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The garage door and I are back on track.

I am feeling pretty awesome, not because I personally, at 5 months pregnant, wrestled the garage door from its jammed state, but because I, terrified of our neighbors and more likely to sit in our air-conditioned home with blinds drawn than venture around the neighborhood where I might have to make small talk, asked for help.  When I got back from a Salvation Army drop-off, depositing old clothes and crap my mother has brought, I walked immediately to the home of the block’s resident handyman, a middle-aged, hard-of-hearing Native American.  And. I. Asked. For. Help.

Since we don’t have a regular handyman, the easier way would have been to ask my in-laws for a handyman’s number, or to call Sears or something, but Mr. Apron is working a 12-hour day today, and both of my obligations today – a meeting with a friend to pick up some maternity clothes, and a SAT test-prep appointment – were canceled on account of sickness (theirs, not mine).  So here I am, at home, straightening up the house, listening absent-mindedly to “Teen Mom” while I sweep up copious amounts of dog fur, and what’s a girl to do?

Sometimes I get tired of waiting for things to happen, or I get tired of waiting for other people to do things for me.  I take matters into my own hands.  Traditionally, though, this has manifest itself as “If you want something done, you have to do it yourself.”  Well, garage doors are not my forte. Luckily, they are our neighbor’s.

Neither is finding affordable, safe, trusted child care for my impending offspring.  Sure, I can do all the research I want on Keystone Stars, and check out Better Business Bureau ratings.  I can go to daycare centers, make my own observations and collect brochures with unaffordable rates, but I cannot find the gems myself. I cannot find the surrogate grandmothers, stay-at-home moms, and Mary Poppinses who want to watch my children solely because they love babies.  At least, I cannot find them by myself.  As the slow panic about childcare ramps up in this second half of my pregnancy, I find myself doing something I have never done before – reaching out and asking for help.

I ask everyone I run into if they know people who watch children in their home.  When random neighbors suddenly notice my burgeoning abdomen and inquire how my pregnancy has been, I mutter the usual about how great I’ve been feeling, about how grateful I am not to have had morning sickness, how I’m hot and tired, but, given the summer’s heat waves, so is everyone else.  When they ask how/if they’ll be able to help, I pass the word along that we’re looking for child care, and do they know anyone?

It was just this kind of off-the-cuff, purposeful networking that landed me in the home of a Miss Sherry last Friday after my haircut.  Casually chatting with my hairstylist revealed that she knew someone right around the corner from the salon who had watched her children, now 20 and 24, some years ago.  Seizing the momentum, I called, and found myself in her living room an hour later.

Her home was clean, safe, and full of toys.  She has a large backyard full of toddler play equipment.  Her rates are affordable.  And she loves babies.  While I didn’t sign my 1lb fetuses up on the spot, I did feel a huge measure of relief as I left, knowing that if Miss Sherry is out there, there are others.  There are other rates to compare, other centers to compare, other babysitters to compare.  And if I found her by a random connection on a Friday morning, who knows who else will turn up with the other networking I’ve been trying to do.

My mother-in-law called this morning with the e-mail address of another contact Mr. Apron knew from his last job – a stay-at-home mother of four who might do child-care.  She lives around the corner from our house, and I’ve seen her baby-wearing.  Both positive points in her favor.

But if she doesn’t do child care, she might know someone who does.

Because I’m not in the mommy-network yet, I have to seek out the well-connected women who are.  No one can be a mommy in a vacuum, even those who work full-time and don’t attend Wednesday morning Mommy & Me yoga.  If I keep asking around, I’ll eventually worm my way into the network.  I’ll learn all the resources for the moms in my neighborhood that no book, no Craiglist posting, and no message board can yet replace.

I’m really proud of myself for opening my mouth and asking for help.  I’m pleased with myself for asking for what I need rather than trying to do it all myself.  I’m discovering the rewards and satisfaction of the very beginnings of building community close to home.  Though Mr. Apron and I have largely kept to ourselves in the 2.5 years since we bought this house, I hope that the babies will serve as an irresistible (and necessary) ice-breaker not only for the curious somebodies next door, but also for me, the shy pregnant lady in the house with the overgrown flower beds.


My mother is fond of saying she’s tired of doing things “the hard way”.  She usually says this as she’s about to take us out to dinner or purchase something disposable instead of reusable.  It’s as if her whole life she’s been needlessly complicating things and she’s ready to sit back, relax, and call a gardener.  Well, she’s only half right.

Maybe she has been doing things the hard way, but there’s no stopping her now.  Yesterday, for example, she and my father drove up to his brother’s house in a suburb of Boston to pick up my sister’s former vehicle, a 1990-ish Honda Del Sol.  It’s been sitting in my uncle’s garage since my sister realized the downfall of her teenage fantasy that she wouldn’t have to schlep anybody around if she had a convertible with no back seat; she now has to regularly schlep people around for her job as a case worker.  So her little car went to my uncle’s garage.  He never drove much – just to pick up groceries an cat litter, and doesn’t seem to drive anymore, so his garage was just waiting for a car my family had no use for, but couldn’t part with.  Last week, my parents stopped by my uncle’s house and checked on the car.  My dad thought its clutch was shot, and figured that if the disuse had done it harm, it might be time to sell the little car.  Mom called the insurance company, and found out that for about “a dollar a day,” they could add it to their policy.  They have no need for the Del Sol.  Mom already has 2 useless cars taking up space in their garage: a 1973 MGB, and my brother’s former car, a 1989 Honda Prelude.  My brother ditched his car when he became Metro and Urban, and discovered the MBTA.   So if they need a convertible, they’re covered.  And if they need ridiculous sound systems that eat up trunk space and make the car impossible to ride in (the amp takes up frivolous space where seat padding might have once been), they’re covered.  Why not bring home another useless car?

That strikes me as doing things “the hard way” – perseverating on keeping, insuring, and maintaining cars they have no use for, rather than selling them, banking $2K for each, and reclaiming garage space. 

While I try to eschew their kind of craziness and logically flawed stratagems, I also find myself undertaking ventures that, while noble in theory, end up needlessly complicating everyday tasks. 

Am I Handy?  Is Mr. Apron?  Then why do we attempt home improvement tasks, only to get frustrated with each other and dissatisfied with the results?  Though we successfully (with my father’s initiative and guidance) installed cork flooring in the kitchen, I see the flaws we left behind, and the unfinished trim we have yet to install.  We are not professionals, yet we undertake jobs better suited for guys named Bob or Frank wearing paint-stained coveralls. 

It’s not just grunt work I try to do myself.  It’s also crafts.  There’s a new spirit of DIY that is infiltrating the Interwebs and my generation.  It’s an amalgam of a new Arts & Crafts movement (a turn of the last century movement which sought to rebel against mass produced industrial labor) and a “recessionista” frugality brought on by the current economic woes.  Though I myself haven’t started doing any crafting specifically because the stock market tanked and unemployment exploded, it’s finally considered au courant to be thrifty.  People are embracing my mentality at last.  If only this had happened when I was in middle school, I might have stood a chance at being cool (Who am I kidding?  It would have taken a continental shift for me to be cool back then.). 

On, a website and online community dedicated to do-it-yourself crafts and inspiration, you can often read posts beginning like this: “Well, I saw it in a store, and I thought, I could make that myself!”  So we go home and do it, often cheaper, often with higher quality materials, and often customized in a way that isn’t available commercially. 

But sometimes it’s not quite the same, because we don’t have access to commercial grommet machines or industrial sewing machines, or the right kind of stretch lace.  We’re not electricians, yet we insist on wiring light fixtures.  We’re not apprenticed wood-workers, yet we convince ourselves we can build shelves and cabinets.  We’re not pastry chefs, yet we try our hand at profiteroles and custards, and bacon-flavored Jell-O.  We try fondant and upholstering and tailoring and book-binding and silver-smithing, all in the name of craft and the DIY spirit. 

Where did this come from?  Where did the drive to turn our craft rooms into mini-factories originate?  Why aren’t we still tatting doilies for the dining room table and making needlepoint canvas tissue box covers with clever sayings by Jesus? 

For me, personally, the DIY spirit has many origins.  From a young age, I saw my mother sewing.  I saw she could make clothing unavailable in stores.  I loved the yearly birthday suits she would make me in my childhood, and it was only natural I learned to sew.  Both sets of my grandparents struggled through the Depression, and while it affected each of them in different ways, I believe I did not escape uninfluenced.  From my father’s parents, I inherited that noble value of home maintenance and being Handy.  My grandfather was a notorious skin flint, who would go miles out of his way to avoid the nickel toll on the Massachusetts Turnpike.  Their house was furnished simply, and there was nothing frivolous to be found.  My father, too, is cheap.  He’s an embarrassingly bad tipper at restaurants, and never met a project he couldn’t get into, from shelves to desks to bookcases to coat racks.  He’s not so much into details, having ADD, but he generally does good work (the bookcase he built me for my 8th birthday to house my paperbacks now hangs sturdily in our living room and hides our DVDs.).  He never cleans up the sawdust, but he’s definitely competent.  My mother’s parents, having survived the Depression, started collecting “valuables”: clocks, National Geographics, pianos, shoes, stuffed animals, dolls, you name it.  While I’m sure they had unearthed many unbelievable garage sale finds in their lifetimes, the result now is my attitude that I’ll make myself find a use for the extraneous crap in my life.  Mailing envelopes are reused until they disintegrate, take-out Tupperware finds myriad new lives storing food, sewing supplies, and seedlings.  While I’m not a hoarder, I do try to see a new life in many things others would throw away.

Now that we’re done blaming my family and the 1930s economy, we can address the difficulty with my insistence on doing things myself.  If I want to paint the bedroom, reupholster the dining room chairs, make new window coverings, wire a pendant lamp out of a colander, and sew new baby gifts for all my pregnant friends, it’s going to take longer than just going to the store, hiring an interior decorator, or calling a handyman.  With the glut of cheap products from China, it might end up actually costing more; it certainly costs more in my time and energy.  When I’m done, non-professional upholsterer/electrician/seamstress that I am, I see only the inevitable flaws that result from my hack-job.  Even if I am a fairly competent human, with the skills necessary to measure, design, and create, I have to balance the control I gain when I do something myself, with the predictable short comings that result from my inexperience or lack of expertise.   More than that, I’m realizing I have to balance my desire to have complete control over my home furnishings with my desire to have my home completely furnished.  If I wait for myself to conceive, create, and finish projects, it will be a long time till we can finally have a house-warming party.  Which of course I would insist on catering myself.

Just when I think I’m over the hill and I’ve put the worst of the depression behind me, another weekend like this one comes along and sucker-punches me back to a darker place. 

Usually I can tolerate other people’s pregnancy talk.   A pregnant woman who shares my office is the reason I have this job; I’ll be replacing her and taking over her caseload when she has her baby.  But at this school where it seems all the women are married to doctors and in the acute stages of their child-bearing years, it’s not just my office-mate.  Someone else had a baby in September, and 4 others are displaying varying stages of the Bump.  Last week, at what was supposed to be a relaxing faculty pizza lunch, a break from the students, I had the misfortune to sit next to 2 other pregnant women who are similarly far along.  I was treated to an unending discussion about ultrasounds and flu shots and nurseries and heart-beats, and feeling the kicking, and maternity clothing, and morning sickness, and everything pregnancy.  They’re cooing and obsessing about how nervous they were to hear the heart-beat during their first ultrasound and it about knocks the wind out of me.  Because my first ultrasound happened when I was pretty sure I had lost the baby. 

Add onto that a weekend of home improvement failures and a Sunday night in lonely anxiety, and it adds up to my overall despondency this morning, and accounts for one of the reasons I couldn’t summon enough enthusiasm to dress up for “Clash Day,” part of Spirit Week.  Those who know me know I would usually embrace such a day with fervor.  I have plaids, I have stripes, I have fluorescents, and multi-colored sneakers.  This morning, I have on a navy blue and green striped sweater, and navy blue slacks.  I couldn’t do it. 

We tried this weekend to finish – I mean really finish – the kitchen floor.  There were only 2 steps left: doorway thresholds, and trim under the cabinets to cover the gaps left behind by the mandatory 5/16” spacing of the floor planks.  Stumbling block 1: the vinyl toe-kick (under cabinet trim) must lie flat for 24 hours prior to installation.  Stumbling block 2: metal is hard to cut with a hacksaw.  But, between some vigorous sanding and an accidental slicing of my finger, we installed the doorway thresholds.  They may actually work, though the backdoor doesn’t open quite as well as before.

It was the toe kick that sent me spiraling into self-doubt, criticism, and self-loathing.  The vinyl, which we had thought designed for this very purpose (hiding the expansion gaps between the flooring and the cabinetry), turns out not to be wide enough at the base to hide the gaps.  Despite bending it and a lot of cursing, it would not yield to our desires.  That was when the self-stick foam plan hatched.  We set off to the fabric store. After procuring the foam, we had to misfortune to see a deer running amuck in the shopping center, bashing its head into glass doors and windows, its mouth bloodied by the attempts.  We called the police, who probably came over and shot the poor thing.  The unlucky deer sent me into a jag about the dangers of commercialism and development impinging on natural habitats of innocent animals who don’t care about holiday sales at Old Navy or the latest scents at Bath & Body Works. 

I felt a little better once we got home and started our next mission – building up the base of the cabinets with 2mm self-stick craft foam.  There was a plan, and I knew how to execute it.  I did a trial with our 2mm foam, and it still wasn’t enough to hide the gap, so I suggested we add a 2nd layer.  Now 4mm thicker, it wasn’t ideal, but my desire to have the thing finished overcame my desire to do it perfectly.  Looking around at the various stages of the floor installation project, all I had seen were imperfections – blue tape shellacked into the stain; bits of stain bled onto the lemon-colored walls; millions of dog hairs sealed into the polyurethane; and huge gaps between the flooring tiles and the walls.  Hiring a professional wouldn’t necessarily have yielded better results.  As we saw when they came to paint, they broke off a window lock, used the wrong color in our bedroom, and some of the paint in the office is peeling already.  And had we wanted to hire someone, chances are, it wouldn’t have been done at all, since paying for floor installation typically doubles the price.  Somehow, I came around a corner from all of this imperfection, temporarily forgave ourselves for being human and never being able to do anything to my specifications, and became bent on finishing the project.

So we did.  I planned my Facebook status, something humorous like, “I may have just used rainbow-color craft foam to finish my kitchen floor.”  We applied the vinyl.  We hoped we’d never have to think about it again.  Of course some of the foam stuck out above the baseboard. Of course some of the gaps in the floor showed.  I was just so tired of thinking about it.

Hours later, I had to.  The baseboard was peeling off.  Turns out the foam’s adhesive is no match for the vinyl’s adhesive, and the vinyl, unhappy with being bent around corners, decided to peel off one layer of foam and collapse on the floor in a rainbow-colored failure. 

To top it off, Mr. Apron had to go to rehearsal.  Daylight Savings had just lost me an hour of daylight.  It was 6:30pm, pitch-black, the puppy had just peed on the nice rug upstairs, and as the door closed behind my husband, I felt an instantaneous surge of loneliness.  The second I saw him disappear into the night, that familiar lump rose in my throat. 

 I am no good at being alone.  I avoid it at all costs.  Doing homework at the kitchen table in childhood, seeking out common areas in college, I try not to be alone, if I can help it.  I couldn’t help it last night.  After a lackluster trip to the grocery store, I sat on the couch, had a tantrum, and waited for my husband to come home.  I tried calling my mother, under the pretense of asking my father if he had any ideas for the kitchen, but I never actually reached him. I was sidelined by my mother’s trying to “help” by telling me to call in a professional, never do a home improvement project by ourselves again, and find something to do.  She does always try to change the subject.  Either it’s dog antics, some client of hers, or some inconsequential “project” she’s taken on.  I called her on it.  I said, “I have plenty of things I could be doing – things I want to do and don’t want to do – sewing, making lunches, baking, cleaning up, writing letters, paying bills, but I am not going to do any of them.  I won’t be distracted.” 

Sometimes I don’t want her to fix everything.  When I’m in the throes of being miserable or feeling sorry for myself or disparaging myself, I don’t want her to mitigate these feelings with her distraction techniques. 

My husband finally walked in the door after rehearsal.  “I didn’t do so well tonight,” I said, not to make him feel guilty for going away, or to seek pity, but just to let him know.  He recalled a long ago conversation we’d had one time after I’d been upset.  Apparently, he’d had a sprout of insight and had told me, “Buddy, sometimes I guess you don’t want me to fix everything.  I just need to let you be sad.” 

When it all snowballs together and takes over my weekend, all I can do is feel sad.  I can fake my way through a day of work, put on a happy face when I need to be “on,” and function pretty well in zombie mode, but I haven’t yet processed all the garbage that happened.  Sure, some of it is out of my control and bad luck (Daylight Savings, the dog’s accident), while other bits just dig up my old feelings of mediocrity and inadequacy, and still others are things I need to accept make me sad, like being alone.   

I hope I can snap back this week and try to enjoy the silly things the kids are wearing.  I don’t like living my life in constant anticipation of disappointing weekends.  I don’t like hanging my ideals of happiness on how well the kitchen floor turns out, or how “productive” I was during an evening alone.  I don’t want my mood to bounce up and down dependent on positive and negative events, as if keeping score.  I want to take it all in stride, and enjoy it before it’s too late.

Before you think this is just another new-homeowner blog wherein I needlessly detail all the minutiae of our latest home-improvement project, and then make you seethe with jealously as you drool over pictures of recessed lighting, exposed beams, sparkling appliances, and gleaming woodwork, rest assured you will never have to see those pictures; our home will always be a mess. 

However, in our can-do, suburban spirit, we will always keep trying.  After all, how American can we truly be unless we are continually remodeling our home? 

For a while, it was a matter of putting out fires.  The drain was stopped up, so we had 3 real plumbers and Mr. Apron with a coat hanger make various attempts until we could finally wash our hands while leaving the water on.  The roof leaked, so we misguidedly replaced the windows (at the advice of a roofer who clearly had enough work elsewhere), then fixed the actual roof itself.  The 30-year-old oven scorched my precious cupcakes, so we had it hauled to the curb.  Our new built-in microwave was just the icing on the cake.  Sometimes when I enter the kitchen, I can’t believe that modern piece of appliancery is ours to keep. The giant air-conditioner that is responsible for making 2/3 of the first floor habitable all summer (well, this year, from April till mid-September) was just making a whole lot of noise, so we had that bastard replaced, too.  And on it goes.  However, none of our improvements have been strictly our choice, as in, “What do you want to tackle next?”  They’ve simply been old-house things that have up and died and demanded our attention.  And with the exception of the bright red backsplash I picked out to go behind the stove, none have been aesthetic, merely functional, practical, comfortable. 

Until now.  I chanced to mention to my parents that (one day) I’d really like to dig up our kitchen floor and lay down something beautiful and modern, as opposed to the vomit-colored cobble-stone design vinyl sheeting that was somehow impossible to keep clean besides.  The very week I spent up at my parents’ house, Mr. Apron became inspired to mop that stupid floor, after multiple failed attempts to Swiffer it, both wet and dry.  The week after he mopped it shiny clean, my father descended upon our house.  Ostensibly, he was there to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with us, but, after we returned from services, he was at once examining our kitchen floor as if a surgeon deciding the best way to remove a malignant tumor.  Before we knew it, he had changed his clothes, taken tools out of his car, and ripped up a corner of our floor. 

Just to see what was there, you see.  Just to peek and measure and investigate.  Under the vinyl sheeting, he found a layer of ¼” plywood.  And under that, he found vintage red and yellow linoleum.  Real linoleum, in 9” tiles, which probably means they were original to the house, which dates them to c. 1928.  For a moment I considered the appeal of the vintage tiles.  I considered the ease of just leaving them there.  I considered the incredible coincidence of the color scheme we had picked out for the final product – red and yellow.  We’ve been collecting red-handled kitchen gadgets from the 1950s; we’ve had the walls painted lemon meringue; we have a red vintage enamel-top table with red vinyl-covered chairs.  We have curtains in green, red and yellow fabric from the 1940s sporting all manner of kitchen gadgets. 

Alas; it was not meant to be.  The tile was in poor shape due to the tacks used to hold the plywood layer down, which had left thousands of neat little holes in the linoleum.  I thought, too, of resale.  Though I’ve sworn I’m never moving again, I do try to think of the mass aesthetic or practical appeal of the home improvements we do.  While I might adore the quaint appeal of the original 1928 red and yellow floor (without holes), someone else (who otherwise adores our home and wants to engage in a frenzied bidding war) might look down her nose disapprovingly at the “vintage” (read: “old”) flooring. 

Plus, my dad had already begun ripping up the lino, leaving us fewer choices in the matter.  Under that was solid wood floor.  Not the type you find in televised remodeling project homes, where they discover Mercer tile in the fireplace under layers of paint, and solid gold switch plates.  No, the type that is the sub-floor.  At least, there’s nothing beneath a subfloor. 

Not being able to turn back and pretend we didn’t know what lay beneath our feet, Mr. Apron and I dug in.  Dad left, giving us homework until the next time he visited: measure the floor, buy whatever flooring you want, and Rip. Up. Everything. 

Initially, I was petrified, but now that a corner had already been peeled back and dug up, it seemed the task had already begun, and that we had to move forward.  Even though it wasn’t pretty, and wouldn’t be a one-day project, we had a task ahead of us. 

I came home one night from work or tutoring, or my basket weaving course at night school, and found the refrigerator in the middle of the floor, and my husband of almost 4 years sitting in the space where the refrigerator used to be.  He was hard at work ripping up flooring.  The next day he tore out an 8 ft x 4ft chunk of flooring (vinyl + plywood together) in one He-Man-like gesture.  I think Mr. Apron has bought into the home improvement spirit.  He’s certainly turned up his doing dial.

Now, this story doesn’t have an ending yet.  Our cork flooring, which was surprisingly hard to track down, isn’t scheduled to arrive until Sunday.  After last weekend’s Adventure in Sanding, Dad will be back to help install this weekend.  It may actually get done, but that’s kind of not the point.  

I could just wait until this is all finished, put up my pretty pictures, and drone on and on about the Dali pattern in our Lisbon cork, how it’s naturally mold-resistant and eco-friendly, blah, blah, blah.  But I’m not gonna.

What’s most important about this project is that my dad heard my hopeful dreaming of new flooring, and decided to do something about it.  He’s not one to be afraid of failure on a project.  He’s not one to be intimidated by having never installed click-lock floating floors before.  He’s not afraid of delving into the unknown beneath the shiny vomit tile.  And that’s what I’m grateful for.  Who knows how many years we might have had to wait to love our kitchen floor? Who knows how many wasted hours I might have spent researching floor installation before taking a pry-bar to the floor itself?  I’m grateful for my dad’s support in this project.  I don’t feel like we’re taking advantage of his can-do spirit or his man-power.  After all, he made us tear up the floor ourselves, till our backs were aching and our fingers numb from ripping out tacks with vise grips.  After all, it was my husband who hauled 380 pounds of trash formerly known as flooring to the dump and flung it all into the abyss (Side note: genuine linoleum tile is a heavy motherfucker.  DENSE, y’all.)  We are doing most of the physical labor ourselves.  Were it not for my dad’s initiative, his support, and our blind faith in his know-how, we would never have even begun the project.  And for that I am already grateful, even as we traipse over foul-smelling backer paper of our unfinished sub-floor while waiting for the glorious cork tiles to come in.  It’s going to be beautiful.  Make no mistake, I may gloat. 

But first I’ll thank the Academy, and my father.

Molly the dog is an enigma.  She is almost house-broken, until the weekend comes.  Our routines are not as rigid, our schedules not as predictable, and she gets more freedom.  Today, that meant she pissed on our bed, through the blanket, the sheets, and the mattress pad.  Why?  Well, she was left alone while we were working in the kitchen, hammering in extra nails to fix a bounce in the sub-floor.  The noise drove her upstairs, where we’ve been a little lax in our usual obsessive closing of doors to limit her access.  Is it our fault for not watching her?  Shouldn’t she be trained by now?  We know she can hold her bladder from 7am till 3:30 or 4pm, yet this accident (or, “On purpose” as we’ve been calling them) happened around 10:30am, in my best guess.  Physiologically, she can hold it, but does she choose not to, or have we, the responsible owners/trainers, not reinforced heavily enough, that potty happens outdoors? 

We praise lavishly, we even reward occasionally, the outdoor products.  In general, she stays in her crate while we are not home, and we always take her outside upon releasing her from her confinement, so as to give her a chance to relieve herself, and to relieve us in knowing she is “empty.”  We are never truly relaxed until she is empty. 

Yet the weekend is a slower pace, and that’s almost exclusively when she has her accidents.  In anger, we throw her in the crate, but this act of retribution is not even akin to putting out fires (laundry would seem to be its metaphor); it’s more to let her escape our wrath, the anger we have at ourselves for not prophylactically taking her out at 10am, or 3pm, or 7pm or whatever.  The other dog we adopted at age 4.  He has never had an indoor accident, except for the one time we gave him some high-quality, super-expensive food that made him shit 5 times a day, and he couldn’t hold it in the middle of the night.  I know dog experts say dogs don’t have consciences, that they don’t feel guilt, shame, or remorse, that they’re simply reading our reactions through tone of voice, body language, or actions.  I would argue that Finley does, though.  If he has flipped over a trash can (a habit of his from his youth), the dog gate fell, or he scratched a door out of anxiety from a fly’s presence (he’s a teensy bit neurotic), we will find him cowering, with his head low to the ground, tail down, nose downward. Even if we try to allay his feelings using cheery voices, happy greetings, and jovial head-petting, his tail may wag, but his bodystill  says, “I did something so wrong.  Will you find it in your heart to love me and not kick me out?”  He only requires 3 walks a day.

Why does she need more?  She simply does not understand.  She is too dumb to completely grasp the concept of voiding exclusively outdoors.  I know that, being part-lab, she will always be a few cards short of a full deck, but she has shown the capability to learn.  She has a release command for eating her food.  She will stop jumping if you ignore her and tell her to sit.  She will sit (when she feels like it) on command.  She will lie down (and roll over) when a treat is brought near the floor.  She will go up stairs on the command “up”.  She will stop pulling, briefly, on a walk.  She may not be all there mentally, but she isn’t eating drywall, and she hasn’t destroyed a shoe yet.  But if she is truly too stupid to grasp this concept, I blame myself.  I know she’s too dumb, and I don’t know what to do about it.  Which kind of makes it my fault.

One of the house-breaking books we brought home initially in March, when we brought Molly home, said there isn’t such a term as “almost house-broken” or “mostly potty-trained;” a dog either is, or she isn’t.  Since Molly continues to have accidents on the weekends, regardless of who is at fault, I guess she is as bad as the piddling puppy we brought home 6 months ago. 

Does anyone have any resources they love for “almost-trained” dogs?  Do you have any tricks or techniques to pass along for dumb dogs who don’t have an innate drive to please their owners?  Are we ever going to be able to use the crate as a PoMo coffee table?

When my siblings and I were younger, my mother tried to dress us alike.  My sister and I had many matching dresses, till we stopped wearing dresses, and sometimes she’d try for a perfect triptych of outfits.  There were the “duck, duck, goose” overalls and shorts my baby brother refused to wear, and many other failed attempts.  The most infamous, however, in my mind and my sister’s, are the “Small Stuff” sweat suits.  Mom picked up this cliché somewhere, and like an inspired artist, had to put it to canvas. 

“Rule #1: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Rule #2: It’s All Small Stuff”

Thus we three were all subjected to bright yellow sweat suits with Rule #1 on the front in green puff paint, and Rule #2 on the back.  I think the girl version had flowers, and maybe stick figures to go around. 

This morning we sat on the bed, folding laundry, while the dogs happily munched on their rawhides and their genitals, respectively.  Aside from noting the usual humorous appearances of the orphan socks (which prompted a full sing-along of, “For He is an Orphan Sock” clear through the end of Act I from “The Pirates of Penzance”), I also remarked to myself how easily we fell into our patterns of laundry delegation.  See, we don’t just grab what’s nearest, or what’s ours, or what belongs in the closet, or what needs to be ironed.  (Ironing, what’s that?) I grab the things I fold, and Mr. Apron grabs the things he folds.  He folds towels and underwear, and pairs socks.  Yes, folds underwear.  Since I was a younger person, my babysitter introduced me to a peculiar way of folding underwear, which I would continue to this day, were I still in charge of folding my skivvies.  Since I taught Mr. Apron how to do it he gladly has taken over the task.  He also folds towels, in the peculiar way I like, so that they all fit into our crammed little linen closet.  It’s pretty silly, that I have ways I like my underwear and towels folded, but he does it.  I know that if I had never said anything, I’d just be refolding them the way I like them.  Though it’s a small gesture, I really appreciate it, and it’s just one way my husband is awesome. 

While he’s folding my underwear and pairing the socks, I’m busy folding all the shirts.  He has an entire drawer full of undershirts/T-shirts.  I know that, unless they’re all folded in a uniform way, they will not all fit, nor be accessible to him in frantic early morning searches.  The cotton shirts will get all wrinkled and he won’t be able to find the ones he needs in the morning.  He has many types of undershirts.  Starting just with the white ones, he has CoolMax crew neck, cotton crew neck, cotton V-neck, and CoolMaxx “scoop necks” he has fashioned by hacking the collar off a crew neck shirt.  See, he’s explained to me (and who am I to dispute such matters?) that the CoolMax shirts, while doing a superior job of wicking away sweat, and keeping him cooler to begin with, have wider collars, and they will often show above the collar of a button-up shirt, above the necktie.  This is blatantly unacceptable.  This is where the cotton crewnecks come into play.  They have a skinnier collar, so they work.  Sometimes, the V-necks work best, due to a particularly large collar (Mr. Apron has a skinny neck, and shirts are wont to be a little big in the collar); other times, the V-neck is no good, such as on a light-colored dress shirt, where the V would show through, leaving a tell-tale line (equivalent to wearing a black bra under a white blouse), and that just isn’t good.  So he’s fashioned some Cool Max shirts for this purpose using nail scissors, his teeth, or a hacksaw, whatever’s handy.  Don’t even get me started on the colored shirts.

All this I know, so I fold his shirts, and I try to sort them into piles according to color, neckline, and fabric content.  For real.  Try as he might, Mr. Apron can’t quite master the tri-fold I use to make his shirts pretty in the drawer.  Far from feeling put upon, I feel as though I am invading his drawers (pun intended), and his ability to stand by and let me exercise my need for his shirts to be folded uniformly, is just another reason my husband is awesome. 

Maybe the way I fold towels, underwear and t-shirts is “small stuff”, but if it really is all small stuff that makes up our world, then let me give a nod to my husband, who lets me feel organized in one small way: in our linen cupboard, my lingerie chest, and his t-shirt drawer.


So well meaning in their attempts.  I almost have sympathy.  They raised us to believe they could solve our every problem.  They were almost always right when they said it would be okay, that this, too, would pass, and that things would look better in the morning.  How did they know? 

I’m beginning to doubt the credo of “Mothers are always right”.  More specifically, “Mom can fix everything.”  Yet I’m still calling Mom, still wanting her to fix the impossible problems, still asking for and receiving advice.  Only now, I’m starting to tune out when she launches into a diatribe that begins, “Well you know, sometimes things happen and…let me tell you about my newest Kid Client.”  She always has a parallel to some 18 month old who’s been displaced from a home where she learned nothing but swear words; a 10 year old living in a therapeutic group facility whose access to cookies is restricted without rationale, and a 5 year old whose psychologist has diagnosed him as having dysarthria (weakness of speech muscles causing “slushy” speech) without anything in the medical history indicating so.  All these examples are supposed to solve my problems.  It’s sad to say, but when she starts launching into one of her lectures – which I can smell a mile away – I just tune out.  I “uh huh” and comment flatly to give an illusion of listening, but it’s just not worth my efforts.  

Worse yet is when she gets an idea into her head to “solve” a problem, and it’s so ridiculous I can’t even entertain it.  I’m now trying to be more direct in heading her off at the pass when I sense her gearing up, but she squeaks through and the unwanted awful idea is born, kind of like the unsuccessfully aborted fetus on Family Guy.  

Problem number 1 – our in-wall air-conditioning unit, which is charged with cooling the living room and dining room, wasn’t working.  It made noise, but mostly just blew air around, which we didn’t know, having bought the house in February of that year.  Mom visited during the warm months last spring/summer, and didn’t just complain.  She issued an ultimatum: that she wouldn’t visit again until it was repaired/replaced.  Well, our home warranty doesn’t cover wall units, nor will any HVAC guy come out to look at a wall or window unit.  Sad as it is, they’re disposable.  On the bright side, anything we replaced it with was bound to pay for itself in energy savings, seeing as the old unit was probably installed in the Ford administration.  So we promised ourselves we’d schlep out to Sears and buy something.  We did, too.  But before we had committed to doing so, Mom had an Idea.  She had a dormant “portable” air-conditioner that was too bulky for her to use in the kitchen (Have you seen these things?  They remind me of “portable” dish-washers.  You wheel the monstrosity out [it’s roughly the size of an 1950s computer], connect a piece of hosing to the window, and basically obstruct the entire room.), so she offered it to us.  Not as is, mind you, but with the plan that we’d have it “converted” to a wall unit so it would work.  That we’d pay a handyman to finagle some way for the system to fit into the pre-cut rectangular hole in our house and keep stone-faced as he laughed at us.  Thankfully she didn’t visit long enough all winter to bring the stupid thing out in a car-load of other crap, and we were able to hold her off with vague promises that “We’ll take care of it.” And “It’s been taken care of.” 

Of course, we wanted the situation fixed as much as she did.  Last visit, when we were showing off our new Sears A/C unit that actually was made as a wall-unit, she brought up the portable A/C again, using her party line, that “The price was right,” even if the item was not.   Finally, I explained to her how utterly ridiculous and impossible it was, what a white elephant it would have been, that it would have been like giving someone with an electric hook-up a gas range and telling them to go “convert it” at their own cost.  


Then, as Mr. Apron prepares to change jobs this fall, I made the mistake of lamenting to her my/our frustration with the process.  How it’s hard to wait for calls, how endless applications go in and no one returns phone calls, how he’s overeducated for the jobs he wants, and under-experienced for the jobs that pay more than $12/hr.  After I’d summarily dismissed every suggestion she had (after all, this is a two-way street, and when I’m frustrated, I can see no solutions to the problem), she came out with one that struck me speechless:  how about he become a bartender?  Yes, my 30-year-old husband who’s never touched anything more than the Manischewitz wine at family Shabbat dinners, who has never attended social drinking events, and whose only two experiences in a bar include taking publicity stills for a play he was putting on, and attending a concert by an up-and-coming folk singer.  But sure!  He could be a bartender!  That’s just the sort of thing people who are teetotalers who need to work dayshifts so their wives can spend time with them should go and do.  Just the sort of thing to do when you’re 30 years old and have a Master’s Degree and are leaving your last job due in part to the insane evening/weekend hours you’ve been required to work.  When I had regained my faculties, I shut her right down.  “I cannot even fathom – cannot even begin to entertain an idea – of why you thought that idea would even remotely make an iota of sense!” I screeched.  And I said we would never speak of it again.  I wouldn’t have, either, had it not been for the humor in hindsight that the suggestion has produced.  I tell everybody.  Including you.

Finally, my dear friend has a relationship with her mother where they speak at least 5 times daily.  In the era when she had a land-line, her mother used it as her personal hot-line and made sure there was unlimited long-distance so my friend could call her, without  any fear of personal inconvenience, at all hours, as much as she needed to.  Now, as have many of my generation, she has given up the land-line.  This shouldn’t make her any more difficult to reach.  On the contrary, now there’s only one line to reach her, so there’s no second guessing where she might be.  My friend told me last weekend that she usually showers somewhere between 10 and 11pm, right before bed.  And those 15 minutes when she’s under water are the 15 minutes her mom NEEDS to reach her.  Always.  Doesn’t matter if it’s 10-10:15, 10:15-10:30, 10:30-10:45, or 10:45-11.  It’s mother’s intuition, and it’s apparently very upsetting.  “What if it’s an emergency!” “What if I really need to reach you?”  And all that.   Her mother has decided that the solution to this perceived problem is to have a land-line installed.  My friend will still take showers, but her mom has some idea that the phone will have an extension in the bathroom.  Of course, as soon as she publicized her frustration on Facebook, Mr. Apron suggested that poetic irony would be to have my friend electrocute herself, to be found in the tub with the handset of a cordless phone as she tried in vain to solve her mother’s dilemma.

What are we to do with our mothers?  When they start into ranting, just listen politely, and run the other way.

“Did you read my blog today?  When are you going to blog again?”

How ’bout now?

Since Mr. Apron turned 30 earlier this month, I’ve unfortunately been reflecting on aging right along with him, and somehow or another, I’ve begun to think of myself as having turned 30 with him, thus depriving myself of the next 17 months.  Though not quite as fast as Robin Williams’ character aged in “Jack” that movie that, to quote Mr. Apron, “No one ever saw” (“I did, too!” I protested), I felt like I have accelerated my aging, and unfairly I’ll admit.  I’m not 30, and I won’t stand for it until it actually happens.  So there.

But while age may only be a number, and you’re only as old as you feel, I’m starting to see signs of my embracing what is to come, whether that means an end to wearing Spongebob barrettes (NEVER.  YOU WILL PRY THEM FROM MY COLD, DEAD 106 YEAR OLD RIGOR MORTIS’D HANDS), or simply seeking comfort in a suburban lifestyle and being in pajamas by 8pm (Yes, this has already happened.  Half of Philly never changes out of their PJ’s, so, again, I’m ahead of the masses.) I’m noticing things about myself I didn’t before.  No, not the cruel combination of wrinkles and acne.  Not the abyssmal pace at which I climb that stupid hill behind the art museum.  Things around me.

For example, I take thrill in finding a good parking spot by our house, and in being able to parallel park my little Fit into the spot the neighbors couldn’t with their land-yachts and inferior parking skills.  Last night, even Mr. Apron with his “compact luxury” car couldn’t fit into the spot I left open.  Yes, this excites me.  I turn my nose up at the whole block.

Tonight, finally relaxing after mad dashes through harrowing traffic and round-the-block trips coaxing the dogs to leave deposits, I watched “Minute to Win it”.  I saw an engaged couple go for $50,000, plus bonuses because it was “Wedding Week” (something to compete with season finales, I suppose).  When the fiancé catapulted 4 marshmallows into a cup he was holding in under a minute, I said, “How nice for them!”  And.  I meant it.  Who says that!

As Mr. Apron looks for jobs, and as I jealously patrol the job boards in search of employment porn, I find myself gushing over the benefits packages.  “Oooh, look honey.  They offer 10% matching on the 403b after only 8 months.  10%!  That’s unheard of!!”  That was a conversation in our home tonight.  We are officially old.

Finally, after being promised warned by my mother that she would not come visit unless/until we had upgraded the (functional, yet mediocre) coffee pot and the (broken, loud, ineffective) living room air conditioner, we broke down and went to Sears at the mall.  The Energy Star model we ended up bringing home made us all squishy in the pants becuase we can not only use it towards an income tax write-off for 2010, but PECO (local electric/gas co.) is offering a $50 rebate on new Energy Star A/C units.  Squishy in the pants over tax write-offs and energy rebates, folks. 

Welcome to the middle-age state of mind.  We have the house, the cars, and the dogs.  Bring on the mini-van and 2.2 children, world.  We’re ready.

See? This really shouldn’t be so hard! Just plug in all the computer accessories and go! Plug and play, right? Well, when we brought home our new computer, we were jazzed by the promised six USB, then less jazzed as we realized that four of those were in the back of the CPU, and three of which were basically earmarked for the printer, keyboard, and mouse, respectively. And while it’s nice we don’t have to use the color-coded proprietary connectors anymore, it’s maddening when you realize your favorite optical mouse (with glowing color lights) won’t work with your new computer. Nor will your photo printer. Nor will your ergonomic keyboard.

And so begins the search for converters, adapters, and, later, drivers. Mouse was easy. I can use the boring standard mouse the computer came with. I could order a converter cable for printer and the keyboard, I think. I tried, at least. When the box came in the mail, I pressed Mr. Apron into service on one of the mornings he goes into work late. I returned home to see an opened box, with two converters sitting in it, impotent and inert. Neither worked, he informed me. The keyboard one was the opposite of what we needed (It would have connected a new USB keyboard to an old CPU), and the printer cable had the wrong number of pins. Turns out he just didn’t know to take out the old printer cable; he was trying to connect the new cable to the old cable. So the physical connection was easy, at least.

Then I tried to print. Guess what printer is not supported by Windows 7? The HP Photosmart P1000! They have drivers listed for literally hundreds of printers, but not this one! I went online to try to download a driver, and was informed by the Microsoft site, when I typed in HP Photosmart P1000, that that printer s is not supported “at this time.” Whatever drivers our OS came with are all we should “need”. No downloading necessary. Great for everyone else. Not for me. I went into the dork forums and typed in “HP Photosmart P1000 + Windows7 + driver”. Others were able to synch it up by fooling the computer into thinking it was a 970 or a 930. It took me a couple of tries, installing and uninstalling, but I figured it out! Fuck Microsoft and their “not at this time”. I gots me a bootleg driver, and a P-1000 masquerading as a 970C.

The keyboard was the last piece to be restored to its former glory. I love my ergonomic keyboard. I actually asked for it as a birthday gift in college, and I actually received what I wanted (if you’ve read my prior birthday gift posts, you’ll marvel at how amazing this is). My typing position has been admired by coworkers, roommates, and chat roulette stalkers. I need to have a comfortable chair, my feet touching the ground (no easy feat at 5’0“), and a happy keyboard. The keyboard that came with our new computer was pretty. It’s sleek, black so it matches our speakers, monitor, and mouse, and has a tiny footprint compared with the old ergo. But, as with most things that are complimentary (see: my first digital camera, a 2.0 MP Kodak “EasyShare” which came “free” with our last computer), it sucks. The keys aren’t “sticky” the way they get after years in a male college student’s dorm room, but they seemed reluctant to yield, like a nice Jewish girl away at a youth group retreat. The action was clunky, and I was always hitting the caps lock key. I could not find A. I think they made it smaller than all the rest of the keys just to torment women who happen to like having long nails. Clearly a keyboard meant for boys and nail-biters.

After feeling guilty about not blogging, and reaching my breaking point (it was interfering with my normal routines, after all), I nagged Mr. Apron to please get the right convertor/adapter. Do you believe what he said? He told me to do it myself! What kind of liberated woman who chooses to wield a power drill and a sewing machine wants to go schlepping all over the internet/suburbs for an adapter? However, while he was at rehearsal one night, I did just that. I tried RadioShack. I know they’ve shifted their focus lately to cell phones, but I thought one could still walk in there and tell them, “I need to connect this to this” and they’d magically know what to do. Trying to sound intelligent, I used the name of the old connector and the new connector (I am a liberated woman, after all), and marched up to the eager saleslady.

Me: “Hello, I need an adaptor to connect a PS/2 keyboard to a USB”

Saleslady: “A PS/2 keyboard? You mean for midi?”

 Me: “Umm, no. It’s an old keyboard and a new computer.”

Saleslady, clueless, but faking it: “Okay,” and she leads me to a wall of wires and such, “a music keyboard?”

Me, growing exasperated and conviced she is clueless and faking it: “No. A PS/2 keyboard, for typing. To USB.”

Saleslady, pulling at straws: “Okay, so do you have a Playstation 2 or a mini?”

Holding up my fingers to provide visual support, I made a circle and translated back to girl tech talk with helpful pauses and rising intonation. “My old keyboard? For my computer. Has a connector like this: You know? The circle one? My new computer only has USB ports.” Then she tried to sell me a $20 mouse that would have the adapter included as part of the kit, but couldn’t find any, and anyway I’m sure it would be the wrong way, designed to fit a new (USB) mouse to an old computer with PS/2 jacks. Yes, PS/2. Never again will I make the mistake of trying to call a computer part by its rightful terminology when it (in hindsight) so obviously sounds like a video game system. I haven’t played a video game since Super Nintendo, and even then I never truly advanced to any proficiency on any games except on the original Nintendo anyway. Fail. They sent me to the computer store down the strip named, appropriately, “Computers”. I arrived at 7:15pm to a store that closed at 6pm. Fail.

Dejected, I went home and ordered the fucking adapter from Amazon for $.99 plus shipping. Amazon used the right terminology and I didn’t even get any offers for PlayStation in my Googling.  It came today. I hooked it up. I am blogging with fervor and outrage. All is right with the world.

I came home last week to some malfunctions in our little lives.  I was greeted by voicemails from Mr. Apron to the effect that the car wouldn’t start and he now was using the butt of his shoe to encourage the key to start.  When I came upstairs to the office to listen to the voicemail and check my e-mail, I was greeted by a computer virus called “Virus Protector”.    You know, one of those ones that masquerades as something you’d want to install.  Thankfully, I clicked on nothing, but the damage was done.  As soon as Mr. Apron dealt with crisis #1 (car), he came home and we dealt with crisis #2 (computer).  Then on Wednesday, with the car part ordered and the computer safely at the shop, we went out to acquire crisis #3 (puppy), admittedly self-imposed. 

And all throughout the weekend, we made trips to Petco, opening up our bank accounts as Molly left presents around the house and destroyed all plastic water bowls we put in her crate in an effort not to be cruel.  And all throughout the weekend, we house-trained our Golden Girl, through the unceasing rain, the horrendous winds, the leaky window that drips into our kitchen, and my ill-temper at being stuck at home dealing with the above. 

But today, after discrete trials with food reinforcers, Molly is learning “Sit down.”  And, because I am a speech-language pathologist and think of such things, I shall report to you that she sat down on the rug with verbal prompts, 0 or 1 repetition, and a gestural cue in 15/15 trials with Finley as a peer model.  Also, because I think of such things, I know I will have to increase the difficulty to include different situations such as feeding time, getting her leash on,waiting to go outside, and crossing the street. 

But today, after Mr. Apron picked it up and hooked it up on his lunch break, I am blogging from our very new computer. 

The car part has yet to come in, though the mechanic did call to tell us he forgot to order it.  And the window installation guys finally called yesterday to make an appointment.  New windows tomorrow mean a drier kitchen, and a juicier tax credit for energy savings in the year to come.  Woohoo!

Unfortunately, our new computer uses a USB-exclusive hook-up system, so the printer is sadly waiting for a converter, and my beautiful marvelous ergonomic keyboard sits, um, somewhere, until we get a converter for it, too.  Until then, my poor fingers are cramping up.  Pity me.  Please.  Don’t get me wrong; the new keyboard is sleek, small, flashy, and its black with silver trim matches the computer, but I’m one of those wackos who prefers ergonomic.  I actually asked for it for a birthday present in college.  My nails are so long I keep hitting the caps lock by mistake and I can’t find “End” or “Home”.  I am one of those who learned to type before we had  a computer, using a piece of paper my father traced 26 circles on using a penny.  And I’m one of those who uses keyboard shortcuts and get compliments on her typing position and speed.  So don’t tease.  Just point me to a USB-keyboard converter cable, and be on your merry way. 

Welcome to our home, new computer.  If I could only find the key labeled “House-training”.