Saturday, July 31, 2010

THE CAUSE OF MY HUSBAND'S INSOMNIA

For the last six months, my husband has spent countless hours drawing up plans and lists of materials he’ll need to finally build tables for his model-train layout.

“I was awake half the night last night,” he said to me the other morning. He looked as if he’d spent the night being tortured – hair standing straight up on his head, dark circles under his eyes, pillow crease-marks on his face.

“Problems?” I asked him.

“I’ll say,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know whether to put my campground next to my circus or my zoo. Which do you think would look better?”

I just stared at him.

“I’m talking about my model-train layout,” he said. “And what about my park with the gazebo? Should it be a city park or a country park? This is really stressful, you know!”

“Gee, I can just imagine,” I said. “I was awake the other night worrying about how much our property taxes are going to set us back, but that’s nothing compared to whether or not you should set up your glue factory next to your horse farm.”

“Well, you can joke about it if you want,” he said, “but it’s not easy to plan a whole miniature city. Everything has to fit together perfectly…it has to flow.”

When he found out that the lumber he’d need to build the tables he’d designed for his city was going to cost him about $300, he nearly needed a whiff of smelling salts.

“There’s no way I’m going to spend that much on lumber,” he said. “I’m going to look for some tables that are already built. And I don’t care if they’re old and used.”

When a computer search failed to turn up anything suitable, I asked Art, a local auctioneer, if he’d seen any 4’x8’ tables during his travels.

“I’ve got an old ping-pong table that might work,” he said. “I think it’s about 5’x10’, though.”

My husband’s interest was piqued, especially when Art said he could have the table for only $10. I was ready to snap up the offer right away, no matter what the table looked like. Heck, if it meant saving $290, I didn’t care if it had convicts’ names carved into it.

So last Friday afternoon, Art delivered the table to our house. When my husband saw it in the back of his truck, his eyes widened. For the price, he’d expected a flimsy, folding ping-pong table with aluminum legs. This table weighed about 150 pounds and had heavy metal legs…eight of them. The Incredible Hulk could have tap danced on it and not damaged it.

“I’ll need some help getting the table into the house,”Art said. “It weighs a ton!”

My husband, whose back sounds like bubble wrap popping when he lifts anything heavier than a cup of coffee, stared pleadingly at me.

Had I not been so eager for him to finally have a hobby other than singing and non-stop talking, I wouldn’t even have attempted to lift the monstrous table. But I figured a double hernia was a small price to pay for a few hours of blissful silence every day.

As Art and I struggled to lift the table up the front steps and onto the front porch, Art’s wife and my husband sat in the rocking chairs on the porch and watched us. They seemed so entertained, I was surprised they weren’t eating popcorn and drinking sodas.

“Got a rug we can put under the table?” Art asked me when we finally reached the doorway. “Then we can just slide the table on the rug down the hall to the train room.”

I dashed into the house and grabbed the hallway runner, then slid it underneath the table. Art just stood there staring at me.

Finally he said, “Um…you’ve got the rubber side down, which won’t slide anywhere. You’ll have to flip the rug over.”

I felt like an idiot. The rug, once I turned it over, worked great. We easily slid the table all the way down to the train room.

That night, my husband once again lost sleep, thinking about where he should set up the table.

“Should I put it in front of the windows, or against the wall on the right…or left?” he asked me. “Or should I put it right in the middle of the room so I can walk all the way around it? And do you think the height of it is OK, or should I put blocks under it to make it taller?”

So if you happen to see me walking all hunched over and wearing a hernia truss, you’ll know it’s because I’ve spent the past week constantly moving an Incredible-Hulk-sized table from one side of the room to the other.

Friday, July 23, 2010

NO BIG FAN OF THE FANS

Ever since my husband and I were married nearly 39 years ago, all he’s talked about every summer is getting central air-conditioning. That’s because I swear his normal body temperature is about 20 degrees higher than everyone else’s.

“It’s so hot in here!” he’ll say to me as he’s unbuttoning his shirt and fanning himself with a magazine. “How on earth can you stand sitting there wearing sweatpants and a sweater?”

“Because it’s the middle of January,” I answer.

So when we built our house, I made sure to set aside enough money to finally get central air-conditioning installed. Unfortunately, I soon learned that the money I’d set aside wasn’t quite enough for a top-of-the-line system.

In fact, it barely was enough for a bottom-of-the-line system. The system we finally purchased has an energy efficiency rating of only 3 out of 100. That means if we even so much as look at it, our electric bill increases.

“It’s really stuffy in here,” my husband said during last week’s heat wave. “I’m going to turn on the central air.”

“No!” I shouted, leaping in front of the thermostat to prevent him from touching it. “It’s only 96 outside, not nearly hot enough to turn it on. Go grab an ice cream out of the freezer. That will cool you off!”

“Not unless I rub it all over my body!” he said.

The truth is, every time we turn on the air-conditioning system, I can hear the electrical meter whirring as if it were a roulette wheel. It probably would cost us less to just go sit in an air-conditioned movie theater all afternoon.

Granted, the central air works great at cooling off the house. In fact, it works a little too great. One of the air vents is situated so it blows directly on the toilet in the bathroom. The seat gets so cold, it’s like sitting naked on a block of ice. I’m afraid that one of these days I’m going to freeze to the seat and be permanently stuck there.

I suppose I could just close the vent, but my husband, alias Old Furnace Face, would just open it again.

He also believes in cranking up the ceiling fans to the highest setting. I don’t even bother trying to style my hair any more. One walk through the house with all of the ceiling fans running and I look as if I’ve spent the last two hours strapped to a helicopter.

The bedroom fan, which is directly above the bed, is the worst. It not only provides a steady hurricane-force wind, it makes a constant “whop-whop” noise as it turns.

So while my husband lies there, bare-chested with not even a sheet over himself, I’m lying there with the blankets pulled up to my chin and my bangs flapping in the breeze, listening to him snore in perfect rhythm to the “whop-whop” of the fan. Heck, all he needs is a guitar accompaniment and he could have a hit song.

We haven’t yet received an electric bill since we started using the central air- conditioner or all of the fans, but I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for the shock of it by doing things like reading the national debt.

After we receive the bill, we just may end up spending a lot of time in movie theaters this summer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

PROGRESS KILLED THE PIONEERS

I was looking through one of the hundreds of boxes in my basement the other day and found a 10-page guide to the historic Pioneer Trail in Bear Brook State Park.

Instantly, I was transported back to over 30 years ago, when I first followed the trail. Back then, the naturalist at the park’s nature center, Mrs. Melack, led guided tours and nature hikes on the different trails in the park. In her official state-park uniform and hat, she reminded me of Miss Jane Hathaway on the Beverly Hillbillies when she’d don her bird-watcher’s uniform.

The trail was located at the very end of the road where the nature center, a building that housed a variety of live and preserved plant and animal species native to the area stood, and where the hikers usually gathered for the tours.

As the small group of tourists and I followed Mrs. Melack to the entrance of the trail, which was marked with an attractive wooden sign, she told us to turn around and look at the flat expanse of land we’d just crossed.

“This is an outwash plain formed by streams flowing from the edge of a glacier that covered the area 10,000 years ago,” she said. “The glacial waters sorted and spread the debris, leaving filtered sand to the depth of 60 feet here!”

We stared in awe at the sand, as if it were made of flakes of gold. After all, it wasn’t every day we were able to set foot on 60 feet of 10,000-year-old sand…unless maybe we were on a sand dune at Hampton Beach.

A neatly manicured dirt trail wound its way through the forest. To guide us, just in case we lagged behind and didn’t want to end up getting impaled on a thorn bush or find ourselves up to our knees in poison ivy, the trees along the trail were clearly marked with squares of yellow paint.

As we walked, Mrs. Melack pointed out the variety of plants and trees of interest along the trail. When she pointed to a big patch of juicy wild blueberries, however, she had our undivided attention. We were all set to dive in.

“You may each pick ONE blueberry,” Mrs. Melack said, her tone authoritative. “We do not want to disturb the balance of nature now, do we?”

I didn’t know about the other tourists on the hike, but I sure did. In fact, I wanted to take off my hat and fill it with enough blueberries to make a pie…and maybe a couple dozen blueberry muffins.

Instead, I picked and ate only one berry…well, maybe three. It took me about 10 minutes and a bit of sampling before I located the fattest berry in the patch.

We soon came to a cemetery in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t help but notice that one of the grave markers said simply “Sally” on it. I prayed it wasn’t a sign from above that I shouldn’t have eaten more than one blueberry.

“This is a pre-Civil War cemetery,” Mrs. Melack said. “You will see the last names Johnson and Clark on the stones. They were involved in the construction of the Old Allenstown Meeting House out on Deerfield Road.”

We moved on to an area that once was used as a campsite for girl scouts from 1949 until the 1960s. We then passed an overgrown cellar hole, the only remainder of an old farmhouse where a family named Cate had lived back in the 19th century.

My favorite part of the trail, however, was the steep hill that sloped down to Bear Brook in an area where the brook formed a waterfall that emptied into a deep, wide pool where kids went swimming. It was a picture-perfect area surrounded by shady trees. I could have lingered on the shore forever, especially since it was so cool there, even on a scorching summer day.

Over the years, I walked the Pioneer Trail many times on my own and enjoyed the peacefulness of the brook area, where I’d sit and watch the waterfall while dangling my feet in the icy water. Sometimes I’d take a book and stretch out on the wide banking and read.

A couple years ago, however, after not walking on the trail for quite a while, I decided to return to my favorite spot. What I saw shocked me. The trees all had been cut down. The Pioneer Trail sign was gone. The glacial plain was littered with dismembered trees. And right smack in the middle of it all, the framework for a huge building was being erected, with a construction trailer sitting directly across from it.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Surely, I thought, that in all of the 10,000 acres of land in the state park, another spot, one that didn’t house a pre-Civil War cemetery or a 1949 girl scouts’ campsite could have been found to build on. I was certain that Mrs. Melack, rest her soul, must have been rolling over in her grave.

Within a few months, a sprawling building, the State of NH Department of Resources and Economic Development office and warehouse, complete with a big asphalt parking lot, sat on what had been the glacial plain and the tree-lined entrance to the Pioneer Trail. No evidence whatsoever of the trail remained behind the building.

So after I found the Pioneer Trail brochure the other day, I got a strong urge to head over there and find the cemetery and the waterfall. Surely, I reasoned, they still had to be there somewhere in what was left of the woods.

I parked in the parking lot that formerly had been a green, grassy area and walked over to where the trail once had begun…or at least where I thought it had. All I could see was an overgrown mass of weeds and hay that all but promised an instant case of Lyme disease if I set foot in them.

Even though I desperately wanted to relive my quiet moments of the past down by the water, the thought of coming home with a family of ticks nesting in my socks somehow made the idea a lot less appealing.

But mark my words, I’m going to put on long pants, long sleeves, knee-high boots and a wide-brimmed hat (and I’ll probably need a machete to cut through the underbrush) and go back to find what’s left of the Pioneer Trail.

And if I happen to come across the blueberry patch, I’m going to eat more than just one blueberry.

After all, I’m pretty sure that the balance of nature already has been disrupted over there.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

WE SCARED THE PEOPLE AT MARKET DAYS

Too often I do things that I don’t thoroughly think through before I do them. Such was the case on Thursday when I decided to go Concord’s annual Market Days.

I’ve always enjoyed Market Days and have gone every year for as long as Concord has held them. It’s fun to stroll down Main Street, which is closed to traffic, and shop at the booths and tables that line the street and sell everything from exotic foods to homemade candles and half-price shoes. And then there is the entertainment: dancers, bands, karate demonstrations, disc jockeys, karaoke and much more.

So Thursday afternoon I headed to Concord with my rottweiler, Willow. Since we moved out to the middle of nowhere, Willow hasn’t had much of an opportunity to socialize, so I thought it would be a good idea to walk her in a place where there would be a lot of people and other dogs.

It never crossed my mind that people might fear a dog that stands about 30 inches high and weighs nearly 120 pounds.

The minute Willow and I started to stroll down Main Street, I realized that maybe she wasn’t going to have the joyful afternoon of socializing I’d imagined she’d have. The fact that people practically fell over each other jumping out of the way and little children ran screaming to their parents the minute they spotted Willow approaching was a pretty good hint. Had I been walking a skunk on a leash, I don’t think the reaction could have been worse.

Finally, a man approached us. “What a bee-yoo-ti-ful dog!” he gushed, looking truly awed. “Please, may I pat her?” The minute he touched Willow, she was in love, cuddling up to him and wagging.

Onlookers watched this man as if he were a lion tamer about to thrust his head into the lion’s mouth. When they saw that he’d managed to touch Willow without losing any major body parts, a few of them walked over and also asked to touch her.

Willow was in her glory.

Then came the man with a pitbull. The two dogs locked eyes. Willow wagged. The pitbull didn’t.

“Is your dog friendly?” I asked the guy.

“Oh yes, he’s just a big pussycat,” the guy answered. He brought his dog closer to Willow. They sniffed each other and everything seemed fine…until the pitbull decided to growl and sink his teeth into Willow’s ear.

The growling match that followed attracted a group of people who probably thought dog wrestling was part of the entertainment.

“Gee, my dog’s never done that before,” the guy said, yanking his pitbull away. “Is your dog OK?”

The only thing injured was Willow’s pride. I decided it was time to go find a bench, have a seat and give Willow a drink of water. I found a bench in the shade in Eagle Square and sat down on one end of it. Then I pulled a bottle of water and a plastic bowl out of my bag and Willow and I both had a drink.

At the other end of the bench was a stone wall on which two women were seated. Another woman soon joined them and sat on the end of the bench. She leaned over to talk to the other two women. In her right hand was an ice cream cone, which she wasn’t paying attention to as she chatted with her friends. Every time she spoke, she waved her hand with the cone in it…right in Willow’s face.

Before I could blink, the woman’s scoop of ice cream had vanished. The only evidence as to where it had gone was a very happy rottweiler with vanilla ice cream on the end of her nose.

The woman turned to eye her cone, which was empty, and then to glare at us.

“I’m really sorry!” I said. “My dog ate your ice cream. I’ll buy you another one.”

“Um, that’s OK,” she said, smiling tightly. “I really didn’t need the calories anyway.”

Just then, only a few feet away, a group of bagpipers began to play. With the first blast of bagpipe music, Willow jumped straight up in the air. It was a sound she’d never heard before. She barked at it.

That did it. I figured that Willow and I had done enough socializing for one day. We headed back toward the car.

On the way, Willow met two pugs, a Pyrenees, a bulldog and a Lhasa Apso, all of which were friendly and playful. She decided she wanted to stay and play.

Trying to convince a 120-pound dog to leave when it didn’t want to was like trying to move a boulder with a feather. And the fact that a woman offered Willow and organic dog cookie from one of the “go green” booths didn’t help matters any. Willow was ready to spend the night.

When we finally got home, I realized that Willow actually had enjoyed herself at Market Days – eating, playing, making both four-legged and two-legged friends, stealing ice cream – while I hadn’t done a thing. No pigging out on fried dough, no shopping for bargains, no watching the singers and dancers. I’d spent all afternoon steering Willow away from food-carrying kids who were her height. The ice-cream snatching incident had warned me that no slice of pizza or hot dog was safe anywhere within three feet of her face.

On the bright side, for the first time in the history of Market Days, I came home with the same amount of money I’d left home with.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

LOST PEOPLE SEEM TO FIND ME

When we lived on the southern border of Bear Brook State Park, we often found bewildered-looking hikers standing in the middle of our lawn and scratching their heads. Catamount Trail in the state park seemed to be the culprit. Apparently the trail map or the trail markers weren’t clear enough and many hikers inevitably ended up emerging from the woods directly onto our lawn.

“Where are we and how did we get here?” usually was the first thing they’d ask me, staring at me as if they thought I were a space alien who’d just beamed them there.

The second question was, “How do we get back to the parking lot next to the tollbooth?”

I’d end up taking pity on the poor sweaty people and driving them the mile back to the tollbooth.

Now we live on the north side of the state park, but unlike our last place, the hiking trails don’t end in our back yard. So it was quite a surprise the other night when the doorbell rang and a young couple, a girl probably in her mid-teens and a guy around 20, looking overheated and exhausted greeted me. The girl asked me if I could please call her mother to come get them because they were lost and too tired to make it back home.

With the pair were two small dogs, their tongues practically dragging on the ground. I immediately offered water.

“We never thought we’d find a house!” the girl said. “So we decided that the first one we came to we’d go knock on the door.”

I was in shock, total shock. Two young people without cell phones? The thought crossed my mind that their time machine was hidden in the woods somewhere nearby and they’d actually traveled here from the 1960s.

I asked them where they lived and they named a road about a mile and a half away. I then asked for the phone number and called the girl’s mother.

“You’re kidding!” the woman who answered said. “I can’t come get them right now! I just got out of the shower and I’m in my bathrobe! They’ll have to wait awhile.”

I wanted to tell her that I had a chicken in the oven that was rapidly turning to ashes and if I had to wait too long for her to get here, I’d be serving it in an urn instead of on a platter.

I opened my mouth advise her to please hurry, but the thought of a dripping wet woman clad in nothing but a robe zooming over to my house made me blurt out, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll give them a ride home!”

“Oh, thank you!” she said. “That’s really nice of you.”

That’s when I remembered that my car had no seats in the back. I had taken them out to make things easier for my dog, who just had leg surgery, to climb in and out. And the front seat had so much stuff stacked on it, it practically was blocking the side window.

“Um, you’re going to have to sit on the floor in my car,” I told the couple. “There aren’t any seats in back – I took them out.”

The look they gave me told me they probably were wondering if I’d also removed the door handles and was going to trap them in there and hold them for ransom.

“My dog had leg surgery,” I quickly explained. “She can’t jump high enough to get up onto the seats, so I took them out.”

Their relief was obvious. “No problem!” they said in unison.

I checked out the back seat – actually, the back floor – and it was covered with dog fur, dried up mud and the remnants of a dozen or so dog biscuits. I could just imagine what the mother would think when they walked in looking as if they’d been wrestling with a pack of wolves.

During the ride, the guy suddenly said, “I’m married to her sister. Three years now.”

I couldn’t conceal my surprise. “You look too young!”

“Thank you!” he said, smiling. “But I don’t look as young for my age as you do for yours!”

I had to laugh. The guy had no idea how old I was. I could have been 35 for all he knew. Either that, or he said I looked young for my age because he thought I was 80.

At any rate, I suddenly had a strong urge to adopt him.

They profusely thanked me when I dropped them off. I quickly headed back home to my charred chicken.

“You’re brave,” my husband said over our extra-crunchy dinner. “Those two kids could have been Bonnie and Clyde for all you knew! What if they had conked you on the head, tossed you out of the car door and then drove off?”

I shook my head. “If they were criminals, they’d have asked to come inside to use the phone so they could case the place. Instead, they asked me to make the call for them. That told me they didn’t have axe murdering on their minds.”

“Speaking of crimes,” he said, unsuccessfully trying to stab a piece of chicken with his fork, “you should be arrested for committing chicken-cide. I feel like I’m gnawing on a horse saddle!”

From now on, whenever the doorbell rings, I’m going to make him answer it.