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 28, 2008

Naughty is Nice

I’ve found a flaw in this whole Santa thing. Not Santa himself, mind you. He’s all right, living it up at the top of the world, drinking hot chocolate and refereeing reindeer games. It’s the whole being good theory. Quite by accident I found an inconsistency. Kind of like the state of Illinois found in the Governor's office recently, but on a much grander scale. I didn’t want to say anything until I performed conclusive scientific testing in an environment where the integrity of my research could not be skewed by scientists or other cult members, but after several years of receiving actual gifts from Santa, I could hold my silence no longer. See conclusive test results below:

Year One (2006)

I forgot to pay the pastor’s water bill resulting in an untimely discontinuance of water service at the parsonage (although flushing privileges did resume shortly thereafter), I wore dirty socks several days in a row, and I faked a serious bout of semi-consciousness so that Bill would bring Lo Mein for supper.

I should have been sentenced to at least six months of intensive labor as Class Mom in Charge of Cupcakes, but I evaded charges and never even preheated the oven. This course of events could be due to the fact that the teacher was previously acquainted with my cupcake making skills and had a preparedness plan already in place, but for Christmas I received a generous amount of musical CD’s, clothes, and assorted goodies. This incident smacks of loopholes in Santa’s operating procceses.

Year Two (2007)

I bought tickets to the circus with the grocery money, forced my son, “Undeclared Major” to take a job, and ate all the candy that well-wishers brought for the office staff to share. Santa rewarded this display with a foot spa and an attendant elf to refill the water when it got chilled. (Bill Dear still refuses to wear the green elf-support tights, but you can’t beat him as a water bearer. I’m convinced he was born under the wrong sign.) Looks like Santa has a bug in his software, or he’s slipping. What is the mandatory retirement age at the North Pole?

Year 3 (2008)

It was a banner year for naughty at my house. I sideswiped hubby’s car and laid the blame on his lack of parking skills, I tried to pass fried liver off as sirloin on at least one occasion, and I took in another stray dog, thereby breaking the “one more animal in this house and we have to give up a child” dictate.

Santa outdid himself. Such piles of chocolates and treasures surrounded me on Christmas morning, I thought the Jolly Old Man had gone completely off his sleigh bells. He even brought me new pajamas dotted all over with clever pictures of smiling puppies with pink collars. Clearly something has to be done.

I suggest we give Santa a raise.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas Anyway

I’m a little bit of a late bloomer when it comes to getting ready for Christmas, kind of like those bulbs you have to plant in your flower garden in the dead of winter to turn into flowers come spring. Or maybe it’s the seeds you plant. The point is, you’ll find me getting ready for Christmas just about the time WalMart begins laying in fertilzer and peat moss with an eye toward the bulging wallets and wish lists of early gardeners.

I started shopping before Christmas this year, though. I was going to wait, but the operators were standing by and I had to call right away to get the bonus Ginsu knives which I desperately need because I’ve lost the key to the rented storage building where I keep the reindeer for the yard and if those knives can cut through a soda can like they show on TV, I’m sure they can handle that cheap padlock the manager of the storage place put on the door.

Although I don’t go full out in the decorating area, you can tell it’s Christmas around my house by subtle changes in the décor. Just keep an eye out for mutations in the dust patterns and you can tell where I’ve turned an eye toward holiday preparation.

I’ve moved the nativity scene that I forgot to put away last year from the shelf in the laundry room to the top of the entertainment center, dusted off the baby Jesus and removed the dryer sheet from the shepherd’s staff. It made him look like a flagboy on race day anyway, even though it gave the whole scene an air of celebration.

What appears to be stray branches connected by lumps of unkempt fur in one corner of the living room is actually a small Frasier fir holding up under the strain of the investigative processes of two Labradors, three cats, and an inquisitive Dachshund sporting a Christmas tree skirt. Occasionally the tree gives a shudder and deposits various small animals on the floor like a pile of cast-off inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys. The version of that Christmas tale that boasts “not a creature was stirring” never had a cat who took personal offense at live greenery that was not scented to match the litterbox.

There are 1,467 gift bags of assorted sizes and heritage covering every available flat surface, along with several containers of used bows that are perfectly suitable for family gifts if you affix them to packages with a loop of Scotch tape. At least one of the bags is surrounded by shredded tissue paper. (See the “not a creature was stirring” reference in the previous paragraph.) There is no Scotch tape anywhere in the house, not even in the junk drawer. There are several dozen wood screws of assorted sizes in the junk drawer, but repeated attempts at giftwrap show that wood screws are not effective for this purpose.

The kitchen table is covered with bits of burned sugar cookies and ingredients for partially assembled gelatin salads and casseroles that will bear offerings of melted cheese and Ritz crackers come Christmas day. This is not considered untidiness in the kitchen, but rather food preparation decorations with holiday flair.

There is a wreath on the outside of the closet door instead of the inside of the closet door. The wreath boasts a giddy snowman who is on the verge of bursting into the songs of the season just as soon as Bill Dear tells me where he hid the batteries.

There is a car in the driveway awaiting new tires, a replacement windshield wiper, or an oil change. Nothing says Merry Christmas at our house quite like a car in need of body work. There is not a sense of urgency for the repairs, however, due to the fact that I’m fairly certain that the key to the car is locked in the storage building with the yard-bound reindeer.

So for all of you folks who have every Martha Stewartesque napkin folded into snowflakes, don’t judge me on my lack of handmade ornaments and scented candles. Christmas at my house might have a different flavor and a smell that tends more toward PineSol than pine branches, but the spirit is the same.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cookies, Kids, and Zombie Killers

I have two children, a main son to provide general mayhem and destruction, and a younger backup son for mental distress. Although the odds of them getting along is about the same as a double fudge brownie dying of old age in my kitchen, they take great pride when it comes to disturbing my peace. Sort of a parental trauma tag team.

Son Number One specializes in physical destruction. His responsibilities include punching holes in plaster, breaking small appliances, and clogging the plumbing. He holds a family record for mass destruction and once brought down an expensive light fixture with a simple fastball, high and tight. If you’re looking for a Rambo-style battle with water-based munitions in your living room or need to know how much Play Doh the ceiling fan will hold, he’s your man. His motto is “I didn’t mean to.”

Son Number Two specializes in emotional turmoil. He is responsible for the state of general untidiness in the house, having long ago mastered the art of talking his way out of cleaning his room, taking out the trash, and emptying the dishwasher. He is especially adept in the art of negotiations and can reduce an opponent to heavy sighs and hand-wringing without once dropping his video game controller. If he were an independent country, his national symbol would be the loophole. We expect him to have a successful career in government. Should monarchy come into vogue, he’ll be a natural.

One sunny spring day when all the world seemed fresh and new, the boys were playing together in their room. I sat at the computer composing an essay on the joys of motherhood. For a paying market.

“And that’s why motherhood makes my heart sing.” I typed the final strokes, leaned back, and wiped away a maternal tear.

“You can’t kill zombies!”

That’s not something I ever expected to hear. Until I had children.

“You can shoot ’em!”

I frowned thoughtfully. I needed to add some more endearing anecdotes.

“They’re already dead. You can’t kill something that’s already dead!”

Maybe how Ryan loved to help me with his baby brother. He would bring Jeffrey’s favorite toy lamb and help sing him to sleep.

“They’ve come back to life. Beat ’em with a stick!”

Or the time Jeffrey bought my Christmas present with his own money at the school store.

“I’ll beat you with a stick.”

“Oh yeah, I’ll cream you and your zombie army.”

Did I mention the children are now teenagers? They’d rather argue than eat. Unless I’ve got something artificially flavored on hand.

“There’s cookies in the kitchen.”

Exit two teenage boys, charging down the hallway like the bulls in Pamplona. There’s a crash. The Pamplona bulls never had to negotiate a tabby cat and two Cookie Hounds trying to beat them to the goodies.

In the kitchen, on separate plates, there are two kinds of cookies. One with chocolate chips, one with sprinkles. I have five minutes before Ryan polishes off the sprinkles and develops a sudden fondness for chocolate chips.

The essay needs a bit more length. I’ll add that cute story about Ryan coming out of church the sweltering Southern summer when his was six. He refused to listen to the sermon about humility because he thought the pastor said humidity.

Smiling with motherly love, I revised the word count.

“Zombies can’t eat cookies. They can’t eat anything. They’re dead.”

“How’d you like to see for yourself?”

At times like this, I think back to what Mom always told me. Whenever I came to her with my traumas and tantrums, she’d laugh and say, “Don’t worry, it’ll get worse.” She said it when I was three and ran to her with a skinned knee, and she was right. I broke my arm. When I was thirty-three and getting divorced, she said it again. And soon my kids became teenagers. But by then, I had it figured out. If things can get worse, it’s not the end of the world. Things will also get better. So if postponing the essay for a few minutes to Google “Zombie Facts” is the worst thing to happen today, life is pretty good.

Especially if there’s a chocolate chip cookie left.

This tale of zombie cookie love was first published in the February/March issue of The Wham Magazine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grasping for Gusto

The day I turned 40 I put on yesterday's socks. I poured YooHoo on my cornflakes instead of milk, ate brown sugar out of the box, and thawed the meat for dinner on the counter. Just call me Wild Thing.

“What’s got into you?” asked Raelynn, shaking off her umbrella as she stepped into the kitchen. Raelynn was born with a manicure and a perm. She's never experienced the aggravation of a hangnail or the embarrassment of unruly frizz.

“I’ve decided to revel in life. I’m not getting any younger. I’m going to do all the things I never let myself do before. Is it raining? Watch this.” I skipped out the back door and frolicked in the raindrops, kicking and splashing through baby puddles in the driveway.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Raelynn said as held the door open for me.

“Why not?”

Suddenly I slipped in the mud and landed right on my bottom step with a hearty thud.

"Life might begin at 40," she laughed and helped me up. "But good insurance is forever."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sexy Back

Now that we’re dangerously close to qualifying for the senior citizen’s discount at the Pearly Gates, Bill Dear and I have decided to increase our exercise time and see if we can put off the trip to the Great Beyond so we can annoy our kids a while longer. Since our present exercise routine consists of trying to stand up after pushing the envelope by sitting and reading at the same time, our choices for aerobic potential were wide open.

We started off well, but eventually one of us started an argument by deciding that our routine would be more aerobically beneficial if we actually left our recliners. Bill Dear pouted and popped me with his cane.

After an extended period of the “who’s going to get up first game,” we joined hands and limped down the path toward cardiac health together.

Bill regarded me critically.

“Is your arthritis acting up?”

“No, why?” I find it’s best to humor him. He is capable of halting the whole process in favor of a debate.

“The way you’re walking reminds me of the time you tried to ride the pogo stick.”

“I almost had the hang of it, too.”

“You sure did. It’s a shame about Happy’s tail.”

“Yeah, poor thing. He was never quite as happy after that.”

“So what’s with the bump and grimace?”

“I’m trying to walk like Giselle Bundchen, the supermodel, on the cat walk.”

“Well you look like Patches, the calico, in the cat box.”

“Thanks a lot. You don’t exactly have Justin Timberlake’s smooth moves, you know.”

“Who’s Justin Timberlake?”

“He’s the one who’s bringing sexy back.”

“Sounds like he’s got a better gig than Santa Claus.”

“I think he skipped our house.”

“Darlin’, he skipped our whole street. But don’t worry.”

“Why not?”

“Somebody’s sure to return theirs to WalMart after Christmas. We’ll pick some up for half price, just in time for the New Year.”

That's what I like. A man of action at discount prices.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pick Up Line

For the better part of twenty years, I’ve chauffeured kids back and forth to school, ball practice, assorted club meetings, meet the teacher opportunities, birthday parties, sleepovers, Scout meetings, music lessons, and general unidentifiable social obligations. I might not have always had a song in my heart, but for the most part I managed not to shoot poison darts at anyone. Not with any degree of accuracy anyway.

One day this week, Son One had to pick his brother up from school. I thought the child was going to have to file for disability. He can go for six weeks on three hours sleep a night, trudge through ice in his socks to retrieve his favorite CD from my car, and hip-check a falling bookcase into submission, but he can’t do the school run without turning in a performance worthy of the Jerry Springer show.

Later, the phone rang at work. Against my better judgment, I answered.

“Mom, I’ve had to drive all day. I’m starving and my legs hurt.”

Our refrigerator holds more food than the Pittsburgh Steelers can eat on game day. And his car has an automatic transmission. His legs shouldn’t hurt unless he stuck his feet out the bottom and powered the car at a gallop like Fred Flintstone.

I thought back to a time when the kids’ schedules were carefully spaced in such a way that if I dared take the time to venture by the house to snag a sandwich during the after school rush, somebody would turn my kids in to Social Services and call me from the office to insult my parenting skills.

“I feel your pain,” I said soothingly.

“No, Mom. You feel your pain. Mine hurts worse.”

It’s a testimony to my self discipline that the receiver didn’t melt in my hand.

Luckily, Mom wisdom can be dispensed by phone. It took three peanut butter sandwiches, two layers of deep heating rub, and a Boo Boo Bunny ice pack to make him feel better.

Tomorrow I’ll have him pick up the dry cleaning.

Boo Boo Bunny can use the workout.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Dog's Life

Special Note: Watch for me at 10:00, Tuesday, 12/2/08, on WSPA-TV7's "Your Carolina with Jack and Kimberly. Bill and I are promoting our twin anthologies, The Ultimate Dog Lover and The Ultimate Cat Lover.

Everything I know in life, I learned from the dog.

I learned that no matter what time in the night you get up to answer the call of nature, it's Bowser's breakfast time.

I learned that even if you leave your new sneakers outside for a month in heat and rain and the occasional tornado force wind, the treads will wear off before puppy poop will.

I learned that if you give each of two dogs a rawhide chip of the exact same dimensions, one will hide theirs and steal the one from the other dog. And then lie about it.

I learned that if you have one molecule of doggie treat left in your pocket from three winters and six drycleanings ago, a good scent hound can tell how big the molecule is, what flavor it used to be, and exactly which pocket contains the treat.

I learned that when it comes to doggie treats, every dog is a good scent hound.

I learned that in a fight between one huge, giant dog and one tiny, petite dog, the tiny dog has nothing to lose.

I learned that one pair of liquid brown eyes staring longingly at your face while you eat can be endearing. Two pairs are simply annoying.

I learned that a huge, giant dog may find new uses for a tiny, petite dog’s water dish. It’s a finger bowl. It’s a shot glass. It’s a frisbee.

I learned that two dogs are as adept at playing the "He touched me first" game as two brothers.

I learned that if you have a dog and get a new puppy, the puppy will want to be friends. The older dog will want to give the puppy to wandering bands of gypsies.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Seventh Level of Thanksgiving

For sheer heat index, Hell’s Kitchen is nothing compared to my kitchen. Of course, a straight comparison is really not fair because I have a secret weapon.

The Inferno.

The Inferno, a malicious representative of an extra level of the Bad Place that was too frightening for Dante to include in his detailed description of the place where murderers and people who leave the copier jammed go to spend eternity, looks relatively innocent poised there beside the refrigerator waiting for me to thrust the next victim into its cavernous maw. Soot from past victims cover the oven door like oatmeal around a baby’s mouth.

The trouble comes from a malfunctioning thermostat deep inside the Inferno. It’s either broken or has learned human characteristics like the freaky computers that take over the world in stories that I used to think were fiction.

Me: I’d like to preheat to 350.
Oven: I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Amy.

I only use one rack at the very top. Anything lower would just be cruel. When I first got the thing, I foolishly and against orders turned the knob to Preheat and sacrificed a pan of brown and serve rolls. The dogs wouldn’t eat them, even the Lab that once tried to consume three hubcaps and a tire tool in the garage. Finally I threw them in the yard and claimed a meteor hit the elm tree.

As you can imagine, cooking a nice Thanksgiving dinner is out of the question. Oh, ever the optimist, I tried it once. The Inferno gutted that bird like a freshly caught catfish and raced across my innocent roasting pan like the great Chicago fire. There are fossils embedded in the enamel that will amaze archaeologists in centuries to come.

As I whipped open the oven door in a suicidal attempt to rescue the dinner, the heat sent my hair flying toward the ceiling like space dust and singed my eyebrows. Armed with Kevlar potholders, I whipped the pan out of the oven and hurled it toward the table. The remains of the charred cooking bag stuck to the turkey’s skin like a huge black bandaid and the legs looked like Tiki torches. The bones at the end of the drumsticks crumbled to ash upon contact with fresh air.

Bill Dear, ever the man with the right thing to say when kitchen disasters strike, strolled into the room coughing and clutching a cup of coffee like it was the last life boat on the Titanic. “I didn’t even know you could make blackened turkey.”

I peered at him through the smoke. “It was only in there for half an hour.”

“At least you had the foresight to put it in a body bag before you cooked it.”

I gazed forlornly at the little ashen piles of soot under the drumsticks and thought about the Thanksgiving dinner we would eat at McDonald’s.

“Don’t worry, Baby,” Bill drew a gentle hand across my face where my eyebrows used to be. “Anybody can cook a turkey breast, but it takes somebody special to mulch the feet.”

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Social Networking for Dummies--Just Kidding

Recently I decided to reach out and embrace the infinite possibilities offered by the information superhighway that gathers the whole world into one unified neighborhood.

I now have no friends on five different social networking sites.

I find that if you’re socially inept on one site, it’s not a stretch to frighten away potential buddies on all the others. Sort of an example in the “learn by doing” school of thought. I’m a Twit on Twitter and I’m more of a Plucker than a Plurker.

One problem could be that the Help functions are written for people that understand, well, written instructions. I’m more of a seek and destroy kind of gal.

With diligence and great effort, I managed to create five different passwords known only in a foreign country by someone named Achmed, and post an e-mail to a foreign government stating my intentions to become their comrade. That one could explain the unmarked helicopter that’s been circling my house for the past few days.

Since no one sporting a uniform and badge showed up at my door to halt my efforts, I decided to try again.

I was slaving away over a hot FaceBook, trying to figure out whether I could import and export without seeking permission from the Federal Trade Commission when my son, resplendent with all the wisdom that twenty years of free meals my kitchen can offer, strolled past the computer.

“You’re not going to put that picture up, are you?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“Because you’ll never get any friends. And if MY friends see it, I’ll have to sell the computer and take up weasel wrestling in Wyoming.”

“Very funny. How’s this one?” I admired a lovely shot of me squinting into the sun and pointing to a mountain in the standard “Here I am by a landmark” pose. I’m not sure what I’m wearing, but it was probably very stylish at the time.

“Fine if you want to attract every loser in the universe.”

I brightened. “I haven’t already?”

“Mom. You want to be careful about the image you project to the world.”

“What image should I project?”

“One that says “Not Ryan’s Mom.”

“Okay, how about this one?” I clicked on a thumbnail picture that sprang into a full-screen image. The picture showed me grinning happily cheek-to-cheek with a handsomely decorated papier mache goat. We were both wearing pink clothes and bemused expressions.

“That’s good. Cut out the one on the left.”

“But that’s me.”

“Well, you don’t want to embarrass the goat.”

I studied the picture. The goat smiled slyly.

With sudden decisiveness I punched the button that would display the picture for all the world to see.

Son One glanced at the screen. “You might want to change the caption.”

“Why?” I asked, trying to find a spot on my trifocals that would read the nanoprint onscreen.

“You left the caption from the old picture. It says, “My high school reunion was a big hit. Here I am standing with my old math teacher.”

I grinned and admired the photo again. “I think I'll leave it. I look like a cool kid standing next to that old goat.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gimme a V!

Now that the economy has taken a downward turn and I could afford gas if I had any money left after I hit the McDonald’s dollar menu, I’ve begun to worry about some of the staples of American life. I’m an industrious girl and could scratch out a living fashioning pet toys out of melamine if my job moved to China, but what will happen to those among us who have dedicated their lives to a single profession that is inherent to native soil?

Here my thoughts turn to Vanna White, our golden girl who simultaneously wears unattractive clothes and turns letters on Wheel of Fortune’s lighted screen, and I worry that some offshore prodigy, raised on phonetics and loose translations, might come along and steal Vanna’s job security. Worker’s Compensation couldn’t cover the psychological loss of finding out that all the vowels have been sold to a foreign conglomerate.

At night, I toss and turn but I can’t get any z’s. When I finally fall asleep, I have terrible alphabetical nightmares. I know the threat to our Vanna does not come only from the teeming shores of the land where Olympic gymnasts stay 16 forever. There is an even greater threat here on our home shores.

Texting. It’s the the silent killer. Our country is all thumbs in its desire communicate. These days preschoolers can string together more words on toy telephones during commercial breaks than poor Vanna can do in a half hour show. Before long Gerber will make a baby bottle with a pull-out Qwerty keyboard. In a field where Vanna pioneered the “turn, point, and clap maneuver,” anybody with a cell phone can duplicate her on-the-job experience.

It’s not that I’m envious of Vanna. If I had a job description that read like the prospectus for Sesame Street (This job was brought to you by he letter M), I’d make the most of it, too. So I’m going to practice my “Person, Place, Thing, or Phrase” lettering just in case Vanna needs a little help. I don’t have a cell phone, though, so I’m training on the adding machine. If Pat Sajak doesn’t need me, I can always get a job ringing up orders from the McDonald’s dollar menu.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Do Not Remove This Tag!

Becster tagged me for a "Five Interesting Things About Me" meme. There aren't five interesting things about me that I know of, but as an English major in college, I learned to answer discussion questions completely and in great detail, especially in cases where I didn't know the answer. So watch out. I might get carried away.

1. I’m like the Statue of Liberty for stray animals. I've got a flashing sign over my house that only homeless animals can see. "Give me your tired (wanting to sleep on my bed), your poor (looking to get on the Milk Bone payroll), your huddled (hanging around my back door with yowling and gnashing of fangs) masses, yearning to cough up hairballs in my living room." I presently have three cats, two Labradors, and a diva Dachshund who are enjoying the benefits of a permanent residence visa as they lay around on my furniture ringing for room service.

2. I'm convinced that everything in history happened at the same time. I'm one of those folks that can't visualize depth. To me, a timeline is straight for a reason.

3. Most people think I frosted my hair. I didn’t. I had toddlers. Now they’re teenagers. The hairdo was complimentary.

4. I could live happily on a planet made of macaroni and cheese and gourmet ice cream. I’ll know I made it to heaven when I’m in a place where fat content does not precipitate weight gain or coronary stress.

5. I believe in the serial comma and will fight for its right to exist in reading, writing, and bitter arguments about syntax.

6. My behind freezes over like Lake Michigan in winter. It stays cold from the autumn equinox until the ice cracks in the spring. . .my husband says it’s like someone put a Butterball turkey in the bed hoping it would thaw under the electric blanket. It doesn't.

7. I can't count. The five people I'm tagging are Blessed, Heiddi, ravenlea, and poor, dear Bill who may yet live through NaNo to update his blog. See, I told you I can't count!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Microwave: The Sequel

Our new microwave has an inflated sense of importance, sort of like the guy at the office who's retiring next month. Nobody knows what he does or why, but they'll miss him if they notice he's gone.

This microwave is the latest thing in micro meal time. It's so sleek and fast, you expect to see a pitcrew rush out and try to change the tires. It’s impatient as small appliances go; a single beep isn’t assertive enough for this guy. At the slightest provocation, it bursts forth with volleys of obnoxious beeps like a robot headwaiter directing his staff. I don't comprehend the need to sound off as if someone has just dialed in to the hotline for microwave activity. Why can’t it warm up a cup of tea without sounding as if it’s connecting to the second satellite past the International Space Station? It’s my kitchen and I want quiet.

And I hate to be judgmental, but this guy is over-attentive, if not downright nosy. While I appreciate the lovely customized buttons for particular items, I don’t feel obliged to provide more information to my microwave than I do to the Internal Revenue Service at quarter past tax time. If you say you have tea, it asks embarrassing questions about what kind of tea you have and just how many cups you plan to use. I’m ashamed to admit I'm drinking alone. The time is coming when I’ll just tell an outright lie and start a circle of deceit just so my microwave will think I have friends.

And the thing just can’t stop at defrost. I didn’t ask it to puff up the biscuits like Stay Puff marshmallows over an open flame. For such a smart guy, it didn’t exhibit much artificial intelligence when I pushed those extra buttons. And if it yearned to be such an overachiever, why didn’t the thing stop cooking popcorn and call the fire department once the bag caught fire?

Since microwaves are obnoxious as appliances go, I settled it in a comfortable place on the counter next to the oven, hoping the older machine would serve as a mentor and stabilizing influence, and that some of the good habits and mild-mannered disposition of my old friend would wear off on the newcomer. But as is the case with boys, dogs, and office machines, unsavory influences prevailed, and the oven began to exhibit destructive behavior. Yesterday it burned the crust on my cheese sandwich on purpose.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to assert my authority. Tonight I’m pulling the plug on the microwave. Tomorrow I’m buying a toaster oven.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Catch the Micro-Wave

Why do small appliances come packaged in containers that could withstand the atmospheric conditions the shuttle faces on re-entry, only to hide a 450 page booklet titled “Read before opening” inside?

When our old microwave became more of a microwhimper, we marched right down to Wal-Mart and gave a boost to the economy the way any good citizen would do. Supporting Wal-Mart is my duty as a loyal American and something we can all do to keep this country great. That and conserving our resources, which would be easier if we didn’t frequent a store where everything is packaged in three layers of plastic and Styrofoam insulation and nailed shut with railroad spikes for your protection.

During the selection process, we considered all the important factors: ease of operation, room on top for paper towel rolls or used coffee mugs, and number of fancy buttons. What we forgot to consider turned out to be a Very Important Thing.

How to get the monster out of the box.

Once home, I broke the hammer, took up a square foot of kitchen tile with the screwdriver, and trimmed my nails by accident with the kitchen scissors trying to break into the package. I was huddled by the box, weeping bitterly and gnawing on an industrial staple, when my teenage son strolled into the kitchen. He was starving, having allowed several minutes to elapse since his last gallon of cereal and bacon cheeseburger combo.

Spotting the cheerful picture of the happy family munching salty snacks on the label, he peeled the thing like it was a banana, nestled it on my countertop, recycled the box, and popped in a bag of Orville Redenbacher’s finest.

While I busied myself trying to break into the adult-proof plastic bag that held the instructions, he ate the popcorn, beat the bosses on the last three levels of his video game, and wandered back into the kitchen looking for a snack. He snagged the bag, busted it like a bubble and tossed me the instruction book.

“How long for pizza?” he asked taking a stack of microwave pizzas out of the freezer and fanning them like a card shark with a new deck.

“It says here not to overcook food,” I read, tracing the important line of safety instructions with one finger.

“Mom, it should say that on every appliance you own in bright, flashing letters.”

“If you’re referring to the cheese toast, that could have happened to anybody.” Who knew American cheese would inflate to resemble the Sydney Opera House if left in the oven too long. It shouldn’t be that hard to make breakfast.

I pointed out the next item with a raggedly manicured finger. “It also says that if there’s a fire in the microwave to leave the door closed.”

He shrugged and chipped a piece of ice from a pizza. "That's the same thing we do with the oven when you make biscuits."

So it turns out that technology isn't all that different these days. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And I don't need an instruction manual to tell me so.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Prozac Politics

Okay, this is a rerun, but I'm so excited to have covered something topical, I just had to drag it out. Sort of like those old photo albums at your Aunt Jane's where your dad still has hair and your mom is wearing a bathing suit that looks like a Medieval torture device and pointing at the ocean. Besides, I want to state that both Son 1 and Son 2 voted for the first time this year and managed to refrain from listing Captain America, Iron Man, or Master Chief from the Halo games as write-ins for any major offices. It's times like this that make a mother proud.

At our house we refer to this as the year of Prozac Politics. Confidence in the current group of presidential possibles increases with the level of prescription medication in my bloodstream.

To underscore the serious nature of the political situation, it is important to notify the voting public that the future endeavors of the superpower known as The United States rests solidly in the hands of my teenage sons—and their friends Hungry, Toothpick, and Gumpy.

In one of those amazing cosmic coincidences, sort of like the startling discovery that Hannah Montana can inspire a little girl to tell a Very Bad Lie and win concert tickets and national fame, my sons, and their entourage, will be eligible to vote for the first time in this year’s presidential elections.

Although I am overcome with maternal pride in knowing that someone who would rather run through the neighborhood naked than dish a ladybug out of their bathwater is eligible to pull the lever that guides our future, I can’t help but consider how the rising votership could affect the elections. I just know that hovering on the horizon are political signs that read “I’m Freakin’ Awesome” and that business dress for meetings of world leaders will soon include a black T-Shirt that boasts “I’m Too Sexy For My Shorts.”

While I agree that the children are our future, I can’t help but harbor more than a little concern about the ability of a group of people who are strongly considering writing Chuck Norris in as a potential presidential candidate to select adequate leadership for our country. It is only slightly comforting to know that their opposition represents a grass roots movement that supports Jackie Chan. A close race could be decided with a roundhouse kick.

Also while I’m not entirely ready to endorse any of the current presidential candidates, I’m pretty sure that none of the main contenders should exist only on the business end of a video game controller. The major candidates from the Virtual Party are anyone who can play Iron Man without missing any notes on Guitar Hero, and Master Chief from Halo, whose idea of foreign trade is an exchange of bodies. Come to think of it, Master Chief would be an awesome presence at the G8 summits--or is it G9? I was never good at Bingo.

Now that my teens are voting, it’s up to me to set a good example when selecting a leader for our country. We need somebody who is not afraid to face challenges, who won’t back down from a confrontation, but who is not a bully. We need someone with the creativity and presence of mind to engage in skillful negotiations when the chips are down and the price is high.

Wonder what Johnny Depp is doing for the next four years? We’ve had worse things than a pirate in the White House.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Nonny Nonny NaNo

My husband is participating in NaNoWriMo, an acronym that translates into human speak as National Novel Writing Month. Participants pledge to write a novel of 50,000 words in one month. That’s sort of like condensing the time it takes to have a baby from nine months to four weeks, with a minute or two at the end for hard labor or editing.

He confessed he'd signed up using the tone of voice he ususally reserves for admitting that he ate the last of the Halloween candy while I'll digging under the couch cushions for a Snickers wrapper that still has a smudge of chocolate left.

“I’m doing NaNo”

“Isn’t that something kids say to taunt their friends?”

He's hunched in front of his computer like a cat in a rainstorm. Scattered notebooks and assorted pens and markers cover his desk. My husband has a serious attachment to office supplies, but I can’t really blame him. I have feelings for fountain pens and sticky notes that verge on obsessive. He peers at me around a mound of wadded papers. “Not Nonny Nonny. It’s Nano.”

“That sounds like an old Irish drinking song. I’ll have whatever you’re having.”

“You’re not listening,” Bill begins to buff his head rapidly with one hand, a gesture that indicates one more well-timed remark will turn him into a spitting mess. Let's watch the fun.

“It’s NaNoWriMo.”

“Is that some sort of mystical religion?”

“No it’s. . .” He’s sputtering.

“Don’t let Madonna know. You’ll be wearing matching bracelets in no time.”

It’s cruel, I know, but the man was so tense, he couldn’t cross his arms without shooting the wax from his ears. There’s a certain amount of nerve involved in agreeing to write the Great American Novel in less time than it takes to pronounce the name of the author of War and Peace.

If you think Halloween is scary, you should try living with someone who's trying to write a novel in a month. Screaming banshees and headless horsemen are nothing compared to a man poised at the line of scrimmage who realizes his plot is still on the bench.

If he spends as much time writing in November as he did jotting down plot points last month, he’ll have a long enough novel to divide into a trilogy, two screenplays, and a set of leatherbound reference books.

According to the rules, bylaws, and official list of stuff to do, he could outline til the consonants come home, but he couldn’t write a word of the novel until the clock ticked us into November. Last night he was so full of metaphors, he couldn’t sneeze without blowing adjectives all over the monitor. I expect before the month is up, we’ll have to call Vanna to buy back some vowels.

In the meantime, I have to find something to occupy my time to head off my obsessive interest in this project. Perhaps I’m just remarkably intuitive, but it strikes me that somewhere around the 372nd time I inquire about his progress, he just might bounce his Webster’s off the part of me that makes the best target.

So for the next month you can find me working jigsaw puzzles and slinking nonchalantly back and forth past his desk trying to steal a peek at the computer screen.

And you can find him buffing his head.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Out to Launch

I would rather let my teenaged sons select my spring wardrobe than go through a Halloween haunted house. I may be taking the risk of being seen next May in a stunning camo and chained wallet ensemble, but somehow I’d rather take that risk. It seems like raising two boys would have dulled my susceptibility to the undead wearing mismatched clothes and bearing chain saws long ago, but somehow a grown man chasing me like I’d recovered a fumble and making revving noises until the spit flies frightens me beyond consciousness. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived long enough to know just what grown men are capable of.

For instance, I know of a man who, with one ill-timed twirl of his office chair, ripped the pull-out drawer of his desk (which he had unfortunately forgotten to un-pull) from its moorings sending thousands of helpless paperclips, ballpoint pens, and TicTacs skittering to their deaths across the floor of his cubicle. Because the drawer had not acted properly according to function and stubbornly refused to recede into the desk upon contact with the chair, he was able to claim that the accident was not his own fault but was, in fact, a hardware problem. The scary part of the story? This man is an employee of the world’s largest defense contractor.

Another example, eerily personal in nature, is this. I have daily contact with, and often wash the underwear of, a man who once worked diligently to create a working tabletop model of a medieval-style trebuchet, for the sole purpose of launching toy farm animals across the kitchen at the dog. Sure, he said he was helping the kids with a school project, but to this day the Labrador looks for flying cows before he’ll set one paw on the linoleum. I couldn’t housebreak the poor animal without setting up training runs through plastic livestock, and he can’t see the movie Twister without going all white around the whiskers.

It is not news that there are men who favor bungee jumping as a form of self expression. Recently, I received a video by e-mail, a form of information transference which upholds the laws of truth, that revealed a victim, er volunteer, dangling by harness from a high horizontal wire. The fact that the scene took place in a large cow pasture and the, um, volunteer was also attached to a team of flannel-shirted engineers atop a John Deere lawn tractor by a long bungee cord gave me pause, especially when the tractor headed downfield at speeds normally associated with phrases such as “Mach 1” and “boom.” The fellow in the harness didn’t pause though, because when the ground crew let go of the tether, he hurtled through space like a cow pie meteor, completed a full somersault with a half twist and landed with gusto in a flourishing maple tree. After that, of course, everybody wanted a turn.

Any one of these guys might be the maniac in the Halloween haunted house you visit. If he’s wielding a chain saw, you can probably make it out alive. But if he’s after you with a bungee cord, you won’t see your family again until you’re starring in a You Tube video with “Fly Like an Eagle” playing in the background.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

As happens in many crumbling marriages, a factor in the divorce of Madonna and her husband, Mr. Madonna (she’s the one with the killer abs and fishnet hose, he’s the one planning a peaceful existence of solitude in an ivy-covered 250 room cottage in the English countryside) is their 500 million dollar net worth. I can’t help but compare their battle to the one Bill Dear and I would have if we ever called it quits. Contentious points in our settlement would include:

Custody of the dictionaries. We’re word people. This makes for a tough battle. The air will be thick with nouns, and adjectives will cover the walls.

Responsibility for cleaning the kitty box corner of the marital duplex before the security deposit can be recovered. I’d rather take out fire insurance and torch the place.

Subscription to Mental Floss magazine. This one is in Bill’s name. It doesn’t look good for Albert Einstein finding a place in my new pad.

Access to the recipe for Apple Bread. Bill makes bread Sunbeam would open a new division for, so I wouldn’t demand physical possession of the recipe. I just want visitation of the results.

Responsibility of the marital computer tech to repair and update all estranged computers for free. Because the blue screen of death makes me sad.

Ownership of the Disney videos. I brought 101 Dalmatians into the marriage and I’m not leaving with less.

Continued relationship with the extended marital family. Bill has fixed my family’s computers, arranged for repairs on everything from telephone lines to plumbing, and, initiated emergency garbage runs to the dump during the great fruit fly outbreak of 2001. My sisters would pack my belongings in a steamer trunk and set me adrift off the coast of Charleston with a bucket of shark bait before they would let him get away.

Proprietorship of the family fortune--a three liter plastic jar once bursting with cheese popcorn, now awash in pennies collected painstakingly over an eighteen month period. There would be more, but we keep digging into the stash for important life-enhancing substances like candy corn and Easter peeps.

Three McDonald’s Monopoly game pieces, two of which were good for a free order of medium fries in 1998.

The cast iron frying pan. Seasoned by years of campfire cooking and bacon grease massages, it makes the best gravy in the continental United States, outlying territories, and Arctic ice floes. In the Southern United States, the family’s cast iron frying pan is passed from generation to generation with the same care as the family Tupperware. I’d sooner part with the children than the frying pan. The frying pan requires less maintenance and never asks for allowance.

Unlike Madonna’s breakup, media coverage might not whip the ordeal into a frenzy of transatlantic proportions. But the SugarTit News and World Report might give us a call to see if somebody’s going to extend the subscription when we split. In our tiny, kudzu-covered corner of the world, our cancellation could put that paper to bed for good. For the future of freedom of the press and media in America, I guess we’d better stay together.

Besides, neither one of us is willing to take custody of the cats.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Two Cents

As a cost conscious individual whose retirement funds are tied up in the spiraling gasoline market (I still owe three monthly installments on the tank of gas I bought before the bust), I am always attuned to ways of saving money. I’ve found as I’ve traveled through the express lane of life that there are certain factors that clue you in to the road most likely paved with full-priced, economically unstable gold-plated bricks. Keep your eye out for these and grab the next exit toward the coupon-cobbled road of the thrifty and impoverished. This road is often paved with copies of McDonald’s dollar menu.

Always pay attention to product descriptions:

Medication is a specialized treatment that costs not less than twenty-five dollars per designer colored tablet and causes side effects which include, but are not limited to, drooling, drowsiness, hives, death, and poor fashion choices.

Medicine is a couple of aspirin. Without the easy-swallow buffered coating. Side effects: dropping twenty bucks on fashion magazines and makeup at the drugstore at time of purchase.

The department store that advertises a fashion pant is offering up a pair of slacks painstakingly pieced from delicate fabric made of handwoven alpaca wool. The material is priced per square inch on the same rate of exchange used to determine the value of real estate in Beverly Hills. Likewise the word “trousers” used in describing women’s clothes indicates payment in large bills or barrels of crude oil.

On the other hand, a pair of pants, while seemingly twice as much commodity for the money, is often found on the clearance rack at WalMart for ten dollars. Elastic waistband is complimentary. To say the least.

Another important factor to remember is advertising. If a restaurant advertises a lunchtime taco special at the drive-through, you can feed your entire office with a coupon and a twenty dollar bill, with extra salsa to spill on your upholstery. However, if a restaurant is located in a grove of trees on the outskirts of the shopping district, boasts no windows, is barely visible due to subtle lighting, and has an advertising campaign passed by word of mouth over cocktails at the country club, you could book a cruise for a week of summertime fun in Los Cabos, before you afford one of their shrimp.

Likewise, keep in mind that any beauty product advertised by a film star is likely made from the antennae of Guatemalan butterflies and is priced by the gram.

But any product advertised by Paris Hilton is cheap, which in this case is not the same as inexpensive. Choose wisely or risk being followed home by paparazzi with disposable cameras demanding a cleavage shot or an outraged Chihuahua in a tutu trying to serve papers for emotional distress.

Remember that the educated shopper can always find the good buy. And now that the price of gas is coming down, you can save for that hamburger you always wanted. Or afford to give the snotty waiter offering you the dinner special--a glass of water and an olive--at the fancy restaurant a piece of your mind--your own two cents worth. Plus tax.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being Lean

My body is the result of a strenuous conditioning program developed by a team of experts, Ben and Jerry, who have discovered through scientific study exactly what I need to maintain my biological unit in its present operating condition.

A Very Important Detail in my physical routine is that I am fully capable of chugging chocolate until the wax in my ears turns to cocoa butter, but that’s professional-level stuff and I don’t recommend it for everyone. Please consult your doctor or confectioner before engaging in any unusual activity.

However, given the fact the stretchy part of my pants is beginning to function more as a guardrail than a fashion accessory, I’m considering taking action before the overflow threatens the structural integrity of my Fruit of the Looms. But don’t be concerned; I have no intention of jumping on the current diet wagon. To me, a hamburger wrapped in a lettuce leaf is a steak dinner gone horribly wrong.

I plan to donate my figure to foundations.

It’s a common myth that proper undergarments will make a treacherous and unfortunate outfit as socially acceptable as a little black dress at a Kennedy cocktail party. This is simply not true. Some tasks are far beyond the abilities of even a long-line bra and panty girdle. Spandex does not have superpowers.

And while we’re on the subject, if the person that tells you that 50 is the new 30 is waving you on down the fashion fast lane with a thong and a stick-on bra, you’d better take the next exit that leads to a department store. There are some things that need full coverage, even if you’ve had enough plastic surgery to make a clever overnight bag with the leftover skin.

Fifty year-old cleavage should be kept locked up tighter than the family silver. I have a close friend, bless her heart, who insists on wearing the kind of top made to show off the designer label in her underwire. When she bends over, it looks like the tide going out over a coral reef. I shudder to think of what could get lost in the undertow.

And while we’re passing out fashion tips like door prizes at a Cosmo party, please keep in mind that when Mama told you pearls go with everything, she was not aware that a generation would come along who would spray on tans like she sprayed on Midnight in Paris, and who would sport pants that show more cleavage in the back than Joe the Plumber when he’s snaking the septic line.

Now they’re saying that hip huggers are hazardous to your health, so I’ve decided to just stick with my stretchy pants and hope the elastic holds out. According to a specialist (some guy on the radio), snug-fitting hip huggers could pinch a nerve and cause the outer thigh to tingle; a condition caused skanktrampitis. As far as I’m concerned Johnny Depp causes the same reaction without the Surgeon General getting involved.

The important thing to remember is that good taste never goes out of style. But if it takes a push up bra to lure a pirate to buried treasure, make sure there’s plenty of booty.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Cahoots

Collaborating on a novel with your spouse is like sharing a piece of bread that only one of you wants toasted. When one is heartbent for modern romance and the other is set to strike out down the stony path toward gothic horror, it seems like the easiest thing to do would be to meet congenially in fantasy or science fiction. But by the time the opening sentence finds its place on the electronic media screen, things are already personal. If redecorating a house together leads down the long and winding road to relationship stress, collaborating on a novel is the short, straight path to dividing your assets.

My husband, Damien Spielberg, took a perfectly lovely and sincere story about the relationship between a maiden apprentice and her mentor and turned it from a lively, endearing romance into a Renaissance Wizarding Extravagana complete with recreational lightning bolt action. And he made it a screenplay, to boot.

“If we’re going to be in cahoots on this thing, you’ve got to learn to give a little bit,” he said, striking through an entire page of my rich, descriptive prose with a wide-point permanent marker.

I snatched my beloved pages from his jagged claws. “Cahoots? You make it sound like a bad western. We’re collaborating.” I bit the eraser off my pencil.

“What happened to my colorful description of Abby meeting Bob for the first time?” I asked, wrinkling my brow as I flipped through the pages.

“Here it is,” he said, wiping out another paragraph as he gestured nonchalantly with his Sharpie.

“Scene I. Abby meets Bob.”

“That’s all? The humor of the scene comes from Abby, a modern businesswoman accustomed to a sterile and structured environment, coming to terms with the fact that she is competing for a promotion with a man whom she’s just discovered is a 500 year old member of wizarding royalty who is grandfathered into her company’s pension plan.”

“I put wizard in the script notes. See here in the margin? Bob wears a pointy hat.”

“A pointy hat? Bob is not a dunce. Bob is a staff-wielding mage who served in some of the most influential governments in history. He talks to fish!”

“Calm down. I mentioned the fish. See here in Scene III. There’s a nice bit here in the willows by the pond.”

“So how do we know he talks to the fish?”

“Easy. Dialogue.”

“Dialogue? You mean a conversation? This is coming from the man who told me he was in a wreck two hours after he totaled his new car and the rescue team delivered him to the emergency room? You didn’t call me until the nurse dialed the number for you.”

“And after they gave me enough painkillers to make me count to ten in three languages and sing the Lumberjack song to a burly intern. But this is different. It’s Bob talking. Not me.”

“That’s a good thing. Otherwise it would be the world’s shortest book.”

“We’re supposed to be working on this together. Be nice.”

“I’d rather be the dental hygienist in the tiger cage at Ringling Brothers.”

“Need references?”

“Never mind. Tell me more about our wizard’s wonderful world of words.”

“The only way you can see into the man is to hear him talk.”

“I’ve got to hear to see? What about my searing description of their awkward encounter in the elevator?”

“I covered that. In the second scene you see the looks on their faces when she realizes he can read her thoughts and she splashes peanut butter milkshake all over his topcoat, tries to scrape it off with his cane, and accidentally pokes him in the n---.”


“I was going to say nose. When you see that, you can hear their hearts.”

“Okay, now I have to see to hear.” I turn a page in my narrative version and mark out several paragraphs describing Abby’s clothes. “So how do you come up with all this clever conversation?”

“I listen to people talk. Then I write it down.”

Easy enough. “By the way, back at the pond, what are Bob and the catfish discussing?”

“Whether he should take the job.”

“What do they decide?”

“The catfish advises against it.”

“And why is that?”

He says that Abby is a bad influence and Bob should leave the company entirely.”

“I’ve given her a beautiful home, a killer figure, and a sparkling wit. Why doesn’t he like her?”

He sighed and scratched his head. “She talks too much.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mixed Messages

Compared to my mom, Martha Stewart bakes with an Easy Bake Oven and a low wattage bulb. When I was a kid, my mother, the love child of June Cleaver and the Pillsbury Doughboy, baked enchanting birthday cakes that rose from piles of hand-measured ingredients: freshly sifted flour, cups of sweet milk, and eggs so fresh the hens were still thinking up baby names.

My sisters and I would search through cook books full of black-and-white pictures of prize-winning creations, picking the masterpiece we wanted for our birthday celebration. Mama would lovingly pull out her Mixmaster, line baking pans with waxed paper, and lock us out of the kitchen to keep our tiny fingers out of the double boiler.

Years whizzed by like a blender stuck on puree, and I stood contemplating a box with a fuzzy picture of a cake stamped on the front in brown ink. Bake from scratch? Excuse me? Are you here on a visa from the Land Where Whipped Cream is a Still a Dairy Product? My kids think ingredients are the bad things for you that are listed on the side of the box; the renegade roll call of –ites and –ates that begins with corn syrup and end with death. They believe that Red Dye number 2 is the only pathway to Nirvana and have abiding faith that Little Debbie is a natural Earth Mother that sprang to life from a carton of Cool Whip.

The first time my kids saw a round cake, they thought I’d cut off the burned corners. In their experience, cakes went straight from the mouth of the Betty Crocker box into my 11 x 13 baking dish and on to a fiery death in the bowels of our thermostat-challenged oven that raged from frozen food to flash fried in a matter of minutes. They thought cakes were bricks with chocolate frosting. But since they helped open the box and mix the mortar, they also thought chocolate bricks were the best invention since nunchucks for Ninja Turtles.

One Christmas when we made cookies together, I tried the old fashioned bake without a box method. By the time the butter softened and the eggs were room temperature, Santa’s reindeer had come and gone and the dog had long since digested the icicles off the tree. The next Christmas I snagged a roll of cookie dough that let me chop off cookies like I was slicing dough with a circular saw. They were ready in twenty minutes and the kids clustered around like cats around a cricket to pipe on red reindeer noses and Santa hats.

My mom would have known that red dye would smear into the other colors until Santa looked like a bloody-eyed zombie from Christmas past.

As I watched the kids giggle over their creations, I grabbed a warm cookie and took a bite.

Rolled cookie dough: $1.99. Soap to clean up the mess: $2.50. Happy kids making Satan cookies: Priceless. Mama would be proud.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Who Am I and Why Am I Wearing These Pants?

After almost half a century, I’ve finally figured out my identity. It came after a lot of finding out what my identity isn’t.

I’m not the customer that strolls into a highbrow boutique to have all the salespeople cluster around her cooing, “I’ve been waiting for you to come in. I have a clever little cocktail dress in a size 6 that would be just perfect for you after we take it in.”

I’m the customer who wanders in the store, fumbling through her purse for her bifocals and casting about nearsightedly for the chubbies department while Twiggy the sales girl adjusts her shoulder pads to give the illusion of a three dimensional shape and mutters through her nose, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” Meanwhile I can find the perfect dress to wear to the class play on the clearance rack.

I’m not the employee that writes a clever computer program that allows the CEO to unsend an e-mail that distributes company secrets to everyone in his address book, including the Soviet spy that highlights as a janitor.

But I am the employee that can unjam the copy machine with a raised eyebrow, a push of a button, and a hip check in less time than it takes the culprit to hijack the elevator to the third floor to jam their copy machine.

I’m not the wife that can pull together a catered luncheon for 150 when my husband offhandedly invites the rained-out IT Teambuilder Weekend group home. But I know the way to a man’s heart is paved with meatloaf and mashed potatoes and I have a secret ingredient that gets his attention faster than an advertisement for a car that runs on beer.

I’m not the health-chick who can order a salad for lunch and be too full to pack in another bite. I’m the one who reaches for the dessert menu as soon as her stretch jeans hit the cushioned seat of the booth and orders her entrée by saying, “Whatever goes with the Death by Chocolate.”

I’m not the Mom that can whip up a fairy princess costume out of two doilies and a handful of glitter that consumes the under-five crowd with envy. But I can juggle two soccer practices and a baseball banquet on a single Saturday without losing shin guards or sanity.

I’m not the daughter that can buy her parents a mansion on fifty acres of Kentucky bluegrass or a nice retirement villa in the South of France. But I can make sure they get to every doctor’s appointment, including that awful dentist who makes dentures that stick to a candy apple like the Sword in the Stone.

I’m not the sister who picks out birthday cards with enough flowers on front to kick your hay fever into high gear and has it delivered to your office in a pot of seasonal blossoms that I’ll drop by your house to plant in the garden for you later.

The bouquet I send you will be made of assorted chocolate bars; at least one will have a bite missing and another will be an empty wrapper. But I’m the sister that goes shopping in the petite section with you even though the only thing petite about either one of us is our patience with all the clothes made for small, slender women.

So if you’re looking for the one who will stick by you through bad manicures, haircuts gone wrong, and spray-on tans that look like a summer sunset off the coast of Florida, I’m your gal. But try and pull on a pair of skinny jeans after a post-romance feeding frenzy and you’re on your own. It takes a wise woman to know the limits of her stretchy pants.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


When it comes to politics, I’m not exactly an activist. My vote will probably go to the candidate most likely to introduce a federal holiday dedicated to the consumption of chocolate, or one who disallows the wearing of belly shirts by any citizen, legal or otherwise, who sports an actual belly. So don’t get the idea that someone could actually exploit my vote through such trivial factors as race, gender, or resemblance to a primate.

However, I can’t help but notice a swarm of media activity surrounding the female Vice-Presidential nominee on the McCain ticket. I’m not sure which political party she represents, although I’m pretty sure it’s not the National League because the Cubs already clinched their division and I’m relatively certain there are no women on the roster.

We learned enough about Sarah Palin in the first 24 hours after the announcement to steal her identity and open up a mooseburger stand on the White House lawn. I call this mindless tunneling through the details of a public official’s private life Palintology. It's about as useful in determining a person’s character as using a few shards of ancient Egyptian pottery to establish Cleopatra’s favorite china pattern.

My local newspaper, The Sugar Tit Times and Record, published a large, photo-enhanced story concerning the frequency and duration of Sarah Palin’s visits to her hairdresser, including the fact that the hairdresser’s alleged baby sat on the lap of the Alaskan Governess on at least one occasion, although the article did not report whether the baby actually got frosted or tipped. Upon consideration, it seems that the disclosure of all politicians’ hairdressers is important to help the general population avoid the Richard Nixon three-point style or even the Ronald Reagan look, bless his theatrical, poorly styled heart.

Not long ago I caught some fetching pictures of a bikini clad Sarah Palin on the Internet. Turns out those pictures were *gasp* not actual, unretouched photos and the privacy of the gubernatorial belly button remains intact.

This attention to physical suitability for office seems somewhat biased. I notice nobody went to the trouble to doctor images of Barack Obama, John McCain, or even Dan Quayle, the attractive political has-been famous for his poor-spelling platform, sporting Speedos. And if anybody gives us swimsuit shots of Newt Gingrich, I’m going to burn my voter registration card, which is presently tucked securely into my wallet between my Powerball ticket and my cents-off coupon for ground round.

So when it comes to political selection for leaders of the nation, do your own research. And if you come up with an actual photo of the belly button in question, sell it to the highest bidder and use the profits to go ice fishing in Alaska. Exploitation for representation. It’s the American Way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Since it was Saturday and I had no other tasks before me, unless you count coming up with creative excuses not to walk the dog or whipping out a check for the rent, I whiled away my time sharpening a pencil.

I didn’t realize at the time that pencil sharpening is an Extreme Sport boasting a difficulty on par with weasel wrestling or damp mopping with a frisky Labrador in the house. I simply wanted to solve the daily crossword. My pencil, the only one I could find without a clever pirate skull pencil topper that came free inside something that costs more per gallon than gasoline, was dull.

The problem began several years ago when we bought the children a pencil sharpener in answer to a popular excuse for not doing homework. My husband and I, believing we were no less intelligent a team than the pencil sharpener manufacturing squad, came to a unanimous decision that battery-powered pencil sharpeners lack sufficient power to take care of the number and quality of pencils that we intended to provide for our scholarly brood.

After comparison shopping among major brands and dealers, we procured a handsome electric pencil sharpener, red in color, imagining it would gnaw through a mere Ticonderoga like a menopausal chick through chocolate (names omitted to protect the chubby).

For the most part, Red sprawled aimlessly on the counter, holding down a stack of trading cards and some stray recipes I pretended I was going to try, although he once gave a half-hearted effort to sharpening a chopstick for Son One’s amusement. But today’s mission was vitally important. Since I live in the land of Y chromosomes who aspire to greatness, I’ve never finished a newspaper crossword alone. If I worked fast, I could complete the thing before the crowd got up to watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kick some shell.

Finding an open, accessible outlet in my house is rather like hunting for the last red M&M in the pack. Once upon a time they were in abundance. Now that they’ve gone the way of other endangered species (like pantyhose, the cents symbol on your keyboard, or a celebrity who's not expecting at least one infant), no matter how fervently you search through the tumbled pile of greens and browns, when you plunge down to the bottom of the bag you end up with a fingernail full of something brown and gooey.

So I began my search through the house swinging my pencil sharpener like Florence Nightingale with her lantern, only she was out to help people and all I wanted to do was solve the Jumble.

There’s an open outlet in the laundry room, but the calisthenics involved to reach it would necessitate hanging by my toes from the shelf over the dryer. I’ve lost a little muscle tone in my ankles over the years, probably from the bizarre habit of sitting in front of a computer for extended stretches of time in an attempt to earn grocery money. I could climb down the wall like a blue-tailed lizard, but I’m concerned about the integrity of my landing gear. One crash landing and I could meet my insurance deductible for the next five years.

I peered cautiously into the bathroom. The outlet there sports eerie octopus arms attached to the curling iron, the electric toothbrush, and the boys' John Deere-strength razor. I can almost understand the cord the goes to the amplifier for Son Two’s electric guitar, but you wouldn’t think a house full of teenage boys would require a crimper.

The kitchen outlet is in plain view, but unplugging the microwave and crock pot seems cruel and unfair after all they’ve done this summer to save me from turning on the oven.

Which gives me an idea. All I have to do is pull the stove out from the wall, edge the refrigerator over a bit, knock a few dozen greasy dust bunnies out of the way and skirt around the puddle of mystery goo. I pulled the plug, draining power from the evil appliance who’s main purpose is to encourage marathon sweating as I hover over fried chicken, corn puddings, and asparagus casseroles.

Looks like pizza delivery tonight.

Sharpening my pencil to a perfect point and breathing a sigh so big I could have sent the Santa Maria clean past America in one blow, I returned to the puzzle page and was delighted to find that I knew the answer to the first clue. As I lowered pencil to paper, the tip snapped off, digging a hole through two pages and my last nerve.

Now I know why they call it the breaking point.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fixer Upper

“Buying a house is like choosing which dog in the pack you want to bite you. You can choose between a big one that takes one big hunk of meat at wallet level or a little one that grabs hold of anything that dangles and hangs on. Either way, you’re broke.”

“So you’re not in favor of the idea.” I sighed. Low interest should apply to the mortgage, not the man.

“Well, we’re dangerously close to having extra money this month. I was afraid we might do something rash, like buying a bond or putting it in savings.”

I’m trying to persuade Bill to buy a house. A cozy little home of our own where we can raise kittens and cucumbers and drill holes in the wall any time we like. Actually it’s not buying a house that he’s against. It’s the description of the particular house I’ve discovered on my latest foray. “Handyman’s Dream” it said in the guide book. When I called, the realtor sounded giddy.

“I’d rather cover my seats with Viennese lace.” Bill didn’t really say that, but his actual comment, although rich in imagery, had the same odds.

“Think of the money we’ll save,” I said, ducking down and to the left as I turned on the faucet. An icy blast of water shot out of the sprayer attachment and nailed Precious, the cat, with pinpoint accuracy. I saw Precious make a mental note to poop on my pillowcase later in the evening. He’s held a grudge ever since the surgery, anyway.

“You mean in plumber’s bills?” he asked, phoning the landlord.

“In rent.” We could be making payments on a house we owned so we could retire.” I reached under the sink and turned on the hot water. A gush of steam erupted from the faucet like Old Faithful. Bill pushed the landlord’s speed dial button on his cell phone.

“We’ll need to save money so we can pay for our own repairs.”

“We’ll do everything ourselves.”

“You mean like when you hung that doily over the hole in the living room wall?”

“That was short term. You’re a great repairman.”

“I fix computers. There’s a big difference between replacing a sound card and snaking a toilet. Computer maintenance doesn’t require the use of a wrench big enough to wrap your upper plate around your tonsils.”

“No, but you have to deal with people who think a user’s manual is a book that teaches you how to take drugs. With this project, you’d be totally in charge. It would be exhilarating.”

“It would be exhausting.”

“You can go to the hardware store any time you like.” If there’s one thing men crave more than quiet at fourth down and goal to go, it’s sifting through tenpenny nails without a reason. That, and strolling through automotive departments to sniff the tires, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

"Good. I'll go look for riding lawn mower."

"Okay, dear," I twinkled, making a mental note to add a pantry and half bath to the new house.

When it comes to real estate, it's important to remember a few important terms. Negotiation is the most important one of all.

Now if I can just work something out with Precious to save my linens.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Drip Dry

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what happens to my towels. There are times I think the door to my bathroom leads to some sort of lavatorial Bermuda triangle where terrycloth goes to die.

Today my husband disappeared into the bathroom to take a shower. Seconds later he pried the door open a crack and stuck his head out.

“Have you washed towels lately?”

“Have you shaved your legs lately?” I love the man, but I'm not the only one in the house that can rinse and spin.

“I’m not trying to be sexist. I just want to dry off.”

“Yesterday I washed everything that resembled a towel. I even threw in that funny sweater your mother gave you for Christmas.”

“That’s not terrycloth. It's cashmere”

"So that's why there was enough fluff in the lint trap to knit a goat.”

The door closed. I heard furtive searching sounds coming from the bathroom closet. Seconds later he peered out of the door crack with one distraught eye.

“What’s the matter?”

“All that’s left is the froggie towel from when the kids were little and the pink velour Martha Stewart with the floral design.”

“Go for Martha's flowers. Froggie repels liquid. You can dry on that thing for half an hour and still retain enough water to qualify as a camel.”

Later that night I found six hand towels and a frayed wash cloth drying on the towel rack. I guess he didn’t want to take any chances with the blossoms. I tossed them all in the laundry.

It’s not that we don’t own other towels. If all the terrycloth in our possession were draped across the Atlantic, the ocean would dry up to the size of a turtle’s teardrop. But our towels are given to vanishing when emergencies arise. Harry Houdini would be envious of the sleight of hand towels we’ve experienced.

The day that Bill Dear kept screaming for something to wipe the dipstick with when he was changing the oil, the guest towels disappeared. The day Son One and Son Two were heard arguing over who was to blame for the massive Fruit Loop spill on the Oriental carpet, the blue towels I got for Mother’s Day went missing. The day we adopted the third puppy, I took out stock in cotton futures.

There’s nothing I can do about the towels that are already gone, but there are preventive measures I can take to guard against these towel-thieving guys in my house.

First thing Monday morning, I’m heading to Wal-Mart to snag a buggy full of pink velour towels with a floral design.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll just have to install automatic air dryers in the bathroom. They're not very thorough, but it's best to let your delicates drip dry anyway.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kitchen Crisis

“Mom! Ryan stuck the vacuum cleaner hose up under the stove and now there’s smoke coming out of his pants!”

I opened one eye and waited while the whirling scenes behind my eyeballs settled into recognizable figures. A young boy stood by the bed, the very bed upon which I collapsed in the early hours of the morning after arriving home from an intimate anniversary trip to the coast with my husband and his MasterCard. This must be a dream. I closed the errant eye gratefully.

“Mom. The turtle is missing out of his pocket!”

I’ve heard you can change the course of your dream if you concentrate. I concentrated on Continental breakfasts on the hotel terrace. I concentrated on platters of pastries and piles of fragrant fresh fruits of the season. I tried to concentrate on going back to sleep, but this act is difficult when confronted with a young boy leaning in close enough to breathe your exhaust and visions of Hoover-bound turtles are dancing in your head. Unless that turtle was Michelangelo or one of his Teenage Mutant Ninja buddies, he was probably exiting my son’s shorts in a puff of I Dream of Jeannie Smoke.

Fine. If reality was going to intrude into my unconsciousness and stomp barefoot across my fantasies, I’d get up. I swept down the hall in a swirl of pink nylon and polyester lace to take command of the sandstorm.

“What are you doing?” I shrieked, fanning away the clouds of dust that threatened to cover my body like a “just add water” mud pack.

“Good morning, Mom,” Ryan greeted me calmly without looking up from the task at hand, which seemed to be a daring attempt to suck the oven’s inner workings piece by piece into the vacuum. “Jeffrey’s dinosaur head rolled under here, so I thought I’d get it out so he wouldn’t bother you.” A fresh pillar of dust-filled smoke arose as he hit a warren of dust bunnies that didn’t need to worry about finding a place on the endangered species list.

Son Two, The Informer, was right. As Ryan knelt on hands and knees on what must be the kitchen floor, jabbing at the stove with a vacuum cleaner bayonet, the clouds appeared to be passing through the billowing folds of his star-spangled shorts. I couldn’t imagine a prettier picture to greet me after a week of soaring seabirds and glimmering shells at sunset. A threadbare moon in my kitchen.

I wrenched open the kitchen door and turned on the ceiling fan, industrious actions that succeeded in creating a tornado-like whirlwind that rerouted the dusty smoke back up Ryan’s boxers. Seen through sunlight filtered by vacuum exhaust with dust clouds rolling up one leg and down the other, my oldest son looked like a “person of interest” in a Stephen King novel.

“Here, let me,” I screamed over the roar of the vacuum sucking up dust clots, Jeffrey jumping up and down like a caffeinated flea, and Lucy the semi-dachshund barking disapproval of the chaos. I grabbed the vacuum hose from Ryan and knelt down to survey the situation. As I squatted, not wanting to commit to a full bend and kneel unless absolutely necessary, the vacuum hose brushed the flimsy pink folds of my gown and sucked a foot or so of the delicate fabric inside. I immediately voiced my surprise and disapproval in a calm and controlled manner.

“Stop screaming and stand still!” Ryan grabbed one edge of the flimsy material and began to heave mightily in the manner of someone wrestling an unruly reptile.

“Help!” I squealed back as the struggles resulted in a blow to my left eye and a near-miss indiscretion involving my modesty.

“Excuse me. Is this a bad time?” asked a friendly voice. I squinted through my remaining good eye and discovered the local pastor peering in the open kitchen door from the steps outside. Dropping by to inquire about my trip, the good man took in this lovely picture of family unity: Me, dabbing at my swollen eye with a dishcloth, my nightdress sucked down the vacuum hose while the three of us--the vacuum hose, the nightdress, and me—snaked around my teenage son whose heavenly-body boxers flapped as he endeavored mightily to wrest me loose, and my youngest offspring jumping about excitedly in backwards pants with a lizard’s tail flapping from the back pocket which was now in front.

“Can I be of assistance?

“Pull the plug!”

Responding to emergency situations is an important part of a pastor’s life’s work and he responded admirably. He lunged through the door and remedied the situation with a yank to the snarling monster’s cord.

Slowly, my night dress drizzled back down my thighs and the swirling clouds of dust began to silt at our feet. I stammered and sputtered, looking for an explanation that didn't involve animal abuse, child neglect, or chiffon in the kitchen after breakfast time.

The good pastor collapsed in a chair at the kitchen table as dust bunnies swirled around his head in a halo pattern before coming to rest on his shoulders. He took in the situation with a soulful look and began to laugh.

“I’d use you in my sermon this week,” he paused to wipe his eyes. “But I don’t know if you would fit in better with The Good Samaritan or,” he winced as he pulled a small, surprised turtle out from under him, “the Ten Plagues of Egypt.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Full Count

By the end of spring training I could tell that the Yankees weren’t going to be sitting on top of the scoreboard come World Series time. By the end of February, I had personally intercepted their signals for bunt, steal, and get the heck out of Dodge.

The way I see it, the past months have been a kind of spring training season for the Presidential elections, with teams scrimmaging and jostling for the top position in the standings. The recent unpleasantness involving Georgia, not the peach capital of the world; the other one, may have cleared the benches, but it also gave us some insight into each candidate’s bullpen.

As we head into October, tensions tighten, rosters change, and the road to the pennant is scattered with hit and run plays. Roster changes could make the difference in who waves the flag and who cries in their pinstripes. In the playoffs, the highest paid third baseman might bobble the ball like a lipsticked pig.

I’ve studied the presidential candidates and finally decided who we need in charge of the lineup for the greatest country on Earth. Only one person has showed the necessary courage in the face of unwavering antagonism, tact in the place of obnoxious displays of power, and skill in drawing out the best in the people on the team.

So, I’m voting for the Yankees ex-manager Joe Torre. If he can survive George Steinbrenner, handling a pack of warring countries will be easier than switching pitchers during the seventh inning stretch. And he showed he has the smarts to get the heck out to the Dodgers.

I just wish he had Mariano Rivera to call on when the bases were loaded. A simple fastball, high and tight, works wonders when the bad guys threaten your borders.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Big Business--A Retrospective

My son, Donald Trump, is to big business what Bill Gates is to electronic solitaire. He exploits the common good to create a formerly free product that people stand in line to pay money for. If Omarosa had taken lessons from this kid, she would have a corner office at Trump Tower and the Main with the Ugly Hair would be matching up accessories for her.

My son “The Don” maintains a network of dedicated employees that work hard to support his extravagant lifestyle. The fact that he’s in the seventh grade is a bonus. Money made under the school desk is not easily tracked by results-oriented Internal Revenue officers. I’m nourishing hopes that he’ll support me during retirement in case of undesirable Social Security trends.

One morning as The Don was leaving the car for Algebra class, enough change fell out of his pockets to finance gumballs for a middle school chewathon.

“It’s okay,” he shrugged, nonchalantly sweeping the pile into a mini dustpan and dumping the lot into his jacket pocket where it ripped through the lining and crashed to the sidewalk, chipping out a divot in the concrete the size of a gold bar. “I’m rolling in it.”

“That’s preferable to stepping in it,” as my Old Man, an old hand at Black Jack used to say.

Normally this sort of statement from a twelve-year-old is alarming to a parent. But, having lived with this particular twelve-year-old for about forty years, I was as cool as Frosty’s button nose—on the outside. The turmoil inside could have caused his corncob pipe to spontaneously combust. I couldn’t help but remember The Kid’s past forays into Big Business.

Taking a lesson from his older brother, who cleaned out the pockets and lunchboxes of all the kids at Daycare playing draw poker until I discovered the trend and made him repay the winnings—nickels, drink boxes, and all, he stuck to value-added enterprises that ensured customer satisfaction. During the last fad faze, The Kid bartered his lunch for highly collectable trading cards and took advantage of an established market of eager ten year olds who readily traded their allowance—and their lunch—for hard-to-come-by cards. He scored his first card for a Twinkie, invested in a carton of Ho-Ho’s, and by the time The Kid graduates from high school, he will either be a multi-millionaire or a convicted felon. Either way, I’m not liable for college tuition.

I’m not saying this kid is different, but last year he listed an underground laboratory, strength of a gorilla, and stock options as the main items on his Christmas wish list. In a fit of sudden inspiration, he invested his birthday money in a metal detector and now he collects treasures on the playground the way other kids collect bubble gum wrappers in their jacket pockets. He’s gathered enough jewelry at recess to open his own pawn shop.

Other kids have dressers to hold their clothes. This one uses his bureau like a cash register: tens and twenties in one side; fives, ones, and loose change in the other. I borrowed spare change for coffee from him until I realized he was charging ten and a half percent interest. I stopped giving him ice cream money when he offered to change a fifty.

His latest venture is pure genius. In an age where instant gratification is as close as your Blackberry, today’s tykes spend their pocket money on cheat guides for video games that are obsolete before the clerk hands them their receipt. My young entrepreneur launched a line of energetic young players with well-conditioned thumbs, who beat the games for their less talented or motivationally challenged friends. For a price, of course.

When I discovered this enterprise, I didn’t know whether to pat him on the back, send him to his room, or sign him up for political office. “Kids PAY you to play their video games?” My mind couldn’t grasp the concept.

“Technically, that’s not the exact truth,” he explained, as serious as Dan Rather under intense questioning. This kid knows more about technicalities that Johnnie Cochran knows about loopholes. “I created the concept, so I don’t actually do the physical labor. I assign a customer service representative to handle the problem, and he pays me out of the money he earns.”

“You’re getting paid for playing games you’re not even playing?”

“Ummmm. Yes.”

“Any chance I could get in on the action?”

“Mom, this may be a family business, but I’ve got to be realistic. You’re lousy at video games. You always die. But you can give me a ride to Jake’s house. I have to make a pick-up.”

“Okay,” I said, grabbing my keys. “But it’ll cost you.”

What can I say? A girl’s got to get ahead the best way she can. And unless The Don cleans his room pretty soon, he’s looking at a hostile takeover.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Bang and a Whimper

Because I didn’t have any armed artillery rounds to juggle, I decided to spend Sunday afternoon cleaning the boys’ room, a happy little corner of the world I like to call The Wasteland.

The guys were going to clean it out soon anyway, I’m sure. Back at the turn of the century I told Son Two, the Procrastinator, to straighten up his room if he wanted to have friends over to play pin the tail on the Pac Man. At the time, he was in fifth grade. He’ll graduate from college in the next few years, but I’m holding fast to my rule. So I know they were gonna take care of it sooner or later, but after the rusty nail incident I thought it was in the best interests of everybody to give them a hand.

I learned a lot of things this afternoon. First, I learned that juggling armed artillery rounds is easier than forcing jewelry on J-Lo compared to shoveling a decade’s worth of trading cards and sludge-filled Yoo Hoo bottles from the shag under the box springs in The Wasteland. The landscape around Chernobyl smacks of a trip down the yellow brick road compared to the terrain under those twin beds. (Flying monkeys excluded.)

Next, I learned that while the kids took my advice over the years, they applied a more literal translation of "save for the future" than I intended. Anyone who has ever spent three hours chiseling two dimes and a souvenir penny from a petrified Play Doh statue that has welded itself to a bookshelf with time and liberal applications of dust can feel my pain. I found enough change to pay off our church’s building debt and add a multi-sports complex out back, but I was afraid to touch any of it without notifying the Environmental Protection Agency. Both Obama and McCain say we need change. I’ve got it if they dare to come after it. But I'd advise they load up on oxygen masks, Kevlar gloves, and antiseptic wipes. A load of odor-eaters wouldn't hurt.

The third thing I learned is that a stray Cracker Jack will maintain its original form and composition no matter how much time passes or how many natural disasters come along to cover it with cat hair and dust bunnies. A Cracker Jack must be the basic building block upon which all other things are made. That and Easter Peeps. Which I found hibernating in someone's underwear drawer.

All the experience I earned today will stand me in good stead should I choose a new career as a hazardous waste transporter. But the most important thing I brought out of the Seventh Level of the Dirty Place was this: when an old woman slips on a decayed Snickers bar, careens off a peg-legged rocking chair, and lands with all of her the considerable heft on an ancient whoopee cushion that’s been repaired with duct tape and left to ripen for seven years, that cushion will still whoopee with gusto.

The sound will echo around the room like she’s been juggling live artillery rounds and dropped one. And as the previously empty space fills up with all the folks that neglected to help with the terrible task, she should drop the rest.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

And To Think Noah Had Two of Each

We usually go to the annual dog show in the big city next door, if for no other reason than to see what we could have had. We love our dogs, but without us, they’d be in the line for federal assistance. There are two of them, which in Bible language is a multitude.

Lucy is a Dachshund mix. I’m not real sure what’s in the mix, but she looks like the love child of a link sausage and Daffy Duck. Lucy could give Jennifer Lopez diva lessons. She has an aversion to dog food, getting her feet wet, and sharing the Earth with other life forms. We can’t open the door, turn on the television, or stroll into the kitchen without having her alert the news media with a dedicated barkfest. We've taken to flushing on the sly when she goes outside to eat ants.

Bo is a Lab mix. If you noticed a trend, it’s true. All our dogs are mixes. It’s so much easier than making one from scratch. Just be careful when adding the water, so it doesn’t overflow.

Bo is a talented liar. To hear him tell the tale, he hasn’t been fed since finding the stray square of Shredded Wheat under the refrigerator in 2005. At present he is on the Atkins diet, having failed miserably at Weight Watchers, the Zone, and the cabbage soup diet, the last of which gave our kitchen a signature scent I’d rather not discuss and gave Bo the opportunity to spend a lot of time outside.

I’ve read him all the articles about walking off the weight, but he whiles away his time table surfing for bread crumbs and licking likely spots off the linoleum. He has no shame and will face off with the big, brown-eyed “I’ve never been fed” look if he thinks he can score a bite of your peanut butter sandwich.

The dogs are supervised at all times by the house warden, Justin. Justin is a tabby cat whose official title is Supreme Ruler of the Household and Wielder of Sharp Claws. Unfortunately, as is the case with many heads of state whose family tree is shadowed with intertwined branches, Justin is common sense challenged. Most cats understand that if a space is occupied by another object, they should find somewhere else to lurk. Not Justin. Therefore he has numerous wounds and abrasions inflicted by flower pots or dishes or wayward dogs who weren’t quick enough to escape breaking his fall.

For aesthetic reasons, and to earn the gratitude of our feathered friends who, it turns out, take us for granted and write ugly messages on our windshields when the feeder runs dry, Bill Dear hung a bird feeder in the tree outside our bathroom window. This window is a favorite perch for Justin, who amuses himself by chatting with the birds outside.

However, the window ledge is too small for Justin’s elderly, but massive frame (another candidate for fat-free catnip), and is high off the ground to boot. So Justin sits for hours on the bathtub, staring at the window and willing himself to levitate so that he can see the birds. Occasionally we take pity on him and hold him up to the window, but this became embarrassing when our friends found out. (So, Bill, I hear you hold your cat up to the window so he can see out. Why don’t you just buy him a canary?) It’s not the sort of thing that a man likes to talk about around the water cooler at work.

Despite his best efforts (Bill Dear’s present method of discipline is threatening divorce and shooting me ugly looks across the potatoes at dinner), I’m sure Justin’s kingdom will increase. There is an invisible sign etched into the atmosphere above our house that beams longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates to homeless animals all over the globe. “SLEEP WARM! EAT FREE! OPERATORS STANDING BY!”

I just hope the offer ends soon. I’m tired of sleeping in the doghouse.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Guns and Grandmas

When Southerners make the news it's never the "Mild-mannered College Professor Cures Cancer" type of story. It's not even the "Socialite Bequeaths Diamonds to Charity" type story. Oh no. When we make the news it's more of a "please don't put that on the front page and for goodness sake don't put a picture or say they're related to me" type of story. In which case I point out the happenings for the whole word to enjoy.

But in the sense of fairness, because this could have happened to anybody, I've left out Bubba and Junior's real names and supplied fitting character-generated epithets.

Here in the Redneck Capital of the World, a story made the newspaper that involved all the necessary ingredients of a made-for-TV movie—or a family reunion, depending on whether potato salad was served.

Seems Granny was unable to sleep what with pondering the whereabouts of her debit card, and woke up Nephew Number One to ask for his input on the matter. Meanwhile, Nephew Number Two, The Bad ’Un, wandered away from his plant-cultivating hobby, leaving his pipe on the kitchen table long enough to grab up Grandma in a choke hold, and poke the business end of a rifle into the throat of our boy, Rip Van Winkle. He takes a shot at the family Bible and sends Rip in to sit on the couch wearing nothing but his underpants and a plastic bag on his head.

But suddenly the plot twist kicks in. When Bad Boy turns to look out the door, Captain Underpants overpowers him, grabs the rifle, and hotfoots it down the street, where, despite his lack of fashion sense, he convinces a neighbor to call Emergency Services. (I have no proof, but I’m assuming he dislodged the fancy bag hat before the action sequence.)

If it weren’t for the Bible incident, I’d be leaning toward the Family Reunion story. But no Southern boy is going to take a pot shot that separates Matthew from Mark, Luke, and John in front of his grandmother and live to tell about it. Which leads us to the question: Where was Granny during the excitement? Any Southern Grandma worth her weight in blackstrap molasses would have pulled out a shotgun of her own and blasted the pants off Mr.Yuk. The whole tale smacks of “If you believe that one, then listen to this.”

As it was, reports state that Mr. Meanie was caught after a brief pursuit. From the descriptions, it sounds like they got their nephews mixed up because the briefs were last seen high-tailing it over the river and through the woods away from Grandma’s House.