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 d├ęcor. 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.