Christmas Tree Down

Jay holds a particular animosity toward Christmas trees. He intensely dislikes putting them up, taking them down, and especially hauling them away. The moment I suggest that we go find a tree, he gives a deep sigh and says, “Fine. We’ll go this weekend.” I have tried to discover the source of this sourness. Was he perhaps assaulted by a Christmas tree in the past? Did one fall on him as young child? Was there a house fire started by the lights on a Christmas tree? Did he awake one Christmas morning to no presents? The answer to all of the preceeding questions is, “no.” I’ve tried to cater the event to Jay by playing his favorite Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, while we decorate the tree or by turning on his favorite Christmas music sung by The Rat Pack. This helps a little, but from the moment we enter the tree lot till we finish the decorating, Jay remains in a bad mood.

This year there was a marked improvement, however. As soon as the tree was safely erected in its stand, Jay’s attitude was so much more positive as to cause me to try to figure out what we’d done differently. He quite happily and obligingly hung the lights and the garland, made suggestions on where to hang decorations, and lifted our oldest child on his shoulders to hang the star. We discussed this sudden change in demeanor later, once the tree was all finished and softly glowing in the corner. Jay was as surprised as I was by the change, and we immediately set about trying to discover the reason for the improvement so that we might duplicate the circumstances in future. What we found was that we had switched places this year when putting the tree in the stand. Usually, I hold the tree and try to keep it straight while Jay lays on the floor and tightens the bolts. This typically leads to a prolonged game of “left, right, back, forwards.” This year, Jay held the tree, and I tightened the bolts. We got it right on the fist try, probably because, as Jay says, I have a crooked head, which contributes to the arduousness of the task from year to year. Jay never lets me hang pictures for this reason.

So, all was well with regards to the tree this year until yesterday. Yesterday was tree take down day. Every year, I make a point of noting the day upon which the garbage men take trees. I post fliers for tree recycling events on the refrigerator. Jay inevitably forgets to utilize all of these outlets for tree removal. He will load the tree in the back of his truck and drive it around for a month, vowing to take it to the dump “this weekend.” Then, after every opportunity has been missed, he unloads the tree and devises a new ingenious plan for its disposal. Two years ago he cut the tree in pieces and burned it a bit at a time in our fire pit. Since our area had experienced wild fires two summers in a row, the smoke emitted by the smoldering tree elicited panic from the neighbors, who came out in droves to root out its source. We were just thankful no one called the fire department or the police.

Last year he decided to be a bit more practical and stay under the radar. He again cut the tree in pieces, but he bagged the parts in leaf bags and put out two at a time with the trash every week until it was gone. This year I suspect he’d been planning the tree’s demise for at least two weeks because he was all too quick to spring into action as he drug it out the front door. Our neighbors moved about a week before Thanksgiving, and about a week after, a tree service appeared on site to trim a large oak at the edge of the property, removing several big, overhanging limbs in danger of coming down upon one of the roofs during the next thunderstorm. The service has yet to return to remove the evidence, and there is a rather large pile of tree detritus in the yard. Jay marched over there with the Christmas tree and headed straight for the pile. I stood on the front walk, watching in perplexity. Jay threw our tree onto the pile and marched back to the house. I chuckled and asked, “Do you really think that’ll work? You think they will just haul that off along with the rest and not come knocking on our door?” Jay gave an exasperated shrug, and with a grin answered, “Don’t tell me my business, devil woman.” I shook my head and followed him back into the house. We shall see.

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Delta Dog

My husband Jay and I have an American Bulldog named Trooper. He is our second bulldog. We intended to have a pair, but our first died of congestive heart failure at the age of 17 months. She was a beautiful animal, brindled and white, with the longest legs I’ve ever seen on an A.B. She was also the sweetest dog I’ve ever met. She loved everyone, other dogs, cats, and especially people. She was generally well behaved and knew all her commands. She walked at heel and sat to allow people to go ahead of her through doors. The one thing we just couldn’t break her from was jumping up on people when they came in, including us. She wanted to hug everyone, and she would run a kid down, then stand on him to lick him silly. We usually put her in her crate when people came over, at least for the first few minutes, till she’d had a chance to contain herself. I got a chuckle out of flinging open the door to let her greet solicitors, however.

I typically walked Delta around the lake near our house, since we lived in one of those new construction neighborhoods with no sidewalks, and she was so energetic she really needed to run more than walk. She was so much faster than me I gave up trying to run her on leash. The lake had wide sandy paths, and since it was on the back side of post, no one cared if you walked your dog off leash. People also fished, camped, and hunted out there. Range control gave it a diffident sweep every now and then, but as long as no one was doing anything blatantly illegal, they pretty much left everyone alone. This was Delta’s favorite place. She sprinted up and down the paths, greeting everyone she met, and jumping in the water at every access point. Someone had even hung a rope swing under a huge loblolly pine, and she would run at it, jump up and grab the rope in her mouth, swinging herself. I also gave her the occasional push. That dog grinned from ear to ear the whole time we were there, and we had to go everyday. She was inconsolable, not to mention uncontainable, if she didn’t get to go to the lake.

There are actually several such lakes on that particular post. One day, in an effort to give Delta, and myself, a change of pace, I took her to a different one. This was a smaller lake that had a long trail from the the parking area, with the lake hidden behind a natural berm. It was the middle of the week, and I didn’t expect too many people to be at the lake. I took Delta off leash once we were well down the path toward the lake. We came to the top of the berm and looked down to see every single water access point filled with fishermen. Delta stopped to survey the scene and locked in on the nearest group of fishermen. I knew what was coming. Just as I said, “Delta,” with a warning in my voice, and reached out to grab her collar, she took off. I landed with my face in the sand and could almost hear her shouting, “People!!” in her glee as she shot down the hill toward the men.

I jumped up and took off after her, frantically calling her name and yelling, “No! Come!” in my most firm, growling voice, to no avail. One of the fishermen heard me and turned around to see what was going on. When he saw the dog, he raised his hand, waved, and hollered, “It’s okay! We love dogs!” I thought, “You’re not going to love this one,” just as Delta struck their fishing site. Bedlam ensued. In her excitement and determination to jump on, lick, and greet every one of the men, she dumped their bait cans in the water, turned over their tackle boxes, and hopelessly entangled herself in their fishing lines. They frantically tried to contain her while trying to not fall in the water themselves. I arrived a few seconds later to only add to the chaos by rushing around trying to either grab the dog or rescue their bait and tackle boxes, all the while apologizing profusely. The man who’d been so friendly stood with his fists and teeth clenched, in the midst of the scene and said, “Just get the dog. Just get the dog!” I finally did manage to secure Delta’s collar. One of the men pulled out a knife and cut her feet free of the fishing line, and I dragged her a few feet away to secure her leash.

We immediately turned tail and headed back to the truck, Delta prancing and leaping happily about, relishing her adventure, while I muttered and castigated her for causing such a scene. Once safely back in the vehicle, I took a moment to calm down; then, since she still needed a walk, I drove over to our usual lake. Oddly, no one was there.

Delta and Trooper play tug

Delta and Trooper a month before she died. He still has the chew toy today, six years later.

The Fitbit Challenge

My husband is kind, loving, and good. He is also, quite possibly, the most competitive person on Earth, but since I am the second, I forgive him this fault. Let’s call him “Jay” for the purposes of this blog. One thing that ┬áJay must win is any sort of athletic challenge. Now, to put this into perspective you must have an accurate mental image of Jay. Visualize a well groomed and close shaven Viking. He is 6’1″ tall and about 225 pounds. He wears a size 13 ring and shoe. There is no way a man that large should be able to run a seven minute mile or mountain bike a single track that a mountain goat is too scared to climb. His first ever marathon, at the ripe old age of 38, wasn’t just a marathon, no mere 26.2 miles. Oh, no! It was an ultra-marathon. 31.6 miles, that he signed up for about a week prior and did no training for. He finished it, with time to spare. He did the Leadville 50 that year, too. That’s a 50-mile mountain bike race in Leadville, Colorado, that people train for all year and come from around the world to ride. Professionals add it to their annual circuit. The town sits at about 10,400 feet above sea level, and the course climbs to 12,500. He’d been mountain biking for all of three weeks that year and finished in under the cutoff. He returned at the age of 40 and completed the Leadville 50 ultra-marathon, which was, obviously 50 miles. Why would you run anything less?

I secretly wonder if Jay’s had some sort of government cyborg upgrade, like Lee Majors in The Million Dollar Man. At any rate, he generally crushes all comers in any normal running event, like morning PT. Jay is in the Army. They see this big man lumbering up to the start and silently snicker, thinking he will be soon left in their proverbial dust, especially the younger guys who work for him. They see this as their chance to stick it to the boss, and then he blows by them like he’s on wheels. It’s really quite amusing to watch.

A couple of weeks ago, Jay decided he was gaining a bit of weight. It wasn’t slowing him down any, but he didn’t care for the fit of his waistband. He purchased himself an early Christmas present in the form of a Fitbit Surge. He gleefully showed me his daily step count and floors climbed. He increased all his daily goals. 10,000 steps a day just wouldn’t do. He had to have 15,000, minimum. I patted him on the back and made all the appropriate exclamations expressing my pride in his achievements.

It must be said that I, too, am no slouch in the fitness category. I exercise daily, having concocted my own regimen that works well for me and my tendency toward boredom. I entered a 5K once and finished it handily; but I have no need to prove anything to myself and my interest in races soon waned. However, I became intrigued by the notion of seeing just how much I do in a day, and when Jay offered to get me a Fitbit of my own, I accepted. That’s when the competition started.

Now, to me, there never could be any athletic competition between Jay and myself. I readily admit defeat even before the race begins. No contest. He runs 13 miles. I run three. He plans his workouts based on aerobic versus anaerobic days and activities to maximize his endurance. I plan mine based on what I feel like doing that day and avoiding doing the same thing twice in a week. Jay was content to show off his 20,000 steps and 40 floors against my 14,000 and 30 floors, and I was content bow to his superior athleticism. Until we compared the one area in which size is his downfall. The one category he cannot hope to win, as it is controlled entirely by nature…heart rate.

Scientists say an elephant’s heart beats an average of 20 beats per minute, and a mouse’s heart beats over 200 times a minute. It is a scientifically proven fact. The larger the animal, the slower the heart rate. Jay is a large man. I am, at 5’7″ and 118 pounds, relatively diminutive next to him. My resting heart rate is about 74 beats a minute. His is 58. I walk around my house doing normal activities with a heart rate in the mid-90’s, burning fat. I sit on the couch burning calories at a rate that Jay can’t touch until he’s been on the elliptical for about 10 minutes. It annoys him to no end! But, being the loving husband and good sportsman that he is, anytime I get down about being obliterated in the step counts, he quickly points out that as I stand there, pouting, my little body is happily burning fat and calories, while his is barely staying awake. Perhaps it is time for each of us to find a more compatible Fitbit buddy, if we can find anyone willing to take on Jay.