My Alphabetized Existence by Shanie Armbruster

(based on The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal)


It means crossbow in German. I like having a weapon for a last name. So many people pronounce it as Arm-buster which sounds like I’m an enforcer for the mafia. It makes me laugh.


Chocolate chip cookies were my favorite thing to make as a kid. I loved the taste of the cookie dough scraped off the beaters with my pointer finger. We had a cookie jar that my mom made when she was a potter, and I can still remember coming home from school, reaching in the jar and the heavenly first bite.


My mother is a cat person. We had a lot of cats growing up. Merlin, named after the magician, was my favorite, the long-hair,16 pound Maine Coon who disappeared for days at a time only to arrive at the door right at dinner time, meowing loudly to get in and be fed. Thus his name. I played too roughly with him, once, and he swatted me over both eyes, hard, with his claws retracted so I would get the message. I heard it loud and clear.


My brother’s best friend and my first French kiss on a winter night under a street lamp. I felt like a heroine from a foreign film – mature, beautiful, mysterious, weak in the knees. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my tongue, but he didn’t mind.


In the last 17 years, I have cooked an average of six dinners a week. That’s 5304 meals. Thankfully, I like to cook, most of the time. I love food, and I love to share food with other people. I won’t pretend that I don’t hold my breath a little when everyone takes the first bite. I like it when people enjoy what I make.

Dinner Category


Worst Goose stew
Best Chicken with cream, mushrooms and sundried tomatoes
Most complicated Homemade pasta
Least complicated Hot dogs
Breakfast for dinner Crepes or omelettes
Weirdest Antelope steak
Tonight Whatever is in the freezer
Family favorites Tacos/burritos, pasta, chili, chicken noodle soup, thai curry, grilled chicken, pitas
Holiday favorites Red and green enchiladas, coffee cake, latkes
Thing I love but the kids hate Kale in any form
Fastest prepared Delivery pizza
Made only once Fennel salad, crock pot enchiladas, roasted lemon chicken, garbanzo bean fritters
Ingredients I won’t use Liver, bulgar, candied fruit, cream of mushroom soup, spray cheese, fake fried onions
My most hated Walnut cheddar loaf


The only way I will eat it is fried and covered in tomato sauce and melted cheese. You have to disguise the nasty, mushy texture.


violet fairy bookMy mom read me lots of fairy tales when I was little from Andrew Lang’s “Coloured” Fairy Books. The violet book was my favorite not because of the stories that it contained but the lovely color of the cover and the art nouveau illustration of the queen disguised as a old hag bending over Snow White’s extended hand. These stories filled my head with good and evil, more powerful than any Disney movie.


I can picture him in the kitchen in the morning light, white hair going every which way, pillow creases on his face, stirring grated potatoes and eggs together to make latkes. I never saw him cook anything else. It was his way to buy my grandmother a few precious extra minutes of sleep when my father and uncle were little, and he did the same when I spent the night at their home. His years of practice showed as he sleepily added a dash of flour and a pinch of salt until the batter was perfectly thick. For a man who never once made a dinner in his adult life, he cooked the best potato pancakes that I’ve ever eaten.


Ann Arbor, MI small two-family house
New Jersey Married student housing
Newburyport, MA Otis PlaceFederal Street

Milk Street

Water Street

Temple Boulevard

Prospect Street

Dedham, MA Westfield Street
Pittsburgh, PA Freshman Dorms, CMUStudent Apartments, CMU

Fifth Avenue

Seattle, WA Woodlawn Ave
Pittsburgh, PA Walnut Street
Prague, Czech Republic Old Town
Wallingford, CT John’s mother’s house
Boulder, CO Locust Avenue18th Street

Alpine Avenue

Darley Avenue


The one thing that I can’t tolerate is ignorance. Everyone has a right to their opinion. Even if I don’t agree with other people’s opinions, I try to respect beliefs that are not my own if they are well thought out and can be articulated. But, belief systems based on a lack of knowledge and hatred lead to bigotry, sexism, racism, homophobia and violence towards others. This level of ignorance and lack of humanity is dangerous and intolerable. I will never forget the descriptions of Matthew Shepard being beaten and tortured, tied to a fence and left to die by two homophobic men in Wyoming and the horror and anger that I felt.


Her mother was a cool mom. It wasn’t that she dressed well, or was younger, or said wise things. It wasn’t that she was pretty, or fed us junk food, or let us drink beer underage. It was the way she would smile when we turned up the volume and shook the walls, playing Journey as loudly as their speakers would allow. She would sing along with us and knew every word.


It was a big house by my standards: five bedrooms, a dining room, two living rooms, a family room connected to a large kitchen, a formal study and an expanse of green yard that was mowed weekly into a checkerboard pattern, not a dandelion in sight. It was a formal house, fitting for a successful dentist and his wife and four children. My parents were married in the backyard, a quiet affair with only immediate family present. When my brother was born nine months later, four weeks before his due date, the rumors flew through the neighborhood.


My brother Aaron is left-handed. When I was little, I liked to watch how he pushed the pen across the page, wrist curled uncomfortably, sometimes smearing the words as his hand followed behind. He always complained that the desks in school were built for righties and the notebooks had the spirals on the wrong side.

Monsters Under the Bed

When I was four I walked into the living room late one night, unable to sleep and looking for comfort. I arrive in time to see Linda Blair’s bed fly into the air as she howled and cursed on our black and white TV. It took my parents a few minutes to realize that I was in the room and hurry me back to bed. I didn’t know what being possessed meant, so I thought that there had been a monster under the girl’s bed. I refused to leave my bed after being tucked in, even when I had to pee, and was terrified to go to sleep. I would lie awake staring at the edge of the bed waiting for a skeletal hand to reach up and grab me.


She hid bottles of alcohol, gin to be precise, all over the kitchen. In a span of one week, I found one in an old purse hanging by the back door, one in the bread basket, and another tucked behind the flour jar. I finally understood why she wouldn’t let any of us help her cook.


It’s a personal preference, Double Stuf or regular. I prefer to take two regular cookies, carefully pry one side off of each and mash them together into my own Double Stuf. It takes all the fun out of it to have them pre-stuffed.


When I was four months pregnant with our daughter, I decided, out of the blue, to dig up the junipers in the back yard and try my hand at gardening. It was a form of nesting, I think, wanting my daughter to have memories of bleeding hearts and peonies like I did. I sawed off the prickly branches, dug up the roots and then stared at the empty ground in puzzlement. What now? Plants, I thought. I need to put in plants. So, unaware that the soil was horrid and the spot in the yard shady, I went out and bought plants. I didn’t know if they were meant for shade or full-sun, annuals or perennials, or spring, summer or fall blooming. I just bought the plants that I remembered my mother growing and plunked them in the dirt. I did know to take the plastic containers off before putting them in the ground.


When you really need one, there is nothing better.


I lived in Seattle for a while after college and I never could get used to the rain. I tried. I rode my bike in the rain, hiked in the rain, walked in the rain, sea kayaked in the rain and shopped for groceries in the rain. My raincoat was a permanent part of my daily wardrobe.


When I’m feeling shy or socially awkward, I mix my words together. I switch the first letters of the words I’m trying to say. It’s called a spoonerism after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner who was known for this mistake. One time, I introduced my friends Lindsey and Rick as “Rinsey and Lick” to an acquaintance. They laughed so hard but I wanted to die.


My favorite three shows growing up were the Dukes of Hazzard, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island which played one after the other when I was in middle school. Three hours of escape. The Friday Night Trifecta.


When will someone make one that doesn’t turn inside out when the wind blows?


For a Father’s day present, I bought my husband a rose colored vacuum cleaner because he said he wanted a new one and it was on sale. I was trying to be practical both with the price and with the gift. He has never let me live down “the worst gift ever.”


The candles are lit in front of you, the wax melting rapidly into the frosting of your birthday cake, the voices have stopped singing, you have just taken in that big breath when someone says, “Don’t forget to make a wish.” and you let all the air out before you can think of anything to wish. Does it count if you make the wish after the fact?

X Marks the Spot

My son and I used to read David Shannon and Melinda Long’s How I Became a Pirate. We loved the part where the little boy, afraid to go to sleep, asks to be tucked in and learns that pirates don’t tuck. “No tucking,” the crew howls and the boy goes to sleep on his own for the first time without any tucks. (He doesn’t bother to ask for a kiss.) Later in the story, he follows the dashed line on a map to the buried chest. Aidan and I made our own treasure map with an X to mark the spot. He was a little disappointed that there wasn’t real treasure at the end, but he settled for being tucked in.


Things We Shouldn’t Say Yes To

  • Make-overs by six year olds.
  • Blind dates set up by our mothers.
  • A Dorothy Hamill haircut.
  • Parachute pants.
  • Legwarmers over jeans.
  • Every birthday party invitation a child receives.
  • Three hour tours of any kind.
  • Watching kids play Lego or Minecraft.
  • Bridesmaid dresses.
  • Kissing someone with coffee/garlic bagel breath.
  • Holding a melting popsicle.
  • Being licked by someone else’s dog.
  • Any alcohol that comes in multiple flavors.
  • Sitting next to a talker in a movie theater.
  • Advice on getting pregnant from a neighbor.
  • Objects we can’t afford.
  • Friends that we don’t trust.
  • Putting in highlights at home.


We always jockeyed in line to be the first person on the ice after the zamboni smoothed away all the chips and scrapes. It was like carving across the surface of a diamond.


Shanie Armbruster teaches at Manhattan Middle School in Boulder, Colorado. She completed CWP 1 in June of 2014 and CWP 2 in June of 2015.

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