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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yoga As A Second Language

Lately I can’t perform the Trying to Tie My Shoe Dance in the privacy of my own grocery store without a friend pointing out snippily that yoga would strengthen my core muscles and give me balance.

The only core I care about is at the center of my candy apple. At my age, self improvement is just another name for “Deductible” on the insurance forms.

For the Shoe Dance, I just stretch down toward my foot and simultaneously raise my Reebok while hopping on the other foot and trying to catch my shoestrings. I don’t need yoga, I need higher shoes.

However, in the spirit of avoiding the “I told you so” song performed by a choir of the sagest of my friends and family, I decided to learn some yoga lingo. I figured it wouldn’t take a bloomin’ Lotus to convince them to take their Downward Dog faces somewhere else.

“You need to work on your asanas,” my sister perked.

“Well yours isn’t getting any smaller, either,” I snapped.

“No, I mean your poses. Start with some Sun Salutations for warmup and work your way through.”

“Through what? Do I have to greet everything in the sky? There’s a bird up there that I am NOT speaking to until he cleans up my car."

I decided that as a modern woman who once engaged the delivery room nurse in hand-to-hand combat over the rights to the Demerol, I should create my own yoga positions. Poses that would fit in with my graceful and elegant, if slightly advanced, lifestyle. I’m including them here because my goal in life is to help other people. Also, I have a camcorder and a lifelong wish to win the big money on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Here are my innovations. Be sure to notify your children before beginning any new exercise program as they will want to call in friends to help them make fun of you.

Down with the Dog Position: Stretch as far as possible across the bed until you can at least touch the dog, who is presently indulging in a flagrant violation of house rules by reclining dreamily and just out of reach on the bed as if he’d received an invitation from Lassie for Dogs Rule Day. Smack at his paws with the tips of your fingers until he rolls his eyes, sighs heavily, and jumps down in exasperation.

Tiny Print Eyeball Squint: This is an exercise for the muscles of the face. Try to read the answers to yesterday’s crossword puzzle in the newspaper without wearing your glasses. Squint eyes tightly, wrinkle your nose, and draw the upper lip toward the wild hairs sprouting from your eyebrows, furrowing your mustache attractively. Pull newspaper so close to your face that you could inhale the letters off the page, and repeat the exercise. Extend arms to full length, leaning to one side to allow more light onto paper. Repeat exercise. Give up and roll up paper to use later during Down With the Dog position.

Crossed Legs Sneezing Position: As a mother of two children, I am at the time of my life where a single sneeze can cause an embarrassing fashion disaster. (During cold and flu season I leave a change of clothes in every room, two in the trunk of my car, and an extra pair of stretchy pants in the glove compartment.) I find that the following exercise eradicates the dangers of a water hazard should respiratory systems erupt during a heated discussion at a PTA meeting. When a sneeze threatens to attack, quickly cross one foot carefully over the other and squeeze the thighs together like lemons at juicing time. This exercise may draw unfriendly comments from the crowd, but allows you to put off the purchase of Depends for a little while longer.

Late for Curfew Aerobics: What good is an exercise program that doesn’t elevate your heart rate? When your teenager is out past curfew, sprint to the window every five minutes to check for their car. Sprint to the telephone and snatch up the receiver to see if there’s still a dial tone. Sprint to your purse and dig for your cell phone to see if there’s a message from the Sheriff. When the errant teen finally wonders in, indulge in a rapid toe tap while crossing the arms over the chest. Breathe in and out quickly to stimulate blood flow from your face, which now resembles the surface of the sun, to the heart. Produce an atom-splitting tirade on House Rules to cleanse the body of impurities.

Corpse Pose: This is an actual yoga position designed for total relaxation at the end of a workout. The body is stretched out on the floor much like a murder victim on CSI. I recommend using this pose on that teenager that just came in late.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Key Issue

This afternoon as I fished hysterically in my purse for my stupid car keys that were hiding from me on purpose, I had an idea.

For me, having an idea is a bit like giving birth to a ten pound porcupine. It’s a tedious process, fraught with peril, but quite sharp in the end. What I need is a Global Positioning System that can tell me where in my Super Organizer Bag to find my car keys.

That way I won’t be late for the school pick-up line while I thrash around unsuccessfully in my purse for twenty minutes sifting through stale M&M’s and used Kleenx before attempting to unlock my door with a Number Two pencil and a Twinkie wrapper.

The GPS KeyFinder is sure to be a moneymaker if properly engineered, using language that normal people who don’t factor pi for a hobby can understand. None of this “proceed north past the checkbook for 6 centimeters, turn east at the lipstick, circumnavigate the compact” sort of thing.

My basic concept of direction is this: North is up, South is down, East is left, and West is right. My WWII Navy Dad cringes whenever people ask me for directions. He says if I were in charge of Japanese navigations, Pearl Harbor would have remained untouched. But those elves at the North Pole would still be rebuilding reindeer pens.

I need basic directions. “Plunge hand into the middle compartment with the zipper that’s jammed with the soccer sock. Bypass the garage door opener and orange TicTac, turn left at the chewed cinnamon gum wrapped in foil, continue for the length of the nail file, then shake purse twice firmly. Keys are affixed to the melted Snickers bar by hardened caramel.

I’m not even going to charge the GPS people for this millionaire-making idea. A simple thank you and the knowledge that mommies everywhere will make it to school pick-up on time will be my reward. That and some pizza coupons. And a car with keyless entry.

Now, if I could only find my cell phone, I’d call and tell them. I know it’s here somewhere in my purse. . .

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Taxing Times

Bill usually handles the Income Tax filing around our house. I’m not exactly sure why, except for the fact that when I was a single mom filing my own taxes it took three years, a letter to my State Representative, and a notarized document from the daycare to receive my refund. I can’t prove it, but I think the IRS secretly penalized me for correcting the grammar on their form. I personally think the word “short” is misused on that form, but they proved to be a little touchy about their paperwork.

Some years, depending how test comments are received, I offer to help Bill with the taxes. I probably won’t this year because I’m a recovering flu victim and I’m not up to the task of reprimanding the Sheriff for driving up on the rose bushes the way he does when he’s in a hurry. I only have the one live rose bush left, anyway. I’m almost as talented with plants as I am with taxes, except plants don’t give me any money back, even tomatoes which would save on my grocery bill if they didn’t attract unappealing insects, turn black, and die.

So, in the spirit of helpfulness and teamwork, I have devised a plan to help Bill out with the tax task without actually having to speak to him at all. I don’t like to converse with him directly during tax time because I feel responsible for the resulting medical bills. And hair loss. Besides, he has the Sheriff on speed dial.

I often compose lists for Bill to help him organize his household tasks. I know he is thankful because he immediately bows his head to pray when I hand him my latest composition. He is either thanking God for having such a helpful wife or trying to call Emergency Services on the sly.

This year, I have prepared a list of how not to get audited by the Internal Revenue Service. That should keep Bill on the straight and narrow and head off any trouble the IRS might be having in processing my refund. We’ve already seen how they can drag their feet over an extra dependent or two.

Anyway, the following is my helpful advice for avoiding an audit from the Internal Revenue Service:

1. Don’t tell the government if you make any money. That way they won’t keep trying to steal away with your meager paycheck. Honestly, it’s like two guys fighting over a muscle car with a bad head gasket. It looks good, but won’t get you very far.

2. Throw away all your receipts. The government can’t tax what they can’t find. Get rid of that pesky paper trail. Fire ants can’t bite your ankle if they can’t scale your foot.

3. Pretend to give money to charity. You have the best of intentions, right? Pledge a big ole number with a comma in it. You’ll get around to sending it someday. And when you do, be sure to remind the big guys about your gift of giving.

4. Send “Thinking of You” cards to the IRS every day during tax season. They're working hard. These folks need some recognition, too, right? It’s like a random act of kindness, only you get a check.

5. Send them an itemized bill for your refund. Keep all figures clear and concise. If there are important items that you don’t want them to miss, mark them in red ink to avoid confusion. These folks handle a lot of returns. Make yours easy!

And if you happen to see my husband wandering around the drug store with a fistful of BC Powders and a tub of Pepto Bismol, just send him back home. I have a list of things for him to do.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Food Fight

My previous husband, the Man Who Salts Everything, was basic in his tastes. He wouldn’t touch tuna with a ten-foot fishing pole and industrial strength test line. He liked beef, well-done, with a side order of sodium. His ideal woman was Lot’s wife.

This particular husband, The Defendant, didn’t believe in frills such as spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, or any vegetable that didn’t get stuck in your teeth. Through a careful catch and release program, I attempted to educate his palette. We eventually settled on two vegetables, corn and broccoli, two fruits, apples and bananas, and any red meat, provided the red was banished in flames hot enough to give the sun a smart case of prickly heat. This kind of selection makes it hard to get your money’s worth in a buffet restaurant. Unless they had sirloin on tap, we lost money. Over the course of our thirteen years, I managed to introduce a few delicacies. He has a finer appreciation of Oscar Meyer as a result of our years together.

By comparison I will eat anything that doesn’t require a greater output of energy to prepare than it takes to consume. Therefore, it never occurred to me that I would have children with food issues. That sort of thing happens to other people, loners or postal workers with a grudge. But it happened to me, so it could happen to anyone who is careless with entrees that come in boxes festooned with the words “Ready in Minutes!” or “Turn Your Meat Into a Meal!” I'm a sadder but wiser girl. Exclamation points should not constitute a major component of the food pyramid.

Son One will eat any food item that does not come into physical contact with another food item during growth, processing, or preparation. Except for beans. Beans are unacceptable for consumption at any time. If he were in a comatose state heading toward the light and I touched a bean to his lips, he would return to the Land of the Leftovers long enough to call emergency services and report me for abuse. Most other food is satisfactory, excepting, of course, the standard internal organs, as long as no other food compromises its integrity by intersecting its boundaries. Once the corn touches the potatoes, you may as well call the dog in to lick the plates, because supper is over. Son One’s favorite food group is any carbohydrate that is available in bulk quantities.

Son Two eats only attractive food. Grill marks and stray condiments are unacceptable. Any crust-bearing foods, cheese varieties that are unwelcome at the pizza buffet, or items swathed in juices recycled for extended durations in a crock pot are unacceptable at mealtime. Vegetables, while handy for use in slingshot weaponry, are not welcome offerings, except for the fluffy treetop parts of the broccoli which may be served in alternating months that contain an R. Son Two has grown to teenagerhood on sweetened cereal, cheese pizza, and filet mignon that drips blood like an open wound. Artificial flavoring is his favorite food group.

The latest Surgeon General reports stress that family bonds grow as a result of mealtimes spent together. Odds are the Surgeon General never had to cut the crust off the biscuits while making sure the gravy didn’t create an alternate route through the potatoes. Frankly, that’s more bondage than I can stand.

Friday, February 15, 2008


It’s not that I don’t get embarrassed. There’s a name for the special shade of red I turned when my youngest son jumped the communion rail at church. But after years of doling out sermons on the subject, I’ve done the unthinkable, and I have the decency to feel a bit bashful about my lapse.

But since I’m 48 years old, I feel that I have earned the privilege to balance my walker on the wild side. So when I was wheeling my buggy down the aisle of the local Super Duper Market, I grabbed a bottle of water that was on sale.

That’s right. I paid for water. If Jennifer Aniston can do it, so can I. We have a lot in common, after all. She shaves one leg at a time just like I do. Except that she can afford laser removal and will probably stay silky smooth all her life, and I’m at the age when random hairs shoot out of various body parts with alarming frequency, requiring a doctor wielding lasers like Jesse James with a pair of six shooters to keep up.

Later, as Bill and I unloaded the groceries together, a little bonding exercise I like to call Marital Freezer Burn, hubby dear took the opportunity to lighten the mood with witty commentary. I kept busy trying to hide the bottled water beneath the Brussels sprouts. He’s a good sport, but he’s listened to so many speeches about money wasted on water over the years, the man is afraid to throw a penny in a wishing well.

“You got liver.” He made accompanying facial gestures that either indicated disapproval or suggested he had his boxers on backwards.

“It’s good for you.”

“I don’t eat internal organs.”

“Oh, it’s not to eat. It’s for a possible donor situation.”

“Very funny. What’re you hiding under the vegetables?”

“I’m not hiding anything. There are no secrets in our marriage.”

“What about the Johnny Depp poster you’ve got stashed in your women’s magazine?”

Drat. I planned an undercover Depp relocation for later that evening. “That doesn’t count. Besides, you’ve got Penelope Cruz stuck in that National Geographic in the bathroom.” I started edging down the hall with the grocery bag.

“What’s in the bag? Did you get saturated fat?”

“Yes. I’ll show it to you later.” I gave him what I hoped was a come hither look. “After the kids are in bed.”

“Did you drop your contact in the cat food again? You’re making that scrunchy face.”

I sighed. The hall was inches away. Trying not to draw attention to the grocery bag, I turned to saunter nonchalantly away.

“So. Is it a member of the crunchy fried family?”

“Ummm, I’d say it’s more smooth.”

“So it’s not pork rinds? You never get me anything I like.”

“Last week I let you have turkey bacon.”

“I’ll alert the media.”

“I’m looking out for your health.”

Sensing junk food on the horizon, the kids appeared from their room, the land where video games go to die. Hearing the rattle of bags in the kitchen, the dogs rushed past the boys to get their shopping day surprise, knocking the bag holding my clandestine purchase out of my hand and sending the bottle of storebought water rolling across the floor.

“What’s this?” (Why is it that gleefulness can sometimes be more irritating than being swerved Scampi with shells still on the shrimp?) “You’re cheating on the grocery budget with. . .SmartWater?” He was happier than a Collie in a cow pasture with all day free to roll.

I had the decency to harbor a bit of embarrassment. “Okay, I’ve been drinking SmartWater. But so far, it hasn’t helped.”

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Attack of the Killer Alfredo

My husband thinks fully cooked meals spring ready-made from the oven like Venus rising from the foam, but with gravy. I don’t know how he survived eight years of bachelorhood before he met me, but I do know why he wore pants that would be relaxed-fit on Paris Hilton, and why his eyes glaze over with that faraway look when we drive past Burger King.

These days he’s making up for all the meals he missed by hanging out in the kitchen, waiting to see if the Pillsbury Dough Boy appears from the swirling mists in the freezer. It’s like watching a toddler get ready for a visit from Santa.

“What did you eat before we got married?” I quizzed one day as he stared into the empty tea pitcher like a motherless calf.

“Tuna casserole,” he answered, prodding a package of frozen hamburger in hopes it might turn magically into meatloaf.

“You ate tuna casserole for eight years?”

“No, I had the same tuna casserole in the freezer for eight years. I got custody in the divorce. Every night I had to figure out what to do so I wouldn’t have to eat it. I know the nutrition and pricing information for every item on the fast food market.”

At least I don’t have to worry about any fond feelings left toward his first wife. The woman did things to tuna that I couldn’t do to scrap metal without heavy-duty equipment. She didn’t use serving spoons. It took the jaws of life to separate the one that didn’t get away from the casserole dish.

It makes my life easy. If I defrost cinnamon buns in the microwave, he thinks they’re homemade. I hate to tell him, but if I can’t get it out of a can, jar, or economy size shrink-wrapped package, I’m not going to be serving it for supper. There was a time when a woman’s dreams were fulfilled by spending enough time in the kitchen to bake biscuits lighter than an angel’s wing, put up enough tomatoes to last the winter, and memorize the recipe for grandmother’s heirloom pickled poundcake.

That time is past.

When I discovered Alfredo sauce in a jar, I was more excited than a Brownie Scout on cookie delivery day. While I understand that I’m not going to find fettuccine Alfredo tacked up on the doctor’s bulletin board as one of your top ten heart healthy foods, it’s part of a meal that everyone in my family will eat, which goes a long way towards making it the star atop the food pyramid in my house. Add some grilled chicken, and everyone from Finicky Fred to the dog next door is happy. At the grocery store, I deviated from the list and popped a couple of jars of the white stuff into my buggy. Then I wheeled innocently down the aisle, full of the peaceful conviction that comes from providing a good meal for a loving and happy family.

Later that evening, while my back was turned, the beast, heady with the freedom that comes upon release from captivity and applied heat, shattered the air with a mighty blast and attacked. I screamed.

The children ran to the kitchen like the population of Tokyo pouring in to see Godzilla get the big one.

Kid One: “Did you start another fire?”

Alfredo covered the front on the stove like a dust ruffle. I had spatters up my sleeve and a striking Picasso-esque design smoked on my Snoopy sweatshirt. "Not yet sweetie, but stay tuned."

Kid Two: “Is supper ready?”

Kid One with conviction: “Supper can’t be ready. The smoke detector’s not going off.”

Suddenly the beast attacked again, rising from the depths of the superheated Alfredo like a milky Kraken surging to the surface from the ocean floor. This time I was prepared. No towering wall of Alfredo is going to threaten my family without me beating it into submission with a serving spoon and the lid to a two-quart boiler. “Run, kids, run!”

Heating supper from a jar should not require escalation of the National Defense Warning System.

Bill sauntered around the corner, hands in pockets. “Need some help?”

“Sure. Do we have Chef Emeril or the Marines on speed dial?”

The lid on the pot rattled like a teenager’s knees at quarter past curfew. He whisked the pot off the stove, poured the contents into a bowl, added a paper plate lid, then tucked the whole thing neatly into the microwave. Slamming the door with a flourish, he performed the beep-boop medley on the keypad that told the machine to cook Alfredo sauce.

"Very nice. I guess all those years of bachelorhood prepared you for anything."

He grinned. “Once you’ve been face to face with an eight year old tuna casserole, everything else is easy."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beware (With apologies to Jenny Joseph)

(For my husband, Bill, who has a Very Important Birthday coming up)

When I am old I shall wear Speedos
With sandals and black socks
And a Hawaiian floweredy shirt.
I shall collect old electrical appliances
That no longer work and are missing buttons.
And keep spare screws and washers
In jelly jars on a shelf.

I shall wear striped shirts and plaid shorts together
With the waistband under my armpits
And an old felt hat
From 1947.

But for now I must hold down a job
And go to church
Even Sunday School
And buy milk by the gallon.

But maybe I should buy bicycle pants for now
So people who know me won’t be surprised
When suddenly I am old and start to wear Speedos.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Say Cheese

Of all Mother Nature’s gentle and endearing creatures, I most identify with the groundhog. He waits patiently underground all year, feasting on delicacies and delights, only to appear in the gloom of a February morning to decide if he needs to reinforce his self image with six more weeks of romance novels and chocolate chip cookies in order to face the world.

I feel the same way when I try on bathing suits.

Something happens to me in between the time when the autumn leaves start falling and the spring seedlings begin to sprout. Cold weather brings the opportunity to stir up sweet snow cream and savory soups. Winter holidays that taste of cornbread dressing and pumpkin pie whip past, and I while away the demi-days of the season gorging myself on cream-filled snack cakes with delicious layers of artificial flavoring. Before I know it I’m two Ho-Ho’s and a Ding Dong away from fitting into my stretchy pants.

Suddenly Puxatawney Phil pops up to remind me that the days of carrots and calorie counters are waiting just around the cold front. And here I am without a recipe for groundhog pie.

And so, I dig in my closet to the bottom of the pile of Things Left to Die, past the leggings, past the belly shirts, past the sports bra that proved just how indecisive elastic can be, and pull out—gasp—last year’s swimsuit. It took three paramedics and the Jaws of Life to remove the thing last summer, and it will probably take my weight in bacon grease to slide the wretched thing on now.

My family cringes outside the bedroom door gnawing on fingernails and popping their whitened knuckles. Will their life be full of pot roast and potatoes or are they headed toward tiny plates of lettuce and low fat cheese? If the spandex snaps into place, defining my shape like a pushup bra that is Victorias' real Secret, a bounty of bread and dessert will fill our table. If, however, the material pins my arms to my sides like an elastic straitjacket, they’ll have only memories of fast food french fries to keep them warm.

Inside the bedroom, I’m struggling to free myself from the evil grip of a tank suit that has snapped around my legs and is binding my thighs together like two teenagers at an after-prom party. I can’t turn the other cheek because there’s no room in front of the mirror. Even with all the advancements in modern engineering, three inches of material cannot be arranged to cover four decades of biscuit and gravy. The tenacious grip of spandex renders me unable to walk.

Suddenly a news flash comes on the radio. The groundhog has seen his shadow and retreated back underground. I hop to the closet, wrench the wretched garment off and gleefully hit the speed dial for pizza delivery on my cell phone.

I have six more weeks to eat real cheese.