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Some things in spring just don't compute

I don't know if it's the tail end of cabin fever or an annual rite of spring or just me being ornery, but every year I seem to get grumpier as the frost leaves the ground.

It might have something to do with the way the spring sunlight hits the glass on the patio door revealing the most amazing pattern of streaks and dirt. I have never purported to be a meticulous housekeeper but when I catch a glimpse of that or the rain of dust bunnies the first time I turn on the ceiling fan for the season, I get embarrassed, downhearted and discouraged. Put that together with the always overwhelming collection of "stuff" that gathers on any flat surface in the house, and it is time to take all the sharp objects out of the kitchen.

Then again it could be that Kevin continues to stick firm to his plan that leaves the snowblower on the John Deere until the grass is at least a foot high - just in case. After all, they still have snow in Duluth.

There's also the fact that the Christmas lights are still up including those spiral trees that looked so great back in December but now are simply a reflection of how lazy the people are who live in that house. And turning 52 and all that goes with it doesn't help either.

I have been blowing off about a lot of things lately. It was about this time last year when we decided to upgrade the computer for the kids for their birthday. Nothing too big, just a little more space and a couple of bells and whistles to make their games more fun, blah, blah, blah. But what was I thinking? This is the mother of all gadgets we're talking about, and nothing is simple in our house when it comes to gadgets.

The news on this present went from bad to worse. First, a simple upgrade would be a waste of money - might as well just buy a whole new computer. When I reacted with disappointment, that prompted the annual planned obsolescence sermon Kevin has perfected over the years to cover everything from cars to my hand mixer. It is a vast conspiracy to get us to spend and buy and spend more. We are a disposable society, except when it comes to getting rid of anything at our house from the tire iron of our old VW to that first computer that is now considered toxic waste.

I breathed deeply and decided to go along with the new computer idea. There are deals from that cow computer company and from all those stores with fliers in the Sunday paper. But what was I thinking, they are just for suckers. No, the price tag for the computer we actually wanted and needed would be substantially more and would, best of all scenarios, be built to our exact specifications. Cha-ching$$$$$$.

That meant the computer that was going to be the kids' 15th birthday present would now qualify as that year's Christmas gift and be this year's 16th birthday gift as well. They also had to kick in some of their own funds for some reason - to ask for cheaper presents came to my mind, but nobody else agreed.

As their May birthday approached I told Kevin that if that new computer wasn't here for this year's cake cutting, I would be dangerous. True to his word, it has arrived complete with no fewer than five speakers (essential if you want to feel, not just see, the fun of Tom Clancy's latest disaster game) and a mouse with no wires. Thank god.

Everybody was excited. The floor vibrated with the fun and I was ready to contend that it might have been worth the wait. That is until I went down and actually checked the thing over for myself.

First off, I had been told the monitor was "very cool - black and flat." I was picturing one of those sleek-looking things that was flat all over. It had a bigger rear end than I do! The screen was flat and the thing was black, but it was huge. It seems bigger than most movie theater screens and has better surround sound to boot. All this in a room the size of a bathroom, and I can't get Kevin to pop for a new set of small speakers for the living room.

"Those are great speakers upstairs and they can double as a coffee table. What's the problem?" he said.

It didn't stop there. I got past the big-bottomed monitor and I found the volume switch on the speakers, but what I didn't find was any way for me to actually write on this new luxury machine. It seems there was no need to put any word processing capability on the new computer when I could just use the old one once he got it set up again in god knows what little ladybug-infested corner of the basement. No, a new word program would have cost $120 more and that might just have broken the bank.

Well, not having a word-processing program for me almost broke his nose. We have one professional writer in the family and two students, but writing on this new computer really wasn't all that important.

I staged a full-scale rant and it worked, and I was right. So in the end it all turned out OK. The kids got their computer by their birthday, and the annual issue of what to get Mom for her birthday was solved as well - a little new software and a stick to bite down on when she needs it.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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