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.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jammin' with Jimi

I’m standing ankle deep in the living room shag, legs spread apart, guitar hanging from a strap that crosses my chest like a shoulder bag I’m stowing away from purse thieves. I feel like a Freedom Shopper.

Santa in his jolly elven wisdom brought the children a video game that uses miniature plastic guitars as controllers. That’s like bringing Stephen Hawking a Playskool computer. Personally, I'm having trouble working up to technology that advanced.

Five colored buttons on the guitar correspond to notes on the televison screen. I can type 85 words a minute without so much as a peek at the space bar. So why can’t I play Slow Ride in easy mode without holding the guitar up to my bifocals to help me distinguish the red button from the green?

As the colored numbers disappear down the yellow brick road onscreen, I’m wildly pressing buttons at random, humming “If I only had a brain,” at chipmunk speed in my head.

I press the yellow button in time to score a point and figure I’m in the zone. “Jimi Hendrix, eat your heart out!” I squeal, sinking to one knee and head banging with enough gusto to take the curl out of my perm.

“You know Jimi Hendrix?”

Apparently I’m earning Mom points with my specialized history knowledge.

“Who doesn’t know Jimi?” I’m in the zone. I feel the music.

I also feel pain in my old roller skating injury. “Help me up. My knees are locked.”

I’m just getting into the rhythm of the thing when the song ends. The virtual rock star onscreen shoots me a disgusted look and the audience jeers.

“Gee Mom,” says Son One, ever the encourager. “You got booed by a fake crowd.”

Son Two, heaven’s answer to Eric Clapton, picks up the guitar. “Like this, Mom.”

By the time he’s through playing Freebird, we’ve all linked arms and are swaying back and forth. The dog is holding a lighter aloft and wiping a tear from one eye.

Oh sure, kids today have video games that have more moves than the real people we actually knew. But my generation had Jimi before he was an electronic rendition. We had the Beatles live. We had Elvis in his prime. You can’t duplicate that. Not with a plastic guitar and a six inch cartoon figure whose pixels won’t swivel.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

From Hot Dogs to Handcuffs

Once upon a time, as the newspaper accounts tell it, there was a whole pile of parents with nothing better to do than sit in the school pick-up line and talk about life and love and what to wear to Wal-Mart. As time went by, they came to school earlier and earlier until they started getting there before their grits were even cold, and since it’s just natural to get hungry doing all that waiting and talking, they began bringing snacks. Everybody knows a sausage dog is no good unless it’s been sizzling on the George Foreman for a little bit between the Pledge of Allegiance and Recess. So these folks lined up in the elementary school pick-up line four hours early, popped open the campers, set up the grill, and tailgated til the cows came home. Or until school let out, whichever came first.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all about tailgating. I’m not above getting out grandmama’s stainless and grocery store china and grilling corn dogs from the back of the Toyota whenever there’s a high school football game worth going out in the cold for. Nothing says “party” like Hi-C punch in a Dixie cup. But there’s a time and place for everything, and it’s just downright tacky to pull out your cocktail weinies while you’re waiting on your first grader to get out of show and tell.

For some reason, the principal of the elementary school felt it wasn’t conducive to good study habits to have the students’ parents giving each other high fives and downing SteakUms in the parking lot all morning. Maybe if the parents had invited the principal to join them, the police wouldn’t have got involved. A little tact and adherence to good manners might possibly have headed off the jail time, or at least cut down on the assault charges. When school let out and the principal headed off to shoo the partiers away, one of the Mamas took it personally. Threats regarding the principal’s future health plans filled the air, phrases full of colorful adjectives and a more than a few unseemly nouns were exchanged, police came to visit, and a whole pile of bright-eyed grade-schoolers just getting out for the day learned some new words. And all the while there was the naughty woman’s husband, rubbing his face and shaking his head, saying, “I TOLD her to get in the camper.”

I’m just glad it wasn’t me. If the police were leading me away from the scene in a set of fancy bracelets, all the members of my family, from Dad to Dachshund, would queue up in a nice receiving line by the squad car to witness the festivities. As I drew near, Son Number One, who at 19 has his priorities firmly in order, would lean out to me and whisper softly in my ear, “Mom if you’re not cooking, we’re going out for pizza. Where do you keep the coupon's for meat lover’s?”

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Disorganized Sports

In my experience, team sports were best when the kids were little and played for the grand experience of the whole thing. Son Number One burst onto the soccer scene at age six, wearing cleats the size and shape of the business end of a toothbrush. He’d never heard of “offsides” nor had he, in all his years of outdoor recreation, come across a soccer goal or pair of shin guards, but we missed baseball signups and he wanted to play something, anything. The first time most of the kids on his team ever saw a soccer field was when they played their first game.

I ran down to stand behind the goal so they would know which way to run to score points. Not only unnecessary, this strategy was ineffective. 18 little boys chasing a runaway ball operate on basically the same principal as a swarm of fruit flies chasing a rotten orange. The ball is in charge and, without question or deviation, they follow wherever it leads. Often I looked up in time to see a herd of gleeful little boys in baggy shorts chase a ball down a hill of muddy red clay and into the woods. These particular woods were part of a protected wetland area, and resident snakes and other wildlife were only part of the reason that a No Trespassing rule was in place. The boys would emerge, some sooner and some later, covered in sticks and smiles. None were ever in possession of the ball. Or thankfully, inappropriate flora or fauna specimens.

Another area of fascination is the uniform. Soccer clothes are a curiosity to small children. As a general rule, the shirt billows like the sails of a tall ship in high winds, and the shorts are often large enough for everyone on the team to fit in the same pair, with a drawstring to cinch them tight enough to prevent embarrassment. There was a bit of excitement once when a small, blonde boy was absorbed with an emergency situation involving an untied shoe during peak action. At that age shoe-tying is still a risky proposition at best, requiring total concentration. Dealing with voluminous clothing while he bent to tie the errant shoelace added an extra challenge. He managed to tie the drawstring of his shorts in with the bow of his shoe and when he arose, a dramatic scene unfolded. It took three referees, two coaches, and a Team Mom to restore order.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ho Ho HMO!

I don’t know if all the recent news feeds about us raising a nation of obese children are true, but from the looks of things at the mall this past weekend, Santa’s gonna be opting for knee replacement surgery during the off season. If Santa Claus rates as jolly because of his size, we have some kids out there who are close to hysterical euphoria. I don’t know what kind of insurance the Elves’ Union has, but I hope it’s not an HMO. Santa will have to get permission to go out of network, and it’s hard enough finding an elven orthopedist without having to get one within sleigh-ride distance of a team of flying reindeer. And while Rudolph seems nice enough, I don't think he would be trustworthy with a scalpel and a bottle of pain medication.

So for Christmas this year, when you hear the familiar jingle of bells and hoof beats on the rooftop, leave Santa a little something to cover his medical bills. From the look on his face when I waddled up to sit on his knee yesterday, the man is seriously in need of some help.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Man Hunt

I'm hunting men this Christmas
The one I want the most
Is really most elusive
Down here so near the coast

The weatherman says eighty
So again this year you'll find
Me at the kitchen window
Building snowmen in my mind.

Best wishes for a very merry Christmas and a blessed and peaceful New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

X-treme Reindeer Games--A Holiday Rant

Okay, let’s get real. Who among us believes that any animal with a name like Dasher or Dancer is going to make the cut for a team of high-performance reindeer that has to fly around the world in one night? Those guys might make the top three on Dancing with the Stars, but they aren’t the go-to alpha males for endurance muscle. I’ve checked all over to find the real story of Santa’s team, but the closest I found was Reindeer Games for Dummies featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle. In all honesty, Rocky would be a little more in character than a flying reindeer named Prancer. In the South, that’s the sort of name that gets you beat up every day at recess. By first graders. Who take your lunch money. And give you wedgies.
I’d like to peek into Reindeer School to see what sort of screening process is in place. Somewhere there’s a two-ton reindeer named Tiny belting back Budweisers and watching the Olympic Reindeer Games saying, “I could have been a contender.” That’s the sort of animal I want watching Santa’s back. When three wolverines and a hyena try to hijack Santa somewhere over the Great Plains, I want a reindeer that is not afraid to put his hoof down. So what if he needs a little hoof enhancement to get the job done? I haven’t resisted forwarding sappy e-mails and shoving my mouse through the blue screen of death on my computer all year just to see all my goodies go down some prairie dog’s hole. There’s a pound of chocolate covered cherries out there with my name on it, and I don’t want some sissy reindeer that doesn’t know his antler from his elbow trotting up to me with an empty box and a silly smile.
Let’s get some of these reindeer who are “big for their age” off of the sidelines and into the game. Rumors of spiced hay buffets ruined the careers of too many talented coursers. It doesn’t matter to me why Bruiser’s antlers can pick up television signals from three time zones away or that Buster has the biggest jingle bells in international sleigh team competition. I don’t even care that Barney has a rump roast you could play the Pro Bowl on. As long as there’s an A-Team that can get the old guy in red to my house, I don’t care if they’re swapping sips of carrot juice from a hip flask, although that does explain why Rudolph's nose lights up.
You might want to stay in on Christmas Eve. When S. Claus mounts that sleigh like Paul Bunyan at the helm of his big blue ox and starts calling reindeer names at takeoff, you might be better off not knowing who they are. Guido might think you’re looking a little too longingly at Santa’s bag. One peek at the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow and you could very well wind up in the Polar Protection Program. But at least Santa's annual ride will be protected by bodyguards with enough muscle to thwart sleighjacking attempts by children who are hopped up on dancing sugarplums. Just remember that when these guys say "Dash away all," they mean "in a twinkling" and not a moment later. And don't go laying a finger aside of your nose. Vinnie the Reindeer might get the wrong idea.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Clean Sheets and Cat Hair

Perusing my favorite blogs around the web, I came across a topic that gave me paws, um pause, which is Old English for an idea for a post of my own when stuffy sinuses have blocked any new ideas from entering my brain. Therefore I shamelessly stole this prompt about clean sheets from the December 12th salute to Clean Sheet Day on Seven Babes A-Blogging, although I'm offering a link to their site to make amends for my theft and so they won't beat me up or stomp me with their stilletos. (Check them out at

I have more of a chance of watching Brad Pitt saunter down my driveway in a polka dot Speedo than I do of sleeping on clean sheets. In a country where almost anything is possible, why can’t I hop straight from the shower onto sheets so sparkly fresh that the Martha Stewart on the tag looks like Shirley Temple? Oh, sure I’m familiar with tales of snuggling into a freshly made bed and enjoying that indescribably luxurious feeling of high-count cotton against bare skin. But I have a trio of cats and a double dip of doggie paws patrolling my bedroom like it’s Wild Kingdom. Ringling Brothers can construct three rings and a big top in the time it takes me to change pillow cases. Nothing says, “Here, kitty kitty” like snapping on a bottom fitted sheet in a delicate floral print design.

I almost got away with it last week. I tiptoed down the hall to the linen cupboard and sprayed the door hinges with a puff of lubricant to avoid any telltale squeaks, soundlessly removed a set of clean sheets from the shelf and crept as stealthily as a ninja past curfew into the bedroom--where I tripped over Justin the Rambo cat who was lying in wait, wide-eyed and tail-twitching, camo headband tied jauntily about his ears. Like thoroughbreds at bugle-call, we raced each other to the bed. As I rounded the headboard and headed down the homestretch, I made a desperate attempt to flip open the sheet and send it floating toward the waiting mattress. Down, down the billowing folds settled, landing on the diving form of a springing cat, who had launched himself into the swirling cloud of cotton like a skydiver jumping into the waiting arms of heaven. I scrambled after him in a puff of dryer fresh scent and a cloud of tabby cat hair. By the time I retrieved Camo Cat, the covers resembled a bolt of fake fur on the clearance rack at Walmart. I snapped on the fitted sheet ignoring the fact that my bed had sprouted a cat-shaped lump and a gray tail that protruded from one corner of the sheet and twitched so fast it looked like the mattress was rotary powered.

While I’m engaged in tiger taming, in parades Lucy, the Dachshund Queen, to take up her usual resting place, nestled into the center of my grandmother’s comforter. This girl considers it an actionable offense to move three inches to the right so I can get in to bed at night. Coercing her to relocate long enough to introduce new linens requires a majority vote in the house—and I’m outnumbered paws down. It’s not long before I’m surrounded by more wildlife than you find at an outdoor picnic, the sheets look like they need to be sent to a specialty groomer, and I need another shower.

So tonight I’m sleeping in the dog’s bed. It’s the cleanest spot in the house.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

One Foot-Long to Go

What is that?” Bill was incredulous. He lifted a tiny ear and held out a tail the size of a Q-Tip.
“It’s a puppy. Her mama was a purebred Dachshund.” I stroked her velvet muzzle.
“What was her Daddy? A Slinky?”
Bill thinks he's the class clown of the animal world. In reality he wouldn't take first place in a school of fish.
Longer than she was tall, when Lucy arrived at our house she had approximately the height to ground ratio of a caterpillar on Cocoon Eve. I wanted a charming house dog, a pleasant companion, an unconditional friend for my son. I got a sponge with legs. How was I to know that tiny package was full of dog concentrate? Just add water. Clean up water. Repeat.
“Looks like something Dr. Seuss would draw,” Bill snorted.
Lucy's rear feet are small and dainty. Way up in front of an impressive cargo section, her front feet are webbed with long hairy fingers. One foot points forward, the other at angle reminiscent of a starlet showing off new shoes on the red carpet. Paris could take some style tips from this girl.
Lucy’s shorter and heftier than most Dachshunds, but longer and more streamlined than other dogs. Sort of like a sausage on steroids. She's not a big fan of physical activity unless there is a reward involving sauteed chicken or Kung Pao beef. Sometimes when the weather is bad, i.e. not 68 degrees Farenheit with a northwesterly breeze at 5-7 knots, I scoop her over my shoulder for a stroll down the driveway, alert at all times for predators in the form of butterflies, ladybugs, and low-flying gnats.
Lucy considers playing fetch something in the realm of performing a personal favor. She will consent to go and retrieve the ball if you insist, but thinks it unwise to return it to you since you proved irresponsible from the beginning. She will race back to within a few feet of the waiting tosser and collapse with great exhaustion, holding the ball like a prize between her paws and regarding you with a wise look to see if you have learned to maintain control of your possessions.
She holds similar views concerning other inexplicable demands. She sits when asked politely, but expects compensation for it and doesn’t like to be ordered around just for fun. She’s never seen the point of being asked to “Stay,” her opinion being that if you want her out of the way for an extended length of time, she would rather go nap on your pillow which solves the problem of entanglement for both parties.
She is picky in regards to diet, limiting herself to whatever any of us happen to be eating at the time. She is not prejudiced toward the food of any nationality and consumes fajitas or stir fry with the same gusto as burgers and French fries. Through trial and error, the children have discovered that Lucy also enjoys many vegetables, including fresh corn and potatoes, as well as seasonal fresh fruits such as blackberries (although she doesn’t care for the seeds between her teeth). She prefers ice cream for dessert, but will accept Jell-O, especially if Cool Whip is involved.
Bill has long since given up shaking his head at Lucy’s privileged life. He no longer spouts sarcastic remarks when he finds her curled up in the covers on our bed or waiting expectantly for a ride in the front seat of the car.
“But if she wants something from the drive through,” he growled as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. “She can order it herself.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Camping's Out

Several years ago, Bill and I agreed to take our two boys on a camping trip. The boys, who owned more electronic equipment by the age of two than I have in my entire life, felt that they had been rudely neglected and possibly abused because they had never been camping. They’ve never skinned a chicken either, but that’s beside the point.
“And don’t argue the whole way.”
Bill and I exchanged a knowing look. “Okay,” we agreed. The last time they caught us in a discussion of escalating proportions, they locked us in the bathroom together overnight.
Early one summer morning, we arose in peace and harmony, swallowed our body weight in coffee, threw ourselves into the car and drove in silence and numbed goodwill for several minutes.
“Hand me the map,” my husband said, extending one open hand while juggling his travel mug, aspirin bottle, and steering wheel in the other.
“Map?” I asked, eyeing him quizzically.
“You didn’t pack a map?”
“If I wanted to pack something I couldn’t read, I would have just brought along War and Peace in the original Russian.”
He looked at me as if I had just suggested lining the bed of his truck with dotted swiss, jammed his foot down on the brake, and squealed into a gas station.
“Never mind. I’ll be right back.”
“Mom, is this an argument?” A puffy face blinked sleepily at me over the back seat. His mouth was ringed with chocolate milk and PopTart crumbs, and his hair looked like a weeping willow in a windstorm.
“Of course not, sweetheart. Pop just needs a map to find difficult locations like Asia or our mailbox.”
The boys exchanged knowing looks. “It’s a fight.”
Coffee in hand and map accordianed across the dashboard, we resumed our trip. “How much farther?” he asked, guiding the car steadily around a mountain curve. Some people just can’t be taught. I consulted the map and lifted my gaze.
“According to this, about a quarter of an inch.”
“Never mind,” he answered steadily, his knuckles whitening on the steering wheel. “Where do we go at the junction?”
“The Shady Rest Hotel?”
Snarling, he lunged abruptly for the map, drowning any final shreds of civility in a flood of hot coffee.
“Don’t overreact,” I said soothingly, blotting up caffeine with the Northeast section of Macon County. “I was kidding.”
My husband regarded me with the same intense stare I’ve observed on the faces of cheetahs watching sickly gazelle stragglers on Wild Kingdom. If he had one, I would swear I could see his tail twitching.
“Look,” I purred, wringing out the map. This chocolate drip is the campground. That potato chip grease is where we are now. All we have to do is follow this dotted line across those squiggles and we’re there!”
I don’t understand how some people can live with themselves the way they speak to other people who are trying to help.
“How was I supposed to know those squiggles were the Blue Ridge Mountains?”
“As long as you have the entire map of the United States unfolded in the front seat, try reading the legend.”
“Okay, but you know I get sick if I read in the car.”
“One quick peek won’t hurt anything.”
“Okay, if you’re sure.”
“I’m sure.”
Later, when we finally found a service station with equipment to clean the upholstery, I heard the boys talking behind the gas pumps.
“Do you think we’ll get there alive?” one voice asked.
“I don’t know, but if we do, we’re gonna lock ‘em in the bath-house.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

You're It!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t lack the competition gene. If it were up to me, not only would the National Football League still allow excessive displays of emotion after every goal scored, the victory dance would stand on its own as a separate event, complete with judges murmuring together over technique and holding up cardboard placards with the scores. Interpretations of the Chicken Dance would rate extra credit.

I don’t mind coyly pointing out that I’ve been known to perform my own ritualistic dance of victory, choreographed with vigor and soul to a stirring rendition of Aretha Franklin’s version of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I used to trot it out after family games of Parcheesi, Scrabble, and Monopoly until that unfortunate incident with the dog got me banned from participating in Family Game Night. That turned out all right because I ate all the leftover roast and blamed it on him, so his name is still on the naughty list right beneath mine and he’s not trusted alone with a roast. Anyway, a victory dance, although still satisfying to the soul, is not completely effective after a rousing game of computer solitaire.

It is my opinion, and therefore accurate, that appreciation of competition need not go hand in hand with rigorous physical exercise. Therefore, when I got tagged by the ever-gregarious Wordsmith, I immediately checked the rules on her insightful and well-written (Erika, you owe me extra for the infomercial) blog (Musings From the Mitten) to see if any actual physical exertion is involved. While an enthusiastic proponent of competition, I’m not a fan of sweat, and have often considered dressing the dog in baby clothes so that I can avoid the physical exertion of a long walk by grabbing the parking spot at the front door of the market marked for mothers with small children. However, the dog is still harboring a grudge from the roast beef incident and refuses to cooperate.

Thankfully, the only aerobics involved in this game of tag are fingers flying low over the keyboard. I’m clear for take-off.

The way I understand the rules of the game, bearing in mind that rules are often subject to my own colorful interpretation, is this:

Link to the tagger and post these rules on your blog. Share five facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird. (Although random and weird are often synonyms in my case.) Tag five people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Alrighty then. Sit back and prepare to be entertained. Amused. Well, just sit still long enough to count to five.
1. I’ve been in a building that was on fire. It was a church. I came out okay. Well, not with anything I could bill the insurance for, anyway.
2. I wear my husband’s socks. Girl socks just won’t stay up.
3. I broke my arm in high school. I fell three inches. I don’t feel that this incident is in any way indicative of my physical coordination. (Perhaps I should disable the blog comments at this time.)
4. The blog entry I wrote about the results of my son’s personality test showing he has the same traits as Hannibal Lecter was true. Except for the part where I mowed down the stop sign. I barely touched it.
5. My husband took the same test. Same results. I’m afraid to open meat tenderizer in the kitchen.

Okie dokie, for the fun part: I’m tagging. . . let’s see a show of hands now. . .KODB at TheDoggerelKing, Wynter at FlibbityGibbet, Ltd. at Mama Needs A Book Contract, Janna at Something She Wrote, and Sdarb at From Rebel Deb to Doublewide.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Survivor: College Loans

“I’m desperate,” Laudy insisted, knocking back black coffee the way a Cadillac guzzles premium unleaded. “I’ve got one kid in college and one scattering and smothering at the Waffle House to pay back student loans. I have two more who think the Tuition Fairy is going to pick up the tab for collegiate aerobics classes. It’s time for drastic measures.”
Laudy took a close-up look at the American dream and found out the silver lining is made of promissory notes. A savvy mother of four, she surveyed the situation, consulted her checkbook, and collapsed in a state of cardiac arrest. Recovering quickly, she realized the obvious. She would either have to come across a pair of spare Hannah Montana tickets to sell on e-Bay or win some quick money. Since our family’s luck doesn’t tend toward surprise acquisitions of valuable property, Sis decided she would grab some easy money from one of the reality shows on T.V.
“You would have to eat something live and squiggly,” I winced.
“Have you ever eaten french fries off a toddler’s plate?” she patted my hand. “Caterpillars are nothing after that.”
She had a point. I have two boys. I’ve palmed chewed gum in church and plunged my fingers into slimy mouths to chase semi-digested cigarette butts.
“You have to form secret partnerships to outwit the others playing the game,” I reminded her.
“Easy enough. I’ve orchestrated surprise birthday parties that actually turned out to be surprises, and supervised four children on Christmas shopping trips where nobody found out what the others bought.”
I whistled. “How did you manage that? I can’t buy control top pantyhose without my two revealing the size and color to everybody on the Eastern seaboard. Usually if they’re talking to strangers, they throw in my age and weight for free.”
Laudy nodded and patted my hand. “All I know is that after raising one child that ate only baked beans and pizza, one that ate potato skins and ranch dip, one that ate the chicken out of her sandwich and rolled the bread into dough balls, and one that survived for ten years on a diet of macaroni and cheese and Fruit Loops, Survivor would have to be as easy as scraping egg off the ceiling.”
“That easy, huh?”
“It’s all in knowing how to do things the simplest way. Like spraying the ceiling with no stick-spray. Besides, I’ve been practicing.”
“How do you practice surviving on a deserted island?” My idea of roughing it is buying salad by the head.
“I’ve been foraging for food. Just yesterday I cut up a chicken. I bought corn with the hair still on. And I’ve been cooking on the grill instead of in the microwave. It’s just like cooking over an open fire.”
“How did it go?”
“Great. I didn’t realize what a quick response time we had with the fire department around here. Did you know that you don’t need lighter fluid if you use propane?”
“Okay, you’ve got mealtime covered. What about laundry? Ready to beat your clothes clean on river rocks?”
“Well, I’m still using that old washing machine Mama gave me when I got married. It doesn’t spin by itself any more. You have to grab the tub and whirl it around like one of those little merry-go-rounds at the park. I lose weight every time I do the wash.”
“Sounds like you’ve got what it takes all right,” I said, edging toward the door. There’s just one thing that could get in the way of success.”
“What’s that?”
It was cruel, but I’m her sister. I had to let her know. “On Survivor, they don’t have toilets.”
She looked at me with innocent doe eyes. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope. It’s just you in the outback becoming one with nature.”
“You know, there’s something honest and noble about working for a living.”
“Well, that’s a lesson these kids will just have to learn.”

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Personality Test - A True Story

When the kids were wee, innocent producers of diaper-filling by-products, I remember gazing into their tiny faces and thinking with motherly love, “If I don’t get these guys potty trained soon, I’m taking a one-way cruise to Tahiti.” They giggled and cooed and made those adorable crinkly-nosed baby faces that God gave them so that mothers wouldn’t try to return them to the factory before the warranty expired. If I had only known then that they were actually saying, “Just wait until I’m sixteen. Then we’ll see who can achieve flight in a Chrysler,” I’d be sunning myself in a Tahitian lounge chair right now.

These days the oldest child is tucked safely away at college on the ten year plan. The youngest is a high school senior, hovering on the brink of independence. He’s been hovering on the brink of independence since he was one year old and refused to eat anything that had seeds, roots, or crust. Now at seventeen, he doesn’t just march to a different drummer, he counts cadence.

For reasons beyond my fathoming ability, the local high school deemed Son Two fit for college courses and tucked him into a program that allows for an earned semester at the local community college during the high school year. It’s my job to be late for work while I chauffer him from one institution of higher learning to the other. As a mother of teenagers, institutions fall within my area of expertise. This morning, Son Two hopped into the car after class, filled with glee and the joy of life. That’s a bad sign.

“Guess what?” This is a generic term that means something has happened that makes his planets align like three bars on a Las Vegas slot machine. He has an odd sense of humor. Gets it from my ex-husband, The Defendant.

I gave him my best Mommy’s Listening to Your Needs look and wheeled up to the Stop sign at the exit of the college parking lot. “What?”

“We took a personality test in Psychology today.”

So far, no speed bumps on the road to higher education. How did I miss the road sign that read Caution: Do Not Enter?

“It listed famous people whose qualities we share.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Who’s Hannibal Lecter?”

They tell me the city will replace the stop sign and insurance will pay for the damage to the car. But I’m probably going to put my therapist’s child through college. I hope he’s not taking psychology. That was Hannibal's major, too.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

I spent 40 years pinning my bra straps to my undershirt, and here comes a whole new generation that never tried to put on pantyhose in a moving vehicle who they think they can rewrite the Ten Commandments of style. Fashion rules these days are scratched on sticky notes instead of carved in stone.
Today, my niece wears Tommy across her chest, Abercrombie down her arm, and Liz on her behind.
“Who is Tommy and why are you wearing his clothes?” I asked her one afternoon as she pranced in to show off new duds.
“They’re MY clothes, they just have his name on them.” She stared imploringly at the ceiling as if hoping enlightenment would come from above and strike me with a smart bomb. She pointed to a label I shouldn’t be able to see. “He’s a designer.”
“Let him wear his own clothes. Any boy that’s plastered across your body like that should give you a ring. Or share his nights and weekend minutes.”
“You’re out of date. Tommy is tight.”
“I can see that. Didn’t he have anything your size?”
“No, TIGHT.” She drew the word out like she was playing the sound game on Sesame Street. “You would probably say Tommy is cool.”
“I would say Tommy is living high on the hog with your college savings. What did you pay for the rights to that dustcloth?”
She shrugged. “It was on sale. I cashed a couple of bonds.”
“You spent your future on a rubber band with one strap and a few sparkles? Couldn’t you just cut armholes in a shower cap?”
“You’re too funny. Shower caps aren’t made of breathable fabrics.”
“And what natural fiber gave its life for that plastic skirt you’re wearing?”
“It’s called leatherene.”
About that time my mother oozed into the kitchen clad in a leatherene miniskirt tighter than an onion’s skin. She was melted into a crop top that read “Princess” in metallic letters, and sported a jeweled tattoo beside her navel that boasted a word I was once grounded for writing in my diary. Could this be the same woman who went white around the mouth when my nail polish and lipstick didn’t match? She crossed her legs and I winced. I haven’t seen that much of Mama since the day I was born.
“I see your appendix scar hasn’t faded.”
She snapped a strap and winked. “That’s not a scar. That’s my thong.”
I choked on my wheat toast and shot decaffeinated coffee out my nose. Just my luck. I spend my whole life trying to stay out of the fast lane and my Mom passes me on the curve.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Cart Wheeling

Not long ago, I had a near-death experience in the grocery store. I was bending over to check out Mrs. Fields’ fat grams when a woman wielding a grocery cart like it was a runaway bumper car rounded the corner on two wheels. If it weren’t for quick thinking on my part, I might have required a trip to the Crisco aisle to disengage that buggy from my body. For a second I thought I saw a bright light, but it turned out to be Register Six calling for assistance. Later, when I got lapped in frozen foods by a gray-haired granny with a number 5 pasted on the side of her grocery cart, I could see the need for a list of safety rules posted in a conspicuous place, perhaps tattooed on Little Debbie’s left cheek. With that thought in mind, I offer 8 Simple Rules for a Successful Supermarket Experience.
Show proper care for your vehicle. For the safety of everyone on the floor, do not select a buggy with uncooperative steering that can be guided only by a team of Iditarod sled dogs. Also, be on the lookout for features that may interrupt the aerodynamics of the cart such as toddlers left over from a previous shopper.
When perusing different item choices on the supermarket floor, please be sure to park only in traditionally acceptable parking areas. Nobody cares if you set up camp in front of internal organs in the meat department, but if you pause to check the fat content in the cookie aisle, we will forcibly transport you to the dairy case and secure you to the yogurt section with string cheese.
Please observe crowd-friendly speed limits. I know you’re in a hurry to rush home and get those tacos on the table, but don’t careen around the corners so fast that you initiate a forceful meeting between Betty Crocker and Orville Redenbacher.
Practice defensive shopping. Try to remember that there are people with immediate dietary concerns that may require them to effect a sudden stop in front of you to compare chocolate chip content on the cookie aisle. Likewise, you must understand that if you stop in the middle of the aisle while trying to decide between creamy and crunchy, you are likely to become a temporary member of the fresh fruit display. Take heart in the fact that kumquats should not do any permanent damage to your complexion.
Please show concern for the safety of other shoppers. Do not execute a sudden lane change without at least warning the gentleman who is presently rolling his cart over the heels of your Reeboks that he may suddenly find himself neck deep in summer squash. Likewise, don’t speed up suddenly, causing the six-year-old boy who is riding below the cart in front of you like a mudflap on an tractor-trailer to wrap around your front wheel like freshly chewed bubblegum.
Do not accelerate like Richard Petty on the straightaway at Talledega to beat me to the Express Lane, especially if your buggy is loaded like a Conastoga and you’re counting all 24 cans of Little Friskies as one item to make the 10-item limit, and all I’m carrying is a gallon of milk, two packs of Ho Ho’s, and a box of Ben & Jerry’s that has created a layer of freezer burn up to my elbow. I have killed for less than that.
Remember to return your buggy to the cart corral after you load your car. You may feel justified in aiming it toward the gate and assuming it will roll downhill to the target by itself, but let me assure you that grocery carts are not domesticated animals and will take every opportunity to separate from the pack and make a break for freedom. Lassie is not available to pull the buggy from quicksand, a well, or the tailpipe of a new Jaguar that happens to be in its path. The aftermath of the ensuing chaos will involve your insurance, and this is one case when the term “deductible” might be unsetttling.
Most importantly, steer clear of the lady dressed in a New York Yankees T-Shirt, stretch pants, and flip flops, who is wringing her hands and doing laps with a cart that contains two boxes of Ding Dongs and a frozen pizza. It’s me and I can’t decide what to have for supper.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bar None

Man was fearfully and wonderfully made. And God looked at man, rubbed his chin, and said, “Man is lonesome. He needs someone who can remember to put a new bar of soap in the shower.” So God made woman. A helpmate for the man; someone who could find the mustard behind the milk in the refrigerator, and who could produce two clean, matching socks from dust mites in the air at 6:30 a.m., and who would emerge from the shower with a $20 hot oil frizz-reduction hair conditioning treatment streaming down her shoulders to locate and unwrap a new bar of soap so that the next person would not have to shower using the last bit of dandruff shampoo as a body scrub. Only God knows why a man, who can remember the quarterly scores from every Super Bowl from the dawn of civilization to present day replays, cannot remember to replace the soap when he leaves the shower. Somewhere between reaching for the towel and stirring creamer into his coffee, his priorities shift.
But while God is chuckling over the soap sliver bit, woman is in the kitchen raising her hands to heaven and crying, “Lord, never mind the soap. Why can’t man learn to put the twist tie back on the bread? Why does he have to do that twirl and tuck thing with the bread wrapper? You know I hate that.”
And God smiled. “He’s innovative.”
Then woman heads to the laundry room to bring new life to dingy whites and to zap spaghetti spots with her miracle stain remover stick. And she cries to heaven again, “Lord, why can’t he simply place his dirty underwear in the laundry basket? Why must he do that foot-flip snatch and grab act with his boxers? You know I’m expected to applaud every single time he catches them.”
And God nodded knowingly. “He’s creative.”
“Okay, God, I get it. Those little things that make me crazier than a salesclerk on Black Friday are the things he uses to make a better way in life. But just between you and me, God, what about that thing with the remote? Why can’t he leave the TV on one channel for longer than it takes to focus on David Letterman’s tooth gap?”
“Oh, that’s easy, God replied. That’s to keep you from having to watch three straight hours of How to Make Your Own Bait on the Fishing Channel.”
“You ARE wise,” Woman whispered. “Tell me, though. In heaven will he wake up every morning scratching his backside?”
“I’m working on that one,” answered God pensively. “The trouble is we have a problem with everybody staying clean.”
“In heaven?” The woman was astounded. “How can that be?”
“Well,” sighed God. “Everybody’s so busy watching television and looking for the mustard in the refrigerator, that nobody ever remembers to put new soap in the shower.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How Much is That Mommy in the Window?

My teenage son is cooler than Santa’s shorts. He’s above eating school lunch, wearing jeans that look brand new, and doing homework. He is exempt from science projects, term papers, and standardized tests. Right. And I’m going to his senior prom in a plaid thong and fringed halter top.
As a Mom, my major duties include creating fabulous meals out of leftover parmesan cheese, tomato soup, and ground beef, nagging people to finish every bit of that homework, yes every bit, and wearing out a trail between home and school carrying forgotten band instruments, lunchboxes, and school projects. The school secretary and I see so much of each other that I know all about her uncomfortable polyester allergy, the names of all her grandchildren, and what size stretchy pants she wears. (And if she’ll lie about that, she’ll lie about that fake tattoo peeking out of her Sag Harbor separates.)
Last year, Son Two created an elaborate poster project in order to rescue his grade from the bottom half of the alphabet, and snatch the low-slung seat of his jeans from the jaws of spending the summer studying flash cards with Mommy. So one morning after he mumbled his fond farewell and got out of the car and I saw that poster rolling innocently in the floorboard, I did what any mother with no make-up on and morning breath would do. I slammed the car into park, dug my feet into my fuzzy slippers, and set out after my son at a pace usually reserved for sprinting for the last Nintendo on the shelf at quarter past Christmas Eve. Poster under my arm and the theme from Chariots of Fire drumming in my head, I raced down the sidewalk like the three blind mice at a cat show.
The cafeteria is the before-school gathering place. It was almost time for the bell to ring, so there was already a burst of activity when I reached the side window and saw my son, slouching around a table with his comrades. I’m not sure whether it was the sight of me dressed partially in pajamas and partially in office attire that alarmed the crowd, or the sound of me beating on the window shrieking my son’s name. If I had thought about it beforehand, I would have taken the time to put on lipstick. Or a bra.
As one, the student body looked up and took in the sight of a crazed woman bouncing through her “Forgotten Project” dance outside the lunchroom window. To his credit, and out of a well-placed fear of summer school, Son Two acknowledged my existence and came to retrieve his poster.
On the way home, I reflected on the truth that experience comes at a cost. Poster Board: $1.50. Fuzzy slippers: $2.99. Teenager making a mad dash for the cafeteria door in a desperate attempt to save his pride and project at the same time: Priceless!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Teachers R Us

I recently experienced an awesome and somewhat startling revelation. And it doesn’t even have anything to do with how to chop onions without crying or the best way to clean a soiled linen tablecloth if you’ve had the bright idea that it would be educational to let the children eat at the adult table, or even a new and economical way to cook Brussels sprouts so that everyone likes them.
This is an actual revelation from life experience. Not the kind of life experience that other people have and submit to women’s magazines for fifty dollars, although if I had a really great Brussels sprouts recipe that would actually cause people to eat them instead of hide them under the potatoes, I would certainly be willing to accept fifty dollars for it. My revelation is a great discovery that came about when I was talking with my niece who is an actual elementary school teacher. Upon the occasion when a child in her class had an unexpected and thunderous attack of gas in the classroom, she, the teacher, wanted to laugh. She did NOT laugh (out loud), but it took an episode of strict self-discipline and positive reinforcement to maintain her composure.
So it turns out that teachers are people just like you and me. Well, maybe not like me, because I’m still convinced that they can add numbers in their heads and figure out the answers to story problems without looking up the answers.
If one example isn’t proof enough, listen to this. I work at a church in a job which, unwise as it may seem, I am expected to do math. I am responsible for writing people’s paychecks and for paying taxes to the government, which is a pretty tricky procedure owing to the fact that the government is very particular in believing that you should pay them the right amount. Oh, they don’t really mind if you go overboard and send them buckets of gold, but short them by a doubloon or two and they’ll charge you interest.
Anyway, the first thing my employer did after he witnessed me thrashing my way through frightening things like bank reconciliations and trial balances; well the first thing he did after he regained consciousness, was to provide a helper, a mentor if you will, to guide my little ship through the deep and storm tossed waters of fund accounting. And this helper was, if you please, a teacher, and not just any old teacher, but the wisest owl of the lot—a college professor who instructs others in the art accounting! And can you imagine what this most venerable of all educators said the very first time he saw me perched on the edge of my chair at the computer, attacking the evil forces of fund accounting with a shredded bank statement in one hand and a computer mouse in the other? He sat right down and said, “Let’s make a back-up just in case we make a mistake.” A mistake! He allowed for a possibility that, even as a team (And this is a man who is smart enough to grow tomatoes and corn and other yummy things without having to give them all to overzealous crows or neighbors.), we could conceivably forget to carry an integer and get in trouble with the IRS (I Require Supervision) people. I expected the heavens to open up a send down a dove that very second. He sat with me patiently and kindly day after day and, even though he developed a disturbing habit of slamming his right foot to the floor like a driving instructor trying to stop a runaway car, he never gave me a failing grade on a day’s work. And he brought me tomatoes.
And if that kind of compassion isn’t proof that teachers are human, there’s not an equation in the world that would do the trick. But I can’t help but wonder if he has a good Brussels sprouts recipe.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Let Me Eat Cake

Hold me back from chocolate cakes,
Brownies, cookies, nuts, and shakes.
Help me know that if I eat
My waist will soon obscure my feet.
It shames me some to have to tell
That I weigh on the Richter scale.
So pork chops, have no fear of me
Roasts and cutlets can run free
NO! I do not have the will to try it,
I would rather die than diet.

You can sit there if you please
Eating fruit and cottage cheese
A celery stalk, a carrot stick
The vision fairly makes me sick
As for me I’ll roast and fry
And feast on pizza, cake, and pie
I’ll gorge until my zippers bust
And then remove them if I must
But til that dreadful day shall be
I’ll spend my time with Sara Lee.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Cough Drop--A Thanksgiving Miracle

Bill and I were sitting in that special kind of traffic jam that comes just before the holidays and is the result of a small town growing like an overdose victim of Jack’s magic beans, leaving mundane things like convenience and city planning behind. The roads were packed like the straw in a peach milkshake. Fruit gets stuck in the end, all movement stops, and nobody gets any relief. With a milkshake you can pull out the straw and suck out the peach pulp. With overburdened roads, the obvious answer is to block off one lane with orange cones and commit to a ten-year construction project.

We'd dropped our kids off at a mega-bookstore at what seemed like a short time earlier, doling out the last bite-sized candy bars from Halloween left in the bottom of my pocketbook to hold them until we got back and could hit a nearby buffet extravaganza. Sometimes eating out, even with two teenaged mouths to feed, is a better idea than a sound investment plan.

In the meantime, the Highway Patrol issued an all-points-bulletin to every mall-bound traveler in the area, describing our location, destination, and current state of irritability. That’s the only reasonable explanation for the fact that our car began to attract morons like a pan of biscuits attracts men named Bubba. Traffic stalled and Christmas shoppers begin to share the joy of the season with their fellow travelers one finger at a time. I attempted to retain my normal good nature even though Bill was getting testy. He always gets that way when he misses snack time.

Bill: Do you have any more candy in your pocketbook?

Me: Why? Are you hungry?

Bill: No, I thought I would toss some out the window to lure people out of our lane.

Me: You’re being sarcastic because you’re too hungry. (Pointing across six lanes of stationary traffic.) There’s a Wendy’s. And a Chinese buffet. And a pizza place. I'll bet that gas station has candy bars.

Bill: Are you hungry?

Me: (Fumbling through my pocketbook.) No. Why do you keep bringing it up? Look--there’s that place with the wonderful barbecue ribs. I could walk there and back before you got to the red light.

(I find a cellophane-wrapped object which I pull surreptitiously from my bag. I wince as a tiny crinkling sound gives me away.)

Bill: What’s that?

Me: Nothing.

Bill: What is it?

Me: Nothing. Leave me alone, willya?

Bill: You have food.

Me: No I don’t. It’s a cough drop. (Here I wave the cough drop with a flourish. It’s of a nondescript color somewhere in between magenta and pink eye.)

Bill: I want half.

Me: It’s mine. I found it. (I fondle the cough drop like it was the One Ring.)

Bill: We can take turns licking it.

Me: (Pensively) I don’t think I’ve bought any cough drops this season. . .not since I had the flu that year we had the big snow.

Bill: You can have it.

Me: No you. I can wait.

Bill: I can wait, too.

We laughed together, the warm laughter of two people coming together over misfortune.

Under cover of laughter, I shucked the paper off the cough drop like it was a peel and eat shrimp and popped it in my mouth.

Just then, in a holiday miracle moment, traffic parted like the men’s restroom line for a father-daughter combination. Nothing clears the tracks like a man doing daddy-duty with a lace-clad toddler in tow. We picked up the boys, and wheeled into a nearby restaurant.

Bill: See, it all turned out okay because we made sacrifices and worked together. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about.

We all smiled at each other like the Brady Bunch on the 29th minute of a 30 minute show. Secretly, I gave thanks for a cough drop appetizer that kept me from acting like a turkey.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

These are the People in Your Neighborhood

After the divorce, I moved into a tidy (not to be confused with tiny, a more suitable word but not as polite) duplex, thinking with my best “house is half-full” mentality that eventually I would buy a house. However, growing boys and lack of child support being what they are, twelve years later I’m still in the duplex, scanning newspaper stories about the burgeoning repossession rate, and longing for an extra half-bath. But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I try to look on the bright side of things, like the fact that I’m not responsible for the water bill when tornado season causes the septic tank to back up, which in turn gives the toilet, never one to be outdone, a chance to perform its best Horseshoe Falls imitation. While other people are experiencing a drought, I’m planning a rainforest room in the bath and wondering where one can purchase parrots and other decorative jungle wildlife.
The best part of duplex life is the close, personal relationship you develop, by necessity, with the neighbors. By best, I mean frightening and intimidating. I remember the young man who proudly secured his mailbox to its post with good intentions, old-fashioned ingenuity, and the clever application of three-quarters of a roll of duct tape. Since he still had some duct tape left on the roll, I refrained from any pointed comments concerning his design.
Then there was the Good Samaritan who rescued a stray puppy that, filled with youthful vigor, managed to wind its tie-out chain around our heat pump every morning, a particularly delightful diversion on mornings I was late to work. Since Mr. Samaritan was rarely home, the task fell to me to unwrap the dog. One particularly stormy morning when I released the prisoner, he fell to with such excitement that he lashed us both securely to the heat pump. With determination and a cell phone pre-programmed to call Emergency Services, I managed a successful escape.
Better than this were Adventures with the Goat Man. This latest neighbor, a-twitter with the discovery that goats are to kudzu what the combine harvester is to wheat, procured from his brother-in-law, a baby goat. While the goat was fairly attractive as goats go, she was merely a wee babe and not up to the task before her. Even an enthusiastic goat is eclipsed by ten wooded acres covered in kudzu. Goat Man spent much time away from home (do we see a trend here?), and although long absences in neighbors are often desirable, we felt sorry for the poor baby left alone, and ventured over with fresh water every day. I soon found that goat-watering is a task best left to a younger, swifter generation. At my approach, the goat’s natural fears lead to a frenzied dash whose path was restricted by the chain that tethered it to a discarded tire rim. The circles grew smaller in circumference until the goat and I realized at approximately the same time that we were bound together by circumstance and an alarming length of sturdy metal links. I discovered at this point that it is best not to call for help from your teenaged son, who is not mature enough to realize the tact and discretion necessary in such a situation. It’s enough to say that he nicknamed the goat Seabiscuit, and that everyone on the Eastern Seaboard was aware of our predicament.
Duct Tape Man is thankfully gone, along with The Samaritan. Goat Man in still with us, although the goat is no longer in evidence. In its place is a free-range dog, a frisky yellow Labrador that fetches beer cans to our door like other dogs fetch the newspaper. And although I don’t really approve of the dog's habits, I have to admire his manners in asking us out for a drink.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Green Thumbs and Dead Mums

People in these parts are fraught with distress and alarm about the drought just because the lakes and rivers are drying up, ecological conditions are becoming unbalanced, and a bad case of static cling could start a wildfire that wipes out the entire southeastern kudzu crop. The last time we had a drought like this it looked like General Sherman was the official state gardener.

I’m just excited that everybody else’s yard looks like mine now. If it takes a green thumb to make things grow, I have thumbs the color of root rot. So far this year, I’ve murdered a fancy bamboo plant, a hearty pot of mums, and a Venus Fly Trap. To be honest, the Fly Trap was self-defense. I didn’t like the way it rubbed its leaves together whenever I ladled my hips into my stretchy pants.

Needless to say, my evergreens aren’t. My dandelions aren’t dandy. My weeping willow just sniffles and wrings its hands. And the Queen Anne’s Lace along the driveway has been demoted to Lady in Waiting’s Pompom Fringe. Even under the lushest conditions, the Black-Eyed Susans set the color scheme for my yard.

I once worked in a building that was destroyed by fire. There were two plants in my office, the kind that people always swear that you can’t kill. Thanks to my careful ministrations, these two fellas were well on the fast track to the happy flower garden in the sky. Then fire struck. Emergency crews responded, and the firefighters fought valiantly, but the building was ruined. The charred remains were enveloped in the sickening smell of smoke and standing water. Once the air cleared and the scene of desolation covered the parking lot, a large, heroic fireman appeared, gingerly carrying something he had unearthed from the rubble. As he drew closer I saw his arms were full of glossy foliage, coaxed into rebirth from the water of the firemen’s hoses.

I know when I've been beat. I’ve killed a lot of plants in my time, but I never had any that called 911.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bad Bread and Broken Hearts

We all know one. The woman who collects men like other people collect salt and pepper shakers or old teapots or odd nicknames. I have a friend who is cooler than a julep and sweeter than sugar cane. She attracts men like fruit tea attracts flies. She’s had more husbands than Paris Hilton has party dresses for housepets. At a time of life when I’m shying away from getting a dog with a long life span, Raelynne’s going through suitors like a paring knife through parboiled potatoes. She’s met the perfect man. Seven times.
"I’m cutting my losers,” Raelynne fumed as she strode into my kitchen bright and early one spring afternoon. Raelynne rarely rises before noon on the weekends except in cases of extreme emergency such as news that Brad Pitt is filming nude scenes next door. She nestled into my kitchen chair like it was a vat of warm chocolate.
“You mean your losses?” I asked, pulling up a stool. If she’s up and around at lunchtime on a Saturday, there’s probably a story worth making coffee for. I popped a roast into the oven, set the timer for four o’clock, poured myself a cup of Maxwell House, and settled in to listen.
“No, when I say losers, I mean losers. I’ve reviewed my list of current relationships and found there are individuals there who no longer offer any value-added services.”
"Value-added? Sounds like romance is dead. Who's been voted off the island?”
“There's Lance,” She poured a cup of coffee from the pot and stirred in an ice cube. Raelynne says life is too short to wait for coffee to cool. “I asked him to stop by Oscar’s and bring deli sandwiches with him when he came over to do that flower bed under the living room window yesterday. Don’t you know he took so long trying to decide what kind of bread to get, he only had time to do half the flowers before dark. And to top it off, he brought pumpernickel.”
“So let Lance shop some other bakery for his hard rolls. Who else?”
“Well, there’s Sam. He’s a dear, but he's a stripper. I keep finding one dollar bills in the strangest places.”
“So much for Sam and his singles. What ever happened to Steve?”
“Oh. Steve. Well. . .” She paused and traced the ivy design on her coffee cup with one newly purchased Raspberry Rose fingernail. “I’m afraid he had a character flaw I just couldn’t deal with.”
“What was that?” I asked, spreading strawberry jam on an English muffin.
“He was in love with me. He kept asking me to marry him. I finally ran out of excuses, so he had to go.”
“But I thought you cared about him.”
“Best man for growing roses I ever met. Vacuumed my house every Tuesday, took out the garbage every weekend, and never raised the lid on the toilet that he didn’t wipe under the rim before he put it down.”
“Sounds like love to me. Why didn’t you marry him?”
“My dear girl,” Raelynne looked shocked. “What would I have told all the others?”
I thought about my own Romeo. He’s put up with a lot more than bad bread and garbage duty over the years.
Romance isn’t dead. It’s just making the rounds.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Make My Day

Due to a recent flurry of incidental gunplay at the mall, there’s a new policy calling for youth under 18 to be chaperoned on the weekends while conducting the teenage business of flirting and attempted murder. The idea is to cut down on youthful shenanigans and gangland activity. I’m sure the mall management people mean well and have every intention of securing the safety and happiness of the great community of man, early Christmas shoppers, and vacationing tourists with large amounts of traveler’s checks. The trouble is that they’re policing the wrong group.

They need to keep their electronic eye on people like me.

If I have to try on one more pair of black latex hip hugger pants, they’re gonna have a lot more than warring gang members to contend with. I didn’t bear the regulation two children to be confronted with sixteen racks of clothes designed to show not only my stretch marks, but my emergency C-Section and the scar from the unfortunate hot burrito incident.

And since when are hipbones considered fashion accessories? I’d like a little warmth around the navel base now that winter is on the way. When there’s a frost warning, I want to worry about my plants, not my pants. And at this point in life, my love handles are far too similar to bungee cords to be considered cute.

I know they make clothes for mature women, clothes where coordinating trousers (with clever under-the-armpit fit) and tops hang together conveniently to allow for ease of selection. When the women in my community visit the mall, they come home with shopping bags full of the same outfits. When they get together, it looks like league bowling night at the Star Lanes. I’m not quite ready for polyester pull-ups. All I ask for is a pair of pants that doesn’t make my behind look like a levee.

So the bright minds at the mall had better think a little more about the ammunition they’re selling instead of the fire power that’s coming in the door, because the next time I’m confronted with 72 tiny pairs of jeans with pockets the size of age spots, I just might lose my control panel.

And Mallers, unless you want trouble, don’t even think about starting swimsuit season early. I don’t want to see an ocean-going outfit until I get the pumpkin pie off my thighs. But if you’re feeling lucky, go ahead. Make my day.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Credit Pays

Men are from cash only, women are from Visa. If you can’t drive it, put a refrigerator in it, or watch the Super Bowl with automatic stop-and-go action on it, men want a one-time transaction. Women want a receipt.
Paying cash may have been an option in the olden days when you could get gas without taking out an advance on your paycheck, but these days you need to pursue a line of credit just to buy breakfast cereal. A transaction to fill up your gas tank could very well involve the question, “Fixed or variable rate?”
And why is it men carry on like the TV remote just went belly-up if they have to go to the store with us to buy a pair of pantyhose, yet if they’re off to shop for lawn tractors, we have to pack a lunch? Once they get into a discussion of horsepower with the garden man at Home Depot, we can sneak off for a cut and perm, have a rendezvous with the pool boy, and still be back in time to hear them say, “But will it handle the hills?”
A man copes well with important, life altering purchases, like a home in the suburbs or a clever multipurpose tool that can do everything from buff his golf balls to pick his teeth, and that comes with a sleek leather holster that clips to his belt. Men are especially fond of gadgets, and have a particular love for the ones they can attach to their bodies for display purposes. My husband looks like he’s wearing a Batman utility belt when he leaves for work every day. But the first time he calls me Alfred and slides down a pole to get to the breakfast table, we’re through.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Driving Bigfoot

It’s traumatic enough to teach a teenage boy to drive without having to do it during a period of time when oil sells for more per barrel than the movie Titanic grossed during its entire run—including endorsements, action figures, and Leonardo DeCaprio’s autograph on a commission check. When my son put his size 72 foot (appendages on the accelerator may be larger than they appear when peeking through my fingers) on the gas pedal, he burned $27.50 of premium unleaded and left a skid mark in my driveway composed of the entire collection of Commemorative State Quarters. At the stoplight he revved the engine and the smell of burning presidents filled the air like fake butter scent at a movie matinee. Counting the meager stash left in my wallet, I couldn’t help hoping he caught on quickly to the concept of three-point turns. Besides, I needed to get to the bank before closing time. I wanted to take out a loan to teach him to parallel park.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

From Polar Caps to Cold Feet

As a woman who can no longer figure her age without the aid of a scientific calculator, a sheaf of graph paper, and a Number Two pencil, I completely understand the concept of global warming. I haven’t even hit the half century mark and I don’t break out the sweaters and scarves unless ice is forming under my fingernails. Mother Earth has got me beat by a few decades, give or take a period of conquering hordes, a roving band of dinosaurs, and a Crusade or two. I figure tornado-force winds come from her fanning herself to keep cool.
In my younger years I was the first in the neighborhood to break out the faux fur and firewood, but these days my polar cap is melting at a rapid rate, which is the only explanation I can find for my humid hairstyle and damp T-Shirt. If I had to hold the heat of all the people on Earth, there would be a spike in the number of new oceans, not to mention some even greater lakes, and not a small increase in tributaries. All of these new bodies of water would spring to life in the wee hours of the morning accompanied by a good bit of tossing and turning and 37 trips to the bathroom. It's odd, though, how the temperature of the whole is greater than the degrees of the parts. My behind is the permanent victim of Chinook winds and my feet are wedged firmly in an Antarctic ice floe. But I wear the Equator like a halo above my sweatsoaked brow.
I don’t mind the aging process. The popping of my joints makes for a lively rhythmic beat to keep me from napping at my desk in the afternoons, and I’ve become accustomed to wandering from room to room searching for a clue as to what I was looking for in the first place. But if Mother Earth is ahead of me in menopause years, I can understand why history repeats itself. She lost her place and had to start over.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Roast Rage

Contrary to the biased opinion of teenaged boys in the 17-19 age bracket who crash into my kitchen at an hour past minute rice, shedding sweaty soccer gear, band instruments, and rented video games, My name is not What’s For Supper. Likewise, I am not the seating hostess at Denny’s, nor am I the Sample Girl at the food court.
Now I understand my mother better. She used to stare longingly out the window while mashing potatoes and mutter, “If the world were to end today, I would have to serve biscuits to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse before I could go to glory.” I thought she was batty. Really it was roast rage.
Pondering the matter while I munched on the crunchy brown parts of the chicken crust last night, I decided that there are some actions that could tend to make me snippy in the kitchen. So I have thoughtfully prepared a menu of activities for potential combatants to avoid when I’m engaged in actual food preparation. Break one of these rules and I can’t guarantee what will happen with the potato masher.
* Don’t kiss me when I’m making gravy. Gravy is a narcissistic beast and fully capable of expressing jealousy in the form of oddly shaped lumps and unappealing consistency. (This one is directed more toward the head of household who is filled with joy and the love of life whenever he smells food in the final stages of preparation. I don’t see much of a problem where the teenaged boys are concerned.)
* Don’t tell me the potatoes have lumps, but you like them that way. The potatoes won’t be the only thing that’s served up with a few extra bumps that evening.
* If your main objective is to stand in front of the stove and steal samples from the chicken plate, don’t offer to help me in the kitchen. If you want to be of assistance, save me the trouble and stick your bottom lip in the cheese grater.
* Anyone apprehended peeking into pots boiling merrily away on the stovetop and making the same sound I make when I step in something gooshy will come away with a better understanding of the term "cauliflower ear. "
* Sampling the meatloaf and saying, “You know what would make this good?” is grounds for assault with a meat mallet.
* Don’t report the fun everyone else is having in the living room, scream for me to come watch the new Geico commercial, or exclaim “Oh, you missed it!” while I’m carefully browning the crescent rolls. Pillsbury didn’t spend all that time packing dough in that little can for me to let it go up in smoke while I’m dashing into the next room to watch a lizard talk.
For those of you who can't remember the rules, feel free to ask questions. I'll be in the kitchen. Sharpening my potato peeler.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Snack Races

It seems odd to have Son One lying around the house like the last sock in the dryer on Saturday mornings this fall; at19 it's time for the old man to retire his sports drink and shin guards. That's tough for a guy who's been playing the game where feet do most of the handiwork since the ball was bigger than his behind. Years ago he learned the important points of soccer: fruit at halftime, good stuff after the game. A cupcake in the hand beats a chip shot over the goalie’s head.

At our local soccer games, parents line the sides of the field like eight-year-olds at a boy-girl dance, rooting for their kid to be the next David Beckham or Mia Hamm. I have news for them. The only thing that kid is going to bend like Beckham is the rule governing sportsmanlike conduct. And ten minutes after the game, the one person who is going to remember the score is the parent whose kid kicked the ball in the wrong goal by mistake. As soon as that final whistle blows the all clear, all the grimy, sweat-stained players rush the cooler like fruit flies on a rotten orange. It’s snack time.

Losing a game is tough, but after a battle there’s nothing like artificially flavored crème filling to lift a warrior’s spirits. So support your child in whatever sport he decides to play. Encourage him to excel. But when the action is over and life clears the bench, don’t let him walk off that field without a Ho Ho in his hand.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

If I see one more women’s magazine exhorting me to walk myself thin, I think I’ll hurl a bucket of brownie mix. If walking made me thin, my weight would register in the negative numbers by now.

Today I walked to the car and back three times. When I made the first trip back to the house to get my car keys, I heard my husband humming and starting the water for a shower. Rounding the corner back into the kitchen, I spied a blue sleeve hanging from the top of the refrigerator (don’t ask), and grabbed the overshirt for my son to wear for “Blue for Spirit” day.

“Here’s you a blue shirt.” I chirped, sliding into the driver’s seat.

“Grunt,” he replied. Since I happen to know that a single syllable grunt is teenagerspeak for “Thanks Mom, without you I would be like a wireless game controller with dead batteries,” I was overcome with maternal love. Until I realized he had also forgotten his shoes.

Sending that boy back into the house is like watching an Infomercial for the Thighmaster and waiting for plot development.

I jogged up the hill and took the steps to the back door two at a time. It took me three laps down the hall, through his room, and around the kitchen table before I found two shoes that matched. I decided not to ask about the cross-trainer in the microwave. In the shower, Hubby was midway through "The House of the Rising Sun" with accompanying voice-produced instrumentals.

“Ready to go?” I asked wearily as I climbed into the car, sucking up some early morning effervescence from the caffeine-loaded diet soda I kept in the drink holder.


“I love you too, Sweetie,” I beamed and reached for the keys. The keys that were still in the house where I’d dropped them to get the Spirit Shirt. Shouldering open the car door, I trudged the winding trail to the kitchen door and snagged the keys.

Back in the car, I sank again into the driver’s seat. Sweat was battling hairspray for control of my ’do. “Let’s go. We’re late.”


“Do you really need your band instrument every day? Aren't the notes the same as yesterday?”

Raised eyebrow.

I opened the car door and looked up the steep, rock-strewn hill toward the house. Then I whipped out my cell phone. A musical, waterlogged voice answered.

Why should I reap all the benefits of walking? Last night over dessert, I noticed Hubby has some love handles that definitely could use some work.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Voting Booths & Troubled Youths

I can tell by the jungle of homemade signs germinating in my front yard that election time is just around the breaking news story. Either that or somebody at my house is having a yard sale.

Since by some quirk of government both my sons will be eligible to vote for the first time, I’ve taken it upon myself to teach them the basic jargon of our political system:

Liberal: Wearing lipstick and nail polish that doesn’t match. Or white shoes after Labor Day.

Conservative: Washing your hands in the restroom even when nobody’s looking. Listing your correct weight on your driver’s license.

Voting booth: The little room with the half curtain where you make your choices for leaders of the most powerful nation in the world. Not to be confused with the dressing room at the mall where the curtain is short enough to determine who wore clean underwear on the first day of bathing suit shopping season, at which time you also determine who will have their pool privileges restricted.

Electoral College: A special college that holds classes only once every four years and offers no grants, scholarships, or Bowl-worthy football team. Its mascot is the Mayfly.

Lobbyists: A group of people who hang around the lobby of government buildings handing out free samples and telling lawmakers what to do. Not to be confused with terrorists, but I’m not sure why.

Vice-President: The Vice-President is kind of like a kid brother for the president. He always hangs around listening to things that aren’t his business and threatening to tell. You’d think that would make him the Speaker of the House, but they hire somebody with special skills for that job. The special skills are a secret.

President: The individual who is the head of the Executive Branch of government who works in an Oval Office so that he or she can’t get backed into a corner.

My sons didn’t seem to appreciate my help. They wandered off, mumbling something about conscience and issues. But that’s okay. I’ve tagged all their video games. I’ll make enough at the yard sale to buy their vote.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Menopause & Milkshakes

Tonight when I went into the kitchen to start supper, my teenaged son followed me. I’m so far into menopause, my brain is made of damp cotton; I thought he was there to help.
“What a nice change,” I beamed. “You can help by putting away the dishes in the dishwasher.”
“I’m here for a snack,” he answered, collarbone deep in frozen foods. Can I have a milkshake?”
“I’m starting supper right now.”
“I know,” he answered,” testing a frozen breadstick with his teeth. “I just need a little something to hold me.”
“What constitutes a little something?”
“Got any roast beef?”
“If you can hold on a second, I’ll cut some prime sirloin from the herd.”
“Gee, Mom, that’d be great. Would you make fries?”
“I was kidding. If you need a snack while I’m cooking supper, you have to make it yourself.”
You would have thought I’d said Gameboys give you cooties. That kid left the kitchen so fast, the vacuum sucked three popsicles and a corn dog with freezer burn out of cold storage.
Mom was right. Wisdom does come with age.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Layla & Levi's

Now that the kids are old enough to leave at home without having to shell out the bucks for a SLED check on a babysitter, we’re able to go out more often. A year or two ago, the man who promised to love, honor, and make sure the dishwasher never quit sprang for tickets to an Eric Clapton concert.

You could tell by the crowd outside that it was going to be an interesting evening. A businesswoman in black heels and hose jostled for position next to a sixty year old hippie in a gauze tie-dyed shirt that looked like it had been stitched together from a box of Fruit Loops. I think he was her date. Worn Levi’s with the red tag far outnumbered designer jeans.

At the concert, I learned three things. Baby Boomers have wide and varied, by which I mean bad, taste in clothes, Baby Boomers think they can dance, and Baby Boomers automatically stand for Layla like a seven-ten split for a cross-eyed bowler.

But when the lights go down, we have one thing in common. We have the music in us. I saw three old men with tattoos where their biceps used to be, cover something in the vicinity of their Rock ’n Roll hearts with sun-basted hands when the opening chords of Layla split the speakers. And when “Beautiful Tonight” blasted romantically across the crowd, there wasn’t a woman among us that didn’t zip back through the Time Tunnel of Youth to the most romantic night of our lives. Couples locked eyes, lip-synched the lyrics, and fell in love all over again.

We may drive minivans, SUV's, and hybrids by day, but we still “get off on ’57 Chevies” at night.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chocolate Chips and Coffee Drips

I never warmed up to coffee. In my family, that’s like saying I’m iffy on newborn kittens or lukewarm on inheriting large amounts of money from distant relatives. When I was a kid, I loved the smell that wafted from my Daddy’s cracked stoneware mug and wrapped around me like an aromatic hug on cold mornings. I would put my little hands around the sides of the cup to warm my fingers. But I’d sooner drink kitty litter laced pine sap.

When I grew up I married Bill. That man goes through coffee like Rosie goes through Republicans. He would be perfectly comfortable installing a coffee-lick in the kitchen. So, with a sense of maturity and in the spirit of togetherness and shared experiences, I agreed to share a coffee moment with him. He poured a gallon of black, noxious liquid into his cup. I put a drop of coffee in mine. And added sugar. I kept adding sugar until the mixture in the cup reached the consistency of, say, low tide in your average quicksand bog. I braved a taste. Equally as appealing.

“It’s an acquired taste,” he said, licking a coffee dribble from the side of his mug.

“I’ve acquired things before,” I answered, wedging a spoon into my cup. “Cast off clothes from older sisters, stray dogs from the neighbors, expensive jewelry from. . .never mind that one. But I haven’t yet acquired a taste for bitter liquids that require a possum’s weight in sugar to make them fit for consumption.”

We shared a moment of silence.

“Starbucks?” he asked.

“Sure! Can I have a cookie?”

Coffee may be for grown-ups, but chocolate chips are forever.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Global Warming

When you’re four years old and heading off on important candy-gathering venture at Halloween, global warming seems like a pretty good idea. Global warming means you don’t have to wear an undershirt, six sweaters, and an overcoat with your costume. Outerwear is notoriously rough on angel’s wings and dampens the effect of a howling demon on passers by. Let’s face it. The Author of Death clad in a blue snowsuit and lambie mittens is just not as unsettling as initially intended.

So I never really had a problem with global warming until I reached a Responsible Age. Now I realize I probably caused the whole trouble myself. I produced two boys, gummily attractive in a no-teeth, drooly kind of way, who as babies seemed harmless enough sucking cereal from a spoon and wearing little diapers with cartoon characters printed in blue on the front. (How much trouble could a size zero hiney be, anyway? Of course now we have Paris Hilton, Allegra Versace, and pre-baby Nicole Ritchie to serve as benchmarks, but back then we just didn’t know.)

Anyway, I’ve read about the amount of methane produced by all the cows in the world, except the ones in India that are sacred, and I think my guys can beat that number without straining. The three teenaged boys in the backseat (we threw in an extra cousin just to make it interesting) on the way to the Fair this weekend cheekily counted the number of times the term “excuse me” came into play. We were nearing triple digits, which even allowing for exaggeration and downright bragging, is a pretty impressive number. I’ve decided I’m going to give up raising children and buy stock in a dairy farm. It’s easier on the environment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fair's Fair

I don’t have any common sense. What little sense I have left over after slogging along for almost two decades in the parenthood trenches is eligible for placement on the Endangered Species List. So it seemed like a good idea to take the kids to the Fair.

My main role at the Fair is Watcher/Waver, with a part-time career in Holding Stuff. It is my job as the female parent to juggle the load of half-finished corn dogs, plastic souvenir soda cups, and stuffed cartoon characters won at assorted games of chance, while watching with exaggerated animation as various family members spin past in a blur of lights, waving madly as I squint through cotton-candy glazed trifocals and hoping I’m not near-sightedly greeting the sugar-coated blonde from the fishing booth or warring gang members. It’s not like I’d ride, anyway. I get motion sick just stirring sugar into my coffee.

Next year, things are going to be different. If I’m looking to make changes, what better place than the Fair? So if you happen past a middle-aged woman downing motion sickness pills with a gulp from a plastic Family Guy cup just before tackling the pony rides, hang around and watch. My dismount is bound to be a doozy. I just hope I don't drop the corn dog.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mental Pause

At major malls and grocery stores, there should be special parking places between the handicapped spaces and the spots for car seat-carrying minivans for those of use who have successfully reached the point in life when our mind is so full of important information such as when Son Two's biology project is due and which store has the great sale on toilet paper, that we can't bother with trivia, like say, which entrance we used upon arriving or where we left the car. Nobody needs a front row space more than the poor soul who is squinting through a crooked pair of drug store reading glasses and wobbling about on knees that have been overdue for replacements since the year the phrase “Google It” ousted “Dial Information” in popular conversation. And how long have we had a red car, anyway? I distinctly remember driving a blue one to take the baby for his first checkup. The baby is now 17 years old and trying to decide how to turn a Nintendo hobby into a profitable career to support his trading card addiction. I figure he'll eventually serve two terms. But whether it'll be in the White House or the Big House is still in question.