Monthly Archives: June 2012

To fix or not to fix

My husband bought me a Keurig single-cup coffee machine for one of my birthdays. It was an exciting and unexpected gift. Exciting because it meant I could get out from under the Sisyphean chore of washing a whole coffee pot twice a day, and unexpected because Andrew is an environmentally aware consumer and I would have thought that the idea of using disposable plastic, single-serve containers for coffee would make him crazy. Now, a couple of years later, the machine is acting up and Andrew’s tolerance for the single-serve cups has worn out.

No one really expects an appliance to last forever. I for one have long suspected that manufacturers build obsolescence into the specs, but when the Keurig began to malfunction, it highlighted the real problem. At what point is it okay to admit defeat and throw out the appliance?

A well-behaved appliance has the good graces to explode, or provide some otherwise indisputable evidence that it has died. The Keurig limps along, prolonging its life, and my annoyance. I can’t remember the first idiosyncrasy it developed (I must have trained myself to accommodate it), but the latest wrinkle may turn out to be its last. The coffee maker turns itself off whenever it feels like it. There’s no pattern, no trigger we can identify, no warning behavior. Sometimes it shuts off after one cup, sometimes two; sometimes it stays awake for hours at a time.

This narcoleptic behavior has destroyed what was the most satisfying aspect of this machine – a minute after I decided I wanted a cup of coffee, I had one. Now, more often than not, when I go to make a cup of coffee I have to turn the machine back on and it takes forever (by which I mean at least a couple of minutes) to warm up. Until it blows up, however, I probably won’t be allowed to replace it, because to contribute something to the waste stream before we’ve squeezed every drop of life out of it would be unconscionable according to someone in our household.

And speaking of that someone, while he hasn’t come right out and banned the use of the single-serve plastic containers, if he sees me reach for one he’ll hop up and say, “I’ll make you a cup!” He doesn’t use the pre-measured containers. He has a small filter cup with a lid that he uses instead. I use it once in a while, but to fill it you need steady hands, and when you’re done, you need to dispose of the grounds and wash out the filter. Kind of reminds me of the old days with the do-it-yourself coffee pot.

We are not the only consumers plagued by failing small appliances. As a matter of fact, a relative by marriage, Peter Mui, created and runs a series of “fix it” clinics designed to prolong the life of these mechanical miscreants. This is a growing movement (I know that because there’s a Facebook page for it) and I’m all in favor of it – for other people. I have neither the patience nor the dexterity for that kind of project. I prefer to throw money at a problem, which is what I’m preparing to do for a laptop that’s been spending too much time talking to the Keurig. It, too, turns itself off for no apparent reason.

Eventually we’ll make a decision, but maybe you and I should talk about it more over a cup of coffee – at your place.

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Throwing in the Trowel

I may have mentioned my friend, Chris, in previous posts. She has M.S. and last year suffered a stroke. She has been blogging about the stroke and how it has affected her life at Who Stole My Brain?

Another friend was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer and has taken up blogging as a way to keep his prodigious network of friends and family up-to-date on his progress.

As you know, I have a less-disciplined approach to blogging; I write about anything that’s on my mind. This week, the two friends I mentioned are very much on my mind. Since one blog is not for public consumption, I can only offer to share Chris’ with you.

Here’s how her most recent post starts:

When I was first diagnosed with M.S., I realized it was my last chance to learn to play tennis. I told this to a friend of mine who also had M.S., and she told me that when she was diagnosed, she used it as an opportunity to give up playing tennis, and was happy for it.

I went on to play competitive tennis for several years, kept doing it until I broke my arm, kept playing very competitive softball until I couldn’t walk after the games, kept riding my bicycle until I couldn’t—well, let’s just say that it’s not true that once you learn you never forget.

This week, instead of writing my own blog, I’m suggesting you read Chris’ latest  post, Throwing in the Trowel. It will help you remember that even when life is bad, it beats the alternative.

Mom loves me best

It’s hard not to be secretly pleased when your child chooses you over your spouse. I’m not talking about something big, like which one of you they’re going to live with after the divorce, I’m talking about little things, like being chosen to drive them and their friend to the movie theater. On the surface, it sounds like you’ve just won the booby prize, but it’s much more complex than that. When my daughter indicates a preference for me, the unspoken sub-text is that, in that particular case, I’m less of an embarrassment than her father. It may even be that she knows I’ll understand the emotions likely to be associated with a particular event and will be, therefore, less likely to provoke her. I know that sounds like a twist on damning with faint praise, but that in no way diminishes the impact on the chosen parent; secretly we are pleased.

In my slightly overcast worldview, all relationships have an element of competition to them. I’ve never believed that parents love all their children equally. For those of you whose hackles immediately go up, I’ll qualify that to say, I don’t believe that all parents love all their children equally. How can they? Children are people (hard as that may be to believe at times), and siblings can differ wildly from one another. I’m pretty sure that the real truth is that parents of multiple children live in a permanent catch-22; they have to say that they love all their children equally or all hell will break loose.

The interesting corollary to this is that all children are secretly convinced that their parents love them the most. Except for poor Tom Smothers who turned this rivalry on its head with the skit Mom Always Liked You Best off the Smothers Brothers album of the same name. Tom uses the accusation to make his brother, Dick, feel bad for him and is stunned when Dick finally says, “Sure, she liked me best. Want to know why?”

I know a couple of women whose husbands left in a blaze of ignominy. It was hard to drum up anything positive about them after their departures except for the fact that any man who could behave that badly was clearly better off gone. The real tragedy is that these women have children with these men, and they want the children to have good relationships with their fathers, so they sublimate their feelings and lie to the children about what really went down. Will they ever tell them the truth? Isn’t there an age at which it’s appropriate for the children to know that there was a villain in the breakup, and it was Daddy?

For the first bunch of years, we lie to children about all kinds of things. When faced with questions about death, we say, “Don’t worry honey, I’m not going to leave you.” When we don’t want to lie outright, obfuscation and redirection work well, but that gets harder and harder as they get older. It’s a relief when they’re old enough for, “We’re talking about you, not me.” And then comes the time that we find ourselves answering questions we wouldn’t have dreamed of discussing when they were younger. For most families, though, the lie that parents love all their children equally persists forever.

I only have one child. When I tell my daughter I love her best, I’m telling the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Relay for life

If you have kids in high school, or a family member with cancer, you may be familiar with the American Cancer Society fund raiser, Relay for Life. I was only vaguely aware of it because my nephew had been hitting me up for a donation for the past few years. Now I’m an expert because this year my daughter participated. I not only donated to the cause, I chaperoned the 6pm to midnight shift.

The event, you see, is an overnight affair. It takes place on the track behind the high school. Teams pay to participate, raise money, and then put up tents and canopies, bring food and sleeping bags, and spend the night circling the track, hanging with their friends and generally entertaining themselves as only teenagers can.

This year, it rained. And it rained, and it rained, and it rained. I was prepared, but miserable.

The first lap around the track was reserved for the cancer survivors who attended the event. Everyone else filled the field of turf in the center, clapping as the survivors passed by. I was surprised to see familiar faces walking the track. For the next lap, the survivors were joined by their caregivers, and again we watched and applauded. Then everyone else flowed onto the track and the laps began in earnest – for a while. The organizers intended to have at least two members of each team walking at all times, but in fact it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter; the money’s been raised.

The kids were undeterred by the relentless downpour. They began the evening with their hoods up and their slickers zipped. Before long, however, they shed their outerwear, and many their shoes, deciding that it was easier to be wet than try to stay dry. Out came the soccer balls, the field hockey sticks and the volleyballs. The turf inside the track was full of bodies playing, slipping, sliding and laughing, while around the track, people walked, alone or in pairs or clusters.

For the first hour, I stood dutifully, holding my umbrella. Then I retired to what I hoped was a dry folding chair under our canopy. It was not, but with some creative draping I managed to keep my rear end relatively dry.

After cowering under the canopy for a time, I was coaxed out for the ‘luminaria’ service. Each team member held an inactivated glow stick. The organizer talked about how many people had been lost to cancer and how much we all wanted to cure it, etc., and then instructed the assembled to crack (thereby lighting) their glow sticks. Next, the emcee invited all those who had lost a parent to cancer to walk to a tall, translucent bag hanging on a frame, and drop in their glow stick.

I was shocked at how many kids flowed up to the bag. And how many more walked up for siblings, grandparents, other family members and friends. Teenagers all around were dabbing their eyes, hugging each other, and crying; gone for the moment was the need to act too cool for emotions. It was all laid bare, and it was terribly moving.

I hated being there in the rain. I couldn’t wait for midnight so I could go home. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.