Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guess Who Destroyed a Smoke Alarm? (Hint: Not Baby Bear, and Not Mr. Lucky)

It was me—yes, Karen!—in another one of those “this could only happen when the husband’s away” moments:

The day after Christmas, Mr. Lucky went up to Georgia to see his parents, taking with him the Crown Prince and Bart the chocolate beagle. I’d had trouble sleeping the previous night, and so was not at my best—whatever that is, since I’m not sure I’ve ever been there. Part of the problem was two boys who don’t seem to need as much sleep as I do—both the Crown Prince and Baby Bear were up very early Sunday morning, and I simply cannot sleep when the younger boy is awake. Terrible things are more likely to happen if I do. Mr. Lucky attributed our sons’ wakefulness and energy to the excitement of Christmas.

After they went to Georgia, I was really hoping to get a better night’s sleep. But alas . . .

At approximately 2:30 am, I was awakened by the regular chirping of the smoke alarm. It chirped about every minute or so, calling for a new battery.

Why? Why, oh why did it have to start doing this at 2:30 in the morning? Why did it have to do this when I had very little sleep the previous night? And why did it have to be on a night when Mr. Lucky was away?

At first, I thought I could ignore it and go back to sleep, but that wasn’t happening. As I stumbled out of our bedroom, which is just off the family room, I could hear the chirping right over my head, where there was one of the many smoke alarms scattered throughout our house.

We have ten foot ceilings, and I was in no mood to go out to the garage and drag in the stepladder. I grabbed a broom and a chair from the dining table, and poked at the smoke alarm till it fell open to reveal the battery.

I tore out the battery. Still the alarm chirped. I said some very, very bad words and began beating the smoke alarm till the casing broke off, revealing all the tiny little bits and wires and doodads inside.

And still it chirped.

More banging and stabbing with the broomstick ensued, till something snapped and sparked, and the other half of the smoke alarm clattered to the floor, leaving only wires dangling out of a hole in the ceiling. YET IT WAS STILL CHIRPING!

How to shut it up? I didn’t know where Mr. Lucky was keeping the hammer this week, and I was in no mood to ransack the house looking for it.

I thought of grabbing the shovel and digging a hole in the backyard to bury the alarm, but it was too cold and dark outside. So I did the next best thing—I rushed it out to the garage and shoved it under a pile of stuff, hoping that would stifle the persistent chirping.

Yet when I returned to the family room, I could still hear loud chirping from the ceiling.

So I started yanking at the wires that dangled from the hole, till there was nothing left to yank. After the snap and spark, I dared not go further. But it wouldn’t stop chirping.

I was furious and frustrated. I went back to bed and drove myself insane wondering how I could muffle that infernal chirping until Mr. Lucky came home . . . in another three days.

Where’s the duct tape? Suppose I took that whole bag of cotton balls beneath the bathroom sink, and taped it over the hole? And suppose I added the complete Sunday edition of the St. Pete Times, would that be enough?

These were the crazed, deranged thoughts racing through my mind as I struggled in vain to go back to sleep. I was at least thankful that Bart was in Georgia. That particular dog would’ve gone nuts from the chirping. Only Jasper has the good sense to go into hiding and stay there.

It didn’t help my mood when Mr. Lucky’s alarm clock went off at 7:30 am. My own alarm clock is so easy to turn on and off—it has a huge snooze button I can pound with my fist—but Mr. Lucky’s clock is all tiny identical buttons set into the casing, and you have to hope you hit the right one with either your fingernail or a very pointy stylus sold separately.

That’s why whenever his alarm clock goes off and he’s not here, I just rip the cord out of the socket.

To continue with the smoke alarm that wouldn’t die, it wasn’t till after I’d had at least one cup of coffee that I realized the chirping came not from that ugly hole I’d left in the ceiling outside our bedroom, but from the smoke alarm in the opposite corner of the family room . . . outside Mr. Lucky’s man-cave.

I’d attacked the wrong smoke alarm.

Well? It was the middle of the night! I was tired! I was ticked! And I swear the chirping had been coming from the smoke alarm outside our bedroom!

I wasn’t even sure we had any 9-volt batteries in the house. There were none in the cupboard where I kept all the other batteries (mostly AA’s for Baby Bear’s toys), so I rummaged through the “junk drawer” in the kitchen. Whenever he deigns to put anything away, no matter what it is, Mr. Lucky always crams it into that drawer.

But it was there that I unearthed an unopened package of 9-volt batteries. They’d probably been there since we moved in, and with my rotten luck, they were no longer any good.

Yet when I switched one out with the old battery in the smoke alarm, the chirping finally ceased.

When Mr. Lucky came home, he was appalled by what I’d done to the other smoke alarm. “I can’t believe you totally destroyed it,” he said.

“You had to be here,” was all I could say. “Under the circumstances, I really think you would’ve done the same. I’ve seen how you are whenever you use the broiler and the one in the kitchen goes off.”

“But I’ve never torn the whole thing off the ceiling and smashed it to smithereens!” he exclaimed. “You’re dangerous, Karen.”

I don’t know if he’s ever given me a finer compliment.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fiona's Christmas Wish List

Today is Fiona’s birthday, and she would’ve been twenty-one.

Earlier this month, I attended the meeting of
Bereaved Parents, a support group for those who have lost a child. We were asked to share a special Christmas memory concerning our departed offspring. What sprang instantly to my mind was not any particular Christmas holiday out of the ten we had with Fiona, but of the Christmas list she made up shortly before she passed away a decade ago.

I still have that handwritten list, carefully preserved. What’s unique about it is that she didn’t just list stuff for herself—she decided what everyone in the family would want that Christmas. Still, she claimed the lion’s share of wishes.

What Fiona wanted:

Sailor Moon “S” The Movie
Pokemon the Movie 2000

The Simpsons’ Wrestling (Playstation game)
Mr. Driller (also a Playstation game)
Putt-Putt Enters the Race (computer game)
PaRappa the Rapper (Playstation game to replace the one that was too scratched up to work anymore)
Lammy Tee (Lammy was a friend of PaRapper and she had a T-shirt)
PaRappa Ski Cap (He always wore a ski cap. Now you could, too!)

She wrote “Rugrats” but crossed it out. Not on the list but also requested was a video game called Threads of Fate (she’d been playing the promotional demo and wrote the game’s name on the calendar in the kitchen), and a complete set of Sailor Moon Dolls. She saw those advertised on a TV commercial and called me to come and see. “Mom! Mom! Look!” she said.

I came, I saw, I noted. Her father bought the complete set on October 14th of that year, and we put them in our closet to wait until Christmas, but alas—she passed away the next day, October 15th. All of the Sailor Moon dolls are with her now. Mr. Lucky said, “They’ll be our final gift to her.”

That was what Fiona wanted for that Christmas. Somehow she managed to find room on that single sheet of paper for the rest of us.

For her older brother, she wanted him to have a “Crash Bandicoot Color Block Long Sleeve Crew.” Obviously she copied the words out of a catalog. I think it was supposed to be a sweatshirt.

For her dad, she wanted him to have a Playstation game called Duke Nukem: Planet of the Babes. (I don’t think so, Bunny Buttons.)

She wasn’t as specific about what I should get for Christmas, or maybe she was starting to run out of space, but she knew Santa Claus could never go wrong with “Book’s”
(sic) for Mom.

When she showed me the list, I told her that she forgot her baby brother. Even if he was her archnemesis, wouldn’t she like to put something down for him?

Fiona promptly amended her list. She wrote down the name of her younger brother, and next to it added the word, “Bear”.

He got a stuffed Teddy Bear that Christmas.

That’s how the Baby of the family came to be known as our Bear . . . by the final Christmas wish of our Bunny.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Christmas Tree Up!"

. . . as our firstborn would say.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

When My Husband Cooks, I Always Realize Smoke Gets in My Eyes

A long time ago, in another house we lived in far, far away, I clipped a Family Circus cartoon from the newspaper and stuck it on the refrigerator. It had one of the boys, probably Billy, commenting that the smoke alarm in the house always went off only when Daddy cooked.

It was one of those “it’s funny because it’s true” things. That clipping disappeared in the next move, but it remains with us in spirit, since it continues to happen in fact.

For every time Mr. Lucky uses the broiler—which is several times a week—the smoke alarm goes off in a loud, piercing shriek.

Every. Single. Time.

Once he turns on that broiler, he also runs the fan over the stove full blast. I’ll open the sliding glass door leading to the patio. Mr. Lucky even waves the removable lid from Baby Bear’s toy box at the smoke alarm, which is on the ceiling in a hallway just off the kitchen. And still it goes off.

He always has to jab a broomstick at the smoke alarm to shut it up. Sometimes it’s like watching a kid trying to whack a piƱata. It’ll break open and the battery will bungee out, dangling by its wires, yet the alarm continues to screech. This is usually followed by his standard rant about the hypersensitivity of the alarm (at least we know it works), that segues into a litany of everything he did to prevent it from going off, and then he wraps up with the same old empty threats (not that I can describe his threats any other way) to just remove the alarm altogether.

Meanwhile, the beagles go ballistic. Jasper flees outside, partly to escape the alarm and partly to avoid Mr. Lucky’s yelling, while Bart shakes as if he just swallowed a full bottle of
Acme Earthquake Pills. Once dinner is served, he takes refuge beneath the dining room table, where he treats my feet to a massage with his vibrating torso.

The smoke alarm never goes off when I use the oven. Then again, I don’t use the broiler.

Yet I’ve noticed recently that even when I turn on the oven just to bake something, the dogs go into panic mode. Jasper dashes to the back door and does his gotta-go-now-before-I-explode dance, while a whimpering Bart trots around the house all atremble. They hate the sound of the fan over the stove. They know it’s a harbinger. They just haven’t figured out yet that they only need fear it when their master takes over the kitchen.

Oddly enough, Baby Bear isn’t bothered by it. In fact, he doesn’t even seem to notice when it goes off, possibly because it fits so smoothly with his regular program of routine chaos as to be nothing out of the ordinary to him.

Now that I think about it, I hardly blink myself when it goes off. I just wonder if it’s for the same reason, and if I should be worried about that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Rant About Gift Wrap

I like to use as many different kinds of gift wrap as possible each Christmas—the more varied, the better. I love wrapping paper covered with candy canes, poinsettias, holly, snowmen and snowflakes, teddy bears, gingerbread men, Santa Claus in numerous poses, and of course Disney characters.

But when it comes to gift wrap, I do not like solid colors, plaids, or stripes (except on my candy canes). I find them boring, unimaginative, and not the least bit festive. I don’t like seeing any of them on bed sheets, either.

Which brings us to those multi-packs of Christmas gift wrap you can buy, usually three or four rolls to a package. They’re a great, economical way to get a variety of designs, except for one teensy little problem: It seems as if every multi-pack out there includes one roll of either solid-colored, striped, or plaid wrapping paper. If I buy these convenient packs, then I’m going to be stuck with unexciting solids, silly stripes, and plaid. Ordinarily I like plaid, but not on my gift wrap—or the bed sheets—unless there’s a sexy Scotsman underneath.

I can’t shake the feeling that each pack includes a solid, stripe or plaid because the gift wrap manufacturers can’t get rid of them any other way. But then why would they make them—unless there’s a very powerful lobby out there dedicated to Saving Our Solid, Striped, and Plaid Christmas Gift Wrap?

I won’t use them. In fact, unless the other rolls in the package have designs that totally blow me away, I’ll just not buy them at all and pay a little extra for individual rolls that allow me to choose exactly what I want, instead of having S, S, and P forced on me through some Spread the Monotony scheme.

In that spirit, I try not to use the same gift wrap design more than once for each person whose gift I wrap. I only wish I could get Mr. Lucky to do the same without having to beat him over the head with that old Claxton fruitcake I pull out of storage along with the ornaments and lights every year. Each Yuletide, he waits until five minutes before midnight on Christmas Eve to wrap my presents. I give him every single roll of wrapping paper in the house, a dozen or more different designs (save any S, S, or P), and I exhort him not to use the same design twice. His usual response is to roll his eyes, but he also knows I must be humored.

Yes, yes, I know that what’s inside the gift wrap is more important than the wrap itself. But I like the variety, the dearth of sameness, the wild explosion of many colors and patterns beneath the tree, a kaleidoscopic chaos with the promise of never knowing what’s next but it’s certain to be a feast for the senses.

In other words, it’s what I know.