You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2009.

My transfer finally came through, as you’ve been hearing, and my last day of work at the old center was Monday.  I started working at the new center on Tuesday.  I must admit it was overwhelming.  Everything everyone had been telling me about it being “different” was true.  Of course, they were so vague about the “differences”, it could have had a different force of gravity for all I knew. 

Neighborhoods in Philly are very different indeed.  We are still serving needy children, the majority of whom come from low-income families, no matter which center you go to.  The populations are different, however.  My old building had an amazing amount of racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.  Many of the families were non-English speaking, and their home languages ranged from Spanish, Portguese, and Creole to Khmer, Armenian, Urdu, and Pashdo.  The children represented a veritable cornucopia of skin colors and religions.  It was very interesting, and presented its own challenges.  The staff were represented in a variety of backgrounds, too. 

At my new center, the children are almost exclusively African American.  Some are from African immigrant families.  The staff is similarly largely Black.  To say I felt out of place on my first day was an understatement.  I’d heard there were black-white tensions between teaching staff and therapy staff, or between lead teachers and aides.  I’d felt the education divide before.  It can be uncomfortable to have too many letters after one’s name.  I left Tuesday resolved not to judge the people or the work environment until I’d truly settled in.  It was far too early.  I still hadn’t even met half the teachers, and I”d barely spent any time in a classroom because of an administrative SNAFU which was forcing us to run around crazy trying to prepare for an evaluation for a child whom we knew didn’t need speech-language services.  But that’s a story for another day…

Today, we did that evaluation, and over the 2 hours we held the poor child captive, I got to know her very well.  After the kids left, we all had a going-away party for the lady I’m replacing, whose last day was today.  I baked a cherry torte, which is my current bring-along, throw-together, pretty-presentation dessert.  The way into people’s hearts is through food.  It’s just like when I was away at camp, buying friends with my stash of food my mother had sent along, sharing homemade chocolate chip cookies.  By the end of the party the torte was gone, and people were asking questions about the dessert and looking at me in a new way.  Now that they’ve learned I like to bake, I could see them scheming all sorts of occasions (pot-lucks on staff development days, birthday celebrations, holiday parties) to extract home-baked goodies out of me.  I could just tell.  I could also feel my initial apprehension melting away with the quarter-pound of butter I incorporated into the torte.  It’ll be just fine.  I just need to give myself time to get to know the staff, just as I’m allowing the children time to build a rapport with me. 

With kids, though, I can’t use food.  I’ll have to make the best of my charming personality.

Now, as you know, I’m not usually one to post a link to the hottest viral item on the Interwebs from youtube or Yay Leno’s headlines.  I prefer my own, hand-crafted content.  Dollar stores are not created equally.  Dollar Tree is good for many things, but all Dollar Trees have basically the same stock; it just varies with the size of the establishment.  Family Dollar is not so nice, nor is it aptly named.  I don’t want to see $14.99 items there.  I want dollar schlock.  I like the independent dollar stores more.  You never know what you’ll find.  I was in the Chinese dollar store today as I paused to look for therapy materials during worktime, and I spotted this gem.  It answers the question: 

What do you do if you have hot bowels?

Yes, that reads, "Advanced Bowel Mat"

Yes, that reads, "Advanced Bowel Mat"

Though the “advanced” portion makes me wonder if there is a “basic bowel mat” for those everyday hot bowels. 

And if you marveled at how that typo could make it across the pond, I”ll tell you how.  Or, rather, show you. 

bowel mat back

Clearly, the 2000 edition of Quality Attestation missed this gem.  I hope you enjoy it.

I don’t want this to sound like Chicken Soup for the Early Interventionist’s Soul, so I won’t be starting this  post this way:

Compassion comes in all sizes and abilities.  (Excuse me while I go blarf.)

However, this is still a touching story, one that makes my heart sing (if I can say that without making you want to blarf as well…). 

Lunchtime on Mondays is challenging.  We have 2 little boys working on, among other communication goals, feeding.  I call it “feeding” as opposed to eating because it can be a painfully slow, clinical, trial-and-error process of getting one new food in a child’s mouth over the course of a year.  This is not the joy of eating, dining, cuisine, or social mealtime.  This is clinical feeding, a domain which falls under the auspices of speech therapy. 

In the case of one little boy, Allen, the feeding goal is to get him to eat anything at school.  He has such a limited repertoire of foods it’s no wonder we’re all so concerned with trying to help him experience food in a positive way.  He only eats Ramen noodles (beef flavor) and drinks Pepsi.  Maybe he eats baby applesauce puree.  And that’s at home.  That’s it, folks.  We’ve gone on home visits, tried to send him to an intensive feeding clinic, but we’re still supporting him to touch food with his fingertips.  That’s where we are today.  And that’s what we were doing at lunch.  Touching a carrot.  Holding a carrot in his hand for 5 seconds, while the tears flowed down his face, even as we praised him for doing hard things and being a big boy.

The other little  boy, Jacob, sitting around the corner, also has feeding concerns, because he’s on a special diet.  He eats more foods at home, and occasionally eats baby food puree at school.  I have only just begun to tap into this little guy’s potential.  In the beginning, he ignored all other humans.  He became very upset when we entered his space and tried to play with him.  Now he enjoys imitative games, silly tickling games, and peek-a-boo type games.  They’re all interactive, and he’s becoming a veritable social butterfly, especially at lunch.  Well, he had a lovely time with mashed bananas today, flirting with me as he tried to shove a banana-covered finger in my mouth.  He actually ate quite a bit of his baby food, and even the little carrot pieces I surreptitiously hid in his bananas.  On seeing the other child crying, Jacob looked intently at the falling tears, and remarked, “boo boo”.  This from a child whose limited expressive language abilities include imitating syllables, saying, “ah di” for “all done”, and reciting the ABCs. 

When Jacob finished his meal and had washed his hands and brushed his teeth, he went off into the classroom, intently searching for something.  He came back, grinning as he clutched his prize — a wadded up tissue — and approached Allen.  Allen then allowed Jacob to carefully blot his still-wet eyes and nose. 

These children do not score points on their language tests for empathy and compassion.  No one measures how kind or thoughtful they are.  It is a superior teacher who takes time to use words to praise children for their acts of humanity, instead of always scolding them for fighting.  It is nice to see that some of these children who are so impaired in other abilities, remain human in the most important ways.

It’s a car!!

At the helm

At the helm

And not just any car; it’s a Honda Fit.  And not just any Honda Fit; it’s an orange Fit Sport! 

Coolest Car Ever

Coolest Car Ever

This is a car I have had a crush on since it first came to this country in April 2006 after having been enjoyed in other countries since 2001.  It’s funny actually, because right before this car came out, I went to the Honda dealer just to browse.  I was disappointed to learn they’d redesigned their Civic Si so it was no longer a hatchback.  Unlike the rest of the car-buying American public, I like hatchbacks for their style and their cargo-gobbling ability.  The salesman tried to sell me a regular Civic (fail) on the spot rather than tease me by telling me a new hatchback was due in a few months.  Well, as Mr. Apron said, he probably didn’t know, and he’d rather make a sale that day than hope I’d come back later for a Fit.  I’m amazed how many times the car dealers just don’t know their cars.  I was told by a Toyota dealer that the 5-door (Canadian) Yaris I saw (before we got that body style in this country) must have been an Aveo or I was just mistakenly looking at a 3-door.  They don’t know, they don’t care. 

But I digress.  I have lusted after the Fit since day 1, and my crush has only intensified as other meh cars have come and gone, and as, time after time, Car and Driver has sung the praises of the Fit.  Review after review, test after test — they’ve all lauded the Fit’s styling, handling, safety, and cargo-holding prowess.  Yet I had to wait.  I was but a grad student in 2006, when I first went to a dealer to ogle the car.  The vulture salesman approached me at the lot, and asked if I was interested in the car.  “Yes,” I admitted, “but not for another 5 years.”  He left me alone.  It was my most effective car dealer rebuff to date.

I told myself that after grad school, when I landed my first real (professional) job, I’d go buy a Fit.  Of course, I graduated last August, and shortly thereafter, as the housing market was tanking, we started looking for homes to buy.  When we closed in February, leaving a large chunk of our savings behind, I closed the door on my Fit dreams.   

Then, earlier this summer, as I lamented to my mother how awful it was driving Mr. Apron’s boring black Ford Focus in the heat, and how we were getting itchy to trade it in for something less mundane, and less heat-absorbing, she advised us to wait.  Wait for our tax rebate, that is.  Wait — what?  Oh, the $8000 from the government because we bought our first home in 2009?  That’s the one.  We hadn’t really investigated this rebate yet, seeing as we were waiting for our accountant man to tell us what to do when we filed our taxes next year.  We didn’t even realize what it mean.  I thought it meant we got a refund on $8,000 of the house, or something.  Mr. Apron called our CPA, and he said we could file an amendment this year, and get the money, and use it as a downpayment on the car this year. 

Well, boys and girls, the check arrived on Tuesday of this week, and we rushed to the bank before it could get buried under a pile of paper, used as a bookmark, slobbered on by Finley, or forgotten in a wallet.  And then Mr. Apron did what he does best — he looked for cars. 

Mr. Apron gets whims.  I mean, unlike my 3-year long devotion to the little Honda, he falls in love with a new car each month, or week, or daily.  A testament to this fact is that he is now owning his 9th car, and I have just acquired my 3rd.  I drove my first car from age 15 (Minnesota law = awesome) until I left home after college when I was about to turn 21, when my 1987 Cadillac Sedan deVille was a mere 15 years old.  My sister drove it after that until it finally dragged itself off to be donated to public radio, kidney disease, war orphans relief, or Esperanto awareness.  At that point in its life, only 2 doors opened, only 3 windows rolled up and down convincingly, and the radio had to be switched off separately or else the battery would die.  My family drives cars into the ground.  Mr. Apron’s family leases.  ‘Nuff said.

He set out on his quest.  We ran some numbers into the financing calculator, and since we were determined not to drag out the car payments too much beyond our initial payment period for the Focus, we decided to try for a 36-month term.  Still, the payment was kind of scary when we put in my ideal Build-a-Fit from the Honda website.  Though the stated entry-level price is $14, 750, it’s not actually, unless I didn’t care if I could drive it (automatic transmissions adds $750) or be able to pick it up from a dealer (delivery adds another $710).  We don’t even have keyless entry, and it’s already over $16,000.  In typical Honda fashion (they used to do this with ABS on the Civic — not offering it unless you bought the LX), you can’t get stability control unless you buy the Fit Sport with Navigation (over $19,000).  Again, still no doormats. 

I decided to try to find a used car.  I figured it might be a couple of thousand less, and might have more features that they wouldn’t nickel-and-dime us for the way they do on a new car.  Unfortunately, as all the dealers had been telling us, used Fits are very hard to find.  And I only wanted one in orange or red.  And it had to be an automatic.  Mr. Apron got on the phone with dealers in the Delaware Valley.  He searched new dealers, he searched all 3 CarSense locations.  He looked on every virtual lot in the tri-state area.  Yes, even in New Jersey (where my brother and sister have both found their used Hondas).  He started to try to convince me to suck it up and buy a new one.  A nice base model in red. 

Finally, Thursday, in a last-ditch effort, he widened the net to include the Lehigh Valley and environs West of this part of the state.  Success in the state capital.  Harrisburg had one orange Fit Sport, 2009 model year, with 4,000 miles on it.  That’s right, folks.  A pre-owned car that was practically new.  Features I would never have asked or paid for (USB connection in the glove box for my non-existent iPod, tinted windows, fog lamps) were in this car.  We asked the dealer to  hold it for one day.  They said they couldn’t.  Friday went so quickly at work, I forgot to worry that someone had bought the car out from under us.  I vacuumed out the Focus during a break from work.  At 4:30, we set out for Harrisburg. 

They tried the usual bullshit on us, pretending the Focus’s air conditioning was broken, undervaluing it, handing me the keys prematurely, trying to buddy up to Mr. Apron, and then getting frustrated with him when he kept asking about fees left and right.  In the end though, I survived the car dealer, and drove home my brand-new used car.  I still can’t believe I get to keep it.  I still can’t believe it’s mine.  It’s the coolest car on the road.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look:

Cuteness!

I’m of course just going to tease you with exciting news without actually telling you what has happened.  I didn’t want to write about it before it happened for real because that would jinx the whole operation.  But I’ll have pictures tomorrow when there’s daylight.  For now, a tease will have to suffice:

It came in Orange Revolution Metallic.  (so, you know it’s not a baby/fetus)

Part VIII

I continue my brain surgery narrative, reflecting on how I and my friends and family coped with learning about my surgery.  Someday I will be clever enough to put a little thingy on the margin of my blog to redirect you in case you wanted to read from the beginning.  And I’d compile all the brain surgery blogs in one place.   That would be really clever.  Sorry, I’m not there yet.  Here’s the beginning of them.

My mother did not deal well with my impending surgery.  What would “dealing well” actually look like, with regard to a craniotomy?  What she did was reach out to any and all relatives, friends, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends, forming a vast support network.  I guess in retrospect, that was a wise thing to do, and a good way of making sure she did not become isolated with her feelings and fears.  Still, she seemed reticent to discuss it with me.  Maybe there were those age-old hushed voices behind my back saying, “Don’t mention the you-know-what around you-know-who,” and I really didn’t catch on.  I do know that many friends and family were more frightened than I was.  Not that I was in control of, well, anything, but they felt even less in control.  Similar to driving a car, you’re not in control of the drunken asshole who plows into you, but at least you can brake and swerve; whereas in an airplane, you’re completely at the mercy of the turbulent air, high-flying geese, and the drunken asshole who may or may not be your pilot. 

I felt I was doing some of the driving while I was scheduling appointments, racing around getting referrals, and learning about my diagnosis.  Once all the testing was complete (save for the imaging directly before and during surgery itself), and the waiting had begun, I no longer had any control.  Time was just ticking away towards June 22, my selected date. 

Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Apron and I moved in together.  We had had a heartfelt and brutally honest discussion some months before on a snow-covered bench at Haverford College, one of our earlier cheap-date sites, about the level of care I might need immediately after surgery.  We decided that we needed to move in together before surgery, to make things easier.  My family was planning to come stay for a few weeks after surgery, and we’d need guest lodging.  Mr. Apron also decided a first-floor bathroom would be ideal.  Oh, and easy access to the hospital.  Well, 2 of 3 fit the bill.  In the realm of what we could afford in rent on our meager salaries, we settled for the standard 3-bed, 1-bath (on the 2nd floor, of course) twin home (“duplex” in the rest of the country) just west of Philadelphia. 

Again, moving in together under the circumstances we did, nudged us closer to the reality of rehab, of home-care, of changing roles in our relationship.  Yet this, too, was a decision we made on our own steam.  We chose the home, the move-in date, the neighborhood.  We didn’t choose the mice that came with (and overrun) the property, but that’s another epic altogether.  Being settled in our new home, the novelty of co-habitating helped cover up the anxiety of what was to come. 

I wrote in my AVM support narrative about my feelings at this time.  I share with you here an excerpt:

“Finally, five months since the first doctor’s appointment, and t-minus one month till blast-off, I am ready to know exactly what is going to happen to me. I write in the passive voice because I don’t feel as if I am making things happen anymore. When I had to schedule tests and chase around collecting referrals for my pain-in-the-ass HMO, I felt that I was the one making things happen. I had to explain to the technician, and I had to spell out the initials for my diagnosis for the incompetent secretary writing up the referral: “Ay…Vee…eMMMmmm”. That’s the diagnosis, I assure her. I explained everything to my family, even as my dad defined all the medical terminology for me. I was able to choose which friends I told, and how much. Now, it seems surgery will happen no matter whom I tell. And it feels like surgery will happen to me. I don’t have to describe to the surgeons my diagnosis-defying tongue spasms; they can see the messed-up formation. They’re done with me; now they just need my brain. I want to know what they’re going to do to me, the patient, now that I know what they’re doing to It, the AVM.”

For my friends and family, the reactions varied widely.  I was afraid to tell them.  I’d only been working at my current teaching job less than a year, and I didn’t feel like full disclosure of my diagnosis was appropriate.  Many people say they are “a private person”; I think I am, for real.  Not say-I-am and then dump all my family shit on you and complain on and on about my mysterious medical ailments.  I’d noticed a trend when I told people that was enough to teach me to be more vague in my future unveilings.  Either they’d look at me in disbelief (I mean, come on, brain surgery?), and then be stunned into speechlessness, or else they’d mumble trite consolations of “Well, I hope it’s not serious” and “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”  Either way, no one actually wanted to learn about it.  It’s scary.  Who wants to dump that on casual acquaintances?  I started downplaying the seriousness of the whole issue:  “Well, there’s this ‘thing’ in my brain.” or simply, when parents of my preschoolers asked my summer plans, “I’m having surgery and taking the summer to ‘recover’.”  Nice and general.  No need to unload the whole gob.

Throwing up.  That’s what Mr. Apron and I call it, to this day, because we decided that the reaction I get is similar to as if I’d vomited all over someone’s lap.  They’re all pretty much disgusted or shocked, and just want to leave and go clean it off, and to pretend it never happened.  There is no casual, socially appropriate response people learned from Miss Manners when dealing with such revelations.  “Oh, I’m so sorry.”  “That sounds serious.”  “You must be petrified.”  “I’m glad it’s not me.” “Wow, how interesting; tell me more.” 

I actually did get many, “I hope it’s not serious”es.  This sedate effort at minimization and comfort bothered me to no end.  My gut respose, “Why yes, it is serious, actually.  Life threatening.” would again seem too much to dump on someone, and seems, at best, like a plug for pity, which I did not want.

So I certainly was unnerved when the manic wife of my uncle’s college buddy (following?) bid us good night at the door at her son’s bar-mitzvah reception (still following?) , as we offered up our Mazel Tovs, with the following words of comfort: “I’m so sorry!” she wailed. “It shouldn’t have happened to you! You’re too young! You’re too young!”  What, pray tell, is the right age for having elective brain surgery?  I was told by Dr. Zager I was the ideal age.  Somehow, to this hysterical woman, whom I’d just met that day, there would never be right age, a right person, a right situation. 

Probably not the right response.  How did she find out anyway?  And how about my sister’s girlfriend’s mother’s best friend from childhood?  How did she find out?  My father’s cousin in Kansas City?  People I never knew I was related to?  My mother’s telephone tree, no doubt. 

Yet that was her coping mechanism.  Though she couldn’t say the words “brain surgery” or talk to me about her fears, she managed to communicate around the world in ways I could not do with my co-workers.  Her efforts made prayers come in from all corners of the country, and, later, get-well cards as well.  They brought me telephone calls in recovery with people I hadn’t spoken to since I was five, if ever. 

I was able to disclose more details to my real friends, people who would not mind a little upchuck if it meant being in the loop and keeping in touch.  They really cared, as they were able to show.  The 84 e-mails that came in over the week I was in the hospital showed they were not scared away by the seriousness of my condition.  Today I am more candid in telling new friends my brain surgery tale, as people meeting me know there is a “happy ending” to my story. 

Mr. Apron and I accomplished two fantastical feats this weekend. Yes, we assembled the shelves, and completely emptied 18 boxes of books. A half dozen more have been relegated to the basement, as neither of us care to think about grad school notes right now, but the shelves are up! And they look great. We’ve established a little reading nook in the living room. After all that hard work yesterday, we’re still married, so we thought we’d tackle something else…

Gardening is not our strong suit, but the previous owners left us with some stumps from greenery formerly known as hedges. I had heard that stump removal was impossible to do, and prohibitively expensive to get someone else to do. Nevertheless, Mr. Apron posted this blog today.  Since he’s such an excellent writer, and since many of you have come my way from his blog, I thought I’d send you back today.  No need to redundantly write about our efforts. 

I tell you this much.  In the words of my beloved husband:

“Something very positive was done today, and it wasn’t just the beautification of our little patch of the world. Today’s hard work proved to my wife that we are, on occasion, capable of achievements that may seem daunting, if not next to impossible.”

Maybe the light-switch cover evaded us.  Maybe the shelves challenged us to a do-over.  And maybe the poison ivy will be our nemisis for years to come.  But we can do some things together, even hard things.

Today, we tackle The Shelf again.  Last time’s effort was a spectacular and abyssmal Fail.  Mr. Apron split the end grain of the wood trying to hammer a shelf into its slot on the vertical pieces.  The wood was swollen or water-logged or PMSing and seemed to have grown since the last assembly.  But this time, armed with wait time (it’s been a while since we painted the shelves) and sand paper, we shall redeem ourselves.

Why are these shelves so important?  They’re holding up everything, and I don’t just mean that literally.  Sure, seven foot tall by five foot wide shelving holds the bulk of our reading materials, but there’s more to this story.  The books I speak of are currently housed in 40-odd boxes in our spare room.  Which we cannot use as a spare room because it’s full of liquor boxes of books.  We’d love to get the painters to come in and paint our bedroom (with its new closet!!!) as well as the office.  While they were great downstairs at moving and covering our “valuables” (thrift-store, curbside, and Ikea furniture), I doubt they’d love to begin the office in its current state.  My boxes and piles of craft stuff are everywhere, balancing precariously on a dresser here, a filing cabinet there, shoved under my crafting desk and threatening to overtake my sewing machine.  The final destination of all this crap is a bevy of shelves we’ll install on a free wall in the office above my crafting zone.  It’ll be awesome.  But, we have to strip (or pay someone to strip) the wall paper, and then paint (or pay someone to paint) before we start screwing in the shelf standards.  So it’s a Catch-22.  Can’t paint until we clear out the shit.  Can’t store the shit till we paint. 

As a temporary solution, we thought we could move much of the crap into the spare room so the painters can attack the office, but remember what’s in the spare room?  Ah, yes, the boxes of books.  This one shelving unit is preventing us from a) having overnight guests (not that we have those kinds of friends anyway…), b) painting the office or our bedroom, c) becoming exponentially more organized, and thus crafting more, and d) having a baby (which we will install in the aforementioned spare room). 

The takeaway lesson here, the gestalt, the final message: we cannot procreate until we successfully assemble this shelving unit.  Got it?  There’s a lot riding on those shelves.  Wish us (and our future offspring) luck.

Exciting news in the Apron household — we have cable. 

I haven’t had cable since college, when it was “complementary”, i.e., built into the cost of the dorm I called home.  We’ve survived fairly well on network television and a lousy antenna since then, relying on an independent movie store and our local well-stocked library for videos.  The only shows we seemed to need to watch — news, Jeopardy!, Law & Order and the Sunday night grown-up cartoons on Fox — were on network TV. 

Not having cable also afforded me a great excuse for not keeping up on the latest cable reality TV drivel, such as Jon & Kate and all those thrilling HBO hits.  Of course, my only excuse for not watching American Idol or the dancing one or any number of other spin-offs with a 3-judge panel eerily similar to Paula, Randy and Simon is just that I can’t stand that garbage.  I won’t start spewing venom about those evils just yet.  This post has higher aspirations — the FCC.

In anticipation of that bullshit DTV transition, my father purchased a DTV for us as a house-warming present when we moved in to our new home in February.  And the transition was postponed 2 days after we moved in.  Still, we had new antennae and we scanned the TV for all the “new, fabulous” channels in “stunning HD” that the local stations were starting to broadcast.  They came in sometimes, with jarring frozen screens at critical moments of dialogue.  It was kind of nice when they came in — we had beautiful clear images on a half-dozen channels — for almost a minute.  Then, one of several things would happen.  The dog would get restless and fart near the antenna; I would shift on the couch; or a gust of air from that confounded butterfly beating its wings in some South American rainforest would wiggle the TV, antennae, the venetian blinds by the window, or the air current around the TV, and the set would freeze.  Sometimes the picture would come back very soon.  Other times we got the black screen of death, followed by the bouncing blue rectangle emblazoned with the words, “No Signal.” 

After I had counted signal disruptions 6 times in a minute, we made half-hearted attempts to wiggle the antenna’s ears millimeters, and then we usually switched to analog signal, and made do with what we had had for years.  We just told ourselves the stations were not yet broadcasting at full signal.  After the full transition, it would be much better, right? 

Wrong.  Oh, that fateful day in June came and went, and all that happened was that our analog stations disappeared, including channel 12, our beloved PBS, the original free station.  We scanned and rescanned, but to no avail.  Even when the TV “found” all network stations, the disruptions continued, and now we had no analog choice to resort to. 

How could I have tolerated antennae fuzz for so many years, but give up on DTVblips in a matter of weeks?  Easy.  Some remote control cars are designed to use batteries at full power for as long as possible before just dieing.  Others are designed to slowly let the batteries peter out, giving you less power as they are reduced to electrical “fumes”.  I liken DTV to the former.  Its awesome when it works, giving you 100% signal, but only 90 % of the time.  The latter, our old analog TV, gave us 90% signal 100% of the time.  Lasted longer, or, in the TV analogy, it was on all the time.  Missing huge chunks of dialogue while waiting for a signal that may or may not return, with no feedback from the antenna what you’re doing wrong, just plain sucks.  At least with analog, we could wiggle and get immediate feedback from the picture as it improved.  The sound never cut out suddenly. 

So for all the promsed improvements and “free HD” available to the impoverished masses who were being helped out so altruistically by the government’s $40 converter box coupon, I believe it’s a conspiracy to get people to buy cable.  The FCC is in bed with the cable companies. 

“Let’s offer them something that on face value sounds awesome.  It’ll only affect the people watching with an antenna, anyway.  They’ll like the signal so much, but it’ll never be strong enough to watch a single show.  They’ll have to switch to cable.  Oh, and let’s proceed with this insanely expensive bullshit in the midst of a recession.”

As more suckers are forced to buy cable of some sort, they’ll have effectively done away with free TV altogether.  That’s how it was in our house.

For Mr. Apron, Jeopardy! was interrupted one time too many.  What fun is watching a quiz show when you miss all the questions?  He finally called the Comcasstholes and asked for basic cable.  For just $16 on top of what we pay for Internet already, we can get about 100 channels.  There’s nothing below that.  Now they’ll have us hooked on endlesss Spongebob marathons, back-to-back Law & Order episodes, Jon & Kate reruns, movies we’d never rent anyway, and antiques roadshow (PBS went to HD without us, but it’s back!). 

So far, with the exception of the aforementioned Spongebob, we’ve stuck to our usual routine of network TV.  Developing relationships with new channels and new shows requires time and effort.  I can’t even keep track of which channels our old stations went to.  ABC 6 is now 4?  NBC is on 5?  Truthfully, we’re afraid of anything marked “On Demand”, that it will come with mind-numbing new programming and hidden fees.  That our remote control has a direct link to our wallets and those “free” movies really aren’t. 

For all our apprehension, the DTV assholes at the FCC and Comcast won.  They got us.  As I said when we sat down to our first uninterrupted half-hour of television after kicking our cable guy out, “For $16, we should have done this years ago.”

Mr. Apron is upset at me for getting so down on our home improvement attempts, but I keep seeing failure.

1) We dropped $80 at a garden center to buy some plantings to make the bare flower beds look a little prettier.  The phlox have since died a pitiful death of dog urine because we let Finley take his final pee right on top of them.  But in good news, the 3 tomato plants are yielding about 3-5 grape tomatoes a day, which Mr. Apron is enjoying as a little snack.  Grade: B.  And now we have poison ivy.  Trying to irradicate it has taken out a nice chunk of our front pachysandra.  Adjusted grade: B-

2) We dropped $50 in painting supplies at Home Depot to finish a set of bookshelves my father built for me in my first apartment.  He gave us unpainted wood mixed with boards leftover from another project, and we decided to paint them to match our new wall paint, so they’d look built-in, or at least as though they belonged.  We slaved away for 2 weekends in the stuffy humid garage, priming — squeezing every last drop of primer out of that can — and painting.  The color looked great.  The boards first stuck to the plastic drop cloths.  Then, in an impulse to assemble them when they were dry to the touch, we discovered they no longer fit together.  Either they’d swelled (swollen?) too much in the humidity, or the paint was still wet and the boards had absorbed water from it, or they were menstruating and bloated.  They just wouldn’t go together.  Mr. Apron took a hammer to them, to try to shove them together.  Since we did not have a rubber mallet, he cushioned the blows with a dishtowel.  And split the end-grain of the board.  Later, our closet-maker, Bob, tells us to cushion the board with a scrap piece of wood.  Never, he cautioned, hit the end of the board by itself.   Oops.  The half-assed assembly job is still sitting in the living room, like some great orange albatross.  Grade: C-

3) Switch-plate covers.  Simple, right?  Unscrew the old, put on the new.  We didn’t have old ones in the kitchen.   Somewhere in between unwallpaper and panting the room, they disappeared.  I guess they were probably junk, anyway, being wallpapered to match the walls.  So we bought new ones.  The kitchen light-switch/outlet is right near a little wall sconce that plugs into that outlet.  Its mounting bracket is so near, in fact, that it interferes with the screwing in of the new switch plate.  We decided to cut it, and discovered we’d purchased “unbreakable nylon”.  Kitchen scissors can’t even begin to try.  We can’t even install a $.44 switchplate.  Grade: D. 

I know we’ll have success with some things, like the tomatoes.  And we’ll find pride in home ownership and in fixing things ourselves, eventually.  I know I shouldn’t be so down on us, especially when it makes Mr. Apron sad.  It just feels like we’re thwarted everywhere we turn, in each new project, no matter how paltry or simple; no matter ho many times we’ve assembled those shelves in the past years (3?), or how stupid it is that our kitchen was designed in 1980 so the switchplate doesn’t fit the sconce 3 inches away.