Where There’s Smoke

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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.

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Down the IKEA Rabbit Hole

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Miles run today: 3

Unnecessary items purchased at IKEA: 4

Scary moments we were sure we were lost in IKEA forever: 12

“I’m just telling you right now that I don’t approve of this kind of furniture,” my husband said as we approached IKEA yesterday for the very first time. 

“Got it.”

“Really. I’m not interested in expensive things we feel pressured to buy.”

“OK. I completely understand.”

I didn’t mention that IKEA is known for being low-cost or that I wasn’t looking to purchase any furniture. We had dropped the kids off with my mom a couple of hours earlier and were making the drive back home. We now had wide swaths of free time at our disposal. We could wander around the side of the road for hours. Or peruse convenience store shelves without hurrying back to the car. The free time was problematic. Had there been a time when we did stuff and had free time? I couldn’t remember. Back when we may have had free time, I wore black a lot and went out for coffee to talk about Big Things. But what those things were, I’m not really sure.

Now, heading towards IKEA, I was looking for An Adventure. And come on, people: IKEA has an entire boulevard named after it. A boulevard!

We followed large groups upstairs, a route we were directed to follow without question. There were yellow bags and carts at the start of the route, but my husband walked past them with his nose in the air. “Ha. They think they can make us buy something,” he said. Two seconds later: “Oooh. Yes. We need a vase like this. Seventy-nine cents? What? I thought this place was expensive. Think about all the flowers we could put in a vase like this.”

IKEA is like a grown-up, pre-fab Disney World of home stores. There are bright lights and circuitous pathways and maps and things for sale everywhere. Everywhere.

And they have all these nifty things that I am sure would make my life better. I wasn’t even sure I needed a pasta serving scoopy thingie. But I became convinced. It was so shiny, and just the right length, and I’m positive I had been thinking I needed one for the past 15 years.

We became mesmerized by a giant canvas world map that had lots of countries that didn’t exist when we were learning geography back in high school. Azerbaijan! Turkmenistan! Slovenia! 

We picked up 100 tea lights for our dining room table and carried them all over the massive second floor, though every twist and turn, past every corner that did not contain a bathroom, which was what my husband was seeking… desperately. The route through the upstairs became daunting. With every new vase, every granite countertop, every metal chair, my husband became increasingly concerned.

“Are you sure we haven’t already been here?”

“Well, there’s new stuff,” I said, dubiously. “I mean, we haven’t seen outdoor chairs before. Or desks and filing cabinets.”

“But we haven’t gone upstairs or downstairs. How big is this place? Is there an exit? Can you imagine if I had to drop you off at the front door to run in for one little thing? I’d never see you again! I would have to… skip dinner.”

Skipping dinner is my husband’s worst nightmare.

I was becoming certain that I should throw away everything in our house and start from scratch only with items from IKEA. Our chipped plates? Replace them with white plates from IKEA that come in packages of four for roughly 33 cents each, or something equally ridiculous. I now needed a water pitcher and large packages of Swedish faux Tupperware and even mangy-looking faux Tempur-Pedic pillows. It would be so easy to haul it all out to my car and send all of our current items to Goodwill so Mackelmore and his friends could pop some more tags.

As we emerged into the cafe area after what felt like an entire day of following twisty paths, my husband dashed for the restroom as I pondered a birdie-patterned plastic tray. I knew I could use a birdie plastic tray like nobody’s business.

We wandered some more, through aisles piled high with self-serve furniture, whatever that was. At the checkout, my husband wandered off again, and I discovered Lingonberry Preserves. I had been waiting my entire life for Lingonberry Preserves. Lingonberries have not even been invented where I live, and they are probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

So I bought two jars, along with the tea lights and pasta scoopy thingie. My husband raised his eyebrow at me, but I’m sure he’ll soon discover that lingonberries are the thing he has been missing his entire life. 

Our adventure did two things: it made me realize that there was a time when we used to spend time together, just wandering, and that we have probably managed to stay financially solvent because our children have prevented us from visiting IKEA. Thanks, kids. 

What I Have Learned About Birthdays

Laughter.

Number of birthdays my husband has had, counting today: 41

Months before his birthday he starts reminding us that it’s coming up: 4

His goal race for this year: 26.2

My husband loves birthdays.

He starts prepping us for his birthday, May 15, around about February 3. As a former public relations professional, I can say with conviction that my husband has birthday PR covered.

It’s been a point of contention for us for our entire marriage, because it is, quite frankly, a lot of pressure. But as I get older, I realize that you should go all out and celebrate: A.) You made it out of your mother’s stomach–good job! And B.) You’re still alive–good job!

Here are some other things I have learned from my amazing husband over the years:

1. You can fix anything. It may involve a fair amount of cussing and some money, but almost anything can be fixed. Except for our Maytag washing machine that was only 14 months old and now serves as a paperweight in a landfill. He couldn’t fix that, and he may be worrying over it on his deathbed.

2. You can do anything as long as you work hard and persevere. Again with the cussing. But darn it, most people give up too soon, myself included. My husband Never. Gives. Up. And I think that’s pretty amazing. It makes me try for about five minutes longer than I used to.

3. When you start getting gray hairs and eye twinkles, you just look cuter. Seriously. People in fast food restaurants ask him to say things “with an English accent.” His regular talking voice makes people swoon. Okay. This one might only apply to him.

4. You should not wear white t-shirts when you eat spaghetti. Whether at home or at an Italian restaurant, plan your top covering carefully. White shirts are not recommended.

5. You should have a cooler filled with ice nearby if you are using power tools that cut things. All future cutting projects in our home will take place with 9-1-1 on speed dial and a device for keeping all limbs and digits cool until they can be re-adhered to the original body parts. All tetanus shots should be accounted for.

6. Food really is the way to a man’s stomach. Men and women may have evolved. We may all be very 21st century and breadwinner-y and independent. But if you really want to stay on the good side of a man, make sure he is well fed in one manner or another. Men–your mission may be more difficult. But keep in mind my favorite quote from Lyle Lovett: Women like to eat outside. Okay. You’re set.

7. If you see a bug inside your house, turn a glass upside down on top of him, and slide a piece of paper underneath. Take him outside. Me? I used to just stomp on them. This is my house, little bug dude. But my husband has taught me to respect all life forms. Mostly. I kill mosquitoes and roaches on sight; they are respectfully dead.

Happy birthday, English Captain America!

Respect the Digits

Every finger's worst enemy: my husband.

Times my husband has almost lost a finger: at least 5

Age at which I taught my children my cell phone number in case of a finger emergency: 7 months

Miles away of the nearest urgent care: 4

My husband wants to lose a finger. In the 16 1/2 years I have known him, there is way too much evidence to support this fact.

I grew up with a sister. Boys were mystical creatures to me; they took joy in burping and ran out in front of cars and showed off abrasions, contusions and broken limbs like badges of honor. I mean, I got hurt as a kid, but more because of wacky luck or poor coordination… not risk-taking.

So I got a call yesterday:

“Hello?”

“Hey.”

“Heeyyy… what’s up?” (My husband does not tend to call from work for idle chit-chat.)

“Soooo. I thought I should tell you: I almost cut my finger off today.”

“Again?”

“Yeah.”

“Which tool did it this time?”

“Scissors.”

“Scissors? Like, scalpel-ish scissors?”

“No. Just regular ones… I was opening a box.”

Yeah. I’ve opened lots of boxes. I still have all elements of my fingers intact. Him, not so much. He spent part of the day at two different urgent cares, one with a doctor who wanted to pull the (large) flap of skin back apart to put stitches in it. My husband said, Ummm, no.

This is not the first time I have received a call like that. He likes to build things and nail and screw and cut and hammer and saw and demolish things. Each activity involves potential injury.

I got back from writing group about a month ago, and my husband walked up to me with a large bandage around a different finger. He had bashed it really hard with a hammer. Nerves don’t work the same way when they get flattened.

Before we got married, he was detailing a car, and a piece of metal sliced up into a different finger. That one required surgery and resulted in forever-after wonky fingernail growth.

One time, when our son was a year old, my sister came over to babysit so my husband and I could go on a hot date to the local Mexican restaurant. We really didn’t get out much, so I was more excited than that particular activity probably warranted. My husband went outside to cut a few more pieces of wood for our fireplace so my sister and our son could be nice and toasty warm while we were gone.

Another finger almost severed.

Note to all axe-wielders out there: holding the piece of wood you are about to cut necessitates moving one’s hand as the axe is lowered.

Luckily for us, we had a babysitter! (But no dinner.) We spent that evening at the emergency room.

An interesting fact about my husband: he has a genetic adaptation probably passed down from other crazy pioneer-type folk in his family tree… he is a Super-Healer.

You know those sped-up movies of seedlings growing or the sun coming up in the sky and then setting really fast? My husband’s skin is like that. He even has an annoying way of getting a mosquito bite right now and by this second, it’s not even there anymore. (Someday I will post a super-sized photo of my three-week-long, elephant-man-style mosquito bites. I did not acquire this genetic mutation from my ancestors.)

So last night, about three hours after the doctor squished his skin all back together and wrapped it in neon green gauze, my husband was itching to get that stuff off. The doctor said to leave it on for three days, but my husband was having none of it. His skin was on super-speed to get healed, and that gauze was only hindering its process.

After yesterday, there is both good news and bad news. The good: my husband is up-to-date on his tetanus shot. The bad: I thought he was safe at work and that these injuries occurred only at home. Our kids know my cell phone number; now I have to teach it to his co-worker.