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Couples challenge

I’m so glad we rent. It’s not that my wife Betsy and I are averse to homeownership. We’d love to have our own Victorian-style cottage or cobblestone house one day.

Since we’ve been together, Betsy and I have always chosen apartment-style living. You don’t have to deal with the maintenance or the headaches or pest control — that is until we moved to Newton in May. We decided a cute, little four-room house with a yard for our dog Jovie was the way to go.

Shortly after we moved in, Betsy and I took a weekend trip to Kansas City to see her brother and soon-to-be-sister-in-law and celebrate our one-year anniversary. Before we left, we experienced our first joys of household-living — little black ants enjoying every nook and cranny of the house. Our landlords agreed to come over and set traps while we were gone, so we locked and shuttered the house and tried to put the infestation behind us, at least for the weekend.

We also decided we’d buy a window air conditioning unit on our way back, as the forecast was starting to look like summer in Iowa.

We returned on a Sunday evening with our Frigidaire window unit. We walked in through our kitchen door and flipped on the lights to find an army of ants marching up and down the ironing board leaning against the fridge in two, nearly perfect straight lines. Inside the clear trap, a black mass was growing. On the floor, they were everywhere.

Mortified, Betsy grabbed the 409 Multi-surface spray and paper towels and began to break the little black soldiers’ line. Fighting back the Subway we’d eaten in Liberty, Mo., I grabbed the full ant traps and tied them closed in a plastic sack.

After the remaining ants retreated to their hideaway, our pest problem took a step up the food chain. One of the mice we’d seen running around before we left had met its end in one of six Victor wood and metal mouse traps we’d baited with peanut butter. The house mouse was stiff from rigor mortis, and one of us would have to pick it up.

The house, still closed-up from our weekend trip and coupled with Iowa’s late-May humidity, made our pest control a sweaty nightmare; however, our saving grace was waiting for us in the cardboard box and Styrofoam packaging. We tossed aside the mouse and ants and opened our new shiny pearl, 8,000 BTU window air conditioner.

This was the first window air unit I’d ever attempted to install as an adult without grandfatherly assistance. I knew it would be a tedious job but sitting on the floor in a 90-degree house, shirt off in a puddle of sweat, it would have been nice for the manufactures to write in the instructions that the insulation stripping would need to be cut in two to protect the entire windowsill.

As I’m wiping the sweat from my brow, trying to find the English instructions, Jovie walks up beside me. She sits on her hind paws and stares into my eyes for a moment, expressionless, then turns toward the stove and projectile vomits, spraying the lower half of the appliance. Seeing I’m about ready to concede defeat, Betsy jumps back in with the 409, then sits down with the air conditioner manual. She’s always far surpassed my abilities in assembling and fixing things around the house and quickly figured out the weather stripping debacle.

As a team, we installed the window unit and within 30 minutes, cold air was circulating through our little 550-square feet bungalow.

It was cool relief. When you’re a couple moving through life, each challenge hardens a part of you to get ready for the next. As we learned the next weekend when our car window was broken out in the early morning hours, in our own driveway, after a take-two on our anniversary date. We may not have laughed this one off, but it’s always better to deal with life’s mini-crises together.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at

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