@#!$% Cold Hands, Warm Heart

tauntaun_Blog_1_9_2014There is one thing my husband dreads more than anything in the middle of winter.  No, it isn’t the toothy weatherman forecasting fifteen inches of snow.  It isn’t the doofus trying to text while driving over black ice.  It isn’t the Swiss Miss Twerking a packet of cocoa.

Far more deadly than that. 

Innocently, I attempt to show affection in the morning by hugging him.

“Gah!  Get those away from me!” he nearly shrieks. 

My icy hands.

Although my fingers barely touch his bare back, he rears as if an ice shard dropped from a mountain top.

My writer friend, husband and I have joked that the current grip of arctic air reminds us of the Star Wars’ Planet Hoth. 

My husband tried to saddle our dog and ride him like a Tauntaun, but fortunately, I stopped him. 


I threatened him with my frosty feet.

Goodbye, Lovely Column

My grandmother had a knack for making hot cocoa.  She followed no particular recipe, shook out Hershey’s powder and sugar into a sauce pan, added milk, never resorted to measuring with teaspoons.  Yet, voila, the cocoa was rich and delicious and when she handed us a warm cup with a homemade biscuit, we kids were in heaven.

This morning is dreary and drizzly, and I wish I had a cup of her cocoa, a great big mug I could fuss over and savor.

For a moment, my thoughts drift elsewhere. About two weeks ago, a new editor informed me that the Pioneer Press would no longer feature my column.

Of course, I was disappointed, but then I considered how tough a climate it is for newspapers, how readership keeps dwindling for print venues. I read some insane statistic, that 2/3rds of retail book shelf space has vanished in the past 15 years. There are too many writers and too few readers, and it’s never been more competitive.

Five years ago, the odds were stacked against me ever landing a column. There were thousands of established mommy bloggers, many of whom touted they wore Erma’s crown. I admired Erma so much, but never felt I could fill her terrycloth house slippers. My writing struck a different note. I didn’t write like Erma or Dave, I was limited to a 350-word space and tried to fill it with humor and deeper thoughts. If I verged on pretense, I had my best critic, my mom, to set me straight, or had the eye-roll of my husband to keep everything in check.

So yes, it’s been an absolute privilege to write for the paper chain for the past five years. I received many lovely reader letters, and reported to a splendid editor, Jennifer, and her colleague, Matt S.

The humble column had become an endearing habit. Every week, I would send my sister a new Pioneer link for her to read the latest Van Mom missive. Last week, I couldn’t.

My sister said, “You know, whenever I had a rotten day, I knew I would read your column and feel a little better.”

I replied, “Oh, well, you’re my sister. Of course you’ll say that.”

“No, it’s true,” she said.  “I felt like I’d gotten a little break from the craziness and stress. I felt like I’d had a mug of cocoa.”


Thank you, Jennifer and the Pioneer Press, for this opportunity, and thank you so much, all my readers, for taking the time to read my words.


Fifty Shades Away

Okay, laters, baby, here’s the ‘laters’ news — courtesy of a Time newsfeed and a Daily Mail article.  They’re rewriting literary classics and seasoning them with steamy erotica.  Jane Austen’s classics, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and will include sex and possibly bondage themes.

Rhett and Scarlett called me, worried sick.  I told them that this erotica craze will only apply to certain copyrights.  Oliver Twist is furious, said he could care less if his knickers or anyone else’s knickers are in a twist, no one’s rewriting his novel to include S&M.

I tried to reassure him, really I did.

As for the other thing, billionaires being under 30, sorry, Christian, but we all know that most millionaires do not resemble swoon-worthy Armie Hammer, they’re more Arm & Hammer.  We’re talking Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, railroad barons with handlebar moustaches. We’re talking Andy Rooney rants, Scrooge on a humbug, preoccupied men who wear their crotchety badges with pride. It takes time to amass millions and the self-made dude is usually in his 40’s when the serious dough starts to roll in.

Sure, there are exceptions. Facebook’s Zuckerberg may have made the history books but he is not the type to inspire fainting spells and women naming their babies after him. “If it’s a girl, we’re naming her Anastasia.  If it’s a boy, it’s… (sob)… either Zucker or Berg.”

Anyway, it got me to thinking about other characters who could undergo “50 Shades” makeovers.

Think of what real millionaires look like, and cringe right along with me.

The Beverly Hillbillies.
Wealthy financier and wheeler dealer Mr. Drysdale lures Ellie May into his spacious office, his Foreclosure Room of Pain. In an adjoining office, Miss Hathaway removes Jethro’s rope belt and improvises a ‘scene’ with an ergonomic chair and paper clips. Granny barges in with a sawed-off shotgun and rescues everyone, especially the viewers.

It’s a Wonderful Life.
Takes on a darker tone as Potter kidnaps Mary and has her handcuffed. He says he’s adding a special requirement under George’s life insurance policy and they negotiate “hard limits.”  Mary feared it involved a colonoscopy.

Wizard of Oz.

The Wizard tells Dorothy that behind the curtain, there is a great and powerful Oz who will spank her. Once she obtains the witch’s broom, he’ll do unholy things with the bristly bacteria-riddled thing. Dorothy shudders but figures she’s better off here than with the creepy flying monkeys.
Mister Magoo.
I’m world-building in Hanna-Barbera. He’s myopic, wealthy and unattached. He’s looking for a “sub” and we ain’t talking submarine sandwich. Wilma Flintstone threatened to sic a mammoth on him, so now he’s got his intense steel gaze fixed on Judy Jetson.


Latest columns: (1) how I embarrassed my teenage son by mispronoucing “Frappe” at a McDonald’s drive-through, and (2) a big HUH? as to why television commercials are deafening and the program isn’t.

A “Lampoon” Vacation

In our motel room, we stopped short of body cavity searching the kids for my husband’s missing credit card.

That was only the beginning of our summer vacation.

After several years, we could finally afford it, a dream destination blending history and adventure in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Fate had other plans.

The day after our arrival, my husband’s jaw throbbed. His filling disintegrated.  My youngest had an abscess. “Double in-dentistry.”

By day three, my oldest complained of a headache and had a raging fever.  A physician diagnosed strep throat and scarlet fever.

Post-penicillin, several days later, we staggered from the sick ward (motel room), and drove over to an amusement park, where the temperature spiked at 102 degrees.  Metallurgists, not meteorologists, predicted the heat would dissolve dashboards and smelt iron ore.

Sweating, we trudged through crowds, weakened by the contagion plaguing our family.  While at the carny section, my husband won a huge stuffed penguin for our youngest.  My son was thrilled, but all I could think was, how would we get this thing home?  It would not only scare the stewardesses, it could block a jump shot from Shaquille O’Neal.

Lugging the penguin around, (I even snapped the safety belt around it and asked if it preferred easy-listening music or rock), I drove the rental car to Fed-Ex, UPS and finally, to Pack & Send. 

The clerk weighed the penguin. “That’ll be sixty-four dollars, ma’am.”

“Bubble-wrapping my youngest child would cost less,” I retorted.  “I’ve gained three pounds from salt water taffy and you could ship me for less.”

She shrugged.

Our solution? Add luggage on the flight back.  My husband, the efficiency packer, could cram a week’s worth of clothes, shoes and toiletries into a suitcase the size of Barbie’s Corvette.  The airline said we could add another piece of luggage for free.  Whew.  Finally, a little luck.  At Target, I bought a mega suitcase for the penguin and reassured him that I’d pack him in ice. 

Later that night, we nursed nasty sunburns and bickered over the remote.  My husband watched the Weather Channel, seemingly fascinated by the forecast for Stuttgart, Germany.  The blond German anchor was pretty enough, I guess, flaunting Oktoberfest pigtails and yelling, “Und nien!”  The Stuttgart map was far preferable to the alternative, my friends — a double-action DVD he found on sale: Kelly’s Heroes and The Dirty Dozen. When he slipped Dozen into the DVD player, I almost climbed into the suitcase with the penguin.

Seven days into our vacation, around midnight, my youngest complained of a headache and fever.  Strep, strike two.

You’re thinking.  This crazy woman.  She’s making this up.  I wish I were.

After pasting on a Florence Nightingale smile and enduring Kelly’s Heroes AND a torturous third viewing of Dirty Dozen, I was ready to go home.  The penguin and I would hitch a ride. 

We dragged through the airport, kids and penguin in tow.  I scanned the cities on the ETA board.  Hurray, our flight back to Chicago was on time.

En route to Midway, however, the airline lost one of our bags. 

No.  Not the giant penguin.  He made it home. 

The luggage containing all our toiletries, medicines and a few vital organs – that went to San Diego.

My husband cracked, “Guess I can’t shave or shower for work.”

“Send the penguin instead,” I said.  “He’s tall and he’s wearing a tie.”

“But it’s business casual.”

“So?  He can wear your wrinkled Cuban shirt.  The Steve Wilkos one.”
Monday morning, back to the work grind, my husband was frantic.  Where were his car keys?  We ransacked luggage, plundered my purse, beamed a metal detector over Kirby, our dog.  The penguin insisted he hadn’t taken the car for a thrill ride.

Well, the keys were stuck in the front door, where my husband left them the night before.

You think I’m making this up.

I wish I were.


[This “Van Mom Strikes Again” column originally appeared on July 10, 2008 in the Pioneer Press]