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The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be held March 31-April 2, 2016, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. Check back for registration and program details.

It’s Judy’s 70th birthday!

Andrea SchellWhen Andrea Schell couldn’t get her Mom a diamond or trip to Morocco for her 70th birthday, she did the next best thing — produced a personalized, funny, delightful and inspiring music video for her, starring 40 of her friends and family.

All You Magazine declared the video the Best Gift Ever in its December 2014 issue.

You can see the video by clicking here.

“Be careful. The song is addictive,” says Schell, a Santa Monica, Calif., writer and performer whose solo plays and monologues “make women feel great.”

Item not on my bucket list

Cindi LabadieI have quite a few kids. I may have alluded to the fact that sometimes life brings the unexpected. Understatement. Have you noticed that sometimes you do things and think, “Well, now, THAT wasn’t on my bucket list?” And the next thought may just be, “and I hope to never do it again.”

This happened exactly as I am going to explain it. One of the darlings (and, yes, they may report that I call them hooligans) came in the house one sunny summer morning to report that his bicycle was no longer where he left it. This did not concern me greatly because this person and his possessions often became displaced from one another.

Did this trait follow him into adulthood? I have promised not to tattle on my family, but let’s just say a remote key/wallet/shoe/sunglass finder would make a fabulous Christmas gift for him.

A few hours later it was apparent that his bike had been stolen. This made for an unhappy mom and an unhappier son. Life goes on. I needed to run some errands, so I loaded the darling children into the car so we could take care of business.

We stopped at a light as we left our subdivision and found ourselves behind a police car. A police car with a bicycle sticking out of the trunk. The police car made a right turn. We were heading that way as well. All of a sudden bikeless boy yells, “Mom, that is my bike.” It did look familiar, but I was faced with a number of dilemmas at this point.

Problem 1

I am driving behind the police car.  I do not have red-and-blue flashing lights to get his attention and request that he pull over. I do not have a bullhorn with me. Usually my voice is loud enough to get anyone to listen. Tailgating him does not seem like a wise choice. Speeding around him and then stopping fast in order to get him to stop does not seem in my best interest.

Please think about this for a moment.

How would you get his attention?

Problem 2

Of course, I have no paperwork showing this is my son’s bike. I have not filed a police report. Let me be candid here. Even if I did still have the paperwork confirming ownership of said bike, I would not have it with me and am quite sure it may have taken a week or three to locate it at home.

What to do?  I did what any red-blooded American mom with a passel of kids does. I followed the patrol car. Yes, I did. At a safe distance and five miles under the speed limit. I did not drive aggressively. I was asking myself how far he could be going. And I determined it probably WAS a stolen bike in his trunk, which he most likely was taking to the bike impound center or wherever stuff like that goes. It seemed unlikely that he loaded his own bike into the back of the police car that morning thinking he may have car trouble that day. I failed to mention that I am a very logical person, but I’m sure you have figured that out by now.

Back to my story. As luck would have it, my friendly police officer was probably thirsty because he turned into a convenience store parking lot. Of course, I followed him. I did park a respectful distance away. However, he did not exit his vehicle immediately but was watching me in his rear view mirror.

When he did get out of his car, he was kind of looking our way. I certainly didn’t want to startle him, but I also couldn’t leave the group of children unattended so I rolled down my window and politely said, “Hello. Excuse me. Hello.” Or something equally as exciting.  He approached my car, and I told him that my son’s bike had been stolen and we believed it was the one in his trunk. He was somewhat suspicious but asked if we had any paperwork to verify this or if we had filed a police report. I said no, but then my brown-eyed wonder shouted, “It has an orange piece of yarn tied around it.”

Who does that? 

The officer walked to the trunk, looked at the spot where the orange piece of yarn was attached (not visible from where we sat). Sure as shootin,’ that was our bike. He took it out of the trunk and told us to have a nice day. He said we saved him a lot of paperwork, and he was appreciative.

So ends the saga of a seemingly ordinary happening.

Have you ever chased down a police car and, if so, how did that work for you?

— Cindi Labadie

Cindi Labadie, mom to five and wife to one, blogs at “Seemingly Ordinary.”

Old Jingles

Bob NilesWe all have that one singing, dancing, repetitive, now-annoying Christmas decoration.

While shopping, we spotted a whimsical, very amusing, how does it do that, figurine. And it somehow danced and sang its way into our shopping bag. And now we have to live with it every year for a month.

Visitors come over and press the spot on its hand, foot or belly, and it sings a well-known happy Christmas song while dancing about. For us, it’s a dog wearing a toque with a bell that rings when its head moves back and forth as it sings “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It’s not a visitor playing the dog that causes one of us to say, “If I hear that stupid dog again, I’ll go crazy.” It’s one of the four grandkids.

Each one in succession has feared, tolerated, laughed and appeared unsure of the dog. Around the fourth Christmas, they’d play it over and over and over until you couldn’t stand ever again hearing these well-loved carols.Sketch

At first, it was fun watching each one on their first Christmas react to the scary dancing dog. Their eyes would get wide,  and they’d try to make out exactly what they were seeing. The whole family would gather around to watch their reaction. By their second Christmas, they would laugh a bit and then turn to hug grandpa or grandma. They weren’t sure how they felt about it. And because grandpas and grandmas are hug addicts, we would do it over and over again.

By the third Christmas, they’d play with it like it was a hot fire. They’d cautiously squeeze the spot as if were hot, then jump back as it started to dance and sing before laughing their heads off.

While we’re introducing the second granddaughter to Jingles (the first granddaughter named him), the first one, who is now four, is burning up two AA batteries playing it over and over and OVER again. By the time our oldest granddaughter is eight, two more grandkids have joined the fold — twin boys who are now three.

We removed the batteries from Jingles that year and lied, yes lied, to our own grandkids that Jingles was broken. I know there must be a special extra hot spot in Hell for grandparents who lie to four grandkids. But I couldn’t take another year of Jingles throwing his head back and forth ringing that bell on the end of his toque and singing at the top of his voice “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Our master, Hell-bound plan lasted but one Sunday visit. The next Sunday the well-schooled 8-year-old reasoned that it probably needed new batteries. “Ah, too bad grandpa doesn’t have any more AA batteries,” I lied again. Pour more coals on the fire.

“No worries,” Gabriella sang. “I’ll get them from another toy.”

What! She can’t do that, can she? I didn’t see that coming! I would have removed every battery in the house if I thought she’d grasped that knowledge. Or I would have kidnapped old Jingles and hid him under heavy boxes in the garage. Transplanting batteries! Now I could only hope for a AA rejection between toys.

She went through all the battery-operated toys like my wife at a BOGO shoe sale. Toys flew everywhere. She assessed the size of the batteries and wondered if she could live without that toy until stingy, old grandpa got around to buying new batteries. Gabriella and Charlotte (now five) both agreed that the “Little People” castle would still play fine without its two AA batteries.

I hoped they would put them in old Jingles the wrong way. Just mix up the positive and negative sides. That’s when their dad, who hasn’t done anything around here since he was 16, made the girls aware of the laws of polarity. It was at this point I did something that I’m not proud of. Without thinking, I said that if Gabriella got it working, she could take it home with her.

I have now ruined the boys’ Christmas for all eternity with this singing blight of a decoration. More coals on my fire.

But my problem was solved. No more Jingles!

Since my wife was now short one decoration, she went out and bought this ever-so-cute snowman surrounded by kittens that perform a squeaky sing-song version of “Frosty the Snowman.” The grandkids just love it!

— Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.

10 top phrases from the Wife-to-English Dictionary

Chris DeanWhen it comes to things I’d really rather not do, my powers of avoidance are legendary. So legendary, in fact, that Hubby has not-so-secretly compiled a Wife-To-English Phrase Dictionary. To someone listening in, it may sound like I get a lot done during the week, but to those in the know? Well, not so much.

Hubby’s Top 10 Favorites

• phrase: Today I’m going to get the laundry caught up.
translation: I’ll fall asleep on the couch while watching stuff off Netflix and get nothing done.

• phrase: Tonight I’ll prepare a home-cooked meal to show Hubby how much I appreciate him.
translation: I’ll spend half the day playing on Facebook, forget to thaw anything out and reheat leftovers from last week.

• phrase: Today I’ll clean the spiderwebs out of the corners and clear off my desk.
translation: I’ll fall asleep on the couch while watching stuff off Netflix and get nothing done.

• phrase: We need to simplify and organize our lives.
translation: I’ll pull everything out of its hidey-holes, sort it into “keep” and “donate” piles, sit down to rest and fall asleep watching stuff off Netflix. Then I’ll freak over the mess I’ve created and shove everything back into the closet, cupboard or desk where it came from.

• phrase: I’m gonna get rid of the clothes that don’t fit, so I don’t have to dig to find something to wear.
translation: I’ll pull everything out of the closet, get depressed over all the stuff my butt won’t fit in, eat Pop-Tarts and chips while I distract myself by watching stuff off Netflix. At bedtime, I’ll throw everything back into the top of the closet, so the next time I reach for yoga pants, it’ll avalanche onto my head, causing another round of, “I’m gonna get rid of the clothes that don’t fit…”

• phrase: Today I am gonna get so much writing done!
translation: I’ll fall asleep on the couch while watching stuff off Netflix and get nothing done.

• phrase: Today I’ll shower, do something with my hair besides a ponytail and put on real clothes.
translation: …Just as soon as I finish the next chapter of my book.

• phrase: I’m starting a new diet today.
translation: I’ll starve myself the first day, then when I fail to lose at least five pounds from all my self-denial, I’ll binge eat goat cheese and Triscuits while blubbering through a movie off pay-per-view.

• phrase: I’m going to start exercising today.
translation: I’m gonna trip while walking across a flat surface and pull a muscle/break a toe. By the time I’m done healing, the urge to exercise will have safely passed.

• phrase: I need to start eating healthier.
translation: I’m going to force the entire family to eat tvp (texturized vegetable protein) meat substitutes, salads and steamed veggies for the next month while I secretly binge on Pop-Tarts and chips when no one’s looking.

I’d be annoyed or maybe even a little hurt, if it wasn’t for the fact that this dictionary proves he really DOES listen and knows me better than I admit to knowing myself.

I think tonight I’ll prepare a home-cooked meal to show just how much I appreciate him! Right after I shower, do something with my hair besides a ponytail and put on real clothes.

— Chris Dean

Chris Dean writes at pixie.c.d. (formerly Life Your Way!) where she shares acts of stupidity, life with adult offspring and the occasional useful bit of info on life with chronic illness. She lives in Indiana with her amazingly tolerant Hubby (who swears he doesn’t mind putting up with her), their four adult-kids and the petting zoo of cats, dogs, chickens, Muscovy ducks and geese she’s systematically managed to turn their home and yard into. When not writing, you can find her avoiding laundry on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

My mother, the model

Jerry-Zezima1-219x300This humorous column by Jerry Zezima originally appeared in the Stamford Advocate on Nov. 20, 2014. Reposted by permission. 

My mom’s the very model of the modern modeling mother. And she could soon share a runway with Heidi Klum and other model moms because she (my mother, not Heidi) began her modeling career recently at a fashion show in my hometown of Stamford, Conn.

Heidi, who’s 41, has gotten a lot more exposure, mainly because she’s not shy about wearing lingerie in public. Besides, she began her career as a teenager.

My mom, who’s a bit more modest, just turned 90.

Because 90 is the new 60, which happens to be my age, my mother was asked to take part in a fashion show at Chico’s, a women’s clothing chain with a store in the Stamford Town Center mall.

“I must have good genes,” my mother said.

“Did you wear jeans?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “I had on a pair of boysenberry slacks.”

“What about a top?” I inquired.

“I was wearing one,” my mother assured me. “In fact, I wore a couple of tops.”

“At the same time?” I wondered.

My mother sighed, because she knows I have a fashion plate in my head, and explained that first she wore a print blouse and then changed into another top with a coordinating jacket.

I was going to ask if she also wore the diamond-studded, $10-million bra that Heidi Klum famously sported on the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalog, but I thought better of it because Chico’s doesn’t sell stuff like that and this was, after all, my mother.

“But you could,” I suggested, “be in the Chico’s catalog.”

“Yes, she could,” said store manager Terry Mrijaj, whose name is pronounced “Terry.”

“Do you know that my mother is 90?” I asked when I called to talk about the new supermodel.

“She’s amazing,” Terry stated. “She’s stylish, elegant and beautiful. Whenever she comes in, customers remark on how great she looks in our clothes. She’s a walking advertisement for the store.”

Not bad considering my mom couldn’t walk a year and a half ago, when she fell and broke her leg. But she has bounced back — she didn’t bounce when she fell — and is driving again. And now, she’s modeling.

“She’s a natural,” said Terry, adding that the fashion show, a breast cancer fundraiser, featured seven models, the youngest of whom is in her teens. My mom, not surprisingly, is the oldest.

Terry knows from experience because she was runner-up in the Miss Teen New York pageant when she was 18. “I’m 45 now, so I’m half your mom’s age,” she said. “I hope I look that good when I’m 90.”

My mother said that when she was 16 or 17, she was asked to model a sable coat at Levine & Smith, a fur shop in New York City.

“My father was so insulted — he didn’t think modeling was very reputable — that he refused to let me do it and we never went back,” my mother remembered. “So I went into nursing.”

“Those white uniforms weren’t too stylish,” I noted.

“No, they weren’t,” my mother agreed. “I wear better clothes now.”

They include the fringe skirt and black top she wore to a family birthday bash.

“How does it feel to be 90?” I asked.

“Pretty good,” she said. “I don’t feel like it and I don’t act like it.”

“And,” added my wife, Sue, who shares her birthday with my mother but is, of course, considerably younger, “you don’t look like it.”

Sue should know because she could be a model herself.

My mother’s next gig will be another fashion show at Chico’s.

“I know your mom will be a hit again,” said Terry. “She’s a star.”

Let’s see if Heidi Klum can say that when she’s 90.

— 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 McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won five humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Ripping the headlines today

Paul_LanderThe news doesn’t need to be complicated and confusing; that’s what any new release from Microsoft is for.  And, as in the case with anything from Microsoft, to keep the news from worrying our pretty little heads over, remember something new and equally indecipherable will come out soon.

Really all you need to do is follow one simple rule:  barely pay attention and jump to conclusions.  So, here are some headlines today and my first thoughts:

Pope urges G-20 to focus on helping the poor

The last time a Pope mentioned G-20 it was during a Church Bingo Night.

350-year-old high heels uncovered at Irish castle

Betty White: “So that’s where I left them.”

Walmart to sell health insurance

Although I’m not sure I want a 7-year-old Chinese kid operating on me.

NATO jets intercept Russian military plane over Baltic States

As opposed to NY Jets who only get intercepted.

25 years ago the Berlin Wall came down

Many are thinking of putting it back up to keep out David Hasselhoff.

Happy 50th B-day, Calista Flockhart

Congratulations on your age and weight now being the same.

Ted Cruz says net neutrality is ‘Obamacare for the Internet’

Look for Rand Paul to top him by calling it “The Web Benghazi.”

Surgeon with Ebola virus flown to Nebraska

I’m guessing because the virus would rather die than be in Nebraska.

CBS apologize for airing Harbaugh comments

What they should apologize for is airing Raider games.

Frozen actress sues Disney over $926 paycheck for voicing Elsa

No word if frozen Walt Disney responded.

Kim Kardashian goes full frontal naked

Mostly because no one would recognize her with her clothes on.

Glenn Beck reveals brain disease ‘made me look crazy’ on Fox News

Which given the competition on FOX News really says something.

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Noble Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours,  Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on Leno, Letterman, Conan, “Last Comic Standing,” etc. His humor pieces have appeared in The New Yorker, Santa Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. Now, on to Paul’s time commanding Special Forces in Khandahar…

Married to an all-or-nothing spouse

Janine TalbotMy husband is what you would call an all-or-nothing kind of guy. There are other words for it, but we’ll just go with that for now. He doesn’t share my lick-and-a-promise method of doing certain things, for instance, vacuuming. He will actually move things out of the way. It’s the darnest thing.

When we are working with a time frame, I try my hardest to steer him away from anything that causes his eyes to glaze over in anticipation of diving in and losing track of time. Too often he will somehow manage to spot something that will easily suck up an hour and make my hair go grayer by the minute.

Take, for a small example, when he wanted to clean out the kitchen sink so it was available to rinse off some freshly picked garden vegetables. A few dishes had to be taken care of and I was in the middle of something else (anything else, thank you), so he volunteered to take over the sink situation.

A little while later I happened to pass through the kitchen as he held the sponge under the soap dispenser and loaded it up like he was on a mission to scrub every dirty dish on our street. He lifted the first item in the sink — a plastic sandwich container. Soon the container’s shape was indiscernible. Mountains of lather bubbled up and surrounded it, swallowing the container and dripping chunks of foam onto other objects awaiting their massage. I mean, cleaning.

I noticed Spouse’s eyes had a dazed look as he stared out the window into the back yard deep in some kind of sudsy thought. I felt like he was enjoying this just a little too much but hey, I wasn’t going to volunteer to take over. We’re talking housework here. It was a half hour before the six things in the sink were all washed and placed in the strainer.

By then it was dusk and the vegetables were still in the garden. Guess who was not going to be washing off garden items at 8 p.m.? That would be me.

Today, though, our kitchen looks like a farmer’s market with eggplant, zucchini, parsley and peppers splayed across the counter and table. That’s because his all-or-nothing thought process means all the vegetables he had finally gotten around to stripping from the garden and placing in our basement refrigerator are now in the process of being cleaned, cut up, and cooked. I just wish he knew how to do this one item at a time instead of all at once so my kitchen wouldn’t look like I’m making a giant vat of ratatouille.

Our normal haphazard fall routine is to strip the garden and then have too much to handle and too little space to handle it. We procrastinate prepping anything for immediate or future use, ignore the globs forming in the corner of the fridge, and lose half of what he grew. Fortunately, I’ve been perusing the cooking channel website, and I’ve gotten some great ideas for using this year’s veggies. I have scrumptious plans for the eggplant thanks to Giada, and Debi Mazar’s zucchini frittata sounds like a winner. We also have plenty of peppers to make poppers this weekend when the Love Couple is visiting. I’m feeling accomplished this fall. Now if I could just figure out what to do with that overabundance of parsley that continues to grow like this is July instead of November.

Being married to an all-or-nothing guy means when he isn’t in a SpongeBob trance he becomes fully immersed in projects, whether it’s stripping gardens or soaping up every dish he can get his hands on. My job is to try and keep up, and hope I have room for whatever his current obsession is.

Ratatouille, anyone?

— Janine Talbot

Janine Talbot has been writing since before her eighth grade teacher accused her of plagiarizing a poem she wrote. She has published locally in guest editorials, and her lyrics received honorable mention in American Songwriter Magazine’s Lyric Contest. At 50-something and experiencing the empty nest (i.e., a spare bedroom with a desk), she is diving into the blogging world, sharing her stresses about her long-distance daughters, a spouse who lives for SpongeBob marathons, a blind golden retriever and a cat she swears screams “Now” at feeding time. She blogs here.

Sidewalk ice and the winter graph

Tracy BucknerWith all of the talk about the polar vortex, I can’t help thinking that winter, snow and the sidewalk are upon us — and what all that means for the next few months.

Sidewalk ice has different meanings depending on your age. It’s like looking at a graph with a downward slope: fun is the top point and death is the bottom point.

If you’re a child, winter, snow and sidewalk ice can only mean one thing: Fun with a capital F. You’re at the high point on the winter graph. Your mom bundles you up and out you go into a winter wonderland filled with sledding, sliding, falling, snowballs, snow angels and snow forts. Your nose is running and your fingers are wet and freezing, but you don’t notice. Children are blissfully unaware of impending doom and a visit to the ER when they look outside. Sidewalk ice? If you slip, you slip.

On to the teen years, where style comes before warmth at all times. At this age, looking good is more important than being warm. Take a trip to a local high school where in 2- degree weather, the girls are dressed in uggs with mini-skirts and you will know what I mean. My mother would be lucky if she could get me to wear a winter coat. I wore a hat until she was out of sight. So similar to today’s teens, I was usually freezing, but damn, did I look good. Sidewalk ice? I didn’t give it a moment’s thought.

During life’s next stage, you’re working outside the home, or home with the kids. (“Home with the kids” is also “working” but you don’t get to leave the house for adult conversation, no coffee or lunch break, you don’t get paid for putting your life on hold, and, best of all, you get no respect whatsoever. I’m sounding bitter, aren’t I? But that’s a future blog, so stay tuned).

During this stage, your children, upon hearing that phone ring early in the morning, are ecstatic, knowing it can only mean one thing: A SNOW DAY! If you’re a stay-at-home or a working mom, however, you hear that early morning ring and you think….”shoot me.” It might mean fun with a capital F to your kids, but you are probably thinking of another word, also with a capital F. The point on the winter graph is beginning to drop significantly.

But, I remember once after the plow had come, my kids went outside and saw the tremendously high drift that the plow had left at the bottom of our drive. Within 10 minutes they had made it into a fort with snow windows and little seats. Then they made a small slide. A few neighborhood kids came over and it was all fun and laughter and snowsuits, and hats and gloves and boots. As I watched from my window,  I thought to myself, “Go outside. Forget the ice.”

So I did.

None of them seemed to notice that I was dressed like an Eskimo, so I started collecting rocks and sticks and began decorating their fort. Before long all of them were collecting whatever greenery they could find and decorating along with me. My nose was running and my hands were wet and freezing, but I was having a great time. It was like being Snow White with her seven dwarfs. If I fell, there would be seven kids to pick me up.

I didn’t fall.

Afterwards, I went inside and made hot chocolate for everyone and even had marshmallows handy in the pantry. Then I invited some of my friends over who were similarly thrilled with the snow day and darned if Jack Daniels didn’t go great with the hot chocolate! Why should only kids have all the fun?

Now I’m at the bottom of the winter graph where its uggs without the mini-skirt for me. Looking good? Forget it. It takes 10 minutes to get ready to leave the house as you put on a winter coat, tie a scarf around your neck, pull the same scarf over your nose and mouth, put on gloves and a hat. I imagine it’s like wearing a burka as only your eyes are exposed.

My daughter says, “Mom, you’re only walking 20 feet to get the mail,” but I don’t care. And I can’t think of letting her get the mail because she would only wear a mini skirt with uggs. My only concern is staying out of the ER and keeping the circulation going in my fingers and toes.

At my age, I’m at the lowest point on the winter graph. I look at sidewalk ice and think, “I’m going to die.”

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills, which serves Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.

Reflections of Erma