At the end of this morning’s Mass our priest gave us a homework assignment. He told us to think about a person who has been an advocate for us. In his sermon, Deacon Bill defined the Advocate, or the Holy Spirit, as a comforter, counselor, friend and companion.
Lots of people have been one or more of those to me, but if I have to choose just one, it’s my friend Laurie. I’ve dumped my troubles on her in the most boring and repetitious ways and she’s given me support when she’d probably just as soon slap some duct tape over my mouth.
The best thing is she’ll listen and do it quick. You don’t get much phone time with Laurie, she’s always busy, so you’ve got to launch right into your whining – get right to the point about what a jerk someone has been so she can (a) agree with you and (b) pile more on, even if she’s never met the person, and (c) give her tidbit of either advice, “the person is a jerk, you gotta just walk away,” or sympathy, “the person has always been a jerk, I don’t know how you stand it.”
Laurie doesn’t like conflict, so she’s not going to present you with an opposing view – she’s never a “devil’s advocate.” Lots of friends will try to gently inform you that you have something to do with your current misery, and if you simply take their advice you’ll live happily ever after. I know Laurie feels that way about my troubles, I’m not stupid, but she doesn’t kick me when I’m down. She doesn’t want to fix me. She just wants to hang out, although one time after being saturated with my repetitious indignities, she did tell me, “Well, Suzanne, you’re no picnic.”
When I got my first humor article published in The Oregonian, Laurie invited me over. She had congratulation balloons, bonbons, and a jar of Nutella on the counter with two spoons. Yes we’re white trash. There were also generous servings of alcohol to celebrate. Some people are jealous of your accomplishments, but she never is, or else she’s a good actress. I’m so shy and insecure (I’m a good actress!), that when I made a video about my projects I sent it to her for an opinion. She called and said, “Oh my gosh, that video is hilarious. You say, ‘and that’s not all, and wait there’s more,” and you say ‘that fish is about frying pan size.’ John and I are still laughing. It’s so funny.” I asked if I should show it to others. “Oh yeah, it’s hilarious. You gotta show it to everybody.” It’s a couple blogs down from this, and no one else thinks it’s funny. Laurie keeps bringing it up every time I talk to her: “Oh my gosh, that video. Too funny!”
Years ago, after I had a stillborn child, and I thought we should have a funeral, Laurie called my friends and asked them to come. One said, “The baby wasn’t even alive, why are they having a funeral? I don’t want to miss work.” I have no doubt that Laurie felt the same way, but she called anyway, and she came to the funeral, because she knew it would comfort me. Funerals are for the living.
So for my homework, I pictured several people who’ve been advocates to me – friends and relatives who have helped me in big and little ways, from the man who pulled off the freeway and changed the flat tire on my rental car, to my neighbor Eric who hobbled down the trail on his newly operated knee to rescue my little dog when I lost her.
So I want to thank all of you, my Mom and Dad, my husband, children, brother, mother-in-law, aunt, cousins, niece, nephew, friends. Wait. This sounds like I’m practicing for an academy award speech. I want to thank all of you who have given me great counsel, been my friend and companion, gone with me on journeys just so I wouldn’t have to go alone, and comforted me in low times and made me laugh. I owe everything to you guys. I can feel the Holy Spirit flowing through you, whether you believe in him or not.
Have I got a fish tale to tell you. Friday morning I got up around 7 and found our 14 year old goldfish at the bottom of the tank, his fins clamped close, his eyes cloudy, his tail ragged – all very bad omens for a fish. I turned his light on and sprinkled food in the water like I always do. The flakes swirled around him like snow but he didn’t move. Didn’t even twitch. In almost 15 years of life, this fish has always wiggled and splashed and opened his mouth wide to snatch at the food – it’s actually kind of cute the way he carries on. I knew something was seriously wrong. The fish is like me – it lives to eat.
I went to Google right away and of course everyone said the problem was dirty tank water. Goldfish eat a lot and excrete a lot, and ammonia builds up, and nitrites and nitrates. It’s what causes most goldfish to go belly up a few days after your daughter brings one home in a little plastic bag all excited crying, “Look what I won, Mommy, look what I won!” Which is how we ended up with this fish in 2005.
That tank is clean. To get the dirty water out, I siphon 25% of the tank into a bucket like some juvenile delinquent stealing gas from his neighbor’s car, and put fresh water in about every other day. The water is crystal clear and debris free. So Google said to use garlic water as a tonic. I smashed three cloves of garlic into hot water and let them infuse for about an hour, and put some peeled, frozen peas in there too. Goldfish love peas.
Meanwhile I sucked the water out again, even though I’d done a water change the day before, just in case. I reached my hand in with the siphon hose and the fish swam slowly away as I got closer, and moved faster when I bumped him a couple of times, which I thought was a good sign. After I strained the chunks out, I poured the garlic water into the tank, and he gobbled up one of the peas right away. A good omen. I figure as long as something will eat, it’ll be okay. The only side effect was the acrid smell of raw garlic wafting through the house.
You may think this is a lot of attention to give to an old fish that has cost me a fortune over the years in food, filters, gadgets, and medicine, and the many hours and much money I spent on the new tank and accessories and the new stand I made (click on https://www.gentlehumor.com/diy-projects-or-am-i-crazy/for my rant about that). You’d think putting the belly-up fish in an unmarked grave in the back yard would be a relief. But I would feel guilty for years. Did I change the water enough? Too much? Did I overfeed? Underfeed? What did I do wrong – the fish looked great yesterday, and now he’s all ragged and mangy looking. I knew I had to fix the fish or suffer the pangs of guilt.
Around 10am I got a call from my husband. “How’s that fish?” An odd question – he doesn’t even like the fish because the tank bubbles all the time in the background while he’s trying to watch TV.
I said, “He’s really sick.”
“I found him on the tile this morning,” he said.
“The tile floor. In the entryway.”
“The fish was on the floor?”
“Yeah when I was leaving about 5:45 this morning, I walked in and saw something on the floor. I thought ‘what the heck is that?’ Luckily the light was on or I probably wouldn’t have seen him.”
“He jumped out of the tank?”
“Yeah he jumped out of the tank. I went over to see what was on the floor and bent down and saw the dead fish. It was as dry as a bone. So I got the dustpan and scooped it up to throw it in the garbage, and its tail moved. ‘Damn,’ I thought – I was happy to see him go. I carried him in the dustpan over to the tank, picked him up by the tail and lowered him into the water. I lifted him up and down a few times until his gills started moving, then I let go. He sunk to the bottom and just sat there, but he was alive when I left for work.”
“That fish jumped out of the tank and shimmied three feet over the carpet and ended up on the tile?”
“Yeah, and there was a little blood under him too, from the gills. I wouldn’t have even seen him if the light wasn’t on.”
“Well, the dog was squirming in bed at 4:30 so I let her out, fed her and left her with the light on in the living room and went back to bed.”
“Well, it’s a good thing, because I probably wouldn’t have seen that fish.”
After I hung up, my feelings went from relief that it wasn’t my neglect, to pity for the poor fish hitting the hard floor and flopping around for who knows how long, to irritation. Stupid fish. He had to be lined up just perfectly in order to get out of the small opening I leave in the lid so he can get plenty of oxygen.
Here’s what I think happened. Lots of trees grow around our one-level house. Branches fall all the time and they sound like someone dropped an anvil on the roof, and for the last couple of days an east wind has been howling. I’d cleaned the fish’s filters and put in fresh water the day before, so the water was very high. That fish has always been extremely skittish. I think a big limb dropped and made a boom when he was in the perfect position, and because of the higher water, he flinched himself right out of the tank. Then he flopped three feet across the carpet to the tile floor, which explains why he was so dry, and then he was just about dead when my husband found him.
That evening when Scott came home from work we had a few laughs about the fish, and marveled at the coincidences that caused his life to be saved. If our 19 year old dog had slept in, the light would have been off and he might have even stepped on the fish and slid across the tile like he’d stepped on a banana peel. Or if he had left for work a few minutes earlier or later, the fish would be dead. After we’d explored all the scenarios that could have happened, he said, “Somebody around here is cooking something. Can’t you smell that? It’s making me hungry.”
“It’s the garlic,” I said, and explained about the tonic. He’s used to the “natural” remedies I’ve always used on our kids and pets, so he just shook his head and laughed.
PS: It’s been 48 hours and the fish is still alive – though he looks pretty ragged, but his appetite is as robust as ever. Always a good sign.
This fish tale is my Happy Mother’s Day present to all of you Mothers of both children and pets. Bless you all!
I took my dog for a walk on a quiet street today and came to a fenced yard that corralled three rambunctious children. As soon as I came into view, the three blitzed me with questions and “watch this’s.” They reminded me of baby birds clamoring for worm-gooey from their momma.
A pie-faced little girl in a flowery sweatshirt and tan leggings galloped over to the fence like a horse wanting a sugar cube. She had long blond hair wrapped in a black nun-like veil similar to ones I’ve seen on immigrant Russian women in rural Aurora. She climbed on the bottom rung of the fence and hollered, without taking a breath, “I don’t live at this house, I’m having a play date, I live down the street, I get school at home because of the corona, I like your little dog, I’m five and a half, how old are you?”
At the same time, two skinny boys on the side-yard jungle-gym just behind her shouted like an unholy, discordant back-up choir. “Watch this. Now watch. I have superhero pajamas on. I’m a superhero pajama man. Watch me do this. See, I can climb up here all by myself. Watch now. Watch and I’ll swing. Look at me, I’m swinging. I’m swinging. I’m Superhero Pajama Man.”
I was about the legal social-distance away – six feet – and had stopped walking to give them my full attention, but all three still shouted.
“How old are you,” the girl said again, completely ignoring the bellowing behind her. With typical kid etiquette, she’d given me her age and wanted to know mine.
The boy called out, “I’m six and a half. So is he.” He pointed to the boy beside him, dangling from the other trapeze rings.
“How old are you?” the girl persisted. She was still on the bottom rung of the fence, squirming and wiggling, bending knees, stretching toes.
“I’m pretty old,” I said. I didn’t want, who knows why, to reveal my age.
“We have the same birthday. November 7th,” Superhero Pajama Man said.
“Are you twins?” I called out. They didn’t even look like brothers, much less twins. The quieter one was small with blonde hair; Superhero had dark hair.
“Yes,” they sang out simultaneously, “We’re twins!”
“That’s pretty cool,” I said but don’t think they heard me. They never stopped chirping. The only thing I could hear was, “How old are you?” from the little girl.
“Pretty old,” I said.
“My grandmother is 73.”
“I’m not quite that old.”
“How old are you?”
I finally divulged my age, and she said, “Oh, you are way younger than my grandmother.” Not really. But in these days of staying home, not bothering to put on make up and cutting my own hair, I took it as a compliment.
“Watch this,” Superhero called. He hung on the bars and pulled himself up like he’d been doing the entire time.
“Amazing,” I said with gusto because I figured that would make him happy. I started to leave and told them goodbye. “Watch this,” both boys begged.
“When is your birthday?” the girl said.
I laughed. “I bet you all miss school, don’t you?”
“We’re going to school across the street,” Superhero said. He pointed to a house at the end of a long drive.
“That must be interesting,” I said.
“Because of the corona,” the girl said. “How old is your dog?”
“She’s 19. That’s over 100 in people years.”
“Wow,” came the chorus.
I started inching away. “I have to go now. Have fun!”
“I wish you were little like us and could come in and play with us,” the girl said.
Like many of you, I’ve been passing the time doing projects I’ve put off for a long time. The video shows what I’ve done. The narrative below reveals the challenges (screw-ups) that befell me doing them.
I get inspired to do most of my “Do It Yourself” projects because I’m cheap. I wanted to update our guest room comforter but couldn’t find anything I liked. I guess that’s not strictly true. I found things I like, but to afford them I would have to sell one, and maybe two, of my vital internal organs.
Being fond of my kidneys and such, and what with extra time on my hands, and since the fabric store is about the only thing open, I decided to make the comforter. Theoretically, it’s pretty easy to do. It’s basically like making a sandwich. You take a top hunk of fabric and a bottom hunk of fabric (the bread), and you put some batting in between (the cheese). Sew them together and wallah, you’ve got a tasty comforter!
Like any recipe the problem comes in the execution. How big a hunk of fabric? How thick should that batting be? Too thick and it’ll be hard to get in my mouth.
Did I go too far with the sandwich analogy? I’m trying to say, in a clever way, that when I sew it’s always a recipe for misery. After much searching I finally found a nice cotton fabric at Joann’s I liked but they only had one yard left. It takes five to six yards to make a comforter with 45” wide fabric. I bought their one yard and ordered more online and, because I lack the most basic measuring skills, I didn’t order enough. When I went online to order more, it was sold out. From a financial standpoint, I was into this fabric too deep to scrap it and look for something else – I didn’t even get it on sale! So I pieced fragments together to make the back of the comforter – it’s the Frankenstein side.
Anyone who’s ever talked to me during a project knows that I engage in myriad mistakes. It’s not from lack of planning, because I’m meticulous with making sketches and figuring out what I need to do. It’s lack of concentration. For instance, if you were making a shirt, would you sew one sleeve on backwards so that the sleeve would be inside out when you put the shirt on? Of course you wouldn’t. This is a mess you’d have the sense to avoid. But I do it all the time. I sewed the wrong side of that comforter to the right side. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s almost like I have to go out of my way to screw up.
It’s why my friend Laurie says she’s buying stock in seam rippers – those little gadgets that help you undo the mistakes you made so you can start over. She knows that I sew every seam three times and rip it out twice. The floor around my sewing machine looks like someone got a haircut and didn’t sweep it up, but on closer inspection it’s mounds and mounds of ripped-out thread.
In the video you’ll see the cute black-and-white-checked gingham around the edge of the comforter – I had to put that on there, not because it would enhance its beauty, but because I cut the fabric too short and the comforter wouldn’t cover the bed.
Unfortunately, I’m also tenacious. Any other person, after re-doing a project so many times, would toss the unfinished nightmare into a garbage can and go have a tall glass of wine, but not me. Once I got that comforter looking okay (on the front – I’ll never show you the back), I made pillow shams out of the leftover scraps. Then I made the lumpy bolster out of the extra gingham. Never made a bolster before, and I’ve since figured out how to make it un-lumpy, but it would require taking it apart and I’m sick of the whole thing. Sick sick sick. Besides, the lumps give it character, don’t you think?
Then I wanted some nice cotton sheets and bought two different sets that were awful. Not so long ago you could get a decent set of all-cotton sheets on sale at Penney’s for about fifty bucks. For that now you get a sheet set made in India, packaged like a dream, but as soon as you wash them you have a wadded up ball, fresh out of the dryer, with more wrinkles than a Shar Pei puppy, all covered in little goosebump pills, and they cling to your pj’s like Velcro when you try to roll over. There are nice cotton sheets out there, but for some reason (probably a conspiracy) they cost a fortune.
So I made my own. Crazy, yes, but this premium muslim fabric I got from Joann’s was so nice, and on sale! When I washed it, however, it was like grandma’s fried chicken – extra crispy. I asked Google what to do and followed the suggestion to rough up every inch of the sheets with a pumice stone. Not only did I make my own sheets, I made my own brushed cotton. I had to rip out and re-sew that fitted sheet at least ten times because it didn’t fit, but the sheets are very nice – I’ve tested them out many times when my husband’s snoring starts sounding like a roaring jet with a coughing engine.
Oh, and by the way, I found some wonderful cotton sheets online from MagnoliaOrganics.com – they feel a lot like my muslim sheets (after the brushing). They’re only $100 but such nice quality. They won’t be as soft after you wash them, but if you love crisp (but not finger-lickin’ crispy), thick cotton sheets, you won’t find a better deal anywhere for this quality.
The other project was a new tank stand for our 14 year old goldfish. (Thanks to my daughter for bringing a goldfish home as a prize from 6th grade – oh, and thanks to the elementary school for awarding live fish to innocent children to break their hearts when they go belly-up the next day or giving them one that just WON’T die, and for all the years I’ve sucked water out of that tank to keep it clean, and all the broken filters I’ve replaced, and all the disposable carbon cartridges I’ve bought, and my deafness from cranking up the TV to hear it above the constant gurgling of that stupid tank, and for the way that fish shimmies whenever I walk by to entice me to give it more food, which I do sometimes because it’s kind of cute but then it craps more so I have to siphon out the tank and change the water more often.)
After 14 years the fish was getting too big for his 10 gallon tank – truth be told he was probably too big for it at 10 years but I figured that surely he was about to die so why bother. The existing stand wouldn’t hold the bigger tank, so I needed a new one and couldn’t find one to fit the space and that I liked (and you know what I mean when I say “liked”).
Here’s the summary of that project: Measured the space, bought a bunch of 2 x 6’s, measured the boards, cut the boards. Put oil-based urethane on them and got high on the fumes for days as I worked. Drilled screw holes to assemble the table. Oops, drilled holes on the wrong side. Drilled new holes. Screwed in the screws and put together a few boards and oops, unscrewed them because what I thought was the top was actually the bottom. Wrote “top” and “bottom” on assorted boards.
Started re-assembling and realized I didn’t measure the boards right. Had to take them to Laurie’s husband to shave off 1/8th inch with his table saw. Re-assembled. Repeated all mistakes and added new ones. Started over. Finally got the damned thing together and positioned it in the house (barely fit with only a hair to spare), got the new tank set up, moved the fish which was extremely stressful because he’s a scaredy cat and freaks out all the time about everything – when I drop food in the tank, when I change the water, when I stare at him through the glass to see if he’s got flukes or any of the other infinite diseases goldfish get that I’ve had to buy medicine for over the years, so I knew the move could kill him. That might not have been so bad, all things considered, but after I spent so much time and money, I actually wanted him to live a little while longer.
My husband came home from work, looked at the stand, shook his head and said, “It took you two weeks to build that thing?”
It’s ugly, I won’t deny it. It doesn’t match anything else in the house. But everyone’s so impressed I got it done and the fish lived through it that nobody cares, especially not me.
I know it’s not cool to talk about religious beliefs, unless it’s about “the universe.” I’m not sure who “the universe” is – sounds like a committee of aliens – but for some reason “the universe” casts its random favor on people. I prefer to call them Guardian Angels. Not only do they help me with the big things like avoiding a car crash or speed trap, but little things that happen all day long.
This conversation is pretty much verbatim how I abused my poor husband when we met friends for a late dinner out of town. I was tired and he wasn’t getting me back to the motel quick enough. We had our little dog in the car with us. I’ve written it like a movie script – it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s talking (I’m the spiteful nag).
In my youth people, strangers mostly, told me I looked like pretty, famous women: Sally Field, Cheryl Tiegs, and more recently, Joanne Woodward. I don’t, of course. I am pretty much average, don’t stand out in a crowd, the most un-famous, common person I know. Seriously, if someone wrote a book about average women, I’d be smack in the middle.
Whew! Just got home from a week’s vacation and I’m absolutely worn out. I’m not sure whether we’re cheap and want to get our “money’s worth” out of a vacation, or we’re afraid that we’ll strangle each other if we don’t schedule up every second with body-draining activity. Our family vacations are like running a marathon: get an early start, stay on the move all day, then collapse into bed at night in a body wrung out like a dishrag.