The Meatloaf Conspiracy (or ‘There’s No Way I Screwed Up Dinner’)

It’s called meatloaf. There are two basic components to it: the meat and the loaf.
Meatloaf is simple: put all of those things into a bowl, mash them, and then transfer the contents from the bowl to a loaf pan, thus creating the … loaf. And don’t THINK we wouldn't skip the “loaf pan” part if we could. Trust me on this: “giant meatball night” would become a staple in homes across Middle America if women weren’t so nuts about Pampered Chef accoutrements.
Meatloaf is also one of men’s favorite meals because it gives us the chance to tell our moms and wives that we’ve hit all five food groups in one day at least once in our life times: grains (for the torn-up bread pieces), meat (well, duh), vegetables (for the single bell pepper sacrifice), fruits (ketchup!) and dairy (see “bread”).
So, my charge recently was to make a meatloaf dinner. If you're not aware, an uninterrupted hour in the oven at 400 degrees is as close to “can I just throw this on the grill” as a guy can get. Plus, there aren’t that many moving parts. Save a potential spectacular kitchen fire, a screaming 4-year-old and a greasy pile of dishes, I had this like Edward reeling in Bella with less glitter and more bite.
Or so you’d believe. To use a feted Internet expression …
To be clear the ground beef, chopping, spicing, mashing and loafing all pretty much meet the man-standard for effort and ease. Even calibrating (or, what some might call “turning on”) the oven and waiting for the thing to warm up gives us an opportunity to check the crawl on ESPN. Win-win.
But something happened after I dropped the pan on to the rack and I sped off to brag about this accomplishment to you on Facebook, Twitter and email (because it is the law for men to brag about these things). About 45 minutes later, I checked on it.
By way of reference, if you’re not aware, cold water tends to shrink things on men. So, we’re not keen on cold swimming pools, showers or the Pacific Ocean, and certainly don’t couple any of those things with an audience as we towel off. However, you can imagine my surprise when I pulled the meatloaf pan out and just 75 percent of the thing remained. Shrinkage? Still, it needed to cook another 15 minutes. Back in the oven.
When the buzzer went off, I flew back into the kitchen pulled out the pan. Time to eat. I’m big on presentation. I can turn a cup of Ramen Noodles into an evening dinner in Verona, Italy if you give me enough notice. So, needless to say, I dressed up my wife’s plate and brought it to the table with the pride of a man who knew she would be cutting the cord and naming it “Junior” soon after.
That said, hoards of patrons filling the Roman Coliseum could not have heaped enough praise for what I’d done that evening and, as is tradition when I cook, I waited for my wife to take the first bite. As is the custom within the male tribe, we need to be needlessly praised for any activity that consciously or sub-consciously equals killing the wooly mammoth with a spear. So taking out the trash (especially when we’re not told), dusting and presenting a meatloaf at the dinner table all qualify.
It was, at this point, when my wife raised her fork to her lips that three things immediately came into my mind:
  • She’ll love it. Best meal I’ve cooked since … well, since the last time I cooked
  • Wait. Is the inside of that thing the right color?
  • What’s that smell?
Klaxons sounded and flashing red lights immediately clicked on inside my brain as the first bite hit her tongue and seeped into her taste buds. Fearful, I turned to her and asked what she thought of my creation.
She nodded.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with my wife’s body English, let me familiarize you with a few gestures. A hands-on-hips stare means I’ve screwed up. Arms drooping, slumped shoulders and a head tilted stare means I’ve screwed up. And, a nod after taking a bite of the dinner I’ve just made means, “You’re trying to kill me with the same poison Juliet gargled before she realized Romeo had a strong investment portfolio and a good paying job, aren't you?”
I looked down at my own grey-ish slices meatloaf and realized something had gone terribly wrong between “Is it my night to cook?” and the Caesarian-like rejection I’d just received. Anxiety flooded in. Beads of sweat popped out of my forehead like shoppers crowding a 75-percent off sale at Filene’s Bargain Basement.
“You want something else?”
She shook her head.
The universally bad head-shaking gesture sealed my fate as it has sealed so many other husbands fates in the past. She managed one more bite, hauled her plate to the sink and retired for the night. I could have clubbed and cooked Edward and Bella, some baby harp seals or the cast of “Glee” and received a better reaction.
This brings me to why I couldn’t have screwed this up.
Not only did I query many of you for ideas on ingredients (by the way, thanks for the peanut butter and minced kale ideas!), but I followed a recipe – from the Internet, no less – to the tee. I dumped the loaf into proper baking pan on the proper temperature and let that bad boy cook for the EXACT amount of time on the EXACT temperature. Surely, by no means, was this my fault. Really.
So, I’m calling on you, mystery meatloaf ingredient changer who sneaks into locked Bavarian homes in broad daylight with your awful tastes, ability to change temperatures and wreck the lives of middle-class folk. That person stole my meat loaf. I know it.
I mean, that happens, right?


Forked Tongue in the Road

Some people get along with snakes. I think of them as alternate air transportation; when I see one, I can travel for several yards without touching the ground. They also provoke my personal alarm system, a toe-curling scream that can startle small children and old dogs over a mile away.

I was sorting family photos one day when I saw a slight motion in the tree outside my window. The tree isn’t more than a belligerent sapling, a teenage oak that leans against the windowpane like a wooded version of James Dean. One slender branch had uncurled from itself and pressed its pointed green face against the glass. It blinked. Most people would say, “Hey, there’s a harmless green snake in the window,” or at least bang on the window with a broom to scare it away. But most people never saw my earlier giant-wolf-spider-landing-on-my-head hallway dance that made the cat piddle in his tracks. When I saw the snake, I wanted to scream, but no one else was at home to hear me. So I called my husband at work.

“Aaaaaiiiggggghhhh! Snake! Snake!” I yelled into the phone, getting immediately to the point. I heard some badly hidden snickering on the other end of the line before my husband began firing questions at me like a jaded crisis hotline counselor.“What color is the snake? Where is it? How long is it?” After determining that the snake was not, in fact, wrapped around my neck, and not actually ten feet long but perhaps two feet long and a leafy green, he gave his verdict. “It’s a blue racer,” he said.“But it’s green,” I insisted. “It’s still a blue racer,” he coughed before he hung up, but it could have also been a choked giggle.

After seeing me jump up and down, the snake edged closer to the glass, bobbing in a highly civilized attempt to communicate. Or maybe he was just laughing too, it was hard to tell.

His forefathers have been chuckling at mine for a long time. Snakes, both harmless and dangerous, are common in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri. From one generation to another, we pass along superstitions and stories about these creatures. As a fourth-generation Ozark native, I am heir to this slithery paranoia, starting with my great-grandmother who swore up and down (and usually from a high branch in a tree) that she saw hoop snakes rolling like runaway wagon wheels down the hill, or snakes that would come apart when hit with a rock, then put themselves back together. These stories petrified me as a child, because snakes on the ground were one matter, but snakes that have discovered the wheel and glue were another situation entirely.

My mother, on the other hand, believed that the key to a good defense was a great offense. Although she would scream when she saw a snake, she would also grab a hoe and never give it a chance to laugh at her. One foolish king snake dared cross her path and lost its head, followed by an inch of its once five-foot long body for every post-mortem twitch. Every few minutes she would look out the window, and if the parts moved, she would take the hoe and whack the snake again. The snake was in one-inch, sushi-size lengths when my dad finally came home; he also had an annoying habit of badly hidden snickering.

After a while, the little snake in the window seemed to shrink from python proportions to his original size, and didn’t seem quite as vicious as I imagined. I looked down at the photos scattered around my chair; picking up a picture of my great-grandma, I decided that maybe it was time for a truce. After making sure the window was tightly closed, I watched the blue-green racer slowly retreat back into the leaves. It’s hard to let go of old fears, but I’m willing to give it a try. Perhaps I can learn to live in peace with snakes; they’ve been here longer than me. But the first snake I see rolling down a hill, I’m grabbing a hoe.

*A modified version of this essay appeared in the July 2005 issue of Country Extra.


Planning is for Sissies, Part II

Part Two
After driving two solid days from Knoxville toward Phoenix through mountains, plains, deserts and finally mountains again, Mr. Vagabond and I were ready to be done. My feet looked like balloons and my butt was numb. We thought once we cleared the lovely town of Flagstaff, the trip would be over. Not so. Planning isn’t our forte, so neither of us knew the distance remaining until he replotted our GPS.
I can't accurately describe the noise that came from him when he checked the distance from Flagstaff to Phoenix. 2 1/2 hours. He growled. Kinda
“Hang on to your bloomers, sweetie.”
Looking at the steep, curving road ahead, and noticing that it was dark, I uttered, “ . . . um, Dear . . . Darling . . . we have come this far with few incidents. I would like to get there in one piece, if you please.”
My plea was drowned out by his primal need to get the job done. Well, that and the sound of our screeching tires on the pavement. Whoever set the 75 mph speed limit on the road from Flagstaff to Phoenix needs to be checked for Sadistic tendencies. After about two minutes of him driving like Cruella De Ville in search of puppies down the twisting, winding, steep mountain, I threw caution to the wind, if only for a second. I unhooked my seatbelt, wedged myself under my seat and prayed. I contemplated the effectiveness of a Hail Mary spoken by a Protestant. Then again, I didn’t know the words and my phone didn't have any service to look them up. Not that I would have let go of the floor mats to do it anyway.
"Dear Lord God in Time--PLEASE slow down!" I begged. He cackled with the insanity of a man who had been driving for two days on nothing but fast food and warm
Pepsi. I closed my eyes and held my breath. There went Sedona, or so I was told. No blurry sideways pictures of that. And on we flew.
“Sweetie! There’s Phoenix!”
I was skeptical, so I only opened one eye to peek. I didn’t see blood and all my limbs were still attached, so I opened the other eye. Either he wasn’t lying, or else I had begun to hallucinate from oxygen deprivation. Or maybe we were dead. Whatever the case, I grabbed the air vents and pulled myself out from under my seat. He handed me a warm Pepsi and I noticed the glare had gone from his eyes. He looked almost human again until we hit Phoenix traffic. At least my butt had regained sensation again.
Sunday night, and all lanes were packed like sardines. He called the guys at the motel. Another 10 miles? You've got to be kidding me. Several twists and turns and lane changes and exits and more roads and more cars and more lanes and more exits and more turns and I wondered how on earth I would find my way back out of Phoenix in the morning. Until that point, I forgot I had to start my return trip alone the next morning. I wept.
We finally found the twitching sign of the Budget Inn. It greeted us like a harbinger of doom, but we forged onward. Sticky carpet? Big deal. Nasty shower? Who cares? I checked to be sure there was a bed. Indeed, there was. We slept.
We woke the next morning, which was actually still night time in Phoenix. Time change. We forgot about the time change. After I exhibited many pitiful faces and sighs and s-l-o-w-l-y dragged one item at a time back to my suitcase, he decided it was a very bad idea for me to drive back alone. I would fly back the next day and he would keep the truck. I was renewed. Energetic, even! Well, as energetic as a person can be after drinking Budget Inn coffee.
We drove around Phoenix. I marveled at the climate (It’s that dry heat, you know). We ate pancakes stuffed with cheesecake filling at IHop, went back for another nap and then woke again to our last night together for a long time. We decided to go out and about again. I took more blurry pictures.

I wanted to do something fun. I suggested Margaritaville, but he thought that was a bit too swanky. We settled on Hooter’s. True to her nickname, the GPS that Mr. Vagabond affectionately named “Loster than ____”, spat us out going the wrong way on a one way street in the middle of downtown Phoenix. The first clue was the homeless guy going into a fit on his bicycle, waving his arms and yelling, “WRONG WAY!!” Traffic headed for us was the convincing element. Reasoning and logic fail when people are sleep deprived. We headed back to the motel for fear of winding up in Washington State if we continued searching for Hooters.
I was still determined to have some kind of drink even though he had all but given up. The previous two days demanded it. Not to mention the “flailing guy on a bicycle” experience. Mr. Over It stopped at the Circle K beside the twitching Budget Inn. I was surprised to learn that even though cigarettes cost $7, a bottle of Jose Cuervo and two limes can be procured for a mere $5. Priorities.
Back at the palace, I cut up limes on the bathroom counter using his work knife while he headed outside to the truck. We drank tequila from plastic motel cups in the parking lot while scrubbing dead bugs from several states off the front of the truck. That’s romance right there, folks. We reflected on the previous days’ adventures and the mood became a bit melancholy. I didn’t even mind that he played Mudvayne while we sipped tequila. It grows on you after a while.
Around midnight, after showering and settling into bed, we had a revelation. After driving through at least a hundred states and snapping countless blurry, sideway pictures, it finally occurred to both of us that it wasn’t necessary for me to make the trip to Phoenix in the first place. Because we’re smart like that, remember? If he had driven alone, there would be no need for me to fly back.

“Planning is for sissies” haunted me as I took my last sip of tequila and fished out the soggy lime for one last bite. Although proper planning probably does prevent poor performance, winging it makes for a pretty interesting life--the life of a Tower Rigger's wife.

If you missed Part I of this adventure, check it out here.


Diaper changing should be an Olympic sport

It’s summertime. The days are long and lazy. Flags are flying up and down Main Street. The county fair is in full swing and the Summer Olympics are right around the corner.

At our house, the countdown to the Olympics provokes two distinctly different reactions. One of us sits poised, panting with excitement on the edge of her seat in anticipation of the opening ceremonies. The other one huffs and grunts and hunkers further into his favorite corner of the couch, declaring that under no circumstances is he biologically capable of surrendering the remote for a mere two weeks.

To the chagrin of the one waving the flag and sporting the five special rings, feverish phone calls to the insurance company requesting approval for an emergent remotectomy have been met by outright guffaws and rude hang-ups. It’s so unprofessional.

As long as I can recall, the games have held a special fascination for me. I remember watching Nadia Comaneci, the famous Romanian gymnast, back in the seventies and wishing I could be like her. The same is true for the figure skaters who have always enchanted me with their grace and daring.

There are few pictures that provoke more patriotism in me than seeing a sweaty, triumphant American athlete atop the podium, bending to receive the gold medal as the flag is raised overhead and the national anthem plays. When he or she starts to tear up as the camera zooms in, I’m a goner, crying into my red, white, and blue napkin. If that scene doesn’t put a tear in your eye, then call a mortician because you have obviously assumed room temperature.

The only thing that can spoil my Olympic joy is watching it with a party pooper. Or two. During the winter games two years ago, my brother and his wife were visiting us. Every night we would tune in to get the latest medal count and to cheer for our athletes. Well, two of us would cheer.

The other two were suddenly armchair coaches, well versed in every sport, shouting instructions and holding up placards with hastily scribbled scores after each ski jump. As we women sat enthralled during the figure skating competition, they harrumphed and made snarky remarks about men who wear spandex. Never mind that neither one of them possessed the wherewithal to lift a 100-pound bag of cement, much less a grown woman, overhead on one hand while skating across the kitchen floor in tube socks. This, in their world, was not a disqualifier.

When we delicately pointed this out, they only snorted again and went to look for more potato chips.

It is a sad reality that at my age, there just isn’t a spot for me at the games. When it comes to track and field events, I run in one place for too long. Yes, I realize that doggy paddling will never get me on that poolside podium. And there isn’t a chiropractor gifted enough to make me a well-adjusted competitor again if I tried out on the balance beam or attempted to leap and pirouette on the ice. I can, however, think of several events in which I and a few family members could truly shine and make you, our fellow Americans, proud.

Take diaper changing, for instance. Having been responsible for four prolific little colons in my career, my skills are so finely honed that I am now fully capable of diapering a crying, thrashing toddler in a blinding rainstorm with one hand tied behind my back. The reigning Brazilian champion who diapers her babies in banana leaves fastened with pincher ants doesn’t intimidate me at all. I can diaper her under the table.

If the Olympic committee would recognize the ability to produce earsplitting shrieks that can shatter crystal from here to Tupelo as an official sport, my cousin Rhoda would win. Once, during a tense cousinly game of hide and seek, she shut down the power grids on the entire eastern seaboard and sparked a tidal wave off the coast of Florida. She could be a medalist, that one.

For Mr. Schrock, it’s his nose that could take him to the gold. I have never in my life met anyone with a keener sense of smell. His olfactory abilities would make a beagle patently envious. If the IOC would stage a contest wherein the blindfolded participants would be asked to identify objects solely by smell, he would win hands down.

“That is the dung of an Arabian camel who recently passed through the Saharan desert,” he might say as the first object is passed.

“This is an extremely rare orchid only found in the rainforests of Papua, New Guinea,” he would proclaim.

“And this is a coffee bean grown in Costa Rica, medium roasted and infused with Jamaican and Mexican liqueurs,” he would assert to gasps and applause from the judges.

I’m confident he could parlay his gold medal into some lucrative endorsements. Please pray with me that the U.S. sniffing team doesn’t have to wear tights, or I’ll never get him to Beijing.

This column was published in July 2008 when the Summer Olympics were imminent.  The author asserts that she could still take the gold in diaper changing and begs IOC chairman, Mr. Rogge, to "open those games, sir - open up those games!" 

Unfortunately, Mr. Schrock has not yet buckled acceded to her encouragement to 'live the dream' due to the fact that spandex would still be involved.  Her blog, The Natives Are Getting Restless, holds even more creative Olympic suggestions.


Drive This.

When it comes to traveling, I like being a lone wolf. I have spent many hours in my car with no company except the radio blasting at full volume. No one chatting over my favorite songs; no one insisting on pointing out landmarks after we've already passed them; no one commenting on my driving skills or life choices. Bliss.

Unfortunately, this also means that I have to be my own navigator, snack bag opener, and nap preventer. No problem when I'm well rested, but deprive me of a couple hours of beauty sleep and you'll soon find me swerving across four lanes of traffic because I either dozed off or smacked myself in the eye while trying to open a stubborn bag of Cheetos. Add night driving to the mix, and you've got the recipe for fun -- if your idea of "fun" involves emergency lights, sirens, and a frantic call to the insurance company's 24-hour hotline.

"Hello, thank you for calling XYZ Insurance. My name is Candy. How may I assist you?"



Pause. "Your name is Candy?"

I hear a sigh on the other end of the line. "Yes. My name is Candy. Yes, that's my real name. No, I've never been a cocktail waitress or an exotic dancer. I wanted to be an airline pilot, but here I am, in this stuffy call center, taking insurance claim calls. Now, how can I help you?"

My brilliantly witty questions effectively stifled, I decide to move on. "Right. This is Angie Mansfield, and I--"

Candy's entire demeanor changes. At least, the part of it I can hear in her voice. Sounding excited and a little breathless, she interrupts me. "I'm sorry. Did you say your name is Angie Mansfield?"


"The Angie Mansfield?"

I start to get a bad feeling. "Well...I'm an Angie Mansfield..."

"What did you run into this time, a curb? No, wait -- someone's garden gnome. No! I've got it -- a stone statue of a unicorn named Trixie."

Crap. They knew me. Time for a little defensive indignation. "None of those things, Candy, and I don't think I like your tone."

I hear a giggle, and Candy's muffled voice saying, "Hey! Everyone! I've got Angie Mansfield on the line!" followed by more giggling. Finally Candy comes back. "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

"Do you have me on speaker phone?"

"Absolutely not," she says, but I can clearly hear the giggling and high-fives in the background.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Now, what can we help you with this evening?"

"Well, 'we' can file a claim. I got run off the road."

"You got run off the road, or you drove off the road?" More snickering in the background.

"Well, Candy, the end result is the same, don't you think?"

"Maybe, but the form is different."

I roll my eyes and dream of throttling Candy. "All right, fine. If you must know, I got run off the road by an ice cream truck."

A pause, punctuated by a couple snorts as someone tries to hold back laughter. "You...got run off the road...by an ice cream truck?"

"Yes. He swerved over into my lane in order to pass the horse and buggy."

No one even tries to hide their laughing now. They're positively howling on the other end of the line. I wait for a couple of seconds, wondering if they'll remember I'm here, and then I gently press 'end' on my cell phone.

The car's in one piece, I was able to drive it out of the ditch, and no one's hurt. I think the CSR's have had enough entertainment for one night.

Angie Mansfield is a humor writer, zebra lover, and very good driver. Really. Very good driver. Read more of her humor (rated PG-13) on her spoof news site, the Zebra Rag.


Always Practice Safe Gardening

I love to garden. So when there was an opportunity to volunteer in a garden, I immediately signed up for the task. Our elementary school has a fairly large garden consisting of ten raised beds located in the preschool playground and the school needed people to tend the garden for a week during summer break. It’s tending a garden for a week while reaping the benefits of the crop and providing my children with an opportunity to learn a little about agriculture. Totally a win, win, win situation for me and one that was working out just fine …until one day.

By Thursday, I had already spent the previous days weeding, watering, and harvesting. So on this day, I figured I would stop by with my two children and spend a short time simply watering the garden. At first the kiddos were happy to help and made frequent stops at the hose to fill up their little plastic watering cans. But after a few minutes, the empty playground called to them and they left their watering cans for some exploration and imagination development.

I didn’t think anything about it. They were welcome to help when they wanted (which was often) and of course welcome to run off and just be kids. So I finished spraying down the other beds while occasionally glancing at my little munchkins playing in a corner of the yard. I thought it was nice that the two sisters were getting along so well. No whining, no bossing, just two buddies working together doing… something over by a fence.

Once I was finished with the last bed, I called for the girls to clean up their watering cans and get ready to go. Both ran from their fence and approached me while I was winding up the hose.

“Mom! Look what sister gave me!” Shouted the youngest (4) as she scampered across the yard with some found treasure clutched in one of her little hands.

“Yes! I recycled it by re-purposing it and making something new!” My 6 year-old’s voice was filled with pride while she shared her eco-friendly knowledge.

I finished rolling up the hose and turned to see this ‘treasure’ that was the result of their teamwork. My 4 year old was beaming with the gift from her older sister and still making her way towards me. At first I wasn’t sure what it was she was holding. It was stuffed with wood chips and I saw a yellow dandelion flower tied to the top. Then the realization hit me. I even gasped.

Dangling from my little child’s sweet and innocent hand was a large, purple, shiny condom.

My reaction was shock and anger, but the biggest feeling was disgust. I quickly snatched the ‘prettily decorated item’ from my child’s hand and hollered for both the girls to follow me to the nearest bathroom. (Hoping that they would be open seeing that school was out for the summer) My youngest immediately screamed at me.

“Gim me back my treshure!”

My oldest had caught up to us and joined in with her little sister, “MOM! Its not trash! I recycled it and made a fancy purse!”

Meanwhile I am trying to explain that it is junk and very yucky junk while wondering the school hallway looking for an unlocked bathroom with a purple decorated condom dangling from my hand. Visions of VD and germs swarmed in my head and I was in a panic to get their little hands clean ASAP.

Horrible thoughts flashed before me. What if they thought it was a balloon and tried to blow it up? So I asked the eldest if she or her sister tried to blow it up.



I finally reached the bathrooms and yep, the doors were locked. So I found the nearest dumpster and tossed the item in it.

Youngest renewed her screaming efforts, “YOU FREW AWAY MY TRESHURE!”

Eldest backed off and joined my defense. “It was yucky trash.”

Eventually I make it back to my minivan and snatched my purse from under the console. Fortunately I don’t go anywhere without goop. (a.k.a. Purelle)

I drowned both their hands and mine in the potent potion of germ fighting goodness, locked them in their car seats, (youngest still screaming) and called husband to tell him what had happened.

“OH YUCK! Gross!! That’s awful! Is that our 4yo screaming in the background?”

I sighed, “Yes.”

“Tell her I am going to Target to buy her a treat.”

Dad likes to use the ‘treat’ method to solve tears. (It turns out; he bought me a treat too. Chocolate covered macadamia nuts.)

Once I got home, I called my dad to tell him what happened and received a different response.

It took a few minutes for him to stop laughing.

So, I’ve added a new note in my gardening journal. “Always practice safe gardening.”


Mother proposes trade - flip-flops for wingtips

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They’re always jumping, ever grazing, and seldom sleeping.

Yup, it’s summertime and the kids are home. Somewhere, tired teachers are on their knees, thanking God that it’s over before heading off to sleep ‘til August.

No one is quite sure where the bus drivers have gone, having apparently disappeared en masse. There was one reported sighting in Malaysia, but local police are “awfully suspicious, seeing as how the tip came from a pay phone at the playground.” This, according to an inside source at the department, who then added, “The tipster sounded real young and was laughing when he hung up.”

Interestingly, early indicators show a strong surge in productivity as offices throughout the county are opening prematurely now, some even as early as daybreak. This has officials scratching their heads, but I know jolly well what’s behind it.

We have the abovementioned small fry to thank for this. They’re the ones sending frazzled fathers fleeing in frustration, leaving behind a myriad of mothers mired in melancholy. At many homes, there’s whooping from one party and whimpering from the other as the whooper whips out the drive in a cloud of dust. (Sorry. It’s the Seuss again.)

I know this for a fact because I got it straight from the horse’s mouth. The “horse,” of course, shall remain anonymous, but he told me just this week that he “uses all eight cylinders” when he leaves for work in the mornings.

After four weeks now of this whooping and whimpering arrangement, I’ve come to the conclusion that the scales of justice are seriously out of whack. Lover of justice that I am, I believe I’ve hit upon a solution. The following is a rough draft of a proposal I intend to present to Mr. Schrock for his approval.

“Inasmuch as we both desire to have a strong and loving marriage and inasmuch as we both aspire to nurture enduring bonds with our offspring, I offer the following proposition. I propose that herewith we shall switch places for one week. Thus, you will conduct business from my office on the second floor while I transcribe in your office across from the coffee shop. This would benefit the family in several ways.

“First, you and I would gain a new appreciation for each other by trading flip flops and wingtips. Just think of how our love would grow from walking in each other’s shoes for a bit.

“For instance, working at your office would remind me of how lonely you must get with no children swarming your ankles and answering your phone for you. How the silence must ring in your ears with no doors slamming every 30 seconds. And doesn’t working in relative cleanliness just seem sterile to you? I’m afraid I’ll have to track in some dirt and smudge the walls just to feel at home there. I hope you won’t mind.

“After all that stultifying adult conversation you get over there, I’ll bet you’ll find it refreshing to trade it in for the happy sounds of childhood. You know, such as the shrieks and howls of pain being inflicted, the sounds of riotous chases through the house, and the endless ‘can we’ questions? Sure, those may not mix well with client phone calls, but just look at it as a chance to brush up on some other skills, like charades and sign language. The boys will love it. They’ll think it’s a game.

“And that’s the second objective – bonding with your sons. Just think of all the fun you’ll have, staying one step ahead of those guys. Why, you may not need to run half as much once you’re keeping track of them. Besides, it’s way more fun to shred confiscated, cleverly crafted schematics for a daring Doritos and brownies raid which you’ve uncovered than to shred boring old business documents. Your ‘fun factor’ will go through the roof.

“While I’m slaving away next door to a tanning salon and just down the street from a good pedicure, you’ll be receiving sticky kisses and getting jam on your sock because someone dropped a blob and forgot to wipe it up. Like I always tell you, ‘It makes the love stick on longer.’

“At least at the house, you can take a break and get outdoors a bit. There’s a world of entertainment right outside the back door. There really is nothing like jumping on the trampoline for awhile and playing Dead Man with six other legs to clear your head. Watch out, though. One pair cheats.

“I can see that working day after day in that concrete jungle, surrounded by asphalt and cement, must really wear on you. I mean, all you have is a coffee shop across the street. What kind of place is that to take a break at, anyway? The grass really is greener over here. It sure is.

“So, if you’re up for improving our marriage and strengthening our family ties, you may sign right here. Thank you.”

Rhonda Schrock is fairly certain that this proposal will go down in flames. She asserts that the proximity of the coffee shop to Mr. Schrock’s office has nothing to do with her offer. To read more of her tribal adventures, visit her blog, The Natives Are Getting Restless.


Milk and Bread? Yeah, right.

I just went in for milk and bread,

I never meant to lose my head,

But by the time I’d reached the door

My cart was dragging on the floor.

“What happened?” cried my shaken spouse,

“You bought enough to fill a house!”

“But honey, dog food was on sale

And I couldn’t pass up half price kale!

Just look at these socks with rainbow toes,

And polka dot tissues to blow your nose!

I had to buy snow cones, three for ten,

And chicken livers to feed Uncle Ben,

Who loves to pop in unannounced, you know,

I’ll feed him persimmons—just look how they glow!”

I grinned and I gloated, I basked in delight,

That I’d found such bargains for our budget tight.

Did it really matter we didn’t have dogs?

Or despised that ol’ kale? We’d feed neighbor’s hogs!

I guess I’d forgotten poor Uncle Ben’s passing,

But fried chicken livers would be such a blessing

At the next carry-in on our 5th Sunday dinner,

As a shopper, no doubt, I reigned as the winner!

JEL, 05/04/2010


Planning is for Sissies, Part I

Part One
They say that proper planning prevents poor performance. Mr. Vagabond and I prefer to say, “Don’t plan for anything because nothing ever goes as planned.” That is especially true for us. He is a cell phone Tower Rigger. I am a Tower Rigger's wife. There is rarely a dull moment, and travel is almost constant. Recently, he needed to drive to Phoenix. Unfortunately, the gods were against him (AKA “they lost my rental reservation”). At the last minute, we concluded that I would take him in our truck and then bring the truck back. Life is an adventure. And planning is for sissies.
After arranging a last-minute pup sitter and throwing a few things into a bag, we hit the road. Tennessee wasn’t interesting, so I didn’t take any pictures. There was nothing unusual going on except for the head-banging Mudvayne CD blaring in our truck. Crossing the border into Arkansas, I yelled, “There went Tennessee!” He bobbed his head to the deafening music and replied, “HUH?”
Arkansas promised new sights, but all I got were two blurry, sideways pictures of a church and a river. There were storms. We ran over an armadillo. Ka-Thunk. And there went Arkansas.
At some point, we got the brilliant idea to drive all night to Flagstaff, Arizona. Because we are navigational superstars. His Mudvayne CD cycled around for the third time when I had the unsettling revelation that I knew all the lyrics. Around 2:30 a.m., the whining began. Not the music -- me. I needed sleep. The only things I can say about Oklahoma City are that I don’t know what it looks like because it was dark and the Circle K off I-40 has eerily clean bathrooms. I’m not sure what our hotel looked like, but I am relatively certain there was a bed.
The next morning, I decided to drive first. After cleaning up the full cup of coffee I dumped on the floor mat, we were off and running. Nearly 3 hours were spent in total silence, save for the ringing in my ears from the previous day. Mr. Vagabond slept. I was tempted to take a picture of him sleeping, but I didn't think he would appreciate photographic proof of his fly-catching abilities. There is photographic proof of windmills, though. Lots of windmills. And there went Oklahoma.
Northern Texas has a whole lotta flat. And windmills. And cows. We switched over so he could drive. I snapped a few blurry, sideways pictures of windmills and cows. And there went Texas.
New Mexico
New Mexico is large. Very large. And if I had to listen to that Mudvayne CD one.more.time . . .
We tried switching to the nonexistent radio stations. We settled on our iPods. I called home. He called home. I squirmed in my seat. I texted with my boys and took crooked, blurry pictures of the landscape as it turned into desert. I planned to meet with my cousin in Albuquerque, but that fell through when we realized the actual distance to Flagstaff (GPS, ftw)!
New Mexico boredom was broken by, “Hey sweetie! Look! There’s a little twister!” Sure enough, dust spiraled up on the side of the road. I chirped, "Awww, it's a baby tornado!" About then, the baby tornado decided to roll out and play in traffic. Good thing we had just stopped so I could pee since it nearly flipped the truck over. I squealed. He laughed.
“Awwww, it’s a widdle baby tornado! Look how cute!”
I shot him a look. He laughed. Again. Turns out, it was a dust devil, and we saw several more through New Mexico. Fortunately, they were well mannered enough to say out of the road.
Next stop, ice cream at Dairy Queen! It’s amazing how a plain vanilla cone can soothe the soul of a weary traveler. I passed on buying a $40 rubber snake at the D.Q. gift shop. Hitting the road again, we noticed a huge ridge of rocks that went on forever. The sign read, “Continental Divide.” I figured it was most likely an important landmark and so I snapped a few blurry, sideways pictures. And there went the Continental Divide. And there went New Mexico.
Finally! Yeah, right. After the ice cream, Mr. Exhausted napped while I drove on to Flagstaff. And on and on to Flagstaff. Where IS Flagstaff? I saw it like a shining beacon on the GPS, but it refused to come into view through the windshield. GPS earned the nickname, “Loster than _____.” Fill in the blank however you please. We did.
Eventually, the desert changed into green. I swore I saw snow flurrying around, but he shot me a look that said, “You need professional help.” He had a point. We stopped for gas at the top of the mountain. I called my mother to tell her we were almost there. And there went Flagstaff.
We didn’t know it then, but we weren’t almost there. What remained of the trip equaled Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride on crack. Had we planned for this trip, we would have known. But planning is for sissies. Right?

Check back on July 26th for part II of our adventure.


An Enduring Marriage Rooted in Selfishness

By John Banusiewicz

I’ve figured out how my wife has put up with me for more than 25 years of marriage. That’s no small feat, because I wasn’t a prize in the first place, and a quarter of a century of getting older, balder, fatter and generally more trollish has made the groom I was in 1984 seem like a young Sean Connery.

The Great Well-Intentioned Initiative of 1985 sure didn’t help. I figured laundry was something I could do while watching TV and perhaps even taking a nap, so one Saturday I thought I’d surprise my wife while she was out and about by having it all done when she got home.

Did you know it’s unwise to pack the washer with as many clothes as possible without regard for what they’re made of or what color they are? That “hot” isn’t necessarily the best setting for everything, whether it’s the washer OR the dryer? Well, maybe you do, Ms. Smartypants, and I do know it now. But I didn’t know it back then.

It’s to her eternal credit that my wife didn’t kill me on the spot, and that's probably only because she got a lot of new clothes out of the deal. And it wasn’t a total loss for me, either. Since then, I have been permanently excused from doing – or even folding – the laundry.

And she definitely hasn’t kept me around because I can fix things. The few household projects that conceivably could fall within my limited skill set can take years between the need becoming evident and me strutting around the house like Bob Villa after the 10 minutes it takes me to get it done. My customary approach to household repairs is “write the check.”

But I love to cook, and I would go grocery shopping every day if I could.

There’s nothing altruistic about the fact that I do all of the shopping and cooking. In fact, my wife swears it’s a sentence she imposed on me shortly after we were married, when I allegedly – it’s never been proven in a court of law – remarked unfavorably about her meat loaf.

I must have been watching a football game when she sentenced me to a weekly Bataan Death March at the grocery store and a life chained to the stove, because I sure don’t remember it. The truth is I do it because it guarantees we’ll have what I want for every meal, and that it will be made the way I like it.

Who knew selfishness could be the key to enduring wedded bliss? But I warn potential imitators that selfishness isn’t the asset in and of itself. It has to be something big that your wife hates doing and that you enjoy.

You probably can get your wife to continue putting up with your myriad flaws if you cleaned the bathrooms and changed the sheets, but it’s hard to imagine anyone enjoying that, so you might as well let her keep doing those things. Maybe she doesn’t enjoy scrubbing the toilets, but if you did it, she’d just go behind you and do it again, because she’d never believe you’d done it right. No woman wants to feel she has to hover in her own bathroom.

And if you think she’s sticking around because you’re so good at … well, YOU know … get over it. Anybody can do that, and for all you know, she’s been channeling Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally” all along.

But you do like to eat, right? If her idea of making spaghetti sauce is to brown some hamburger and throw in a can of tomatoes without even draining the meat, it’s a pretty safe bet she hates to cook and that you’re not crazy about eating what she makes. But if she can take a bubble bath every Saturday because you’re valiantly fighting the hordes at Piggly Wiggly -- and then can push back her cuticles while you whip up dinner -- you’ll be golden.

Cooking isn’t hard; start with stuff like spaghetti sauce and chili. Find a couple of recipes online for stuff you like and give it a whirl. And shopping for food can be fun – especially if you hang around and enjoy the scenery in the frozen food section on a hot summer day. If you can make that commitment, your wife will be happy to wash the dishes and friends will tell her how lucky she is to have you.

From there, it’s a small step for her to truly believe it – even if you’re only vaguely aware of the laundry hamper concept.


Fall in, Ermas! Welcome to our new troops

The jello recipes are what clinched it. A whole flood of votes came in at the last minute to stretch these two past the finish line.

We'd like to welcome Terri Coop and Sarah Garb to the ranks of An Army of Ermas!

Thank you to all who entered, it was a very close contest. There will be more in the future so please keep us in mind when the funny strikes.  :)


Technological Love Languages 2.0

 By Harley May

Technology is a mainstay in our lives. We can’t escape it. Everyone is plugged into the internet with some gadget or another so there is little excuse for husbands and wives who cannot get a hold of each other.

At the very least, there is the cell phone call between spouses on the way home from work:

Husband: Hey hon. What’s for dinner?

Wife: Whatever you kill and bring home. I’ll start boiling water.

Husband: So you haven’t thought about dinner?

Wife: No.

Husband: Do you plan on thinking about it?

Wife: (kids screaming in the background) Sorry – couldn’t hear that last question.

Husband: It was nothing. What did you do today?

Wife: Took a trip to the grocery store and went shoe shopping. I brought the toddler with me. We found some super-cute ones on sale. He helped me try them on and then put a few pairs on all by himself. I was surprised at how well he navigated in those extra inches. It took me years to master that walk.

Husband: He tried on women’s shoes with you?

Wife: Yes. He’s done it with his sister’s princess heels. Surely you’ve seen him do it before.

Husband: I haven’t. Put on Sports Center immediately.

Wife: That’s silly.

Husband: Then take him to that golf pro shop and get him to hit a round or two on that driving range they have set up.

Wife: I’m not doing that.

Husband: Take him outside and throw a football around. Please. You didn’t do this with his older brother, did you?

Wife: (static) I’m losing you.

Husband: You aren’t answering my question. Did you do this with his older brother? Yes or no?

Wife: (click)

Husband: Honey?

There is also the fun e-mail exchange:

From: hunk@burningmanlove.com
To: exhausted@housewife.com
Date: June 19, 2010 12:32 pm
Subject: Tonight

Hey Hot Stuff,

I was wondering if we could pencil something into the evening’s schedule involving you and that red thing.

I’ll be out of the office from 1-2, but you can reach me on my cell. I look forward to touching base with you later.

Your Stallion

From: exhausted@housewife.com
To: hunk@burningmanlove.com
Date: June 19, 2010 12: 35 pm
Subject: Re: Tonight

Mr. Husband,

If you’ll please study our extra-curricular activities contract (updated and renewed after child number four) on page nine, paragraph three, you’ll note that I require at least nine hours notice of such requests.

I’ve attached said document for you to review. It looks like I’m going to have to get back to you on this.

Hot stuff

From: hunk@burningmanlove.com
To: exhausted@housewife.com
Date: June 19, 2010 12:40 pm
Subject: Re: Tonight

Mrs. Wife Lady,

You’re good at these multi-tasking situations and know how to think outside the box. You’re a go-getter, a thinker, and I’ll trust you’ll be able to sort this situation out. If there is anything I can do to help you get into that red thing and on the bed at 10 pm sharp, please let me know.

Mr. Husband

From: exhausted@housewife.com
To: hunk@burningmanlove.com
Date: June 19, 2010 12: 44 pm
Subject: Re: Tonight

Mr. Husband,

I’d be happy to have this issue completed and resolved, ready to be turned in at 10 pm. There are few contingencies I’d like to negotiate for such a thing to occur. You must do the following:

1.)    Fix supper
2.)    Take insubordinates out for some recreation time
3.)    Bubble bath (for Mrs. Wife Lady)
4.)    Vacuum
5.)    Foot rub

When items 1-5 are completed, I’ll take over the rest of the evening’s activities and the requested red thing will be on at the scheduled time. I’d also like to work at least fifteen minutes of foreplay into the evening or all this is a no go. These are my rules.

From: hunk@burningmanlove.com
To: exhausted@housewife.com
Date: June 19, 2010 12:49 pm
Subject: Re: Tonight

Mrs. Wife Lady,

I agree to items 1-5 of your requirements, but fear that completion of such issues will limit the foreplay you’ve requested. Seven minutes

From: exhausted@housewife.com
To: hunk@burningmanlove.com
Date: June 19, 2010 12: 52 pm
Subject: Re: Tonight

Mr. Husband,

Ten minutes.

From: hunk@burningmanlove.com
To: exhausted@housewife.com
Date: June 19, 2010 12:53 pm
Subject: Re: Tonight


And finally we have the text messages:

Husband: Wht ru wearing
Wife: R u drunk
Husband: Yup
Wife: Y r u drunk @ work
Husband: Im on a boat
Wife: Lol u r a lying liar
Husband: Company booze cruise I forgt 2 tell u abt
Wife: Be safe
Husband: Life vests
Wife: Pics
(Husband sends picture of himself in yellow life vest. Randos pop into the frame)
Wife: Get nancys hand off ur butt
Husband: Lol thats Andrew
Wife: Nice purple shirt
Husband: Hes gained weight


Ermas summer contest entries

A huge thank you to everyone that entered! Each one is sublime and we toast every pickin' one of you with leftover cold coffee and stale donuts. You're welcome.

#1 Entry by Melanie Recoy:

My mom and dad stopped by the store today. Mom was carrying a can of air freshener. Pine scent.

“Everything going okay?” she said, followed by a lasso throwing like spray above her head.“I bet you are getting tired. I wish you could get out of here more.” Arm fully extended, back and forth motion, as if watering the lawn.

“How’s the house coming? I do need to get over there and see it.” she continued, arm above the head as if swaying to music at a concert.

By this time I was seriously worried about being overcome by the scent of the Great Northwest and knew I wasn't going to be able to get a word in edgewise.

This is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s not always air freshener, but it’s always something.

I retreated from the fresh clean scent of pine to greet my father. He was walking down the aisle of the store he loves, always looking for something to point out that needs to be done.

“Mom’s in the back with the air freshener.” I say.

“Why the hell do you think I had to get out of there?” he answers.

We are in complete understanding.

They aren't bad as parents go, but I do wish mom would get off the air freshener kick.

#2 Entry by Terri Spilman:

Greetings from Camp Puke! What a thrilling three days. Activities include Bathroom Races, Moaning Contests and Laundry Marathons. We even get to sleep on the floor. The camp food is great -- all the Gatorade and Saltine crackers you can hold down. Wish you were here! Ooo, gotta go, it's my turn to drive the bus. Love ya. See you soon. P.S. Please send some Hanes (his and hers).

Apparently a rather violent stomach virus was making its way through the community and happened to make a stop at our house. In an unprecedented event, all three of us were deathly ill at the same time. I'm pretty sure our obedience school drop out golden retriever was in charge of the household at one point. Thank God for the doting Aunt who came to our rescue providing childcare for the day. And kudos to my mother and fellow germaphobe who tossed a ten pound bag of potatoes and sack of vitamin water into the house and then quickly pealed out of the driveway to avoid exposure to the virus.

The only casualty was a rather old, worn out pair of sleeping pants lost in a sharting incident which I consider more of a mercy killing than an actual loss. I'm happy to report we are all on the mend and busy dousing the house in Clorox. Hopefully, we will not return to Camp Puke for a long, long time.

#3 Entry by Lucia Paul

Competitive Tranquility

There is no easy way to break this to you: competitive yoga exists.

I’ve told you, and I’m sorry. Feel free to clutch your head and stagger around.

This came to my attention when I saw an ad for an upcoming “yoga competition.” Is nothing sacred anymore? Even sacred stuff like yoga?

Now before you think that I’m just a doughy malcontent who shovels in snacks while sneering at fitness competitions, let me assure you, you’re close.

But I do go to yoga occasionally. Who doesn’t?

Unless you’ve been on a strict no-media regime, you are aware that yoga has overtaken the nation.

Everyone started to speak knowingly of vinyasa flow (don’t call a plumber). And in hushed tones about the virtues of Bikram (that’s the sweaty kind).

Beginning classes often call only for the prerequisite of breathing. I’m in.

Not practicing yoga has become like saying you don’t believe in the Internet or basic hygiene.

But the fact that yoga has become a sport is odd.

While we’re at it, let’s get competitive about birth, and what the heck, death!

“See you in Miami for the Southeast Death Finals!”

At yoga competitions, are there spectators and do they yell things?

“Nice serenity, Ashley!” Or, “ You call that a sun salutation, Jeremy?”

Yoga has clearly gone to the dreaded “next level.”

I don’t want to go to the next level. I want to lie quietly on a mat.

I guess I’m not competitive enough for yoga.

#4 Entry by John D. Banusiewicz:

My wife is amazing in a multitude of ways, but her most finely honed skill is the ability to detect even my smallest, briefest, most consciously suppressed expression of disappointment, doubt or chicanery. It could be a four-nanosecond twitch of an eyelid or the path the corners of my mouth take when I'm faking a smile to disguise my thoughts, or maybe it's something in my voice that even dogs can't detect. But there's no fooling Kathy. That usually works in her favor, but one instance 25 years ago paid off for both of us.

I don't remember what she'd made for dinner that night, but despite my fulsome praise and accompanying yummy sounds, she knew instantly I would have preferred dining out. In her sweetest newlywed voice, she suggested that I certainly could have whatever dinner I wanted, prepared exactly as I like it, for the duration of our married life. All I had to do was take responsibility for the grocery shopping and the cooking parts of that little equation. OK, well, maybe it wasn't her sweetest newlywed voice, but it was music to my ears. I love to roam the grocery store, I love to cook, and most of all, I love to eat.

We've dined only too well over the ensuing quarter of a century, and the fact that it's impolite to scream at one another with our mouths full has been the key to our enduring partnership.

#5 Entry by Julianna McDowell

Mealtime is my most dreaded part of my day. This poses quite a problem since most of my day is either engaged in preparing, serving, or cleaning up a meal. Maybe you can relate? I am hoping that I am not the only one out there whose meals go something like this:

11:15 Trying to figure out what to make. Will it be PB & J, grilled cheese, or noodles with cheese? So many choices.

11:30 Lunch is ready and my daughter starts to eat her grilled cheese and soup. My son, on the other hand, is vigorously shaking his head "no" and dropping the cheese, that I so thoughtfully cut in the shape of stars, to the floor.

11:32 My daughter has stopped eating, found a toy and is now in her happy place, pretending. My son is momentarily caught off guard by a garlic press and I hastily shove a bite of food in his unsuspecting mouth. SUCCESS!

11:35 My daughter lazily takes a bite of her sandwich and starts to slurp her soup. My son is arching his back and leaning as far away from me as I try to give him another bite of food. Who knew that yogurt was the devil?

11:38 My daughter is now singing a little tune in between "bites". My son is crying and I am searching the kitchen for some gadget to capture his attention. A magnet? A spatula? An unopened beer bottle from the fridge? Works every time.

11:50 Five more bites have been achieved by my son and my daughter has finished her soup.

12:00 Patting myself on the back for a job well done. My children ate well.

#6 Entry by Richard Satterlie:

My son just reached double-figures and The Omens are gathering. His latest conquest is cussing by not cussing. Anything resembling the sound of a cuss word, and he gets the giggles.

“I know a word that sounds like that. And I know what it means.”

So, how do I handle that? Let it pass without comment, but with a disapproving look? The kind of look that strikes fear in his bones (in my dreams, of course)? Do I remind him once again that being rude and crude is neither clever nor cool, even though I remember how cool and clever I felt when I let slip with a four-letter screamer at his age?

So I decide to play a little trick on him. I tell him to grab his tongue with his thumb and forefinger and say, “My daddy works at the shipyard.”

He does. And when the first half of the last word comes out, I put on the gruff and inform him there will be no TV or games tonight.

He pauses, and I brace myself for some serious complaining.

“Dad, you’re an assssssssstronaut. Why don’t you go to helllllllllllsinki?”

I’m stuck. His boldness strikes fear in my spleen—fear for the future. At the same time it puffs my chest with male pride. You see, he has shown a precocious leap to the Y chromosome artistry of bathroom speech and humor.

Come on. I’m male.

And I am still in double-figures.

Clever little cuss ain’t he?

#7 Entry by Jennifer Hayman:

You Need Balls to Buy a Cup.

“I need to find a cup,” I said to the sports store greeter.

"Sure, we have a big selection upstairs, just take the escalator; all our cups are in the camping aisles," he replied.

"Um, no,” I said; “I need a cup (subtly pointing toward my crotch), you know, a cup." He stared at me confused and said slowly, "you need a cup?”

Frustrated, I channeled my inner Michael Jackson with an all out crotch-grabbing demonstration and explained, "You know, a cup, for my son, he plays baseball…”

"Oh, for your son!” he said. “OK, how big is he?”

"Huh?" I was dumbfounded and slightly irritated. I thought, "did he just really just ask me how big my son is? That’s a little inappropriate." I lost for words when a customer watching our display interjected, "I think he means how old is your son."

Taking a deep breath, I blurted out, "Oh thank God! I can answer that - eight; he's eight years old."

“Go straight ahead," the greeter explained. "Take a right at the end of the aisle; the protective equipment is right across from the soccer balls, it’s like, a whole wall of balls, you can’t miss it.”

“Yup, I’m good with the balls," I said. "Thanks.”

If I ever have a daughter, I am sending her father to buy her, her first "cups."

#8 Entry by Sarah Garb:

One thing I have never covered in my third grade classroom is how to wear a bra. The basics of any lesson on the topic, though, would surely include, "take care to prevent the undergarment from ending up on the rug in the middle of the classroom." Probably due to my lack of teaching on the subject, this exact scenario happened one day during math.

Fortunately, the misplaced unmentionables were out of view of most of the class. I figured I'd deal with the situation once the kids were safely distracted by the bustle of putting their papers away. During my clean-up directions, however, I noticed Imani noticing the bra. Now, bras being still new to third grade girls, Imani must not have been completely certain how they worked, either. "Could that be mine?" she must have been wondering. "Did my bra just spring out from under my shirt and land over there on the rug? That would be weird and rather embarrassing, but who knows how these things work?"

To be sure that all of her items of clothing were still where they should be, and that the bra lying out in plain view was not hers, Imani placed two hands on the neck of her sweatshirt, stretched it out in front of her, and popped her face down inside for a quick peek. "Phew!" she must have thought as a look of relief spread across her face. "Not mine."

#9 Entry by Carol Kabat:

Things I Learned from my Mother (but I Doubt Are True)

My mom adores aphorisms. You know those quaint, catchy little sayings that pack a moral punch. She fed them to us like other kids got homemade cookies in their Peanuts lunchboxes. So in between “Enough is enough” and “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” we muddled our way into adulthood without much argument. Besides, we knew better than to argue with the woman who packed our lunches. Get her angry and what’s to stop her from reaching for Dad’s head cheese instead of the PB & J, you know what I mean?

It wasn’t until I delivered my first child into the Grandchild Collective that I questioned the wisdom that perpetually issued forth from my mother lips.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

Um. Alright. Now this might be a dandy idea if your baby sleeps from 11 pm to 6:30 am, then wakes up to let the dog out and start the morning coffee. Unfortunately, I did not produce such a prodigy of the circadian cycle. My kid didn’t need sleep like normal humans do. Four hours worth of cat naps and he was good for the whole rowdy day.
Mom would call to check up on me though.

“Are you sleeping when the baby sleeps?”

“No, Mom. Conor doesn’t sleep. I’m pretty sure I’ve whined about that before.”

“Put the phone up to his ear.” Even though she no longer had control over my lunch, I put the receiver to the ear of my 3-month old child. I don’t know why, but I was expecting to hear a full-of-grammie-love lullaby come over the phone.

“Young man, enough is enough.”

#10 Entry by Suzanne Jacob:

I thought I was done; I had reached the finish line and heard the Universal timer go off! I witnessed the gowns “swooshing” as the caps and tassles flew in the air. The agenda was set, each of my three daughters had their college plans and my passport was ready; the empty pages waiting for the stamps of adventure with my European escort. Well, in America he’s actually my husband, but abroad he’s my personal exotic foreign tour guide presenting his homeland attractions. It keeps it exciting that way.

I knew there was a space of sand on the Silver Coast reserved with my name, a boutique in Paris begging for my credit card and a chocolate dessert in Belgium that would seduce me for an international affair.

This getaway had been inked in my mind for a couple of years and nothing could deter me from my well-earned expedition!

Well, nothing except a little stick with a possible plus or minus sign at the end. In my case, a plus!

How did this happen? Wait, scratch that, I know that answer. So HOW did this happen?! Suddenly, I found myself in a real life version of Chutes-n-Ladders and I had just been sent to start over. Uh…can I roll again please? It has been several months since that day of awakening to my ‘new life’ and thanks to perspective I’ve got ‘her’ passport forms filled out and an extra suitcase ready.

”Yes, I ‘d like reservations for three, please?”

#11 Entry by Terri Coop

"The Kid-Whisperer"

I love the Laundromat. It’s a perfect slice of life. No matter who you are, sooner or later you need clean underwear. However, I don’t love parents who view the laundry as their child’s playground. Like when I came out of the restroom to find little boys pulling my towels out of the dryer to make superhero capes, all under the nose of their (willfully) oblivious parent.

This is why I hold the memory of one super-mom in reverence. She came like so many, with three small boys, and ten baskets of wash. At first, all was well. However, as the saying goes, boys will be boys.

A laundry cart race was about to launch when a single not-to-be-ignored word sounded over the clatter of unbalanced and overloaded washers.


The boys froze mid-stride like a game of red light-green light.


Three little butts hit the hard plastic chairs. During the next hours, I heard the occasional well-placed command: stay, drop it, come, and the mildly ominous, “get under the table now.”

No swearing, no screaming, and no overblown threats. She had it going on and she had it under control.

I don’t have kids. I have Chihuahuas. I do my best to emulate her brook-no-argument tone, with generally good results. However, I apparently lack the gravitas to pull off “get under the table now.” I think my dogs are laughing at me.

To all the Kid-Whisperers out there, I salute you. It’s a lot tougher than it looks.

#12  Entry by Eden Sharpe

Last night, I slept on the screened-in porch with my boys in pup tents in the back yard. Before dawn, I heard growling and scuffling. The flashlight illuminated two bright eyes staring back at me. Oh, no.

A little, white-tipped skunk scratched in the castoff sunflower shells. I made noise and walked toward him. He spooked enough to leave there and stalk the patio in front of me. Did I have the porch’s door shut all the way? He paced, squealed, and growled with only screen and a few feet separating us. He did NOT like having me about.

With the boys in the yard, I needed to get him to leave, lest they stumble upon him unknowingly. Finally he scampered toward his usual exit, close to their tents. Then, nearly out of sight, he ran back once more before leaving for good.

I lay down. Another noise. I turned the flashlight beam to see a large, white-backed skunk at the birdfeeder. Two skunks had been the scuffle that awakened me! He scratched; I talked, shooed, and moved stuff inside. The metallic clanging of the tents’ stakes in their boxes scared him away.

When my husband (not a camper) heard me in the house, he asked, "Everything alright?"

I told him my story.

“So the kids are in the house?"

"Of course not. I couldn't bring them in with 2 skunks in the yard."

The kids are still sleeping. I'll smell around when I pack up the tents.

#13 Entry by Shelly Wiseman Webb

Reaching the Holy Land of Cleanliness

Have you ever heard the saying "Nature abhors a vacuum"?

Judging by my family's behavior, nature (human nature, at least) also despises dusting, is contemptuous of picking up, and is downright resentful about making beds. I won't even mention laundry. I wage a lone war at home against entropy, which is what scientists call that tendency in nature for things to move from a state of order to disorder. For a while now, entropy has been a houseguest. One that kicks my butt on a daily basis.

But I have a dream that keeps me from giving up completely to live in a house of filth strewn with Legos and Barbie accessories. When I someday have my house in perfect order (which I know will be through luck, hard work, and weaning myself from sleep), I am sure that my family will realize they LIKE having everything in its place.

In this fantasy, I imagine that my husband and kids finally see the light--and then I will even witness miracles! The Legos will be put into bins before Bakugan balls come out. Even Barbie will look like she caught the cleaning bug--her dream house will look like a dream come true, to me.

Heck, I imagine even the dog will have a conversion experience. Instead of just sneaking bites from the plates left uncleared on the table after supper, he'll lick each plate clean before putting them back in the cabinet to be ready for the next meal.

#14 Entry by Wynter Graham (age 11)

Well, when I first started 3rd grade, it was reading class and there was name tags on the desk . My name was spelled "Wynter" (exactly like my name). When I came in, the people at my table were trying to read my name as "whyn-ter."

I told them "Winter" and we started back and forth...

Finally he said, "How do you know?"  and I said, "It's my name..."

It was a very interesting day after that.

Did They Say That?!

Okay, this is going to be an interactive post (yep, "interactive" not "inactive" ;) ). How many have either given or been the recipient of verbal gaffes? I've done both, many times. I've overheard many, too, and try so hard not to laugh out loud and mortify the recipient. There's the saying, If you want the truth, ask a child. I can amend that by saying, "If you want the truth, ask a child--or me." So here, in no particular order, are some humdingers, given, received, or overheard:

Adult male to woman wearing a ski cap: "Wow, you look great, like you had a face lift."

Male adult to woman with a slight tummy: "Do you have a hernia or something?"

One woman to another: "When's the baby due?" (Leave it to those empire waist tops)

Child to another child: "Your grandfather really is good at running!" (It was the child's uncle.)

Young woman to a slightly older woman: "So, what hair dye do you use?" (It was the woman's natural color.)

Okay, your turn!


Where oh where have my things gone?

My stuff is no longer just mine. You name it and my kids have “borrowed” it from me. Sometimes I am aware of these transactions, sometimes I am completely left in the dark.

My sons used to raid my sock drawer. I eventually ran out of socks since they were just as adept at losing my socks as they were their own and had to put some thought as to how to keep the little foot hosiery thiefs at bay. I decided on buying myself all girly-girl type of socks, complete with lots of pink and hearts or flowers. Shortly thereafter I found my 8-year-old wearing one boys ankle sock on his left foot and a pink one of mine on his right.

This is a widespread problem that affects more than my sock drawer. They love my socks, shoes (yes, shoes!), pens, brush, toothbrush and all manner of things they should have been keeping track of for themselves. It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t lose my item as well. And of course, it would be a whole lot nicer if they would ask first. Since none of the above applies, it drives me completely nuts. I end up overreacting over the simplest of matters. One of them will “borrow” my scissors and then I’ll see that same child in the backyard five minutes later. All of a sudden I have a vision of my scissors growing rusty, hiding in the lawn for some unsuspecting soul (me) to find in the most unpleasant way. Prompted by my horrorific imagination I scream, “Did you put my scissors back?” I am single-handedly pissed purple.

Who knew I would one day care so vehementally about office supply products? But when you can’t find what you need in the last place you put it you either start to believe you are going crazy or a child has taken and lost it.

The scissors may have made it back to the desk drawer but I have lost countless rolls of tape, staples, erasers, and markers. I guess I do have a right to be so overprotective. My local office supply store is beginning to recognize me and remember my name.

It may seem extreme but I am one lost pair of socks or stapler away from buying a huge safe and placing all of my items in there. But as luck would have it, I’m no good at remembering number combinations. And my children are uncannily stealthy about getting past locks of any sort. Shoot, some of them got past the birth control barrier to be conceived.