Beating back dumb in 2011

Before I start my Ermas column today, I need to take a few minutes to talk with my daughter about the New Year. Give me a sec. I’ll be right back …

This is going to be a big year, Puggy. You’re already reading, drawing and putting the computer to better use than most government workers. You sing, dance, play well with others and 90 percent of the time, you have underwear on. But soon you’ll turn 6 and enter first grade. That said I’d like to give you a few pointers on how to overcome dumb people.

See, this year, like flies at a picnic, dumb people are going to come at you from all angles. This has nothing to do with the passage of time, or that the quantity of dumb people has changed. It’s just fact. Dumb drops its luggage and stays like an unwanted house guest. Young and old, tall and short, thin and fat, dumb has no prejudice and says inane things like “everyone’s a winner” and "You workin' hard or hardly workin'?" I blame phrases like this on standardized testing and “synergy.”

In order to combat dumb, you must continue to get smarter, grow your independence but like a ninja, blend in with the doofus hoard. And who better to provide advice to a first grader on combating dumb people then an American hero – retired General Colin Powell! Not all of his 13 rules apply, but five of them do so let’s get this New Year started right:

  • “It ain’t as bad as you think. It’ll be better in the morning.” In school and out, you’ll be dancing with dumb. At the end of the day, you’ll sit in bed with your chocolate milk box and bowl of cheese popcorn – and it will make you sad. One of the best things you can do is go to sleep, wake up and go after it again (although one of your favorite people, Albert Einstein, defined this behavior as “insanity.”)
  • “Be careful what you choose. You might get it.” At some point, many many dumb people chose to give piles of cash to Justin Bieber for singing “Baby baby baby, oooooh.” As you are constantly singing it around the house, you would disagree but this was not a careful choice.
  • “You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn't let someone make yours.” Unfortunately, our whole political system is the exact opposite of this rule. This is called an oxymoron. In short, if you want to wear plastic rain boots, a tattered paint smock and leggings to school, you can. That’s your choice. Own it. Your mother will, however, insist that they match.
  • “Don’t take counsel from your fears or naysayers.” Remember when we watched “The Fellowship of The Ring” and Gandalf stood in front of that giant, flaming cow and said, “You shall not pass”? He made a decision. Then, the cow broke the bridge, grabbed Gandalf with his whip and sucked him down into the black hole. But he chose, on his own, to trifle with the burning cow because he knew if he did, it would help those hairy footed midgets drop the ring into the volcano later. By the way, “naysayers” is another word for dumb people.
  • “Remain calm. Be kind.” You know that scrunched up, tight face you make when Mom and I ask you 37 times to finish eating your breakfast? That face will happen more and more as you get older. This rule applies.

To be clear, we all end up doing dumb things, even your Mom and me. So we’ll add two rules on to General Powell’s: 1.) Always listen to your parents; and 2.) When in doubt, follow rule 1.

I love you. Happy New Year.

Jason Tudor is an American writer and illustrator who lives in Bavaria. More of his writing can be found at his website.

Image credit: scientificilliteracy.blogspot.com


The Face of Evil

by Sara Spock-Carlson

I never dreamt my parents could afford to buy me a Cabbage Patch Kid. Even at 8, I knew it was an expensive toy. Those round, dimpled cheeks, all rosy with joie de vivre, custom outfits, and that little tush, signed by Xavier Roberts called out to me. I shouldn’t have asked for one 72 times, but I needed that doll!  Everyone had one and I knew I never would. But my luck changed when Shop-Rite started selling them and my Aunt could get a discount. My parents were able to swing it and she became my most prized possession. I didn’t even like dolls, but I loved that ugly little Belinda Jean. Her blue gingham dress matched her light blue eyes and with rich, brown hair, she was quite unique.

We played together that entire winter, but things changed when snow turned to rain and the flowers started blooming.  One April day, it was raining and Belinda Jean wanted to stay inside to avoid a nasty bad hair day. I had just gotten a stylish new apple themed raincoat and needed to show it off to all the 8-year-old studs of the neighborhood.  After an hour of traipsing through puddles and chasing down salamanders, I heard my brother shouting for me from the deck. My heart leapt! Perhaps today was the day my big brother would decide it was cool to play with his little sister. Maybe waiting out the rain in an empty house drove him crazy, or all his friends were busy staying dry and he was bored enough to ask me to race matchboxes.

I sprinted through the yard, climbed the steps to our cedar split-level, and bolted into the front entry. My Dad’s old yellow lounge chair was sitting at the top of the steps above me and Belinda Jean was ensconced on the throne. From behind the chair, I heard my brother’s voice, squeaking out a girl’s pitch.

“Mmmmmmm, Sara, have you had a snack?”

It was then I noticed that she was holding a spoon with little brown balls and had what looked like chocolate smeared all over her perfect, dimpled face.  He kept squeaking while I stared, mouth agape.

“Are you sure you don’t want to try it? It’s the finest dog poop I could find. Mmmm, Alpo flavored!  Straight out of Clyde’s butt. You’ll like it,” he continued as he stifled a laugh.

I slowly made my way up the steps, where I was greeted by the smell. Ugh, the smell. I was reminded of that time I stepped in one of Clyde’s treats in the yard. The stench was so pervasive, my mom had to throw out my shoes.  My lip began to tremble, would Belinda Jean meet the same fate as my mary janes?

I freaked. My wretched big brother got an earful of malediction, as harsh my 8-year-old brain could muster.  And his timing was off. Minutes later, my Dad arrived home, saw the scene complete with dog poop in his comfy chair, and made my brother use his own toothbrush to wash Belinda Jean’s face. I watched as he scrubbed out those cute little dimples and her face was finally gleaming. Vindication!  

But I never touched that stinky doll again. What? She reeked! 

Sara Spock-Carlson is a mom, wife, anthropology student, lab assistant, English tutor, and freelance writer.  Sara can be found at her green-living blog or at the Sex Lab.  No, that’s not what we’re calling it these days.


The Truth about the cookies

By Barbara A. Tyler

Dear Santa,

We wanted to explain about the Pop Tart. We know you do a tough job and expect cookies. (We think you do a terrific job!) And we were going to bake cookies. Honest. But our kitchen blew up. KABOOM! The explosion took out part of the garage and the fire department and the army had to come. It was bad. So our oven was messed up and we couldn’t bake. No oven. No cookies. You understand, right?  (My sister wants to know: Is it true that you know when we’ve been bad or good? And were you watching our house at all last week? Just curious.)

Okay. My sister says to tell the real story or we’ll be in more trouble. It’s like this. We were going to bake. We were all ready. We washed our hands and everything. But then, somebody, and I’m not TATTLING, but if you record things on that magic snowball of yours, rewind it and see who I’m talking about for yourself. I’m just saying it wasn’t a KID. Anyway, SOMEBODY got all grouchy. Guess nobody ever told her about watchin’ out and not poutin’ and stuff. We don’t understand it. All we were doing was helping. Honest.

I offered to be the mixer. Then my brother offered to be the mixer. Then my sister said, no, she would be the mixer. So then mom said no, SHE would be the mixer and get down off that chair and quit punching each other right now! Well, it was okay with us if she wanted to be the mixer. I mean it is her kitchen, after all. But my point is we were only trying to help.

Next, I said I’d do the eggs. And my brother said he’d do the eggs. And my sister said, why’d  you go and drop all the eggs on the floor, you stupid heads?

I’m not allowed to say what Mom said.

Then we had a little trouble with the flour. Have you ever seen pictures of mushroom clouds? Did you know flour could do that? I didn’t! We also learned that butter? It’s slippery. Oh! And brown sugar can make the coolest sand castles if you pack it into cups. We made a really big one and it only took most of a bag of brown sugar. For future reference, don’t ever bring Mom a sandcastle for Christmas. We don’t think she likes them very much because, once she saw it, she said she was never setting foot in the kitchen with all of us at the same time ever again. Does Mrs. Claus get like this? Maybe it’s only moms, so you might be safe.

This is why we left you a Pop Tart. Don’t worry about the fuzz. It just came from the floor and brushes off real easy. We made the chocolate milk from scratch, but the dog stuck his nose in it, so you might not want to drink it.

Anyway, we hope you won’t hold it against us that our Mom is The Meanest Mother in the Whole Wide World Who Didn’t Bake Cookies. It’s not like we got to choose her or anything.

Your friends,

The Tyler Kids

Barbara A. Tyler lives in her own little world with people who claim to be relatives (DNA analysis pending). You can read more of her humor at http://thatbarbperson.wordpress.com


Deathwish Wynter

The US Park Service knows my name. They know my family. They have flyers posted outside the White House with our picture on it for easy reference.

We're not terrorists.

We're *that* family.

We've lived in the Washington, D.C. metro area since 1999 and as per tradition, we travel to see the National Tree on the White House lawn each week after Christmas so as to look at the new ornaments on the Oregon state tree (where we're from) and gaze in wonder at the sometimes ugly decorations on the large tree in the center of it all. There are usually hundreds of people milling around, circling the same tree, taking photos or getting warm at the giant fire pit set up at the far end of the space allocated near the grandstand where the president stood hours or days before making speeches and smiling widely at the crowds.

My daughter, Wynter, was born on Christmas day. No child has as big a heart, as wide a smile or feet that can wander off quicker. Her nickname is Deathwish Wynter due to the escapades she gets herself into; Christmas is no different, it just involved more park rangers. 

Each year, as we make our way downtown, I give the lecture, "Girls, everyone has a buddy. You will not leave your buddy's side. You will not chase trains nor climb into the Nativity Scene. Is this understood?" Naturally, they nod. They knew I had Santa's ear.

"Husband. As I have infants to carry, you are Wynter's buddy. You will not leave her side nor hold hands with good-smelling strangers like last year. Is that understood?" A brief wave of his hand didn't convince me but I had last minute breastfeeding to do; after five kids, I always have last minute breastfeeding to do...

As we approach the White House, the rangers walkie-talkie each other like Secret Service agents on alert. “The Grahams are here. Wynter is wearing a purple coat with a blueberry knit hat… quick! She’s making a run for it!” I don’t even have to walk up to the presidential platform anymore for announcements to be made, they’ve already seen my frantic dash around the tree, bobbing infant on my hip and wild look in my eyes.

A large, muscular ranger has my small person in tow, her hands occupied with unwrapping a sucker he kept in his pocket for such occasions. “Here she is, Ma’am, you may want to consider GPS next year. We’ll see you climbing into the Sculpture Garden pond in the summer, see that Lily keeps her clothes on this time.” With a nod, my tax dollars at work melts back into the crowd.

“Husband! That’s not me!” Startled, he looks from the tree to the family he’s been following for the last fifteen minutes. They’re not his. This year there will be two GPS units under the tree…

Stacey may be found this year chasing her daughters around the tree, at her blog and The Zombie Dating Guide where she's enhancing Christmas carols for Undead Fred.

Merry Christmas from the Graham Crackers!!


Christmas in the Closet… no it’s not what you think.

By Elysabeth Williams

In another life, I was in a relationship living with a honey on the reservation in Cherokee, NC. We lived in a trailer below his mom’s house, which was a two story, hundred-year-old log cabin. I love that place. It was the best. We spent most of our time at his mom’s house. My honey, being the 2nd to youngest of six kids, had a very huge extended family as well. They’d come from all over the country to visit their Mom and Dad (my honey’s parents) for Christmas.

One particular year, all twenty-some-odd of us, including boyfriends of the grandkids and myself, ate dinner and settled in for the night at his Mom’s. At some point after the meal, she solemnly handed my honey a worn faded black velvet bag. He nodded sagely. Here I am, thinking its some huge Native American ritual. I’m some random white chick from Georgia about to be cultured. I was full of pride.

His youngest nephew, who was the tender age of six, asked his mom if he could go outside and look for Santa in the sky. His Mom and Dad took him outside to stand on the lower level front porch. Honey grabbed my hand and darted for the back stairs without speaking. He took them by twos up to the second floor and ran down the hall to a guest bedroom. By this time, I was thoroughly confused. Pausing to open the black velvet bag, he pulled out a hand full of faded silver sleigh bells. He looked to me and winked. We snuck outside to the second story porch and tiptoed to stand above his nephew, positioned right below us. They pointed to the sky… honey shook the bells. His nephew screeched like a banshee and ran around the front porch looking around for any sign. Honey shook the bells again. More screeching… They all ran out of sight, the thundering of shoes was the only thing we heard as we dove back into the house and into a closet. We didn’t realize that was his nephew’s room for the vacation and we ended up staying in that closet for hours until the boy got tired enough to sleep. It was cramped, dark, and hard to hold in the giggles, but by far one of the best Christmas evenings I’ve ever spent, even in the closet – just to listen to the giggles and banshee screeching of a magic-filled six year old boy on the other side of the door.

Thanks to the Army of Ermas for having me. I had a great time. Happy holidays to everyone and hope you find a special closet to hang out in.


Mulch and Mayhem

by Amy Mullis

I love Christmas—the holiday known around my house as the Festival of Poinsettia Murder. It’s my special homespun tradition, sort of like Martha Stewart’s clever centerpieces or Paula Deen’s Drop Dead pound cake.

My family has a separate tradition. It’s called, “Countdown to Holiday Herbicide.” They take turns guessing how long it will take for me to snuff out the Spirit of Peace and Goodwill by killing the Christmas flower.  The winner gets extra whipped cream when the pumpkin pie comes around.

I'm up to the challenge. As a trained amateur with years of experience, I can take that Poinsettia from Merry Christmas to mulch in minutes.

This year’s offering was a particularly hearty specimen, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s an arrangement with an attitude.  I knew it was time to win one for the chipper.

Before long I had a lovely pile of poinsettia potpourri arranged in a dainty ring around a festive foil-covered pot of sticks.  But knowing I would soon be found out by the plant lottery patrol, I needed to spring into action.

I pulled my 50-caliber rapid fire glue gun out of its holster, rounded up my glue stick shells, and hummed the A-Team theme music for inspiration as I began reconstruction.

“What’s that smell?” Son One strolled through the kitchen sniffing the air like dinner was minutes away from setting off the smoke detectors.

“What smell?” I asked innocently, shoving the contraband paraphernalia behind my back.

“Mom, either you’ve been branding wolverines in here or you hot glued your thumb again.  Are your hands stuck to your pants?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve been dabbling in mind-altering substances.”

“Oh, no. Don’t tell me you’ve been in the glitter, too.”

Just then the family dog, a hearty mix of Labrador and Dalmatian, wandered nonchalantly through the room.  He bore so many poinsettia leaves between his ears that he looked like Sitting Bull in full headdress. Translucent sparkles floated like snowflakes in the air around him.

 “Why does the dog look like he’s the main attraction for Disney Princesses on Ice?”

“I had a little trouble with my aim.”

Son Two joined us in the kitchen, head bent over a hand held video game as he headed toward the refrigerator.  He stopped suddenly, sniffed the air, and looked at me accusingly.  “Have you been trying to make cookies again?”

Son One snorted.  “Stand back. She has a glue gun and she has no idea how to use it.”

I brandished my weapon, sending hot adhesive across the room and adhering the dog’s bowl to the linoleum for life.

The dog sidled over to the dish like a Sugar Plum Fairy in full costume, and I felt my heart grow like the Grinch’s on Christmas morning.  In a world where a Labrador can grow up to be a fairy princess, maybe I could end up with a green thumb.

After all, once the wrapping paper lies in mangled piles, and Santa scrapes the dried glue off the reindeer, isn’t hope what Christmas is all about?

Besides, I won the Poinsettia Slaughter Lottery under an assumed name.  The dog and I entered as partners.

Join me for more "Don't Let This Happen To You" moments at Mind over Mullis.


Splurging for Ugly This Christmas

by Tricia Gillespie

After several years of living on a shoestring budget, I decided that I was going to create a fabulous Christmassy mood in my home this year.  I mean, even the mice are getting tired of the popcorn strung on my tree and our stockings have wear holes because we use them for extra socks throughout the year.

This Christmas would be different.  This year I’d buy real presents and not just re-gift my mother’s work cast-offs, I’d buy a new tree, and even splurge on pretty wrapping paper.  I was so excited.  My husband would surely be impressed and my children would dream of sugar-plums dancing in their heads.

My husband has vehemently hated our tree for several years.  He’s deemed it worse, much worse, than Charlie Brown’s pathetic twig.  He calls it a dollar store knock-off of a folk art nightmare.  Ok, so you can see bark (the cheesy paper mache kind) through the sparse branches, but I never hated it.  I simply don’t like the fact that the tree is skinnier than I am.  When I stand in front of a tree for a Christmas picture, I definitely want the tree to be wider than my behind.

I went to purchase a new Christmas tree last week.  I shopped around online for artificial trees and discovered that they are much more expensive than I’d anticipated.  You know how it is – inflated prices, the economy, moths in my wallet.  Because I didn’t want to spend sixty or eighty dollars on a 4.5 foot tree, I went to The Christmas Tree Shop.  If you’ve ever been to one of these stores, you know it is only one step above the dollar store.  Their motto is “Don’t you just love a bargain?”  Oh, I do, I really, really do.

My daughter came shopping with me.  After fighting our way through the crowds of shopping carts, women cranked on Starbucks, and grumpy old men, I found the perfect tree.  It was only $19.99.  My only problem came when I realized that I couldn’t see it or touch it…definitely a gamble.

I held the box up and wondered out-loud, “Do you think this is ugly?”

A middle aged woman stopped, looked at the picture on the box, and in all seriousness asked, “Honey, are you going for the ugly look?”

Pages from December’s Country Living Magazine flipped through my mind as I shook off the fog of my fabulous Christmas mood.

“Well, no” I said, “but I always seem to hit that mark.”

She looked at me with pity in her eyes, shrugged, and went about her bargain hunting.  What was I to do now?

“Buy the pink tree, mommy.”  My daughter’s full of good ideas.

I put the tree back on the shelf and retrieved it at least four times, finally buying it.  The entire drive home I regretted every penny of the $19.99.  After opening the box and actually seeing the tree, I went into a week-long depression.  This would be the most hideous Christmas ever.  I even considered using the folk art nightmare.  This tree had plastic branches.  It wasn’t even pretending to be real!

I took two Zolofts and decided to dress my plastic branches as if they were genuine Blue Spruce.  I’m happy to report that I love my highly processed, definitely un-organic tree.  I’m in the Christmas mood, Santa is on his merry way, and my children are dreaming sweet dreams.  Life is good no matter the trimmings.

My tree is still skinnier than I am.  I’m considering joining weight watchers, but since I’m not sure how many pounds I’ll need to lose, my tree will have to attend weigh-ins so we can both be measured.

FringeGirl lives on the domestic fringe in denial of her actual age, avidly avoiding scales, and eating too many M&M's. She is mother to two spazzy kids and one electrifying husband.  Her blog, the domestic fringe, is dedicated to finding humor in daily life.  FringeGirl enjoys using her God-given love for the written word to encourage others in the monotony of every-day.  She hopes you find your smile today!

Photo credit: blog.seattlepi.com


Fred, the Christmas Tree

by Carole Lee

In a season filled with magnificent trees with branches bowed from decorations, I have Fred. Fred the Christmas Tree. Fred was not always my tree of choice, but I learned to appreciate him the way I learn everything else: The hard way.

My house was once a rest home for old, broken, discarded trees. My mother began the practice of handing down unwanted trees to me the year she began the questionable tradition of hanging ornaments on her Ficus tree. Family members followed her lead (not with the Ficus, mind you), and it seemed I was never without a tree in need of a hug. I took my job as caregiver seriously. As long as I had enough tinsel, electrical tape and a decent corner to hide missing branches, I could make almost any discarded tree look respectable for a while. However, I grew tired of patching pieces together and attaching splints to broken poles. I recalled the scent of pine. I wanted a fresh tree.

Epiphany was my first real tree. She was so-named because it took a great deal of imagination and inspiration to haul her well-developed self up three flights of steps to our apartment. At least the nice, young, college-age guys stepped aside to allow me to drag and huff and puff and gasp and drag and wheeze past on the stairwell. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to appreciate Epiphany. I spent that Christmas in bed recovering from two sprained ankles and a broken spirit. I hear she was lovely.

The next year brought us Belle. Belle was even prettier than Epiphany, at least before I wrestled her, step by determined step, up the stairs. She had a thing about heights. After I broke free of her prickly headlock, I considered greasing her branches but decided against it. Tree trimmings wouldn’t be nearly as festive once they slid off into a heap on the floor. Fun fact #1: Turpentine removes pine sap from hair. Fun fact #2: Turpentine is flammable. Fun fact #3: So is hair.

The following year, Ingénue caught my eye. She was coy yet perky, and brimming with personality. The nice man at the store assured me that binding her limbs with twine would facilitate pulling her up the stairs at home. He was right, too. Only a few little needles were left on the steps. I only realized the danger once she was upright in the living room. The second I cut one section of twine, the rest followed suit--ping! ping! ping!--without my assistance. Her branches popped out with a force that discharged a barrage of pine needles throughout the house like a volley of ninja darts. She was a fresh-cut booby trap worthy of an action movie, or at least a B-grade martial arts film. Each of her offended appendages bounced wildly and then settled into an aggressive stance. If a tree had hips, her fists would have been planted on them. I hid all the cutlery before going to bed. Christmas had an entirely different tone that year.

Last year, after the attack of the Ingénue, I passed by many fresh trees while doing my Christmas shopping. Some called to me, but I fixed my gaze on Christmas cacti and Santa ornaments, pretending not to notice.

“Take me home! I will be a lovely addition!”

“Don’t take her; take me! She’s old and worn out. I’m fresh. See?” She lifted a flexible branch high to demonstrate her youth.

“Not on your life,” I thought. “I barely survived the last episode of battery by flexible branches.”

“Psst. Come here, lady,” one misshapen tree whispered. “I’ve got something to show ya.”

I scurried past. I think her name was Anita Fixx, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out for sure.

And then I spotted it. Only 4’ tall among giants, this artificial tree stood with a confidence that said, “I am fine with my stature. If I don’t suit your needs, I will suit someone else’s. Have a nice holiday, ma’am.” I think he even tipped his hat. Something about this tree was oddly attractive.

On the drive home, I learned that his name is Fred. From his perch on a table, Fred stood watch over our holiday festivities with a butler’s non-intrusive, quiet self-assurance, unlike those prissy, and sometimes scary, trees of years past. I had found my Prince Charming.

So you can have your Epiphanys, Belles and Ingénues, and dress them to impress. I’ll take good old artificial Fred. He is sturdy and dependable, requires no water and assembles in a snap. More important, he’s never hurled a needle in my direction.


The Christmas Wedding Hero

by Jeanette Levellie

I mean. How can you top first graders singing Away in a Manger accented by lisps from missing teeth as a wedding prelude? No one noticed the ruby poinsettia sprays draped over the end of each pew, or the candelabras’ reflection on stain glass windows. We were too busy peering around heads to catch those six-year-olds singing. And singing. And singing.

After the third round of Silver Bells, even the grandparents in the crowd started suspecting a glitch.

The bride’s mother stilled our curiosity when she stepped to the front. “Is there an organist in the house?” she half shouted, half laughed. “Our organist is lost in Casey, and can’t be here for forty-five minutes. If you can play, please step into the pastor’s office to the left of the sanctuary.”

Gasps and nervous chuckles shot through the crowd. But I knew someone who could save the day. “Honey, you can play,” I whispered to my husband. “Go tell them you’ll help.”

“Oh, Jeanette, I don’t play the organ—only the piano. It’s a different instrument altogether. Surely in a crowd of this size, there’s someone who’s trained on the organ.”

Not to betray my German heritage, I persisted. “No one is moving, Kev. You can do this; I know you can. Just don’t use the foot pedals, and they’ll never notice!”

His eyes skimmed the room with a nervous gaze.  “No, I don’t think I could.”

“Yes, you can, now just go do it.” My elbow may have slipped into his ribs; I don’t remember.

With one final desperate look around the room, the man rose from his seat.  He moseyed to the door of the pastor’s study, eyes on the carpet. As he pulled the door shut behind him, I sighed in relief. Thank you, Jesus.

Five minutes later, when he took his seat on the organ bench, a collective smile embraced all 200 guests. He played the processional like the first snowfall, sprinkling each bridesmaid with music as they glided down the aisle.  He gained more confidence for The Wedding March, and the bride received a full-scale storm of Wagner. By the recessional, organ music avalanched from his fingers. As the ushers dismissed each row, he bounced on the organ seat like a kid on a toboggan, playing original compositions, carols, and classical pieces.

No need for stairs from the platform to the sanctuary floor. He floated down and out to the parking lot, his halo glimmering in the afternoon sun.

At the reception, guests lined up to congratulate the wedding superhero. He grinned and nodded between bites of cake, “I was happy to help;” “It was the least I could do;” and my personal favorite, “No problem at all!”  I finally snatched his wallet and held up his driver’s license next to his face.

“What are you doing, Jeanette?”

“Checking to see if I came with the right man.”

He grabbed the wallet out of my hand. “I just didn’t want to steal the show from anyone else who could play. Everyone might think I was showing off.”

“No way would they think that about you, hon. Everyone could see you only wanted to help some friends out of a jam.” I jabbed him in the ribs one last time, and straightened his wings.

photo credit: unknown


Christmas Monster

By Lisa Dovichi

Yes. I did it. I created the monster. It was an accident, I swear -- I had no idea it would turn out this way.

Let me explain.

A couple of months ago, in preparation for the Christmas toy overload, I started telling 3ft, my five-year-old, to “put it on his Christmas List” whenever he asked for toys while we were out shopping. I thought I’d scored on genius when 3ft happily went along with it and it got me out of having to buy a toy without having to use my fall back of, “You’re not old enough for that one,” -- using the age suggestions on the package to deny my child the toy. I have a backbone, really, but it’s easier to avoid the whining, pleading, begging, and unavoidable crying by using the age card.

Suddenly everything was going on his Christmas List -- and I mean everything. Every infomercial (like the giant cupcake mold and one each of the Pillow Pets), every toy, every game, even toiletries (what’s a five-year-old need with a little nose and ear hair remover gadget, I ask?) were being added to the list. Granted some of the items make a mother ask, “Where did I go wrong?” but in and of itself this list isn’t a big deal. I can handle a ginormous list. I make one every year myself.

Except for…

Somewhere, somehow, it got lost in translation that just because it’s on a Christmas List doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. My child thinks that Santa is going to bring him everything on that list. I’ve talked myself blue in the face that the list just gives Santa, friends, and family ideas on what to get you for Christmas based off of stuff you want. He just smiles angelically and tells me he knows he’ll get everything because he’s been such a good boy this year. Now I ask you, how do you fight with that logic?


You’d do as I did and tell him, “But honey our house isn’t big enough to hold it all.” I have a backbone. Really.

Photo credit: janeheller.mlblogs.com


Bah Humbug... Or Something

by Adam Slade

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
the lack of fire is sooo damn spiteful,
I don't care if it cooosts a ton,
turn it on, turn it on, warm my bum."

Or something.

I'm what you might call a Pre-Christmas Curmudgeon. Or 'miserable sod', should you prefer. Most do. If I see a Christmas advert before the first of December, it's too durned early, and I make a mental note not to buy anything from that store unless absolutely necessary (i.e. they're cheaper). I find decorations silly and distracting, the music jangly and irritating, and the trees? Tree? Indoors?! Pfft.

On or around the tenth, though, this all changes. The music makes me grin like a loon (ok, more like a loon), I help put the decorations up where they'll stand out the most, and I go nuts with the tinsel on the tree, which I crawl into the attic to retrieve, despite the spiders.

In the lead up to 'the day', I sit in the front room with a huge cup of tea in my hands and my swaddled tootsies up on the coffee table, watching repeats of '70s comedy Christmas specials and finishing the punchlines for them. I'm 27, and yet come the night of Christmas Eve, I don't sleep. I lie there with a grin plastered on my chapped and cracking lips, my legs jigging as I attempt to both warm the sheets. and keep my bladder full and mattress dry (that may be an exaggeration).

And then it arrives!


The day!

Um, y'know... Christmas?

Try and pay attention.

It's the only day where I'm up ridiculously early -- and by that I mean before 2pm -- and don't care. I stagger downstairs, shiver, stagger back upstairs to put clothes on, stagger halfway back down the stairs and realize I have caveman hair and breath, stagger to the bathroom, then make it all the way to the kettle before I remember that I put my appallingly wrapped presents under my bed. This process of repeated stair climbs continues for another twenty to thirty minutes before everything is where is should be. When the family has finished laughing at me, we pass around the prezzies, and well, you know how the rest works.

My good spirits last throughout Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and sometimes even the day after, before receding. Once again the songs are crap, the tree is stupid, and the decorations are a fire hazard.

I keep the cards, though.

Photo credit: deltasdazzlingcostumes.com.au


Happy Holidays to my BFF

I am talking about Black Friday Frenzy.

This year we decided to celebrate the holidays with a time-honored 21st century tradition – a new flat-screen TV. I did my research and discovered the optimal addition to our stable of electronics was on sale at walmart.com for 50% off, starting at midnight, on Black Friday.

::cue the evil music::

My husband is a night owl, so he was the designated clicker. So far, so good.

Until he wakes me up at two in the morning informing me his bank card had been declined . . . twenty times. Snarling, I booted up my computer, convinced he’d typed something wrong.  I was going to show him how a real bargain hunter shopped.




Okay, not funny.


I decided to try Amazon to make sure it wasn’t a Wal-Mart problem.


Well, that forty-two inch bit of discounted frippery wasn’t escaping me that easily.  I phoned my bank and was informed the account had been locked for identity theft. 

Their justification for this conclusion? Only someone using a stolen card would be shopping at the Wal-Mart website at midnight.

Let’s just say that the discussion got rather pointed. Okay, it actually got quite loud.

The bank is supposed to automatically call when this alarm is triggered. They didn’t. Why? The poor soul on the phone told me that the file was marked “Don’t call, it’s too early.”

Let’s examine the bank’s logic. It’s not appropriate to call at midnight.  However, if it’s me using my own card, I’m already awake.  If it’s not me, then I guess the bank figures I’m going to need a good night’s sleep to deal with the theft of my identity. Yes, my bank was on the case. Finally, I was assured that all blocks had been lifted from the account.

Delighted and emboldened by my discounted flat-screen TV, and reassured that my bank had my back, I decided to add some accessories to the new home entertainment center. Tap. Tap. Click. Click.


Two more phone calls and I was assured, again, that I was a valued customer and the bank was looking out for my best interests. All those electronic purchases were a sure sign that some Nigerian was running wild with my bank card. It was for my own good.

Finally, Saturday rolled around. I’d scored some bargains, but it was as much cage match as shopping spree. My final holiday task was taking our guest of honor home to Missouri. Any Kansan knows that gas is cheaper on the MO side of the line, so I coasted in just shy of “E,” dropped him off, and stopped at the local gas station.


Standing in the parking lot of a gas station in Missouri, I learned that my account had been restricted to my home state.  Any other charges were considered fraudulent because of the electronics purchases.  However, I was informed that if I ever needed to leave the state, all I had to do was call and let them know. . .

Apparently, I’d been convicted of “Grand Shopping – Electronics” and put on parole. I now needed my bank’s permission to leave the state. It got loud . . . very loud . . .

Black Friday, it’s not for sissies!

Photo credit: b2cmarketinginsider.com


An Army of Ermas guest columnists extravaganza!

Really. How often do you get to use "extravaganza" on a Saturday that doesn't involve Cher and fake boobies? I had to bust the word out just to show how awesome the submissions were for December, I can't thank you each of you enough without breaking into interpretive dance.

Please look for our guest columnists this month!

December 8: Adam Slade
December 17: Tricia Gillespie
December 22: Beth Williams
December 27: Barb Tyler

All of the entries were excellent and I invite y'all to send in your submissions again when Ermas opens up for spots in the future.

Thank you!
Stacey -- Editor/Grand Poobah, An Army of Ermas


DECK THE HALLS (With Ready-Made)

 by Anne Skalitza

“I was born to wrap.”

“Born to rap? Like, Kanye West? No way!” our younger son exclaimed.

“No, no. Wrapping gifts, not rap as in music,” my husband replied, putting the finishing touches on a red and white festively wrapped box.  Not only was it beribboned with velvet and lace, but it jauntily sported two tiny bells that jingled when you picked up the package.

I stood nearby, watching, like a cat eyeing a mouse. How'd he do that so easily? I thought about the time years ago, when my older child needed an angel costume by the next day. Halo included. He ended up looking like a tipsy Casper the Friendly Ghost. At least he was the hit of the Christmas pageant.

Through the years I’ve learned to surround myself with a few friends who are as creatively challenged in the homemade department as I. But I also have a stable of friends who can make a mean Dobosh Torte in the time it takes for me to find my eyeglasses to read the recipe. And of course, there's my husband who pinch-hits when needed. His favorite television channel is a twenty-four hour food fiesta and he's on a first name basis with all of the show hosts.

"Bobby says this barbeque sauce is great!" he calls from the kitchen as he rattles pots and pans.

Later, from the family room, he yells out to anyone within a five-and-a-half mile radius, "Oh, wait 'til you hear what Rachel has to say about marinating!"

Well, I'd rather use the kitchen just for eating. In fact, I'll gladly accept gift certificates to the nearest "we cook it, you devour it" place rather than a Fifty Ingredients Or Less cookbook.

One day recently, I wandered into a craft store and stood stock-still. Milling about were men, women, and children, all armed with filled baskets and dangerous to the likes of me. Mustering up confidence, I meekly stepped into an aisle. People sidled past, talking about different size glue guns and levelers and sculpting clay. I raced out the front door before a full-blown panic-attack set in. My brief foray into the world of creative projects was over.

Thankfully there are many people who can sew and bake and make beautiful centerpieces. I was born to admire. And I’m thankful that I live in the twenty-first century, in a world of ready-made anything. If my entourage of creative stand-bys are too busy creating to lend me a hand, I can purchase and deliver. Right on time, no questions asked. My husband may be born to wrap, but for me, with Christmas right around the corner, ready-made rocks!

--Anne Skalitza can usually be found dazed and wandering behind her husband in the local craft store on any given Saturday in December. For more about Anne and her writings, please visit www.anneskal.wordpress.com

Photo credit: inhabitat.com


Scorch Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

by Beth Bartlett

My inability to cook is famed in our family. After years of suffering through my attempts at holiday meals (the green bean casserole may not have been edible, but it makes a lovely planter) my loved ones became proactive. Every women’s magazine I picked up had large holes cut in them where recipes should be and cooking sites were banned in my browser as if they were naughty pictures of George Clooney.  This left me in the acceptably safe zone of processed foods, like my famous Scorch-n-Serve rolls, a tiny turkey roast in a cardboard pan that always ended up crispy (who knew those little pans were so flammable?) and Stove Top stuffing, which even I could not mess up. 

And then it happened.

A good friend gave me a holiday snack mix recipe. I snatched it up like it was the last toilet paper at Woodstock.  I had visions of filling cute Santa-covered jars with tasty treats, and watching a sincere smile come across my mother’s face after ingesting something I made instead of seeing that vein throb in her forehead again.

After a quick run to the store for supplies, I looked over the recipe again and realized that I could be in trouble. Do I still have a mixing bowl? The last time I saw the measuring spoons was when I doled out cat wormer. Years ago I discarded my pantry full of Vesuvius cookie sheets with the tragic shadows of long-burned cookies permanently etched into the metal. And I had to clean the toaster oven. Correction: I had to find the toaster oven first.

Once I began, I still had a lot of questions. How many empty Lean Cuisine trays make up one cup? If you use aluminum foil to bake snack mix, how do you turn it? Or can you just ball it up and wait for it to explode like Jiffy Pop? Did I use too much molasses? Why did the wooden spoon break? My mother was no help and after the third call she muttered something about starting a new hobby of drinking in the evening. So I was on my own.

I fired up the oven, accidentally giving a giant spider a hotfoot, and shoved the mixture in. I’ve tried these types of holiday treats before.

When I decided to make little gingerbread figures for Christmas, my husband walked through the kitchen, saw the glowing oven and disappeared. Half an hour later, he reappeared in body paint and glowsticks in either hand and waited in front of the oven door until smoke started seeping out.

“What are you doing?” I asked as I slipped on the oven mitts and waved away the smoke.

“Celebrating Burning Man,” he replied, cranking up the stereo as tiny, flaming gingerpeople emerged from the stove.

But this time, no smoke. Instead, a gorgeously yummy aroma wafted through the house.

“Did you just light a scented candle?” yelled hubby from the back office.

“No, I’m baking!” I shouted. I heard a heavy sigh. And the timer went off.

I learned several things: fresh snack mix is very hot and molasses is difficult to get out of cat fur.

And even I can’t completely mess up a great recipe.  It made the hubby smile.
Now I’m off to buy Santa jars.

photo credit: bullexsafety.com