Appliance Angst

Is there a place where you could submit an object to a missile testing site and if so could I please volunteer my dishwasher? Perhaps a monster truck rally that needs to flatten something. Contact me, I have a dishwasher for your destruction needs.

I wasn’t born a raging lunatic with a bloodlust for kitchen appliances; I was made one. It all started a little less than two years ago when I purchased a stainless steel cube that disguised itself as a brand new not inexpensive dishwasher. Before, then I was passably sane.

Since the fateful installation that dishwasher has been broken and been inoperable 3 times.  In the 21 months it has occupied prime real estate in my kitchen, it has been operable for an average of 7 months before breaking again, but to be honest calling it operable is coming from a reserve of goodwill I didn’t know I was still capable of. Dishwasher is a misnomer for the thing under my counter. Yes, there were dishes. No, there were not washes.

The dark days of my unholy union with this appliance had me prewashing each and every item I put inside.

Could it handle a dribble of coffee? No.

A smear of fresh ketchup? No.

A piece of scrambled egg? No.

The ineffectiveness was so staggering I announced to anyone not wise enough to clear out of the kitchen when I did dishes. I’d play little games with my nemesis and proclaim things like:    

I’m going to leave this little fleck of parsley on this plate. Do you think the dishwasher will get it?

My boys would look up from their phones and exchange a knowing glance. We’re going to have to tell the home she’s got a thing about parsley.

“Spoiler alert,” I’d shout. “It won’t!”

Yesterday I put us all out of our misery and I purchased a new dishwasher. All night long I worried that my new dishwasher would be the same ineffective piece of future scrap metal as the one I have now. I think that’s what so funny about our relationships with electronic appliances, we believe they keep us above the fray, they protect us from the futility of our existence. When they break they remind us we are on the razor’s edge of chaos and one fleck of parsley away from our primitive selves.

The Wheel of Christmas

Every year when Christmas decorations come out of their dusty bins and spread good tidings to all, I think about my old neighbor’s Christmas decorations. First, you have to know that this was a neighbor that had everything. They had fancy cars, endless parties, and they even had a pitching machine in their back yard. Christmas was their time to really shine. Blinding light displays, huge wreaths and, most of all the inflatable display to end all inflatable displays decked every inch of their lawn. 

I’m not much for the inflatable variety of yuletide flair. I think it’s the inevitable deflating part that gets me. By night Santa’s a jolly stalwart Christmas icon, by day he’s a sad pool of primary-colored post-puffed glory. As I wander past puddles of Santas, elves, and snowmen I can’t help but think one could come to the  conclusion that sunlight kills Christmas.


My neighbor’s inflatables were not susceptible to sunlight deflation. Just like the lights, they were never turned off. Taking a bold stance against tradition and flying reindeer transportation, the largest inflatable was a landing strip for Santa in a biplane. It was huge. It took up half the lawn and actual lights lined the nylon runway that rippled in the wind.

The one that I can’t get out of my head, though was the Ferris wheel, and it wasn’t just a mock carnival ride. No, this thing turned. As remarkable as that is, it’s not the part that’s burned in my memory. The Ferris wheel had three seats each occupied by a character associated with Christmas: Santa, a penguin with a Santa hat, and Baby Jesus. An eclectic mix for sure.

Baby Jesus really stuck with me. First, it’s hard to picture our Lord and Savior at an amusement park, let alone riding a Ferris Wheel. Any baby really, doesn’t belong on a Ferris Wheel, but that’s not the weirdest part. In order for everyone to know that this wasn’t just any kid enjoying Christmas, this was Jesus with a capital “J” the Ferris Wheel designer put the iconic Jesus beard on the baby.

I have so many questions. Was there a big discussion about leaving Christ out of Christmas and it was resolved by Baby Jesus on a Ferris Wheel? Did anyone balk at the idea of a swaddled babe riding alone without a proper restraint system? Was there a meeting where the beard was discussed?  Did the Chinese workers making this fine yard decoration wonder if American children are plagued by severe hormonal abnormalities? Mostly, I question my neighbor. A family that deprived themselves of nothing decided this mechanical wheel is what Christmas means?

Packed Lunch


Every day I pack a lunch for my boys.  And every day it’s an experiment in what you want out of life and what you actually get. If I packed what my boys wanted to eat in the scant twenty minutes they are allowed to partake of sustenance, then all I would need is a cache of Snickers bars and a case of Dr Pepper.  Of course, I would never indulge this sugar encrusted fantasy, but a happy medium has to be reached.   

There are a few considerations to take into account when assembling the contents of the lunchbox.  First, the kids have got to eat something.  It’s bad enough when they get home they eye up everything from the sofa to the dog with ravenous and predatory eyes.  

Second, you must face the reality that people are watching.  Teachers, lunch lady volunteers, moms who hang out at school are assessing your experiment and adding a new hypothesis of how this food translates into your child’s behavior.  Chances are their child is sipping water and nibbling broccoli while nursing a backache from toting home Dickens’ entire oeuvre.

And so the delicate dance of aspirations and reality are played out in the confines of Storm Troopers and insulated vinyl.  I pack a sandwich because I have not completely given up. I pack a stick of cheese because the sandwich always comes back with only minor abrasions.  I pack a juice box because they have a water bottle at their desks so who the heck would want more water? I pack a sweet, cookies or a pouch of yogurt, because pessimism has been a guiding principle in my life and why would it let me down now?

Finally, each and every day I pack a vegetable or fruit. It is the most time consuming of all the contents.  I take the stems off the grapes. I peel the oranges and put them in little containers. I slice cucumbers and provide dip. But each and every day, that fruit comes back. The truth is I send produce on a one hundred and eighty day walkabout.

I keep hoping we are all a little wiser when it’s done.      

Costco Karma


Last week I experienced what can only be described as Costco Karma, which is weird because I’m not a big believer in Karma and you don’t normally consider a whole sale warehouse to be the dispenser of cosmic justice.

Until that fateful shopping trip, I was uncertain Karma even existed. Sure, when some wretched bastard finally comes upon their demise it is a delicious moment that makes you say Aha, Karma! There you are, you sweet son of a bitch.  The truth is in your euphoria you are temporarily blind to all the other times the good guy finished last and the bad guy triumphed.

Costco has the same unreliable quality. You can get a bona fide deal on anything from hearing aids to fish sticks. The problem, of course, is that everything is sold in an SLU (shit load unit).  Right now, in my medicine cabinet I have a drum of ibuprofen from 2003. I guess I’m hoping Karma and Advil will cure me of my headache.   And to this day my children recoil in horror at the mere suggestion of eating cheddar bunnies after a 40 count box terrorized their lunchboxes for the length of a Biblical probation.

And to be honest, I’m not sure Costco believes in cosmic justice either because before you leave you have to present your receipt to a team member who mixes friendly chit chat with cynicism and suspicion while inspecting your cart and deciding whether or not to release you with an authoritative stroke of a hot pink highlighter.

Despite this high tech security measure, I have shoplifted, more than once from the store.  Let’s be clear.  Both times were by accident, both times lacked criminal intent, and both times involved an SLU of recyclable water bottles.  The first time I stole a magazine.  I didn’t realize what I had done until I got out to the car and hoisted the heavy slab of water bottles into my trunk. There at the bottom of the cart was a glossy cupcake magazine. Now here’s where it is my fault, and Karma can start assembling an arsenal.  I didn’t go back in, show them my membership card, march over to customer service, and hand over the jack.  In my defense it was a blustery winter day in North Eastern Wisconsin so I said, “Fuck it!  It is just too damned cold out here. I am not walking another step.”

Today was a little trickier.  You see, both Costco and I were in the wrong. Just as before, I hoisted the SLU of water bottles up and into my trunk, and lo and behold a set of children’s thermal underwear was unintentionally secreted beneath the heavy and unwieldy package. I took a moment to contemplate my expanding shoplifting portfolio that now included apparel. My child will be warm but also an accessory to petty theft.

This time, I cannot say the weather was a contributing factor in my moral failure.  It was mild day and the cold air had yet to fully develop its sadistic personality traits that turns normal people into hibernating hermits.    This was a conscious decision to steal children’s underwear. I drove away.

When I got home, and parked in the safety of my garage, I opened my trunk and the gallon of milk I had legitimately purchased had leaked all over. A slit in the top from a box cutter was the hidden culprit.  Costco had sold me a defective milk.  Everything was coated with a filmy white including the black spongy carpeting that is the staple fabric of my budget vehicle.  Being the mother of two children I am acutely aware of the aftermath of spilled milk.  And I can tell you now that spilled milk in your car is something to cry about. I was about to be trapped with a rotting stench not unlike my moral failure.

Karma claimed its victory, spiked the football with tiny pools of milk, and trapped me inside my only means of escape. I had plenty of time to think about my sins while I waited as my car was detailed.


Tell Santa

My kids are outgrowing Santa. It makes me sad. Now, the only way I can get them to go along is if we go on pet night to take the dog.

I have a lot of fond memories of our Santa visits.  One of my favorite visits was when my son was five. He was friends with a little girl in his kindergarten class.  On an early dismissal day I decided to take them to see Santa.  The mom of the little girl asked me if I would eavesdrop or somehow get her to tell me what she wanted for Christmas. Apparently she had heard about Secret Santa and was taking the whole thing quite seriously. She refused to tell anyone what she wanted for Christmas.

I devised a plan. On the way to see Santa they could practice what they were going to say, in case they got star struck when they were face to face with the Big Man. It worked!  She told me from her buckled seat in the back of the car that she wanted a horse with a cowboy rider and when the button is pressed…  Here my son interjected, “It self-destructs.”  She paused and looked at her male companion with a mixture of confusion and mild disgust that no doubt would be a staple expression in her later years. “No the horse puts its legs in the air and makes the horse noise.”  She mimed the action and provided the whinnies.  My son insisted that the horse would be better if it shot missiles like the Star Wars X- Wing Fighter he had in mind. Despite our excursion to planet Mars, I returned to Venus and asked where she saw this horse.  She replied “I made it up.”

I returned her to her home and wished her mother good luck.

Now my oldest is fifteen. The only reason he is going this year is because he loves his younger brother and the chance of hijinks with the dog at the mall are pretty high.  My nine year old has big plans for Christmas and they involve Nerf. He belongs to an organized group of 8-10 year olds that have Nerf wars once a week.  Before the battle begins, there’s a lot of discussion of weaponry.  The boys all aim to improve their arsenal with Santa’s help, and they discuss which of the latest Nerf guns will best suit their needs.  Among them is a weapon that can shoot sixty feet and it has become a bit of a legend among the group.  I have no idea how or why, but they believe this gun is called “The Big Wang.”  I just can’t wait for Santa to hear from several boys between eight and ten that tops on their list this year is a “Big Wang.” 

I’ve tried to tell my son that I don’t think that’s what it’s called, but he and his cadre insist there is a legendary Nerf by such a name. So I’m afraid this Santa visit may be our last, but I think we are going to go out with a big bang, or wang, as the case may be.         


The Learner’s Permit

My son has his learner’s permit.

He is driving my car.

I don’t know how this happened. I mean, I know how it happened. It’s like taking a pregnancy test and having it comes out positive. You know how it happened, but still, you don’t know how it happened.

I surrender my keys into his eager palm and attempt a state of calm as I relinquish control of both the steering wheel and the brake. It’s momentous. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying.

Your prospective changes a lot when you are the passenger of your teenager. You realize that your mild mannered minivan has been harboring a dark secret. It is not a secure family vehicle; it is a four wheeled death machine. In fact, you have been hoodwinked by all the other folks on the road. They are not fellow citizens of humanity. They are potential drunks, idiots, fools, and ne’er-do-wells.

It is at this point that you realize your child is not a child anymore but a bona fide young adult who navigates in the real world and as such is in need of the full complement of emotional responsibilities and reactions. I’m talking about the F-bomb. Driving is the X axis, the Y axis is permission for cursing, and obtaining a learner’s permit is the point where X and Y intersect.

Golly Gee, Fudge, and Darn don’t cut it when driving a three thousand pound missile that has the potential to do great bodily harm down the road. The proper use of cursing requires nuance, restraint, and situational application. It’s a lot like driving.




Driving is an unmistakable demarcation. No longer can I fool myself that he is my munchkin or that he’s just dabbling in the world of teen deeds.  When he is driving he is a certified Grade A teenager.  He even has the papers from the state to prove it.

I have to practice with him which means I surrender the keys and he operates the steering wheel and brakes.  When I place the keys into his eager palm I try to forget that last week when he packed his own suitcase he forgot pajamas, a toothbrush, and underwear.  We both must focus on the task at hand.

Driving is unlike any other childhood milestone. It is gravely serious.

The Season of Eating

The season of eating is upon us.

It starts with Halloween.  Short and under the cover of darkness, our gluttony whets its whistle. We try to camouflage our naked desire for the foil wrapped sweets with costumes and children, but if someone peeked in the window they would see us with two Twix hanging out of our mouth like walrus tusks. We buy five pound bags of our favorites and then tell our spouses Hush, I bought those Almond Joys for the kids. The whole holiday is only a few hours and it’s over. But we want more. Pumpkin Spice is our new obsession and we’ll put it on anything. It effectively functions as a dinner bell.

Then a simple flip of the calendar brings Thanksgiving. The beast is loose. We don’t need to hide in night. We are fully committed to spend a day with our distended bellies bumping up against the dining room table. We will shut down businesses, financial markets, and general operations to feast. No frills, no presents, no costumes. It is all about food. There’s attention paid to all aspects of food consumption: dishes, silverware, tablecloths. Recipes are made and kept secret like family heirlooms. Your family probably doesn’t have a crest, but it has a sacred Jello mold. And nobody makes it better! With cranberry stains speckling your shirts, your family declares this is the gravy soaked hill we are willing to die on.

After spending an entire weekday with a tablecloth tucked into our pants, it seems perfectly reasonable to extend the gustatory celebration to one week. From Christmas to New Year’s it is a gourmand’s dream of fatted shrimp, sugar plum fantasies, candy canes, houses made out of cookies, and roast beef. Our waists expand and our guilt sets in. We hide under the cover of religion. I converted our kitchen into a fudge shop because of Christ. How dare you question why I’ve made fourteen batches of cookies!

We concede it is a lot of food, perhaps more than we need. So once again, just like during Halloween, we knock on our neighbors’ doors and offer food instead of taking it.  It closes the loop on the season of eating, which commenced with taking and ends with giving, but always was about sharing, laughing, and being together.

Sure I Have Spider Veins But Have You Seen My Pinky Toe?

It’s officially summer, sandal season. That means it’s time for you to start thinking about what you are going to do with that pinky toe. There’s no more hiding in boots, socks or slippers. Like a turtle head, and just as attractive, that thing has got to come out of its shell.

The pinky toe is an odd little appendage. If the head and heart are the location of the soul then the pinky toe is at the southernmost tip. It’s the Antarctica of the body, remote, mysterious, necessary, but not a place you want to visit. Specialists are required to tackle the rugged terrain of the pinky toe. It’s no longer a simple digit with a nail. It’s a cluster of half- living half-dead skin that looks more like a Frito than a toe. The manicurist moves along with careful brush strokes to paint your tootsies until she gets to the smallest but most daunting of the toes. Then she pauses, examines the gross medley of cuticle, dead skin, and nail from different angles holding an instrument that is no match for the pinky. Maybe she considers trimming it. Really though, it’s all an act. She’s just as baffled by the creature as you are. Finally, she dribbles polish on the flattest surface area of the mangled mess making it look like she is confident that the spot she covers with In the Cabana or Tiki Tiki is in fact the place where a proper nail should be.

You both go along with the charade and ignore the fact that something vile and undead is a part of you. Actually, I think that is the whole raison d’etre of the pinky toe. It’s to get you prepared for what is going to happen to you in old age. It’s the first part of the body to show signs of degeneration. It gets ugly quick. There is nothing you can do about it. No one is immune. Your body will deteriorate. Nasty things will happen to you as you age. Strange hairs grow from unlikely places. Skin crinkles like party streamers. There is shifting and reconfiguration of parts. By the time it’s all said and done, you are barely recognizable, except the soul inside.

And that’s what the pinky toe does. It gets you comfortable with aging from a very early point in your life. You learn to keep going, take it out for a stroll on a sunshine filled day and hold your head up high. Because like the pinky toe, life is short and you better enjoy it while you can.


Something’s Fishy

Whenever my sons visit a pet store, they make a bee line for the aquariums and declare their affection for fish. They expect me to believe without a hint of introspection that the non-electronic, unarmed guppy who has no potential for upgrades or new skins would hold their attention for more than five seconds. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other children under a similar spell, they gaze at the mindless path the shiny fish swims between fake vegetation and a plastic scuba diver who, judging by the amount and intensity of the bubbles he belches, is frozen in a moment of grave distress.

Then, they begin the case for fish as a low maintenance, inexpensive, and odorless addition to any household. But we have been down this road before. I remind them fish are none of those things.  They are a high maintenance wet box of stink that makes dollars disappear as fast as food pellets. And to add insult to injury, fish offer the same emotional relationship as a lava lamp.

Make no mistake, an aquarium is a delicate ecosystem. Ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, PH, temperature, salinity all these factors are essential for the survival of the little swimmer who arrives unceremoniously in a see through plastic bag that could do double duty as a lunch sack for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Before we know it, we will be dipping test strips in that water every day and running back to the store to buy $8.00 drops to remedy the situation for the .99 guppy.

And here’s another oddity, we eat fish.  Pets in general don’t make the menu- except fish.  So when a fish dies are we  throwing away good food or good money?

In fact, death is the bulk of the pet fish experience. Aquariums are in a perpetual cycle of death.  We have become painfully aware of the warning signs.  A troubled fish starts swimming vertically as if revving up to spring out of the tank in some aquatic harikari then loses its nerve at the last second and swims back to the bottom. Next, its body bends, it swims on its side, and starts to look like a self-propelled elbow macaroni.

Finally the poor creature gives up the ghost, but our work will not done. Someone must scoop out the remains or witness Swimmy’s friends cannibalize his dead corpse and then act like nothing has changed.

No, fish are not easy. Like all pets, they teach your children a lesson. Life is not easy. It takes care, devotion, and a lot of dedication to make it work right.