Friday, September 3, 2010

A new mosque for New York? Yes - I'm actually serious sometimes.

To Build or Not to Build … That is the Question

A recent poll shows that New Yorkers are far more open to the idea of a mosque being built near Ground Zero than the rest of the nation. The proposed site -- just two blocks from where fundamentalist Islamics took down the Twin Towers, murdering thousands and forever changing this nation -- has actually been in use for over a year. But when developers revealed plans to erect a new center that will include a pool, gym and restaurant word spread quickly. While leaders within the Muslim community insist the true purpose of the center is to bridge interfaith understanding, there are a few problems. Let’s have a look.

From its inception, there have been problems. The mosque developer, Sharif El-Gamal, has not always been an honest man in giving straight answers or abiding by the law. In 2005, he was arrested for assaulting a man he met while working as a waiter. After punching the man in the face, breaking his nose and cheekbone and spitting on him, El-Gamal denied assaulting the man. But when CBS’ Channel 2 provided documentation to El-Gamal, he said maybe, “his face could have run into my hand.”

In 1990, El Gamal was arrested for disorderly conduct and, two years later, he was arrested again for DWI. The following year, his crime was attempted petit larceny and it was disorderly conduct again the next year. In 1998, there was yet another disorderly conduct arrest and still another one the following year. But in 2007, when asked if he had ever been convicted of or pled guilty to a crime, El-Gamal said, “no.” While he pushes to build the $100 million Islamic cultural center project forward, he owes over $227,000 in unpaid real estate taxes.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York, an Islamic leadership council, expressed concern about their own religious freedom. Imam Al Amin Abdul Latif, president of the Majlis Ash-Shura said, "The bigger issue and the broader issue is the issue of ethnic and religious hatred being spread by groups trying to stop the building of mosques and Islamic institutions across the country."

It is true. There is a growing mistrust and even hatred for Muslims as they push for the mosque to be built, and much of it is unfounded. The vast majority of Muslims are loving, peaceful, lovely people. The Quran is a beautifully-written bible that preaches tremendous love and respect. Sadly, however, much of it has been distorted by a small but hateful few bent on destruction. You know the old saying: It only takes a few bad apples.

But what makes all this worse is the Muslim community itself. For centuries, the inner turmoil of the Middle East has been so on-going, so passionate yet so confusing; few Americans understand the nuances of Middle Eastern politics. The result has been that many people have come to think of Muslims as dangerous or just plain crazy. Are all Muslims this way? Of course not! But when all you see on the news is a specific group of people blowing up women, children, bus loads of innocent peaceful people, this does not instill a feeling of stability among that region of the world or, sadly, their faith.

If you delve a little deeper and talk to the average Muslim, you will learn that they do not want this. They want peace and harmony and good will toward one another. They will also be quick to tell you that it is only the extremists who do these terrible things. Yet, the Muslim community as a whole continues to condone this behavior, if only by omission. Why? Fear, mostly. The peaceful Muslims do not want to further anger the extremists. The Saudis who have long been friends with the West, look the other way when Muslim extremists use their back door to flee from one country to another having just blown up a bunch of people. Pakistan not only stood by but actually stood in the way of our efforts to find Osama Bin Laden. No one wants to anger the extremists so they simply say and do nothing to act against them. So while “condoning” might be a tad strong of a word, the Muslim community on the whole has never CONDEMNED the actions of the extremists.

Last week when it was revealed that two men were arrested in Amsterdam for taping materials together on a plane in what may have been a test run to see what could be smuggled on to a plane to blow it up, no one even looked up at the television monitors to see what the guys looked like. We all knew. The world knew. They were Muslims. This isn’t hate mongering and racial profiling. Hell, extremist Muslims are the only ones who routinely blow things up and throw acid in the faces of little girls trying to get education. This is not fair to the good Muslim people who follow the Quran as it was written and, so, it is all the more reason the Muslim community needs to draw a very clear and very definite line about how it feels about terrorism. Rather than rally behind those arrested for terrorist acts, condemn the Taliban and Al-Queda. Denounce violence, lift up your women, and practice empathy for all.

Understand that it is not an anti-Islamic climate when survivors of family members blown to bits and burned to death do not want a mosque near Ground Zero. Yet, the leaders of the Majlis Ash-Shura complained that it is unethical, insensitive and inhumane to prevent the mosque from being built.

Whoa!! Let’s back this pony up. What can be more insensitive than going against the wishes of family members of the 9/11 victims to build a mosque so close to the site of a mass slaughter? This is no different than that crazy Baptist Church in Kansas that goes to soldier’s funerals and holding up signs disrespecting the dead and condemning them to hell. Do they have a legal right to be there? Yes. Is it right? No, it is morally repugnant.

Constitutionally, the Mosque has every right to be built. Indeedy. It really does. But morally, ethically, humanely speaking … for a country that still suffers each 9/11 anniversary, for those who will never see a loved one again, this is an issue of morality, not religion. Each time Americans are forced to remove their shoes at the airport, read of yet another attempt of some angry nut job trying to blow up more innocent people, we are reminded again and are outraged, frustrated, and sickened by the fact that a small group of little boys can’t play in the sandbox with everyone else.

And when this group digs in and refuses to see how tragic and horrible this action was – not just against New Yorkers and the U.S but also against the world, we have to wonder why. Why push so hard to have the mosque built? Is it because they know once it is built, some American nut will want retaliation and blow up the mosque thus allowing the extremists to re-fuel “the war” against the infidels?!? Is this a deep seeded plan to reignite hatred between Muslims and Christians?

Or is this group of Muslims in New York just really that insensitive?

We know that the developer El-Gamal is a liar. We know he has tendencies for violence and disregard for others. Is this just an unfortunate set of circumstances or is this a precursor to how the whole thing will go down? Perhaps if we saw more good will, we – as a nation – could become more trusting. Until that time … it remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Christmas 2009

Christmas 2009

Dear Friends and Family –

It’s that time of year again. If you’ve never received a holiday letter from us before, the rules are this: in the spirit of giving, we won’t tell you how amazing and perfect our lives are (as this would be a complete work of fiction), but we will make you feel so much better about your lives by relaying the bad, the ugly, the disturbing.

We decided to wait until the U.S. housing market hit an all time low before trying to sell our house. Next, we set up a schedule so that with our own insane schedule we would have to be out of the house at a moment’s notice or when the house was always in chaos. About this same time, Robb began growing out some weird beard that made him look like a Puritan because, I later found out from a friend, he knew it was driving me crazy. And he never quite got the concept of selling a house. It was very annoying to him that people would call and actually want to see the house … without him skulking about with his brooding manner and strange beard. After six months of driving dogs around in the car when people came to look at the house (I was starting to cough up hairballs) and with Kerri’s senior year of high school approaching, we pulled the For Sale sign. In hindsight, we probably should have removed Tommy’s arsenal of hand grenades and world domination maps before putting the house on the market.

Tommy was attacked by a pit bull. An infection set in, and he had to be transported by ambulance to Children’s Hospital where Tommy was given a bed with its own television remote attached to the bed! By Tommy’s standards, the attack was almost worth it. Another cool offshoot of the dog attack is that when Lego found out that while a pit bull was busily tearing open Tommy’s arm, he refused to set down his Lego helicopter he’d just completed; Lego sent Tommy the super deluxe Star Wars Battleship model. Lego – you rock!

On the downside, while we were in the Emergency Room for the second time, Tommy and I were on a gurney awaiting the ambulance. The place was packed, so we’d been left in the hallway when an enormously large, hairy man in a bathing suit was brought in. He was parked just in front of us. There was some story about him falling into a pool and having to be fished out. Tommy and I stared – transfixed by Sasquatch. I’d never seen so much hair on a human body, and as I sat pondering his exact DNA, Tommy spoke. “When I grow up,” he said. “I am never going to shave.” Um …Huh?

We went paintballing, and it turned violent. Michelle got shot in the mouth by Tommy and could not fully formulate the words, “I’m hit,” so I shot her in the ribs. Tommy shot me at very close range in the ear, so I shot him in the ribcage. Tommy is 10. I feel no remorse. Katie and Tommy like to pretend they’re vomiting, but because that is insufficiently disgusting and disturbing, Katie also likes to pretend she is a dog and hikes her leg on things. She is 14. We’re not worried about Katie acquiring a boyfriend any time soon. Meanwhile, Kerri had her first boyfriend – which was troublesome to her because he actually wanted to hold her hand.

I woke Katie early one morning, and she said, “Show thyself the door, ye wench.” When I walked into the kitchen, I found Tommy’s head in his bowl. No spoon. “Buddy! Use a spoon!” To which he replied, “We don’t have those where I come from!” When did we become pirates?

I helpfully suggested to Robb that he might want to trim his eyebrows, so he decided to shave them himself. It was pretty hard to keep a straight face when he came in the room and asked if I noticed anything different. Other than not having any eyebrows? Mostly, he just looked really surprised for a couple of weeks.

I tried to help Robb with buying new shirts, which was very difficult as – apparently – all the shirts are “gay,” making it a challenge to find a shirt that will not result in him accusing me of trying to emasculate him. I know it’s not PC to use words such as “gay,” but with Robb it really is okay as he is equally prejudiced against all groups of all people everywhere. He now includes anyone who sits in a coffee shop, reads the New York Times, or likes to dance. No one likes to dance, he says.

Kerri finally got her driver’s license and was never nervous until it was time to sign her license and she promptly messed up her own name. Yes, her official license has a scribble on it. I followed her to school for almost two months. One time I was driving Kerri and lecturing her on the importance of keeping “eyes on the road!” – okay, so technically I was not watching the road when WHAP! this oversized raccoon committed racoonacide. I never saw him! Kerri threw her hands up to her face and screamed, unable to speak for some time. It was horrible, but I rallied. “You see what happens when you don’t pay attention, Kerri!? Raccoons die!”

Katie has entered a new phase where she pretends to be dead – eyes open, sprawled out. So each time I enter a room, there she is. I don’t mean 3 or 4 or 40 times. Every time I come through a room, she is there – sprawled out on the island in the kitchen, across my bed, on the floor in the hallway.

Elbows out, hunched over her plate, Katie eats like a crazed hockey player. This, combined with the strange blend of a Southern/French accent she now affects all the time (when she’s not dead on the floor), has led me to the conclusion that she really does need to go to charm school. At the same time she is trying to convince me that she can act ladylike, she’s been repeating French phrases to me. So after hearing the same one over and over again, I asked what “J’aime beaucour a la pét!” means. Katie smiled, “Doesn’t that sound so elegant? It means, ‘I like to toot.’” Oh, yeah… charm school, here we come.

Tommy keeps taking my stuff and tries to sell it back to me. How does he think it fair that I buy back a skillet??

I’ve complained of this before, but this year, I really mean it … our ‘vacations by Robb’ need a serious overhaul. If we’re not experiencing altitude sickness, sleeping outside slaughter houses, or having to rotate shower days for everyone, we’re enduring long-term kidney damage. Our last trip to Wyoming had me heading into town so I could find a toilet. Kerri ran at me. “Where are you going?” When she learned that she could use a gas station bathroom, she was elated! “I’ve been holding it for two days! Please! Take me with you!” When an Exxon potty looks good to you, you need to reprioritize.

Recently, a bunch of us entered the Muddy Buddy race, which was a 6 mile race with an obstacle course and a mud bath that you have to crawl through at the end. Extreme muddiness is guaranteed. Kerri and her buddy, Cheyenne, won 1st in their division while Michelle and I (with a combined age of 90) beat out Katie and her buddy, Macy (c.a. 28), and you better know we are not letting Katie live that down! All the mud broke my washing machine.

While Kerri continues her passion for music, playing the fiddle, classical violin, piano, mandolin, and viola, we have desperately tried to garner that same interest in Tommy and Katie. Finally, we enrolled them in violin lessons together during which they spend much of their time giggling, but at least they are having fun. Still, we worry about their poor instructor. What kind of headaches must he have??

One day we drove by a neighbor’s house who had tied a donkey and a cow together. There is a Future Farmers of America reason for this, but at the time, I asked Katie, “Geez, what kind of conversations do you think those two are having?” Katie didn’t miss a beat. “You’re such a cow…Well, you don’t have to be an ass.” She may not have a career in music, but she is definitely headed for the stage. While making their Christmas lists, I heard Kerri and Katie berating their little brother. I came into the kitchen. “Whoa. He can write whatever he wants… he may not get it but that’s the fun of Christmas.” Kerri rolled her eyes. “Momma, he’s asking for a better banking interest!”

Tommy decided to relieve himself outside at boy scouts behind some bushes and right IN FRONT of a church window. A rattlesnake fell at my feet when I opened the barn door, the cats have taken to hacking up giant hairballs on the vent of Kerri’s new little car, and we’re pretty sure it was the dead/reincarnated raccoon that came back and mixed a can of paint with bird seed on the back porch. It looks like he was trying to spell out “You’re next.”

Finally, an ode to our Shep/Boxer mix, Nala. After 12+ years, her hips gave out on her, and before the pain was too much, we put her down. After Tommy was born, she became his watchdog, and when I would not immediately respond to his cries, she would punish me by not allowing me to touch her for a day or so. She will forever be remembered as the softest-furred, sweetest-natured, thumpingest-tailed pup in the world! Heaven just got a little bit softer!

Agnes Pharo once said, “What is Christmas? It is the tenderness of the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”

Yeah, well, look. I just want people to use indoor plumbing and preferably not the Exxon station. Body hair should be kept to a minimum, and I don’t think livestock should be tied together. Never try to play “freeze tag” on ice skates and just know that the term “hairball” is misleading. It’s not just hair. But in the spirit of the season, let us say this to you: “Pouvoir Paix est sur vous et n’a jamais laissé un jeu de accoon avec la peinture rouge.”

Happy Holidays,



Christmas 2008

Christmas 2008

Dear Friends and Family: you should know, Santa Claus is not who you think he is.

As you know by now, every year we send out our annual holiday letter, spelling out all the things that have gone wrong so that you – our dear readers – might find just a wee bit more sunshine in your own lives. For nearly a decade, we’ve dished the dirt, but nothing could have prepared even us for our own BAD SANTA story.

As many of you may know, I am the editor of a community magazine, and for an article, I interviewed a guy who plays Santa. He’s super into it and wanted only to be photographed as ‘ol St. Nick. But when the format changed, and he was asked to pose for a picture as his normal self, Santa flipped out. He ranted and raved, threatened a lawsuit, rambled incoherently, and hung up on me (twice)! Later, Santa sent me a viral worm in the way of an e-greeting card. So clever is this diabolical Santa that he has a ‘Naughty and Nice’ book where parents provide personal information about their child, such as names of pets, teachers, and what sports they play. To a child, these are bits of information that only Santa could know, right? Ah, but to my new friends at the Sex Crime Unit and local FBI office, these are also things that identify a bad man who is overly interested in little kids.

The other kicker to this story is I had to convince a very nice retired couple to let me come into their home and decorate it in the beginning of November (within 48 hours) as a replacement feature for my December issue!

But the fat man of the North Pole can’t rattle the Allreds easily. We laugh at disaster; we chortle at chaos and scoff at surprises. We’ve had pulled hamstrings, broken toes, poison ivy, and dead animal bodies presented to us. Tommy got eight staples in his head then demanded to be called Ironhead Allred. He also recently asked for a flamethrower (Ummm, no). Robb recently got a root canal. Anyone recall the last time he was at the dentist and was certain they were going to steal his wallet? Katie has a serious hair straightening addiction. The rest of us are exposed to the lovely aroma of fried hair as it wafts down the hallway each morning.

Kerri is now driving (we’re working on her learner’s permit), and Katie is already practicing how to look cool in the front seat next to her drivin’ big sis. What they do not know is Robb is already looking on eBay for a camera to be installed in the car, and I’m working on my large “Hello! I’m a new driver. Please do not look at me, get too close to me, or honk at me. I am a giant insurance liability” sign to be affixed to the back window.

Our septic tank had to be replaced, but it was during the rainy season, so we had to wait to “dry out” before it could be replaced, which meant that I had to go to the Laundromat to take care of personal matters. For two months! It got to the point where I would arrive at the Laundromat, and my good friends would say, “Hola, Alex. Cómo estás hoy?” To which I would respond, “Estoy bien. Hey, gracias por preguntar. ¿Y tú?” Fun though this was, I eventually began to wonder, what is wrong with that septic tank guy? Why can’t he just come here and fix my septic tank? So I asked him. He told me that Robb had expressed enough concern that our lawn and trees not be damaged by the line installation that the guy said, “I ain’t going there until the ground is completely dry.” Hijo de una perra!

The irony here is that while I was busily learning Spanish at the Laundromat so that our precious trees wouldn’t be disturbed by the septic tank guys, we had what can only be described as a mini-tornado touch down, and it destroyed many of the aforementioned trees.

As spring arrived, Calvin and Little Dude (cats) continued their slaughter of all living creatures outside. All mutilated creatures are then displayed proudly next to my car. The girls and I work hard to rescue what creatures we can, but there are too many creatures, too little time. One particular day while running errands (including a little visit to the Laundromat), I saw something poking out of my tire. A lizard! On further inspection, I could see a trickle of blood coming from its mouth. Words cannot describe how disgusting it looked with its little stiff arms and head poking out of the wheel well of my front tire.

You know those ridiculous stories you hear on the news when some idiot is pulled over and the police officer asks, “Is there a reason you were driving so fast?” and the person says, “Yes, officer. I was trying to make the dead lizard shoot out from my wheel.” Really, when you think about it, it’s not so ridiculous, and after some very hard, very fast driving, I saw that I made it stick out another couple of inches. Finally, I got a nice man to take out the lizard, and he said, “This lizard is alive!” I felt horrible for days. That poor, poor, brain-damaged lizard! Stupid cats.

Robb signed the feller (Tommy) up for wrestling and Cub Scouts and proceeded never to be home because of work. He became an assistant cub master – a role that a now very uncertain Aunt Mimi (Michelle) has picked up. Boy, you haven’t seen funny until you see Michelle in her scout master’s outfit!

When gas prices were soaring, we bought a little white Corolla to jet around in. The cats like to vomit on it. But not before Katie popped the hood, in search of the latch to open up the trunk. Let me repeat that statement to you: Katie released the latch that holds down the hood … While cruising down the road at a nifty 50 MPH, there was a loud “WHAP!” noise and sudden, blinding whiteness. The hood flung backward, cracking the windshield and rendering us blind. After making it safely to the side of the road, I berated Kerri for popping the hood when I heard Katie’s small voice. “Soooo, what exactly happens when you pull that one lever?” Sometimes I still beat Katie just for the heck of it.

Did you know that if you and, oh, say, your sister get locked inside a stadium (to run bleachers) and the police are called that you could actually be handcuffed because “trespassers will be prosecuted”?

We took two family trips: one to Jamestown with my parents to revisit this great nation’s beginnings. It was fitting then that we had no electronics for the 22-hour drive – no movies, no DVDs, no Gameboys. But we did have plenty of bologna sandwiches. Papa (aka Marc Powe) self-appointed himself keeper of Tommy. I’m not sure why. (During one visit to an art gallery after Tommy was explicitly directed not to touch anything, he hand-carried a $575 painting for me to see. Akkk!) Robb and I have worked hard to keep electronics to a minimum in our house -- no t.v. or computers in bedrooms, little exposure to video games … Then, Robb went out and bought Rock Band. Tommy can hardly focus on anything except playing drums and belting out “Black Hole Sun” while Katie sings “Are You Gonna Be My Girl!” at the top of her lungs. But when Robb was exposed to the song “The Bird is the Word,” a 1960’s beach song, his tourettes kicked in, and there has been NO PEACE in the house. Hey, kids! Have you heard? No, what? Have you heard the word? What word? That the Bird is the word!!

We took another trip to Colorado and stayed in a cabin at an elevation of 29,000 feet. Okay, maybe it was actually only about 12,000 feet, but it felt like 29,000! The mountain was called Mt. Terrible, an old miner’s claim, after almost 30 people died at the turn of the 19th Century. It was all fun and games until both Katie and Tommy got “terrible” and very scary altitude sickness. With no phone, no mode of transportation, and a hailstorm, it made for a rough night. That and we were not allowed the amenities that one becomes so comfortable with … So when you hear the old question, does a bear poop in the woods? know this: yes, and he’s not alone. We went on to have a blast, four-wheeling all over the terrifying but sensational Alpine Pass.

On our way to said Mt. Terrible, we were delayed in leaving home, but Robb refused to stop in any hotel in the state of Texas, saying we had to make it out of the state before stopping or we would be “defeated.” Defeated? By whom? Still, ever determined to save money, Robb found us this hole-in-the-wall motel in Clayton, New Mexico. We were suspect. What can you expect for a two-queen-bed suite for $49.95? Surprisingly, it was pretty neat until morning. Around daybreak, we suddenly understood why it was so cheap. We covered our mouths, gagging and packing things as quickly as possible to get away. Only Robb Allred could lead his family to a motel directly across the street from a stockyard/slaughterhouse.

For Halloween, I made Katie and her friend Katie Bates (who always comes over and breaks things) giant Starbucks cups and friend Macy Dunegan a large Starbucks pumpkin loaf. And what, you ask, is so scary about a Starbuck coffee on Halloween? Answer: What’s scarier than a $4 cup of coffee? But even more frightening than inflated prices is the not-so-subtle whines of young teenagers. I can’t walk. I’m losing circulation in my arms. The giant straw is poking into my thigh. Birds are swooping down and pecking at the real bread crumbs you used to authenticate my pumpkin loafness. Babies!

When Tommy went to the emergency room to get staples in his head, Robb and Michelle (Aunt Mimi) had to take him because I had pneumonia. This was an internal struggle for Robb because 1) the Broncos were currently playing a game and 2) Robb does not like going to medical professionals because one might be inclined to touch him. Robb is searching for a good doctor who can treat him without actually ever touching his person.

My pneumonia lasted so long I was on a constant cycle of oral steroids, steroid injections, super strong antibiotics, and breathing treatments. I had many steroids surging through my body – made worse because I was not allowed to exercise for an entire month! – I’ve never been so jumpy in my life. Also, the word hemorrhoid is funny only when you never have to write it down as “reason for your visit today.” During the time I was sick, my children attempted to “help” me by washing my cell phone, breaking the garbage disposal, and allowing a full container of Hershey syrup to open/ooze down the back of the fridge … all in two days. And my doc said, “Get some rest. Let your family help you out.” Right. That kind of help, I don’t need.

We had a baby rattler (snake) in our garage that I had to bash with the shovel, and Katie’s re-enactment of Paul Revere’s ride for a social studies assignment was an embarrassing display of dispassion by Snow, the horse. (Let us all be thankful that it was not Snow who was asked to charge through the early hours of April 18/April 19, 1775, or we’d be a British Colony right now.) Nala, our 12-year-old Shep/Boxer mix, has begun to lose control of her facilities, and, amazingly, where she decides to walk and poop is always exactly where Robb decides to walk in the dark. It’s really quite remarkable – though Robb does not find this connection nearly as interesting as I do.

Indeed, there are many things to be grateful for. But finding a Santa on every corner is not one of them. The girls and Tommy have become a little concerned, if not embarrassed, by my new hostility toward the bell ringing, velvet covered, bearded men in red who all say things like, “Ho, ho, ho! Happy Holidays.” I’m quick to turn. “You talkin’ to me, Fat Man?” You have to watch that guy.

So let me give you a little piece of advice this holiday season. Love one another, be safe, be the best person you can be, and watch your back. Santa Claus is coming to town!



Christmas 2007

Christmas 2007

Greeting, friends and family!

Our septic tank overflowed, the dogs almost killed Little Dude (cat), and we were skunked. Tomato juice does nothing but make you mad. After my big important interview with Homeland Security, I looked down to see that my pants zipper was down. My novel about small-town Texas, White Trash, while in the hands of an important someone, has still not panned out. But when Tommy was asked by one of his teachers what his mother writes, he responded, “Oh, some white trash stuff.”

We try to keep things low key for Robb, but it’s difficult. Channel 8 contacted us for a story on the environment, and we obliged. Prior to that, I’d been caught by a news crew as I was coming out of City Hall. I was asked if I had an opinion on pedophiles. What could I say? No? So I was on the news, offering my opinion on pedophiles. A week later, another news agency called for yet another story on the environment. Despite Robb’s belief that I lurk around film crews for the thrill of being on the news, the truth is that I just feel strongly about doing my part for the environment. So they mic-ed up Tommy in hopes of hearing him wheeze as he ran at soccer practice. The good news is that his asthma has really improved. The bad news – for the crew – was that Tommy had great lung capacity and was talking to the cameraman throughout soccer practice. He kept saying, “Hey, hey … can you hear me?” And as he was dribbling the ball down the field, “Hey, are you getting this?” When some of his teammates squirted him with water, he warned, “Hey, don’t get me wet. I’ve got electronics on.” Then he told his teammates, “See that guy over there? He can hear every word we’re saying. Watch this. Hey, mister, if you can hear me, raise your hand.” The cameraman obliged.

During Spring Break, we re-enacted the death of Julius Caesar (class project) with a group of kids in togas, wreaths, and knight’s armor. Later, for other class projects, we also re-enacted the Civil War and Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo. Tommy has become obsessed with Napoleon, so we’ve all been subjected to hours of war between our friends, the Brits and the Frogs. During one of our most recent trips to the Cowboy Church (where they also have a rodeo – I mean, if you can praise God, good for you, but if you can praise God AND rope a calf, now we’re talkin’), we zipped around to the back parking lot filled with large pick-up trucks and horse trailers. We – in our electric blue van and Tommy’s huge, homemade British flag streaming some five feet above the van. Here come the Allreds who of course only eat freedom fries!

Robb went on his annual elk-hunting trip but did not get anything because of a freak snowstorm. Almost two weeks later, we had another friend go. He didn’t get anything because of a freak heat wave. But there isn’t any global warming.

Kerri made the high school soccer team despite a pulled hamstring; Katie made the cross country team but kept vomiting during the meets and, at the last one, tripped and fell, knocking out her tooth. She was able to suction the tooth against her tongue and finish out the mile, talking to other competitors all the while. Tommy got thrown out of the Christmas play for turning his “toy soldier” part into his (rather dramatic) take on Napoleon. He was eventually allowed back in. And I rescued two dogs off the highway only to discover once they leapt into my van that one of us had been sprayed in the last 24 hours by a skunk, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t me! The front of our house flooded, the cats won’t stop killing and bringing home dead bunnies, and Robb still shares my workspace. While I’m studiously working on a piece about water conservation or a POW from WWII, Robb will turn in his chair to face me and say, “Wow, Goldie Hawn was found dead in her bedroom.”

“What?” This is shocking news! I’m a Goldie fan.

“Oh, sorry. It says she’s redoing her bedroom for the next issue of Good Housekeeping!” Or, he’ll say, “Barack Obama was just arrested for solicitation.”


“Oh, no. Sorry. It says here …”

Truly, it is one of the worst aspects of sharing an office space with an infant.

I asked Robb what it is that he and his brother Pat do while waiting for wild pigs to show themselves at the hunting ground. Frankly, it is difficult for me to envision deep, philosophical conversations between the two. He said, “Well, we have a breath-holding contest.” That’s it? You guys sit there and hold your breath? “Hey, it’s pertinent information. We [Pat and Robb] could accidentally drive into a lake. When rescuers come, you [Alex] could say, ‘Hey, they’ve been down there in the water for over a minute! Robb can hold his breath for 1 minute and 47 seconds, but Pat can only hold his for one minute and 13 seconds!” Ahh. Note to self: Have them rescue Pat first in the event those two idiots drive into a lake. This is pertinent information.

Speaking of pigs, we have neighbors who have named their free-roaming pet hogs Porkchop and Petunia.

Tommy has taken to having “estate sales,” only he keeps taking my things and insisting that I buy them back. And, of course, I passed out while getting stitches in my leg, which was highly embarrassing. When I came to, I tried to deny that I’d passed out but couldn’t really explain why my doctor was holding my feet up and why there was suddenly a nurse I didn’t recognize standing next to me.

Katie began calling me Loverpants. And, somehow, that evolved into “Pantless lover.” I tried to embarrass Katie by calling out to her in front of the entire 6th, 7th, and 8th grade UIL team. She beat me to it, screaming, “I love you, pantless lover!” This was just as the assistant principal was walking by. I was stunned into silence as he walked by and mouthed the words, “Pantless lover? Wow.” How embarrassing. I had the overwhelming desire to shout, “I do have on pants!” but that didn’t seem appropriate.

Knock. Knock.

At 2:40 a.m. – with Robb out of town – there was an officer from the Ellis County sheriff’s department at my door. “Do you own a Shetland pony?” Um… no?

As it turns out, the Shetland (named Rebel) had broken free of his corral. Not knowing what else to do, the Sheriff began knocking on doors of people with horses; naturally, he came to my house. It was an early Christmas present for Star: we put Rebel in our corral to be terrorized.

Tommy is taking wrestling (“wrastling”) but cares very little about technique. He just wants to wrastle … everyone. This would include Katie who only has about five pounds on the little feller, and I can’t get Tommy to understand that this is NOT the time to wrestle the hormonally imbalanced Katie. While Kerri continues with her classical training (violin), Katie has become disturbingly good at Hip Hop dance moves. I do, however, draw the line at my skinny albino baby throwing gang signs.

Sadly, I had to put Star, my 23-year-old quarter horse, to sleep. His knee was blown out, but he had a great life. When he first came to me, he was terrified of lightning and fireworks, but in the last years, confident with us, he actually grazed under an umbrella of fireworks. Suffice to say, it is far easier to bury a small pet than a horse!

I tried to offer fresh cucumbers from my garden to my kickbox class, but they’ve become so fearful of my “ideas” – no one would accept. They tentatively asked, “What’s a cucumber?” What’s a cucumber? They thought it was some horrible exercise routine. I suspect my Starbucks addiction may have contributed to their growing fear of me first thing in the morning.

One saving grace in all of this has been my new job as the editor of a community magazine (NOW magazine) which I LOVE. I got to meet actor/artist Buck Taylor (‘Newly’ from “Gunsmoke”), and I’m pretty sure my zipper was down. Dang it! I swear, it’s the pants! What other job could or would allow me to step in beefalo poop (cow and buffalo crossbreed), don a dog attack training suit, drag a weighted dummy in a time test, challenge a mounted police officer to a run-off against his horse, fall off a stage, and have an iguana pee-pee on my shoe and then turn around and interview a funeral home director and scale down a ladder into an archeological dig of an 1872 Bismarck saloon?

So, friends, as we close yet another year, there is some information that we want to impart to you – things that we learned the hard way. They are as follows: Persistence pays off. The quality of a zipper does matter. Shetland ponies can actually scream in terror when penned in with large, aggressive quarter horses. Karma is real … so be thoughtful. It’s really in bad taste to name a pig Porkchop.

It’s either laugh or cry. We recommend the former. And remember, screaming as you run away from a skunk does not improve your odds. Apparently, high-pitched noises are upsetting to the little creatures. Oh, and tomato juice won’t do a dang thing for you.



Christmas 2006

Christmas 2006

For close to a decade now, it’s been our mission here at Allred Farms to spread doom and gloom during this annual time of merriment. It is a gift originated by the original grump – Robb – to be sure you don’t get the typical, syrupy-sweet holiday letter reporting all the amazing things that happened in the year past.

With that, we hope our year of disasters makes yours seem a little brighter!

Compliments of Lightning, the wild horse, I tore tendons and ligaments in my left shoulder, forcing me to take a hiatus from kickbox instruction. The doctor says I need surgery. Our cat, Suzy, was lured across the street by a little girl who had been specifically told not to lure our cat across the street and the little feline was killed by a car. Then Pete killed our other cat, Seven. Tommy badly burned his feet walking barefooted across a day-old burn-pile. He also got ringworm and liked it so much he decided to share it with all of us. It really is the gift that keeps on giving. Gross and disgusting or, as Tommy likes to say, disgrossting. Kerri has begun wearing makeup, much to Robb’s dismay; Katie wants to be a rock star, singing “Man, I feel like a woman”; and Tommy wants to be “a hippie.” Tommy also has an interest in singing Broadway tunes, although we don’t know where he is learning the lyrics.

I got banned from Katie’s school and was not allowed to attend her award ceremony for being the only girl in the 5th grade to get the Presidential Award because I took her home after a school field trip when it was 100 degrees outside and the buses were running late. Robb had his truck’s tailgate stolen from our own driveway. Worse, the police caught the guy, but he won’t give up any information except to say he was selling stolen tailgates for drug money, and the police made a deal with him allowing him to keep the secret. Robb continues his quest, however, to find his tailgate – driving us all crazy in the process. He swears he can identify his own tailgate and will steal it back if he finds it.

Driving to and from the Allred family reunion was a test of my patience. Robb constantly blurts out lyrics from random songs no one has even heard of, many of which, given his passion for heavy metal music, sound like threats. He told Katie in song, “If you cross the Canadian River, I’ll cut out your liver.” What?! Suddenly, Katie was looking worriedly around for a river outside the window. What did he just say?!

He announced that he wants the distinction of being bitten by a rattlesnake. We were driving along in Wyoming when he shared this newest and grandest desire. Personally, I would have just settled for something to eat other than two-day-old bologna sandwiches. To be clear, however, he wants to die at the paws of a bear, but ONLY if there is clear evidence of a struggle. His fear is that local press will get hold of the story and defame his character: “Local man, Robb Allred, was killed by a bear. It appears that he simply rolled over and let the bear eat him. Friends say this was his way….” Should he ever meet his demise by way of bear, there will be signs of a fight! Preferably, the bear will be injured.

Overall, the trip was a great success although there were weird moments. We hiked, trekked, and trudged through more mud, muck, and rain than most Yellowstoners. If anyone ever hopes to “do” Yellowstone with us, they’d better get a doctor’s note first. Hey, Robb will suggest, there MIGHT be a moose four miles from here, one way, uphill, in a rainstorm. Who wants to go? During one such hike, we suddenly came across an usually tall, skinny man who was really, really tan – George Hamilton scary tan – and wearing nothing but Speedos. I don’t think he was wearing shoes. I was distracted by … those itty, bitty Speedos.

I was suddenly thankful Robb was with us. But when I turned to find my tough-guy support system, I found Robb, scowling and recoiling in growing homophobic terror of the moving black Speedos.

Oh, sure. He’s ready to meet his doom in the woods against a hairy black bear, but throw just one hairy tan man at him, and it’s all “Akk! He’s looking at me! Make him go away! Make him go away!”

Other than that, this does seem to be the year of getting or being hurt. Besides my horse hurting me and Tommy burning his feet, I fell down the back stairs of City Hall in Fort Worth, which was made more embarrassing by the fact that this stunning athletic feat was witnessed by two police officers who had to fill out a “promise-not-to-sue-us” report. A brown recluse bit Robb, and Nala unsuccessfully fought a swarm of bees. Twice. And Captain Denial, a.k.a. Robb, got a toothache.

But Robb does not like the dentist. Robb did not want to go to the dentist. So, right off the bat, it was one complaint after another. “A mall dentist? We’re going to a mall dentist?” Dr. Daniels is not a mall dentist. He’s with our insurance plan, is really good, and, yes, just happens to have one of his offices in a strip mall. Robb’s examination determined he would have to have a root canal. The office manager could see that he was distressed and left the room so that we could talk privately. Robb poked his finger at the dental paperwork. The cost. Too expensive. “But you have to have this,” I said. “It’s not like you’re thinking about liposuction.” He scowled again and began making excuses about why he could not have the procedure done that day.

“Robb, you can’t put this off. Dr. Daniels said your tooth is infected.”

“This isn’t the shirt I wanted to wear.”

Excuse me? “You’ve got a special going-to-the-dentist shirt?”

“They’re going to give me a shot,” he went on.

“I know.”

“In the mouth!!”

“Well, it’s not going to help to get it in your rear end!”

We went back and forth over his wallet. Should he keep it; should I take it? Finally, he decided he should keep it in case he should suddenly be rendered unconscious and the staff didn’t know who he was. I said, “I think they already know who you are, Robb.”

“What if there’s a shift change?”

“This isn’t a factory!”

He did get the root canal. Now he needs knee surgery.

At back-to-school physicals, our beloved Dr. Jones walked in and asked, “So, does anyone have poison ivy?” Katie shot up a hand, proudly. “I do.” I said, “Wow, is there some kind of outbreak of poison ivy?”

“No, I just ask you because someone always has poison ivy in your house.” Ahh. Between the creek, horses, cats, and hay, one of us is always itching. And, once, we were nearly attacked by a zombie possum.

To set up the zombie possum, let me first explain that a few years ago while watching family videos, I pointed out my pregnant self to Tommy. “Look, Tommy. You are in my tummy there.” Tommy was horrified. “You ate me?” It was cute, and we all laughed, never really providing a satisfactory answer. This spring, Katie (unbeknownst to me) explained to Tommy that females grow babies in their tummies, and once the baby is big enough, it will just come out. No one really knows when. It just comes out, and there’s no stopping it.

Tommy, Katie, and a friend were by the creek when they spotted a neighbor’s Labrador, Flower, who was very pregnant. The other child commented that Flower was going to “explode” she was so pregnant. “She’s gonna have those babies any minute!”

“Wait! What?! Babies?” Plural? Panic! Run, run, run! She’s gonna blow!”

“Local boy, Tommy Allred, was brought down in a hail of puppies. The explosion was fierce and disgrossting. He also has puppy breath. He never had a chance .…”

Since then, Tommy has been a little concerned about going to the creek. Never mind the coyotes, snakes, owl, buzzards, our rogue bobcat, and various strays. You can NEVER be too careful about exploding Labradors. So, when he wanted to check on a large turtle we’d previously rescued from the highway – and, by the way, you would be amazed by the velocity, veracity, and volume with which a frightened turtle can urinate on you – his sisters had to go. That’s when they saw the possum. Lying on the ground, not moving. Playing possum? “Poke it.” “No, you poke it.” “No, you poke it.” “Hey, let’s get Tommy. He’ll poke anything. Here—” handing stick to Tommy, “Poke it, Tommy.” Poke. Poke. It moved!

This, in and of itself, could have been very exciting, but when you are a little feller who watches Scooby Doo and Zombie Island obsessively, this is waaaaay beyond exciting.


Big surprise, when I went back to check out the zombie possum, it was gone. Try explaining to an imaginative seven-year-old that it’s not coming back when, in fact, this is what zombies do.

Katie got into reading the kid-friendly-yet-scary Goosebumps series. Her first book was about a pair of ghost hands that play a piano in the attic. She was jumpy for days. For this reason, I guess, it was in bad taste to put Katie to bed, play the piano, and then run out of the room before she could see me. She slept with Robb and me for days.

Finally, while we are now goatless, Robb brought home a new puppy. She appears to be some kind of Rottweiler or Doberman mix. She was starved and half dead. But, he cautioned us all, we are NOT keeping her. Still, while we nurse her back to health, he expects us all to call her “Cleave” because (sigh: are you ready for this?) she’s a dog “you can cleave to.” Her name is Sadie Cleave Sue Allred. She’s great friends with Pete, and we’ve had her for two months, but we’re not keeping her.



Christas 2005

Christmas 2005


Oh, sure, there were happy times in our home this year. Cute kids did and said cute things. But let’s face it, even if I told you about those cute things, would you really remember them next year? No. Instead, let me start with a note about dental care.

Heed this lesson well all you parents of children who will be needing orthodontia: It doesn’t matter how often you tell your kids “Don’t wrap your retainer in a napkin and place it on your lunch tray.” They don’t listen. It doesn’t matter how often their orthodontist reiterates this advice. They don’t care. They will continue to wrap retainers in napkins so that they might throw them away, so that you then will have to plunge your arms elbow-deep into public waste cans and fish through sticky drinks and rotten food. Not once or twice, mind you, but numerous times. And, still, each time you will tell yourself that the child has learned her lesson. But this is a lie. There will be more days of retainer-trashing. Days like November 17, 2005.

The day played out in a painfully slow, torturous rhythm that began when my dryer broke, and I had to wear damp yoga pants to my kickboxing class. I had the flu and felt just awful, but I had to teach anyway. During class, I pulled a stomach muscle – very painful – but beat it on back to the middle school to pick up Kerri for her orthodontist’s appointment. She had the appointment because, during a lunch break from her soccer tournament the previous weekend, she had decided to wrap her retainer in a napkin, place it on her lunch tray, and – you guessed it – throw it away. She then strategically waited another five hours before tearfully announcing that her retainer – her fourth – was in a trash can in Duncanville (20+minutes away). After I signed Kerri in at the orthodontist’s as Kerri “I Lost My Retainer Again” Allred, I learned that our retainer insurance had lapsed and that a new retainer would cost more than my computer. But Kerri was saved from my rage by the doctor’s decision to hold off on another retainer so that he could pull two of her teeth.

Back home, while the dryer guy determined that the motor was fried and needed to be replaced, Tommy and Katie came home from school, and Katie burst into tears. My stomach was killing me, my head was pounding, and my dryer was on the fritz. What else could possibly be wrong? Not to be outdone by her older sister, Katie had wrapped her retainer in a napkin during lunch, placed it on her lunch tray, and then dutifully thrown it away, waiting until now to tell anyone. I thought about leaping across the foyer to kill her, but my aching stomach prevented it.

Now knowing how much a retainer cost and that we had no retainer insurance, there was only one solution. So after the dryer guy left, Katie and I went back to the school and began pulling trash bags out of the dumpsters behind the cafeteria. We soon concluded that the contents of dumpster #1 – chicken, stuffing, gravy, green beans, rolls, and Jell-O – meant that it was the correct dumpster, and we rummaged through the nasty, foul, disgusting remainders of kiddy food. And vomit. No school dumpster is complete without vomit. By bag #4 (and I’m talking giant bags) and no luck, it was clear that I would have to go into the dumpster because – hindered by my stomach – I couldn’t reach any further. So, cussing and ranting, I climbed inside the dumpster.

As I sifted through the sewage of saliva and goo, Katie decided to assist me further by making retching noises outside the dumpster. Have you ever been inside a dumpster? I mean really inside one, wallowing in chocolate milk, mashed meat, and vomit-soaked bread? It really, really stinks. And not just from days of revolting smells, but from weeks, nay, months of rancid stench that wilts your taste buds even when your mouth is closed. My eyes hurt from the putridity, and the princess was standing outside the dumpster gagging!

I snapped. “SHUT UP!”

We don’t say shut up in my house. It’s very rude and extremely inappropriate to say to children.


Trapped inside that echoing coffin of noxious fumes, I’m not sure who heard me, but I am sure that somewhere in the world a child caught in the act of wrapping a retainer in a napkin paused and shuddered.

Then, just as I thought I might faint from the fumes, I saw – perched precariously on a heap of … man, I don’t know what that was – something sparkle. I held my breath, plunged my entire arm into the abyss, and pulled out the precious retainer. Yes!

We drove home with the windows down. I made dinner, fed the animals, and announced that after I did a load of laundry (since I really didn’t want our – well, my – dumpster clothing to ripen overnight), I was going to bed. Halfway through my Thera-Flu, the dryer stopped. Dead. And somehow, I knew the retainer was responsible.

Sometime during the dryer/retainer ordeal, Aggie, the cat, disappeared, and I feared an owl might have done her in. This has been a bad year for animals in our house. Over the summer, an owl snatched both Sooner and Benson (our previous cats) and carried them away – at separate times. So we got Aggie and Hunter. But Aggie, ever determined to come into the house, must have met Pete, the dog, head-on while I was answering the door for the dryer guy. The morning following Aggies’s disappearance, I assigned the girls the task of raking Pete’s area. Then came the guttural cry – Kerri had raked up Aggie’s lifeless, little body. We have a new kitten now to keep Hunter company. His name is Calvin. Hunter is now named Susie because it turns out he is a she.

Earlier in the summer, determined to prove to Robb that Pete isn’t the stupidest dog on earth, Pete went to retrieving school. Initially, all he wanted to do was run alongside the other dogs, which was a little embarrassing, but soon enough he was retrieving pigeons. We were pleased as punch when we picked him up from summer school until I realized that the pigeons being thrown for him to retrieve were real. And alive. It was horrible! So Patty the pigeon came home with us, clipped wings and all, and I was determined to teach her to fly again. At no time did I envision having a pet pigeon, but Patty spent her nights in the garage and her days pooping on our cars. We would carry her out and throw her into the air. “You’re free, Patty!” But she’s a homing pigeon, so she wouldn’t leave.

She would fly on top of the garage, perch on its edge, and watch us. She would run along the roof of the house as we drove away and be waiting there faithfully when we returned. Unfortunately, one day she apparently lost her balance and fell into Pete’s area. When I came home, Nala was spitting out feathers.

Cookiedough, our goat, got so fat from eating Snow’s (horse) food that we sent her away to a fat farm – actually, a neighbor’s small goat farm – so that she could regain her figure and her dignity. We’re still waiting. We pretend she’s just on vacation visiting family.

For reasons known only to herself, Katie declared she wants to be called Pinky. So Tommy now wants to be called Pokey. And Kerri was designated Pukey.

But the worst incident of the summer occurred when a little serial killer in the making came to our house and poked out our guinea pig’s eye. Literally. Sparkles ultimately had to be put to sleep. It was terrible. And it was made all the more terrible by the fact that the child had no remorse.

Also over the summer, I was involved in three lawsuits. One was against the idiot kid on the motorcycle who tried to commit suicide by nearly driving into the side of my van. Anyone remember this? Two years ago, he was driving 70 miles per hour without a license on a motorcycle that wasn’t his with a prior conviction for assaulting a police officer (just to give you an idea of the kind of upstanding citizen he is). Witnesses had already called 911 before our mishap, stating that he was going to kill someone. The police cited him for causing the accident, but he sued me for medical expenses (he broke his toe when he lost control of the bike and skidded off the road) and lost wages. The case dragged on for more than a year because the kid kept no-showing for court, forcing us to reschedule several times. Finally, my insurance company decided, as a matter of “economics,” to settle. Meaning they paid the little weasel. Our judicial system at its finest.

The other two lawsuits involved Erin Brokovich, who came to Midlothian to help fight pollution from the three local cement plants, and two local environmental groups. The two groups, Downwinders at Risk and Blue Skies Alliance, recently made Texas history by winning a large settlement against one of the plants. All this occurred while I was finishing the book Athletic Scholarships for Dummies.

And, of course, there is the world according to Robb. Here are some examples of how his mind works: On a recent business trip, he and a co-worker went out to get a bite to eat. When the waitress came, the co-worker unwittingly ordered the same meal Robb had planned to order, which meant Robb now had to order something else. Why? Apparently, real men cannot eat the same meal at restaurants. If one guy at a table orders a meal that sounds really good to another guy at the table, the second guy is out of luck. He can’t order the same thing because – according to the rules of Robb – no self respecting guy would ever say, “I’ll have the same thing.” Instead, he has to order something different. Who knew? It seems so clear to him, but Pinky, Pokey, Pukey, and I just don’t get it.

Other rules of Robb: furniture must not have flower print, he doesn’t trust men with beards, and he will never use a stall in a public restroom if a stall next to it is occupied because – as I understand it – men must never potty beside other men. Good to know.

Robb refuses to eat at Friday’s restaurants and Chili’s because people look too happy on their commercials. (Many of you may recall his similar boycott of Olive Garden restaurants because of their commercials depicting people laughing and enjoying themselves.) And Robb maintains that no one really likes coffee. We’re just pretending because we want to be seen drinking our status coffees. Frankly, I think this is a mild overreaction to my addiction to Starbucks.

Kerri broke her foot in volleyball and then played a full game of soccer before we (okay, before I) realized it was broken. During my interview with a U.S. Senator, Katie got on the other phone and began breathing heavily, “I know what you did last summer!” Kerri came home from school one day and excitedly asked that we go to the grocery store and buy a box of chewy granola bars (which I give them as snacks for school). Apparently, Kerri had been selling her .42 cent granola bars in the cafeteria for $2 apiece. What an extortionist! With visions of laptop computers dancing in her head, she may have a lucrative career in the gasoline/oil industry – jacking up prices in times of need. Tommy then declared that he either wants money from Santa Claus or a machine with which he can make his own money. He also has decided, for some reason, to open a car dealership when he grows up. I don’t know where they get this stuff.

Robb has now taken to imitating Judge Judy and is driving us nuts. He’s in love with the diminutive, yet domineering 4’8,” 65-year-old queen of daytime television mean. How do I compete with that?

From time to time, believe it or not, I actually forget that I’m in rural Texas – despite the fact that an owl stole my cats, that coyotes are occasionally spotted in our backyard, and that friends continue to introduce me to others as “my friend, the Democrat.” Apparently, I alone represent the Democratic party in Ellis County, Texas. But reminders of where we are always bring me back to reality pretty quickly. Like the other day when, just a couple blocks from my house, I came face-to-face with three cows and a bull standing in the middle of the street. I stopped, got out of my van, and did my best imitation of a cowboy, waving my arms and yelling, “Go on ... git!” And they did git. Proud, I got back in the van and realized, by golly, I just herded cattle. Of course, I herded them onto the wrong property. Oh well, the urban cowgirl strikes again.

Still, despite our best efforts, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom this year: both girls won first place in their school talent shows – Katie and her best buddy, Katie Bates, for their singing duet and Kerri for her violin solo. Kerri also became a member of the Old Time Fiddlers Association and won 4th place in a regional competition. Tommy played his very first season of soccer (asthma and all). He played defense, although he spent most of his time on the field entertaining his goalie and other defenders with his air guitar impressions. He’s very excited now because he has lost two front teeth, which means more money from the tooth fairy. New books are out (and in book stores), and I’ve got a great literary agent.

In May, I traveled to Orange County, California, and test-drove a gravity car for Volvo and wrote about it for a European magazine. Robb went on his annual hunting trip and bagged an elk. That’s his happy news, not ours, but the kids and I are getting used to the taste of elk meat. Finally, inspired by the local pollution and Tommy’s asthma, the girls created and launched their own environmental website.

And so with that … we wish you a very happy holiday, and take heart … you could be spending it in a dumpster. Oh, and don’t wrap your retainer in a napkin!



Christmas 2004

Christmas 2004


Ah, the holidays. A time for good cheer, well wishes, peace, and love. It is a time when loved ones typically send letters telling of fun-filled times in the year past, of milestones and celebrations. Sleigh bells ringing, carolers singing . . . stop. You’ll find none of that here. This, my friends, is the un-Christmas letter. It is the letter telling of mishaps, fumbles, and foibles. A miscalculation of chemicals in the pool sent the children screaming, their eyes stinging, dog poop flinging, car doors dinging. This is our holiday song.

No one wants to read about all the great things happening to other people. You want the stinging, the flinging, and the dinging. No singing, no ringing. And so, this is our report of woe from 2004 – making you realize how much more you have to be grateful for. It could always be worse; think of the dread: you could live with us and be an Allred.

The year started with a bang: a bunch of boards fell on our box of freshly wrapped Christmas ornaments. Who sets a box of breakables next to a stack of boards? Oh, yeah; it was me. I went on to sprain my ankle, lost a toenail, and had to have a crown put on a cracked tooth. Robb’s shoulder came out of socket. Katie’s best friend (also a Katie) accidentally socked her in the eye with a baseball bat, and I witnessed the horrendous murder of a large field mouse by Sooner, the cat. It is why we got a cat, but, geez, the torture went on a might too long. Even the other neighbor cats were beginning to complain about the rat screams. Our horses and goats escaped from the corral when the gate wasn’t properly latched – this while both Robb and I were out of town. Mercifully, neighbors came to the rescue. It didn’t help matters, however, to have neighbor Sarah hide behind a tree announcing to everyone that Lightning (admittedly a little frisky) is a “crazy horse.”

Our goat, Cookiedough, was pregnant, and I didn’t even realize her condition. I just thought she was carrying a little too much in the mid-section. Having kids will do that to you.

The only males she’s been around were our gelded horses, a neutered cat, Robb, and her three month old son, Nutmeg. Of the five, no one appeared to have the interest or ability. But, in May, Cookie had twins – one boy, one girl. The girl, Cinnamon, is still with us, but the inbred boy had to go. Interestingly, the inbred girl appears to be our smartest goat yet.

Kerri finally got her braces off and went through four retainers in a little over one month, repeatedly sitting on them and leaving us to wonder about her level of intelligence. How many times can you sit on a retainer? It was Katie’s turn, and she went to the periodondist to have mouth surgery before getting her braces. She was heavily medicated and began hallucinating. She’s an ugly drunk. We hope to use this to our advantage in talking about alcohol and partying when she’s a teenager. “Katie, honey, we’ve seen you drunk, and it’s ugly. Your friends will party with you once – once.”

Katie went through a phase of calling me Aunt Trudie – no one knows why – but has given that up and is now calling me Captain Weasel Pants (which can be really embarrassing in public). Tommy relates to everything in life by way of his computer game – Age of Empire. Recently when Robb was burning a pile of leaves and fallen tree limbs, Tommy listened to the fire crackling and mused, “dats what it sounds like when I burn down my enemies’ castles.” At school, we’ve learned that all he really wants to do is “wrestle, tackle and, spin.” Who doesn’t? But when he’s hopped up on his asthma medication, it’s hard to control the impulses. He tackled another kid during an unscheduled fire drill. What with all the bells and mass exodus from the building, the excitement was more than he could handle.

While some friends went to Jamaica, we watched their three children, Bentleigh, Braiden, and Brooks, for a week. Although they are great kids, add them to Kerri, Katie, and Tommy and we were one hectic house. Each night as I tried to get six children to bed, check homework, and prepare backpacks, Braiden insisted on reciting from the New Testament while Brooks and Tommy argued over Secret Agent Barbie. Yes, while Robb was still reeling from the fact his son is playing Secret Agent Barbie, Tommy announced his deep desire to have and to own his own Easy-Bake Oven. He wanted to make “wee-nilla cakes” for everyone. Robb said no way would his son own an Easy-Bake Oven.

It’s purple and pink, and Tommy makes a mean wee-nilla cake. With sprinkles.

Pete, the Lab, hurt his tail and couldn’t wag it for a while. Benson, the cat, went up a tree and was stuck for over 22 hours. Distressed, Kerri called the fire department, and to our great embarrassment and surprise, they came out and rescued the stupid cat. Be at peace to know, it was a rookie who was forced to go up the tree – in full gear – after the cat, and no other emergency calls had come in. And, yes, we have pictures. National Geographic for Kids is going to do a feature on our cat, Sooner, who thinks he’s a goat and has sent a photographer to come out to the house. We’ve added a horse named Snow to the Allred herd – all events occurred while Robb was in Colorado hunting. Oh, the irony of a hunter being overrun with animals.

I understand there is a need for hunting in some parts of the world, but I try not to think about it too much. I’ve never liked the idea and have fantasies of evening the playing field a little more. It goes something like this: Brrring [cell phone actually reaching Robb in the middle of nowhere]. Hello?

Hi, honey. Are you there? Your camp is set up and you’re ready to hunt?


Well, then run like hell, honey, because I’ve sprayed doe scent all over you, and you’re about the sweetest smelling thing out there right now. I imagine there are about 20 bulls bearing down on you right . . . Robb? Honey? Are you still . . .?


Don’t forget your gun! Oh, and have a good time!!! Love you! [click]

The rain just won’t stop, and we’ve sustained roof damage that costs more money to repair than we have, but the very good news is that while my father was here to build library shelves in the study, we discovered a mouse in the house, so we don’t even think about the roof anymore. What are those stupid cats doing anyway? They are killing the toads which would help eliminate the giant horse flies that invade us and ignore the mice! But you can’t explain strategy to cats because they just don’t care!

Our guest shower is still broken, the toilet still bubbles when laundry is being done, I got ripped off by a former co-worker, and Tommy is going through a phase of answering the phone and hanging up without telling anyone. But at least he keeps his clothes on now. Nala, the shep/boxer mix, caught another skunk, and I experienced the on-set of heat stroke while running 14 miles with a friend/neighbor. Robb declared we would have a movie night – just the two of us – and picked out “an oldie but goodie.” Fried Green Tomatoes? Some Like It Hot? No. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But not all was lost for the year. I had a new dog book come out, and a lifelong dream was realized. I ran a marathon. The goal was to run – never walk at any time – the entire 26.2 mile course. After three knee surgeries, I never thought it possible to put that kind of pounding on my almost 40-year-old joints. But with my running partner, and our amazing families, we journeyed to San Antonio for the big event. This is something I have thought about for at least two decades but never thought possible. The night before, my Kerri (daughter) and I walked to the end of the hotel and looked out the bay window from the high-rise. My hope was to show her the historic city of San Antonio and . . .oh, look, a huge billboard for a Gentlemen’s Club. Gentlemen, my arse.

Never mind. The moment was mine! Miles 1-14 were fun as my buddy and I chatted away and got to see our families at mile 13, complete with my sister, Michelle, running alongside us taking pictures. But my running partner and I soon separated as she is not carrying quite the luggage in the ol’ caboose I am, and I got to listen to music Michelle and Mark Larkin gave me as a gift, and for the next six miles, I jogged along happily enough. No stopping, no walking. By mile 23 when the theme song of ‘Rocky’ came on, I was recharged. I began waving to everyone, talking loudly, and thanking everyone from the police officers directing traffic to the people handing out water. At mile 25, I turned down a new street to see my family again, and as Katie stepped off the curb to join me in my final mile, my heart was soaring. People were clapping and urging me on. ‘Rocky’ blared, and I was flying, man! The wind was in my hair! I was just minutes – mere minutes – from a dream come true. This was what it was all about. Strength. Determination. Grit. Perserv… “Um, Mommy,” Katie said next to me as we blazed down the street toward the Alamo dome. The finish line. The end of an incredible journey. Things were streaming by. “Uh, not to hurt your feelings, but . . . I’m walking.”


Another dream tarnished. I looked to see that Katie’s short nine-year-old stride was perfectly matched to my blinding speed.