Nothing Like a Good Set of Jugs

You would like my wife’s jugs. They’re large, round and make me smile every time I see them. Both women and men delight in seeing them, and whenever someone comes to the house, I make a point of showing them off.

Before your mind has you believing that in order to read the next six sentences, you’ll need a credit card and need be over 18, I will take you back to a 2008 road trip.

In middle Georgia during summer, festivals and fairs dot the countryside. And in Crawford County, officials call for your jugs. Pottery enthusiasts comply. So, in a small field across the highway from a Waffle House, those who throw pottery throw down for three days, and Jugfest jumps up like a large mouth bass out of a lake.

My wife heard about Jugfest and reacted as anyone with extra spending money, time and initiative would. “We’re going,” she said. I, however, sat almost 2,000 miles from her on a business trip.

Now, my wife would have gone herself. However, Jugfest was a bit out of the way. Further, my wife is to navigation what volcanic ash is to air travel. The two just do not see eye to eye. Even with a GPS in the car, my wife has notoriously gotten herself lost going to Wendy’s for burgers. The effort required my presence.

That said, we’d miss the first two jug-filled days due to my absence, but, if we drove a little like we were in an X-Wing Fighter, we could catch the last 15 minutes of the show … if there was no traffic … or accidents … and if the Jolly Green Giant could lift our Hyundai from the airport garage to the Jugfest parking lot. Even then, we'd be cutting it close.

So, after spending three days on a military airplane flying through Hurricane Ike, I pulled into the Atlanta airport gate. We ran from said gate to the car, 3-year-old in tow. I punched in the coordinates to the GPS. No address popped-up. I tried a number of generalities, like “Crawford Country” and “Please God Find This Location.” It eventually appeared. Off we went.

Now, I’m not sure how many traffic laws Georgia has for speeding and reckless driving, but I’m fairly sure I know how many I may have violated – and that was just to reach Interstate 75 (though my attorney claims I’m not actually typing this and none of these electrons can be used in court). We raced down the highway, then onto state roads and eventually made our way into parts of Georgia only seen in movies.

As we pulled into Jugfest, we'd arrived 10 minutes past the closing time. Still, there were a few ramshackle tents set up and from my window, I could still see merchandise. Jugs abounded. Suddenly, I sounded like a jumpmaster barking at my wife. “Go go go go!” and she darted toward the event. Don't worry. I stopped the car first.

When I finally got the car parked and the baby unsaddled we rolled in for a look. And sure enough, jugs. Tons of jugs. Ten minutes later, Dee showed me two, broad smiling faces pasted across each one. We paid the fare and ambled home. She set them near the front door to greet guests, as they are today.

“I like them both,” I said, smiling. “Well worth the trip.”

And my wife’s jugs have given me satisfaction ever since.

(Note: A link to one of the pottery makers -- I believe the one that made our jugs -- for Jugfest is here)


Photo oh-no!

by Stacey Graham

I am drowning in a sea of school photos. Scattered around my office, they're covering the walls, floors and sticking out of window sills begging to be put into frames but I'm reluctant to do it. Each fall, the girls leave the house meticulously groomed and ready for evening wear but by the time the photo is taken, nearly all of them have had some outer body experience and come back looking glassy-eyed and confused. Hair askew, slumped shoulders, ripped collars where there were only pristine necklines before; every photo tells a story.

Daughter 4: 8yrs - This child tries to leave for school everyday in full makeup and heels. After wrestling her to the ground on picture day and cursing the uncle who gave her a makeup set for Christmas (I'll get you, Robert, oh yes, I will) and scrubbing off purply sparkly eyeshadow off her cheeks, she managed to make it to school in a nice dress and I let her wear the heels. Upon receiving the photos a month later, I saw that her best friend had smuggled in her own makeup kit and they had applied it during the line for photos in the hallway. D4 and friend have matching peacock green eyeshadow (over the eyes this time) with orange under-the-eyes coat of shadow to highlight their cheekbones and draw attention to their blue lipstick. They have lovely apple cheeks set aglow with Hello Kitty tattoos from D4's uncle (he is now banned from our house). Since D4 had lost a tooth earlier that week, she proudly displayed the hole by sticking her tongue through it. After my shock had subsided, I showed D4 the photo and asked what she thought about it. Her reaction? "My HAIR! I was supposed to wear it in Princess Leia braids that day."

Daughter 3: 11yrs - D3 is a unique child. I blame myself for punking out her hair and dressing her in black for the first week of Kindergarten just to frighten her teacher. I should have known it would come back to bite me in the butt. For this year's photo, D3 wanted something extra special. Something to really make her stand out from her sisters so she shaved part of her head. Right at the hairline. Dead center. Oh, she stood out alright. As it grows in, we call her the Unicorn because it stands straight up. Yep. My fault.

Daughter 2: 13yrs - The fun years. The time of your life that taunts you in school pictures forever due to bad posture, braces and drunk photographic assistants. Poor D2's photo came back this year with her body nearly facing the wall and throwing her head back over her shoulder like an owl to stare at the camera. The lights glint off her braces creating a rainbow effect in the glare. No amount of therapy is going to help this one, we'll just tuck it behind the others until she's ready to face it in her 40s.

Daughter 1: 15yrs - So close to being a woman that she's busting out of her blouse. I swear she didn't have boobs when she left the house, how the heck did she grow to a D-cup between the bus and the photo studio thrown up in the library? Perhaps it's the tell-tale tip of tissue poking up out of the neckline (which was a lot higher when she left that day too). Classic.

One day these will join my school photos of bad home perms, regrettable pink gummy lipstick and their father's crossed eyes. I'm hiding the tattoos next year though, Daughter 5 is already too chummy with the Hello Kitties.

* photos not released upon threats of dismemberment by my daughters. And I believe them. After those photos, anything they say is possible.

Come and say howdy on my writing blog: Tip of my Tongue where I chat about zombies, cupcakes and generally embarrass myself trying to get a book contract.


The Agony Of The Feet

After a rough winter of watching my sons shovel snow and experiencing a damp early spring, I had to get out and get some exercise. So the other day when the weather was warm and the skies blue and cloudless, I drove over to the local shoes-for-under-twenty-bucks store and bought sneakers. Then I drove home, laced up, and walked to the beach, three blocks away. I made it there in thirty-five minutes flat. (There was Mrs.Slattery's dog to pet, a few gorgeous roses to smell, and a penny to pick up from the gutter.)

At the beach, I immediately sat down on the nearest bench to catch my breath.This was hard work! I finally got up and started my walk on the boardwalk. It was a good pace, the kind where I watched the sailboats and fishing boats out at sea, and took in the people sitting peacefully in their beach chairs, reading. I waved to a few friends and strangers. My husband calls my type of walking "meandering."

Thunder. I looked up. Blue skies. Now it came closer and it sounded more like a herd of cattle. Felt like it too as the boards moved under the weight. I froze. Pounding feet thundered around me--three men and two women, older than me but most definitely physically fit. And their shoes didn't scream "discount." They whispered "athletic." "Eat my dirt."

I strolled on. A few more runners passed me. One looked like a candidate for a heart attack. His breathing was labored, his face beet red, and he was soaked in sweat and good intentions. I was relieved. At least if I passed out from walking a quarter-mile an hour, I'd have company in the ambulance.

My feet started hurting. I was sure blisters were sprouting blisters. So much for saving a buck in the shoe department. I decided to call it quits for the day so I called my husband to come pick me up. When we got home, I took off my sneakers and decided that the next time I went for a walk, I'd bring my beach chair and a book. And a large water bottle to make me at least look like I too was a runner. A runner on permanent vacation.


Camping's Out

Long ago, before the wisdom gained from a pack of family vacations was available to haunt us, the Captain and I decided to take our two young sons on a camping trip. Actually we didn’t decide, we just meditated on our situation and said, “All right, untie us and we’ll go camping.”

The children, both of whom dress in business casual for school and owned more electronic equipment by the time they were out of preschool than I have my entire life, felt that they had been rudely neglected, because they had never been on a camping trip. They’ve never skinned a chicken either, but they didn’t seem too upset by that.

“And don’t argue the whole way.”

I exchanged a knowing look with the man who promised to love, honor, and slay the Blue Screen of Death. “Okay,” we agreed. I can’t imagine why our children would feel the need to include this unnecessary instruction. No matter how far my husband’s viewpoint may stray from reality, he agrees it is important to appear harmonious in front of the children.

The last time they caught us in a discussion of escalating proportions, they locked us in the bathroom together overnight. One night spent reclining sideways on the toilet with his feet dangling in the sink while the faucet dropped icy droplets like water bombs between his toes convinced my husband that it was easier on everyone to just give in.

So early one summer morning as the sunshine twinkled brightly on the dumpsters at the end of the lane, we arose in peace and harmony, swallowed our body weight in coffee and threw ourselves into the car. We drove in silence and numbed goodwill for several minutes. “Okay, hand me the map,” my husband said, extending one open hand while juggling his travel mug and aspirin bottle in the other and maneuvering the steering wheel with one knee.

“Map?” I asked, eyeing him quizzically.

“You didn’t pack a map?”

“If I wanted to pack something I couldn’t read, I would have just brought along War and Peace in the original Russian. At least then people would think I was literary. Why don’t we just follow the signs?”

He looked at me as if I had just suggested lining the bed of his truck with dotted swiss, jammed his foot down on the brake and squealed into a gas station.

“Never mind. I’ll be right back. Want anything?”

“How ‘bout some coffee?”

“Mom, is this an argument?” A puffy face blinked sleepily at me over the back seat. His mouth was ringed with chocolate milk and PopTart crumbs, and his hair was arranged in a spiky asymmetrical design made famous by Picasso.

“Of course not, sweetheart. Pop just needs a map to find difficult locations like Asia or our mailbox.”

The boys exchanged knowing looks. “It’s a fight,” they chimed knowingly.

Coffee in hand and map accordianed across the dashboard, we resumed our trip. Half an hour later, my husband, who had not previously shown homicidal tendencies other than when I used his razor to shave the gum from the dog’s hair, began to exhibit bizarre behavior patterns, manifested by the asking of peculiar questions.

“How much farther?” he said, guiding the car steadily around a mountain curve. I stared at him blankly, and seeing that he was under the evil spell of optimism, did not bother to explain yet again that my literary portfolio did not include map reading. If he didn’t understand that point before, my directing us to the Blue Ridge Mountains by way of Costa Rica wasn’t going to enforce the point. I consulted the map, and lifted my gaze.

“According to this, about a quarter of an inch.”

“Never mind,” he answered steadily, his knuckles whitening and his palms making squeaky noises on the steering wheel. “Where do we go at the junction?”

“The Shady Rest Hotel?”

Snarling, he lunged abruptly for the map. Any leftover shreds of good humor drained away with the hot coffee that toppled into his lap as the car careened around the next curve.

“Don’t overreact,” I said soothingly, blotting up caffeine with the Northeast section of Macon County. “I was kidding.”

My life’s partner regarded me with the same intense stare I had seen on the faces of cheetahs watching sickly gazelle stragglers on Wild Kingdom. If he had one, I would swear I could see his tail twitching.

“Look,” I purred, wringing out the map. This chocolate drip is the campground. That potato chip grease is where we are now. All we have to do is follow this dotted line across those squiggles and we’re there!”

I don’t understand how some people can live with themselves the way they speak to other people who are trying to help.

“You said we couldn’t use that word,” came a voice from the back seat.

“You’re grounded for just listening to it,” I snapped, tossing candy over my shoulder in a gesture of goodwill and staring fixedly at my spouse. “How was I supposed to know those squiggles were the Blue Ridge Mountains?”

“As long as you have the entire map of the United States unfolded in the front seat, you might as well try reading the legend.”

“Okay, but you know I get sick if I read in the car.”

“One quick look won’t hurt anything. Pretend you’re checking out the sale price on a dress somebody else pulled off the rack.”

“Okay, if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

Later, when we finally found a service station with equipment to clean the upholstery, I heard the boys talking behind the gas pumps.

“Do you think we’ll get there alive?” one voice asked.

“I don’t know, but if we do, we’re gonna lock ‘em in the bath-house.”


Whatever ails you, country understands

Here in America, we love our music, don’t we? From coast to coast and all points in between, the hills, valleys, and plains are alive with the sound of it.

It’s a veritable smorgasbord here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We’ve got everything from rock ‘n roll to country western to rap. Then there’s pop, Southern gospel, and jazz in addition to bluegrass, contemporary Christian, and Motown. If you like it, we’ve got it.

For many Americans, country western is their music of choice. It’s an emotional genre, full of heartbreak and loss, the ecstasy of love, and the importance of one’s tractor in one’s life. There’s an old joke that goes, “What do you get when you play a country song backward? You get your wife, your ring, your house, and your truck back.” And that’s just about it.

If there were an award for the most interesting song titles among the genres, country music would win it going away. Out of curiosity, I did some research on this topic this week. I cannot personally verify that each one of these is the real title of an actual song, but since I got them off the internet, it must be true. Uh-huh.

At any rate, it was quite entertaining to look over the lists I found. Even the titles convey deep emotions, like the agony of rejection and of love gone wrong. There is bitterness and anger. There is low self-esteem with plenty of blame to go around. There is uncertainty and confusion, leaving one wondering if the song writer had a few too many. With a title like “How Can You Believe Me When I Say I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life,” what else can you conclude?

“I Would Have Writ You a Letter, But I Couldn’t Spell Yuck” certainly carries a hint of resentment. So does “I Wouldn’t Take Her to a Dawg Fight ‘Cause I’m Afraid She’d Win.” Someone’s been hurt.

“You Done Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat” continues that theme. Follow that with “You Stuck My Heart in an Old Tin Can and Shot It Off a Log,” and the pain is palpable.

If a song like “I Gave Her My Heart and a Diamond and She Clubbed Me With a Spade” doesn’t move you to tears, maybe this one will, “My John Deere Was Breaking Your Field While Your ‘Dear John’ Was Breaking My Heart.” Still nothing? Then you’ve got a cold, cold heart.

I’m sure that “When You Wrapped My Lunch in a Road Map, I Knew You Meant Goodbye” is a heartbreaker. And how about “Walk Out Backwards Slowly So I’ll Think You’re Walking In?” Surely you’re feeling this.

Or have you heard the song about the fellow who was standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, with seven women on his mind? If those women are Grandma Alice, Aunt Marsha, three cousins, a sister, and his wife, then you think, “Bless that guy. He loves his family.” If, however, none of those names belong to any family members, then you can see how it could give rise to another song entitled, “I Still Miss You, Baby, But My Aim is Getting Better.” This would be followed by “If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me” from his angry spouse.

Sure, this is all hypothetical, but it happens, doesn’t it? These are real life issues we’re singing about here. How nice to know that whatever you’re feeling, there’s a song to fit. After all, wouldn’t you feel like hurting him back by singing “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly” if you’d just been jilted, hmm?

It’s no surprise that he might fire back with his own rendition of “The Next Time You Throw That Fryin’ Pan, My Face Ain’t Gonna Be There,” but hey. The guy’s hurting, too. Guys like that just have to learn the hard way that “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too.”

Then you have what is likely teenage angst portrayed in the song, “They May Put Me in Prison, But They Can’t Stop My Face From Breakin’ Out.” Yes, that’s a tough time of life to which we can all relate. There’s something for everyone here, folks.

Hopefully this next one isn’t representative of all cowboys, because it’s pretty unfeeling if you ask me: “Don’t Cry On My Shoulders ‘Cause You’re Rustin’ My Spurs.” That’s never gonna get the girl. She’s looking for something much more romantic, something along the lines of “Her Teeth Were Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure.”

Lastly, some numbers hint at tragedy, like the one entitled “If She Hadn’t Been So Good Lookin’, I Might Have Seen the Train.” Uh-oh. There’s a story there, I’m pretty sure.

I tell you all this to say, if your own private forecast is “achy” with a 50% chance of “breaky,” then tune in to your local radio station post haste. Maybe they’ll be playing “I’d Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me Than a Frontal Lobotomy.” You’ll feel better. I promise.


True Love and Tire Tracks

Some people think that I married the Captain for his charm and savoir faire. Some think I married him for his tech smarts and the free computer maintenance that goes along with it. Bill is convinced of the charm theory, and as someone whose random access memory stopped accessing years ago, I certainly didn’t turn down the fact that he could zap the blue screen of death like a Texas gunslinger at high noon. But the truth is I married him because I knew that someday I would need somebody to teach the kids to drive.

My theory is that once you give birth to something, it is unnatural to allow it to get behind the wheel of a car where you are a passenger. Even with helpful accessories, such as an extra brake pedal or drop down oxygen mask, someone who never asked me to cut the icky parts off the bread needs to be in charge in case of emergencies such as a four-way stop or sudden loss of radio station.

It is traumatic enough to teach a teenage boy to drive without having to do it during a period when oil sells for more per barrel than the movie Titanic grossed during its entire run—including endorsements, action figures, and Leo DeCaprio’s autograph on a commission check. We had to take out a loan to teach him to parallel park.

When this kid put his size 17 foot on the gas pedal, he burned $27.50 of premium unleaded and left a skid mark in my driveway composed of the entire collection of memorial state quarters. When he revs the engine at stoplights, the smell of burning presidents fills the air like fake butter scent at a movie matinee. If Abraham Lincoln’s only claim to fame had been to make it to the face of the five dollar bill, he would have lived in vain.

All in all the driving lessons went well. Son One, the Highway Patrolman’s retirement plan, got his drivers license on the first try.

As for the Captain, prescription medication and another round of shock therapy should help. The sudden outbursts of screaming, “Oh God no! Stop or I’m cutting the power to the television forever. STOP! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP!” are a hit at parties, especially the ones attended by psychiatric patients or parents of teenaged drivers.

So, it turns out the Captain has charm after all. Because if someone’s willing to take the speeding bullet so I don’t have to, that’s good enough for me.

(Come vist me at Mind over Mullis. Today I'm using my new friend, the Jaws of Life, to help me try on swimsuits.)


Truth and Lies about Absinthe

Mr. Vagabond and I have been spying a bottle of legal Absinthe in a local liquor store for a couple of weeks. This past weekend, we forked over $70 and bought it. And so begins the tale...
We were completely giddy with the idea of it all. After our purchase, we hopped into the truck and started plotting our wonderful evening-to-come. While sitting at the very swank Sonic having burgers for dinner, I pulled the Absinthe out of the bag. Two neon green eyes were the only decoration on the glossy, black bottle and they looked as though they had secrets to tell. Secrets that we would only learn while sipping that famous concoction.
We grinned and talked about how exotic it would be, drizzling the liquor over that little lump of sugar and watching it dissolve into something just this side of heaven. We even joked that we would probably wind up having to make an Absinthe allowance in our budget in the future.
We stopped off to get a bag of ice, since the refrigerator is acting more like a cooler these days, so that we could have perfect icy cold water to add to our glasses. Although we don't own any delicate crystal and there's nary a slotted spoon to be found in our house, we figured it would still work ok using iced tea glasses and a fork. Hey - forks have slots! Well, kinda.
We arrived at home and Mr. Vagabond harnessed up the doggie for her evening potty break. We wanted to make sure nothing interrupted the Absinthe experience once it began, so getting the potty break out of the way was critical to that evening's success.
And finally, it was time. Hubby put ice in the blender with Smart Water - not any old water would do - and whirred it up until it was perfect. Shoving a couple of dirty glasses out of the way, I cleared a spot on the sink counter for the two clean glasses. I read the bottle again and learned that I had it backward. 1.5 ounces of Absinthe added to the glass, sugar cube on top of the slotted spoon (ok, it was a fork) and 2 - 3 ounces of ice cold water dripped slooooooowly over the sugar cube. The bottle explained how the potent aroma of herbs would quickly fill the room as the water mixed with the Absinthe. Also, we were to watch for the "loosh", which is apparently the technical term for that magical, opalescent reaction when the two liquids mix. "Looshing", they call it. Technical term.
I filled a pink measuring cup with 1.5 ounces of Absinthe for each of our glasses, poured it in, carefully rested a fork on the rim of one glass and placed a sugar cube on the fork. Another pink measuring cup held the ice water and unfortunately that proved to be a very messy way to pour. Why can't my measuring cups also have spouts? Oh well.
As the water trickled over the sugar and into the glass, it did swirl around beautifully and the Absinthe became cloudy. Cloudy = looshing? Huh. The room was completely filled with the strong scent of Anise. Not one of my favorites, I might add. My entire kitchen smelled like the original "Green Death Nyquil" tastes. Trying very hard to not recall memories of my last bout with the flu, we prepared the second glass.
We grinned like fools at each other with obvious ideas running through our heads about how very elegant we were, standing in the kitchen with the painted plywood floor and no real kitchen cabinets to speak of. We went into the living room and hesitated for just a moment before that first sip.
Raising the glasses to our anxious mouths, we looked at each other, as if for luck, as we took our first sips. Oh my GOD. The look on his face couldn't have been as bad as mine, but it was probably close. This was the most repulsive stuff either of us had ever tasted. And we were drinking it on purpose! This was way worse than lima beans at Aunt Ann's house when I was a kid. We both instantly set the glasses on the coffee table and just stared at them as if they were from Mars, and Mars has the worst liquor ever. Mr. Vagabond said something to the effect of, "Holy cow - you know, they talk about that green fairy. I think she pooped in my glass!" That's it! We were drinking fairy poo. Fairy poo that had been out in the sun on a soggy leaf for about a week!
I find it very difficult to describe the actual taste of this Absinthe. From the smell of my kitchen and the smell of the cork, one would think that it tastes strongly of anise. Not so. It was watery and very earthy, and not in a good way. Almost like someone made a weak, alcoholic tea out of my compost pile in the backyard, but there was no alcohol taste at all.
Ohhhhhh but wait a minute. You see, we did deliberately keep drinking the stuff. And then we noticed something. Something akin to being intoxicated with alcohol, but not quite. Something was a little different. "I'm feeling it - I think", said hubby, and I replied, "Me too". So what did we do? We drank every drop, wrenched our faces into many contorted positions and then raced to the kitchen for another round!
Ordinarily, even if a drink is bad, once you get the first one down the second isn't so awful. That wasn't the case here. If anything, the second was worse than the first because our stomachs were staging a full-on revolt. But we are smart, my hubby and me. We sipped between bouts with nausea, determined to get at least two glasses down the hatch.
Then it was over. We sat watching a little reality TV and my head became heavy as a boulder. Hubby sunk down in his chair little by little until he was almost horizontal. I told him, "I don't feel drunk - I feel . . . something else". He agreed, not that either of us knows what something else feels like.
I waited and wondered when the green fairy would arrive. I wanted to be filled with inspiration. I wanted to paint, hubby wanted to play his guitar--we wanted to create something brilliantly artistic that would last for generations. But she never did visit us. At least not in the living room. My best guess is that she was busy pooping into that lovely black bottle with the mysterious green eyes.

Dirty little fairy.


Overstating the Obvious

It has recently come to my attention that a lot of the things I take for granted aren’t common knowledge. At least not with the younger set. Usually, I don’t like calling attention the the fact that I’m not among that younger generation, but sometimes it makes me happy. Sometimes I think I am turning into my mother. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing after all. Although I largely ignored her advice in favor of learning just about everything the hard way, I still believe it is important to educate the young (even when they aren't listening).

Among the ‘obvious’ things I would like say to youngsters:

1. For those who go after you

If upon leaving the bathroom you find it doesn’t smell quite as fresh as it did when you entered, leave the door open! Or at least open a window. This is being kind to the next person to go in by protecting their eyebrows from being singed off. A closed door means that even hours later, you have still left your identifying mark on the room. Just because someone doesn’t yell, “Saint Peter on a Pony!” when they open the door doesn’t mean it smells of roses. They have probably lost their ability to speak.

2. But she’s hungry!

The family dogs don’t beg because they are hungry. They beg because they know you will give in and feed them pizza. Giving in with just one bite will never make them leave you alone. It might, however, encourage them stake their claim by placing a paw in the middle of your plate (and everyone else’s). Remember where those cute little paws have been.

3. Why are there no clean glasses?

Dishes don’t magically float through the air to the sink, wash themselves and then put themselves back into the cupboard. If, upon opening the cupboard, you find there are no clean glasses, it is safe to assume they are all exactly where you set them down throughout the house. Do you actually mean, “Why haven’t you washed the dirty glasses I left all over the house?” If so, it’s in your best interest to keep that to yourself.

4. Where are my favorite jeans?

See #3. To my knowledge, clothing hasn’t achieved the higher state of consciousness that would allow it to levitate to the washing machine.

5. Is this ok to eat?

If it looks funny and smells funny, it’s probably funny. Eating something questionable, however, will not result in laughter. At least not for you.

6. Is there any ice?

If you emptied the last of the ice into your glass and didn’t refill the trays, guess what. There’s no ice. Again, refer to #3.

All this applies to living at home, but a brand new set of weirdness happens when you set your sails and head off to live on your own:

1. I just got paid, but I’m broke!

Welcome to being a grown up. The only thing worse than being broke is having a job and being broke. There is a mysterious thing that happens with money. Once it is spent, it is gone. And utility companies are strange little entities in that they like to be paid for giving you water and electricity. If they aren’t paid, they generally sever their relationship with you. Unfortunately, landlords are also unusual characters who enjoy the mutually beneficial situation that happens when they let you live in their apartment and you pay them for the privilege.

2. My car isn’t working

Did you change the oil? Is there gas in it? These are important things to tackle before the car actually dies. Waiting until after it dies is usually not the best game-plan.

3. Oh, I’m just sitting here having a beer and smoking a cigar.

I’m sorry, do I know you? First, moms, no matter how open and honest you are with them, do not like to imagine their kids sitting at home having a tall, frosty brew. Give her at least a few years to come to terms with the fact that you aren’t a teenager anymore and it will go over a lot better. And smoking a cigar? You want to put your mother in her grave. That’s it, right? You’d probably have a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking party right on top of her grave.

4. I hate my job, and my boss is an idiot

Awwww. You have taken your place among the Great Unwashed like the rest of us. No, money trees do not exist. Not even if you did see one in a video game.

5. I hate college

Really? Then you probably ought to carve out your niche with the Great Unwashed. I see a lot of Ramen and clearance bins in your future. Also, see #4 above. Before you know it, you’ll be wearing a special name tag that identifies you to your employees . . . who think you are an idiot.

Remember, your mother is not stupid, nor is she out of touch with reality. She knows you are not stupid either, which is why she gives you these gentle reminders. Growing up isn’t easy, so you should listen to your mother. She wasn’t born a cranky, 42 year old woman with frown lines. She tells you these things because she didn’t listen to her mother, and screwed up in pretty much the same ways you do.

To quote mothers from generations ago through all the generations to come: “I only tell you this because I love you”.

We mean it.


Ice cream lessons from the freezer aisle

I hate shopping. I've been this way, my entire life. My kids hate shopping with me because I'm that mom who marches right through the store, I don't linger and I head for exactly what I need. I bet you think I'm a list maker too. Oh no, not this girl. My mind is so regimented in getting in and out of the store as fast as possible it remembers everything I need. I have simple rules: no impulse buying, avoid the candy and cookie aisle and above all else don't linger over prices, you should know that going in. My biggest pet peeve is when people ask me to go window shopping. To me, that's like saying, "here's a Snicker's bar--you can't eat it--just admire it." That's just not going to happen.

So when it comes to shopping for anything and I mean anything, I have developed this aversion and almost deep seated anxiety when I know I have to go to the store. However, being the practical person I am and always looking for ways to overcome my phobias (don't ask), I have developed a plan for surviving it and it was working pretty well for me.

However, these days with my limited budget, the only stores I grace have food in them (they say eating is a necessary way of staying alive though my waistline and wallet are encouraging me to try the no-food diet). As always I head for only those aisles that contain the items on my list. Thanks to the slender size of my wallet I've been forced into a new way of shopping.

I now stand for a long period of time checking out how much per ounce the item will cost. Surely this is the prudent thing to do but it's really winding up my phobia about cluttered store shelves and too many colors and choices and that piped in music from the 80's and flickering florescent lights ( I told you, you didn't want to know.)

So the other day, I went in search of ice cream and pizza for my family. Now to those of you who revel in the delights of shopping this may not overwhelm you but have you seen how many choices are out there these days?

There I stood in the frozen food section (which by the way is set up totally for the impulse buyer, having frozen pizza and ice cream side by side forcing us to look at all the different brands and choices) and it occurred to me that they purposely try to confuse you by making sure that every single item is just a little bit different from the others. I was completely baffled as to what pizza to buy and if I thought there were a lot of choices for that--well! The types and brands of ice cream were so vast that I'm convinced it's an indication that we are just too fixated on choices--but I digress, that's a topic for another day.

As I stood there going over every tidbit of information available to me, I looked around to see if anyone seemed friendly enough to approach. Luckily, on that day, the lady next to me, also looking at the ice cream, seemed just as engrossed as I was so I decided to take my chances.

"How on earth do you choose the best yet cheapest ice cream?" I asked her.

She didn't even take her eyes of the freezer but said, "Depends on your objective in buying ice cream."

Wow, did she have my attention or what? You mean to tell me there's an objective to buying ice cream other than the totally obvious desire to eat something totally yummy and totally bad for us?

"Oh?" I nodded, "I see." I said, pretending to know what she meant.

Clearly she didn't buy my act because she replied, "Yes, there's an actual science behind the choices you make."

"I don't normally buy ice cream." I confessed. "I no longer have a gall bladder." The moment I said it, I wondered why on earth I'd say that to a complete stranger.

"Oh no!" she said horrified. "That means it's completely out for you." She shook her head. "I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, I can once in a while. Tonight, I'm trying to find something to make milk shakes out of with frozen strawberries for my family." I held up the package from my basket.

"You'll be wanting a bucket."

"A bucket? That's a lot to freeze."

"True." She paused. "Okay well then, since it's just for milkshakes, get the cheapest brand and oh, you need to decide--do you want Vanilla Bean or French Vanilla." I must have looked confused because she added, "Vanilla Bean is kind of gritty."

"Okay." I said as I grabbed a carton of French Vanilla from the freezer thinking that gritty wasn't a texture I wanted to experience in my ice cream. "Is it my imagination or are these cartons a lot smaller than they used to be."

"Oh wow, you really haven't bought ice cream in a long time, have you?" Her face grew solemn. "Seems they are downsizing everything these days."

"It seems so." I shook my head in unison with her.

"You should be okay with that one." She pointed at the carton I still held in my hand. "You won't mind the lesser quality with fruit in it."

"Yeah, and it's really for the kids." I mumbled feeling cheap.

"No gallbladder." she clucked. "That must really suck."

"Yes, it does." I turned to face her." Thanks for helping me. I was completely lost without your help."

She smiled for the first time since our conversation began and I realized that we'd been talking for ten minutes and had barely made eye contact.

"Oh, you're totally welcome. It was fun."

We nodded and grinned as we passed each other on another aisle and I thought how shopping had just taken on a new perspective for me. It was no longer just wasting my money and my time but I had learned something about the current economy's effect on a product, the texture that Vanilla Bean had on ice cream and that I could actually bond with another person in the coldest aisle in the store.

When I arrived at home, I also had the pleasure of being my son's hero. We hadn't make milkshakes since 2000. (I'm not joking, it's been 10 years) and I'd managed to do it for under twenty dollars. See! Shopping isn't totally bad!


Potty training success leads to big dreams

“Houston, we have a tinkle.”

Stop the presses. This, my friends, is breaking news.

Oh, I know there’s big stuff going on around the world. Things like the government revamping of health care, for instance, and the astonishing outcome of the election in Massachusetts, not to mention bad guys who are still blowing things up across the pond.

And let’s not forget that little incident on Christmas Day with that one guy who thought that packing his underwear with explosives would make him a hero. All it got him was a stay in the clink, compliments of the U.S. government, and a nickname that’s made him the laughingstock of his cell block.

All of these are big, important stories; I agree. It’s just that after weeks of a potty training initiative with all the success of the Underwear Bomber (a.k.a. the Fruit-a-Kaboomer), this is the headline news, the big scoop in my world.

For days, I moaned to family and friends about our lack of success. I posted Facebook statuses like, “Rhonda Schrock asks, ‘How many times can you take a toddler potty with absolutely nothing to show for it?? How many?!’”

This prompted a spate of comments from well-meaning citizens that ranged from, “Many, many, many, many more times, my dear,” to suggestions involving Cheerios and running water. Meanwhile, others exulted in the fact that their training days were done, leaving me feeling even worse than before.

Finally, someone posted, telling me that she’d kept a jar of M&Ms and jellybeans in the bathroom, exchanging a little treat for a successful potty, and that this had proven to be the golden ticket for her small son. To this, I replied that I would gladly exchange the Brooklyn Bridge for a successful potty and that I was ready to head south for parts unknown where everyone pottied by themselves and no one needed my help.

Then, just as I was about to promise Mr. No Go a driver’s license and a brand new Mustang, it happened. The toddler tinkled, angels sang, and his mother collapsed, weeping tears of joy into her coffee, which had long since grown cold.

Immediately, I upended the pantry into his lap, rewarding him with juice boxes and treats. We called Daddy at the office and told him. We dialed Grandma’s number and informed her. His big brothers received the news as they filtered in from school and, to their credit, made all the appropriate noises.

Unable to keep it to myself, I enthused about our success before a group that I was speaking to. They responded with a wave of sympathetic laughter accompanied, I suspect, by fervent thoughts of, “Thank God, we’re outta that stage,” which they graciously kept to themselves.

Fearful that he would turn out to be a one-hit wonder, I was ecstatic when it happened again. Once more, I chucked goodies at him, to his delight, and promptly texted his father who joined me in celebrating.

Yes, sir. It sure pays to potty around here.

Experiencing such success, however, only makes me long for more, but just in other areas. I’d love, for example, to be able to sing like Celine Dion. It would be exhilarating to stand before a packed-out Vegas audience, moving them to tears and driving them to their feet in wave after wave of standing ovations.

This will never happen. I know my limits, and those include three walls and a shower curtain. There will be no solos performed to wild acclaim in my future. As a friend once said, he could sing a solo, alright, but it would be “so low you can’t hear it.”

Exactly. What he said.

Another thing I’d love to be successful at is gymnastics or cheerleading. As a young girl, I was riveted by the grace and daring of the gymnasts as they tumbled across the floor. I watched with rapt attention as the cheerleaders whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their chants and their energetic routines.

When I was in third grade, several of us cheerleading wannabes lobbied our teacher unrelentingly until she finally wrote out all the cheers she knew. We memorized these and practiced cartwheels and small formations with limited success.

While I never did make it courtside in a flippy skirt and rustly pom-poms, I can, to this day, turn a cartwheel. You’ll just have to take my word for it, though, because that particular skill will never be demonstrated in public. Ever.

It’s really too bad that I’ll never realize these dreams. I love to sing, but will never make a living at it. Even though I was born with an inner pom-pom girl who just wants to come out, this has not translated into success for me. Neither has winning the limbo championship in the first grade. You’d think that would help get me on a squad somewhere, but so far it’s been – well, a “no go.”

I guess I’ll just have to content myself with cheering sans pom-poms for this crowd over here. Starting, of course, with a successful potty. Hoo-rah!

Note:  This column was first published in January 2010.


This Stage Is All Mine, Baby!

by Kathy Tirrell

I am a shower singer. I admit it. If there were a support group for this affliction, I'd step up to the podium and announce, "My name is Kathy and I'm a shower singer."

I know you're laughing right now. I can hear you. But this is a serious problem.

So what IS a shower singer?

Why, of course, it's a singer who is just too darn shy to sing in front of people, preferring the privacy and anonymity of a watery, steamy, tiled-in stage. After all, can't chance hitting a clinker during that big, fancy Broadway number. Oh no. Plus, the acoustics are so much better in the bathroom, don't you think? I guess it's the combination of hot running water, steam and a closed door. I don't know what it is exactly, but I sound great in the shower.

I've created a whole montage of material for my invisible audience, such as Joni Mitchell's Circle Game, Barbra Streisand's Evergreen and Marty, the Martian, Karen Carpenter's For All We Know, and if I'm in the right kind of mood and voice perhaps I'll even attempt a little snippet of Tina Turner's What's Love Got To Do With It. But mainly, Shower Time is my golden opportunity for my killer Cher imitation. Oh yes, Cher! I've been a huge fan of hers for many years. A key reason is she's one of the only singers I can truly imitate since she has such a very deep voice. Gotta love those altos!

Here's a little sampling of a song Cher used to sing during a weekly segment on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. And of course, it happens to be one of my favorite shower songs:

"Saucy, sexy Sadie Thompson
drove the native boys insane,
She was the first missionary's downfall,
And brother could she make it rain!
When hurricane Sadie shook the bamboo huts
the preacher went bananas,
he went cocoanuts,
She was a scamp, a camp,
and a bit of a tramp,
She was a V--A--M--P, Vamp!"

I don't know why I like this little song so much, but most of it has stayed stuck in my brain cells for all of these years. (Okay, I did have to do some research to fill in some of the lyrics I couldn't quite recall.) After all, The Sonny & Cher Show ran from 1971 to 1974, and I was a high school student for most of that time. But I certainly do remember tuning in each week for the songs, the outfits, and the comedy skits. As a quiet, unpopular teenage girl, I wanted to BE Cher. I couldn't think of anything better. I will never forget when our senior class was preparing for the annual Senior Variety Show. There was a dark-haired girl named Patricia who most kids thought looked very much like Cher. And she did. So she and one of the boys decided their act for the variety show would be appearing on stage dressed as Sonny and Cher and lip-synching "I Got You Babe". And there I was (probably hiding in my locker) thinking: BUT WAIT A MINUTE! I don't look like Cher, but I can sing like Cher!  Isn't that more of a talent than simply looking like her?

I thought it was. But alas, I was a shrinking violet and didn't have the courage to audition for our variety show. No, a person needed to be popular and confident to get up on stage in front of all her peers and belt out a song.

Fast forward 30 years or more and I still don't have the guts to get up on stage and belt out a song. However, I do have a shower! Now I'm no longer holding back. This tiled-in stage is all mine, baby! When I slip under that nozzle and feel the warm spray hit my shoulders, that's my cue to start singing. It's fun, it's freeing, why, it's probably even therapeutic. Who needs a shrink when you can jump into a shower and sing your heart out?

Excuse me now. I feel a song coming on.

For other musings of mine, I hope you'll visit me on my blog.  It's It Bloggles The Mind


Nice Try Victoria

It all started simply enough. My best friend and I were shopping for her upcoming wedding--in which I'm the matron-of-honor (let's not get into THAT label)--and popped into a lingerie store to grab a strapless bra. I knew exactly what I wanted and swore it would only take a couple minutes.

I should have known better.

First I couldn't find the bra I wanted. Bianca, a very cute and helpful salesperson, informed me that any bra I bought three years ago would no longer be available because they don't continue lines that long. (What kind of policy is that?) She helped me find a couple alternatives then said seven words that both thrilled and frightened me:

"Would you like me to fit you?"

Images of me half-naked with a cute blond wrapped around my chest were quickly erased when she whipped out her tape measure, looked over her shoulder, then asked me to lift my arms.

"Right here? In the middle of the store?"

At least I wasn't half-naked.

My friend smirked at me over a table of discount thongs. (Her time would come.)

I informed Bianca that I was wearing a padded bra--my profile picture stops at my shoulders for a reason--and she assured me it wasn't a problem. She leaned closer and squeezed the tape across my padding, then stepped back triumphantly.

"I'd say you're a C."

That thump? That was me hitting the floor laughing. I'm barely a B on a good day.

I picked myself up. "There's no way I'm a C."

About this time my friend sauntered over.

Bianca turned to her. "Would you like me to fit you?"

A nervous glance my way, a quick nod from me, then she slowly lifted her arms. More squeezing, a deep breath, and another triumphant smile.




Now we were both on the floor.

In the end, we each bought the size we've always worn. We appreciated Bianca's enthusiasm, but unless she plans to follow me around and offer me extra "support", I'll stick with what I know.