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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.

I’m from Jersey, baby.

I’m on a “get healthy” kick, which includes clean eating, working with a nutritionist and working out regularly.

I’m feeling good about myself and how I look. All that came to a grinding halt last week. It wasn’t because I was injured and couldn’t work out, or that I gave in to my insatiable and insane craving for bread and cookies. What happened was I took a trip to California.

It all started innocently enough on the plane ride out where it was obvious that most were going home to California. Their luggage matched. They had travelling shawls and hydrating facial mist. They carried salads. Those of us hailing from the Garden State were dressed mostly in the latest trend from Marshall’s. Our luggage had duct tape. We carried donuts and coffee. The women next to me had six donuts, which she happily handed out to everyone around her. Jersey, baby. We share.

Upon arriving it seemed like every woman my age looked like she considered eating tofu a cheat day. Skin so tight you could bounce a tennis ball off their cheeks, strange plumped lip lines, hair extensions and huge enhancements up front. So much upkeep would be exhausting I told myself, trying to erase the fact that my right thigh was as big as their entire torso. From the back, they looked 18. From the front, they looked 58 trying to look 18. Jersey, baby. We look the same front and back.

Sitting around the pool was a 65-year-old guy in a speedo chatting up two twenty-somethings with double D’s. But he only spoke to them AFTER he finished with a few push-ups. I felt like Shamu, and I’m the thinnest I’ve been in years. The women around the pool, they didn’t get wet. I put my hair in a bun, put on my goggles, set some gangsta rap on my water iPod, and swam laps. Jersey, baby. We get in the pool.

I texted my sister describing the scene. She reminds me I can out swim them, out arm wrestle them, out shop them and out drink them. Which pretty much describes all my Jersey girls. My husband came to the pool, looked at the 20-somethings and started doing push-ups. Just kidding. Jersey, baby. Husbands only have eyes for us — if they want to live.

Then there was dining out. Every waiter, when taking my order, asked if I wanted the gluten-free option. Was he also asking the starving vegan sitting at the table next to me if she wanted the gluten-free option? Or just asking me, the fat sista from New Jersey? Finally, I said, “Look…go to the kitchen. Find some Italian bread, and bring me the entire loaf.” Jersey, baby. We eat.

On the positive side the weather was glorious. Even in winter, Californians hike mountains with the dazzling scent of eucalyptus and gaze at breathtaking vistas. Conversely, New Jerseyans hike on a treadmill with the scent of that person next to us hiking on their treadmill, while gazing at the parking lot. It’s spectacularly sunny in California and everything is in full bloom. Who wouldn’t want to live on the West coast?

I often wondered why my grandfather, Angelo, made Newark, New Jersey his home. Why, upon arriving Ellis Island from Italy didn’t he head to California where he could have pursued his passion for growing vegetables, fig trees and flowers all year-round. The reason? He had extended Italian family in Newark. Jersey, baby. It’s never about the weather, but always about the family.

I suppose that’s why I still proudly hail from The Garden State. When my husband retired, he wanted to know, and I quote, “Why are we living here when we can live anywhere?”

Because in New Jersey what you see is what you get. Because we dive into the pool and swim in the ocean worrying about our hair and make-up later. Because we like to eat healthy, but we like spaghetti and meatballs, too. Because we have that famous New Jersey humor that allows me to remain calm while the woman sitting next to me spritzes her face with hydrating mist, thereby spritzing my ear.

Jersey, baby. So many reasons to live here.

To my California friends and relatives…forgive me. To my girlfriends and sister, you will probably see many of your comments in this article. Thank you. xo

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner writes for The Observer Tribune of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills family of newspapers, which serve Madison, Chatham and Chester, New Jersey. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can read more of her musings on her blog: “Aging, Kids, Family and Why We Self-Medicate.”

‘This is not an emergency’

Seven years ago, I bought a terrific grill, the Weber BabyQ.

“I am not comfortable with that name at all,” my son Joe, then 11, said as he helped me assemble it. He was right — they definitely should have focus-grouped that one.

It was the perfect grill for me. It had the most wonderful cast-iron cooking surface. Smaller than a turkey roaster, it was compact enough to port in and out of the garage of the 750-square-foot apartment we lived in at the time, and because it used those camp-sized propane canisters you can buy at the grocery, I never had to carry a full-size tank home in the car, praying the entire time I wouldn’t get rear-ended and blow up an entire city block.

A couple of weeks ago, I grilled some chicken breasts on it. When I took them off the grill and turned off the gas, however, the fire kept on burning.

“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just close the lid, and it will go out.”

A few minutes later, when I went back outside to put the grill away, it was a blazing inferno. Flames were licking out the sides and reflecting bright orange in the drip pan underneath it.

My mind raced. What should I do? As much trouble as my house has been, I did not want it to burn down. I had to act fast.

The first order of business was to carefully disconnect the gas canister, which I was able to do.

Next, I needed to put the fire out. I went inside for a large glass of water — but on the way back out, I stopped myself. This was clearly a grease fire. Everyone knows you don’t put water on a grease fire.

But what *do* you put on a grease fire?

I searched my memory to those times we learned about fire safety in elementary school and Girl Scouts. Suddenly, I pictured it in my mind.

“Flour,” I thought. “You smother a grease fire with flour.”

Which was perfect, really. I didn’t have a fire extinguisher, but by golly, I had flour — five kinds of it. I was a little concerned that the cast-iron grate would block most of it from falling onto the fire … but if I used enough, surely it would work.

Except I was wrong — in the heat of the moment, I’d forgotten the lesson I’d learned every single time I’d tried to bake brownies: FLOUR BURNS. It wasn’t flour they used in that demonstration. It was baking soda. (This is no longer recommended, by the way.)

The problem was getting worse by the minute. The fire continued to rage, and thick smoke from the burning flour was now filling the neighborhood. It became one of those situations single people have from time to time, where you really wish you had someone there to help you, but you’re sort of glad no one is there to witness it. The time had come to call for help.

Since this was clearly not an emergency (?), I did not dial 911. I looked up the regular number for the fire department. Of course, calls to this number ring directly to 911, because what fire isn’t an emergency, and what city has a special dispatcher just for non-emergency fires?

“Oh, hi,” I said casually. “This is not an emergency. My little grill is on fire, and I can’t put it out. I tried flour, and that just made it worse. Can you tell me what I should do?”

“What’s your address, ma’am?” the dispatcher asked. I gave it to her.

“I’ll send someone out,” she said. Seconds later, I heard the siren.

“Oh, my God … that’s for me,” I thought to myself.

The fire department is approximately a 45-second drive from my house. And it wasn’t just any siren. It was the hook-and-ladder. Several firefighters got out in full gear.

They almost seemed disappointed when they saw the BabyQ.

“We saw the smoke, and we could smell it all the way from the station,” one said.

They didn’t even need to use the fire extinguisher. Within a couple of minutes, the flames were going out on their own. They were really nice about the whole thing.

“I swear this won’t happen again,” I said, embarrassed. “Would you like some chicken?”

They didn’t. I thanked them and promised to clean my next grill regularly.

I am now the proud owner of a terrific new grill, which I have used several times without incident. It’s exactly like the old one … except for the name. It’s now called the Weber Q1000.

It goes great with my new fire extinguisher.

— Maureen Schlangen

Maureen Schlangen is a writer and editor in Kettering, Ohio.

Slumber parties

Currently, we are planning a slumber/birthday party for our middle daughter, Anna. There will be board games, cake, cookies, sandwiches, chips and dips, video games, movies (and a few things for the kids, too).

By now, one would think that we would know better. “This ain’t our first rodeo,” as the saying goes. Actually, I would rather go to a rodeo (or compete in one) than host another slumber party, and for me, that’s saying something.

Birthday parties for my girls have become more and more elaborate over the years. Whatever happened to the birthday parties of my childhood (an hour with a few friends being assaulted by wasps and fire ants at a city park or wearing little paper hats while being terrified by a creepy clown at McDonalds)? Life was simpler then. Partly in jest, I suggested a McDonalds party to Anna for this year, and she wouldn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. She was already annoyed that we wouldn’t allow her to invite every pre-teen girl in the Ark-La-Tex to the slumber party.

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to host a slumber party for adolescent girls, perform that experiment where you drop a package of Mentos into a two-liter bottle of Coke, but this time, place your mouth over the opening of the bottle immediately after dropping in said Mentos. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to try to get anything resembling sleep (or even rest) at a slumber party for adolescent girls, stir up a large anthill, and try to take a nap on it­­­ — naked.

Other than the chaos and sleep deprivation, I’m always amazed at certain aspects of slumber parties. For example, the amount of other people’s laundry that is left at our home once everyone is gone is staggering. I could outfit an entire Girl Scout troop with the number of garments that we find strewn everywhere (if only they left cookies, too). I’m actually surprised that anyone leaves our house fully clothed. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a ploy by parents to get us to do their laundry and deliver it to school the next week. I am also amazed at the amount of bacon girls this age can eat. At our last slumber party, Hormel had to go into emergency overdrive to meet our demands. They have now placed us on a rationing program. This time, since we don’t feel like financing a pallet of bacon from Walmart, we are not planning to serve it for breakfast. I hope there isn’t a riot.

I have several goals when we host a slumber party:

1. Keeping everyone alive

2. Keeping the house and our belongings from being destroyed

3. Salvaging the plumbing

One would think the #3 wouldn’t be a problem with these petite females, but it is, especially when they bother to flush. At a previous slumber party, I encountered an unflushed toilet in our guest bathroom, and I was astounded. I immediately wondered if I was actually hosting a convention for retired Sumo wrestlers, rather than a slumber party for adolescent girls. #2 is the most challenging of my goals, mainly protecting the carpet. I always ask that everyone take off their shoes when they are in the house, put shoes back on if they go out back to play, take shoes off when they are on the trampoline, put shoes back on when they get off the trampoline, and take shoes back off before they come back in the house — easy, right? Why, then, does the carpet always wind up looking like the grounds of a sale barn? So far we are perfect on #1, although I’ve considered taking a dirt nap myself a few times.

My favorite part of the slumber party experience, other than when parents arrive to pick up their children (minus most of their clothing), is bedtime. I always insist that although I can’t force them to sleep, they must remain prone and in one location at all times during the night — unless they need to get up and go destroy the plumbing. Although this strategy works well most of the time, at a past slumber party, the lights had been turned out, and I was blindly stumbling through what appeared to be a refugee camp in my living room in order to kiss my daughter goodnight. Well, you guessed it, I mistakenly kissed someone else’s daughter goodnight, which invoked an eruption of maniacal giggling from all present, including my wife. We are still hoping for a speedy trial and a sympathetic jury.

When I tell people stories like these, they often look at me compassionately and say things like, “You’re such a good dad,” “Your girls are so lucky,” and “You need medication.” Kids do grow up fast, and I want to do as much as I can to make them happy because I know that someday, their childhood will be only a memory. In the meantime, though, I’ve got to run. I hear Lowe’s has plungers on sale.

— Jase Graves

Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He teaches English and serves as the department chair of language development at Kilgore College. Along with his professional teaching position, he teaches children’s Sunday school. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective in his blog, “What’s Wrong With Daddy?” Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.

Are you still sexually active?

“Are you still sexually active?”

“Excuse me?”

“Are you still sexually active?” repeated the gynecologist, peering up and around my legs.

Why? I worried silently. Was she finding something ‘down there’ to indicate I wasn’t or shouldn’t be?

“Of course, I am,” I replied sharply, snapping my legs together to signal an end to that embarrassing and frankly insulting line of questioning.

“My God,” I thought as I stomped out of the doctor’s office. “I’m only 62. I’m not Methuselah or Medusa or even Grandma Moses, although imagine the line of questioning there. ‘Are you still getting’ any, Grannie?’”

“What did you say?” asked my husband, interrupting my reverie. “What did you say to the doctor when she asked that?”

“Why was he asking?” I wondered. “Doesn’t he know if I’m sexually active? Doesn’t he remember? It hasn’t been that long ago, has it? Ha-rump!”

Two weeks later I was back at the gynecologist for a follow-up appointment. She repeated the exam. The presenting problem was resolved. Then she asked again.

“Are you still sexually active?”

This time I wasn’t embarrassed or shocked. I was mad. I was ready to answer a la Trump.

“Am I sexually active? You betcha. I am so sexually active it would make your head spin. I’m so sexually active that …,” but before I could finish my clever reply, the doctor’s beeper went off. The appointment was over. I paid at the door.

All in all, being asked if you’re “still” sexually active is a lot worse than when you go in for your college health exam and your lifelong pediatrician, the guy who took your tonsils out, asks if you are sexually active.

And the truth is it is a lot worse than being asked about how much physical activity you engage in each week. I mean there you can lie, I mean, stretch the truth. (In fact, stretching the truth should count as a form of exercise. I do it regularly.) Anyway in response to questions about physical activity, I include schlepping to the supermarket two or three times a week as both aerobic and anaerobic exercise; ditto hauling the laundry up and down the stairs. And dragging groceries into and out of the car has got to be good — make that great for upper body conditioning. I often cook dishes that require stirring, so that’s good for the upper arms, too. So, ha, doc. I am physically active!

And why is it that nobody ever asks if you have an active imagination? Isn’t that a good thing to question?

Anyway, I digress. A few days after the “are you still sexually active?” emotional assault, I had to schedule an appointment for a bone density scan.

“Will you be needing any special assistance when you come in?” asked the scheduling secretary.

“Will the wait be long? If so, a latte would be nice,” I replied sweetly.

“I mean like a wheelchair,” she replied tartly.

On week later I showed up for the bone scan, ambulating I might add on my own two feet without a hesitation or the slightest indication of a limp or balance impairment.

Then I started filling out the questionnaire for the test. It made the “are you still sexually active” question seem benign. Any broken bones? What medication are you taking for bone loss? Did your mother suffer from osteoporosis? On and on went the questions … a litany of the perils of old age especially for women. By the end of the form, I felt – but for pride – in emotional need of assistance in getting back to the room where the test was to be conducted.

“Oh, your birthday is just five days after Fred Astaire’s,” commented the sweet young thing prepping me for the scan.

“What?” I snapped, fearing this was some sort of ageist comment.

“Oh, Fred Astaire is my idol,” she replied airily. “I take all sorts of dance lessons because I’m so inspired by him.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” I said weakly.

The test didn’t take much time and faster than you can sign the lyrics “hip bone connected to the back bone. Back bone connected to the shoulder bone,” the test was over. The technician said I’d get the results in about a week. I left wondering if my bones would prove to be as brittle as my ego.

I returned home. The sun was setting, literally and metaphorically. I was feeling old and decrepit. Uber unsexy to boot.

There was a text from my husband. “Home in 30.” I’d show them all. I wasn’t old. I still had “it.” I sprang to action. I grabbed some wilting roses from a vase and scattered the petals from the front door to the bedroom. I hunted around for a few, non-emergency-looking candles, and lit them. I chilled a bottle of champagne, cut up some cheese and threw some crackers on a plate. I jumped into a scented bubble bath and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. The bubbles dissipated. The water turned chilly. Undeterred, I towel-dried off and put on a sexy nightgown. I was shivering, actually shaking like Nanook of the North, and dived under the covers. And waited.

And waited.

I looked at my phone. There was another text message. “Problem on BART. Stopped in Oakland. Don’t know how long.”

So, I waited some more. Thankfully I was warming up. I snuggled down a little lower into the covers, and, of course, before you knew it, I fell asleep.

Three hours later I woke up to the sound of the TV downstairs. Jon was comfortably ensconced in his beloved relax-a-back chair, munching on the last of the cheese and crackers, drinking a beer.

“I really love this new cheese, honey. Thanks for getting it.”

I sighed, kissed him and headed upstairs to put on something more appropriate for watching Die Hard for the 35th time.

“Why didn’t you wake me when you came in?” I asked.

“I dunno. I figured you must have been exhausted. The house was a mess. There were dead flowers all over the floor.”

Later during a commercial, Jon thanked me for watching his favorite action flick yet again. “You’re a great wife,” he murmured, reaching over to the couch and squeezing my hand, the one not holding my needlepoint project.

“See,” I thought to myself. “We are still sexually active. It’s just these days it’s more isometric than aerobic.”

— Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is an award-winning journalist and human rights advocate. Like most of us, she has seen her share of joys and sadness and finds the best response to it all is humor. Now at work on a collection of personal essays, she’s also busy chronicling the perils and pleasures of life at a certain age on her blog, Muddling Through Middle Age. You can find her at http://muddling.me and Facebook.com/MuddlingMe.

Fancy underwear and awkward moments

After nearly 16 years of marriage, I declare my spouse a survivor.

And I have some sage advice on how to (hopefully) get your spouse to stick around until he/she’s too senile to remember why you’re there.

1. If you can’t help it, be honest.

Some things should never be said, but after a quarter century of marriage, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. While watching my husband Matthew daintily putting spoon to mouth while enjoying his millionth bowl of ice cream, I blurted out:

“You eat dessert like an old British lady at a church bazaar!”

My slip made me reflect on the fact that although I eat like a horse, he has never once said it to my face. He’s my better half in so many ways.

2. Be polite.

If you don’t say “Bless you!” when someone sneezes in my house, you’re likely to get cursed. Unless you’re a guest, of course; then we’ll just make faces behind your back.

“Bless you” is the pinnacle of civility according to Matthew. For years of our marriage he lambasted me each time I didn’t say bless you when he manfully sneezed. Now I’m so scared not to bless people that I nervously cry, “Bless you!” when anyone coughs, burps or passes gas in this house. I even bless myself when no one else is around.

3. Save your jealousy for special occasions.

Let’s say your husband has a casual work event, and you’re suffering from PMS. You pass out face-down on the living room couch, only to get ready last minute, choosing your most comfortable skirt and shoes that remind you of your grandma.

At the company shindig, your husband greets his pretty young coworker as she arrives in ripped jeans with an entourage of hip friends, and you agonize over whether you’re even wearing mascara.

I wouldn’t tell you that it’s “right” to be jealous in such cases, but emotions, like circumstances, are often uncontrollable. At least you’re not peeved merely because he exchanged pleasantries with the supermarket cashier.

4. Share your dreams with each other.

Recently, my husband and I were watching a segment about a group of down-to-earth people who came into big money. They ditched their humble, traditional way of life for lavish, contemporary living.

I felt compelled to ask, “Honey, what would you do if we came into money?”

He replied without hesitation, “Buy some Adidas underwear.”

5. Be intimate, but not too intimate.

I still won’t let Matthew see me brush my teeth. I’d lay him out flat on the other side of the door after slamming it in his face in a frantic effort to bar entry.

My attempts to execute this basic hygienic task involve toothpaste flying at the mirror, spraying my glasses, dribbling in frothy rivers down my chin, and getting up my nostrils. I’m transformed into a Frankenstein creature who points with sad eyes and inarticulate gurgling at the mess I’ve made of my shirt.

I dare not let my man view this horrific spectacle too often. Otherwise the divorce papers might say, “My wife was all foam and no dignity.”

Finally, what is the most important advice of all? It’s that love isn’t a feeling that comes and goes. It’s kindness, respect, mercy and goodwill delivered every single day, in snow or rain, heat or gloom — just like the postal service.

And make sure you crack each other up as often as you can.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published online, most at the incredible humorwriters.org. She is hoping to publish a book this year that she began when she was 17 and recently rediscovered with the help of her children. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Habits for molding yourself into a powerful writer

Writing is one of those skills that can take a lifetime to master and even then it can feel like you’re never really quite where you want to be.

The words we write down, whether they’re on a blank piece of paper or a on a desktop computer screen, come from our hearts, from the depth of our minds and expressing our thoughts and feelings in a way in which our readers can understand can pose a lot of complications.

Having been a writer for several years, I’ve experienced both the good side and the bad side of writing for a hobby and as a career. I’ve had flurries of inspiration where I didn’t even have enough paper to write down all my ideas and there have been months when I couldn’t think of a single idea and even thought of giving it up all together. However, through all my experiences, I completely believe I’m a better writer now than I ever have been thanks to a few habits I adopted that completely changed my life.

Put Yourself in Your Reader’s Shoes

This may be one of the most overlooked aspects of being writer. By putting yourself in your reader’s shoes, you are able to re-read your work with a fresh pair of eyes, without having to employ a fresh pair of eyes. Read your content in their shoes and ask yourself questions such as:

Does my work and sentence structure make sense?
Am I sending out messages I want my readers to hear?
Am I writing in my own unique voice?
Am I offending anyone that may read this piece of work?

By adopting this approach when writing and editing, you can be sure your writing is as powerful as it can be.

Push Yourself and Don’t Be Afraid

It’s extremely easy as a writer to get comfortable in your style of writing. Once we have discovered a method of working that works and grabs the reader’s attention, we stick to it. We’re all guilty of it in one way or another and as time goes on, we might as well save a template of every post we write and just fill in the gaps.

To progress as a writer, it’s important to push your boundaries and think outside the box. The only thing stopping you from being your best is you. Try out new writing techniques. Experiment with different concepts and formats and find new ways to express yourself through your writing. By following this approach, you will be safe in the knowledge that you are writing to the best level you can.

Take a Break and Read

It’s easy for most of us to get caught up in the moment and continuously write for hours, especially if you are freelancing and have a lot of approaching deadlines. My final golden tip to becoming an empowered writer is to take a break from your work and read. Whether you’re reading other articles or a book or novel of your choice, it really doesn’t matter, just as long as you’re putting your pen down and allowing your writing mindset to take a break.

Not only does this mean you can return with a fresh, positive and motivated outlook to your work, you can also learn new language, new formats, new sentence structure and a ton of new concepts from the work you are reading which, once implemented into your own work, can help you on your path to becoming the best.

— Brenda Berg

Brenda Berg is a professional writer with more than 15 years experience. She is a contributor for Live Write Thrive, eLearningindustry, UK Dissertation and Gazette of Teachers. She is interested in ways that can help individuals reach their full creative potential.

How not to eat an ice cream cone

As a journalist, I know the importance of getting a scoop. As a grandfather, I know the importance of getting two scoops.

That’s what I learned recently when I took my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, to McNulty’s Ice Cream Parlor in Miller Place, New York, for a lesson in how to eat an ice cream cone.

Chloe and I have eaten ice cream together many times, whether it has been at a store like McNulty’s or at the ice cream truck that makes my house a regular stop on its appointed rounds through the neighborhood.

(God, now I can’t get that annoying jingle out of my head!)

But the two of us had always eaten our ice cream out of cups, which is nice and relatively neat but not very challenging for those hardy souls who like to risk a spectacular cleaning bill while licking, slurping or otherwise inhaling a cone before the ice cream drips all over your hands, your clothes, your shoes, your seat, the table, the floor or, if you are not careful, everything and everyone within a radius of approximately a hundred yards.

“I want a cone, Poppie,” Chloe said as we entered McNulty’s and perused the display case, which was stocked with so many varieties that it was a veritable explosion of colors.

“What flavor, Chloe?” I asked.

“Strawberry, please, Poppie,” Chloe answered politely.

I passed her order to server Kelsey Reynolds, 18, who inquired, “One scoop or two?”

I looked down at Chloe, who was holding my hand. She looked up at me and beamed. It melted my heart faster than a bowl of sherbet during a heat wave.

“Two,” I said.

Kelsey handed me the ice cream cone equivalent of the Empire State Building. I conjured a mess of immense proportions. That likely possibility doubled when I ordered a similarly lofty cone of vanilla soft serve for myself.

“May I have some napkins?” I asked Kelsey, who gave me four. “We’re going to need a lot more than that,” I said.

Kelsey nodded knowingly and gave me another dozen.

“Enjoy!” she said as Chloe and I headed to a table, where we sat down and commenced cone consumption.

I tried to impress upon Chloe the importance of eating her ice cream around the edges before it began its slow descent onto the cone and, immediately thereafter, her fingers.

Unfortunately, she didn’t heed this brilliant advice. Also unfortunately, neither did I. My soft serve, temporarily neglected as I was giving a lecture in the fine if somewhat sticky art of eating an ice cream cone, began to seep under my fingernails.

“Do you need more napkins?” asked Kelsey, who saw that the lesson was not going well and came over to offer assistance.

And not a moment too soon. That’s because Chloe took a bite out of the bottom of her cone, causing a virtual Niagara of strawberry ice cream to pour onto the table, as well as the sleeve of her pink sweater. At least the colors blended.

Then she placed her cone on the saturated blanket of napkins that covered the table and asked to try my cone, with strikingly similar results.

I knew I had failed completely when Chloe looked at my cream-covered digits and declared, “Poppie is sloppy!”

Kelsey must have agreed because she brought over even more napkins.

“Don’t worry,” she said sympathetically as I mopped up the tabletop, “I’ve seen worse.”

But the lesson was ultimately successful because Chloe and I had a sweet time. It took a while, but we both finished our cones.

After we washed our hands in the bathroom, it was time to go.

“Thank you,” I said to Kelsey on the way out.

“You’re very welcome,” she replied with a bright smile. “Next time you and Chloe come in, call ahead. I want to make sure we have enough napkins.”

— 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.

What teaching kindergarten taught me

My teaching career spanned 17 years — 10 years teaching high school and seven years teaching kindergarten.

The chasm is not as deep or wide between the two as you might think, because a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old have similar behaviors and thought processes.

Some of my most fun and also frightening teaching memories came from my precious kinder kiddos. The first year I made the switch from high school to kindergarten, I was constantly wondering why. Why do these kids not stay seated when I ask them to? Why can’t they line up in a straight line? The answer was easy….those were two skills I needed to teach them. Who knew? As I quickly learned, the first month of kindergarten is solely dedicated to learning processes, systems and procedures. How to line up, how to make it to the bathroom on time, and how to work together safely and without a melt down.

Boogers:

Sniffles, picking and blowing are all things done with the nose or let’s just call it like it is…boogers. Problems occur when you are not prepared for Booger mania! For example: the sneeze felt round the room; or when known nose picker runs up and hugs your legs passing who know what onto your skirt; or how about when above said nose picker is chosen line leader for the day and gets to hold the teacher’s hand? I’ve been known to hold the wrist instead, feigning a sore finger. One must always be vigilant to pickers and be prepared for the unplanned grasp of the hand. Although it’s not PC, it would be so cool if you could wear disposable gloves while teaching. Is there any wonder why Kleenex is number one on the school supply list?

Potty talk, potty time and potty problems:

For some reason, pee, poop and fart are the three funniest words any 5-year-old knows. Just say the word fart and you will cause a group of kindergarteners to collapse into giggles, jokes or stories. For example:

Once during an appraisal by my principal a whole classroom dissolved with one fart.

On this day at story time, I had my 25 5-year-olds sitting perfectly still on the carpet in front of me. We were reading a story, which I was incorporating into a fabulous English language arts lesson on sequencing: What comes next in the story? I was sitting smugly in my chair, 25 sets of eyes were all on me, my principal was sitting at the back of the room taking notes when all of a sudden, in the quiet pause of the story, a precious little girl farted. I tried to bite my lip, keep on reading and act like nothing happened, but one moment later a little one from the back of the group asked, “Did you hear that air biscuit?” One after another the group popped up with other statements: “I did!” “Who did it?” “What’s an air biscuit?” “That wasn’t a biscuit, it was a fart and it smells!”

Picture me calmly (I was really starting to sweat) asking the class to put all eyes back on me and putting my finger to my lips, tried the silent shhhhhh.

Chaos ensued when another child pointed out the culprit. I didn’t want to, but I glanced at the back of the room and saw my principal hysterically laughing and trying to hide his face while his shoulders were uncontrollably shaking. He politely excused himself and said, “Perhaps I can come back later.”

I never really got it back together after that, so we went outside to run and play and return after a bathroom break, and try it again. Sequencing lesson: What happens after a child has a loud air biscuit? Mayhem.

On most days, my classroom was calm and uneventful. You know, those days when you wish Norman Rockwell was capturing the essence of your teaching career? Those seven years in kindergarten were sweet, funny and oh so endearing. I learned a lot about life. I learned boogers and farts are funny at any age. I learned to be more inquisitive, laugh more, see the joy in everyday events and love with all my heart!

Hey, sometimes “poop” happens, but it’s how you deal with it that matters.

— Nancy Malcolm

Nancy Malcolm is a true Southern woman, who believes in the Southern way. Like, its never too soon to write a thank you note; everyone should own a deviled egg plate; and good manners often take you where neither education nor money can. And she definitely believes no one ever outgrows the need for a mother’s love. To see more of her writing, go to sittinuglysistahs.wordpress.com and soulspeak2016.wordpress.com.

Reflections of Erma