Monday, January 30, 2012

WAS THAT A DOUBLE AXLE?

I had my car inspected last week, and by the time my mechanic was through finding everything it needed, my bill looked like an inventory list from “Auto Parts R Us.”

Even worse, I had no car for three days while he was working on it, so I had to rely on my husband to chauffeur me around in his van. I won’t drive his van, not only because it’s too big for me to handle, but also because I have too much respect for mailboxes and pedestrians to plow them down.

As usual, my husband had to wait for me to get ready when I asked him to take me to the bank and post office.

“Are you almost ready?” he shouted at me through the bathroom door.

When I told him I’d be only a couple minutes longer, he added, “I’ll be out in the van, then, waiting.”

What usually happens in the winter when he waits for me in the van is he’ll sit in the garage until he is about to succumb to hypothermia, then he’ll start up the van, back it out of the garage and turn on the heater. He told me he doesn’t dare run the van in the garage, even with the garage doors open, because by the time I come out, he’ll be dead from carbon-monoxide poisoning.

When I finally emerged from the house 20 minutes later, I walked out to the driveway and reached for the door handle on the van. The next thing I knew, I was lying on my side on the ground.

A patch of ice had caught me completely off guard. My feet had slid out sideways from underneath me with such speed, I hadn’t even had time to brace myself for the fall.

My husband, still sitting in the driver’s seat, had no idea I was on the ground. He finally rolled down the window on the passenger’s side.

“Are you there?” he shouted. “Where’d you go?”

“I’m here...on the ground!” I shouted back.

“What’re you doing down there?”

“Oh, I just decided to take a quick nap!” I said mostly to myself. When there was no response, I added, “I slipped on the ice.”

“Are you OK?”

“I don’t know yet!”

“What can I do?” he asked, his voice sounding panicky. “I don’t have my cane. I hadn’t planned on getting out of the van today, especially on ice! If I tried, I’d slip and fall, too! And I left my cell phone on the counter!”

So basically I was on my own. In our old neighborhood, I’d have had three or four neighbors rushing out to help me the minute I fell. But out here in the middle of the woods with no one around, my only hope was to wait for a passing deer and grab onto it.

That TV commercial with the elderly lady lying on her kitchen floor and shouting for help, only to have to lie there for a month-and-a-half before her neighbor finally finds her, came to mind. I had visions of my husband sitting in the van, afraid to move it because he might run over me, and afraid to get out because he might fall, staying right where he was until we both turned into giant Popsicles.

After a minute or so, I finally gathered my courage and tried to move, fully expecting to feel intense pain somewhere. I cautiously tested one body part at a time to see if it worked. To my relief, everything seemed to be working just fine. And miraculously, nothing hurt. I figured all of my extra body fat must have cushioned my fall. In fact, I was surprised I hadn’t bounced a few times when I first hit the ground.

I managed to get to my hands and knees, and then up onto my knees. I reached up and grabbed the door handle, pulled myself up and brushed off my snow-covered pant legs. When I finally opened the van door, my husband’s eyes made a quick sweep over me, as if he expected to see jagged bones sticking out through my clothes.

“I’m fine,” I said as I prepared to climb into the van. “I guess having a layer of winter fat has its advantages.”

“Brush the back of your coat!” he said. “It’s full of snow! You’re going to ruin my upholstery!”

I wondered if there had been a bone sticking out of me if he’d have worried about that ruining his upholstery, too.

The rest of the day, until I went to bed that night, I kept expecting to feel a stabbing pain pop up somewhere – a delayed reaction to my flop on the ice. When nothing happened, I convinced myself I probably wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning because every muscle in my body would stiffen up as I slept.

The next morning, when there still were no aches, I checked my body for what I expected would be an array of giant black-and-blue marks. I had visions of my skin looking like a dark purple version of a giraffe’s hide

I found only one bruise, on the side of my calf. It was about the diameter of a pencil eraser.

“How are you doing?” my husband asked when I came out to the kitchen.

“My leg is bruised,” I said. “I think I’m just going to take it easy today. Will you feed the dogs and then let them out?”

“Sure,” he said. “You just relax and take care of yourself, OK?”

That’ll teach him to worry about his upholstery.

Friday, January 20, 2012

MAKING THE PEANUT-BUTTER SOFTBALL

My friend Laura in Washington makes a fantastic peanut-butter fudge, which just happens to be one of my husband’s favorite treats. So when she promised she’d make him a batch for Christmas, he acted as if he’d just won the lottery.

“Did you go to the post office today?” he asked me nearly every day in December. “Did my fudge come yet?“

Finally, the object of his desire arrived. “Mmmmm! I can smell peanut butter right through the box,” he said, holding the still-sealed package up to his nose and inhaling deeply.

“You look like one of those drug-sniffing police dogs,” I said. “Why don’t you just open the box and eat some fudge?”

“I want to savor the moment,” he said.

Within five days, the whole pound of fudge had disappeared. I managed to get only one piece, and I had to sneak it out of the box while my husband was asleep. Still, he found out about it.

“There were 25 pieces of fudge when I went to bed,” he said, narrowing his eyes at me. “Now there are only 24!”

“You actually counted the pieces?”

“I told you I wanted to savor it,” he said.

When the fudge was gone, he stared at the empty box and whined. “I should have made it last longer! Now I won’t be able to have any more until she sends me some next Christmas! Why didn’t I ration it? Why did I have to be such a glutton?”

He carried on until I couldn’t take it any longer.

“Look,” I said, “why don’t I get the recipe from Laura and try to make a batch of fudge for you?” At that point, I was willing to pay for a plane ticket for Laura to fly here and stay with us for a couple weeks and do nothing but make fudge...anything to stop his whining.

“She won’t give you her secret recipe!” he said. “Why would she want to share her masterpiece with anyone else?”

Fortunately, Laura graciously e-mailed the recipe to me. I immediately studied it, wondering if I, a novice fudge-maker, could handle it. It looked pretty simple...until I read the “cook until 243 degrees or softball stage” part. I had no idea what a softball stage was. I guessed it meant the fudge formed big, squishy ball in the pot. But just to be safe, I thought it might be a good idea to buy a candy thermometer so I could cook the fudge to exactly the required 243 degrees.

I then set out to buy the ingredients. The basics were easy to find – sugar, evaporated milk, peanut butter, margarine and vanilla. But then came the marshmallow creme.

If the recipe had called for marshmallow fluff, I’d have been back home making fudge in 20 minutes. But three hours later, I still was walking up and down grocery aisles in search of the elusive creme. The story was pretty much the same everywhere I went.

“We had marshmallow creme before Christmas, but we sold out of it,” the 134th store clerk informed me. “It’s really popular during the holidays.”

I’d wasted so much gas by then, making the fudge probably would have been cheaper if I’d have flown Laura to New Hampshire to do it.

Finally, at Walmart in Hooksett, I spotted a huge display, a virtual tower of marshmallow creme, at the end of the baking aisle. I honestly thought I was hallucinating because by then, I hadn’t eaten for about four hours.

When I picked up a jar and discovered it wasn’t a mirage, I had to stop myself from doing the “happy marshmallow dance” in the middle of the aisle.

“What took you so long?” my husband asked when I got home. “I thought you got lost! I’m going through fudge withdrawal!”

“I couldn’t find the dumb marshmallow creme. I must have driven 90 miles until I finally found some in Hooksett.”

“Well, I hope you stocked up on it then,” he said.

I didn’t want to tell him I’d bought only one jar.

After dinner that evening, I set to work on the fudge. I laid out all of the ingredients, measured them, and then unwrapped the new candy thermometer I’d bought. I was ready.

The beginning of the procedure went pretty smoothly. The margarine melted and the sugar dissolved nicely into the evaporated milk. As the temperature increased in the pot, the mixture began to bubble. I stirred faster. The mixture bubbled harder. I shoved the thermometer into the pot. It read 235 degrees. I removed the thermometer because it was in my way when I tried to stir.

A couple minutes later, I tried the thermometer again. It read 240. I panicked. That was close enough for me. I removed the pot from the stove and quickly added the marshmallow creme and peanut butter.

Trying to stir two ultra-sticky ingredients into an even stickier substance required the biceps of Hercules. By the time everything was blended together, I felt as if I’d just worked out at the gym. Finally, I poured my masterpiece into the greased pan. I’d noticed that Laura had put a nice swirled pattern all over the top of her fudge, so I grabbed a butter knife and tried to make swirls with it. It was like dipping the knife into gravy.

Two hours later, the fudge still was the consistency of cake icing. My husband, who’d been impatiently awaiting his treat, critically eyed the results of my efforts.
He stuck his finger into the fudge and then licked it.

“Can’t even taste the peanut butter,” he said. “It just tastes like cooked sugar.”

I felt my sore hands clenching into fists. “Then you’re not going to eat it?”

“Not unless you bake a cake to go with it...so I can use it for frosting. No offense, but I think Laura would be embarrassed if you told people this was her recipe.”

Tomorrow, I’m going to buy Laura a plane ticket.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

THE UGLY FINGERNAIL AND THE DICTIONARY



I’m wearing a bandage on my left index finger at the moment, and all I can say is when it comes to do-it-yourself medical treatments, sometimes the Internet can be a dangerous thing.

It all began a few months ago when I noticed that my fingernail was growing a vertical trench up the center of it. There seemed to be no reason for it – I mean, I couldn’t see anything that would cause a trench, like a needle imbedded in the nail or a creature of some sort burrowing under it – so I ignored it.

Or at least I tried to.

As my nail grew, so did the trench. I soon discovered that painting a nail with a trench in it was a real challenge because the trench acted like a reservoir and the nail polish pooled up in it. I’d think the nail was dry and hold up my hand, only to have polish ooze down to my knuckle. Not only that, the polish didn’t camouflage the trench as I’d hoped it would. The frosty pink color and shininess seemed only to highlight it. I may just as well have hung a neon sign on my finger that said, “Hey, everyone! Look at my ugly fingernail!”

A few weeks later, a small bump appeared at the base of the nail. It was a squishy bump, perfectly round. Whatever was causing the bump, I deduced, was what must have been causing the trench.

So just before Christmas, when my husband had an appointment at a clinic in Concord, I made a detour to the dermatology department and showed my finger to the receptionist.

She glanced at the bump, which had doubled in size by then, but made no comment other than to ask me if I’d like to make an appointment. When I nodded, she studied the computer screen on her desk. “The soonest we have an opening is May.”

I just stared at her. “May? My finger could fall off by then!”

“Sorry,” she said. “We’ve been really busy. Would you like to book the appointment?”

“I think I’ll pass,” I said.

When I got home, I headed straight to my computer to search the Internet for information about bumps on fingernails. There, I found a photo that was a clone of my fingernail. Not only did it have a trench in it, it also had a bump at the base of it. The article said the bump was a ganglion cyst that probably was filled with joint fluid from the first knuckle.

I researched ganglion cysts and came across an interesting tidbit of information. It said that back in the old days, people used to get rid of them by smashing them with the family Bible.

“Do you know where your Bible is?” I asked my husband later that night.

He gave me a suspicious look. “Why? What did you do?”

Apparently he thought I needed to repent for something. “I didn’t do anything. I just need it to smash something with.”

His expression told me he wanted to ask me a question, but he remained silent, probably because he thought he’d be better off if he didn’t. “It’s a paperback,” he finally said. “You won’t be able to smash much with it.”

I frowned. “Oh, OK, never mind then.”

I set off in search of the heaviest hardcover book in the house. I found it in the form of a Random House dictionary about three inches thick. I lugged it out to the kitchen, stretched out my index finger on the counter and then tried to get up the courage to slam it with the book.

At that precise moment, my husband entered the kitchen. He looked at the dictionary, which I’d lifted to about shoulder height, and then down at my finger on the counter. An expression of sudden realization crossed his face.

“You’re not actually thinking about smashing the bump on your finger with that dictionary, are you?” he asked.

I nodded. “I read on the Internet that in the old days, that’s how people got rid of ganglion cysts.”

“But weren’t those on their wrists?’ he asked.

I shrugged. “What’s the difference? A ganglion is a ganglion!”

“You sure you don’t want to borrow my hammer?” he asked. “If you’re going to do something dumb, you might as well go all the way!”

I glared at him, and then without further hesitation, slammed the dictionary down on my finger.

The sound I made scared away the squirrels from my bird feeder outside.

When I dared to look at the bump at the base of my fingernail, not only had it flattened out, there was a gaping hole in the cuticle area, as if something had blown out right through it. The thought did cross my mind that I might also have flattened a few essential bones in my finger during the smashing process, but to my relief, it seemed to be working fine when I tested it.

So now I’m waiting for the hole to heal, which is why I’m wearing a bandage. The crater already has closed up a little, but I have the feeling the healing process is going to be a slow one.

My husband, however, thinks the only hole I should be worried about healing is the one I obviously have in my head...for doing something so crazy.

I blame it on the Internet.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

MY CREATIVITY HAS THREE OBSTACLES

My New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to finish writing the book I started writing back in 2000. I’m beginning to realize, however, it’s not going to be easy.

I have an office, but for some reason, when I’m in there with the door closed and everything is quiet, I just stare at the computer. It seems as if the only time I feel creative is when I’m sprawled out on the sofa with the TV playing in the background.

Still, even when I’m feeling inspired to write, there are three big obstacles preventing me from churning out my desired number of pages per day...my husband and my two dogs.

The other night, for example, I was eager to work on my book. I grabbed my laptop and a cup of tea, then sat on the sofa and began to type. My husband and both dogs were napping, so there were no interruptions. The words just seemed to effortlessly flow from my brain to my fingertips.

Suddenly, everything changed.

“Whatcha doing?” my husband’s voice broke my concentration. He was up from his nap and standing in the living room.

“Writing on my book,” I said.

“Oh, then I’ll be real quiet. You won’t even know I’m here!”

He grabbed the remote control and sat in his recliner. For what seemed like the next hour, I was treated to a sampling of every TV show on all 500 stations, from the Disney Channel to the History Channel, as he flipped through them.

“Wow! Look at that!” he suddenly shouted.

I glanced up to see a car auction on TV where some old car from the 1940s was being auctioned off for $45,000. I glared at my husband.

“Oops!” he said, smiling sheepishly and shrugging. “Sorry about that! I’ll be quiet, I promise. Go back to writing your book.”

I tried, but my train of thought had been interrupted. It took a few minutes before I was able to get back into the swing of things. One particular sentence I wrote struck me funny. Unconsciously, I laughed out loud.

“What’s so funny?” my husband asked.

“Oh, just something I wrote.”

“Read it to me,” he said. “I like to laugh, too, you know!”

“I’d have to read the whole page to you before the sentence I just wrote would make any sense.”

“That’s OK. Just read me the sentence. I’ll get it.”

So I read it to him, pausing a few times to chuckle as I did. When I finished, I looked up at him for his reaction. His expression was blank.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

I rolled my eyes. “Go back to your car auction.”

I started writing again and something nudged the top of my computer. I looked up to see Willow, one of my rottweilers, peering over the edge.

“I think she wants to go out,” my husband said. “She has that full-bladder look on her face.”

I groaned. For some reason, my dogs won’t go out to the yard to do their duties unless I’m the one who opens the door for them. In the past, I had seen my husband whistle, call their names and stand there holding the door open until he nearly developed frostbite. He’d done everything short of covering himself in rawhide treats, yet the dogs wouldn’t budge.

I, on the other hand, just had to touch the doorknob and they’d come flying at me like jets on a runway.

I set down my computer on the sofa cushion, went to the door and opened it. Willow dashed outside. “Raven!” I called to our other dog. “Want to go out?”
She looked up at me, yawned, and put her head back down on the rug.

I returned to my computer and managed to write about two sentences when I felt something cold and wet touching my hand. It was Raven’s nose.

“I think she’s ready to go out now,” my husband said.

“I just asked her a minute ago! Why didn’t she go out then?”

“Well, maybe she suddenly developed cramps.”

I was ready to send him out into the cold along with the dogs.

So once again I went to the door. When I opened it to let Raven out, Willow came running back in. Raven then decided to stay inside. The dogs proceeded to drag out their favorite ratty old dog blanket and play tug-of-war with it. Their game was accompanied by growling in an assortment of octaves and volumes.

That did it. I turned off the computer.

“Quitting already?” my husband asked.

“For now,” I said. “I can’t seem to concentrate today.”

“Well, I once read that you have to treat writing a book like a job. You have to devote so many hours a day to writing on it and then stick to that schedule or you won’t succeed. Discipline is the key.”

He could be right. In fact, I think my second New Year’s resolution will be to devote five hours every day to writing on my book...in a hotel room somewhere in Florida.