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Mark your calendars! The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop takes place April 5-7, 2018, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater.

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Our town of Oreland has an “online yard sale” Facebook page.

Folks post pictures of items they are trying to sell, and people respond to them if interested. I’ve seen jewelry, bunk beds, sports equipment and clothing snapped up eagerly, and it’s tempting to try and unload some of our treasures this way. But so far I have not participated because I still have fresh recollections of many “real” yard sales we have had. We’ve had these every couple of years, because we have never learned.

It was such a good idea! Taking things we didn’t need and turning them into cash! We would spend the night before each sale dusting everything off, labeling and pricing to beat the band. We were sure everybody was going to LOVE the assortment of costumes that had been donated to us for our theater company and we couldn’t use. Think about it, who wouldn’t kill for a giant bear suit? My collection of second-string cookbooks, including The Canadiana Cookbook, (which, if memory serves, had rather too many recipes featuring maple syrup) was also up for sale. As the evening wore on, we always became greedy and started to price things higher and higher. My mother’s wedding gifts — sterling silver platters so heavy they could double as murder weapons? Ka-ching! Sterling is worth a fortune, isn’t it? The Madame Alexander dolls? $50 each! No, $75!! We went to bed with visions of dollar signs dancing in our heads.

In the cold light of dawn, we set out our card tables and arranged our bounty. Everything looked a bit shabbier than it had the night before, but we were optimistic!! The first hint of trouble came before 8 a.m. when the “early birds” arrived. These canny shoppers canvassed the area every Saturday morning looking for bargains. They usually had specific items they were seeking, from musical instruments to vintage LPs. Even when we offered hot coffee, they passed right by our little assortment of stuff.

As the hours crept along customerless, we were reminded of why we always did so poorly with yard sales — our stuff is either no good to begin with, or so badly maintained as to be almost worthless. In late afternoon, the giant bear suit would go out on a table marked “Free.” My Canadiana Cookbook found a home with my wonderful Canadian neighbor, who most likely purchased it out of pity. No one wanted the Madame Alexander dolls; NO ONE wanted the tarnished sterling silver platters. In the end, we’d wasted an entire day and made just enough money to get a takeout pizza (no extra toppings) after we lugged things back inside.

Like the pain of labor, the memories would eventually fade, and we’d find ourselves doing it all over again.

My sister Carolyn has always made a bundle at her yard sales, perhaps because EVERYTHING she and her hubby Rob own is in mint condition. Who wouldn’t do well selling a beautiful drum set and still-in-the-wrapper DVDs? It seems our daughter Julie is a chip off that block because she is registered on the Oreland yard sale page and is doing very well. The old rabbit pen, ill-fitting shoes, never-opened nail polish (yes!) — all have been claimed quickly. Julie urges me to sell online as well, so the other day I rounded up some odds and ends to photograph and post. Haven’t done it yet, though, because I’m sure our every knick-knack bears the Seyfried curse and will languish, embarrassingly unsold, forever.

Someday I’ll go for it and mark down the few items we have that are worth anything, just for the thrill of a successful transaction. And afterward, as we stand counting our cash in our empty dining room (table and 8 chairs! $20! Or Best Offer!), we will figure out if we made enough money to go out and buy back our own table and (8) chairs, which will no doubt have been marked way, way up by a savvy yard saler. We will not pay a penny more than $200! After all, we have our pride!

— Elise Seyfried

Elise Seyfried is the author of three books of humorous spiritual essays, a columnist for a Philadelphia newspaper and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metropolis, Guideposts Magazine, Grown and Flown and many other publications. Elise is also a church worker, mom of five and grandma of two.

Fishing around at the farmer’s market

Let’s see, do I go with the loaf of fresh sesame bread or the Italian style tube of hardened yeast, milk and other natural ingredients? Oh, but wait: that whole wheat chunk looks pretty good, too, as does the loaf with the raisins on top. Bet it tastes like Raisin Bran.

Or maybe a pie would be good. Those pies — is there anything better than a blueberry, cherry or apple pie?

So many vexing choices at last Saturday’s farmer’s market in my hometown. Near the bread stand sits a table loaded with fruits: plump nectarines, dinky blueberries, tan and rough-edged cantaloupes and deep maroon cherries. Those would be good to churn up in a blender with ice and have as a Saturday afternoon smoothie. All of them could in there. It would be a party among the eclectics.

Then the bad news starts roaring in — on the same table no less. There they are, vegetables. Fire engine-red tomatoes, forest-green cucumbers, shiny and bright red peppers — all of this comes into vision and reminds me of how important it is it eat vegetables even though they don’t taste nearly as good as fruits and red licorice.

We had such a Saturday going on, didn’t we? Then those veggies bombed us out of our bliss. They always do. All those people who say how great corn on the cob is have bought into mob psychology. Over the decades a lot of people talk about how great corn tastes especially in the summer. So others start to think it’s true even though it’s just not as great as everybody says. Corn is overrated.

One of the great surprises of my life — and there have been many — was the time I had red peppers sprinkled on my cheesesteak sandwich. My friend Jim recommended it. Have to admit that pepper upper sent that sandwich into the stratosphere. So red peppers are good, but almost all other vegetables are not. If potatoes are considered a vegetable, they are by hundreds of miles the best on the farm.

Unhinged by the veggie table, I turn around and check out what’s on display at another table. Looks like jars of pickles and olives. Yep, that’s what is creeping around over there.

I have known a few people who liked to not just have a pickle on their hamburger or could tolerate it on the McDonalds cheeseburger; they ate whole pickles. I always wondered about those people. I didn’t understand them and still don’t.

A line of people formed at the pickle and olive table. They were checking things out sort of like an animal exhibit at the zoo. The products were in little jars. It almost looked like about half dozen small fish tanks were on display showing off the latest guppies and gold fish.

No way, I thought to myself. There is no way I am going to buy any pickles or olives, especially not olives. The only reason I have ever eaten a pickle is because I didn’t know it was on a McDonalds cheeseburger and I bit into it. Olives have never been put on these cheeseburgers. For that we should all be thankful.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to Amazon.com.

Cereal Days:
A tribute to the Golden Age of cereal

(Cereal Days lyrics)

Cheerio, Apple Jack Honey wants her Sugar Smacks
Corn pop Cocopuff, Sonny’s gonna do his stuff
Captain Crunch get your Kix, here the rabbit, hide the Trix
Tony Tiger Sugar Bear share some with that silly hare.
Peanut butter Smedley, crunch berry medley!
Jean Lafoote, you stole my lunch, come back with my Cinnamon Crunch!

Cereal Days, camped out by the TV!
Cereal Days, sugar high for you and me!
Cereal Days, find the prize inside the box!
Cereal Days…Cereal rocks!
Snap, Crackle, Pop!

Toucan Sam Golden Graham, Fruity Pebbles, Bam Bam!
Loving Life with a spoon, do you remember ol Kaboom?
Clowning round with Frosted Flakes, How about some Quisp and Quake?
Quake was fat and then got thin, Quisp — a smiling alien.
King Vitamin is gone, he could have used a Lucky Charm
Hearts, Stars, Moons, Clovers, the Leprechaun will bowl you over!

Oh no, what’s next Shredded Wheat and Rice Chex
Total fitness, Special K, it’s all so tame…
Honeycomb still calls my name!

Count Chocula, Boo Berry, change the color of the dairy!
Very scary Frankenberry, artificial strawberry.
Over the hill Wafallo Bill — Waffle Flavored Cereal.
Rice Crispies, Alpha Bits…breakfast, with benefits!
Sponsored by the Jackson Five, on the box a forty five!
Cut it out and ABC, a little record just for me!

Cereal Days, camped out by the TV!
Cereal Days, sugar high for you and me!
Cereal Days, find the prize inside the box!
Cereal Days…Cereal rocks!
Don’t forget The Freakies!
Cereal Days, find the prize inside the box!
Cereal Days…Cereal rocks!
Spoon!

— Ira Scott Levin

Ira Scott Levin blogs at Stream of Light, reflections spotlighting those making the world a brighter place through their dedicated benevolence and creative caring. His blog appears frequently at Thrive Global and Humorwriters.org.

The Graduate

I have never been to a graduation at Yale, Harvard or any other Ivy League school, mainly because I couldn’t get into one of those prestigious institutions unless I broke in at night, in which case I would be arrested and sentenced to serve time in another kind of institution.

But I recently did attend a graduation at Old Steeple, a preschool in Aquebogue, New York, and its moving-up ceremony beat anything a university could put on. I admit to being prejudiced because my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, was in the Class of 2017 and, I can proudly say, graduated magna cum little.

The impressive event began as Chloe and her classmates filed into the church above their school and waited for the formal procession past dozens of guests. They included my wife, Sue, and yours truly (known to Chloe as Nini and Poppie), as well as Chloe’s mommy, Lauren; her daddy, Guillaume; and her little sister, Lilly, who is 9 months old and won’t be in preschool for another two years.

Mrs. Kramer, the teacher, and Mrs. Link, her assistant, guided the 19 members of the graduating class into position. That’s when Chloe spotted Sue and me sitting in the second row. Because she didn’t expect us to be there, her eyes widened and she broke the line, rushing up to the first row and squealing, “Hi, Nini and Poppie!”

Sue and I smiled and waved.

Chloe looked at me and said, “I’m so glad you could make it, Poppie!” Then she said, “Doh!”

It’s an utterance most recently made famous by Homer Simpson, but it was originated in the early 1930s by James Finlayson, eternal antagonist of Laurel and Hardy. Chloe and I have been saying it to each other since she learned to talk, so I returned the greeting.

Sue nudged me and whispered, “Stop fooling around.”

Then we both indicated to Chloe that she should get back in line.

“OK, Nini and Poppie!” she chirped and, accompanied by Mrs. Kramer, reclaimed her spot.

The exchange drew an appreciative chuckle from the audience.

As “Pomp and Circumstance” did not play, the students walked up to the altar and took their seats on folding chairs that were arranged in a horseshoe shape. Mrs. Kramer stood at the microphone and welcomed the guests.

What she didn’t do was give a commencement address, a refreshing switch from the typical graduation ceremony in which some bloviating speaker tells the graduates they are “the future of this great nation” and urges them to “go out and change the world,” which would have been an unreasonable exhortation to kids whose idea of change not too long ago involved their diapers.

One by one, the students went up to the microphone and said a rehearsed line that introduced the next part of the program. Some were tentative.

Not Chloe. When it was her turn, she strode up to the mic and said in a strong voice, “We will now sing ‘The More We Get Together’!” For emphasis, she elongated the last syllable, which drew a laugh and a round of applause from the audience.

Then the graduates sang the catchy song:

“The more we get together, the happier we’ll be. Your friends are my friends, my friends are your friends. The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”

When the hearty applause stopped, Chloe looked down in my direction and again said, “Doh!”

The crowd chuckled once more.

The rest of the program was just as delightful. At its conclusion, Mrs. Kramer stepped back up to the microphone to hand out diplomas. The first student she called was Chloe, who took the sheepskin and, with a flourish, bowed to the crowd, which responded with enthusiasm.

“She’s tops in her class,” I said to Sue, Lauren, Guillaume and Lilly, who recently learned to clap and was doing so, perhaps unwittingly, for her big sister.

Afterward, everyone went downstairs to the school for milk and cookies. It was a fitting end to the best graduation I have ever attended.

Yale or Harvard couldn’t have done better.

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

How to survive marriage (with 140 percent divorce rate)

Someone once told me when I was seven months pregnant with the second set of twins, “Did you know that the divorce rate for couples with multiples is 70%?”

Um, no. But thanks for letting me know — so basically my chance for divorce then is 140%? Ok…

Listen, marriage is work — it is hard fricken’ work. And if you are thinking to yourself, “What? No it’s not, I love being married!”” then you are a newlywed. Sit down and enjoy the ride right now because it gets worse, much, much worse. Like, take your little problems now, my newlywed friend, and multiply them by 100 and that is where you are gonna be soon enough.

I am not going to say that I hate being married. I don’t hate being married. Would I ever get married again? #Doubtful

Here is the thing: Kevin is my best friend and I am his. I love him and he loves me — but right now, right now in this moment of our lives — I feel, as I am sure he does, like we are running a small business and our employees are four little kids and two dogs along with loads of dirty laundry, growing grass and a house that constantly smells like pee. The floors are disgusting everything is dusty and I feel like I am being buried alive with toy — toys everywhere. And piss. Did I mention our house, van and myself smell like pee all the time?

I sometimes let this all get to me. I feel like I am never gonna get ahead with all of the chores. Am I playing with my kids enough and am I making an effort to have a date night with the hubs and did I get my run in and my cooking and, oh, crap we are out of milk!

It takes a toll trying to stay ahead of it all. I feel like I am constantly failing some days, but back to the marriage. So, how do you keep your marriage going with all this chaos?

My advice: Don’t stress about it so much.

If you have a good partner, one who loves you and knows you, then he will know that this is just a season in your lives and in your marriage. He knows that before kids you were in love, and there was a reason for the love you felt. It is still there, but right now it is on the back burner.

Yes, sometimes you make time for each other with date nights, weekend getaways. It’s all good — and a good thing to do — but if you don’t have that luxury, it’s ok. Some of us don’t have anyone to help us with our kids, which makes it even harder to get away together and spend time alone.

But one day, one day soon, you will be able to do all of the things you used to do together alone. So, if right now you can’t because it’s just too hard to line up a babysitter, find something to do on a tight budget, decide who is going to be the sober driver and then, when you finally get to where you are going, all you talk about is baby Tommy’s first tooth you found today or the fact that everyone pooped on the potty and wiped their own butts, it’s ok. It’s totally fine.

We are there, and if you are not there now, you will be. If you are past this, you know what I am saying — don’t judge yourself, don’t judge your marriage. We are all different and our marriages are unique. That is what makes us and our marriages work.

It might seem like I have all my ducks in a row and my marriage and kids are all happy all the time, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have just as many problems in this house as you do in yours, maybe more. This is the life, though. Don’t be so hard on yourself or your partner.

One day soon you will have your groove back, and it’s going to be better than it was before. I know it.

— Adelei Graffin

Addie Graffin is a stay-at-home mom of TWO SETS OF TWINS, ages 3 and 1, and two fur babies. A licensed hairdresser and certified group fitness instructor, she blogs about health, fitness, food, mommyhood and more.

Aunt Lulabelle

Aunt Lulabelle died last week. FINALLY! At ease, at ease. Just kidding.

The outspoken, adorable dowager would have bellowed a Phyllis Diller cackle at that tired old joke. She gave up the ghost at age 101. A fitting exit number: rumor has it her last words were, “I always did like palindromes.”

Confirmed as the family funny lady, she often engaged in outrageous behavior solely to make people laugh. I’m reminded of the time a few years back when I knocked on her door at 8 a.m. We had planned to attend a brunch.

“Who’s abusing my door? she yelled.

“Your loving, hunky nephew. Are ya ready to go bungee-jumping?”

“Very funny. Come in, you middle-aged brat, and try not to make loud noises.”

The nonagenarian was lying on the couch in a flaming red evening gown, eyes closed, sporting what she affectionately referred to as her Liza Minnelli eyelashes.

Lulabelle had long requested that she be buried wearing that very same red dress and those Liza lashes. Plus: “Please secretly spray me with some Chantilly perfume. I want to leave the world looking and smelling bee-yoo-tee-ful. And while you’re looking and smelling at the dead lady in red, please smile. Don’t cry. Dance.”

But this particular morning, she gave out a weak grunt as I stood over the couch, peering down.

I snorted: “Oh, look at this pitiful sight! Is this a dress rehearsal for your funeral? Just to get a rise out of me?”

“No, honey,” she wailed. “I just had one too many last night.”

“Well, for God’s sake, open your eyes when you talk.”

“What do ya want me to do? Bleed to death?”

“Deception, deception,” I said. “What you actually drink wouldn’t fill a thimble, you faker. You’re always in bed by 10. You certainly did not come sauntering through your threshold at 4 a.m. all dolled up and then stagger over to the couch and pass out, as you would like me to believe. I know you, and I’ll bet it hasn’t been 20 minutes since you snuggled into that evening gown, slapped on some makeup and snapped on your Liza lashes.”

She opened her blood-free eyes, glared at me and said, “Tell me, you overgrown brat, why do you always find my scandalous claims so hard to believe? Humph! You’re forgetting the magic finger incident?”

Oh, silly me, that’s right. That was the day she walked backwards and “flipped a friendly bird.” How could I forget? I was a teenager, dutifully escorting Aunt Lulabelle across a busy street. She was recovering from an appendectomy, so we were walking rather slowly.

Suddenly, a carload of teenagers came screeching down the street and stopped on a dime directly in front of us. My heart jumped into my throat.

For a moment, Auntie calmly continued crossing the street. Abruptly, she stopped. Then slowly creeped backward until she stood directly in front of the car. With tongue in cheek, she defiantly extended her middle finger as high as it would go. The kids became hysterical with laughter. I pretended to be mortified.

Now, decades later, on the night of her wake, Aunt Lulabelle lay garishly decked out. Dead in red, with her Liza lashes attached. Serene, fur sure. But she lacked one final touch. Her Chantilly perfume.

During a private moment, I hurriedly squirted some Chantilly on either side of her head, above the ears. I guess I got carried away and squirted too much because, to my horror, the perfume had landed in a puddle inside the ear canals located directly above her earlobes. Though I freaked out, Lulabelle would have laughed this off a wardrobe malfunction. Then she’d have probably joked about putting real fun into the word “malfunction.”

Feeling like the male counterpart to Lucy Ricardo, I frantically grabbed my hanky and dabbed the perfume out of her earlobes. Whew!

But later, as people filed past her body, I heard someone gasp. Yow! One of her eyelashes had fallen onto her cheek. Like a final wink.

So, as people filed by, they weren’t mourning. They were shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders and smiling. I could almost hear Aunt Lulabelle bellowing one of her Phyllis Diller cackles. FINALLY!  Something had truly put a little fun into a funeral.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.

Human Race in Erma’s hometown to stage ‘At Wit’s End’ in spring 2018

The Human Race Theatre Company will stage a special spring 2018 production of Allison Engel and Margaret Engel’s Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End in the 54-seat performance space at its Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center.

Dayton’s own Erma Bombeck takes center stage in this touching one-woman comedy titled after her long-running newspaper column and directed by Heather N. Powell. Human Race Resident Artist Jennifer Joplin stars as the literary icon whose candid commentary on life as a woman, spouse and mother made her the champion of suburban housewives everywhere and her newspaper columns a mainstay on kitchen refrigerators for more than 30 years. Full of personal anecdotes and sprinkled with plenty of Bombeck’s famous one-liners, it’s a charming biography that proves “if you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”

“I’m thrilled this funny and poignant play is coming to Dayton, Erma’s hometown,” said Teri Rizvi, founder and director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton. “Her wit and wisdom have stood the test of time — and remind us that the foibles of family life will always make us laugh.”

Special preview performances of Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End for the Bombeck Writers’ Workshop are Thursday, April 19 – Sunday, April 22. The public preview performance is Thursday, April 26. Opening night is Friday, April 27.

Director Powell helmed HRTC’s 2015 production of Steel Magnolias at the Loft Theatre, as well as the company’s touring productions of Change and A Dickens of a Time. Joplin is a Wright State University graduate who has appeared in dozens of productions at the Human Race Theatre Company and throughout Cincinnati.

Performance and special event information

Tickets for the April 26 – May 13 performances of Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End are currently only available to 2017-2018 Eichelberger Loft Season subscribers and will go on sale to the general public for $25 starting November 21. Seating is general admission.

All performances are in The Human Race’s Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center, located at 116 North Jefferson Street, 2nd floor, in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Show times for Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End are 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and at 2 p.m. on Sundays.

More information on Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End is available at www.humanracetheatre.org.

A butterfly’s visit

A week after my mom passed, I was driving to my gift store, Anne’s House of Angels, when I asked her for a sign that she had made it to Heaven. I felt a hand rest on my cheek, and I smiled and said: “What the heck was that, Mom?”

Then I wondered if it had really happened. I asked, “Mom, can you send me a real sign?” As I turned the corner, my car was instantly engulfed in little white butterflies. It was a butterfly blizzard! I cried, and I laughed. I could almost hear her giggling and saying, “Anne, did you get that sign you asked for? Was that one real enough for you?”

Ever since that day, when I think of my mom, a little white butterfly appears. At my gift store, it became a tradition that if anyone spotted a white butterfly in the rose bushes out front, they would run in and tell me, “Anne, your mom’s out front again!” I loved that sisterhood, and the total belief in her sign.

My mom’s sign as a little white butterfly isn’t surprising. She wasn’t a flashy woman; she wouldn’t need to be a fancy, multi-colored monarch. She wouldn’t want big, ostentatious wings. Small, classic, delicate wings were just her style. She lived her life with simple pleasures, and now she continues to bless my life in the same fashion.

* * * * *

When my son finished high school, I was distraught that my mom couldn’t be with us to attend the graduation ceremony. It was the first big family celebration since she passed. I sat down in the rocking chair on my front porch, in tears.

Just then a little butterfly landed in my hanging basket. It bounced to the next one and finally, onto my chair. I sniffled and said: “Hi, Mom. I’m really missing you today.”

When it was time to go, my family walked to the car, and the white butterfly came along, dancing around each one of us. My daughters said in unison, “Nan’s here!” And she was there, circling the car. She flitted in front of the windshield to be sure we all noticed her.

My husband asked, “Did you really think she’d miss her grandson’s graduation?”

Of course, I didn’t.

* * * * *

She continued her visits. At the rehearsal for my son’s garden wedding, my husband and I sat in the front row. Times like that always made me miss both of my parents. I was taking a sentimental journey in my mind when a small white butterfly arrived. She danced between the future bride and groom as they practiced their vows. She lingered, watching from a branch. I like to think she was sprinkling them with blessings for their life together.

She would never miss her grandson’s wedding.

* * * * *

These small visits from my mother remind me that I am never alone. She is still very near. Just because I can’t hug her, it doesn’t mean she isn’t there. I still talk to her everyday.

As I wrote this, a small, white butterfly was perched on my windowsill.

I’ve collected 60 stories, many from Erma conference gals, that tell of a message they received from someone in Heaven. The book will be released in September.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Florida, with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. Her latest book, Angel Bumps, will be published by Mill House Publishing in fall 2017. She blogs at www.annebardsley.com.

Reflections of Erma