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How to review your own book

Con ChapmanFor those who want to be writers, the situation grows worse every day. There are increasingly fewer publications that review books, and space in the ones that remain is reserved for celebrity and political bios and big-name novelists whose works are supported by large advertising budgets. Funny how that works out.

But you’ve got to believe in yourself before anyone else will. If you can’t get somebody else to review your book, why not review it yourself?

Mark Twain did. So did Samuel Langhorne Clemens, so that’s two Famous Writers right there.

Twain was a master of the literary hoax, passing off invented characters as real in squibs written for seat-of-the-pants newspapers that sprang up like mushrooms after a rain in the mid-19th century following advances in printing technology. Those publications were desperate for copy and less interested in fact-checking than making a splash, and Twain wrote more than one review of his own work that he palmed off on such papers, often generously waiving his freelance fee. As a critic, he found his writing to be exceptional, well worth the reader’s time and money. In this regard, Twain was ahead of his time and other, less perceptive critics.

But, you say, the frontier closed long ago, stealing a line from Frederick Jackson Turner, and he’d like it back, please. Where am I going to find a similar wide-open space in the 21st century where lawlessness reigns and the only rule is what you can get away with?

As the man said to his wife when she caught him looking at porn websites — “Duh, that’s what the Internet is for!” Every major online bookstore accepts, nay encourages, readers to submit anonymous reviews. And who better to remain anonymous about than yourself?

Of course you’ll need an assumed name, or your ruse will be too transparent. Twain had a large collection, including “Sergeant Fathom.”  Where can one find a dependable, low-mileage, one-owner nommes de plume these days, after so many reviewers were retired as part of the Obama administration’s “Cash-for-Critics” buy-back program?

I don’t know about you, but I find the roll of U.S. Secretaries of Commerce to be a mother lode of potential book reviewers’ names. Start at the beginning of the list with William C. Redfield, or “mix and match” pairs such as Daniel Roper and Roy Chapin, SECCOMMUS nos. 5 and 6.  If you find they’re all taken, there’s a veritable cornucopia of current and former members of the Federal Communications Commission to choose from.

If you prefer a less WASPy-sounding name, I suggest borrowing from menus at Middle Eastern restaurants. “Sojok Ghanough” will give you an air of diversity, although there are 90 calories in just one bite.

A position as a fictitious reviewer is not open to just anyone. Amazon.com requires wannabe-critics to make a purchase, then wait four to five days before penning their first critique. While you’re cooling your heels, you can spend your free time shopping for handguns, for which the waiting period is shorter.

As a reviewer, you will be inclined to be harsh on your subject in order to establish your objectivity in the reader’s mind; this is a temptation you should resist. Come down too hard on yourself and you may be discouraged from ever writing again. Instead, note your reservations primly and diplomatically near the end of the review, right before you resume your unstinting praise of the author’s vision and the “evident merit” of his work. I borrowed that last phrase from the form email rejection that The New Yorker sends in response to my submissions; I find that it never grows tiresome, no matter how many times I read it.

One frontier newspaper that Twain did not write for was the Sedalia Bazoo, published in my home town in Missouri. Its masthead bore the motto, “If you don’t blow your own bazoo, no one will blow it for you.”

You can find me blowing my own bazoo on the Internet. Just don’t look under my real name.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

They’re called what?

Cindi LabadieAccording to a number of sources, the third set of molars are called wisdom teeth because they erupt when people reach the age of wisdom — between 17 and 25 years old.

Now I ask you, did the person who called them wisdom teeth ever teach high school or raise teenagers? I have done both and, trust me, those third molars are misnamed!

I drove one of the hooligans to high school one day only to find he had forgotten to put on shoes.

Another hooligan had his tongue pierced at this age. I DO NOT want to ever know what type of object is used to do that.

There was the late-night escape to Taco Bell through the window when I was awake. The gang of hooligans could have just as easily used the front door.

Fishing trips during school hours, grape cigar (and who knows what else) smoking, Mohawk haircuts, skateboarding down steps and other flashes of brilliance are just a few of the reasons I think “age of wisdom” may not fit.

We’ve been through wisdom teeth extractions in this family.

One thing I must remind you of is that I am not a medical type person and not known for a kind bedside matter. Born and raised in the Midwest, I believe I am the practical type.

If you have a headache, take an aspirin. Sore foot? Sit down and read a book.

I am not interested in your bowel movements, shoulder movements, eye movements or any other kind of movements. Perhaps it is a good thing I did not pursue any type of medical career.

Two of the darlings are rather close in age, and their wisdom teeth came in around the same time and needed to be removed. I didn’t want one having the procedure and regaling the other one with horror stories so I decided to schedule them both for the same day. Knowing I only had to be nice for one or two days solidified the decision.

My first hint that this may not have been the smartest move was at the pre-op consultation. We three were seated in a room and asked to view a short movie about the procedure.

The movie pointed out potential risks ranging from soreness, jaw paralysis and ended with the ultimate disaster — death. At first,  the hooligans were laughing and joking about the cheesy film, but as risk after risk was listed, the room got quieter and their complexions paler. To lighten the mood, male hooligan says to female hooligan, “I’m going to tell Dr. T. to use the rusty equipment on you.” To which female hooligan replies, “Be quiet. I’m going to ask him if you can bring your blankie.”

The day of the surgeries arrive. I have not only the two patients, but also the younger two hooligans with me. I had enlisted my Mom to meet me at the office to come get the younger two and take them to her house for a while so I could do my motherly thing and get the kids settled comfortably at home following the procedure.

The teeth extractions went well.

We were told that each person reacts differently to the anesthetic.

One child is a bit nauseous from the sedation, and the other one is having way too much fun.

My mom shows up, sees her two grandchildren with gauze-filled cheeks and dribbles of blood and starts to cry. Child number one is throwing up, Child number two is humming; three and four are scared. As I am trying to get three and four into their car seats in their grandmother’s car and send them on their way, there is a small collision at the intersection. It is a small collision that makes a LARGE noise because it involves a car and a fire truck.

On the (mercifully) short ride home male hooligan is alternating between loudly humming the Mario Brothers theme song, trying to look in his sister’s mouth and pointing at the “beautiful trees.” Female counterpart is swatting at her brother or puking.

We arrive home. I decide to get female child safely in her bed and instruct Mario Man to stay put and tell him I will be right back. I get back outside only to see the van is empty, and Mr. Personality is across the street visiting with the neighbors.

The healing is uneventful. We should have installed a revolving door as a bunch of teenagers showed up over the next few days to watch movies and commiserate with the patients.

The youngest of the hooligans had her wisdom teeth pulled today. She went by herself to the pre-op consultation. I’m happy the extractions are done, and she is on the road to recovery. This is the same person who spent nine years (NINE!) in braces and rarely complained.

It went great. The anesthesiologist assisted us to the car. At which point the patient started laughing and continued laughing. Next, we dropped off the Rx at the pharmacy. As we made our way home she was still laughing and then began to cry. Simultaneously. I did not know this was possible. We pulled up to a stop sign, she saw a car she recognized and the sound escalated to a low wail with laughter thrown in for good measure. I asked her if she was crying or laughing and she shrugged her shoulders, gave a small laugh and then we are home.

She is resting comfortably now. Hopefully, I won’t feel the need to eat a dish of ice cream every time she does. That would definitely not be showing wisdom!

— Cindi Labadie

Cindi Labadie, mom to five and wife to one, blogs at “Seemingly Ordinary.”

Love means never having
to say you’re sorry

Hillary IbarraThe other day Matthew approached me and said casually, “A couple of moms came up to me tonight and thanked me for coaching the soccer team.”

Eyes narrowing over a sink of dirty dishes, I looked up and demanded, “What’re you telling me that for?”

I really have to get a handle on this jealousy thing. It’s been raging for a robust 12 years. Just the slightest hint of another woman can send my radar beep-beeping all over the bleeping place!

My husband and I have gotten in many freeze-outs because of my overactive imagination. Our freeze-outs consist of communicating only on a live-or-die basis, looking at each other only if we can look cock-eyed with triple-pronged daggers, and rubbing nothing but jabby elbows and feet that could use some serious lotion in bed. The only time we ever get in a freeze-out is when I breathe fire first. It portends an apology; I’m going to have to say I’m sorry for something silly — again — and it wounds my pride. I’m always the one who apologizes, and it’s so very predictable and tedious and conflict-resolving…

For instance, there was that time, quite early on, when I found those pictures — hard evidence, my friends! — that proved my husband took me on a honeymoon hike to the same hill he had enjoyed with an old girlfriend. I stewed and fumed for a good two weeks over that one.

Or the time in San Antonio when I started the mother of all marital brawls outside the Alamo on a ghost tour because I demanded to know if his gold cross necklace, the one I had stolen for my own adornment, came from another woman. And just why had she given it to him for his Confirmation in the first place? Did they like each other that much? He promptly deserted me outside the old fort. I tried to spy the 666 they claim is seared on the Alamo’s wall as I pondered apologizing, but the green-eyed monster blocked my view.

Then there was that time I got mad at him for watching a show about the tango while I was gone on a Mom’s night out, and the film was partly filmed in Brazil — Brazil! And don’t we all know the out-of-control, mind-blowing and dangerous sexiness that goes on in Brazil every day?!?

And there was that ugly misunderstanding about the cleaning lady. I like to blame that on hormones but this jealousy thing isn’t really based on science…

I always have to apologize, because I’m always the one who starts it — all of it, any of it and for any reason. I have a serious defect called Needs to Talk about Every Little Thing That Gets Her Goat, Even Outlandish, Hugely Improbable Wild Imaginings. Love means never having to say you’re sorry — unless you’re the feisty, jealous one in the relationship.

Not so long ago we fought about a commercial with young, skinny women in bikinis rubbing their svelte bums as they dash from a car. Not many people can start a three-day war over 20 seconds of television, but I can.

“What the heck is this?” I demanded.

My husband unmuted it and turned it up because he thought my question was one of curiosity. What I really meant was: If you don’t change this right now, I’ll know that you’re secretly cavorting with supermodels — blondes, no less! — at business luncheons.

I need to go to jealousy management. But, stink, that would probably mean I’d have to go through some nine-step program, which might include learning to really apologize for all these petty arguments I start — even the ones I haven’t apologized for yet. Or learning tiresome, effective techniques to prevent them in the first place. I would have to practice my soulful eyes and clasped hands and sincerely articulated, “I’m sorry,” instead of sticking out my tongue, adding a garbled, “Fine! Sorry then!” or pulling skeletons of old disputes out in a nice Powerpoint presentation to shore up my defense.

I wish it were give and take. I wish he would throw me a bone every now and then. I can’t remember — honest to goodness cannot recall — the last time he said sorry…but, then, I can’t think of a time when he started a fight about the mailman coming around too often or our parish priest making small talk with me or my obsession with 18th and 19th century British literary heroes (all of whom wore plenty of clothing by the way, including top hats and gloves!). A good friend suggested I train our Yorkie to say ”Rar-ree” for him. (I would do it, if the dog would pay attention at all.)

But love, I suppose, means never having to say you’re sorry to a hot-tempered, hyper-imaginative, jealous woman who doesn’t know how to hold her tongue. And ain’t he the lucky one?

But maybe someday, in our golden years, he’ll look back at me with gut-wrenching sincerity and pronounce softly, “I’m sorry, too, sweetheart…” and then with slight perturbation add, ”…for something…sometime….uh, I suppose.”

And with a self-satisfied smirk, I’ll gently reply, “Baby, love means never having to say you’re sorry….”

Unless you’re me.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

A day in the wife

Linda Roy7 a.m. “Your breath smells like you brushed your teeth with sadness.”

That is the first thing my 8-year-old Miles says to me upon waking.  Alright, I get that morning breath is the stuff of death warmed over, and I’ll admit that I sometimes feel like I flossed with the fear of humanity, missing a spot right around the bicuspids before rinsing with the tears of lost souls, but man, that was deep, kiddo.

His breath? Sweet as the SpongeBob bubblegum toothpaste he’s just hastily brushed with. “Why can’t grown-ups have fun toothpaste, too?” I often wonder until discovering the mojito-flavored stuff. But what happens if I’m pulled over by a cop and he gets a whiff of my minty fresh hint of alcohol breath?  “It’s breath spray, I swear, officer!” His reply would most likely be, “Nonsense! Grown-ups don’t have fun-flavored toothpaste!”

10 a.m. I’m half heartedly applying the day’s war paint and 15-year-old Max strolls in with “What’s with all the makeup? There’s so much. It looks terrible. Are you gonna be one of those old ladies who pencils her eyebrows in?” Apparently, that ship has sailed.

Excuse me?

I blame it on the bathroom lighting, but the truth is, I’m so sick of putting on makeup that I haven’t done it in months. I’d probably feel more put together, more vital, more camera ready for the store surveillance cameras at Target. But it’s a monotonous chore applying layer upon layer of moisturizer, primer, concealer and foundation. And really, do they make a concealer for the soul?

How’s that for deep?

In life’s background, I need the kind of incessant chatter that makes me feel less alone and more a very real part of the communal fabric of life.

And so…

11 a.m. The View

12 p.m. The News

1 p.m. The Chew

2 p.m. The Talk

3 p.m. The Kitchen

3:30 – 4 p.m. The Kids.  That’s not a show. They’re home.

Showtime!

4 – 6 p.m. Vacuuming through the Stepfordian motions.

6 p.m. Did I really forget to go to the grocery store again? For the third week in a row? I’ve got a half dozen chicken tenders, a bag of frozen peas and carrots, a box of spaghetti, a can of cream of chicken soup and a container of stale french fried onions. What would Betty Crocker do?

The kids file into the kitchen and the mood is full-on trepidation.

Max: What’s that?

Me: Chicken spaghetti!

Max: Chicken spaghetti? What is this — Honey Boo Boo?

Me: No! I got the recipe from The Food Network. Kids love it!

Me: I guess in terms of reality TV show recipes, it’s like…what’s that thing the Duggars make?

Kevin: Children?

Me: No, tater tot casserole.

Max: Well, this is horrible.

Miles: I’m not eating it.

Kevin: Just chew quickly and swallow it fast. You won’t be hungry anymore.

8ish: Time to swap the clichéd yoga pants for PJs and a good book. I’ve been on page 78 for three days reading the same three paragraphs before passing out. Tonight will be the night I make it to page 100, so help me God.

— Linda Roy

Linda Roy is a humorist, writer and musician living in New Jersey with her husband and two boys. Her blog elleroy was here is a mix of humor and music she likes to refer to as “funny with a soundtrack.”  She’s managing partner and editor-in-chief at the political satire and pop culture website Lefty Pop and was named a 2014 BlogHer Voice of the Year. Her work has appeared at The Huffington Post, Humor Outcasts, Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, Aiming Low, Mamapedia, BonBon Break, Midlife Boulevard, Funny Not Slutty and The Weeklings. She is also a contributor to the upcoming humor anthology Clash of the Couples. When she’s not writing, she’s fronting the Indie/Americana band Jehova Waitresses. She’s on  TwitterFacebookPinterestGoogle+ and Bloglovin’.

Handbag survival guide for men

Dan Van OssAccording to Mintel, a market researcher, U.S. handbag market sales reached $8 billion in 2011, up from $6 billion in 2006. I can only assume that this $2 billion increase is due to concurrent rise in sales of those little Kleenexes you keep in purses, but I have no report for that.

Perplexed men, including me, ask, “Why this fascination with handbags, enough to cause an increase in sales in five years equal to the Gross National Product of Greenland?” (Note to Greenland: Consider building more handbag factories). Let’s take a look.

The scientific hope for a sub-atomic handbag

The handbag section is an area of your average department store that, if designed by men, would consist of a single medium-sized cloth sack with a drawstring on it hanging from a stick, suitable for carrying any number of objects, but, of course, with an almost criminal lack of style.

As with shoes, there are about as many handbag styles as there are overly dramatized reality TV shows, and with less apparent purpose to the male eye. You can choose from Totes, Satchels, Saddle Bags, Backpacks, Hobo Bags, Shoulder Bags, Clutches and Evening Bags, Wallets, Travel Bags and Diaper Bags, not to mention Doctor’s, Drawstring, Half-moon, Messenger, Evening, Flat, Trapezoid, Baguette, Bucket and Bowling Ball bags. Some bags even have bags of their own, like a kangaroo mother’s pouch for her baby; bags that fit inside larger bags, and pocket books inside that, and wallets inside that, quite possibly on down to the atomic level, where scientists may someday try to successfully collide a Gucci electron into a Versace molecule without blowing up Bloomingdales.

Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my handbag!

But each of these bags (so we’re told) provide an important function, indecipherable to males, who could successfully use a Wal-Mart plastic bag for everything from carrying their lunch to their grandmother’s ashes and not think anything of it. These functions include, but are not limited to, carrying everything in the known universe. A woman’s handbag is like a magician’s hat; curious things appear out of it that make you wonder why they exist, such as

• A program from the spring vocal concert of your 1st grader (now in college)

• 23 kinds of stuff you put on your lips

• Coupon for 5 percent off knee waxing (expired in 2003)

• 14 kinds of gum

• Approximately 12,468 receipts

• Small pets

• More bags (see above)

Men, to understand this a little better, it may help you to compare the contents of a woman’s bag with the contents of your garage, with its shelves of car parts from that Chevy you had once but never restored, 14 rolls of ill-fitting weed whacker string, boxes of malfunctioning Christmas tree lights you curse at every November, and 34 different kinds of ancient insecticide you got from your grandfather’s garage that you never use and have probably already given you cancer. Where the analogy falls apart spectacularly is that you have no need for nine different garages, to be switched out every few months, with giraffe-skin-patterned doors and eight zippers on the walls.

The ceremonial changing of the handbags

Another function of the handbag is to tell other women that you have a new handbag. Much like the Raving Otters of Saskatchewan, who proudly grow a new tail each month for the purpose of telling the other female otters to — well, no, that doesn’t really work; maybe it’s like the magnetic crystals in homing pigeons that allow them to… um… or — well, to be honest, I’m not finding a good analogy from nature, which explains why men continue to be so confused when Purse-Changing Time occurs. Did the old one break? No. Do I need to glue that thing on it again? No. Did it spring a leak? Does it need an oil change? Is it molting? Of course not, silly man, now, fetch me my Macy’s catalog; I feel winter approaching and my lipstick needs to be protected by a new fur half-moon clutch.

So, men, we are left to ponder the intricate bond between a woman and her handbag, possibly now as clueless as when we started (the men, not the woman). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Christmas tree lights to go curse at.

— Dan Van Oss

Dan Van Oss is the curator of the Dubious Knowledge Institute, and divides his creative time between writing, music recording and performance, painting and photography. He lives in the Iowa City, Iowa, area with his wife Nancy, three beautiful stepdaughters and a Golden Retriever named Jack.

Writer’s block? Get nacreous

Con ChapmanIf you want to be a writer, you’ve probably suffered from writer’s block. Consider Henry Roth, to take just one example.

When his novel Call It Sleep was published in 1934, it didn’t do well, and Roth gave up writing and worked as a firefighter and teacher, among other occupations.

Call It Sleep was re-published in the 1960s, and this time was a success; it sold over a million copies and was hailed as a masterpiece. You would think, with that kind of wind at his back, a writer might get in touch with an idle muse and crank out book number two; not Roth. He didn’t start writing again until he was 73 – a 45-year layoff! – at which point he wrote a six-novel cycle.

I don’t share the critics’ enthusiasm for Call It Sleep, but I sympathize with Roth. How would you like to be stuck at your desk for nearly half a century, tearing page after page out of your typewriter, crumpling them up and starting over?

If you don’t want to write and you don’t write, you don’t have writer’s block. You go on about your life, drinking beer, watching hockey, etc., without the nagging sense that you should be writing something. You’re not a blocked writer – you’re a beer-drinking schlub.

But if you want to write and you can’t, you have writer’s block. For those who write to live – like newspaper reporters and others who tap a keyboard all day for pay – if you have writer’s block, you lose your job, and the threat of unemployment usually means you reach deep down within yourself and start writing.

Which brings us to those who live to write. You’ve got something to say, and you can’t find enough time in the day to either write or sit in a place where, if inspiration strikes, you’ll be able to get it down on paper. Like Virginia Woolf’s “room of her own.”

If, despite having a blank computer screen in front of you, you find yourself unable to write, it may be because you’re not nacreous enough.

“Nacre” is the substance that forms the inner shell of an oyster. If an oyster gets an irritant – a rock or your brother-in-law Darrell – trapped within it, it secretes nacre around the offending object to make its existence more bearable. This reaction produces a thing of beauty – a pearl. Once enough pearls have been formed in this fashion, a necklace is made that is strung across the bodice of a little black cocktail dress.

One theory of inspiration is that artists create their aesthetic gems as a reaction to the sort of irritation that produces pearls. While this theory isn’t true in all cases – I can’t write when the two chihuahuas next door are yipping – it has enough basis in reality to be the subject of a highly regarded study by critic Edmund Wilson, The Wound and the Bow.

The central figure of that work is Philoctetes, the Greek warrior whose foot was bitten by a snake. The wound festered, his foot smelled awful and the Greeks abandoned him on an island. They later discovered that in order to win the Trojan War they needed Philoctetes’ bow and poisoned arrows. They go back and get him, and Philoctetes hides in the Trojan Horse and kills many Trojans when he gets out.

Wilson concluded that artists were like Philoctetes because their feet stink and people avoid them.

I’m kidding! Wilson drew an analogy between Philoctetes and a number of writers, such as Dickens, who use a psychic wound in their lives as the spur to their art.

So if you have writer’s block, it may be because your childhood wasn’t unhappy enough, but there’s nothing you can do about that now, is there? There are other ways you can “get nacreous,” however, and thereby jump start the creative process and become the world-famous writer you’re destined to be. Here are a few suggestions from the Famous Pained Writer’s School of Writing:

Self-torture. Lying on a bed of nails hurts, but you’ve got to suffer to sing the blues or write the Great American Novel. Available in twin, Queen, King and Alexander Woolcott sizes.

Artificial stimulants and depressants. Alcohol is a time-tested method of getting your muse to cooperate, up to the point where you get the dry heaves. Experiments during the 1960s with lysergic acid di-whatchamacalit, or “LSD,” by contrast, tended to produce works with opening lines such as the following: “It was a dark and stormy night, and as I looked out the – OH MY GOD – THE CARPET IS EATING MY TOENAILS!”

“Slumming It.” Many writers – Orwell and Steinbeck come to mind – deliberately expose themselves to substandard living conditions in an effort to experience life in its rawest form, facing hunger, bedbugs and guys named “Mitch” who say it’s your turn to buy the next bottle of high-alcohol bum wine.

Not exactly a pleasant existence, but on the other hand, it is irritating.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Falling down at the gas station

Carolyn LackeyA week ago today, I was driving south on Hwy 84 from Lubbock holding a bag of ice against my temple with my left hand and the steering wheel with my right.  From time to time, I would steady the wheel with my right knee and reach down for a handful of Corn Nuts, my favorite stay-awake-while-driving snack.  I was bound and determined to reach my destination no matter how much blood was shed.

An hour earlier

I dressed carefully and thoughtfully before hauling my luggage, hanging clothes and show-and-tell items to the car.  Yes.  This was, indeed, the perfect long-time-no-see outfit.  My Steinmart Lily Pulitzer Look Alike sweater with a Brooks Brothers crisp white shirt worn beneath — collar popped up — looked great with my pale yellow Chico’s jeans.  The time I spent searching YouTube for an adorable way to tie my pink and yellow scarf was well spent.  The pearl necklace and studs added that “devil may care/preppy” vibe that served as the icing on my I’m-so-happy-to-see-you-and-you-haven’t-aged-a-bit-either ensemble.

I jumped in the car with a light and breezy heart.  A GIRLS’ WEEKEND awaited!  After situating my phone and tuning in to my audiobook, I was off!  But first, I made the ill-fated stop at the corner gas station.  I only needed a half a tank.  More importantly, I needed a large bag of stay-awake-while-driving Corn Nuts.  I already had a large bag of Jolly Ranchers.  Sweet.  Salty.  Sweet.  Salty.  For five hours of highway driving.

At the gas station I hopped out of my car and popped the gas nozzle into the Altima’s gas tank.  Then, I proceeded to take a giant step over the hose that separated me from the “payment method” side of the pump.  From this point, I will switch over to the conversation I had with myself within the privacy of my own mind.

Ahhhh!  The fresh morning air of spring!  Look at that sunshine!

I think that I’ll get the gas pumping and then run in to get my Corn Nuts!  I can pay for both inside!

I am an efficiency freak.  I save steps, miles and minutes using “strategery” that comes from a constant flow of situation analysis in my brain.  Some people cure cancer.  Some people save people from burning buildings.  I busy myself by plotting the most efficient route to travel from my house to Hobby Lobby via the post office.

Oh, wait.  It says here that I have to pay inside before pumping!  How will I know how much gas I’m going to need?  I’ll have to walk all the way inside, give the attendant my card, come back to the pump, start the pump, and then go back in to get my Corn Nuts and pay.  Well now, there’s got to be a better way.  Let.  Me.  See.  Oh!  I’ll pay AT the pump! Then, I’ll go in and get my Corn Nuts.  Brilliant!  I won’t have to go in-out-in-out!  Just in-out!

Turning back towards my car, I commenced to taking another giant step over the knee-high gas hose.  One foot over.  Then, it happened.  My left foot didn’t quite make the leap. The toe of my left Skecher caught on the hose that was dangling like a knee-high jump rope.  I tried to steady myself by hopping on my right foot to regain my balance.

Yikes!  I’m falling!  I NEVER fall down!  This must be what it feels like to be Mother.  She’s 87!  I’m only 56!  I’m too young to start having falls!  Quick, grab the side of the car and try to save yourself.

I began to flail my arms in the general direction of the car.

This is really happening.  I’m hopping and flailing and STILL FALLING!  This is so embarrassing!  I wonder who’s driving by right now.  Dang this flashy Steinmart Lily Pulitzer Look Alike sweater!  I’m sure that every woman driving by is admiring my sweater and laughing at my hopping and flailing.  WHOOOOOOOOOOOA!  I’m going down! OOOOOOH NOOOOOO!

I toppled to the pavement landing first on my left knee, then on my left arm and finally came to rest by bonking my head on the gas pump cement platform.

Oh no!  Oh no!  I hit my head!  Am I seeing double?  (Took a quick glance at the bottom of my car.) Oh, good!  There’s just one of everything.  Quick, get up!  Get up!!  People are watching!  OK.  Now, I’m standing.  Nothing seems to be broken.  Oh, man!  I got my pale yellow Chico’s jeans all dirty.  I wonder how my head looks.  I wonder if there’s a knot (felt around on my forehead).Feels OK, but oh, no!  My hand is covered with blood!  Quick get in the car!  Get in the car!  Don’t cause a time-wasting ruckus!  Grab a Kleenex to stop the bleeding!

I sat in the car assessing the situation as tears began to stream down my face.

I’ve looked forward to this Girls’ Weekend for so long!  Now, I can’t go!  I’m probably going to need stitches.  I’m going to need stitches AND a CT scan.  If the attendant sees me sitting here with blood running down my face, he’s going to have to make me fill out some corporate documents explaining how I’m not tall enough to leap over a knee-high gas hose. What if he’s duty-bound to call 911?

I quickly started the car and eased towards home holding a Kleenex against the gash on my forehead.

Should I drive straight to the ER?  I may be bleeding internally!!  Nah!  I’d have to wait for hours.  I wonder if my doctor does stitches in his office.  Calm down, Carolyn!!  Just go home and survey the damage.

I began to cry in earnest.  My ugly cry.  My woe-is-me cry.  I had left the house not 10 minutes before heading out of town towards a fun-filled weekend.  Now I was pulling back into my garage and closing the door quickly so that no neighbor would see my war wounds.

Once inside, I studied the gash on my forehead with a magnifying mirror and  then glanced up at the bathroom mirror and saw that my crisp, white collar was covered with blood.  Oh, no!  There were drops of blood on my Steinmart Lily Pulitzer Look Alike sweater!  My tears flowed faster, and I began to hiccup.  I did, however, manage to stop the bleeding.  Then, I looked down and saw that there was a patch of blood seeping through the knee of my jeans.  I began to wail.

I’m covered in blood, AND my I’m-so-happy-to-see-you-and-you-haven’t-aged-a-bit-either ensemble had been compromised!  My absolute most darling casual clothes are hanging in the car!

I had outfits for the two days we were to spend in Granberry accompanied by some contingency clothing.  I couldn’t dip into those clothes.  That would have totally disrupted my weekend apparel plan.  I hurried into my closet and came up with a suitable Plan B. Thirty minutes later, I had dried my tears, blown my nose, fixed my makeup and washed the blood out of my hair.

Back on the road, I checked my forehead in the vanity mirror on the visor of my car.  My eyes sprung open wide with terror.  The knot that had formed on my temple had shrunk. But, the veins in my forehead were bulging out blue and ropy like the top of an old woman’s hand.

I’m having a stroke!  There’s a clot!!  I’m going to black out and swerve into oncoming traffic!

I pulled off of the road and called one of my besties who also happens to be my doctor’s wife.  She talked me through a roadside ”neuro exam,” which greatly resembles a roadside sobriety test.  I only thought that my Steinmart Lily Pulitzer Look Alike sweater called attention to my plight.  No, standing on one foot with my eyes closed and my arms held out from my sides all alone on Hwy 84. THAT will get passersby looking.  With Lisa on speaker phone, it totally looked like I was also having a nice chat with myself.

Soon, sweet Lisa helped me calm down.  ”You sound pretty lucid, and you’re standing on one foot OK.  Put some ice on it.  I’ll bet you’ll be fine.”

So, I stopped at the next convenience store and explained to the clerk that I had fallen down at a gas station just a while ago and I needed some ice for my head.  Without a word, she gathered up a plastic sack, held it under the ice dispenser on the coke machine until it had just enough ice in it and handed the sack back to me. “Have a good day,”  she said. “I’m trying. I’m really, really trying,” I said.

The weekend was a blast!  Sorority sisters with fun stories, shopping, games and sweet memories.  They made me forget all about the episode that I now refer to as “Falling Down at the Gas Station.”  I still haven’t told my mom about my fall. She would definitely call 911 on my behalf. With her sweet little voice she would remind me of the time that she fell down, bumped her head and had to have brain surgery. Apparently, she did not pass the “roadside neuro exam.”

– Carolyn Lackey

Carolyn Lackey is a homemaker in Lubbock, Texas.  She and her husband, Alan, raised three  healthy, normal, imperfect, rowdy sons.  Before the boys came along, Carolyn was an elementary school teacher.  As a stay-at-home mom, she taught parenting classes and did a bit of humorous keynote speaking.  Years ago in an effort to write a non-boring, non-braggadocios Christmas letter, she began to simply share funny stories about raising sons.  When her friends clamored for more family humor, Carolyn’s blog, Finding the Funny, was born.

They grow up so fast

Rachel BarlowEarly last spring a little boy led his family out of their cocoon/cave/house on a walk up a forest-flanked road.

He was seven then. He’s seven now, but the creature that twirled and danced up a road glittering with magic spring sunlight hitting millions of melted droplets on leaves and twigs is no longer with us. That person found magic swords everywhere we looked. He found quests to complete and saved his mom and dad from their winter doldrums.

On the way back, the boy and his family noticed a mommy and a daddy turkey crossing the road (They knew it had to be a mommy and daddy because they all heard the mom ask the dad if the new spring feathers made her look fat).  The boy and his family were so excited about seeing another family emerging from their cocoon – a sure sign that spring was on the way – that they missed a golden opportunity to ask them why poultry crosses the road.

Then the turkeys disappeared into the forest and the family continued on, not realizing that the turkeys were omens. Or at least a signal that the family had reached the beginning of the end of the beginning or possibly the beginning of a new beginning. Either way, it was an auspicious occasion and the human family completely missed it.

That, not spring and not time, is when the boy – the little magic man – began to change.

Blog-turkeys-550x260A few weeks later as the family was coming home the turkey family – an actual family of a mom and dad and quite a few babies – crossed the road.  After a sitting silently trying to think of a way to explain to the boy why human mommies couldn’t lay that many eggs at one time, the human mommy waited for turkeys to cross the road for that thing they just had to and for the boy to go back to torturing his older brother so she could keep on driving.

All summer the human family kept bumping into the turkey family. They met each other on the road and saw each other across the garden.  Somehow they never got around to saying hello because the turkey family was secretly carrying out a plot to evolve the seven-year-old boy.

Here’s the proof.  Each time the human family saw the turkey family, the boy was forced to ask new questions, and with each question it would have been clear to the un-overscheduled observer that he was changing.

In May:  “How do the turkeys potty train their kids?”

In June: “Where do they sleep at night?”

In July: “Why isn’t turkey season in November? (These are the hard questions a parent just can’t answer.)

In August: “Why do the turkeys always have to cross road when I need to go to the bathroom?”

And finally in September: “Can I have some money?”

He was definitely changing, and the human mom blamed the turkeys. The boy was evolving so quickly she wasn’t even sure if he’d want a theme birthday party this year.

Then one day she looked up from her desk and out the window towards the garden.  The turkey family was crossing the driveway, waving at or taunting the family dog who was skipping back and forth in front of the window as if she had to go to the bathroom, and the mom realized that the turkeys had changed even more than the boy had in the last few months.

They weren’t just a family. They looked like a flock.  They were a flipping flock of turkeys heading for her garden.

Fortunately, the mommy turkey still had a better handle on her overgrown offspring than the human mom had on hers because they politely heeded her instructions to only eat the weeds and not ruin their dinner before they got into the main part of the forest.

The human mom watched the flock disappear, one turkey at a time, into the decorative weeds she called shrubs that grew at the edge of the woods. Then she noticed that the seven-year-old boy had sidled up next to her and wormed her arm around his shoulders in an appropriated hug.

“Wow,” he said. “They grow up so fast.”

The human mommy wasn’t sure if her eyes were suddenly moist from the smell of the boy’s socks or some other illness, but the little boy spoke quickly enough to forestall any deeper contemplation.

“Mommy,” he said using the term that every child uses when they’re looking for something. “Mommy, can I invite my friends on the bus to my birthday party, too? I already said nine of them could come with the kids in my class.”

But this isn’t just a story about turkeys or kids.  t’s a story about the meaning of all life. Or at least a little part of it.

The upshot is that you shouldn’t get down wondering if your seven-year-old is getting too old for another theme birthday because that flock of turkeys is in the yard looking for the party and wondering if, even if it’s not the boy’s birthday, should we celebrate something anyway?

So, there you have it. Life is like a flock of turkeys. You never know when they’re gonna cross your road and there’s nothing you can do about it except put it in neutral and enjoy the chance for a breather.

They do grow up so fast, after all.

– Rachel Barlow

Blogger Rachel Barlow describes herself as “a midlife crisis waiting to happen, closet nomad and middle-aged work-at-home-mother of two.” Her life is “wrapped up in peanut butter sandwiches, fat (sometimes losing it), bills and blogging (her way) to sanity.”

Reflections of Erma