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.

Monday, March 31, 2008

No Holes Left Behind

Holey Sand Castles!

Fill ’er up? We may not hear that question at the gas station any more, but that might be the question of the day on the South Carolina coast before long, proving a day at the beach is no day at the beach.

From the state that brought you possible leash laws for cats, comes talk of a new law designed to protect your pursuit of happiness and ruin your vacation.

Apparently flagrant and widespread sand castle building is endangering the health and well being of the good people of South Carolina and the visitors to her sparkling shores. Couples walking on the beach at night are sometimes hurt when they come across holes in the sand left by unscrupulent castle-builders.

At least they don’t have a problem with crabs.

The Isle of Palms City Council is not just going to sit and watch. No! In the spirit that made this country great even at the expense of a load of Earl Gray in the Boston Harbor, the last time it was acceptable to serve unsweetened tea, they’re going to do something about it.

Normally I try to avoid the news whenever possible and stick to factual stories like they have in celebrity gossip magazines. But some stories are so compelling that they demand attention, and I mean besides the age old question, “Why is Heather Mills going to judge the Miss USA Pageant?” You can bet your Rodham that Hillary’s not the only one dodging bullets.

It has come to my attention due to diligent research when I dropped jelly on the funnies and had to take the newspaper apart, that a proposal is under consideration that would result in fines for evildoers (Mom, Dad, and the pail pushing shovelers they call children) who do not fill in the holes they create while building sand castles. Before they leave the beach, all divots, moats, and shallow graves must be returned to their normal state or Junior is going to be spending his allowance trying to buy Get Out of Jail Free cards from the locals.

God only knows the penalties clams will incur.

They say the No Holes rule will be difficult to enforce, since the police must watch the alleged instigators build the alleged sandcastle and then leave the alleged hole unfilled, and then serve the warrant before the tide fills the hole back in.

Considering the time between low and high tides and the amount of time the family remains on the shoreline, the average policeman would be required to spend hours at a time on the beach.

The entire population of the Isle of Palms, Charleston, and Summerville has volunteered to serve on the police force.

Personally, I’m willing to do my part. On my next trip to the beach, I plan to return all the shell fragments, sand dollars, and shark’s teeth I’ve taken over the years. Vast numbers of seagulls have undoubtedly spent their lives with sprained ankles from tripping over the tiny holes I left behind. I’ll feel better knowing that I’ve made retribution.

But what do I do about the sand in my swimsuit?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cannonball Run

I’m perched atop a Revolutionary War cannon in a position I will delicately describe as “not sidesaddle.” Behind me the water ripples out toward Fort Sumter, a major piece in the puzzle of how we managed to win independence from a country that, compared to the America of the time, is relatively the size a flyswatter looks to a targeted fly. I’ve been smiling into the sun for so long that I’ve managed to flash “Help Me” in Morse code to eighteen passers by using my front teeth, each of which is covered in grit and feels approximately the size of a sailboat.

So far, either nobody understands Morse code or they don’t want to risk having their picture taken in their vacation clothes. Just as I’m beginning to realize there’s a fine line between smiling and gritting your teeth, I hear the camera click and start to slide to safety down the back of the statue. Halfway down the cannon, my pants get hung on, to use a technical term, the "back." Two and a quarter centuries ago a soldier would stand here to light the fuse. My fuse is currently too short to light.

“Hold it! That’s a better shot!” shouts Bill, clicking away like he’s head photographer for America’s Top Model. A little more experience and he could stalk Britney with the Hollywood paparazzi.

I hang in mid air having a closer relationship with heavy artillery than is appropriate on a family outing. We are celebrating my husband’s birthday with a day trip to Charleston, the Holy City, and I’m thinking ungodly thoughts.

Ever since Bill turned the big 5-0 and got his membership packet from the American Association of Undeniably Old People, he’s been moping around like a kid who’s just found out where drumsticks come from. So for his birthday, I joined the Electronics Age and got him a fancy digital camera. Nothing like a new toy to cheer up an old birthday boy.

I don’t know much about the make and model of this baby, but the logo emblazoned down the side says Canon, and there’s enough alphanumeric characters trailing along behind it to drive the price up past what I’d normally pay for a spa weekend. With Brad Pitt.

What hubby doesn’t know is that, using my highly developed Google-Fu, I found the camera on the Internet for a fraction of what you’d pay in the store. Since money can’t buy love, I’ll use what I saved for batteries.

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those that photograph like Cindy Crawford and those whose picture always looks like a self portrait by a blindfolded six-year-old. Needless to say I’m more six than Cindy. I don’t want to say pictures of me generally look like chewed gum stuck on the bottom of a picnic table, but one look at my glamour shots and you know it’s body by Super Bubble, face by Bazooka.

As I’m dangling over the viewfinder end of the cannon, I notice that I have the attention of most of the tourists in the park. For a second, I’m a bigger attraction than the nude statue on the point. With shutters clicking all around me, I finally manage to secure a foothold on a pile of display cannonballs painted black and cemented solidly in place to withstand years of assault by squirrels, toddlers, and other evildoers. I balance on the pyramid of ammo long enough to release the hold of the big gun on my pants.

Just as hubby realizes my distress and rushes to my aid, I climb down looking as if I’d been straddling a missile made of black chalk. After checking me over for injuries and a better camera angle, he proudly displays the photographs he got while I was astride the big gun. As I squint at the display in the glare of the sunshine I suddenly realize that, new technology or old, no matter which cannon I get shot by, the results are the same.

But this time I was saved by the balls.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Potato Salad Payoff

Talk about blended families. Our family tree has more exes than a Tic Tac Toe tournament. At 2:00 in the afternoon on holiday weekends all the children automatically rotate parents from force of habit. This weekend I found myself seated at dinner next to an entertaining young man who was engaged in a fork joust in an effort to to keep his creamed corn from touching his potato salad.

“Well, hello.” I’m nothing if not a sparkling conversationalist.

The fork executed a remarkable thrust and parry to save yet another food item from corn domination. “Yo.”

Limited verbal motivation. Uncombed hair. Aversion to cohabitation of vegetables. I hate that nagging feeling that you’ve seen someone before and can’t remember where.

“And who do you belong to?” I really should write this stuff down.

“You. I’m your first-born male child. I inherit your kingdom, such as it is.”

“What’s your name?”

“You told me not to tell anybody that doesn’t say the code word.”

“What’s the code word?”

“Nice trick. You warned me you might try that.”

I liked him better when he was poking holes in the entrée.

I squinted critically and turned his face side to side with my palm. “You don’t look like me.”

“Yet one more thing to be thankful for.”

I paused to consider. Wit coupled with a side order of sarcasm. A single sterling family trait does not make him an heir to my fortune in frozen Girl Scout cookies and unrecycled grocery bags.

“So what’s your name?”

“Nice try, Mom.”

“If I’m your Mom, tell me something personal that only I would know.”

“You hide leftover Easter candy in your underwear drawer, you can’t reach the Tupperware bowls on the second shelf, and you cry during the end of Secondhand Lions whether you see the first half of the movie or not.”

A few lucky guesses does not equal a DNA match.

“And what happened on Friday,” I queried, conjuring up memories of Family Scrabble Night.

He swallowed the last bite of uncontaminated potato salad and guzzled a half gallon of iced tea without stopping for breath. “Friday was allowance day. You owe me five dollars.”

Anybody with that kind of money memory has my blood in his veins.

Now how can I get him to tell me the family password? Maybe I can buy a vowel.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Seek Not

Spring is a glorious time of days filled with sparkling sunshine, blooming flowers, and flooded basements. I know it’s spring when the sewer backs up and the toilet overflows like a baby with a double mouthful of strained peas.

I’m looking for the day when the first flush of spring brings added surprises. The plumber marks his annual trip out to my house on his calendar right next to “Order New Mercedes.”

About the only thing I hate worse than that first flush is the annual Easter egg hunt at the farm. This year, Easter comes at the end of March, so it’s possible that the two events may coincide, much like a slingshot-launched rock and a plate glass window, only in this case the thing that gets launched is a good deal less desirable as a projectile than a rock.

I’m just as helpless at the egg hunt as I am in cases of explosive plumbing malfunctions. And to make matters worse, now that Easter is rolling around like the last jelly bean in the bowl, I’m running out of ways to disguise my nonconformity, which is like trying to disguise one of the white keys on a jazz piano.

I’m seek-challenged. I couldn’t find the spots on a ladybug without a field guide and a labeled specimen. If it were up to me, all the hidden eggs would find a home in the wild.

I can hide eggs. I’m the one that thought of putting the cracked one under the seat of the car when we were kids. It’s still there. I’m anticipating an ugly phone call from Mom any day. Reminder to self: Sign up for caller ID.

But when it comes to finding eggs, I can scramble around all day and come up with nothing but an empty basket. Especially now that I’m at the stage of life where every morning starts off with a hunt. As I get older—I won’t say mature as that can lead to lawsuits from the false advertising people—I couldn’t find a lost thought with an All Points Bulletin and a Vulcan mind meld. I haven’t been able to locate my belly button since the baby, and I wouldn’t recognize my own knees in a police lineup. Note to self: Order high school graduation announcements for the baby.

When I was a kid, the Easter Bunny used to hide “pity eggs” out in plain sight to make sure I could find them. He could have dyed them neon colors, dotted them with iridescent sequins, and implanted them with a tracking device that emitted a sound that would shatter Plexiglas, and I would still wander from shrub to shrub saying, “Am I hot? Give me a hint.”

Last weekend, while rearranging furniture in an attempt to find my glasses, my teenaged son discovered a plastic egg in one of the nooks in my desk. Inside was a tiny chocolate bar huddled in a faded wrapper.

“Look! It’s one of last year’s Easter Eggs we never found!”

That does it. I’m through with egg hunts. I don’t care if I never see my navel again, but if my chocolate detector is lost, I’ve got nothing left to dye for.

Monday, March 17, 2008

True Colors

My Mom never had The Talk with me. I had to find out by trial and error and I almost lost my socks. All in all, the first time I tried it, the results weren’t pretty.

I don’t know if it was the toddler size sweater I wore fresh from the dryer, or the “Just My Size” underwear clinging statically to my back as I strolled down the hall, but as people turned to stare and gawk, I felt like everybody knew that I’d tried it for the first time.

Dirty laundry. It’s a tough lesson to have to learn on your own.

A true friend would have told me about fabric softener. A few tips on Use and Care Instructions as a second language wouldn’t hurt either.

These days I’ve been doing laundry long enough to know how to handle my delicates, but I still have questions.

Exactly how do you wash a shirt that’s both red and white? If it says, “Wash in like colors” do you put it in with the reds or the whites? I’ve tried it both ways. Luckily pink is my favorite color, but now my husband won’t get undressed at the gym.

Deep down I understand why Mom never talked to me about natural fibers and the danger of shrinkage. But why didn’t she tell me that too much bleach would rot out the seat of your underwear like month-after-Christmas fruit? Was she afraid to tell me about laundry? Afraid that hot for whites would be too much for my tender psyche?

Not on your stain stick.

She didn’t raise four kids without honing her survival skills. The odds were good with four kids running around, that if she brought out the laundry products, somebody would be likely to try to remove the spots from the cat.

So she kept her pre-soak hidden on a high shelf and her spray starch tucked away behind the family Bible and never worried that we’d find it.

I shudder to think what would have happened to the cat if we’d found that starch.

Also, the old woman was shrewd. Except for choosing in favor of dessert and against doing dishes, I was never a decisive child. She knew that if it came to sorting cotton blends from washable wool, I’d just give up and stay home and she’d be stuck when me forever.

Why not let dirty clothes be a little secret lurking just around the coin-operated laundry?

And drycleaning just a mess that you clean up without a mop.

Smart woman.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Boiling Point

It’s not that my son is a picky eater; it’s just that he’d starve to death before the noon rush at any grocery store in America.

He once perused the morning buffet at a luxury hotel restaurant (We have teenage boys. To us luxury means any hotel that doesn’t make us pay a security deposit when we check in.) for three quarters of an hour before demanding to be taken to McDonald’s. Nothing says Breakfast of Champions like a McBiscuit with the outside crust peeled away.

His specifications are exact. He does not eat ugly food.

Ugly food is defined as any food that is unattractive in appearance or that comes in contact with any other food or food-like item during its processing or preparation. Therefore, my kitchen is under constant supervision. It’s like living with a member of the Board of Health who doesn’t clean his room or brush his teeth until threatened with government action.

“Mom,” Son #2 peered in the pot of steaming, frothing liquid and wrinkled his nose. “Are you boiling chickens again?”

“Sure am.”

“Didn’t you just boil a chicken at aunt KJ’s house this weekend?”

“Yes, I was helping her out in the kitchen.”

Son 2, in disgust, “Do you have some sort of addiction to chicken boiling?”

“I’m going to make chicken salad.”

“Are you sure this isn’t some kind of cult ritual or something?”

“I’m sure. Back away from the chicken. It needs to boil another hour.”

“Do we need to have an intervention?”

“No. This is not a bizarre ceremonial rite. You have to stew it before you can make other things with it.”

“Like what? Some sort of nasty chicken potion to smear on your victims? Does it eat their flesh? You know, like zombie chickens.”

“Son, if you don’t like chicken salad, you don’t have to eat it.”

“You’re trying to trick me. You’re going to feed me some kind of boiled chicken serum to make me do your will.”

“That’s ridiculous. I create the potion for making you do my will out of the parts I take out of the chicken.”

“Like what?”

“Like the heart.”

“At least I'd have a heart. Are you lying?”

“Yes, I am. I’m not going to waste a perfectly good bird just to make you obey me. Besides, it doesn’t work.”

He pondered this tidbit. “That’s because I’m not eating it. I shouldn’t even be breathing in the fumes. They’re probably poisonous. Or hallucinogenic.”

I didn’t know words with that many syllables until I was in college. “There are pizzas in the freezer. I don’t care if you eat chicken salad or not.”

Where’s the feet? Are you wearing a chicken claw around your neck?”

“For goodness sakes. That’s the Mother’s Day necklace you and your brother gave me. The pictures are a little fuzzy, that’s all.”

“Sure, Mom, if that’s your real name. I’ll be wanting to see some identification at dinner.”

“Get out of the kitchen.”

“Oh, now you’re worried, aren’t you? You’ll probably try and disguise the chicken in my food.”

All the boy eats is frozen pizza and Captain Crunch. It’s hard to disguise chicken parts as rogue Crunch Berries.

“That’s right. Beware of anything you eat or drink. It may be contaminated with chicken broth.”

“That’s it. I’m making a pizza.”

It’s amazing how people who won’t eat freshly thawed meat by-products will roast a frozen, artificially colored and flavored disc to a golden brown and slam it down like filet mignon just because it says pizza on the box.

Come to think of it, I'm going to make some chicken soup. They say it cures what ails you. And in this case what ails me is a free-range teenager who’s chicken to try new food.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Apple of my Eyetooth

Today, the sun finally peeked through the storm clouds long enough to make the daffodils bloom before the next cold snap mows them down like a serial killer on Sunset Strip. Definitely a sign from heaven telling us spring cleaning is in order.

Spring cleaning is probably a good thing to do at least once a millineum. So I scrubbed the bathroom fixtures, reorganized the bookcases, and scraped the ooky stuff from around the burners on the stove.

Hubby took the dog to the dump. No, he didn’t leave him there. The weekly dump adventure is their version of a father and son backpacking trip with the Cub Scouts. Plenty of male bonding with the added bonus of disgusting smells.

Bo is a Labrador-Dalmatian cross. He is born to be outside and happy to be riding along at top speed in the name of emergency resolution, even if the crisis involves getting the turkey parts to the dumping grounds before fumes overwhelm us.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the importance of the chore. But why does it take two hours to ride six miles? I know for a fact as they pull out of the driveway I won’t see them again until I’m scooping macaroni shreds and broccoli bits out of the drain.

It’s not that I’m jealous. But it just doesn’t seem fair that the dog gets to ride in the front seat.

Sure enough, just as I’m wiping the slimy stuff off the top shelf in the refrigerator, they reappear grinning like a pair of superheroes who have saved the world from coffee grounds.

“Thought I’d take Bo for a romp so we wouldn’t have to worry about walking him later,” Bill says, stopping in the kitchen to empty leftover dog treats from his pockets. He drops enough kibble on our kitchen table to feed a team of Iditarod Huskies.

If that’s the leftovers, I can’t image how much he used for the main course. When we go out to eat, he gets me the children’s meals. I’ve got a nice collection of toy surprises and some neat Disney collector cups.

“I see Bo won’t need any breakfast.”

“No, we stopped at the drive-through. He worked up quite an appetite.”

“I understand driving past huge containers full of rotting refuse will do that.”

"We took the recyclables, too.”

Scrubbing around the knobs of the oven with a toothbrush, I had a little difficulty focusing on the bigger picture. At the moment, “going green” was just another reason to throw out the cheese.

Just about that time, Bill stopped and took a good look at the kitchen. The sink was spotless, the stove sparkled, and the KoolAid stains had been bleached from the countertops.

“Uh oh. What did I do? It’s the two hour dump trip isn’t it?”

This dog’s been hunting long enough to smell a trap long before he’s hanging upside down by his hind leg.

“What makes you say that?” I ask sweetly, scouring the finish off the microwave.

“You haven’t cleaned this much since I forgot to tell you that I volunteered to take six loaves of apple bread to the Thanksgiving dinner at work.”

“And what happened then?”

“I learned to make apple bread.”

“So, you took off for two hours with the dog, who rides in the front seat with his tongue cleaning the pine sap off the windows, and you don’t get home until all the cleaning is done. What do you think is wrong?”

“You want me to make apple bread?”

I ponder this logic for a moment. I want him to help me empty the refrigerator drippings from the grease pit under the ice box. On the other hand, his apple bread makes the angels sing. You don’t get this kind of food in a Happy Meal.

“That’s right, honey,” I said smiling.

“Well, Bo and I worked hard this morning and I’m worn out. Let me take a little nap and I’ll make you a double recipe.”

What can I say? Sometimes it’s best to let lying dogs sleep.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


While I was waiting for Celebrity Gossip to load over my dial-up Internet connection, I whiled away the time by licking the crumbs off the breakfast plates and perusing the headlines in our local paper. It seems that our City Council, having exhausted their legislative efforts in a road maintenance fundraising extravaganza known locally as the Pothole Tax, recently decided to proceed with an innovative stroke of legislation involving leash laws for cats. This idea is known locally as Stupid.

Leashing a cat is nearly as effective as lassoing escaped methane from a pasture full of Texas Longhorns.

I know from experience how unproductive this sort of excursion can be. (The catwalking, not the methane lassoing. I have teenaged sons, but I find that a quick shot of Chanel Number Lysol takes care of them.) I attempted the leash walking feat before. They say experience is the best teacher, and I have a new respect for anti-bacterial cream, sterile bandages, and super glue.

At the time, a light bulb came on in my head, and I had one of those epiphanies you read about in the life stories of people who make a fortune selling their ex-wife’s wedding gown on e-Bay.

I would use Lucy’s puppy collar and leash to take our ten-year-old tabby for a stroll. Lucy’s a Dachshund. Her puppy collar was designed for comfort and was quite sporty. What objections could Justin have? Little did I know the wattage in my light bulb was way too low. Justin put out my little light with a power surge.

“Son, run in and get me a Band-Aid.”

“Just one?”

“Well, make it a big one.”

“Anything else?”

“Got any spare Type O?”

After all I’ve done for that kid, he wouldn’t part with a pint of the good stuff for his mother.

I also discovered that it violates the Feline Bill of Rights to give Kitty a bath or even, thoughtful as it may seem, to baptize him in the toilet. (Don’t ask. Remember I have kids.) I have so many scars, the doctor thought I had striped skin.

“Say, how many children do you have?” he asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“Two. Why do you ask?”

“Either you delivered 137 children by C-Section or your obstetrician starts drinking very early in the day.”

After my adventures, it’s not odd that I’m taking a stand against trying to tame cats. If the good Lord wanted them to be domesticated, catnip would grow wild in my yard instead of ragweed and sticks.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the efforts of the City Council to rain down order and justice on an unsuspecting population. But it occurred to me that if we’ve advanced as far as cat confinement, it’s time to move on to more important things, like extending high speed Internet capability out to my house.

I’ve checked with the authorities about that Internet thing. I talked with a smug young man who speaks English as a fourteenth language and probably greases his eyebrows with olive oil.

“When do you think DSL will make it out to my house?” I asked chummily.

He laughed cruelly. Guys like this weed out the stragglers in the herd like a cheetah in its prime.

“About the time they tame cats.”

“Well, put me on the list. They’re about to vote it into law.”

Monday, March 3, 2008


Yesterday I spent a satisfying afternoon soaking up the sunshine and weeding my stick garden. Today, I spent an agonizing morning trying to move my legs and get out of bed.

My muscles were as stiff as the mummifed ragweed border by the walkway, my sinuses felt like they’d been roto-rootered without anesthesia, and my scalp held in heat like a solar panel. My joints sounded like a roll of bubble wrap in a blender.

The old saying is painfully true: after 40 it’s patch, patch, patch.

Looking around, I find that perhaps the old saying reveals itself differently these days. I have a friend who wears a patch on her shoulder to help her quit smoking, one who plants a patch on her hip for birth control, and one who pastes a patch on her thigh to help her avoid Weapons of Mass Chocolate Distribution.

I’d have to put that last one across my mouth for it to do any good. I borrowed one once and stuck it on the Haagen-Dazs label where they print the fat and calorie content, but it didn’t help much.

As it is, I’m holding out for an over 40 patch: one that can tell me where I parked my car, and why I went to the mall in the first place. A patch that can clue me in to why I went to the kitchen carrying a stack of folded underwear and two Dora the Explorer videos and where my glasses are hiding before my teenagers find them on my head.

I need a patch that warns me that not to bend down to pick up any denomination of money that can’t be folded, because loose change won’t pay the doctor bills to help me recover from the bending episode. A patch that reminds me sometime before supper that my morning coffee is warming in the microwave, and that helps me keep up with what destination I had in mind when I’m aimlessly circling the block with my head bowed, attempting to peer through the top of my trifocals for familiar landmarks.

I haven’t always been this way. When I was younger, my Mom always took me along to fill out forms because I could remember important information such as our current address and her birthday. I knew who she was supposed to buy birthday cards for during any given month, what kind of pizza to watch for when we went to the buffet, and to check the backs of her Scrabble tiles when she announced that she had six blanks and an “I.” I could thread her needles, stir the corn before it smelled like scorched corduroy, and read the fine print on the packet when she wanted to plant daisies. So how did I end up this way?

The answer came to me like the first sneezing fit of springtime. I was fine until I had children. So the next time the kids tease me about the patches I use to help me through the day I’ll put their priorities in order. “Just remember the cabbage patch. Without it you wouldn’t be here.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I seem to remember putting on the kettle for tea this morning. Or was that yesterday?