Click any letter for a look at my prize-winning essay from the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. You don't even have to buy a vowel.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

50 is Not a Speed Trap - For Lisa

This is the post I ran on my 50th birthday. Since then I've done some crazy things (ditched the family Thanksgiving dinner for a weekend at the beach-fabulous!), experienced some unusual events (so glad I didn't have to use that catheter on the Captain), and took off on some spur-of-the-moment adventures (Ghassan's for lunch, anyone?). This time around this post is for Lisa. There's still time to change the world. Fifty isn't fatal. It's a fantastic voyage. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Some of my friends are slowing down for 50. Not me. I'm hitting the gas and leaving three feet of tire marks and twenty dollars worth of fumes behind me. I'm not complaining about my life so far--I'm married to the man of my dreams who hardly ever looks at me like I've taken leave of my senses, and I have two sons who can play Guitar Hero like they were born with Stratocasters in their hands. I just don't want the next 50 years to be the second lap of the same race.

Sure, I'm slower. I'm slower to get angry. And I'm heavier. I’m carrying some wonderful memories along with me. But they don't have a parking space near the Pearly Gates reserved for those that are pokey and fat. So, God willing, I’m gathering myself up to forge ahead, full throttle, without thinking whether this 5-0 bump in the road will send me soaring into the blue or skidding into a ditch.

I'm going flat out, full speed, wide open and see where it takes me. Whether it’s around the next left-hand turn or into the pit, there’s a story waiting to unfold. I’ll have plenty of time later when I'm done with the race and waiting to see who comes in second to check out the rear view and see what I left behind. If I'm still interested.

I'm going to make as many people laugh as I can today, I’ll put off crying until tomorrow, and I’ll learn to dance the can-can without throwing out a hip.

I can hunt the liniment and bandages later. And maybe I'll color my hair. WalMart stays open all night.

Wonder if they’ll rotate my tires.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

9-1-1 Zumba!

This weekend, just because I was tired of the ordinary trauma that makes up my Saturday mornings, I decided to test the waters of the exercise craze called Zumba. Somehow in comparison, changing the litter boxes is no longer the extended torture that I thought. It was a good experience. After all, those lungs won’t explode themselves.

Zumba, which means “cardiac arrest,” in a language spoken in wheezing noises, is no more difficult than tap dancing through a crowd of snarling Weight Watchers dropouts wearing a bologna thong, scaling a mountain made of glass shards at high speed, or convincing a bride’s mother that hip-hop beer pong is the go-to game for shower parties in the church parlor.

It’s kind of a cross between auditioning as a rodeo clown and dancing a two-step over hot coals. But according to available demonstration videos, you do it wearing a midriff top, hiphugger pants, and a smile, and you do it to the charismatic beat of Latin music, which adds the same special flavor as a kick me sign taped to your crotch.

Since baring my belly would be akin to inviting navel whiplash and subjecting bystanders to sudden thrashing movements of my stomachs, I chose to wear a large T-Shirt. This also served as a container for sixteen gallons of sweat that collected in my cleavage and rained down on my bellies like a cloudburst in a rainforest.

The Zumba people urged me to “feel the beat and let loose.” I think I felt the beat, although that could have been the beginnings of spleen implosion, and upon thoughtful consideration, I felt that letting loose could result in a hefty cleaning bill for the upholstery, the living room Oriental, and possibly also for the dog.

Just as I got the hang of the thing, the draft caused by the up-tempo undulations of my love handles flailing against each other like a truck full of chickens on a downhill grade sent furballs and dustbunnies swirling together in a sort of mystic indoor whirlwind, and with with the sweat-laced currents from my thighs flapping together like an Ace of Spades in Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France bicycle spokes, I couldn’t help wonder if the weather alert people were going to slap a severe weather warning for my neighborhood on the Emergency Channel.

To be honest (I’m a coward), I started with a half hour of my usual workout, which involves rigorously snapping my fingers to the beat of my favorite Barry Manilow tunes. Then I finished up with fifteen minutes of Zumba from a video I found on You Tube.

I know now that fifteen minutes in Zumba time is equivalent to whichever era in world history killed all the dinosaurs. I’m reasonably sure that the dinosaurs died following an actual Zumba workout.

This one almost did.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Surf's Up!

A five-hour car trip to the beach is tough enough to accomplish if you’re Superman and have the gift of looking great in tights and that showy flair for flight.

If you’re a family of four with at least one kid who can’t sit still long enough to blink, it’s a little more difficult. Especially if the kid inherited the fidgety gene from his mother, who is piled up in the front seat braiding the road map.

We packed the car, wedged in a couple of kids who have seen enough in the way of growth spurts to resemble the Incredible Hulk after a Breakfast of Champions, raced to the end of the driveway, and braked to a gravel-spewing stop at the mailbox.

Kid Two rose from the backseat like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He has the eerie blue glow that comes from extended exposure to computer light. This kid’s idea of unplugged is a wireless Internet connection that is so fast it has déjà vu when he turns it on.

“How much longer?”

“Five hours,” the Captain responded gleefully as he put the car in gear and plowed through two rows of daylilies by the curb. “We’re on the way!”

“Five hours! My battery pack will never last that long. I can’t believe you made me go on vacation. ”

“We’re going to the beach. It’ll be worth it.”

“The beach is three hours away.”

“That’s a different beach.”

“There’s more than one beach?”

“Yep. Check with Google. You learn something new every day.”

“I learned my parents are forcing me to go to a five-hour beach. Nobody else’s parents are that mean.”

“Keep it up and we’ll make you go out to eat, too.”

This kid thinks any restaurant that doesn’t offer chicken nuggets or pizza is a terrorist racket designed to kill us with vegetables.

“At least I can use the high speed Internet access when we get there.”

“Sorry. Vacation means we’re there to enjoy ourselves. There’s no Internet access.”

“Not even dialup?”

“No, but there are herds of wandering Triceratops out back.”

“And bar soap and rotary dial phones, too. Right. This is a museum trip, isn’t it?”

Five hours later, we unfolded ourselves and tumbled out of the car, performing the happy dance to the beat of ocean waves on the shoreline.

Kid Two stopped, sniffed the air and climbed back in the car.

“What’s the matter, Bud?”

“According to Google Maps, we’re five miles from the nearest McDonald’s. They have food and free Internet access. The way you people drive, we’d better start now if we want to get there before I lose power.”

What can I say? We might be in for sun fun at the beach, but this kid still yearns for the smell of salt on French fries and has the overpowering urge to surf the Web.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hearth Broken - Gifting for the Ungifted

I make weeping willows sob and wring their hands, so I can't imagine why I thought I could make it all the way to the party with a live geranium. Join me at Stage of Life for the worst housewarming gifts you can give. Then click the link and let Dawn Allcot show you the "7 Best Housewarming Gifts." Hmm, wonder why she's invited to more parties than I am?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Skipping a Step

You married in a family
Of kids all cries and whinies
Became an ace at wiping tears
And cleaning little hinies.

You helped them read and
Tutored math, both adding and dividing
And later on to drive a car
When I went into hiding.

Knots, and rhymes, and music notes
All came along the way.
Then college, jobs, adventure quests,
Made them men today.

One little thing I’ve got to say
I’ll jump in without prep.
Happy Father’s Day my dear
It's time to skip the Step.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Princess and the Papa

The five year old in this story is now a beautiful young lady who will soon leave her teen years behind. But she still has her Papa wrapped around her little finger. It's just better manicured now.

My Dad is a tough guy. He wears Black and Decker underwear and buys pallets of toilet paper from the Army-Navy store. He watches sports on television every Sunday afternoon, even if it’s only putt-putt season, and turns the sound all the way down so that the sportscasting guys don’t ruin a beautiful play with color drivel.

He can estimate distance to an eighteenth of an inch and can tell whether a picture is half a bubble off plumb just by squeezing one eye shut and looking through his thumb. He survived the Depression on beans and biscuits; World War II on courage and luck; and 48 years of marriage on Divine Providence and guesswork. He taught four children to drive without suffering permanent neurological damage, made us wear more clothes when we were cold, and refused to let us hang on the refrigerator with the door open until we air conditioned the whole neighborhood.

So how can a five-year-old bundle of brown eyes and rosy cheeks crawl up in his lap at fourth down and goal to go and persuade him to read The Cat In The Hat for the four thousandth time, without suffering severe blood loss?

This man, who refused to allow scented soap in the shower during my childhood years, now has a cupboard stocked with curly noodle soup, sports animal stickers on his back door, and a maintains a gaggle of Barbies who loiter in his favorite recliner.

When I dropped by Dad’s house last Sunday to comfort the old man in his lonesome existence and retrieve his great-grandaughter, I tripped over three teddy bears and a stuffed cat having a tea party, stumbled on a pair of pink plastic high heeled shoes and a glittery feather boa tossed carelessly in front of a full length mirror, and turned my ankle sliding across a nest of scattered crayons and coloring books piled in the hallway.

“Dad!” I called, afraid to endanger myself by advancing further. A trip to my father’s house should not involve my health insurance. “Have you been finding new ways to entertain yourself or is there a little girl hiding in there?”

Giggles erupted from around the corner. “We’re in the kitchen,” a small, freckled voice said. I followed a line of Winnie-the-Pooh stickers posted along the wall at five-year-old eye level and entered the kitchen. Over a teetering mountain of mall-type bags, a pair of large brown eyes twinkled in my direction.

“Can you tell we’ve been shopping?” the bag-mountain asked.

Does the queen wear matching accessories?

“Papa bought me a sticker book, two kinds of bubble gum, and a Shirley Temple video.”

“Shirley Temple?”

“Yeah, she’s a new kid that can dance.”

“If Shirley Temple’s a new kid, Britney's not even in hip huggers yet.”

“Papa made me a new kind of cheese sandwich. You cook it right in the oven.”

“Sweetie, it’s time to go. Gather up your 50 most prized possessions and I’ll take you home.”

She hopped down and ran to me, clutching a battered baby doll that looked like it would be at home in Little Orphan Annie’s boarding house. “I’m ready.”

“What about all your treasures?”

“Oh, Papa bought that stuff for me to play with here. He already took my other stuff home for me.”

I glanced over at my dad, who was nestled in his recliner recovering from the shopping expedition by snoring loudly through the ballgame. He cracked one eye open and peered up at me. “Don’t forget her food. She has Little Debbie brownies, Beauty and the Beast cookies, and Barbie cupcakes. With sprinkles.”

Sure, the queen may have matching hat and shoes and the wealth of an entire nation, but the princess has designer snacks and a Papa who can’t say no.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From the Ground Up

Sure I was spoiled. The youngest is supposed to be. But when Daddy tried to teach me to garden, he didn't realize that one day my picture would be up on the wall of shame in Home & Garden Stores everywhere. He gave up teaching me to garden. But he never gave up on me.
Join me at Stage of Life to see how his garden grows.
Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Broadband or Bust

Because life isn’t exciting enough living with a pair of lively Labradors and their minions, the cast of the Jungle Book, the Captain and I decided to crawl into the Pony Express Age and install cable television and high speed Internet access in the house.

Actually the idea for the high-speed Internet came from the boys. When they offered to share the password-protected lock they installed on the bathroom door, we agreed immediately. We’re reasonable people after all.

Just now, the Captain and I are sitting in the living room. Alone, a suspicious circumstance because it's never happened before. “It’s quiet.” I can’t help remembering the “Let’s dress the Dachshund in a tutu” fiasco of ’98. “Too quiet.”

“Enjoy it.” The Captain of my Hobby Shop is a computer technician by trade. He could hack into Bill Gates Christmas decorations and install an Apple tree topper without tarnishing the angel’s halo. He has just put in a wireless router so that we can all share the broadband. This works about as well as the North and South Koreans share airspace, but he’s done his part.

Tonight for the first time since building blocks gave way to bandwidth, I haven’t had to ask permission to use my computer. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Me: “My turn to use the computer.”

Random Youth: “What’s for supper?”

Me: “Nothing if I don’t get a turn on the computer.”

Random Youth: Sigh. “Fine. Let me kill this guy first.”

Twenty minutes later, the guy is still alive and I’m wondering who’s going to make the sacrifice in his place. Maybe I can talk the dog into taking one for the team.

But tonight the house is so quiet I can hear dust mites tatting lace in the living room drapes.

I couldn’t stand it any longer. Nothing gets to a Mom faster than “that infernal racket” or absolute silence. “What do you suppose they’re doing?”

“Holding hands and humming I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing?”

I followed the day-glo light of laptap monitors down the hall. To my bedroom. The only room in the house with matching sheets.

The boys, who can’t share the back seat of a beachbound minivan for more than a two-minute warning are piled up in neutral corners of the sleigh bed turned Internet Café, watching THE SAME You Tube videos and instant messaging one other. I tiptoed back to the living room.

I might not be happy with the details, but I’m content that all those news reports about families growing apart are wrong. As long as my guys are wireless, I don’t have to come unglued.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Picture ID

Because my immediate interests leaned more toward napping than writing, I was hard at work practicing clever bio introductions one afternoon when Son Two leaned over my shoulder. He was fourteen at the time, and therefore omniscient. Also, the world revolves around him, rotating on an axis made of pizza and chocolate bars.

“Are you gonna put that?”


“That part about your name.”

“It’s kind of an important item in a biography.”

“Oh.” Chewing noises sounded in my ear. “Aren’t you afraid somebody’s gonna find out it’s you?”

Nothing like a rousing pep talk from your own flesh to make you feel appreciated.

“That’s the idea. I want to get credit for the work I did.”

“Well, don’t use my name, okay?”

The only one left in the family willing to let me use her name in connection with mine is Lucy, the Dachshund, whom I bribe with bologna sandwiches and barbecue chips to guarantee loyalty. Ruling out family names, lame jokes, and references to obscure medical journals doesn’t leave much material. I got back to work.

“Amy Mullis wrote this piece. She lives in. . .”

“Mom! Don’t put where we live. My friends might figure out it’s us.”

I’m more familiar with the delete key than Simon Cowell is with dirty looks.

“Amy Mullis wrote this piece.”

“Can you use your last initial instead of your whole name?”

“Amy M. wrote this piece.”

“Piece of what?”

“Amy M. Wrote this.”

He rolled his eyes. If my tires worked that well I’d get a million miles on every one. “It sounds like it should be on a tombstone.”

“Okay, Smart Guy. What can I say in a three-line biography that won’t make me look dumb?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he replied. “Just don’t send a picture.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sunrise, Sunset. . .What's the Difference?

I’m of the opinion that if you don’t see the sun rise over the ocean at least once in your life, you can’t get into heaven. It might not be on your bucket list, but it deserves a place on your sand pail and shovel agenda.

The Captain says today’s sunset is tomorrow’s early sunrise, so there’s no need to get up when dew is forming on the newspaper just to see one. If you’re upset about the direction, look at it in a mirror.

Our priorities are different. His are wrong.

Vacationing at the beach, I undertook to secure him a spot on the scenic side of the pearly gates when he finally goes to the big place computer techs go when they die, and although I’m uncomfortable mentioning gates and windows in that context, I don’t mean a big room with lots of windows and a high speed Internet connection and a billion users that know how to synch their own Blackberry.

It was 7:00 a.m. The sunlight streamed in the window like it was on a video loop. The Captain’s face was one with the pillow and held the relaxed, peaceful air of a summer firefly in the meadow.

Time to get up.

But how to facilitate the waking process without also calling the enemy to battle? He doesn’t always show the proper appreciation for my efforts to initiate husband-wife bonding time. After the last unpleasantness, I decided not to use the car alarm ploy again. The policeman that issued the warning seemed adamant about the possibility of a future fine.

Law enforcement officers that have gone all white around the mouth do not always make their point clear, so I’ve never been sure if the greater infraction was disturbing the peace or indecent exposure. And the fire was already out when they arrived, so that wasn't a factor.

I sat in bed, resting against the wicker headboard, celebrity magazine in hand. I try to improve my mind, even when my body is on vacation. You can’t fight too hard in the fashion battle, and this issue focused on Jessica Simpson’s shoes. Flipping pages like they were fan blades, I glanced over at the Captain. I’ve patented a look that will freeze jalepeno poppers, but to be considerate, I set my eyes to stun.

No response.

I cleared my throat meaningfully.

No response.

I repositioned myself repeatedly due to an uncomfortable wrinkle in the linens.

No response.

Inspired by the sheets, I succumbed to a previously undiscovered allergic reaction to thread count.

With a snort, he turned to face the other wall.

Somewhere on another street, possibly in another town, an unknown hand flipped a switch on a small countertop appliance, and a dark beverage began a slow drip into a pyrex pot. Nobody gives a wake up call like Mr. Coffee. Captain Caffeine sensed the change in the atmosphere immediately. If they could train him to sniff out bombs like he can track down freshly brewed coffee, he would always have a job as an airport monitor.

He sat up, sucking in air like Smokey the Bear on the trail of a forest campfire.

I padded to the kitchen and back bearing a cup filled with the drink that never sleeps.

He burst from the bedclothes like Superman from a 50’s era phone booth. “So, wanna go see the sunrise?”

“Sure, but you’d better gas up the car.”


“Because we’d have to travel three time zones toward the west to get a glimpse.”

He took a long drink from his mug. Some women go their whole lives without the caress that the Mickey Mouse on that cup was getting. The Captain leaned his head back and closed his eyes with a look of complete serenity.

“That’s okay. We’ll catch the next one tonight. Got a mirror?” He took a draw of coffee that made Mickey’s ears stretch and shot a boyish smile at me from across the room.

Just my luck. I have a plan to get to heaven and he finds the door right here on Earth.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Married with Sequins

My cups runneth over. When you've been married for ten years, that makes a road trip to Victoria's Secret an essential part of the tour of duty. Cruise on over to An Army of Ermas and see how I justified a detour to the mall to take the sparkle out of our anniversary trip. The Captain never knew what hit him. He was blinded by love. And sequins.