Thursday, December 31, 2009

Keepin' it Real in 2010

Happy New Year!

If my fantastically superstitious grandmother were alive, she would insist that we all eat cabbage and black-eyed peas on New Year's Day to ensure a prosperous year. I don't happen to have those handy, but luckily, I found some rum and pineapple juice while foraging for them. My New Year's Eve cocktail might not make me prosperous, but it tastes a hell of a lot better than black-eyed peas and cabbage, so I'll take my chances. Cheers, friends!

Here's to a brand spanking new year of keepin' it real. That's my resolution. God help me.

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions in general. It's not that I don't support the notion of improving oneself. Certainly, I do. This blog is a resolution to better my life, but it wasn't one I made on December 31st. Forcing my Cheeto-muching, Chocodile-loving self to exercise daily was a resolution I made, too, but it also wasn't a promise I vowed because a holiday told me, too. That's just asking for it.

Case in point: I'll head to our local park to run this weekend, and all the fired-up "resolutors" will be there, crowding the regulars like myself off the trails, in their effort to fulfill their New Year's promises. I'll cheer them on and hope they make it, but the fact is, I probably won't see them in the park after a couple of weeks. That's how it goes. New Year's resolutions set us up for failure.

So I must be a glutton for punishment for making one, but to be fair to myself (since this is self-indulgent blathering, after all), it's one I've been contemplating for a long time.

I'm resolving to keep it real here on the porch, to put myself out on the writing ledge day in and day out, and let the cards fall where they may.

I love this blog, this foray into the writing world, and I relish the support from readers and friends. It's been incredibly fulfilling the past couple of months to romp and roam about this writing playground. But I'm the new kid here; as such, I'm still looking for my writing niche.

See - I don't know what I want to play with just yet.

Some days I feel more jovial than others, and I hope to make my readers laugh with me (or, um, usually at me. No shortage of material there). The next day, I might feel frustrated or mad at the world, and I could post a poem that reflects those emotions. The day after that, I might write a piece that was inspired by something I heard or witnessed in aisle three of WalMart. I simply don't know. But isn't that the beauty of the blank page? Of life? To always have a fresh outlook, to embrace whatever fills our pages that day?

No matter what I do, though, I want it to be honest. The truth matters to me. If I don't keep my voice authentic, then why bother to put it out there at all?

In doing that, I might step on some toes occasionally. I hate that part of the process. I do.

In a college creative writing course long ago, I wrote a poem about one of the most shameful experiences I'd had as a child.

My cousin and I were playing in my grandparents' yard, and the neighbor on the other side of the fence was singing a hymn as she hung her laundry. Young, cocky and stupid, my cousin and I crouched on the other side of the fence and began to mimic her, our voices cracking as we howled out notes crafted in cruelty.

The woman never looked over the fence or said a word to us. She just stopped singing, gathered her laundry and went inside as we snickered. A couple of years later, my grandmother remarked that she missed the neighbor's lovely voice, that she never sang anymore because some "mean kids" had made fun of her.

I felt horrible. Yet I never apologized to the neighbor. I never told my grandmother or anyone that I was the one who had robbed her of her voice, until a poem assignment in college provided the opportunity.

I poured out my story in poetry, my shame trapped forever in print. Much to my dismay, my professor asked me to read it to the class. It wasn't easy to face my peers and read about the horrid thing I had done. I saw the appalled looks of my classmates. Most remained quiet, but one classmate didn't. Seething, he shoved his chair back from the group table and towered over me. He called me a racist, a fool, a bitch. His violent reaction shocked me, and the words he spat in my direction were knives slicing through me.

Shaken, I uttered an apology, dropped the poem and ran from the room and down the hall, where I burst into sobs. My professor, a poet, ran after me, and when she caught me, she took my hands in her own.

"Why are you running away?" she said.

"My poem," I said, "I didn't mean for it to hurt him like that. I didn't mean it."

She looked at me for a long time, and then she said smiled and said quietly, "Congratulations."

I couldn't have heard her correctly.

"What?" I asked, confused.

"Jennifer," she said, "Your poem evoked strong emotions. Those words on that page made him feel so strongly, so deeply, that he couldn't even sit in his chair. And even if it was a bad reaction, it was so much better than no reaction.

"Do you write for nothing?" she continued. "Do you hope no one will feel your pain, or laugh with you, or experience your shame? You wrote about that experience for a reason. You needed that reaction.

"Congratulations," she said again. "You're a writer. THIS is what we do. THIS is why we do it. Now come back to class and dig back into it. Don't ever be afraid to put yourself out there. Don't ever be afraid of the reaction. Seek it."

Hesitantly, I allowed her to lead me back to the table, where the classmate embraced me and apologized for his extreme reaction. I apologized for the horrible thing I had done as a child. And we all felt like we'd been to group therapy.

But the poet's words stayed with me. They haunted me recently, when I heard them echoed in the words of a trusted friend, who told me I was holding back here.

I wanted to deny it, but it's true. And I can't have that, not here on the playground, which was made for roaming and romping. If I don't get real here, on my own blog, where can I?

So I hope, my sweet, supportive friends, that you will stick with me, if and when my work doesn't always make you laugh (though I still hope to do plenty of that, too)!

(Or maybe I need a different blog for all of my different personalities...hmmmm).

The point is, life is too short, too precious, for any of us to hold back our truest selves. Like me, I challenge you to embrace who you really are. Let it pour from you, like words to the page.

May your 2010 be a happy and healthy one for you and those you hold dear.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pickled Grape Trees: Jenkins Christmas 2009

Another Christmas has come and gone.

Pine needles litter my living room floor, and ripped, empty boxes cram the recycling bins.

The kids seem genuinely thrilled with their gifts, and despite being trapped in the house for more than a week, they miraculously haven't pummeled each other to bloody pulps. I'm not sure whether to chalk their subdued behavior up to the Christmas spirit or a potential gas leak (note to self: check carbon monoxide detectors).

I've relished visits with family and dear friends in town for the holidays. And I've devoured so much sugar that the thought of another cookie, cake or candy nearly repulses me (I said "nearly". I could choke down another piece of fudge if one were to suddenly appear in front of me - hint/hint).

Overall, it was wonderful holiday, bursting with treasured moments. But if I had to pick my Christmas highlight, it would be Mom's grape tree.

Yes, I realize grapes grow on vines, not trees, which is why I found myself staring incomprehensibly at a grape-covered tree in my parents' den on Christmas Eve.

There it stood by the couch: a large, potted, twiggy tree that had lost its summer foliage and had been wrapped in twinkling, multi-colored lights and festooned with a bow -- and fat, green grapes.

I suppose it's not that unusual to decorate a Christmas tree with food. Before tacky plastic ornaments and electric lights, the first Christmas trees were adorned with candles and fruit. So I could understand strings of popcorn, cranberries or orange slices.

But grapes?

My eyes must be deceiving me, or perhaps my sister's pickled grapes had fermented my brain.

Oh. You heard right. Pickled grapes. My sister is a terrific cook, who loves to experiment with food. Her Christmas bounty of treats and snacks this year was no exception. When she and I compared notes about the dishes we were preparing for Mom and Dad's gathering, she mentioned cheese balls and crab dip and added, "I'm also bringing pickled grapes."

"Pickled grapes?" I questioned. "I hope to God that's a reference to wine." It is the holidays, after all. There's reason liquor stores are among the few establishments open on Christmas.

But no. My sister showed up with a bowl of pickled grapes and insisted we all try one. "It's a Southern tradition," she said.

Now I have lived my entire life in the South, and I know about grits, burgoo and even chocolate gravy, but I have never heard of pickled grapes.

They were a little sweet, a little tart … a little different. Okay. Okay. They were freakin' weird.

So that's why, at first glance, I thought Mom's tree was a pickled grape-induced hallucination.

As Jenkins offspring trampled all over his house, my Dad was hiding, err, I mean, sitting in the den, so I asked him about the curious tree.

"Umm, Dad?" I said. "Why are there grapes on this tree?"

Dad laughed, and said, "Well, your mother…"

Now, he could have stopped right there. Truly, that was explanation enough.

You see, like pickled grapes, my family is a little sweet, a little tart … a little different. Okay. Okay. We are freakin' weird.

Therefore, a Jenkins gathering is probably unlike any family gathering you've ever attended.

Take last Christmas, for instance.

In 2008, we began our Christmas celebration by slipping on our matching Christmas T-shirts, which featured a blue ottoman dubbed "Otto" that became a family mascot after an inside joke (doesn't every family adopt a piece of furniture as their mascot? No?). The shirts, designed by my brother, showcased Otto in a Santa hat and were printed with the message, "You Otto have a Merry Christmas." Perfect!

Once we were Otto-ed up, we traipsed across the lawn to take a plate of treats to the neighbor's house, where we sang carols and danced on their porch. You want treats? You have to watch us dance first. (Odd that the neighbors turned off all their lights when they saw our cars pull up this year).

Back at Mom & Dad's house, Mom handed out the Christmas "flutes" to all the grandchildren, who played their version of carols as we paraded around the tree. Yes, there were jokes about passing around the Christmas crack pipe, but we only do that in leap years.

After the flutes, we opened presents, the highlight of which was a sock monkey ornament for my younger brother, who had been petrified of the sock monkey given to him by a great aunt when he was a child.

Apparently, the years of therapy for primatesockophobia worked, because my brother cherished his ornament and promptly began to film sock monkey videos. We filmed the classic holiday hits, "Sock Monkey Eats Christmas Crackers"; "Sock Monkey Terrorizes Jenkins Girls"; and my favorite, "That's Not a Banana in my Pocket: Sock Monkey Gets Freaky with Mom's Rabbit Knickknack." (Hello, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? Are you taking note?)

Porch dancing, flutes and perverted sock monkeys were just a few of the highlights from Jenkins Christmas 2008. Needless to say, I had high hopes for 2009.

Other than poking fun of my sister's pickled grapes and making a few jingle ball jokes about an unfortunate testicular incident that had plagued someone close to the family (nothing is sacred), our family Christmas seemed oddly restrained this year -- until I stumbled upon the grape tree.

Dad tried to explain it to me: He was concerned that Mom's twiggy tree might poke the eye out of one of his younger grandchildren as they ran around the house, hyped up on Christmas cookies. (It's hard to believe this is the same man who, back in the day, threw all his kids in the bed of the pickup truck for drives down country roads while we passed him beers through the cab's back window). Anyway, Dad had pointed out the tree's potential hazard to Mom before we all arrived. Instead of moving the tree, as he suggested, she covered all the sharp points with grapes.

Then she added lights and a bow, to make it festive.

Envisioning Mom carefully placing the grapes on every twig, I erupted in laughter, which eventually drew all family members to the den. Everyone pulled out their phones and began to snap pictures of Mom's grape tree. Jokes soon abounded about covering all pointy objects with grapes as a safety precaution. My brother said, "I'm putting grapes on damn near everything in the house. Radio antennas: grapes. Light switches: grapes. Cabinet knobs: grapes. My wife's hoo-hoos: grapes."

Since my parents also were worried about my niece's first international flight a few days later, we all agreed that she should be packed in grapes before her departure --pickled grapes, perhaps, so we wouldn't have to worry about injury OR men hitting on her.

With raucous laughter ringing through the house, it was a true Jenkins Christmas at last!

The merry-making continued when my brother and sister-in-law handed out their gifts for everyone: delightful, handmade Otto the Ottoman Christmas ornaments. Next year, I'm going to hang Otto on my very own grape tree. Move over, Charlie Brown. There's a new tree in town. It just needed a little love -- and a few grapes.

After much laughter and antics, the night drew to a close. Before we departed, Mom pulled her kiddos in for a hug and said, "I'm so glad we're not a normal family."

Me, too. Then again, I don't really know what it's like to be part of a "normal" family.

And there's not a moment that goes by, that I'm not grapeful, I mean, grateful for it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Twelve Pounds of Christmas

Ahhh, Christmas.

So much to celebrate this wonderful time of year: the Christmas spirit; the family traditions; the treats; the uplifting carols; the treats; the festive lights; the treats; the beautifully wrapped gifts; the treats; and in case I forgot to mention them, the treats.

From fudge to cookies, gingerbread to divinity, if it's chock-full of sugar and butter, there's a good chance I've devoured it this season. The best part? Everyone knows that calories consumed between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day don't count. Seriously. It's like eating air.

(That being said, I hope Santa brings me a new dryer this year. For some inexplicable reason, mine has been shrinking my pants the past few weeks. Honest to goodness, I could barely button them this morning. Stupid dryer.)

Inspired by delicious, decadent Christmas goodies, I reworked a popular Christmas carol. I hope you enjoy it. May your holidays be full of peace, joy, butter and sugar...

The Twelve Pounds of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the second day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the third day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the fourth day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the fifth day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, fiiiiive Rinnnng Dinnngs, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the sixth day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, six cheese a-caking, fiiiiive Rinnnng Dinnngs, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the seventh day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, seven pies a-baking, six cheese a-caking, fiiiiive Rinnnng Dinnngs, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the eighth day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, eight crèmes brulee-ing, seven pies a-baking, six cheese a-caking, fiiiiive Rinnnng Dinnngs, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the ninth day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, nine lady fingers, eight crèmes brulee-ing, seven pies a-baking, six cheese a-caking, fiiiiive Rinnnng Dinnngs, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the tenth day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, ten rolls a-rising, nine lady fingers, eight crèmes brulee-ing, seven pies a-baking, six cheese a-caking, fiiiiive Rinnnng Dinnngs, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the eleventh day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, eleven cookies cooking, ten rolls a-rising, nine lady fingers, eight crèmes brulee-ing, seven pies a-baking, six cheese a-caking, fiiiiive Rinnnng Dinnngs, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

On the twelfth day of Christmas I gobbled up in glee, twelve brownies browning, eleven cookies cooking, ten rolls a-rising, nine lady fingers, eight crèmes brulee-ing, seven pies a-baking, six cheese a-caking, fiiiiive Rinnnng Dinnngs, four candy canes, three French crêpes, two turtle treats and a Chocodile shipped to me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

For my Teen-ager on her Birthday

I'm terrified. The day I have dreaded since I peed on a stick and saw a "+" sign has finally happened: I am the mother of a teen-age girl.

Today is my daughter's 13th birthday. God help us.

Fortunately, Kelsey is an amazing, intelligent, wonderful young lady, and I'm delighted she's turned out so well in spite of having a mother who breaks out in random dance moves in the grocery store. But even the best teen-age girls are a daunting species.

As she and I embark on this journey together, I must remember the basic guidelines for contact with hormonal adolescent girls: Look them in the eyes; show no fear; and if that doesn’t work, drop to the ground, curl into a tight ball, cover the head and face, and pray for the best.

Or, wait. Isn't that the advice for a run-in with a bear? Eh. Pretty much the same rule applies.

Let's face it: adolescent girls are weird. I taught seventh graders for several years, so I have some experience in the care of the pubescent species. Thirteen is such a tender age: new teens are caught in that odd, bewildering space between childhood and adulthood. One day, they want to snuggle with you on the couch like a toddler and be coddled; the next, they are aloof and too "cool" to acknowledge your presence. And good luck arguing with them: they can throw a temper tantrum that rivals any two-year-old but surprise you an hour later with the debate skills of a seasoned attorney.

Like anything fragile, teens are best handled with care. (If that doesn't work, I can always lock her in the basement until she turns 30. Don’t think I haven't considered it.)

The next few years won't be easy, I know. I shudder as I remember my teen years. I would elaborate about all the sneaky, stupid things I did, but my parents read my blog, and I don't want to be grounded.

Although my daughter is off to a fine start, I naturally dread many hurdles we're sure to face in the near future: the mood swings, the arguments, the unsupervised outings with friends, the boyfriends (yikes!) and the many temptations to come her way.

I also fear the distance that is natural at this stage between a mother and a daughter. As she seeks to find her own way, she will have to pull away from me a bit. It doesn't mean she won't need me, but she needs some space, too. And I will have to find a way to give that to her.

Although part of me truly celebrates this exciting new stage of Kelsey's life, I can't help but yearn for what has passed.

I remember her first full day with us, how snow swirled outside my hospital window as I held her against my chest, marveling at her tiny fingernails and soft, downy curls. I recall how baby Kelsey would growl at a silly monster as we flipped through one of her favorite board books or erupt in deep belly laughs if we made her favorite doll dance for her.

I'll never forget how, as a toddler, Kelsey would run down the driveway to give her daddy "neck squeezes" when he came home from work. Or how she couldn't fall asleep for years without the bedtime prayer and lullaby I made up for her when I rocked her as a baby.

An immensely creative child, Kelsey also had a bevy of imaginary friends, the most notorious of which was Bee. Bee arrived when Kelsey was two, and the winged friend never left her side for the next several years, including one very memorable vacation with my parents, when Bee nearly met his demise on a playground.

Granddad was happily entertaining three-year-old Kelsey at a small park. She wanted to play on a slide, so she kindly asked her grandfather if he wanted to "care for Bee."

Granddad thought Kelsey said, "Care for tea?", so when she handed him her tiny imaginary friend, he took it in his hand as if it were a teacup, lifted it to his lips and pretended to drink, making elaborate smacking, gulping and swallowing gestures as he did so.

"Mmmm. That was delicious!" he declared, rubbing his stomach.

He didn't understand why Kelsey's brown eyes filled with terror, or why she suddenly screamed bloody murder.

"Granddad ate Bee! Granddad ate Bee! Granddad ate Bee!" she sobbed hysterically, frightening all the playground parents, who scrambled to get their children away from the mad man who was eating insects and making children cry.

Of course, my dad recognized his mistake and coughed Bee up promptly. Bee was soggy and seriously irked, but he agreed to stick around Kelsey another two years. Kelsey bid farewell to Bee shortly after she enrolled in kindergarten and made real friends, but I like to think he's still buzzing about and watching over her.

Like Bee, I'm not planning to go anywhere. No matter how much she tries to push me away the next few years, I'll keep watch over Kelsey as long as she'll let me. Truthfully, I'm already enjoying some of the grown-up girl things we can do together: snuggling on the couch and watching chick flicks; shopping for clothes and giggling in the dressing room; or sitting in the window at Starbucks sipping coffee and hot chocolate and making faces at the people who walk by (Don't judge. You know you always wanted to do that).

She's a beautiful young woman with so much promise. But no matter how old she gets, I will still see the little girl with the big brown eyes and pigtails, doing somersaults down a grassy green hill and giggling the entire way.

As we celebrate a new phase of her life today, I pray that laughter follows her as she rolls along. I'll be close by, should she ever need a hand to help her over the hills.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful teen daughter. Forever hardly seems long enough to love you.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thank you!

Just a quick note today to thank those of you who are reading, following, sharing and offering feedback on my little writing venture. Your support means more than Hostess Chocodiles to me, and that's saying A LOT.

I might be slower to post the next few weeks because the holidays are upon us and the meth won't make itself! I'm kidding, of course. I have people who make that for me.

Seriously, friends - I'm busy, and you're busy, but I promise we will reconnect before too long. I'm collecting new writing material all the time and hoping to get it on paper soon. In the meantime, please know that I count you all among my blessings.

I hope everyone is enjoying a relaxing (ha ha), wonderful holiday season.

Monday, November 30, 2009

O (No!) Christmas Tree

The last of the Thanksgiving turkey has been dumped into yet another casserole; the fall mums have turned brown and been tossed in the trash; and my children have updated their Santa wish list for the 734th time. I can't live in denial any longer. It's time to deck the halls with boughs of holly and all that crap.

Fa-la-la-la-laaaa! La-la-la-pbbbbbbllllllttttttt!

I'm sorry if I sound cynical during what should be a joyous season, but if you were here for last year's Christmas decorating fiasco, you would understand.

My husband's role in holiday decorating extends only to lugging the biggest boxes down from the attic and setting our Christmas tree in the stand. The rest he happily leaves in my hands, while he watches football games and ignores a Yosemite Sam-esque string of curse words as I wrestle with lights, wreaths and ornery gingerbread men.

Last year, I decided I would take a day and do the bulk of decorating while my husband was at work and the kids were in school. The children would be surprised and delighted to find a festive, holiday house when they returned home. I envisioned us sitting by a beautifully lit tree sipping hot cocoa and listening to Christmas carols while the children lovingly hung the ornaments. It was going to be so Normal Rockwell, ya'll.

Instead, the family came home to find me tangled in lights, lying in a mess of duct tape, nursing a knot on my noggin and crying about the evil, possessed Christmas decorations that were out to get me.

I don't know why Christmas turned on me. Perhaps it knew I ate the entire box of Little Debbie holiday snack cakes and blamed it on the kids when my husband inquired. Whatever the case, Christmas wasn't cooperating.

Each year, I dutifully check all the lights before I string them. I ensure that all the bulbs are lit and screwed in tight, and then I carefully plan how the female/male ends will meet around the tree so that I can plug them into the wiring of our 90-year-old house without causing a blackout in the neighborhood.

Earlier that morning, I checked and rechecked all the strands of lights and tossed those with missing bulbs. Then I carefully began to string them around our Fraser Fir. I love a well-lit, sparkling tree, so I painstakingly wove the lights around every branch of the evergreen, humming happily to myself as I did so.

After what seemed like forever, I finally reached the bottom of the tree. All I had to do was plug them into the wall outlet, and I could admire my twinkling tree while I set up the gingerbread village and decorated the rest of the house.

I reached over, plugged in the strand and … suffering son of a Santa! Only half of the tree was lit!

Discouraged but far from disgruntled, I checked all connections, and everything appeared to be in order. I rechecked the tiny bulbs, figuring one had come loose and shorted out a strand, but I couldn't find the culprit. There was only one thing to do: remove all the lights and restring the tree.

I gently removed the stands from each branch so I wouldn't strip all the pine needles. Then I tossed the bad strands and restrung the tree with the existing lights. It would mean fewer lights, but at this point, I was dreadfully behind schedule and couldn't wait to see my tree lit. I reached the bottom, plugged the lights in and... candy cane chaos! Only about half of the strands were lit again.

By this point, I wanted to strangle the damn tree, but I was on a mission. I decided all new lights were in order, so I drove to the nearest department store and bought several strands. By the time I returned home, it was nearly time for the kiddos to return from school. I knew I'd better work on another Christmas project for sanity's sake.

To heck with the tree! I would decorate the fireplace instead. I grabbed an armful of thick garlands and attempted several times to drape them from my fireplace with the tiny hooks I had so carefully installed underneath the mantle. Unfortunately, the garlands were in cahoots with the lights and wouldn't cooperate, either. The clock was ticking, and I was still standing in a mess of Christmas boxes in the living room. Desperate times call for desperate measures, friends. After 30 minutes of stuffing, twisting, weaving and wrestling the garlands, I turned to the redneck staple: duct tape. Yes, that's right. If my father can reattach the driver's side mirror to his truck with duct tape, then by gosh, I can use the tape to decorate for Christmas. Jesus understands.

Once the garland was secured under the mantle with half a roll of tape, I hoisted a giant wreath I had bedecked in ribbons and Christmas ornaments and hung it from a hook over the fireplace. As I stood back to admire my handiwork, the heavy wreath -- no doubt encouraged by the vengeful tree and garlands - somehow jumped off the wall and landed on my head. I think I heard the tree snicker, but maybe that was the result of my minor concussion.

At this point, I plopped myself down in the middle of the boxes, the garlands, the tape and the stands of lights and cried. That's how my children found me.

Bless their dear little hearts. Maybe they were only trying to get on Santa's good side, but they encouraged me to continue decorating the tree with their help. With my sweet elves, I found the strength to string the lights for the third time. When I reached the bottom of the tree, we all held our breath while I reached over to plug them in… Glory, Glory Hallelujah! The lights worked! The tree was lit at long last!

My Christmas spirit once again restored, I encouraged the children to decorate the evergreen with all of their favorite family ornaments. Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra crooned classic carols while the kids chose the ideal spots on the tree for little Santa Claus ornaments, icicles and snowflakes. Before long, the tree was full of our treasures, and all I had to do was place the traditional angel on top to complete it.

I pulled up a ladder and cautiously placed the angel in her rightful place. Then I climbed down, and we all stood back to admire our tree.

"Oooooooh," my son said.

"Ahhhhhh," my daughter said.


The tree was leaning precariously toward us. It couldn't… It wouldn't….

Sure enough, the entire tree came crashing down, scattering ornaments all over the living room.

As the children stood in shock, I grabbed my purse and headed to the nearest liquor store. At the end of the night, I wasn't so much filled with the Christmas spirit as I was wine. And plenty of it.

In honor of The Day Christmas Hated Me, I reworked the lyrics to the classic Christmas carol, O Christmas Tree. They are best enjoyed with a glass of wine -- and professional Christmas decorators:

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
Do you exist -- to torment me?
I picked you out
To bring me glee
Instead you bring-eth misery
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
Where the hell's my wine glass?

I strung the lights, that wouldn't glow
Three times it took
You mock me so
This is really ma-king Christmas blow
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
Where the hell's my wine glass?

When finally lit, you stood so tall
The last ornament
Would finish it all …
SON OF A &%$#! Did my tree just fall?
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
Where the hell's my wine glass?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Simply Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a day of thankfulness, and I am grateful for so many things. Of course, in the broadest sense, I am deeply appreciative of my family, my friends, my health, my home, my country and my faith.

But I am also grateful for the little things.

I am not wealthy and never have been. I'm not a collector of shiny toys and the latest gadgets or gizmos. Like many people, I know the frustration of living paycheck to paycheck, as well as the worry of making ends meet if those paychecks cease. I also know what it is like to face challenges in life and to overcome deep hurts and hardships.

Yet I consider myself immensely fortunate. Regardless of life's trials and tribulations, I can find joy in its simplest pleasures. In my world, little things have always been … everything.

My grandmother taught me that joy was everywhere. While walking me around her yard to show off new blooms on her miniature roses or point out the mother robin's antics that made her laugh, she shared a valuable lesson and a wonderful gift. I am so grateful.

Oh, how I delighted in simple joys as a child: the exquisite sensation of wind rushing into my face as I pedaled furiously down the street on my baby-blue Schwinn; the roughness of bark under my hands as I climbed our backyard tree to the tippy-top branches; the delicious satisfaction of barely making it to the front porch "home base" during a dusk game of tag with the neighborhood kids.

During the warm summer nights of childhood, I loved lying on the kitchen floor. With my back pressed against the cool linoleum, I watched my mother as she scurried back and forth from the stove to the fridge, making supper for her four unruly children. If I was very, very lucky, my father would burst in to spin her around the kitchen in an impromptu dance, making us all giggle.

When the holiday season rolled around each year, I savored the smell of turkey roasting in the oven all day and was humbled by leading my family in prayer as we gathered around the dining room table.

After Thanksgiving, I relished that wonderful-terrible wait until Christmas. How giddy I would be when we traipsed downtown to purchase a fresh tree from the local Optimist Club's lot. After we decorated it, I would sleep under the branches that first night. Lying on a pallet of blankets, I inhaled its pine fragrance and watched the twinkling lights until my eyes grew heavy and Santa-filled dreams carried me away.

As I grew older and gained more responsibilities, it was harder to find those simple pleasures, but they were always there if I only took the time to look. The magic of winter's first snow still awed me, as did the sight of jonquils breaking through the cold ground in early spring.

When I became a mother, my life was further enriched by the simple delights only children can bring. Is there anything more precious than the feel of a child's small hand in your own? Or the way the back of their necks smell when they are fresh from the tub? Or how you can, on occasion, see the "baby" in their faces as they sleep, no matter how much they have grown?

Children make life more complicated, but exquisitely so.

I am grateful for the adorable freckles scattered across my son's nose and the compassion in his snaggletooth smile; the intelligence and warmth in my daughter's beautiful, almond eyes; and the goodnight hugs and kisses both children insist upon, even as they grow too old to allow public displays of affection.

Some of life's grandest moments are indeed the simplest ones.

When my first child was born, my husband and I were young and living away from family. The first 12 weeks of her life were a blur of feedings, diapers and anxious nights, and we were exhausted and overwhelmed. In our desire to become the best mommy and daddy, we had forgotten our roles as husband and wife.

But one rainy, unseasonably warm Saturday night in March, our three-month old baby girl finally fell asleep on her own in her crib. The windows were open so we could hear the rain, and James Taylor played softly on the radio.

My husband surprised me when he asked me to dance, and as I nestled my cheek against his neck, we swayed back and forth as Mr. Taylor crooned, "How sweet it is to be loved by you." When the song ended, we continued to dance to the melody of the rain. It was one of the simplest, sweetest nights of my life, and I am thankful for it.

Life will always toss hurdles and obstacles our way, but it is our fault if we allow those shadows to shroud the sun. Today, in addition to the obvious, I am grateful for the backyard roses that are blooming well into November and the aroma of freshly ground, French-roasted coffee. I am thankful for holiday well-wishes from friends, the sweet, old dog curled up faithfully at my feet and my mom's laughter when she called this morning.

Happiness is all around us, if we take the time to find it.

Perhaps time is life's most precious gift of all.

Despite the hustle and bustle and demands of a busy life, I am thankful I have taken the time to sit on my front porch swing and savor a cup of coffee while wrens chirp their morning songs. I am thankful that I dig my hands into moist spring soil and plant seedlings, knowing the labor today will pay off tomorrow with blooms and fruit. I relish the moments I take to dance and play with my children despite dishes in the sink and errands to be run.

I am thankful for the time I take to write my life, so I can reflect and be … grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. I am thankful for you. May all of life's simple pleasures surprise and delight you today and always.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Twilight, Ticks and Terrifying Turkeys

Unless you have been living under a rock -- in a cave -- on another planet -- in a different galaxy -- you know that countless tweens, teens and cougars fed their vampire addiction this weekend with the opening of "New Moon", the second movie in the incredibly popular Twilight series.

Based on the books by Stephenie Meyer, "New Moon" follows the love triangle of emo heroine Bella, hot werewolf Jacob and hotter vampire Edward Cullen. Despite abysmal reviews by the critics, the movie boasted a record $72.7 million on its opening day. Even my 66-year-old mother elbowed teen-age girls out of the way to see the film Friday, but she's a wee bit perverted (now you know where I get it).

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times dissed the movie, giving it only one star and further insulting Twilight fans by misspelling Stephenie Meyer's name throughout his critique. (It's spelled with an "e", not an "a", Mr. EbArt.)

In his review, Ebert panned the scenes featuring werewolf Jake and the rest of his pack, saying they "…are mostly seen in long shot, shirtless in the rain, hanging around the edges of the clearing as if hoping to dash in and pick off some fresh meat."

My goodness, he says that like wet, buff, shirtless, hungry men are a bad thing!

What Ebert and other reviewers don't get is that Twilight movies are not about the movies. Yes, the acting makes a third-grade play for the PTO seems like Broadway material and the plot holes make Jennifer Lopez's ass look small by comparison.

But we don't camp outside the theaters for the film. That's like saying we wear Edward Cullen panties for their 60/40 cotton-poly blend.

Twilight devotees love the movies because they are extensions of the books and the emotions the stories evoke. And by "emotions", I clearly mean "unadulterated lust for young, hot, immortal men who say all the right things and never get beer bellies or belch in public."

On those points, dear reviewers, the movies deliver.

I'd tell the critics to "bite me," but I'm saving that line for Edward.



The sounds of fall in Kentucky: leaves crinkling underfoot, wood crackling in the fireplace and shotguns blasting through the countryside.

Hunting season is upon us again, so I've been privy to numerous photos of friends dressed in camouflage and proudly hoisting up dead deer with their tongues hanging out (err, the deer, not the hunters -- in most cases).

The photos bring back horrific childhood memories of inviting home friends from school, only to discover a skinned buck hanging upside down from the backyard tree or rabbit carcasses floating in our kitchen sink. Needless to say, I often had a difficult time convincing girlfriends to come over in the fall.

My father is an avid outdoorsman and a hunter, so I understand that hunting helps control the animal population and that most hunters eat what they kill (though I'll never forgive my parents for telling me that the rabbit on my plate was fried chicken. I don't care how much sawmill gravy they put on that sucker, some things don't taste like chicken).

I also realize that hunters have a deep appreciation for nature and are some of our greatest conservationists. But it's not for me.

Because I had been traumatized by the "Bambi" movie as a child, I refused to hunt animals with my father or enthusiastically support his hobby; to his credit, however, he never let that stop him from trying to instill his love of the outdoors or the thrill of the hunt in me. So he'd ditch the guns and take my siblings and me mushroom hunting.

I loved traipsing through the woods with my dad, brown grocery bag in hand, searching the moist terrain for the perfect morel mushrooms. It was like a treasure hunt, and I'll never forget the joy of circling an old elm to find a cluster of mushrooms at its base. I'd call triumphantly to my Dad, heckle my siblings and harvest my find. I loved it!

What I didn't love, however, was standing over the toilet when we came home and letting Mom pluck ticks from my head. If you spend an afternoon in Kentucky woods, you likely will pick up a tick or ten. And my long, brown hair apparently was tick heaven. It was hot tick real estate, and they quickly set up condominiums on my scalp.

I'll always remember peering nervously into the toilet bowl while Mom took the tweezers to yet another tick embedded in my head. The disgusting little bloodsuckers would squirm helplessly in the water as Mom urged me to "hold still". I still shudder when I think about it.

I recently shared this story with a friend, who like my dad, loves the hunt and the great outdoors. He told me he, too, had to endure the dreaded tick checks as a child. He distinctly recalled one terrible afternoon when he was eight:

"I came home from playing tag after dinner and went to the bathroom to check myself for ticks," he said. "To my horror, I found one on my, uh, scrotum."

Frantic, he began to pull, yank and wrench, in an effort to dislodge the tick, which refused to budge from his most sensitive parts. After trying for 30 minutes to remove the tick himself, the mortified boy called for his father.

"Dad came in and asked why I was crying," my friend said. "I told him, 'I got a tick...down there!!'"

Concerned, his father told him to relax and to let him see the tick. Embarrassed, the youth obliged his dad.

"I remember the laughter seeming really odd," he said, "And then, with a big smile, Dad told me I'm gonna' have a hard time pulling that mole off my bean bag.

"They took me to get glasses one week later."


Terrible Turkeys

I'm trying to decide if my little boy is immensely creative, slightly warped, or like his mother, a combination of the two.

Thanksgiving is fast-approaching, and I was thrilled to attend a special Thanksgiving lunch at school with my first-grader last week. While waiting for our feast, parents were encouraged to peruse the halls and view the work of their children, displayed on the walls.

My child's class has been writing fall and Thanksgiving stories, and I was anxious to read the words of my little guy, who has a great passion for reading and storytelling. Students were asked to complete two stories: One story began with "My scarecrow came to life and…"; the other started, "If I were a turkey, I would…"

I couldn't help but notice a group of parents were gathered around a couple of the stories, whispering and shaking their heads. Some looked impressed; others appeared mortified.

As I made my way down the hall, I read my son's classmates' stories. Most were sweet, simple tales, like "My scarecrow came to life and told me a funny story. He was my friend." Or "If I were a turkey, I would get up off the table and watch T.V. all day with my new family."

I kept looking for my boy's stories, and eventually discovered his works were the ones collecting a crowd. Like any proud Mama, I declared, "Oh! Those are written by my son!" only to be met with raised eyebrows and a few wary stares.

The crowd parted, and I noticed that my son had illustrated his turkey story with little people who had "X"es where their eyes should be. Hmmmm. I moved forward and read his words: "If I were a turkey, I would hunt people on Thanksgiving and eat them as my revenge. I would dress up in people clothes, so they would never know I was a turkey. Then I would show up for their dinners and gobble them up."

Parents watched for my reaction, so I laughed nervously and said, "Oh. He's a vegetarian. And VERY creative."

They merely pointed to his scarecrow story. Anxiously, I read his tale: "My scarecrow came to life and opened its mouth. Saliva drooled from its sharp teeth. It ripped through the hay and attacked me and my sister. Thankfully, our dog attacked it, leaving nothing but slime and hay. But not before it ate my sister."

"Well," I said to the other parents, "On the bright side, you have to admit his vocabulary is impressive for a first-grader, and his strong verb usage is remarkable!"

My son is a happy, fun-loving boy. And no, he's not allowed to watch violent movies, play video games that aren't rated for his age or read junk, which leads me to surmise that I might be raising a little Stephen King, Richard Matheson or Dean Koontz. Or, okay, yes -- perhaps a Unabomber.

Give a kid a library card, and it's a crapshoot.

Sure, we had to eat at a table by ourselves because the other parents were afraid of us, but I'm immensely proud of my wonderful, bright, imaginative boy, and I will continue to encourage his creativity. Just to be safe, though, I'm not serving turkey for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

There's a Group for That

Today I say, "Thank you, Facebook."

You have brought me new friends and reconnected me with old ones. You have given me an outlet for annoying people on a daily basis and posting thousands of obnoxious photos of my children. You have nearly completed my collection of old boyfriends and taught me how to use the self-timer on the camera so I can take my own profile pics. But most importantly, you are the ultimate tool for a procrastinator extraordinaire.

In my ongoing effort to put off writing, cooking sensible meals for my children (Hello? That's why God made PopTarts) or cleaning the house, I spent an entire morning perusing Facebook groups and fan pages for my own amusement. I am not immature, but I had a fantastic time typing words like "buttcrack" into the search engine to see what would pop up in Facebook Land.

The following are 10 of my favorites:

1. What Do Bacon Do?

According to its information, this group formed to "build a better world through laughter and bacon." Since I dig both giggles and pork, this one makes me extremely happy. The group encourages members to order stuffed bacon felt characters from a website (as we all know, few things are cuddlier than bacon) take photos of the googly-eyed bacon bits in odd situations and then upload those photos for the amusement of all, so bacon fans can see, well, "what bacon do."

My favorite posted photo features bacon going on a bender, but bacon stealing your kidney was a close second. Oh , the things bacon do! Naughty, naughty bacon.

Please do not confuse What Do Bacon Do? with the groups, What Would Kevin Bacon Do? or So What Do Canadians Call Bacon? Those groups stand on their own merit.

2. LOL is Not a Word and Punctuation Mark Faces are Still Not Funny

The founder of this group writes, "I can't bear it any longer. I have the utmost contempt for idiots who litter their sentences with 'lol' and make those utterly shit faces using punctuation marks." Of course, he lives in England, so this is understood.

I have to admit that I was not big on lols or punctuation faces for a long time, but I assimilated and learned that, annoying or not, they serve important purposes on Facebook.

For instance, those little punctuation faces have power! A friend and I recently discussed how this little fella', ;) , allows you to say ANYTHING and get away with it. Amazing!

For instance, "You are a total douche." is insulting and offensive. But "You are a total douche ;) " is hilarious.

And what if you don't have the time or energy to write a witty response to a hysterical update, but you still need your Facebook friend to know you care? In that case, lol is an acceptable substitute for a comment and considerably less finger effort than typing "hahahahahahahahahaha."

Think of lols as little Facebook hugs. That being said, I certainly don’t trust people who lol all the time. They've obviously been on a bender with the bacon.

3. Facebook Needs a Who Gives A Shit Button

I would join this group, but frankly, I don't give a shit.

4. Don't Wear Sandals if Your Feet are Jacked Up

I love this group almost as much as I love the group, I Don't Care How Comfortable Crocs Are, You Look Like a Dumbass.

Few things are worse than people putting their stank feet on display in sandals or flip flops. I'd honestly rather see your buttcrack. Is there a group for that? (In fact, there is! Buttcrack Awareness has 88 members dedicated to making you aware of your butt cleavage.)

5. Not Catching on Fire

At one point, this was a huge fan page with thousands of fans (it even offered t-shirts and aprons featuring the group logo), but apparently people who actually caught on fire were offended and the page was shut down. Some die-hard fans of not catching on fire apparently are trying to bring it back. We can all learn a lesson here: do not underestimate the passion of people who do not want to catch on fire.

6. Masturbation

This ode to taking matters into one's own hands has only 7,426 fans, yet there are more than 300 million Facebook users. I believe at least a few of you haven't owned up.

7. Gary Coleman is Fun-Sized

That's what I'm talkin' about, Willis. I'd like to carry little Gary around in my pocket, next to my felt bacon buddies.

Amazingly, there are 317 Facebook groups and/or fan pages dedicated to the deliciously delightful Gary Coleman. You can join Gary Coleman for President; Gary Coleman is a God; Gary Coleman is a Legend; Team Pimp Gary Coleman; and Get Gary Coleman Laid.

By comparison, there are only two Facebook groups in honor of Emmanuel Lewis, and they don't even use words like "pimp" or "boobs" in their titles. In your face, Webster!

8. Eric is Hotter Than Bill. Deal With It

Trueblood. Vampire Eric. Enough said, or group six will have 7,427 fans.

9. (my personal favorite) An Arbitrary Number of People Demanding that Some Sort of Action Be Taken

Be warned: we are 139,412 members strong, and we demand something be done about something sometime.

10. Apologies if you found my list offensive; however, 1,085,272 Facebook users are fans of Being A Smart Ass, so I'm in excellent company.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's DY-NO-MITE, y'all!

Ahhhh... what a beautiful morning here on the porch. Few things kick off a Sunday better than gorgeous fall sunshine, fresh-brewed coffee, a waiting newspaper and - oh yeah - a massive explosion.

That's right. I don't like to brag, but I began my day with one hell of a KABOOM.

(No, no. Not that kind of kaboom. Much to my husband's dismay, my definition of myself as a "morning person" only stretches so far.)

This KABOOM took place on the downtown riverfront, where the fair city I call home demolished a hotel as part of a riverfront revitalization project. The implosion was the best redneck event in this town since two portly fellas in wifebeaters beat the crap out of each other at the annual barbecue festival. That was fun. But I digress...

Now, I might have been born and raised in Kentucky, but that doesn't mean I'm not a sophisticated woman. I put my napkin on my lap in finer restaurants (e.g. Bob Evans); I hold my pinkie out when I drink a beverage (e.g. Bud Light long-neck); and I enjoy classical music (e.g. Kenny Chesney).

So I pondered whether or not I should rouse my family early this morning to watch a building implode; however, since I'm the same girl who relished using firecrackers to blow up toy Army men with the neighborhood boys as a child, it wasn't much of a debate.

We rolled out of bed and ventured downtown, where half the community was gathered on top of local buildings to watch the action. I don't want to name names, but some of us were still in our pajamas.

My clan parked in a local parking garage and scrambled to the roof to meet friends. We barely made it to the top with hundreds of other gawkers before we heard the final countdown, followed by an earsplitting explosion. The parking garage shook, a huge dust cloud billowed and the hotel a few blocks away came tumbling down. We hillbillies hooted and hollered and thrust our kids up on our shoulders for a better view. It was ... spectacular.

In fact, it was so awesome that I couldn't resist taunting a good friend of mine who has camped out all weekend with his family at the Texas Motor Speedway infield for a NASCAR event. I bragged that I was a hardcore redneck mama who had dragged her family out of bed to watch an explosion. I felt certain I had trumped his redneck ways.

His response:

That is truly redneck! But, darlin', unless today you brushed your teeth in the front yard, did your morning pee in a port-o-potty, kicked the beer cans under the trailer 'cause the trash can is full, woke your son up from the truck he was sleeping in and told him that he could go sleep in the trailer now that everyone is awake, checked the batteries in your scanner, put breakfast on the smoker, or filled up the frozen margarita machine, you gots a ways to go. But I do appreciate your aspirations!

Dammit! I was so close. And here I thought starting my day with dynamite would put me over the top. Ah, well. At least I scored extra points by wearing my pajamas in public.

*Special thanks to Jeniffer Eberhard Black, a fellow redneck mama extraordinaire, for the use of the photo.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

And now I alienate you...

I'm afraid I've contracted a terrible "dis"ease this week. I feel disconnected, discombobulated, disenfranchised, disheartened, disillusioned and dischickiswhackedout (just seeing if you were paying attention).

Maybe the time change early in the week threw off my biorhythm, as I'm not one for the shorter days of late fall and winter. Or perhaps I need to stop eating so many BBQ Fritos and chasing them down with handfuls of caramel candy corn, but who are we kidding? That's so not going to happen. It was hard enough not licking my children's discarded Halloween candy wrappers (as far as you know, I didn't).

Whatever the case, today's entry also will be a bit disconnected. But you're my friends, or at least you play them on my blog. You'll love me anyway, right? I'll assume you all nodded vigorously because that makes me feel good and buttery inside.

So here are my random thoughts du jour. Please don't be offended. I'm an ignorant Kentucky woman who ingests too much polysorbate 60.


I was picking up one of my kids from school earlier this week, when a woman pulled into the car line with a huge "We'll always love you, Nana! RIP!" decal on her Jeep's rear window.

I can't go anywhere these days without seeing decal tributes to the dearly departed on vehicles, and it's a trend I don't understand. I assume it began when Dale Earnhardt died. Suddenly every other Southerner had a "#3" sticker on his or her truck, but I can't blame NASCAR for everything I don't like (although I'm sure they had something to do with Miley Cyrus. I haven't figured out the connection just yet, but I will).

Anyway, I wrote a little jingle about memorial decals. You can sing it to the tune of your favorite country song. I think it works with ... all of them. And if you have one of these decals on your vehicle, please don't run over me in retaliation. I'm just desperate for blog material.

Sticker Shock

Memorial decals
are a disturbing new trend
For rednecks to pay tribute
To dearly departed friends.

Don't get me wrong, folks
I'm sorry your loved one died
But do you need to note it
With a sticker on your ride?

Splashed across rear windows
In Wal-Mart's parking lot
Are lots of creepy decals
That grieving people bought.

Of course I want sweet Nana
to forever Rest In Peace
But must you memorialize her
On your Chevy Caprice?

I get why you do it
Losing friends is a bummer
But Bubba Johnson won't live on
Cause of a sticker on your Hummer.

We all grieve differently
There is little doubt
But when your truck becomes a tombstone
That kind of creeps me out.

So please, when my time comes
And Death draws his sword
Don't put my name on a sticker
And slap it on your Ford.


Speaking of vehicles ...

I was walking my dog recently, when a car slowed down and the male driver honked at me. Or maybe he was afraid my dog was too close to the road. Or maybe his 1982 Dodge Omni malfunctioned.

Regardless, I'll take it!

In my younger days, I would have considered such behavior offensive, sexist and highly inappropriate. But now that I'm closing in on 40, it kind of makes my day (Oops. I just lost the feminists).

Funny how our perspective changes through the years.

For instance, from my perspective, I didn't see the college girl in short shorts jogging behind me when the dude honked.

And I didn't mean to trip her as she passed me. Honest.


I have now offended NASCAR followers, feminists and Miley Cyrus in the same post, and that's not easy.

My work here is done.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

More Wine, Please

Dinner's in the oven.
The children are in bed.
Yes, I ironed your shirts.
Yes, I bought some bread.
I washed a load of towels.
Cleaned out the fridge.
Fixed your favorite pie.
Here, have another smidge.
Jackson skinned his elbow.
I kissed it, made it better.
Emma made an 'A' in math.
Got a sticker said "Great Effort."
You're up for a raise again?
How nice, dear. I'm so proud.
You don't like my new perfume?
Of course it's much too loud.
Stop. I'll get those dishes.
You go on to bed.
I'll join you in a while.
I know. You feel half dead.
See you in the morning.
Good night, love you, too.
Yes, I'm an angel.
Scoot. I've work to do.
Wash the last few dishes.
Sneak a glass of wine.
Wipe the kitchen counter.
Scrub it 'til it shines.
Fix the kids' school lunches.
Cut off Jackson's crusts.
Shit. Forgot about his field trip.
Sometimes, it's just too much.
Dust off the mantel.
A photo's in my way.
You never said I was beautiful
On our wedding day.
But that doesn't matter.
I've laundry yet to do.
Just one more glass of wine.
One more, to make it through.

© 1995 by Jennifer Jenkins Reese

(Thanks, friends and followers, for allowing me to indulge in melodramatic poetry occasionally. It does my soul good. Besides, I like to keep you guessing. Just when you thought you had me figured out...)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

B-B-B-Bats in the Belfry!

My family is having meetings about my "mental state".
Word has it, Dad has called my siblings expressing deep concern for my well-being, and my sister has not-so-subtly suggested anti-anxiety medication and legally removed me from the list of people who would care for her children in the event of her demise.
My mother now calls to check on me daily: "Everything okay, sweetheart? Are you having a good day?" Even worse, my seven-year-old son is illustrating his feelings about me in drawings that would make a therapist cringe, and my 12-year-old daughter is telling her friends they can't come over because "Mom needs quiet and rest."
Psssssshhhhh. They're overreacting.
Just because I had one panicked phone exchange with my sister, locked my children in a bedroom with stern instructions for them to stay in it "no matter what you may hear" and startled my parents by opening the front door to greet them on an unseasonably warm afternoon wearing a toboggan and snow suit while brandishing a broom and whimpering that I was going to die... well, that's no reason to be overly alarmed.
What happened to me could happen to anyone (excluding rational, calm and psychologically healthy populations).
Folks, I was attacked by a horrifying chimney critter!


My ordeal began one late summer evening, as I was relaxing on the back porch. My quiet time was interrupted when my children ran out the door, panic-stricken, yammering about "noises" in the living room.
"Mom!" they cried. "There's... s-s-something in the fireplace!"
"It's probably nothing," I assured them, but the fear in their eyes urged me to go inside and inspect.
I quietly approached the living room fireplace, which has a partially open damper near the bottom and a flue at the top. The flue had broken during an ice storm last winter, so I realized it was entirely possible something had indeed found its way into our chimney, which was not capped.
As the children stood anxiously beside me, I put my ear to the fireplace and listened intently, but I didn't hear anything. I tapped on the hearth and listened again. Nothing.
"We heard it. There was scratching and weird chirping in there," my son said.
"There really was, Mom," my daughter echoed. "I heard scratching, too."
I reassured them that the noise most likely was birds on top of the chimney -- not in it -- but I did ask my spouse to retrieve some cardboard from the recycling bins in the basement to seal off the damper at the chimney's bottom, just to be safe. If something had made a home in our chimney, I didn't want it to find its way into the house through our open fireplace. He laughed and said he didn't think any critters would come into the house, but I stuffed the large piece of cardboard up into the bottom of the chimney anyway. Convinced it was secure, I told the children that nothing was coming in through the fireplace and they could rest easy.
Rest easy we did … for a while.
But then the bite marks appeared.


About a week after the children had heard the mysterious fireplace noises, I woke up one morning and threw back the sheets to discover two tiny red holes about three centimeters apart on the inside of my thigh. I hadn't noticed them when I went to bed the night before. Concerned, I roused my husband and said, "What do you think this is?"
He looked for a minute and jokingly said, "A vampire bite?"
At this point, I should tell you that I am a huge fan of the new wave of vampire stories. I relished the Twilight books and had recently discovered and thoroughly enjoyed the campy HBO vampire series, "Trueblood". I often joked that I was leaving my bedroom window open at night with the hope that Edward Cullen would find his way inside and give me a nibble or two.
So I laughed at my spouse's remark for a second, but then I remembered the odd chirping and scratching my children had heard in the fireplace the week before. My giggle caught in my throat. My heart began to pound. I jumped out of bed, raced into the living room and looked up into the chimney. Sure enough, the cardboard I had shoved into the damper was loose and displaced. It also was covered with debris that had fallen from the chimney when -- gulp -- some critter had inspected the fireplace.
My hands began to shake. Only then did I notice that my daughter had traipsed downstairs during the night and was asleep on the living room couch, completely uncovered.
"Oh, no!" I moaned.
I rushed over to her, jerked her off the couch and immediately began to inspect every square inch of her body for potential bat bites or scratches.
"What?" she said, now fully awake and obviously alarmed by her mother, who was standing in the living room without pants and a serious case of bed head, and pulling her off the couch. "What in the world are you doing, Mom? What's going on?"
My concerned spouse also came in at this point and asked why I was tormenting our daughter.
With shaky hands, I pointed to the fireplace.
"The cardboard… it was displaced. It looks like something came in from the chimney," I said. "You were only joking about the bite marks, but what if it was a…b-b-b-bat? What if a bat bit me last night?!"
My daughter and husband both looked at me for a second then burst into giggles. "A bat?" Kelsey said. "Mom? Have you lost it?"
My husband couldn't stop laughing. "Jen,it wasn't a bat!" he said. "You probably have a spider bite."
But all I could think about were the news articles I had read about people who had died from the bites of rabid bats. I remembered one story in particular about a bat that had flown in through an open bedroom window and bitten a young man while he slept. He sadly died a few weeks later from rabies.
Therefore, I insisted my husband call a chimney sweep that very morning to inspect our chimney and repair our broken flue. I also carefully screened both children for any critter marks and launched a thorough search of our big, old home that unfortunately, has plenty of nooks and crannies that could house a wayward bat...


Thank goodness, the children were mark-free, and we didn't find any evidence of a bat in the house; however, I was still concerned enough to tell my sister, who is a nurse, about the marks on my thigh at a family gathering later that day. I also told her about the strange noises in the fireplace and the displaced cardboard seal.
My sister is a rational person and a great nurse. On hearing my plight, she said, "Do you really think a crazed, rabid bat came into your home, flew into your bedroom, found its way under the blanket and sheets and bit your thigh, without waking you up?!"
"It's possible, isn't it?" I said.
She couldn't resist sharing my fear with the rest of my family, who immediately began to laugh and give me grief about my obsession with Edward Cullen and vampires. My brother ribbed me by saying, "Jen, you said the marks are on your inner thigh? Face it, sister. No bat is THAT freakin' desperate."
But when my sister inspected the odd marks at my mother's house that afternoon, she couldn't explain them and asked my mom for a magnifying glass. Soon several family members were looking at the tiny puncture marks on my thigh through the glass and shaking their heads. My sister finally said, "I honestly don't know WHAT that is. I agree that it is very strange, but it could be spider bites. Put hydrocortisone and antibiotic ointment on it, and let's watch it for a few days and see what happens. "
Great. Let's allow the rabies to fester. My siblings never liked me that much, anyway.
See, if you are bitten by a rabid creature, you only have a very brief window to begin the rabies shot series before the disease takes hold of your body. I learned this the previous summer, when my nephew was attacked by a stray dog authorities were unable to locate. As a result, he had to endure rabies shots. I shared this concern with my sister, who informed me that no doctor would put me through the somewhat risky rabies series without proof that a bat had indeed been in my house.
I tried to rest easy, but I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to me if they were wrong.


In the meantime, my husband called in a chimney sweep, who supposedly inspected our chimney and repaired our broken flue; however, he instructed us to leave the flue open for two days,so the mortar seal holding it in place could dry. Because the chimney was still open, I replaced the cardboard at the bottom of the damper.
Still nervous about the open flue, I inspected the cardboard every day to make sure it had not been disturbed. It appeared fine. And before my husband went out of town on a work-related trip, I asked him if he closed the flue, as instructed. "Oh yeah," he said, as he walked out the door. "I closed it."
"Did you make sure there wasn't anything in the chimney before you closed it?" I asked.
"Ummm, yeah. Sure, I did that," he said, and off he went, dropping my makeshift cardboard damper in the trash before he took off.


Whew! I finally felt I could relax. The mysterious marks on my thigh appeared to be healing fine; I wasn't foaming at the mouth; and our chimney was repaired and closed. Ahhhhhh. It felt good to unwind. In fact, later that afternoon, when the kids were engrossed in a game and miraculously not fighting, I grabbed a good book and curled up in bed. Our cat, Cleo, always looking for an excuse to nap, soon joined me.
I was just about to put my book down and drift into a nice siesta when Cleo suddenly jumped up from her nap and began to growl, low and deep in her throat. Then I heard what sounded like scratching in the living room. I thought I had imagined it, until our dog, Freddie, began barking like mad. Cleo's ears perked up, and every muscle in her feline body tensed. She sprang off the bed and took off through the house like a bullet.
Oh, no, I thought, as I sat up in bed. Something is wrong here -- terribly, horribly wrong. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I watched goose bumps pop out on my arms. Over the barks from the dog and the growls from the cat, I heard … unmistakable flapping.
I wanted to throw the blankets over my head and hide in bed, but I remembered that my children also were in the rear of the home and my husband was out of town. Whatever was in my house, I would have to be the one to deal with it.


My mothering instincts urged me from the bed, and I ran down the hall to see what had my pets in such a twitter. Freddie was standing at the opening to the laundry room barking like crazy, while Cleo fought something behind the dryer. Much to my horror, a black, pointy wing suddenly appeared from underneath the appliance.
No! No! No! No! No! It couldn't be! I was right all along. There was a bat IN MY HOUSE. And my cat had it trapped under the dryer. And, oh yeah, I was going to die from rabies. But I wouldn’t let the rabid bat get my children. They would live, dammit!
I immediately ran into the family room, grabbed my kids and screamed for them to run into Kyle's bedroom and shut the door. Alarmed by the look on my face, they didn't hesitate. "It's okay," I tried to assure them, but the tears streaming down my face said otherwise. "There is a bat in the laundry room, and…"
My daughter screamed bloody murder, which made my son scream, too. "I'm going to get the bat," I said. "I have to trap it. Stay in here, and do not come out -- no matter what you hear. Do NOT open this door until I tell you it's okay."
"Call 911," my daughter urged. "Mom, please, don't do this!"
"Call the fire department!" my son yelled, as I shut the door, just in time to see my cat, with the awful black beast in her mouth, run into my bedroom. I rushed down the hall and closed my bedroom door, trapping the cat and her prey inside.


I was shaking like a Kentucky meth addict who had run out of Sudafed.
Think! I told myself. Calm down and think!
I knew I had to trap the creature somehow and preserve it. Since I had a bite, the bat would have to be inspected for rabies.
Extremely unnerved, I ran into the laundry room, where the dog was sniffing behind the dryer.
"Some help you were!" I muttered to Freddie, as he wagged his tail at me and grinned, apparently unconcerned. "You let the cat do all the dirty work!"
I suddenly realized I was dressed in only a t-shirt and shorts. If I was going to trap the bat, I needed to cover my body and protect myself from additional bites or scratches. I couldn't get into my bedroom for my clothes, so I had to find coverings in other parts of the house. That left the clothes in the dryer and the coat closet.
I opened the dryer and found a pair of pajamas, which I immediately whipped on over my clothes. I also found some long socks and pulled those over my bare feet. I saw the broom leaning against the laundry room wall and grabbed it. It was my weapon.
I was covered, but not enough. Bat fangs and claws could probably penetrate thin, summer-weight pajamas. I ripped open the coat closet door and started pulling out everything I could find. I grabbed a fleece sock cap and put that on and wrestled myself into ski bibs. And I needed that coat, too. And gloves! I needed gloves! I tore through the closet, emptying its contents into the hall until I found two gloves that would suffice (non-matching, of course, as gloves apparently run off with odd socks).
By the time I was finished in the coat closet, I resembled the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
Body armor? Check. Broom weapon? Check.
But I also needed something to put the bat in once I had it. I shuffled to the kitchen as fast as my clothes, pajamas, ski bibs and coat allowed and opened the Tupperware cabinet. I immediately began pulling out all of my Tupperware, as I searched frantically for matching lids. Containers and lids were flying out of the cabinet and clamoring all over the kitchen floor, prompting my kids to scream and cry, "What's happening, Mom? Are you alright?"
Not sure I was okay at all, I cried back, "Mommy's fine! Mommy's fine! Stay where you are, guys! Don't open the door until Mommy has the bat! Mommy's fine! Mommy's fine!" (I hoped that if I said I was "fine" often enough, I might eventually begin to believe it. But in reality, I was already picturing my slow, painful, tragic demise from rabies).
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally found a piece of Tupperware and a matching lid that I hoped would hold the bat. Armed with the broom , I slowly, cautiously made my way down the hall toward my closed bedroom door. I stopped and put my gloved hand on the doorknob, but before I opened the door, I pressed my ear to it to listen…


The phone rang and I'm pretty sure I peed my pants a little, not that I could tell through the many layers of clothing.
I hopped back down the hall and picked the phone up from the desk. It was my sister. Upon hearing her say "Jenny?" I immediately burst into hysterics.
"Oh my God! Oh my God!" I cried, my words running together in my panic. "ItWASabat!It was a rabid bat! It's in my bedroom and Cleo has it and I'm going to die! I'm going to die from rabies. I TOLD you it was a bat. I told you. No one believed me, and now it's too late for the shots and I'm going to die!"
My sister tried to calm me down. She would have had better luck convincing Elisabeth Hasselbeck to French kiss Rosie O'Donnell on national T.V.
"Jenny, did you actually see the bat?"
"Yes," I whimpered. "It was in the laundry room and now Cleo has carried it into the bedroom. I shut the door."
"Okay," she said. "Let's think this through. You can't smush the bat. The lab will need its head intact for rabies testing."
I wailed, prompting the kids to begin screaming again.
"It's okay, babies," I sobbed. "Mommy is fine. Just fi-i-i-iiinnnnne!"
About that time, the doorbell rang. I figured the neighbors had heard our screams and headed over to make sure we were alive. I set the phone down on the table and swung open the front door to find my parents smiling. Their smile quickly disappeared when they saw my tear-streaked, pale face. They took in my appearance on a hot afternoon: fleece hat, jacket, ski bibs, broom and Tupperware container.
"What the hell?!" Dad said. He and Mom had been in town having lunch and had decided to drop by to say hello. That'll teach 'em to do pop-ins. My appearance nearly gave them heart attacks. They later told me they first thought someone had died, but they couldn’t figure out why that would make me dress up in a snowsuit and grab a broom.
I burst into a new round of tears and got the folks up to speed: I told them about the bat in my bedroom and how I was going to die from rabies. My dad assured me he was going to trap the bat and asked for a towel. He then grabbed my broom and headed for the bedroom.
"WAIT!" I cried, just as he was about to open the door, "You need to cover your exposed skin!" I ran back to the coat closet and grabbed a fleece jacket, a hat and another pair of mismatched gloves.
My mom heard the frightened kids crying in my son's bedroom and said she was going in to comfort them, but really, I think she was just trying to protect herself from the rabid bat.
Once my dad was covered from head to toe, I repeated my sister's instructions about preserving the bat's head. Then we opened my bedroom door. Brave soul that I am, I cowered behind my 71-year-old father. We didn't see anything, but we heard the cat growling under the bed.
"Careful," I whispered to my father. "Pleeease be careful!"
Dad crossed the room and kneeled down beside the bed and peaked under it, prompting my startled cat to take off down the hall. Dad looked up over the bed at me. "I see it," he said somberly. "I see the bat. I think it's dead. Hand me the broom."
Shaking, I gave my father the broom, and he proceeded to sweep the creature out from under the bed. He asked for the Tupperware.
"Dad, it might not be dead!" I warned, as I handed the container to him over the bed, unable to see the creature on the other side. "Don't take any chances!"
He assured me the bat was dead, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I heard him snap the Tupperware lid closed.
"I've got the bat," he said. "I have it. It's dead."


I ran from the room and tore open the door to my son's bedroom. "Granddad got the bat!" I yelled triumphantly. "You're safe!" I embraced them, as my dad came down the hall with the beast safely enclosed in Tupperware.
Then reality hit me.
I had a bat, and I had a bite.
I told my parents we needed to find out where to send the bat for testing. I said I should call the health department, and I wondered if a doctor would now begin the rabies series on me … or if it was too late.
My mom looked stricken by my words. And then my Dad shook the Tupperware container and proceeded to open the lid.
"What are you doing ?" I said, thinking of the ending of every horror flick I'd ever seen. "Don't do that! What if the bat isn't really dead? What if it was only stunned or playing dead, and it gets out?"
My dad ignored me, lifted the lid and peered into the container. He looked up at me and smiled.
"Jenny," he said. "This is not a bat. It's a … bird!"
Say what?
"It's a little chimney swift, from the looks of it. They're black with pointy wings, so it looked like a bat, but it's just a bird!"
Come again?
About that time, we heard laughter -- hysterical, maniacal laughter. It was coming from the phone. In my haste to answer the door, I had set the phone down without hanging up on my sister first. She had been listening to the entire event unfold over her cell phone. In fact, she was on her way over to the house, afraid my dad would have a heart attack induced by his younger daughter's panic and she would have to perform CPR.
I picked up the phone.
"Don't laugh," I said. "There's a poor dead bird sitting in Tupperware on my buffet. It's not funny," but even as I said the words, I, too, erupted into peals of relieved laughter. Mom and Dad were doubled up laughing, and at last convinced that their mother wasn't going to die, the kids began to giggle, too. We laughed until tears streamed down our faces and our sides ached.
"I guess I don’t have bats after all," I said to my sister, when we finally caught our breath.
"Oh, you have bats alright!" my sister declared, from her end of the phone. "Bats in your damn belfry!"


That might be true, but until my husband returned from his trip, I wasn't taking any chances. As soon as my parents left, I shoved several layers of cardboard into the damper, covered the opening of the fireplace with another layer of cardboard, topped that with a vinyl shower curtain, and secured the entire thing with a roll of painter's tape until a wildlife specialist could humanely remove any other chimney critters and cap our chimney once and for all.
I might have bats in my belfry. But by gosh, I wasn't going to have any in my house!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pass the Cornbread, Ya'll

As fall settles upon us, I find myself thinking more and more of my grandmother, Gladys McCalvin Greenfield, who would have turned 91 this week.

The nights are cooler, so I sleep under the heavy butterfly quilt she stitched by hand. The garden needs to be put to bed for winter, so I work the soil with her garden tools. And as the days get shorter and darker, I crave comfort food -- the kind my grandmother so lovingly prepared for her family every weekend.

I lost my grandmother in 2003, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss her. I would give anything to once again sit at the maple kitchen table in her cozy, warm kitchen, and fill my plate with pinto beans, potatoes, green beans, corn, macaroni and cheese and her delicious buttery cornbread.

To keep my grandmother in my life, I have tried to prepare all of her "special" foods, the ones that remind me most of her. I'm no chef, but through trial and error, I've learned to bake homemade pies and biscuits and prepare her savory vegetable soup and country vegetables. I miss all of her treats, but I miss her cornbread most of all...and that's how the following essay was born.


(c) 2007 By Jennifer Jenkins Reese

My grandmother was dying.

She had been slipping away from us the past few years, each ragged breath one closer to her last as she wearily battled chronic emphysema and congestive heart failure. Age and disease had shrunk her from a statuesque, silver-topped Southern queen, to the skeleton on the hospital bed before me.

Her hair, once coiffed weekly at Poggy's Beauty Salon, blew in thin, white wisps about her from the fan on the bedrail. Her face­--not unlike mine with deep-set eyes and sharp angles--was covered with an oxygen mask, the mechanically produced air pumping into failing lungs.

Her hands, so strong they could open a sealed Mason jar with half a twist, shook as they tried to find mine. I clasped her long, bone-thin fingers between my palms and gently rubbed them back and forth, back and forth.

Though baby-soft now, her hands were "working hands", every wrinkle marking a groove worn in the road of life. These were the hands that labored on a farm in the hills of Appalachia to raise younger siblings after losing both parents when she was only 11. Hands that survived the Great Depression and great wars. Hands that toiled for 32 years in a hosiery mill, stretching cotton into socks. Hands that buried two husbands, one in the dawn of her life, the other in the dusk. Hands that comforted children, grandchildren, great, and even great-great grandbabies. Hands that could grow anything in a pile of dirt and made legendary cornbread, biscuits and banana pudding.

Hands I could have held forever.

I needed to tell my grandmother how deeply she had impacted my life, how childhood memories of her little gray brick house comforted me on sleepless nights.

On my two-hour drive to the hospital, I braced myself for this farewell. I would tell her she was part of me--the part that found joy in simple pleasures, like fresh-baked bread, a robin's nest and azalea blooms.

But as I looked at her, seemingly transparent on the sterile white sheets, words were lost.

Her "story", The Bold and the Beautiful, played on the TV above me. A nurse entered the room, white shoes squeaking, and adjusted IVs. My mom, so weary from long days in the hospital, patiently removed an oxygen mask to apply balm to my grandmother's lips. I watched silently as the lines between mother and child blurred.

I glanced at the clock above the bed and wished it away. I needed to go soon, to return to my husband and young children in a town miles away, but I couldn't find the strength to approach the hospital door: to open it would close a part of my life forever.

My grandmother sensed my apprehension. We only half-heartedly joked that there was a psychic, visceral connection between the women of my family. Mom Greenfield, who had an uncanny ability to read minds and forecast the future from dreams, was raised in the mountains to believe in the signs. If her nose itched, company was coming. If the woolly worms were black, a hard winter was in store. If she dreamed of water, or if a bird tapped at the window, death was close at hand.

In past weeks, I had dreamed of my grandmother, standing with my late grandfather, by a moss-green lake, gazing longingly at the water. As she struggled for breath now in the hospital, I searched for the words to tell her it was all right to go to the cool, green pool that beckoned her.

Instead, all I could say was seemingly menial: "I've always wished I could make cornbread like you."

Surprisingly, my grandmother waved off her oxygen mask and spoke for the first time since I'd entered the room, her voice so hoarse I leaned in to catch her words.

"A cup and a half of cornmeal, the white kind," she said.

I wasn't sure I'd heard her correctly, but she continued.

"One egg slightly beaten, and stir in about two tablespoons of flour."

I motioned frantically for my mother to fetch a pen and paper.

"I put a good teaspoon of sugar in there, too," my grandmother said, smiling ever so slightly as she revealed her secret. "Get your oven good and hot and melt you a big spoonful of Crisco in an old iron skillet."

Mom and I looked at each other in disbelief as I took notes on the back of a deposit slip fished from her purse. In this, the final moments of her life, my grandmother was sharing her cornbread recipe.

Golden, buttery, perfectly crisp on the edge and moist in the middle, Mom Greenfield's cornbread was heaven in a skillet. A staple in her kitchen, it was served with every meal.

Family members tried for years to get her recipe but gave up in exasperation, as she'd shrewdly guard it with phrases like "Oh, I just put in a bit of this and a tad of that." She kept her recipe close to her heart, rising at dawn to make the bread (partly to have it ready when someone arrived, but mostly to keep her ingredients hidden.)

My grandmother's food was her lure. We were drawn to her house to visit, sure, but also to eat. Soup beans. Stewed potatoes. Macaroni and cheese. The sweet chocolate and pecan confection my Papaw had dubbed "honey squirrel cake." And cornbread. Oh, sweet Jesus, the cornbread.

I blinked back tears as Mom Greenfield continued to tell me--each breath a chore--how much buttermilk she used and how she poured melted shortening into her batter just before baking.

My grandmother wasn't the most demonstrative woman emotionally. She grew up in hard times, when food on the table was a great blessing, a gift. So she celebrated her family by cooking. If you loved chocolate meringue pies, and she had one cooling on her counter when you arrived, it said everything.

She couldn't have told me more now if she'd quoted great philosophers. Cornmeal, Crisco, and cast-iron skillets were all I needed to know.

At last, finished with her recipe and out-of-breath, Mom Greenfield motioned for her oxygen mask and leaned back against the pillow, exhausted. Her eyes sought mine, and they spoke volumes. I clutched the deposit slip with the scribbled ingredients tightly in my palm. It was my treasure.

I took Mom Greenfield's hand, kissed her forehead, told her I loved her.

I promised to bake her cornbread and serve it often.

And I found the strength to walk out the door.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Happy Dance!

Just wanted to post a quick note to thank those who are following my blog. Your support means the world to me. In fact, I do a little happy dance each time I get a new follower or an encouraging comment (so I probably should go apologize to the neighbors for not keeping my blinds closed more often).

Anyway, thank you for joining me on the porch. I'll try not to disappoint.

There's always a spot on the swing for you!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Balloon Boy Ain't Got Nothin' on a Jenkins Kid

Like millions around the world yesterday, I sat in front of the television transfixed by news reports that a six-year-old boy was aloft in a giant mylar balloon. As the mother of a boy about the same age, I held my breath, praying fervently for the boy's safety as the balloon zipped across the sky and rose to alarming altitudes. I desperately hoped it was all a big misunderstanding and little Falcon Heene was nowhere near the helium-filled balloon, which looked like a hybrid of Jiffy Pop popcorn and a UFO. Thankfully, millions of collective prayers were answered when we learned the boy was never aboard the run-away craft, but safe and sound the entire time, hiding in his parents' attic.

It remains to be seen if the stunt was all a hoax by attention-seeking parents. Regardless, the boy is safe. That is a blessing.

But I dare say -- if the balloon scenario had played out in 1976 in my parents' backyard -- it might have been a different story altogether...

You see, I grew up the third of four children. Being smaller, younger and easily bribed with snack cakes and ice cream sandwiches, my little brother and I often were the guinea pigs of my older brother and sister and their "experiments." After the stunts they pulled on us in the 1970s, it is a miracle we are alive and well today ("well" being up for debate).

One of the older siblings' favorite pastimes was inventing ways to test the hardiness, bone density, skull thickness and lung capacity of the younger siblings. No, no. Of course they didn't see at as such. I don't think they were ever out to kill us or even do us bodily harm, though I could have sworn I once heard them debating who would get my Big Wheel if I didn't survive being repeatedly pushed down the stairs in a box.

That's right. The "box down the stairs" game was a regular occurrence in the Jenkins house throughout the mid seventies -- so much so that I would shudder when my folks brought home new appliances. New appliances meant new boxes. And new boxes meant fresh tumbles down the stairs.

Here's how it worked:

The older siblings would ask for the box, which my parents were more than happy to part with, as it would keep their four children occupied on a Friday night while they popped open a bottle of wine and watched "Dallas."

My sister and brother would then line the box with pillows and hoist it to the top of the stairs, where they would arm themselves with duct tape and call for me and my little brother. Once we arrived, they would attempt to persuade us to get into the box.

Now, we were not stupid kids. Not really. We always protested at first, but the older kids knew our weakness: namely, sugar.

Yummy, sugar-coated, chocolate, cream-filled anythings are hard to come by when you're one of six. Mom would make the weekly trip to the grocery, unpack a box of Little Debbie or Hostess cakes, and before you could say "Chocodile", they would be devoured. The Jenkins kids were on sugar faster than a vulture on roadkill. Occasionally, Mom tried to hide the treats, but we could smell them. (If a child had disappeared back in those days with a candy bar in his pocket, officials should have called in the Jenkins kids. If he was within six states, I think we could have tracked the scent.)

Somehow, the older kids always knew how to find the hidden treats (it wasn't unusual to find a cupcake or fruit pie wrapper hidden in the trash in the bathroom, the only truly private place in our house). But occasionally, they would exercise tremendous restraint and save goodies to bribe us into playing their games.

After we climbed the stairs and adamantly refused to climb into the box, one of them would say, "Did you look inside the box? Did you see what is in there?"

Hesitantly, we'd peek over the edge. Inside, propped on pillows, we'd see a Hostess yum-yum of some sort. Oh, delicious, chocolate, cream-filled cupcake! I'd swear to this day the treats were bathed in heavenly light and accompanied by a chorus of angels.

"Get in the box, we'll tape you up, and you can have the cupcake. Mom won't be going to the grocery for another week! This one can be allllll yours," they'd insist. "Just. Get. In. The. Box."

Let me see: Our lives? Or a cupcake? Really, there was no decision to be made. Into the box we'd go.

Immediately, the older kids would close the box flaps and begin to secure them with duct tape. Over the ripping of the tape, we'd hear things like, "Be sure to put your head between your knees!" or "You might want to cover yourself with that pillow!" Next thing you know, from the dark confines of the box, we'd hear a count: "And a three... two... one...BLAST OFF!" and down we'd go, tumbling end over end -- badum/badum/badum/badum/ -- all the way down the 17 stairs.

At that point, one of the older siblings would scream, "YES!" There would be hooting and hollering and high-fiving, as we waited to be released from the death trap. Once released, we'd shake it off, thankful to be alive but mostly grateful for the cupcake we were about to devour.

It was worth it.

There were other experiments, too -- like the time the siblings used a garden hose to construct a makeshift pulley up to the carport roof. They tied a stick to one end of the hose, looped it over something they'd nailed to the edge of the roof, and suggested I sit on the stick. I would put one leg on each side of the hose, while they pulled the other end of the hose and hoisted me up to the roof.

I noticed that they didn't build the pulley along the grassy side of the carport, where I would have stood a chance of surviving should the contraption fail in its inaugural launch. Oh, no. That wouldn't have had the danger factor that building it over the concrete patio had. My older siblings might have been a lot of things, but they weren't afraid of a little risk.

I balked, of course, and refused to be their guinea pig. That's when they showed me the box of Little Debbie Fudge Rounds at the top of the carport. Happy Birthday to me! Onto the stick-hose pulley I went! Really, it was kind of fun, seeing as how I lived and got to eat chocolate cakes on top of the carport and all.

I think they told me I could get back to the ground safely by taking an umbrella and leaping off of the roof. As long as you say "Geronimo!", they insisted, "You won't get hurt." Turns out, they were right!

So imagine if my siblings had constructed a giant mylar balloon, attached a little basket to the bottom of it and filled it with Chocodiles.

Unlike little Falcon Heene, who had the good sense to hide in his attic, I would probably still be up there, somewhere....

Face it. Balloon Boy ain't got nothin' on a Jenkins kid. Or maybe his parents don't buy the good snack cakes.