Chainsaw Massacre

IMG_0836My DIY projects have had as many false starts and stops as my love life.  As soon as I think I’m ready to start a project, I have to stop and Google something, or stop and find protective eye wear, or stop and nurture a new wound.  The day I learned how to use an electric chain saw to cut down some overgrown juniper bushes in front of my house, that was okay. Using a chain saw seemed dangerous so I knew I needed help, but being the resourceful loner, the only help I was willing to allow was internet videos.

I knew only two things for sure about using an electric chain saw. One, I shouldn’t cut through the power cord, and two, I shouldn’t cut through my femur. Armed with that knowledge and some safety goggles, I set out to start cutting. I had used this chain saw once before just to cut down a small dead spruce by the garden. That only took a minute or two and was simple enough, so I figured I could master this job, too.  I started by cutting one branch at a time at the base of the shrub, carefully dragging each away so as not to cause any kickback and accidentally cut through my femur like I mentioned. But by the third or fourth branch, the chain came off.

Of course I had no success trying to put it back on like a bike chain so I stopped and Googled “how to adjust a chainsaw chain,” and found this great video you should check out. I had to watch it twice because I got distracted by the hot guy doing the demo and the way he says “feel.” But once I got a grip on myself and listened to instructions instead of looking at his arms, I understood pretty much what to do.  Like I said, my chain saw is electric and the one in this video is one of those gas-powered macho ones, but they work pretty much the same.

I’ve had this chain saw  for a long time. I have a vague recollection of one of my exes going out to buy it for a project at my old house. I was thinking he would come back with one like in the video, but what he came home with was this:


A  16-inch electric Craftsman. Not exactly what you want to see your man holding up triumphantly, if you know what I mean. It’s a girl-saw. Whatever it was he wanted to do with that thing, it did not make me want to watch.

I don’t remember if it did the job back then. I think we probably called someone to come and cut down whatever we wanted cut down. As it turns out, though, years later it’s just right for me.  I would not be brave enough to use one of those macho saws anyway.  If I were I would have cut down these shrubs, trimmed the big oak tree, removed the fallen pine from the back yard, and extracted the hollowed-out beech tree by now.

Anyway this video made it look so easy to fix the chain and I was kinda excited because I had dedicated two days over the holiday just to clean and organize my garage so I knew where all the tools were. So I followed the directions on the video and loosened the “clutch cover nuts” and adjusted the “chain tensioning screw” but when I tightened everything back up and ran the chain through like the hottie in the video says, it drooped where the chain enters and exits the clutch cover. So this time I took off the cover and found all kinds of saw dust gunking everything up in there.


I just cleaned it out with a whisk broom and put everything back together and it worked fine. However, I did need to readjust it again about half-way cutting down the first shrub. Much like Mr Hottie in the video says, it requires “frequent” adjustment.

After I had all the branches cut off both shrubs, I cut the stumps down low enough to cover them with dirt. Didn’t I  read somewhere that stumps will eventually die off because they get no sunlight, and therefore, no nutrition from photosynthesis?  So rather than dig the monster roots up, that’s what I opted for. I just didn’t have the strength or will to dig up these roots.  Sometimes I play the girl card when it suits my needs.

Where the law of attraction meets groundlessness

Before I dived into learning the law of attraction, I learned from the teachings of Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Jack Kornfield. From Jack I learned so much about knowing, and presence, and this, my favorite quote from him. From TNH, I learned about saying thank you, and how this human form we take on for such a short time is really only an extension of our endless soul-life; and from Pema, the acceptance of groundlessness.
I experienced  groundlessness, when I was dumped by a boyfriend right in the middle of the most exhilarating and fulfilling relationship of my life. A year later both my parents died within exactly four months of each other, more groundlessness–or as my sister said, “there’s no coming home anymore.”

Life events like these define  groundlessness; a space where there is nothing to grasp on to, nothing to fix it for you, and nowhere to hide. Then there’s the everyday kind of groundlessness; self-doubt, fear, jealousy, boredom, laziness. Don’t let self-righteous zen assholes tell you you’re above all that. You’re still a human being functioning in an uncertain world. You’re not living in a monastery, or fully enlightened, or dead-yet.

With careful attention to ourselves and maybe a few distractions like work or meeting up with friends, we get through these times without self-destructing and even begin to love life just the way it is, groundless beauty and all.

And that is what I thought was my story on groundlessness.

But that story has ended and now I realize I was only dipping my toe in. Now I’m standing in a place where there’s no going back, but forward hasn’t arrived yet. I don’t want anything I have now, and I don’t want anything else either. This is true groundlessness; whole, encompassing, standing-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, what-the-fuck-do-I-do-now, groundlessness. In some ways it feels like freedom, in other ways that are real and physical, I feel straight-jacketed, literally. My arms ache like I am being bound. I grind my teeth in frustration and scowl at my computer all day. It seems no amount of running or yoga can take it away for very long.

The law of attraction says I’m just not ready for what is next. It says the universe is expanding and so am I. The universe just expands wider and faster  than I possibly can, so I need to catch up. And the only way I can do that is by spending time feeling the “endlessly expansive joy” that was mine before I was born into my body. It is mine now, and will be mine after my body turns to dust. That can be hard as hell when you are feeling groundless.

But like sand settling into spaces between stones, this is all settling into a greater understanding for me. I’m beginning to gain some insight into how these teachers and ideas have all spoken the same message to me the last several years.

I am here only because of where I was before and I am moving toward the next thing, and in the middle is groundlessness.

l remember Deepak Chopra saying that when we meditate we go inside and connect with ourselves, the self that we were before we were born. But once we are on the outside and start to compare ourselves against other people, other things, what we have or don’t have,  we separate from ourselves–our true selves. And now I am hearing that message all around me from all kinds of sources.  From the still, small voice inside, from the eagle that flew alongside my car on the highway, and the voices of people I trust, and I know it’s true. Going inside is where we experience “endlessly expansive joy,” and the only place to find real peace in the groundlessness while we wait to catch up with the rest of the universe.

Sometimes Karma rides in on a vanilla chai latte


When you’re a single mom on a limited budget trying to renovate a home room by room, it’s best to stay out of the casinos. But if you are lucky like I am, and have a great guy in your life who took you there and wouldn’t let you spend any money, then it’s best to stay out of pricey coffee shops when you come home with about the same amount of cash you left with on Saturday.

I convinced myself that I was flush enough to order an almond milk vanilla chai latte extra hot—LARGE—and a bacon and egg breakfast sandwich on the way to my day job because I didn’t lose any money over the weekend. I was just home from my first trip to a casino (sort of a bucket list thing) where I was prepared to lose $100 gambling and also brought an extra $100 for food, silly souvenirs, and shared room expenses. Yeah, I know, I’m not a big spender. But when I got there (maybe a teensy bit late) I didn’t really have time to gamble because I wanted to see the band that was playing and then I wanted to walk around the casino and see how it was done first. Yeah, I know, I’m not that spontaneous either.

So I watched some folks play electronic poker, then I went to the off-track betting salon to get away from the cigarette smoke hanging in the air at 500,000 ppm. But all the races were over (even the ones in Australia), so instead I had a drink and ate a cheese-free flatbread and some French fries. By then I was a little tipsy and more than a little bit tired so all I could do was occasionally hold a $20 bill out to my friends who were playing electronic roulette, and bet on the wrong color or number from time-to-time. We went up and down by five or ten dollars for a very long time. We just kept playing. Man, that stuff can be addicting.

I guess my friends must have thought my money was about as good as my bets, because they never let me pay. I just stuck my $20 bill out toward them, and then stuck it back in my pocket repeatedly. Meantime, my guy found another roulette table and started applying his awesome skills, and in no time he was winning. We cashed out (way too soon probably) and headed to bed and the next day spent our winnings on good cheap breakfast food at noon (with extra sides), left the server a nice tip (and a rubber cockroach for fun), then took our time driving through the countryside home. Yeah, I know, he’s great, right?

Because I had this cash, I kept feeling like I should spend it.  So the first thing I bought was from the vending machine at a gas station. I had seriously never seen rough style condoms or “sexy toys” in a vending machine before, and since I hadn’t officially gambled on anything yet, I thought this might be sorta like playing the slots. So I shoved a bunch of quarters into the machine and got my prizes.  From the looks of the boxes that popped out, these prizes were in those machines for quite a long time. But when I got back to the car, I opened them up.

The rough style condoms where a little disappointing. The package said something about “studded” and “extra pleasure” and the girl on the package certainly looked like she knew a lot about both those things, but like I said, disappointing.

The sexy toy was a little more interesting, though. A package of Horny Goat Weed, a Chinese herb to enhance male and female libido. I’d heard of this herb before, but honestly, I thought the “horny” part referred to the horns of the goat or some kind of bristles on the weed. I had no idea it meant actual horniness. That one, I took home. So I spent $1.50 on a gamble, but I didn’t actually lose anything. So on the trip home, I kept trying to spend money but all I could manage to buy was a pair of Carhartt wool socks, and 4 egg rolls and 3 crab rangoons from Chinese drive-up window. I guess I’m just not that much of a spender. But for some reason, I’m not that much of a saver either.

I had recently, for the first time ever, looked at my budget. I was always afraid to do this because I never really wanted to know where all my money went. That way I could continue to say “I swear, I don’t know where it all goes,” and therefore continue not to know. I really, really liked this strategy. But then I met the carpenter, and it all got complicated. He had a finance degree and loved playing with money and figuring out spending strategies, and watching things grow (more about his awesome gardening skills later). Anyway, he had me write down all the stuff I spend money on and all my monthly bills and pointed out all the things I could do to save money and maybe take a vacation with him sometime. Thankfully, when I mentioned how much I spend on salon services, he told me to not to cut back on those because it was a sign I took care of myself (or maybe a sign he likes things tidy in my garden, if you know what I mean).

Either way, he was right. And one of the things I eliminated from my budget was my trips to the local coffee shop two to three times a week at about $10 each. I had convinced myself I deserved these trips because by the time I got Ben and the neighbor kids stuffed into my 2009 Honda 2-door Coupe with their backpacks and band instruments and then pried them all back out in carpool lane before the mom in the Ford Expedition behind me (with one preschooler carrying an empty pink backpack) could start honking, I was exhausted and needed a pick-me-up before I went to work. Well, you try getting a didgeridoo and a trombone in and out of a trunk that size when it’s already full of the recycling you never got around to taking to the drop-off site.

Besides that, it’s not like I was going to Starbucks or some other national conglomerate rip-off. This was a locally owned coffee shop that had almond milk AND bacon and they needed my support in the form of $8.56 plus tip on my two carpool mornings and Fridays when I celebrated leaving for work early since Ben was at his dad’s.

Here’s where Karma rode in.  This time I thought it was weird because I ordered a large latte instead of a medium, but it still cost $8.56 and almond milk is usually extra. It’s extra everywhere because apparently those of us with lactose problems never lose money at casinos.  Anyway, I didn’t think much of it. All I could think of was how it was okay to go there since I still had all that unspent cash. And then all I could think of was putting my mouth to that yummy vanilla chai deliciousness. So when I did, and it tasted extra sweet, the thought that it was real milk instead of almond milk crossed my mind for a sec, but honestly, I thought it was just the sweet taste of righteousness on my lips.

Three hours later, I’m excusing myself from meetings to hide the painful sounds erupting from my gut, and an hour after that, I’m curled up in the fetal position in the sick room. I still tried to act like everything was okay, but by day-two when the pain increased and my gut screamed in terror something about not having the right enzymes, I knew Instant Karma had knocked me right in the head. I also knew that if I ever wanted to finish my house or go on vacation with that beautiful carpenter who seems to like me, I’d better get myself together. And so, I put the rest of the cash away, and swore off the coffee shop again, and the next time I got paid, moved $500 straight into my savings account. I know, it’s not a budget, right?  But it’s a beginning and like I’ve said many times before, baby steps eventually start to add up.


Reposting 2016: Posting my mammogram in honor of Indy’s Race for the Cure

Full disclosure: not really me. My original mammogram got lost somehow.

It’s not that I love having another woman grab my left breast and smash it between two cold plastic plates at 7:40 on a Tuesday morning. It’s the mammogram I like. The picture.  Look at it. My boobs haven’t stuck straight out like that since I was 16. But that’s my boob, and it looks great here, right?  So that’s what I’m going with.

If you happen to be a radiologist or a breast surgeon, please write me, but don’t write to tell me my image looks concerning. I had my best friend Cassie Photoshop it for me, just in case there really was something concerning about it that my real doctors missed, so other doctors wouldn’t write and tell me.

Cassie is a very talented photographer, so she doesn’t use Photoshop much, only for special things like my online dating photo. I even considered using this boob shot for my online dating photo, except my boobs don’t look like that when they aren’t smashed between two cold pieces of plastic, and I try to be honest on those things.

Breast cancer has always been a peripheral thing in my family. On health forms, I could always say, “Yes, my grandmother had it, but not until she was in her sixties and she was a paternal grandmother anyway. Yes, my aunt, but again, paternal and post menopausal. Oh, and a cousin on my mom’s side. She was only 40, but that was some weird fluke. No sisters, not my mom, not my maternal grandmother. Check. Check. Check. I’m good.”

But this year was different. My sister was diagnosed a few months ago.

When you have a sister diagnosed with breast cancer, things in that department can go a little wonky for a while. Your thoughts thrash all over the place between denial, blame, fear, and anywhere else they can think of to go.

So what, it’s just a boob.  That husband of hers. It’s his fault. DCIS isn’t real breast cancer (I had read on the internet). My boobs feel fine, so screw mammograms.

And, geeze, my mom. Her denial was so great (in front of the rest of us anyway) she seemed almost cheery about it. But I remember when this same sister had an abnormal pap smear once. She had Suzanne dead and buried before I even knew about it.

“Oh, and she has those four kids . . . “

“Mom, it’s a class II pap smear. It could be caused by anything, even just an infection or something. The results didn’t say anything about cancer.”

“I just can’t imagine what she will do.”

She didn’t hear anything I said. I guess at that time, she was the one worried about her husband raising all those kids alone. Of course it turned out to be nothing, just the result of having given birth recently, and everything returned to normal. So normal, in fact, baby number five came 9 years later.

So I’ve been very flippant about my breast cancer chances, even though so many other women I know have battled it in one form or another. ‘Crap. I can’t say that my family history is clean any more,’ I thought one day. Then it hit me. This was my sister.  And then my denial began. I mentioned it to a friend in an off-handed way one day. She stopped and grabbed my arm. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” she said. I looked at her like, ‘Huh? So what. She’ll be fine. Now what were we really talking about?’

Later, she told me she was surprised by my cavalier attitude about it. “I would be devastated if it were my sister,” she said. “Yes, I admitted. I was keeping it at arm’s length for some reason.”  I still don’t know why. I try not to overreact to news like that. I think because so many times, it turns out to be okay. Is that what I really thought this time too, or was there something wrong with me? Why wasn’t I rushing to her side or quitting my job to drive her to radiation treatments every day, or to sit for hours and brush her long lovely hair while we looked at each other’s reflection in the mirror like those heroic friends and family members I read about and see in movies? What is wrong with me?

We have a weird thing about our bodies in my family. It’s half shame and half TMI. Some of us are extremely prudish and ashamed when it comes to sex and the anatomy. Yet, in the safe (and sacred) confines of marriage, anything goes, chatting  about details no one wants to hear, getting overly descriptive about our partners and what we do with them. But then on the other hand some do as our pastors say–as if we really do believe that the Church should know everything about what’s going on in our lives, including our bedrooms, our use of birth control, and whether or not we are having sex purely for procreation. Add the worry about getting pregnant with baby number 8 the whole time and ensure there is absolutely no fun involved. It’s kinda cultish, really.

And then when we get older we are sorry we wasted all our good years on being so prudish and wish we had had some more fun, So my plan is this: When the shame and worry of pregnancy is finally gone, I’m finally gonna have some fun. Yep, I’m gonna be an 80-year-old slut.

Women in my family get pregnant until way late in life. My grandmother was baby number 11 to a 47-year old mom—in 1898! And if my gynecologist is to be believed, non-smoking women today are entering menopause later than ever before. Mostly, she supposes, because of better health. She is putting 5-year birth control devices in ladies in their early fifties left and right. And don’t you know, insurance is paying for it so you know there’s something to it.  No one wants to pay for all those prenatal tests and sonograms for a bunch of 56 year old pregnant lades. One-thousand dollars per hit for an inter-uterine device is a much better gamble on the actuary tables.

So my sister has breast cancer. What does that mean for me? Nothing really—again, according to by gynecologist. But what does it mean to her?  I can only imagine. I imagine that it will change her life, and the lives of all five of her kids and her husband. But I can hope that it will change her mind a bit too, and that she will be kinder to herself and put herself first once-in-a while like her self-centered sister, and she will grow to someday be–maybe not an 80-year old slut–but the 80-year-old graceful woman I imagine.

Meghan Trainor: Why you gotta say Skinny Bitches?

cookie doughI’d say we’re pretty much born with the bodies we’re gonna get, long and lean, square and sturdy, petite and curvy, and every other possible combination. Whether we turn out later on to be skinny girls or not, isn’t always within our control. Some of it’s nature, some of it’s how we treat ourselves, some of it is how we deal with the stresses and challenges each of us face, hopefully leading down a path of recovery.

It’s great that women of all shapes and sizes are embracing their ability to just be. I fully applaud the movement away from super-skinny models to regular-sized women. After all, regular-sized women are the ones who build careers, make babies, fly airplanes, drive carpool and buy the damn products the models are hawking. Maya Angelou would be proud of us. But frankly, I’m already tired of the other movement out there, the backlash against skinny girls. I hate skinny girls bumper stickers, facebook memes, comedy routines, and song lyrics. Are you kidding?  Listen up. I’m gonna tell you some things about skinny bitches you don’t want to know.

Some skinny girls were raised by mothers who thought being thin and attractive was the finest quality a woman could have. That’s how you got a good job. That’s how you got a man. Being a fast runner, a good problem solver, loving animals, or having a kind heart, weren’t very useful.

Lots of times those skinny girls grow into their adolescence ashamed of their changing bodies. My sister hid her period for the first year, and when her hips emerged  the “fat” self-talk started, so that by the time she got to college she allowed herself about two spoonfuls of water-packed tuna and a quarter cup of soy beans for lunch and dinner every day until her 5’8″ body fit into about a size 2 pant.

I’ve been overweight and underweight. Sometimes I eat. Sometimes I run. I like being strong and healthy, but when I’m too skinny, I can’t help it. Sure, sometimes I’d like some of my ass back. Some skinny girls, handle life’s challenges in their own way. When my heart is broken or I have too much to manage I run, go to the gym, or do yoga.  Not because I’m any different from someone who eats a 3-quart bucket of raw cookie dough, but because I sometimes think I have something to prove. I have to be a tough-girl, and powering through something alone (that may in fact be hurting me) puts up a nice wall that proves that no one can get near me, just like that extra layer of fat does.

And if I was that skinny girl in your yoga class? I practically crawled there on my hands and knees, unfurled my mat (preferrably, in the back row), and cried through most of it. When my first marriage was failing, my weight dropped to about the same as it was when I had mono in high school. My mom thought I looked great. My friends were worried that I might have cancer. Some people can’t eat when they’re sad.

When I’m healthy of heart and mind, I eat well and take care of myself, but that takes some work and self-love. When you have quinoa, fresh veggies, and rice milk in the house, but no desire to nurture yourself, eating seems like a lot of effort. After my last break-up I consumed exactly three cups of coffee, a banana, some water, and a plain white tortilla the first two days. Would I have loved to dive into the pleasure of a bucket of cookie dough?  Sure, if I thought I deserved it.

When I was in school I knew a pair of sweet sisters. One was overweight and outgoing. The other was very thin and quiet. Both bullied mercilessly by their classmates. Years later I learned that their “church-elder-type” father had molested them for years.

See what I mean? We all have the same pain, we just crawl inside ourselves in different ways.

Skinny bitches aren’t all trying to be silicone barbie dolls either. I know the next lines after skinny bitches in that song are “I’m just playin’ I know you think you’re fat. but I’m here to tell you that every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.” Really? Is that what you’re saying?

Nothing lasts forever

Really? You think so?

Third Saturday night in a row, I’m trapped in my bathroom with a couple of hammers, my 14 1/2 inch pry bar and a drink. Tonight, I fixed a vodka/cranberry and only took a sip before I began hammering away at the yellow 4” tile stuck soundly to the floor.  Apparently, when this house was built, tile guys used to pour a mud floor and stick the tile to the floor using something very sticky and strong. It essentially bonded the mud with the tile and they became one.

The tile in this bathroom was laid long before the DIY craze. It was never meant to be removed, but to last for the life of the house. How were the guys who put this down supposed to know that in 2012 no one would want yellow orange-peel-textured tile from floor to ceiling, or that entire cable channels would be devoted to regular people tearing apart their houses and then trying to put them back again with varying degrees of success.

Special Report: The United States Post Office has discontinued the Forever stamp

I have hammered my left thumb and the third knuckle of my left index finger about a million times. Each time an expletive escapes more easily and is more foul.  I’m asking myself out loud, “Why did these guys think this tile should last forever? Don’t they know that in 21st century America nothing is meant to last forever?” Most cars are leased for 3 or 4 years then given back. The divorce rate is more than 60% for first and second marriages combined. A sofa costs less than it did in 1980 because we throw them away and buy new ones every few years. Thousand dollar washing machines are only meant to last about 6 years. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing. And apparently we like it this way.

So then I start feeling like crap for tearing out this 50-year-old tile that was supposed to last a lifetime, complicit in this disposable world we’ve created.  It’s too late to go back to the idea of laying down some vinyl on top of the tile, and I have hours—maybe another whole month of Saturday nights—to win this war of attrition with four-inch squares.  And summer is coming and everyone has spring fever, drinking beer outside and bike riding until the sun sets.  My left hand hurts like hell and I’m alone and feeling sorry for myself.

At least for tonight

I suppose I could do something to make it all go away. Call up someone who can make me forget about it for a while, drink some more vodka, or just walk away from it and go to bed. But I know it’s important to feel how I really feel right now (my left hand included) and keep working at it. I’ve been reading Pema Chodron lately and she says to get unstuck we must learn to sit with all of it; the pain, the joy, the unhappiness, the messiness, the general feeling of ugh that has no adequate descriptor. I know if I don’t, I will keep repeating the same painful patterns and keep getting stuck cleaning up someone else’s messiness–along with what I create for myself.

So at least for tonight, I will keep trying to get myself and this tile unstuck. All I can really do is chip away at it until it lets go one small bit at a time. So rather than looking for something extraordinary to occur or some sort of parting of the clouds, I will learn to notice the little changes and appreciate the small recoveries because they seem to fill in the smaller cracks in me; the ones in danger of growing wider if I don’t pay attention. And who knows maybe the little victories over each little piece of tile will help do the same.



Spring break down

battery spring breakdownIt’s spring break, and because I have a day job that only pays when I work, and because Ben’s dad had his spring break two weeks ago, Ben is splitting his time between my two days off, and his dad’s three days off-campus classes.
Tonight Ben had rugby practice and would go to his dad’s in the morning so his dad suggested he spend the night an extra time. Sweet Ben, always trying to keep everything even and everyone happy, wanted to spend the night so he didn’t have to get up and ride in to town with me in the morning, but didn’t want to hurt my feelings by taking away from our night together.

“This is a time when you get to be entirely selfish.” I told him. “It’s spring break and we were together all day, so if you want to spend the night with your dad so you can sleep late in the morning, you won’t hurt my feelings.” He weighed all the pros and cons.

“I wouldn’t have to get up, but it’s my night with you, and I don’t want to miss our night together because we always hang out,” he said. But I hate getting up early and being late like I was this morning.”

He went back and forth like this for several minutes while I drove past the rugby fields, (deciding we had enough time to run to the hardware store before practice), while I picked out my new mower blades and paid for them, and while we drove the quarter-mile back to the rugby fields.

Finally, it was decided he would spend the night with his dad. “Does that feel like the right decision?” I asked. “Yes, Ben said with a smile.”

To me it felt awful. We said goodbye three times at the rugby field when I dropped him off. Driving away, I had that empty feeling I always had on Thursday night, his regular night with his dad, and I wanted it to go away. So I went home and did what I always do. I took it out on some lawn equipment and various items for the trash collectors.

Why do these things have headlights if your’re not supposed to mow in the dark?

Last night, I was mowing the yard way past time when critically thinking home owners would be mowing. It was getting dark and cold, but I knew my time was limited getting the early spring patchy weeds and clumps of grass cut. The unusually warm March weather had everything growing profusely. No one knew this year whether to use pre-emergent or step two—weed and feed. Everyone seemed confused about what to do. So, one by one, we just started up the sleepy mowers and cut down the tall grass and thick patches of weeds left by last summer’s late drought. I think we stopped mowing about mid July and just went out once or twice in September some time to cut off the tops of the occasional weed that sprung up. I remember because my riding mower was really running poorly and I was thankful I didn’t have to fix it before I put it away for the season.

But guess what. Spring was early this year and that mower was still running poorly. At least I thought it probably was, but at first it didn’t start at all, so I couldn’t really be sure. So last night, I jumped the battery with my 2009 Honda Civic, which was a bit of a challenge because this mower shuts off automatically if you get up off the seat—a safety feature—but the problem with that is, the battery is under the seat, which has to be flipped up if you want to jump it. So how are you supposed to sit on the seat and start the engine when you have battery cables attached underneath?

I’m sure there is a real way, but this is how I did it. I stood in the driveway next to the mower with my Honda running and attached the cables to both the car and the mower. Me, with one foot on the break that has to be depressed for it to start—another safety feature. So I had to stand there with both running because there was no way to shut my car off and let the mower run long enough to charge the battery. Twice, I shut off the mower, ran to shut off the car and disconnect the battery cables, only to get back to start the mower and find the battery just as dead as the day before.

It went like this: Hook up the cables to the car. Hook up the cables to the mower. Start the car. Jump out. Stand next to the mower. Put foot on break. Turn the ignition key. Stand there for a very long time with everything running. Then, lift foot off break to kill the mower. Disconnect the cables from the car. Turn off the car. Disconnect the cables from the mower. Jump on the mower—still dead.

I did this more than once in slightly different ways, including once where I nearly electrocuted myself with the battery cables, which apparently are not supposed to touch while one end is still attached to a live battery. The outcome was repeatedly the same.

I don’t know how it happened but eventually I managed to get enough of a spark from my car to the mower to finally start it. So I mowed away until dark. Discontent with getting only the front yard cut in the dark, I moved to the side yard around garden. The grass was very long and, well I guess I forgot about the tree stump left from when I cut down the little spruce that died last summer, because I was mowing a particularly tricky area where you have to watch out for the guide wire for the power line pole and squeeze between the garden border and the old wellhead sticking up–and apparently that tree stump–and well, something terrible happened.

I chopped right into that tree stump with the mower. A horrible sound came from under the mowing deck and sparks flew about , which has happened before when I chopped the sewer cap in the front yard, but I just pretended that everything was fine and it was. This time, though, the mower did not recover. It made a jingling sound and began to throw dirt around and I think it might have been smoking and saying curse words. But anyway, there was no pretending it was okay this time. I know because tried. I lifted the blades and drove over to another part of the yard with fewer hazards, and tried again. When I lowered the blades this time, another worse sound came from under the mowing deck. It sounded like OWWWWW. Then scrape, scrape. Then cha chung. Then that jingling sound again. So I put her to bed and pretended it would be okay if I just gave ‘er some rest.

Today I got it back out and tried to see if my idea about a little rest was a good one. It started fine. I backed out of the garage and moved into the front yard, so far so good, then moved forward and lowered blades. But that OWWWW followed by the scrape, scrape happened again. So I lifted the blades and looked back. Behind me was about a 3 foot long deep gash of  where grass and weeds once grew. ‘Hmmmm. That looks funny,’ I thought.

So I jumped off and got on my knees saying a silent prayer while I was down there peering under the mowing deck. And you know how sometimes God gives you the answer you want? Well, like a beam of light from heaven I saw the answer I didn’t want. One blade of that mower was bent so badly that it was sideways and covered with mud. So I rolled her back into the garage and slammed the door down. That’s what led to my trip to the hardware store tonight.

Never too late to break something on purpose

By the time I got home, it was too late to replace the blades. I’ve learned a lot about what not to do after dark. Determined not to let the evening go to complete waste, and still feeling that hole in my chest from having left my heart at the rugby field, I decided to lay my hands on the last couple of crappy old pieces of office furniture in the garage that needed to be either broken up with a hammer (an option I had chosen many times over the last few years) or be dragged out to the street for my awesome trash guys.

Hammering those last pieces of crappy old office furniture apart didn’t work out so good. I pounded and pounded on them but they would not come apart. They were some well made pieces of crappy office furniture. So dragging them out for my awesome trash guys was all I could do. I’m learning so much lately. One thing learned tonight is that well-made crappy office furniture is heavy.

It took me a long time to push them end over end out to the street. Walking back toward the garage I glanced up at the sky. The stars were amazingly bright, and there was Jupiter and Venus and Mars and Orion just as they were last week when Mr S let us look through his telescope with him. Since that night, Ben has set up star-gazing blankets on the deck for us a couple of times so we could lie back and look up while we listened to the frogs behind the house. He retold the constellations that Mr S has taught him, scolding me for not knowing the difference between the Taurus and the Seven Sisters.

I grabbed my binoculars from the glove box of my car and gazed up. Hello seven sisters and that yellow star that I always forget the name of. I wished Ben were with me, but being with his dad tonight, he is probably learning things I cannot teach him, things about history, or the NCAA tournament, or how to get the ball out of a scrum. And it occurred to me for the first time that ending our marriage may have been exactly the best of both worlds for Ben. No more name calling and ugly fights. No more family vacations, to be sure, but no more competition about what Ben should learn from whom either. Just two people who love him more than anything calling a truce and offering him the best they each have to offer, even if it’s only every other night on Spring break.

Beer courage

Beer courage 750
I get it now

I’ve heard it said that in more advanced stages of psychological development, we come to accept and embrace our masculine self (for women) or our feminine self (for men); what Jung called the Anima and Animus. Lots has been written about it, including this guy’s blog post that I happen to really enjoy. But for me, I’m thinking that understanding what is typically a masculine trait–beer courage–could be part of this advanced stage of development.


Prying up old tile in my upstairs bath did not prove as satisfying as ripping out my old bathroom cabinet. What I thought was about a three hour job turned in to a painfully slow process, with me trying (once again) to save something that didn’t want or need to be saved–the poured mud floor underneath–and yellow floor tile mocking me, asking who exactly I thought I was trying to renovate my own house, all the while the voice of my mother asking why I didn’t have a new man to do that for me, reverberating in my ears.

I rarely buy beer, but something about doing home repairs makes it seem right. At one point I thought it would be a good idea for hardware stores to sell it.  While I doubt that anyone thinks using power tools and alcohol together is a good idea, I do think the idea of having a beer while tearing out a bathroom is a good one.

So I opened a beer and started chipping tile from the bathroom floor.  An hour later, I’m feeling buzzed and only about four pieces of tile are up.  The hammer keeps slipping and I’ve hit my thumb about 45 times. Beer courage fades quickly when you’re met with a smack down. Guys in bars, I get it now.

On my mind part of the time was a guy-friend whom I’d had a teeny-weeny disagreement with and who had run for the hills when my voice got all high and whiny like it tends to do when I’m upset. I think if men fully embraced their feminine sides, our getting upset might not scare them so much. But like my therapist used to say, “When a man hears that, all they see in their minds is a giant flashing red light that says  ‘MOM . . . .MOM . . . MOM. . .’  and they run away in fear. I wanted him to forgive me long enough to tell him that I’m not his mom, but I hadn’t heard even the slightest hint that would be possible.

In yoga class, we are taught to lie with our butts against the wall and our feet up in the air and lay like a giant L to clear our minds. So I did this for a few minutes and waited for the sound of forgiveness, but it never came. I was also hoping if I lay there long enough when I opened my eyes all the tile would be gone and a new floor would be there in its place, but that didn’t happen either.  It was pretty awful.

I almost gave up, but rather, I went to the fridge for more courage. I hammered away—mostly at my left thumb—until a good bit more tile was wedged from position. Not sure if it was the beer or the hammering, but I gained some more insight into the male psyche, ‘After hours of this,’ I thought, ‘I wouldn’t want to talk about my feelings either. I don’t even have any feelings—especially in my left thumb–so what is there to talk about? I just want to get to a stopping point, finish my beer and go to bed—maybe shag the wife if she’s still up and doesn’t make me take a shower first.’

I don’t know if men who write novels or are CPAs feel this way, but I think they must. Because they all say this stuff, right? I think I learned something else about men, too. A lot of them are more sensitive than we give them credit for, like my friend who won’t forgive me. They are just as wounded and imperfect as women are. I considered emailing him until he finally gave up and wrote back, but I won’t because I probably did sound like his mom that day, and I know what my brothers think about that.