Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Flush With Manliness

I am not, by most modern definitions of the term, manly.

I am under six feet tall. My features are not chiseled. I don't follow sports. My last two dogs collectively weigh less than the average Christmas ham. I enjoy shopping. My abs are less six-pack and more lumpy down pillow. I bake a mean loaf of bread. My gambling skills are non-existent. And if I attempt to grow a beard, I end up looking like someone who might loiter near your child's elementary school with a bag of candy and a van parked around the the corner.

But where I have, in the past, proven my manliness are in those home maintenance and upgrade projects that occur from time to time.

Need a room painted? Two coats in one day with clean up. Done.

Assemble a new cabinet or dresser? Stand back. It might get messy for a bit, but you're gonna love it when it's all put together.

Enhancements to a mostly barren backyard? How about a 100-square-foot paved patio with retaining wall and a fire pit on one side of the yard, and an outdoor theater with an 8-foot screen and surround sound on the other side? Yeah, I did that.

Unfortunately, while I can still proudly grunt and strut from time to time, a chink in my manly armor has begun to show. It started small, almost unnoticeably, and has grown into an epidemic encompassing three of the most important rooms in the house. By now, it is nearly impossible to flush any one of our toilets with any sort of assurance it will (a) flush on the first attempt, (b) refill the tank within an acceptable amount of time, or (c) flush without generating a screaming, squealing sound like the souls of a thousand plumbers crying out in vain for you to call a professional for help.

Fixing a toilet used to be simple. Chances were pretty strong the root cause of your problem was a flapper that no longer kept a good seal. Easy enough change out and cheap, too. Five bucks and a little water sloshed over the edge of the tank later and you were done.  And if your toilet innards stopped working, you drove to the hardware store, plunked money down for new innards, drove home and installed them. That was it. Not any more.

In the past year or two, I've plunked down more money than I care to recall on toilet innards. Cheap ones, expensive ones, fancy ones, simple ones, complete replacements and partial repairs -- doesn't seem to make a difference.

This one didn't flush at all. That one is louder than a freight train. The flapper chain on this one can't be adjusted. That other one sprayed water ten feet into the air in a room with eight-foot ceilings. Even when you do get one that seems to work, you'd better hang on to that receipt because once you let your guard down it's going to find some way to mock and torment you.

At this point, I figure I have two options, and I'll let you decide which is the more manly of the two. I can either heed the screaming voices and call a professional, or I can remove the innards from the toilets in the house and hire one of our kids to remain on standby at all times with a bucket of water. What do you think?

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nine Days Old

Of all the things that are oh-so delicious, yet oh-so not very good for you in mass quantities, bread takes the cake.

Too many carbs can pump up your blood sugar, imbalance your metabolism, settle in stores of fat in embarrassing parts of your body, and result in throwback acne breakouts that make you wonder where you left that tube of Clearasil thirty years ago. Trouble is, bread plays so well with most other foods that it's a natural go-to item on most menus.

You can slather bread with any variety of creamy spreads,  melt cheese on bread, pile meats on bread to make excellent cold cut sandwiches, load bread with vegetables to make slightly less excellent vegetarian sandwiches, wrap bread around mozzarella cheese and pepperoni to make mini calzones, spread bread out on a pan and cover it with sauce and cheese to make pizza, and even balance snacky-type items on itty-bitty slices of bread to create dozens of party-size appetizers.

You can make bread bowls to hold soups and salads. You can top bread with olive oil and fancy Italian seasonings to make focaccia bread. You can top bread with caraway seeds to make rye bread. You can make round bread, rectangular bread, square bread, fluffy bread, flat bread, moist bread, dry bread and even pita bread. There is practically no shape, style or flavor of bread that isn't available for your digestive delight.

You can toast it, which so completely alters the nature of bread that we find it necessary to no longer refer to it as bread (but we all know it really still is bread). And, if you don't have anything to put on bread, you can tear a hunk off a loaf and stuff it in your mouth, because that's just one of the many acceptable things to do with bread.

The only kind of bread you can't eat is moldy bread. Sad to say, bread sometimes sits around long enough to turn on you. I'm not talking about the white residue you can convince yourself isn't really mold (maybe some excess flour landed on the outside of the loaf before it was packaged, right?). I'm talking about the hairy, green, mushroom-sprouting, biodome experiment mold that has taken over half the loaf and makes you wonder if other foods in the pantry might also have been contaminated. That's the kind of bread you shouldn't eat.

We have a game we play in our house called "Spot the Spot." Okay, maybe I'm the only member of the family aware of the game, but it goes something like this:
  • Step 1: Buy bread.
  • Step 2: Don't eat all the bread.
  • Step 3: Store the leftover bread in its original clear plastic bag.
  • Step 4: Continue not eating the bread and check it daily for moldy spots.
  • Step 5: When you finally do identify an authentic moldy spot, loudly announce to the rest of the household that you found a moldy spot and will be throwing the bread away.
  • Step 6: Throw away the bread with over-stated dramatic flair.
  • Step 7: Take note of how many members of the household have paid absolutely no attention to you.
More often than not, this game is played out by hamburger and hot dog buns in a basket on our kitchen counter. Unbeknownst to them, they enter this makeshift gladiatorial ring with little hope of emerging unscathed. It's a cruel fate.

2014 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Release the Kracken!

So, we have a new dog. Her name is Lola (chosen in honor of The Kinks, not Barry Manilow). She is a replacement dog. You know, one dog dies, so you get another one to replace it. A replacement dog. 

The need for a replacement dog came about last Thanksgiving when our dog of 9 years, a poodle named Lily, passed away from congestive heart failure. Lily was a special member of the family. She was my grilling buddy and my officemate. She welcomed all visitors and kept watch over our house from her favorite perch on the German's bed, from where she could see the neighborhood's comings and goings. She loved us all equally, only some of us more equally than others, which is a matter for continuing debate. 

Our boys were quite young when Lily came into our lives. I suspect for them she was just another part of the furniture. Our Daughter's attachment was more visceral. She never fully understood that Lily belonged to all of us and not just to her. 

Lily's last few days were a roller coaster ride of health problems and emotions. Near the very end, just as we were ready to do the merciful thing and end her suffering, she rebounded. She ate more food than she had eaten in days. Her breathing sounded almost normal and that young puppy light was back in her eyes.
But the recovery was short-lived. By the following night, we made her as comfortable as possible and knew she had come to the end. She joined us in the family room, sat at My Lovely Wife's feet for several minutes, then came over to sit next to me. She gave me one last kiss on the head, rested her body against me and was gone. 

We all cried and mourned her loss. We told the kids that 
we would start searching for a new dog when they were emotionally ready. Less than three days later, the boys announced they had found "the one." 
Due to allergies, our pets need to be hypo-allergenic. Most people think this means a pet that doesn't shed, but it isn't the hair that gets you. Hypo-allergenic pets will never need Head and Shoulders shampoo because their bodies produce no dander. It's the dander hanging onto the shed hairs that waft into your sinuses and send your immune system into a five-alarm panic.

Long story short, we brought Lola, a mostly black Havanese, home with us from a breeder in Garner, NC. Five days might seem like a quick turnaround, and perhaps it is, but the lack of not having a dog in the house for the first time in twenty years hung heavy in the air. 

My greatest concern for Lola was that she would carry the expectation of living up to the high standards Lily set in so many ways. Apart from recurring medical issues, Lily truly was a low maintenance dog. She didn't bark much, she listened well, she enjoyed the company of people, and she was smart. What we are learning now is that exceptional canine companions come in more than one make or model. 

I knew Lola would fit in well the moment she vomited on Our Daughter's boyfriend, SeƱor Awesome. He is, so far, the only person to have been so christened, with the exception of a stray happy piddle on my Dad's shoe just the other day. Obedience is a bit of an issue. I imagine trying to lead a three-legged cat in heat in a straight line through a fish market might prove easier than taking Lola on even the shortest stroll down the street. Apart from that minor character flaw, Lola is proving smart and sweet and intelligent.

Best of all she likes sleeping in her crate at night, something Lily never would have done. The moment you closed the crate door on Lily she began digging like a crazed Chilean miner to escape. Lola, on the other hand, hangs out in there and sleeps until we open the door 
and announce "Release the Kracken!" to unleash unbridled puppy energy throughout the house.

And now we are temporarily dogless again as our little Cuban is spending the night at the vet's. Today was the big day for spaying, fixing a small hernia, and pulling baby teeth that refuse to give up the ghost. We are all anxious to have her back, because once you're accustomed to the unquestioning, uncompromising, blindly loyal companionship of a dog, your house simply isn't a home without one.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler