12.30.2011

Linus and His Resolutions

by Jason Tudor

My friend Linus and I sat in the Irish Pub the day after Christmas nursing beers and watching a soccer friendly when he brought up New Year's resolutions.

"You have any?"

I gave up making New Year's resolutions five years ago.

"I got three."

Lay them on me.

"One, I'm gonna lose 25 pounds and get down below three spins."

Three spins?

"On the scale, moron."

Do scales still spin?

"The point is that I wanna lose weight!"

Well, that is good. You are five feet seven inches. Your heart and your insoles will thank you for that.

"The second is to be nicer. Just, you know, nicer. To be a nicer guy."

All right.

"And third ... I want to learn how to salsa dance."

Umm ...

"Well, actually, I've already started that one. Had to take a break since the wife went home for the holidays. Hey, why'd you give up resolutions? You don't like change?"

On the contrary, I love change. I embrace change like my taste buds meeting a bacon-wrapped hunk of veal.

"It's 2012! You get a clean slate!"

You don't, really. You wake up with the same challenges you had the day before. Bills. Children. Illness. Regret. It's all still there plus a walloping hangover if you did New Year's Eve according to Madison Avenue rules.

"So you're saying I'm not gonna get below three hundred pounds?"

I'm saying you've got to be ready to do it. The thing with New Year's resolutions is the need to be, well, resolute. By its very definition, 'resolute' conjures up all sorts of problems around this time of year. It is difficult to be "admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering" while retailers, hucksters and every con artist with a racket scream for your money; food flies out of ovens faster than you can pack it down; and the niceness gallops like free zebras across the Serengeti. I think this is just a tough time of year to make it happen.

"Plus all those college bowl games and the party clean up and everything else. There's a lot to worry about."

Something like that.

"Hmm. So you're sayin' don't do it?"

I'm saying don't do it NOW. Smarter people than me have said you should wait so you can ensure you have the willpower, some concrete goals and, perhaps most importantly, the support mechanism, like a friend or two, to help you get there. And you've got some things, like that weight loss, that will probably require some encouragement and coaching from a friend. All you'd have to do is find the right person and ask.

"You're right about that because I really need to make that happen. That resolution will be great for my health, I'll feel better about myself, gain some confidence, and I'll see some long-term benefits. That said, umm, can I ask you something?"

Sure.

"Would you mind being my salsa partner for a few days until my wife comes back?"

Jason Tudor is something of a multimedia alchemist who likes buying gadgets and shopping online, mostly because he has to. He's a three-time Department of Defense first-place winner for feature writing and has three published books of poetry. His illustration work appears on websites like the Zombie Dating Guide, and has commissioned work in anthologies "The Undead That Saved Christmas," volumes 1 and 2. Jason is currently working on three novels, including two science fiction books. As such, he the host and producer of "The Science Fiction Show," a weekly podcast on the topic available on iTunes. His website is www.jasontudor.com

12.28.2011

Breaking the Jell-O Mold


by Sara Spock


My lovely parents are about to celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary on New Year’s Day.  In the tradition of our family, we will gather to cook, eat, give gifts, and make fun of one another until perhaps someone goes home crying.  It’s a tradition that harkens back to the days of my grandparents, who had the power to cook a seafood feast fit for Poseidon, castigate half the family over nuts and olives, and scare off the rest of us before dessert.

I never knew just what they argued about, but I always remember the longing looks at Aunt Patty’s Jell-O mold, Mom’s delicious apple pie, and adorable little Dixie cups of ice cream. The dessert spread would fade into obscurity as we were ushered out the door in a tangle of winter coats and car keys. I’m lying about the Jell-O mold, that was a great big “Good riddance!”

These days, family dinners are a bit more friendly. My Uncle Frank roasts a fantastic bird while he deftly avoids roasting my Mother. My Sister’s pie’s are  filled with sweet honey, creamy pumpkiny goodness, and not an ounce of bitterness. My Sister-in-Law arranges a gorgeous fruit pizza and keeps my brother busy with beverage duty. Mom, baby sister, and I make thousands of cookies and an epic mess in my kitchen.  But even a mess of Spock-Women proportions can’t dampen our joy at the sight of 200 rugelach, packed to their buttery edges with walnuts and brown sugar.

Eight grandchildren run circles around tables, dogs, and piles of unfolded laundry, but who cares. We’re family! My little Paleolithic monkey scoops up a turkey leg to adult shrieks of horror while my nieces hide the salt and pepper shakers. One nephew steals a handful of cookies while the others pretend not to notice. Suddenly, it’s clear why my grandparents kicked us out every year.  Spock kids are mischievous little stinkers! Food stealing, window breaking, booger smearing, bicker-making machines. But our generation is happy to overlook these impish tendencies, have a laugh, and enjoy our time together. As long as no one brings the Jell-O mold.



Sara Spock is a Mom, Wife, Penn State Graduate, Substitute Teacher, Freelance Writer and Chocolate Addict.  When she’s not wrestling her 5 year old for a turkey leg, Sara can be found over at The Hero Complex where she tries to save the world, one. blog. post. at. a. time.

12.26.2011

True Confessions of a Teacher the Last Day before Christmas Break

by Jeanette Levellie


My palms were sweating. “I’ve got to get this car to the median,” I thought, looking over my shoulder at three lanes of early morning L.A. traffic. “I need a miracle like the parting of the Red Sea.” Wait, wrong Bible story. This was December 20th. How about a miracle similar to finding a birthing manger in Bethlehem?

“Whatever—just help me get to school on time, Lord.”

It was the last day of school before Christmas vacation. My students had always been generous in past years, but I knew they’d pour on the presents today, since it was my final year teaching at the small private school my kids attended before we moved across the country.

I wasn’t fretting over leaving my teens at home alone while I dashed my husband to the train station, or the expense of fixing whatever troubled our sick car. I was thinking of those beribboned boxes of stationery I’d regift at the next Missionary Mamas Christmas party; the “Best Teacher” mugs I’d drink from twice before giving them to Goodwill;  and the matching sets of dish towels I’d put in a drawer to give my kids’ teachers next Christmas. The thought of missing all that loot made me want to cry.

As I put the car in neutral and opened the door to begin pushing, a pickup truck pulled up behind me, the driver motioning me to get back in so he could push me from behind. I was able to turn the corner and ease the car to a stop. I smiled as I waved my thanks to the kind driver, noticing the embroidered name on his blue uniform: CLARENCE. “Thanks, Lord,” I chuckled.

By the time I jogged the quarter mile home, more than my palms were sweating, but I didn’t have time to change clothes. Those gifts were waiting.

My sixteen-year-old daughter was thrilled that she got to drive us to school in her car. Her younger brother was not amused. “Mom, the last time Ruthie drove, she went the wrong way up a one-way street and nearly killed us!”

“We’ll just have to risk it, Ben. I may never have another bonanza like this again. I have to get while the getting is good.” He sighed, and grabbed two overstuffed pillows from the couch on his way out the door. This was the dark ages, before airbags.

We made it to school in record time, with only one mishap—a scratch on the passenger side from a holly bush in a residential neighborhood. “Don’t’ worry, honey,” I crooned to Ruthie, “it’s hard to judge your speed when you’re turning corners. Those people shouldn’t have planted that bush so close to the sidewalk, anyway.”

As Ben staggered out of the back seat, still clutching his pillows, he moaned and slapped his forehead. “We forgot our lunches, Mom. You made us go in such a hurry; we left them on the kitchen table. I can’t make it ‘til 3:30 with nothing to eat!”

I put my arm around his shoulder as we walked into the building together. “Don’t worry, son. I’m counting on at least three boxes of See’s candy and two fruitcakes. I’ll share with you, okay?”



A spunky pastor’s wife of thirty-six years, Jeanette has published articles, greeting card verses, stories and calendar poems.  She authors a bi-weekly humor/inspirational column in her local newspaper, and enjoys speaking to church and civic groups, offering hope and humor in every message. She is the mother of two, grandmother of three, and waitress to several cats. Her debut book Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top releases in April 2012. Find her mirthful musings at www.jeanettelevellie.com

12.23.2011

Happy Hollydaze


by Terri Lynn Coop


Christmas means different things to everyone. Fun, family, presents, a grueling ordeal at grandma’s house . . . 


To single people, it also means the chance to pick up some extra bucks at the mall. Work the Friday after Thanksgiving? No problem. Work Christmas Eve? No problem. We are the few, the proud – the elves – and it’s our minimum wage job to make sure you have a joyous holiday (insert sarcastic laugh). Hey, those awkward family photos aren’t going to take themselves.


That’s how I, an unmarried childless college student, became “The Talking Christmas Tree” at Sunrise Mall. It was a twelve-foot tall, garishly decorated, low-tech monster with hand-operated controls for the eyes and mouth. Fifteen hours a week I’d jump the candy cane fence, look both ways for idealistic children, open the hatch, and lock myself in the tree carcass, ready to spread joy and holiday spirit, as well as be nowhere near a bathroom for four to five hours.


As any college mascot will tell you, there’s something magical about a big galumphy character costume. Your inhibitions fly to the four winds. I found myself singing off-key Christmas carols at top volume as well as calling out to random passerbys, “Mewwwy Chwwwistmas” (when in character, I had a lisp for some unexplained reason). Break into a random chorus of “Jingle Bells” when someone has their back turned to you and watch the packages fly. Man, I loved that job.

Hey, but it’s all about the kids, right? Unfortunately, most of the little ones were scared to death of me.  I was a twelve-foot tall tree with a face bigger than they were. The animatronics were clunky and my sound system wasn’t exactly Dolby. I did my best, but more often than not when the parents coaxed them up my glittery candy cane path, they were rewarded with screeching howls. I wonder how many of the little darlings became lumberjacks to deal with the trauma. Ah, there are no memories like Christmas memories.


A first-grade class made a special trip just to see me (I know!). A fresh-faced moppet approached and I asked, “What’s your name?” (paragraph 3 of the training brochure, “using the child’s name makes a magical connection and enriches the experience.”) 


“Mewwy Chwistmas (the signature lisp), what’s your name?”


“TZighisblimi.”


“What?”


“TZighisblimi.”


“Okay . . .”


“The Z is silent and the gh pronounces like sh,” adds the teacher.


Awkward silence.


“Hi there, big boy! What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?”


To this day, I address all unknown children as “big boy” and “pretty girl.”


One quiet night, I had some teenagers threaten to tip the tree over. They were rocking it back and forth when I turned the volume up to 10 and sang (yes, sang),“HO HO HO! HEE HEE HEE! SOMEONE CALL SECURITY! HELP THE TALKING CHRISTMAS TREE!” 


My band of would-be Scrooges scattered like autumn leaves.


When my tree time was up, I would extricate myself and head to the other mall to don my suspenders and pointy boots for a shift as “photo elf” at Santa’s workshop. It cheers me to know that those photos I took have embarrassed prom dates, fiancés, and now their own children. Ah, the circle of life.


To all the Ermas and our readers, I hope you have a Mewwwy Chwwwistmas!


Terri Lynn Coop is a lawyer by day and writer by night. With her two intrepid Chihuahua companions, she braves life on the prairie and her death-duel with a chronically leaky roof. Check out her photo blog at www.whyifearclowns.net if you dare.



12.21.2011

Little Miss Manners

by Melanie Hooyenga



My childhood was aseries of visiting with one group of adults after another. By first grade I felt more comfortable chatting with my parents’ friends than with children my own age—at least until I was shooed to the other room to entertain myself.

When I was around nine, my parents dragged me to the home of a business associate, Miss Cathy, for an early Christmas dinner. She didn’t have children of her own, but a random little girl was there with whom I was instructed to play. (Really? Why is this okay to do to children? You’d never stick an adult in a room with a stranger and expect them to flop on the floor with a coloring book and crayons and become best friends. But anyway…)

Miss Cathy’s house was not child-friendly, so her solution to preventing us from destroying her ornate furniture was shutting us in a musty bedroom. After lying on the thin carpet, coloring our boring pictures, we decided we’d had enough. Accepting her challenge of being “mischievous children”, we crept from our cell to sneak cookies and juice from the kitchen.

And were busted.

From them on we were commanded to ask permission if we wanted more treats. Me being a social creature, I returned to the living room over and over to interrupt their conversation, and each time I was scolded for not using my manners.

“You should never interrupt when grown-ups are speaking, and you must always say excuse me and wait for permission to speak.” Miss Cathy looked down her nose when she spoke, which may be why I the following winter I pelted her car with snowballs when she passed the bus stop. (Then hid behind another child when she stopped, got out of the car, and screamed at all of us. But that’s another story.)

Hanging with the adults clearly wasn’t happening, so I returned to my fate of coloring until my fingers we so waxy they could remove facial hair, if I’d had any back then. Not knowing the beauty benefits of that much wax, I tip-toed from the bedroom to wash my hands, and froze in the hallway.

The dinner table, which Miss Cathy had painstakingly set with an antique lace tablecloth and her mother’s best china, was on fire.

I raced to the living room, the words bursting from my lips. “Miss Cathy the—“

“Melanie, what did I tell you about interrupting?” she calmly inquired.

“But Miss Cathy the table—“

“You need to calm down and wait until we’re finished talking.”

I took a deep breath, looked at my parents, and decided to hell with my manners. “BUT THE TABLE IS ON FIRE!”

That got their attention. All three adults sprang from their comfortable, non-musty chairs and surrounded the flaming table. Miss Cathy grabbed a pitcher from one end of the table and dumped its contents over the fire. Unfortunately for her that pitcher had grape juice, and her table looked worse than if she’d let us play in the there in the first place.

I still interrupt people, but I also check for the closest basin of water so I can take matters into my own hands.



Melanie Hooyenga is a salsa dancing graphic designer writing her way to publication. When not chasing her Miniature Schnauzer in circles around the living room, she’s dodging woodland creatures that insist on swooping in front of her car. She always loves a good accidental-fire story and asks that you share your catastrophes with her at @melaniehoo.

12.19.2011

On Looking Into the Light

by Pauline Campos

I make sad things funny. It’s a coping mechanism, I am sure. But it’s also an engrained part of my culture.

Sometimes, though, sad things make themselves funny. Like when my aunt told my father to look into the light.


As he lay on his deathbed.


Oh, she didn’t mean it that way. But English isn’t her first language. So while my sisters and I were fighting tears and laughter for two separate reasons, my father’s sisters were rallying my him to stay with us as they rubbed his hands and patted his feet and reminded my father of all the reasons he needed to focus on living.


He was 50 and had gone into the hospital to have heart valve replacement surgery (the original surgery a result of rheumatic fever he suffered as a child) and was supposed to have been released in time to celebrate Christmas with the family. Being the cocky Mexican stereotype that he was, it hadn’t really entered his mind that he might not come home. And because we all believed him to be the strongest man in the world, we had only focused on making fun of him while he recovered.


But problems arose after the surgery. And after a few close calls, the doctors finally told me and my mother to call everyone to the hospital. He wouldn’t make it more than a few hours.


There were only a few people to call. If you break your toe in my family, we are required to turn the waiting room into an ethnic stereotype. Every tia, tio, prima, and primo within driving distance is called to appear at the hospital, waiting for the afflicted to emerge, triumphant and cured. I am sure the hospital staff groans when we all arrive; a Spanglish three ring circus. Even as the doctor quietly urged us to notify friends and family, he looked around at the standing room only crowd already present.


Five daughters.

 
Two son-in-laws.

 
One Godson.

 
One grandfather.

 
Two brother-in-laws.

 
Three of four sisters.

 
One Niece.

 
One (or was it two?) long time friends.

 
One uncle who had flown in from Texas.

 
One aunt who had delayed her trip back to Mexico.

 
One wife of thirty years…who just happened to be celebrating her 49th birthday that very day on November 27, 2007. 


But we made calls. My in-laws were at my house taking care of 5-month-old Buttercup, but everyone else we could get a hold of did their best to arrive before my father left us. And while we waited for the inevitable, my aunts continued to rally my father.

“Rene! Rene! Stay with us! You have your daughter’s Rene. Pauline, Veronica, Sonya, Maria, Patricia!”


Stay with us, Rene! You have the grandchildren!”

“Rene! Dorothy is here, Rene. It’s her birthday, Rene. She needs you to take care of her, Rene!”

His signs were fading.
The beeping was slowing.
The tears were flowing.


I kept my eyes closed. Easier to block the tears that way. I needed to stay focused on catching my mother before she hit the ground when the last beep would eventually fade away. And that damned light over his bed was harsh enough to sting my already tired eyes.


I stood in between Pati and Sonya, with one arm around each of their shoulders. Being six inches taller than both of them, I was able to offer them a place to rest their heads while I used them for support to keep standing.


None of us spoke. We just let my dad’s sisters cry and wail and toggle between English and Spanish while they tried to break through to his spirit. His body may have been failing, but he was strong. Maybe strong enough to make the impossible possible. If only they could reach him.


“Rene!” One of his sister’s cried out. “Rene! Look into the light, Rene! Look into the light!”


My eyes shot open as my face crumpled into a pained expression that had nothing to do with my father and everything to do with me trying to bite back a “What the HELL?” at what had just been uttered.

“Really?

Really?” 

She, of course, meant the light over his bed. The one harnessing the power of the sun. The one we would have joked was bright enough to wake the dead had my father not been dying.

But a chuckle, which came out as a muffled sob, escaped one of my sisters. Sonya and Pati, tears streaming down their cheeks, both looked up at me. They wanted to laugh. My father would have laughed. He would have laughed his ass off.  But it wasn’t the right time. Later. We could laugh after we got home. After we had signed off on the autopsy. After we got my mother into bed. While we sat huddled together waiting to leave for the funeral home. After we got home from the service. When we needed a reason to remind us that Christmas was a time of happiness. We could, and would laugh about it often. All it took was one of us to dramatically call out, “Look into the light!”


But not now. Not yet.

I pursed my lips and silently shook my head slowly. It was as much an admonition for them as it was a reminder to me not to lose it. Because good God, I needed to laugh.

“Rene! Look into the light!” She cried out, as the beeping slowed even more. “Look into light!”

My father had never listened to his sisters. He never listened to anyone. But as the beep, beep, beep finally drew itself out into a heart-wrenching “beeeeeeeeeeep” until one of the nurses (thankfully) turned off the machines, as I let go of my sisters to catch my mother before she fell to the floor…I had one thought.


“Damn it, Dad! Fifty years! And you listen to them now?”

12.16.2011

Dodging the Christmas Bullet





Years ago, I was faced with spending my first Christmas away from my family. Rescue appeared in the form of a nice Marine I was dating. We’ll call him Joe, in case he’s reading this, twenty-five years later. Joe came from a big family in upstate New York, and he invited me to spend Christmas with them. Great! I’d fit in perfectly and they’d love me.

Being sweet, Joe insisted on buying my plane tickets. Being not-too-bright, he booked the cheapest deal available, which meant two days before Christmas, I flew alone from South Carolina, through Atlanta, and into Buffalo, where I was stuffed aboard a small puddle-jumper into Schenectady. This took all day, and I was boarding planes that got progressively smaller and flying into cities that were increasingly colder. When I landed in Schenectady, it was about ten degrees. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a flight attendant spilled vodka on me, and I changed into the one extra piece of clothing that was in my carry-on bag, which was a black mini-skirt.

Imagine me trying to run across a snowy tarmac in Schenectady wearing high-heeled boots, a black mini-skirt, and a Be-Dazzled jean jacket, looking like an escapee from Santa’s Island of Misfit Hookers.

It got worse. His uber-religious family was horrified that I wasn’t wearing church clothes for midnight mass (just an hour after my plane landed), Joe dragged me to the mall on Christmas Eve to buy presents for all fourteen of his nieces and nephews, and one of his sisters gave me a Bible wrapped in a giant fluffy pink cover that looked like a lacy cake with my name embroidered on it and spelled incorrectly.

And then, just when Awkward Holiday Moments couldn’t have descended into any further madness, it happened. On Christmas Day, in front of the tree.

Joe got down on one knee, in front of his entire family, and presented me with an engagement ring.

Gentlemen, when you go to propose to a young lady, do NOT do it in front of your entire family. Because much like a cornered wildebeest, she could quite possibly vomit all over your mother’s Martha Stewart–inspired living room.

Yep. I was THAT girl. The one who upchucked after a combination of stress, pilfered communion wine, sleep deprivation, a giant sausage and kipper breakfast, and the horror of publicly being asked to marry someone I only vaguely knew while his extended family looked on, grinning at me.

I don’t remember my exact answer. To avoid any further humiliation, I muttered something about “Oh let’s talk about this later,” and beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the guest room. It was all a blur after that, and a few days later I was back in Charleston, not officially engaged, but still in possession of a ring.

I’m happy to report that I dodged a bullet. A few months later, Joe got injured in a training exercise and was sent to a hospital where he fell in love with – and dumped me for – a trauma nurse. I, in turn, pawned the ring for a hundred bucks and bought my first typewriter, which was far more useful.

In retrospect, Joe probably dodged a huge bullet too.

12.14.2011

Christmas Chaos



When the Ghost of Christmas yet to come starts spreading its merry magic around, anything can happen.  One year, the spirit of Snap, Crackle, and Pop possessed me, and with a happy heart and handicapped hands I set about to make Rice Krispie treats.

I’m not sure where I went wrong, but the next day my family strung electrified razor wire around the kitchen door.  Now I can use the refrigerator only when accompanied by a guardian.  The egg compartment is password protected.

I might not bake like Betty Crocker, but I mix like a manic bartender.  Ingredients disappeared into the bowl like bathtub toys down the drain. 

I was elbow-deep in marshmallow crème and crunchy bits when the phone rang.

I looked at the phone.

I looked at the mass of seasonal sweetness glistening in the mixing bowl.

Ring Ring


Surely it was a late night salesman calling with an offer on reindeer rides or antler cleaners.


Ring Ring


Or it could be. . .

Ring Ring


Santa.

I lunged for the phone.

Across the dog napping by my chair.  Across the table.  Across the mixing bowl full of sticky, marshmallow goodness.

Which immediately grabbed my bosom like a Hoover on a hairball.

I squealed and grabbed at the sticky mass stuck to my sweater. My hands stuck tight.

The phone rang forlornly.  Would Santa wait?  I couldn’t take that chance.

I wedged a rubber spatula somewhere a spatula should never go and tried to pry myself loose from the goo.  No luck.  Finally, through the use of my gourmet kitchen superpowers, I pulled a hand free and grabbed the phone.  Crispy Christmas spirit clung to my clothes like a solidified lava flow.

“Hello, Santa?!”

Dial tone.

I sat back to ponder the situation, one hand stuck to my shirt in a modified Pledge of Allegiance salute, the other hand held fast to the telephone.

About that time the Captain came in the back door.  “Why didn’t you answer the phone?  I wanted to ask you about the ingredients for the . . .” 

Here he uttered an oath that he generally reserves for finding that I’ve used the last of the 12-year-old single malt Scotch to pre-soak the socks. It’s not something I did more than once, thinking surely if there were any substance that could take on Carolina Red Clay, it would be the stuff that dissolved my taste buds and disintegrated the lining of my stomach. This attempt was unsuccessful, but lead to a discussion called “We Don’t Use the Good Liquor On The Laundry,” which is my favorite lecture after, “We Don’t Shave Sweaters With My Norelco.”

I looked up at him, Rice Krispie clumps hanging from my sweater like Christmas tree ornaments and marshmallow crème tipping my eyelashes like disco balls. The Labrador dozing at my feet dreaming of sugarplums looked like a Candyland Appaloosa.

That night I discovered the true meaning of Christmas.  When the chips are down and your snap and crackle have lost their pop, a man who will chisel petrified puffed rice out of your navel is worth more than a herd of flying reindeer. 

But these days?  I buy Corn Flakes.


12.12.2011

Back fat roasting on an open fire - Zombies chewing on your nose

by Stacey Graham

I have a soft spot for zombies. They reject the commercialism of Christmas and go straight for the heart - literally. Thus, this holiday season, I wanted to share some of my favorites modified Undead songs and share the love. You're welcome, Internet.


The Zombie Christmas Song

Back fat roasting on an open fire
Zombies chewing on your nose
Questionable carols being moaned by a choir
And folks are wearing ragged clothes

Everybody knows a liver and a ripped off ear
Helps to make the season bright
Tiny zombies with their eyes all aglow
Won’t find it hard to eat tonight

They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s got a sleighful of feet to give away
And every Undead child is going to hide
Attacking reindeer as they try to get a ride

And so I’m offering this warning now
If you want to just survive
Keep the kiddies away from the fire
And you may make it out alive
 

It’s beginning to look a lot like zombies

It’s beginning to look a lot like zombies
Ev’rywhere you go
Take a look in the neighbor’s den, glistening once again
With blood and guts and viscera all aglow

It’s beginning to look a lot like zombies
All they want is more
But the scariest site to see is the neighbor that will be
Hanging from his door

A pair of feet you can’t beat or a big hunk of meat
Is on tap for Lester and Mike
A musical box or a doll that can’t talk
Make the eyes of Angie burn bright
And mom and dad are happy when their kids are out of sight

It’s beginning to look a lot like zombies
Ev’rywhere you go
There’s some bodies in the well, everyone thinks it’s swell
When they float to the top and you tie them in a bow

It’s beginning to look a lot like zombies
Pile them on a cart
And the thing that will make them run is the promise of the fun
As they eat your heart
Stacey Graham's the mouthpiece for Undead Fred at The Zombie Dating Guide. When not caroling awkwardly outside people's homes - she should really wait until December to start that - she enjoys messing up the classics with her odd sense of humor. She has two books releasing into the wild next year: The Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide and The Zombie Tarot. Please visit her at her website, on twitter and facebook. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

12.09.2011

The Sweet Smells of Christmas

 by Tricia Gillespie


 I felt the skin of my arm stick together like a piece of double-sided tape that had somehow made its way into the deep recesses of my armpit. Beads of sweat broke out on my forehead and I went running as inconspicuously as possible through the crowded, candlelit church. I bee-lined for the basement and ran full throttle into my mother.

“Oh, mom! You made it out earlier than expected.” I blurted a quick greeting while pushing her back into the ladies’ room.

‘Mary,’ draped in biblical robes, was stealing one last check in the mirror before taking center stage in the Christmas play. I frantically lifted my arms and stuck my nose into my pits, all my worst fears coming to fruition. Lady’s Speed Stick had failed me, or worse, I had failed Lady’s Speed Stick.

My mother’s eyes bugged and she swung her head in shame as I announced that although I forgot to use deodorant, I HAD taken a shower within the hour.

“Do you think I smell already?” The questioned mainly directed at the woman who’d birthed me.

Before I knew what was happening, Mary popped her nose into the pits and stamped my forehead fresh. Thankfully I used gobs of fig and brown sugar body cream when I dressed, but I didn’t want to smell like a week old casserole by the end of Christmas Eve service.

When ‘Mary’ declared me odor-free, a chuckle escaped one of the stalls. Oh, no, tell me it’s not a guest, I thought.

“Lord, of all nights, on this eve of your son’s birth, please let me know the face behind the chuckle.” This short, but fervent prayer lifted heavenward as my mouth questioned “Who is in there?”

“Diane!” She called back with a chuckle.

“Thank you God” I uttered up to the ceiling. I much rather embarrass myself in front of a friend than a stranger.

If there were ever a time I needed a long lasting deodorant, it was tonight. I spent the evening in a frenzy preparing all the refreshments for the fellowship time directly following the candlelight service. I set up the chairs, decorated the serving table, and enticingly displayed the food. Food must look lovely even if it doesn’t taste yummy.

Now on the eve of this the biggest holiday of the year – the holiday I hug my friends, foes, and family, I forget my deodorant! This year I’m trying to remember not to smell bad. There’s nothing worse than being mistaken for a casserole at the Christmas party.



Tricia Gillespie is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer who loves Christmas. She’s always on the hunt for vintage ornaments and new holiday recipes; however, she swore off casseroles after her fish-stick/cream-of-mushroom soup disaster. This holiday season she’s trying to remember deodorant, but if she forgets, she now keeps an extra Lady’s Speed stick in her purse, the car, and her desk drawer. You can visit her on her blog, The Domestic Fringe. She wishes you all fresh smelling holidays.

12.07.2011

Can't Keep a Good Christmas Down

by Carole Lee

Holiday disasters come in all shapes and sizes, and no one is immune. From the time my brother was five-years-old -- old enough to climb the Christmas tree -- to last year, the year of “The Casserole,” I have learned that disasters seek us out, as if Santa is on a budget, and trying his best to knock us all over to the naughty side in order to save a few pounds of reindeer feed and shave a few hours off his yearly voyage.



Thankfully, for my mother’s sanity, my brother’s tree-climbing interest lasted only one holiday season. By New Years, the tree looked like a war zone. Not a single piece of tinsel was spared. Most of the branches hung limp and lifeless, and some were broken and dangling. Pine needles littered the brown shag carpet like holiday shrapnel. The obligatory Christmas picture that year featured me, grinning like a three-year-old who had yet to gain an appreciation for rattling Mom’s nerves, my brother, staring at me as if he were plotting my demise (he was), and poor Mom, looking disheveled, tired and staring off into space. 



My former landlady, Eleanor, had an interesting Christmas disaster that she shared with me. She divorced young, and raised her two boys on her own. For that, she deserved a medal. What she got was something entirely different, most days. One Christmas, she invited a nice fellow over for dinner, and put her boys on their best behavior. What she didn’t know was that her younger son, Chris, had not only adopted a cat, but he was keeping him in his room. And feeding him. A lot. Eleanor’s friend arrived early for dinner just in time for her to discover that the kitchen stove quit dead with the turkey half raw, the furnace stopped working, the water pipes froze... and WHAT was that smell?!  They did eventually track down the odor, which was emanating from Chris’ room. All over his room. He was a little too young to understand that cats need a litter box, and every time there was a mess, he hid it under a toy or a pillow or a blanket. At least her friend brought a bottle of bourbon for them to share after feeding the kids Cheerios for Christmas dinner.



Holiday disasters hit us all when we’re not looking, but the great thing is how families can tighten up and still share joy. When my boys were little, my ex-husband’s grandfather and my grandmother both died on the same day, three days before Christmas, and just a few hours apart. That could have been the worst disaster ever, but we decided that it wouldn’t lick us. We had our Christmas, if only just for the kids, and there was joy.


As far as disasters go, the only thing we can’t mentally recover from is last year’s mystery casserole. At least its physical effects wore off after a few days.

12.05.2011

Skatin' Blues

by Angie Mansfield

You know that moment in every horror film where the blonde / brunette / redheaded bimbo walks, in just her Underoos and a t-shirt, down the darkened stairs / into the creepy cellar / outside on the porch of her remote forest cabin, without so much as turning on a My Little Pony night-light? That moment, when everyone in the movie theater shouts at her not to go down there / in there / out there, because the knife-wielding maniac / evil hell-demon / Richard Simmons is out there, ready to dismember and/or eat her?

Well, someone in the peanut gallery should have warned me.

Even a simple, "Hey, pleasingly-plump girl! That activity is not recommended for people of your gravitational force!" would have been nice.

But no, the cackling hyenas let me go out there, with predictable results.

I am speaking, of course, of my first experience ice skating.

It should be an easy thing to master, judging from the number of toddlers who were zipping around the rink, pirouetting, and pointing and laughing on their way past. Even the ones I managed to trip just popped back up again, flashed me a rather age-inappropriate hand gesture, and sped off on their merry way.

Unfortunately, I have about as much grace as a newborn foal, even on dry land. On ice, as it turned out, I was utterly hopeless.

"Bend your knees!" shouted my not-at-all helpful friend. His voice was a bit wheezy, due to his uncontrolled laughter. "Try just pushing yourself with one foot at first."

This might have been helpful advice, were I able to get into a standing position in the first place. Upon touching the ice, my skates had shot neatly out from under me, causing me to land hard on my ample backside, and I couldn't figure out how to get enough traction to get back up again. Instead, I lay there flailing, entertaining an entire rink full of people, until I finally hit on the brilliant idea of dragging myself off the ice with my forearms, performing a sort of commando crawl.

When I finally managed to get to the wall of the rink and pull myself up, I had to dangle there, arms planted on the top of the wall and feet slipping in every direction as I tried to secure them under me. My friend made the unwise decision to step too close, and I grabbed the front of his parka in one desperation-strengthened fist. I yanked him close, and let him get a good look at the crazy in my eyes.

"Get me...off...these damned things," I growled at him.

The episode wasn't a total loss, however. My skates, as it turned out, made a great roof ornament for Christmas. Come to think of it, I'd better go get them down. After the holidays, of course. Ho, ho, ho.



Angie Mansfield, perhaps unsurprisingly, lives alone with her dog and a jade plant named Fred. Yes, her plant has a name. You can visit him at Jaded Fred, though he probably won't like it.

12.02.2011

Holidays on Holiday

by Adam Slade

“Dashing through the snooow,
In a one moose open sleigh,
O'er the fields we gooo,
Dodging bears all the way,
Bells on cat tails riiing
Knocking down trees tonight
Oh what fun it is to sing
In a Newfie accent toniiight.”

This Christmas will be my first spent away from the family. Let me explain for the sake of those who haven’t read my earlier articles. Because I’m nice like that. Stop rolling your eyes.


Back in April I decided that, as much as I like my family, real bacon, and decent cheddar, I would rather like to fly to Canada and marry my sweetheart. Y’know, ‘cause I’m weird like that.


So I headed to the airport, sat at the wrong terminal for an hour, and I was off.


It’s now many months later and Christmas is approaching. In fact it’s already on the highway in its ’57 Chevrolet, windows down, Radar Love blaring out of the speakers. And it ain’t braking for ice patches, moose, or odd Englishmen with crude goatees.


It’s not that I want to go home. Far from it. I want to experience Chrimbo, Newfoundland style. It’s just that I’m a rather traditional person at heart, and it takes me a while to break a habit. And this one’s a doozy.


My prior Christmases were standard in their, um, standarditude, but I loved them. Early rise, early stumble down the stairs, early cuddle of dog(s), first cup of tea, wait for appearance of grandparent, another cup of tea, open things, rejoice, more tea, too much chocolate, watch grandparent fall asleep while watching classic comedy re-runs and sipping tea. It was simple, it was a little heavy on the tea, but it was very happy.


This Christmas will be a little different. For one thing, I may freeze to death in my sleep. That would be a bummer. We will have lights, and we will have a tree, but it will be a cat friendly fibre-optic tree. There won’t be any dogs to sniff at the cable and give me a heart attack when I think they’ll bite through it.


There will be fun and frolics, and general merry-making, and I will have to find some mistletoe and use it whenever Sweetie is least expecting it, but my brother won’t be there to make retching sounds when I do.


And there won’t be my folks. I’m not one for sentimentality most of the year, but Christmas is special. It’s a time for family.


That being said, I am looking forward to a few quiet days with the missus and the cat. So far we’ve been through two birthdays and a Canada Day together, but not a Christmas or New Years Day. Those were previously spent over the webcam, unwrapping on camera (assuming things arrived on time) and wishing they’d implement Hug-O-Vision.


This time, though, we’ll get to exchange presents in the same time zone, and I won’t have to wipe the lip marks off my monitor.


Uh, not that I ever did that. Honest.

Merry Christmas, folks.


11.30.2011

On Shopping Habits of Men


By Jason Tudor

Black Friday is little more than a notation in the margins of an accountant's ledger now. However, the consumer zombie walk that is the holiday shopping season is underway! That said, many men are not predisposed to this euphoria of wedging into a packed mall in Bayonne and fighting tooth-and-nail for the final ShamWow. Many men believe that December is when NASCAR dies, pro football comes to a head and Santa drops 72-inch LCD televisions down their chimneys.

Many of us just aren't wired to shop. We're wired for laughing at monkeys, nodding our heads in agreement about the Turf-and-Turf, and a whole lot of other things that don't come close to stepping foot in the Yankee Candle Store at the Paramus Park Mall. That said, I'm happy to provide a bit of insight to that wiring and what can be expected over the next 24 days or so about male shopping and co-shopping habits. Even better, it's in list form! I would recommend making this bad boy credit-card sized and stuffing it into your wallets. It could save a marriage. On we go:

1. Men do like to shop. That's why God invented Bass Pro Shops.

2. Men don't like to "shop." That is, if we're the third wheel on some "me and some new FMPs scavenger hunt," that will wear us down quickly. The whole notion of joining a hoard speeding from sale to sale on Black Friday is about as appealing as a canker sore. On the other hand, if it turns out to be a barbarian hoard with looting, plundering and generalized mayhem along the way, we're in.

3. We don't like to shop for clothes. We just go buy them. Really. Clothes are utilitarian. When we walk into a store, we think, "Shirt. Pant. Shoe. Sock." Colors and seasons are best left to foliage experts. In fact, if our clothes are washed well enough, we'll believe those are new. And if you don't believe this, think of how many times a guy has picked up a shirt or pair of underwear off the floor, buried his nose in them, turned to you and said, "Yeah, I think these are still good."

4. We like parking. This is hunter-gatherer material at its finest. There is also a level of hubris generated by the proposition of cramming a Dodge Ram 1500 into the space the size of a Smart Car. There's another joke here about the euphemism that same hubris creates, but I'll refrain.

5. We will form fraternities of the moment.We know each other, my brother. We're standing in Victoria Secret with our hands in our pockets looking for anything that might be vaguely smeared with testosterone. We see each other from across the store. We nod.  Though we're trapped in the girly underwear armageddon, you and I are staring at each other silently saying, "Let's smear each other with deer urine and get the hell out of here." Or something like that.

6. We want to do the thing that gets us back to the remote control fastest. We realize when we go shopping, many times, our roles include chauffeur, skycap, and unshaven sycophant. If that social lubricant gets us home before the kickoff of Roll Tide and the return of our left hands down the front of our pants, the more the better.

While this wiring schematic doesn't cover all guys (insert trite 99-percent joke here) and is incomplete, it gives insight to those men who will stand in the the Mall of America, the North Star Mall and elsewhere with those Thousand-Yard Stares on their faces. Good luck and happy shopping.


Jason Tudor is something of a multimedia alchemist who likes buying gadgets and shopping online, mostly because he has to. He's a three-time Department of Defense first-place winner for feature writing and has three published books of poetry. His illustration work appears on websites like the Zombie Dating Guide, and has commissioned work in anthologies "The Undead That Saved Christmas," volumes 1 and 2. Jason is currently working on three novels, including two science fiction books. As such, he the host and producer of "The Science Fiction Show," a weekly podcast on the topic available on iTunes. His website is www.jasontudor.com.

11.28.2011

The Score

by Terri Coop


Since 1995, I’ve shopped so you don’t have to. Or so you could, depending on your outlook. I’m one of the dealers you see at flea markets or don’t see at antique malls and online. Back in 1999, I was selling vintage toys on AOL bulletin boards when we heard a rumor, “there’s this new website called eBay, where you can sell stuff . . .” We were skeptical, but launched a legend. I’m an eBay OG, from the days when the system would only take 200 sales per hour.


So, where does all the stuff come from? From shopping. I’ve toughed it out at elegant auctions, froze at farm auctions, had a grandma whack me with her cane at a church sale, reached through a crowd of ten-year-olds to snatch a Barbie, and dug through dumpsters to rescue vintage Boy Scout memorabilia. But, most of it comes from relentless searching at garage sales, estate auctions, and out-of- the-way flea markets. 


It’s usually a measured job. “Hmmm, that’s a dollar and I can sell it for five.” However, the secret that keeps us digging through your junk is the search for the most elusive of all prey, “The Score.”

The Score is seeing a doll’s foot sticking out of the dollar box at a garage sale. It looks familiar. I approach cautiously. Odds are that half of the other shoppers are dealers as well. 


Keeping it cool. Keeping it cool.  


I pull out the doll and  . . . well . . . angels sing. That little lady is a 1970s icon. Fighting to keep my breathing steady and to project calm, I pick out a couple of generic teddy bears from the box to mask my treasure. On the way out I grabbed a doll dress as an afterthought. It would sell for about five dollars and, hey, gas is not cheap. 


Waving to the other dealers, I head to the check-out. Then I hear a voice, “I’m sorry, there’s been a mistake.”


My heart sank. I’d been had. Clutching my bundle tighter I turned to face the music.


“That doll dress is really valuable. It shouldn’t have been put out for sale. I want to keep it because it’s really old and rare.”


Trying not to jump for joy, I surrender the five-dollar doll dress with a poker-faced, “not a problem, I understand.”


I paid my three dollars and beat feet back to the car.  I sold the doll for $325.00. Hey, I gave back the dress without an argument and I had a receipt for my $3.00. All’s far in love, war, and garage sales.

I got out of it for a few years. However, a couple of weeks ago I randomly stopped at some garage sales. At one I saw a riot of color and smiling faces heaped in a box. Care Bears. Vintage 1985 Care Bears . . . for fifty cents each. Ignored by all the other shoppers. Was that the sound of angels? Time and sales will tell. However, as I carried the entire box back to my car, I thought, “I’ve still got it . . .”

11.25.2011

We no longer shop there

by Carole Lee


Shopping with Mr. Vagabond is like winding up a Jack in the Box:  I know something is going to happen, and I know I’m going to need a sedative afterward. And yet I do it anyway. Through the years, I have learned a thing or two. If I can’t see it coming, I can at least get even afterward.


Our first Christmas, we had a plan. Get into the mall, split up, get what we needed and get out before any elves or hairy old men in red suits did something rash. Like singing. Or spreading cheer. There are enough contagious things going around during the holidays, and the CDC says there is no cure for communicable ho-ho-ho-ing.

He went his way, and I headed through the department store toward the makeup counter. Makeup counters are scary enough under normal circumstances. During the holidays, they become a festival of frenzied shoppers and clerks with gravity-defying eyebrows. Also noteworthy is the promise of a special gift (read: all the stuff that no one bought last season). Women covet free, frosty purple lipstick, even though it was unappealing in the Spring Collection. There is no rational explanation, besides the free plastic tote that accompanies it.

I wedged my way through the eager masses and up to the front of the herd. A Stepford Clerk who smelled of Essence du Jump for Joy approached me with a smile that warranted its own marker on the UV index. Gracefully adjusting a bra strap (mine, not hers), I made my request.

“Perfectionne a la Beaute’ -- economy size, please.” 

Her smile wilted slightly. I never have been able to navigate those fancy words.

Just about the time she returned with my purchase, I heard Mr. Vagabond’s voice booming across my right shoulder.

“Hey! You’re not allowed to touch me there!!” 

The mass of once-giddy patrons parted like the red sea, abandoning their free purple lipsticks and plastic totes on the counter. On lady scurried off with only half her complimentary makeover completed. Silence fell over the department. Mr. Vagabond stood, looking victimized and glaring at me. Stepford girl gasped and dropped the glistening golden miracle jar on the floor.

I no longer shop there.

He’s a large child, really.

To preserve the holiday spirit, I waited.  We women can keep the little things simmering for ages. It’s a talent.

Months later, while standing at the counter of his favorite auto parts store, he regaled the cute female clerk about his awesome, super-modified Jeep. He was mid-sentence, ordering yet another part that he didn’t need, but really wanted, when I casually interjected. 

“Just let Me know when you’re ready, baby, and I’ll go out and start the Jeep for you.” 

For those of you who have never owned an old Jeep, I should explain. I can neither drive, nor start it. Operating his Jeep requires a level of active participation, coordination and length of leg that I simply do not possess. He prides himself on being the only person who can manage it.

I thought he was going to die. Or kill me. Or both. The girl behind the counter almost looked scared for me from behind the smirk that she couldn’t hide. 

He no longer shops there.

11.23.2011

Maggie Moments

by Jeanette Levellie

My husband met me at the door, his eyebrows in V-formation, always a sign of worry. “Why were you gone so long, hon?” he asks. “You just went to mail one package.”
 I threw my purse and myself onto the couch, grabbing a cat for comfort. “I had a Maggie moment,” I sighed.  He shook his head and grinned.  A look of relaxed understanding took the place of the V-formation. 
Maggie, bless her darlin’ heart and ditzy head, is a crisis magnet. She’s the one person in our family we can rely on to add drama to our lives. Every errand turns into a screenplay for a feature film. Take a simple trip to the market for a bag of noodles.
“I think it was that checker’s first day on the job,” Maggie moans, dumping her sack of groceries on the kitchen counter. “She didn’t know where the noodles were, and had to call the manager. He showed me the right aisle, but they were out of whole-wheat noodles. So I decided to run up to the Pine Street Market—that took forever since I got behind a funeral—and then I discovered they’d gone out of business. I had to go back to the first market and buy flour and eggs to make our own noodles.  It’ll only take three hours. You don’t mind having dinner a little late tonight, do you?”
We’ve tried to analyze why Maggie thrives on trouble above her fellows. We can go to the post office, market, or bank and run into glitches that annoy us to Mars and back. Yet, we only get a tenth of the emotional surge from our episodes as Maggie does.  We still haven’t discovered why her predicaments are superior to ours. We may never. 

Oh, I see by your knowing smile that you have a Maggie in your family, too. I also see that same look of confusion on your face that we get every time a Maggie moment happens. It sure helps to know we’re not alone. 

Although the solution to dealing with Maggies is not easy, it is simple. To paraphrase my friend Jesus, whose family was filled with Maggies, “You just gotta love ‘em.”



“Nutty with a dash of meat” best describes Jeanette Levellie’s speaking, writing and life. She has published hundreds of humor/inspirational columns, articles, greeting cards, and poems. A spunky pastor’s wife, Jeanette is the mother of two, grandmother of three, and waitress to four cats. Her debut humor/inspirational book, Mirth and Worth in the Real Lane, releases in April of 2012. Find her mirthful musings at www.jeanettelevellie.com