Fifteen years.

Fifteen years.

For fifteen years I’ve been waiting, wishing and wondering–along with every other housewife in America–about what it would be like to forget my troubles and spend one single, entire day at a full-service luxury spa.  Sure, I’ve had a mani and pedi here and there, and even the occasional massage for my birthday every few years.  But I’ve yet to experience the extensive royal treatment of a Truly Pampered Woman:  french manicure, spa pedicure, hair washed and deeply conditioned in thick coconut-smelling goo then cut and coiffed to Aniston-ian perfection, swedish massage, seaweed wrap, deep tissue facial–the works.  And though such a day has always loomed large in my mind as the ultimate fulfillment of a feminine fantasy (sorry, hub), I also know that a Full Day at the Spa is terrifically expensive and terrifically indulgent and reserved for the one-percenters whose greed and decadence keep everyone else from eating.  So, for the last fifteen years, I have contented myself with the dream of it all, and it’s actually helped me a lot.

On any given weekday, when I find myself in the parking lot at Walmart hauling laundry soap and cheese sticks into the back of my minivan, I can will my mind to a serene, mystical neverland that includes a bubbling foot soak, sweet burning incense, and some seriously overpriced face cream.  With a little concentration, I can transport my arms–the ones lifting a Charmin 36-roll megapack out of the cart–to another world, where they are stretched languidly over my head as I lay on facedown on a padded massage table, hearing only the sound of my own breath and a CD of what, I can only assume, are blue whales making love.   Aahh…this mental exercise has seen me through more than one afternoon at the grocery store, or the car wash, or laminating art projects at my kids’ school.  (Oops–did I say that last one out loud?  I love helping at my kids’ school!  Love it.  What kind of mother do you think I am?)

And so, for the last fifteen years, though I’ve often dreamt about A Ridiculously Expensive Day At The Spa, I’ve never actually experienced one.  And I’ve never resented it.

Until now.

Because guess who, after living in our home for all of three months,  did get a full–and I mean full–day at the poshest spa in town?  Guess who spent seven hours under the tender care of a personal attendant, getting a wash and a rinse and a comb and a cut and a mani and a pedi and–I am not even kidding–a raspberry facial?

Go ahead.  Take a guess.


And guess who gladly paid for it all?


Forget the economic policies of the White House.  What about the redistribution of wealth in this house?

You’ve heard the rumors. Here’s what really went down that night.

It all started one year ago–last Halloween, to be exact.  My husband came home from work early that afternoon to gravely and methodically create a well-researched, well-planned, elusive-but-magical White Chicken Chili  for the church chili cookoff–a contest he’d never before entered.  And by “methodically create,” I mean that he left work four hours early, spent the first hour wandering around the grocery store muttering to himself in confusion (he’s not so good in grocery stores), then the next three hours over the stove, audibly panicking as he chopped, grated, boiled, spilled and all but destroyed my helpless little kitchen.  At long last the chili was complete, the mood heavy and the tension high as I watched him drag the steaming crockpotted concoction to the car.  We made it to the church just in time for him to sign his dish in and sit back while the judges sampled Derrick P. Smith’s masterpiece.  Calling for three cups of monterey jack cheese, the recipe was surely an indisputable winner, as would Derrick be, he felt certain, when the judges announced his name and he stepped forward ever-so-humbly (“Oh my gosh…really?”) to claim the championship title.  Realizing at this point that there was nothing more to do but wait, we found seats and ate other people’s chili, waiting in agony for the winners to be announced.  An hour later, Derrick sat on the edge of his plastic chair, palms moist and lips pressed as he willed the MC on stage to announce:   And first prize goes to…Derrick P. Smith!

Derrick P. Smith came in second.  A respectable showing, but he was grossly dissatisfied.

And so, my faithfuls, I have been listening to my husband revisit that night and that moment–when dreams were dashed and chili chewed cheerlessly–for a year.  An entire year.  Such a devastating blow would encourage most people to develop a different talent–one, perhaps, that they might actually get good at.  Not Derrick P. Smith.  Oh no.  He immediately set to work planning, dreaming, and talking (a lot) about how his chili was perfect, he’d been inexplicably robbed of victory, and how next year–just to show ’em all–he’d use the same recipe to win.  And he’d win big.  (Nobody puts Derrick in a corner.)

Let me backtrack a little, lest you are a new faithful.  In order to understand my husband’s fixation on perfecting this chili, you need to understand two central tenets of my husband’s personality:

1.  He is a lousy cook.

2.  He is fiercely competitive, but only about things that don’t matter.  Do you make more money, drive a better car, play better softball than he does?  Fine.  But don’t you dare challenge him on Words With Friends, his juggling skills, or who-can-log-more-steps on the Fitbit; the claws and fangs will come out.  (Just ask the poor shmuck who claimed he could “walk the dog” on the yo-yo faster than my husband.  It didn’t end well.)

The reason tenet #1 has to do with tenet #2 is simple:  my husband is a lousy cook because my husband doesn’t want to cook.  He doesn’t care about learning how to do it.  He “can’t cook” the same way I “can’t fix the computer”–because we’d rather get the other person to do it.  In fact, when my husband gets home late and there’s no dinner left, I’ll generally put forth an (insincere) offer to make him something, which he (wisely) refuses.  Then, like clockwork, he’ll open the fridge and squint vaguely inside for a full two minutes, waiting for something already prepared to reveal itself to him.  Upon finding nothing, I’ll kindly suggest, “Why don’t you make yourself a sandwich?”  His reply never varies:

“Too much work.”  So I downshift.

“Bowl of cereal?”

“What do we have?

Total and Honey Bunches of Oats.”

“No Special K?”


“Dang it.”  He closes the fridge door, opens the freezer, and stuffs two fistfuls of frozen chocolate chips down his throat.

“Is that what you’re having?”  Like I need to ask.

“Yep.”  I watch as he guzzles down a glass of milk and does not put the dirty glass in the sink.



And with that, he’s finally out of my kitchen.  Phew.  I do not want Derrick P. Smith in my kitchen.  Which brings us to personality tenet #2.  You see, the only reason my husband ever sets foot in the kitchen is when a championship title–or at least massive recognition–is at stake.  He can’t make cookies or a salad, but he makes his self-described America’s Best Apple Pie! every Thanksgiving and Authentic Handmade Tamales! every New Years–and both require roughly the same money and effort it would take to renovate what he now claims is our completely inadequate kitchen.  And as if those bi-annual productions weren’t enough, I now have to deal with an Annual Chili Cookoff, the arrival of which finds me suddenly married to an Iron Chef who complains about our paltry saucepan selection and the meager quality of our knives.

This year was no different.  The plan was made, the ingredients purchased, the time taken off work.  In fact, on the afternoon of the Big Night, he had a conference call he couldn’t get out of, so he conducted it on his iPhone while chopping, grating, boiling and spilling.  This multi-tasking seemed to frustrate him a little, but it was great fun for me because now my husband had to Freak Out In The Kitchen silently.  He’d be cradling the phone in his ear, nodding and saying “Yes, I see,” to his client while stirring the beans with one arm and waving hysterically at me with other, mouthing “cayenne pepper…CAYENNE PEPPER!!” in a silent, exaggerated scream.  Rather than getting it for him, I’d lean against the counter, pick some lettuce out of my teeth, and wave my finger in the general direction of the spice cupboard, mainly so I could watch him tear it apart trying to find the CAYENNE PEPPER!! while saying calmly into the phone that “the fourth quarter projections look better than anticipated, Stan.”   

Women have been multitasking like this in the kitchen for a millennia, but men–not so much.  And I think that may be where things went wrong, because later that night, after the cooking and hauling and judging and hoping and praying were over, Derrick P. Smith didn’t win first prize in the Annual Chili Cookoff.

He didn’t win second prize, either.

Or third.

Come the Final Judgment–when the chili was lined up, tasted, tested and talked over by two nineteen-year old boys with surely qualified paletes–Derrick’s chili didn’t win any prize at all.

Derrick P. Smith lost.  And he lost big.

And as if losing wasn’t dismal enough, three terrific cruelties followed that ill-fated night:

1.  The Master of Ceremonies (and a good friend of his) actually called out his name as the First Prize Winner.  Derrick jumped out of his seat and put on his fakest aw, shucks face, only to have the audience point and laugh as the MC said, “Just kidding!”

2.  The woman who actually won First Prize (and a good friend of mine) stood up, turned to Derrick in front of the crowd, and stuck her big fat juicy tongue out at him, with all the delight of a four-year old who’d just nabbed the biggest sucker from the goodie bag.  It was ahhsome.

3.  Derrick P. Smith did not win the Chili Cookoff, but guess what?  His wife did.  Second Prize.  What’s worse, she didn’t really try; she just threw some chili together at the last minute because she’d signed up to help with the food.  And even worse, she didn’t really feel that bad about it because, well, she’s spent the last fifteen years chopping, grating, boiling and spilling in that same completely inadequate kitchen and has never once received a prize for any of it.  And so, no offense honey, I’m joining my First Prize Friend in the great big fat juicy Tongue-Stickout.  But you should know, I do it with love.

And just a wee bit of satisfaction.


Consoling Derrick after the big letdown.  You can see he’s laughing to keep from crying.

(Me, on the other hand?  All smiles.  Second place, baby!)




To the Great Jack-‘o-Lantern in the sky, I ask:


Why must we hack at you with a big knife and scoop out your greasy guts?  Why must we heave your heavy hide to our porch, stick a candle in your belly, and watch as you wrinkle and wither in a few short days, only to heave you off the porch and into the dumpster?

And why, oh Jack, must that be but the beginning of the ridiculously ragged running that all mothers do on this unholiest of holidays?  Why, after carving you to pieces, must we:

    • Elbow our way through the smelly crowd at Value Village, clawing and cussing as we race to get the last ninja costume on the rack?  (And btw:  I got it this year!  I got it!  Do you hear me, you psycho mom who tried to scare me out of it with your frizzy hair and wild eyes?  It takes alot more than a loud voice and a big bust to intimidate me, lady.)


  • Partake of WalMart’s foul offerings three times in two days:  once for pumpkins, once for candy, and a final time for “bright red!” lipstick? (Megan.)  An organized mother would have managed all three in one trip, but hey…read the blog title.



  • Spend approximately sixty dollars–yes, sixty dollars–on Halloween candy?  Because see, you have to pass it out at the church “Trunk-or-Treat” party and at home and your kids asked you if, for once, you could buy “the good kind” and let’s face it:  you’re getting too old to be the house that hands out dumdums every year.  The fresh skin and cute figure of your twenties allowed for subpar candy, but now that you’re old and ugly, people expect you to compensate.



  • Fashion a halloween wreath with your eleven-year old daughter in an effort to bond with her through “crafting?”  Then watch as she makes it pretty much by herself–with skills far superior to yours–while you ooh and ahh her on encouragingly.  Then remember why you’d rather bond with your kids over nutella and Cupcake Wars.


And after all that, dear Jack-‘o, why do we have to:

      • Partake of Walmart a fourth time, followed by Winco, to amass necessary ingredients for the homemade chili that, once entered into the church’s big cookoff, will prove to the world (ward) once and for all that yes, you are that kind of mom?  (And as an aside:  which collects a more frightening crowd on a Saturday night, Walmart or Winco?  My sister and I have an ongoing debate.)


  • Spend entire afternoon preparing said chili among chaos of costumes, candy, clutter and hyperkinetic kids?  Yell at hyperkinetic kids to hurry up! with all the cheerfulness of the Grim Reaper, and think once again how that guy’s got it figured out.  (Nobody talks back to the Grim Reaper.)



  • Heave said jack-‘o-lanterns, said chili, extra decorations for “trunk or treat” and the freaking sixty dollars worth of candy into the back of the minivan?  That poor car was pregnant, faithfuls.  But at least I’m not.



  • Spray goopy turquoise paint in daughter’s lovely honey-colored hair, per her request, only to douse yourself and your back lawn in same turquoise paint?  (The towels you used for coverage didn’t work.  They never work.)
  • Transform eight year old boy into a creature of action (i.e., watch in horror as Ethan waves his  fake sword near every crotch within a three-feet radius.)
  • Spruce up your own hair and makeup so you look mass hot for the big night.  You will not be dressing up for Halloween, ever again.  The fresh skin and cute figure of your twenties allowed for a whimsical costume through which your natural beauty shone.  But now that you are old and ugly, Standard (and heavy) Hair and Makeup is all you’ve got.
  • Speed to church with kids, the eighty pounds of junk I just listed, and food in tow (bonus:  no spills this year!)
  • Arrive at church just in time to spend forty-five minutes in line for chili feed.  Realize that everyone is eyeing your chili just as suspiciously as you are eyeing theirs.  Our collective gaze wanders up and down the buffet table, all of us trying to act casual while secretly inspecting each crock pot, trying to surmise which one came from a clean kitchen.  But alas, this method rarely works.  When it comes to a church potluck, it’s you and your immune system against the world (ward.)  (Warld?)
  • Eat lukewarm mystery chili from a paper bowl while listening to two hundred peoples’ children run through the gym, yelling and screaming IN THE LOUDEST VOICES POSSIBLE.  (No, really.  I’ve never heard ANYTHING LOUDER.)
  • Rush outside after dinner to set up Trunk or Treat;  i.e., stand by van for an hour passing out the freaking sixty dollars worth of candy to all the teenagers who come through the line again and again and again.  You are about to tell them to beat it–that they are too old to trick-or-treat, let alone act so childish and greedy.  Then you realize that your own teen and tween have frequented each trunk in the parking lot more times than anyone else’s kids.  This shuts you up.
  • Clean up van, clean up chili, go home and clean up kids, refuse to clean up house, and go to bed with the exhausted foreboding that tomorrow is the actual day of Halloween, and you’ll be doing much of this all over again.



And on Halloween night, among the chaos of more costumes and candy and clutter and other-people’s-hyperkinetic-kids, you’ll ask the Great Jack-‘o-Lantern once again:  why do we do it?  It’s a meaningless commercial holiday that wastes time, money and energy.  And when you hear the doorbell ring–again!–just as your dog throws up her hijacked candy on the freshly cleaned carpet (true story) and you think “next year, we’re boycotting this nonsense!” you’ll turn and see:

a ninja with mad skillz


Thing Two

of Thing One and Thing Two


a Twister Girl, with the spinner board as a hat.

And at the end of the night, when your kids are laughing excitedly as they trade candy on the living room floor, and the last trick-or-treater finally bounces off your front step, you will turn off the porch light and see

a lady Jack ‘o Lantern with a bow on her head, winking goodnight at you.

And you’ll think:  Got it, Jackie.

That’s why we do it.