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

Thursday, 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.