Thwarting Taylor Swift

I like music. A lot. My collection is eclectic and vast. Tori Amos? Yep. Jimmy Buffet? More, please! Back Street Boys? Why not. Gustav Mahler? Oh yeah. Garth Brooks? Sure! Johnny Cash? He’s money. They Might Be Giants? They might be AMAZING! Show Tunes? Sweet! The Killers? The Cure? The Corrs? The Eagles? The Fray? The Beatles? The Smiths? The Who? You get the point. I didn’t expect to get a lesson in taste and variety from my preschooler.

When he was born, it was clear Finn loved music, it made him laugh. The laughing made him bounce. The bouncing made him toot. The tooting made him laugh. Circle of music, a silly, silly circle. When he fell for blue grass, I was delighted to learn I loved it, too. The rapid rhythms, the twanging banjos, the shrill ukuleles. We listened to classics, folk, updates, great stuff! Next, he decided Eric Clapton was it, banging guitars, slightly inappropriate lyrics, enticing tunes. For a potty training present, he wanted a guitar of his own. When he got his ukulele, at 2 ½, his concentration was intense and slightly disturbing. I mean, what kind of 2 year old has an attention span beyond 10 minutes? And how on earth has that little wooden thing made it more than a year without breaking? Is this normal? Okay, I didn’t think so.

But the trend took a disturbing turn. About two months ago, he asked me if I had any Hannah Montana. Who? I just misheard, right? “Hannah Montana!” he repeated, with a country twang. Oh, good gods. When I said no, he pressed, “What about Jonas Brothers?” Are you kidding me!?! I came home from work one Sunday night and he bounded to the door. “Guess what daddy bought me at Target?!” My soul eked out an out of tune “noooooo!” but my mommy voice was in perfect pitch. “What did you get, Sweetie?”

“Taylor Swift!”

It wasn’t so much a musician’s name as a battle cry, the lines were clearly drawn. Me and a country pop princess. She was armed with flowing blond hair, a huge guitar, and catchy tunes. I was armed with, well, limited control of the CD player, and a recently highlighted shoulder length bob. The clear favorite. But, how could I let him listen to that? How could I stop him? Go ahead. Try to tell your three year old they can’t listen to syrup pop. Seriously.

Blow drying my hair this morning, I heard the music coming from the kitchen. His voice bounced off the wood floors and echoed in the stairs, “you belong with meeeeeee, you belong with me.” When I rounded the corner, there he was rocking out a killer air guitar, complete with a ten-fingered attack. Nude. That’s right, folks. I’m raising the next Naked Cowboy.

“Where are your clothes?” I shouted above Ms. Swift, bearing in mind that my friends call me a “laid back mom.” Ha! In the midst of my shock, the song ended and Finn put down his imaginary guitar.

“Taylor Swift said that I belong to her,” he grinned. I did, too.

“Wow. Really?”

“Yeah, but I told her no,” he said.

“Why's that?”

“Because, I belong to youuuuuu, I belong to you!” he sang.

Take that, Swift!


Firing Up the Fun Run

I always believed that spontaneous combustion belonged to the Bermuda Triangle of legendary non-existent things, like Bigfoot and comfortable underwire bras. It took losing a little weight for me to discover this phenomenon, during the usual overconfident phase when otherwise sane women buy leather pants and begin subscribing to Victoria’s Secret catalogs.

After a few weeks of salads, brisk walks, and secret midnight Twinkie binges, I was deluded and hungry enough for a challenge. During a quick saunter to the nearest convenience store for more Twinkies, I saw the poster for an upcoming fun run. Normally, the words "fun" and "run" do not mix in my vocabulary, but I was experiencing a walker’s high from lack of oxygen and tasty, creamy filling, so I signed up immediately.

Of course, I couldn’t run for fun in my baggy sweats. My butt was still of impressive proportions; not only was there room on the back of my sweatpants for the word "Juicy," there was plenty of space for the rest of the nutrition information from the orange drink carton. On race day, I squeezed into control top pantyhose so no unsightly display of my belly, hips and thighs would scare young children, and topped it off with a new, shiny track suit.

As the starting pistol shot down my last hope for dignity, sleek women sprang past me like gazelles with cell phones, not even winded enough to pause while discussing the latest episode of "Jersey Shore." I, however, lumbered along like a wounded emu as the pantyhose tightened around my legs, and gasped enough to earn myself a decent living on a 1-900 chat line. After six minutes, sweat began to trickle down, and my nylon-bound thighs began to rub together and squeak, sounding like two plastic flamingos in a barfight. At the ten minute mark, the two layers of polyester keeping my heated flesh apart began approaching the spark point of magician’s flash paper.

City workers must have been exhausted that morning, because it seemed like they added another mile to the street during the night, and the finish line mocked me in the distance. Ahead, I spotted the drink station, where PTA-perfect soccer moms handed out specimen cups of water. I tried to outrun the cloud of polyester smoke following me, which only made the problem worse and prompted smog alerts to be announced within a three-block area.

"Water?" asked Soccer Mom.

"Talcum powder!" I wheezed back. I felt an ominous spark, and began running like a saddlesore cowboy, my kneecaps pointed at different sides of the street. I heard the "whoof" of ignition just as I crab-walked across the finish line, then felt a cold splash as I collapsed into the grass. Standing over me was Soccer Mom, my one-woman blaze brigade, holding an empty paper cup. She surveyed my smoking underwear like a reporter covering a tire fire.

"Your undies are toasted," she said. "You should really wear a thong. Wanna borrow my Victoria’s Secret catalog?"

"No thanks," I mumbled, as emergency workers moved in with fire extinguishers.

At this rate, I’ll be wearing Bigfoot-sized granny panties for quite a while. But at least there will be Twinkies.


Mutiny, I Say!

Upon arriving at home to find my living room empty and a note on the floor, I sat down to read:

Dear Carole:

Lately, we have become increasingly concerned that you are not holding up your end of the bargain. We all have jobs to do and responsibilities to meet. Most of us are able to balance those things. You, however, have shown us that you are not.


You may notice that all the furnishings in this room are now gone.
I might be slow, but give me some credit.

That is the consequence for your actions. Rather, your lack of action. We’ll not beat around the bush. It’s not us; it’s you.
Well, that figures.

When each of us came to you, there was a deal. A promise. An expectation. As far as any of us has been able to tell, we work for you. However, you do not return the favor.

When was the last time you ran the vacuum? When was the last time you dusted?
After a quick glance around the room, I picked up a piece of a shredded rubber dog toy, hid it under my leg and then stole another peek over my shoulder. I continued reading.
The leather on the chair has begun to wither. There is dog hair under the sofa.

Well, not anymore.
There is really no need for us to continue describing the conditions we have been forced to live in. Therefore, it is with deep regret that we tell you we have relocated. If you mend your ways, you can find us at your sister’s house. If you do not, you should know that we have overheard your bed discussing this very topic with your night stands.

Piano, Coffee Table, et al

Maybe I ought to go make the bed.

Master Chef

Shortly after my dream wedding, my husband and I packed up and moved to Mexico. Like most newlyweds, money was tight, but furniture and other supplies had to come from somewhere, so the money came out of our food budget. On the rare occasion that we ventured into town, we only ate at places that served full meals for thirty pesos each, and at home we ate a lot of ham sandwiches. Or—as this was Mexico—beans and rice.

One cheap eat we rediscovered was macaroni and cheese. It'd always been a favorite of mine—blame childhood memories or what have you—but it’s not something we normally made while living in Chicago. We had been eating a lot of ramen noodles, so I figured if I was already reverting to my high school and college diet, why not throw in mac and cheese as well?

The first night I decided to demonstrate my culinary abilities by cooking a meal from a box, I stumbled over the directions. Not that I'm an imbecile; they were in Spanish and the pictogram was not entirely clear. There was one crucial step that seemed to be missing: Drain.

There was an incident when I was nine or ten years old—we'll call it the Macaroni and Cheese Incident—that my mother still gleefully shares over holiday meals and other family get-togethers. I had taken it upon myself to prepare the deliciously cheesy goodness, carefully measuring the water (who measures the water?) then watching closely as it boiled. I stirred the noodles so they wouldn't stick to the bottom of the pan. I added the milk and butter, stirred some more, then the coup de grace: the cheese.

But something was amiss.

The pasta had the orangey-yellow color it was supposed to, but it didn’t look the same as when my mom or sister made it.

I called my mom from the other room. Maybe she could help me solve this mystery.

"Did you drain it?"

I looked at her, the blank expression on my face answering her question.

She picked up the box and pointed to those five letters I'd overlooked. There it was. D-r-a-i-n. Oops.

We drained the macaroni (can’t include the cheese as it went down the drain with the water) then stared at the noodles as if an answer would rise from the depths of the non-stick pan.

"I'll eat it. I don’t care if the cheese isn’t there." I insisted.

I don't recall how much I actually digested, but I had a point to prove.

Since that day, my mother salivates at the chance to share that story with anyone who will listen. I remind her that I was very young—and what was I doing trying to cook at that age anyway? But she ignores me and teases that I've never been a whiz in the kitchen. My husband claims this, too, but I disagree with them both. I managed to get myself to age thirty—at which point he took over preparing my meals—without bouts of malnourishment or trips to the emergency room.

Now, back to the Mexican macaroni. Drain, you see, was missing from the directions.
"Can you please read these directions to me?"

He joined me in the kitchen and grabbed the box. "What? You can't read this?" He was always getting on me about practicing my Spanish and liked to challenge me whenever I asked for his help.

"I can read it, but I think it's missing a step and I want to make sure I don't screw up your gourmet meal."

He looked at the box and began to read aloud. I listened closely and heard nothing of draining. How can that be? Since that incident years ago I've always drained religiously, making sure every trace of unwanted water is shaken free from the noodles.

"Are you sure I'm not supposed to drain it?"

He looked once more but was already getting frustrated with my insistence. I can be anal at times (understatement) and it gets on his nerves (understatement). "It doesn't say anything about draining."

This can't be right. I bit my tongue and fought the urge to ask him again. I searched the box one more time. Nothing.

"Ok, I'll do what the directions say, but I want to warn you, this may not turn out right."

He smiled and touched my cheek. "That's okay, honey. I don't expect it to."


I did as instructed, pouring the cheese packet into the boiling water with trepidation. My mother's words came back to me. "Did you drain it?" No I didn't drain it because the box said not to and I made him check but he said it doesn't say to drain it. Maybe Mexicans don't really know how to make macaroni and cheese, but the company that prints the box should know how it's done, and I still don't think this is right!

The cheese dissolved into the boiling water and the entire pot took on that infamous orange hue. I watched with dread, cautiously stirring the pasta. To my surpise, the water level lowered. Not suddenly—this wasn't a science project with exploding chemicals—but slowly, so slowly you could almost miss it. When the required fifteen minutes passed, the noodles absorbed nearly all the water and it looked like… macaroni and cheese!

I dipped the spoon into the pan and took a bite. It tasted like macaroni and cheese! Eureka, I did it!

"Honey, dinner's ready."

I'm cured. I am now a master chef.


Furry Old Ladies and Staircases

When Mr. Vagabond is out of town, which is pretty much all the time, Gypsy and Sinner sleep upstairs with me. Gypsy is a 65 pound 1.5 year old Lab / Golden Retriever mix. Sinner is a 9 year old Chow mixed with some elusive, small breed that was very ambitious to have ever taken on a Chow; much less a Chow looking for a good time. She’s about 40 pounds soaking wet. My two furry girls have different methods for approaching mornings, and they couldn’t care less about how I want to handle the situation.
I crawl out from under cozy quilts and open my bedroom door at first light. Gypsy is wild with excitement. Sinner wants to sleep in. So while Gypsy is running sprints up and down the stairs, I am trying to nudge Sinner off the bed. She’s old. She’s cranky. She’d rather I bring breakfast to her and then let her go back to sleep. My foyer has no heat, which also means the upper hallway and stairs have no heat. It’s a harsh thing to go from a warm bed to a frigid hallway in winter. It’s worse when the cranky old lady won’t cooperate and the pup is trying every way she knows to get everyone up to her level of excitement. And I haven’t had coffee yet.
Once Sinner is up and on her paws, I close my bedroom door and head down the steps coaxing her along. She is a polite little thing, and refuses to go first. Gypsy is still running sprints and darting between my feet in her spare time. A sturdy handrail is a must.
Sinner is also very delicate, at least when it comes to stairs. Standing at the top, she pokes one little paw out, then pulls it back. She looks at me for reassurance, which usually comes in the form of, “Sinner, baby. Come on.” Gypsy is still running sprints. Sinner is not amused by any of this.
When Gypsy makes it back down to the foot of the steps, Sinner gives it another try. I’m freezing at this point. Out goes the little paw again, with much trepidation, and she places it on the top step. “Come on, girl.” I sweet-talk her. Nope, she pulls it back again because Gypsy has made it back to the top of the steps and is running laps around her. Sinner barks. Gypsy laughs.
When Wild Thing makes it back to the foot of the steps again, Sinner’s paw extends for another go at it. “Sinner! Please! Come on, baby”. With a heavy sigh, she tests the waters again. (And speaking of waters, my bladder is about to burst at this point. And I’m shivering. And I still haven’t had any coffee!) With no more confidence than her first try, she pats her little foot on that top step. “Gramma, please. Come on. You can do it.” I beg. She moves on. Another little paw goes out, retracts, and then eventually finds a spot on the next step down. This is how she descends the entire staircase, every time. Each step requires the same test and more coaxing from me. Meanwhile, Gypsy is still running laps. Sinner growls when she gets too close. It’s like watching a punk kid taunt an old lady with a walker.
“Come on, baby girl. You can do it. Gypsy, no! Get down here!” Another step for Sinner, and another lap for Gypsy. My fingers and toes have gone numb and I’m about to lose the peepee dance-a-thon.
One might think that I should open the foyer doors and let Gypsy go on into the living room, thereby giving Sinner some space to concentrate on the stairs. When I tried that method, she ran laps around the living room. From the couch to the chair to the couch and around and around. Her beautiful, fringed tail is a cleverly disguised weapon of mass destruction, so sometimes she even knocks over the piano bench while making her rounds. And if I left the living room door open to monitor Gypsy, all the heat would be sucked out into the polar region that is my foyer in winter. Everything is a trade off in this old house.
Once Grandma makes it downstairs, the race to the back door begins. Stairs might be tricky, but let it not be said that a pup can beat an old lady when it comes time for a potty break. And away they go. Gypsy is galloping and Sinner is leaping with the grace of a deer before they both SMASH into the swinging door between the living room and kitchen. Next, they go skidding across the tile and ultimately plow into the back door, fur and paws flying. Their tails anxiously wag, and both of them are slobbering everywhere. Actually, Sinner’s tail is too short to wag. Hers is more like a wiggle. “Come on, Mama! Let us out!” Now, they’re coaxing me? Huh.
I’m trying to teach Gypsy manners about backing up and waiting for me to open the door. However, after spending 15 minutes getting Sinner down the steps, and consequently nearly leaving a wet spot on the floor myself, I open the door and set them free first thing in the morning.
After all those fun and games, I pee-pee dance, knees welded together, to the bathroom. Finally, there is peace inside the house. At least until I open the door to let them back in.

Toddler’s Breakfast

Pineapple pancakes and a jar of jam.
A cup of cranberry juice
And a slice of fried Spam
Two green grapes
A mound of grits,
Blackberry crepes
And that should be it.
With a fork in one hand
A spoon in the other
I look at my plate,
And smile at my mother.
It’s my favorite breakfast!
“Thank you very much,” I say
Then pop a grape in my mouth
“Now can I go play?”


They Shall Own The World

As I sip on my coffee the dulcet tones of small children seep through the walls of my home office. Sweet music to a smiling, relaxed mother ready to start the workday. Ah...working from home is so rewarding.

Yeeeeah. Right.

I would love to meet that work at home mom- and strangle her. Behind every smiling picture of some hot stay at home mommy is a cracked-out sister in law that has a way with make-up. A gaggle of snot-nosed kids and a husband that's still whining because he hasn't gotten any for a few days. Hello, Sunshine, if you'd stop reading the erotica I'm writing, you wouldn't be so horny. Get away from me with that- we have enough children. K? Thanks.

Lately The DirtMonkies (tm) have decided that they would rather play computer games than let mom or dad work. While it is great that the 3 year old can navigate the WWW as good as his parents, it bothers me that my 5 year old found commands for World of Warcraft that I didn't even know about. There's something sinister about a cherub faced princess that comes up beside you while you're desperately trying to kill a plauge-ridden beast and says : "Mom, you're doing it wrong. Don't you think you should try the 0/0/71 Destro build? Your warlock sucks."

With a loving pat to the head, I smiled, thanked her, then sent her to watch Scooby-Doo. Later that night, whilst my little cuddly baby was deep in slumber, I rebuilt my character to her specifications. I then promptly blew the hell out of any rotten-fleshed baddie that I came across. Plus a few bunnies. Genius, that child is, pure genius. I'm a little scared that I may be raising a super-villan. Or a whole fortress of them, though I am quite sure that the 5 year old will be the head of their organization.

If you're not very familiar with those types of computer games I'll shed a little light on this. The above has been debated on Blizzard's (the makers of WoW) forums and many other forums across the web. There are entire websites devoted to the very best 'build' for killing monsters and such. Adults write lengthy guides and How-To's on how to skin a chicken in WoW. My little one knew instinctively that burning the crap out of anything as fast as possible was the best way to go.

Lately Lucas, the 1 year old, has been crawling onto my computer chair and tapping on the keyboard. I think he's ready to write for Cracked.com. That or he's sending out some sort of signal to the rest of BabyLand.

"The adults are busy. Sister created diversion. Drop diaper bombs. NOW."

Speaking of which, I smell something and it ain't my coffee. Peace!


House Hunting in East Tennessee

House hunting in east Tennessee can be quite an experience if you are on a tight budget. Fixer-uppers are always in season, and a firearm is not necessary; the houses you’ll find will probably be dead before you get there. In fact, you may have the urge to place flowers at the doorstep and give a moment of reverent silence before scratching each one off your carefully planned list. I should mention before I go any further that when Mr. Vagabond and I started our house-hunt, we had much more guts than brains or money. And we sure found more than our share of the dearly departed.

For houses that have not already walked into the light, there are a few levels of resuscitation. Emergency aid can range from just needing a hug to requiring a jolt from those electro-shock paddles that might be used if you have been hit by a bus. Although we were broke, we were not stupid . . . or so we thought. We wanted a house that needed a hug, not one that required life support, and it was my job to find it.

Not all bad properties are dead properties, though. Some are just architecturally confusing, ugly and uninhabitable. I recall the first property Mr. Vagabond and I viewed when our house hunt began.

The Realtor arrived in a rush, checking her watch as she stepped out of a shiny Jaguar. She wore what appeared to be an authentic, perfectly tailored pink plaid Chanel suit and her shiny, dark hair was twisted into a perfect chignon. Somehow, a Jaguar parked beside our old flat-black Jeep in the driveway of a 1950s handyman special just didn’t seem normal. I also think her Chanel was terribly offended by having to share space with my Old Navy. We won’t discuss the unkind looks that her motionless hairdo gave to my ponytail.

With business cards in her outstretched hand, she smiled a broad, blinding-white smile wrapped with glossy red lips. She began rattling off a list of perks associated with the little house while I made a mental note to dress better and bring sunglasses next time. I had to stifle a laugh when she mentioned the fabulous redwood deck. Mr. Vagabond rolled his eyes and grinned at me. We waited on that rotting deck, which was also the apparent storage area for a rusted grill and empty beer cartons, for half an hour before she arrived. Fabulous is one of the few words we would never use to describe it.

Although we were anything but taken with the sad little house, we decided that since we were already there, we may as well check out the remaining charm on the inside. After all, Ms. Realtor clearly went to the dentist for a whitening treatment just for us. We had to be polite. As we trekked through sticky, wet grass of the freshly mowed yard toward the front porch, I worked hard to convince myself that this would be a wonderful little house. It only needed a hug. Mr. Vagabond pointed out a great tree that he could hang a swing from for me. I have a thing for swings.

After just a few tries, Ms. Realtor managed to open the front door lock box and then entered the room with the same kind of breezy showmanship that she used to exit her Jaguar. I suppose we were a little disappointing to her, though. The layout of the house was strange, but Mr. Vagabond and I formulated our game plan ahead of time and we were sticking to it. We went off in our own separate directions to look around while she scurried behind me, reading aloud from that same list of perks. Mr. Vagabond wandered around peeking into rooms, raising and lowering the few windows that would budge and bouncing on floorboards to see if they squeaked. I sniffed the stale, musty air, wishing I had a can of Febreze and then realized that my shoes were leaving a trail of grass clippings across the hardwood floors. I pretended not to notice, and so did Ms. Realtor. Who knows? Grass clippings could prove to be better than a trail of bread crumbs.

The kitchen was my first stop. I love to cook, so I had visions of a beautiful, roomy kitchen. This one fell short. It actually fell short of even being a real kitchen, but Ms. Realtor was quick to start the diversion. I smiled politely as she opened rickety cabinet doors and spoke of solid wood craftsmanship the way a game show model would display a Brand New CAR. “They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore.” was her best line, to which I thought, “Thank goodness. There may be hope for the future.” I continued listening to her desperate attempts to illustrate this depressing little room as the future center of all my family gatherings. However, I beat a hasty retreat when she opened the sticky, stuck refrigerator door. Yes, it was both sticky and stuck. In retrospect, we both had to admit that it was stuck for a reason, and sometimes a person ought to just leave well enough alone. I will refrain from describing the contents of the fridge, especially since the electricity had only recently been turned back on.

After leaving the so-called kitchen, Mr. Vagabond and I met back up at a crooked, insanely steep staircase leading to the upper bedrooms. The view from the outside of the house already left us wondering where they put the second floor, so we had to investigate.

“How was the kitchen?” he absently inquired as he tilted his head sideways, looking at the weird staircase. I mouthed the words, “Don’t ask.”

Curiosity finally got the better of him, so he started to go up the stairs and I followed. If you have ever played the game Mother May I?, you can understand the giant steps we had to take to navigate those stairs. He entered the upper bedrooms hunched over. At first I thought he was being silly, as he tends to do, but I soon realized that he would have hit his head otherwise.

Something was missing, aside from a ceiling high enough for a person to stand upright. We looked around for a door, but none existed. I shrugged at him and he shrugged back. We admitted defeat, and carefully descended the steep incline single file.

Ms. Realtor was smart in her decision to let us walk through the upper bedrooms alone. I think she was shocked when we revealed that there was, in fact, only one room, and the ceiling was about six feet high. Mr. Vagabond is at least 6’ 1”. She suggested that it could have been a child’s playroom, which left me wondering just how a child could climb those stairs. The discovery of one almost-a-room at the top of the staircase meant that it was no longer a three-bedroom house. It was a one-bedroom house with a diminutive finished attic. And we had not even seen the actual bedroom yet.

As the three of us chatted at the foot of the stairs, I noticed my trail of grass clippings across the floor again. Then I was distracted by something else: The living room floor itself. Now, this is the part where I finally started to understand that there is not always truth in advertising, at least when it comes to real estate ads. I distinctly remembered reading the words “gleaming hardwood flooring throughout”. But this was not hardwood flooring. This was not even pine. (There is a difference.) Was it some sort of laminate? Vinyl? I knelt down to inspect a little closer.

The perfect, photographic repeat of the wood grain from panel to panel reminded me of wallpaper. As I ran my hands over the smooth surface, I discovered a lifted corner on one section. That is when I realized what we were really standing on. Somehow, between the time of the ad’s printing and our viewing of the house, those gleaming hardwood floors had transformed into peel and stick wood-look flooring. Terrific. Ms. Realtor was quick to mention how easy the floors would be to clean without all the ugly imperfections of actual wood. She did know her job; I’ll grant her that. However, she laughed uncomfortably about Mr. Vagabond’s wide-eyed suggestion that we could use it as a roller skating rink. I think she never did understand his humor.

Note to self: Train a keen and suspicious eye on future hardwood floors. They could mutate into peel and stick vinyl at a moment’s notice.

The flooring discovery may not have been the final nail in the house’s coffin, but it was our final straw. We decided that we were not interested in the house, regardless of the convenient sliding glass doors leading to the fabulous redwood deck. Our decision was confirmed when we spied the newly renovated Master Bedroom on our way out. In reality, it was just a poorly enclosed garage with a roll-up garage door and concrete floor. At least it sported nifty indoor/outdoor carpeting. I walked out the front door wondering if it ever even had a real bedroom at all.

Ms. Realtor walked us out to the Jeep, all the while singing the praises of the house. She was still smiling so brightly that the sun was envious, even if there was a little red lipstick smeared on her canines. She handed over more copies of her business cards while explaining that she would be on vacation beginning the following day until a date not yet determined. We were heartbroken.

I stuffed the stack of business cards into the glove box and fastened my seat belt. Mr. Vagabond grinned mischievously, seizing the perfect opportunity to remind me that I was the one who selected that house from the list. He started the Jeep with a grumbling roar that filled the neighborhood and then yelled above the noise, “Great job there, sweetie”. He is a man of very few words, but he still gets his point across effortlessly. However, I knew his mood wouldn’t last. Like me, he was an optimist in those days. He playfully poked me in the ribs and confessed over the growl the engine, “Well, she did have a pretty mouth”.

Genuinely confused, I replied, “The house?”

“No . . . the Realtor.”

He thinks he is a comedian.

No redeeming qualities. That pretty much summed up our first look-see. It wasn’t dead, but it needed a lot more than a hug. The whole experience was kind of like a slap in the face or a kick to the gut. I had spent so much time and effort to single out that one house for us to view. I was certain that it would be wonderful. How could this have happened?

I didn’t know it yet, but I had a lot to learn. In my mind, I had just taken a crash course in the sport of house hunting. On the drive home, I contemplated just how I would use my newly honed hunting skills to make the next viewing our last viewing. It was spring, after all, and spring is the time of new beginnings. We would be in our new home by summer. I just knew it. Everything comes with its own specific learning curve and I was taking notes. Unfortunately, what I should have been doing was making sure we were properly dressed for paying our respects to the sick, mortally wounded and dearly departed houses we were yet to see.

At least Mr. Vagabond and I look good in black.


Mutant Turkey

“I’ll cook this year!” I should’ve clued in it wasn’t as easy as I thought from the large collective sigh of relief from the other potential cooks, but I was too busy imagining the glory of my perfect Thanksgiving turkey to pay attention.

A complete turkey novice, I researched hundreds of turkey recipes until I found ‘the one’, entitled ‘The Perfect Turkey’. This recipe guaranteed your family would rave and shower you with compliments.

I’d done the math and decided, for the entire six people who would be attending dinner, one of whom was a two-year-old, a twenty-pound bird was a must.

The night before Thanksgiving, per the recipe of wonder, I prepared a salt/sugar brine in which to soak my turkey for the recommended twelve hours. The recipe swore this would ensure the meat was juicy and tender.

Thanksgiving came, shining with promise. I followed my guaranteed recipe to the letter. Meat thermometer into the thigh, turkey into a cooking bag, in the oven for three hours, per the foolproof directions.

Three hours flew by and I checked the thermometer. It showed the right temperature. I took out the turkey; it was a delicious golden brown. I prepared myself for the accolades as I cut into the bird.

I swear the thing gobbled at me. It wasn’t done.

I remained calm. No big deal, it happens, right? Reinsert thermometer, bird back in bag, and into the oven for another hour.

My family waited with anticipation. Again. An hour later, the thermometer indicated it was really ready, so I pulled it out and cut into the thigh meat. The bird gobbled in protest. Back in. Back out. Still raw.

We played this game a little more, then, since the side dishes were cold and my toddler was starving, I gave up, sliced off some of the more done parts, and nuked them in the microwave. I flipped the rest of the turkey back in the bag and flung it in the oven.

It baked while we ate, while we did the dishes, and while we ate pie. Each time I checked the bird was still kicking.

I turned the temperature down, left it to slow cook, told my husband to watch for fire, and went shopping. When I got back four hours later, I wasn’t shocked to see it was still raw.

I ended up baking that mutant turkey for two days and nights and it never did get completely cooked. At least we have it waiting for next year. Maybe I’ll start cooking it on Halloween. That is if the family lets me.

I married Peter Pan

Behind every great father is a mother shaking her head wondering where he put the remote.
- s.graham

As Father’s Day approaches and my five daughters are busy gluing sparkly bits to paper in the shape of his head, I realize that I gave birth to my husband’s playgroup rather than his children. Surrounded by elastic hair bands and High School Musical posters, he has entered a land that most men shuffle nervously out of or break into a cold sweat. He takes everything in stride. Every princess tea party, all fairy wands stuck in his underwear drawer for safekeeping, even the pearly pink lip gloss our nine year old daughter slips into his pocket before he goes to work – just in case he needs it. He is the thorn among our roses and he revels in it. I had no idea, however, he was grooming them to take over the world until I saw how he was teaching them to deal with boys. “Tell them they’re great – then eat all of their tater tots and smile. You’ll get away with it every time.” I’m happy to see that my subtle influence wasn’t lost on him after all.

There are certain aspects in his role as father to our Devil’s Brood that I’ve noticed as a running theme in our family:

  • Butts are funny. I discovered this not on my own but as an outsider to the jokes my husband has with our daughters. Who knew that a crack would inspire so many to giggle outrageously when flashed peeking from a diaper or worse yet an interrupted moment in the bathroom. His skill at tooting the alphabet has endeared himself to the neighborhood children but I fear we’ll have to move once the girls hit the teenage years and they’re known as the Farting Five. Once, when our third daughter was nearly four years old, she was helping me give her father a backrub. I sat on his bottom and rubbed his back, gently cracking his spine and easing the tension from his muscles. Wynter lovingly joined me by sitting on the back of his head, concentrating on helping rub his shoulders so intently that she didn’t notice when she farted directly in his ear and trapped him there by her babyish bulk. He no longer asks for backrubs.

  • When did tickling become a contact sport? It will start out innocently enough with one of the girls sitting next to him on the couch reading when he is overcome with the crazy desire to separate the child’s skin from their bones with a frenzy of fingers. Her anguished (?) cries bring in the troops and he is soon covered in little girls all screaming for him to let their sister go or ELSE! He can never let a challenge go unmatched and dives for the nearest body part to torture with the Claw of Doom, his hand outstretched and reaching for armpits to tickle. Drowning in a sea of pink dresses, he gasps for air as they pound him with tiny fists and poke fingers in his ears and up his nose. One by one they fall to the floor only to climb on him again and yell their fierce battle cry, “Set my sister FREEEEE!”

  • Not being an overly athletic person myself, I’m shocked to discover my girls are jocks. They must get it from their father who had hidden talents; it certainly never appeared while dating otherwise the whole “I have a boo boo from basketball” episode wouldn’t have occurred. My husband decided to coach our eldest daughter’s Middle School volleyball team this fall. He did the fatherly thing and picked all of her friends from the lineup at tryouts instead of choosing those who could actually tell volleyball from a Volkswagen. Each practice, he would patiently work with the girls as they hurled balls at each other, chatted about braces and how to get away with gummy worms and showed them that kneepads belonged on their legs and not as bra-stuffers. At every game, he’d start them off with the team yell, “Vol-ley-Girls! Vol-ley-Girls!! Volley-ohwhatever…” though he’d be the only person loud enough to hear because they’d have already walked off. He ended the season coming in a rousing 13th and vowed that next year, if they won the championship he’d wear the kneepads where God intended them – front and center.

Somewhere between the delivery room and bringing home their first child, men go through the strangest change. They become more than what they left for the hospital with. In that brief time, they choose to become the men their wives already knew existed and their fate is sealed with the baby’s first breath. To become a father takes an instant but to be a daddy requires a lifetime. My girls lucked out even if he does fart on occasion.

Birds, Bees and Barbies

“Mama, how did the baby get in there?” my four-year-old demanded.

I had dreaded this moment the entire pregnancy, although at seven months along I figured I had gotten lucky to get this far. Her sweet moon-shaped face wrinkled in confusion as I stumbled along in my attempts to be clinical yet skirt around the whole sex issue.

“You know how Barbie and Ken really love each other?” I began, “Ken has a magic wand…”

“He’s Harry Potter?” she asked.

“No, not like that. Ken and Barbie decide to have a baby so they, sort of…” It was getting worse. My fifth grade sex ed. classes flooded my memory. Mr. Agnew had been red-faced as ten-year-old girls watched in horror as the egg and sperm met on warbled tape from the projection machine. I thought he was going to pass out when the subject of menstruation was approached.

Syenna started looking at her Ken doll in a new light, searching for his magic wand. I’m not sure this is what the manufacturer had in mind but I wasn’t too concerned since his plastic torso wasn’t anatomically correct. Still…

“It’s not in his hand,” she stated, still looking.

“What?” I was aghast that she had picked up on where my mind was traveling.

“His wand, he must’ve lost it playing with Barbie.” She ran to find the blonde doll as I pulled Ken’s shorts back up from around his knees.

My six-year-old daughter, Rowyn, returned with her, determined to find out why Ken was now being called Harry Potter.

“Mom, you know this isn’t Harry Potter. Ken has no lightening bolt on his forehead. Now, where’s his wand?” Rowyn began to search her toy box to see if she may have overlooked an accessory in the Barbie line up. Fifteen different incarnations of Barbie lay on the floor in various stages of dress, each one she and her sister would ask, “Do you have Ken’s wand?” then it would be thrown unceremoniously to the floor. Ken lay at the bottom of the pile and smiled. Typical.

I tried to sneak out of the room before laughing out loud. As I slowly closed the door I heard Syenna say, “Rowyn, do you know how babies get in mommies’ tummies?”

“Of course, Goofball. The daddy is a farmer and plants his love seed in the mommy and her tummy swells up like a watermelon until she pops out a baby. Daddy told me.”

“Oh. So where does the wand come in?” Syenna asked.

“That must be for waving around and making babies appear.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.