Days Since Last Accident

Birthday Surprise(s) Part 4

I walked in to find the wife reading a text message from her sister Amber.  She then hurried to her laptop and brought up Facebook.  “Ohhhh,” she said a moment later, in a sad tone.

Future family member

Future family member

“What?  What is it?” I asked, moving over to look.  On the screen was a picture of a St. Bernard sitting on a patch of bare dirt, a chain attached to the collar at her neck.  She looked a little dirty and thin, but was beautiful all the same.  The Facebook page was a collection of classified ad listings for the Fort Knox-area.  The dog in question was a 10-month-old full-blooded St. Bernard called “Darla” who was owned by a family whose financial circumstances had recently changed to the point that they had to leave their home and could no longer care for such a growing large dog. The pooch, we were told by Amber, was living with some relatives of the owners.  Inwardly, I cursed when I heard this, because I could see in that moment a terrifying possible future outcome, one which I had been fighting against for the past two years and hoped to continue doing so for years to come.

Let me back up.

For the past, say, 26 months now, the wife has wanted a St. Bernard.  She used to have one named Honeybee when she lived in Alaska and loved her dearly.  Unfortunately, Honey Bee died about a year after we began dating in 1998.  Since then, she has wanted another Saint and our existing dogs were acquired while trying to acquire St. Bernards.

Our little pound puppy

Our little pound puppy

In fact, it was a very similar photo of a very similar sad orphaned puppy that I saw staring at me from a computer screen back in 2008 just days before she came into our life as our dog Sadie.  Sadie was supposed to be a St. Bernard, but turned out to be a more likely candidate for a Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix.  Our more recent dog, Moose, was also supposed to be a mix of St. Bernard and Leonberger, which would have made for a ginormous dog had this actually been true.  No one thought to tell him he needed to keep growing beyond the 45 pounds he’s managed in his four years of life, though, so mainly he’s just a brown dog.  During the past couple of years, though, the wife has continued to lobby for trying again to find a full blooded saint and this is a lobbying effort I have fought strongly against.

Two dogs, in my oft-stated opinion, was great—especially our two dogs, who are just wonderful, eager-to-please little beasties who only occasionally roll in fecal matter (which one of them has done TODAY!!!!).  However, it’s taken a long time and a lot of work to mold them into their near-feacalless-semi-perfection.  They mostly get along, hardly chase the cats at all, and it was a delicate dynamic I wasn’t interested in upsetting by introducing another dog.  Three dogs, I said, would be terrible, especially when two of them would be very large dogs.  We’d have to walk them in shifts.  (Heh, “we.”)  And forget just popping them in the car and heading to the beach to stay with Ashley’s parents and grandmother.  Two they can handle, but with three it gets crowded, and fast.  Plus, I said, what about the camping trips we’ve recently begun to take–especially the kayaking camping trips?  We can barely kayak with two dogs, let alone a third really giant, heavy dog.  It would have to have its own kayak or learn to swim.  There was also the matter of caring for, training, and providing post-midnight potty sessions for a new dog, most of the responsibility for which would fall upon my shoulders.  The wife would get to come home and have all the good times with few of the bad times.

However, as many selfish reasons as I was able to come up with, the major reason I saw came down to our existing two dogs and their temperament around other dogs: it’s been dicey.  Sadie either tries to herd them or growls at them and Moose, when he’s been around puppies in the past, tends to start drooling and snapping at them.  Adding a third would potentially be catastrophic.

With all that in mind, I was fully prepared to go back into my list of reasons a third dog was a woefully bad idea.  I didn’t want to look at the dog’s picture, I didn’t want to hear its sob story.  I just wanted to maintain our comfortable status quo.  (And plot revenge against Amber for this attack up on our household.)  However, there were two factors getting in my way:

1) My own stupid mouth, which betrayed me a year or so back after I had spotted an ad on the bulletin board at our vet’s office offering a free adult St. Bernard which could not be kept by its owner because it didn’t have enough space to roam, and then my mouth told that fact to my wife later, like that was a good idea somehow.  Her response, of course, was “Let’s go.”  And then I had to list all my reasons why we shouldn’t do that.  Could have just kept my damn lips zipped, but had to go blabbing something I knew would hurt her soul.  I still felt guilty at my own dumbass nature.

The second factor was that even then I could see tears welling up in Ashley’s eyes.  She wasn’t pouring them on for my benefit, but was genuinely moved at the plight of this dog (a dog the listing assured was sweet and great with children).  I could feel my resolve beginning to crumble.  I still believed all of the reasons I had in hand to be true—however, what was also true was that I loved this woman enough to endure the potential tragedy and turmoil of a new dog.

The first draft

The first draft

She looked to me to make the final decision, knowing full well what I was likely to say.  And in that moment, I thought, “What the hell—it’s her birthday.  She said she wanted something big.”  I said, yes.

The wife immediately called her sister, and they made arrangements for Amber to drive to where the dog was living to pick it up.  Ashley, in turn, waited until our guests for movie night had been fed, then hit the road for Kentucky to pick up her new pooch.

The next day, I finished up my painting on the horse project—which was starting to seem a bit less worthy of a birthday surprise when compared to a new St. Bernard.  Soon it was time to remove the horse decal and see what I had on my hands.  I was very hesitant, because there would be no going back, especially if I tore the decal.  And when I did slowly peel the decal away, I did indeed tear the shit out of it.  Still, what lay beneath—or rather, what didn’t—looked pretty good.  It was the silhouette of a horse in bare, weathered wood.  It wasn’t exactly… striking–at least not in the same way as the original piece I was inspired by.  But it was kind of cool.  Seeing it made me wish I had done a bit more painting around the edges, to help give the bare shape contrast.  Maybe it would need staining.

Not long after I did the reveal to myself, I got a text from the wife saying she was in the area and would be home within 20 minutes.  Soon enough, her Element pulled up and I got my first glimpse of the gigantic thing that was to be our new pooch.

NEXT

 

Birthday Surprise(s) Part 3

The Shop

The Shop

I could see the wife peering in the window of the door to my wood shop.  However, from her angle, and with the dimness of the shop’s interior, she could probably only see my basic shape and little detail of anything I was working on (wooden boards on a wooden floor).  Unfortunately, there was no way she hadn’t heard me drilling the screws into the supporting crossbeam of her birthday present as she made her way across the yard to the shop.

The wife knocked on the door.  I cursed, knowing I was busted, and went over to unlock the door and open it a few inches.

“Why did you lock the door?” she asked in a tone that suggested she was amazed not to find a meth-lab under construction within the shop’s interior.

“To keep you from coming in,” I said.

“What are you doing in there?” she said, trying to push the door open.  I held it firm.

“You don’t get to know that, yet,” I said.

She narrowed her eyes at me.  “I don’t?”

“Nope.”

“Are you working on a surprise?”

“Yep.”

“For my birthday?”

“Yep,” I said.  “Amber’s not the only one who gets to surprise you.”

The wife looked thoughtful, annoyed and pleased all at once.  She went back to the house without having a peek.  However, the fact that I was busted in mid-assembly on this birthday gift meant one major thing:  there was no backing out of this now; I was committed.  The wife now knew I was working on something—something that involved not only power tools but likely wood—and she would be expecting an end result as her surprise.  If I was truly going to see this thing through, I realized I had better make with buying a horse decal and quick.

That afternoon, I did a bit more searching online and finally found what appeared to be the perfect horse decal.  It was, again, a bit more expensive than you’d really care to pay for something you were just going to wind up peeling off and probably tearing to shreds in the process, but it matched my dimensions and the style I wanted.  And, if it worked, it would create an effect I would be hard-pressed to recreate by hand.  I ordered it.

The cat being out of the bag that I had a secret project in the shop, I didn’t even have to do any sneaking to work on it over the following days.  Not that there was much work to be done on it without the horse decal.  As for the wife, I didn’t think she would actually go out to the shop to have a look around, but I decided to make it annoying for her if she did.  In addition to keeping the shop locked at all times, I stationed tall items in all lines of sight from sweety-accessible windows.

While the wife was in the shower, a day or two later, her sister Amber told me that the wife had been grilling both her and Ma as to what I was making.

“Does she have any idea what it is?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

This kind of surprised me.  I had actually been shocked that the wife hadn’t immediately guessed what I was doing based on the sound of me drilling screws into wood to begin with.  Given the day she’d had to think on it, though, it struck me as amazing that she hadn’t put together the number of pretty obvious clues lying about, many of which I knew she had seen and/or heard.  Somehow she had not, though.

“She’ll figure it out,” I said.  “There’s no way she won’t.”

The sister and mom-in-law left on Sunday, October 27.

On Monday morning, before the wife left for work, she asked me if her surprise present would be ready by the time of her birthday, two days away.  I told her I hoped so, but that I was still waiting for part of it to arrive.  Her eyes gleamed evilly at this.

“What are you waiting on?”

“Something very important without which I can’t do the rest of it.”

“It’s something you’re building?”

“Yeeees.”

“Will I like it?”

“I hope you love it,” I said.

I could see her studying my face for any clues.  Then I saw her expression shift in a very dangerous way.  “I know what it is,” she said.

“You do?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

Now I studied her face and saw there was a degree of certainty to be found there.

“I’m astounded it’s taken you this long,” I said.  Still, I wasn’t going to give anything away without proof.

The wife seemed to think for a few more seconds, then said, “Do some friends of ours have one like this?”

Er.  This seemed odd.  Cause even though we are friends with the owners of the gallery in which the original inspiration for this gift was for sale, her phrasing somehow made me believe she was thinking of something else.  I didn’t know what, exactly, but it didn’t seem like what I was creating.

“Nope.  You don’t know it,” I said.  She declined to speculate further.

Later that day, the horse decal was delivered.  It came in three sheets–head, rear and tail.  The head portion, however, fit perfectly with the image I had in my noggin.  I followed the instructions to carefully apply it to the boards.  After that it was just a matter of starting the painting process.

I was determined to use some of the extra house paint we had stored in the shop, but the splatter paint effect I was able to get by dipping a brush into them and flicking it at my wooden canvas was not exactly the effect I had hoped for.  It was too drippy, chaotic and difficult to control.  Granted, I wanted that look as well, but I decided instead to use some of the 20 cans of spray paint we had to achieve a more controlled effect.  For the benefit of those of you who are not taggers, if you depress a spray paint nozzle ever-so-slightly it will spit out a spatter of paint as opposed to the standard spray.  With some practice, you can control the thickness of the spatters to a degree.  When applied from a sufficient distance, this gives a nice speckled effect.  I started with beige, dark blue, red, black and gray (including the last of a small can of Testors gunmetal gray primer I’ve had since college).  It started to look pretty good.  I gave it a few hours to dry and came back to do some more.  I was careful to wash all the paint off of my hands, and had worn my painting clothes so as not to cause any questions any noticed spatters would bring.

On Tuesday, while the wife had the day off, I went back out to the shop to work some more.  This time I added some gold spatters, though only sparingly.  I wanted something that would catch the light.  I didn’t have a lot of time, though, because we were having some of the cast of Dracula: A Rock Opera over to eat stew and watch bad vampire movies.  I eventually left things to dry and returned to the house.  And this was when my life changed.

NEXT

 

Birthday Surprise(s) Part 2

blog-dsla2First up, I needed wood, and old wood at that.  The original print looked as though it were painted on old fencing with lots of character and weathering to it.  Fortunately, our house, when we purchased it nigh on two years back, came with not only a wood shop but a wood shed as well.  The wood shop is an outbuilding that is kind of wasted on me, as I’m by no means a wood worker and own very few of the power tools necessary for the cause.  Our home’s previous owner, however, was a woodworker and built the shop to spec for all of his carpentry needs.  It’s basically a long one room structure, on a cement block foundation, lined with peg board and with a rough wooden floor.  In the summer, it can be cooled with a window air conditioner.  In the winter, it can

The Shop

The Shop

be heated via wood stove.  We mostly use it for the storage of tools, paint and gardening supplies, though I have a desk out there to occasionally go and write.  The wood shed is a different outbuilding that is, as its name suggests, a shed filled with split wood.  This is less useful because the only wood-burning heater on the property is the wood stove in the shop.  We have a fireplace in the house, but its currently set up for gas logs.  However, the wood shed does allow us room to store mowers and there was also a small supply of 2×4 lumber that had been weathering nicely for years.  Bingo.

I hauled the selection of lumber into the wood shop and laid it on the floor.  I tried to arrange it side by side in

The Woodshed

The woodshed (it’s hidden behind the trees)

as eye-pleasing a fashion.  After several rearrangings, I was satisfied that it looked good.  My next step was to flip it all over and try to secure it together with smaller, thinner lengths of wood, barn-door style.  I already had a supply of self-piloting wood screws.  What I didn’t have was a drill with batteries that were charged.  After several hours on the charger, neither battery for our Black & Decker Firestorm drill gave up much power.  Great.  They were dead.  Which meant more delay in the assembly of the present.  It was looking like my emergency backup jewelry would be needed.  Still, I ordered new batteries and hoped for the best, deciding that their not inconsiderable cost could be counted toward the total value of the present.

A few days later, Monday, October 21, my mother-in-law arrived for her visit.

On Tuesday, while the wife was out running errands, I shared with her my potential horse-painting on wood surprise project and gave her the backstory on its origin.  I still wasn’t sure how I was going to paint the horse part of it, but had a few ideas.  Ma said she thought it sounded nice.  She also let me in on a birthday secret, which was that my sister-in-law from Kentucky would be sneaking into town to surprise the wife on Wednesday.  This, I knew, would be a great surprise and was more incentive for me to pull the trigger on my surprise so that I was not left out of the surprise game.  This meant finalizing the plan for the horse.

The idea I had for doing it was to purchase a large horse silhouette wall decal which I would (hopefully) be able to affix to the boards I would (hopefully) soon be securing together.  I then planned to splatter paint the whole thing, allowing the splatters of paint to create a reverse silhouette so that the horse silhouette would appear as just bare, weathered wood against a Jackson Pollock backdrop.  I did a bit of research on such decals, but most of them were either not what I wanted or were a lot more expensive than I’d hoped.

On Wednesday my drill batteries arrived.  The wife did not seem suspicious.  Nor was she suspicious when someone knocked on the front door at 9:00 that night.  In fact, she thought it was me home early from my play’s dress rehearsal, `til she opened the door and saw some woman standing there in the darkness.  It took her a few seconds to see through the gloom that it was her sister, Amber.

On Thursday, October 25, while ostensibly outside hauling lawn furniture to the basement for the winter, I snuck out to the wood shed.   I figured the wife would be distracted by her mother and her sister and wouldn’t know I was gone until I’d had a chance to try out my new drill batteries, which had been charging all night.  Sure enough, the drill sunk a self-piloting screw through the thinner bit of wood on the back of my weathered boards and with great efficiency.  I tried another.  It also worked great.  Soon the whole upper cross beam was affixed to the boards.  I was so happy that I did the lower beam, too.  Then, as I was starting the first screw in the diagonal cross beam, I felt a disturbance in the force.  Somewhere nearby I was missed.  Every psychic fiber of my being cried out that I should put down the drill and return to the house, for a one woman search party would soon be sent out.  Alas, I ignored this in favor of finishing the cross beam.  A couple of minutes later, I was just about to drill the last screw when I heard the shop’s door knob rattle and looked up to see the wife trying to peer in through the window in the door.

NEXT

 

Birthday Surprise(s) Part 1

blog-dsla2As I’ve chronicled in the past, across several blogging platforms, my wife loves nothing more than for me to try and surprise her for her birthday and for her to guess what it is I’m getting her.  Loooooves it.  Can’t get enough of it.  Lives for it, really.  It’s the only good reason to have birthdays.  Or Christmases.  Or anniversaries.

The way this almost always goes down is that she’ll pester me for hints for days on end until I finally give her the most perfectly hand-crafted hint, one designed to in no way convey actual information about the gift at hand while at the same time being completely valid as a hint about said present.  Then, with the hint still hanging in the air there next to my self-respect, she dashes both by pulling the answer out of the ether and then announcing that she knows what it is.  Almost always, in these cases, I am able to tell from her tone and facial expression that, yes, she does indeed know.  I then have to tell her to go ahead and say it, which she does, and then she gets to watch my expression as it transitions from one of hope that she’s gonna get it wrong for once to one of dammit, she got it right again.  This, for her, is fun.  And it’s happened time and time again, and I’ve only been able to keep gifts a secret on a scant few occasions.

Over the course of our marriage, though, our major annual celebrations have dwindled somewhat to the point that we don’t really do anything huge for one another, even at Christmas.  Sure, I might find something crafty off of Etsy that I know she’ll like.  Or she’ll get me something Doctor Who related.  But mainly if there’s something out there we want, we usually just go get it and don’t have to wait for a big celebration to ask for it as a gift.  This has greatly cut down on the amount of gift-guessing on her part, which is the major downside as far as she sees it.

This year was different.  For her birthday in October, I knew I had to come up with something good because she had given me a massively cool and very expensive gift for my birthday in September in the form of a leather satchel.  I’d been searching for just such a satchel at the time she picked this one out, as I was trying to find a replacement for my decade-old Magic Bag (a.k.a. the CompUSA laptop bag which I won as a runner-up prize in an online sweepstakes I’d evidently entered in 2002 and which has served me well since, save for the daylight I could see pouring in the fabric around the reinforced strap rings).  I’d figured that if the Magic Bag had to be replaced I may as well replace it with something cooler and had begun looking at leather bags.  The thing is, I’m terribly picky about the requirements such a bag would have to have–being as it would have to live up to the reputation and utility of the Magic Bag.  I’d finally found something I liked and showed it to the wife.  She balked at the price of $140, which I had to admit was a bit more than I usually spend for personal luggage.  Then she proceeded to go online to Etsy and find a bag that cost four times as much and was four times cooler.   This she purchased for me for mine day of birth.  I didn’t even have to try and guess what it was.

After the bag had arrived and I’d had a few days to bask in its glory (it is quite possibly the coolest thing I own) she let it be known that I’d better have big plans for her birthday, cause I now owed her.

Er.

Um.

Hmm.

I pondered this for some time.  It was going to be difficult to come up with something anywhere near as cool as that bag.  My first impulse was to schedule some sort of vacation destination–which I’ve had good luck with in the past.  However, I was already contracted to act in two upcoming plays at the local theatre and would have very little time unaccounted for in that department, not to mention the freelance writing gigs I was also contracted to complete in a timely fashion.  This sucked, because the wife had managed to get several days off in a row during the week of her birthday, but I was acting in Dracula: A Rock Opera during that time and couldn’t get away.  Thankfully, my mother-in-law, who I adore, agreed to come up and spend that week with us, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about it.  I still had to come up with a gift, though, and the days in which I could put it together were rapidly decreasing in number.

Now, ladies, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but most guys in long-term relationships have a gift in their back pocket that they know they can rely upon to get them out of the dog house if need be, or which they can use in case of emergency for big-event gifts such as the one I was facing.  (In fact, I have one friend who, I am told, has a secret stash of pre-purchased gifts that he knows his wife will love and which he raids as needed to keep things on an even keel.  And if you happen to be married to one of my friends, wouldn’t you like to know if it’s you?)  I too have had a gift in my back pocket for some time, but it’s one that was going to take some effort to achieve.  The wife and I, whilst driving down town a year or so ago, spotted in the window of a gallery a beautiful piece of country-chic art that the wife was really taken with.  It appeared to be a series of narrow, aged boards, around an inch and a half thick and probably four feet in length, fastened together and with bits of old posters still adhered to some of them, as though these boards had once been a part of a fence on a busy thoroughfare which was a popular place for people to adhere notices to.  Painted onto these boards was the silhouette of the neck, head and front feet of a horse.  The paint appeared to be very thick, but some of the layers of it had chipped away and been repainted over, leaving wonderful textures to it.  The wife loved it.  The thing is, though, once we got a close look at it, her admiration turned to disappointment as we realized that it was not boards at all, but instead a print on canvas wrapped around a 1.5 inch thick frame.  This meant it was light-weight as well as beautiful, but also fake as anything.  Sure, the texture of the horse had been incorporated into the texture of the print, but it just lipstick on a hog at that point.  She no longer wanted it, particularly after we saw the $480 price tag on it.

My back-pocket gift was the idea of recreating this work of art–not copying it exactly, but approximating it with my own touches added to it.  I even had some old lumber around in our woodshed, just a gathering age and looking appropriate to the task.  The major difficulty would be the horse, since I’m not a good enough artist to paint one on my own that would look at all good.  However, I thought I might be able to trace one on from some sort of projection of a horse, assuming I could find a projector.  The real question was whether or not I needed to pull the trigger on such a project given the short amount of time I had.

While the wife was at work, I drove down to the gallery and had another gander at the original.  It still looked impressive and expensive.  And while the cost could be justified by the amount she’d spent on my bag, I knew she would never be happy with a print picture of wood when the real thing was within grasp.  Feeling guilty for potentially stealing the intellectual property idea for my proposed gift, though, I went ahead and purchased some copper jewelry from the same gallery.  It would serve as either a bonus gift or an emergency backup gift should my artistic project not pan out.  At that point in mid-October, though, I had time on my side since the wife’s birthday was not until October 30.  But there were a few other things I would need should I decide to pull the trigger on the project.

NEXT

 

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