A Resolution Solution!

My office.

Will I be able to work in an office without glass walls? It’ll be tough, but I’ll try!

A couple of weeks ago I posted my first ever list of New Year’s resolutions. I am pleased to report that one of those resolutions is resolved!

I will do something bold yet well-planned.

What is the bold thing? I quit my job. Beginning in February, I will earn income solely through freelance and independent writing projects.

How long did I plan this? About three years.

The reason? Because my wife’s and my Mid-Life Crisis Clocks serendipitously synced up.

Up to this point, Ellen had been working out of the house earning an excellent supplementary income as an SAT tutor. As for me, I wrote for and edited The Lawrenceville School’s alumni magazine, earning a good salary and getting medical benefits. For quite a long time this worked out just fine.

But my wife was, slowly but surely, going stir crazy. Once Alex began attending school, Ellen, a former high school English teacher, longed to return to the classroom.

She also hated, hated, HATED doing housework. This is because Ellen is normal.

I like doing housework because I am not normal. (OCD, for all its negative connotations, does create excellent house husbands.) But my day job and it’s long, long commute didn’t give me many opportunities during the workweek to help out much.

Also, my job, for all its frequent awesomeness (I got to interview, Peter Gould, a writer and director for Breaking Bad! Woo!) was beginning to wear me down. I had been there 11 years. I thought my work was getting stale. No one else noticed, but I did.

Furthermore, the job was keeping me from the children’s book writing thing. It was also keeping me from expanding my freelance clientele. And, more crushingly, it was keeping me from spending much time with my boy.

So Ellen and I talked. We made a plan. And we implemented it.

Ellen spent the last couple of years getting certified in middle school math. She is now employed full time at our town’s middle school.

Meanwhile, for the past couple of years, I have been cultivating contacts and clients. I will now work out of my home office.

This change is exciting, to say the least.

It will also now allow me to accomplish two more of my New Year’s resolutions:

I shall write early and often

and

I shall become a Laundry Master.

Here’s to new adventures in 2015!

 

A Bunpology

I’m in the middle of an unusually busy week, I’m afraid. My day job responsibilities and  freelance projects are getting in the way of a proper post.

I have also been called for jury duty, which isn’t helping matters much, either.

Long story short, I am a blogging deadbeat. To make it up to you, I have doodled an excellent picture of a very fuzzy bunny.

bunny (graded)

I know the doodle is excellent because my son gave it a very good grade.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go put it on the fridge.

 

 

Resolved: I Will Come Up With Resolutions

A solemn vow

A solemn vow

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I’m not even one for staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve (I was singing “Auld Lang Syne” to my pillow at 10:30, thank you very much). But something tells me that 2015 is going to be my year.

My problem is that something tells me this every year – and that something is rarely right. So I figured I’d throw in a little New Year’s resolution self-improvement to karmically sweeten the deal.

Let’s begin:

***

My first resolution is for my beloved wife.

Resolved: I shall neither form opinions nor comment on the opinions of others until I have finished at least one big mug of morning coffee.

It’s for the best.

***

Golf-wise, 2014 was a very good year for me. I don’t play golf, I fill my pockets with lost and/or abandoned golf balls from a nearby course. I now have 376 golf balls filling my office desk drawer. Also filled? My head – with questions like: “What on earth was I thinking?” and “What am I going to do with all of these stupid things?”

This is what 376 golf ball look like. If you want to see what a doofus looks like, check out the photo at the top of this blog.

This is what 376 golf balls look like. If you want to see what a doofus looks like, check out the photo at the top of this blog.

Resolved: I will get rid of my golf ball collection in a manner that is – at the very least – mildly amusing.

Suggestions are welcome.

***

Since I started this blog three years ago I have broken bread with five blog pals and met at least a dozen more. I am delighted to report that every single one of them was funny, charming and interesting. I am still a bit gobsmacked by this. Seriously, what are the odds? Maybe I’m tempting fate, but I want to meet more!

Resolved: I will meet more blog buddies in person.

In other words, if you reside in or visit New Jersey, New York City, or Eastern Pennsylvania, feel free to hit me up for coffee.

***

When I was in college, I earned a reputation as a skilled Laundry Fellow. One time when I was in the Laundromat folding a load of colors, a female classmate I had a nodding relationship with – let’s call her Liz – entered with her meathead boyfriend. She was there to do Mr. Meathead’s laundry for him. (Don’t even get me started.)

I nodded to Liz, as I usually did, and resumed my folding. After a few minutes, I realized that the laundromat was unusually silent. I looked up from my work to find both Liz and her meathead staring at me as if I was some kind of circus animal.

“I bet you iron, too,” Liz said with a contemptuous smile.

“Well, if you fold the clothes when they’re still warm,” I replied, “in many cases you don’t have to iron.”

It was at that moment I could see Mr. Meathead’s brain drawing conclusions about my sexual identity.

Since those days, my laundry muscles have atrophied. I still do loads without having to be asked, but washing my wife’s clothes have made things more complicated and intimidating. (Delicate cycles? Wha?) At times I feel like a babe in the laundry woods.

Resolved: I will become a Laundry Master.

***

Here’s the obligatory writing one:

Resolved: I shall write early and often.

I already sort of do this. But I plan to write earlier and often-er. And with more gusto. I also want to get my word counts up.

Rebekah, one of my blog pals, banged out 14,000 words in one day for NaNoWiMo. Let me say right here and now that I have no plans to challenge this record.

***

And the big finish:

Resolved: I will do something bold, yet well-planned.

I can’t do bold without my boldness being well-planned. And yes, I already have something planned. ‘Cause that’s the way I roll; I plan my planning!

So! What are some of your resolutions?

 

 

I Bear Sprout Recipes! And Gifts You May Actually Want!

A gift for you!

A gift for you!

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Brussels sprouts. Once the comments started rolling in, I was shocked and disappointed to learn that many of you voluntarily eat those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things.

But then my pal, Vanessa (who is one such Brussels sprout apologist) mentioned that there is an actual, honest-to-God scientific basis for why people hate or love sprouts. Sprout loving is apparently genetic. According to Vanessa, the world is almost evenly divided on the tastiness of sprouts.

So here is my holiday gift for 50% of you: The Thanksgiving Brussels sprout recipe that almost, but not quite, made me gag.

The Gift that keeps on giving (me nightmares). Click to see larger.)

The Gift that keeps on giving (me nightmares). Click to see larger.

You’re welcome!

As for the remaining 50% of you, go here.

***

And now, a holiday story:

When Christmas time rolls around, Ellen and I decorate the house as a team. Our conversation usually goes something like this:

***

ELLEN: That doesn’t go there.

MIKE: Yeah, I know. But it looks good there, doesn’t it?

ELLEN: That’s where the carolers go.

MIKE: Well, we can put the carolers over there. (Ellen scrunches up her nose.) They look good there! (Ellen accompanies her nose scrunch with a vigorous shaking of the head.) Oh, come on! They look better there than they do over here.

ELLEN: I don’t like it.

MIKE: Then how about we put them –

ELLEN: I don’t like it.

MIKE: I didn’t even say where I thought we could –

ELLEN: No.

***

So I put the carolers where Ellen wants until she leaves the house. Then I put the carolers wherever I want. She usually doesn’t notice this change until after the New Year, when we’re putting everything away.

That conversation goes something like this:

***

ELLEN: Oh! The carolers are in a different spot this year.

MIKE: (Feigning surprise.) Oh, yeah! But they look good there, though, don’t they?

ELLEN: Yeah, they do.

***

And that’s that.

This year, however, things went differently. Ellen got a new job that commands more of her spare time.

I smelled an opportunity. One night when she was out, I pulled Alex away from his Legos and announced that he and I would decorate the house ourselves.

“Let’s surprise mommy!” I said.

Since Alex is not my equal, the boy decorated the way I wanted him to decorate. When he wasn’t decorating — which was often — he was shooting the carolers with the ray gun that came with his Stormtrooper Halloween costume. Though this wasn’t exactly helpful, it was also not obstructionist, so I allowed it.

Long story short, it was the Daddy Decorating Show. No, the decorations were not all in their normal places, but most of them were, and the changes I made were, if I may say so, perfect.

I admired the results with the kind of smugness only found in an OCD person who gets everything just right.

But, then, much to my surprise, a wisp of fear crept up my spine. In an instant, my self-satisfaction vanished. Then my brain began to reprimand me.

“What did you just do?” it scolded. “Christmas decorating is a ‘together’ thing. And look what you did!

I looked at the festive room and shuddered.

My brain then started to get sanctimonious. “You selfishly took over the decorating task without Ellen’s consultation or approval! And you changed things around! You forced your decorating will upon the house! Is that the spirit of Christmas? Did Joseph decorate the stable without Mary’s input?”

“I don’t think Joseph decorated the stable at all,” I replied.

“Exactly!” my brain shot back.

I tried to protest. “Why didn’t you give me this speech when I was pulling the stupid boxes out of the attic?”

But my brain didn’t answer that one. Instead it said, “What will Ellen say?

I’d soon find out. At that moment, I heard a key turn in the front door. I braced myself for anything.

What I got — and what I was not expecting in a million years — was a dazzled gasp of joy.

“You decorated!” Ellen cried. “It’s beautiful!”

It turned out that Ellen was dreading the prospect of decorating the house. The new job was too tiring for her even think about it. And when she did think about it, it weighed on her.

In short, my opportunistic, anal-retentive instincts perfectly synced with her increased levels of holiday stress. My selfish act made me a knight in shining armor.

It was a Christmas miracle.

Then Ellen asked me a question: “How did you do all of this by yourself so quickly?”

My brain wanted to say, “Because I don’t argue with myself over where the stupid carolers should go.”

But instead I said, “Because I don’t argue with myself over where the stupid carolers should go.”

Gah! Man, I hate my brain.

But the remark was good for a laugh. Today was clearly my lucky day.

Ellen’s head swiveled around the room until she found what she was looking for. “Oh! The carolers are in a different spot this year,” she said.

“But they look good there, though, don’t they?” I asked.

“Yeah, they do.”

And then we hugged.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYBODY! 

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

A Rejection Acceptance

Savor the failure.

Savor the failure.

I am intimately acquainted with rejection. As I sometimes like to report, I received 114 rejections on various picture book manuscripts before I was given a contract for Sarah Gives Thanks. In the months since Sarah was published, I’ve gotten about a 100 more. Getting an agent earlier this year has also allowed me to get rejections from publishers that do not normally look at unrepresented manuscripts.

Long story short, I understand rejection quite well, thank you.

So, last year, when I learned that Cairn Press was seeking submissions for an anthology on rejection, I thought, “I need to get an essay in that book. I need to.”

And I did!

Blood on the Floor is a collection of fiction, poetry, and essays about writers trying (and often failing) to grab the brass ring. Sometimes funny, occasionally poignant, and always inspirational, Blood on the Floor is the perfect holiday gift for the scribe in your life. Get a copy now! Pair it with booze.

Christmas Contest!

Ho Ho Ho!

Ho Ho Ho!

When I heard that it was time for Susanna Hill’s Fourth Annual Holiday Contest two thoughts sprung to mind:

  1. YAY!
  2. Didn’t I just do the Halloween Contest? (Answer: Yes. Yes, I did.)

But that’s holidays for you; they like to creep up when you least expect ‘em.

So, between the decorating, the cards, the shopping, and all the extra work that makes me a Christmas crabbypants, I wrote a story!

And writing this story, I am pleased to say, made me a lot less crabby. So thank you, Susanna, for that much-needed dose of de-grinching. 

The contest rules are simple: In 350 words or fewer, write a story in which wild weather impacts the holidays. 

Enjoy!

 

A CARBON CHRISTMAS

Santa numbly stared at the enormous hole in the ice.

“Did everyone get out?” he asked.

“We’re all here,” an elf replied. “But the toys…”

Santa nodded. His beloved factory was deep underwater. All the toys were inside.

“I told you we needed to move,” Mrs. Claus sighed. “Haven’t you heard of Global Warming? Why would you build a factory on a glacier? And Christmas is just one week away!”

Santa nodded once again. One week wasn’t enough time to make new toys. He needed to get them from someone else.

 ***

“We’d love to help you, Mr. Claus!” said the chipper factory manager. His factory was a lovely place, filled with happy workers making excellent toys of all kinds. “Here’s the estimate!”

“Estimate?” Santa asked.

“Well, sure! We don’t give toys away. Making toys for millions of children costs 32 billion dollars.”

Santa coughed. “Could I maybe pay you in cookies?”

“Get out,” said the manager.

***

The second toy factory had much lower prices.

“Is that lead paint?” Santa asked.

“Just a little,” the man assured him.

“Are you putting broken toys in boxes?”

“Broken toys are cheaper!”

Santa walked away in disgust.

***

“It’s no use,” he told his elves. “We can’t make deliveries this year.”

He went on TV. Through his tears, Santa let the world know. Then he sadly steered his sleigh for home.

When he arrived, he found an enormous pile of boxes waiting for him.

“What are these?” he asked.

He pulled a note off one box. It read:

Dear Santa,

I was sad to hear you couldn’t make toys this year. So I took my allowance money and bought this one. Could you give it to somebody who’d like it?

Santa looked at the other notes. Every box was a gift for someone else. And more boxes were arriving by the second.

“It’s unbelievable!” Then Santa remembered how long his “Nice List” was and it didn’t seem so unbelievable anymore.

“We’re delivering toys!” Santa announced. The elves cheered.

“And, for the record,” he added. “We’re no longer giving out coal.”

I think I'll just give the bad kids underpants.

I think I’ll just give the bad kids underpants.

 

Sprout Story

Terrible, just terrible.

Terrible, just terrible.

Sometimes a person can just look at a food and know he’s going to hate it. I’ve had this gift my entire life. It’s sort of a Picky Eater ESP.

Unfortunately, my mom had a blind spot when it came to my sixth sense. She could never wrap her brain around the idea that horrible foods can telegraph their horribleness without ever having to come in contact with my mouth.

“How do you know you hate it if you’ve never tried it?” Mom asked me time and time again.

“I just do.”

“Well I just don’t,” she fired back.

Then she’d say, “Michael. Eat. Now.”

Once Mom started talking in one-word sentences, the discussion was over — if I knew what was good for me.

So I’d grit my teeth and fill my fork with the squash or the asparagus or the green beans or whatever else. As soon as the juices hit my tongue, my throat would shut down and set up detour signs.

“Oh, ya want ta get that outta your mouth, do ya?” my throat would ask with the brassy indifference of a New York Transit Authority employee. “Well, it’s goin’ out the way it come in, pal.”

Then the rest of my body would start to fail me. My tongue would quiver. My head would spin. My ears would sweat. The dry heave machine would switch on.

Sometimes, by sheer force of will, I’d be able to push the morsel past the esophageal gatekeeper, but not always.

“Michael? Did you just spit your squash into a napkin?” Mom asked, her eyes narrowing.

I couldn’t answer her immediately for I was too busy gargling orange juice. When I finally did respond, I found myself hung up on Mom’s choice of pronoun.

“It’s not my squash. Not anymore.”

When my parents forced me to eat a pre-hated food, I was never pleasantly surprised. Never in my life did I say, “Oh! That tasted better than I thought!”

It always tasted exactly as bad as I thought — and if it wasn’t exactly as bad, then it was worse.

Fortunately, Mom did not belong to the Clean Your Plate Club. She was a member of the Eat Three Bites And You Don’t Have To Eat It Anymore Club, which is just about as good as I could have hoped for in that particular parenting era.

Eventually Mom ran out of new horrible foods I had to eat three bites of. As a consequence, the number of times I turned beet red at the dinner table dwindled to zero.

Once this happened, a little something in my older sister died. Gina just loved to watch me gag on food. So, a few years ago, when she took over Thanksgiving responsibilities, she seemed to make it her mission to come up with at least one bewildering, un-Thanksgiving-y side dish that would make me go “Ew.”

“Will you join us for the artichoke course?” She’d ask me with a wide smile. (Not only was Gina serving artichokes — a certified Mike Allegra gag food — she dedicated an entire course to eating them.)

Fortunately I am a grown up. So, in the giving spirit of the holiday, I could tell her where she could stick her artichokes. Then everyone would laugh – with no one laughing harder than Gina.

This year Gina outdid herself. As usual, she put out an amazing Thanksgiving spread. And, as usual, there was a curious new side dish. In fact, Gina so eagerly anticipated the debut of this side dish, she felt the need to call me up the week before Thanksgiving to tell me about it.

“I’m making Brussels sprouts!” she announced.

“You gotta be kidding me.”

I had never tasted Brussels sprouts — Mom wouldn’t have ever dreamed of serving them — but I knew I hated them. I knew I hated them more that anything else in the world. I could tell. They were evil. It was obvious.

“No, Michael, listen,” Gina went on. “I don’t like Brussels sprouts either, but a few months ago I made this new Brussels sprouts recipe with honey and cranberries and, I swear to God, Michael, we fought for the last serving.”

“That is something,” I said.

“I swear to God,” she replied. “We fought over it. Swear to God.”

“That is something,” I repeated.

“Promise me you’ll try it.”

“No.”

“You gotta try it.”

“I don’t gotta.”

“You’re gonna love it.”

“I’m not gonna.”

Gina and I went back and forth like this for a little while longer before moving on to other, more pleasant, non-sprout-related matters.

After I hung up, I remained a bit unsettled by Gina’s call. This wasn’t Gina’s typical culinary abuse. This was a different Gina, one I hadn’t seen before. She really, sincerely, wanted me to give the sprouts a try. Not because she wanted to see me gag, but because she genuinely thought I might like them. I didn’t know what to make of this.

Gina crowed about the Brussels sprouts to other family members, too.

“Did you hear about the Brussels sprouts?” my Auntie Susie asked me a few days later when she called to wish me a happy birthday.

“Yeah,” I replied. “You gonna eat them?”

“I don’t like sprouts,” she said, “but I promised Gina I’d try them.”

“Well, I didn’t promise,” I said with smug defiance.

“She really swears by them. So who knows?” Auntie Susie always had a “Hey, why not?” quality to her, a trait both charming and — at times like these — irksome.

Gina had also persuaded my wife, Ellen, to give the sprouts a try. Ellen, unlike me, actually knew what Brussels sprouts tasted liked – and she hated them, so this was no small achievement. My parents also were willing to give the new side dish a go.

What is going on here? My brain bellowed. Why is the entire family thumbing their nose at common sense? When are these sheeple gonna wake up?

The night before Thanksgiving – and I swear I am not making this up – I dreamed about Brussels sprouts. I didn’t eat them in the dream, instead I dreamed that I refused to eat them. I sang my refusal to the melody of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

“But I stiiiiiiill will not eeeeeeeeat…

Your damn Brussells sprooooooouts…”

Clearly this sprout business had crept its way into my subconscious.

Thanksgiving arrived. Ellen, Alex and I watched the parade on TV and marveled at the ugliness of the Paddington Bear balloon.

“There should be a Sarah Hale balloon,” Alex announced with indignation.

I love my son.

Ellen made her famous corn casserole and baked brie and then, at the last possible moment, we all changed out of our jammies and drove off to Gina’s house. Gina knows how to throw a great dinner party — and this day was no exception. The choices were plentiful, the drink options vast, and even the white meat on the turkey was moist and in need of no gravy support system.

But, sitting there in the  center of the table, was the metaphorical 600-pound gorilla.  Peering up from their glossy cranberry glaze those infamous sprouts stared at me. It wasn’t long before a reluctant ladle dug into it. Auntie Susie was true to her word; she was going to try them.

Auntie Susie is one of the louder family members, so her surprised, delighted, “Ooh! This is really good!” attracted some serious attention.

“I know, right?” Gina exclaimed, matching Auntie Susie’s decibel level. “It’s amazing!”

This lively exchange encouraged more ladle activity. More plates welcomed sprouts, which led to more praise, which led to more ladling.

One by one the number of sprout converts was growing. I was beginning to feel like a heathen at a tent revival.

With each new wave of kudos, came a new round of pressure for me to give the sprouts a try.

“Mike, you have to try these!”

“They’re really good!”

“They’re wonderful.”

“You’re gonna love them!”

Ellen knows me well enough to realize that this type of peer pressure might make me uncomfortable, but it will never persuade me to try anything. She took a different tactic.

“Oh, just eat it, you baby.”

I turned to face her and found a way-too-large forkful of Brussels sprouts poised an inch from my mouth.

Ugh.

I sighed. And she shoved it in.

The normally raucous Thanksgiving table grew silent as the family watched me chew. There was not a person present at that table who was unaware of my picky eating habits. Everyone there had either seen or heard about the infamous Green Bean Incident of 1981, when Mom and Dad were convinced I was about to pass out.

I chewed and chewed and chewed some more.

Then I swallowed.

There was a long pause. The family awaited the verdict.

“Oh!” I said at last. “It tasted better than I thought.”

And the people around table did everything short of giving me a standing ovation.

And I have to be honest; for the first time in my life one of my pre-hated foods was better than I had thought. Because I thought I was going to die.

But, just to be safe, I am never, ever, ever taking my chances with another forkful.

Never. Ever. Ever.