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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.”

Mr. Selfie

Mr. SelfieThurber Prize-winning humorist Dan Zevin has published The Little Miss and Mr. Me Me Me Parody Series, described as hysterical parodies that feature “adorably damaged adults who’ll make you laugh (and cringe) in recognition.” Two of his previous books, Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad and The Day I Turned Uncool, were optioned by Adam Sandler, and the latter is now being developed as a sitcom by David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith.

Selective memories

Suzanne Braun Levine(This piece by Suzanne Braun Levine, the first editor of Ms. magazine, first appeared in the Huffington Post on Oct. 7, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.)

When we were cleaning out my mother’s home of 60 years, I found an envelope in the handwriting of my father who had died 30 years earlier. It said, “to be opened in case of my death abroad.” He traveled a lot and alone, so I could understand his concern that his wishes under those circumstances be known. The letter is very business-like, he lists bank accounts, insurance, stocks, practical things like that; and he makes clear that he wants to be cremated in whatever country he died.

Then he adds one last request, “forget me fast.”

I think what he meant — his English was never very good — was, “don’t grieve and mourn and make a fuss; get on with your lives.” But the message was chilling, as if he wanted us to act as if he had never lived.

I think of “the afterlife” as the place where memories of those who touched our lives live on. Nothing is more precious or sacred.

m-OLDER-WOMAN-LOOKING-AT-OLD-PHOTOS-460x345Recently, I have been immersed in memories of people and times long past, as I packed up to move from the apartment where we had lived for 18 years and raised our children. I had to go through our “stuff” including boxes and boxes marked simply “memories,” a couple of which hadn’t been untaped since our last move. A lot of it had to go.

The process gave me an intense trip down memory lane, guided by what I had thought worth saving …. how well I still remembered why …. and countless photographs of the people and events that had been highlights of my life. With each one I had to ask myself about which of those “memories” I wanted to take with me into the future.

There were birthday cards, letters, children’s drawings, every report card I ever received, and all those photographs. (I guess I am from the last generation that will have boxes, as opposed to digital files, of them). What to toss?

One category quickly emerged: the who-what-where the hell is that? In some cases I tried really hard to activate the glimmer of recognition the photo or artifact ignited and had to settle for the sad fact that I never would.

Another category was: what can I save for my children to know about our family history, my life and their own childhoods. I had to smile as I designated for safe-keeping every single one of their baby teeth that I had stashed away, well aware that they both thought that was “gross.” What I was trying to pass on, I realized, was the memory of the fact that I was the kind of mom who saved baby teeth.

The biggest revelation came as I entered the next round of decisions: triaging the meaningful memories.

I realized that some of them were items that only I would be able to identify, and that I knew I would never have occasion to look at again. So why keep them? Intimations of mortality are supposed to be sad, but I found myself strangely exhilarated by all this. First of all, shedding baggage, even good baggage, is freeing; it lightens the load.

Even more unexpected was the delight I felt for the momentary visit with the letter, snapshot, or home-made ashtray on its way to the discard pile. As I held it in my hand, I often found myself smiling and sometimes sighing before saying goodbye. That moment was enough. A gift.

I am grateful for the moment of recollection, but also grateful to be moving on.

Each decision to save or toss helped me define What Matters, really matters, to me, and what memories define me. Each decision also made me aware of the need to tend to the memories we create in the lives of people who cross our paths. Ultimately those, not my boxes of teeth and photos, are our legacy.

— Suzanne Braun Levine

Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988), and the first woman editor of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, on television, radio, at lectures and on her website. She’s the author of four books, including You Gotta Have Girlfriends — A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your HealthIn 2014, she served on the EBWW faculty.

Lessons from the banana taxi

Shannan Ball YoungerWhen planning our family vacation, I had never heard of the banana taxi. I certainly did not picture myself on one, yet somehow I ended up straddling the inflatable yellow raft pulled by a speedboat, hanging on to a small piece of rope for dear life.

I had no idea that the banana taxi ride would teach me valuable life lessons, and remind me of some that are easy to forget.

1. Be the fun parent on occasion.

“You’ve gotta go on the banana taxi, too! C’mon! It’ll be fun!” my tween implored.

I was dubious. “I don’t think parents do that, honey, it’s all kids.”

Another dad nearby said, “I did it last year.” I presumed that meant he was hopping on the banana again. Wrong. He opted out and the taxi was full of tweens and teens, with my husband and I sandwiched in the middle of them.

We were the only parents on the ride. I was mortified, but my daughter was okay with it. Actually, she seemed downright pleased. She said that we were fun.  That is what family vacation was all about.

2. Go wild, not mild.

There were two options: mild and wild. The young staffer handling banana boat registration (how does one include that on a resume?) cheerfully informed us as we signed waivers that the mild ride was full. We would be on the wild ride.

I expressed concern that “wild” was not where we of the middle aged belonged. She said, “It’s not so bad.” Then she laughed maniacally.

It was pretty bad. That boat driver did, in fact, take the term “wild” seriously. He went fast. Really, really fast.

He made sure to crisscross over the wakes he created, sending the banana and its riders high into the air. He made sharp turns that created what I’m sure were 3Gs (okay, maybe not). It was, in fact, wild.

3. Hang on tight.

Sometimes, on the banana taxi and in life, things get unexpectedly bumpy. There’s not much you can do other than hang on tightly. You do what you can, and that’s enough.

Even when it isn’t enough, you fall off and get back on. That’s okay, too.

4. Enjoy the ride.

This taxi ride lasted longer than anticipated. We got our money’s worth, but I had time to think about whether my obituary would include the phrase “unfortunate, unexpected banana taxi accident.” When I realized that such phrasing would be awesome, I enjoyed the ride.

I still feared for my life (and my dignity), but I laughed a whole lot more.

5. People are kind.

Neither my husband nor I fell off the banana taxi. It was a family vacation miracle!

Actually, no, it was not. As I ungracefully dismounted from the banana, the driver said that he had tried to take it easy on the side of the boat on which my husband and I were sitting. Something about us not wanting to break bones and sue him. But really, I think he was trying to be kind to us, and I was grateful.

In our defense, the ride was still not a leisurely lake cruise. I know this because my child went on her second banana taxi ride the following day, without us.

She couldn’t wait to sign up for the wild ride. She was livid because the driver went slowly, and no one fell off. “It was nothing like yesterday,” she said. “Yesterday was wild, and awesome! Today was like it was for all the old people.”  That day, there were no adults on the banana taxi.

— Shannan Ball Younger

Shannan Ball Younger is a writer living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and tween daughter. She blogs about parenting at Mom Factually and weathering the hormone hurricane at Tween Us on ChicagoNow. She grew up in Erma’s home state of Ohio and was thrilled to attend the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2014. Her essays can be found in the anthologies My Other Ex and The HerStories Project. She was part of the Listen to Your Mother Chicago 2013 cast. You can also find Shannan on Facebook and Twitter.

My grocery superpowers

Jill PertlerSuperman, Wonder Woman and the Incredible Hulk all possess superpowers, but I enjoy supremacy even greater than X-ray vision, unlimited strength or the ability to fly. My capabilities come from grocery lists in my pocket and canned goods on aisle seven. It’s the power of food acquisition, and I’ve assumed extreme control.

Simply put, I do 97.376 percent of the grocery shopping for my family. Let the scope of that sink in for a moment. Pause and ponder like you might over the glazed donuts in the bakery section.

Victuals. Chow. Sustenance. Edibles. Nourishment. Cuisine. Food impacts the menu, mood, mind and mojo – and the person purchasing the food is in charge. Not even Superman with his flowing red cape and tight blue tights can top that.

It’s absolute power at its finest. If I want tacos for supper, we have tacos for supper. Yo quiero. Never mind they had tacos at school for lunch. To heck with that. Mom’s got a craving – for pizza or potato salad or potpie. It’s what’s for dinner.

Creamy or chunky, white or wheat, whole or skim, dill or sweet, apples or bananas, cool ranch or spicy hot, rocky road or Neapolitan, cheddar or pepper jack, mayo or the other stuff – it’s all my call.

It gets even better. I alone am in control of their entire cookie supply: chocolate chip, frosted, oatmeal – or none of the above. Snack control is a commanding tool when in the hands of the skilled superhuman formerly known as mom.

For instance, three years ago I banished fruit snacks from the pantry, declaring them imposters – without membership in any food group. The young people living with me still beg for fruit snacks on occasion, but I’m holding fast. Power trips can be exhilarating.

Speaking of power trips, I took two today. There’s another perk of supremacy – multiple trips to the grocery store on any given Tuesday. This phenomenon occurs when an essential item is forgotten during the initial outing. Even superheroes have memory lapses. Today I forgot dog treats and ice cream, which were egregious errors according to all four and two-legged inhabitants of my home. So I returned for round two of the hunger games. They are happy with me now. That isn’t always the case.

Like the time I went on a diet. They lost 12 pounds between them during the first week; I was up two. I finally caved and bought some white bread and processed cheese spread. It took a couple days, but they warmed up to me eventually. Such is the price of super-heroism.

Sometimes one of them attempts to accompany me to the store. They’ve even tried stowing away in the back seat, but I’m smarter than a fifth grader – plus I have eyes in the back of my head. Having a sidekick acts like kryptonite to my superpowers and causes us to return home with extra cereal and corn chips. There can be only one superhero in the family – except if you are Batman.

I am not a complete mom of steel. I allow them to make food requests, which I may or may not fulfill. They’ll just have to wait and see. Anticipation can encourage a person to do super-uncharacteristic and super-helpful things – like make the bed, pick up dirty clothes off the floor, empty the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry or mow the lawn without being asked. All completed in the time it takes your mom to do the grocery shopping.

The power to influence them like that is nothing short of super – and I’m not even wearing my cape today.

– Jill Pertler

Jill Pertler’s weekly syndicated humor column, “Slices of Life,” appears in more than 100 newspapers across the U.S. Her columns have received awards and recognition from Humor Press as well as publication in numerous Chicken Soup books and books in the Not Your Mother’s Book series. She’s also an author and published playwright (Brooklyn Publishing), with three produced plays. You can find her column on her “Slices of Life” Facebook page, where Jill welcomes followers, as well as numerous newspaper websites. When not writing, Jill is an award-winning mother, wife and queen – and she’s got the tiara to prove it.

Refrigerator door carries
the story of our lives

myron.kuklaIf you ever want to find out what’s going on in my life on any given day, just look on my refrigerator door. It will tell you everything you want to know about me, my family and even people we don’t know.

With a single glance, the door tells you who is doing what, where, when and the stages of life of every family member. Forget Facebook, our lives are an open book hanging out for everyone to read on a kitchen appliance.

The refrigerator door has become the family bible and scrapbook of contemporary life, noted a friend who has been following our family over the past 10 years by the pictures, notes and the other magnetically affixed mishmash that hangs there. And, she’s right.

Our refrigerator, our life

If you look at our refrigerator door right now, you can decipher we have three sons, in their mid-to late 20s. Through simple deduction, you can guess one son is married, because there’s a picture of him in a tuxedo standing next to a woman wearing wedding dress.

Several Christmas card photos show our youngest son in military fatigues posing on a $25 million Army  helicopter. And a third son stands in front of a large display of playing cards and dice.  The pictures kind of tell you what they all do.

Through closer examination, you can tell by the receipts on the fridge we shop at D&W and Meijer for groceries, T J. Maxx for clothing and Sam’s Club for laundry products and other bulk items. The receipts tell you we have cats, wash clothes a lot, drink coffee and diet soda, are well-stocked on bathroom tissue and spend a lot on Christmas but generally look for bargains.

Pizza delivery source 

If anyone wants to find out about my family, they don’t need to go through a tedious search of paper and electronic  files, look through our garbage or read Twitter. All they need to do is walk into our kitchen and glance at the refrigerator door.

Our whole life is cataloged on that refrigerator door. You can tell what colleges we went to, what clubs we belong to, our pizza delivery source, our church, where we have to go next week, our job locations, doctors, appliance repair people and next week’s dinner plans.

We also display on our refrigerator favorite relatives and their children, where we went on vacation last year, where our friends went on vacation, our shoe sizes, dates of birthdays and special occasions, favorite sports teams, lost personal items, pending bills as well as a note to remind everyone to, “Shut the refrigerator door.”

Family memories

When I was growing up back in the 1950s, there wasn’t much on my mother’s refrigerator at home because sticky notes and magnets with advertising on them hadn’t yet been invented. The only thing I can remember always seeing on our refrigerator was the name “Amana.”

Later of course, my mom put up Scotch-taped notes reminding me to close the refrigerator door and admonitions that read, “Don’t eat the tuna salad. It’s for dinner.”

When my wife, Madeline, and I got married, we started putting up baby pictures on our refrigerator so we could remember that we had three boys and what they looked like. Actually, we stuck pictures on the refrigerator because we were too poor to buy photo albums, but we already owned a refrigerator.

Over the years, the landscape of our refrigerator has cataloged the changing seasons of our lives with every picture, crayon drawing and report card.

The refrigerator door is how we keep track of our lives.

In fact, I remember once taking everything off the refrigerator door to clean it.  I looked at the stark naked refrigerator door and thought, “It looks like no one lives here.

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is a professional journalist, writer and owner of the West Michigan-based marketing company WriteStuff.  Kukla is the author of two books of humor, Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Memories of Things I Haven’t Forgotten Yet and Guide to Surviving Life. He has also just published two ebooks on, Chomp andSomething in the Blood.

Reflections of Erma