Tag Archives: husband

Where does mulch go?

It’s that time of year; gardeners get itchy to play in dirt, and spouses of gardeners pull out lounge chairs. Planting flowers (or shrubs or exotic grasses) can be a solitary pursuit, one for which the lounging spouse need not suffer any guilt, but there are some gardening-related activities where the absence of a spouse is more notable, and therefore less acceptable. I am, of course, referring to spreading mulch.

When spreading mulch meant buying bags of the stuff from Mahoney’s, it too could be watched from a guilt-free zone on the porch, or in the living room, or even from behind closed eyelids in one’s bed. But when you graduate to having a pile of it dumped at the end of the driveway, it can no longer be ignored by even the most obtuse spouse.

A yard is a unit of measure used for mulch, and likely its companion element dirt and other things that can be dumped from the back of large trucks. Initially I thought a yard of mulch would cover all our grass as well as our flowerbeds, not unlike Steven Wright’s shell collection, which he keeps on all the beaches of the world. I was relieved to find out that was not the case.

For several years now we’ve had three yards of mulch delivered as soon as it’s available. This year, my husband was chomping at the bit to get it even though I insisted that it was still too early. Fortunately, the mulch purveyor agreed and we had to wait another two weeks. I should have had the pleasure of saying I told you so to my husband after we got several inches of snow, but he was in sunny California working at the time.

I like to ponder nature from my kitchen window. I wonder, for instance, where squirrels go in the winter, and where slugs go during the day. But more than anything I wonder, where did last year’s mulch go?

Our backyard has a raised garden bed with quite a slope. If the mulch was sliding off, wouldn’t it end up in the grass? Does it disintegrate and become one with the earth? If so, why is that slope eroding, instead of getting higher? Is there an after-market for mulch, the way there appears to be for anything metal you put out with the garbage? Do mulch scavengers drive around after we’ve gone to bed and take it away a little bit at a time? Or does the crew who delivered it in the first place sneak it away to ensure that we’ll have to buy it again next spring?

For now, I will enjoy the newly-strewn terra cotta-colored mulch. It signals the end of winter and the beginning of life outdoors. And it makes the house look lovely and well cared for. Maybe this fall I will face a webcam out the window to see if I can discover where the mulch goes. Maybe then I’ll also find out where slugs go during the day.

Mistaken identity

Growing up, there was another family named Mintz in our town. They must have been more popular in aggregate than my family, because I got used to saying, “No, those are the other Mintzes.” Despite that, I still thought Mintz was a unique name in the universe of last names. That is, until my doppelganger started acting up in western Massachusetts.

I started getting messages on my home answering machine from accounts receivable representatives. “Miss Mintz (this was the mid-eighties and people were still routinely using Miss, and answering machines) your payment is past due. When can we expect a check?” Then collection agencies, who were not as friendly, started calling. “Your account has been turned over to us for collection. Payment is due now.”

Initially I was concerned that I had, in fact, missed a payment or bounced a check, because the caller asked for me by name, and how could there possibly be another Judith A. Mintz out there? By the second or third call I was getting suspicious. When I heard from a hospital that I had never visited, I became convinced that someone had stolen my identity.

At the time, I worked with someone who commuted a long way to our office. He arrived one day with a copy of his local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, and dropped it on my desk. “What have you been up to?” he asked. There, on the front page, was a story about a woman with my name, first, last and middle initial, who had been passing bad checks and otherwise wreaking havoc in the Berkshires. The article included a picture, and it was with great relief that I saw that the culprit was not me!

I contacted a State Trooper named in the article and explained my fear that this woman was going to ruin my credit. He was kind enough to look her up in the DMV records and report back that she had her own social security number, which meant she didn’t need to steal my identity, she had her own.

After that, I started noticing the name Mintz cropping up everywhere. Today, a quick search on the Internet shows that, in and near Boston alone, there are over one hundred Mintzes! While I was relieved to find out that the other woman existed and could be held accountable for her own debts, I was sad to discover that my name was not, after all, unique.

My husband, however, is a different story. His last name is Kleppner. Chances are good that if you meet another Kleppner, it’s a relative of his. If you do, tell them I said hello.

The soothing effect of money

A few days ago marked one year since I was shown the door at my last ‘real’ job. At the time, I went through the traditional stages of grief; anger, disgust, disdain, and fury, with a brief stop at homicidal mania. It didn’t take me long to get past all that, however, and settle into my new life as an aspiring novelist. I wasn’t particularly lonely, my days didn’t drag. I was productive and had results to show for my efforts. I probably even lowered my blood pressure. What I did miss, was having an income.

It’s been well over thirty years since I went a year without a ‘real’ job. I had my first office job the summer I was thirteen. The man who hired me could not remember how old I was and occasionally suggested I take his car to run an errand. I’d remind him that I was only thirteen and he’d look at me for a minute like we’d just met, and then shake his head and say, “Right, right,” and wave his hand, indicating no matter, he’d handle that chore himself.

I liked making money. With money came unbelievable freedom. If I wanted something my parents weren’t willing to spring for, no problem, I bought it myself. If I wanted something they wouldn’t approve of, they didn’t need to know about it. But it turned out that I wasn’t a terribly acquisitive teenager. The things most girls spent money on, clothes and makeup, didn’t interest me at all, so my bank account grew and grew.

As an adult, I took great pride in being financially self-sufficient. Single, I bought my first house right before I turned thirty, proving that ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.’ And when I met and married my husband, I insisted we keep our money separate until a few years in when a lawyer told us that, at that point in the marriage, there was no more mine vs. his. If we broke up, the state would look at our assets as one big pot to be split. I gave in and our money began mingling. Even so, I was acutely aware of my contributions to the family coffers, and the financial freedom I continued to cherish.

So here I am, ‘working’ at home, and not earning money. I hope that won’t be a permanent state of affairs. With a little luck, I’ll sell my book and look back on this year as the year I worked on spec. And if I can do it once, maybe I can do it twice, and then I’ll be contributing financially again.

Meanwhile, I’m the only one in the family having a problem with this situation. My wildly supportive husband is perfectly content to be the sole wage earner, as long as I’m happily pursuing my new career. So I’ll try to stay upbeat. After all, I have enjoyed this past year. But I now know that even if money can’t buy happiness, it sure can stave off anxiety.

Hold the pepperoni

With the exception of the mortgage on our house, we live a debt-free life. I was raised to believe that if you can’t afford to buy something outright, then you can’t afford it at all. As a result, I’ve never had a car payment; I never pay interest on my credit card; and my husband and I have been socking away money for our daughter’s college education since she was a baby. We’re as fiscally responsible as they come. Why, then, you might ask, do we, and others in our situation, continue to worry about money? The answer is both simple and imponderable: healthcare.

Statistically, more people are driven to bankruptcy by medical bills than anything else. Horrific illnesses and accidents are rarely foretold, and are, therefore, difficult to plan for. That means that in order to ensure that you can weather whatever unforeseen disasters come your way, you have to plan for the worst case scenario. (If that doesn’t take the joy out of buying a new car, nothing will.)

The process of reviewing our financial portfolio starts out innocently enough. What do we envision retirement looking like? What do we need to amass money for? In our case, we expect retirement to look a lot like life looks now, without the job part. Based on that, the question is, will our investments, social security, and whatnot, be enough for us to live on after we retire, even if we retire at 65? That seems like an optimistic retirement age when you consider that, actuarially speaking, I’m expected to live until 94, and Andrew until 92. (I’m guessing that a deeper dive into my misspent youth might cause the actuaries to adjust down a bit, but we’ll worry about that another time.) Clearly, the longer we work, the brighter the financial future gets, but when dealing with imponderables, it’s best to avoid bright light.

After a thorough review of our portfolio, we’re comforted to know that we’re wealthy enough to have pizza every night for dinner if that’s what we want to do. Unless… What happens if one of us has an unexpected, uninsured illness? If we live the pizza lifestyle, over twenty years we will have spent $109,500. That would surely be enough to cover a medical expense or two. When you start looking at your spending habits in that light, it becomes clear that you’ll never have enough money.

If it’s true that we’ll never have enough money, it begs the question, why bother to worry about it at all? So we spend $15 here, $15 there. What the hell, it doesn’t matter, until it does. Better hold the pepperoni.

A cousin by any other name

I’d like to take a quick, virtual poll. If you have a brother-in-law, do you refer to their wife as your sister-in-law; or a sister-in-law’s husband as your brother-in-law? I’m not certain, but I don’t think that’s the way we’re supposed to do things here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Those in-law spouses have no direct relationship to you. They are the nomenclature equivalent of an appendix, purely vestigial.

When I refer to my brother-in-law’s wife as my sister-in-law, I typically hasten to explain, “She’s not really my sister-in-law; she’s married to my husband’s brother.” This clarification can cause my husband to become impatient, and roll his eyes at me, because he’s thinking, ‘does it matter, who cares?’ But there are people who care. They’re the same people who will point out that you’ve mispronounced gorgonzola. This is a risk I’m not willing to take, hence my need for full disclosure about the relationship.

It will come as no surprise to you (you are, after all, reading my blog) that I love to tell stories. Many of them involve family members. When I introduce the characters I like to identify who they are in relation to me. I could take short-cuts and, for instance, refer to my husband’s cousin as my cousin, thereby saving two syllables, but what happens when someone asks, “Is that on your mother’s side, or your father’s?” I’d have to backtrack and explain that it wasn’t really my cousin, but my husband’s cousin. That takes a lot more syllables than the two I originally saved.

Other cultures have words for all these relationships. (Trust me on this. I remember writing a paper about it for a sociology class in college.) Why don’t we? I might not be as bothered by this if I didn’t have a child, but I do. And her relationship to my appendix of a brother-in-law’s wife is ‘niece.’ That person is her Aunt. If my daughter has a name for her relationship, why don’t I?

And while I’m on the subject, why do some parents insist that their children call me Mrs. Mintz, and others are fine with their kids calling me Judy? First of all, I’m not Mrs. Mintz. If I were any kind of Mrs., it would have to be Mrs. Kleppner, which is my husband’s last name. Since my last name is Mintz, that pretty much makes the whole Mrs. thing a non-starter. The really surprising thing is that the title ‘Ms.’ hasn’t made more inroads than it has. My daughter’s unmarried female teachers are Miss. So-and-so, not Ms. We’ve had plenty of time for Ms. to become mainstream, what’s the hold up here?

While you ponder these questions, I’m going to go research what I’m supposed to call my cousin’s children’s children. There aren’t any yet, but I want to be prepared.

Everybody’s a critic

Last night my husband, Andrew, and I saw Prelude to a Kiss, at the Huntington Theater. The play debuted in the late ‘80s, and was subsequently made into a movie starring Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan, none of which I knew when we sat down in the theater. Andrew, it turned out, was familiar with the movie, but was kind enough to keep what he knew to himself so as not to spoil the experience for me.

The first act was wonderful. I was totally engaged and spent intermission happily speculating about what would happen next. The second act was a little bumpy, but I was riveted nonetheless. When it was over I was fully satisfied, satiated; the way I feel after a holiday meal of my mother’s brisket, and a good bottle of wine. As we made our way slowly up the aisle, a disembodied voice reminded the audience that we were welcome to stay for a post-show conversation with a staff member from the theater.

Andrew and I sat in the lobby and watched the rest of the audience file out while we toyed with the idea of staying. We decided to give it a shot and when the stream of people leaving petered out we went back in and claimed seats in the orchestra. Roughly fifty others joined us, the majority of them old enough to be our parents, if not grandparents.

What ensued was as entertaining as the play itself. The representative from the theater solicited feedback from his small audience and they pulled no punches. A pompous, bald man in the front row criticized the lead actress for having a voice that grated. Someone suggested that the playwright had missed the mark entirely. An elderly woman asked mournfully, “Can you give me a synopsis of the play? I don’t know what was going on.” And one elderly gentleman, who had chosen to sit several rows further back than everyone else, complained peevishly, and often, that he couldn’t hear the conversation.

I don’t want to spoil the play for you in case you decide to go see it, but I will tell you that it requires that you suspend disbelief in order to fully appreciate it. Similarly, it proved more entertaining to view the post-show conversation as a unique third act to our evening than a serious discussion of the play.

I highly recommend that you go see Prelude to a Kiss; however, I suggest you see the traditional two act version and skip the third.

Laid low by a volcano

Who would of thunk that a volcano could put the kibosh on hundreds of thousands of travel plans? Terrorists, maybe, but a volcano?

I was diligently wrapping up my obligations prior to a family vacation in Paris that was scheduled to depart the following day, oblivious to what was going on in the outside world, when my husband emailed me a link to a French newspaper. My French doesn’t even qualify as rudimentary but there was no mistaking the headline which, loosely translated, said, ‘you are about to be severely disappointed.’

We watched anxiously as flights were canceled and airports closed. But our Friday afternoon flight to Paris, via Philadelphia, was still showing an on-time departure. We were already packed so when the time came to go to the airport we figured we might as well; maybe we’d be able to fly in spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary. At the check-in counter the less-than-gracious US Airways employee informed us that yes, the flight was still scheduled and no, she couldn’t advise us as to the best course of action; we could check in or not, it was no skin off her nose. We had an hour or so to decide.

“What happens to our luggage if we check in now, and then the flight’s canceled?” we asked.

“You try to get it back,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Since most of my underwear was in my suitcase, and it would be inconvenient to be without it for an unspecified amount of time, I suggested we not check in quite yet, but instead go have lunch and see if anything definitive transpired in the next hour.

Just as we finished ordering, we got an automated message that our flight had been canceled. I waved the waiter back and ordered a drink.

We were, of course, extremely disappointed that our trip had been canceled, but we knew right away that we were luckier than many. From an inconvenience perspective we suffered not one whit. We were grounded, but we were on home turf with all our underwear. One friend from the UK was stuck here while her valiant husband wrangled their two young daughters on his own for an extra week. Another friend was stuck in Germany while his wife tried to hold onto her sanity as a single parent here. Another friend in the UK had a scaled down wedding party because her European friends were unable to travel, and another wedding was canceled altogether. Those are just a few of the stories that I’ve heard from people I know. Imagine how many other plans were ruined, and lives disrupted, by that pesky natural phenomenon.

I’m sorry that my daughter’s school vacation did not work out as planned; that she didn’t get to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or visit Versailles, or practice her French. But we got to participate in a moment in history that will not soon be forgotten.

C’est la vie.