“Exeter Gothic”

After living with the Crankee Yankee for over 14 years, I’ve discovered that he really doesn’t care what people think—really. For example, he is, shall we say, expressive in his choice of attire.

When I know I am going outside, I am dressed in clean clothes, my makeup is on, my hair is styled, and I am usually wearing no less than 16 or 17 pieces of jewelry. Not so much for the Crankee Yankee. He pretty much pulls on whatever comes to hand and walks out the door.

Over the years my parents, the Crankee Yankee’s daughter and I have given the Crankee Yankee some perfectly nice “casual” clothes; L. L. Bean plaid shirts, chino slacks, denim shirts, etc. These are what I consider ‘going out and about’ outfits.

But as he is usually working on the house and/or garden all the time, he tends to live in what I call ‘rag bag duds.’ When he is mixing and pouring cement, working in the garden, digging trenches and so on, of course he wears old clothes.

His summer work attire is usually what we laughingly call ‘cabana boy’ shirts; regular t-shirts that he has rigged up for hot weather. He cuts off the collar and sleeves, and when he puts one on, it usually bares one shoulder. Old pants are cut off at the knee for shorts, and denim overalls are worn until they are in rags.

His current overalls have ripped knees and tattered hems, and he wears them unbuttoned at the sides so that the whole world can see his boxers. The fly on this sad outfit has fallen down so many times that he now safety-pins it. He tops off the whole look with ratty socks and works boots. Honestly, it’s like living with L’il Abner!

In fact, he went out to breakfast with his brother not long ago, dressed for work in his ripped t-shirt and ratty overalls. As they passed through the door, a couple was leaving. They gave the Crankee Yankee the once-over (and he of course stared right back at them), then walked away, muttering “Exeter Gothic.” That cracked him up. Me, I just sighed.

Since we are both retired, I suppose it doesn’t really matter what we wear, but I can’t break the habit of leaving the house looking my best. For the Crankee Yankee, retirement is another excuse to go around looking like a bum who just rolled out from under a bus.

For the times that we do go out together to do something fun or even run some errands, I have flat given up trying to dress him up. He is pretty much going to wear what he wants because he truly does not give the fuzzy crack of a rat’s rear end about what others think.

I tried telling him that old story about who you hang around with gives an impression. It goes like this: if you are a pretty and well-dressed girl walking arm-in-arm with two clowns, people are NOT going to exclaim, “will you look at that beautiful girl walking with two clowns!”

Nope. They are going to say, “will you look at those three clowns!” So that being the case, I guess when the Crankee Yankee and I are walking together, someone somewhere is going to say, “will you look at Mr. and Mrs. Exeter Gothic!”



The Mice Did Us a Favor

The other day I picked up my bag of redskin potatoes from the potato bin we have in the bottom cabinet in the kitchen. Behold and lo, there was a large hole in the bag, and two potatoes were nibbled halfway through!

“Yuck,” I said to the Crankee Yankee, “we have MICE! Now we’ve got to clean out the whole bottom cabinet!”

The bottom cabinet has an upper and lower level, and the spuds were on the low level. As soon as we pulled out the potato bin (onions also inhabit it as well), all the foils, wax paper, plastic wrap, etc., plus all the pots and pans, baking dishes, Vitamix, blender, grinder, bowls and our few bottles of booze, we soon saw the mice entrance way; the hole that the pipe came through had been gnawed to make it bigger.

We cleaned out everything, and I began washing every pot, pan, glass baking dishes, bowls, etc. that was in there. I’d like to think that the mice went back outside to do their business after feasting on our potatoes, or put on tiny pairs of Pampers so that they wouldn’t poop in the cabinet, but no. It wasn’t on the scale of Woodstock or anything, but there were enough of their minuscule droppings to make me want to boil everything—which I did.

Naturally, when we got up that morning, we didn’t plan on cleaning out the kitchen cabinets, but when these things happen, you have to get face the music and dance, so to speak. So the Crankee Yankee and I just made it a project. I read up on non-toxic ways to discourage the mice from coming into the house in the first place: 1) they hate mint, and 2) they hate steel wool.

The mint repels them; something about it triggers allergies or something. They don’t like steel wool as it is hard on their teeth and paws. Too bad for them.

So I mixed up a spray bottle of peppermint oil and water. The Crankee Yankee ran down to the hardware store and got some steel wool. He wrapped about a foot of it around the pipe, making sure that plenty of it was stuffed in tight. This sealed up the mouse entrance but good. Before he put it in, we sprayed it thoroughly with the peppermint oil. Once it was securely in place, we gave it another spritz. The Crankee Yankee kindly scrubbed each shelf and every surface in the cabinet while I washed all the contents.

Doing all this made us realize that we hadn’t really done the ‘do we really need this’ with some of the stuff in there. We found that we did not need the electric mixer with all its beaters and bowls (for me the hand mixer is plenty), the metal set of turkey/chicken/partridge roasters (these are those ‘as seen on TV’ deals where you stick the thing up the bird’s butt, and sit it up in a pan so that it roasts from the inside out–we used them exactly once), cake pans (I have made exactly two, count ’em, TWO cakes in my entire life), muffin pans (again, I have not made a whole lot of muffins or cupcakes), several plastic containers we never use, and another Cuisinart (we already have one downstairs). So all of these are going to go to our local donation center to clutter up someone else’s cabinets.

By the time everything was clean and dry and ready to put each and every clean item away, we were laughing about it all. We realized that the little buggers had actually done us a favor; evidently it was pure karma that they tunneled their way in to our potatoes. We now have spanking clean cabinets, everything in there is not only clean, but useful. Everything in there is something we use. Also, we found we actually had a pretty good time doing it all together.

So you could say that our tiny visitors actually did us a favor. But then again, it was probably just the Divine saying ‘clean up your act already!’


Back Porch, Front Porch, Deck, Breezeway, Landing—?

I’ll be the first to admit I know next to nothing about residential construction. Any “house-y” type things I need to know about, I ask the Crankee Yankee. He has been an excellent carpenter all his working life, and continues to use his considerable skills in repairing and renovating our circa 1953 home.

However, the terms often confuse me. The other day the Crankee Yankee announced that he had bought a couple of brackets for hanging flowers on the “deck.” I said that I thought we were going to put hanging flowers up on the front porch roof (when we have a roof, that is). He replied that, yes, that was the plan once he puts the roof on the front porch.

“So where exactly are these brackets going to go?” I asked.

“On the deck,” he replied. “Won’t that look good?”

“Hmmm….the deck; do you mean the part of the front of the house where you walk up the stairs to get into the breezeway?” I asked. (I told you–terms confuse me.)

“Yes, that would be the ‘deck,’ ” he replied patiently.

“Ok, so—the hanging plants will go on the deck then?” I asked. He nodded, hoping I finally got it.

“Yes, that would look pretty nice.”

Now we are speaking the same language.

This is just a sample of what we go through at least once a week. When he tells me he is going to clean up the back porch (which, by the way, he built himself a few years back and it looks great), I now know that he means that he is going to bring out all the shelves of seedlings he planted weeks ago and plant them in the gardens….not actually ‘clean up’ the back porch.

When he says that he is going to put a ceiling on the breezeway and sheetrock the walls, I now know what to expect and I plan accordingly. This means I either go to a movie (a LONG movie) while all the banging and sawing and hammering is going on, or I take a book down to the pond and read for hours. Or do something else to get me out of the house. I know he knows exactly what he’s doing, but he also understands that I can’t help him and that the noise will drive me nuts.

The Crankee Yankee also knows that I have absolutely no vision when he describes what he plans to do on this or that part of the house. Long ago when he told me he was going to put “dormers” on the second floor (this used to be two small bedrooms with a half bath in between.) Now it is one open space (still with the half bath) which will eventually become a small guestroom and a storage/crafts room. What I see from what he’s done is that there are now two cute little windows facing the back yard. Yup, those would be the “dormers.”

The Crankee Yankee also knows that my house repair knowledge is just a few degrees of understanding past your average caveman. When he explains in detail how he is going to do this or that and my eyes start glazing over, he just says, ‘trust me–you’ll like it.’ And I usually do.

The man is both handy and handsome (a line you will no doubt understand if you watch “*The Red Green Show”).

*The Red Green Show is a Canadian television comedy that aired on various channels in Canada, with its ultimate home at CBC Television, and on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations in the United States, from 1991 until the series finale 7 April 2006, on CBC.

The Red Green Show is essentially a cross between a sitcom and a sketch comedy series, and is a parody of home improvement, do-it-yourself, fishing, and other outdoors shows (particularly The Red Fisher Show). Reruns currently air on CBC Television, The Comedy Network, and various PBS stations. It was produced by S&S Productions, which is owned by Steve and Morag Smith. Directors on the series include Steve Smith (who plays the main character, “Red Green”), Rick Green and William G. Elliott.

Red Green’s ending line of each show is “if you can’t be handsome, at least be handy.”

What a “Road Trip” Means to a Man and a Woman

The Crankee Yankee and I enjoy our road trips, and go on them at least a few times a month. Unless we are visiting my dad or my step-daughter and her family “up Maine,” we tend to take our time, go on back roads and enjoy the scenery and each other’s company.

However, even with that relaxed scenario and not much of an agenda, there is still that whole “man/woman perspective.” No matter how casual our jaunt is, there are still some unspoken assumptions and expectations. Mine are usually these:

  • That we will take the time to stop at a fun little restaurant or diner for lunch or an early dinner (NOT fast food)
  • That we may stop to check out an interesting shop.
  • That we will take bathroom breaks.
  • That when I say, “oooooh! Let’s stop here!” that we will stop there.
  • That we are some place we don’t always go, so let’s take our time.
  • *That I don’t necessarily have to hear ‘well, we’ve come through here before, don’t you remember?’

That said, the Crankee Yankee (and, I’m betting, most men) feels this way:

  • We are driving to <wherever> to do something, buy something, see something, and that’s IT
  • We may or may not stop for lunch; if we do, McDonald’s is cheap and perfectly fine
  • We are not here to wander around shops all day
  • That if we are going to stop to pee, make it in a place where we have to stop anyway
  • We need to get back before dark

For the Crankee Yankee, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. For me, it’s ALL about the destination. I do enjoy being a passenger and letting someone else worry about the details. So I don’t expect to have to answer an impromptu quiz about routes, back roads and railroad tracks. Sheesh.

Needless to say, there are some lively disputes about this…

*That’s my personal favorite. Here’s the bald truth: when I am a passenger, I pay no attention to route numbers, road signs, weather vanes, etc. I’m there for the ride and possibly a short nap. If I’m not driving, I’m not paying attention to how we go anywhere. So don’t ask me.

“Just Do It My Way and We’ll All Be Happy!”

Anyone who has ever lived with another person thinks this at least a dozen times a day: “just do things my way and we’ll all be happy!” You may love this person with all your heart and soul, but trust me–the day will come when you will snap and hear those words burst from your mouth like water from a fire hose.

This stems from the seldom-admitted fact that many of us truly feel that our way to do things is the only way to do things. (As I no longer work, I find I am more stubborn about this than I used to be…..oh, who am I kidding? I have ALWAYS been this way!)

Here are some examples of what I have either thought or said during certain situations with the Crankee Yankee:

  • When opening a box of cereal, don’t just rip open one corner; it makes the cereal spill everywhere. Cut it straight across the top–much neater and more efficient. (And don’t forget to put a clip on it so that bugs don’t get in it!)
  • When you are sitting at the desk and blow your nose with the tissues I so thoughtfully keep there, do NOT leave a wad of snotty used tissues on the desk. There is a wastebasket literally inches away. THROW THEM OUT!
  • After using every ladle and spatula in the house when you cook, could you please rinse them off and put them in the dishwasher instead of leaving them everywhere on the stove, dripping with goo (or worse–hardened goo), when the spoon rest (a big one, too) is RIGHT on the stove?
  • Your side of the desk is the right side. Mine is the left side. Keep your crap on your own side.
  • You may think that folding up a bunch of paper towels and stacking them on the table beside your recliner is “just as good” as a box of tissues, but it all looks like trash to me. Either stick the damn things in your pockets or throw them out.
  • Every fork, spoon, knife and kitchen utensil has its place. When I look for the can opener, I know it’s in the second drawer. So why can’t I find my measuring spoons, my nice little tiny spatula or my egg slicer? WHERE DID YOU PUT THEM? (Note: they have never been found. I don’t know what the hell he did with them.)
  • When you ask me where the butter is when you yourself have put away dozens of butter boxes in the second shelf of the refrigerator door–please know that I am going to give you a sarcastic answer such as, “Oh, the butter? It’s under the sink with the cleaning products.” Sheesh.

….and so on. I do realize that all this only points out my obsession with how things should be in the house. But dang it, someone has to establish a little law and order in the kitchen! And it may as well be me because, well–my way WORKS.



Finding Peace in the Middle of a Construction Zone

Yes, I am trying to find peace in the middle of a construction zone. And no, I am not talking about living through major building renovations in the middle of New York City, or rebuilding in the aftermath of a tornado. Well–it’s actually quite a bit like a tornado.

Let me explain. My husband of nearly 14 years, my beloved Crankee Yankee, calls our home (circa 1953) his hobby. He is a retired carpenter, and a good one, too. Between he and his younger brother, they can do just about everything from pouring a cement foundation to repairing a roof. We moved into the house in which the Crankee Yankee and his brother grew up  after my wonderful mother-in-law died in 2007. We had moved in to help care for her along with Hospice, and she was pleased that we were going to be moving into the house that she had loved so much.

So, fast forward to 2016. While I am filled with awe and admiration at the Crankee Yankee’s ability to renovate, restore, re-purpose and replace nearly everything in the house, we are nevertheless living in an on-going construction zone. I can honestly say that there is no part of the house, inside and out; that hasn’t been torn up, re-insulated, patched, painted, and so on. Ours is the only house in the neighborhood that looks like it’s recovering from a bomb blast.

While the house is my husband’s hobby, it is also our home. We have four cats, two indoor only and two indoor/outdoor ones. Although they have never told me directly, all this hammering, sawing and demolition work isn’t anything they are too thrilled about. Me, neither. I have never in my life lived like this, and even after 9 years it’s still hard to accept, never mind live in. It wouldn’t bother me so much if only each project could be completely finished, and then move on to the next. However, I do get that when you’re working on an old house, there are constant surprises, and you can’t always finish one part without having to deal with another part (or several parts) that affects the first part. That’s just the way it is.

Case in point: one of the first projects the Crankee Yankee tackled was the beautiful bay window in the living room. His dad, also an excellent carpenter, had built a three-sided bay window off the living room decades ago and there was definitely some upkeep needed. But when the Crankee Yankee started pulling some of the bottom boards out, guess what he found: the entire inside had been taken over by a gang of honeybees! The inside was full of some pretty old and nasty-looking sticky combs, also dozens of dead bees; all of which had to be removed. So cleaning out the “honeybee hideout” wasn’t part of the original plan of just replacing a few boards, but nevertheless it had to be dealt with.

And this is how things go; you can plan to do this, that and the other thing, but in an old house there are always going to be those things you didn’t plan on. The upside of this is that we pay for materials as we need them, so we aren’t in debt. The Crankee Yankee is doing all the work, and often with the most welcome help from his brother, who is also no slouch at renovating, and also does electrical work. So the labor is free. But it takes time and patience.

Why am I telling you this? I tell you this to remind myself why, even with all the mess and dust and aggravation, I am proud of the smart, resourceful, handy and savvy guy I married. I am also telling you this to remind myself not to smack him upside the head when things never seem to get done. I may never make peace with living in a construction zone, but at least I haven’t snapped completely.

At least, not yet.


The “One Bed” Solution

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that, when you are angry with each other, it’s easy to storm out of the bedroom–IF you have another bed, or even a couch. Not so easy when you have neither. After sitting on a chair in the living room fuming about who did what to whom and how, your body will eventually get pretty tired of sitting and will want to lie down.

If pride is enough to keep you sitting in that chair, well, good for you. Sooner or later, you are going to weigh how important your disagreement was against how much you want to go back to bed–you know, the bed that has the offending partner in it. I can’t tell you how many times my anger/resentment/hurt/whatever has fizzled out to nothing because sitting in a chair when you want to lie down only makes you realize that you are being an idiot. It does however have the good effect of making you realize that whatever ticked you off in the first place just isn’t worth losing a night’s sleep.

Besides, nine times out of ten, you’ll wake up next to your significant other saying, ‘what the heck were we fighting about?’

My Husband is a Much Nicer Person Than I Am

I’ll admit it–the Crankee Yankee is a much nicer person than I am. He cheerfully does all those things I hate to do, such as clean the microbe-ridden area just behind the toilet. He will also:

  • clean the litter boxes twice a day (for FOUR cats, mind you!)
  • eat up the leftovers at which I turn up my nose
  • help anyone out at any time
  • patiently and kindly answer the questions of the slightly batty old woman who often walks by our house
  • rescue any animal in need (and I mean ANY animal–it would not surprise me to see him leading an elephant up to our door)
  • clean up the cat barf on the rug
  • vacuum–a job that I despise

Additionally, he knows the name of every person and pet on our street. Because he is out-going and friendly, people come to him for all kinds of advice. If he can’t fix or mend or handle something someone needs help with, he knows someone who can.

Bless him, he puts  up with me and all my myriad moods and megrims. He still thinks I am beautiful, and fails to see my many flaws. Where I get snarky when hurt or angry, he puts himself on the back burner to stew and then to mellow. He is tough when he has to be, and unfailingly kind when he doesn’t need to be. He honestly believes that I have no faults, and can’t remember a bad patch in our nearly 14 years of marriage.

In this trying and tender time of helping my dad care for my dying mother, he is a rock, a comfort, a help, a partner, a soft place to fall. I have cried in his arms more than I can count, and when I think of all the trivial little habits of his that can drive me nuts, they are as nothing now when I need and rely on him so much.

He has lost both of his parents; his dad to Alzheimer’s, and his mom eight years ago to lung cancer. We moved in with her and cared for her, and, along with his younger brother and his wife and Hospice, we were with her until the end. He wouldn’t leave her side, but allowed me to go home to rest and get a break.

Although both of us are far from perfect, we find that we are perfect for each other. This time of life is especially bittersweet. While my parents are working their way through this period of their nearly 60-year marriage, the Crankee Yankee and I are connecting and committing to each other in a completely new way. It is a messy, undisciplined and frustrating time of life right now, and I find I cannot focus on more than just being there for my parents.

But what I can focus on is the strength and love of this amazing person who chose me on purpose! As the song goes, “*God only knows what I’d be without you!”

Thank you, my Crankee Yankee.

*”God Only Knows,” by the Beach Boys



Sideways Conversations

Is it just me, or do most men have “sideways” conversations? Here’s an example–the other day I asked the Crankee Yankee when he thought he could take a break (he’s been working on the second bathroom) so that he could mail a few packages and letters for me. Here’s what he said in reply:

“Well, I have to go pick up some more planks for the floor, then see about the shower pan so we’ll know how much room we need for the toilet and vanity. Oh, and there’s a delivery of concrete coming for me this afternoon. Also, I need to go get more concrete blocks to finish off the garden border.”

I just looked at him and said, “O-kay–that’s interesting and I’m glad you’re getting so much done up there; and how does all that answer my question about the post office?”

He looked at me as though I had rabbits jumping out of my ears, then said, “Oh! Sorry, right–I’ll go in a few minutes.”

Most men I know seem to have *great focus on what they’re doing, so trying to have a conversation at that time just doesn’t seem to fit in with what’s in their heads….and just for the record, I finally gave up and took the stuff to the post office myself.

Same kind of thing goes for putting things back where they belong. We were getting ready to take two of our cats to the vet. We always spritz their carriers with a calming spray so that they feel a bit better while in the carriers. So I went to the cabinet where all the cattery items are; wet and dry foods, medications, ointments, flea and tick collars, etc. No calming spray to be found. I went downstairs and sure enough, there was the spray, right next to the cat carriers. He had used it for the third cat’s carrier, whose vet visit was a few days ago.

This is Crankee Yankee logic, not mine. It seems a whole lot easier to me to just put things back where you find them so that the other person in the house (me) does not lose her mind looking for it. But he feels that the last place he used it is where it should be. Sigh.

One of the biggest differences between men and women is that we think on different levels (well, that’s a big old ‘DUHH,’ isn’t it?). Women tend to think in layers, like a cake; everything is neatly stacked in our heads and we do each layer, one at a time. Men tend to think in great big messy pools, like spilled ink: all the information is jumbled and tumbled and spread out in big dribs and drabs so that they can pick and choose what they want to address in no particular order.

And finally, I believe that the reason that men have sideways conversations is that their brains actually might be sideways. Wouldn’t THAT explain a lot?

*Meaning don’t talk to them, don’t ask them any questions, and don’t expect them to talk. They are FOCUSED and literally will not hear you.

Is There Anything More Pitiful Than a Sick Husband?

The Crankee Yankee is in the middle of one of his epic colds. I say “epic” because he doesn’t get them often. In fact, in the nearly 13 years we’ve been married, I have only seen him sick a handful of times. His colds are long, loud and lung-y. The cold renders him helpless, and he gets up out of his recliner only to stagger to the bathroom and later on, to bed. He “lets out the evil spirits” by moaning now and then, too. When in bed, his usual low-key snores become loud and buzzsaw-like.

His coughs nearly break the sound barrier, and, not to put too fine a point on it; he brings up an enormous amount of what I call “glung” (eww). At the height of his cold, all he wants is to be left alone, and given food and liquids every few hours. At least one cat will sit with him for comfort as well.

Mind you, we do all the cold prevention we can, which includes this list the moment either of us feels a cold coming on:

  • Zinc and elderberry lozenges: take one the instant you feel that back-of-the-throat tightness
  • “Witches brew:” five drops each of lemon oil, oregano oil, peppermint oil and tea tree oil, mixed into a cup of boiling water. You inhale the vapors once through the mouth and then once through the nose every hour. The mixture is viable for 24 hours and usually it cuts the legs right out from under an incipient cold. WARNING: the vapors are very strong and can get you coughing quickly, so be aware.
  • “*The Old Indian Cure:” Put any kind of tea into a mug of boiling water (if it’s night-time, then chamomile is a good choice) and steep. Add to this a 1-2 tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, a generous dollop of honey, and a shot of whiskey, scotch or rum. Mix and sip slowly. (Even if it doesn’t help your cold, you won’t mind it all that much once you get to the bottom of the mug!)

But when none of these do the trick, I bring out the big guns: **homemade chicken soup. I swear this turns the tide every time.

I do all the chores that the Crankee Yankee normally does, which immediately makes me even more appreciative of all he does around the house. And of course I administer the daily OJ, aspirin, soup and Kleenex.

Generally by the time he starts to get pretty aromatic–to the point where I could take him by the ears and fling him into a tub of hot water and Mr. Bubble, he’s about over it. His colds don’t last all that long, but they certainly make an impression while they’re here!

As with any relationship, knowing when to be present or back off is key. We’re still working on it, but we pretty much have the “in sickness” part of the marriage vow squared away.

Oh, and the deal when one of us is sick is this: all sins, real or imagined, are forgiven.

*Before anyone takes offense to this, I am part Native American Indian myself, so this is indeed an old family recipe!

**My chicken soup recipe:

Directions: Put together in a big pot:

  • chicken bones and skin
  • a whole onion cut in half, skin and all
  • a few cloves of garlic
  • some whole peppercorns
  • a dash or two of turmeric
  • a few bay leaves, carrots (just cut off the tops and throw them in–you don’t even have to pare off the skin)
  • a few stalks of celery
  • Optional: my secret ingredient: a small hunk of cut fresh ginger, or a cut-up piece of candied ginger.
  • Optional: a few good shakes of Sriracha sauce (a type of hot sauce or chili sauce made from a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt) as it gives the broth a little zip and also aids in getting rid of a cold

Cover it all with water; it should just cover; don’t put too much in. Turn it up to medium-high heat and cook it down until it’s about half the original volume. Let it cool, then strain. Either use the broth as is, or add cut-up carrots, onions, celery, parsley and chopped chicken. Administer (or just enjoy) as needed.