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Strong passwords, strong language

Amy ShermanPasswords suck. Everybody knows it. And despite all my efforts to create clever and singularly unique ones, the best of mine can be cracked in 0.059 seconds. Less than a SECOND!

Go ahead, give one of yours a try here.

Certain sites grade them for you and reject the ones that are too easy to crack. So you keep adding numbers, symbols and gibberish until you can make no sense of it, let alone retain it beyond the time it takes to hit “enter.” And every website has different parameters preventing you from ever reusing a password you recklessly store on your computer because you have sullenly accepted the fact your idiot brain will never retain it.

Laughing in the face of cyber danger, I tried saving the exponentially growing list of my incomprehensible passwords, but I couldn’t remember the code word I used to label the top-secret, classified file. Hiding passwords on a computer is more difficult than hiding porn. FYI, my porn collection is filed under my blog URL. Site Stats assure me nobody ever wants to go there.

I even considered having the passwords tattooed onto some hidden skin, but soon realized, the list was becoming so massive, I’d be reduced to wearing a burka to conceal it. Even translating the list into Chinese characters to conserve space, is problematic. I can’t trust some full-sleeved, Midwest-suburban tattoo artist with a pierced taint to be fluent in Chinese script. My favorite password, “wannabewriter” might become “pigshitinwok” for all I know.

We are now forced to try and outthink a computer program that can race through combinations at the speed of light. Passwords have become the new grawlix or profanitype. At least that’s what they look like to be considered secure. f*C3@@u!!#again?

Coincidence? I think not.

I finally came up with the perfect solution. I can’t say I actually came up with the idea so much as it simply became the norm. Whatever site I go to, I simply click on “Forgot Your Password?” and make a new one. It takes less time waiting for the email to create a new one, making said new word, and finally signing in successfully, than it does cursing like an upper-middle-class-teenage-girl and breaking into a flop sweat while audibly praying “this one has to be it.”

I see my new approach as a great way to stay one step ahead of the unknown hacker/villain/sniper program that wants to gather my painfully boring personal information, steal my lackluster identity and run off with the millions of dollars I have hidden away in a secret account so secret, even I don’t know how to find it.

The best part? I can crack my own password in under 45 seconds and that is f’%@@#’n good enough for me.

— Amy Hartl Sherman

Amy Hartl Sherman is a freelance writer, poet and humorist. She is a graduate of  the University of Illinois with B.S. in communications, which couldn’t be more accurate. A retired flight attendant, former improv comedian, empty-nester and overall wunderkind, Amy writes erratically as opposed to erotically, and sometimes humorously, while living with her husband, a Chihuahua, a barking parakeet who is minus one toe, and one toe-eating Dachshund. Her sons escaped without harm. Amy has been published in Modern Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, and It All Changed in an Instant: More Six Word Memoirs.

Say it ain’t snow!

Jerry Zezima(This piece by Jerry Zezima appeared in the Stamford Advocate on Jan. 31, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.)

Because I am a flake, and have been perpetrating snow jobs my whole life, I appreciate the wonders of winter.

The two things I wonder most about winter are: Why do some people throw away their snow shovels every year and have to buy new ones? And why do these same people go to the supermarket when a snowstorm is forecast to buy bread and milk when they never eat and drink those things when it doesn’t snow?

I got some insight before a recent snowstorm from Chris, who works at a nearby home improvement store.

“Do you have a snow blower?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “but it doesn’t work. It did work until we had a blizzard a few years ago, then it conked out. When I had it tuned up the following year, we didn’t have any snow. Last year it worked fine. Now it’s on the fritz again.”

“Do you have gas?” Chris asked.

“You’re getting a little personal, don’t you think?” I said.

“I mean, did you put fresh gas in your snow blower?” Chris clarified. “Stale gas left over from last year can cause it to stall. You have to mix the new gas with oil.”

“Do you have a snow blower?” I inquired.

“No,” Chris admitted. “I have a 2-year-old, and it was either buy a snow blower or pay for day care. So I bought a manual snow blower.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A shovel,” Chris responded.

“How come, whenever it snows, people rush to a store like this to buy shovels?” I wondered. “Do they throw their snow shovels away at the end of winter and have to get new ones the following year?”

“I think they keep their shovels, but they put them in the shed and can’t find them the next time it snows,” Chris theorized. “The shovels move to the back of the shed and hide. Sometimes it happens in the garage. I think they have a union, and they have meetings where they decide how to outwit their owners and drive them crazy. The humans can’t find the snow shovels, so they come here to buy new ones. It is,” Chris added with a smile, “good for business.”

At this moment, my wife, Sue, came by.

“There you are,” she said to me. “I couldn’t find him,” Sue said to Chris. “He’s always getting lost.”

“I can’t help you there,” said Chris. “But husbands are often told to get lost, so we’re just following orders.”

“We should buy a snow shovel,” said Sue.

“We already have one,” I noted.

“Do you know where it is?” Chris asked me.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s in the garage. I wedged it against the door so it couldn’t hide.”

Sue said we should get a second shovel. Then she said we should hurry up because she had to go to the supermarket to pick up some groceries before the snow started to fall.

“I hope you don’t mean bread and milk,” I said.

“No,” Sue said. “We already have them.”

“Why,” I asked Chris, “do some people always rush out to buy bread and milk before it snows? If you go to their houses on a nice summer day, you’ll never find them sitting at the kitchen table, eating bread and drinking milk.”

“I don’t know,” said Chris. “I would think that before it snows, you’d want to buy beer. Or at least hot chocolate.”

“Thanks for your help,” I said to Chris before we headed for the checkout counter.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. “Make sure you put your new shovel in a place where it can’t get away. And don’t get lost yourself. After all, you’re the one who’ll have to get rid of the snow.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in Newsday and the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, The Empty Nest Chronicles and Leave it to Boomer. He has won four humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month in March 2012. He was a semi-finalist in the 2013 Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition.

Obsessive execution disorder

EBWW- Norine Dworkin-McDanielBack when my son was in kindergarten, he’d come home every so often with an assignment to put together a poster presentation on a country in whatever part of the world his class was studying at the moment.

And naturally, given that my then 4-year-old thought “baby sounds” not “search engine” when he heard the word Google, and since he had yet to master even the hunt-n-peck approach to typing on a keyboard, his homework assignments became my homework assignments. That year, I learned an awful lot about Japan, Egypt, Chile and Spain.

(Did you know Spain produces 44 percent of the world’s olives??? Fascinating, right?)

Still, it wasn’t like my kid had been asked to do a PowerPoint presentation on Spain’s debt crisis (good thing because I’d have been completely useless there). Poster presentations are fairly easy, drawing on those essential kindergarten skills: cutting, pasting, scrawling with crayon. So even though I was some 40 years removed from kindergarten, I had some inkling of what the end product should look like.

With our very first poster project, we spent the day Googling pictures of Spain’s geography, architecture, food and culture. Or rather, to be more precise, we spent 24 hours in 10-minute increments over many, many days because that is the average attention span of a kindergartener who is not playing Hill Climb on your iPad. Because if the project was to play Hill Climb on the iPad, he’d have the whole damn thing knocked out in five minutes. But since teachers, even kindergarten teachers, do not send kids home with instructions to play Hill Climb on the iPad and then report back, it will take approximately three weeks to do a poster project that would take the average adult about 20 minutes to assemble. And that’s if there’s a paper jam … and you need to run to Staples for more ink cartridges … and the Staples is 10 minutes away … and you get a flat tire en route.

Being that the kid was (hello??) four and had never put together a poster presentation before, and because I have a black belt in perfectionism, the trick in pulling together this poster project would be to gently guide my child in the process of cutting out the images and gently make suggestions about how they might be artfully arranged on the poster board … without shoving him out of the way and slapping the whole thing together myself.

I wanted him to do it by himself. And I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be the best damn poster presentation on Spain the kindergarten teacher had ever seen. I wanted him to do a GOOD project BY HIMSELF. (You’re probably beginning to see the enormous sinkhole threatening to open up right under this precarious situation.)

“HE needs to do it! Let HIM do it!” I scolded my husband when the poor man attempted to position some of the images on the poster himself. My husband then slunk off to clean the pool filter, something he knew he would not get yelled at for doing, because I have no idea how to clean the pool filter and would never think of cleaning the pool filter anyway.

But then it was me hovering, micromanaging the project, basically doing exactly what I’d just chided my husband for doing. Yes, I wanted my kid to do it by himself. I just wanted him to do it by himself MY WAY. (Did somebody say … sinkhole?)

“Here, Sweet Pea, let me show you …” I started, trying to be helpful … and move the project forward.

But, alas, by this time, my son had reached the end of his four-year-old attention span. I couldn’t blame him. I was so tired of sitting and watching him cut out the images to paste on the poster board — because a 4-year-old will only cut out images if you remain sitting right next to him at all times  — that by the time we reached the actual arranging and pasting stage of the project, I would have willingly spent the rest of the afternoon watching episodes of Thomas The Tank Engine (the most inane children’s show this side of Barney) if we could just, for the love of Pete, wrap this up already. But while I couldn’t budge him forward, I also couldn’t walk away either. While my kid clearly didn’t want to work on the project anymore … he still refused any and all entreaties to give it a rest.

“Okay, Sweet Pea,” I say, forcibly swallowing my annoyance. “How about you try it this way…”

But every attempt to demonstrate how he might organize the material was met with resistance. There really is no stubbornness like four-year-old stubbornness. He was young enough to outlast me … and old enough to know he was driving me bat-shit crazy doing it. He pouted that he didn’t know what to do … then insisted that he didn’t want my suggestions either. In an act of supreme frustration he swept all the photos that had been laid out on the poster into a pile on the floor.

I thought back to the teacher telling me this would be a fun project … and wondered what she’d been growing in her garden and smoking.

There was no fun. What there was was prodding. There was cajoling. There was bargaining. There was angst. And anger. There were tears. There was yelling. “JUST GLUE THE PICTURES ON AND BE DONE WITH IT!!” It is possible that scissors were thrown. (Safety scissors … more like dropped … with a great deal of force … still, definitely not my proudest moment.)

But eventually, every picture was stuck on the foam-board in some manner, and there was crayon scrawl beneath, identifying what each photo was. It was … a mess. It looked exactly like a four-year-old did it: crooked pictures; jagged cutouts; illegible crayon scribbles.

Walking into school the next morning, I caught another mom carrying her kid’s poster into the classroom. It was a poster about Holland. And it was beautiful. I stopped her just so I could admire it. There were photos from a family trip arranged, just … so. A candy wrapper from a bar of Dutch chocolate. Postcards of windmills. Pictures of tulips. It was a work of art.

For a moment, I had an ugly flash of poster envy. Now why didn’t my kid’s poster look like THAT?!? This was gorgeous. So tidy. So perfect. So … oh! I really can be a little slow on the uptake, especially before I’ve finished my first gallon of coffee. And then I realized: It was so perfect, it was highly unlikely that her kid had had any part in its assembly. Maybe he’d had some buy-in on the concept. Maybe he’d chosen the country. But Mom had done the heavy lifting and curating and pasting. And it showed.

I looked at my kid’s poster again. It looked exactly like a 4-year-old had done it. And it made me proud.

- Norine Dworkin-McDaniel

Norine Dworkin-McDaniel is the co-creator of Science of Parenthood and serves as its Chief of Scientific Snarkiness. When she’s not blogging about the mysteries of parenting a 7-year-old, she writes on health, parenting and relationships. Her work has been published in Health, More, Lifescript, Redbook, Prevention, Shape, iVillage and Parents. Meanwhile, you can catch all the science-y goodness each week with a free blog subscription and follow Science of Parenthood on Twitter and Facebook.

New city, no friends

JoEllen RedlingshaferI drove up to Los Angeles land in my convertible (Toyota Corolla), a few suitcases in the trunk (a ton of crap and even more empty Doritos bags) with my hair perfectly straightened (hadn’t been washed in days) wearing Seven Jeans and a trendy tank top (baggy sweats, an oversized T-shirt, no bra).

Whoa (holy sh*t), I thought, I am actually here! Time to conquer this bitch… but first, In N Out Burger must be annihilated.

As glamorous as Los Angeles is, I will be living the life of a slum until I make it big as Lane Bryant’s next cover model. I’m sharing a one-bedroom apartment with a fabulous roommate, Tara. Unfortunately Tara doesn’t get here for a couple of more weeks, so, in the meantime, I’m on my own.

This brings me to a problem. Friends.

So far, I’ve made a few good friends. My best friend in LA would have to be Ernesto, the lovely man I hired off Craigslist to move my refrigerator into my apartment. The moment I saw Ernesto, or E as I call him (inside joke), I knew we would be instant friends. We spent an exciting two hours together sweating our butts off trying to figure out how to get a big @$$ fridge through a small @$$ doorway. Miss him already!

Another friend is the guy who lives across the hall. He came over to introduce himself, and right away we hit it off. He was shirtless, jacked, covered in tats, reeked of hair gel and seems like an all-around class act. He asked me if I wanted to work out with him, so that should be good. Excited to get to know him better!

I’d say my last close friend I’ve made here is the homeless guy down the street. I pass him on my run everyday, and he always gives me words of encouragement, like, “Move it, fatty!” and “Damn girl, you got enough jiggle for the both of us!” At first I was offended, but then I realized that tough love is still love. So I appreciate his harsh words; he is just trying to motivate me to become a better person! Love him like a brother!

So as you can see, I’ve got a pretty solid group. But, as usual, men constantly surround me. I need some girl time to have pillow fights, paint nails, drink wine spritzers and try new versions of “cat eyes” with our eye liners.

How do you make girl friends? I mean in college it was so easy because everyone was in the same boat, but now it’s more stressful than waiting to not be asked to Homecoming in high school. Where do I meet girls? How do I initiate the conversation? Do I ask for her number? How do we schedule a time to hang out? Like on a girl date? Drinks?

This is all starting to sound super lezzy…which is a whole other issue because if I start talking to a girl trying to make friends, will she think I’m hitting on her? Oh, God. Better not even try. Probably better that way.

So, for now, I will continue to bond with the guy from apartment 123, the homeless guy, and I may hire Ernesto to come back and help me move something, just for the company.

Any girls reading this who currently live in LA, call me. Or don’t, you don’t have to. You could also text. Or email me. I have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, too. Also considering putting an ad up on Craigslist, so you can check for that. Or whatever…

But yeah I’m straight, just FYI. But it’s cool if you’re not; no judgment here. I’m fun, I promise. Not needy at all. Ok. Call me.

— JoEllen Redlingshafer

JoEllen Redlingshafer, a 2013 University of Dayton graduate, recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a television writer. She’s a production assistant for an upcoming FOX television show and, in her free time, works on spec and original television scripts. She blogs at A little slice of JoHeaven.

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.


— 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 Her essays have been featured on and 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.

Reflections of Erma