Keepin' It Real Since 1977

Mostly true stories from then & now

Livin’ the Dream in Cabin 12B July 17, 2012

The awesome girls of cabin 12B.

This past week I took part in my annual tradition of counseling at our Church’s week-long Sr. High Camp. I spent the week exploring my faith and relationship with God, strengthening old friendships, and making new friends. I know I probably shouldn’t play favorites, but there was one person who stood out from the crowd this week.  I never caught her name, but she was a sassy old black woman who only made an appearance at night while one of my campers talked in her sleep. For the sake of this post, I will refer to said sassy, old, black woman as La-a (pronounced ‘LaDasha’ because the “-” don’t be silent.)

I’ve known people to do crazy things in their sleep, but I’ve never experienced anything like this.

Sunday Night:

Campers arrived, we all got settled in and by the time “lights out” came, we tossed and turned and didn’t sleep, so much as rest, which is typical first night of camp stuff.

Monday Night:

By now we actually felt tired and sleep came a lot easier. I remember lying there when a noise jolted me awake. I was pretty sure one of my girls had just said very loudly, “Yah!  I’ll fight you!” At the time I didn’t think much of it but I brought it up at breakfast the next morning.

Me: “I’m pretty sure one of you girls were talking in your sleep. Tori, it sounded like it was coming from you.  You yelled, “Yah!  I’ll fight you.”

Tori didn’t think she had said anything in her sleep and was pretty sure it was someone else, but Cathy, whose bunk was right next to Tori’s bed added, “Yah, I heard that. She also yelled, ‘Come at me, bro’.”  At this point I was intrigued.

Tuesday Night:

We slept outside under the stars. The seven of us, along with my friend Shannon, all huddled our sleeping bags together on a tarp. I slept next to Tori.  It was time to go to bed, but we were telling stories and chatting it up, when she fell asleep. Over the next two hours she would randomly blurt things out. After about 10 minutes, I sent one of my girls back to the cabin to get her notebook, a pen and flashlight. Here are some of the things we heard:

“My head’s bangin’ to what’s bangin’! Turn the music up, I gotta fist pump!” (followed by actually fist pumping in her sleep)

“It’s Michael Jackson time!  Don’t touch me Michael! Get away!  You got a twitch!”

“Fire! Fire! Run, Nanna, Run!  I told you to run, old lady!”

“Get your cow out of here!”

“You ugly!  You so ugly, you a frog face!”

“You need to clip those nails. Don’t you dare touch me, bro! … Okay. French tips, with just a little sparkle.”

“Don’t you dare fart in my frigidaire!”

“No, Bigfoot!  Get away from me!  Your feet are too big!  You gonna crush me!  Bigfoot, you makin’ me hungry with that carrot. You want some salad with that dressing?  Bigfoot, these carrots are good- need more ranch though.  No, Bigfoot!  Don’t kiss me, that’s gross. (followed by little kissy noises) No Bigfoot!  No tongue!”

At this point I woke her up before her dream got PG-13. We talked about what she had said, and she remembered having a nightmare about a fire, but before the conversation could go further, she had passed out again.

Also by this point, I had been scolded several times by the camp directors for having such a noisy group of girls. I told them to park their golf cart and sit by my tarp for 2 minutes:

Tori: “Jerk!  You ugly, bro!  You a frog face!  Bugs!  Bugs!  Itchy!  Scratchy!”…

The golf cart drove away.  It didn’t come back. We continued to write down everything Tori said. We stopped after 5 pages.

Wednesday Night:

Things progressively got worse. On Tuesday, most of the sleep talking was intermittent with a burst of chatter occurring every 4-5 minutes or so. By Wednesday, the chatter became nonstop. If there was a pause in the dialogue, it was filled with wild goat-like laughter and the reputation of the phrases, “You scared! You scared, bro!” or “He dead! He dead, bro! He so dead he farts dust!”

Wednesday night’s sleep talking mostly took place in a night club/ karaoke bar? I say this because there was a lot of dancing and singing involved. Also, La-a does not like it when she’s singing and people try to “fart in her microphone.”

Tori: “I gots to sing, bro! Don’t you fart in my microphone! I gots to sing. I’m a black woman and I gots to sing my soul!  Praise Jesus!”

La-a also had strong feelings about how dumb Britney Spears was, with her shaved head, and felt it was an urgent matter that Beyonce get a booty reduction.

After about 45 minutes of non-stop sleep taking, I woke Tori up and would not let her head touch her pillow until all of us were situated and I had some music playing. This seemed to work. Once the music was going, I didn’t hear a peep out of her.

Thursday Night:

During rest time, Thursday afternoon, I showed Tori some video I had taken of her sleep talking. She too was confused as to why she turned into a sassy, old black woman in her sleep. We tried to get her to do the voice from her sleep talking and she couldn’t do it.

Here is a short clip of what happened Thursday night. I say short because she probably went on for a good 40 minutes.

Friday Night:

Oh, boy! What can I say about Friday’s chatter? For a good part of her rambling, La-a is hosting her own television talk show. Let me preface by saying 1.) My nickname at camp is Bubby- and yes, I make a cameo in her dream.  2.) Tori refers to her bed as her “island” since it is the extra one we had to wedge on the floor.  3.) Previously, Tori had been sleep talking about her runaway pumpkin that was going to smash a cat as it rolled down the hill. 4.) One of Tori’s classes she took this week was “Relationships.” In this class campers talked about anything they wanted that had to do with various types of relationships. I found out later that one camper had mentioned the word “sex” once that day in class and there wasn’t even really a discussion about it. If there had been a discussion, perhaps it would have gone something like this:


Merry Christmas, and God Bless Us Everyone…But Mostly My Parents December 25, 2011

Filed under: My Awesome Childhood — Melissa Lewis @ 1:19 am
Tags: , , ,

I'm probably asking Santa for a Care Bear.

I always find it amusing that, when my brothers, sister and I get together and reminisce about the olden days, our memories about certain events don’t always match. Here are some fond Christmas memories that I KNOW are true.

Christmas Pageants A Plenty 

I grew up in a small church, but most of the kids in our congregation were within a couple of years of each other and therefore we were often the stars of… everything. Our specialty: Christmas Pageants. I’ll admit, some of our performances were better than others. My favorites were the ones that did NOT feature musical instruments mainly because I played the piano, flute, and violin. My sister played the clarinet, by brother played the violin and he, along with a couple of other kids played the saxophone. None of us could play our instruments very well but my congregation couldn’t seem to get enough of our “heavenly sounds.”

The Christmas programs I lived for, were the ones featuring costumes, lines, and a children’s choir. If only talent scouts targeted church pageants…

One year, our pageant performed at a local nursing home. My sister was not too thrilled about the idea from the get go. When we arrived, she experienced the trifecta of disappointment. 1.) It was hot. Really hot. Between each musical number, my sister would whisper to me some sort of complaint about how warm the room was. (I probably should have taken her more seriously when she started swaying in big loopy circles.) 2.) The “old people smell” was really getting to her. I’m not fond of the smell of nursing homes either, but after a few minutes, I had forgotten all about it. My sister, however, had not. “I mean it,” she whispered. “I feel like I’m going to barf.” 3.) Gesticulations from the gentleman parked in the front row. “That guy keeps playing with himself. He’s really gross.” She whispered. (Looking back, I’m pretty sure the gentleman was trying to sit with his hands on his lap, but his Parkinson’s had other ideas.) It didn’t really matter though because before she could get out another complaint, her body swooped in one final circular loop before she face planted it right there on the tile floor. She had fainted and was passed out cold. Dad, quickly swooped in from the side, picked her up and quickly carried her away. Just in time too, because without the pageant director having to say a word, I stepped up to, where only minutes ago my sister had been sprawled on the floor, and sang her solo. I saw the whole situation as a true Christmas Miracle.

The voice of an angel. Apparently the theme this year was white sheets, gold tinsel and A LOT of blush.

A few years later, our Christmas Pageant didn’t have such a happy ending. My brothers and sister deny this event, but I remember it with great detail. It took place during the height of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze. My sister had gotten, not just any Cabbage Patch Kid, she had gotten a preemie. His name was Jonathan and he had been volunteered to play the role of the Baby Jesus in our church Christmas pageant. Mary was to carry the Baby Jesus, up the middle aisle of the sanctuary, place him in the manger, and ogle  at him while the angel choir sang songs about his blessed birth.

Unfortunately, before the service even started, my sister and our friend Sara were getting into a heated argument over Jonathan. Sara wanted to play with it, my sister didn’t feel like sharing and a tug-of-war ensued. My sister had Jonathan by his little round plastic bald head, and Sarah had a firm grip on his legs. After a few hearty tugs, there was a ripping sound and just like that, poor Jonathan had been decapitated.

My sister’s only saving grace that night was that the Baby Jesus was wrapped so tightly  in his swaddling clothes that it was impossible to notice that his head had been completely severed.  I distinctly remember being terrified that Mary would trip on her robes and Baby Jesus’s head would go rolling up the aisle stopping at the shepherds’ feet. Fortunately our Mary was quite talented at walking and kneeling so the congregation was none the wiser.

Terrifying Gifts

When it came to Christmas gifts, I was never disappointed. Terrified? Yes. Disappointed? No. As a kid I loved games, clothes, toys, and socks. (I don’t think my aunt ever believed me when I told her I wanted socks for Christmas, but due to my extreme repulsion of bare feet, it’s no wonder why I love socks so much.) There was one year though, when not only I, but all four of us kids, received the most terrifying gifts ever. Our uncle had given us each a large framed velvet painting of, what could only be described as, “scary-ass clowns”.  I never liked clowns, and these things scared the crap out of all of us. In fact, I’m pretty sure we made Dad put the paintings in the garage that night; that way, when they came to life and climbed out of their frames, they would at least be locked in a safe place.

Naughty or nice, no child deserves this.

For awhile, the Clown paintings lived in a box in the basement. I’m not sure why they didn’t go straight to the curb, but one day we were out playing and there they were. Curbside, leaning up against the garbage can. Good riddance.

Shortly thereafter, my brothers had been playing in our neighbors’ house and when they came out they said, “You’ll never guess what we found in Brad’s bathroom.” Sure enough, one of our clown paintings had found a home hanging over the back of a toilet. I guess the saying is true. “One man’s junk is another man’s scary-ass bathroom art.”

Santa Pulls An All-Nighter

Every year, my family drove from Des Moines, up to Minneapolis to visit our grandparents for Christmas. It was a four hour drive full of caroling, bickering, giggling and family fun. At Grandma and Grandpa Lewis’s, we had traditions like sneaking  Grandpa pieces of fudge, listening to Manheim Steamroller, and getting a running start so we could leap onto the beds in order to prevent being clawed to death by Tippy the lethal cat who liked to hide under furniture.

One Christmas Eve, we went through our tradition of opening one present before going to bed. The one present always happened to be pajamas. In fact, one year while packing, I asked Mom, “Which pajamas should I take?” and she looked at me like I was being ridiculous and said, “Don’t you think Santa will probably bring you pajamas?” Fair enough.

We put on our new pj’s and headed up to bed. We were very quiet that night because we didn’t want to miss the sound of reindeer on the roof. Instead, about an hour later, we heard the garage door opening. I popped my head up and leaned over the window. (I didn’t want to get out of bed just in case Tippy was hiding out.) “Dad’s leaving.” I reported to the others. “The van just pulled out of the driveway.” We chatted for the longest time about where he could be going and eventually fell asleep.

The next morning, the wait to open presents was excruciating. Mom sent us back up the stairs three times saying,”It’s too early. Your dad’s still sleeping. Go back to bed.” Each time we reluctantly climbed the stairs and leapt back onto our beds. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Mom told us we could go down stairs and open presents. I’m pretty sure that was the year I got Cabbage Patch twins. Who knows for sure. Childhood Christmases all blend together. What I remember most about that Christmas was Dad was really tired.

A wonderful Christmas morning at Grandma & Grandpa's.

Years later, when we were all sitting around talking about “The Year Dad Wanted to Sleep Through Christmas,” Mom finally told us the real story. Our parents used to wrap our presents and sort them into four garbage bags to keep them separated. That Christmas Eve, when they thought we were sleeping, they went out to the van to unload our presents. Only, instead of four bags, there were only three. One of our bags of Christmas gifts never made it into the van and was sitting back at home… in Des Moines. Knowing that all the stores were closed and not wanting to disappoint, Dad had opened the garage, backed the van out and drove all the way back home. Four hours later, he pulled into our driveway, ran into the house, grabbed the lonely sad sack-O-gifts, got back into the van and drove 4 hours back up to Minnesota.

Michael and I at our Foster Care Christmas Party. I believe, Professor, this is what we call irony.

Even more years later when I was in college, I volunteered to help out at a local Foster Care Christmas party. One of my professors had asked each of us to share a story about a Christmas experience. She suggested to me, “These kids probably don’t have a lot of Christmas traditions, so I think it would be neat if everyone shared a variety of traditions. Maybe you could tell them about your Kwanzaa experience.” Hmmm… after I asked several friends, my mom, and Google what Kwanzaa was I decided to tell the story of forgotten Christmas presents instead.  When I finished, one of the foster mom’s jumped up and clapped enthusiastically while shouting, “That’s my favorite! That’s my favorite!”

Yes, enthusiastic lady, that’s my favorite too.


Sounds Like Christmas December 1, 2011

Filed under: Awesome Stuff — Melissa Lewis @ 11:23 pm
Tags: , ,

I. Love. Music.  

I REALLY love Christmas music.

Ok, I don’t love Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” I’m not sure why, but when I hear that 3-word intro, “I–‘–ll h-a-aa-ve-ah ba-lue…” it just makes my brain hurt. Possibly the concept of taking so long to spit out three syllables, or… there are many reasons why I don’t like this song.

Also, Wilson Phillips’ “Hey Santa.” Hate it. It reminds me of the awful job I had “working” at Kids R Us when I was in high school. That song played on our store holiday loop and it made my 4 hour shift of standing around talking to my friend Karyn, while doing nothing, almost unbearable. Oh, also, Ertha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” was on that same loop. Not a fan.

Over the years, however, I have come across some pretty awesome Christmas tunes. To celebrate 25 days until Christmas, here are 25 of my favorite holiday tunes… in no particular order.

1. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. My dad would kill me if this one didn’t make the list.

2. “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” by Sufjan Stevens. I’ve always been a fan of Mr. Stevens… listen to this and you will be too.

3. “A Holly, Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives. Who doesn’t love this song? Plus, it makes me think of Home Alone. I never get tired of that movie… “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!” (Update- Roommate has just informed me that “Holly Jolly Christmas” isn’t even in the movie Home Alone. Hmmmm….. oh well)

4. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Jack Johnson. This version is win/win because it  A) Doesn’t include the annoying “like a lightbulb” or “like monopoly” shout outs, and B) has a lovely 2nd verse that totally calls out the other reindeer for the way they mistreated Rudolph. Punks!

5. “Sleigh Ride” by Ella Fitzgerald. I’ve never been on a wintry weather horse-drawn sleigh ride before. I have, however, been pulled around on a sled while my brother ran top speed. The end result usually involved me crashing into a tree. I imagine Ella’s sleigh ride to be a bit more delightful.

6. “New York Christmas” by Rob Thomas. I’ve never been to New York and it’s high time I venture on over there. It’s also on my bucket list to be in Times Square for a New Year’s celebration.

7. “Snowfall” by Ingrid Michaelson. I first heard this song on an episode of Bones. (I find a lot of awesome music via awesome television programming.) I like snow.

8. “Gather Round” by Earth, Wind & Fire. I don’t hear this song enough during the holiday season. It’s fantastic.

9. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Barenaked Ladies & Sarah Mc Lachlan. This could possibly be my #1 holiday favorite. It’s fun, it’s peppy, it’s performed by the Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan…

10. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” by John Denver & The Muppets. “Now bring us some piggy pudding?” I love it, plus, singing puppets. Enough said.

11. “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls. I found this gem on a Sounds of the Seasons album  at Target a few years ago. Better days- difficult to wrap, but something everyone would appreciate.

12. “Carol of the Bells” by Bird & the Bee. This is such a great band and I love their cover of this song. I don’t even mind that it gets stuck in my head…and I don’t know all the words… so I have to keep mumbling the same lines and notes over and over again…

13. “Let it Snow” by Frank Sinatra. A classic that never gets old. Plus, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow could possibly equal a snow day from school. Added bonus.

14. “Oh, Holy Night” by Josh Groban (or as the hoity toity at Barnes & Noble once said, in a very poor French accent “Josche Grobahn). This is my favorite Jesus-is-the-reason-for-the-season song. I used to do an interpretive dance to the Mariah Carey version of this song. It was bad. Really, really bad. The dance, not the song.

15. “Wintersong” by Sarah Mc Lachlan. What can I say, the girl can sing. And everyone deserves to be surrounded by love and happiness on Christmas morning.

16. “Until Christmas” by Ashton Allen. I love that he just wants to sleep through everyone’s cranky days, and be woken up in time for Christmas and the holiday spirit that comes with it.

17. “Bizarre Christmas Incident” by Ben Folds. Santa gets his fat butt stuck in the chimney… the emergency responders resort to using Crisco to dislodge him… Maybe don’t sing this one in church.

18. “Maybe This Christmas” by Ron Sexsmith. Maybe this Christmas you’ll send a card to someone you’ve never sent a card to before. Maybe you’ll call that long-lost friend. Maybe you’ll finally respond to one of my tweets… Yes, I’m talking to you @ZacharyLevi.

19. “Donna & Blitzen” by Badly Drawn Boy. The same band that provided the soundtrack to film About a Boy, sing this delightful tune. I’m not sure why I like it, I just know that I do.

20. “Song for a Winter’s Night” by Sarah Mc Lachlan. Yep. She’s on this list again. It’s not her fault she’s amazing.

21. “Christmas Song” by Dave Matthews. A Sweet song about a very special baby. That baby’s name was Jesus.

22. “O Come All Ye Faithful” by Jeremy Camp. Just think about what a wonderful world this would be if all babies were greeted by a choir of angels.

23. “Spotlight on Christmas” by Rufus Wainwright. “People love the working man
Who does the best that he can. But, don’t forget all the horses and toys, never could fix the poor little rich boys.” All you need is love. Unconditional love.

24. “Winter Wonderland” by Jason Mraz. One goal for this winter- build a snowman. My first year teaching, I took one of my 6th grade classes outside and taught them how to build a snowman. I think I’m due for another one.

25. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Pete Yorn. This Christmas, be sure to think of those who are less fortunate. Tis the season for giving.

Happy Holidays to you all. If you have a favorite holiday tune, I’d love to hear it. Maybe it will make next year’s top 25.


The Lewis Family Animal Hospital (Now Hiring) November 10, 2011

Filed under: My Awesome Childhood — Melissa Lewis @ 7:04 pm
Tags: , , , ,

When I was 10, Dad gathered us around the dining room table, placed a large cardboard box in the center of it, and announced that he had some good news. He had found a stray kitten on his way home from work. I have never been a cat person, but my sister, who loved them, reached for the box.

“Now hold on,” Dad said, pulling the box toward him. “I found this kitten staggering around in a puddle. We are not going to keep it, but it’s going to stay with us until I can take it to the vet tomorrow.”

Now we were all intrigued. We quietly watched as Dad opened the box, reached in with both hands, gently lifted the kitten out and placed it on the table. Our excited faces were transformed into horrified grimaces. We silently surveyed the kitten as it struggled to take a few steps. The first thing I noticed was how matted its fur was. Tufts were missing, revealing open sores that were beginning to ooze and scab over. One ear was mangled, as if it had been bitten off by another animal. One eye was completely matted shut and the other one darted around trying to make sense of the four of us staring at it.

At this point, Mom entered the room, and leaned over me to see what we were looking at and shrieked, “Vincent! Why is that thing on my dining room table? It’s disgusting!  Kids, don’t touch it.”

As we continued to watch the kitten fumble around on the table, I noticed that it kept walking into the cardboard box.

“I’m pretty sure it’s blind,” Dad said as he nudged it to walk in the other direction.

“Here kitty kitty,” my sister called to it. “Come here kitty.”

The kitten continued to fumble aimlessly in circles.

“And I’m pretty sure it’s deaf,” Dad added.

“Alright kids. That’s enough.” Mom intervened for our safety. “Vincent. I don’t know why you brought that disgusting thing home.”

I have to admit, I was pretty horrified. It was the most pathetic looking animal I had ever seen and I didn’t even want to think about what kinds of infections or parasites it had. Dad placed the kitten back in the box, and I was relieved to not have to look at it anymore.

Mom was convinced the kitten was flea infested and insisted that my dad put it in the garage. Nobody objected.

That night, while I was waiting for sleep to come, I thought about that poor blind, deaf, ratty looking kitten staggering around in a cardboard box in the dark. Surely it must be hungry, if not, at the very least, lonely and scared. The only solace I found that night was in knowing that a cardboard box in a warm garage was better than a puddle out in the cold.

The next morning, my parents left for work and we got ready for school. We kids were uneasy about leaving the kitten alone in the dark garage all day. A few minutes before we set out to walk to school, we decided that the least we could do was give the kitten something to eat. I went to the cupboard, pulled out a large cereal bowl, and filled it with milk. The four of us put the bowl of milk in the corner of the box, wished the kitten a good day, and left for school. All day long, I was comforted by the idea of the kitten in its cozy box with a stomach full of fresh milk.

The walk home that afternoon took less time than usual because we ran most of the way. “I want to say goodbye before Dad takes it to the vet,” my sister had said. We were all eager to check up on the kitten one last time.

When we got home, we unlocked the door, dropped our book bags in the middle of the hallway and made our way to the garage. My sister ran to the cardboard box and peered inside. Instantly the excitement drained from her face. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at me. Without saying a word, she walked right past me back into the house.

My brothers looked next. They too instantly became silent. Suddenly I found myself filled with dread. I didn’t want to look. I already knew. The kitten didn’t make it. It had been sick and weak. The vet was probably going to have to put it down anyway. At least it died knowing that it was cared for right? I slowly stepped up to the box and looked inside.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. The poor deaf, blind, vermin filled kitten had somehow managed to slip and fall into the giant cereal bowl filled with milk and drowned. Guilt punched me in the chest like a fist. I had spent the whole day, consoled by the fact that we were saving this kitten. We had rescued it from the scary outside world, given it a warm box to keep it safe, and were going to get it the help it needed. Instead, we killed it.

Needless to say, it was a long time before Dad brought home any more strays.


A Bicycle Built for 2… people with really long legs August 17, 2011

Filed under: College Years — Melissa Lewis @ 5:14 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Last week I bought a bike.  The last bike I owned had a banana seat, streamers, and to get it to stop, you peddled backwards. Needless to say, it’s been a while. I’ve ridden bikes since then, but not very often. I’ve been 5’2 since 6th grade (which also happens to be around the time I stopped riding my bike) and my short legs can often make bike riding awkward. Take stopping for instance. When you have short legs, it’s almost impossible to remain on the seat when you are completely stopped. Not only do you look awkward because your bike is tilted at a 25degree angle so you can touch the ground, but getting the momentum to start up again is almost impossible.

When I was in college, I managed to take the awkward bike riding factor to a whole new level.  A friend of mine who had gonehome over the weekend, had returned with a tandem bike she had found in her parents’ basement. To say this bike was a little old, would be a generous compliment. It looked a little bit like 2 Pee-wee Herman bikes stuck together (with a lot less fancy, and a lot more rust). This tandem, much like my childhood bike, had been neglected for quite some time.

One afternoon, my friend Sarah and I had some time to spare, so we decided to give the ‘ol tandem a try. Aside from the rust the bike looked pretty sound.  The pedals worked, the breaks worked, the chain was pretty solid… the only flaw had to do with the seats. The lever to raise and lower the seats seemed to be rusted stuck. For my long-legged friend Sarah, this wasn’t a real concern, but for me, this posed a slight problem.

Me: “I’m not sure how we’re going to do this.  If I sit in the back, I’ll be useless. I can’t reach the pedals or steer and you’ll just be dragging me around.  If I sit in the front, I’ll be able to at least steer, and I can pedal if I stand up…”

Sarah: “We got this. I’ll push off really hard, and you start peddling and keep us going in the right direction.”

It sounded simple enough.  Our goal was to just go straight and ride the bike from our dorm to the other one that was 200 feet down the sidewalk.

Sarah: “Okay, get ready.  One… two… three…”

At this point a few things happened simultaneously.

1. We did not have enough momentum to go more an a couple of inches.

2. When you have no momentum, you cannot balance your weight enough to stand up to pedal.

3. When these first 2 things happen, you start to laugh which causes your arms to go weak, which forces you to lose any control you might have had to steer.

I jerked the bike to a hard left, causing us both to instantly tip over.

Sarah: “What was that?  Clearly we need a new strategy.”

Me:  “You were making ma laugh, and I couldn’t steer. Plus, it’s really hard to stand up and pedal with this bar here.”

Sarah: “How about, you sit on the seat and keep us pointed forward, and I’ll push off and start pedaling really hard. Once we get going to can pedal too.”

I liked this plan. Sit and hold the bars steady.  I could do that.

Sarah: “Okay. One… two… three…

I gripped the handle bars with two steady arms and we started to move forward. I heard and a couple of grunting noises from Sarah, and again, after rolling another couple of inches, we stared to tip over.

Me:  “What was that?  You were doing great.  Why’d you stop?”

Sarah: “I couldn’t help it.  It’s really hard to pedal for both of us, and you look so ridiculous with your legs sticking straight out.”

Me: “Come on Sarah.  We got this.”

We did not.  After a few more failed attempts we had covered about 3 feet, and it was time to restrategize.

This might be a good time to mention that the 3 feet we had covered, wasn’t exactly on our initial trajectory. Instead of going straight 3 feet towards our goal, we had gone diagonally… towards a light pole firmly planted at the intersection of our sidewalk and another sidewalk that veered down a rather steep hill. At the base of the light pole was a giant mud puddle.

Sarah: “Okay. This time as soon as we get going, like right away- as soon as we start moving, you have to start pedaling. It’s the only way this is going to work.”

Me: “Right. But let’s straighten out first. We’re headed towards that puddle and I don’t want to crash.”

Sarah: “Oh. Good thinking.”

We lined the bike back up with the sidewalk, I assumed my position: sitting on the front seat with my arms firmly planted and my legs sticking out so I could quickly get in on this pedaling action. Sarah assumed her position: sitting on the back seat, one foot balancing on the ground, the other poised to set us both cruising…

Sarah: “For real this time.  Whatever happens just keep pedaling.  I know we can do this.”

Me:  “Got it.  Don’t stop no matter what.”

Sarah: “One… Two… Three…”

And just like that we were off. The bike was moving forward, my arms were a bit shaky, but we were moving… yes. We were moving… time to start pedaling…

I slid off the seat found a pedal with my foot and started to…  Something was wrong.  We were losing momentum fast.

Sarah: “Pedal!  Do it!  Help me! Help me! You’ve got to Pedal!”

I pulled on the handle bars with all my might trying to maximize my body weight against the pedal. I pedaled once, twice… my arms could not hold our course. Again we were slowly drifting towards the light pole.


I couldn’t do it.  I could not steer and pedal at the same time. The bike continued to veer towards the light pole and we started to tip.  We were going down. We were going to tip, and I was going to land right in the middle of that giant puddle. Not used to handle bar breaks, I tried to pedal backwards but nothing happened.

Me: “Stop! Stop! I can’t stop!”

Sarah: “What are you doing?  Pedal!”

We were driving sideways towards the puddle and I couldn’t stop, so I simply decided to abandon ship.  I let go of the handle bars completely and leapt off of the bike onto the sidewalk.  Sarah, who was not privy to my exit strategy, instantly went down with the bike.  The front wheel lay in the puddle, while she lay on the Sidewalk with one leg pinned by the bike.

Sarah:  “What was that?”

Me:  “Oh my God. Are you okay?  We were going to crash.”

We both started laughing so hard I figured she was alright.

Sarah: “I can’t stop it!”

Me: “I know right. Bikes are hard.”

Sarah: “Stop! Stop! I can’t stop it!”

Me: “I couldn’t! I didn’t know how to stop it so I just jumped off.”

By now I am doubled over on the sidewalk, Sarah is still pinned by the bike and we are both in tears.

Sarah: “You’ve got to help me! Help me! I can’t stop it!”

This makes me laugh even harder, thinking about what we must have looked like, and I’m finding it hard to breathe.

Sarah: “No I mean NOW!  I CAN’T STOP IT!”

This is when I notice that the front tire puddle is now spreading on the sidewalk. For a second I am confused, then I realize this puddle is not from the mud at all.  This puddle is from Sarah who is no longer hysterically laughing.

Sarah: “Oh my God!  Get this bike off of me!  I couldn’t stop it.”

Sarah, had been laughing so hard so peed her pants… and the bike… and the sidewalk.

Sarah: “Get it off me. With the bike between my legs I couldn’t hold it in.”

Now I’m REALLY losing it as I quickly free her from the bike.

Sarah: (pulling her shirt down trying to conceal the giant dark pee spot on her jeans- pee literally dripping from her pant leg onto her flip flop) “It isn’t funny!”

Me:  It is soooo funny.

At this point, students are returning from class, while others are heading out to theirs. As they start to file past us, their conversations stop, and jaws begin to drop. Sarah, with who is now pulling the front- and back- of her shirt down to her knees runs inside yelling, “It’s not what it looks like!” The fact that while she runs inside, her foot is making that horrible wet-flip-flop-squeeky-noise does not help the situation.

I have a horrible case of the giggles, as I steer the bike around Sarah’s puddle, back to the bike rack. I guide the front wheel into its place, and as I absentmindedly lift the back seat to align the bike, I find my hand now coated in Sarah’s pee.

Me:  “Ah man.”  Sarah was right. This isn’t funny!


Putting the Ache in Cake

Filed under: College Years — Melissa Lewis @ 1:04 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Today was my niece Lilli’s 5th Birthday (Happy Birthday Lilli. I’m so glad you were born) so it only seems natural that I write about cake.

When we were kids we never got fancy store-bought birthday cakes. Instead we got Linda Lewis Specials made with love. I’m always amazed when I see the fancy birthday cakes my friends make for their 1 and 2 year olds. My mom’s an artist for crying out loud, but her cakes…  For the most part her cakes tasted fine. Cake is cake after all. When you’re a kid, however, the true joy of  a birthday cake has nothing to do with the taste. It’s all about presentation; that moment when you’re crowded around a table with your closest friends, Mom comes from the kitchen carrying your birthday cake blazing with candles, sets it on the table, and everyone has to gasp because your birthday cake looks so magical.

In the beginning, we had some pretty cool cakes. My favorite cake was my Little Orphan Annie cake. Mom used big orange gum drops for her hair and it was pretty amazing. Later that same year, Mom made my brother a Cabbage Patch Kid cake. That cake was not amazing. She forgot to let the cake cool before frosting it. My brother ended up with a birthday cake that resembled a Cabbage Patch Kid looking directly into the Arc of the Covenant and the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But at least it tasted good.

Another time mom took a cake pan, turned it upside down, frosted it, and presented it to my brother as his cake. She gave him a knife and while trying to stifle her giggles, told him to go ahead and cut it. Already cautious of mom’s cakes, he hesitantly  tried to slice it with the knife. When he noticed the cake was not cutting, he looked a little confused. Mom, however, thought it was hysterical and had to flee the room for fear she’d pee her pants from laughing so hard.

The most memorable Mom cake, however, was not a birthday cake at all. The year was 1998, the event was Easter and, for dessert, Mom made a cake. I discovered the cake in the fridge during the process of cleaning up after dinner. I’m not sure what caught my eye first. The shredded coconut on top? The pastel green frosting that coated the loaf in strange globs? Or the two chopsticks sticking out of it?

Pulling the plate out of the fridge:

Me: “Hey mom, what’s going on here?”

Mom: “I made an Easter cake.”

Everyone: exchanges skeptical looks

Mom: “Oh you’ll like it.  It’s a jello cake.”

This does not look like any jello cake I have ever seen before.

Me: “What are these?”

Mom: “Well, it has two layers and I started to frost it before it cooled” (yep sounds right so far) “and when I put the second layer on top it kept sliding off so I stuck the chop sticks in it to hold it together.”

By now everyone has gathered back around the table out of sheer curiosity over this cake.

My sister-in-law, Ann: “So Linda, what kind of jello did you use?”

Mom: “Well, I mixed 2 packets of raspberry jello into the cake , and I mixed a packet of lime into the frosting for color.”

1) 3 packets of jello in one cake? Sweet Lord! So NOT how you make a jello cake.

2) Raspberry AND Lime? Gross. There’s no way this cake could get any more disgusting.

Mom: “I know it looks a little weird, but I’m sure it’s fine.”

*WARNING to even the most daring of cake eaters: When a giant butcher knife cannot cut through a cake because it literally sticks to the cake itself, it’s probably best to pass on a slice.

Me: “What’s that brown stuff in the middle?”

Mom: (holding a slice out for Dad) “Oh. I put a layer of mint-chocolate wafer cookies in the middle.”

3) And there it is.

Dad: (silently declines)

Ann: “Where did you say you got the idea for this… jello cake?”

Mom: “Oh you know. I’ve always heard people talk about how much they love jello cake, and I’ve never made one so…”

My brother Michael: “Is this marshmallow frosting?  It’s really sticky.”

Mom:  (who at this point is becoming a bit skeptical herself) “No. I just mixed the lime jello into a tub of Cool Whip.”

Guess what. When you mix a whole package of jello into a tub of Cool Whip, it congeals into a really… really tart paste.

By now we are all sitting around the table gently prodding our dessert not sure what to do. Finally my brother, after scraping off all of the coconut (he hated coconut in 1978, and surprise, he still hated it in 1998) steps up and takes a bite.

Mom: (has pulled a discarded jello box from the trash and is now reading the back)

Michael: “It’s not too bad. It’s just a little tart.”

Little nibbles are taken around the table, forks are set aside, and plates of cake are covered with napkins and pushed towards the center of the table.

Michael: (taking a more daring-sized bite) “If you scrape out the cookie filling, it’s really not that bad….This frosting is really tart though… and sticks to your teeth… and kind of stings… Oh man. This jello frosting is pretty strong. Yep it stings. And burns. Ah…my gums. My gums are burning…”

I begin collecting plates while Michael makes his way to the sink and begins brushing his teeth with his finger.

Mom: “Oooooh.  I think I made this cake all wrong.”

That’s okay mom. We all survived, and Michael still has most of his adult teeth. What really matters is that, just like this blog post, your cakes were always made with love… and a way too much jello.


carnage in the hamster cage August 15, 2011

Filed under: My Awesome Childhood — Melissa Lewis @ 4:06 am
Tags: , , ,

Like many middle class, midwestern families, we had our fair share of pets when I was growing up. Some were common household pets; cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits… while others were a little less common; crawfish, chicks, shetland ponies (yep- when I was a kid, my parents bought me a pony… sort of) Most of our pets were wanted, while others, I simply tolerated.

Take our hamsters for instance. Hamsters? Seriously? Not only do their tiny little grippy toes creep me out, but when they’re not biting you, they’re pooping in your hand. I was never a huge fan of hamsters, but when my family was given two as gifts from a family friend, I did my best to enjoy them. We were told they were both males so we named them Sledge & Hammer after the title character of our favorite TV show. (They aired 3 episodes of Sledge Hammer before they pulled it off the air.  It was awesome a piece of shit.)

Shortly after Sledge & Hammer were added to our family, things took a turn for the worse. I headed down the stairs one Saturday morning to peek in on the little fellas. One hamster, it didn’t really matter that we had named them because they looked exactly alike, had been banished to the corner of the cage. The other one was chewing on some sort of hamster toy. Wait, what? Hamsters don’t have chew toys do they?  I peered closer into the cage and noticed that the hamster toy had little tiny hamster like grippy toes. Oh, and it had a head, and eyes, and OH GOOD GOD! It was a baby hamster. There was a baby hamster in the cage and Sledge, or Hammer, was eating it. I let out a scream and soon we were all huddled around the hamster cage taking in the scene. That’s when I noticed that the baby was not alone. There was literally a pile of baby hamsters in the cage.

My brother Jeremy: “Mom, what is he doing?  Why is he eating that baby?”

Mom: “Why are there babies in this cage?”

My brother Michael: “There’s like 30 of them in there. We have like 30 hamsters.”  

Mom: “He said they were both males. Why are there babies in this cage?”

My sister Chelan: “This is so gross. Those babies look disgusting and that one that’s being eaten is making a horrible noise. I’m going to be sick.”

Mom: “How could this possibly have happened? Why are there babies in this cage?”

The chaos was too much. The four of us kids were hysterical due to the carnage happening right before our eyes. Mom whisked the cage out of the room and out of earshot and somehow managed to calm us down.  She explained that one of the hamsters must have been a girl, and that sometimes the moms eat the runts… To be honest, I’m not really sure what she said. I was too busy trying to decided if I should cry or barf.

Then dad came home.

Mom:  “Vincent.  Look in that hamster cage.”

Dad:  “Why are there babies in this cage?”

Here are the bits and pieces of the aftermath that I do remember:

Dad decided we needed to put the male hamster  (Hammer- it was easier to tell them apart when one of them wasn’t constantly trying to eat its own babies) in a separate cage to prevent him from snacking on his kids as well. Sledge, stayed in the cage with the non-runty babies who were allowed to live.

Now at this point, I must tell you that my parents had refused to buy the fancy plastic hamster cages with the cool attachable tube tunnel thingamajigs that we had wanted. Instead we used the old wire cage that had once housed our rabbit. The wire cage was fine for Sledge & Hammer, if you don’t count all the hamster sex, because they were big. For baby hamsters, however… those poor suckers were falling out of that cage left and right. We didn’t notice at first, but then mom sucked up a couple with the vacuum cleaner. We had to keep the cage inside of a plastic tub, after that, in order to catch the ones who tried to jump ship. (In retrospect, I can’t blame those poor baby hamsters. If I had to chose between risking being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner or having my legs chewed off by my own mother while I slept, I would have tried to jump as well.) The worst were the ones who had fallen out of the cage and landed on the radiator. They didn’t stand a chance.

When all was said and done, as soon as the baby hamsters (the one’s who managed to survive the Great Carnage of 1987) were old enough, they, along with their mother, were all given away to other family friends. (You’re welcome.) Hammer stayed with us and lived a long happy life.

That is until, SOMEBODY, left him out of the cage and our dog ate him. Well, not so much ate him, as played aggressively with him until the point of his death. We buried Hammer in the backyard in a cardboard Crystal Light canister. Twice. The dog dug him up the first time because we didn’t bury him deep enough.

I really miss that dog.