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A Mouseketeer shows up for dinner

If it hadn’t been for a well-placed coffee table, my surprise dinner guest would have turned my kitchen into a Disney amusement park and tapped danced through every nook and cranny of my home.

In fact, this dinner guest wasn’t interested in the dinner menu, enjoying small talk or even a glass of wine. So, to make sense of this story, we have to back up to where it all started at a bank parking lot.

You see, my mother-in-law was the real invited dinner guest and was on her way to our house from her job at the bank when she soon discovered a stowaway had set up a Mickey Mouse Club inside her car.

A flashback to the children’s show it was not, and this Mouseketeer didn’t show up for roll call, either.

In a panic, my mother-in-law called to say she’d be a little late for dinner as a mouse had decided to take up residence inside her car. Not to mention, it wasn’t even close to being as cute as a Mouseketeer and had about as much song and dance talent as Elmer Fudd.

Not being able to chase out the whiskered hitchhiker, she had no choice but to get in her car and drive. Her plan was to make a pit stop at her local auto shop to de-varmint her car from any looming Mickey Mouse mayhem.

You can imagine the hesitation you’d feel driving across town knowing a mouse was lurking somewhere beneath your feet or, worse yet, riding shotgun without a moment’s notice.

When my mother-in-law arrived at our house an hour later a little shaken and rattled, she dumped her belongings in a hurried haste and proceeded to tell her titillating tale of the mouse gone rogue in her car.

No doubt, we were all ears” when she explained that the mechanic at her loyal auto shop had searched high and low for Mr. Mouseketeer. Not even the promise of a good talent agent could reel this pesky rat out.

“I think your mouse has left the building,” the auto mechanic exclaimed.

Believing in her mechanic, she took his word for it and continued on her journey.

No sooner had she finished her mouse story and the great escape, when we heard a pesky nibbling at the kitchen wall.

This Mouseketeer didn’t have nearly the resemblance to Annette, Bobby, or Cubby and, for you younger folks, not Britney or Justin either. In fact, through my eyes, this wasacally rodent was huge, hairy and had claws the size of Shere Kahn scratching at the wall.

Naturally, we screamed and my mother-in-law shouted, “That’s it, there it is!”

How in Looney Tunes did it end up in my kitchen? One striking clue was an overturn purse on the table with remnants of scavenged mints inside. This would entice any Mouseketeer wanting to hitch a ride on the candy train. It’s still a mystery how a sneaky mouse piggybacked undetected inside a purse.

It was my husband’s quick thinking to grab the coffee table to block off the kitchen entry. This runaway rodent wouldn’t be slipping through again!

With the courage of a real Musketeer, my hubby swiftly snatched up a broom to corner the sneaky critter into submission. With one sudden thrust of the broom, it was curtains for this Mickey Mouse show!

Tonight, there’d be one less guest for dinner and one less Mouseketeer with a shot at stardom.

Consequently, after writing this loony story, it’s only appropriate to end with a quote from another famous Looney Tune character…”Th-Th-The, Th-Th-The, Th-Th…That’s all, folks!”

— 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.

Answer to my dreams

And there it was.  The answer to my dreams.  It was right in my husband’s head all along.  Who knew?

It all comes down to the amazing humor of said husband.

We’d both been unemployed for over a year.  Funds were getting scarce.  Appointments for job interviews were nowhere to be found.  We were getting desperate.  That’s when it came to him — his idea for an internet start-up business that would make us rich. Well, at the very least, maybe it would pay some of the bills.  I’ll tell you all about this amazing new business model, but you must first promise not to steal it because we’ve yet to set it up with all the copyrights, trademarks and other necessary legaleeze. So no stealing our idea. Ok?  Promise?  Here it is.

Being from Texas originally, there is no shortage of cow dung to be freely found on open land.  We would have two sources of income.  One would be from a service we would start in which cow owners would pay us to clean up all their cow poop cakes. Just like dog pooper scoopers, we would be cow dung dippers. This would be part A of our master plan.

Part B of the plan had to do with what we did after we collected our load of cow patty-cakes. We would set them out in the sun to dry. Once they were good and dry, we would paint them in various bright and happy colors. After spending our time watching the paint dry on the cakes, we would then set about inscribing each one with a different biblical quote — each one with a different message of inspiration.

Then, we’d go about selling them on our website: www.holyshi*

I don’t know about you, but I think we’d sell ‘em like hotcakes.

— Leslie Handler

Leslie Handler is a 2015 National Society of Newspaper Columnists award winner. She is a frequent contributor to WHYY’s Newsworks, has written for The Philadelphia Inquirer, ZestNow and Boomercafe, as well as blogs for The Huffington Post. She has a bachelor of journalism degree and currently lives smack dab between Philadelphia and New York City with husband Marty, dogs Maggie and Hazel, a collection of fish, said husband’s cockatoo who she’s been trying to roast for dinner for the last 31 years, and a few occasional uninvited guests. You may follow her blog and read published essays at Leslie goes BOOM!

Burpees aren’t for babies

My chest muscles hurt.

It’s not often you can say that as a woman unless you’re an Olympic rower or an American Ninja Warrior.

But I’m no glamorous Ninja. I’m just an ordinary Jane in a wellness program.

I was forced to join this “optional” program at the bidding of the Man, and I don’t even work for the Man. My husband does, and he has been brainwashed into believing we must earn points to receive a premium “discount” on our health insurance next year. (Knowing the cutthroat insurance industry in this country, perhaps we should be earning points to prevent them from harvesting our kidneys and selling them for a profit.)

So I joined a fitness challenge to get those points that my husband weekly reminds me I lack.

Basically, a small team of desperate people must track a few thousand charming little exercises called Burpees to receive their reward. Never mind that this exercise makes us sound like a bunch of chubby infants who need to belch before we take a long, refreshing nap; it’s a brutal combination of strength training and aerobics that forces you to discover muscles you hoped never to think about.

Ah, if only these cruel burpees gave me more energy for sex instead of boob cramps!

For years now I’ve lied to myself about my fitness level, utterly convinced that carrying small piles of laundry back and forth in our small home was sufficient cardio. Now I am exposed by this exercise, left trembling and immobile on the floor, hoping that I’m able to drive my kids to school in the morning.

Personally, I think the real purpose of this Burpees challenge and others like it is to make us drop dead. Then the Man won’t have to pay our insurance at all. No slow decline and multiple doctor’s visits for us! Just run our lazy, big butts into the ground!

Honestly, there may be even bigger concerns here. Based on this current Big Brother climate — making us grovel for points to give us health insurance we have already paid for — I think we should all be warned that in the future our health choices may no longer be our own. “The Man” will hack our Fit Bits and smartphones and record every step we take (or don’t) and every move we make (or not) just like that Police song for stalkers.

Sure, they’re still taking our word for it that we don’t eat fast food more than once a year, that we only drink cocktails to kick a nasty cold and that we always wear our skintight active wear because we pop into the gym at least twice a day.

But soon they’ll find a way via all our devices to smell the beer on our breath, measure the flab tucked beneath our shapewear, weigh our weekly fast food intake, and examine the plaque between our teeth. And considering that many of us now take our precious phones everywhere, they’ll know whether we’re regular or not, too.

Maybe they’ll even figure out how to send an electrical current through our smart watches to shock us when we haven’t moved from our couches in over an hour. Then where will we be?

I’ll tell you, my friends. We’ll be doing Burpees for the rest of our natural lives.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published online, most at the incredible 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.

The woman who made the world laugh

The University of Dayton has redesigned and expanded its online Erma Bombeck museum, which celebrates the life and work of one of America’s greatest humorists.

A repository for scholars, humorists, journalists, authors, essayists and bloggers, the Erma Bombeck Collection  features all things Erma — from family photographs and biographical book excerpts to “Good Morning America” clips and “Maggie” sitcom episodes.

Searching for a bibliography of Bombeck’s writing, including her books, introductions to books, magazine articles, newspaper articles, columns and student writings at the University of Dayton? It’s here — along with her eighth-grade report card and the original marketing brochure for her syndicated column, which described her as a “fresh comic discovery.”

“It’s our hope that the museum will not just celebrate the life and legacy of my mom and her contributions to popular American humor, but expand her interest to a new generation of writers,” said Matt Bombeck, Erma’s son and a Los Angeles screenwriter.

New additions to the collection include:

• A recently discovered hourlong radio interview between Bombeck and veteran Cincinnati journalist Alice Hornbaker for “The Writer’s Voice,” a subsidiary of Writer’s Digest magazine. (Read interview here and listen.)

• A newly digitized television program, “An Evening With Erma’s Friends,” moderated by former WHIO-TV anchor Donna Jordan and produced by Glenn Walters, retired media executive in residence at the University of Dayton. The piece aired on WHIO-TV, ThinkTV and Flyer TV in 2000 as part of the inaugural Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop on campus.

• A documentary, “Erma Bombeck: A Legacy of Laughter,” narrated by Phil Donahue and produced by ThinkTV for public television markets around the nation.

• New “Good Morning America” clips, including Bombeck’s hysterical shopping spree with Phyllis Diller on Rodeo Drive. “Why do I get the feeling today is not going to be a religious experience?” she quipped when Diller showed up dressed as a nun.

• A “CBS Sunday Morning With Charles Osgood” tribute to America’s best-loved and funniest mom.

• The National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Bombeck family’s suburban home in Centerville, Ohio. Typing on an IBM Selectric, Bombeck wrote her early columns in a cramped bedroom on a makeshift desk — a plank between cinder blocks. Phil Donahue, who became a legend in his own right as a TV talk show host, lived across the street. The Bombecks’ modest 1959 ranch house was named to the national register in 2015.

Future additions to the collection will include Lynn Hutner Colwell’s interview tapes with Bombeck for the book, Erma Bombeck: Writer and Humorist, as well as a sampling of digitized columns and appearances on “The Johnny Carson Show” and daytime variety shows. The collection features excerpts from Colwell’s book, the only authorized biography of Bombeck’s life.

Thanks to the University of Dayton’s efforts to keep her legacy alive as well as the staging of Allison and Margaret Engel’s new one-woman play, “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End,” in cities across the country, Bombeck’s work is seeing a resurgence of interest. A copy of the play is part of the collection, thanks to playwrights Allison and Margaret Engel.

Bombeck, who graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949, wrote with hilarity and wit. At the height of her popularity, 900 newspapers syndicated her column to an audience of 30 million people. She died April 22, 1996, following complications from a kidney transplant.

“Erma’s work is funny, poignant and universal,” said Teri Rizvi, founder and director of the biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which sells out within hours. “She continues to inspire writers today with her take on the absurdities of family life.”

The collection is cared for by the Bombeck family, the University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections and Wright State University Special Collections and Archives.

Under the direction of University of Dayton archivist Jennifer Brancato, it was created as a capstone project for Heather Webb, graduate student at Wright State University, and updated by Madeleine Eiting, an intern for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Tim Bete, former director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, launched the virtual museum in 2002.

My wife, Apple and her virtual dog

Way back before smart phones and Siri, only an operator could help you make a long distance phone call. You dialed zero and actually talked to a live human being. In Mayberry, her name was Sarah.

There were no Apples, except the kind you ate. Same goes for Blackberries. Our dial phone was made by Western Electric. And, like T-Model Fords, they came in any color you’d like, as long as they were black.

Nothing ever went wrong with them, either. So there was no such thing as the “Western Electric Store.” But a lot of things can go wrong with Apple iPhones. And do. Hence the need for the Apple Store, where people from eight to 80 go to await their turn for a seat at The Genius Bar. The eight-year-olds get it. But some 80-year-olds don’t know their IOS from a hole in the ground.

My wife and I were in the Apple Store the other day because her dog wasn’t barking. Not a real dog mind you, but her virtual dog; the one that barks to signal she has a voice mail message. I told her if she would answer her phone to start with, she wouldn’t have to worry about voice mails.

My comment went over like a lead balloon. With my virtual tail between my legs, I waddled off to my virtual doghouse. Later, over food and water (and wine), I apologized. I started to tell her that her dog might be barking up the wrong tree, but didn’t want to push my luck.

I’m glad we didn’t have smart phones and virtual dogs when I was growing up. Or computers. Or iPads. Or video games. Facetime then was not chatting with someone on an iPhone. It was talking face to face — in person.

When my parents took us out to dinner (which wasn’t very often) our focus was on each other, not on our Facebook “friends.” Not having social media gave us time to develop social skills.

I do wish we’d had a garage back then, though. Why? Because great things such as Apple, Amazon and Google were invented in garages. But all we had was a carport. And nothing great was ever invented in a carport.

That’s my excuse. And I’m sticking to it.

— Raymond Reid

Raymond Reid is a national-award winning humor columnist from Kernersville, NC. He can be contacted at

Benefits of hernia surgery


Recently my beloved had hernia surgery. An ordeal, truly. But I am wondering just how long, according to his surgeon, his being “unable to lift anything heavier than an iPhone” lasts.

We live in a small 55+ community. Our home stood out somewhat, not because of its creative, unique landscaping. Au contraire, it stands out because of its lack of any kind of landscaping, at least in front of the house. All the other houses sport lovely curb appeal. Trees, plantings, porches. But not ours. The most distinctive landscaping effect we have is gravel. And lots of it. Unfortunately, below this gravel is soil cleverly disguised as cement. Impossible to dig.

My husband came home the other day and said, “I have a great idea!” Normally, when he utters these words I cringe.


Why, yes. That is a good idea. But one small problem. The hernia. He was unable to, “thanks Doc,” “lift anything heavier than an iPhone.” Obviously a 300-pound bag of top soil was heavier than a stupid phone. (Okay, so it wasn’t 300 pounds.)

We trotted over to Lowes where we found Wonder Woman who graciously offered to load six bags of the stuff into our car. Then we paid a local handyman $20 to unload it. We also had bought nine plastic planters of various sizes, ranging from normal large to humongous large. I knew what I had to do.

My dear husband, who truly felt bad that he could not participate, began to direct me. I do not like being directed. “Use the shovel to break open the bag. Don’t fill the bucket. Drag the bag of soil closer to the pot.” On and on he went. I said, in a most exasperated tone, “Just leave!” And he did. He sulked off.

Normally, on a beautiful day like today, there are cars going by, neighbors waving and being friendly. And even some walkers. After about an hour I realized not one car had passed. Not one. I honestly believe word had gotten out. “Susie is working. Do not go near her house if you are over 55.” This, naturally included the entire community.

So I began using my ole’ noggin to get these damn pots filled. I sweated, I heaved and I hoed, panting like crazy dragging those damn bags around, using a small pot to get the 300-pound bag to a weight I could handle, then dumping the remaining soil into the pots. I admit, I did take occasional wine spritzer, er, iced tea breaks.

But I did it. And was damn proud of myself. And my beloved? He graciously cleaned up my mess, as long as nothing weighed more than an iPhone.

— Susie Richardson

Susie Richardson wrote a humorous family life column for the Daily Oklahoman and continues to write even though her children are grown. She constantly and consistently finds humor in the mundane. Much like Seinfeld.

Chloe and Poppie make ice cream

If anything is sweeter than ice cream, it’s my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, who is sweet on ice cream herself.

That’s why she was happy to meet someone who makes sweets for the sweet: Choudry Ali, who owns Magic Fountain, a popular ice cream store in Mattituck, New York.

Ali, as everybody calls him (“It’s easier,” he said), recently invited me, Chloe and my younger daughter, Lauren, aka Chloe’s mommy, to Magic Fountain to see the magic behind the fountain of ice cream he makes every day.

“I’m going to need your help to make the next batch,” Ali told Chloe, who was busy eating a cone of vanilla soft serve with sprinkles, her favorite, which Ali kindly gave to her as prepayment for her manufacturing services.

Chloe nodded, getting a dab of ice cream on her nose.

“Can I help, too?” I asked eagerly.

“Yes,” Ali replied. “As long as you don’t make a mess. I have a feeling that Chloe is neater than you are.”

Ali, 49, acknowledged that he has made his share of messes in the 10 years he has owned Magic Fountain.

“One time I forgot to turn on the freezer switch, so when I opened the machine, chocolate spilled out all over the floor,” Ali recalled. “I had to go home to get changed. At least I smelled good.”

He was just finishing a batch of black raspberry, which prompted me to show off my vast ice cream knowledge by saying, “Let me guess. The main ingredient is black raspberry.”

“What are you, a stand-up comedian?” Ali asked.

“Well, I am standing up,” I noted. “If I were sitting down in a tub of black raspberry, the fruit would be on the bottom.”

Lauren rolled her eyes. Chloe kept eating.

As Ali cleaned out the 24-quart machine for the next batch, he said Magic Fountain has 250 kinds of ice cream, including 45 everyday flavors and five that rotate every two weeks.

“What’s your favorite flavor?” I asked Ali.

“Pistachio,” he said.

“Do you ever make extra just for yourself?” I wondered.

“Of course,” he replied. “And I never get in trouble with the boss.”

“My favorite is rocky road,” Lauren said, adding that it helped her get through her pregnancy with her younger daughter, Lilly, who is 9 months old and will no doubt be an ice cream fan, too.

When Ali asked what my favorite flavor is, I said, “Whatever we’re about to make.”

It was honey-cinnamon.

“An excellent choice,” I told Ali as he opened a 48-ounce bottle of honey and asked me to pour it into a plastic container.

As I squeezed, with minimal results, I asked Chloe to lend a hand, which at this point was streaked with vanilla ice cream and sprinkles. Lauren wiped it off so Chloe could help me. The honey came pouring out.

“Good job!” Lauren said.

“She’s a pro,” Ali added.

“How about me?” I asked.

Ali responded, “Let’s just say it’s a good thing Chloe is here.”

Chloe smiled and helped me pour 8 ounces of ground cinnamon into a measuring cup, which we then dumped into the container. Ali gave me a spatula and asked me to mix the two ingredients. I was slower than molasses, which wasn’t even in there, so Ali took over and showed me how it’s done, after which the honey-cinnamon had the smooth, creamy consistency of honey-cinnamon.

Ali opened the slot in the front of the machine and squeezed in a two-and-a-half-gallon bag of ice cream mix, which includes butterfat but is egg- and gluten-free, and asked me to pour in the honey-cinnamon mixture.

“Turn on the machine,” Ali said. “And don’t forget the freezer switch.”

Twenty minutes later, the ice cream was finished. It filled two buckets totaling five gallons.

“OK,” Ali said. “Time to taste it.”

He handed a small plastic spoon to Chloe, who scooped some out, put it in her mouth and exclaimed, “Wow!”

“Is it good?” Ali asked.

“Yes!” Chloe chirped.

“And you helped make it,” Lauren said proudly.

“I know,” said Chloe, who got a clean spoon and had another taste, after which Ali gave her a cup of vanilla and pistachio “for being such a good ice cream maker.”

It was a sweet gesture by a sweet man, who gave some honey-cinnamon to Lauren and me and tried it himself. We all agreed it was great. Then Ali put the batch in the shocker, or deep freezer, where it would stay for 12 hours before being sold.

As we were leaving, Chloe gave Ali a high-five and said, “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” Ali replied. “Now you can say you taught your grandfather how to make ice cream.”

— 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.

The pedicure is worse than the disease

Before my family’s most recent beach vacation, my wife suggested, under the guise of promoting some father-daughter bonding, that I go with my daughters to get a pedicure.

This was actually her subtle way of suggesting that I do something about the fact that my toes look like mutant Fritos. Having had my man card revoked a long time ago, I agreed to undergo this procedure that I find about as pointless as chest hair waxing. (I prefer to have mine braided.) Only my middle daughter, Anna, chose to join me in the ordeal, which makes sense as she is always game for any activity that might involve spending my money frivolously. My youngest and most bashful daughter, Abbie, also came along to watch, presumably so she could test the limits of her embarrassment.

Because we also needed some lunch meat, we went to probably the only place on the planet where you can shop for smoked ham and enjoy a spa treatment under one roof — Walmart. Naturally, the nail salon is located at the front of the store so that everyone in the checkout lines can gaze with pity and hilarity at the freakish dude getting his toenails done. (Now I know why zoo chimps fling their poo at the spectators.)

When we entered the nail salon and indicated that we wanted pedicures, the receptionist asked us to step over to a massive display of nail polish and choose our colors. I almost reached for the Magenta Midnight Fantasy when I caught myself and informed her that I wouldn’t need mine painted. She just giggled sheepishly and said, “Oh, I forgot.”

Now, lest you get the idea that I’m narrow-minded and judgmental, I do realize that some men have their toenails painted — right before their performances at Cirque du Soleil.

Once Anna had selected her polish, while I nervously pretended to check football recruiting stats on my manly Bleacher Report app, we were directed by our technicians to have a seat in some suspicious-looking pedicure chairs. My worries intensified when the technician asked me to place my feet up on a little platform, lean back and relax while she snapped on a pair of rubber gloves. I was suddenly stricken with the terrifying notion that I might have accidentally stumbled into a women’s health clinic and was about to have my annual pelvic exam. Instead, she simply lifted my feet and lowered them into a basin of warm, blue liquid that looked like water from a portable toilet.

I then noticed that the back of the chair was moving. It felt like a pair of muscular mole rats had burrowed their way into the upholstery and were engaged in some kind of elaborate courtship ritual all over my spine. I figured that the massage was designed to distract me from the fact that I was allowing another human being to handle and groom a part of my body that even grosses me out.

My technician was a petite and intense Vietnamese lady who undoubtedly strikes fear into the heart of toe jam everywhere. She began by going after my calloused heels with an industrial-grade cheese grater. One foot at a time, she rigorously scraped off my built-in flip flops. I teased Anna that I’d be sure to bring one of the graters to use the next time we ordered a salad at Olive Garden. (Cue the exaggerated eye roll.)

After stripping away my heel bark and de-clawing my digits, the technician ended the pedicure by exfoliating my lower legs with a gritty, orange paste that was exactly the same color as some massive tropical fish that had been glaring at me reproachfully as they drifted around in their tanks at the back of the salon. When the technician saw me peering at the bright orange fish and then at the paste, she said something in Vietnamese to the technician beside her, and they both laughed a little too heartily for my taste.

Putting aside thoughts that I might currently be enjoying a lotion made out of freshly ground Nemo, I turned my head and smiled at Anna. Even though I felt a little awkward having a pedicure, I was glad that we shared this experience because I know that before long, she’ll be off on her own, and I’ll have to apply my Magenta Midnight Fantasy all by myself.

— 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