A Valentine’s Day massacre to call our own

Nothing sucks away the Valentine’s Day spirit like Valentine’s Day. This probably holds true in all situations, but it is especially evident when you have children in elementary school.

Valentine’s Day means school parties, which means preparing a bunch of those little waxed ticket Valentine’s cards.

Most public grade school classes contain twenty-some-odd students, making it perfectly natural that the cards come in boxes of 16. If you search hard, you may be able to scrounge up a box of 32 cards, but the prizes (and they need to have prizes now) are not as good.

power ranger valentines

A 32 count box of valentines – more precious than gold.

The boxes I unearthed came with temporary tattoos and glow-in-the-dark stickers. These were not on the lollipop level, but gradeschoolers need additional sugar even less than they need tattoos.

Having limited the number of boxes to buy, and spared dozens of children’s parents from the effects of an added sugar rush, I thought I’d won Valentine’s Day.

I had not.

This became apparent when it came time to prepare the cards. Big Brother was able to address his by himself, but he needed help fitting the tattoos into the little slots in the cards. Those little slits were difficult to find, and impossible to neatly slip the corners of tattoos squares into. It would have been so much easier to ram a lollipop stick through there. Valentine fail #1.

Buster’s cards were worse. With his unconfident penmanship, he could not make his pencil write dark enough on the waxy paper. I gave him a pen that writes smoothly on wax. Valentine fail #2. The pen also smears smoothly on wax. I dictated the spellings of the names of his classmates to him while he wrote the letters and promptly smeared them as he moved his hand across the paper.

We used the extra cards to replace the worst monstrosities. Having learned our lesson, we let the ink dry and folded them so he could write his name without touching the recipient’s name. Then it was time to attach the glow-in-the dark stickers.

More tiny slits! Valentine fail #3. The stickers were harder to fit into the slits than the tattoos were, especially when attempting to do it without touching the ink already on the card.


can you find a tiny slit?

Somewhere on this card are slits for sliding a sticker into. Good luck!

Finally, we were ready to fold up the cards and seal them with the little sticker hearts universal to these kits. We’d just fold the names up inside and not worry about smearing anymore. Valentine fail #4.  We got a good way through this process when it occurred to me that with names folded inside, Buster wouldn’t know who each card was for.


Did you guess right? Congratulations! Only 23 more to go!

This must be a common mistake, because there are about four hearts for every card in the set. We ripped the hearts off the cards, folded them the other way, so Buster could try to interpret the smeared names on them, put them into a baggie, and tossed them in his school bag with the last of my Valentine’s spirit.


Mashed potatoes, gravy, and the power of of suggestion

If you’ve ever had to feed kids, you know a story just like this one.

For Sunday dinner I made the boys roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy. I went to the extra trouble to make the gravy from scratch because store-bought gravy is always likely to turn at least one of them against me.

History said I should have an easy time selling this meal. There aren’t many meals that somebody won’t complain about, but this one should have been in that small set they all could live with.

Except History can be turned upside down by a seemingly innocuous event.

While I was mashing the potatoes, I added some cheese, like I do every time. Big Brother happened through the kitchen and saw this. The sight left him aghast. Apparently, he has never seen me mashing potatoes before.

“Ewww! You’re putting cheese in the potatoes! That’s gross!”

I explained that all the mashed potatoes he’s ever eaten had cheese in them. I was not convincing. These potatoes were tainted. Little did I know, it was not only the potatoes.

Buster had overheard the cheese kerfuffle, but not necessarily the specifics of it. After the first taste of his gravy, he grimaced. “This gravy tastes like it has cheese in it!”

For the record, I did not, nor do I ever, put cheese in the gravy. Also for the record, these kids love cheese.

I reassured him there was no cheese in his gravy, but my words were futile against the evidence provided by his discriminating tongue and suggestible subconscious.

cheese gravy

Better dump a lot of gravy on to drown out the cheese in those potatoes – unless the gravy is made from cheese. (Photo: Russell Lee/U.S. Farm Security Administration)

Dinner proved to be a struggle, with only Big Man willingly eating his food, because he didn’t care if it had cheese as long as it tasted good.

On Monday, I gave us all a break and fed them grilled cheese sandwiches. Nobody complained about the cheese.

We still had leftover roast and potatoes to eat and by Tuesday I was up for another try. As I was warming it, Buster made a skeptical request to taste the gravy so he could go to full Battle Stations by the time I put his food in front of him.

He took a tiny taste and proclaimed. “This tastes like it doesn’t have any more cheese in it.”

Thank goodness for our cheese-absorbing fridge.

Big Brother overheard. “There’s not any cheese in this one?” he asked, meaning the leftover potatoes.

“No,” I replied, not really lying, because the conversation was actually about the gravy.

Nobody complained. Half way through dinner, Big Brother declared: “I would rate this food five stars.”

“What about last time you had it?” I asked, wondering if I should hug him or put him in a head lock.

“Not even one star. Half a star.”

I guess my dinners get better with age. Maybe it takes time for all that nasty cheese to settle out.


After years of writing, I finally have a story to die for

If you’ve visited before, you may know that I have self-published a few books. When you self-publish enough books, you get noticed. Some authors get noticed by readers, but I find that I get noticed much more often by aggressive marketers, trying to sell me their publishing platforms. These platforms usually come at a high price for very little useful platform, so I disregard the advertisements.

When this marketing piece appeared in my mailbox, I assumed it was from a fly-by-night, vanity press that had bought my name from a mailing list in the hope I possess three important characteristics:

  1. I am ignorant of publishing scams.
  2. I harbor dreams of penning the autobiography of my quietly fascinating life.
  3. I do not know what the word fascinating means.

Before tossing the piece into the recycle bin, I turned it over to make note of the name of the publishing company trying to take advantage of my feeble-minded sense of self-importance.

That’s when it hit me. Publishing companies, even the shady ones, don’t have Memory Gardens in their names nearly so much as cemeteries do.

I am not being recruited by a shady publisher, but by a shady plot in a peaceful meadow. They’re not trying to sell me a two-bit book layout for my memoirs; they’re trying to sell me a hole to bury my carcass.

This is disturbing, because nowadays these marketers know more about you than you do. Last year, AARP was all over my 50th birthday like flies on sheet cake. What does Memory Gardens know about me that puts me on the same prospect list with Great Depression Babies? Should I take heart that it’s addressed to me OR whomever took up residence in my death trap of a home after my demise?

I guess the best thing is to find the humor in it, of which there is plenty. I do enjoy the Resolutions theme: A new year is a time for resolutions. Why don’t you resolve to die this year?

I also like the appeal to the control freak: By planning your final arrangements in advance, you can still tell everybody what to do even after you’re dead. After all, you wouldn’t want them to grieve in any way but the one that suits your departed ego.

But the best laugh is reserved for the smallest print:

“Our sincerest condolences if this was received during a time of mourning.” In other words, “We hope we’re not too late, but if the next of kin need to throw something together right away, we are such considerate people, and by the way, we still do have plots available.”

Having considered all this, I’ve decided I’m not writing my autobiography or resolving to die this year. I’m hoping to keep my story to myself for a while longer.


Don’t call me a hero. I’m just a guy who touched feet so future generations could live fuller lives.

The trouble with major research universities is somebody there is always trying to do research. All this intellectual curiosity can get annoying, but when you live in the shadow of the behemoth you get its shade cast upon you sometimes.

Most people can avoid getting caught in the net of the research study, but most people are not married to my wife. The only thing she likes more than making herself into a guinea pig for the discoveries of tomorrow is making her husband into a guinea pig for whatever human subject experimentation is going on today.

The latest thing she leapt to sign us up for is a study on reflexology. Reflexology, as it applies to us, is the application of pressure to the feet. As explained to us, different areas in the foot correspond to areas within the greater body, and by massaging these foot areas, relief can be applied to the rest of the body. Whether this is true, I don’t know, but I’m just a guinea pig; it’s not my job to draw conclusions.

We are just a couple of weeks into our study, but I have already learned two important things. I learned how to, in my amateurish way, apply reflexology pressure to feet. I also learned, although I probably already had this info tucked somewhere in the back of my mind, that I am in no danger of ever contracting a foot fetish.

Why can’t feet stay this cute and soft, with Piggies who still say “Wee, wee, wee!” all the way home?

It turns out I’m not so high on feet.

My training began with getting reflexology applied to my own feet, which was fine, but I’d just as soon have a back rub. Next, I had to work on the feet of somebody I’d just met. I don’t even really like to hug people I just met, so whipping out the foot lube and going to town all over their little piggies was a tad unsettling.

But I got through it.

You’re welcome, Science.

Now, I just have to manhandle my wife’s feet on a regular basis. Though I dearly love all of her appendages, I have to say, there are other parts of her where I would more enthusiastically plant the flag of scientific enlightenment.

I’m just not into feet. I don’t even care for my own feet. Yes, they are extremely useful to me in my everyday doings, but they are not cute or cuddly, or even gritty handsome in a backwoods kind of way. My feet are homely workhorses, which is why I grew them as far from my eyes as I could.

The only pair of feet I can truly say I love to touch are those soft, pudgy, still babylike ones at the ground end of Big Man. They have yet to develop the harsh gangliness of his older brothers’ feet. For a year or two more, his feet will be a pleasure to touch.

Too bad he’s not signed up for the reflexology study.