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A cup of tea won’t fix it

Judy ClarkeThe problem: One toilet that doesn’t flush properly. One wife who is convinced a repair kit from Lowe’s is the solution. One husband, a former Mr. Fix-it who, sadly, only fixes cups of tea these days. Same wife who is a bumble-thumbs, but who can read instructions. Same former Mr. Fix-it, frustrated, refuses to listen to instructions.

Result: None.

Action: Call plumber.

Another problem: Frigid temperatures locally, similar to those all over the country. Thus, when I, aka bumble-thumbed wife, called the usually ever-ready, quick-response plumbing company, I was told, “All our plumbers are out fixing frozen pipes.”

“Well, we have two other bathrooms, so our problem isn’t urgent,” I said. She promised to work us in as soon as possible.

A week passed and then, wouldn’t you know, the master bathroom toilet started spewing water out the top of the tank. I sopped up the flood with old towels and called for help again. “Just wanted to make sure you haven’t forgotten us,” I said. “We’re down to one toilet now.”

“You’re still on the list, but our guys are still working ’round the clock. Let me see what I can do, but it might be first of next week…”

It was Friday, 11:30 a.m.

A few hours later the phone rang. “You have a flushing problem?” a pleasant male voice asked. “I can be there in 15 minutes, OK?”

Was it ever!  I rushed around squirting cleaner into the bowls, and doing a general bathroom spritz. It wouldn’t do for a plumber to see a messy bathroom.

He was prompt. I showed him into bathroom number one where husband Peter’s tools, the replacement float kit, and assorted old towels still littered the floor. “Hm, someone has been busy,” he said. “Easy fix though.” He added something about bent tubes and slow flow. Guy talk.

“There’s another problem, too?” he asked.

I led him upstairs to bathroom number two. “Hm, angle’s wrong…water spurts sideways, hits the side of the tank and spills onto the floor. Quick fix.”

I almost laughed. Sounded like a male plumbing problem to me. “Well, since you’re here,” I said, “I think the toilet in the guest bathroom might have problems, too.  The handle is hard to push down.”

“Won’t take long to fix any of these. I’ll still be able to make my three o’clock appointment.”

Time: 2:20 p.m. Friday.

Within minutes the first toilet was flushing merrily.  He headed upstairs to work on the master bathroom and I returned here to my desk to finish “Something to sneeze at.”  Just then I heard Peter, in the basement, yelling, “THIS SINK IS FILLING UP WITH WATER!”  I dashed upstairs to my new best friend.

He rocketed down the two flights the way a fireman skitters down a ladder. “Whooie, I’ve never had this happen,” he said.  He immediately started banging the black sewer pipe that looms the length of the basement. I’d heard that deep bass-toned, solid thunk before. It bellowed “clogged sewer pipe” at me.

Don’t use any water,” he cautioned and, of course, right then I needed to.

“When it rains, it pours,” I joked, feebly.

He shook his head. “Seventeen years and I’ve never had three toilets and a clogged sewer line in the same house, on the same day.”

This guy was terrific. He spread an old pink towel inside the kitchen door before he lugged an anaconda-sized snake and other scungy equipment to the basement.  What a thoughtful thing to do when dealing with someone else’s…businessAfter several futile calls to his plumber cohorts, he was able to clear the sewer line by himself and finish fixing the toilets. “Have a nice weekend,” he said as he headed to another emergency.

“Thanks! You, too.”

“Oh, I’ll probably have to work all weekend,” he said, still smiling.

Time: 6:03 p.m.

TGIF.

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel,But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).

Grandma has landed

Alisa SchindlerThere’s a fly buzzing around my kids’ heads at the kitchen table. They jerk reflexively out of its path, but know better than to swat at it. “Is that Grandma?” my 8-year-old asks.

I shrug a knowing, little smile. “Could be. Either way, the fly is our friend.”

“But grandma keeps going around my head. It’s annoying,” complains my oldest son.

“Maybe she wants to say she’s thinking of you.”

He nods, somewhat appeased.

“Or,” I reconsider. “That you need a haircut. Yup, that’s it.”

“Aw. Come on!” He protests.

“Blame Grandma,” I say and push the hair from his eyes.

“I want gramma!” mumbles my 5-year-old with a mouthful of macaroni.

I look at them warmly and feel a spark of my grandmother’s pride. I am now the matriarch of my own beautiful clan. Beautiful and innocent. It is the gift of childhood; my stuffed animals are really alive, why can’t grandma be a fly?

Of course, she wasn’t always a fly. For all my years, she was the Queen Bee. Grandma Bebe — the most wonderful, fascinating and formidable woman I ever had the honor to know, love and be loved by; a woman from an era of class and balls rarely seen today.

For years before she passed, she was homebound, long-suffering with her hip, back and other calamities of age that do their best to damage life’s dignity. My grandmother refused to be diminished, certainly not in people’s eyes. Instead, she refused visits and exercised her influence from the phone.

It was she who insisted, wistfully when she longed to see me or my children, or spitefully when I was brave (or stupid) enough to poo-poo her power, that she would return as a fly on my wall and make sure things were as they should, meaning as she liked. If they weren’t, well, the implication was threatening. I wondered if she could still throw shoes from the after-life.Grandma

It was a month after she passed, on a cold winter day that brought night before its time. I was on the phone with my father. He was troubled, which meant trouble for me. As I heated up with frustration, a fly from nowhere circled my body and landed on my hand. It rested there and as I gaped, it stared back. Grandma had come to comfort me. I accepted it as I accepted the sun.

So grandma is a fly, as well as the lox on my bagel, and licking my lips before chocolate cake and scratching the backs of my boys. She’s living and breathing in my heart. I hear her smokey voice in my head, or her words coming from my cousin’s mouth. I miss her presence, but I do love knowing that sometimes she’ll still fly down for a visit and buzz, “What’s doing, pussycat?” in my ear.

— Alisa Schindler

Alisa Schindler is freelance writer who chronicles the sweet and bittersweet of life in the suburbs on her highly entertaining blog www.icescreammama.com. Her essays have been featured on Mamapedia.com and Bonbonbreak.com as well as in the book, Life Well Blogged. She is a member of “Yeah Write,” an online community for writers, where she has won the Jury Prize multiple times in the group’s weekly essay writing contest.  She has just completed her first novel that she feels comfortable showing to someone other than her mother.

The devil’s in the details

stephanie_harperI collect witty little sayings, which seem to have an impact on my life.  I find them everywhere from packaging of herbal tea boxes to dynamic modern sages disguised as tattoo artists.

Cluttering my workspace, they are taped all over my computer desk accessories for motivation and inspiration while I write.  My latest favorite quip came from a fortune cookie of sorts, while eating at Jacksonville Beach, Fla., this summer during our fun-filled, family vacation extravaganza.

I won’t tell you exactly what it said, but it gently reminded me of the grounding nature a simple life has for those of us who meet each day with a fistful of sticky notes and mounds of fine-tuned details.  Well, let’s start there.

We had just spent the last two days reaching our final vacation destination:  the Florida coastline.  Our blue Chevy Malibu, Route I-77 south, and a Comfort Inn in the Carolinas had simply become our new best friends during the last 48 hours.

The back seat of the Chevy contained one six-year-old and her 19-year-old sister.  The property boundary line was obvious — a travel-sized pillow wedged between them separated the Justin Bieber fan club from the owner of a red geometric print college backpack filled to capacity with cosmetics, rap CDs and an endless supply of contact lens cleaner.

My motto this trip was, “We will have fun as one big, happy family. We will!”

My dutiful husband was driving while I was enmeshed in planning and executing the perfect vacation. The intensity of my studying a dog-eared Florida AAA tour book the last two-and-a-half hours could only be compared to a researcher in her final hours before finding a cure for cancer.  That’s when the wave of a palm tree branch caught my eye and jerked me back to the surrounding reality.

“We’re here,” I beamed out loud.  “We’re actually here — where the water touches the land and the smell of salt hangs in the air. Let the fun begin!”

“More like let the horror begin,” I heard muttered from the college section of the entourage.

“The beach!” screamed our six-year-old.

“I think I’ll stop for gas and fill up before we check in,” my husband calmly stated as he made a tight right turn into a filling station, bringing a moaning reply from the Justin Bieber fan club section.

“We’re only two hours behind our planned schedule,” I broadcasted to an indifferent audience.  “Not bad for a drive from Ohio. We can check in, take a quick look at the ocean, then hustle over to this restaurant called Billy’s before the dinner crowd hits.” Billy’s was a favorite with the locals, or so the AAA tour book said.

“Mom, will you give it a rest?  All I want to do is take a shower and order pizza,” the eldest pleaded.

“I just want us to swim in the pool,” her half-pint, copycat sister countered.  “All of us — right Poppy?” she craned her head out the car window as she asked.

The fun was falling apart already, and we hadn’t even unpacked one single pair of flip-flops.  The remaining mile ride to the oceanfront resort was crammed with special interest groups each lobbying for their own concerns. Meanwhile, the AAA tour book, bulging with sticky notes and itineraries, lay motionless on my right thigh.

“Pizza is alright with me,” my husband interjected during a moment of the debate lull.  “I was just going to kick back and see what’s on HBO this evening, anyway.”

“HBO?” I choked out as my face did some squinting, scrunching thing out of disbelief of what he had just uttered.  “Babe, this is vacation,” I said so strongly that my top teeth nearly pierced my bottom lip while forming the beginning ‘v’ sound of vacation.  “We’re going to eat out, get some rays, relax and have some fun as one, big, happy family,” I reminded him. “Not watch HBO!”

So, there we were, not quite checked into room 803, and the troops were already divided.  Mutiny hung so thick in the salty air that, I swear, I could taste it and it wasn’t filling.  My stomach growled with disapproval.

Pizza and HBO, I thought. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.  There is no way I’m going to eat pizza when a scrumptious dinner in a three-starred eating establishment was on the agenda. And so I waited, patiently, for the right moment to enact this detail. Timing is everything, especially on vacation, and especially on a fun-filled family vacation.

The room was really nice and the balcony refreshing. I set up house, despite the advice from the crew to just relax.  But in my mind, things needed to be accomplished first, relaxation last.

My negotiation skills were in high gear.  Miss college town hit the shower; superchild was escorted to the pool and to catch her first glimpse of the “big water;” and HBO man found the remote.  After about an hour, I stood up and said, “Let’s go eat, I’m starving.” And after only a mild skirmish, we set out for Billy’s.

The atmosphere was great, with friendly staff and upbeat music, at this little fresh seafood pub only two blocks from the resort.  I was ready to have fun and enjoy a great meal with the entire family, and that’s when we ran aground.

“I don’t want to sit in a booth.  I want to sit on the big, tall chairs,” the half-pint sibling fumed, furrowing her brow and folding her arms in her most familiar body language.

I saw a battle looming, so looked up at my husband.  He shrugged his shoulders.  She won this one.

We all climbed up into the towering barstool-like chairs and impossibly tried to scoot closer to the table.  College girl was starving, superchild was developing an “I’m not hungry” look, and my husband was rubbing his forehead — all signals that the complications of the evening were about to deepen.

Now, when Mr. “take the easy road out, I’m not a confrontational guy” started rubbing his forehead as a non-verbal sign of collective discontent, I knew that pressing for Billy’s had just become the worst idea of the night, planned or not.

“I don’t see anything I want to eat, and I don’t like this much noise when I do eat,” he said flatly, tilting his head to one side while peering at me from under the brim of his khaki-colored hat. “Things would have been a lot simpler if we would have just ordered pizza tonight and stayed back at the resort like we all wanted,” he said with a circular nod shared among the three of them.

“Well, we’re here now,” I countered.  “We might as well just eat and have some fun while we can, then head back and pack it in for the night.  I’m sure there will be a movie you can catch on HBO,” I reminded him.

“I’m tired.” And that was all he had to say.

Our food came, and it was delicious.  As an after-dinner favor, our waitress brought chocolate mints and some little cookies with slivers of paper tied around them.  I unwrapped mine carefully to examine its contents and there before my very eyes was a message from the wise beyond: “DON’T MAJOR IN MINOR THINGS.”

I burst out laughing and later that night, when I composed myself, I apologized to my family for becoming so focused on the details of the trip and missing the big point:  To have fun as one big, happy family, which we did from that point on thanks to some timely, noble advice from one sweet, simple cookie.

— S. R. Harper

S. R. Harper is a new-age journalist residing in Ohio’s rural Appalachia. Although her days have revolved around non-profit public relations and public education, her desk light came on at night to write about the intimate details of life, often with a side of humor. Her journey has yielded a cover feature story in Harley Women magazine, and her features have appeared in Pattern Pieces, an inspirational and holistic magazine, 13 times.  In the creative process, she loves to hear the friction of graphite rub against paper as words spark across the page with new life. Likewise, in a balance to that joy, she groans when it is time to edit. Her latest work, illuminated by the evening lamp, is a children’s book manuscript.

My New Year’s resolution is in the mail

Kathy TullyOur Christmas tree is down. The string of tiny white lights outside, around our front door (that I would have liked to have up for just one more week, thank you) are stripped. The once beautifully wrapped presents of pent-up surprise are put away.

I’m staring at a stack of 110 Christmas cards, and 110 white envelopes, piled high on my front hall table. Hard as I try to pep myself into writing them, it’s hard. Christmas is over. The radio station that has been playing Christmas music 24/7 since before Thanksgiving has gone back to playing pop hits. Sales have emptied aisles of stores’ shelves.

Exhaling a deep, resigned sigh, I stare at our stack of unwritten cards.

Every year, I think — no, I swear to myself — THIS IS GONNA BE THE YEAR! This year, we, not they, will be the oh-so-obnoxiously-early card senders. Yes, for once, we — not they — will be the ones who get cards in the mail before Thanksgiving Day. This year, it will be our family and friends who receive the perfect picture card of our perfect family

This year, it will be they — not us — who will open OUR card before they’ve even eaten their lunch of turkey leftovers, their stomachs squelching the sinking feeling that, only one day after Thanksgiving, the Christmas circus train has left the station and they — not us — have missed it.

Why even bother, I ask myself in this post-holiday fog? Why not let it all go, the overboard decorations, inside and outside the house? Reconstructing my mother’s Christmas village on a bed of white fluffy cotton “snow?” Participating in the outrageously fun annual Christmas cookie swap where I forget, until the night before, that in order to be admitted entrance, I must come bearing 13 to 15 dozen cookies of one cookie type in order to receive the same amount back of a wide-ranging assortment?

This year, I mean, last year, I started out strong.

Every year, I try.

After Halloween, I popped into the post office and bought sheets of stamps bearing the Madonna and baby Jesus. I gathered enough wintry-themed return address labels, checked my list twice of family, friends and others. This year, I’d be oh-so-ready.

When an online “deal” for luxurious cards showed up in my e-mail, I clicked “yes!” A disclaimer popped up: To receive cards before Dec. 24, the order would need to be placed by Dec. 5.

No problem.

Eschewing my annual, one-hour, late-night trip to the local big-box pharmacy chain, I designed online my fancy cards to be printed on heavy stock paper. Dec. 5, I hit “send.” Visions of friends and far-flung family seeing the early postmark date — anything before Dec. 24 — danced in my head.

Then the mad holiday rush began: School recitals, not one but two daughters’ birthday parties, various Christmas parties, cookie parties (I cheated. My husband made the batter), fighting a two-week cold, hosting a sit-down Christmas dinner, Boxing Day parties, out-of-state family visiting for the week, an annual Yankee swap/sleepover on New Year’s Eve.

We survived it all. Vacation’s over, school’s back in session.

But Christmas isn’t really over, as Father James Field,  my late pastor, used to say from his pulpit. The Christmas season extends, he’d tell us, not just to Little Christmas/the Feast of the Epiphany, (this year, Jan. 6), but an additional week! Christmas seasons ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year, that’s Sunday, Jan. 12.

Father Field would say (looking pointedly to me, I always thought) that, for anyone berating themselves for getting their cards out late, there was still time. Without having to go to confession, we late mailers received, if not forgiveness, a reprieve. Feeling re-energized, I’d leave church, make a pot of tea and write them all out, confident in my knowledge (even smugly superior) that I was still “on time.”

My friends and family have come to expect no less. This isn’t the first time we’ve been late getting cards out. At one Boxing Day party I told our English friend, Rob, that our cards would once again be late. “Oh, I look forward to getting your cards, Kathy. When will they be out? April?” We laughed.

Secretly, I enjoy sending our cards out late, knowing they will get more attention, not crushed in the bushels of mail crammed during Christmas week. And I enjoy thinking about each person I write to, adding a special note on their card.

Pulling out our tattered address book, I pour myself a fresh cup of coffee, turn on some jazz and begin.

As I write, one thought runs through my head like the Nasdaq sign in New York City’s Times Square: Just wait till next year, I mean, this year. I’m gonna be on time.

Consider it my New Year’s resolution.

— Kathy Shiels Tully

Kathy Shiels Tully launched two dreams — becoming a writer and getting married — by proposing to her then-boyfriend on The Boston Herald‘s op-ed page on Leap Day 1996.  Today, she’s a regular correspondent for The Boston Globe and Boston Globe Magazine, writing about wide-ranging topics, plus travel stories, essays, people profiles (Carly Simon!) and restaurant reviews. Her stories also appear in national and regional magazines, and Chicken Soup for the Soul and Thin Thread books. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and their two dreams, daughters Bridget and Katie.

Facing reality

Kathy RadiganThe other day I was in the middle of my morning routine of packing snacks, reminding people to wear underwear and ordering them to brush their teeth, when I happened to see it, my special needs daughter’s red take-home folder.

Inside the folder, along with the words she worked on that day and drawings of the weather for her calendar, was the all-too-familiar Parent Intake Form along with a note:

Kathy, I’m sending home another form for you to fill out. We know this can be difficult, but since Lizzy is now 12, we are required by law to collect this information. If you have any questions or need help, please contact me or the school psychologist. Thank you.

I felt guilty that I put it off. I’ve always done my best to face my children’s issues head on, and I pride myself on being acknowledged as a parent who is always on my game.

Truth be told, I hate these forms.

I’ve never been great at defining my children in a sentence or two or stating the goals I wanted them to reach. What I really wanted was to have kids who didn’t have to work so hard to reach milestones that others did with ease.

I looked down at the form and started to read the questions asking me to list my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses and my hopes for her future.

My mind went back five years ago, when I had to fill out another form.

This time it was for my then 3-year-old son. His learning issues are much less severe than Lizzy’s, but he was attending the same special needs preschool that she did. We loved that the school had a variety of programs for kids with issues ranging from speech delays, like Peter had, to helping children with much more severe developmental delays and disorders.

The school had become a “second home” in some ways, and I was friendly with most of the teachers, therapists and administrators.

At the time Lizzy happened to be going through an extremely difficult period. My days had been spent taking her back and forth to different specialists in an attempt to finally get a name for the disorder that was wreaking so much havoc on her.

I was pushed to my limit and stressed out to the max.

As I dropped Peter off at his class, the head of his program cornered me in the hallway and told me that I had yet to fill out another form for Peter.

I sort of lost it.

I didn’t yell, or get angry at the woman. I knew she was only doing her job. But in my stressed-out state of mind, I quickly filled out the familiar form in a way that I often joked I would to the different teachers, therapists and social workers that I had known in my many years of being a mom to special needs kids.

If memory serves me it went something like this:

What are the speech goals you are hoping your child obtains in the next three months?

Well, I would like Peter to be able to recite the Gettysburg Address, but if he’s only able to recite one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, I will be happy.

What are the fine motor skills you are hoping your child will reach in the next three months?

It would be great if Peter could rewire the house so we could install central air.

What are the educational goals you are hoping your child will reach in the next three months?

We would be thrilled if Peter could start on physics this year, but we will be just as happy if he starts calculus.

I continued in this vein for the remainder of the form and submitted it. I later heard that the head of preschool program was not amused. Fortunately my school district, the ones that the form had to be submitted to, knew me and my family well. They were familiar with all we were going through and found my answers funny.

I have to admit that the thought crossed my mind to do a repeat performance with this new form.

After all what did they want to learn from me? Did they want to know that I realized that my daughter’s issues are severe? Do they want me to admit that I know she will not have the same bright future that her brothers will have?

I know.

Lizzy may not have a concrete diagnosis, but the brain damage that has easily been detected in five MRIs does more than just affect her development and speech. Lizzy also suffers from mental illness that makes staying in reality a real struggle.

There are days she’s able to follow directions and even read a bit. Twenty-four hours later, she is virtually unresponsive.

I honestly have no idea what type of program will be best for her when she is an adult.  From the way things stand now, I know that she will probably need a lot of help and that she will never live on her own.

I start filling out the form. Giving the answers I know are expected of me.

Then I get to the last question:

What type of job has your child said they would like, or has shown an interest in?

I write down the most truthful answer I can:

Lizzy would like to be a princess, but we are aware that there are limited positions available at this time. We do believe, though, that if anyone can pull it off, she can.

— Kathy Radigan

Kathy Radigan is a writer, blogger, social media addict, mom to three, wife to one and owner of a possessed appliance. She posts a weekly essay each Sunday on her blog,  My dishwasher’s possessed!, and has had her writing featured on BlogHer and Cribster. She’s also a contributing author in Sunshine After the Storm: a survival guide for the grieving mother and The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google +

The cupcake diet

christinaantusI recently read an article by Jillian Michaels that talked about the difficulty of dropping vanity pounds. Vanity pounds are the last few pounds we want to lose, but our bodies don’t think we need to lose. Because we’re made for “survival.” Not appeal. If we were vehicles, we’d be Winnebagos. “Survival” is what keeps love handles loving just a little longer and holding just a little tighter.

You never know when you’ll only be one cupcake away from starvation. Those vanity pounds could be the ticket to making it to 16th place on “Survivor.” Sure, you won’t get to win the million dollars, but you do get $2,500 and scurvy.

I’ve discovered that since turning 35 and having children, vanity pounds appear in foreign places where fat never went when I was 20. Though I greatly appreciate the warming insulation for winter, the summer reveal is just too much for my sense of self. And anyone else who can see.

Sadly the only way to lose those pounds is good old-fashioned diet and exercise. Of course, no one likes to diet. Dieting is almost as bad as being hit in the face by a 10-pound goose while riding a roller coaster. Let’s be honest. Diet food is unrealistic and crazy. Besides rabbits and fashion models, who fills up on lettuce? Everybody knows dieters can’t have dressing with a salad (calories). Don’t even think about croutons or bacon bits. If it has flavor, it’s out. You just have to suck it up and eat your pile of weeds. Using only imagination for garnish.

I find exercising is more realistic than dieting. But, it’s also a lot more deceiving because I feel thinner after a workout. Even though I’m not. After all, using the elliptical for an hour is a lot more work than eating an entire bag of Spicy Doritos in one sitting. So, shouldn’t I be rewarded for my efforts? Instantly? Every time I finish a workout, I feel immediate results are in order. So, I stand there and wait. Then, when no fat falls off me and onto the floor, I get discouraged and eat 50 rice cakes. Because rice cakes are healthy, and healthy is skinny. Being skinny is supposed to taste like hungry.

I find these excess pounds to be annoying, frustrating and downright aggravating. In order to move forward, I go through the following steps:

1. Wallow in self pity and eat a cupcake.

2. Get motivated to lose vanity weight. But enjoy one last cupcake before starting.

3. Set up a diet and exercise plan that highlights milestones. So I can reward myself at each checkpoint with a cupcake.

Now, I’m not a personal trainer. If I were, I’d be the only personal trainer who would not only encourage you to eat a Blizzard, but also drive you to Dairy Queen and have one with you. Because I believe in indulgence.

This is why I’m a firm believer in the cupcake diet.

What is the cupcake diet?
The cupcake diet is a sweet, fluffy, high-calorie, delicious disappointment.

How does it work?
I don’t diet. I just cut back on the amount of food I eat. Then, reward my successes with a snippet of cupcake. So, if I take a small piece of cupcake, versus inhaling the whole cupcake in a single bite, I find that I don’t crave them as often.

What do you do when you aren’t on the cupcake diet?
I reward myself with a whole cake. Which is really just an overweight cupcake, if you think about it.

How do you sell yourself on this crap?
With a lot of denial and fluff. I prefer vanilla or buttercream fluff.

How can I also sell myself on this crap?
Just remember that a quarter of a cupcake doesn’t taste as good as a whole cupcake. It does, however, taste better than no cupcake. Since a quarter of a cupcake isn’t a whole cupcake, you can enjoy it without the guilt or calories of the other three pieces.

So go ahead and have a cupcake.

But just a bit.

Enjoy it.

If you get hit in the face by a gigantic bird, you’ll be glad you did.

— Christina Antus

Christina Antus lives in colorful Colorado with her husband, two daughters and grossly over-exaggerated cat. After the birth of her first daughter, she traded her career in multimedia/web design for a full-time role at home with her kids. These days she’s project managed by two toddlers who have high standards and expectations for Play-Doh sculptures, couch forts and tea parties. When she’s not forgetting to feed the goldfish, neglecting laundry or avoiding the grocery store, she’s writing and making mediocre meals for her family. You can find her hiding in the closet, eating candy at www.raisinsandgoldfish.com.

Adult and battery

Bob Niles“A, B, c…g…r….y….next time won’t….sing with me.”

How was I to know it was this that needed new batteries? I pretty much know the alphabet, so I don’t play with the “Old McDonald Alphabet Barn.”

But she (job creator and wife) writes this cryptic message on a piece of paper, “Replace the batteries I’ve been bugging you about for the last three months ya dumb bottom!” It was no. 137 in the once named “HoneyDo” jar. But after 24 years of marriage, it’s been renamed to something a little more direct with a slang term for bottom as myself. The “Get Up And Do It You Dumb A– (Bottom)” jar.

It took two AA batteries to drive this farmyard tool of alphabetic knowledge. Two little cylinders the size of….well, small batteries (I was always bad at analogies). This toy hase taught all four of my grandkids the early basics of the English written language.

Absolutely amazing if you think about it.

I started school, as probably most of the rest of you did, before “Sesame Street,” not knowing the building blocks of the written word. The basic A-Z was an unknown. Not my mother, father, strange aunt, older brother or The Friendly Giant taught me the “ABC” song. Mom, Dad and older brother had their own problems. Strange aunt — well, strange says it all. And the giant, although a giant, he certainly wasn’t friendly. He had a rooster stuffed in a bag nailed to the wall!

These two little batteries along with a plastic barn and 23 plastic letters (Y, G and B disappeared under the fridge) taught all four grandkids the alphabet. It sang out the “ABC” song and had the capability of pronouncing each letter when placed in the hayloft. The 23 singing capital letters are all magnetically smattered across the aforementioned fridge. In groups of three and four, they hold crayon drawings of a princess and the ever-so-flattering drawings of one’s self by a 3-year-old.  She must think I’m a genius because she draws my head so big. I think I’ll keep this one; it might come in handy during the next argument with the wife.

How can I just toss or recycle these two batteries? They should be prized and presented for all to see. For someday,  I can say “Kids, this is what taught you the alphabet. These two insignificant cylinders of positive and negative polarity had the sole purpose of teaching each of you the letters from A-Z” — and have succeeded where strange Aunt Fizzy couldn’t.

These two AA batteries (no meetings required) can’t be tossed as play batteries that drive toys. Or thrown away with stupid batteries that just operate lights on and off. Or tossed out with the flash batteries that just go “DAH!” And then wait to go “DAH!” again. They can’t die with the snobby camera batteries that have traveled and been to all the best parties and vacation spots. Or placed among the little oddity batteries so tiny that hide in expensive watches and make size “AA” look so big and freakish.battery sketch

No, I say! Not my AA friends! They shall remain forever.

She’s standing behind me, isn’t she?

“Will you JUST replace the battery!” she suggests. “You’ve been at this for 52 minutes and haven’t done a thing! Now get moving!” Again suggests, “Jobs 138 and 140 are waiting. You can do 139 when you take your bath. And might I suggest you close the curtains or put some pants on while doing all this.”

“Yes, dear,” was my only reply. Should have shown her my genius picture.

I dug deeper into the toolbox looking for a tiny Phillips screwdriver with which to free my two little double A friends. But why? We all know the alphabet! They’re not going to play with this anymore. Job done, I say!

Think I’ll start on job 139 and fill the tub.

—  Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names) honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs at superiordribble.blogspot.com.

Redefining professionalism

Steve EskewAs the former owner of a grocery store, I suppose I tend to be particularly impatient with certain klutzes who’ve managed to land a job as a checkout clerk, an honorable position, to be sure.

Serving as judge and jury, I blame their incompetency not on the clerks themselves but on the clerks’ trainers. Contrary to the assumptions of many managers, most kids don’t automatically know how to handle a transaction in a professional manner. Ya gotta actually train the little squirts.

I can just imagine how a number of modern trainers must conduct orientations for clerks nowadays. Ahem. It would sound something like this: “Okie-dokie, team players, keep this in mind: customers function solely as the archenemy of checkout clerks. Therefore, when these scum-bags show their faces at your counter, give them your most contemptuous sneer. They have, after all, interrupted you. Perhaps you were having a sweet conversation with a colleague or maybe filing your nails.

“While maintaining your expression of caustic disgust, curtly commence slamming their merchandise through the scanner. You should then fake a sudden minor mood swing. You’ve been working your tail off. You’ve just slammed five items through the scanner. Slow down a bit. Consider how his job is really cutting into your day. Do your thing. Scowl. Show extraordinary interest in some invisible object somewhere out the window in outer space.

“Look at neither the merchandise nor the scanner. As the customer shows impatience, have some fun with these fools. Continue to stare out the window trancelike, then slowly, ever so slowly, take several aimless swings at the scanner.

“Finally, when you’re darn good and ready, finish the transaction with an air of supreme and brutal dismissal. But as you hastily hand the customer her or his change, be absolutely certain to utter the words, ‘There ya go.’ If the customer thanks you, try to eek out a frowning smile with a pronounced expression of exhaustion. And if the customer dares not thank you for their change, balance the transaction as you began it. Give the lowlife swine your best sneer.”

For my money, professionalism isn’t synonymous with perfectionism. Professionalism simply means performing as best you can, pushing against indifference and mediocrity. Anything less than your best should be regarded as unacceptable. Shouldn’t we go that extra mile and actually strain our little selves?

As for me, I’ve developed an insatiable attraction for automatic scanners, the artificial intelligence that welcomes me not with a sneer but perhaps with an invisible smirk. Assuming that I’m infinitely ignorant, it instructs me on how to scan my own items, but at least it uses the word “please.” I thought that word had all but disappeared from the lexicon. In lieu of a human handing me my paper money, coins and receipt in one wad, the machine distributes each of those separately and then utters those two rarely spoken words in retailing: Thank you.

Suddenly, I feel so special.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.

Reflections of Erma