The Pet Turtle ... Sorta

There are dozens of you slaving away in fifty and sixty hour work weeks WISHING you could start anything with the following phrase – and I’m sorry, but this is how this story begins, so here we go:

All of this started with a weekend drive to Italy.

My wife, Deedee, and a few of her friends would be shopping for Italian pottery in a little town called Nove on a Saturday. Needless to say, that didn’t tickle my manbone, and I figured even the 4-year-old (now 5) wouldn’t have eight-hour-pottery-shopping attention span. So, we needed something else to do, aside from sit in our hotel room and watch American Forces Network commercials or prowl the post exchange store.

Fortunately, my friend Bruce lived in Italy. Bruce was also gracious enough to invite us to his friend Franco’s house. “He’s got all sorts of animals there. Annabelle can play with the animals and we can hang out, drink some wine and enjoy the day.” Sold.

So, we roll onto Franco’s driveway and I realize Franco has his own Wild Country Safari inside the friendly confines of his Italian home. Chickens, turkeys, magpies, dogs, cats and … turtles. There was also a trampoline and a tree house. We’d strolled into 4-year-old heaven.

I mentioned turtles. While you think a trampoline, a tree house and free range animals roaming the place would fill her day, you'd be wrong. Instead, Annabelle got laser-focused on Franco’s turtles. See, Franco kept the larger ones, about 25, in a long, grassy pen. But the small and very small turtles, about 200, he kept in boxes. Boxes easily handled by a 4-year-old's arms.

Aside from a break to thumb through a book with pictures of the Italian version of Bratz, Annabelle stayed fixated on those turtles. Holding. Playing. Holding. Turtles won the day. Sure, there were moments on the trampoline and Franco fed us an excruciatingly good meal. We nearly napped. Thank you, Franco, for the hospitality. And off we went home, images of the turtles fading from my head.

About half way through the Italian Dolomites toward our Southern German hovel, this query peeps up from the back seat: “Daddy, can I have a pet turtle? I’ll name it Rainbow.”

Thanks, Franco. “We’ll see.”

After we returned, and for about four weeks, the phrases, “When I get a pet turtle, I’m going to name it Rainbow” and “I can’t wait to have a pet turtle named Rainbow” and all variances thereof popped up. This is a 5-year-old versed in negotiation and psychological warfare. She kept her cute bombs and other smart weapons on target. Eventually, we caved.

Two weeks ago, we set off for the pet store, which is about 35 miles from our German town. We arrived only for them to tell us they don’t sell turtles, but another pet store does, and it’s only about 15 miles away. Back in the car, and about 15 minutes later, we find said store.

Now, this, good reader, is where the story goes into a “Matrix”-styled slow motion sequence. I walked in the store and across the displays, I saw the glass aquariums and bright heat lamps. My pace quickened. I got closer and, sure enough, there are the little hamburger bun-sized reptiles. I looked down and checked the price.

One hundred and sixty five dollars.

Just as I’m about to turn around to devise a strategy to wave off buying one of these ridculously overpriced reptiles (42 bucks a leg!) with my still approaching wife, I hear this:


Annabelle sees the turtle. Deedee walks up.

“It’s $165.”

Her eyes widen, then silence.

“We can’t spend that much on something I can go scoop out of the lake,” I add.

Also important to note that while visiting the first pet store, we came thisclose to buying Annabelle fish as a consolation prize. But I can’t stand tending to an aquarium. It’s messy, labor intensive and unless I have a full-time aquarium stooge, there was no way we were getting fish. Annabelle threw a fit, but when we told her there were probably turtles at the next stop, she clammed up and hopped in the car seat.


Knowing we were never going to pay $165 for the turtle, we did what any parents would do in this situation.

We stalled.

Maybe these were the famous spotted Madagascar Leaping Forest Turtles. Perhaps these turtles were intended for some sort of German gourmet cooking dish. Maybe these turtles could speak, do dishes, vacuum or summon freaking Ewoks. Something. There just had to be other turtles.

Alas, no.

So, we were about to walk out and face the music that would be Annabelle’s heartbreak when Deedee said these magic words: “How about a Guinea Pig, Annabelle?”

Wait, what?

“Okay!” Annabelle chalks to the right and begins her selection of a guinea pig. Now, Deedee and I have about as much knowledge of guinea pigs as is contained in the period at the end of this sentence. But Annabelle thought the idea of guinea pigs sounded cool and jumped onboard. We bought a guinea pig and were out the door under budget.

At this point, the Bullet time-portion of the story ends and we managed to get home with our new guinea pig, Rainbow. As it turns out, guinea pigs get lonely, depressed and will die with socialization. So, our second guinea pig, Bubbles, came home a few days afterward.

We’ll probably still get a turtle. Low maintenance and quiet. A little Purelle and everything is fine. Plus, it’ll outlive every one of us. But for now, Bubbles and Rainbow seem to be happy they’re "the new black" of pets in the Tudor home.

Viva Italia!


Divorce is not an option, but murder may be-

 by Rhonda Schrock

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a pointy-headed professor to know that wherever human paths cross, there lies the potential for conflict.  Nowhere is this truer than in the family unit.  With different personalities and temperaments, different likes and dislikes, the delicate balance of relationships can be a minefield – a powder keg waiting to blow.

We have been married now for nearly 21 years.  As strong as our marriage is and as committed as we are to sticking together, there have been days.  Oh, there have been days. As Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, said when she was asked if she’d ever considered divorce, “No, I’ve never thought of divorce in all these 35 years of marriage, but I did think of murder a few times.”

It’s funny.  On most issues, we see eye to eye.  I honestly don’t know of anyone else with whom I have so much in common.  Our politics jibe.  Our theology matches.  Our hopes and dreams for the future are the same.  On the thorny issue of which way the toilet tissue should hang, our hearts beat as one (it should roll down over the top, of course).  It’s the little quirks and foibles, then, that can occasionally derail the happy train.

If you were to ask my husband what I do that irritates him the most, I can tell you without blinking what that would be.  You see, I have a strong desire for neatness in my world.  Clutter bothers me.  With six people in a small house, some clutter is inevitable.  However, every so often the girl has had enough, and then it’s “Katie, bar the door,” ‘cause the clutter’s gotta go.  My family knows by now that when Mama’s in that mood, they’d better keep moving or else they, too, will be stacked, sorted, pitched, or recycled.

What happens, then, is that once in a while in my straightening-up frenzy, I will move an object to a different spot and promptly forget where I put it.  This makes my orderly, everything-in-its-place husband absolutely crazy.  As entertaining as it is to watch him swing from the rafters by his fingernails, it doesn’t seem to have an overall beneficial effect on our marriage.  And when I point out that while he may be tied in knots, seeing red, or sprouting an ulcer, at least he’s not bored, he only begins praying for that very thing. “Dear Lord, I’d like to be bored for once…”

There is another thing I do once in a blue moon that makes him nuts.  This is something that can only be chalked up to my femininity and, thus, is beyond my control.  When I am startled, I do a very girlish thing.  I scream.  While some men think it’s a hoot to scare their wives, this is not true for Mr. Schrock.  Having inherited the narrow Brubacher ear canals, a high-pitched scream is actually painful for him.

Once, after we were first married, I was working in the kitchen when he appeared out of nowhere, scaring the daylights out of me.  When I cut loose with a blood-curdling shriek, he was so startled himself that he did his own little dance of fear, which loosely resembled an Irish jig.  As I dissolved into helpless laughter, my poor husband stood there, eardrums shattered, shocked that his mere appearance could set off such a chain reaction.

On his part, he comes from a tradition that believes that, “If you’re not early, you’re late.”  Put one of those with a serial procrastinator and it’s a kaboom just waiting for the match.  While I’m calculating how late we can leave for church and still make it, he’s issuing an itinerary to the troops that involves arriving the day before.  Well, almost.

Even he had to admit he erred on the side of caution the time we were slated to fly out of O’Hare airport.  After compiling a list of everything that could possibly happen to delay us, including traffic jams, a blown tire, construction, detours, and carjackings, he hauled us out of bed in the dark of night.  Given that no one in Chicago is moving a muscle at 2 a.m., we sailed up in record time, arriving four hours before departure, sleep deprived and haggard.  Men have been drug out in the street and shot for less than this.

As for the boys, they have their own pet peeves.  One of them, for instance, is a hugger and a kisser.  He has no qualms about kissing grandmothers, aunts, or brothers.  His older brother, however, would rather dip his lips in boiling oil than to use them to kiss anyone but his parents.  He would certainly rather dip his brother’s lips in boiling oil than to let them pucker in his direction.

When said kisser tried to lay one on his brother before he left for Mexico, we had about three minutes of spontaneous combustion in the living room.  It took their father donning his fireman suit to extinguish the blaze.  I would’ve jumped in with the fire extinguisher, but I was straightening up the other day and I can’t remember where I put it.

At least, thank God, we’re not bored.

There's more - far more - wit and wisdom on Rhonda's blog, The Natives are Getting Restless. Pop in and see for yourself.


Not waiting for the beep

by Beth Bartlett

In today’s world, everything beeps. The microwave oven dings, the computer, television and DVR player all have a chorus of boops, chimes and dongs, and the cell phone blasts out the song you danced to at your junior prom, but nothing beats the average modern car.

Each automobile sold today is packed with safety features that can not only motor you from place to place, it can also drive you around the bend. There’s a Vienna Boys’ Choir worth of strange ringing sounds designed to get your attention, from the ‘bong’ you hear when your door is ajar to the maddening, volume-increasing ‘bing’ if you haven’t firmly clicked your seat belt. Our 2006 model even chimes in when the windshield washer fluid is low or the gas cap might be loose, and one staccato chirp pipes up for absolutely no reason at all. If I drive past with windows down on a warm day, people think I’m grooving to trendy electronic dance music; I’m only missing the spinning disco ball inside the cab for effect.

That’s why I love our 1978 Datsun pickup. It does not beep. It does not care if you left your lights on like an idiot then walked away; hey, you’ll know better next time. There’s no ring when you decide to risk danger and drive the quarter-mile to the neighbor’s house along a quiet dirt road without your seat belt firmly strapping you in. When you get out, don’t bother pressing the key for a ‘boop boop’ to tell you that it’s locked; you’ll only have the imprint of the word ‘Datsun’ backward on your hand. Besides, the thing doesn’t lock anyway. Want to activate the security system? Roll the windows up. Want air conditioning? Roll the windows down. The only way you’ll get interior airbags in this baby is if you squeeze in a couple of long-winded relatives. The solitary thing that occasionally beeps is the horn, and only if you push it on the left side, with gusto.

Our Datsun is a relic from a simpler time; it speeds along like a greased skateboard, and sips fuel like a moped. During the mile-high gas prices in 2008, it could rumble along for a month on just twenty-five bucks in petrol. Although we paid only $150 for it at a salvage auction, we were receiving offers for up to $2,500 last summer by envious SUV owners. We laughed and rejected them all, because fuel economy is just one happy by-product of this bygone machine.

The other is freedom; glorious, politically incorrect, beep-free, borderline-safe, take-your-risks-without-a-giant-warning-sign adventure. After 30 years of dedicated
service, this truck has earned the right to retire to a peaceful farm life, hauling wood and hay. But it has a crotchety cowboy’s heart, something we recognized when we first laid
eyes on it three years ago; in spite of the rust holes in the floor, the cracked windshield, five layers of antifreeze-soaked carpet tacked to the floorboard and bookmarked with a Dukakis campaign sticker, it only took $100 bucks and some elbow grease to get it running. This battered little beater held up our expectation of adventure, too. We discovered that racing home in a gutter-busting thunderstorm with the windshield wipers, defroster, radio and heater going at the same time may cause spontaneous combustion. Instead of squealing like a teenager in a horror movie, I held up the cool factor by saying, “Hey, go a little faster, because we’re on fire.”

Add in the episode with the snoozing black snake under the driver’s seat (gotta patch those floorboard holes), and this vehicle has achieved legendary status with our friends and neighbors, an icon of individuality and personal freedom, enjoyed best when it is imperfect, colorful and full of stories. After several years, old autos become characters in life, comfortable yet unpredictable. Having just a touch of personal responsibility instead of driving in a vehicle festooned with DVD players, iPod docks, tiny refrigerators and the ability to parallel-park itself takes all the fun out of driving, and definitely kills the adventure. Why stare at a tiny screen filled with the latest moronic reality show when we can look out the window and see a field bursting with wildflowers, or watch a 500-lb. man try to squeeze into a Volkswagen beetle with twenty pounds of cat food as we pass by the grocery store parking lot? Now that’s entertainment. We can even wave at a friend or neighbor, or, if we’re feeling completely nutty, pull over and chat with them for a while and enjoy direct face-to-face communication without the need to scrawl on their Facebook wall. Granted, most conversations start with the phrase “Did
something just fall off your truck or did you find another snake?” But hey, it’s still good to connect with others.

Driving along on a summer’s day with the windows rolled down, we feel our troubles drift away in quiet contemplation, mainly because the engine is too loud to talk over. But that’s okay. For a short, blissful time, there’s nothing beeping or ringing, just the sound of getting away.

Until we realize we’ve driven off without the gas cap.


The Growth of Motherhood

 by Harley May

Children are a blessing and I am very thankful to have three of them. When I compare the type of parent I was with my first to who I am with my third, I realize each child has literally had a different woman for a mother. I changed and grew with each kid. 

Like most new mothers, I treated my first child with a great deal of love, disbelief, and fear. Obviously I loved this little life with all my being. I couldn’t believe he was really there in my arms. And I was scared out of my mind. What if I poked the bulb syringe too far into his nose while trying to get rid of all the boogies? I’D NEVER FORGIVE MYSELF. What if I didn’t burp out ALL the gas bubbles? He’d have a tummy ache and I would die of being the WORST MOTHER EVER! It probably took me twenty minutes to change a diaper.

The disbelief and fear waned slightly with each child. I’d like to thank the lack of brain cells for the some of that, but more than anything, I was simply more comfortable dealing with babies and all that they involved. I didn’t call the doctor when she sneezed ten times in a row and the projectile ejection of bodily fluids didn’t faze me in the slightest. If anything, I was impressed by them. “That was a lot of poop. Good job!”

By the third kid, my mind was officially gone and I could probably change a diaper on a water buffalo if the circumstance called for it. I also figured out that I would never be a perfect mother. I discovered that my older children could wait five minutes if they asked for something. Believe it or not, THEY WOULD SURVIVE WITHOUT GETTING THE JUICE IMMEDIATELY. In summary, I simply calmed down. I relaxed. Life was easier if I didn’t stress over every little thing. 

Pacifiers. If one fell on the floor with my first child, I had a pot of boiling water ready and waiting for sanitization. With my second baby, I simply ran some cold water over it. My third? He was lucky if I brushed it against my pant leg.

Eating. With my oldest, I made all his baby food from organic fruits and vegetables myself. I blended sweet potatoes, bananas, peaches, and carrots. He only ate proteins, fruits, and vegetables. His first birthday cake was the first time he had sugar. I didn’t let him eat much because I thought it’d make him sick. My second child ate a cinnamon roll at nine months. My third kid? At six months, we were like, “Let’s see if he likes pumpkin bread!”

Boo boos. There are few things worse than watching your child fall down, skin their leg and start to cry. When my first child would get hurt, it was the end of the world for me.


My second child I would see fall and hold my breath. I’d wait to see how she reacted before I moved. If she looked like she was close to tears, I’d encourage her.

“Did you fall down? You’re okay! Come to Mommy. I’ll give you a squeeze and make it all better.”

Third kid.

“Oh, rub some dirt in there. You’ll be alright.”  

Harley May can be found in a fetal position craddling a jar of Nutella. She'd really like it if someone bought her house.


Bloody Good Anniversary

 by Amy A Mullis

When a sudden thunderstorm tried to dampen our anniversary trip to the zoo—what could be more romantic after a dozen years of parenting than to watching somebody else scoop poop—we adapted to the situation with a stunning Superman-type clothes changing extravaganza in the car, and hit the road.

Dry and comfy, we headed down the marital bliss superhighway, carefully searching for a restaurant for our celebratory meal. (Look, there’s a Wendy’s over there. There’s McDonald’s. There’s an Italian place on this side of the street. Turn! Turn, you blockhead, don’t you see I’m wasting away? TURN!)

We stared dreamily at one another until our car hit the curb and we remembered to go inside, our thoughts drifting together toward our years together, the beautiful horizon of the future, and how we would smuggle my wet underwear into the house from the glove compartment without submitting to interrogation from the boys who, even at ages 20 and 22 would rather discover that wrestling is real than admit their mother wears underwear.

The restaurant was a semi-expensive one of the sort that boasts cloth napkins, large tables, and loads of atmosphere a la carte where there’s no turning back if you order tea because the waitress whisks away the wine glass like it’s a dead relative’s corpse.  Décor was early toga and artificial armless statuary.  I’m pretty sure the food was real, though, and I had enough left over to add to the takeout box section of my refrigerator at home.

As we left, my reckless consumption of sweet tea at supper gave me an urgency to visit the little goddess’s room.  I crossed the faux marble tiles, selected door number 1, and made a discovery.

It’s not really a sign of good things to come when blood begins to drip on the floor of the stall next to you. It came like the thunderstorm at the zoo, first in patters and then torrents, and I was just wondering whether to offer assistance or call CSI when I realized the victim was talking on her cell phone.

At first I was somewhat alarmed at the potential for bad manners on my part. What would Emily Post say is the proper procedure when installed next to an indisposed party spouting blood like an open spigot?  Would she approve of someone chatting away on the telephone while dancing with death in a Mt. Olympus themed powder room?

Because I’m from the South, and made of “can I help you?” I felt guilty jerking my foot out of the path of the blood flow without mentioning why: “Excuse me, but could you gush your lifeforce out in torrents in the other direction so as not to damage my espadrilles?  There’s a good girl!”  Or how about, “I’m sorry, but O positive doesn’t do a thing for my strappy sandals. Could you aim toward the out-of-date Ferragamos on your right, please?”

Then I realized the screaming noises I heard over mine were from the injured party next door who was not merely phoning a friend, but who was in the midst of a nosebleed crisis due to the extreme heat of the day, and who was also an employee of the restaurant, phoning the front desk for help.

How clever is that? The next time I’m hanging out in the “There’s a 30 minute wait” area of a restaurant, I plan to while away my time calling the front desk with obscure medical emergencies.

Helpful Restaurant Person:  “Hello? Fancy Restaurant Name!”

Me:  “Yes, hi. I just notice there is a lizard embedded in my ear. Could you help me with that?”

Helpful Restaurant Person: “Of course. Would you prefer to wait at the bar?”

Just now, though, my thoughts turned immediately to the safety of my takeout box, which was presently snuggled in the arms of my sweetheart, the Captain of this dinner cruise down Runny Nose River.  What caused my brow to draw up like the knot in a toddler’s shoestring, was the unknown identity of the gushing employee.

Was it someone intimately acquainted with the preparation of my pasta?  Had the cook been stirring with one hand and dabbing a nasal fountain with the other?

Was it the nice lady who kept my table supplied with beverages and breadsticks and who took extra pains to grate cheese onto my entrée in an attractive manner. Was my waitress spouting blood like an O-positive whale?  Had she been leaking her life’s blood while I was twirling marinara-laden noodles around my trident shaped fork?

I washed my hands thoroughly several times with Lady Macbeth hand soap and met hubby under the Goddess of Love combination statue and ashtray by the door.

I took my takeout box from him and deposited it neatly in a convenient trash receptacle.

“Hey, what’s that all about?” he asked, thoughts of a midnight snack evaporating in his head.

I grinned at him. “I’ve had a bloody good anniversary,” I answered.  “But enough is enough.”


Extreme Anthropamorphizing

by Melanie Hooyenga

I'm a normal person.

Perfectly sane.

So it was a complete surprise when I looked around and realized that I'd created an email account, a blog, and now a Facebook fan page for… my dog.

It all started innocently enough. I first brought Owen home a little over a year ago, and as I was living out of the country, I filled my Facebook page with his adorable mug. Eight months later I moved back to the US and had a brilliant idea: why not start a blog for him? He'd developed quite a following and I could hide behind the old "it's a creative writing exercise" for anyone who questioned my sanity.

I logged into Blogger and quickly discovered a problem. In order for the blog to appear to be hosted by my dog, he needed his own Google account. As in email. I checked over my shoulder to make sure the neighbors weren't filming me, then quickly punched in a user name.

Well that's not too crazy.

Another six months passed. Owen had a couple dozen blog followers and countless adorers on Facebook when I picked up on a new trend: Facebook accounts for pets.

"I'm not THAT obsessed with my dog," I muttered. (Shut up, all of you.) "I realize he's not a person."

I hemmed and hawed for a day or so, then finally decided that a fan page would be the perfect solution. I already manage a couple for work and know the ins and outs fairly well, so what's one more?

Don't worry. I've already staged an intervention with myself and I'm halfway through the Dog Whisperer's first book. Maybe there's hope for Owen—I mean me—yet.

Melanie Hooyenga is a graphic designer by day and novel-editing, query-wrangling fool by night. She's currently putting the final touches on her second novel and plans to release it to the wild--er, agents--this fall.

You can read more about Melanie on her blog, Hoosblog (gesundheit) at melanieavila.wordpress.com. Owen stays in his corner (most days) at owenavila.blogspot.com.


Survivor mom earns extra 15 minutes of fame

 by Rhonda Schrock

They say everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.  If that’s all we get, then I guess I’m done.  I didn’t realize when I won the Reno County spelling bee in the eighth grade and competed at state that I had peaked too early.  Now all I’ve got left are daydreams.

I can’t imagine what I could possibly do to earn myself a spot on a celebrity’s couch for a high-powered interview watched by millions.  I guess there’s always the notoriety that comes with reckless criminality, such as infanticide, but my self-restraint thus far has kept me off Oprah’s couch.  Besides, who wants to appear on national television in prison orange?  Not me.  It washes me out.

In some of my more imaginative daydreams, I have come up with a plot that I believe could get me an extra 15 minutes and save CBS Evening News.  If the network would tap into that whole “Survivor” phenomenon by having Katie Couric do a series called “Survivor Moms,” I think they could right their sinking ship and send ratings through the roof.  Here’s how my interview with Katie might go.

Katie:  “Good evening.  Tonight we continue our series on ‘Survivor Moms,’ our ongoing look at women who are raising large families and, so far, have lived to tell about it.  Our next guest is an enterprising young woman who, with her husband, is raising four sons.  She has a full-time career in addition to doing a bit of writing, and last year even announced a run for the presidency.  Rhonda, you look remarkably normal given your circumstances.”

Me:  “Thank you, Katie.  It’s an honor to be here.”

Katie:  “Is that grape jelly on your shirt?”

Me:  “Doggone it.  I thought I got that spot.  Actually, Katie, I personally think that’s why my presidential bid failed.  In the end, I think the constituents were afraid that the White House wouldn’t stay white if we moved in, so they voted for the other guy.”

Katie:  “So tell me your secret for surviving as the only female in a houseful of men.”

Me:  “I’d have to say it’s the ABC’s that hold me together.”

Katie:  “The ABC’s?”

Me:  “You know.  Ambien, Benadryl, caffeine, duct tape, and so on all the way to Valium, Xanax, and all the Zzz’s I can get.  You follow this regimen, you can pretty much survive anything.”

Katie:  “As you know, I have two daughters.  I’m curious – living in a male-dominated household, are there any mood swings or emotive displays?”

Me:  “Oh, sure.  We can go from abject despair to elation inside of 30 seconds.  There’s lots of giggling, some excited shouting, and the occasional crying jag.”

Katie:  “Your boys are certainly emotional.”

Me:  “Oh, no.  That’s just me.”

Katie:  “I see.  Now tell me what a family of six does for entertainment.”

Me:  “Well, when five of you think that the highest forms of entertainment are belching, whoopee cushions, and blowing things up, it can leave the one with the ovaries feeling a little desperate.  That’s where my good friends at the coffee shop come in.  There’s just something about that padded room there, and the IV…”

Katie:  “Say no more.  Now, with a crowd this size, you must have a system, a way to keep order.  Can you explain to us what that is?”

Me:  “You’re right, Katie.  This is a crowd, and it’s very important to maintain control.  When you’re outnumbered two to one, you have to really come out with a show of force initially, get the little people marching in line or you’ll have anarchy.  And it’s absolutely essential that you stick together, or the little buggers will pick you off one at a time, and then the inmates…”

Katie:  “…Are running the asylum?”

Me:  “Exactly.”

Katie:  “One last question before we let you go.  What are your fears as a mother?”

Me:  “Two words, Katie.  Drivers ed.  I mean white knuckles, some whimpering and praying…”

Katie:  “Is it really that bad?”

Me:  “Think about it.  Have you let your oldest daughter take your limo through NYC at rush hour with no extra steering wheel or second set of brakes back where you normally sit?”

Katie (blanching):  “Um, no, I guess not.”

Me:  “That’s how it feels.  I’m just saying.”

Katie:  “Well, that wraps it up.  Thank you for stopping by this evening and sharing your survivor story with us.”

Katie, off camera:  “Someone bring me some Xanax – now!”

For more tales of hooliganism and stories of survivorship, visit Rhonda's blog, The Natives are Getting Restless.  She's still awaiting that phone call from Katie Couric even as she self-medicates with her much-loved white chocolate mochas.


Mall in a Pocket

by Jeanette Levellie

When we flew to California recently, I poked into the seat pocket in front of me and found treasure: a magazine full of unique items you’d never buy unless strapped to a seat thirty six thousand feet up and bored. I am not a shopaholic, but these inventions had me wishing I had a third job.  

A cushion keeper to store all my outdoor cushions and pillows in one place: only $119.95. Oh, yes. I was telling my husband last week how devilish a chore it is to keep track of those pesky outdoor cushions and pillows that scatter themselves across the lawn and patio. This little storage unit, complete with handles and wheels, is the perfect solution. We’ll have to get rid of one of our cars to make room for it in the garage. But at least our cushions will be stored and shielded.

A money sorter that loads up to 130 bills and counts over 1,000 per minute: only $199.00. I have been worried about the problem of making money faster than I can count it. This is the solution to my problem of all those fifties and hundreds flying every which way as I try to count them.

A telescoping chandelier duster: only $149.00 for the basic set, which comes with five cleaning attachments and a handy carrying case. The chandelier in my guest bathroom is the dustiest it’s been in weeks, and my downstairs maid will be thrilled with this addition to her cleaning kit. I may even splurge and buy the ostrich duster head for only $24.50 extra.

An eight-color write-on mural of the world: only $149.99. It covers 9’ by 13’ of wall space, but I’m sure Grandma won’t mind if we take down her oil paintings, and Mr. Kinkade’s print can be hung in the back bedroom. I have always wanted to have a map of the world I can write on, and this one comes with a dry erase marker for hours of educational fun. You may hang the panels as one piece or individually, in case you just want to write on Antarctica, not the whole globe.

A marshmallow shooter: only $24.99. Shoots mini marshmallows over 30 feet. Unlike inferior marshmallow shooters, this baby comes with and LED light that aids in locating your target. Complete with easy-to-refill magazine that holds 20 marshmallows (not included). The barrel and magazine are top rack dishwasher safe. That’s a relief!

A barbeque branding iron: only $79.95. Now you can find out who’s been sneaking in your backyard and cooking on your grill. This stainless steel branding iron will personalize your steaks, burgers and chicken thighs, so everyone will know who to praise for a meat well done. If you want the custom cedar gift box, it’s only an extra $10.00.

Perhaps next time we’ll splurge and go first class. I’d love to see the handy trinkets in their seat pockets!

Jeanette Levellie writes humor and inspirational articles, columns, and books. You can find her on Facebook and http://jeanettelevellie.blogspot.com


Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Photo credit: sapanavora.com
by Stacey Graham

As a child, I swore that one day I would grow up to be a Supreme. It didn't matter that I was short, tone deaf and six years old; I would knock Diana Ross off her heels and take over. I had the hand movements; I could harmonize (in my own way) and could rock the feather boa as well as any of the rest of the girls. My mother had other ideas.

"Stacey, you can be anything you want. Why not be a nice housewife and have children."

"No. I need to be a Supreme. Watch this!" And I would jut my hips out in time with the music, tossing my arms around with dramatic fervor. My sister's lipstick creating a band of red around my mouth, I pursed my lips and threw in a Jagger Swagger for effect.

"Stacey. Really. This is going too far. Besides, the Supremes didn't sing Brown Sugar, that was the Rolling Rocks."

"Stones, Ma."

"Right. Stones -- Rocks. Big difference." Throwing a wink my way, I knew she was teasing but this wouldn't crush my ambition to rule the Motown scene.

Until Barry Manilow came into my life.

Barry and I had a strained relationship. My mother loved him so the record player had him on loop. I tried to strut to Copacabana but with little enthusiasm. How could Lola compete with Ain't No Mountain High Enough? 'Nuff said. To make my mother happy, I stuck yellow feathers in my hair for Halloween to show I was cool. Of course, having a ten-year-old dressed as a hooker wasn't what my mother had in mind around the neighborhood begging for candy but she made the best of it by playing the song on the car tape player as she followed behind me to tip off the houses that I wasn't nuts -- I had a theme, people, a theme.

The 70s finally died a horrible death and I threw out my sequined beret for rubber bracelets and tulle skirts. I drew the line at a cone bra. That would have looked silly. Duran Duran covered my wall and I became Rio and I danced on the sand. Okay, on the sidewalk in suburban San Francisco. Whatever. In my mind I was on the beach being chased by Simon LeBon. Stop looking at me like that.

I flirted with punk bands, turned my nose up at Country and fell in love with Mozart during my teen years, but my heart stayed with the 60s and I memorized the top of the charts for the decade. The Beatles and Donovan, Doors and Joplin -- they're still inside with Diana Ross just waiting for my big moment. Now I just need my mom to turn off that damn Manilow tape and become the backup singer I know lurks inside.

Stacey Graham runs this joint and is available for children's parties as long as there are no clowns. They give her the willies. Please visit her website and The Zombie Dating Guide where she shows that she lucked out getting any dates at all during college.


What Kind of Military Aircraft Parent Are You?

by Terri Coop

    As a public defender, I represent juvenile offenders and I deal with a lot of moms and dads.  Because of this, I was amused by a Newsweek article titled “Helicopter Parents.”  A university admissions officer coined the term to describe parents (usually moms) who hovered over every detail of their children’s lives, often to their detriment.  Also, no one will admit to being a helicopter.  They are just concerned and involved; it’s the other parents that are crazy.

    Well, me (being me) got to thinking.  The label “helicopter” covers a lot of territory.  Military?  Civilian?  Transport? Attack?  Why just helicopters? What about surveillance craft and bombers?  When it comes to parents, I’ve seen it all, for better or worse.

    So, I’ve developed this quiz.  If you are interested in finding out what military aircraft best describes your parenting style, stop wrapping the playground equipment in bubble wrap and give it a try. 

#1:    Your child is charged with a serious crime and must go to court to appear before the judge.  Do you:

A)    Immediately enroll in law school because no one knows your child like you do and no attorney can adequately represent your child.
B)    Immediately circulate a petition demanding the prosecutor be recalled.  Demand  an investigation of the police.  Obviously, your child is the target of a conspiracy.
C)    Go to every court appearance.  Make your child answer his attorney’s questions.  Tell your child that you love him, but he is responsible for his own behavior.
D)    Tell the judge to lock him up.  Jail will probably do the little punk some good.

#2:    You come home early and find your sixteen-year old son and his girlfriend on the basement sofa.  They are firmly on second base and heading for third.  Do you:

A)    Call the girl’s parents and tell them to come and get their trampy daughter.  Your son deserves better than that.  You know him.
B)    Storm in and loudly start lecturing.  Keep it up while the kids get dressed and continue it during the drive to the girl’s house.  Inform her parents what happened and suggest punishments they should impose. 
C)    Tell the kids to break it up and that your son has fifteen minutes to take her home.  Close the door so they can’t see you laughing.  Get out the ice cream and start figuring out what you’ll say to him when he gets home.
D)    Give your boy a thumbs-up and toss in a box of condoms.

#3:    Your child is running a fever, with an upset stomach, and headache.  Do you:

A)    Swing into action.  You have a completely stocked medicine cabinet.  You set up an oxygen tent and prepare an enema, just in case.  No need for doctors.  No one knows your child like you do.
B)    You immediately go to the Emergency Room where you demand the attending physician examine him.  You write a complaint letter to the AMA when the doctor prescribes rest, Tylenol, and chicken soup.
C)    You call school and tell them your child will be absent.  You fix Jello and watch cartoons until your child takes a nap. It is persists for more than two days, you make an appointment with the doctor.
D)    You tell your child to go out and play because the fresh air will make him feel better.

#4    Your child plays sports and makes a mistake that costs the team the game.  He is very disappointed.  Do you:

A)    Immediately take your child off the team.  Failure is bad for your child and may stunt his development.  No one knows your child like you do.
B)    Immediately jump in and argue with the coach and the referee.  Arrange coaching sessions and see that he practices every day, seven days a week.  Join the team as an assistant coach so you can monitor his progress.
C)    On the way to the ice cream parlor, tell your child about the time you gave a speech in front of the whole school with your pants unzipped.
D)    When you hear about it from one of the parents who was there, tell your child to suck it up and stop whining.  It’s only a game.

The results!  Let’s see what your answers say about your parenting style.

1.    If you answered mostly “A,” you are a CH-47 Chinook.  The largest cargo helicopter in the arsenal of freedom, your overwhelming presence blocks out the sun and your rotor wash flattens everything, including your troops.  You know what your troops need and that they are helpless without you.

2.    If you answered mostly “B,” you are an AH-64D Apache attack chopper.  Armed to the teeth and impervious to damage, you swoop in to rain fiery death on all that oppose you.  You love a hot LZ and live for the fight, abiding by the motto, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”  Your troops’ respect of you is tinged with a healthy dose of fear.

3.    If you answered mostly “C,” you are a B-2 Spirit bomber.  The epitome of design and smart technology.  Stealthy, you are always just above the horizon and rarely seen or detected.  Your troops act in confidence, knowing they can take chances.  If things get tight, one squawk and you are there to clear the way for them, scorching the earth if necessary.

4.    If you answered mostly “D,” you are a KC-135 Stratotanker.  Old style, old school, virtually unchanged since the 1950s.  You see your job as launching your troops, fully fueled into the world.  After that, you have other plans.  Your troops know they need to be self-reliant because if they come in on bingo fuel, you may or may not be there to back them up.

So, how did you score?  I’ve seen all four types of parents.  Heck, I was raised by one of these types of parents.  Reading the articles I was struck by one thought.  Bubble wrap can cushion.  It can also suffocate.   Just like I tell the judge, give this kid a chance and he’ll surprise you with what he can do!

Terri Coop shares her little house on the prairie with husband Noah, and three Chihuahuas.  A lawyer by education, a toymaker by trade, a writer by night, and an unapologetic geek the rest of the time.  Head honcho of the Circle X Ranch and dedicated to bringing back the 1960s cowboy action figure Johnny West.  Her short stories have appeared in Dream People, Whispers of Wickedness, Flashshots, and The Flash Fiction 40 Anthology.  Her hobbies include collecting salt-and-pepper shakers and blogging about stuff like creepy clowns and abandoned furniture.  Check out her main blog:  Readin, Rittin, & Rhetoric, and she will be eternally grateful.


My Village

by Sara Spock

It takes a village, right? Kids need to learn from parents, friends, and random strangers on street corners so they become something more than parental clones. I’ve been thinking about my village, who shaped and molded me better than Spanx ever could. My supporting cast was made up of no less than 4 women, probably more:  My mother, my best friend’s mother, Mama Sonia, and my big sister. As women, mothers, cooks, and role models, each of them taught me values and lessons ranging from helpful, “wear a belt, it’s slimming!” to the comical, “don’t drink too much water, it’ll make you fat,” to silly, “ice cold drinks will give you a sore throat!” to epic, “if you don’t marry him, I’ll kill you!!!” Mostly, the important stuff came from observing these 4 strong women, not from things they told me.

My Mom, the biological one, taught me about work. Find a job you love, be the best, treat people with kindness, be they clients or co-workers. Work hard: as a child, sometimes I didn’t get it. Mom worked on weekends, evenings, it felt like I never saw her. But as an adult, I understand. She loves her job. Sure, she gets stressed when she has psycho clients who need to see 7200 houses before they buy the first one they looked at; when a sale falls through because the sellers didn’t remove the rotting corpses before final walk through; or when she has to perform like a circus poodle in front of a gaggle of lawyers to get the deal done. But, still. She. Loves. Her. Job. And that’s vital.

My best friend’s mother, my Shumai… yes, it means little shrimp dumpling. Don’t judge me! Shumai is a straight forward woman who taught me what food should taste like and how to speak my mind. Listen, I’m a typical middle child. If you have an ear to bend, you can’t shut me up, but mindless chatter is just that. While Shumai wasn’t talkative, she did let you know what she thought. She would serve up a savory, spicy dish of bulgogi while asking if you really knew what you were doing with *that* boy. Her sharp kimchi was a perfect precursor to, “you got WHAT on your SATs? You’re taking them again, right?” Of course, she was right. How could you disagree with a woman who could cook like that? Lesson learned. Cook well, convince well.

When I lived in Peru, I stayed with a family who became my family. Mama Sonia scooped me under her wing as an impressionable teen. When I left her, I was equipped to run a home, albeit one where guinea pigs ran free and washing machines didn’t. Peru was my first experience as an adult, though I use that term loosely. With Mama, I discovered my knack for cooking, mostly because she trusted me, no, expected me to prepare meals. Fresh spaghetti sauce like my dads? Yes! Lentils with root vegetables over Peruvian potatoes? Please! Calabaza soup with the color and consistency of baby poop? Um… like I said, I discovered my knack for cooking, not plating. It tasted great! Sonia explained the art of hand-washing laundry and haggling with street vendors for the cheapest (and most amazing) mangoes. She conserved energy by unplugging the refrigerator at night, and why not? The power only worked intermittently and we only bought enough food for a couple days at a time. She taught me generosity, the entire family did. They had a beautiful and modest 3 bedroom home and when they invited us to live with them and their two daughters, Mama and Papa moved to the attic. That was only accessible through the courtyard. Via a ladder. With a door that was too small for garden gnomes. Without heat. Generosity x ∞.

My sister, she taught me everything else… no really. She did and when you read her blog, you’ll understand just what I mean.  Seeing the girl who color-codedly hurled crayons at you as a child, who kneed your brother in the crotch for his swift kick to her braces, become an excellent mom makes you think that maybe, just maybe, you can, too. But then memories filter forward like trudging through the snow to ice skate on a river a mile or two from home, staying warm with a thermos full of mint tea my sister made for us. Taking my friend Brittney and I to the City for my first real trip when she was 18 and I was 10, and bratty! Making it home in one piece and in total awe of my really cool big sister. Cooking dinner for us 3 kids when the only things in the house were a bag of banana chips and a couple t-bone steaks. Making brownies, braiding my hair, and organizing play dates with kids I didn’t know because all my friends were on summer vacation. That’s when I realized it. She had the tools to be a great mom all along. And so do I. And you. And that lady over there with the frizzy hair. As long as we have our village.

Read more from Sara over at The Hero Complex where she tries to save the world, one. blog. post. at. a. time.


Why do the bank ladies make me lie to them?

by Angie Mansfield

You see, my checks from one of my clients are drawn on a bank that happens to have a branch nearby. I go there to cash my checks from this client because a) I can cash checks drawn on that bank without incurring a fee, and b) I don't really need a bank account except to cash checks because my trusty prepaid Visa debit card handles all of my banking-related activities.

But every time I go to cash my check at this bank, the bank ladies try to get me to join their bank. They start out with a soft sell, easing me into the idea. "Have you thought about opening an account with us?" When I say that yes, I've thought about it but decided to pass, their smiles begin to freeze on their faces. Their eyes get a little shifty, and they try to sweeten the pot: "We have a range of account options to suit anyone's needs." I start to feel a little sorry for the bank ladies at this point -- I mean, it's obvious their bank is struggling, since it's resorting to turn its tellers into sales representatives, so I smile as gently as I can while telling them my first lie: "Uh...I'm in the process of moving and don't want to set up an account until I get settled."

That's when their desperation really sets in. Their smiles get wider and more demented, showing all their teeth, and they develop minor facial tics and eye twitches. This is generally when they bring out the big guns: "We have a promotion going on -- we'll give you 30 dollars if you open both a checking and savings account with us. 30 whole dollars! Free!" They end with sunny, manic grins, rolling their eyes to direct my attention to the bank manager, who is standing a few feet away with a baseball bat and brass knuckles, glaring at them.

I smile sympathetically and lean in for a conspiratorial whisper. The bank ladies lean in too, a spark of hope shining in their eyes as they hold their breaths for my answer.

I lie to them again. "I'm not sure where I'll be living just yet, so it would be silly to set up an account here. I don't know if I'll even be in this town. I just need to cash my check. Thanks all the same."

They all let out their anticipatory breath, and their shoulders sag in defeated dejection. The one who is still holding my check hostage gives up the game and counts out my cash. She rallies enough to bid me a nice day.

I smile back at her, but in my mind I'm already choosing the lie I will tell her next time.


Celebrity Spokespersons of the Future

by Susan Law Corpany

It seems like just yesterday that Lee Majors was on television as The Six Million Dollar Man and Lindsay Wagner was amazing us as The Bionic Woman.  The other day I caught the tale end of Mr. Majors hawking a product called The Bionic Hearing Aid.  Sorry, but a hearing aid is a hearing aid.  And a well-rested Ms. Wagner regularly extols the virtues of the Sleep Number Bed.  What’s next? 

As inevitable as the fact that these celebrities have come to need these products is the fact that someday the product (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) will outlive the spokesperson.  I think it is not too soon to start considering some replacement spokespersons.

It would be fitting for a geriatric Sean Penn to take over as spokesperson for Colonial Penn Life Insurance, the affordable life insurance with guaranteed acceptance for people fifty and over.

Bill Cosby could turn over the Jell-o account to his on-screen son, Malcolm Jamal Warner.

Perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow has enough “Wessonality” to replace Florence Henderson as the representative for Wesson Oil.  Only time will tell.

Imagine an aging Paris Hilton, strains of I Get Around by the Beach Boys playing in the background, showing us that one can still go clubbing in a Hoveround Chair.

If George Clooney can grow a respectable cookie-duster moustache, in another couple of decades he could be a reasonable replacement for Wilford Brimley as the new voice of Quaker Oatmeal.

Replacing June Allyson as “the face of Depends Underwear”—that really is the wording on the website—would give Madonna an excuse to pose scantily clothed in her declining years as she hawks this important product to her contemporaries.

Still trying to improve her parental image, a grandmotherly Brittany Spears could replace Sally Struthers in exhorting people to “think of the children” as spokeswoman for the Christian Children’s Fund.

Julia Roberts could use her megawatt smile to extol the virtues of Dentucreme.

I’m saddened by the fact that I likely won’t live long enough to see it.