How Long Will This Last?

I don’t know about you, but I ask myself this question a lot. It’s usually as I’m anxiously awaiting something: the end of a congested crawl through the Lincoln Tunnel in a minivan with no air conditioning, the words “you’re all done” signaling it’s finally time to slide out of the MRI tunnel or the unwrapping of an 8 oz, 62% dark chocolate cocoa bar with little nubs of crunchy raspberry scattered throughout the creaminess.   

Today I’m not nervous, I’m just asking “how long will this last?” about two things. 

  • 5,000 staples 

My husband bought a stapler and a box of 5,000 staples in August of 1986 and took both things to college. I know he used them frequently when he stapled together term papers he wrote for a Marriage and Family class and maps of constellations he created in an astrology class, but that barely put a dent in the supply. 

So, when we got married in June of 1990, he brought the stapler and box of staples with him. Back then, I predicted we would run out of staples in 18 years. I used a lot of staples during that time AND in 2008 we had just emerged from an intense preschool “crafting” era with our three kids. They liked to create works of art by stapling together two pages of brightly colored construction paper, ripping that into 1,000 pieces, and then stapling the whole thing back together to create a beautiful, crumbling metal and paper mosaic. Yet at the start of year 19, we still had staples.

My next guess was that 5,000 staples would last a full 22 years. Every day in those four intervening years, our junior high-and high school-aged kids stapled together several pages of math and French worksheets, field trip permission slips, and quizzes peppered with a match-the-sexually-transmitted-disease-to-its-symptoms game. Surprisingly, that didn’t use the rest of the staples. 

Then, in July of 2019, I cut out the front of nine of my daughter’s old concert t-shirts and stapled them onto nine different 12 X 12-inch square canvases and used the last staple. I finally know how long 5,000 staples last: 33 years, 11 months and a few days, give or take.

  • An LED alarm clock-radio

My husband received this 6 X 8-inch metal rectangle with faux wood paneling and red LED lights as a gift in 1987, and it has been glowing ever since he plugged it into an outlet in his college dorm room. I predicted that alarm clock would never survive living with six guys for four years, especially when the engineers-in-training rewired the room to their specifications and altered the electrical supply. But it did, and he brought the clock with him when we got married.  

Every time we moved from apartment to apartment or house to house, that clock came with us. It taunted me when I glanced at it in the middle of the night without my -6.5 diopter glasses on – all I saw, instead of segmented numbers, were three red, blurry globs. I know I dropped that clock with each move, yet it continued to last.    

When the power goes out, that clock powers right through and instead of blowing a circuit, it simply starts to blink “12:00.” It’s possible to reset the time by holding down two buttons and looking for the tiny red dot that indicates AM or PM.  But I can never remember if the red dot “on” means it’s AM or PM or if the red dot “off” means it’s AM or PM, so even when the power comes back on, I have no idea if it’s morning or night. And when a 6 AM alarm beeps continuously through our 6 PM dinner, everyone asks, “How long will this last?”

This alarm clock also has AM/FM radio capabilities and over the years I have tuned into local FM stations to listen to music. My husband tends to tune into and set the alarm to AM talk stations. When I wake up to loud voices and yet another wrap-up of Monday Night Football, I find myself wishing that alarm clock-radio would just give out. 

But after 32 years, those little red numbers refuse to dim, the “wood” refuses to fade, and the sound quality is still pretty good. I can’t say for sure, but I have to assume that this LED alarm clock-radio will, unfortunately, last an eternity. 

P.S. I figured out how to add email to my site! If you have something in your life that you wonder “How Long Will This Last?”, I’d love to hear about it! Please send a short description to me at contact@crabwise.blog and I will put some of your answers in an upcoming blog post. If you have a picture, please include that, too.

Have a great weekend, Lisa

Pre-Fab

There wasn’t usually much going on, aside from waiting out winter, in the trailer I lived in on County Highway B, in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. Not much, that is, until the day I heard the words “pre-fabricated construction” and that we were going to move into town. Suddenly, there was a lot of activity. My dad explained that were we going to have a brand-new house, and it would be built in a way that was also brand-new. It would be “pre-fab.” He said there was some outfit in Wausau, Wisconsin, called Wausau Homes, that sold what was essentially a very large model kit. When this model was assembled, instead of having an airplane or train to play with, we would have a house to live in. Unbeknownst to me, my parents had already put money down on one of those pre-fab house kits, and as soon as the ground thawed enough to dig a basement, the project would start.   

I was seven and not yet familiar with any outfits in Wausau, but I grasped the basic concept of pre-fab and wanted to help. I thought I could buy some parts for this “model” we were about to build, but I didn’t know if we needed flat or semi-gloss paint and I had no way to bring shingles home from the hardware store. Plus, I didn’t know how to build anything other than a snowman.  

So, in the fall of 1975, instead of checking to see if the house dimensions on the blueprint corresponded correctly to the plat of survey, I monitored the progress of construction. I watched in amazement as a cement foundation was poured and then four individual, rectangular walls were somehow lifted in, attached to the foundation, and then attached to each other. The roof was delivered in sections, attached to the walls, and eventually shingled. Some redwood siding, which still needed staining, arrived and was used to create the final protective layer of the exterior walls. And after a “goddam whichamacallit,” manufacturing delay at Wausau Homes, the windows and doors were delivered and installed.  

Luckily, we always had enough of the two main things that seemed to miraculously hold a new house together, nails and swearing, and before an inch of snow could accumulate, our particular style of pre-fab house had been fully assembled. It was a was split-level design, which meant that after coming through the front door there was a landing and a choice: you could go up one short set of stairs to the main living area or go down another short set of stairs to the basement. But we didn’t move in right away because the entire interior, upstairs and down, was unfinished. My parents explained that this is how it is with a pre-fab home, you finish it as you have the time and money.  

My parents also explained that since my dad was really, really handy he would do the work himself when he wasn’t at his day job, with occasional help from assorted relatives who had varying degrees of home building skills. Because my dad did the finishing work in the evenings and on the weekends, there were several months where there was a landing and stairs going up, but no stairs going down. And then there were a few more months when the unfinished, pre-fab basement had walls that were half cement and half exposed 2X4’s with pink R-15 insulation poking out from between the ground level windows, but nothing else, only large piles of dirt where some kind of flooring would eventually go.

I wasn’t really confident we would ever have enough time or money to finish this pre-fab model, but I thought it was great to have a house where I could jump from the front door into a pile of dirt. I’m not sure my parents were having as much fun because they spent all their time in the upstairs unrolling linoleum in the kitchen, laying parquet flooring in the living room, bricking the fireplace façade, putting up sheetrock to form interior walls, installing appliances, cutting baseboards, painting and staining. I spent most of my time with my sister and our dog, Muttley, playing in the basement and doing small jobs like hauling boxes, taking out the trash, finding my dad’s thermos of coffee, and handing my gramma some cotton balls so she could soak them in fingernail polish remover and then use them to scrape the stickers off the inside of the upstairs windows.   

Out of all the small jobs in the construction zone, the most important one was to stay out-of-the-way, and I was very good at it. One afternoon, I was in the basement imagining which pile of dirt I would clear to make my bedroom, when I suddenly had to go to the bathroom. Badly. I might have reasoned that I was standing in the exact spot where a toilet would someday be so it didn’t really matter or I might have stayed out-of-the-way just a little too long, and I couldn’t get up out of the dirt, onto the landing, and up the stairs to the only bathroom quick enough, but I dropped my JCPenney jeans, squatted down and did my business. 

It’s possible the smell got his attention or that he was about to take a break from pounding nails anyway, but before I could start to figure out what to do next, I heard footsteps thundering across the finished part of the upstairs floor, coming toward the basement. My dad jumped from the landing into the dirt and demanded to know, “What the hell happened down here?!”  My dog’s ears perked up and I ventured, “Muttley did it. He pooped in the dirt.” My dad looked at me and then looked at our dog. A familiar cascade of Italian language that I never spoke but definitely understood, ended with a vague “well, someone clean that up,” and as quickly as he had jumped down, my dad climbed up out of the dirt, onto the landing, and went back to work hanging sheetrock.  

Keeping up with an erratic construction schedule and not using a toilet were very strange, but getting away with lying to my dad was downright baffling. I wondered if that was just how things were going to be from now on. Maybe everyone who ordered a model home kit from Wausau Homes lived like this? I didn’t know. I just knew that it seemed like a step up from living in a trailer and I was already enjoying my pre-fab conditions. 

Problem Solved

Does any of that look familiar or give you a warm, fuzzy feeling? If so, I could have used your help to solve the following problem.

It’s 9:07 am on August 12, 2016, and my husband says, “We have 40 miles left to get to campus.  If we drive 60 mph, what time will we get to Waco?” There are groans from the front passenger seat of the rental car containing our daughter who is heading to Baylor for a second year of college and from the back seat containing our other daughter who still has two years left at home. “Dad, you always make us do math problems,” they say.  I have to agree, he does bring up these types of problems a lot and now seems like an odd time to be asking people to calculate.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s always too early in the morning for math, and I’m not in the mood for numbers because my brain is full of things like reminding myself not to use my daughter’s clean sheets to wipe my nose as I’m sobbing at the drop off. 

 “NO blurting!” I blurt to everyone in the car. There have to be some kind of ground rules in a family full of people who can figure out these kinds of problems in less than 30 seconds and shout out the answer before I even have a chance to figure out what I’m trying to figure out. Already I need clarification. “Honey, what’s the problem?” I ask. “We have 40 miles left to get to campus. If we drive 60 mph, what time will we get to Waco?” my husband re-explains. Now I am ready to problem solve. 

I begin by wishing I had a calculator and some paper and a pencil. I begin again.  Maybe this has something to do with high school geometry and I can create a proof where if I know the first step or two, the rest of the sequence will magically, logically flow forth. Except that this problem doesn’t seem to involve a trapezoid and I wasn’t good at geometry precisely because I could never come up with the first step or two that would set the whole proof in motion. So, if that’s not going to work, then maybe I have to formulate one of those “solve for X” equations where if X is divided by 100, it will equal something. But which number is X? 40 or 60? And I’m certain the answer to this problem is more concrete than “something.” Maybe plain old multiplication will help? For math’s sake, let’s just say that something times something equals X and that “something and something” in this instance are 40 and 60. That would equal 2,400 which is a very big number. Is that a time? Yes, actually, it is. But that can’t be the answer because I recognize a gas station we just passed and I know we are much closer to Waco, Texas, than 2,400.  

Even though their eyes are barely open, I can see my girls are gaining on me. They might also lack the use of a calculator, paper and a pencil, but their mind-wheels are spinning – and spinning in a direction much closer than 2,400 o’clock. “No blurting!” I remind them.

I’m starting to wonder if there are enough miles, minutes or miles-per-hour left for me to figure out how to arrange these numbers. What about 60 divided by 40? That equals 1.5. But one and one-half of what? I know my husband wouldn’t give me a math problem, especially in the morning, with half of a number because working with whole numbers is hard enough. Then 40 divided by 60 equals yet another something. And if I remember what my third-grade math teacher taught me about long division, then 10 goes into 40 four times and 10 goes into 60 six times and that is 4/6 which reduces to 2/3! Two-thirds seems reasonable and two-thirds of an hour seems even more reasonable. To wit: if 1/3 of an hour is 20 minutes then 2/3 of an hour is 40 minutes. I think I’ve solved for X! I can answer my husband’s very logical yet very illogically timed math question. However, I’m not a Blurter and I take a second to ponder…. do I add minutes in case we stop at Buc-ees to get a snack? It might rain which would slow us down and there is always construction around Temple, Texas. I’m really not sure how to work all those variables into my equation.  

But in the two seconds I spend debating how many minutes I should add for a pit-stop to get a Slim Jim, my daughter in the back seat blurts, “We’ll get to Waco in 40 minutes!”  No! I had it – I had the answer but I just didn’t say it in time. Not wanting to be left out of all the fun math has to offer, I contribute with Texas-sized caution, “We will get to Waco at 9:47 am.” 

 It’s too close to call; we both have the same answer at almost the exact same moment. But my husband, who can barely contain himself because there is a car full of people trying to solve a math problem he orchestrated, pauses then confirms, “Mom wins!  I didn’t ask how much longer it would take to get to Waco. I asked what time we will get to Waco.” 

Problem solved.

New Kid – Two Crabs Meet

My husband and I are both 51. We were kind of shocked when we realized that we have now known each other for 42 years, but that’s what can happen when you meet your future spouse on the playground in 4thgrade. 

P. S. A few details of this story are made up. These pictures, however, are completely factual.

If you’ve ever moved to a new town and had a first day at a new school, then you know what a big deal it is to be the “new kid.” It’s an even bigger deal when that new school is in a new town of 1,100 people because, as my mom used to say, “everyone and their brother” knows who you are. 

 I was that kid on my first day of first grade at Shell Lake Elementary School. But in the summer of 1977, the rumors started to fly in our tiny town about another new kid who would join our 4thgrade class. What we knew was that he was tall for nine-years-old, had a good tan from playing Little League baseball in Yankton, South Dakota all summer, and most amazingly, he had already kissed a girl. We couldn’t believe a new kid could bring that kind of excitement and sophistication to Shell Lake, Wisconsin. The first day of 4thgrade did not disappoint. Pat Quenan was everything he was rumored to be.

 The love bug flew just as easily as those summer rumors and it seemed that by lunch time on that first day all twenty-two 4thgrade girls, including me, had a crush on the new kid. I surveyed my chances. Even though I matched his tan skin melanocyte for melanocyte, I was rather round and wore large, plastic framed glasses. I hoped the cute, little gold stick-on butterfly I sometimes wore in the right corner of the right lens might entice him, but I was pretty sure he’d prefer a girl with 20/20 vision.  

I worked up my nerve to make a move for the new kid during after-lunch-recess and waited impatiently to be released outside as the lunch ladies inspected my lunch tray for any stray morsels. Out on the playground, I bypassed the boys I usually played with and avoided the girl who occasionally picked up a garter snake and chased me with it. When I spotted the new kid standing alone on the blacktop, I took a few steps toward him. But as soon I saw a sea of swooning nine-year-old girls also herding in his direction, I got that sinking feeling that I should have just stayed inside with the lunch ladies and picked at my tray. 

 I back-tracked off the blacktop toward a dusty field that was partially-rimmed with a partially-collapsing chain link back-stop fence.  The boys I had bypassed were already there and arguing about which game we should play that first recess of 4thgrade. Suddenly, over their shouts and possibly from over near the monkey-bars, the news broke: Jolene Harmon, with her perfect vision, liked the new kid. It was over. There was no way any of us, especially me, could compete with the most popular girl in the class – if not the most popular girl in the whole school. 

Since my chance of landing Pat Quenan had reached zero, I picked up a red, rock-hard playground ball that had rolled my direction and headed onto the field to do something I knew I was good at: kick hard and run fast down a base path that was covered in patchy grass. Then, to my surprise, and to the obliviousness of the boys who were now knee-deep in another argument about which team had to take the girl, the new kid came over and asked to play.  The arguing stopped and we carefully factored in that because he had baseball experience, he could probably run bases and throw as well as the rest of us, plus we were already short a fielder anyway. We decided the new kid could play.  

Welcome to Crabwise!

Hi! My name is Lisa, and like you, I was born. Specifically, I was born on June 29th which means my Zodiac sign is Cancer. I don’t know much about my sign­ except for what my Gemini-Cancer-cusp sister tells me and that the Cancer sign is represented by a crab. I appreciate the crab not so much for its “crabbiness” (although I can definitely be crabby) but for its ability to skitter through life sideways and easily backwards, carefully balancing a house on its back and using its pincers to hold onto things – even the things it should probably drop. 

What I didn’t learn from my sister or a Zodiac chart is that most crabs constantly scan their surroundings (with immoveable eyeballs on moveable eye-stalks!) and when they sense something is awry in their environment, they close their “eyes,” scurry back to their burrow and dive for cover into the sand. It’s comforting to know there are other creatures who live like that. 

So, if you ended up at this blog because you were looking for more information on crabs or wanted to learn how to classify crustaceans, my apologies, because you won’t find that here. Honestly, I don’t even enjoy eating shellfish or any seafood for that matter. Instead, what you will find here at Crabwise are stories. These stories (most of which are true and a few of which are made up) are from and about my life, which admittedly, is not a particularly glamorous one. Don’t let that deter you from giving Crabwise a try. 

I hope that no matter your Zodiac sign, your interest in crabs (the ocean-faring or astrological kind), or your burrowing tendencies, you will find a something at Crabwise that you’ll enjoy. Maybe, like the pincers my crab friends and I have in common, something will reach out and grab you, but won’t really hurt. I invite you to come on over to Crabwise, read, and return for more stories whenever you like!