Beating back dumb in 2011

Before I start my Ermas column today, I need to take a few minutes to talk with my daughter about the New Year. Give me a sec. I’ll be right back …

This is going to be a big year, Puggy. You’re already reading, drawing and putting the computer to better use than most government workers. You sing, dance, play well with others and 90 percent of the time, you have underwear on. But soon you’ll turn 6 and enter first grade. That said I’d like to give you a few pointers on how to overcome dumb people.

See, this year, like flies at a picnic, dumb people are going to come at you from all angles. This has nothing to do with the passage of time, or that the quantity of dumb people has changed. It’s just fact. Dumb drops its luggage and stays like an unwanted house guest. Young and old, tall and short, thin and fat, dumb has no prejudice and says inane things like “everyone’s a winner” and "You workin' hard or hardly workin'?" I blame phrases like this on standardized testing and “synergy.”

In order to combat dumb, you must continue to get smarter, grow your independence but like a ninja, blend in with the doofus hoard. And who better to provide advice to a first grader on combating dumb people then an American hero – retired General Colin Powell! Not all of his 13 rules apply, but five of them do so let’s get this New Year started right:

  • “It ain’t as bad as you think. It’ll be better in the morning.” In school and out, you’ll be dancing with dumb. At the end of the day, you’ll sit in bed with your chocolate milk box and bowl of cheese popcorn – and it will make you sad. One of the best things you can do is go to sleep, wake up and go after it again (although one of your favorite people, Albert Einstein, defined this behavior as “insanity.”)
  • “Be careful what you choose. You might get it.” At some point, many many dumb people chose to give piles of cash to Justin Bieber for singing “Baby baby baby, oooooh.” As you are constantly singing it around the house, you would disagree but this was not a careful choice.
  • “You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn't let someone make yours.” Unfortunately, our whole political system is the exact opposite of this rule. This is called an oxymoron. In short, if you want to wear plastic rain boots, a tattered paint smock and leggings to school, you can. That’s your choice. Own it. Your mother will, however, insist that they match.
  • “Don’t take counsel from your fears or naysayers.” Remember when we watched “The Fellowship of The Ring” and Gandalf stood in front of that giant, flaming cow and said, “You shall not pass”? He made a decision. Then, the cow broke the bridge, grabbed Gandalf with his whip and sucked him down into the black hole. But he chose, on his own, to trifle with the burning cow because he knew if he did, it would help those hairy footed midgets drop the ring into the volcano later. By the way, “naysayers” is another word for dumb people.
  • “Remain calm. Be kind.” You know that scrunched up, tight face you make when Mom and I ask you 37 times to finish eating your breakfast? That face will happen more and more as you get older. This rule applies.

To be clear, we all end up doing dumb things, even your Mom and me. So we’ll add two rules on to General Powell’s: 1.) Always listen to your parents; and 2.) When in doubt, follow rule 1.

I love you. Happy New Year.

Jason Tudor is an American writer and illustrator who lives in Bavaria. More of his writing can be found at his website.

Image credit: scientificilliteracy.blogspot.com


The Face of Evil

by Sara Spock-Carlson

I never dreamt my parents could afford to buy me a Cabbage Patch Kid. Even at 8, I knew it was an expensive toy. Those round, dimpled cheeks, all rosy with joie de vivre, custom outfits, and that little tush, signed by Xavier Roberts called out to me. I shouldn’t have asked for one 72 times, but I needed that doll!  Everyone had one and I knew I never would. But my luck changed when Shop-Rite started selling them and my Aunt could get a discount. My parents were able to swing it and she became my most prized possession. I didn’t even like dolls, but I loved that ugly little Belinda Jean. Her blue gingham dress matched her light blue eyes and with rich, brown hair, she was quite unique.

We played together that entire winter, but things changed when snow turned to rain and the flowers started blooming.  One April day, it was raining and Belinda Jean wanted to stay inside to avoid a nasty bad hair day. I had just gotten a stylish new apple themed raincoat and needed to show it off to all the 8-year-old studs of the neighborhood.  After an hour of traipsing through puddles and chasing down salamanders, I heard my brother shouting for me from the deck. My heart leapt! Perhaps today was the day my big brother would decide it was cool to play with his little sister. Maybe waiting out the rain in an empty house drove him crazy, or all his friends were busy staying dry and he was bored enough to ask me to race matchboxes.

I sprinted through the yard, climbed the steps to our cedar split-level, and bolted into the front entry. My Dad’s old yellow lounge chair was sitting at the top of the steps above me and Belinda Jean was ensconced on the throne. From behind the chair, I heard my brother’s voice, squeaking out a girl’s pitch.

“Mmmmmmm, Sara, have you had a snack?”

It was then I noticed that she was holding a spoon with little brown balls and had what looked like chocolate smeared all over her perfect, dimpled face.  He kept squeaking while I stared, mouth agape.

“Are you sure you don’t want to try it? It’s the finest dog poop I could find. Mmmm, Alpo flavored!  Straight out of Clyde’s butt. You’ll like it,” he continued as he stifled a laugh.

I slowly made my way up the steps, where I was greeted by the smell. Ugh, the smell. I was reminded of that time I stepped in one of Clyde’s treats in the yard. The stench was so pervasive, my mom had to throw out my shoes.  My lip began to tremble, would Belinda Jean meet the same fate as my mary janes?

I freaked. My wretched big brother got an earful of malediction, as harsh my 8-year-old brain could muster.  And his timing was off. Minutes later, my Dad arrived home, saw the scene complete with dog poop in his comfy chair, and made my brother use his own toothbrush to wash Belinda Jean’s face. I watched as he scrubbed out those cute little dimples and her face was finally gleaming. Vindication!  

But I never touched that stinky doll again. What? She reeked! 

Sara Spock-Carlson is a mom, wife, anthropology student, lab assistant, English tutor, and freelance writer.  Sara can be found at her green-living blog or at the Sex Lab.  No, that’s not what we’re calling it these days.


The Truth about the cookies

By Barbara A. Tyler

Dear Santa,

We wanted to explain about the Pop Tart. We know you do a tough job and expect cookies. (We think you do a terrific job!) And we were going to bake cookies. Honest. But our kitchen blew up. KABOOM! The explosion took out part of the garage and the fire department and the army had to come. It was bad. So our oven was messed up and we couldn’t bake. No oven. No cookies. You understand, right?  (My sister wants to know: Is it true that you know when we’ve been bad or good? And were you watching our house at all last week? Just curious.)

Okay. My sister says to tell the real story or we’ll be in more trouble. It’s like this. We were going to bake. We were all ready. We washed our hands and everything. But then, somebody, and I’m not TATTLING, but if you record things on that magic snowball of yours, rewind it and see who I’m talking about for yourself. I’m just saying it wasn’t a KID. Anyway, SOMEBODY got all grouchy. Guess nobody ever told her about watchin’ out and not poutin’ and stuff. We don’t understand it. All we were doing was helping. Honest.

I offered to be the mixer. Then my brother offered to be the mixer. Then my sister said, no, she would be the mixer. So then mom said no, SHE would be the mixer and get down off that chair and quit punching each other right now! Well, it was okay with us if she wanted to be the mixer. I mean it is her kitchen, after all. But my point is we were only trying to help.

Next, I said I’d do the eggs. And my brother said he’d do the eggs. And my sister said, why’d  you go and drop all the eggs on the floor, you stupid heads?

I’m not allowed to say what Mom said.

Then we had a little trouble with the flour. Have you ever seen pictures of mushroom clouds? Did you know flour could do that? I didn’t! We also learned that butter? It’s slippery. Oh! And brown sugar can make the coolest sand castles if you pack it into cups. We made a really big one and it only took most of a bag of brown sugar. For future reference, don’t ever bring Mom a sandcastle for Christmas. We don’t think she likes them very much because, once she saw it, she said she was never setting foot in the kitchen with all of us at the same time ever again. Does Mrs. Claus get like this? Maybe it’s only moms, so you might be safe.

This is why we left you a Pop Tart. Don’t worry about the fuzz. It just came from the floor and brushes off real easy. We made the chocolate milk from scratch, but the dog stuck his nose in it, so you might not want to drink it.

Anyway, we hope you won’t hold it against us that our Mom is The Meanest Mother in the Whole Wide World Who Didn’t Bake Cookies. It’s not like we got to choose her or anything.

Your friends,

The Tyler Kids

Barbara A. Tyler lives in her own little world with people who claim to be relatives (DNA analysis pending). You can read more of her humor at http://thatbarbperson.wordpress.com


Deathwish Wynter

The US Park Service knows my name. They know my family. They have flyers posted outside the White House with our picture on it for easy reference.

We're not terrorists.

We're *that* family.

We've lived in the Washington, D.C. metro area since 1999 and as per tradition, we travel to see the National Tree on the White House lawn each week after Christmas so as to look at the new ornaments on the Oregon state tree (where we're from) and gaze in wonder at the sometimes ugly decorations on the large tree in the center of it all. There are usually hundreds of people milling around, circling the same tree, taking photos or getting warm at the giant fire pit set up at the far end of the space allocated near the grandstand where the president stood hours or days before making speeches and smiling widely at the crowds.

My daughter, Wynter, was born on Christmas day. No child has as big a heart, as wide a smile or feet that can wander off quicker. Her nickname is Deathwish Wynter due to the escapades she gets herself into; Christmas is no different, it just involved more park rangers. 

Each year, as we make our way downtown, I give the lecture, "Girls, everyone has a buddy. You will not leave your buddy's side. You will not chase trains nor climb into the Nativity Scene. Is this understood?" Naturally, they nod. They knew I had Santa's ear.

"Husband. As I have infants to carry, you are Wynter's buddy. You will not leave her side nor hold hands with good-smelling strangers like last year. Is that understood?" A brief wave of his hand didn't convince me but I had last minute breastfeeding to do; after five kids, I always have last minute breastfeeding to do...

As we approach the White House, the rangers walkie-talkie each other like Secret Service agents on alert. “The Grahams are here. Wynter is wearing a purple coat with a blueberry knit hat… quick! She’s making a run for it!” I don’t even have to walk up to the presidential platform anymore for announcements to be made, they’ve already seen my frantic dash around the tree, bobbing infant on my hip and wild look in my eyes.

A large, muscular ranger has my small person in tow, her hands occupied with unwrapping a sucker he kept in his pocket for such occasions. “Here she is, Ma’am, you may want to consider GPS next year. We’ll see you climbing into the Sculpture Garden pond in the summer, see that Lily keeps her clothes on this time.” With a nod, my tax dollars at work melts back into the crowd.

“Husband! That’s not me!” Startled, he looks from the tree to the family he’s been following for the last fifteen minutes. They’re not his. This year there will be two GPS units under the tree…

Stacey may be found this year chasing her daughters around the tree, at her blog and The Zombie Dating Guide where she's enhancing Christmas carols for Undead Fred.

Merry Christmas from the Graham Crackers!!


Christmas in the Closet… no it’s not what you think.

By Elysabeth Williams

In another life, I was in a relationship living with a honey on the reservation in Cherokee, NC. We lived in a trailer below his mom’s house, which was a two story, hundred-year-old log cabin. I love that place. It was the best. We spent most of our time at his mom’s house. My honey, being the 2nd to youngest of six kids, had a very huge extended family as well. They’d come from all over the country to visit their Mom and Dad (my honey’s parents) for Christmas.

One particular year, all twenty-some-odd of us, including boyfriends of the grandkids and myself, ate dinner and settled in for the night at his Mom’s. At some point after the meal, she solemnly handed my honey a worn faded black velvet bag. He nodded sagely. Here I am, thinking its some huge Native American ritual. I’m some random white chick from Georgia about to be cultured. I was full of pride.

His youngest nephew, who was the tender age of six, asked his mom if he could go outside and look for Santa in the sky. His Mom and Dad took him outside to stand on the lower level front porch. Honey grabbed my hand and darted for the back stairs without speaking. He took them by twos up to the second floor and ran down the hall to a guest bedroom. By this time, I was thoroughly confused. Pausing to open the black velvet bag, he pulled out a hand full of faded silver sleigh bells. He looked to me and winked. We snuck outside to the second story porch and tiptoed to stand above his nephew, positioned right below us. They pointed to the sky… honey shook the bells. His nephew screeched like a banshee and ran around the front porch looking around for any sign. Honey shook the bells again. More screeching… They all ran out of sight, the thundering of shoes was the only thing we heard as we dove back into the house and into a closet. We didn’t realize that was his nephew’s room for the vacation and we ended up staying in that closet for hours until the boy got tired enough to sleep. It was cramped, dark, and hard to hold in the giggles, but by far one of the best Christmas evenings I’ve ever spent, even in the closet – just to listen to the giggles and banshee screeching of a magic-filled six year old boy on the other side of the door.

Thanks to the Army of Ermas for having me. I had a great time. Happy holidays to everyone and hope you find a special closet to hang out in.


Mulch and Mayhem

by Amy Mullis

I love Christmas—the holiday known around my house as the Festival of Poinsettia Murder. It’s my special homespun tradition, sort of like Martha Stewart’s clever centerpieces or Paula Deen’s Drop Dead pound cake.

My family has a separate tradition. It’s called, “Countdown to Holiday Herbicide.” They take turns guessing how long it will take for me to snuff out the Spirit of Peace and Goodwill by killing the Christmas flower.  The winner gets extra whipped cream when the pumpkin pie comes around.

I'm up to the challenge. As a trained amateur with years of experience, I can take that Poinsettia from Merry Christmas to mulch in minutes.

This year’s offering was a particularly hearty specimen, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s an arrangement with an attitude.  I knew it was time to win one for the chipper.

Before long I had a lovely pile of poinsettia potpourri arranged in a dainty ring around a festive foil-covered pot of sticks.  But knowing I would soon be found out by the plant lottery patrol, I needed to spring into action.

I pulled my 50-caliber rapid fire glue gun out of its holster, rounded up my glue stick shells, and hummed the A-Team theme music for inspiration as I began reconstruction.

“What’s that smell?” Son One strolled through the kitchen sniffing the air like dinner was minutes away from setting off the smoke detectors.

“What smell?” I asked innocently, shoving the contraband paraphernalia behind my back.

“Mom, either you’ve been branding wolverines in here or you hot glued your thumb again.  Are your hands stuck to your pants?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve been dabbling in mind-altering substances.”

“Oh, no. Don’t tell me you’ve been in the glitter, too.”

Just then the family dog, a hearty mix of Labrador and Dalmatian, wandered nonchalantly through the room.  He bore so many poinsettia leaves between his ears that he looked like Sitting Bull in full headdress. Translucent sparkles floated like snowflakes in the air around him.

 “Why does the dog look like he’s the main attraction for Disney Princesses on Ice?”

“I had a little trouble with my aim.”

Son Two joined us in the kitchen, head bent over a hand held video game as he headed toward the refrigerator.  He stopped suddenly, sniffed the air, and looked at me accusingly.  “Have you been trying to make cookies again?”

Son One snorted.  “Stand back. She has a glue gun and she has no idea how to use it.”

I brandished my weapon, sending hot adhesive across the room and adhering the dog’s bowl to the linoleum for life.

The dog sidled over to the dish like a Sugar Plum Fairy in full costume, and I felt my heart grow like the Grinch’s on Christmas morning.  In a world where a Labrador can grow up to be a fairy princess, maybe I could end up with a green thumb.

After all, once the wrapping paper lies in mangled piles, and Santa scrapes the dried glue off the reindeer, isn’t hope what Christmas is all about?

Besides, I won the Poinsettia Slaughter Lottery under an assumed name.  The dog and I entered as partners.

Join me for more "Don't Let This Happen To You" moments at Mind over Mullis.


Splurging for Ugly This Christmas

by Tricia Gillespie

After several years of living on a shoestring budget, I decided that I was going to create a fabulous Christmassy mood in my home this year.  I mean, even the mice are getting tired of the popcorn strung on my tree and our stockings have wear holes because we use them for extra socks throughout the year.

This Christmas would be different.  This year I’d buy real presents and not just re-gift my mother’s work cast-offs, I’d buy a new tree, and even splurge on pretty wrapping paper.  I was so excited.  My husband would surely be impressed and my children would dream of sugar-plums dancing in their heads.

My husband has vehemently hated our tree for several years.  He’s deemed it worse, much worse, than Charlie Brown’s pathetic twig.  He calls it a dollar store knock-off of a folk art nightmare.  Ok, so you can see bark (the cheesy paper mache kind) through the sparse branches, but I never hated it.  I simply don’t like the fact that the tree is skinnier than I am.  When I stand in front of a tree for a Christmas picture, I definitely want the tree to be wider than my behind.

I went to purchase a new Christmas tree last week.  I shopped around online for artificial trees and discovered that they are much more expensive than I’d anticipated.  You know how it is – inflated prices, the economy, moths in my wallet.  Because I didn’t want to spend sixty or eighty dollars on a 4.5 foot tree, I went to The Christmas Tree Shop.  If you’ve ever been to one of these stores, you know it is only one step above the dollar store.  Their motto is “Don’t you just love a bargain?”  Oh, I do, I really, really do.

My daughter came shopping with me.  After fighting our way through the crowds of shopping carts, women cranked on Starbucks, and grumpy old men, I found the perfect tree.  It was only $19.99.  My only problem came when I realized that I couldn’t see it or touch it…definitely a gamble.

I held the box up and wondered out-loud, “Do you think this is ugly?”

A middle aged woman stopped, looked at the picture on the box, and in all seriousness asked, “Honey, are you going for the ugly look?”

Pages from December’s Country Living Magazine flipped through my mind as I shook off the fog of my fabulous Christmas mood.

“Well, no” I said, “but I always seem to hit that mark.”

She looked at me with pity in her eyes, shrugged, and went about her bargain hunting.  What was I to do now?

“Buy the pink tree, mommy.”  My daughter’s full of good ideas.

I put the tree back on the shelf and retrieved it at least four times, finally buying it.  The entire drive home I regretted every penny of the $19.99.  After opening the box and actually seeing the tree, I went into a week-long depression.  This would be the most hideous Christmas ever.  I even considered using the folk art nightmare.  This tree had plastic branches.  It wasn’t even pretending to be real!

I took two Zolofts and decided to dress my plastic branches as if they were genuine Blue Spruce.  I’m happy to report that I love my highly processed, definitely un-organic tree.  I’m in the Christmas mood, Santa is on his merry way, and my children are dreaming sweet dreams.  Life is good no matter the trimmings.

My tree is still skinnier than I am.  I’m considering joining weight watchers, but since I’m not sure how many pounds I’ll need to lose, my tree will have to attend weigh-ins so we can both be measured.

FringeGirl lives on the domestic fringe in denial of her actual age, avidly avoiding scales, and eating too many M&M's. She is mother to two spazzy kids and one electrifying husband.  Her blog, the domestic fringe, is dedicated to finding humor in daily life.  FringeGirl enjoys using her God-given love for the written word to encourage others in the monotony of every-day.  She hopes you find your smile today!

Photo credit: blog.seattlepi.com


Fred, the Christmas Tree

by Carole Lee

In a season filled with magnificent trees with branches bowed from decorations, I have Fred. Fred the Christmas Tree. Fred was not always my tree of choice, but I learned to appreciate him the way I learn everything else: The hard way.

My house was once a rest home for old, broken, discarded trees. My mother began the practice of handing down unwanted trees to me the year she began the questionable tradition of hanging ornaments on her Ficus tree. Family members followed her lead (not with the Ficus, mind you), and it seemed I was never without a tree in need of a hug. I took my job as caregiver seriously. As long as I had enough tinsel, electrical tape and a decent corner to hide missing branches, I could make almost any discarded tree look respectable for a while. However, I grew tired of patching pieces together and attaching splints to broken poles. I recalled the scent of pine. I wanted a fresh tree.

Epiphany was my first real tree. She was so-named because it took a great deal of imagination and inspiration to haul her well-developed self up three flights of steps to our apartment. At least the nice, young, college-age guys stepped aside to allow me to drag and huff and puff and gasp and drag and wheeze past on the stairwell. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to appreciate Epiphany. I spent that Christmas in bed recovering from two sprained ankles and a broken spirit. I hear she was lovely.

The next year brought us Belle. Belle was even prettier than Epiphany, at least before I wrestled her, step by determined step, up the stairs. She had a thing about heights. After I broke free of her prickly headlock, I considered greasing her branches but decided against it. Tree trimmings wouldn’t be nearly as festive once they slid off into a heap on the floor. Fun fact #1: Turpentine removes pine sap from hair. Fun fact #2: Turpentine is flammable. Fun fact #3: So is hair.

The following year, Ingénue caught my eye. She was coy yet perky, and brimming with personality. The nice man at the store assured me that binding her limbs with twine would facilitate pulling her up the stairs at home. He was right, too. Only a few little needles were left on the steps. I only realized the danger once she was upright in the living room. The second I cut one section of twine, the rest followed suit--ping! ping! ping!--without my assistance. Her branches popped out with a force that discharged a barrage of pine needles throughout the house like a volley of ninja darts. She was a fresh-cut booby trap worthy of an action movie, or at least a B-grade martial arts film. Each of her offended appendages bounced wildly and then settled into an aggressive stance. If a tree had hips, her fists would have been planted on them. I hid all the cutlery before going to bed. Christmas had an entirely different tone that year.

Last year, after the attack of the Ingénue, I passed by many fresh trees while doing my Christmas shopping. Some called to me, but I fixed my gaze on Christmas cacti and Santa ornaments, pretending not to notice.

“Take me home! I will be a lovely addition!”

“Don’t take her; take me! She’s old and worn out. I’m fresh. See?” She lifted a flexible branch high to demonstrate her youth.

“Not on your life,” I thought. “I barely survived the last episode of battery by flexible branches.”

“Psst. Come here, lady,” one misshapen tree whispered. “I’ve got something to show ya.”

I scurried past. I think her name was Anita Fixx, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out for sure.

And then I spotted it. Only 4’ tall among giants, this artificial tree stood with a confidence that said, “I am fine with my stature. If I don’t suit your needs, I will suit someone else’s. Have a nice holiday, ma’am.” I think he even tipped his hat. Something about this tree was oddly attractive.

On the drive home, I learned that his name is Fred. From his perch on a table, Fred stood watch over our holiday festivities with a butler’s non-intrusive, quiet self-assurance, unlike those prissy, and sometimes scary, trees of years past. I had found my Prince Charming.

So you can have your Epiphanys, Belles and Ingénues, and dress them to impress. I’ll take good old artificial Fred. He is sturdy and dependable, requires no water and assembles in a snap. More important, he’s never hurled a needle in my direction.


The Christmas Wedding Hero

by Jeanette Levellie

I mean. How can you top first graders singing Away in a Manger accented by lisps from missing teeth as a wedding prelude? No one noticed the ruby poinsettia sprays draped over the end of each pew, or the candelabras’ reflection on stain glass windows. We were too busy peering around heads to catch those six-year-olds singing. And singing. And singing.

After the third round of Silver Bells, even the grandparents in the crowd started suspecting a glitch.

The bride’s mother stilled our curiosity when she stepped to the front. “Is there an organist in the house?” she half shouted, half laughed. “Our organist is lost in Casey, and can’t be here for forty-five minutes. If you can play, please step into the pastor’s office to the left of the sanctuary.”

Gasps and nervous chuckles shot through the crowd. But I knew someone who could save the day. “Honey, you can play,” I whispered to my husband. “Go tell them you’ll help.”

“Oh, Jeanette, I don’t play the organ—only the piano. It’s a different instrument altogether. Surely in a crowd of this size, there’s someone who’s trained on the organ.”

Not to betray my German heritage, I persisted. “No one is moving, Kev. You can do this; I know you can. Just don’t use the foot pedals, and they’ll never notice!”

His eyes skimmed the room with a nervous gaze.  “No, I don’t think I could.”

“Yes, you can, now just go do it.” My elbow may have slipped into his ribs; I don’t remember.

With one final desperate look around the room, the man rose from his seat.  He moseyed to the door of the pastor’s study, eyes on the carpet. As he pulled the door shut behind him, I sighed in relief. Thank you, Jesus.

Five minutes later, when he took his seat on the organ bench, a collective smile embraced all 200 guests. He played the processional like the first snowfall, sprinkling each bridesmaid with music as they glided down the aisle.  He gained more confidence for The Wedding March, and the bride received a full-scale storm of Wagner. By the recessional, organ music avalanched from his fingers. As the ushers dismissed each row, he bounced on the organ seat like a kid on a toboggan, playing original compositions, carols, and classical pieces.

No need for stairs from the platform to the sanctuary floor. He floated down and out to the parking lot, his halo glimmering in the afternoon sun.

At the reception, guests lined up to congratulate the wedding superhero. He grinned and nodded between bites of cake, “I was happy to help;” “It was the least I could do;” and my personal favorite, “No problem at all!”  I finally snatched his wallet and held up his driver’s license next to his face.

“What are you doing, Jeanette?”

“Checking to see if I came with the right man.”

He grabbed the wallet out of my hand. “I just didn’t want to steal the show from anyone else who could play. Everyone might think I was showing off.”

“No way would they think that about you, hon. Everyone could see you only wanted to help some friends out of a jam.” I jabbed him in the ribs one last time, and straightened his wings.

photo credit: unknown


Christmas Monster

By Lisa Dovichi

Yes. I did it. I created the monster. It was an accident, I swear -- I had no idea it would turn out this way.

Let me explain.

A couple of months ago, in preparation for the Christmas toy overload, I started telling 3ft, my five-year-old, to “put it on his Christmas List” whenever he asked for toys while we were out shopping. I thought I’d scored on genius when 3ft happily went along with it and it got me out of having to buy a toy without having to use my fall back of, “You’re not old enough for that one,” -- using the age suggestions on the package to deny my child the toy. I have a backbone, really, but it’s easier to avoid the whining, pleading, begging, and unavoidable crying by using the age card.

Suddenly everything was going on his Christmas List -- and I mean everything. Every infomercial (like the giant cupcake mold and one each of the Pillow Pets), every toy, every game, even toiletries (what’s a five-year-old need with a little nose and ear hair remover gadget, I ask?) were being added to the list. Granted some of the items make a mother ask, “Where did I go wrong?” but in and of itself this list isn’t a big deal. I can handle a ginormous list. I make one every year myself.

Except for…

Somewhere, somehow, it got lost in translation that just because it’s on a Christmas List doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. My child thinks that Santa is going to bring him everything on that list. I’ve talked myself blue in the face that the list just gives Santa, friends, and family ideas on what to get you for Christmas based off of stuff you want. He just smiles angelically and tells me he knows he’ll get everything because he’s been such a good boy this year. Now I ask you, how do you fight with that logic?


You’d do as I did and tell him, “But honey our house isn’t big enough to hold it all.” I have a backbone. Really.

Photo credit: janeheller.mlblogs.com


Bah Humbug... Or Something

by Adam Slade

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
the lack of fire is sooo damn spiteful,
I don't care if it cooosts a ton,
turn it on, turn it on, warm my bum."

Or something.

I'm what you might call a Pre-Christmas Curmudgeon. Or 'miserable sod', should you prefer. Most do. If I see a Christmas advert before the first of December, it's too durned early, and I make a mental note not to buy anything from that store unless absolutely necessary (i.e. they're cheaper). I find decorations silly and distracting, the music jangly and irritating, and the trees? Tree? Indoors?! Pfft.

On or around the tenth, though, this all changes. The music makes me grin like a loon (ok, more like a loon), I help put the decorations up where they'll stand out the most, and I go nuts with the tinsel on the tree, which I crawl into the attic to retrieve, despite the spiders.

In the lead up to 'the day', I sit in the front room with a huge cup of tea in my hands and my swaddled tootsies up on the coffee table, watching repeats of '70s comedy Christmas specials and finishing the punchlines for them. I'm 27, and yet come the night of Christmas Eve, I don't sleep. I lie there with a grin plastered on my chapped and cracking lips, my legs jigging as I attempt to both warm the sheets. and keep my bladder full and mattress dry (that may be an exaggeration).

And then it arrives!


The day!

Um, y'know... Christmas?

Try and pay attention.

It's the only day where I'm up ridiculously early -- and by that I mean before 2pm -- and don't care. I stagger downstairs, shiver, stagger back upstairs to put clothes on, stagger halfway back down the stairs and realize I have caveman hair and breath, stagger to the bathroom, then make it all the way to the kettle before I remember that I put my appallingly wrapped presents under my bed. This process of repeated stair climbs continues for another twenty to thirty minutes before everything is where is should be. When the family has finished laughing at me, we pass around the prezzies, and well, you know how the rest works.

My good spirits last throughout Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and sometimes even the day after, before receding. Once again the songs are crap, the tree is stupid, and the decorations are a fire hazard.

I keep the cards, though.

Photo credit: deltasdazzlingcostumes.com.au


Happy Holidays to my BFF

I am talking about Black Friday Frenzy.

This year we decided to celebrate the holidays with a time-honored 21st century tradition – a new flat-screen TV. I did my research and discovered the optimal addition to our stable of electronics was on sale at walmart.com for 50% off, starting at midnight, on Black Friday.

::cue the evil music::

My husband is a night owl, so he was the designated clicker. So far, so good.

Until he wakes me up at two in the morning informing me his bank card had been declined . . . twenty times. Snarling, I booted up my computer, convinced he’d typed something wrong.  I was going to show him how a real bargain hunter shopped.




Okay, not funny.


I decided to try Amazon to make sure it wasn’t a Wal-Mart problem.


Well, that forty-two inch bit of discounted frippery wasn’t escaping me that easily.  I phoned my bank and was informed the account had been locked for identity theft. 

Their justification for this conclusion? Only someone using a stolen card would be shopping at the Wal-Mart website at midnight.

Let’s just say that the discussion got rather pointed. Okay, it actually got quite loud.

The bank is supposed to automatically call when this alarm is triggered. They didn’t. Why? The poor soul on the phone told me that the file was marked “Don’t call, it’s too early.”

Let’s examine the bank’s logic. It’s not appropriate to call at midnight.  However, if it’s me using my own card, I’m already awake.  If it’s not me, then I guess the bank figures I’m going to need a good night’s sleep to deal with the theft of my identity. Yes, my bank was on the case. Finally, I was assured that all blocks had been lifted from the account.

Delighted and emboldened by my discounted flat-screen TV, and reassured that my bank had my back, I decided to add some accessories to the new home entertainment center. Tap. Tap. Click. Click.


Two more phone calls and I was assured, again, that I was a valued customer and the bank was looking out for my best interests. All those electronic purchases were a sure sign that some Nigerian was running wild with my bank card. It was for my own good.

Finally, Saturday rolled around. I’d scored some bargains, but it was as much cage match as shopping spree. My final holiday task was taking our guest of honor home to Missouri. Any Kansan knows that gas is cheaper on the MO side of the line, so I coasted in just shy of “E,” dropped him off, and stopped at the local gas station.


Standing in the parking lot of a gas station in Missouri, I learned that my account had been restricted to my home state.  Any other charges were considered fraudulent because of the electronics purchases.  However, I was informed that if I ever needed to leave the state, all I had to do was call and let them know. . .

Apparently, I’d been convicted of “Grand Shopping – Electronics” and put on parole. I now needed my bank’s permission to leave the state. It got loud . . . very loud . . .

Black Friday, it’s not for sissies!

Photo credit: b2cmarketinginsider.com


An Army of Ermas guest columnists extravaganza!

Really. How often do you get to use "extravaganza" on a Saturday that doesn't involve Cher and fake boobies? I had to bust the word out just to show how awesome the submissions were for December, I can't thank you each of you enough without breaking into interpretive dance.

Please look for our guest columnists this month!

December 8: Adam Slade
December 17: Tricia Gillespie
December 22: Beth Williams
December 27: Barb Tyler

All of the entries were excellent and I invite y'all to send in your submissions again when Ermas opens up for spots in the future.

Thank you!
Stacey -- Editor/Grand Poobah, An Army of Ermas


DECK THE HALLS (With Ready-Made)

 by Anne Skalitza

“I was born to wrap.”

“Born to rap? Like, Kanye West? No way!” our younger son exclaimed.

“No, no. Wrapping gifts, not rap as in music,” my husband replied, putting the finishing touches on a red and white festively wrapped box.  Not only was it beribboned with velvet and lace, but it jauntily sported two tiny bells that jingled when you picked up the package.

I stood nearby, watching, like a cat eyeing a mouse. How'd he do that so easily? I thought about the time years ago, when my older child needed an angel costume by the next day. Halo included. He ended up looking like a tipsy Casper the Friendly Ghost. At least he was the hit of the Christmas pageant.

Through the years I’ve learned to surround myself with a few friends who are as creatively challenged in the homemade department as I. But I also have a stable of friends who can make a mean Dobosh Torte in the time it takes for me to find my eyeglasses to read the recipe. And of course, there's my husband who pinch-hits when needed. His favorite television channel is a twenty-four hour food fiesta and he's on a first name basis with all of the show hosts.

"Bobby says this barbeque sauce is great!" he calls from the kitchen as he rattles pots and pans.

Later, from the family room, he yells out to anyone within a five-and-a-half mile radius, "Oh, wait 'til you hear what Rachel has to say about marinating!"

Well, I'd rather use the kitchen just for eating. In fact, I'll gladly accept gift certificates to the nearest "we cook it, you devour it" place rather than a Fifty Ingredients Or Less cookbook.

One day recently, I wandered into a craft store and stood stock-still. Milling about were men, women, and children, all armed with filled baskets and dangerous to the likes of me. Mustering up confidence, I meekly stepped into an aisle. People sidled past, talking about different size glue guns and levelers and sculpting clay. I raced out the front door before a full-blown panic-attack set in. My brief foray into the world of creative projects was over.

Thankfully there are many people who can sew and bake and make beautiful centerpieces. I was born to admire. And I’m thankful that I live in the twenty-first century, in a world of ready-made anything. If my entourage of creative stand-bys are too busy creating to lend me a hand, I can purchase and deliver. Right on time, no questions asked. My husband may be born to wrap, but for me, with Christmas right around the corner, ready-made rocks!

--Anne Skalitza can usually be found dazed and wandering behind her husband in the local craft store on any given Saturday in December. For more about Anne and her writings, please visit www.anneskal.wordpress.com

Photo credit: inhabitat.com


Scorch Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

by Beth Bartlett

My inability to cook is famed in our family. After years of suffering through my attempts at holiday meals (the green bean casserole may not have been edible, but it makes a lovely planter) my loved ones became proactive. Every women’s magazine I picked up had large holes cut in them where recipes should be and cooking sites were banned in my browser as if they were naughty pictures of George Clooney.  This left me in the acceptably safe zone of processed foods, like my famous Scorch-n-Serve rolls, a tiny turkey roast in a cardboard pan that always ended up crispy (who knew those little pans were so flammable?) and Stove Top stuffing, which even I could not mess up. 

And then it happened.

A good friend gave me a holiday snack mix recipe. I snatched it up like it was the last toilet paper at Woodstock.  I had visions of filling cute Santa-covered jars with tasty treats, and watching a sincere smile come across my mother’s face after ingesting something I made instead of seeing that vein throb in her forehead again.

After a quick run to the store for supplies, I looked over the recipe again and realized that I could be in trouble. Do I still have a mixing bowl? The last time I saw the measuring spoons was when I doled out cat wormer. Years ago I discarded my pantry full of Vesuvius cookie sheets with the tragic shadows of long-burned cookies permanently etched into the metal. And I had to clean the toaster oven. Correction: I had to find the toaster oven first.

Once I began, I still had a lot of questions. How many empty Lean Cuisine trays make up one cup? If you use aluminum foil to bake snack mix, how do you turn it? Or can you just ball it up and wait for it to explode like Jiffy Pop? Did I use too much molasses? Why did the wooden spoon break? My mother was no help and after the third call she muttered something about starting a new hobby of drinking in the evening. So I was on my own.

I fired up the oven, accidentally giving a giant spider a hotfoot, and shoved the mixture in. I’ve tried these types of holiday treats before.

When I decided to make little gingerbread figures for Christmas, my husband walked through the kitchen, saw the glowing oven and disappeared. Half an hour later, he reappeared in body paint and glowsticks in either hand and waited in front of the oven door until smoke started seeping out.

“What are you doing?” I asked as I slipped on the oven mitts and waved away the smoke.

“Celebrating Burning Man,” he replied, cranking up the stereo as tiny, flaming gingerpeople emerged from the stove.

But this time, no smoke. Instead, a gorgeously yummy aroma wafted through the house.

“Did you just light a scented candle?” yelled hubby from the back office.

“No, I’m baking!” I shouted. I heard a heavy sigh. And the timer went off.

I learned several things: fresh snack mix is very hot and molasses is difficult to get out of cat fur.

And even I can’t completely mess up a great recipe.  It made the hubby smile.
Now I’m off to buy Santa jars.

photo credit: bullexsafety.com



by Jason Tudor

Near the heavy wooden door, stuck to the door jamb is a ceramic container with a prayer written on a rolled piece of parchment. The container is slightly longer than a pack of gum, and mounted at a slight angle. As I pass through the door, I kiss two fingers and then press them against the cool ceramic beacon.

The door opens. The smell of fried potatoes pours through my nostrils. Popping oil crackles in a pan as my wife smiles and greets me with a hug. Small bowls of apple sauce and sour cream line the counter, flecked with raw, grated potato. Under my left arm is a box of jelly-filled donuts. Some of the powdered sugar still sticks to my fingers, an indictment of my trip to the bakery.

The sun is almost down. Our daughter runs in from her room. From a small cardboard box resting on the worn Maple dining table, she removes two colored candles. She pinches them with careful nimble fingers, slipping one into a spot on the far-right side of the silver candle holder. The other is set in the center, slightly above the other.

"It's ready, Mom!" she yells, just as my wife walks in with the play of potato pancakes. The other food follows. Warmed by the heat of the radiators, the room is bathed in glowing orange and pink as the evening sky flickers its last and the sun dips below the mountains

I light the middle candle and hand it to our daughter. My wife leads us in the prayer as my daughter's small arm reaches up to light the first candle. As it flicks to life, we finish the last few words, which, despite being in a language as old the pick-up line Adam gave to Eve, always ends in "Amen." The center candle is returned, and we place the candles and their holder in the window next to pictures of my father, mother-in-law and sisters.

This is the first night. Our daughter is anxious to open her first gift. Furiously ripping off carefully knotted ribbons and intricate wrapping paper leads to an expression of joy unlike any I've ever seen as a father. My wife and I kiss again, and then kiss our daughter, who is now lost in the splendor of her new gift. Soon after, we dive into the meal, glimpsing every so often at the candles. They remind us of the miracle. They remind us that these days are about dedication. They remind us of sacrifice. They remind us of triumph in the face of adversity and faith when none was to be had. This first night is the first blessing.

This scene may be familiar to you in another setting, and its elements are probably no different: family, good food, friends and gifts. For me, this scene plays out when the sun goes down this Wednesday night and plays out for the eight nights that follow.

Hanukkah dawns. Happy holidays.


Estate planning 101

by Susan Utley

Photo credit: thedigeratilife.com
Last week my husband attended a retirement seminar and returned home from work with a wealth of information on IRAs, health insurance options, and estate planning. That last item led to a discussion about who to trust to protect our assets if something should happen to both of us. The conversation involved such things as power of attorney, executors of the estate, and what should or should not be left behind to our beneficiaries. My husband’s focus was not with material possessions like who should inherit his watch or his twelve-piece collection of Holiday Budweiser steins, but with the importance of spending every dollar we earn and leaving nothing behind but a pile of credit card bills. I, on the other hand, had more pressing concerns.

While I gazed through the glass doors of my china cabinet, I realized that not only would my sister be the proud owner of my coveted set of Depression era Iris & Herringbone dishes, but she would also inherit the thick layer of dust I have allowed to accumulate on top of the serving pieces. I also considered how delighted my daughter would be to receive my Department 56 Snow Babies on the Farm collection. That is until she discovered the dust bunnies lurking under my bed where the Snow Babies are stored.

It was then that I realized in horror that it would be my mother who would inherit the ring around the toilet in the spare bathroom and the contents of my sock drawer which contains multiple pairs of socks adorned with my favorite cartoon characters. This thought prompted a new concern. As my blood pressure rose and my heart began to race, I looked down at the outfit I decided to throw on when I got home from work: a shredded Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt, pink capri sweatpants, and Scooby Doo knee-high socks. It occurred to me that if I dropped dead to the floor from a massive heart attack, my obituary would most certainly read, “It is suspected she suffered from a case of early onset dementia.”

At that moment it became clear to me that the only people we could truly trust with our estate was ourselves and each other.  Following a quick change of clothes, I retreated to my writing studio to delete from my hard drive the story I wrote last month about a highly dysfunctional family living in Virginia who shoots raccoons from the deck with paintball guns...in the nude. Whoever advised, “write what you know” certainly did not consider posthumous publication and the resulting public humiliation.

So while my husband spends his time focusing on the financial end of things by running up our credit card debt at Costco.com, I will attend to the more important issues of dusting my china, scrubbing toilets, and vacuuming under my bed. As for my sock drawer, I have decided to hold onto my Scooby socks as my husband assures me that if we are ever in a car accident, he will remove them from my feet before the paramedics arrive. Now that, my friend, is trust.


Forcing, I Mean, Encouraging a Thankful Heart

by Jeanette Levellie

When our kids were small, we started a Thanksgiving Tradition that has proved to be a great source of fun and encouragement. We put each person’s name on a slip of paper and dropped them—the papers, not the people—in a basket or hat. After the meal, everyone drew a name from the basket—no peeking!
Then we sat with pen or pencil and paper—fancy stationery or plain copy paper—and wrote that person a note telling them why we were thankful for them. When the children were too small to write, they whispered their dictations to us.
When all were completed, we went around the table and read them aloud. Some brought laughter, others tears, all a sense of kinship and gratitude.
How amazing to see God’s hand at work during these “Thankful Letter” moments. A sister forced to write why she was thankful for her snotty little brother sees him in a new light for a moment; a dad suddenly realizes he needs to express his esteem for his son more often; a spouse receives a compliment for a quality they thought had gone unnoticed.
Hearts stir to new feelings of love and affirmation. God is proud. We are ministering to each other the way He intended when He created the family, bringing out the gifts in one another’s lives.  Thanksgiving becomes a time of refreshing our commitment to the ones we love most.
The Creator has placed people in our lives to make us better than we could be without them. He has put us in others’ lives to bring them closer to His good plan for them. Being thankful to Him for others is a way to celebrate His goodness. And a way to enlarge our hearts toward the goodness around us.
Now, here is my Thanksgiving note to you, dear friend: “I appreciate your giggles and smiles at my craziness, when others roll their eyes or shuffle their feet. I love you for believing in me when I couldn’t find the courage to believe in myself. I thank the Lord for causing our paths and pens to cross, and for using you to notice the stars in my heart, causing them to shine a little brighter. You are making a positive difference in one life—mine—and I suspect many others.  Thank you, thank you, thank God for you. I bless you.” 

If you dare to try our little tradition of penning notes of gratitude this Thanksgiving, I’d love to hear the results. You can email me at jeanettelevellie(at)gmail(dot)com, or find me on Facebook.  


A Model Thanksgiving

Photo credit: marieclaire.com
by Amy Mullis

Basking under the lights, skin as brown and buttery as a ginger snap, the star of the layout sprawled across the centerfold like she had stock in staples.



“That’s the one I’ve always dreamed of.”

“Don’t drool on the recipe.”

It’s girls night out and we’re gathered around the table checking to see what the beautiful people are having for Thanksgiving dinner.  Glossy pages are open to a shimmering feast. There’s not a fried onion ring or can of mushroom soup in sight.  The turkey is as flirtatious as a '40’s pinup girl, wearing nothing but a brown sugar and paprika rub.  It’s enough to make me want to be a Spice Girl.

Every diet that has ever been tested and tossed aside is represented by our group.  Elizabeth is low carb. Kaitlyn is high protein. I represent the “high sugar raises your metabolism so you can eat Ho Ho’s for breakfast” school of thought.  If the road to hell is paved with whole wheat good intentions, the highway to heaven is coated with brown sugar.

“I’m tempted to give this one a go,” I said, scanning the ingredients for potentially recognizable items. “I have a guy bringing me a fresh turkey and I want a fancy new recipe.”

The room got quieter than the fifth grade gym during ballroom dance week.

“You’re going to cook a fresh turkey?”

“Sure. How hard can it be?”

“Ever tried to put pantyhose on a squid?”

I pondered my history for possible matches. “I dressed a toddler as a noodle one Halloween.”

“Close enough.”

The day before Thanksgiving I stood in front of the sink. The turkey, whom I’ve named J.R. Ewing because it has the largest spread I’ve ever seen, is sprawled in the kitchen sink like a centerfold model. One drumstick is propped coyly on the hot water faucet, and the toe of the other is stuck in the spray nozzle.  There are so many pin feathers left, it looks like it needs a shave.

A fresh turkey is different from a supermarket sale bird that has had its legs trussed together and frozen into shape. Left to its own devices, the bird in my sink could probably out cancan any Rockette at Radio City.

I was trying to wrestle the thing into position to tie the legs together when the Captain and his faithful companion, Bo a sleek, by which I mean obese, black dog, half Labrador and half Dalmatian sauntered into the kitchen.

“What’s up Master Chief?  Can’t you get the bad guy under control?”

“I don’t know if I’m cooking this bird or doing the cha-cha with it. It could take the prize on Dancing With the Stars, drumsticks down.”

“Need a hand?”

“Sure. I’ll hogtie it and you smear on the rub.”

After a few minutes we paused for breath.

“You were supposed to smear it on the turkey.”  I flicked brown sugar from an eyebrow.

“This thing fights back. Are you sure it’s a turkey and not a kangaroo with a grudge?”

We dove back into the fray, and emerged, basted in sweat, a half hour later.

If generations follow the Thanksgiving tradition we set that day, there will be Rockwell-type paintings hanging on future walls with a man, woman, and big black dog covered in brown sugar, eating sugar-filled snack cakes.

Everybody is thankful for something. I’m grateful for a husband who doesn’t mind Ho Ho’s for lunch.

Join me for more "I hope this never happens to me" moments on my humor blog, Mind Over Mullis.


Beware of Geeks Bearing Grifts . . .

by Terri Coop

It started out innocently enough.  A dinner guest asked a question about the alien crash at Roswell that I couldn’t answer off the top of my head.

(What?  You don’t talk about aliens over dinner?)

I went to my trusty laptop to practice some Google-fu.  I hit a key to wake it up and the screen flashed.  According to the colorful dialogue box, my hard drive and registry were host to some 2,367 viruses and if I didn’t immediately subscribe to their product that the Center for Disease Control would be by in their bunny suits to collect my computer.

Whatever . . .

Did this little scam think I fell off the truck from Stupid yesterday?  I had guests and a conversation about aliens that required my attention.  I fired up my security software and left the room.

When I came back later, cyber-hell had broken loose.  A terse dialogue box informed me that my security program was corrupt and had been deactivated for my safety and unless I “activated” their anti-virus software program for the oh-so-low price of $49.95, my hopelessly infected system would be permanently shut down for my own safety. 

This. Was. Not. Good.

Apparently, my laptop was being held hostage by a con game.  The ransom was $49.95 and all of my personal information. 

Either that or the government was finally onto me.  Hmmm . . . nah . . . it was a virus.  A big one.  A cunning one.  A worthy opponent.

The battle was on.  Armed with two sets of anti-malware and anti-virus software and the handy-dandy F8 key, two hours later I had twenty-five different Trojan Horse viruses cooling their virtual heels in my virus vault.  Exhausted, yet triumphant, I rebooted for what I hoped was the last time that day.  I was greeted by a small gray dialogue box informing me that certain .dll files could not be located.

As I soon discovered, a .dll file is sort of like your spleen.  You don’t know exactly what it does, you don’t really care, but when it’s broken, bad things happen. 

A visit to Microsoft on my office computer shed a bit of light on the situation.

“The use of DLLs helps promote modularization of code, code reuse, efficient memory usage, and reduced disk space. . . .  When a program uses a DLL, a dependency is created. If another program overwrites and breaks this dependency, the original program may not successfully run.”

Gee thanks Mr. Gates.  Apparently, my system was addicted to .dll files, a cyber-junkie.  As I cornered the invaders, they cut off the .dll supply, sending my computer into a full-tilt jones.  It was sad to watch as programs crashed one after another, victims of broken .dll dependencies.  A meme is a terrible thing to waste.

Luckily, I came up in the olden days in the land of DOS.  Yes, kids, once upon a time, you actually had to know a little bit before you could use a computer.  I was able to get in and recover my documents and photos to a pocket hard drive.  After that, I put my system out of its misery and did a complete reformat and reinstall.

Lessons learned?

The usual.  Good security software and regular scans.  Have at least two different browsers installed.  Never be without an external hard drive and back up your files.  And so on and so forth.

That’s the responsible adult stuff.  I had done all that and still got that little blinking dialogue box that spoiled my weekend.  Obviously, there was more blame to go around.  Aliens?  Evil clowns?  Men In Black?  An innocent looking hotlink when I was tired or distracted?

I’ll never know.  However, always remember and never forget; if it walks like a con and quacks like a con, you are about to be conned.  Trojan Horses abound, so beware of geeks bearing grifts.


Get yer Erma on for the holidays by being a guest columnist!

As the nights turn chilly and we fight with the kids over the last bits of Halloween candy stuck to the McDonald's glow-in-the-dark bucket, our thoughts naturally turn to those of sharing (not really, that Milky Way is MINE) thus we'd like to extend some Ermas lovin' to our fabulous readers. I have three guest spots open in December and invite everyone to submit a piece, 550 words or less, with a holiday or holiday disaster theme to snuggle in while I whip up some eggnog with a suspiciously rum-scented... cup. Yes. A cup. Stop looking at me like that.

If chosen, your piece will be featured on the An Army of Ermas website. Deadline for submission is December 4, 2010. Please email your submission to anarmyofermas[AT]gmail.com. Winners will be chosen by the An Army of Ermas editor. She does accept bribes. Just sayin'.

photo credit: gumtreedesigners.blogspot.com


Can I tell you a secret?

by Melanie Hooyenga

I recently became single after four years of marriage and this whole dating this has me a little… kerfluffered. The last time I was in this position I met men the old-fashioned way: by getting drunk at bars or browbeating friends until they caved and scrounged up a single friend.

After months of toiling away in my basement (trolling the internet) and wondering where exactly all the single men ARE, I've discovered that I'm rather infatuated with someone. I'm a little embarrassed to bring it up here but I just can't keep it quiet any longer.

First, he's gorgeous. I mean, come on. He greets me every morning with a brilliant smile that lightens my mood—even if he didn't make the coffee this morning or put away the dishes like I'd hoped—and never seems to notice that I slept with my head wedged between three pillows, or the fact that mascara has set up permanent camp on my eyebags.

Second, we have a ton in common. We both like movies and sports and reading, and while we don't necessarily agree on WHICH movies and sports and books, we like them in general so that should be enough. Can't you just picture us reading in front of the TV with a generic movie or sporting event playing softly in the background?

Third, he doesn't judge me for my online shenanigans. He just sits alongside me and smiles at my friends, laughing his nonchalant, "I don't have a care in the world but I'm very smart and a kind person" laugh. He puts up with my spastic ideas and is always ready for whatever catches my interest that day.

Really the only negative that I can see is he's trapped inside my computer in the dating site ads on Facebook. But he really is very pretty.

photo credit: his mom ;)



By Lisa Dovichi

I’ve been losing my mind lately (listens to the peanut gallery saying “Losing? It has been lost for ages”).  I’m going to be twenty-six for the ninth time pretty soon and I swear old age is setting in. I’m constantly forgetting things…kind of.

The other day the rain heavily poured down as we lunged out of the cozy dry car. My husband grabbed Mr. Grumpybutt, our nine-month-old, and 3ft, our five-year-old, and raced toward the double doors leading to the rainy day haven that is the mall. I, as the resident pack mule (hee haw), grabbed all the paraphernalia that comes with lugging an infant around -- you know, everything you own plus the kitchen sink -- and took off after them.

After maneuvering through the screaming kids in the play area, one of which was my own, I finally made it to the corner booth my husband had secured.  Apparently we weren’t the only parents that thought the mall play area was a perfect place to take the kids on a rainy afternoon. I instantly lost what felt like fifty pounds when I dumped the myriad of bags in a pile that I had hanging from all over me. Then I shucked off my wet sweater and laid it out over the mountain I’d created in hopes that it’d dry some before we left. I got comfortable and watched 3ft run around like a hellion and pretended he wasn’t mine.

About an hour in, 3ft got thirsty and asked for some water. I’d forgotten our water bottle which is usually what happens so that’s not why I think I’m getting senile. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just buy him one.

I reached for my purse and grabbed air. I muttered curses under my breath and tried to remember when I’d had it last while I looked frantically around for it. My husband asked me what’s wrong and I told him. He started looking frantically and Grumpybutt, thinking it was a game, started shaking his head back and forth, looking too.

I hysterically thought, “What if I left it in the car?” I shimmied back into my wet sweater and raced for the car, hoping that someone didn’t notice it, break in, and steal it. It was raining even harder, naturally as I waded up to the car. No purse. No obvious signs of a break in either.

I slumped back toward the mall, looking more like a drowned rat instead of a pack mule, and tried to remember when I’d had it last -- and couldn’t. I ran different scenarios of how to tell my husband my purse was gone to lessen the blow.

My favorite one:
Me: I just got a call from the doctor, turns out I have cancer! Only 3 months to live.
Husband: Oh my god, baby, that’s terrible.
Me: If it were true it’d make losing my purse not seem so bad, right?
Husband: I’m so relieved you’re healthy it doesn’t matter you lost major credit cards, social security cards, and your ID.

Yeah, I know, it’d never work so I prepared myself to suck it up and just tell him it was gone.

I got back inside, peeled off my sweater, and draped it over… yes. My purse. Never once had it occurred to me to look UNDER my sweater for my purse with ALL the other stuff I carted around.

So, is it senility if you only thought you forgot it or just the mother of all blonde moments?

Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk


Wooly Worm Report

by Jeanette Levellie

When we moved from L.A. to Paris, Illinois eleven years ago, someone asked me what I thought of the winters here.   Wrapping the third scarf around my neck and adjusting my earmuffs, I said, “I try not to think about them too much.”

Not that spinning off the icy highway into a ditch isn’t my idea of a fun new game.  Or that I don’t enjoy drinking seventeen cups of tea a day from November to March—I always did enjoy that burst of energy a strong cup of tea gives.  I even discovered a brand of long underwear that are made from silk, so you don’t have to buy clothes two sizes larger than usual. That’s always gratifying.

Did you know there is a surefire way to predict winter weather? According to early American folklore, you can forecast the harshness of an upcoming winter by examining the brown band around a wooly worm’s middle. The thinner the brownish red band, the harsher winter will be. 

But I have my own methods.  As we go on a walk up the country lane near our home at Nevins and I spot a wooly worm scooting across the pavement, I’ll note its coloration. If it’s dark brown or black, representing the bare earth, I predict a mild winter with no snow. If it’s orange—a happy, warm color—I maintain the upcoming winter will be warmer than usual. And if the wooly worm is white or tan, I report that winter will be fast and fun, with snowfall only on Christmas Eve.

Scientific? Hardly. Accurate? Rarely. But my overly biased wooly worm reports make us laugh every time. And giggles help us get through the long, freezing months better than gripes.  I imagine even the wooly worms laugh. At me.

Photo credit: flickr.com


How to Be a Real Writer or Where’s My Membership Card?

by Carole Lee

Years ago, I had a romantic view of real writers. Alas, my life as a writer is nothing like the one I imagined. I meet deadlines to buy groceries. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. So, where is the mysterious life of the real writer I fancied so much? A little birdie told me it exists somewhere, and I’m determined to find it.

Real writers travel to far-off countries, nod knowingly toward fellow intellectuals and sample exotic cuisine. They sit in faded leather chairs beside roaring fireplaces. They puff on pipes while sipping cognac and discuss conceptual topics while practicing foreign languages. That, friends and neighbors, is the life. Well, maybe not the pipes, but you get the idea.

I have never tasted cognac. I have never been outside the United States. Spending a week at America’s Best Value Inn of Farmington, NM doesn’t qualify me as well-traveled, even if they did offer a continental breakfast. My leather chair is pink. Pink! And it reclines in three different positions (sometimes). There is definitely something amiss. Did I miss Real Writer Orientation? Did I leave a bad mailing address? Maybe my welcome packet went to the wrong house. I spied the mailman delivering a Rosetta Stone package across the street a few days ago, and I am not amused. My neighbor thought he was slick, but I saw him stuff that pipe into his pocket. I know what he’s up to.

We’ve all seen the classic image. A black turtleneck with a pair of odd-looking spectacles is the epitome of Writer. A glass of red wine and an overflowing ashtray on the table don’t hurt, and neither does listening to obscure music that only a few can appreciate. And there’s always a quiet, stealthy cat.

My look consists of a flannel nightgown or a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt. Maybe that’s part of the problem; I don’t have the official uniform. Legend says ensembles are issued at the annual Secret Society of Real Writers meetings. Invitations are sent by carrier ravens, each one reciting Poe as it disappears into the night after depositing the engraved paper on a lucky recipient’s windowsill. I have yet to receive one. The only deposits on my windowsills are from pigeons. Dirty birds.

Maybe changing out of my nightgown would help my chances. Sadly, the tortured, brilliant writer regalia is not available on clearance at Walmart (and their alcoholic beverage selection peaks at Boone’s Farm Tickle-Pink). The fact that I even have a best sweatshirt pretty much wrecks my chance of finding a gilded invitation on my windowsill for the next meeting of the highbrow elite.

In my quest for that elusive Secret Society membership card, I am earning battle scars. I’m not sure how much weight those carry toward acceptance, but maybe they will help pad my resume. At least they show dedication to the cause. Damages include dark circles, eye strain, coffee stains on my best flannel nightgown (I have one of those too), and a calloused pinkie from hitting the delete key repeatedly. My eye doctor explained that I need reading glasses. He took three paces backward before saying, “It’s happening younger and younger these days.” I didn’t believe him, but it was a nice effort to preserve my pride and his shin bones. Maybe I’ll get a pair of impressive glasses out of the deal, so it’s not all bad. I wonder if great spectacles make a yellow sweatshirt look introspective and brilliant like those elusive, would-be contemporaries. I probably ought to apply for a passport just in case.

Writing at a computer has not only taken my eyesight; it has also abolished my ability to write with a pen. Failed motor skills: Another battle scar, and one I can prove by signing the RSVP if / when my invitation comes. Incidentally, I am the only person I know who rarely needs spellcheck, but also makes serial typos with a pen and paper. I recently depleted an entire book of checks just to make the car payment. At least I remembered how to write the word VOID by the time I was finished. I wonder how VOID sounds in Italian. Impressive, I’ll bet. Even more impressive if I happened to be holding a snifter of cognac.

Try as I may, I can’t seem to get the whole package together. My glasses are ordinary and my fireplace is a kerosene heater. I listen to Metallica and my dogs would eat any feline critter unfortunate enough to live here. I’m certain there are guidelines and bylaws to follow for becoming a real writer. Since I remain convinced that my neighbor pilfered my orientation materials, I’ll have to wing it. If you see me peering in his window, please don’t call the police. I’m only trying to peek at the manual. There’s always hope for next year.


Why Treadmills Should Fear Me

(fictionalized non-fiction)

I’d like to get one thing out in the open before we begin. I exercise for one reason and one reason only: I want to eat what I want without looking like Jabba the Hut afterward. Sure, there’s healthy body and living and blah blah blah. But seriously, I love food with an unnatural love. It’s true.

As a younger person, I played sports, exercised year round and ate everything. Then the whole “having children” thing happened and I thought three things. The first, I should lose this baby weight. The second, I’m going to have to be some kind of healthy eating role model now. The third, Oh crap.

My husband and I are on the same parenting page here. We agreed to encourage each other, to keep one another food accountable. And we do a pretty good job of it. We eat healthy. The difference between us is that he can still eat whatever he wants and not gain a pound. I, on the other hand, have the whole post-partum, woman-gone-wonky metabolism. The man will actually LOSE weight if he doesn’t work out. After a week or two of pumping iron his muscle memory kicks back in and he’s all BOOM. Ripped. It makes you sick, doesn’t it?

As a result (all by my request), he’s harder on me than I am on him. I want to be healthy, have energy, and live a long time. But I still love food. Bad food. Chips and french fries don’t really tempt me. It’s the chocolatey/peanut buttery, rich casserole type things that make me salivate. I’m a tad embarrassed at the lengths I’ve gone to eat the food I want.

The bathroom sneak. It is exactly what it sounds like. I sit down in the tub, pull the curtain to and have at it.

“Why are you coming out of the bathroom with a jar of Nutella?” My husband will ask.

“Incoherent mumbling.”

“I know what you’re doing.”

“Yup. Bite me.”

I probably do this once a week.

Then there’s the “Grazing While I Cook Dinner” move. When I sit down at the table, my plate is piled with veggies and fruits. I only put a miniscule portion of the rich pasta or meaty entrée. It is because I’ve had my fill of it while cooking.

“Quality Control,” I say aloud and take my fifth bite.

Cookie hiding. Totally do that. I don’t want my children to know that we have cookies. They will ask for one and I will have to say no because cookies are something we have “sparingly.” Result? I eat a cookie a day until the box is gone. All by myself. You are either horrified or impressed at this point. It gets better. All these secrets rendezvous with baked goods and Swedish meatballs are bound to catch up with me. They do so at the gym.

I lie to the treadmills. In the past, the machine kindly asks me to punch in my weight, height, age, mother’s maiden name, etc. I conveniently forego adding the five pounds I just gained. It is a nice deceptive experience. It was a nice deceptive experience, that is, until my most recent visit when I discovered my gym upgraded all the cardio equipment. Instead of asking me my weight, it sensed it and put it in for me.

The first time it happened, I laughed out loud rather awkwardly. “Oh, you silly treadmill. You must be mistaken. That’s not what I weigh,” I said and frantically punched at buttons trying to “correct” its mistake. The treadmill didn’t like that I called it “silly.” Two more pounds magically appeared under the digital printout under my weight category.

“Did you do that?” I asked it.

It added another pound.

I frowned and lowered my voice. “Look, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but that isn’t what I weigh.” (It was totally what I weighed)

Another pound.

My fist banged on the screen.

A computerized voice announced my weight to the entire room.

Again, a nervous laugh resulted. I looked down the line at my fellow exercisers and pointed to the idiot contraption, “I’m pretty sure this thing is broken.”

It announced a two-pound weight gain.

“Stop it!”

The treadmill waited until three young men walked by and said, “She eats Nutella in her bathtub.”

I unplugged that s.o.b. and left.