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.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Princess and the Papa

In honor of Grandparents Day, September 12, Mind over Mullis is hooking our circus wagon to the Parenting and Family Channel blog train. For me, this one's in honor of my Dad. These days he answers to the name Papa.

My Dad is a tough guy. He wears Black and Decker underwear and buys pallets of toilet paper from the Army-Navy store. He watches sports on television every Sunday afternoon, even if it’s only putt-putt season, and turns the sound all the way down so that the sportscasting guys don’t ruin a beautiful play with color drivel.

He can estimate distance to an eighteenth of an inch and can tell whether a picture is half a bubble off plumb just by squeezing one eye shut and looking through his thumb. He survived the Depression on beans and biscuits; World War II on courage and luck; and 48 years of marriage on Divine Providence and guesswork. He taught four children to drive without suffering permanent neurological damage, made us wear more clothes when we were cold, and refused to let us hang on the refrigerator with the door open until we air conditioned the whole neighborhood.

So how can a five-year-old bundle of brown eyes and rosy cheeks crawl up in his lap at fourth down and goal to go and persuade him to read The Cat In The Hat for the four thousandth time, without suffering severe blood loss?

This man, who refused to allow scented soap in the shower during my childhood years, now has a cupboard stocked with curly noodle soup, sports animal stickers on his back door, and a maintains a gaggle of Barbies who loiter in his favorite recliner.

When I dropped by Dad’s house last Sunday to comfort the old man in his lonesome existence and retrieve his great-grandaughter, I tripped over three teddy bears and a stuffed cat having a tea party, stumbled on a pair of pink plastic high heeled shoes and a glittery feather boa tossed carelessly in front of a full length mirror, and turned my ankle sliding across a nest of scattered crayons and coloring books piled in the hallway.

“Dad!” I called, afraid to endanger myself by advancing further. A trip to my father’s house should not involve my health insurance. “Have you been finding new ways to entertain yourself or is there a little girl hiding in there?”

Giggles erupted from around the corner. “We’re in the kitchen,” a small, freckled voice said. I followed a line of Winnie-the-Pooh stickers posted along the wall at five-year-old eye level and entered the kitchen. Over a teetering mountain of mall-type bags, a pair of large brown eyes twinkled in my direction.

“Can you tell we’ve been shopping?” the bag-mountain asked.

Does the queen wear matching accessories?

“Papa bought me a sticker book, two kinds of bubble gum, and a Shirley Temple video.”

“Shirley Temple?”

“Yeah, she’s a new kid that can dance.”

“If Shirley Temple’s a new kid, Britney's not even in hip huggers yet.”

“Papa made me a new kind of cheese sandwich. You cook it right in the oven.”

“Sweetie, it’s time to go. Gather up your 50 most prized possessions and I’ll take you home.”

She hopped down and ran to me, clutching a battered baby doll that looked like it would be at home in Little Orphan Annie’s boarding house. “I’m ready.”

“What about all your treasures?”

“Oh, Papa bought that stuff for me to play with here. He already took my other stuff home for me.”

I glanced over at my dad, who was nestled in his recliner recovering from the shopping expedition by snoring loudly through the ballgame. He cracked one eye open and peered up at me. “Don’t forget her food. She has Little Debbie brownies, Beauty and the Beast cookies, and Barbie cupcakes. With sprinkles.”

Sure, the queen may have matching hat and shoes and the wealth of an entire nation, but the princess has designer snacks and a Papa who can’t say no.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

News Flush

After the excitement of Labrador tipping earlier this month, I thought the rest of my dog days would drone on like a pre-lunch period Geometry teacher. (Please don’t send geometry hate mail. My parabolas are already weak and couldn’t stand the shock.)

But now, from the same state that brings you a politician named Dick Harpootlian and a smalltown mayor that decreed the police shall be forbidden to chase the bad guys, comes a criminal mastermind: the Port-o-Potty Pistol Packer of Myrtle Beach South Carolina.

Seems that our man—let’s call him John--was in line behind folks that took a little longer than he considered necessary at a portable public toilet. Vulgar language ripped through the air, feces, er faces, were flushed, and weapons came into play.

I know how he feels. I was the youngest of four children. I had to mark all my “personal necessity trips” on the family calendar in January. If I slept through dawn on a Monday in June, I might not get another chance to go to the bathroom until late one afternoon in mid-October. Hoping for a cancellation, there were a few times I was tempted to pull a pea shooter on my brother, but appreciation for superior fire power always held me back.

And at least once when I was 36 months pregnant and standing in line for a gas station restroom holding a key attached to a giant Slim Jim, I could easily have committed murder by jerky.

But what sort of logic told this guy that pulling a handgun is going to help the situation? Granted it might speed the biological aspects along; haste makes waste after all. But apparently the holdup here was a handful of tourists changing clothes.

Excuse me?

Changing clothes in a portable public toilet? Is there any train of thought that could make this a good idea?

You could plant vegetables in the smell of the last Port-o-Potty I was in. I’m fairly certain that you would have to hold a gun on me to MAKE me change clothes in one.

Given all the evidence, I’m siding with our friend John. Even if he did have a potty mouth, at least he was in the right location for it.

And if you ever find me on the verge of a public potty wardrobe malfunction, call John. He'll know exactly what to do.

Monday, August 23, 2010


When the Captain and I travel, it’s more like a study of modern art than a road trip. Nothing on the map looks like it does in real life, and I’m so busy staring at the lady in the Hummer painting an extra eye on her face every time she hits a bump, I don’t notice that the route I’ve chosen to follow ends in an intricate sculpture composed of exit ramps, clover leafs, and left turns that lead directly down the Highway to How Did We Get Here?

Cap doesn’t understand the trouble I have with maps. To him the whole thing is as plain as the two noses on your face.

Another difference in our traveling styles involves pit stops. He doesn’t make them. I brake for anything with a handle, just in case. I once wheeled into a car repair shop because their sign said, “Flush for winter.” I thought I wouldn’t get another chance until July.

Floating past a slow moving Buick like Picasso’s paintbrush, he sighed contentedly and pondered aloud, “Which exit do we take?”

Flipping the map over in an effort to locate the northern hemisphere, I figure I can answer this question two ways: multiple choice or essay. Either way, I’m pretty sure I can see the end of the marriage superhighway looming in the distance.

It’s times like this I should whip a U-turn in my thought processes. But when my mouth goes into overdrive, somehow my brain always seems to yield to the traffic flow. My kids say it’s been parked in a tow away zone for years.

“Does it matter?”

He clutched the steering wheel until the bones of his knuckles broke through the skin. He looked like Wolverine.

“Not if we don’t care whether we end up at David’s house where we can have supper, or the Emerald City where we can choose between brains, courage, or little red shoes.”

Personally, I’ve always been partial to red shoes, but as usual eating wins out. Maybe my priorities are out of order, but given the choice, I’ll sing along with the Burger King instead of humming “If I only had a brain” any time.

“I always take that road that goes past the Japanese steakhouse that’s been there since we were dating, and then I go up and turn at the intersection that goes past the milk shake place. You know you’re on the right road when you pass the hot doughnut sign.”

Just thinking of Bavarian Cream gives me happy trails.

Cap travels using road signs. I go by major food group. I can’t read a map, but if I can find a route that covers everything from gooey to gourmet, I can find my way by smell.

On the other hand, he can track anything. If we’d ever had a child together it would be an Indian scout named Paula Deen.

He sighed. I’ve noticed that the longer we’re married, the more he sighs. In a couple more years it’s going to be like living in a wind tunnel.

“According to the map, where do we turn?”

“According to the map, we’re already two creases and a wrinkle past his house.”

“Let me see.”

“No. The last time I gave you the map while you were driving, it took us two hours to go half an inch.”

“That half an inch was a 150 mile path through a rock slide in the mountains.”

“So it’s my fault you didn’t get four wheel drive?”

“Those rocks were bigger than your. . .never mind. Just tell me when we pass the Jamestown exit.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because we passed the Jamestown exit when you were giving me the geology lecture.”

Before he could finish up his lesson plan a transfer truck packed from tail lights to tooter with gourmet ice cream blew past us headed toward the next exit.

Without a second thought, the Captain of my Dessert Cart winked at me and whipped in behind him.

We might not agree on the best way to get there, but sometimes the best part of the trip isn’t the easy way.

It’s the Rocky Road.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Much Is That Mommy In The Window?

The road to graduation was filled with potholes and posterboard. Follow me to Stage of Life and find out about one of the close calls along the way. (They have coupons!) Fortunately I'd had time to get dressed before we got this far.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Not long ago, I had a near-death experience in the grocery store. I was bending over to check out Mrs. Fields’ fat grams when a woman wielding a grocery cart like it was a runaway bumper car rounded the corner on two wheels. If it weren’t for quick thinking on my part, I might have required a trip to the Crisco aisle to disengage that buggy from my body. For a second I thought I saw a bright light, but it turned out to be Register Six calling for assistance.

Later, when I got lapped in frozen foods by a gray-haired granny with a number 5 pasted on the side of her grocery cart, I could see the need for a list of safety rules posted in a conspicuous place, perhaps tattooed on Little Debbie’s left cheek. With that thought in mind, I offer 8 Simple Rules for a Successful Supermarket Experience.

1. Show proper care for your vehicle. For the safety of everyone on the floor, do not select a buggy with uncooperative steering that can be guided only by a team of Iditarod sled dogs. Also, be on the lookout for features that may interrupt the aerodynamics of the cart such as toddlers left over from a previous shopper.

2. When perusing different item choices on the supermarket floor, please be sure to park only in traditionally acceptable parking areas. Nobody cares if you set up camp in front of internal organs in the meat department, but if you pause to check the fat content in the cookie aisle, we will forcibly transport you to the dairy case and secure you to the yogurt section with string cheese.

3. Please observe crowd-friendly speed limits. I know you’re in a hurry to rush home and get those tacos on the table, but don’t careen around the corners so fast that you initiate a forceful meeting between Betty Crocker and Orville Redenbacher.

4. Practice defensive shopping. Try to remember that there are people with immediate dietary concerns that may require them to effect a sudden stop in front of you to compare chocolate chip content on the cookie aisle. Likewise, you must understand that if you stop in the middle of the aisle while trying to decide between creamy and crunchy, you are likely to become a temporary member of the fresh fruit display. Take heart in the fact that kumquats should not do any permanent damage to your complexion.

5. Please show concern for the safety of other shoppers. Do not execute a sudden lane change without at least warning the gentleman who is presently rolling his cart over the heels of your Reeboks that he may suddenly find himself neck deep in summer squash. Likewise, don’t speed up suddenly, causing the six-year-old boy who is riding below the cart in front of you like a mudflap on an tractor-trailer to wrap around your front wheel like freshly chewed bubblegum.

6. Do not accelerate like Richard Petty on the straightaway at Talledega to beat me to the Express Lane, especially if your buggy is loaded like a Conastoga and you’re counting all 24 cans of Little Friskies as one item to make the 10-item limit, and all I’m carrying is a gallon of milk, two packs of Ho Ho’s, and a box of Ben & Jerry’s that has created a layer of freezer burn up to my elbow. I have killed for less than that.

7. Remember to return your buggy to the cart corral after you load your car. You may feel justified in aiming it toward the gate and assuming it will roll downhill to the target by itself, but let me assure you that grocery carts are not domesticated animals and will take every opportunity to separate from the pack and make a break for freedom. Lassie is not available to pull the buggy from quicksand, a well, or the tailpipe of a new Jaguar that happens to be in its path. The aftermath of the ensuing chaos will involve your insurance, and this is one case when the term “deductible” might be unsetttling.

8. Most importantly, steer clear of the lady dressed in a New York Yankees T-Shirt, stretch pants, and flip flops, who is wringing her hands and doing laps with a cart that contains two boxes of Ding Dongs and a frozen pizza. It’s me and I can’t decide what to have for supper.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Do's, Zoos, and Underoos

Everybody else gets a lousy TShirt when they go on a trip. How do I manage to get everything backwards? Join me at An Army of Ermas for my undercover adventure. But you've gotta promise not to tell.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fun With Dentistry

“He's not that young.”

“Oh, yeah? If he’d raised his hand, I’d have written him a bathroom pass.”

“He is a professional. His degrees are hanging on the wall of his office.”

“Give me fifteen minutes alone with Microsoft Publisher and I can make you dean of Harvard Law School.”

“Well, he’s old enough to drive a Lexus.”

“I don’t care if he pilots a twin engine. What kind of grownup would shoot your face full of rigor mortis and ask you to spit?”

Right on the heels of our Sushi While You Bait adventure, I joined forces with an errant stick of Juicy Fruit gum to initiate Fun With Dentistry day. My crown popped out of my jaw like a kernel of Jiffy Pop over high heat. The Captain tried to calm my fears with the voice of reason. The voice of reason now speaks in falsetto.

When I was a kid and lost a tooth, the tooth fairy would leave a shiny new quarter under my pillow. She must have invested heavily in Microsoft, because these days she deals in folding money. But I haven’t seen her since the last time I could see my feet without using mirrors.

I feel obliged to keep my local dentist in work so that he can afford that villa in Hilton Head, the Riviera of the south, but with Spanish moss and alligators. You can tell it’s civilized by the number of men in plaid pants stalking the golf course and putting through the windmill. I like the guy just fine and want him to have a good life, but he’s so young his parents have to cosign his prescriptions.

It’s unsettling when a fellow young enough to know all the words to the Pokeman theme song sets about buffing your teeth with a power sander. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to let someone whose favorite piece of literature is illustrated with Japanese cartoon characters edge around your eyeteeth, but before I knew it, Dr. Drillbit was up to his Converse All Stars in my mouth. I made a mental note to remind him to tie his shoes and wear matching socks.

He yanked enough roots out of my mouth to start a vegetable garden and spackled in some replacement teeth before I could say Holy Molar. Maybe we have different priorities.I’m 51 years old. I could use that cement to hold up more important things than my teeth.

My sons were aghast to discover that I’d raided their inheritance to pay for the dental work. Screwing the cap back on the jar, I took advantage of the teaching moment and gave them each a shiny new quarter to help blaze a trail to a new life.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting up for the tooth fairy. She’s got a lot of explaining to do.

And I’ve got some spare cement.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sushi Night

In an attempt at a successful catch and release program, the Captain and I went out for sushi last night. I don’t mind telling you that the release came quite soon after the catch and was, by itself, a splendid success.

We’d been whiling away the afternoon watching the local canines compete for obedience honors at the city dog show. It’s amazing what a human will do with a liver treat to coerce three pounds of fluff and drool to run after a glove they’d give mad chase for at home getting ready for an evening out.

Such a display of sterling cooperation between man and beastie is hungry work, so we stopped afterwards at the nearest restaurant, whose fa├žade smacked of Japanese food of the non-slimy kind.

The menu came—I am not kidding—in a three ring binder. I didn’t know whether to order dinner or study for a test on rice. I made notes of several key items on the palm of my hand in soy sauce in case I was quizzed on condiments later in the evening.

I’d never come across any of the notebooks’s offerings at church potlucks, but I found an annotated item at the bottom of page three that mentioned ingredients I had heard of previously. I selected the annotated chicken teriyaki on the theory that at least chickens draw heat from global warming. All of the rest of the selections looked to be bottom dwellers.

The Captain of my heart and Master of the bill gestured boldly at an item that began with the letter N. N apparently stands for “Nothing I Would Let the Children Eat.” Or perhaps, “Never mind, just bring the check.”

In a land where we deep fry dessert items to make sure the shortbread is not capable of brandishing a butcher knife behind our back, a plate full of uncooked sea creatures the color of sunburn on parts that should never see daylight can be a bit unsettling. Each piece perched on a small hill of rice, resembling an anthill when the worker types are trying to fit a juicy earthworm down the chimney. One morsel looked alarmingly like a flesh wound.

Finding no weaponry but a damp napkin and a pair of wooden stakes, the Captain gave a fairly convincing impression of a man about to eat dinner. If I had the savoir faire he has, I could eat in a dozen languages.

“Are you going to eat that?”

“No, I’m going to hold it over the candle until it gives me its name, rank, and expected date of demise.”

I watched in shock and awe as he dipped a shrimp fillet in a lovely green dip known to sushi professionals as “Wasabi”.

A secret among sushi professionals is that “Wasabi” is a Japanese word meaning “the devil is dancing the hotfoot rumba in your underpants.”

“I guess it’s hot.”

“What makes you think so?”

You drained the wishing well in the lobby.

“You’re exaggerating,” he retorted, spitting out a quarter.

“If you sneeze, we’ll have enough for the tip.”

While the Captain fished for minnows, I consumed a lovely helping of teriyaki chicken. Teriyaki is a Japanese word that means “not eating bait.”

The waiter appeared at the table. “Would you care for dessert?”

“I guess not,” I said, surreptitiously checking my palm for data. “I passed the test. I'm afraid to try for extra credit.”