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, December 28, 2009

Old Family Recipe

I can’t think why I gain weight during the holidays. I’m sure to eat a balanced diet from every food group: food made with cream soup, food made with Cool Whip, food that combines vegetables or fruits with marshmallows in a creative way, and food that distant relatives make. I’m always careful to use garnishes, such as triple chocolate cake and pecan pie with discretion.

But here I am again, straining the seams of my purple puppy dog pajamas and forcing the elastic in my stretchy pants to call for reinforcements. To take the stress off my seams, I find I can generally go easy in the “food that distant relatives make” category.

What is it about seeing people only once a year that makes them think they can try out their experimental recipes without fear of retribution? Everybody has an aunt on a health food kick that makes everything with soy milk and seaweed or an uncle whose specialty is peanut butter casserole, but my family members have earned honorary placement in the Food Terrors Hall of Fame. (Their motto is “Smell This!”) With an eye toward family unity, I have always suffered through the asparagus jello of a forgotten time, but from now on, I’m taking a stand on the Aunt Betty's Rice and Raisin Balls.

I also find that I can resist:

Any dish that combines crushed corn flakes, cottage cheese, and butterscotch topping.

Any dish that blends chocolate chips with a random type of canned fish product.

Any finger food that leaves a film on my hands that requires turpentine to wash away the evidence.

So now I’ve concocted a secret weapon. The next time I’m faced with Sauerkraut and Strawberry Casserole or Better Than Roadkill Chili, I’ll whip the top off the mason jar I’m keeping for such an occasion.

“What’s in there?” the Captain asked when the mixture etched a hangman's noose on the inside of the jar.

I grinned. “It’s an Old Family Recipe.”

“Your great-grandaddy’s moonshine?”

“Better than that."

I unscrewed the lid and a passing fly hit the lineoleum like the top scoop of vanilla on an August ice cream cone.

"My brother’s carp bait.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Grinch, Interrupted

Christmas is a time to count my blessings. I count them at Thanksgiving, too, but that list tends to cover an expansive list of food items, many of which are covered in gravy. At Christmas I’m able to concentrate on the things that make my Grinch’s heart grow. (While I snack on food items filled with sugar and chocolate chips. Just for the record, I’m extra thankful for the people around me who do wonderful things with sugar and share them with me.)

I’m thankful the neighbor abandoned his Labrador when he moved away, because I found out that my husband was just teasing when he said another animal in the house meant I had to sleep in the yard. However, I’m hopeful that I won’t have to test that rule again this year.

I’m thankful for my husband’s eye-opening red flowerdy Hawaiian shirt, even though it caused the teenagers to christen him with the nickname Captain Spiffy, because buying a new shirt is a lot easier way to cope with turning 50 than purchasing a new sportscar or a supermodel. When you have three dogs, a supermodel is overkill. And hard to fit into the budget, although it's probably cheaper to keep her in kibble.

I'm thankful the dog was sick last week because this week he feels fine for Christmas. Unless he eats another angel.

I'm also thankful for a husband that let me sleep through the late night episode of the dog being sick. Husbands who are handy with a cleanup bucket are hard to find.

I'm thankful that I fell down the stairs last month, because Captain Spiffy insisted I buy new shoes. With treads.

Even though it was an adventurous journey (involving railroad tracks and saturated kidneys) to get to that point, I’m thankful the doctor put Bill on a restricted diet, because now I fit into my jeans.

I'm thankful that I broke my casserole dish because I don't have to make the sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner. I hate to cook and peel sweet potatoes, although I'll miss munching on the mini marshmallows. (I’m very thankful for mini marshmallows.)

I'm thankful that my pink felt feather-trimmed, high-heeled Christmas stocking is empty because I still have hope that Santa comes to see girls who have earned permanent placement on the naughty list. And I'm pretty sure he didn’t hear what I said when I found out the dog was sick.

I'm thankful to have a howling coyote and a five-legged zombie in my Nativity scene, because that means the boys are safe at home to practice their pranks.

I'm thankful that I headed back into the traffic and crowds to go Christmas shopping with Son Number One because now he has a job, and I got to see him spending his money instead of mine. Also, he bought gas for my car, which is very thoughtful even though I have to pay him back.

Most of all, I’m thankful that I was seated near the obnoxious loudmouth at dinner last night. Because the more he groused about the texture of his roast beef, the complimentary pancakes he received, the cost of his food, the service, the manager, and eventually the line at the cash register, the more I realized that the things I thought were my troubles all along, were the things I could count as extra blessings.

So thanks Scrooge. You’re the star on my tree this year.

And I’m thankful that I didn’t sling a biscuit at your head after all. Because I’m pretty sure Santa would have noticed.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

CSI Poinsettia Homocide

I love Christmas--known around my house as the Festival of Poinsettia Murder. It’s a ritual I indulge in every year. What says Merry Christmas better than a spray of bare, wilted stems and a blanket of cast-off red petals covering the floor in a crunchy carpet?

To my way of thinking it’s more manslaughter than murder anyway. It’s not like I plan the death like I plan the menu for Christmas dinner, which is an unsettling, but comforting, thought. My Christmas dinner, while not gourmet fare in scope or intent, might make for happy times and give the old stretchy pants a workout, but does not often leave bodies in its wake. My bent toward Poinsettiacide is a well-known, but lesser-appreciated talent.

So if it’s the rituals that make the holiday season important and cement the ties that bind into place, I owe it to my family to kill the holiday Poinsettia.

So this season will see all my familiar and comforting rituals: the manger scene whose assembled cast expands daily to include snowmen, stray wisemen and an occasional ox or ass from long lost nativity sets, and at least one zombie action figure; the Christmas tree decorated around the bottom with an assortment of bells and wind chimes to let me know when the kitties have staged a daring raid on the festive gift bags, and a crumpled Poinsettia that holds my hopes and dreams that this will be the year that Santa finally delivers a green thumb.

Because once the wrapping paper lies in mangled piles and Christmas lights wind themselves back into tangled knots, hope is what Christmas is all about.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jingle Bill$

Now that Thanksgiving is tucked conveniently away in freezerbound Tupperware and I’ve sewn the button back on my accidently expanding waistband, I can look forward to my favorite December pastime; counting down the days until Christmas. There is a complicated formula involving a calendar and a red marker that I could use, but I prefer the new math method. I count the number of sales flyers in the newspaper and divide by how many gifts I have left to buy.

Many of the area retailers have been infused with a generous helping of the Christmas spirit since the eve of the autumnal equinox, but I’m very firm about leaving the Christmas goodies on the shelves until the last of October’s candy corn is gone and the turkey leftovers have disappeared into the Dachshund. There’s something about toting red and green wrapped gifts home in a Frankenstein Trick or Treat bag that takes away the festive air of the whole project.

So I’ve been out this week, taking in the sights and sounds of Christmas. I noticed that “Debit or Credit” is the greeting of choice around town. Waffle House must be the only place left that still takes cash. They have to have something to give the folks behind the mask during the twelve days of armed robberies.

I got all my Christmas shopping done at a store that advertised cut-rate sale prices on all the merchandise. A perky sales clerk in a Santa hat rang up my purchase. When she hit the Total button, the machine started flashing like a jackpot winner on a slot machine. I guess a long list of cheap stuff still turns into a big bill. Especially when they add the state’s share at the end.

As I looked around the store, my eyes reflecting the soft glow of the cash register’s LEDs, I saw the walls were festooned with greetings for every holiday from Christmas to Kwanzaa. Now that we’re all celebrating different things this time of year, there’s only one greeting that still applies to everybody.

Peace on Earth.

Plus Tax.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Does Tradition Start With?

Traditions are important to the smooth running of a household. Just as a pillar of smoke at the Vatican informs the masses a new Pope is on the rise, a steady stream of smoke out my kitchen window indicates I need to make a trip to the store for another roast victim for dinner.

Tradition also helps alert my family that a change in dinner plans is on the way when they see me hurl the pot lids around the kitchen like ring toss at the county fair. They know from experience it’s not a good time to ask me for exact change for the newspaper boy or to invite 12 of their closest friends over for a video game marathon, or to inquire whether I washed their shin guards after last season’s championship game. They also know that a spirited volley of chicken nugget dodge ball with the dog means we’ll be scanning the plastic covered menu at Nacho Mama before the sun sinks below guacamole level.

To me, tradition means trustworthy and reliable. To the kids it spells boring, even if you don’t stop to buy a vowel.

“What’s for eats?” one boy asked the ceiling as he arched a knot of dirty socks in the general direction of what would be the laundry basket had I not reorganized the clutter.

“Meatloaf,” I said brightly, skimming the sweaty socks off the microwave.

“Gross. I’ll make a pizza."

This kid hurls dirty footwear at the appliances and eats perma frost in the shape of cheese shreds and he thinks meatloaf is gross?

Meanwhile, the other son has created a Dagwood sandwich extravaganza with cheese spilling down the sides like the Great Flood, and now is rambling through the contents of the refrigerator looking for cocktail onions. I peered at his bending form, illuminated by the refrigerator light.

“Dinner’s almost ready.”

“Yeah. Meatloaf. It’s Monday.

“You knew?”

“Yeah. You always make food that starts with the same letter as the day. I think it’s some sort of prehistoric filing system.”

“So what am I making tomorrow?”

“That’s easy. Tuesday is Takeout. I’ll be on time.”

While I don’t think I’ve called for takeout every Tuesday, it’s either that or turkey pot pie. The more I think about the Takeout Tradition, the more nostalgic I get. Takeout. Hmmm, that starts with T and that rhymes with E and that stands for Easy!

Now that’s a tradition I can live with!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Deck the Dachshund

My house may not be Martha Stewart clean, but you can eat off my floor--there’s a stash of Cheerios stuck to the linoleum by the stove that I could string for Christmas tree garland. I’m not saying I’m the worst housekeeper since the Addams family decorated their house by taking the skeletons out of the closet, but it’s almost time to deck the dustballs for Christmas.

This year I’m going to keep it simple. I’ll string some lights on the cobwebs and tuck a present or two under the mushrooms that have grown up beside the bathtub. The boys, as clever as teenagers can be, have traced a map to Bethlehem in the dust on the coffee table. If it’s as accurate as the ones I’ve had from mapQuest, any wise men around here would do well to stop at the Citgo station on the corner in Jerusalem and ask for directions. Otherwise, they’ll risk missing a baby Jesus sighting by thirty miles and two left turns.

Keeping close to nature this year, I’m turning my efforts to decorating the dogs. Once you’re greeted at the door by a hundred pounds of black Labrador clad in the graceful garb of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and a Dachshund in Spock-like elf ears, you can appreciate the spirit of the season.

So what’s the big deal? Everybody loved it at Halloween.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Breadline or Bust

The irrationally optimistic weatherman called for snow here today, which in South Carolina is something like having Weight Watchers announce that Amaretto cheesecake will be the favored menu item at their Christmas buffet. Those folks straining the door supports down at the Weight Watchers meeting know it’s not true, just like we know that it will rain macaroni and cheese before we see a snowflake, but by golly, we’re going to be prepared, just in case.

When the temperature dips below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and wild rumor spreads the S word around like compost on the vegetable garden, or if somebody kicks over a cup of ice at the Dairy Queen and it doesn’t melt before a refill arrives, the Piggly Wiggly rule goes into effect and everyone in the tri-county area proceeds to the local supermarket to show solidarity in the bread and milk departments.

This is the moment when the Live Action News cameras arrive from the major networks. Southerners may collect accomplishments like Leprechauns hoard pots of gold, but it’s not likely that the rest of the world is going to see us on the news pulling Timmy from the well. You’re going to see action packed newsreels of Lurlene pushing a buggy piled high with grocery store white bread, pork rinds, and a tribe size of Charmin, charging past the fresh fruit to beat her sister to the express lane checkout. And when tornado weather rolls through, the news channels race like greyhounds hot on the robot rabbit’s trail to be the first one with Live-Eye footage of a double-wide trailer spinning through the air like a boomerang.

This used to bother me when I was younger. Nowadays I can’t help but wonder why our country is obsessed with women in foam curlers and hair nets buying Moon Pies or the airborne velocity of the family Windstream. But in a country where a team of folks eating insects or a set of parents feuding over TV rights to a flock of kids can draw a major market share of attention, it’s no wonder Southern disasters spark the network glare.

When it comes to entertainment value, some people have it and some people don’t. Around here we spread it on toast and eat it for breakfast with our cheese grits. Which reminds me. The sun just ducked behind a cloud. I’d better go buy bread. You never know when the weatherman just might be right.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Not Talking Turkey - My Top Ten List

I have a friend who writes a witty letter to send to the far reaches of her family at Christmas time every year. Since I never purposely steal anyone’s idea unless I can do it better or score first blood, I decided to compose an annual Thanksgiving letter instead, so that mine will be done before she gets out her shiny balls and Ho Ho’s. But on further reflection, I don’t want to risk competing with a lady who has enough culture to inquire, “What wine goes with roadkill?”

Therefore, in an act of stubborn cowardice, I have decided instead to present the top ten list of things I’ve learned this year. There’s been a lot of study material.

I learned that Life Lessons are either immensely painful or expensive. And also that one does not exclude the other.

I learned that driving a kidney patient to the hospital requires you to slow down, at least over the railroad tracks.

I learned that kidneys must be emptied more often than pockets at a police station and that the announcement that a patient’s kidneys are about to explode like the planet Alderan under attack from a fully functional Death Star shortens the wait at the Emergency Room immensely.

Transporting the patient home across the same railroad tracks, I learned that men with catheters DO NOT have a sense of humor.

I learned that the insurance company will pay for a bandaid quite cheerfully, but morphine requires an offering of type O positive and Taylor Swift tickets with backstage passes for the daughter of the insurance company’s CEO—and 350 of her closest friends.

I learned that if the kidney patient schedules a physical to see if anything else is wrong; something will be.

I learned that triglycerides are neither a good name for a rock band, nor a circus acrobatic act that revolves around a three-wheeled vehicle.

I learned to appreciate whole grain bread, lean meats, garden vegetables, and fresh fruit.

I learned that “refrigerate after opening” doesn’t necessarily apply to fresh fruit.

I learned that poached, grilled, boiled, and baked fish are still basically fish. Unless corn meal and hot grease are involved, all recipes are the same. Disclaimer: This is just an observation. I like fish. Please do not send me your recipe. I rejected Martha Stewart and I’ll reject you.

I learned that even though Life Lessons are expensive and painful and fraught with adventures that make you late for supper, having a healthy husband makes it all worthwhile. Tomorrow, between the green beans and Splenda-sweetened tea, I'll be putting in a word of thanks for that.

(Of course, that’s 11 things on the list. But when it comes to lessons, I was always an overachiever anyway. Happy Thanksgiving, Honey!)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Other End of the Telescope

I have it on good authority (Wikipedia or The Smoking Gun, I can’t remember which) that sometimes when people make discoveries or craft clever inventions that could change the face of the world, they irresponsibly share their findings with other people instead of keeping the whole thing to themselves to pass off to huge conglomerates later for outstanding sums of money.

That’s what a man named Galileo did all those dusty years ago and is the reason I am now sorting through headlines that shout peculiar things about the public display of various bits of Galileo’s anatomy, which somehow became separated from the whole of Galileo in general. If you’re interested at all in the science of mathematics, you’ll be excited to hear that these random pieces are known as fractions, and therefore Galileo is still teaching us things long after he was buried, which is when he did the most traveling.

It seems that Galileo Galilei, which would be a smashing name for a romance novelist, came to be known by the Church as a Very Bad Boy. Back then Church was spoken with a capital C and in charge of the way people thought about things. Today Kanye West and Taylor Swift take care of all that.

The Church was mad because after Galileo invented a nifty tool called the telescope, he found out that the earth spun circles around the sun instead of the other way around, which caused me to fail Physical Science and send my Grade Point Average, which is essential for getting allowance, into the dumpster.

The Church put Galileo under arrest in his house where he whiled away the last years of his life playing video games in the basement instead of inventing more stuff like You Tube or Google or things like that which would make life easier for those of us who were grounded for making bad grades in science.

The Church wouldn’t let Galileo, whose name begins to look funny after you write it a lot, be buried any place good like under the Hollywood sign or on Broadway. So a long time after he died, people who secretly liked the telescope because they could use it to spy on their neighbors who should keep the curtains closed anyway, dug up Galileo’s bones and took him to be buried near his best friend Michelangelo. During this important scientific process, known as migration, a person described in local stone tablets as an admirer, lopped off some of Galileo's spare body parts in case there was a market for them on e-Bay. In case it comes up, I’d rather my admirers just send a nice card.

However, since Galileo died before inventing e-Bay, which is really more like something another old guy named Da Vinci would come up with anyway, the random body bits got tucked away in the junk drawer in the kitchen or the box of Christmas decorations in the attic or in a spare teenager’s room, where they wouldn’t be found for many years.

Luckily for us, we live in a generation where we’ve discovered things of our own, like how bad it is to use water bottles more than once and that the decomposed body bits of our friend Galileo were hidden secretly in a box with a big statue of him on the top. Unfortunately this discovery came along too late for me to write a report and save my science grade, but maybe they’ll do somebody some good.

I don’t think Galileo will be using them any time soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bar None

Man was fearfully and wonderfully made. And God looked at man, rubbed his chin, and said, “Man is lonesome. He needs someone who can remember to put a new bar of soap in the shower.”

So God made woman. A helpmate for the man; someone who could find the mustard behind the milk in the refrigerator. And who could produce two clean, matching socks from dust mites in the air at 6:30 a.m.

And who would emerge from the shower with a $20 hot oil frizz-reduction hair conditioning treatment streaming down her shoulders to locate and unwrap a new bar of soap so that the next person would not have to shower using the last bit of dandruff shampoo as a body scrub.

Only God knows why a man, who can remember the quarterly scores from every Super Bowl from the dawn of civilization to present day replays, cannot remember to replace the soap when he leaves the shower. Somewhere between reaching for the towel and stirring creamer into his coffee, his priorities shift.

But while God is chuckling over the soap sliver bit, woman is in the kitchen raising her hands to heaven and crying, “Lord, never mind the soap. Why can’t man learn to put the twist tie back on the bread? Why does he have to do that twirl and tuck thing with the bread wrapper? You know I hate that.”

And God smiled. “He’s innovative.”

Then woman heads to the laundry room to bring new life to dingy whites and to zap spaghetti spots with her miracle stain remover stick. And she cries to heaven again, “Lord, why can’t he simply place his dirty underwear in the laundry basket? Why must he do that foot-flip snatch and grab act with his boxers? You know I’m expected to applaud every single time he catches them.”

And God nodded knowingly. “He’s creative.”

“Okay, God, I get it. Those little things that make me crazier than a salesclerk on Black Friday are the things he uses to make a better way in life. But just between you and me, God, what about that thing with the remote? Why can’t he leave the TV on one channel for longer than it takes to focus on David Letterman’s tooth gap?”

“Oh, that’s easy, God replied. That’s to keep you from having to watch three straight hours of How to Make Your Own Bait on the Fishing Channel.”

“You ARE wise,” Woman whispered. “Tell me, though. In heaven will he wake up every morning scratching his backside?”

“I’m working on that one,” answered God pensively. “The trouble is we have a problem with everybody staying clean.”

“In heaven?” The woman was astounded. “How can that be?”

“Well,” sighed God. “Everybody’s so busy watching television and looking for the mustard in the refrigerator, that nobody ever remembers to put new soap in the shower.”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pole Position

I understand that a Las Vegas strip club hauled around a load of strippers dancing on a pole in the back of a pick-up truck as an advertisement for their business. I’m from the Southern United States where the major crop is orange construction cones and the state speed limit is “SLOW--MEN WORKING.” It’s hard for me to imagine anything but an ice cream truck, the roto-rooter man, or a wheat farmer on a combine harvester making a profit at these speeds.

I don’t know exactly what these folks were advertising, but the only business with a pole around here is Charlie’s Barber Shop and mostly it’s the pole that goes round and round and not the employees, unless Shirlene is trying to even up Tiny Jones’s crew cut again. Carting around a bunch of girls in the back of truck is something we do for the Christmas parade and generally they keep their uniforms on and shake their pom poms.

Other than that usually it’s a hound dog or an Almost Labrador in the back of the truck and they’re mostly advertising that you’d be better off not trying to take anything from the truck. Some people think the deer rifle in the back window is the most dangerous automotive accessory, but I know a Chihuahua that will go Cujo on anybody that gets near enough to touch his stuffed lambie toy.

I’ve never been to Las Vegas and I don’t think I want to go. If there are as many one-armed bandits there as I’ve heard, they’re liable to get into it with all those pick-up girls and it would be impossible to have any luck at the slots. I'll stay down here and risk lambing time with Cujo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Alfredo Agony

*Yep, I've joined another blog carnival. If I have to suffer, I want to share it with you. Today's humor topic is Injustice. Let's watch the fun.*

Injustice is a lot like a cat. Its path is unplanned and chaotic, but when it settles in your lap, it's there long enough to turn your legs into pincushions unless someone starts up the electric can opener and whirs your way to freedom.

That’s how I feel about the Alfredo sauce. Not the cat part; there’s no cure for that short of finding someone with a more comfortable lap or a bit of string stuck to their shoe. But from years of experience as the youngest of four children, and therefore susceptible to various methods of sibling torture, I have intimate knowledge that injustice is tolerable only when it is ruining the lives of people I don’t know.

When it hits me squarely in the grocery store shelf, it’s unbearable.

The trouble is that I’m not the type that spends a lot of time in the kitchen for fun. For me cooking doesn’t have the allure that, say, cruising down the Autobahn at a number divisible by 150 or stalking Johnny Depp on Twitter might have.

So in the interest of compromise, which is acceptable whenever it benefits me personally, I like to visit the “bottled for your convenience by the loving hands of somebody else” section of the store for a couple of jars of Alfredo sauce for a quick, pre-Twitter meal.

I’ll even go as far as opening the jars myself when I get home instead of asking the “What’s For Dinner” twins to do it for me. Teenage boys are nice to have around the house when you’ve got leftover pizza on hand or there’s some obvious body humor jokes that have been seriously overlooked, but when it comes to kitchen labor, they’re about as useful as a bonnet on a tom cat.

My doctor tells me that eating the stuff is kind of like caulking your arteries, but I don’t know much about caulk, either, except that it’s not near as good as the white sauce when you add it to noodles. It’s just one of nature’s little jokes that something so good to eat fills the body’s passageways with the stuff that Elmer’s is made of. But that’s injustice for you. Once you get a little patch, it spreads like tacky clothes in Ashley Olson’s closet.

If it’s that bad for me, I want to get it on sale. The savings offset the petrified artery situation. But it’s when the little glass jars of goodness go on sale that I have a problem.

I suspect my family is holding the newspaper hostage. Or perhaps once the newsprint hits the breakfast table, Scottie beams the whole thing down to a planet filled children who rip out the comic sections and stuff the rest behind the couch. So before I find out the stuff is on sale, it’s all sold out.

You’d think you could count on your family when time is short and price reductions are on the line. But the priorities in my house vary widely according to random factors such as the amount of gasoline in the car or the availability of high-speed Internet access. When it comes to something as mundane as the grocery store circulars, interest polls reach a new low, and the newspaper ends up as kitty litter.

So when I aim my little grocery cart toward the pasta aisle, there’s nothing there but an empty shelf and an echo.

I guess it’s take-out for supper again. But there’s an Italian restaurant right down the street. I think I can live with the injustice.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Free Falling

Last Sunday I celebrated the peak weekend of the glorious colors of autumn by performing a full gainer with a half twist off the bottom step, across the driveway, and ending with a picturesque slide through a dainty covering of fallen leaves into the family’s economy car.

While I achieved great strides in velocity and form, I’m afraid I miscalculated the landing and celebrated readjusting my spinal column and churning my bicep into goose liver pate, which is a fancy name for squashy stuff.

There wasn’t a row of discerning judges to grade my progress, but I’m pretty sure the two Labradors watching were more impressed by a fleeing squirrel. Maybe next time I’ll stuff my cheeks with acorns and scale a nearby oak.

This time, however, I chose skiing through mud, which is almost as cheerfully effective as skiing with my feet strapped to chipmunks, as a mode of transportation. The good news is that I made it to the car in record time, which was impressive even though my chosen destination was the newspaper box across the street.

As a bonus, I managed to flatten out the tall, wiry weeds sprouting ambitiously down the hill beside the steps, so that we don’t really need to do that last bit of edging around the steps before winter. The doctor says the weed burns should wear off by next Thursday and that there's a fancy name for the kind of shave that resulted.

In the movies, loving and concerned family pets curl around stranded snowbound travelers, keeping them warm and secure until help arrives. Peering down the driveway I spotted a Labrador glancing back over one shoulder with a puzzled look. He shrugged and the pair disappeared around the bend in search of stray tennis balls. Lassie would have run for help. These two wouldn’t come to my aid if my skeleton were made of Milk Bones.

Luckily Bill, my Prince in White Reeboks, came to the rescue and committed an act of First Aid. He can do more with a single Ace Bandage than most people can do with a fully stocked Emergency Responder Kit, a bottle of Bactine spray, and the Jaws of Life. By the time he was done with the ice packs and bandages I looked like a Michelin Man version of the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia.

It just goes to show you. Dog may be man’s best friend, but when it comes to marking the onset of Autumn with a Great Fall, nothing beats the King’s men for putting Humpty Dumpty together again.

Friday, October 30, 2009


*One more in the Halloween Blog Carnival. Because I can.*

I read in the paper that a man tried to filch a ferret by carrying the creature out of the store concealed in his pants. From what I know about ferrets, that’s going out of the safety zone for a Halloween costume. Without too much bother, it could give a whole new meaning to the term “rip off.”

I’ll go all out in a race for the last macadamia nut cookie, especially if it’s generously decorated with white chocolate chips, but there are some forms of art I'd rather not suffer for. And while I’m a fan of creative Halloween costuming, I haven’t reached (or passed) the point in my life when I’m willing to take one in the naughty bits for the top prize at the party.

Forget your Freddie Krugers and your numerical Saw catalogue of characters. (This outfit was brought to you by the numbers 1-6, your local hardware store, and Roger Ebert with a big thumbs down.) What could be scarier that a man dancing up to your doorstep with a frightened ferret fighting for a breath of fresh air stuffed down one leg of your Halloween zombie pants?

Call me crazy, but a costume that could result in a row of itching stitches across your butterfly tattoo is going beyond the call of duty for Halloween. Some things aren’t worth going through for a fun size Snicker bar.

And while chances are good for winning a prize in the local costume contest, you have to consider the possibly that your pants could explode at an inconvenient time and attack the judges on a crazed candy rampage. Seems like any loot this guy gets, he’d have to stuff down his right leg to appease the beast within.

I think I’ll stick with the costume I have. I’m fifty years old and sport a body designed by Ben & Jerry. Shovel me into a pair of hip huggers and a belly shirt and I’ll send ferret boy running back to the pet store for reinforcements.

And Michael Jackson thought he had a Thriller night!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wasting Away in Halloweenieville

* Special Halloween edition - Join us at Humor*

I may have to adjust my hair color and distinguishing characteristics and join the witless protection program. It’s half past Labor Day and I’m wearing white.

In the South, the temperature can reach deep fat fry until you’re toasting the naked New Year's baby's sensible clothing choices, so the fashion police gives out warnings instead of tickets for infractions well past autumn. However if you’re sporting white linen when you’re shopping for chocolate Valentines for your sweetheart, somebody’s going to be doing hard time on the Gap’s website.

Admittedly, from listening to testimonies from a knowledgeable selection of teenagers in my household I’m clueless when it comes to accessorizing, but I still think parkas and Ugg boots are out of place in an area where ice cream puddles in the plastic bag between the store and the car until the twelfth day of Christmas.

I gave away my fleece-lined scarecrow costume and cut the sleeves out my my Frosty the Snowman sweatshirt a long time ago. Now I sport a winking Jank-o-Lantern button on my T-shirt for Halloween and a tank top that sings Jingle Bells and flashes Peace on Earth in multicolored LEDs for later festivities.

In flashy catalogues full of natural fiber separates that travel to my mailbox from above the Mason Dixon line every year, I fall in love with summer sweaters every time I see carefree models cavorting next to a rocky shore with a washable wool wrap tossed carelessly over their shoulders.

Around here, we can get first degree burns just from sauntering to the mailbox at midday. The last time I put on a sweater before the appearance of the jolly old elf from the North, I passed out from heat exhaustion and had to be revived by two paramedics dressed in cut off jeans and T-shirts, carrying emergency supplies of sweet tea and crushed ice. In the South, we don’t need fabrics that will “wick away moisture”. We need T-Shirts outfitted with vacuum pumps to siphon out sweat.

So for Halloween, don’t check my street for any little goblins decked out in Star Wars characters that require pounds of fake fur or Transformer costumes with thirteen layers of shape-changing insulation. The most popular look on our street is Jimmy Buffett.

When the sun beats down hard enough for the heat to last until midnight, you can’t go wrong with flip flops, cut off jeans and a Hawaiian floweredy shirt.

And after the kiddies go to bed, the parents won't turn down a treat from Margaritaville.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Puff Paint and Prada

I have two teenaged sons and a husband who think Dungeons and Dragons should be an integral part of the American educational system and the Vulcan salute a worldwide gesture of solidarity.

For some peace of mind and a chance to chase the boy cooties from our personal space, several of us girlie types have been gathering every couple of weeks for some good, by which I mean stuff I’d never let the kids have, food, and a taste of culture, by which I mean input on the latest computer games, rantings on the working life, and a double shot of craft night.

In recognition of the fact that I am severely craft challenged, my husband calls our outings “Crap Night” and refuses to allow me to max out the Visa card on glitter glue at Hobby Lobby. So no more tie-dyed Elvis T-shirts with hand-beaded Hound Dog hair for him.

Of course, the last time we got together the only thing I successfully tie-dyed was the left leg of my dress pants and the terrier’s bangs, but you can’t have Masterpiece Theatre every night when all you can afford is Mardi Gras beads and chartreuse body paint off the clearance table.

All the same, I’d rather be out with a group of cultured individuals who do not regard a Slim Jim and three packs of barbecued pork rinds as a party. For the guys I left at home, the telephone is the key to epicurean delight. Supper means never forgetting the number for pizza delivery.

So we girls gather like kittens around a cricket, swapping “I could’ves” and “You should’ves.” There’s nothing like a little girl talk to refresh the mind and chase away the mundane worries of the day. My niece is relating—with panache, gusto, and more than a little personal satisfaction—the happenings of a favorite computer game.

“She had too many friends.”

“What did you do?”

“I slapped her.”

“What did she do?”

“Put a contract out on me.”

“Then what did you do?”

“Slapped her again.”

Apparently nothing says female bonding like knocking some girl who needs it right off her platform pumps and into the pit of pledge week. If assault with a deadly diamond tiara brings serenity, this chick is coasting into Nirvana. It’s the sort of slice of life that could knock feminism back to the days when Gloria Steinem was just a pinup girl in horn rimmed glasses.

The game is called—if not in reality, then in intent--Sorority Death House, and it involves joining rabid gangs of starving supermodels, er, sorority houses of preppie girls, in order to band together for the purpose of stealing high dollar stuff on the way to a life of prison reform, er, sorority heaven.

It’s over six scoops of caramel cheesecake ice cream with a cupcake on the side that I find out about life in Sorority Town. True nurturing involves a representative from every group of the food pyramid from sprinkles to artificial flavoring.

“So,” I said, tongue clinched between my teeth in proper crafting manner as I apply hot glue and pink puff paint to my pants. During the process I managed to laminate my bra into Madonna cones right through my tye died Frisbee dog T Shirt. I looked like a lunchroom lady collectible figure.

People keep ganging up and stealing your sapphire bracelets and beating you up for your Prada bags. Why do you play this game?”

“Because every time I beat somebody up, I pretend it’s somebody I don’t like. After my performance review, I beat up my boss every day for a week and nobody ever knew.”

I dropped the glue and grabbed the computer mouse. “Tell me how to get to Animal House. I have an ex-husband who’s begging for a close encounter with the business end of a pair of Monolo Blahniks. Then he’ll be a real heel for sure."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

School's In, I'm Out

I have a friend who can tell when school starts by how many of her kids get sick. If somebody throws up, mark your calendars for cafeteria duty because school is in session.

My kids are older now, but there are still definite clues that let me know it’s time to obey the speed limit between the flashing yellow signs. I can tell school is in by the vacuum in my wallet. If I try to put a dollar in the bill section and it hits a jet stream that carries it directly to a slow-moving boy dragging $400.00 worth of school books across the kitchen floor toward the back door, classes have started.

My guys go to community college across town. At least I think it’s a college. The way they hit me up for lunch money, I’m beginning to suspect they are supporting the efforts of a five start restaurant. Any day now, I’m expecting to catch one of them sneaking up the back stairs after dark with crème brulee on his breath.

Schedules are different at college. When the kids were in grade school, I could count on at least six hours a day without having to watch a Barney video or share my Girl Scout cookies with anybody except the dog. These days, young people blow in and out of my house at random intervals, changing my easy-listening radio station to brain-twister funk, and killing larger than life video game zombies on my big screen TV. It’s hard to keep up, but I’m not entirely sure all the kids that come through my living room are original family members. In my heart of hearts I believe we upgraded to the Supersized Family Plan when math class let out.

Now I find out that my guys will be done with this semester a month before Christmas. That means I’ll have to spend the time I had budgeted for wringing my hands and begging Santa for travelers checks by restocking the refrigerator and establishing a time-share program for the computer. Things turned ugly enough when I established the “If you’re old enough to shave, you’re too old for Trick-or-Treating” rule. I don’t know if I can stand having a house full of young men who think Peace on Earth means ridding the world of the undead.

Hopefully if I'm good, Santa will spirit me away to the Island of Misfit Toys. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long winter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

College Bound

Son #2, who generally packs for a trip by shoving a video game in the pocket of his camo jacket, was putting a few things in the car to take to college.

He tossed a box of Pop Tarts in the glove compartment and scored a Yoo Hoo out of the fridge. There is nothing at college that cannot be improved with proper nutrition. Unfortunately, artificial flavoring is his favorite building block on the food pyramid.

I couldn’t help thinking a little motherly advice would get him off to a better start. The Boy Scouts don’t pledge to Be Prepared because they hope to get lost in the wilderness, but somewhere in time there must have been a Scout Mother who preached the “you can never be sure” sermon effectively.

“Why don’t you take some extra paper and pencils?”

“No thanks, Mom. Could you hand me that slice of pizza off the bottom shelf?”

I handed him a slice of double cheese swathed in aluminum foil. If he made his bed the way he packaged pizza, we’d never find his pillow.

“How about your books? Change for the drink machine?”

“I’m good.”

“You never know what you need til you get there. How about a change of clothes?”


I paused, trying to stuff the toy lamb he brought home from the hospital when he was born into his backpack.

“Yes, dear?”

I’m going across town to the city college. I’ll be home before supper.”

I popped Lambie in his backpack, tossed in a handful of change, and closed the zipper with a flourish.

He may be college-bound, but some truths never grow old.

You can never be sure what emergency will come your way. But Mom will pack something embarrassing in your backpack just in case.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's Play Chicken

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 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?”

“Jeffrey, 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 the 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.

I think I’ll 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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Polar Caps to Cold Feet

As a woman who can no longer figure her age without the aid of a scientific calculator, a sheaf of graph paper, and a Number Two pencil, I completely understand the concept of global warming.

I've just hit the half century mark and I don’t break out the sweaters and scarves unless ice is forming under my fingernails. Mother Earth has got me beat by a few decades, give or take a period of conquering hordes, a roving band of dinosaurs, and a Crusade or two. I figure tornado-force winds come from her fanning herself to keep cool.

In my younger years I was the first in the neighborhood to break out the faux fur and firewood, but these days my polar cap is melting at a rapid rate, which is the only explanation I can find for my humid hairstyle and damp T-Shirt. If I had to hold the heat of all the people on Earth, there would be a spike in the number of new oceans, not to mention some even greater lakes, and not a small increase in tributaries. All of these new bodies of water would spring to life in the wee hours of the morning accompanied by a good bit of tossing and turning and 37 trips to the bathroom.

It's odd, though, how the temperature of the whole is greater than the degrees of the parts. My behind is the permanent victim of Chinook winds and my feet are wedged firmly in an Antarctic ice floe. But I wear the Equator like a halo above my sweatsoaked brow.

I don’t really mind the aging process. The popping of my joints makes for a lively rhythmic beat to keep me from napping at my desk in the afternoons, and I’ve become accustomed to wandering from room to room searching for a clue as to what I was looking for in the first place. But if Mother Earth is ahead of me in menopause years, I can understand why history repeats itself.

She lost her place and had to start over.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

None if by Foot

In light of the fact that police officers in Wellford, South Carolina are now forbidden to chase suspects upon director order of the mayor, the Honorable Sallie Peake, I have taken the liberty of composing a questionnaire for wrongdoers who find themselves in need of justice. This way anyone engaged in crime-committing for fun and profit can arrest themselves and save the city the trouble they’re having with nasty Workers Compensation complications when police officers get hurt in the line of duty.

Dear Mr. or Mrs. [Name Spelled Wrong] or Current Resident:

You may or may not have already committed a crime! As a service, the City is providing you with this handy questionnaire to determine if you are due a penalty.

In the past six months have you or anyone in your family or gang been involved in one or more of the following nefarious activities:

Wearing socks that didn’t match
Chewing gum in class
Failing to stop for a school bus
Robbing a liquor store with or without the aid of a springloaded comb that looks like a switchblade
Sashaying out of the A&P with a pack of Ribeyes stuffed in your pants and a bottle of A-1 in your back pocket
Other: _________________

If so, you may be eligible for a fine. Walk, don’t run to the nearest police officer and complete the prison record application, or visit the public usage computers at your local library to find the online form. You may also call the toll free number printed on the back of every can of Bud Light sold in the city limits. Call now. Operators are standing by! (Unless they’re on break because Lurlene is in a snit about somebody stealing her lunch from the break room refrigerator again.)

For this week only, we’re offering specials on vandalism and petit larceny. Call before naptime and exchange your monetary fine for community service work. There are always important public service tasks to be done. After all, the mayor’s car doesn’t wash itself!

Now that you don’t need to waste precious time running from the law, you will probably find extra hours in the day for graffiti-related and other crimes. It may be difficult to find value-added activities due to the fact that the city has few opportunities for employment. After all, not everyone has the talent required for a position at the gentlemen’s club. Remember--a career in the performance arts requires years of dedication and commitment to function at professional levels. Our mayor enforces the hospitality tax to support this important level of initiative. In the meantime, if you indulge in spray paint art to pass the lonesome pre-dawn hours, be sure to add your name and address in the upper left-hand corner of your work so that your notice of incarceration will find its way to the appropriate place.

If increased criminal activity has taken up all your spare time, please contact the city to find out how you can benefit from our new Arrest Yourself policy. You may even be interested in becoming a part of our stationary police force and learn to fight crime by standing still. Drop by Town Hall today, You’ll be glad you did! But remember: don’t run. The mayor is the only one still authorized to chase bad guys!

(Click on the title of this post for an exciting link to a YouTube video of the mayor in action!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sugar Tit or Bust

Today in my inbox the Smithsonian, a magazine of knowledgeable and intellectual pursuits, offered me a once in a lifetime opportunity to win a Kentucky Cultural Getaway.

I might be speaking out of turn, but to me a Kentucky Cultural Getaway is about the same as taking a luxury tour down to the 7-11 store in Sugar Tit, which isn’t too far from here but a good ways from Punkintown and has various cultural sights of its own including a brand spanking new left turn lane and a harvested hay field. Once a buffalo got loose and strolled down the highway past the red light there, but that’s extracurricular stuff that you can’t count on as a regular enough occurrence to list in a travel brochure. You don’t want to disappoint tourists that show up looking for livestock during a non-migratory period.

I realize I might be biased about cultural events. I come from South Carolina, the land where classical music means anything you can dance the shag to. Relationships here aren’t considered consummated until the couple has shagged together in public on at least one occasion with a minimum of two sober witnesses, neither of which are related to either party by blood or prison record. It’s not always as easy as it sounds.

Culturally speaking, this is an area where the orchestra string section is a man named Skeeter who wears unbuttoned overalls, a Charlie Daniels Band T-Shirt, and a Nascar cap, and who will die with less teeth than he was born with, having lost several a la carte sets climbing into tree stands on pre-dawn hunting expeditions or on across the county line liquor excursions. Skeeter is perched on a ladderback chair leaned back on two legs in the corner of the local hardware store, playing the banjo like Michelangelo paints ceilings.

Although we have our own Steeple Chase race right up the road and offer advanced degrees in tailgating at the local community college, I don’t often get a chance to visit parts of the country where your place in society is determined by the size hat you wear to a horse race, so I checked out the information on this Kentucky Cultural Extravaganza. And since I never turn down a chance to improve my quality of life, I’m willing to take one for the team and check out the Jim Beam factory.

However I have to draw the line at the expedition to the National Quilt Museum that is included in the package. That handmade stuff can get pricey and I don’t want to have to auction off my collection of glow-in-the-dark velvet Elvis paintings on eBay to raise money for this trip.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Desperately Seeking Something

Because I don’t spend enough time looking for things in my daily life, I bought a word search puzzle book. The idea is to find and circle words that are hidden inside a box with a bunch of unalphabetized letters, which is good because finding the other kind would be too much like filing. Word Search is like a scavenger hunt only you don’t have to go next door to your spooky neighbor’s house asking for a kitchen knife or a set of hot curlers.

My first search was for a pencil. Ever the optimist, I looked in the cup on my desk. I found four broken blue crayons, two fountain pens with no ink, and a petrified Milkbone. I briefly thought about trying to use the Milkbone, but the Dachshund is possessive and I’m pretty sure she can take me in a fight. She is not known for fair play.

I looked under the sofa cushions, in the glove compartment of the car, and in my jewelry box, where I found the safety pin I needed last week for an unbecoming wardrobe malfunction. Later that afternoon while doing the laundry, I found a pencil stub in the lint trap of the dryer. The eraser was melted, but if we wait for all our blessings to come at once there will be nothing left for the Rapture, so I forged ahead.

I sat down with my puzzle book and my pencil stub. Immediately I found several words. None of them were in the word list and I’m not sure that all of them were English. At least one of them made the dog blush. Perhaps I needed an eraser after all. I scratched out my ineligible answers with the safety pin and circled a likely looking word using all the letters on one side of the puzzle. If this were Scrabble, I could clinch the victory with a Q and an unabridged dictionary.

About that time the Dachshund tackled me in an announced Milkbone raid and broke the point of my pencil stub. So now I’m off to search for the pencil sharpener. But that’s okay. I haven’t found any more words to circle anyway. I think I’ll write to Vanna and ask to buy a vowel.

Wonder where I can find her address?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thanks for No Memories

It’s nice to know that, having lived for half a century, I’ve attained royal status. After all, you like to feel like you’ve accomplished something besides housebreaking the puppy and making sandwiches for four million school lunches during all those years.

Among my set, I’m known as the Post-It Queen. My subjects are thousands of brightly colored sticky notes that remind me not to forget to get gas, pick up the dog at the vet, or buy more sticky notes.

It’s not that my memory is fading, it’s. . .well I’ve forgotten exactly what it is, but I have a plastic tiara on my desk to remind me of what counts. Actually, it can be quite beneficial to be forgetful, particularly when it comes to lunches with people you don’t really care for or foolish promises you’ve made to small children.

However, I read in the paper a while back, I can’t recall exactly when or which one, about a lady that remembers everything, and I mean everything, about her life, from the time she was about eight years old. I don’t envy her. There are things I did when I was eight years old that I would just as soon remain shrouded in the mists of time or at least hidden behind the hot pants at the back of the closet.

Also you have to wonder. Does she ever misplace her car keys or does she just have to remember back to juggling all those grocery bags when she came in and march right back to find them still hanging in the lock?

Does she have to relive that awful time in junior high when she tucked her dress into the back of her pantyhose during the bathroom break after sixth period and strolled down the front hall to the gymnasium affording everyone from the substitute shop teacher to the assistant principal a view of her flowered Fruit of the Looms?

Personally if I have to choose, I’d rather rely on a Hello Kitty sticky note that says Buy Buns than have instant access to every memory that I created before I became royalty. Hindsight may be 20/20, but there are times I’d rather lose my glasses for good than see the flooded toilets and wardrobe malfunctions I’ve left in my majestic wake.

But I would like to know what happened to my car keys.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Repeating Offender

I’m sitting at the computer with the family dog curled up lovingly at my feet, his paws twitching as he dreams of wild bunny chases through a sunlit meadow, and all I know is that Glade doesn’t make a scent like what just crawled up the leg of my stretchy pants and smacked me in the face.

I don’t know why a family cookout should affect him this way. Either there’s something about my Uncle Joe’s aftershave that doesn’t agree with him, or else a random bite of Oscar Mayer’s finest translates into the signature scent that is presently hovering in a cloud of noxious fumes that untied my shoelaces, ate holes in my socks, and made my perm go flat.

Fanning the air furiously with my computer mouse, I have to admit the air freshener people may be on the right track. They can churn out everything from baby powder to laundered linen, but there’s probably not a staggering demand for a wall mounted dispenser in paralyzing rotten cloud scent. Every thirty minutes it would emit a spray that fogs your windows, eats the color off the linoleum, and kills your houseplants. With enough propulsion it could also deter burgulars and discourage free range inlaws from dropping in unexpectedly.

As it is, I’m thinking of checking online for a HazMat suit to wear when spending quality time with the resident Labrador. Sure it cuts down on personal contact, but really, if it’s quality that counts, then safety gear is essential.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Something's Afoot

Raelynn unfurled a leg longer than the weeds in my herb garden and regarded one foot. She pulled out a cell phone and pressed a button. Immediate attention from Emergency services was essential.

The only numbers I have on speed dial are my kids and the plant doctor. If the Peta people cared as much about geraniums as they do about houseflies, they’d be hurling organic fertilizer at me every time I strolled through the Lawn and Garden section at Sears. A day doesn’t go by at my house without another senseless murder surrounded by potting soil and peat moss. But more important matters were afoot here.

My dear friend Raelynn was experiencing a crisis. Climbing out of her Town Car, she’d chipped the polish on one of her piggies.

Raelynn spends more money on her big toe than most people spend on their first real car—not the beater that got you through college and collapsed in a sigh of oil-induced relief on graduation day, but the one whose odometer turned to 100 for nobody but you. Spread this kind of upkeep over all available footage, and I could float a Ferrari over the Autobahn like a hovercraft for what she spends on the care and feeding of her feet.

If I ever spend that much time on a part of my body I haven’t seen since the last time Waldo was spotted, please repossess my WalMart Master Card.

“They’ll take me at four,” she said, snapping her cell phone shut the way a prosecuting attorney would close a file of incriminating evidence in front of a condescending judge. She watched as I shucked off my Converse sneakers.

“You could take better care of your feet. It isn’t that hard.”

“I don’t have time for all that oil and lotion and sanding them with a rock. I’ve got to peel the potatoes for dinner and vacuum the living room.”

“You use frozen potatoes. How long can it take to push Start? And that little automatic vacuum cleaner of yours scurries around like a mouse sucking up hairballs. It’s like playing room to room air hockey.”

“Well, it’s too much trouble.”

“Taking care of your feet is easier than cooking dinner. Why, after you wash and dry them. . .”

“You have to wash them?”

Raelynn looked at me as if I’d suggested she upholster her Lincoln with vinyl siding.

“You don’t wash your feet?”

“I’m not exactly sure where they are. I figure they must be at the bottom of the pile somewhere. They get the soap and water runoff when I take a shower.”

She blinked. “You’re going with me this afternoon. You need it more than I do.”

Two hours later my feet were softer than cumulous clouds, better decorated than my guest bedroom, and smelled like the perfume tester counter at the mall. I was afraid to walk.

The girl in charge of my new look played the cash register like a slot machine and announced a total. I could have bought a registered Shih Tzu and a groomer to find its eyes for what I paid for my feet. I handed over the little piece of plastic that big girls use to buy new toys and sighed.

That night, Bill and I spent the evening calculating whether it was worth sacrificing the kids’ college education to support my feet in their new lifestyle.

“Well, he said, watching the light dance off of the Pink Passion polish. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “foot the bill.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unorganized Sports

Team sports were best when the kids were little and played for the grand experience of the whole thing.

Son Number One burst onto the soccer scene at six, wearing cleats the size and shape of the business end of a toothbrush. He’d never heard of “offsides” nor had he, in all his years of outdoor recreation, come across a soccer goal, but we missed baseball signups and he wanted to play something, anything.

The first time most of the kids on his team ever saw a soccer field was when they played their first game. I ran down to stand behind the goal so they would know which way to run to score points. Not only unnecessary, this strategy was ineffective. 18 little boys chasing a runaway ball operate on basically the same principal as a swarm of fruit flies chasing a rotten orange.

The ball is in charge and, without question or deviation, they follow wherever it leads. Once I looked up in time to see a herd of gleeful little boys in baggy shorts chase a ball down a hill of muddy red clay and into the woods. The woods were part of a protected wetland area, and resident snakes and other wildlife were only part of the reason that a No Trespassing rule was in place. The boys emerged, some sooner and some later, covered in sticks and smiles. None were in possession of the ball.

Another area of fascination is the uniform. Soccer clothes are a curiosity to small children. As a general rule, the shirt billows like the sails of a tall ship in high winds, and the shorts are often large enough for everyone on the team to fit in the same pair, with a drawstring to cinch them tight enough to prevent embarrassment.

There was a bit of excitement once when a small, blonde boy was absorbed with an emergency situation involving an untied shoe during peak action. At that age shoe-tying is still a risky proposition at best, requiring total concentration. Dealing with voluminous clothing while he bent to tie the errant shoelace added an extra challenge. He managed to tie the drawstring of his shorts in with the bow of his shoe and when he stood up, a dramatic scene evolved that was worthy of an opening shot on television’s famous old show, The Wide World of Sports. It’s a good thing there’s no instant replays at kids’ games.

It took three referees, two knot-worthy Boy Scouts, and a Team Mom with a cooler full of drink boxes to restore order.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Elvis Has Left The Building. Again.

Some people remember where they were the day Kennedy was shot. Me? I know exactly where I was the day that Elvis died. It’s odd because I was never a big Elvis fan. I mean, in the shiny white suit and cape he looked like Batman’s negative. If I had known about Daniel Craig back then, I wouldn’t even be aware there was an Elvis.

But there are things in life that should never change. Gravy goes on biscuits. Elvis goes in Graceland. He’s as much a part of the South as kudzu or socks that leave red mud footprints on the lineoleum. Start messing with the natural order of things and before you know it you have LabraDoodles on every corner.

I was driving across crown to the junior college I would be attending in the fall. Just as I crossed the railroad tracks, which somehow seems appropriate even now, the local radio personality blurted out the news as if it were groundbreaking research concerning self-salting french fries.

“The King is Dead!”

I thought Queen Elizabeth’s mustache waxing had gone poorly. But no. The King had left the building. Somewhere in Tennessee was a pink Cadillac that would never be driven by hands sporting more rings that a store full of Olympic souvenirs.

And thus would begin an era of ghostly sightings in places that Elvis would boldly go where he had never gone before.

Last Saturday marked the anniversary of the day the King found a spot in the great juke box in the sky. And as sure as every summer weekend there’s a vegetable festival somewhere in the South crowning a Squash Queen and a Court of Gourds, there was a midnight vigil in Memphis held by a group of aging debutants humming Love Me Tender and straining to see through the mists of time for a peek of the ghost of He Whose Hips Swivel Like a Twist and Turn Barbie on Speed.

I read that for $27 you could attend an Elvis Gospel breakfast. They also had some book signings. The day I pay to eat breakfast with a man who’s been dead for 32 years, I hope I’m also game enough to hang around for an autograph.

They say there were more Elvis impersonators than stoplights in Memphis last weekend. But there’s only one guy whose loss makes us feel like we’ve checked into permanent rooms at the Heartbreak Hotel.

The King is dead. But we'll see his influence in our lives for many years to come. And that's no ghost story.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Live Long and Pamper

I don’t always get much useful information from women’s magazines. If I could really Walk Myself Thin,” I would be decked out in Kate Moss’s cast off clothing and people would refer to me as “that poor woman with rickets” instead of “Tank.” I'll walk myself thin the day Richard Simmons sports a comb-over and wears Dickie's work pants instead of silk shorts.

So when I saw the article on how to live longer that suggested eating fruits and vegetables, I knew there had to be more to it. And since I am always trying to improve the quality of life for the man who promised to love, honor, and carry in the groceries, I came up with a quick list for hubby dearest to help him improve my quality of life.

1. Just Say No to the sarcastic comment. My new stretch jeans may make my behind look like two transfer trucks passing on the Interstate, but you won’t outlive the day old bread on the kitchen counter if you say so.

2. Refrain from asking the faux innocent question. It is not amusing to inquire if my mother was the star of Shark Week on the Discovery channel.

3. Never use the word “nice” in regards to my new outfit. Either it takes your breath away, or somebody at the Salvation Army is getting a leopard-print dress for Christmas.

4. Remember: “Refrigerate after opening” is not a suggestion. Neither is “Proceed with caution.” Come to think of it "Don't touch the roast on the second shelf" can be added to the list.

5. Three little words: No cat baths.

6. Use an old rag when checking your oil. Pass up any item of clothing that bears a "dry clean only" label or that looks as if it’s trimmed in lace that could be older than your grandmother.

7. Don’t eat any freshly baked item that you find in our kitchen. There are no such things as Pecan Pie Pixies or Double Chocolate Leprechauns who leave goodies sprinkled about the globe. If there is anything worth eating at our house, there’s been a death in the family. You know how refined sugar comforts the bereaved.

8. Stop putting Granny’s teeth in the dog’s mouth. He may look like he’s smiling, but the Purina sticks to his dentures. And Granny keeps getting choked on Pupcorn bits.

9. Back away from the cat. A kitty stretched out on his back may look like a cuddly ball of cotton, but he has a weapon of mass destruction on all four corners. A friendly game of Cootchy Cootchy Coo will result in a trip to see the nice folks at the all night trauma center. Luckily they do a great job with stitches. And I think you need just one more hole punched in your Frequent Flyer Blood card before you get a free pint.

10. It is now against Federal Law to feed hot dogs to the Dachshund. The last occurrence resulted in a chemical reaction that brought a swift penalty from OSHA for unsafe fueling procedures. It also set fire to the electric blanket and melted two pairs of house slippers and a Hello Kitty pillow sham, and took a team of Navy Seals and ten Boy Scouts wearing HazMat suits to secure the area.

Now that you're going to live longer, you may plan to use your extra time to improve my quality of life with clever surprises of sugary snacks.

Either that or we'll take a nap. Time with you passes too fast anyway.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ten Commandments for My New Neighbor

Living in a duplex, I go through neighbors like a family of cats goes through a five pound bag of litter that freshens with every step, and I have some friendly advice. If you want to make a go of it in this neighborhood, you’ll listen up and not staple this list to the hood of my car like the last guy did. If you want a reference from him, he is residing peacefully at Happy Acres Memorial Gardens. Feel free to use my name.

1. Old tents and ripped cushions in lawn furniture may be acceptably repaired with duct tape. Back windows in old Fords or open wounds on small children may not. Neither is it a substitute for nails and a willingness to locate a hammer when your mailbox has been detached from its post. A mailbox trussed to a wooden spike by thirty rounds of silver adhesive looking like a tin can with a toothache causes undue stress in an already unstable housing market.

2. John Deere makes a wide selection of lawn tractors. That six month old goat you’ve got tethered to a hubcap with three feet of heavy links like he’s the anchor man on a baby goat chain gang is not an acceptable substitute. Let’s send you out on a short leash to get the morning paper and see if you effect a change of heart.

3. Also, in the future please Just Say No to the idea of mowing the lawn clad only in your underwear. Indulge in a roomy pair of gym shorts and you’ll find yourself zipping up the neighborhood popularity poll before you know it.

4. A privacy fence is for, well, privacy. Please don’t launch your youngest child over the top of the fence like a punted football to find out what we’ve got cooking outside. We are not responsible for stray grill marks.

5. If you have a taste for loud music, please play something I know or can understand the words to. Having the tune to a rap song I don’t know stuck in my head will lead to my hanging about in your bushes trying to find out what words sound like “scratch my itch.”

6. A swimming pool is commonly used for swimming. I’m sure your new bass boat will skip over the lake like a flat stone, but trying out your new outboard motor in the above-ground will result in an appearance on Funniest Home Videos. Remember there’s nothing to impede your progress toward the slime pit across the street except that scraggly row of dandelions you call a flower garden.

7. Please don’t sneak over under cover of darkness to partake of the blueberries on my bushes. I’ll be glad to share. Just like you’ll be glad to share that mess of freshly caught, cleaned and chargrilled trout with me next summer. Also, I don’t mind if your kids climb the tree in my back yard to purloin fruit. But keep in mind the results from a morning filled with little green apples leads to an afternoon filled with personal aerobics of a stressful kind.

8. I understand if your Uncle Earl had an evening of social entertaining that leads to a hearty headache the next morning. But if any more of his “nieces” ring my doorbell at three in the morning clad in leopard-print hip boots and a leather halter top and ask to use my litter box, I’m calling Animal Control.

9. This is the South. We surpass just about everyone in the number of per capita lawn ornaments. But those plywood cutouts of Granny bending over to show her polka dot bloomers have been done to death. At least get something classy like one of those windmills that look like the roadrunner’s legs are going in a circle.

10. Close your curtains. The neighbors don’t need to know that the Jaws of Life was summoned to your home for the sole purpose of retrieving your wife from the Jacuzzi. Nor do we care how she plans to remove the dirty bathtub ring.

Attached you’ll find a request for samples from your garden for quality assurance purposes, a form absolving us of liability in cases of kitty prints found on the windshield of your Corvette, and a sterile baggie for DNA testing. Welcome to the neighborhood.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lying Dogs and Cat Nip

We finally conjured up the nerve (and money) to spend a weekend at the beach. It's hard for us to get away, since there's no immediate family left willing to stay with our darling doggies (oh yeah, and the cats, like they're not old enough to take care of themselves, and boy do we have nerve thinking they need a chaperone). But over the years we did without luxuries like frozen pizza and liver mush to scrape together enough cash to hire Guido, who usually moonlights at Happy Valley Sanitorium, to stay the weekend at our home. Here, then, are Instructions for the Pet Sitter while we’re on vacation:

There are a number of animals here. It is important to remember that dogs and cats have been bred over the centuries expressly to tell lies about the amount of food they are allowed to consume.

Here’s the routine. This section applies to the Mostly Labradors, which is the State Dog Breed of South Carolina. That’s not official, mind you, but everybody knows it’s true because according to a scientific poll taken at the Doggie Do Canine Emporium and Park last Tuesday after the Milk Bone truck came by, everyone here has been owned by such a beast at some point in their lives. The Mostly Labs are the ones most likely to try and intentionally mislead you about the frequency, amount, and duration of meal times. The Labrador Breed Club flag bears a picture of a cookie and a loophole.

By the time you get here all the animals will have had their morning potty break and have eaten breakfast, which they will lie about having. If animals hadn’t been fed in weeks, they would be dead, not rolling about the living room floor looking like a can of biscuits about to pop open. The vet mentioned the word “blubber” at our last appointment which is not, to the best of my recollection, a word associated with starving animals. They can eat again at supper time, which is not the time of day marked by finishing breakfast.

No, they do not need a snack.

No, not even a little one.

No, they do not need a cookie.

Yes, I’m aware of the cuteness factor.

Yes, I know about the big brown eyes.

Okay, maybe one cookie.

They’ll need to go out when you get there. They can stay out until they get hot and want to come back in. That should take at least until they reach the bottom step. Repeat as necessary until you consider replacing the kitchen door with one that revolves at a steady clip.

If they go missing, they’ll be at the neighbor’s house begging for food. They’re dogs; they don’t know Halloween comes only once a year. Especially since the neighbor has a treat for them every single day. Twice on the weekend.

However, they’re not supposed to beg for food, so if you catch them trick-or-treating at regular intervals throughout the afternoon, you may speak sharply. They won’t listen to you, but at least you’ll feel like you tried. Be aware that their feelings will be hurt and they’ll gaze balefully at you like you’ve taken their last cookie. It’s okay; they weren’t supposed to have one anyway. The Atkins diet people would go broke with spokesmodels like these.

If they start to go out of the driveway, call out, “Stay in the driveway!” in a cheerful tone and they’ll run to you like lost sheep found. Keep some of their regular kibble in your pocket and give them a bite when they’re good. In that way, a few kibble should last the entire time we’re gone.

Sometimes they give into temptation if a squirrel or bunny across the street is particularly insistent in their taunting, but for the safety of all concerned (not the bunny or squirrel who have no need even to break a nervous sweat) the dogs should stay out of the road. It’s a quiet enough neighborhood, but I’ve come down with a nasty case of laryngitis yelling for them to come back when in hot pursuit of a stray butterfly.

Around 6:30. For supper, both the big dogs get two scoops from the bucket, and Lucy, the Dachshund Diva gets one. The amount of time it takes to consume the food is in no way related to the amount of food each should receive. Hunga Din could suck down the bits like a Hoover as you pour it into the bowl, while Whatzit must take the time to lick up stray crumbs before they evaporate mysteriously into the air or someone else's drooling maw. Still, two cups a piece is the rule. Those who overindulge have to be helped when it comes to establishing limits. “Just say no” is not a viable slogan for a beast who stoops to begging for the rights to lick the butter dish.

You’ll need to put Lucy’s food down next to you so as to fend off the big dogs. They’ll circle her, and every now and then they try to snag a bite, but since they are afraid of her, they’ll mostly try to convince you that she is not hungry and said they could have her supper.

After supper, they’ll need to go out again. They like to roughhouse inside, but if they get too wild you can take them outside. (They’re like small boys and will often resort to biting each other’s ear just to see who squeals first.) If you walk up and down the driveway they’ll probably start chasing each other--unless it’s hot. Then they’ll follow you up and down the driveway and complain. They usually do more chasing after dark when it’s cool, but they’re both afraid of dog-eating monsters and you’ll have to stay out with them as a motivational and protective influence. Usually about 20 minutes will be all you can stand.

Make sure they go out again at bedtime (between 10 and midnight), but that’s not a big playing time. If you don’t make them go out, they’ll be insistent to speak with you personally at about 5:30 a.m., which I know from experience is way before dawn this time of year.

In the morning, same deal foodwise (2 cups for big doggies, one for Lucy, but Divas don’t breakfast well and she will probably ignore it and want to be served brunch instead later in the morning).

A word about Lucy; she’s half Dachshund and half Bull Shark. She’ll put up with a certain amount of ignorance on your part, but if you expect her to do anything she considers demeaning, such as listening to baby talk or fetching a ball, she’ll take your arm off up to the elbow. It's important to remember that if you can see her teeth, she is not smiling.

As for the cats: Feed them. They’ll lie, too, because it’s expected, but if you keep their bowl full of Friskies then really, what right do they have to complain? But be careful of the gray one. I suspect he and Lucy have the same father. If all else fails toss him some catnip and close the door. What happens in the cat box, stays in the cat box.

Thank you for your assistance, and I understand that our agreement expressly forbids me from using your real name.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Car Talk

Before graduation, the morning commute was difficult enough, what with the intricacies of locating a suitable project for show and tell that wouldn't shine a humbling light on my housekeeping skills, and deciding who gets the cottage cheese sandwich, and finding out just who fed the rest of the ham to the fish anyway. Well, that and locating lost shoes in the trash compactor.

Throw into the mix the fact that to avoid being late we had to take the route through the well-to-do wildlife-infested subdivision across the street, and the whole adventure was unsettling. Sure, there are smiley Katie Couric types who think chipmunks are always making ball gowns for aspiring cartoon princesses, but in my experience the wretched woodland creatures while away their time making great sport of playing “keep away” with my car. More than once, I hung the blame for my tardiness on a hearty game of Squirrel Tag.

This year, both boys will attend Community College, which seems carefree enough. But between the three of us, we have two cars. Finding a way to work in the morning will be like playing musical chairs at sixty miles per hour. Sit down at the wrong time and you could block the passing lane for three hours and get national exposure on the six o’clock news. I’m willing to make sacrifices for my children’s education, but I don’t want to deal with the physical distress that kind of road rage could cause.

So I’m left playing Merry Go Round the family Kia with Click and Clack, the car stalkers. I figure my best chance for reliable transportation this fall will be hijacking a grocery cart from the Piggly Wiggly and riding it skateboard style down the Interstate. It may not be the most efficient method, but every Prius on the road will be mad with envy at my gas mileage.

On the other hand, I could hang out on the corner every morning waiting for the Magic School Bus to give me a lift, but I don’t think Miss Frizzle’s driveway goes all the way to the bus stop.

I try to comfort myself with the idea that in a few short years, both boys will be self-sufficient and independent with good jobs and cars of their own. In the meantime, I’ll have to careful when taking the shortcut through Squirrel Ville. One wrong turn and Cinderella's furry little dressmakers will be out of commission. Which is okay with me. She's already got a dress to wear and I'm not even invited to the party.

But I wonder if she'll let me borrow her pumpkin to get to work on Monday.

*Please note that no woodland creatures were harmed during the writing of this essay.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Green Acres

I thrive on civilization. If I get more than half an hour from a mall, I go into withdrawal and require a whiff of Estee Lauder’s free gift to bring me to my senses. To get my shopping fix when traveling, I’ve been known to pull over at all-night drugstores and check out the sale on cough drops. People close to me understand that if I don’t have access to a restaurant with a dessert cart at least once a week, police action may be required.

So how did a nice city girl like me end up in Farm Town?

The closest I’ve ever come to crop rotation is sending my cotton socks through the spin cycle.

I was hard at work one afternoon, trying to figure out how to send a Coffee Smiley to 70 of my closest friends on Facebook when up popped a memo.

“Your sister gave you a pig.”

Excuse me?

Give me barbecued ribs, butterflied pork chops, or a crown roast. Don’t bother me with livestock unless they’re trading them for Red Lobster coupons or gold bricks at the Fort Knox outlet store.

After further investigation I discovered that my own sister, the sister who wore a silver sparkly gown to the 1968 Christmas ball and refuses to get a dog because that’s one more place she has to set for dinner, was plowing virtual farmland like she was digging for dollar sweaters on the clearance table.

I investigated her little piece of potato plantation. She was about to sell her spuds at the market for enough money to keep her in hash browns for years to come. Pretend potato money is just about the same as what I’m stashing in my piggy bank these days anyway, so I signed up for a farm of my own.

In real life, my gross household product is mold on the cheddar. Here was a chance to win friends, pick produce, and while away an afternoon I would normally spend overwatering the cactus.

So this little piggy went to market.

By the end of the week, I had enough livestock to fill an ark, I'd grown fruit trees laden with bounty, and my crops rotated like Shakira’s hips.

Meanwhile my family was living on a steady diet of frozen peas and Spam jelly. When my son asked me for his lunch money I snapped, "You'll have to wait for market price like everybody else." I found myself scheduling bathroom breaks around my harvesting schedule.

So in the end, I had to give up my farm and say goodbye to my amber waves of grain.

Once the American dream interferes with the natural flow of things, something’s gotta give.

But I’m keeping the pig. Times are tough and you never know when Fort Knox is going to open that outlet store.

Or when you’ll get a craving for barbecued ribs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry in Harlem

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve ridden the Harry Potter wave from the Thames to Timbuctu. I’ve celebrated book releases with so many midnight rides, I still scream one if by land, two if by sea when I climb into the Kia. I’ve worn graduation gowns turned wizard’s robes and painted more lightning bolts on the kids than you find pictures on cave walls.

I can’t help thinking we would have taken care of Harry Potter’s pesky bad guy a little quicker if He Who Shall Not Be Spammed had popped up here in the colonies. Let him get a taste of The Big Apple, and Lord V might just end up squealing like a Lady. If his little turban hopping habit landed him on the wrong head in New York and he ended up bleached, braided, and mohawked, there’s not a stylist in the world that could return him to the man he was.

And I’d like to see those Dementors float into Harlem. One try at a Kiss of Death with a gangland switchblade and they’d be begging for admission to a Happy Place. Don’t even ask about the hubcap implant they need removed or the need for free dental care. They’ll just have to wait for the new health plan like everybody else.

Now let’s talk mythical creatures. There’s folks lying in the alley out back of Times Square who have first hand knowledge of flying elephants. Dragons don’t put out much of a scare factor to folks who ride Screaming Meanies every day of their lives.

Most important of all is the knowledge that the minute His Badness was spotted floating free-form around the No-Fly Zone, the White House would have authorized an 8 ½ x 11 family portrait suitable for framing and a sprinkling of F-16s to scramble as an escort to a Location of Interest.

Don’t make us call in Iron Man.

Or the Incredible Hulk

Or the Ghost Busters.

Yep, get Bill Murray and his ghost gathering gang on the job and we'll see how much the Evil One can do after he’s sucked into the business end of a Dirt Devil. And once you’ve been slimed in New York, it doesn’t take seven books and a flying broom to figure out your haunting days are numbered.

So as much as I’ve enjoyed the action and suspense of wizarding a young man through the throes of pubescence and delivered him at the door of his destiny, I’ve got scarier things to think about.

I’ve got teenagers of my own. And no magic potion to give me all the answers.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I made my husband miserable today, which was a relief, because he’d gone about his business in relative calm for several days, and I was afraid he would think I wasn’t taking my job as a wife seriously. Nothing says "I Care" like a sticky note telling him to cut the grass before I braid it.

Several times a week I like to remind him of household projects he’s neglected or impending gift-giving occasions he should prepare for. That way he knows I’m showing interest in his personal obligations.

I have a theory that it doesn’t show proper personal attention to receive an orchid bedecked greeting card that has, “In sympathy for the loss of your pet” scratched through with a black marker and “Happy Anniversary, Honey” scribbled in its place. Advance planning can go a long way toward creating a Hallmark moment that doesn’t conclude with projectiles launched by an offended party and an emergency room visit.

It’s also important not to let his schedule get too lax or he’ll wind up in mischief of some sort and before you know it, he’ll start pulling out power tools, and it will take forever to restore order. The last time the electric sander saw the light of day, the cat lost his eyebrows. A responsible man would have told me that the black button meant ON.

This time, however, my job was easy. All I had to do was say, “Honey, why don’t you see the doctor about that toe?”

After years of marriage, I've come to understand that the word "doctor" transforms the male pschye into something resembling a castoff retread. He regarded me with the same loving gaze I’d seen the time he refused to buy a Poodle so I suggested we attempt a home perm on the Labrador and put bows in his ears.

“Why don’t you buy clothes that fit instead of pants that you have to lose five pounds to wear?”

I love the man, but honestly, sometimes he says things that just don’t make sense.

The offending toe was swollen and sore and gave him the charming, easy gait of Quasimodo thumping through the streets of Paris. It seemed that we were hovering on the brink of something serious, such as me having to take a look at it, so I suggested the unthinkable.

“You could go to the doctor tomorrow on your day off.” Call me crazy, but I thought days off were there to take care of these things. In truth, days off were created so you could cut your grass in time to make your neighbor’s lawn look like Don King’s hair by comparison. Then you whiled away your time in the hammock reading last year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

I could see he needed some understanding and encouragement. “There’s no need to be afraid.”

Here’s a clue for newlywed brides. If you want your marriage to last longer than it took to eat the wedding cake, don’t suggest he’s afraid of anything. Especially doctors or other naturally frightening things.

“I’m not afraid,” he said, staggering along beside me. “I just don’t need to go. I’m fine.”

“The last time you were fine it required a course of industrial strength painkillers and a week’s worth of muscle relaxers. I had to do the fireman’s carry whenever you had to go to the bathroom.”

“That was different. That was my back.”

“The only reason I got you to the doctor that time was your muscles spasmed and you couldn’t put up a fight. Son One, the Incredible Hulk, carried you into Urgent Care like you were a statue. You’re just lucky it was too early in the day for the pigeons to be out.”

“Very funny. I’m fine.”

A light breeze came along and he winced at the pressure on his foot. I could see this was going to get ugly if I didn’t pull a clever idea out of the 98% humidified air.

“I guess we won’t need those tickets to STOMP I got for our anniversary.”

“You got tickets to STOMP? They’re always sold out.”

“Yep. A stage full of guys abusing every day items with sticks, all in the name of rhythm. I’ve heard the best part is the finale.”

“I know. They strap trash cans to their feet and don’t even get in trouble with their wives for digging divots out of the linoleum. It’s the best show ever. I guess since you went to all the trouble to get the tickets, I’ll go to the doctor.”

“Good for you. While you’re gone, I’ll go shopping for something to wear.”

He raised one eyebrow. I hate it when he does that. It means he already knows what I’d rather not say.

“Well, I’d have to lose five pounds to wear anything I have now.”

Happy Anniversary, Honey!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Field of Streams

Homeward bound from a Fourth of July picnic, we passed down the main street of our small town. The journey was slowed somewhat due to the unusual traffic, but the tractor soon turned off and we had the road to ourselves.

As we approached the Municipal Complex, the kids, excited by alarming and possibly disastrous situations, noticed a mob outside the fire station who both appeared to be hard at work placing letters on a large sign by the road.

“Look, Firworks!”

Nothing says small town like a budget without enough spare change to buy a vowel.

Boys are natural fans of pyrotechnics, particularly the pyro part, and I’m always on the lookout for fresh air opportunities, so we whipped a U-turn at the abandoned gas station and came back to join the crowd.

The public parking places were occupied by the fire truck and a wheelbarrow, so we parked the car in the Fire Marshal’s yard, and struck up a conversation with the boys’ Scout Leader. It seems the Town Council had a son who got them a good deal on fireworks, so a Fourth of July blowout was in full swing.

At the time, we didn’t realize the importance of the word “blowout.”

The kids, with a genetic instinct for finding free food, headed toward a table dripping with slices of watermelon. An unlimited supply of a fruit that’s 90% liquid. There’s a good thing to have on hand when the yard is full of free-range kids and the bathrooms are locked up.

In the fenced pasture across the road, the fireworks launch squad strode into view. The crew chief carried a cardboard box full of bottle rockets and a disposable lighter. His wife wore blue jeans and a motorcycle bedecked tank top that didn’t leave much room for the handlebars.

Son Two materialized out of the twilight. His cheeks were sticky and there was a misfired watermelon seed stuck to his chin. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Across the street, the launch chief sorted through the rockets like he was searching for the half inch piece in his socket set, and carefully arranged a bouquet of bottle rockets in a soda bottle.

“It’s about to start. Can you wait?”

Son One appeared beside his brother, wearing a pained grin and dancing a familiar jig. “You, too?” He nodded just as the first rocket took off with a sizzle of sparks.

Both boys disappeared. Nothing comforts nature’s call like a lit fuse.

The fireworks display proceeded with random showers of red and gold sparks, interrupted now and then by an unmotivated dud rocket that bailed on liftoff and headed back to the picnic table that served as Ground Zero. Once, the launch team was visible through the gloom and gathering smoke, stamping out embers in the tall grass of the pasture.

Son One appeared by my side, clutching another slice of watermelon like it was a football and I was the defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers. “They set the bench on fire, but they put it out with a juice box.”

I’d had a slice of watermelon myself and the juice box reference made me think fondly of indoor plumbing. I squinted at him. “Don’t you have to go to the bathroom?” Across the street the launch crew ducked as another dud rocket zoomed in low over the pyrotechnic staging area.

“I can wait.”

Stephen King never came up with a scarier line.

He dashed away, weaving a path around knees and ankles like an Olympic skier on a timed run.

Suddenly, the grand finale accidentally erupted. The entire area lit up in a patriotic display of billowing smoke and crackling fire. The picnic table and the box of fireworks were ablaze and nearby portions of the pasture showed signs of imminent ignition. The fire truck swept out of the driveway and across the street where it made short work of the ambitious embers.

As the excitement died down and the crowd drifted away through damp ash flakes floating in the air, both sons appeared at my side, eyes alight, wearing Junior Firefighter stickers. They smelled like bacon.

“This is the best Fourth of July ever!”

“So, where’d you get the stickers?”

We heard a blast from the fire truck and turned to see the driver give the boys a wink and a wave.

“What’s that all about?”

“Well you know how you always tell us to use our natural resources wisely?”

I’ve been a mom long enough to know that when they remind me what I’ve said, I wish I hadn’t said it.

“Well we don’t have to go to the bathroom anymore. AND we helped put out the fire!”