Monday, October 12, 2009

Leonard Husbandry

Man is frequently messing with nature for his own benefit. Left to their own devices, animals will perform tasks to suit themselves under specific conditions. For example, in nature the honeybee will arrange its hexagonal honeycomb into clusters of whatever shape dictated by instinct or maybe even artistry. However, when placed into the modern hive, the honeycomb will be arranged in an orderly fashion onto the provided foundation slats, making it easy for the beekeeper to slip out those slats and take the honey as needed.

Leonardism: Having worked for years as a tool man at Sears to help put himself through school, my Leonard is handy. He doesn't shun from the necessary "man-chores" around the house, and actually seems to enjoy them. With level and drill in hand, he keeps our home in tip-top shape. Leonard prefers to work his magic during his downtime, such as a late Saturday morning after adequate sleeping in or on a lazy day off. Under those conditions, Leonard will happily hum as he busily tends to our home's needs. When a job is finished, we'll both admire his handiwork as I sing his praises and he smiles and puffs out his chest. It's a nice arrangement. Every now and then, however, I feel the need to ask for his handy skills at a not so convenient time.

Documentation is vital to every good experiment

Last week I decided I'd had it with our utility closet. Low on the priority list after we moved in, we'd been using it as a receptacle for anything related to cleaning, with mops, broom, and ironing board leaning against the walls. Disorg
anized and not living up to its functionality potential, I couldn't stand it anymore. I had bought some organizational accessories awhile back, and decided that I couldn't wait another day before they were hung. It was an evening after work, and I knew this wouldn't sit well with Leonard. My mind raced back to my Undergrad days in Biology. I had the perfect specimen for the job at hand, but the wrong conditions. If I could only manipulate those conditions to become more favorable, perhaps the test subject would perform. It was a good hypothesis. I mentally listed the needed conditions:

Condition 1: baseline overall feeling of contentment

Condition 2: accessibility of needed supplies

Condition 3: sense of importance and need

Condition 4: post-task praising, to ensure future success

Dinner was made. I waited for Leonard's compliment: "Th
anks, Honey that was great!" he said smiling. Condition 1 - accomplished. Quickly, before he was able to maneuver to the couch for well-deserved resting, I diverted him to the laundry room, where his tools awaited, organized and ready. Condition 2 - check. I could sense his unwillingness, so I smoothly transitioned to reminding him how grateful I was that he was so handy and our home wouldn't function so well were it not for his skills. Condition 3: condition met, with a smattering of guilt. Leonard sighed, picked up his tools, and went to work. When he was finished we had a perfectly organized utility closet. Hands on hips, I shook my head in wonder saying things like "Wow, that's amazing," "Handy, handy man!" and "look at you go!" Leonard's reluctant exterior faded, and he bashfully smiled. Condition 4 - cemented.

The Completed Closet

Look out, Leonard. Next time I might decide to rearrange the living room furniture at 2 a.m.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Farm Girl, City Girl

The view from my parent's front porch

I grew up out in the country. My family moved from our red brick house on a quiet street to an 80 acre span of hillside 5 miles outside of our small rural town when I was 11 years old. Growing up on a hill surrounded by fields was a wonderful experience. I'd hop off the bus and walk home, then go exploring the countryside with Sherman and Betsy, the world's two best dogs. In the fall if my mom needed an onion for a recipe, it was only a matter of grabbing one from a nearby field. In the summertime I'd awaken to the sound of crop duster planes flying close to our house. On my then-tween little sister's birthday, we sang karaoke late into the night without any worry of neighbors being disturbed. Although the situation turned my mom into a 24 hour taxi service into town, the advantages of the peaceful country life had me convinced that was what I wanted in the future.

Me and my roommate Anica on the balcony of our apartment in Spain, 2001

This conviction was challenged when I spent six months abroad in Spain. Although the city I was living in wasn't a metropolis, it was large and compact. I learned that what the city lacked in space it made up for in accessibility and culture. Within a half of a block of my apartment I had access to a bread store, coffee shop, candy store, and park. I spent hours walking the streets of the city, stopping occasionally to sit with the old men at the train station or to drink a glass of peach juice at a cafe while people-watching. Every open space was shared, and I never felt more social.

When Leonard and I became serious, we'd talk a lot about our future. What would life be like after school? Who would be in charge of the dishes? What would work be like? But most of our conversations settled around the question, Where would we live? I tried to convince Leonard to live in a city, at least for a few years. I even tried talking him into applying to P.A. schools in New York City but it just wasn't his thing. So I painted a picture of life in the country, with chickens and an overabundant garden. He'd be fine with that, just unsure if it would work out right away. "What about the suburbs?" he'd say. "We'd be close to things, but still have a nice yard, and our kids could have friends nearby." I'd suddenly get a case of the 'dry heaving because the thought of that disgusts me' attacks. Leonard would smile, and we'd move on to musing over whether our firstborn would have dimples or facial hair. For me, future home location was either city or country, black or white. I wasn't open to anything in between.

A chilly fall morning in the 'burbs

We now live in the suburbs. In the most suburby of subdivisions in the first and largest suburb of a not so large city. We live on a street where mailbox stands are shared between neighbors, and if the weeds in your lawn get out of control you get a friendly notice in the mail. But we also live 5 minutes from work and just a short trip to the nearest Costco. Walks around the neighborhood result in a minimum of three conversations with people who are also out and about. Neighbors are more than happy to lend their tall ladder or give a cup of sugar when needed. Afternoons are filled with people riding bikes and the sound of kids playing basketball. I still occasionally dream of skyscrapers and chickens, but I've come to learn that maybe I am a Suburb girl after all.