The Beaver in the Basement and Other Unexpected Pitfalls of Marriage


When you’re young and in love and looking forward to marriage, people who have been married for awhile flash you a knowing smile as they warn you about some common post-honeymoon irritations--men leaving their socks on the floor, women nagging husbands to take them to the ballet, and the like. But there are some things they don’t warn you about. I’ve gathered here for you a collection of unanticipated pitfalls of matrimony, based on three and a half years of field research, i.e. marriage to my husband, Greg. You may find comfort in identifying some parallels to your own experience, and if you’re not married and would like to be, knowledge is power, my friend. To be fair I’ve given an equal number of “his” and “hers” trials and tribulations, aided by my assistant, Greg, of course.

1. Hers: Backhanded Compliments

While discussing women and makeup, my husband says to me, “Your no-makeup face is a joke!” I blinked. Do I want my face to be a joke? Is this a good thing? Should I say “thank you?” He means, of course, that he thinks I look great without makeup. It just takes a bit of generous listening and suspension of offense to get to the actual compliment.

2. His: Food Sharing

When we go out to eat, no matter what I order—steak, pizza, tacos, pasta—or how hungry I am, she wants to taste it. “Could I just try a little bite of that, please?”, she asks sweetly. “You can have a bite of mine!”, she adds enthusiastically, as if that makes up for it. In what universe is a bite of arugula salad with goat cheese for a bite of bacon cheeseburger an even trade?

3. Hers: Startling Noises

I’m minding my own business, lost in a quiet reverie, when a noise so ear-splitting it has to be an explosion cuts through the silence. I’m so startled I immediately burst into tears (a reaction to sudden fright I’ve only experienced since being married, by the way). A split second later I realize that our Kansas home is still as it ever was. My husband sneezed. I hear that men’s sneezes grow louder and more powerful as they age, and I’m more than a little concerned about where this road ends for me.

4. His: Safety Precautions

My normal turbo speed work mode is hampered by her insistence that I wear chainsaw chaps, “put on some leather gloves if you’re going to be moving tree limbs around all day,” and “be careful!” She says she’s prolonging my life, but these safety shenanigans are costing me time in the present, so I guess it’s a wash.

5. Hers: Under-communication

He says in passing, “Hey, Babe, are we good to go on that thing I signed us up for/thing I need you to make food for/thing we’re going to?” “Huh? This is the first I’m hearing about it!”, I say. “I told you about it,” he says confidently, and then realization dawns on his face as I bore holes into him with my eyes…He did tell me…telepathically.

6. His: Over-communication

She’s talking, and I’m listening. I’m interested in what she’s saying, but I’m trying to determine if there’s a main point here, something I should be latching on to. My eyes are starting to glaze over, and she raises a skeptical eyebrow at me, letting me know she noticed and that there will be a test at the end of this monologue. I refocus in hopes of passing the test, but there are just so…many…words…

7. Hers: Strange Possessions

Thanks to my husband's lengthy childhood Daniel Boone phase, I am now the proud owner of a giant taxidermy beaver, who was most assuredly roadkill in his former life before his fortune changed and he became a much-loved Christmas gift. Justin Beaver, as he has been affectionately dubbed, lives in the laundry room, keeping me company while I work and terrifying unsuspecting guests who open the door to throw their sheets in the washer.

8. His: Personality Fluctuations

She might be the sweetest girl on the planet, but if I accidentally wake her up in the middle of the night, I meet her evil twin. She’s spitting mad, and sometimes I’m tempted to flip on the light to make sure this is the same woman! But that would send her through the roof, and it’s just not worth it. I hold my breath and hope she’ll go back to sleep soon.

9. Hers: Extreme Heat

Sure, we compromised on the nighttime thermostat temp. Nonetheless I’m sleeping in an arid desert.

10. His: Extreme Cold

Sure, we compromised on the nighttime thermostat temp. Nonetheless I’m sleeping in the Arctic tundra.

11. Hers: Tone of Voice Misinterpretation

On the rare occasion that I call him at his office, he answers the phone with such a somber tone of voice that I’m instantly preparing to receive really bad news. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”, I ask, gathering steam. “Did something happen?” He chuckles, and I realize—again—that nothing is awry; he’s simply using his “office tone of voice.” Apparently the animated and affectionate tone with which one greets a beloved wifey is different than that used to greet a farmer who’s calling his banker. Go figure.

12. His: Wardrobe Takeover

Despite her insistence that she’s “expanding my color palette” by introducing shades of jade, emerald, and chartreuse, I know what’s really going on here: She’s replacing the pre-existing variety in my wardrobe entirely with her favorite color—green.

There’s one more aspect of marriage I didn’t see coming, and that’s how absolutely wonderful it is to share life with my husband! Our differences keep things interesting, amuse us, and make us one heck of a great team. There’s no one I love, respect, and like more than my husband. Even though there’s a beaver in my basement.

Did you identify with any of our pitfalls? What would you add to this list? Want more day-brightening content like this from me? Subscribe to my email list here.

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The Wrong Party

'Tis the season for graduations and parties. Each year around this time I reflect upon an experience I had several years ago. Read about it from my fresh, day-old perspective:

Last night I went to a party at a friend’s house. I’ve never been to her house before, so she texted me directions. When I came to the end of the cul-de-sac per her instructions, I had some trouble locating house numbers. However, I came upon a driveway lined with cars, house with front door open, people visible through an upstairs window—obviously this was the place.

This is sort of a new friend, but I knew she wouldn’t have me stand on formality, so I confidently opened the front door, went inside the house, and marched right up the stairs towards the sound of voices. I was a little surprised when the first room of people I encountered consisted of mostly middle-aged men. I had no idea what kind of crowd to expect at my friend’s party, but I felt like I was remembering correctly that she had said this would be a girls night. I excused myself to slip between two people standing in the doorway in order to see everyone in the room, about twelve people. No sign of my friend, but I did notice that one of the men was wearing a graduation cap. Apparently we’d have multiple celebrations going on under one roof--how nice! I left that room and poked my head into another room, where several women sat talking. Still no sign of my friend.

It was then I noticed that the first room had grown rather quiet yet seemed to be whispering about something. All of a sudden it dawned on me: I was in the wrong house at the wrong party.

Since the joke was already on me, I decided to embrace the awkwardness of this situation, so I stepped back into the middle of the first room and announced, “I am at the wrong party.” They stared at me for a second, unsure how to respond, and then burst into hysterical laughter. I looked at the man in the cap, said, “Congratulations on your graduation! Great party,” gave him the double guns, and walked out of the room.

As I went back down the stairs, one of the men yelled at me, “Would you like to stay and have a sandwich?” Another said, “If anything turns up missing, we’ll know who took it!” They were howling with laughter, and I laughed pretty hard myself during the walk of shame to my friend’s house.

The right party enjoyed hearing my story almost as much as the wrong party enjoyed witnessing it, and now you’re enjoying my story, so I guess I’m willing to sacrifice my pride for your amusement. I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

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Hi, My Name Is Rachel, and I Laugh at Inappropriate Times

I’ve noticed something disconcerting about myself: I laugh at inappropriate times, and I can’t even help myself.

Last evening as we were preparing to enjoy a walk around the pond in our neighborhood, I asked my handy husband to take a look at our mailbox. It had become warped and nearly impossible to open due to a recent ice storm and subsequent death-blow dealt by our annoyed mail carrier who was clearly so over these frozen-shut mailboxes. (I don’t blame him.) Hubby wrestled with it for a bit, as I had done earlier in the day, only his scuffle ended in a cry of pain, a furious glare at the offending mailbox, and blood. He immediately took off walking at a brisk pace to release some angry energy. I caught up with him and took a look at his bleeding thumb…and then I laughed. Out loud. I became the next recipient of an enraged glare.

You don’t need me to spell out for you that laughing at your husband’s pain does not, in fact, foster marital bliss. You might, however, need me to assure you that I’m normally a sensitive, considerate, and empathetic person. Why, then, are situations like this just so darn funny sometimes?

I’m tempted to blame it on my mother. When I was a little kid, she would regularly make me eat prunes in order to—how do I say it?—make me regular. I hated those nasty things; they tasted bad, and their texture was even worse. So I’d inevitably start gagging, which Mom thought was hilarious. She’d start laughing, which prompted my six year-old self to get mad and run out of the room. This whole scene was not nearly as amusing to my dad, which ironically seemed to make the whole thing more amusing to my mom. We repeated this entire spectacle weekly for about ten years. (Don’t worry; my parents are loving and compassionate people, and we all have a great relationship now. I even eat in front of them...everything except prunes, that is.)

I don’t actually think that my tendency to laugh at inappropriate times is due to unresolved mommy issues. (You’re off the hook this time, Mom.) I do believe, however, that in tense situations the brain seeks relief, and for some of us oh-so-fortunate individuals, this frequently spills over into nervous laughter…in the face of our not-so-fortunate loved ones who aren’t sure how we can be so nice normally and yet so maniacally amused by their agony occasionally. Consider another similar instance that happened recently:

I was cleaning the bathroom while my husband was in the kitchen slicing sweet potatoes into fries. I heard an exclamation of pain, followed by yelling for me to bring a bandage. In my brief dash to him, I mentally prepared myself to secure a temporary dressing on his hand, load him into the car, and place the portion of the finger he’d cut off into a baggie and then put that into a cooler to take with us to the ER…because these situations are not unheard of, and I’m a farm wife, and this is what we do. When I saw that he was still in one piece, though with a deep gash in one finger, you guessed it…I laughed. Hubby once again didn’t see the humor.

Laughing at inappropriate times isn’t limited to tense situations caused by someone’s physical discomfort. Another trigger for me is being on stage. Go with me for a moment to my sophomore year of college. I was standing at the front of a crowded banquet hall with several other students. We were being inducted into an honor society, and we were holding lit candles while we listened to a professor talk about the rich tradition of academic excellence of the society, etc. etc. Maybe it was the crowd, or maybe it was the flashbacks I was having to burning my fingers on hot wax at Christmas Eve church services past. (Those cardboard drip-catchers are worthless.) In any case, I was feeling a bit anxious. I was handed a lapel pin, and the prof began to explain that at campuses across the country new inductees would wear their pins proudly for a full week to identify with other members of the hallowed society, crossing the normal social boundaries of campus culture. It was too much for me. I laughed—one of those laughs that sort of bursts out of your nose because you’re trying so hard not to make any noise. Everyone heard, and everyone looked at me, and I was horrified. But come on. This was the 21st Century, and I was not going to wear that lapel pin on my t-shirts for a week. This college girl had an image to maintain, for heaven’s sake.

There’s simply not enough time to elaborate on all the other occasions in which I’ve laughed at inappropriate times, like the time a gleeful tail-wagging dachshund raced past a solemn wedding ceremony, causing tears to run down this maid of honor’s face. Or the time I took the age-old advice to combat nervousness by imagining the audience in their underwear when I had to speak at a Sunday night prayer meeting—yeah, that didn’t go as planned… I wasn’t nervous anymore! I just couldn’t stop giggling long enough to offer a coherent thought at the microphone.

Whatever the situation, it’s simply a fact that something that’s funny under normal circumstances is ten times funnier when you should not laugh. If you suffer from the same particular ailment that I do, please know that you’re not alone. And if you suffer from being in close relationship with someone like me, please reassure yourself that they love you, they are not in fact making fun of you, and if you just give them a moment, they’ll get right back to being understanding and serious.

Have you ever laughed at an inappropriate time? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Confessions of a Rookie Farm Wife

They say confession is good for the soul. I’m a rookie farm wife, and I need to do some confessing:

1.  The only “clutch” I have known is the type of small handbag sans straps I occasionally carry to parties. My tractor driving lessons have sought to introduce me to another “clutch,” in the same grouping as brake and accelerator, but the concept is still lost on me. Am I supposed to be stopping or going? I have no idea.

2.  I try really hard to be flexible because I know that farming activities can change from moment to moment based on weather, equipment, or any number of variables. However, when called on to be flexible, my gut reaction is to be cranky because my heart’s desire is to know and stick to The Plan. At minimum I’d like to know the following: How long are we going to be there? Should I wear long underwear? Will there be snacks?

3.  I buy jelly, jam, applesauce, and tomato sauce at the grocery store. The most effort I expend in the preparation of these items involves a rubber jar lid gripper and some unladylike grunting.

4.  Husband, I do not understand how any one person can have so many relatives. Mind blown.

5.  I have never pushed a mower, believing paying twenty bucks to a high school kid to be a fantastic alternative to doing it myself. But I will mow all day long on this fancy schmancy riding lawnmower, especially if these pale arms can soak up some sun.

6.  Husband, when I go for a summertime harvest ride in the combine with you, I make sure all the AC vents are pointed your way because you’re working so hard!...but secretly I harbor a smidge of resentment because I am sweaty and fighting off a deep nap.

7.  These trusty Tony Lama boots have seen country concerts, a rodeo, my wedding, and a few evenings of two-stepping but not one solitary day of work.

8.  I sew buttons, and that is all I sew.

9.  Picking green beans, tomatoes, and other vegetables is a test of my bug stamina. I put on my big girl pants when it comes to grasshoppers and even garden spiders, but when a huge bee swarms around my head, I do a quick, stealthy glance to make sure no one’s watching…and then I run away.

10.  Sometimes I just need to take a selfie with a hay bale/chicken/giant zucchini, okay?

11.  I wish cows were more like golden retrievers. Though their mammoth tongues like to lick, they just stare at me when I talk to them and don’t seem particularly interested in letting me pet them. It's rather disheartening.

12.  Husband, I think that I deserve some kind of award for remembering the names of your 50 first cousins. My mastery leaves no room for you to ever falter regarding the identification of any of my three cousins. Don’t even get me started on your second cousins. I just can’t even.

13.  Bringing a Vera Bradley thermos of cappuccino into the tractor in winter may seem like a luxury to the outside observer, but for me it is a necessity, a lifeline for warmth, alertness, and contentedness.

14.  I mow over the spider webs in the grass near the house no fewer than three times because did you hear about that infestation in St. Louis? I’m still having nightmares.

15.  I receive a great deal of amusement at the expense of the hogs by scaring them out of their peaceful state and watching them run around in a frenzy and then stop and stare at me, perfectly still until I scare them again, and they run around…

16.  For patching jeans? Iron on, baby!

17.  Fields of wheat, corn, soybeans, alfalfa—they all look the same to me! Milo schmilo! (Admittedly my Roadside Crop Identification 101 class with Farmer Husband has helped a great deal in this regard.)

18.  The bread that I feed my family comes not from my own humble pan but rather an ostentatious plastic bag.

19.  Husband, I find it rather unfair that at any moment you can put the combine in park and hop down to discreetly relieve yourself while I must wait till we’ve driven a full round and unloaded grain, walk to the road, and drive to the farmhouse, then repeat the process in reverse to return to my post, meaning your potty break takes 30 seconds and mine 30 minutes.

20.  I’m a bit green when it comes to this farm wife thing, but this is a beautiful life, and I’m thankful that it’s mine.

Come back next week to read "Grace for the Rookie Farm Wife;” subscribe to my email newsletter, and you’ll be the first to read this and every post!

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Job Skillz

At least once a year during the holiday season I find myself driving by a crowded mall parking lot and reminiscing about the Christmas breaks I spent working the college girl’s dream job—as a cashier at Bath and Body Works. I wore a black apron, sold shower gel and candles, chatted with tons of ladies about their Christmas shopping, and kept the shelves in my zone looking tantalizing. One of my besties, Shannon, also worked at the store, so our already enjoyable shifts were absolutely a blast when we were on the clock together, particularly when we both worked the cash register and were able to provide commentary on each others’ amusing exchanges with customers.

I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve had to one degree or another, and I’m thankful for this, knowing that some people truly hate their jobs. I’m also a firm believer that regardless of how much you like or dislike your current employment, it has something to teach you, skills that you can carry with you throughout life. Bath and Body Works taught me how to sell to a customer based on her needs, while educating her about new products and great deals in a non-pushy way. This foundational skill provided a great jumping-off point for my later job as a university recruiter, which required a similar balance of salesmanship and customer service.

I can also think of some abilities I acquired via this seasonal employ that aren’t exactly resume material but will nevertheless continue to be helpful to me. I call abilities like this skillz.

Skillz are abilities that may not provide clout in the business world but prove extremely useful in the real world.

Urban Dictionary and I have different ideas about skillz, as you might imagine, but I like its insight that “skillz may or may not pay the billz.”

Let me share some skillz I acquired at Bath and Body Works to illustrate this concept:

  • Ability to climb a ladder with a heavy box—In week one of my job at BBW, you might have heard me say, “Yes, ma’am, I’ll be glad to go check the back room to see if we have any more Japanese Cherry Blossom Foaming Hand Soap. Just keep in mind that they come in boxes of 50 and are located on a shelf 20 feet in the air, necessitating that I put my life on the line on a wobbly ladder for the sake of your clean, fragrant hands.” By week six my heavy-laden ladder ascensions were practically acrobatic, not to mention that for once in my life I had biceps.
  • Gift of spotting a “lost soul”—Nope, not that kind of lost soul—I’m talking about a specific type of man here. If you’re a woman, you’ve seen this guy out shopping at one time or another, and if you’re a man, you just might have been this guy at one time or another… He walks into BBW confidently, looking pleased with himself that she wanted him to shop here for her Christmas present, and here he is. Seconds later his expression changes as he realizes the battle is not yet won; he’s in the right place and yet has no earthly idea where to go from here, what to do next. Walls of Wallflowers are closing in on him. This is where I come in—the friendly Sales Associate here to save the day! I find out what I can about his lady and make suggestions for gifts, tempering the forcefulness of my “suggesting” to match his level of desperation and mandating that he make the final selection so that he feels at least a little ownership of the whole process. “Babe, I knew you’d love Black Raspberry Vanilla because you like to eat raspberries, and I like vanilla.”
  • Knowledge of the connection between fragrance and memory—Recently I used some lotion that had been in the back of my cabinet for an embarassingly long time, and instantly I felt like I was surfing! Why? I hadn’t encountered that scent since a vacation my parents and I took to San Diego several years ago, during which I took a surfing lesson. Fragrance has a powerful connection to memory to the point that exposure to a specific fragrance paired with a certain person, place, or experience can create a strong association which affects the subconscious.
  • Capability to steer any sort of unwieldy vehicle—Shannon and I were frequently given the joint task of taking out the trash and recycling. This involved a giant stack of deconstructed cardboard boxes perched precariously on a cart missing a wheel and frequently some added adventure due to snow, ice, or ridiculously strong wind. Shannon would use her torso and arms to hold the pile steady while I drove the three-wheeled cart to the bins; when something inevitably flew off of our mountain, I threw myself onto the pile while Shannon chased after the rogue trash. Our little system became a well-oiled machine, and we could complete the whole process in a matter of minutes, though not without squealing due to the cold. I know the folks over at Foot Locker appreciated our nightly routine.
  • Aptitude for communicating kindly to cranky people—Forever-long Black Friday lines cause customers to show their true colors. When someone who’d been waiting a long time reached my register, I’d been trained to say to them, “Thanks for your patience.” To those who’d been sighing, rolling their eyes, huffing, and puffing I enjoyed adding a bit of extra sweetness to this script because only I knew that I was being sarcastic—they’d never guess from my tone—and thus I had a bit of cathartic release from my annoyance with their impatience. On occasion my kind greeting would cause them to look a bit guilty, and I just smiled.

Though these skillz are admittedly random, I have used them time and again. My steering skillz alone have helped me out with driving a boat, a grain truck with a mind of its own, and my old Taurus when it lost its power steering in the middle of the night in Arkansas. In my current and future jobs, I’m watering the grass on my own side of the fence by mining them for both skills and skillz, and I hope you’ll do the same. You never know when they’ll come in handy.

What skillz have you acquired through a current or past job? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

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How to Treat a Girl on a Ski Trip: Insider Tips for Guys

It’s almost ski season, and twenty-somethings everywhere are planning trips to Winter Park, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain. Ski trips provide a wide range of opportunities not only for sport and fun but also for relationships to grow.

My friend, Joy, and I have performed an intensive case study on male behavior on ski trips over the past few years by skiing with a wide range of guys—from crushes to boyfriends to long-time buddies to friends of friends of friends. Our extensive research focused specifically on how these men interacted with us--average girls who, for each of them, fell somewhere on a continuum from “just friends” to “I want to marry this girl.”

We found that our level of romantic interest in each of these males and theirs in us had little bearing on how we wanted to be treated by them. So, Guys, whether you’d like to DTR (Define The Relationship) by the fire in the lodge or simply show her that you’re not a jerk, use our insider tips for how to treat a girl on a ski trip.

In the car—Long car rides are just part of the deal. Use it to your advantage.

1.  She knows you’ve got skills; you could win a sleeping competition, and yet you’ve got supersonic hearing whenever the word “Chickfila” is spoken. Show her you’ve got some conversational skills; take the earbuds out, and talk to her.

2.  If you’re driving on a snowy mountain road and your vehicle has four-wheel drive, use it. She’s not impressed that your pride and two-wheel drive are getting the job done, especially when the vehicle rolls backwards and narrowly misses a tree. She’d like to arrive alive.

3.  If there’s a police officer walking towards your car and your buddy yells at you to put on your seatbelt, do it. If due to the fact that you are not wearing a seatbelt, the police officer tells you to “wait here” so he can get his citation book, don’t drive away. If you’ve chosen to disobey a police order by driving away, don’t return to the scene of the crime; take another route home. The police officer might still be staked out in the same spot hours later, and your girl likes to feel her heart race on a mogul run, not in the passenger seat of your car. She’s not accustomed to running from the law like you apparently are, and she doesn’t want to bail you out of jail.

At your place—Will the ladies on the ski trip be stopping at your place for any length of time? Be prepared.

4.  If an overnight stay at your place is necessary, give her your bedroom, and sleep on the living room couch. You’ll get major points for this…but you’ll lose some of them if she finds crumbs in your bed.

5.  Have at least a shred of toilet paper in your house…or a Kleenex…or a napkin… Anything!

On the slopes—Even if you’re a black diamond pro, the mountain offers many scenarios that can make you or break you.

6.  Offer to help carry her equipment. Some girls like to pull their own weight, and others welcome the assistance of a strong man like you. You won’t know which kind of girl you’re dealing with until you ask, and no girl likes to be left in your dust—I mean powder—to figure it out herself.

7.  If you have any interest in a romantic future with the girl on your trip, don’t get so excited about the awesome girl from your past who magically appears in the lift line. Weigh your options carefully because you’re sealing your fate, dude.

8.  She knows you can smoke her in any kind of race because your sense of your own mortality is not as healthy as hers. Slow it down to her pace for at least one run per day.

9.  Don’t talk about Lindsey Vonn. Your in-the-flesh girl doesn’t appreciate your fascination with her or any other beautiful athletes.

10.  When she falls, take your cue from her as to how you should react. If she’s laughing about it, you can laugh too, but don’t you dare laugh harder than she’s laughing.

At the lodge—Relax those sore muscles in the hot tub at the lodge, but don’t relax those relational muscles.

11.  Help with the dishes. When she says, “I think I’ll clean up these dishes now,” what she’s really saying is, “I think you should clean up these dishes now, and I’m giving you a golden opportunity to prove that you’re a gentleman. Wanna take it?”

12.  You’ll always have Ninja Warrior on TV. You won’t always have the opportunity to interact with this girl…particularly if you keep watching Ninja Warrior. Turn it off.

Guys, I hope you see that with a little intentionality you can set yourself apart from the jokers on your ski trip. You might even win your girl’s heart—or at least five bucks towards your bail money.

This article is dedicated to my husband, with whom I have not yet had the pleasure of going on a ski trip. Now he’s prepared for when the time comes—as if he needed any help! He’s never failed to provide for my toilet paper needs.

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