“Mops ah fah lazy people!” I could hear my Bostonian Italian step-father’s voice in my head as though he were still alive as I kneeled to clean the tile in the kitchen square by square with paper towels and Lysol. My husband had been doing a lot of cooking so there were spots that had crumbs of whatever ingredients he had used. That along with the big muddy paw prints by the back door, and my need to take a break from staring at a screen led me to clean the kitchen floor 1940’s housewife style.
I know I could have done other things to get away from screens. I have friends who craft for this reason. They make beautiful scarves, personalized cups, and lovely decorative items. It’s just not my thing. I have not been interested in making pretty things ever since I was a kid and we were forced to have art time in elementary school. I privately called it arts and farts. I would have rather read a good book.
So now, when I need a break from all things computer, phone, and Netflix, I clean. I guess in a way it is my craft. I sometimes clean instead of exercising, so I guess it is my work out, too. Too bad they don’t have vacuum aerobics or dusting yoga at the gym. I would probably show up more often. I like that when I clean, I see results right away. Whatever was dirty is now clean. If exercise worked like that, I’d probably do it more. Imagine if you could exercise for an hour and lose an inch in your waist. We would all be slender.
When I was done with the floor, I got up and groaned. My 47-year-old knees and hips hurt after 90 minutes on the cold tile. Once my knees finished cracking, I was able to admire my work. The floor was shiny and clean. There was no trace of paw prints or herbs or almond flour on the floor. I knew it wouldn’t last long because other people and animals live here. Also, since we don’t have a system of trapezes throughout the house, said people and animals actually have to walk on the floor. But for those five minutes or so when the floor was shiny, I felt like I’d actually accomplished something.
Any other Type-A floor cleaners out there?
I’m one of those weirdos who hates Christmas. I don’t mean in that Grinchy I’m going to steal everyone’s roast beast and presents way. No. Christmas just gives me a good case of the winter blues. Part of it is due to messed up holiday memories from my youth, and part of it because it is SOFRIGGINGGRAY here in corn country during the holidays. So, I’m always looking for a way to make the holidays brighter that doesn’t involve the Hallmark channel and spoonfuls of cookie dough. I think I’ve found it with Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology.
Usually, holiday anthologies are full of angels, and miracles, and recipes for cranberry sauce framed in stories of long dead, sweet grandmothers. This one is so different. It’s not all heartwarming reality. There is something in this book for everyone.
My favorite story is “Convergence” by Stacey Roberts because it is humor, as it is labeled, but it is also relatable to anyone who felt like they didn’t fit in as a kid. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you are from a “broken home” you will really get this story.
Since my mind tends to go dark at Christmas, I also loved Yuletide Homicide: A Liz Boyle Short Mystery, by Kate Birdsall. I love a good murder mystery, especially one set in Ohio, my current home state.
Those are just my top two favorite stories. Really, the entire book is great. Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology is one of those books that you will want to read in one sitting with a big Yeti full of coffee, while sitting next to a fire. And given my seasonal and all year depression and anxiety, it helps that all profits go to The Life After—Visions of Hope Project.
Whether you love or hate Christmas and the entire holiday season, which now begins at 11:59pm on October 31, you will love this book. Buy it now while it’s cheap because once Oprah catches wind of this, and she will, it will be much more expensive.
My mother was in a state of high dudgeon.
“SSSSo,” she hissed. (I learned early in life that she was deadly serious when her sibilants extended). “You’re a TOKEN.”
“A token! You wrote a story for a Christmas whatchamacallit—anthology. What kind of word IS that? Sounds Yiddish. Anyway, nineteen Christmas stories from the goyim and one Hanukkah story from you. You’re a token!”
“Come on, Ma. That isn’t even remotely true.”
“Really, smarty pants? All these other authors in this collection – they’ve written great books! That Kristy Gamble – she’s on the USA Today Bestseller List!”
“Kelly, Ma. Kelly Gamble.” (My mother is no good with names).
“That’s what I said. Bestseller!”
“You would love her books. Her heroine whapped her husband in the head with a shovel.”
“If we’d had a shovel I would have whapped the crap out of your father, that son of a bitch.”
“I know you would, Ma.”
“There’s another writer in this book, this Justin Bog character. What kind of name is Bog? Is he from Scotland or something?”
“Actually, I think Bog is short for something unpronounceable. Possibly Eastern European.”
“He can’t be Jewish. He wrote a book of Christmas stories. Very well-received by the critics. Not like YOUR chazerai.” (‘Chazerai’ is the Yiddish word for ‘bullshit’. I didn’t even have to look it up. It was in the Amazon review my mom left about my first book).
“And I checked him out on the Tweeter—”
“That’s what I said. There’s no way he’s Jewish. He’s got German shepherds!”
“Ma, that’s ridiculous. Dog-ownership isn’t relevant to—“
“My point is that these are accomplished writers. That Kate Birdsall. I got one of her books. They’re so good. Mysteries. That’s what you should write. Or even that Claude Bouchard. Also a bestseller. Lotta violence, but ok. And Diane Byington? She’s won AWARDS, Stace. Awardssssss. What kind of awards do YOU have?”
“I got an honorable mention by the Recreational Vehicle Enthusiasts Society of Missoula, Montana.”
“Big deal. Nicole Evelina won three Book of the Year designations. Maybe she could give you some writing tips, since you’re so interested in concocting Christian stories all of a sudden.”
“Ciara Ballintyne wrote a non-denominational story about a winter festival. It’s got wizards and demons in it. Nothing Christian about THAT.”
“SSSSStace. ‘Winter festival’ is just another way to say Christmas. And goyim are all about demons. They’re everywhere in their heathen Bible. Piles and piles of demons.”
“Anyway, my reason for calling is to let you know that the book is available for pre-order—“
“Just send me a copy.”
“You should buy one. The proceeds go to benefit a great charity. It’s a really good cause—“
“These goyim. They should have asked your brother to write a story. He’s got a real way with words.”
“I’m sure he does. The charity is The LifeAfter—Visions of Hope Project. They spread awareness about suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence.”
“There would have been a lot more domestic violence in our house if I’d had me a shovel.”
“I’ll buy you one for Christmas.”
“We do NOT celebrate Christmassssssss!”
“Hanukkah then. But really, any occasion is good for a shovel.”
“Yeah, like now. You’re a lot like your father, you know.”
“So you keep telling me. Will you pre-order the book?”
“You should send me a copy. And get that Barbara Vicars to sign it.”
“That’s what I said. You could at least get it autographed by some real authors, couldn’t you? Even though you’re just their mascot or whatever you are.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“You should, Buster. I’m your mother.”
The good news is that none of you will have to go to all this trouble to get your own copy of Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology. Some of the best writers in the business contributed holiday-themed stories based on the characters from their books. The proceeds from all sales will benefit a great cause. This will make a perfect gift to put under your own Christmas tree, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And, my mom wants you to know there’s a Hanukkah story in it.
Help Stacey show his mom his IS a real author! You can pre-order Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology here: https://www.amazon.com/Tangled-Lights-Silent-Nights-Anthology-ebook/dp/B07JDVSMK5
“He shouldn’t hit me. You shouldn’t hit me about God, Mamma. You should never hit anybody about God—”
The Conversion of the Jews
I was in my classroom at Bonita Springs Middle School. I taught drama, or at least I tried to. I was horrible at classroom management. School started at 9:35, and it was before my first period class. A kid, Tyler, ran in and said, “Miss Petty, I know it’s the JAPS!!” I was so confused. Tyler was a good kid, and I did not suspect drugs. I thought he was just, you know, acting for me. Then, he turned on the TV in my class, and my jaw dropped. We kept that TV on all day. All I wanted to do was leave and get my son from preschool, but we did not dismiss early. It was the day after my 30th birthday. Suddenly, being 30, wearing a size 8 (which was “fat” for me at the time), and having too many bills for my salary did not matter.
When I could leave for the day, I picked up my son, who was 4 and very much unaware of what had happened. He wanted to have dinner at McDonald’s. After all, they had a playground, toys, and fries. What more do you need in life? I didn’t take him to McDonald’s. We drove through, instead. I was afraid to sit with my son in a public place. I was afraid that some crazy person would walk in with a bomb, or Anthrax (the poison, not the band), or a gun, or something. So, we drove through and ate our fries at home, where I felt safe, but still wondered how far I was from a military base, a power plant, or any possible target for terrorism. I still think like this whenever I go to an amusement park.
I did not show my son that I was afraid. I did not cry. This morning, twelve years later, I finally cried about 9/11. I was watching the Moment of Silence on the Today Show. The screen was split, with people in New York on the left and Mr. and Mrs. Obama, Mr. and Mrs. Biden, and a lot of other people in Washington, D.C. on the right. There was a woman in New York, with brown curly hair; maybe you saw her. She started crying so hard that she had to lean on someone. I thought, “She probably lost someone that day. Maybe it was her husband, or a sibling, or a cousin, or a friend. She lost SOMEONE.” That is when I cried. That is what it is all about really. People are getting killed over differences of opinion. Seriously. People are real. They bleed. They die. We should not “hit” anyone about God or Politics, or anything else.
Note: This post was originally posted on 9/11/13.
Some families have great genetics. Everyone lives until they’re 95 even though they drink, smoke, and eat sides of beef. This is not my family. On my father’s side, we have heart disease, diabetes, and anxiety disorders. My father and one of my half-brothers died incredibly early. My father was 49 and my brother was 35. This is why I exercise daily and don’t allow myself to become the size of a small whale.
On my mother’s side, we have breast cancer, colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, and anxiety disorders. This is also why I exercise daily and watch my weight. In addition, because of the strong breast cancer history, I also endure more medical tests than the average woman. I had to start having mammograms at 30, and now, I have to have an annual breast MRI, too. It’s not so bad, though. Unlike the mammogram, breast MRIs do not hurt. There are a few other great things about this procedure. Here they are in no particular order.
New Google Material – During the second part of the MRI they inject you with a contrast fluid. In my case, it was Dotarem. In today’s super-litigious society, doctors must inform you about any and every possible risk greater than a toe stub. So, I received a full-page document that basically said, “So far no one has died from having Dotarem injected, but you know, we don’t really know for sure if it’s harmful, but we think it probably isn’t, so maybe don’t worry about it for now.” Okey-doke. That made me feel much better. In addition to worrying about having a claustrophobia-induced panic attack in the tube, I now had to worry about turning into the Incredible Hulk in a few years. Peachy. You know I will be Googling Dotarem every time I feel remotely ill from now until I’m 97 and a half.
Pretend Spa Time – For this procedure, you have to, I mean you GET TO, lie face down in a face donut thing and listen to music for 45 minutes. It is JUST like getting a massage except no one actually kneads the knots out of your shoulders, and you can’t actually hear the music because all you can hear are magnets banging together, and your boobs sort of hang awkwardly in their own donut contraption. OK. I’m lying. It is nothing like a massage.
You EARN Treats – After you endure this nonsense, you can and should get yourself a treat. There was a Starbucks a couple blocks away from the medical facility, so I thought of driving there. After the test, I felt super hungry, so I settled for the Tim Horton’s that was IN the facility. I got a donut and a cup of coffee. I regretted it and vowed to always go to Starbucks. I’ve only lived “up north” for the past decade or so. I still don’t get the appeal of Tim Horton’s. Lesson learned.
No Glamour – When you are getting ready for your appointment, you will be amazed at how quickly you can get out the door when make-up, jewelry, and deodorant are not allowed. This is because there is a strict no metal rule in the MRI machine and these items can contain metal. Think about it – MRIs use MAGNETS to take images. If you had metallic eyeshadow on, well, I hate to think how that would play out. If you passed fourth grade you know what metals and magnets do.
No Bra—You get a solid 45 minutes of bra free time. Once you and your MRI tech work together to awkwardly (could she at least buy me a drink first) place your breasts in their proper magnet holes, and once the padded breastbone bar is in a spot where it doesn’t feel like your ribs will crack or your stomach will cave in, you can lounge peacefully without a bra. Maybe it is like spa time.
Open in FRONT—This is the one time in your life when you will be permitted to wear a hospital gown that is open in the front. YAY! At least your butt won’t hang out for this procedure. Just your boobs. Oh well.
Peace of Mind—If you are like me and have shitty genetics, getting a breast MRI in addition to a mammogram is a smart thing to do. MRIs catch things that mammograms miss and vice versa.
So, if you are getting an MRI soon, I hope this helped clear up some of the mystery. It’s not fun, but it’s not the worst thing ever. It’s non-invasive. It’s not a colonoscopy or a uterine biopsy. I’ve had both of those and the breast MRI is MUCH easier. There’s no prep, other than not wearing deodorant, jewelry, or makeup, and there’s just a small needle to deal with. If you are claustrophobic, your doctor can prescribe a tranquilizer for the procedure. I was able to get by without it this time because it was my SECOND MRI, so I knew what to expect. Plus, you are on your face, so you don’t really see the machine much. My facility was super cool and had mirrors in the face hole that showed me the room, not the tunnel I was in.
Have you had a breast MRI? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Also, if you have any questions, I would love to try to answer them.
Dear Generic Suburban White Man who was in the Kroger Parking lot,
Yes, that was me who screamed “FUCK!” in a tone that can only be described as warring tomcats. I appreciate your look of judgment at my choice of language, which is why I gave you the little wave with my unburned hand and the polite, “sorry!”
You see, in my never-ending quest to not have unnecessary trash to get rid of, I said no to the little green stopper at the Kroger Starbucks. Thus, when I hit a bump in the parking lot while holding on to my beloved flat white and my cart, the coffee when flying out of that tiny drinking whole and all over my even more beloved Kate Spade Purse.
And while my “sorry” and wave may have meant I wouldn’t yell fuck again, I did when I spilled the coffee two more times on my way to the car. It’s a good thing you had already driven away when I was attempting to open my car door with coffee all over my hand and purse. When I hit the coffee cup against the door, not on purpose, it spilled some more down the interior of the door, at which point I literally growled, “Fuck! How many fucking times am I going to spill this fucking coffee?”
After that, I went digging in my console for anything to soak up coffee. You see, I’m an incredibly neat person and I don’t hoard napkins or Kleenex in my car. Luckily, I found a Norwex mitten duster and a pair of yarn gloves, along with some hand sanitizer. I managed to clean the car door and purse. I licked off the top of the lid to get the large amount of coffee that had gathered there.
When I finally unloaded my cart and got in my car, I thought three things. One, I will always ask for that frigging stopper. Two, it’s a good thing I went to Pam’s Norwex party four years ago. Three, I really need to just let the husband do the shopping. (Yes, someone married this rude woman.) Something awkward always happens to me at Kroger.
That Short Chubby Chic with the Potty Mouth
I grew up in a single parent democratic household with many democratic family friends. I heard a lot about how Republicans were nothing but “warmongers” who would not help the poor. I was told that they wanted to spend all of our tax money on bombs not food for the poor. They sounded like horrible people to young Lisa, but I didn’t pay much attention to politics until Ronald Reagan was elected.
Reagan was elected when I was in 4th grade when I was a poor kid on reduced price lunch. I was upset that he beat Carter because I LOVED Carter. Our teacher made us watch the inauguration speech in class. One of my classmates, Kenny, yelled, “Tell ‘em Reagan!” I told him to be quiet and my teacher got mad at me. Later, when Reagan wanted to make ketchup count as a vegetable in the school lunch, I hated him more. That is one of the first times I felt like the lone liberal. The lone liberal actually sounds like a superhero who wears a mask and rides a horse, but it’s really not that exciting.
Last week, we found out that President Trump would be coming to our local high school. My liberal friends were posting about it on Facebook, saying that it would be a “circus” and they would stay away from it. I agreed. I had no desire to go. So, when my husband registered for tickets and said he wanted to go “see a sitting president” I was scared. At first, I really did not want to go. I got really anxious about it.
What we imagine is always worse than reality. I imagined being physically thrown out of the rally. I imagined being burned at the stake. I imagined being arrested. I imagined a lot of horrible things, and then I remembered that I don’t have Democrat tattooed on my forehead, or anywhere.
When the time came to drive over to the school, I was super stressed. So, the husband and I had a drink. I was not drunk, but my stomach stopped cramping and I felt like maybe I would not be lynched.
We had to park like a mile from the school. The speech was supposed to start at 6:30 and doors opened at 3:30. We got there at around 6:00 and heard that people had been in line since 8:00am. Why? Do they not have Twitter? You can “hear” him speak at any time.
So, we were at the end of a very long line. It was super-hot and I had worn jeans. I thought we would be in an overly airconditioned auditorium. I was wrong. We didn’t even make it in the building. We were put in an overflow area, a small grassy spot between the parking lot and the school, where a screen was set up. When my son and his girlfriend went to see President Obama a couple of years ago, they ended up in an overflow room with ac and seats. Not here. Even the overflow rooms were filled. We were standing outside and SWEATING.
As we were standing there, I noticed a lot of really smart people. They were the people who were selling things to a captive audience. There were hats, t-shirts, and even socks for sale. There were people selling water, lemonade, and iced tea. There was even someone selling beer across the street from the school. We bought a couple of bottled waters.
Honestly, everything was cool and almost normal, except for everyone being white. It was nothing like I expected. And then the president took the stage and the crowd became a little more energetic. Everyone applauded loudly. I used both hands to hold my bottled water to get out of clapping. There were chants of “build the wall” and “CNN sucks.” I kept quiet.
President Trump began his speech by talking about “the elite” who snub his followers. He said, “they are more elite than me? I have everything better than they have. And I became president. And it is driving them crazy.” The crowd cheered. I clung to my water.
Next President Trump, began talking about Senator Jim Jordan, the former OSU assistant wrestling coach who is a candidate for speaker of the house while being accused of covering up sexual abuse at OSU while he worked there. The president introduced him, “Jim Jordan—how great is he? Come up here, Jim.” There were chants of “speaker of the house.” Trump joked with him and asked him if he had wrestled at the high school where the speech was being held.
Jordan stepped up to the microphone and spoke to the crowd. The biggest cheers for Jordan came when he said: “embassy is going to Jerusalem.”
After Jordan stepped away from the microphone, President Trump took over again. He mentioned that “Maxine Waters is a seriously low IQ person.” Then, he started talking about our local Democratic candidate for Congress, Danny O’Connor. “A vote for Danny boy and the Democrats is a vote to let drugs and criminals into the country.” He followed up with, “they don’t care about the crime, they don’t care about the military, and they don’t care about your vets.”
I stood there and thought about how wrong he was. I have a lot of liberal friends. We care about our military and our vets. We frequently donate to veteran causes and send care packages to the military. I wish the president wouldn’t add to this already divisive political culture. I also wish he would get his facts straight and look at actual crime statistics.
But there was no such luck, Trump went on to say, “we want our country to be a sanctuary for law-abiding citizens, not illegal aliens.” The crowd chanted “build that wall.” I clung to my water bottle.
A woman who was standing next to me leaned over and said, “he really is a great speaker.” I had talked to her earlier before the speech started. She is a teacher with a husband and at least one teen son, who was there with a red Make America Great Again hat. I had also chatted with her husband about jury duty. Like me, he was horrified by the brutal crimes that occurred in our sleepy little county.
By this point, my husband and I were super sweaty and just wanted to go get ice cream. So, we left early. As we were walking to the school’s exit, a man and his tween son started walking with us. The man told us they had gotten there early and made it into the school, but that is was very hot inside, too. For some reason, we got on the subject of animals. This man and his family had rescued a few dogs from shelters. My husband talked to him about our rescues and we all really bonded over our love of animals. I also chatted a bit with his son about how much I loved American Chinese food. He said, “You mean the kind with peas and carrots in the fried rice.” I said, “Exactly! Totally not authentic.” We laughed.
As we got near the exit, we noticed an old couple leaning against a cement pole together. The man we were walking with asked them, “Are you OK? I can go get my van and take you to your car.” They thanked him but said someone was coming to get them. He made sure they were ok and then we kept walking together until we had to go our separate ways to our parking spots.
As we walked back to our car, which as I mentioned was a mile away or so, I was lost in my thoughts. I had gone there expecting to be frightened by Trump followers. I had actually worn closed shoes instead of flip-flops in case I needed to make a run for it. I didn’t like what the president had to say, and I never do, but I was pleasantly surprised by his followers. They don’t have horns. They aren’t stupid. They are animal lovers, teachers, and parents. They really are a lot more like us than they are different. Maybe we should go to each other’s rallies more often, not to protest, but just to listen.
I’m still a Democrat. I still want to help immigrants and poor people. I think of America as a melting pot, or a colorful tossed salad of cultures, not a walled compound. Really, we are all immigrants. Let’s be nice to each other and actually talk to each other as people. Most of us don’t have horns.
When I was little, I used to tell my mom that someday I would get big and she would get little. I’m not sure if I thought that I would literally get bigger than my mom (I am) or if I would need to parent my mom due to her old age or dementia(no comment). Today at lunch, the manchild, who is bigger than me, had to parent me.
We were sitting in a cute New Mexican restaurant eating our burritos.
Me: Did you see that I tagged you in that Facebook post? I want to see that movie about Betty Boop.
Manchild: [swishing his ice tea around in his glass because this place is anti-straw and there was nothing to stir in the Sweet N Low] What movie?
Me: It’s based on a true story! [I LOVE true stories!] It’s about the woman who inspired the cartoonist to draw Betty Boop. Her name was Elizabeth Boop.
Manchild: [skeptical look with one raised eyebrow]
Me: I’m not making this up. I sent you the trailer. It shows her on a farm with her mom. She accidentally hits herself in the head with an ax and since it’s like 1930 they can’t drain the fluid and she ends up with a big head. [Even I am hearing myself at this point.]
Manchild: [picking up the phone to look at Facebook] Mom, did you happen to notice that Funny or Die posted this trailer? [does air quotes around trailer and speaks to me like I’m an 11-year-old who really need to understand that Santa is not real.]
Me: No. It’s real. Kelli said that she wants to see it too. [Kelli is smart. She knows it’s real, right?]
Me: IT’S REAL!! Chris said he would take me to the Marcus theater with the bar. It’s a real movie.
Manchild: Mom, it’s not real.
Me: [laughing and whining at the same time] BETTY BOOP is REAL!!
Waitress: Hi, everything OK? One check or two?
Me: One! I’m his mom. I know I look too young and all.
Waitress: [laughing and retreating]
Me: But, it has to be real. [pulling my phone out to Google Betty Boop Movie and not finding anything other than old cartoons]
Manchild: You can fixate on it all you want. It’s not real.
Me: [Pulling out my credit card] I’m going to look on the computer at home.
Manchild: And you will get the same results, Mom. Betty Boop is not real.
And sometimes, the children parent the parents. He got big and I got little. And, as an English professor, I teach students how to find good sources. I have failed.