Day One: one sprinkler head (that I’m aware of), one large rock that I turned into gravel, a garden hose, an Otter Pop wrapper, a small frog, my right thumbnail, and my left cornea.
While mowing was a learning experience, weed-eating really stirred my soul. Aside from the fact that one should never use a big Weed-Eater in a small garden, here is a list of things you should not weed-eat and why:
(1) big fat honking dandelion or dollar weeds, because they are juicy and will splatter all over your bare and probably already itchy shins,
(2) any size pile of dog crap (especially fresh), because it tends to spray (again, all over your shins, but also an errant speck can hit you in the face at which time, you will be literally shitfaced),
(3) any small oak saplings or recently-planted (unbeknownst to you) petunias your husband may have wanted you to spare,
(4) the black foam air-conditioner-compressor hose cover, because you might inhale and choke on the particles or get a piece stuck in your eye (so I’ve heard),
(5) deer (or other vermin) pellets (especially the hardened ones), because they can smack you in the kneecaps, and
(6) ant beds, spiders, or small salamanders, for the obvious reason that you will either get stung, scared, or simply grossed out to the point of dry heaving at the sight of chopped lizard.
Some additional gardening tips:
(1) You may want to keep your iPod headphone cord at a safe distance if you choose to leave the Weed-Eater running while you squat down to pick up your sunglasses if they fall off while you try to rub gasoline out of your eyes.
(2) Don’t forget to use bug repellent and sunscreen. I discovered, after spending some time outside, that outside is where most bugs and UV rays hang out and tend to conspire against those of us who try to interfere with the natural order of things while we would rather be in the air conditioning sipping tequila and watching reality TV.
(3) Leaf blower caveats:
(a) If you have allergies, be sure to take your medicine first. Snot and tears make for a sure-fire way to get all manner of clippings stuck to your sunburned face.
(b) Keep your shorts from getting sucked up into the air intake, otherwise it can give you an inconvenient and embarrassing (even though you are alone) frontal wedgie, and
(c) If the wind is blowing, it is futile to work against it.
As for the septic tank, I found out that it has its own sprinkler system. Apparently, at random intervals, it will spray sewage water in a somewhat circular pattern in your back yard. Sometimes while you are in its radius and bent over to pull stickers out of your shoelaces. You will then wonder why you smell like a latrine the rest of the day.
The water softener and propane tank gave me very little trouble. One needed salt poured into it periodically, while the other just needed a check placed under the lid to pay the gas delivery guy. I hope I didn’t get them mixed up.
I managed to maintain the grounds fairly well without having to hire a team of illegals who would have done a much better job in exchange for some Taco Bell. I only had to replace one squash plant, one water hose, and one set of earphones.
It seems that all my outdoor efforts left a little to be desired inside the house. While laundry and dishes piled up, houseplants died, and toilets grew mildew, the humidor was, not surprisingly, neglected (actually ignored completely) and several irreplaceable and/or expensive cigars found themselves dried out beyond recognition. Soon after my husband’s return, I tried to suggest that the humidor was defective or that the cigars were expired or that the water I used was not wet enough, but he didn’t buy it. He took off to the cigar store for replacements before he even unpacked. I was so relieved to have him home from the war that I planted myself back in front of the TV and pretended to do laundry again.
Posted by Jill Mitchell-Thein at 5:33 PM
Monday, October 22, 2012
This is a text exchange I had with my sister yesterday. (Almost verbatim, with irrelevant or incriminating comments redacted.) We like to act like we have it so hard. Some people don't get our sense of humor. I pity those fools.
Me: Been tryin to write all day but laundry n correspondence n shit keep interfering. It sux!! Jst now gonna start writing n I bet mike will ask me to go get grocs. Ugh. Why does everything always happen to me?
My Sister: No kidding! Lily keeps barking, she wants back in the house but I’m on the couch watching BRAVO channel, stuff like this always happens to ME. I hate it I feel like I just wanna kill myself.
Me: Life is so not worth living under these conditions. Lol
My Sister: Ikr
Me: Its like a concentration camp over here. Esp when my phones fb app wont work right. Whats this world coming to?
My Sister: No kidding. I can totally relate to how the slaves felt.
Me: Lmao!! This exchange is postworthy.
My Sister: I feel like Nelson Mandela when he was jailed.
Me: I feel like anne frank.
Me: Or joan of arc
My Sister: Me too, only worse.
My Sister: Post burning.
Me: I am in tears laughing rt now.
My Sister: Me too
My Sister: I’m even feeling like Jaycee Dugard. This house is such a mess
Me: Lmfao times ten. I feel like a jeffrey dahmer victim. All dead and cannibalized n buttfucked.
Me: Shoot me now.
My Sister: No kidding. I hate feeling this way. Just think how much harder it will b if Romney wins
Me: We will truly be enslaved and screwed then. Im going to put a plastic bag over my head now.
Me: And cinch it
Me: With a blingy belt
My Sister: Great idea. I think I’ll do the same. Only light a match at the end of it.
My Sister: I’m gonna go cut for a while
Me: Good call. And maybe drink some drano first. Gotta go tend to my family. Damn them.
My Sister: Damn them to hell.
Posted by Jill Mitchell-Thein at 7:54 AM