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Big People Conversations

May 12, 2010

For several years now, I can’t remember when my husband and I had a single, rational conversation.  And it’s not from constant bickering or loss of interest.  It’s because of the two small people who occupy our home.  Our children make it impossible to follow through on one discussion from start to finish.

Everything was fine in the beginning.  Before children, we went on long drives and had chunks of time to discuss ideas.  We could argue loudly and go to sleep angry.  We could stop at a convenience store and go in at the same time to buy soda or go wee-wee.

Those days are long gone. 

The last descent conversation we had was right before we found out we were expecting.

As soon as the news sunk in my thoughts turned to planning an extravagant nursery (we could only afford a cradle next to our bed.)  My husband’s thoughts turned towards how to pay for everything we would need (priority one: save for cradle.)  Then there were the months of nausea, the aches and pains of pregnancy.  Our conversations took a nose dive.

After the baby arrived, it was easy to see how talking diminished; my body was in some degree of pain.  I couldn’t see down the hallway straight, let alone form a complete sentence, from lack of sleep.  And relationship roles somehow shifted, leading me to be snippy and grumpy.

In the toddler years, we were both busy worrying about why junior cried when he was put in his crib, why on earth his poop was orange three days a week, and if he was getting enough interaction with playmates.  When he was sound asleep, we flopped on the couch and struggled to remember what we had done that day.

Then the next child came along.  At night we were so excited for free time that armchairs and television became our best friends. Any conversations we started were met with, “Shhh!  I can’t hear my show over your talking.”  Or, “Not now.  It’s a new episode.  Let’s come back to your thing later.”

The dinner table seems to be the worse place for trying to talk.  Last night I was determined to get through one topic without interruption.  I put everything on the table the kids could possibly ask for later:  milk, a new fork for the one that would fall, and extra napkins.

Near the end of the meal, my husband finally gave up trying to talk about his new boss at work.  My son was jumping up and down on my lap, his knees jabbing into my fleshy thighs, while my eyelid twitched involuntarily.  All meals at the dinner table now include my new tick.

Perhaps when the kids are grown and gone from the house, we’ll go back and finish the conversation we left dangling so long ago:  “So, do you think we’re ready to have kids?”

Someday I’ll Cook Lasagna Right©

March 10, 2010

One night I was eating dinner with my dad.  I was single then and really enjoying his cooking.  “Dad, this burrito casserole is delicious!  What was the layer after the burritos?”

“Onions,” he answered.

“Right.  And then next came the…”

“Chiles.”

“Of course!” I responded, taking notes under the table.

By the third recipe he began to get suspicious. 

“So how many cans of soup do you add to the sauce?” I asked.  His fork dropped to his plate.

“Didn’t your mom teach you how to cook?  What recipes do you know?” he demanded.

I paused to think.  There was the barbecue ribs recipe I learned from him the previous month.  Spaghetti seemed easy (although it never tasted quite right.)  Did frozen dinners count?

“What are you going to cook your husband when you get married someday?” he asked.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have ditched collecting an assortment of recipes.  Instead, I would have focused my assault on one front:  lasagna. 

There were clues early on it would be important in our marriage.  The night my husband proposed, I called from work to hear banging and crashing in the background. 

“What are you doing to my apartment?” I asked in alarm.

“Nothing.  You’ll see,” he said.  When I got home the table was set, candles lit, and a homemade meal of lasagna, garlic bread and salad awaited.

That was the last descent lasagna we ever ate.

I didn’t even try to make lasagna the first years of our marriage.  I made the brilliant discovery that everything tasted better fried and our dinners took off down clogged artery boulevard.  That road ended when I gained 20 pounds and my dietician threatened, “You can’t fry foods!  You had better have lost weight by your next appointment!”

The first lasagna I made came from a friend’s recipe.  “It’s so easy!” she said.  “Use no-bake noodles, a little bit of spinach, and lots of sausage.”

I made mine with no-bake noodles (hello cardboard), lots of spinach and a little bit of sausage.

After the first bite my husband said, “Hmm.”

Last summer I found a recipe in the grocery store’s meat department.  I used extra cheese, special sauce I made from scratch and old-fashioned noodles.

After the first bite my husband said, “Hmm.”

Then recently at a play date, a mom shared her recipe for a lasagna dinner everyone asks for.  “It’s so easy!  Use Ragu sauce, brown some meat, dollop cottage cheese and layer with cheddar.”

I strained too much liquid out of the cottage cheese, didn’t have enough mozzarella, and layered meat on top but not sauce.

“Hmm,” my husband said.

My son, for a Kindergartener, is very astute.  He saw a commercial for Stouffer’s lasagna and asked me, “When can we have that for dinner?” 

“Hi, Dad.  So when you make lasagna, what do you use for the first layer?”

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

A Watery Night’s Sleep©

March 3, 2010

When I married my husband, I realized right away we had a bed problem.  I slept on a bed that didn’t move when I looked at it (a spring mattress) and my husband slept on a bed that gave the vague impression of what life in an aquarium was like (a waterbed.)

I resisted heartily.  From what I remembered of waterbeds, they had a slight design flaw.  You could drop a coin on one corner of the bed and send a series of catastrophic waves to the other corner.

I wasn’t quite ready to set sail and sleep on the high seas.  But my husband was adamant.

“You’ll love it,” he said.

“I’m not sleeping on a riverboat,” I insisted.

“They have new technology now,” he replied.  “It’s called deep-fill.  They include fibers that prevent the water from moving through the bladder quickly.”

“But what if it leaks?” I folded my arms.

“I’ve had mine for years and it’s never leaked.”

“But it’s water.  I’m not sure I want to sleep on water.”

“Trust me.”

In the end I relented.  Within a week of setting up house, we were using my plates, my silverware, my glassware, my towels, my sheets and all of my decorations.  He stood in the kitchen one night and showed me his previous possessions that we were now using in our married life:  four plates, two glasses and one colander.

“I guess we’re getting the waterbed,” I said.

It was great for awhile.  It relieved all the pressure points.  The dull ache on my side disappeared.  When it got too low it could be filled up again.  I hated to admit it, but it even felt – well, dreamy.

The first sign of trouble showed up at the worst time.  (When else?)  I was pregnant with our first child and my husband was out of town on business.  As I got out of bed one night, throwing my legs over the side to get out of the sinking water pit, I felt dampness.  No, my water hadn’t broke, the bed did.

I phoned my husband right away.

“Unzip the top and look inside,” he said.  “Now, lift up the side of the bladder to find where the leak is coming from.”

Sure, if only the hundreds of gallons of water inside didn’t weigh about a thousand pounds. 

Thankfully I could tell it was a small leak that was easily fixed the next day.You’d think the trouble ended there.  It didn’t.

I now have figured out why you don’t see waterbed stores on every corner.  And why to find one you have to drive two hours out of your way and deal with a man named Chuck who looks like a season regular from “Three’s Company.”

It’s because having a bed made out of water is unnatural for the human race, that’s why.  It’s because you have to actually fill it with water –lots of it.  And then you have to add water conditioner.  Every few months.

It’s because you’re supposed to strip the bed, unzip the top, and apply special spray to keep the bladders soft and clean.  Every few months.

It’s because once you fill it with water, you have to heat it.  Otherwise the cold from the water will suck all the living warmth of life out of you.  And if the power goes out, you have to find another place to sleep.  (Expect the power to go out at the worst possible time in your life which will make finding another abode the most inconvenient thing in the world.)

It’s because the bed can’t be moved on a whim or over a spur-of-the-moment decorating idea (pay attention, ladies.)  Moving it is like changing the location of your house.

It’s because if it does leak, you have to fix it right then, at any expense.  A regular mattress will give you time to think about it and save up money for a new one.  A waterbed says, “Drop your plans for this weekend.  You’re now in the market for a new mattress.”

And lastly, it’s because deep inside you know that water is capricious and fickle, and would just love to escape its enclosure and seek its own level -all over your bedroom carpet and downstairs into the garage.

Last week our waterbed leaked the same day our family caught the stomach flu. 

“That’s it!” I announced.  “I’m done with this river cruise!  I need to be on a bed that isn’t made up entirely of a naturally occurring element.”

“They’ve made great strides in air mattresses,” my husband said.

Who knew four plates, two glasses and one colander could cost so much?

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

February 24, 2010

My column is on  vacation this week.  I’ll be back next week with a new post!

Makeup Snob©

February 17, 2010
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I’m what you might call a closet makeup snob.  I say closet because to look at me you’d never guess I was a snob concerning anything.  I have frequent fashion disasters.  Wrinkles seem to follow my clothes around.  My hair has been allergic to keeping any style longer than two days since I was twelve.

And yet just last week my husband found me holed up in our garage.  I was clutching a beauty magazine and skimming through it with a large flashlight.

“I might regret asking, but what exactly are you doing?” he asked.

“I snuck away for eight minutes of ‘me’ time,” I said.  My bangs fell into my eyes and one stray curl stood on end.

“Does ‘me’ time include plans for tonight’s dinner?”

“No.  But ask me why La Mer’s lip balm is next on my list to buy.”

“Is it flavored with almond?”  If nothing, my husband knows how to stay on point.

“It doesn’t say so.”

“Then I think I’ve lost interest.”

Several times a year I make my way, along with the money I’ve been hoarding, to a fancy department store makeup counter.  I bring old tubes that need replacing, empty eye shadow containers, sticks that are down to the nub, and the clippings of products that I’m desperate to own and find a salesgirl to make my dream a reality.

Once home I tuck the new glosses and lipsticks into a special black carrying case used just for them, integrate the new products into my weary yet functional makeup bag, and put the Dior shadows well out of reach of my toddler.  Don’t ask me how I know, but that child takes special pleasure in using her finger to “mix the colors into a rainbow.”

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar then you, too, might be a makeup snob.  Here are other telltale signs:

1)      You’ve collapsed into the nearest makeup chair when the salesgirl informed you they weren’t making “that shade” anymore.

2)      You think the phrase “Wear clean underwear in case of a car accident” is dated, and would replace it with, “In case of a car accident, don’t let me be caught without Chanel.”

3)      You consider it a defining life moment the day you were made aware of the fact that beauty products existed outside of drugstores.  (1985; the daughter of one of my mom’s friends showed me how to use Clinique’s 3-Step Skin Care System.  That woman was a goddess.)

4)      You could not imagine how you would go on living if InStyle magazine stopped publishing the annual “Best Beauty Buys” list.

5)      You secretly believe that any problem can be fixed by stopping by Sephora or the nearest Nordstrom makeup counter.

6)      The details might be getting fuzzy on some of the important numbers in your life (like exact age, weight, or any previous addresses), but you have permanently etched in your mind the shade number of a treasured and expensive makeup product (Dior’s Moisturizing Concealer #410) and could remember it even during extreme emotional duress (Dairy Queen runs out of chocolate ice cream your one treat day of the week.)

If all of this sounds a tad sallow, I agree.  But don’t worry; I’m sure they make the right cream blush for that. 

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

Love Languages©

February 10, 2010

I have to admit, I don’t know everything there is to know in the world.  I still don’t understand how it is that common baby wipes seem to remove every stain known to moms.  I’m still in the dark about how modern tech gadgets work, why my children think food tastes better off of my plate, or why my brain sees sugar as an acceptable fifth food group.

But I know that come this Valentine’s Day, the secret to love in our house is one hour spent speaking the same language.  He will talk about something I understand, like his experience shopping at the mall, and I will use phrases that can be taken at face value, like “Please bring me a glass of water with ice.”

It’s not always like this.  Most of the year we’re like two foreigners sharing the same home.  Our time together includes lots of squinting, blank stares, absentminded nodding and the occasional burst of excitement, “Yes!  I understood that!”

A good example came several years ago.  My husband and I decided we could still be in love and not include chocolate in the gift-giving ritual.  My husband said, “Instead, get me the new plug-in zip drive.”  What I heard him say was, “Get me something I can zip up when I drive to work.”  When he asked me if I wanted chocolate, I said “That sounds good.”  The evening ended with me yelling, “Do you WANT my rear end to be that big?”

We realized we had a language problem.  I don’t understand half the things he actually says, and he doesn’t pick up on the things I leave unsaid. He speaks man-ese and on its face is a very simple language.  He says things like, “What’s for dinner?” and means it.  I speak woman-ese and that same question translated in our complicated system can mean:  “That same dish again?”  Or, “I expect dinner to be ready now.” 

Love in our house means that most of the time we will be speaking to somebody who 1) has a blank expression on their face (him when I ask, “What do you think my friend Cheryl meant when she said…”, or the look on my face when he talks and I plan next week’s dinner menu in my head), or  2) has an angry look on their face (him as he realizes I’m planning the dinner menu in my head while he’s talking, or me when he doesn’t do something I never said.)

Sometimes I forget the language barrier and ask him a straightforward question.  “What does 64-bit encryption mean?” I asked one night.  I was feeling playful.  As soon as he started to talk I realized I couldn’t follow two words of what he was saying.  He said:  “In cryptography, key length is the size of the key used in a cryptographic algorithm.”  I heard:  “Blah blah blah, key.”  Then, after dinner, he clearly couldn’t understand woman-ese.  I said, “Please clear dinner from the table.”  He heard:  “Move dishes over to counter.”  I walked by later to see a dirty kitchen table covered with salt and pepper shakers, used napkins and crumbs.

This Valentine’s Day, my husband and I definitely won’t splurge on chocolate, probably not on flowers, and jewelry is looking like a big question mark.  But I know we love each other because tomorrow I’ll try to follow his conversation about computer problems at work, and he’ll try to interpret, “We’re getting low on creamer.”

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

Coffee Always Cold©

February 3, 2010
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Growing up, we never had coffee in our house.  My mom went to work each morning with no help from stimulants.  A babysitter gave me tea one day and I never looked back.

I drank tea in the afternoons.  Sometimes I put milk in it (but that always made it too cold.)  Sometimes I squeezed lemon in it (but one drop too many made it too tart.)  I always put in sugar.

When Starbucks became popular I drank their mochas and became a believer.  But it was just an occasional treat.  I felt proud that I never required it.

Now that I have kids, I require it.  Every morning, right before or during breakfast.  And if I drink it anytime after 10 a.m. the flavor changes and it doesn’t taste the same.

This presents an interesting dilemma that’s new every morning:  Will today be the day I drink my coffee while it’s still hot?

It never is the day.  That day has never come. 

Even when I strain against all the forces pulling my children to do their child-like things, and even when I try to control outside influences from intruding into our home, I end up drinking my morning delight lukewarm.

I’ve tried to make it the minute my feet hit the cold carpet.  But during the time it takes to brew, my children are clamoring for juice and then my son has a meltdown trying to work the remote control.

I’ve set the delay on Mr. Coffee to be ready first thing.  But it always falls on a day we have to be somewhere early and I only get two sips of the whole thing.

I pour my mug right after my shower only to forget that now I have set in motion a countdown to style my hair during the critical drying stage.  If I miss that window of time, my hair refuses to cooperate and will be ruined for the rest of the day.

I pour the coffee right as I’m sitting down to breakfast (cue catastrophe.)  Any number of events can be placed here:  A knock on the door from a delivery man.  An urgent phone call from my husband telling me to reboot his computer.  Son takes favorite toy from daughter causing the end of the world as we know it.  Daughter has a poopy diaper that has been allowed to sit until now and cannot be delayed one more minute.  Must check Facebook page for status updates.  (Okay, so that’s my fault.)

Instead, I decide to go for second prize and indulge in an old-fashioned cup of tea.  I’m allowed to sit and drink it hot from start to finish. 

Yesterday I found a new blend of tea leaves:  “Dark Roast” it said.  Will this be enough to fool my mug, children, and the crowd of delivery men just primed to ring our door bell?

I think it’s an idea worth steeping.

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.