by Jason Tudor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanukkah dawns. Happy holidays.


Estate planning 101

by Susan Utley

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

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

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

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

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


Forcing, I Mean, Encouraging a Thankful Heart

by Jeanette Levellie

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

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


A Model Thanksgiving

Photo credit: marieclaire.com
by Amy Mullis

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



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

“Don’t drool on the recipe.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure. How hard can it be?”

“Ever tried to put pantyhose on a squid?”

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

“Close enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Need a hand?”

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

After a few minutes we paused for breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Beware of Geeks Bearing Grifts . . .

by Terri Coop

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

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

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

Whatever . . .

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

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

This. Was. Not. Good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons learned?

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

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

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


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

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

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

photo credit: gumtreedesigners.blogspot.com


Can I tell you a secret?

by Melanie Hooyenga

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: his mom ;)



By Lisa Dovichi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk


Wooly Worm Report

by Jeanette Levellie

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: flickr.com


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

by Carole Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Why Treadmills Should Fear Me

(fictionalized non-fiction)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Incoherent mumbling.”

“I know what you’re doing.”

“Yup. Bite me.”

I probably do this once a week.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you do that?” I asked it.

It added another pound.

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

Another pound.

My fist banged on the screen.

A computerized voice announced my weight to the entire room.

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

It announced a two-pound weight gain.

“Stop it!”

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

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


Will the real trophy wife please stand up?

by Susan Corpany

My husband Thom’s 30-year high school class reunion was approaching. He politely
informed me that I had a mere four months to be in trophy wife shape. I corrected his
misconception. “No, that’s not how it works. This is your reunion. You’re the one who has to
lose weight. I’ll lose weight for my reunion. I don’t know these people and I don’t care what they
think about me.”

Still, the countdown continued. “Three more months to be in trophy wife condition.” I dug out my Weight Watchers literature from my last join-up.

“Two months until the reunion.” I took the dog on a couple of extra-long walks. He lost
three pounds.

“The reunion is next month.”

“I know how I can lose 246 pounds real fast.”

The class reunion of a spouse is boring and annoying, even for an extrovert like me.

“So you’re Thom’s wife.”

“Yes, last time I checked.”

“So you’re Thom’s wife.”

The only thing that gave some variety was the occasional confused look I would
get. “Your name is Susan, right? I remember you differently.”

“Yes, I’m Susan and no, I’m not Susan. Thom’s first wife died.”

“And he married another Susan?”

I extended my hand. “There were a lot of us born during the 50s. Yes, I’m Susan, the

“Is it true the sequel is never as good as the original?”

“Check with Thom on that. I can’t write my own review. But I thought Toy Story II was
pretty good.”

I was the non-classmate spouse at a school reunion. Nobody truly cared who I was, and I
didn’t care that they didn’t care. Thom had a good time and that was all that mattered.

A few weeks later I was running errands with my youngest stepson, Christopher.
Dinnertime was approaching. I pulled into Pizza Hut. We ducked inside out of the rain. “Do you
want pepperoni and black olive or . . .”

I turned around to ask Chris what toppings he thought we should get and found him
talking to someone. “This is my band teacher from last year.”

I extended my hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“And this,” I heard Chris say “is my dad’s new trophy wife.” In one glance Mr. Band
Teacher took in my rain-soaked matted-down hair, make-up-free face, damp t-shirt and well-
worn jeans. I saw a smirk playing about his lips. I smiled back and gave Chris something the
people in Hawaii call “stink eye.” I searched my hard drive for something clever to say but came
up blank.

Pizzas may only take a half hour but snappy comebacks take four to six hours.


Going once...going twice...the chucks are sold!

by Rhonda Schrock

It’s been going on for weeks.  Mr. Schrock is starting to look a little peaked, eyes darting from side to side with an occasional covert glance at the phone book.  Any day now, I expect to find him hunched over the yellow pages, leafing furtively through the travel agent section. 

If it’s the oil that needs changing, he’s all over it.  If I need a picture hung, wood split, or the vehicles washed, he’s my man.  It’s the frequent – um, reminders of my wardrobe deficits that have him looking pale around the gills.  Fixer and problem solver that he is, he’s out of his depth on this one.  Which is why, I suspect, he’s thinking of jumping a trawler bound for Monaco. 

Believe it or not, this girl finds it hard to let go of her hard-earned money in the clothing section.  Not only that, I find myself struck with paralysis there, unable to make a decision.  So I leave, empty handed and frustrated again.  And I mention it. 

It would be a great relief for all involved to have this issue resolved.  That’s why I’m turning to eBay to raise a little money.  Surely there are some items around here that I could auction off for my clothing drive. 

Take these plastic light sabers.  I think it’s time for them to go.  Why the boys love these things is beyond me.  I’m no Hillary Clinton, but the minute the slashing and whacking start up, I become Secretary of Our Small State.  Mom’s my name, and riot suppression’s my game. 

I can only wish they were veterans.  As in “our fighting days are over and we are docile members of a lodge” veterans.  As in FFFFs (Former Fighters of Foreign Fracases).  But no.  These guys are DFMSs, or Domestic Fighters of Modern-day Skirmishes.  That’s why the sabers must be sold. 

I can’t say all that, of course, so I’ll have to get a bit creative when I write it up.  “For sale,” the ad might read.  “Three plastic sabers in good condition.  Guaranteed to stimulate the imagination, transforming a boy into a Jedi knight or ancient warrior.

“High safety profile with a softly-rounded plastic tip (I won’t mention the welts).  Purchase of more than one will ensure hours of animated sibling interaction.  Your bid is your vote for family ties and good times.  Available in purple, green, and red.”

The next item I could auction for cash is the pair of chucks, or high-topped basketball shoes that routinely park in the middle of the floor.  Somewhere in our gene pool, wires got crossed or something dark was spliced in because the Schrock children have a genetic mutation that scientists have recently identified as the plopping gene. 

This is manifested by compulsive plopping of backpacks, jackets, and sneakers directly in the traffic stream.  Including the offending chucks.  Numerous reminders have only left me with inflamed vocal cords, so I’m taking matters into my own gloved hands.  These babies are going up on the block. 

“Lightly worn, high-topped canvas basketball shoes,” I’ll say.  “Size 9.  Color, black.  Style highly reminiscent of the movie ‘Hoosiers.’  Likely to evoke dreams of glory, of unlikely champions, and of underdogs that win.  Hearkens to an era of soda shops, family values, and Lucille Ball.  Click here to place your bid.”

Next up is the requisite bucket of Legos that every family with boys has per the Mandatory Lego Law of Sixty-Six.  This was passed by senators, all male, who obviously had no sons themselves.  I know this for a fact because I know who usually cleans stuff up.  It’s not the daddies.  Believe me, the mamas know how hard it is to find all those pieces the kids just dumped out.  A woman would’ve thought twice before passing a law like that. 

I also know this because stepping on a Barbie in the dark of night is not the same as stepping on a Lego block.  One sharp piece implanted in your foot and you’d remember it when that bill came through.  You would also remember hopping up and down on one leg and all the unsavory words that the “praise the Lord” had to jump over to get out.  No way you’re voting yes after that. 

This is why I’m selling that bucket.  Of course, I’ll tout it as the eighth wonder of the world, a creativity enhancer for little geniuses.  Why, thanks to those colorful pieces, I’ll enthuse, you may discover you have a world-famous engineer or architect on your hands who will one day, bless his little heart, build the next Eiffel tower. 

I could, if I were very brave, put that Other Pile up for sale to advance my cause.  The “Other Pile” is the one I walk by every night.  It consists of khaki trousers and a sharp dress shirt that were – well, plopped just this side of the laundry room.  Thing is, The Plopper knows where I live, and he’s already out of sorts about the whole clothes thing.  I think I’ll hold on this.  For now.   

Rhonda Schrock (aka The Lively One) thinks those boys should bow and give thanks that it was only the chucks, Legos, and light sabers being auctioned on eBay.  One of these days, they may not be so lucky.  Visit her over on the rez, The Natives are Getting Restless, for more tales of mischief and misdemeanors.

Photo credit: sodahead.com


The Mom Herd

by Stacey Graham

My toddler just tried to convince me her father told her it was okay to eat two pop-tarts the size of her head.   What's worse is that she almost had me believing her.  Definitely a sign to get out of the house more, I'm going back to work outside the home.  No more DVDs of princesses outwitting evil animated overlords, no more fishing choking-hazard sized dolls out of the toilet because "they wore a swim suit"; I'm going back to where women wear shoes all day long.  My friends think I'm crazy.

"Give up happy hour?" Marlene asked.  Like sneaking wine in a sippy cup on the cul de sac was such a covert operation that they felt naughty and delicious at the same time. 

I'm breaking from the Mom Herd mentality that stalked my days for the last ten years.  Clothed in light brown capris with the mom butt looming in my future, I knew I had to make a run for it.

"I don't want to," I half-lied.  I didn't want to get up and look human before 9am but sacrifices must be made for the sake of my sanity.  "Bryan totally supports this since he'll be home with the girls while I’m working."  Yeah.  Working from home for him meant no shaving and...wait, it did me too.  Nevermind.  Years as a freelance writer had me spoiled, good lord, I actually have to wax that unibrow more often now! 

"I have two interviews lined up for next week..." I started.

"Have you finished the paper mache state of Virginia yet for 2nd grade?  Mrs. Zimmburton said in the class newsletter that you were in charge of the Piedmont."  Becky examined her nails while I backed away; I knew what was coming next.  "You know, you really need to check with us first before you go running off.  As Room Mother, you have a responsibility to..."

I can't wait until next week.

Ironically, Stacey returned to writing after forging ahead into the workforce after this article in 2008. She couldn't keep up with the shaving. She's now happily fishing more Barbie shoes out of the toilet and bouncing on trampolines with her four-year-old when not writing about zombies. Please visit her blog and The Zombie Dating Guide.

Photo credit: toothpastefordinner.com


"Those Days"

by Jennifer Caddell

Do you remember those days of sitting in your car, snapping your seatbelt, and driving away from home?

Me neither.

Now leaving the house, the parking lot, or the even the drive-through is an event. Instead of carrying a sweet little purse and placing it demurely in the passenger seat, my hands are now filled with extra sweaters, snacks, water bottles (stainless steel!) and backpacks. But that usually isn’t enough. Driving away from the house is merely a suggestion of actually leaving. Inevitably, there is something left behind and often the neighbors are witnesses to a dance known as ‘The Flight of the Minivan.” We leave, come back, someone runs into the house and back, then we leave again only to return again as another member of the family runs back into the house for a much needed object and perhaps, after twenty minutes of leaving and returning, we are finally able get to our destination. Or not. Usually by then one of the smaller passengers needs to use the restroom.

Heading into a store from the parking lot? Perhaps. Or, perhaps I am actually preparing for an extended stay in that store. No longer do I grab my purse, lock the door, and simply walk into a store. Nope. Now there is another dance needed that resembles a primitive ceremonial dance around the minivan as supplies are gathered and kids are unbuckled.

No, I don’t remember those days: Those days of simplicity. The days were heading into a store only took a minute, leaving the house happened only once per trip, or driving away from Burger Palace and having all of those hot, steamy fries to myself. I don’t remember those days because that simple life isn’t important anymore. Now, as I buckle in the munchkins, I receive hugs and kisses. Now, as I take some extra time to put on a little sweater, I receive hugs and kisses. Now, when I rush from the house during a second stop and arrive with the forgotten sock, I receive hugs and kisses.

I don’t want to remember those simpler days. I know those days will arrive again. They will be back when the children are grown: When all I have is a half-full purse and an empty passenger seat. When I will drive away from the house on the first attempt and not see any fingerprints on the windows and the car will be silent. Those simple days will arrive, and when they do, I WILL be remembering these days.

Jennifer Caddell enjoys writing science fiction and has a short story published in an anthology. She also spends her time being a mom, a wife, a gardener and a photographer. She shares her adventures in her blog “Building Character” at http://jcaddell.com

photo credit: toyxperts.com.au