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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Santa's Last Chance

Dear Santa,

As I sit here, wrapped in crumpled piles of swaddling tissue, packing away voided warranties and random battery compartment doors, it occurs to me that I didn’t ask you for the right thing this year.

Sure, I loved the foot bath with the detachable comfort pads that can double as missiles in the hands of untrained guerilla warriors, and the electric carving knife you must have used to hack your way out of the jungles of the North Pole.

They were ideal gifts, if not exactly what I specified on the order form, but I understand your strict no-exchange policy is based on a platoon of elves who have given up a season of toy-making extravaganza for a heady round of celebratory drinking on a southbound ice floe.

However, gazing around at the faces of my family members in the soft glow of candlelight, I’m reminded that I am surely part of a group somewhere that knows not to plug three space heaters and a Dragon Master’s ring into the same power strip.

I’ve thought about it a long time and I’m sure that somewhere there is a family wrapped in individual lamb-print Snuggies, perched on a fluffy couch devoid of a protective coating of animal fur, watching Partridge Family reruns and humming “Come On Get Happy” in resonating harmony.

I still have faith that it is possible to watch an entire television show without missing the first ten minutes because you have to get to the next level before you can save your game. Surely even the Black Ops guys can hold their focus while I watch Wheel of Fortune.

My real family doesn’t have video games. They play interactive card games for entertainment on Friday nights and nobody makes the yukky face and pouts when they draw the Old Maid. They can share snacks without shooting uncooked popcorn kernels through a straw to see who can put out the living room light first. And they never slop chocolate pudding onto anyone’s exposed flesh and scream, “Look what the dog did!”

So, dear Santa, I am writing an advance letter for next Christmas. For now, I will keep the family who finds it entertaining to spend three days of an expensive beach vacation in the hotel room watching Shark Week on public television.

I understand that the child who asked for the titanium Spork for Christmas could be under the influence of unnatural substances beyond my control, such as science fiction, but apart from joining forces with Dr. Every Which Way But Loose or Bill Gates or one of those other bizarre alien creatures, there’s really nothing I can do. Besides, I’m sure the Captain's influence is strong in that one.

But next year, Santa, I would like to find my real family, the people who do not consider a group viewing of the Monty Python movie, "Searching for the Holy Grail" to be a religious experience, who do not convulse into hysterics when someone utters the word “nutcracker,” and who does not claim ownership like a terrorist group when there is a blatant disregard for sensitive personal airspace.

So, Santa, I’m writing in advance so that you have time to complete the paperwork. If you could arrange a transfer, I’d be most grateful. I’ll have my purple flannel puppy dog pajamas and my original issue Partridge Family albums all packed and ready to go.

There’s just one thing. The Dachshund only likes the red bits out of the kibble and the ankles of UPS delivery men, but there’s none better for tracking errant rabbits or undelivered parcels full of Christmas cookies. The Labradors take turns helping to load the dishwasher and riding shotgun on the way to the dump. They need a sense of purpose to be happy; a job other than licking stray butter wrappers, unlike the tribe of children who can live happily with a refrigerator full of empty milk jugs, eating cereal with gardening implements when all the spoons are dirty.

So when you find my new family, would you find one for the puppies as well? You might consider a sled dog team instead of reindeer. Bo can jump over two recliners full of sleeping cats with the right encouragement, and while I’m not one to divulge personal secrets, a fast-moving tennis ball at nose height that just stirs the whiskers is a powerful force to resist. I’d keep the cookies hidden, though. He gets a little sluggish after a dozen or so shortbreads.

Thanks for listening, Santa. Sometimes a chance to express my frustrations is all I need for peace and contentment. Not this time though. This time I want action. Don’t even think about not granting my request, or next year your trip will be mighty short.

I’ve told the Dachshund that you’re really from UPS. Resistance is futile.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Resolution Revolution

Now that we're two dress sizes away from having to form our resolutions for the New Year, I'd like to observe a moment of sarcasm for last year's goals. Looking back over this list from last year, I realize that I did accomplish one thing. See Resolution #3. I discovered that Taco Tiara handles the job nicely. (However they're not the A-Team for Leprechauns or buckets of gold)

The Resolution Trend is upon us, and much like the leg-warmer trend of the seventies, it crawls up your leg and leaves you with cold feet. But if Resolving is the thing to do, I may as well jump right in and point out my shortcomings. Lord knows if I don’t do it, the teenagers will.

Feel free to jump right in. The rules are simple: No setting goals that involve Paris Hilton in appearance or scope, no setting goals that involve such a vast amount of weight loss that a colon cleanse is indicated, and no setting goals that will prove detrimental to your overall lifestyle - honestly, it will not make you a better person to bake like Paula Deen. You’ll just spend more time in the kitchen, you’d have to expand to more extensive stretchy pants, and while you’re at it take a look at a recent picture. The woman is obviously a zombie. I haven’t seen eyes like that since Mystery Science Theatre 3000 ruled the airwaves.

So, with our ground rules, if not our sanity, intact, here are my Resolutions for the year:

1. To eat at least one meal without sharing with the dogs. How many bites does it take before the Labrador remembers that he still doesn’t like olives?

2. To go ahead and take the batteries out of the TV remote/game controller/digital camera before the boys beat me to it. Personal satisfaction is the name of the game here.

3. Find one easy-to-prepare meal that everyone in the family will eat. Perhaps I’ll also go in search of Leprechauns and buckets of gold.

4. To come home from any destination (including a trip to the mailbox) at least once without heading immediately to the bathroom. Honestly, predictability is so last year.

5. To go a full day without complaining about the speed of my Internet access, all the while bemoaning the days when people had to rely on the Pony Express or fax machines to deliver information.

6. Not to make more resolutions that I can feasibly accomplish. Which I automatically failed to do in Resolution Number One. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make the dog a sandwich. Extra pastrami, no olives.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Neighborly Advice

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 affect a change of heart.

3. 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 popularity poll in the neighborhood 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 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 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. Roadrunners are like pearls. They’re always appropriate.

10. Close your curtains. The neighbors don’t need to know that it was necessary to summon the Jaws of Life to your home for the sole purpose of retrieving your wife from the Jacuzzi.

11. Here's an extra commandment, just because I'm feeling festive. If your idea of decorating for Christmas is tying a sprig of mistletoe to the beltloop in the back of your pants, walk slowly past my driveway. I have a large dog who has issues with anything sporting a bushy tail. And by the way, unless your name is Jeff Foxworthy, we don't require proof that you're a redneck.

Attached you’ll find a request for samples from your garden for quality assurance purposes, a form for proof of vaccinations, and a sterile baggie for DNA testing. Merry Christmas and welcome to the neighborhood.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mulch and Mayhem

Whined to the Tune of Jingle Bells

Withered leaves, curled and dead

Falling from on high.

Poinsettias come in my door

Hang their heads and die!

Come on over and join me at An Army of Ermas where the hostess with the compostest is armpit deep in live Labradors and dead leaves. Oh, and hot glue. Don't forget the hot glue.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Festive Fish Stories

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 fruit with marshmallows in a creative way, and food that distant relatives make. And I’m always careful to use garnishes, such as triple chocolate cake in hot fudge sauce, 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 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 or an uncle who specialty is peanut butter casserole, but my family members have a special place in the Food Terrors Hall of Fame. (Their motto is “Smell This!”)

In honor of 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 Spinach and Raisin MangoTomato Balls.

I find that I can resist:

1. Any dish that combines candied cherries, chipped beef, and spices I can't pronounce.

2. Any dish that blends chocolate chips with any type of canned fish product.

3. Any finger food that leaves a residue on my hands that requires turpentine to remove.

The Captain always tries to find a way to avoid the experimental food festivities. Last year a friend asked him to go fly-fishing over the holidays, but instead he spent time in the local emergency room where they applied a topical medication that smelled like trout.

But now I’ve concocted a secret weapon. So 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 that?” the Captain asked me when the mixture etched a skull and crossbones on the inside of the jar.

I grinned and waved the jar tantalizingly under his nose. He jumped back. It takes less than that to make hardened criminals spill the details of their secret stash.

“Whoa. What IS that? Your great-grandaddy’s moonshine?”

“Better than that. My brother’s carp bait. He got the secret from Uncle Bud.”

“What’s in it?”

“I can't tell you,” I said, resealing the lid and cushioning the jar in a box lined with packing peanuts to insure the integrity of the solution.

“It’s an Old Family Recipe.”


“As a matter of fact, that’s what killed Uncle Bud.”

“What did he do, eat it?”

“No, he went fishing on Christmas and Aunt Edna found out.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Inside!

Remember the song that said, "Button Up Your Overcoat?"
No, of course you don't; it's way before your time. It's not something that Justin Beiber is going to cover any time soon, anway. And speaking of cover. . .
Pull on your hoodie and slip on your flannel jammies, because it's frost and freeze time. . .in the powder room. I don't see why I have to suffer freezer burn on my rump roast just because our power bill is
bigger than the stack of presents under grandma's Christmas tree.
Join me at Stage of Life where we check on the Captain's tendency to post armed guards around the thermostat.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santa's Special Forces

I don’t know if all the recent news feeds about America raising a nation of obese children is true, but from the looks of things at the mall this past weekend, Santa’s gonna be opting for knee replacement surgery after Christmas.

One kid in line looked like an egg in a snowsuit. It took three elves and two recruits from Mall Security Special Forces to hoist him on to Santa’s lap. If that Humpty Dumpty had fallen off the wall, there’s not a frying pan in the kitchen at IHOP big enough to make an omelette with the remains.

And I don’t know what kind of insurance the Elves’ Union has, but I hope it’s not an HMO. It’s hard enough to get a letter of referral in the North Pole, much less finding an orthopedist with access to load bearing replacement joints.

Of course, Santa isn’t exactly a graduate of the Jillian Anderson school of fitness either. I don’t know what he does during the off season, but he might need to consider having one of the elves whip him up a Wii Fit for the North Pole break room. Before long he’s not going to need magic reindeer. He’s going to need a magic forklift with a widescreen GPS and axles that handle extra jolly loads.

And let’s get real. Who among us believes that any animal with a name like Dancer or Prancer is going to make the cut for a team of high-performance reindeer that has to fly around the world in one night? Those guys might make the top three on Dancing with the Stars, but they aren’t the go-to alpha males for endurance muscle.

I’ve checked all over to find the real story of Santa’s team, but the closest I found was Reindeer Games for Dummies featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle, which sounds a lot better than Prancer and Dancer. In the South, those are the sort of names that get you beat up every day at recess. Sooner or later these guys are going to have to bulk up or risk losing their Sponge Bob lunchboxes to disgruntled reindeer outcasts.

I’d like to peek into Reindeer School to see what sort of screening process is in place. Somewhere there’s a two-ton reindeer named Tiny belting back Budweisers and watching the Olympic Reindeer Games saying, “I could have been a contender.” That’s the sort of animal I want watching Santa’s back.

So you might want to stay in on Christmas Eve. When Biggie Claus mounts that sleigh like Paul Bunyan at the helm of his big blue ox and starts calling reindeer names at takeoff, you might be better off not knowing who they are. Guido might think you’re looking a little too longingly at the Hannah Montana doll in Santa’s bag. One peek at the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow and you could very well wind up in the Polar Protection Program.

Rest assured that come Christmas morning, all will be well. Because as sure as there’s not a mouse stirring in the land of Nod, there’s nobody better making sure a sleigh full of packages get to their destination overnight.

But make it easy on Santa and leave him a spot in the driveway. Those chimney landings are tough on the knees. And Prancer's already wearing a wrist brace for carpal tunnel.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Crime Scene Christmas

I thought it be would tough Christmas shopping for the boys once they got past the Toys R Us stage. I used to be able to mark the days until Christmas by how many pages were left in the big toy catalog. Most of the pictures had long been shipped to the North Pole for use as instructional material by elves specializing in sophisticated foam weaponry.

The boys are now in their second decade of intense and dedicated toy shopping. These days they want electronic games that feature goal-oriented ninjas, indiscriminate assassins, and more than a few species of vengeful undead.

Nothing says Happy Holidays like a man in black greeting passersby with a six inch throwing knife and a hearty handgun.

When I was a kid, we’d strap on holsters with six shooters and clap cowboy hats made of felt on our heads. You’d have to chase the bad guy clear down to his front porch before he’d admit that he was dead. These days you’re a virtual assassin who can wipe out a planet with a rapid fire Remington and a hamster wheel of death.

As the guys rent newer and more sophisticated video games to see which ones they want for Christmas, the sounds of the season fill my house: swords ring out in duels, gunshots ricochet through quiet villages, gleeful laughter meets the brother who triumphs in the zombie apocalypse.

It reminds me of lunch with the relatives.

It’s never safe to venture into Uncle Joe’s airspace after he’s had his fill of giblet gravy. Even the Labradors avoid crossing into enemy territory at half past pumpkin pie.

So this Christmas we’ll deck the halls with a turkey leg fired high tight toward a platoon of retreating relatives. And if anybody tries to get away with the pumpkin pie, they’d better watch out. I’m a killer with an assault drumstick.

And I’m sitting next to Uncle Joe.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Splitting Hairs

At craft night I am issued an "audience only" permit to enter. Over the years I have proven myself untrustworthy with adult scissors, craft glue, construction paper, and the ever-popular multi-colored glitter.

The family hushed up an incident with the hole punch that resulted in a cunningly shaped scar in the webbing between my thumb and index finger, and once, before the authorities caught me and issued the proper warrants, I sewed a soccer banner to the leg of my pants.

So why, in a blast of optimism and excitement, did my husband, who has not previously shown signs of dementia, say, "Why don't you cut my hair?"

Excuse me? What part of "head trauma" does he not understand? Has he been watching 25 years of medical shows and hasn't learned anything about blunt instruments or pointy objects or crime scene tape? Didn't he learned anything from George Clooney on ER? If I am legally obligated to refrain from cutting out paper snowflakes, why is he giving me a license to plant a new part where his cow lick used to be?

But if he's willing, who am I to refuse his final request? I fired up the weed eater and revved the motor.

"Okay. How about in the kitchen with Professor Plum and the lead pipe?"

"Don't be silly. All you have to do is run the electric clippers over it. How hard can it be?"

"How hard can it be" is the second leading cause of death and disfiguring injuries in the United States.

"The first is "Hey, man. Look what I can do," which generally follows, "One night, we were drinking beer." The Surgeon General suggests that no one under the age of 18 be allowed to utter these words unless accompanied by a responsible adult who gave birth to them or by a First Responder authorized to wield the Jaws of Life.

I was considering my options as a single widow, rounding off possible life insurance benefits to the decimal point, and deciding whether I would have to initiate the grapefruit diet before I could win the affections of the wealthy bachelor at church, when the Captain of the kitchen shears cast the deciding vote.

"I'll give you the twenty bucks I would have spent on a haircut."

I dropped the weedeater. "Show me the money."

He proffered a wrinkled picture of Andrew Jackson on a bill. I don't know where he got the thing, but he and Andy must have been schoolmates in the little one room schoolhouse at Possum Trot. I snatched the money before he realized that I would be wielding what amounted to whirling electric razors aimed at his head.

He settled into the chair and, since it would be a first offense and I would likely get off with a stern warning and have my clippers booted, I agreed to give it a whirl.

He grinned. "Take it off Sweeney Todd."

From the looks of things, he was ready to go to the big barber pole in the sky.

I set the shears to stun and felt the power of 50,00 volts run down my arm. I raised the clippers high in the air and laughed maniacally as lightning bolts pierced the night air.

"Stop giggling, would you? It's creepy. And turn on the lights so you can see what you're doing. You almost Van Goghed my ear."

The haircut proceeded uneventfully, even if I did have a little trouble with control around the neckline. He'll have a brand new patch of sunburn when August rolls around.

Glad to avoid a trip to the barber, he gave me a kiss and headed for the shower.

From the front, he can't really appreciate the fact that his new neckline resembles what erosion does to beachfront property. I don't think the stylist police will hand out any jail time, though. With the amount of hair we're dealing with, it's not like the crime of the century.

But I'll cop to a misdemeanor.