Doggone

What a week!  Julie and I volunteered to dog sit for Lisa’s sister on the upper east side of NYC!  We split the week with DJ with a few day overlap.  I think Julie’s strategy was to make me fall in love with a dog.  She has always had one, or even two, at a time.  I have had none because feeding and taking care of three kids was ENOUGH. 

But oops, she may have got me.

I am slightly allergic to pet dander, my primary excuse.  I don’t want to pay for one, my second excuse.  And dag gone, picking up poop for any reason is a huge thumbs down for me.

Because his daily “routine” includes a morning walk where he does his business, my lovely wife took the morning shift.  On Tuesday, his system must have been turned around, because not only did he make hay at 7:30 AM with her, he also had a messy one at the corner of Park Avenue and 70th on my afternoon watch.  How embarrassing!  And he walks while he poops so I’m chasing his butt around with my little green baggy trying to discretely clean up.

There are a lot of dogs in NYC.  I met a lovely older woman, sort of looked like Nancy Walker, Rhoda Morganstern’s mother from the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  We had a casual conversation one night about 10 PM while Colby, my dog, and St. Francis of Assisi (I lie not), her canine sniffed each other.  It was lovely.  She frozen yogurt with all the toppings and her daughter recently moved to New Mexico.

One afternoon Colby froze, absolutely WOULD NOT MOVE, as we crossed Lexington Avenue.  I had to scoop him up as a Yellow Cab driver snarled at me and let out an aggressive honk.

Colby sniffed and licked most everything in sight, including my face.  I don’t even like to think what, by proxy, has been in my pores this week.  We played fetch with his slobbery orange tennis ball for hours – I throw, he runs, he brings back to me, I throw again.  It’s mechanical.

All this for six days.  Errr.  I miss him so!  He sat on me, snoozed on my lap, greeted me with great affection, whimpered when I left, looked at me as if I was his only one – sort of like my daughters, pre-teen.

We can’t get one now because we spend too much time away – but if anyone wants to join a dog share program, we are IN!  I think I eventually need one of my own.

What are you going to do with it?

AC Snow died this past week. AC was a long time columnist for the News and Observer here in Raleigh. He was 97. AC read some of my blog posts. On occasion he would email me to point out a grammatical error, “you’re much too strong a writer to make that mistake.” I was embarrassed about my blunder but was honored that THE AC Snow couched his corrections with a compliment. Strong writer! Yeah!

I knew his wife much better than I knew him. Mrs. Snow was a professor at NC State. I loved her so much I took three of her courses. I’ve used what she taught, public speaking, more than any other learnings in my life.

Nancy and AC lost a daughter in a tragic accident many years ago. He once wrote about it in his column. Perhaps the most remarkable thing to me about Mr. Snow was that even after this life-altering event, and yes the death of a child is forever life-altering, he rallied and continued to share joy with the world through words. The pain never goes away after grief, but one is able to recover – to find joy – to share joy – and live full again.

When Uncle Jesse and I started this blog about a decade ago, I was just beginning to reimagine a life that had been altered. Four weeks ago, I married Julie – she fills me in ways I could never have dreamed. I love her with all of my heart. I simply couldn’t have even dreamed of this day a few years back. It took faith, some luck, an army of supporters, and frankly internal grit.

If it hasn’t yet, it will likely hit you – grief, depression, life not turning out the way you’d imagined. What are YOU going to do with it?

I choose love.

Chainsaw Massacre

There’s something about a chain saw.

Julie has an electric one.  I also have one but never put the chain on the saw.  It just seemed like so much work.  And I didn’t really have use for it at my old house.

But now…

There is some sort of medium sized tree/bush in our new back yard.  One limb was dead as a doornail.  It was about three times the width of my arm (I have fairly small arms).  It’s been bothering me since we bought the house in April.  So last weekend, I decided it was time.  Time to amputate the limb.

I removed Julie’s chainsaw from the cardboard box.  I plugged it in. 

I like my fingers and have great respect for things that might remove them.  So I was cautious.  I’m not a reckless guy.  I don’t shoot stuff.  I don’t punch stuff.  I don’t chase snakes – if I see one, I run.  But dang, when I saw the teeth of this electric beast, when I began to chop, it was invigorating!

Julie suggested I wait to tackle the limb at a time when she was home to help.  Ppppfh.  What could she do to help?, I thought.

It wasn’t really planned.  I was just working in the yard and the tree yelled out at me, “REMOVE THE BRANCH.  DO IT NOW.”  I couldn’t not respond.

Julie was at the grocery store when I started.  She returned before I finished.  She came outside.

“Honey, I can help.  I don’t want it to fall on the house.”

It WON’T fall on the house!  Ridiculous assumption.

“I’ll be right back.  Let me unload the cold items.”

Nice thought.  What was I going to do?  Just stand there and wait for her to return at some undetermined time?  Ppppfh… no.  I was so close to completion. 

My training in physics suggested the branch would fall away from the house.  My intent – the slant at which I was sawing – clearly would lead to a safe landing. 

As it fell over the porch, bending the handle of our built in gas grill, I was stunned. 

Well that didn’t go as planned.

Julie came running.

“You just couldn’t wait could you?”

“It didn’t hit the house!” I responded, as if it had fallen exactly where I had intended.

VICTORY! – well, sort of.

I don’t know what it is about a guy and his chain saw.  It’s an incredible feeling to cut, to tame the wild.  A rush of sorts.  And really, who has time to wait for the groceries to be unloaded?  It’s just not reasonable. 

Tough Day with the TSA

It was a tough day at the Tampa airport.  I flew in last week on a Monday, and all went well.  Fortunately I was booked on Delta – American and Southwest seemed to be struggling at the time.  Security is where I was snagged on the flight home on Wednesday. 

First I got the leg pat down.  Not intrusive – in fact my muscles were tight from 48 hours of sitting in a conference room discussing how to best raise money for the Y.  I was sort of hopeful he’d press a little harder on my hamstrings – but there was a line behind me so I didn’t ask for more.

But then, my bag.  The woman studying the x-ray stopped when my Samsonite conveyed through.  She shipped it to the exit ramp and another TSA agent took it back to the entrance for a rescan.  Again, a pause. 

Of course, I pondered – was my bag unattended?  Could someone working at the hotel have stashed cocaine in the sock pocket?  If contraband was found, would I talk or immediately contact an attorney?  I hate jail.  Well, I only went once when I was a Royal Ambassador at the Baptist Church in the 4th grade.  I think the field trip was a deterrent tactic.  As I walked in an inmate threw a half-eaten ham and cheese sandwich at me while heckling about my uniform.  Apparently he didn’t like the yellow neck scarf required by the church. 

The strategy worked.  I didn’t not want to go back.

The airport staffer zeroed in on a portion of my doc bag.  She pointed to two items.  I was informed the search was on.

Although it wasn’t a big deal, I was a bit uncomfortable with her digging around the boxer briefs I’d worn on the treadmill the day before and the t-shirt with the armpit stains.  I’m sure they will wash out – but what if she thought they were permanent?  Embarrassing.

  What could they be looking for, I wondered. 

I did carry a pair of scissors when I travel.  At my age, ear and nose hairs can sprout out overnight like a fast forward video of a Chia Pet.  I swear I try to keep close track.  I also swear facial hair can grow six inches overnight.  There is no possible way they can hide under a magnified mirror tonight and simply appear the next morning without some miraculous intervention – perhaps an ear hair fairy or Miracle Grow for follicles.

My grandad had dark hair all over the outside (and inside) of his ears.  I wondered why he didn’t pluck.  Sadly, as your unwanted hair increases, your vision decreases.  Eventually I’m guessing, you just don’t give a damn.

She dug through – eyeballing my Ambien – and found nothing.  The scissors were black and matched my  bag.  I strategically placed them under my deodorant and hair gel.  Although, this is conjecture, I think maybe it was my 1992 Gillette Zero razor that caught their eye.  Little do they know, it couldn’t cut butter.

I’m grateful we have folks who keep us safe on airplanes – I’m sure it’s a difficult job.  I thanked the agent for her work.  How nice it would be to live in a world that didn’t require airport security. 

Figuring It Out

I think I turned some white towels blue today.  Not a dark blue – just sort of a pale blueish white. 

It’s been more than a decade since I have been held accountable for the wash.  Historically, I’ve tossed the jeans with the bath towels, the boxers with the girl’s dresses, the dress shirts with the dish towels.  I don’t’ think that’s gonna fly anymore.  Julie has a different set of standards.  It bothers her when my underwear and the kitchen stuff mix.  Even in the washer!

We decided early on in our courtship that we’d pretty much keep our laundry separate.  But there are shared items, like towels, that sometimes come into play.  Perhaps I should have black ones and she white and never the twain shall meet.

I’ve also learned that there are certain towels/rags/sponges to wipe counters, floor spills, dry dishes and wipe noses.  It’s so confusing. 

Recently a bit of spaghetti sauce dropped onto the floor right in front of the stove.  I grabbed the closest towel to quicky sop, it was right there in arm’s reach!  Apparently it is not in that towel’s job description to wipe the floor.  It’s not in my job description to fix a jam in the copier, but sometimes I do it!  That one is exclusively for CLEAN dishes that need to be dried.  Uh-oh.  “But it was so close to me,” I explained.  My fiancé kindly clarified its role and suggested paper towels might be my best bet.  I can use them on anything and then just toss, AFTER ONLY ONE USE, she emphasized.  She also pointed to the Kleenex box… just in case.

After she gently covered the cleaning bases, I asked if I could share a concern with her.  She was very open.

“I can always tell when you’ve worn my readers,” I said. 

“You can?” she questioned.

“Yes.  You pick them up by the glass, not the handle, and you leave a smudge print right in the line of sight. I put them on and immediately, I know.” It’s like Papa Bear with his chair. Someone’s been wearing my glasses and they left a smudge mark THIS BIG!

She promptly bought disposable glasses wipes to help with the issue.

You’d think the guy who wipes the floor with the dish towel wouldn’t mind the smudge.  You’d think the woman who wants whites and darks separated in the wash wouldn’t pick glasses up on the 20/200 lens.

It’s a bit perplexing.  I’d say it’s that opposites attract thing and yet, there may be more similarities than differences. 

I’ll work on the sanitation conditions around here.  I’m sure she’ll work on the fingerprints.  We’ll likely see better and ingest less germs if we take the best of both.

Gas AND OIL??

I’m not very mechanical.  That is actually an understatement.  I am not mechanical.  That is actually also an understatement.  I am like negative-mechanical.

I like numbers and I enjoy people and I can bake a fairly crusty pound cake, but I can’t fix a dag gone thing. 

Stuff with nuts and bolts, screws and gas – just not my thing. 

I try.  When I first purchased a house I painted the entire inside – 2,500 square feet.  I intended to coat the walls and ceilings.  I did as well as the floors, bathroom fixtures and myself.  It’s not for lack of trying.  I have every tool you could ever imagine – thanks to my father who desperately wants me to be a fixer.  He got that in my brother who can change car oil and install a garbage disposal.  Man, I wish I could do that.  If I could I’d have one in every sink in the house just because…

The other day I pulled out my lawn mower to cut the grass.  It was difficult to crank.  It’s only like twelve years old – why would it be so difficult to start?  I don’t ask a lot of it, just crank once a week, cut and then it can sit around doing nothing the rest of the time.  I even give it like four months OFF every year.  How happy I’d be if all I had to do is work a couple of hours a week in the warm months.

Julie, who is .05% more mechanical than I am, suggested I check the oil.

I put gas in it, and now, now after only a decade, I have to ALSO check the oil?  I took it to the shop several years ago for a tune up.  It just seems like this mower is expecting a lot considering its output.

I screwed off the oil cap, and it did indeed look a bit dry.  Sort of like my skin in February.

I had oil, so I filled it, screwed the cap back on and again tried to crank.

It did start, but a huge poof of white smoke billowed from its undercarriage.  It looked like a smokestack from a tire manufacturing plant.

I was told by my woman that perhaps I’d overfilled.  That seemed unlikely to me – I just put as much in as the container would allow.

A neighbor walking his dog passed by as the plume wafted away from our drive.  He had a smile on his face.  Julie’s brow was furrowed.  Our neighbor said in a supportive way, “Don’t worry.  He’ll figure it out.”

And I did.  I siphoned ¾ of the liquid out and gave the mower a rest.  Thirty minutes later she was cutting like her typical old self.

Julie thinks we need a new mower.  I think she will make it another year or two.  We have a small yard.

One might think that a guy who couldn’t fix things might be more prone to buying new stuff when in a situation like this.  However, more than my disdain for fixing, is my disdain for spending money. 

Even I can see the contradiction in my philosophies.  And yet, it’s unlikely I’m going to change.  Engrained. 

Ain’t no cobras round here…

My mother called me twice on Tuesday during the workday and called Julie once.  I was in meetings.  I was fearful when I saw the alerts on my iPhone.  I called back quickly.

“Mom, is everything ok?”

This Fayetteville, NC, native (well she’s lived there sixty years anyway) informed me that there was tough news:  “A Zebra Cobra has escaped his owner’s house in Northwest Raleigh.  Are your doors closed?”

Big news indeed.  Especially for a woman who would rather have a lobotomy than run into a garter snake in the yard.

I pondered how a snake might make his way from NW Raleigh to my house in Central Raleigh.  I imagined crossing the I-440 Beltline might be a challenge.  But in her defense, my mom has no sense of direction.  If she was standing on the North Pole she would be pressed to point south.  She once headed from Fayetteville to her parents’ house in Florence, SC, a direct 1.5 hour drive south on I-95.  A trip she had taken hundreds of times before.  Half-way to her destination, she got off at an exit to use the restroom, got back in the car and headed north on I-95 back to Fayetteville.  She realized her mistake AFTER she had passed her hometown.

My mother then gave me every detail she could remember from the news report, and I suspect a little added commentary based on her imagination.  She shared that the cobra would spit poison in my eyes if I ran across him (i.e. keep googles on at all times until capture is announced).  She informed me that the nutcase who owned the cobra also had other venomous snakes that he kept in cardboard boxes about his home.  She told me he had been bitten by his pet Black Mamba but survived. 

Her call did implore me to pull up the news story and watch the squirrely creature slither across my “neighbor’s” deck.  It was disturbing.  And I agree with her that the man must be a nutcase.  I guess we all collect odd things – stamps, old notes, we have an affinity for decorative pigs – but venomous reptiles is a bit extreme. 

On Wednesday after work I rang my mom.  I told her I heard on the news that the Cobra was spotted in Benson, NC, headed south toward Fayetteville.

She hesitated… “I hadn’t heard that.  I’ll have to ask Wayne (my dad) if he’s seen it on the news.”

She was on speaker phone and my soon to be wife, Julie, yelled out to my mom, “He’s a liar!  The snake is NOT headed your way.”  She then told me I should be nice to my mom.

I am, usually, nice to my mom.  But sometimes, I just can’t resist to poke at her a bit.  And sometimes it is very well deserved.

Blessings…

I struggle with the phrase “I’m blessed.”  Maybe not generally, but to be blessed with a great house, or plenty of food or health seems to imply that God has withheld these things from others.  Why would he bestow all this on me, and not on my neighbor?  I most certainly didn’t do anything to deserve what I have.

What I do know is that my kids, actually our kids (Julie’s and mine), are a blessing to me.  Each has their own personality, their own quirks and take on life.  None are the same.  Yet I find all intriguing.

Michelle, the youngest, graduated from high school in May.  She’s headed to UNC-Chapel Hill on August 13.  She is a humorous, fun-loving, smart, salty, pretty young woman.  A times a bit reticent, but when she wants, she can light up a room.

I’ve spent so many years zeroed in on raising this kid – actually all three!  I remember times when I would stay up until 1 AM completing the online school health forms (those reminder emails to TURN IN THE PHYSICAL were like a scolding from Mrs. Buie, my fourth grade teacher).  I remember packing lunches at 10 PM so I could sleep a couple of minutes later the next morning.  I remember bra shopping and 12 girls at my house combing out their, at the time stylish, “side bangs” readying for the middle school dance.  I remember spending too much time crossing off my checklist and not enough time just being with them.  I remember snuggling and tickling and dancing in the kitchen. 

Now, they don’t need the same level of attention they have demanded over the past decade.  I suppose I don’t either.  They spent a lot of time making sure I was OK, worrying that I might be alone on a Saturday night or stressed that I didn’t have enough presents to open on Christmas morning.

We still need each other.  There are insurance premiums to pay and weekly updates required by dad.  But the intensity of the reliance is less – a sad relief.

As I look back on the past eleven years, I can see God’s plan unfold.  We grieved for a time.  I met someone special.  The girls grew up.  And then, seamlessly, at just the right moments, all of the houses sold, all of the jobs worked out, all the kids began to create their own futures. 

In the aftermath of horrible, there can be beautiful. That is a blessing indeed.

Oh So Funny

Zeila

The final kid has made a decision.  Michelle will attend UNC next year!  It breaks my heart because I attended NC State and that too was an option.  But she’s going baby blue.  Her mother would be proud.

She has also reconnected with a friend from middle school who will be her roommate.  I don’t know her well, but my recollection from the early years is stellar.  One mutual friend told Michelle, “There is going to be some fun had in that dorm room.  You are the funniest two people I know.”

As I ponder my youngest kid’s personality, humor pops to mind. 

I recently ran across a note I’d scribbled in 2009.  It listed several quotes from Michelle, my then precocious five-year-old.

Each night the girls would choose a book to read before bed.  A favorite was not really reading.  It was the I Spy book.  Each page had hundreds of items and the text tested your searching abilities.  There might have been a Christmas theme and your challenge would be to find four santas, six stars and a mistletoe wreath.  One page held trinkets from Halloween, and we were searching hard. 

Michelle (reminder, she was five):  “I want to find that damn bone.”

Me:  “You shouldn’t say that.”

Michelle:  “At least I’m at home.”

On a flight back from Wyoming that same year, a Sci-fi movie was being projected on the overhead TV.  Michelle was sitting with her Nana.  At one point in the movie, a guy pulled off his mask and his head had no eyes, nose, ears or mouth.  Michelle looked at her grandmother and said, “Now that’s not something you see every day.”

On that same vacation, Lisa was working to get Michelle to stop sucking her thumb.  It was incessant, and we had tried numerous tactics to quell her urge.  At bedtime one night, Lisa said, “Michelle, you have to try to stop sucking your thumb.”  Michelle replied, “I can’t sleep without sucking it.”  Lisa responded, “You have to.”  Michelle’s come back?  “Some parent you are.  I’m not going to sleep tonight.”

She spoke as if she was 82 yet she was trapped in a kindergartener’s body.

Her humor has continued and kept me in stitches a good portion of her life.  I will miss the daily chuckles.  UNC will gain.  It will be a funnier, happier place come mid August.

Packing It Up

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The packing has begun.  I’m not 100% sure I’m moving yet.  We’re in that due diligence period where the buyer and seller have to argue about who is paying for what.  But I am beginning to organize just in case.

We moved Julie out of her house in March.  She’s in an apartment temporarily while we figure out our next step.  What we’ve discovered in the process is that we have A LOT of stuff.

Mattresses, we have mattresses for days!  Most of hers are younger than mine, so I’m tossing mine out.  The one in my guest room was in my grandmother’s guest room.  She moved out of her house and into a retirement community in 1996.  She built that house, oh, I’d say in the mid 70’s.  My best guess is that the bed was purchased upon arrival.  Although, come to think of it, perhaps she moved that one from the house my dad grew up in.  The queen set is somewhere between 46 and 83 years old.  Who cares?  My guests never stay that long.

The bed in Michelle’s room, which all of my kids have lived in at some point, is much younger.  It was purchased in 1993. 

I have a difficult time throwing things out.  When a pair of boxers no longer has enough elastic to stay up, I synch them for as long as possible.  One day I was jogging and I felt something around my knees.  My boxers had fallen on either side and the waistband was dangling below my thighs. 

I was a sad day when I tossed those little guys.  They had been through so much with me.

For the second time, I cleaned out my koozie drawer in the kitchen. 

Julie: “Honey, why do you have a drawer full of koozies?”

Me:  “I might need them.”

Julie:  “Why would you ever need 35 koozies?”

Me:  “Well sometimes Brad and Tim come over for a beer on the porch.”

Julie:  “So maybe keep three?”

We don’t even use koozies when they come over.  But I hate to see them go.

Julie has about 25% of the cabinet space in her apartment that she had at the house.  And yet, somehow, a popcorn maker the size of a Volkswagen avoided storage and made it to the new place.

Me:  “Why are you taking this enormous popcorn maker to the apartment?  Shouldn’t it go into storage?”

Julie:  “I think I might need it.”

Me:  “We have microwave popcorn.”

Julie:  “I need it.”

It’s ok.  This past weekend as I was packing, some people in my family were trying to toss the massive popcorn tub I won at the movie theater several years ago.  I told them I needed to hold onto it for all of the popcorn Julie was gonna make in our future life.

Together we have 6 hatchets and four axes.  There will be no shortage of firewood at our house.  We’re like a Boy Scout troop.

We’re gonna have to buy a big house.  Or maybe a mini-storage business.  Goodwill, here we come!

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