Where There’s Smoke


Neighborhood triathlon I volunteered at this weekend: 1 (so fun!)

Number of smoke detectors in our home: 6

9-volt batteries we usually have on-hand: 0

The people who install smoke detectors have a twisted sense of humor.

1:30 a.m. A shrill beep pierces the silence of our home.

1:31 a.m. I feel my husband lying awake but motionless beside me. We have an unspoken resolve that if we don’t make it mad, the smoke detector will leave us alone.

1:45 a.m. We are still awake. Our hearts are beating faster as if the smoke detector is not only a warning that the battery is low but a threat of imminent disaster.

1:52 a.m. Nothing. There are no more piercing beeps.

1:54 a.m. “Which one do you think it is?” I ask, eyeing the hallway.

“How should I know?”

Neither one of us wants to bring up the obvious: the next step is standing on a chair underneath each one of the detectors wearing not very many clothes, trying to detect which one is making the offensive sound. Only homeowners with dog-sensitive ears can distinguish the near hallway detector from the master bedroom or the master bedroom from the guest bedroom detector.

1:57 a.m. “Is it safe to go back to sleep?” I whisper. I wonder if I can turn over without the detector sensing my movement (because it has paranormal powers) and setting off the ear-piercing alarm that could probably alert our fire department three miles away without a 9-1-1 call.

My husband grumbles and rolls over. “It can tell when you’ve gone back to sleep. It knows.”

Back when I was nine years old, the house burning down was my worst nightmare. Firemen came out to the school and gave us lectures about all the ways we could prevent a horrible, fiery death.

I carried the propaganda home to my parents and sat at the kitchen table with them, Family Meeting Style. Only… we didn’t have Family Meetings. I think my parents were allergic.

“So. We need to buy a rope ladder for my bedroom and maybe one for yours, too,” I said, whipping out a stick figure diagram of a person escaping a burning building by handily scooting down a ladder.

“Mmmm-hmmm. No. I’m not buying a rope ladder,” my mom said, as she got up and started chopping vegetables for dinner.

My dad sipped some ice water and looked out the kitchen window.

Clearly, my parents had not figured out how destructive, even deathly, a force that fire could be. They had only survived to this point in life by luck and a double-check system for making sure the iron, stove and curling iron were turned off… as if that were enough.

“I think we should put a rope ladder on our list to buy. Also: we need a First Aid bag, packed and ready to go. I can keep that in my room.” I flipped the brochure over and made some official-looking check marks.

“How about this,” my mom said. “If there’s a fire, just make some knots with the sheets and fling them out your window.”

I looked at her in horror. “Have you seen my window? Have you seen the hill that topples right down into the creek?” I imagined how I would have to rescue my sister and evacuate her out my window, using my own body on the ground as a sort of pillow to soften her fall.

I looked at my skinny bones. I wasn’t going to make much of a pillow.

In the present day, we have six smoke detectors in our house, the majority of them upstairs. What the Installers of Smoke Detectors think goes on in our bedrooms is clearly quite colorful.

We slept that particular night. The errant beep was forgotten, and we went about our daily lives without fear.

But the next evening, we were sending the kids upstairs to brush their teeth.

Beeeeep. Beeeep.

We turned to each other, the memory of the previous night coming back in a flash.

And we scrambled into the kitchen to check the supply of 9-volt batteries.

One left.

We kissed it, and my husband trudged upstairs to begin the discovery process. Chair. Battery. Beep. New position.


When a Stranger from Ohio Calls at 9:30 p.m.

Even trees are constantly updating.

Even trees are constantly updating.

Miles run today: 6

Interviews completed since yesterday: 2 (I’m ahead!)

Tech help phone calls I enjoy: 0

Last night at 9:30, we got a phone call from Ohio.

We do not know anyone in Ohio.

A young man with an Indian accent asked to speak to my 12-year-old son.

Some parents might worry. But the pieces started falling into place for me.

“Oh! You’re with Microsoft, right?”

He said yes.

“Could you call back tomorrow? He’s asleep.”

Technology customer service calls are fun for my son. First of all, he is one of those “early adapters,” which means he likes to get any new gadget, software or thingamajig right about the time it slides past the beta testers.

Then he is stunned that all of the bugs aren’t worked out.

Back in the summer, I was in my office, writing away at my desk, when I heard a series of responses from my son in the other room. Who in the world was he talking to?





______ Woodman.”

He was becoming increasingly frustrated because the woman on the other end of the line was convinced my son was a woman.

“Okay, Missus Woodman, please reboot your computer.”

“No, Missus Woodman, you will not need to do that.”

“Now tell me your name, Missus Woodman.”

When my son kept rattling off a male name, the customer service rep would repeat, “No, your name.”

We still laugh about it.

Some parents might worry about the things their kids get into on the Internet. Not me. When I walk past my son’s screen, he is often watching unboxing ceremonies on CNET. If you do not know what unboxing is, you are not allowed to join our family.

So he is becoming the resident expert on all technological purchases within the extended family. My sister might call to ask about the pros and cons of buying an iPad Mini versus an iPod Touch. Or my son might pull up a list of reasons for us to purchase a certain Roku/HuluPlus package.

After my son had been for a visit at my parents’ house last summer, the cable guy had to come and fix something. My mom started asking about the DVR capabilities and told the guy that her grandson was absolutely certain their TV could do something she was sure was impossible.

The cable guy set down his tools and considered my mom for a moment. “You should listen to your grandson more often.”

There is always some new horizon, some new technology to conquer. My son now has Windows 8. He got it over Christmas because it looks cool, with lots of colors, like in the commercial.

Also…  he is able to mind-meld with software and bend it to his will.

But there is one problem: it keeps hanging up on a Windows Update thingie and wanting to restart. This is one of those loops that he has not yet been able to bend to his will.

Yesterday afternoon, he sighed and said, “Mom, it looks like I’m going to have to call customer service.”

I think he might have smiled.

The thing computer software geniuses have not yet discovered is that preteens have all the time in the world. Unlike the rest of us, who become fidgety and short-tempered while listening to Muzak for 30 minutes, a 12-year-old male is content to do what it takes to make his machine workable again.

That, and when the tech helper on the other end of the phone says, “Please check your router cable,” my son does not ask which color the cable is.

Not that I’m speaking from personal experience.

When You Have to Pretend You Knew All Along

This railing has no connection to this post... but my husband takes some awesome photos I have to show off.

This railing has no connection to this post… but my husband takes some awesome photos I have to show off.

Miles run today: 4.5

Interviews I need to complete today: 1

Rockin’ New Year’s Day meal I cooked yesterday: 1

When I was in fifth grade, my parents went away for a long weekend and left us with our across-the-street neighbors.

In the days while they were gone, my long, thick, curly hair grew increasingly greasy on the underside, despite the fact that I was taking daily showers.

When my parents returned home, I told my mom about the Hair Situation.

Me: I can’t figure it out. My hair is clean on the top, dirty on the bottom.

Mom (in a casual, flippant tone): Have you been washing your neck?

Me (secretly horrified): Well. Um. Yes, of course. I mean, I always wash all my body parts. For sure. Yes.

I hadn’t been washing my neck. 

There have been other moments like that over the years.

There was the time when my sister, who was a mere teenager to my worldly college student, told me that plastic wrap should be pulled tightly over the top of food bowls, not lightly draped.

Me: Uh, yeah. Of course. Everyone knows that.

Her: Really? I just discovered it. It really helps the plastic wrap cling to the bowl better.

Me: I know. Totally.

I never pulled plastic wrap tightly across the tops of things. 

In fact, I rarely used plastic wrap. Plastic wrap was not a part of my daily routine, and I had never considered it much one way or another. But after that, my world was changed. Plastic wrap is made to be pulled tightly.

I moved forward in the world with no one being wiser about my own lack of wisdom. 

I learn new things about cooking in much the same way. In spite of the fact that I cook five or six nights a week, I have plenty of new horizons to be broadened, plenty of new skills to be acquired.

I have certain ways that I cook my vegetables, and when my father-in-law (an excellent cook) was visiting this summer, he showed me how to bring the water to a boil, then add the green beans, then allow them to sit in the covered pan to steam.

I thanked him for showing me. Then I tried the very same technique with broccoli.

As we sat around the table that night, gumming our broccoli, my father-in-law and I looked at each other.

Me: Maybe it doesn’t work so well with broccoli.

Him: Yeah. Maybe not.

I couldn’t even pretend I already knew that. Dangit.

Ever since we got out on our own, my sister and I have used my mom as a Cooking Hotline. But of course, sometimes we have to pretend we already knew all of the information it has taken her a lifetime to acquire.

A few days ago, my sister was making one of our family’s favorite dishes, squash casserole. She only makes it about once a year, during the holidays. So she forgets from year to year precisely how to make it.

Time to call the Mom Cooking Hotline. In this case, my mom was at my grandmother’s house, and they were on speaker phone.

My sister: So… I don’t know what I did wrong. The squash is all pulverized and runny.

Mom: So when you went to drain the squash, did you…

My sister: Drain the squash? Oops.

My mom is like a one-woman tech hotline, with plenty of questions lined up to ask, ranging from the simplest to the most complicated. When you’re immediately dinged on a simple question, it is akin to the time when I called up the Help Desk at one of my first big jobs: my computer wasn’t working.  In fact, nothing happened when I went to start it.

Tech guy, edging around my desk: Have you checked to see if it’s plugged in?

Me: Of course it’s plugged in. I mean, why wouldn’t it be plugged in? [sinking feeling in stomach, having hopes that the computer was horrendously damaged by a massive power surge overnight]

Tech guy, sticking cord unceremoniously in wall and pressing power button: Mmmm hmmm.

He did not even tell me to have a good day.

What life truths have you discovered through embarrassing mishaps or revealing conversations? Were you able to cover up your ignorance, or was it on display for all to see?

Waiting for the Big Easy

No, I don’t mean New Orleans. (But it does make me crave a debris sandwich from Mother’s.)

Miles I ran on Wednesday: 11

Miles I ran that were easy: 1

Times I have heard someone say if running were easy, they would do it a lot: 307

Lately, people I know have mentioned that they are waiting for running to “get easy.” Here is a list of things I have learned about running. And writing. And maybe life in general.

1. If you know me, you know that laundry and I are sworn enemies. Let me tell you a little story: Back when we bought our house, I decided to paint pink stripes in the laundry room. You may hate pink. That’s OK. But I like it, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I had a pretty laundry room, I would love like put up with hate doing laundry less. When our old washing machine stopped washing the clothes (I sympathized), my husband even bought me a really wonderful, high-end Maytag washer and dryer.

After 14 months–yes, you heard me–2 months after the warranty ended, I heard the washing machine making this banging noise like it was trying very hard to cut loose from its moorings and fly away. I credit my optimism when I thought to myself, “It’s only 14 months old. There must be a tiny screw that has come undone. I’m sure it’s a simple fix.”

You may laugh like Dr. Duffensmirch now.

Washer repair people: $1,600 to fix it. You may wonder at that number. You may say to yourself, “But the washer can’t have cost that much when it was brand-new.” You are very, very smart and should probably sign up for “The Price is Right.” I will watch and cheer as you blow away the competition.

The bottom line: we were in the market for a new washing machine. In 18 years, I will post the name of my amazing washing machine brand on my blog, because I am very, very sure it will last that long. (Magical thinking at work.)

I would love to tell you that at the end of this epic journey, I love doing laundry. I do not.

2. What I do love is smelling laundry as I coast by on a run. I may not be in a setting conducive to a “Rave Run” like in a Runner’s World spread every day, but I do get to smell laundry, see babies in strollers, hear birdies, eat ShotBloks (see earlier post) and socialize with my BFF/running partner. All for free.

3. For writers, reading is “research.” Writing and editing are “work.”

4. Laundry is not easy. Well, maybe it is. But it’s hateful and Sisyphean and I’ll never learn to like it. If you have something like laundry in your life, painting a room pink stripy and getting cool appliances are only bandages. Get out of the laundry business. Buy your family one shirt, pair of pants and socks and suggest that underwear is highly overrated.

5. Running and writing are not easy. All evidence presented so far seems to suggest they never will be. But after all the gnashing of teeth and manaical laughter and comments I will never forgive my running partner for, like, “Only 6.2 miles left,” (after completing 20) there is a payoff that makes it all worth it for me. Maybe being easy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

What are your most hated tasks? What do you love? What isn’t easy but gives you a payoff that makes it all worth it?