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You can run, but can’t hide, from a squeaky wheel

Depending on the day, a shopping trip to Target can be about as fun as cleaning the toilet on a Saturday morning before your first cup of coffee.

Interestingly, a quick glance of someone’s cart contents might reveal the truth of the person pushing the cart. In my cart, this particular day, you’d probably see a bottle of wine wedged somewhere between the chocolate and Metamucil.

Trying to forget my numerous irritations, I continued checking things off the list when in the far distance between frozen foods and the bread aisle I hear the consistent sound of squeaking.

Deciding between a small or large loaf of high-fiber bread, I was distracted with the irritating squeak, squeak, squeaking sound. My eyes shifted the aisle to see if anyone else was agitated by the ear-piercing squeal motoring its way towards the bread aisle.

I reached for the bread that promises a fiber-rich cleansing, when a motorized cart squeals around the corner with its senior driver at the helm wearing a sweatshirt proclaiming he was the “World’s Best Grandpa.” Clearly, he was oblivious to the rusty wheel screeching its high pitch of despair when asking the Target employee, “Where’s the Pepsi?”

I had already wandered off and was heading in that exact direction of the beverage aisle when I heard World’s Best Grandpa” kick his motor scooter into high gear, restarting the rusty squeal all over again.

A flash in my peripheral vision noticed that “Go Cart Gramps” overshot his destination and screeched by the beverage aisle. Discovering this, he immediately did a U turn in his motor buggy, creating a grating and falsetto sound.

FINALLY, heads turned with displeasing looks, and I wasn’t the only one with ringing eardrums. “Geriatric Mario Andretti” was going all NASCAR in Target and wreaking havoc in every grocery aisle he rolled through. This “World’s Worst Driver” didn’t have a clue his calamity cart was driving Target shoppers to the edge. Or, was it just me?

Next, I escaped to the household section for a pretty candle that could be added to my midlife survival kit, wherein were the sweet sounds of NOTHING and the solitude scent of lemon lavender.  Far off in the distance “Mayhem Mario” was annoying other poor souls and possibly looking for a can of WD40!

Meanwhile, I was dipping my nose in the aroma of Tahitian Vanilla and relishing the serenity when, unbelievably, the moment was invaded with that recognizable sound.

If you were standing next to me, you would’ve noticed the shock and awe look on my face. I barely got my nose out of Tahiti, when I looked towards the end of the aisle and like a buzz saw was Target’s new NASCAR nuisance screaming by with wheel wailing in high throttle.

Was “World’s Most Annoying Gramps” out to get me?

I did what any annoyed premenopausal woman would do. I BUSTED out laughing!

There I stood alone in Target’s candle aisle laughing myself to tears. I was doubled over, trembling with laughter. I knew I had to compose myself, so I managed to pull myself together, escape the candle aisle in an upright position and safely make it to the checkout line.

While unloading my survival necessities, it dawned on me that my shoulders felt lighter, my head felt euphoric, and the tightness in my chest was gone.

Thanks toWorld’s Best Grandpa,” he eventually helped me forget my irritations with a good resounding belly laugh.

Surprisingly, there’s nothing better than the medicine of laughter to improve your disposition and ease your squeaky wheel.

— Laurie Oien

Laurie Oien is a wife and mother living in Minnesota and determined to uncover the second half of life with zest and zeal. She has a background in marketing and accounting for the last 25 years and recently discovered that one can’t live by adding machines and numbers alone. Therefore, she created a humorous lifestyle blog. Laurie has been a contributor to Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and Midlife Boulevard. Also, she’s a featured author in the anthology, Feisty After 45, released by Mills Park Publishing. Laurie blogs at A Square of Chocolate.

Brand name

People are stumped by my name.

I, for one, think it’s easy to pronounce (‘uh-leen’), but my experience has been the contrary. My parents named me Aline Celeste — Aline after my mother’s college hallmate — a namesake I’ve never met, yet still call Aunt; Celeste after a nun my mom favored at school. Though a bit of a quagmire, my name is unique and doubles as an ice-breaker. What’s more, I like it.

In fourth grade, I came up with a hint on how to say it correctly. I was new to a small town in New Jersey and my teacher, Mrs. Hamburger (talk about names), was taking attendance. She struggled when she got to mine. Spontaneously, I blurted out, “It’s Aline, like gasoline.” Ok, not the most literary comparison, but a decent, impromptu line for a 9-year-old. It stuck. In fact, my childhood boyfriend recently referred to me as such on Facebook.

To this day, I’m not sure how I crafted my catch phrase on the spot. As I’ve aged, my mother, a retired speech therapist, suggested using more mature rhymes such as “Abilene, Texas” or “a lien” on your home. I’ve test driven these, but “gasoline” is still the keeper. Though I get the occasional heckler calling me “Oline” — going for the phonetic accuracy, I’ve yet to abandon my go-to tip.

Junk mail labelers and telemarketers butcher it most. I get the likes of Aileen, Arlene, Adaline, Allie, Eileen and Alice or really, any women’s name, starting with an A. Business colleagues cannot get it together either. After apologetically correcting one co-worker a dozen times, he said not to be sorry — that my name, was in fact, my brand, and he should say it the way it was meant to be said. In addition, I still have close friends and family members who pronounce it wrong. Well wishes on my wedding video are the smoking evidence. I can only awkwardly correct them so many times and have developed a secret three strikes and you’re NOT out policy. I have a 100 percent tolerance.

Thankfully, my name was pronounced correctly when it mattered most — when getting my diplomas, during my marriage vows, when my two boys were born. People took special care to say it right at times of significance; they collectively came through.

Now in midlife, rather than grow weary of this predicament, I’ve learned to chuckle about my misnomers and answer to any alias that comes close. I applaud the effort, even the most futile tries to say “Aline” without error. Ironically, the mispronunciations have morphed from an annoyance to a music of sorts, a playful interpretation of my identity. With each botched attempt, I’m reminded of what makes me, me. I am my name; I now mirror this moniker, lovingly chosen by my parents. It sets me apart.

So go ahead customer service reps, phonathon staffers, doctor’s office receptionists, job interviewers and new aquaintances, bring it. Your take on my name won’t faze me, but rather, pay tribute to my lasting novelty.

— Aline Weiller

Aline Weiller’s essays have been published on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamalode, Role Reboot and Skirt, among others. She’s also the CEO/Funder of Wordsmith, LLC — a public relations firm based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Twitter @AlineCWeiller.

Who’s got the soap?

I’m wondering at what age I’m allowed to hire a personal care attendant, covered by insurance of course. I haven’t reached my toenails in two and half years and the other day in the shower I seriously considered whether or not it was worth it to soap up below the waist. It hurts when I go anywhere past my kneecaps.

I’m okay with gray hair; that’s been coming in since I was in my 30s and I could still reach my ankles. It’s the burgeoning mountain under my man-sized T-shirts, just below my sagging breasts, that really gets to me. I want to know when exactly I stopped looking like I was 20, because it feels like yesterday. I look in the mirror strictly from the shoulders up these days.

It’s not completely depressing. I know there are about a billion other women in the same boat I’m in. I love the women who wear whatever the hell they want. Doesn’t matter if they’ve got those top-heavy grandma arms or busted veins mapping their legs. I say, go for it ladies. I’m gonna get there someday. I’ve already begun collecting scarves and heavy silver bracelets, and I’m working on finding a kaftan with just the right colors. I’ll wear it over all those leggings I can’t bring myself to wear in public. They’re like thick pantyhose, and I hate those, too.

I used the stand-up desk option at work for nearly two and a half days before I caved in and sat my happy ass down in my crappy black office chair, which, by the way, sinks lower and lower every time I plop down on it. I do encourage others to use the standup desk, though. They’d be the same people who bring kimchi for lunch. But secretly I googled stand-up desks and I believe they’re now finding that they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. Just like sugar-free chocolate frosting.

I work full time now, at least as long as I can manage to convince everyone that I know what I’m doing. I find people are a little intense these days. You make one little mistake and everybody goes nuts. Whatever.

I have one thing going for me: the younger folks are so transient that I find there are still some old farts in charge who rely on people of a certain age to take care of business. So a bunch of dinosaurs are putting together the last remnants of your genuine hand-held, bird-cage-ready, use-for-wrapping paper newspaper. Remember when we all read those and people gave a sh**? God love ‘em.

— Connie Berry

Connie Berry grew up reading and loving Erma Bombeck. She is former editor of The Catholic Sun newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and a new resident of Martha’s Vineyard where she was copy editor for the Vineyard Gazette. She lives on the island with her husband and youngest son. Her two older children read her blog, thejoblessgoddess.blogspot.com, from Syracuse.

Six tips for stagnated writers

In every writer’s life, there are times when words seem to be meaningless, and inspiration is a hard thing to find. Times of stagnation are dreaded, although inevitable.

If you’re dealing with the lack of confidence writer’s block entails, don’t lose yourself in this new state of mind. It won’t last forever, I promise. And instead of waiting for it to pass, take the matter into your own eager-to-write-hands and fight it bravely. Here are six tips to get out of stagnation in no time.

Take a break

A writing career is not just milk and honey. That image of the cheerful writer, putting down words at a mind-boggling speed, with the warm cup of coffee to work as inspiration, is somehow distorted. Almost nobody talks about stagnation. No one wants to know that writers are not super human. Dark periods exist, and they can occur even to the best of writers. How can you recognize a block so you can avoid it? Here are some symptoms:

• You are out of focus.

• You’re experiencing problems in finding the right words. You can sometimes spend hours trying to find the right vocabulary.

• You feel like the sentences you’re writing are meaningless.

• You rewrite more than usual.

Now that you know for sure that something is wrong, the first thing to do is to avoid the temptation to keep writing. Take a break. Get out of the room, leave your project for a couple of minutes, hours or even days, depending on the deadline. For instance, if you’re trying to create the perfect speech, a break is more than recommended, especially if you’re not a professional speechwriter. A short pause will help you clear your head so you can give your best later.

Take care of your body, too

When you’re busy writing, you might ignore your body signals and focus on what your mind needs. However, sitting on a chair for hours might cause back aches, not to mention that your body gets tired, too. Did you know that running, for instance, helps new nerve cells to grow? Which is exactly what you need to become more creative and inspired each day. So instead of torturing yourself to come up with a new sentence, which is not working anyway, go out for a run.

Read something

Getting out of the spider web’s trap is not as hard as it seems. Instead of writing paragraphs that will eventually end up in the trash, lose yourself in another story. Open a book that inspired you at some point, or, even better, surprise yourself by reading some lines from a new one. It will help you look at your own writing from a different perspective, and you might even find the inspiration you lack.

Take a nap

One of the most common causes of writer’s stagnation is fatigue. Sleepless nights have taken their toll, and it’s time to get some rest. Your brain will reboot, and you’ll wake up fresh, with new ideas.

Engage in something else

Do something creative, other than writing. For instance, you could start a painting or sketch a page of your adult coloring book. If you fancy cooking, try a recipe you’ve never tried before, just to engage in something creative that appeals to you.

Write something else

Sometimes this trick won’t work, especially when you have a deadline that’s putting so much pressure on you. But it’s a way to regain momentum. You could try taking notes about a usual occurrence or write an enjoyable story — something that has nothing to do with the topic of your project.

Whenever you feel the urge to give up, just try one these tips. It doesn’t always have to work. Sometimes all methods will fail, but you can still come up with your own way to overcome stagnation. What’s your magical habit?

— Christina Battons

Christina Battons is a web content writer and blogger from Los Angeles who writes for various blogs, such as Pro Writers Center. She graduated from the University of Southern California. You can connect with her through Twitter or Facebook.

Farewell, Erma!

(The Philadelphia Inquirer published Donna Gephart’s letter following the death of Erma Bombeck on April 22, 1996.)

When the disc jockey announced Erma Bombeck’s death today, I dropped the plate I was washing and sunk into a chair. I told my boys, “We lost a friend.”

How am I supposed to get through potty training without her? And the boys’ first day of school, their leaving for college and getting married? How will I survive daily temper tantrums — my husband’s not my sons’?

Erma don’t go! I need you to help me navigate through life.

You’ve inspired me as a writer, mother and human being.

I’ve heard you described as an ordinary housewife turned humor writer. Like all “ordinary” housewives, you were extraordinary. You raised three children, one husband, a dog and still found time to keep us laughing with your columns and books.

Thank you, Erma, for sharing your “ordinary” experiences with us so we didn’t have to go it alone. Thank you for examining life in all its splendor and sorrow, its wonder and woe and creating something touching, memorable and funny.

Thank you for providing a steady stream of sunlight through an often gray, cloudy media. You were the silver lining. You were the rainbow.

And because you were such a good and reliable friend, we invited you into our hearts.  Glad you stayed.

Wherever you are now, Erma, keep ‘em laughing!

— Donna Gephart

Donna Gephart writes humorous, heartfelt middle grade novels for Delacorte/Random House. Her latest, Lily and Dunkin, appeared on NPR’s Best Children’s Books of 2016, Amazon’s Top 20 Children’s Books of 2016 and others.  She lives in South Florida and on the web at www.donnagephart.com.

Doc McStuffins and me rocking the St. Pete airport

On my recent trip to North Carolina for my daughter’s birthday, I carried a bag that my granddaughter left at my house. I overstuffed four days of clothes, four mini-purses filled with gummy candy, and my journal into the pink, Doc McStuffins rolling suitcase.

The entire front shone with the Doc in a white doctor’s coat, brown hair in braids that swung out in an imaginary breeze, a purple headband while holding a white lamb with a pink scarf. Her cocoa face smiled with confidence. This was going to be a good trip.

When my friend arrived to take me to the airport, she laughed and grabbed her phone to capture the moment. “Oh we need a picture of this!” she chuckled. I am five foot seven; the luggage barely reached my knees. I told her I was traveling with my inner-child and we were quite happy.

I have a strange obsession. I am fascinated with luggage at the airport. I’m especially drawn to the neon lime green. I can’t figure out why people tie a scarf on the handles. You can’t possibly miss that bag as it passes by on the luggage belt. I also covet the spinning bags that move with just a finger’s touch. It’s like magic! While I usually drag mine behind me, like an unruly two-year-old, this piece is in-tune with the carrier. With a finger tip change of pressure, it automatically adjusts to the direction needed.

My other favorite that almost makes me salivate is the three-bag-spinning-easy-roll luggage. One large bag holds two other bags, piggyback style. This actually reminds me of those early years when I was the one spinning with two little ones on my back. Trust me, the suitcase handles it much better than I ever did. Thus, my fascination has graded this #1 luggage choice. I have deep respect for this one.

Most people at the airport in my age range, infant geriatrics, pulled the darker-colored, spinning luggage. It gave a sophisticated look. When I strolled up to the security line, I was the brightest 64-year-old in the entire line. My Doc McStuffins luggage created a stir as we weaved through the serpentine line. One little girl poked her Mom, “Look at that lady. She has Doc McStuffins. I’m going to ask Daddy to get one for you.” The woman didn’t look very thrilled.

A woman introduced herself as Sharron on our second passing in the curvy line and commented, “I love your bag.” Her husband Dave was quick to remark, “Very nice!” I smiled and said, “My inner child is screaming today.” We laughed as I told them my granddaughter needed her bag back.

“I’ll be writing a story about this and I’ll add your names,” I told them. (Hi guys! I hope you see this.) The young man behind me chuckled when he got a full view of Doc McStuffins. I turned and said, “I know! It’s beautiful, right?”

“I’ve never seen one of those. It’s pretty unique,” he said, grinning. I smiled proudly at the colorful chicklet size bag at my knees. “It is a very special bag for one sweet 5-year-old little girl.”

He’d heard me mention my Inner Child and now he was totally confused. “Who’s five? Your inner child? What does that mean anyway?”

Fortunately, we were ready to pass through the security detector and I left him wondering.

Doc McStuffins had transformed my routine airport experience into a comical morning. On her TV series, she recommends an apple a day to stay healthy.

But today, all I needed was a mini, pink, rolling suitcase with the Doc’s big bright self on the front. This day, I realized that laughter is the best medicine.

My inner child is still giggling.

— 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 this spring. She blogs at www.annebardsley.com.

8 lies I tell myself

One of the benefits of getting older is the self-awareness we acquire (well, some of us, anyway — certain politicians appear to be obvious exceptions). But I digress.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve become aware of some lies I’ve been telling myself at this age. To wit (in no particular order):

I don’t have to write it down; I’ll remember it.

How deluded am I? Without committing it to paper, that middle-of-the-night inspiration for a blog post won’t be there in the morning. If that online funds transfer isn’t entered into my check register when I actually make the transfer, I’ll forget and likely end up bouncing a check. And if I don’t make a list of the six items I need at the grocery store, I’ll invariably come home with only five.

I’ll go for a walk at lunchtime.

I justify dawdling over a cup of tea and the morning news — instead of getting my a** out the door for a walk — by telling myself I’ll walk at lunchtime instead. But then lunchtime comes and I’m hungry, I get caught up in work, or I simply forget. The road to hell (and cardio unfitness) is paved with good intentions.

I’ll fit into those jeans again.

Oh, please. I’ve been hanging on to them for nine years now. I am not a size four anymore, and they don’t even have Spandex in them. Besides, medical science says it’s good to carry a few extra pounds as we get older. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Next spring, I’ll keep up with the weeding.

Gung ho at the start of every growing season, I tell myself that I’ll get out there and pull weeds in the garden at least once a week. Who am I kidding? I honestly have absolutely no interest in gardening, I have no time for it during the workweek, and kneeling in dirt with spiders, worms and other crawly things is not how I want to spend my free time on weekends. Next year, I’ll pay someone else to do it. Or move to a condo.

This skin care product is really going to make me look younger.

Hope springs eternal. But by now, I — and my credit card — should know that no over-the-counter beauty product is going to lift my jowls or get rid of my crow’s feet. Short of a facelift, Botox or laser resurfacing, at best I’ll get well-moisturized skin that, in the right light and at the right angle, has its fine lines and wrinkles “minimized.” Sigh.

I’m not going to have wine tonight.

I don’t need the empty calories. And one glass invariably leads to two. But there’s something so comforting about the ritual, especially at the end of a crazy-busy workday. So while I start the day with the best of intentions (there’s that word again) to forego wine, when I emerge from my home office and Hubs asks me if I want a glass of chardonnay, sometimes I just can’t say no. I’m sure he wishes I were that easy when he offers other ways to de-stress.

It won’t hurt to wear high heels just one more time.

Yeah, tell that to my aching back, sore footpads and cramping calves. But vanity still prevails over common sense every now and then. What can I say?

If I leave my smartphone in the kitchen, I won’t feel compelled to look at it when I wake up in the middle of the night.

Wrong. I haul myself out of bed, retrieve it and spend way too long reading emails and visiting social media sites in the wee hours. I should probably ask Hubs to hide my phone at night. Or just exhibit some self-discipline and resist its siren call.

I’m sure there are numerous other ways in which I delude myself, but that’s all I can come up with for now. What about you? Are there lies you tell yourself — that you’re willing to fess up to?

While you think about it, here’s your Boomer Haiku:

Lies we tell ourselves
give the illusion we’re in
control. Let’s get real.

— Roxanne Jones

Roxanne Jones blogs at boomerhaiku.com, a mostly lighthearted, often irreverent look at life as a baby boomer, 17 syllables at a time. When she’s not tapping out haikus, she’s a freelance medical copywriter, enjoys chardonnay and contemplates plastic surgery to get rid of the wattle on her neck.

Breaking the mice

As spring approaches and my nightmares turn to yard work, I’m reminded of the time when my wife and I would start dusting off the bird feeders so that we could enjoy a few of God’s creatures that don’t poop on our floor when we welcome them to our home.

In the past, I would hang a feeder right outside our kitchen window so that we could see the beautiful variety of East Texas birds up close as they pecked at the bird seed and occasionally crashed into the window glass. It was kind of like watching NASCAR — where you pretend to be interested in the race itself but are really just waiting for a good wreck.

The last time we displayed a feeder, I had just purchased an elaborate bird feeder gazebo. It was a Trump Tower for birds, but without the barricades, film crews or Kanye West. The night after I had proudly installed the feeder, I was up late polishing off an entire sleeve of Girl Scout cookies (because I’m all about supporting the community), and I happened to glance toward the kitchen window to see the new feeder gently swaying from side to side. At first I assumed the wind was blowing, but then I noticed that something alive was actually on the feeder. I excitedly thought it might be a kindred spirit of the bird world who stays up late raiding the pantry in his underwear. Unfortunately, what I saw when I reached the window made the hair on my back stand on end. The feeder was squirming with about 600 mice. It was like Black Friday when they open the doors at Walmart and the crowds rush in for incredible sales on televisions and aerosol cheese product.

This could not stand! I wasn’t about to let a gang of greedy rodents loot my bird feeder while I stood by and ate half a box of my kids’ favorite snacks. Therefore, once I finished my milk and cookies, I sprang into action and devised a brilliant plan. The first step of my strategy involved creeping undetected up to the feeder with a large trash bag to open and raise up from underneath, enclosing both the feeder and the mice in the bag. The plan worked perfectly. I had the mice and the feeder in the bag, and I had only screamed like a little girl with an unusually high voice twice.

Unfortunately, that was also the last step in my plan. I didn’t want to throw out my bird feeder, so I had to figure out a way to separate the mice from the feeder and remove the feeder from the bag without the mice escaping justice. Naturally, I headed for the garage to get a hammer from my tool box. I had never actually used the hammer on a nail, or anything else (I think it was still in the package), but my dad would be proud that I was finally using one of the many tools he had purchased for me out of pity.

The plan at this point was to shake the mice off of the feeder down into a corner of the bag and then put the hammer to good use. Once I had a lump of mice bulging in the corner of the bag, I suddenly realized that in my mouse-squashing mania, I had forgotten to put on pants and was standing in my open garage in nothing but my boxer briefs, holding a hammer and trash bag, and sweating profusely. (For some reason, Chippendales still hasn’t called.)

To avoid scandalizing the neighborhood and possibly being arrested, I shut the garage doors. I then knelt down with my hammer, closed my eyes, prayed that the Lord would have mercy on their little vermin souls, and swung away. This is the point when I realized that the “extra-strength” designation on household trash bags does not cover pulverizing a wad of mice with a claw hammer. To my horror, on my first blow (which missed my target entirely), a massive hole opened up in the bag, and a stream of mice began leaping out into the garage. At least two used me as a flabby aircraft escape slide as they scurried up my arm and down my back on their way to freedom. Throwing caution (and suitable attire) to the wind, I raised the garage door and spent the next hour frantically running around half-nude between our cars herding out mice with an old broom. If I weren’t in East Texas, this might have seemed really weird and embarrassing.

These days, my prized bird feeder sits dusty and unused (along with my hammer) in my storage building, and I’m sure I’ve become the butt of jokes in mouse communities all over the Ark-La-Tex. I’m actually kind of glad they all got away to live their lives in the splendor of nature — to be eaten by savage predators. I just hope the birds understand that that the next time I’m tempted to hang a feeder, I think I’ll sit down for a NASCAR race and some aerosol cheese product, instead.

— Jason Graves

Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective in his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.

Reflections of Erma