Monday, June 25, 2012


 Even if the news on TV the other morning had announced that a giant meteor was about to collide with Earth and turn the entire planet into a pile of gravel, my husband couldn’t have been more upset than he already was.  You see, we had a tragedy in our household that morning. 

Our central air-conditioning unit died.

I hate to say it, but I think my husband is addicted to air conditioning.  The minute the temperature outside reaches 65 degrees, even if it’s in the middle of March, he turns on the air conditioner and leaves it on until November.  As a result, I end up spending most of the summer months dressed as if it’s January.   I even have to sleep in flannel pajamas and knee socks in July, or risk getting frostbite.

In our previous home, we had a window air-conditioner.  It was huge, and so heavy, it took four people to lift it into the window.  By the end of the summer, the windowsill not only was sagging, it was rotting due to all of the moisture that had crept in underneath the unit – despite my professional anti-leak method of sealing all of the edges with duct tape.  Still, if my husband could have had his way, we’d have invested in an even bigger unit...for every room. 

So when we decided to build a house, the first thing he did was insist we get central air-conditioning.  I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea, mainly because...well, I’m cheap.  I mean, if we lived in Arizona where the temperatures are over 100 degrees about 364 days a year, I could have justified the expense, but not for something that probably would be used fewer than 10 times all year.

I ended up buying an air-conditioning system that was slightly less than top of the line.  In fact, it was about one step higher than a chunk of ice with a fan blowing on it.

Still, in the two years we’ve had it, it’s worked fine and has managed to cool off the house quite efficiently.  That is, until the other morning.

That morning, my husband got up and noticed that the indoor temperature was 72 degrees.  Immediately, he nearly suffered from heatstroke.  He rushed over to the thermostat and set the temperature on 65. 

An hour later, although we could hear air blowing through the registers, the temperature in the house had climbed to 76.

“What’s going on?” he complained, fanning himself with the latest issue of his model-train magazine. “It’s like a sauna in here!  I don’t think the air conditioning is working!”

“It’s still practically new,” I said. “It can’t be broken already.”

I walked over to one of the registers and put my hand in front of it.  The air coming out was lukewarm.  I didn’t dare break the news to my husband because I was afraid he might burst into tears.

“There’s no cold air coming out,” I finally told him. “I think you’re right about the central air not working.”

“No!” he cried. “I’ll suffocate!  I need cool air to breathe! I can feel my lungs shutting down already!”

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t die yet.  I’ll go check a few things.”

“Hurry!  I can feel the sweat already popping out on my forehead!”

I went down to the basement.  The blower in the furnace was blowing air.  I then went outside to check the air-conditioning unit. The big fan inside it wasn’t turning.  In fact, nothing was moving in it or around it...except for a couple deer flies.  I went back inside and flipped the circuit breaker.  I then turned the “cool” switch on the thermostat off and on again.  Nothing changed.

In desperation, later that night I called my cousin Al, a heating and refrigeration expert, and asked if he had any suggestions.  He had me try everything but chant under a full moon, but still I couldn’t resurrect the air conditioner.

“I’ll come over tomorrow after work and check it out,” he finally said.

“Tomorrow?” my husband repeated, his voice panicky, when I told him. “There’ll be nothing left of me but a melted puddle by then!  Maybe we should check into a motel tonight, where there’s air conditioning!”

“Honey, it’s only 48 degrees outside.  I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Al arrived the next day, as promised, and found the source of the problem almost immediately.  He’d removed a panel from the unit and exposed a neatly built nest.  Holding up the frayed ends of several colored wires, he said, “I think you have rodents.”

He re-wired everything and had the air conditioner spewing cold air in less than 30 minutes.  My husband was so happy, he probably would have danced a jig if his knees weren’t in such bad shape. 

“So,” I asked Al, “how do I keep the mice from getting in there again and making a habit of chewing up the wires?”

With a completely deadpan expression he said, “I think you should hang up a ‘keep out’ sign.”

The worst part was it took me a while to realize he was kidding.

Monday, June 18, 2012


I have a new toy to play with this summer – a battery-operated lawnmower – but I haven’t been very eager to use it. 

Actually, the lawnmower is fine and works great.  It’s quiet, turns off and on with the push of a button, and cuts the grass nice and short, just the way I like it.  The problem is the yard.  Trying to mow it is like trying to maneuver around an obstacle course that’s been sabotaged with booby traps.

First of all, the place is crawling with ticks.  When I go out to mow the lawn, I have to dress as if I’m on my way to explore the Arctic – long pants tucked into knee socks, a long-sleeved shirt, wide-brimmed hat and combat boots.  Within five minutes, I’m  ready to pass out.  The only thing that prevents me from keeling over is I’m afraid I’ll end up falling face first into a pile of ticks (or a pile of something else, courtesy of my dogs).

 The worst part is, despite all of my precautionary layers of clothing, I’ve still found at least one tick stuck to my skin after each time I’ve mowed this year.  One of them, which I discovered while showering, was buried in my armpit.  After all of the sweating I’d done while mowing, all I can say is it had to be one really brave tick.  On the other hand, maybe ticks don’t have nostrils.

But the nasty little buggers aren’t the only things I have to cope with while mowing.  There also are the holes, ruts and trenches – all part of the network of punji pits dug by my dogs.  Every time I mow the lawn, the pits seem to multiply and get deeper, and I never know what I’ll find in them.  So far, it’s been everything from sharp rocks and sticks to broken dog toys – all potentially lethal weapons if either my foot or the lawnmower gets wedged into one of the holes.

I can just picture my dogs digging while fiendishly cackling to each other, “Feed us dried-up kibble while she’s eating ground sirloin, will she?  This will teach her!”

There also are huge boulders beneath the ground, with only about a half-inch of them sticking up above the surface.  There they lurk, just waiting for the lawnmower to hit them.  I’ve probably broken a world’s record for hitting the same boulders the most consecutive number of times.  And each time, the lawnmower’s blades made horrible crunching noises and shot sparks.  It’s a wonder I didn’t set the house on fire.   

Whenever I hit one of those hidden boulders, I always cringe, because I know I’ll have to hear the same thing from my husband...“Heard a bad scraping noise.  Hit another rock?  That’s not good for the blades, y’ know.”

I’m tempted to say, “No, I didn’t hit any rocks.  The grass is just getting thicker and stronger every time I mow it, so it’s like cutting through steel re-bar now.”

“I think you should spray-paint the tops of those hidden boulders with a fluorescent color so you can spot them when you mow,” he adds. “You don’t want to ruin your new mower, do you?”

“I also don’t want the yard to look like and aerial view of a giant Twister game!” I answer.

And then there are the sand traps.  Seriously, parts of the yard look like Hampton Beach.  The dirt resembles beach sand and nothing will grow in it, which, I suppose, actually isn’t a bad thing.  The only problem is when I hit one of these sand traps, the mower kicks up so much dust, I expect to see camels standing there after it clears. 

I hate to admit it, but when I finally finish mowing, I usually pray for a drought so the lawn won’t grow for a while.  That’s because just one good rainstorm seems to make the grass shoot up faster than Jack’s beanstalk. 

Lately it seems as if there has been rain nearly every day.  And every day I’ve been watching and groaning as the grass gets taller and thicker.  I could swear I even saw the ticks donning tiny safari helmets and grabbing machetes.  I figure by the time I get around to mowing again, I’ll need to rent haying equipment. 

Or maybe I’ll just let the dogs keep digging until they turn the yard into a giant sand pit. 

Friday, June 8, 2012


I’m the first to admit that when it comes to anything mathematical, my brain seems to instantly go into the “duh” mode.  I even have trouble counting to 11 without taking off my shoes and socks so I can use my toes. 

The other night I found myself having to figure out not one, but two math problems within only a few minutes of each other.  My brain still hasn’t recovered.

It all began when I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my husband.  He uses these injection “pens” for his diabetes, and they come two in a box.  After our insurance pays its share, our cost is $121.  Even in my math-deficient brain, I’ve managed to figure out that each pen costs $60.50.

Well, my husband’s doctor recently decided it would be more convenient and cost-efficient for him to get three pens at a time rather than just the two, so the prescription I handed to the clerk was for the three.

“That will be $193,” she said.

Normally, I’d just whip out my debit card and pay, but $193 sounded too high even to me, Mrs. Mathematically Challenged.

“Quick!” I thought, closing my eyes. “What’s $60.50 multiplied by three?”

Numbers flew through my head as I frantically tried to come up with a total.  I knew I wouldn’t arrive at an exact amount, not without the use of a pen, paper, a calculator, abacus and all of my fingers and toes, but my closest guess was somewhere around $182.

“I don’t think $193 is right,” I finally said to the clerk. “It’s only $121 for two.  So $193 would be about $12 too much.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment then said, “You’re right. But that’s what your insurance company is saying to charge you.  We don’t set the amount you pay, your insurance does.  Maybe you’d save money if you went back to buying only two pens at a time?”

I paid the $193, but muttered a lot of bad things about our insurance company as I headed out of the store.  That’s when I spotted my favorite face cream next to a sign that said, “Buy one, get the second one for 50 percent off.”

I rushed over to the display.  The face cream was $20, so that meant the second jar would be only $10.  The problem was, there was only one jar left.

I found a clerk out on the floor and asked her how I could get a second jar for half price if there wasn’t a second jar.

She said, “Well, we can give you a rain check for half off on the second jar when it’s restocked, or we can take the discount off the price of this jar right now.”

I thought that sounded fair, so I grabbed the jar of face cream and brought it up to the register.  When the cashier went to ring it up, I explained the situation to her, then told her I wanted either a rain check or $10 off on this jar.  She stared at me as if I’d just been beamed down from another galaxy. 

The clerk I’d spoken to out on the floor came over to the register.

“Never mind the rain check,” she said to the cashier. “We’ll just discount this jar at $5 off.”

Instantly, I was confused. “Why only $5?” I asked. “The rain check would be for $10, wouldn’t it?  That’s half the price of the second jar.”

“But your grand total would be $30 for the two jars, right?” she said. “That’s $15 per jar.  So you should pay $15 for this jar, not $10.”

I had to stop and think for a moment.  I mean, my brain couldn’t handle so many figures being thrown at me all at once.

 Finally, I said, “But I’m not buying two jars for $30.  I’m buying only one, because that’s all you have.  And if you give me $5 off on this jar instead of giving me a rain check, the next time I come in, I’ll have to pay full price for the second jar.”

She nodded.  “That’s right.”

“Then my total for the two jars will be $15 for this one and $20 for the second.  That’s $35, not $30.  I’ll be losing $5.”

“As I said, it’s $30 for the two jars, or $15 each,” she repeated. “And what if you never do come back and buy a second jar from us?  Then we’ll lose money.”

As I stood there feeling completely confused, a customer who’d been standing in line behind me the entire time released a loud sigh and walked out of the store.  That’s when the cashier, who’d been silent up until then, suggested paging the manager to solve the problem.

The manager arrived at the register, where she patiently listened to each of us describe the face-cream dilemma.

“Give her $10 off this jar,” she said to the floor clerk, then authorized the discount and walked off.

The clerk handed my change to me and shook her head. “I still think we’re losing money.”

When I got home, to my embarrassment, I realized I’d grabbed the wrong jar of face cream off the shelf.  It was the right brand but the wrong product.  I usually use the moisturizing cream. This was the firming cream.

All I can say is that after all of the trouble I went through to get it, I’m still going to use the stuff...even if it makes my skin look like an alligator’s.