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My neighbor, Erma Bombeck

Anne Bardsley and Andy BombeckIf I could find that darn genie with that magic lantern, I’d ask the genie to make Erma my neighbor. For years, I’d read her columns, bought her books, watched her on the Phil Donahue Show and just loved her from afar. She would have been a perfect neighbor for me.

I envisioned her popping over early in the morning, her hair in rollers, wearing a fuzzy robe and asking to borrow a dozen eggs. I looked exactly the same in my 1960 kitchen. Her kids were starving, and they needed a protein-packed breakfast. I like to think she shopped like I did. I had the word EGGS on my grocery list and came home with grated cheese instead. I sent her home with a box of waffles to feed the little ones. That’s what good neighbors do.

Our style of parenting would also be a conversation over coffee after the little ones were off to school.

“Oh Erma, I don’t know what to do with my Tommy. He is so lazy with his homework.”

“Anne, he’s probably not getting enough sugar. Give him a Twinkie for dinner.”

“That is genius! You should write a parenting column, Erma.”

I also counseled her with her troubles.

“Anne, Andy and Matt are constantly refusing to share toys with Betsy. What am I going to do?”

“Well Erma, what I found best is to put masking tape on the boys’ hands, like mittens. Then, Betsy has a chance to play with the toys she likes. Just don’t forget to take it off, like I did.”

And when she got sick, I’d make her family meals and sit with her. She wouldn’t even have to speak. I’d just be there for her. We’d reminisce and laugh and cry. Then we’d do it again. I’d hug her really tight and tell her she was my best neighbor ever.

Years later, I’d fly to Dayton to be part of her writers’ conference. I’d make new friends, learn new ideas, and be so proud to be part of my best neighbor’s legacy.

I really miss her.

— 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.

The annual Black Friday Flyer Weigh-In

Janine TalbotA couple of years ago I started a new tradition. It’s called the Black Friday Flyer Weigh-In. I find it funny — in that “Are you kidding me?” way and not so much in a ha-ha way — that we get not one, but two newspapers that we’re not even subscribed to on Thanksgiving Day, both stuffed with advertisements from some of the most, and least, interesting places. I became curious over the amount of paper wasted, trees ripped out of the ground, and ink splayed over the surface of this printed wasteland. I’m still on paper, so don’t expect actual statistics here.

Five pounds. That’s how much our friendly neighborhood mass marketing mess weighed this year. Five pounds of sales on candy, clothing, computers, clocks, candles, clogs and other assorted and sundry items… and that’s just starting on the letter C. It is wasted on Spouse and me. We aren’t big on wading through crowds to find the perfect gift for anyone, not even each other. We do exchange small gifts, but now that the Love Couple has decided it would be fun to live a flight away, and Second Born’s college is a hop, skip and a nine-hour-drive, we tend to invest in travel and hope they appreciate our presence over presents.

When the kids were little, it was great fun to have them open a bunch of little gifts and then one big-ticket item, but now that the girls are more aware of how much things cost, their requests are simpler these days. They are, however, willing to accept cash in the form of the green stuff or gift cards. They’re good like that.

One good thing about sales flyers is that they provide you with plenty of ideas for gifts if you happen to have a big family, or one persnickety relative whose name you got in this year’s Secret Santa drawing…. like maybe an air popped popcorn maker or binoculars. Those two things alone cover a broad spectrum of gift giving. Or you can spring for one of those tracking thingies that tells you how far you walk and how well you sleep, and yells at you for turning the television up too loud or leaving your dish in the sink. Wouldn’t every college student love that? It’s like having Mom right there with you. Fine, maybe not.

We may not get much use from the flyer pile, but Spouse can’t resist picking up “just one more” inflatable animal or decoration for the front yard. I think he’s trying to signal Santa with lights and waving bears. We have more decorations now than we did before Second Born left for college four years ago. I’ll bet those folks that drive around town looking for decorations a couple of weeks before Christmas are saying, “Hey, let’s go by that house where the kids grew up and left, and see if they added another penguin this year.” I will not be showing Spouse the minion on the Lowe’s flyer.

Even if you don’t go crazy with gifts for the holiday, all these advertisements have to provide you with ideas for any special occasion, or just because you want it. There are good deals on headphones, waffle makers, earrings and egg timers. You can even pick up a Porsche for a steal… not literally, please.

There is one more purpose for this mound of marketing. It’s a great incentive for losing weight. I dropped five pounds just by walking to the recycling bin.

— Janine Talbot

Janine Talbot, a recent award winner in the humor writing category of the 2016 Annual Column Contest of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, writes a weekly humor column for the Journal Tribune in southern Maine. An empty nester since her two daughters had the nerve to believe it when they were told to follow their dreams, Janine lives with her spouse of 30+ years, who often forgets that his actions are fodder for her column, and two and a half cats. She blogs at www.momofmanywords.com.

Travel on a root canal

Judy ClarkeThe grocery is not a destination I choose willingly. I’d rather go to the dentist for a root canal. The dentist offers lidocaine, but there is nothing to numb the pain of grocery shopping.

Now, though, online shopping is coming to a grocery near me. Will I use it? I don’t know. There are passwords and IDs involved. I’ve pooh-poohed most modern day techno-advancements — dial telephones, electric typewriters, computers, cell phones, programmable appliances, smart phones…. I don’t take kindly to change, and I’m a real spaz with my phone.

Ordering groceries online is a new wrinkle in the old fabric of catalog and Amazon ordering: you make out an orderselect a pick-up timesomeone shops for you, you drive to the store at the designated time, your purchases are loaded into your car. But, you still have to unload at home, lug everything inside and  put it away.

Instead of scribbling your needs on the back of an old envelope the way your mother did, you select them from what looks like a child’s picture-book page, and if you want something unusual, you type it in — black olives stuffed with crunchy peanut butter, for instance.

Many things I buy are spur o’moment, not really a good idea, I know. Will the assigned shoppers know I have a hankering for a bag of peanut M&M’s? Or a pomegranate? Or how about black rice? No, they will not. With this new scheme I’ll have to “pre-know” that I might want a pomegranate and put it on my list.

Leslie and her friend Kenna mentioned seeing people do their weekly shopping while consulting a list on their smart phones. They don’t, they said, and neither do I. I carry a printed list I devised, that groups items according to the way the store is organized: deli, produce, meat, dairy, and so on.

This new enterprise is almost ready to go locally, and now a large section of the store has been re-dedicated. They’ve reorganized merchandise, and shoved shelves closer. The aisles are way too narrow. I experienced a traffic jam in the pasta and other “foreign foods” lane last week. It took about four minutes to clear — four minutes longer than I wanted to spend in a place where I hate to go.

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self). She placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2016 writing competition, in the category of online, blog, multimedia under 100,000 unique visitors.

5 takeaways from the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

Paul_Lander(This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post. Reposted by permission of the author.)

Reindeer can be real a-holes. How else do you explain, “All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games?”

Santa, you damn opportunist. Huh, jolly guy, why did it take “one foggy Christmas Eve” for you to say “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” Well, well we’re waiting…

Rudolph’s fellow reindeer were ‘red nose-ists.’ And, the whole sordid incident should be known as the ‘Red Nose Scare.’

Reindeer need to get a grip, you’re reindeer for goodness sake. Face it, Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen, you’re one poor choice of flight path from being stew at Sarah Palin’s house.

And, we’re all to blame. How hard would it have been for any of us to have picked up the phone and made this call: “PETA, I want to report a fat guy in a red suit abusing a bunch of reindeer.”

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel 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 stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month.”

Circle of giving

joanne_keltz_brokawToday is #GivingTuesday, and my friend Tim Bete challenged me to donate $1 for every word of the last thing I’ve written to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. The last thing I wrote was a Facebook message to a friend, in which I used the words “Absolutely Fabulous” and “Sweetie darling” enough times to match Tim’s donation challenge.

Seriously, though, I will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to former conference director Tim Bete, who is the reason I was first able to attend a sold-out Erma many years ago. The story of how I ended up there is one of those destiny stories. It’s long but it’ll give you an idea of how influential and life changing attending EBWW can be.

In 2004, I had been writing a little humor piece and sending it to family and friends, while I was also writing feature pieces for some small religious magazines. I wouldn’t have considered myself a writer, let alone a humor writer. In February or March of that year, my uncle and aunt were visiting, and completely out of the blue, my uncle said, “Your writing reminds me of Erma Bombeck.” I’d read Erma’s column when I was a kid but hadn’t thought about her for years, so later, just for kicks, I googled her name.

The first thing that came up was the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. I read the description, looked at the list of speakers, and decided I needed to be there. I contacted EBWW only to find out it was already sold out. I got on the wait list and waited.

And waited.

One magazine decided they wanted me to go to Florida to cover baseball’s spring training; I’m not a sports writer or even a sports fan, but it would have been a new adventure. Only problem? It was the same week as the Erma conference. I still hadn’t heard if a spot had opened up, so just before I booked a plane ticket to Florida, I decided to see how far I’d made it on the conference wait list. I had a gut feeling that I had to be at the conference.

Rather than send an email, I called the conference contact number and got then director Tim Bete on the phone. He told me I was maybe #100 on the wait list. Oh well, I told him, it was worth checking. But Tim kept me on the phone talking about my writing, asking who I wrote for and what else I did, and after about a half hour of us chatting he told me he had a place for me at the conference if I wanted it. Did I want it??? I put together my pennies, and went.

It completely changed my life.

To be honest, I’ve never been super adventurous. But I got in the car and drove to Ohio from Western New York. I talked to strangers at the conference. I soaked up the knowledge from capable speakers. I went home with the assurance that I could write, and a support system of like-minded creatives to fall back on when I doubted myself.

After that conference, Tim started a Google group for humor writers who had a faith background. A few strangers joined the small group, and we became fast, close and devoted friends — online.

The years passed. I went to a few more Ermas, had similar amazing experiences, even had a chance one year to act as a first-round judge for the writing contest. But than I had to stop attending for financial reasons. I always felt a twinge of regret when I saw registration open.

Two years ago, a friend I’ve known only from that original online humor group Tim started 12 years ago asked me to come to a small conference in Pennsylvania and teach a session on writing humor.

His name was Jim, and while our group had supported each other over the decade through personal and creative ups and downs, I’d never actually met him in person. I also knew zero people who were going to be at the conference in Pennsylvania, but I went anyway. It was an amazing experience. I hadn’t been able to afford to go to Erma for years, but at this tiny conference I found a bit of the camaraderie I’d been craving since my last trip to Ohio years earlier.

One afternoon at lunch, I was talking to a group of women I’d only just met and somehow we got on the topic of humor conferences. “You HAVE to go to the Erma conference,” I said, and in just a few minutes, we four — those three close friends and me, the stranger — had agreed to go to Erma 2016.

We kept in touch almost daily over the next six months as we planned, plotted and prepared. Of course, a close friendship grew, and at Erma we not only solidified our new bond, the net was cast for these three amazing women to spread the Erma joy.

So the Erma influence circles round again.

That’s a long story, and doesn’t even begin to speak to the hundreds of things that have happened to me that came about because of someone I met at Erma — chances I took, adventures I’ve had, friendships that have changed the direction of my creative life for the better. The net this conference casts is vast and wide, and can’t be measured in how many book deals are made or paid writing jobs secured. It’s measured in people and relationships, and the way each creative life is inspired by another.

I often wonder what would have happened if Tim hadn’t found a place for me at Erma in 2004. Most likely, I would have thrown in the creative towel and gone to work at a “real job.” I didn’t consider myself a writer back then. I was a dabbler who typed words and dreamed dreams. Erma gave me the confidence and power to become a Real Writer.

If anyone ever questions whether they should go to Erma — or go again and again and again — I hope my story inspires them. It’s worth every penny and every effort you have to make to get there.

— Joanne Brokaw

Humor columnist and award-winning freelance writer Joanne Brokaw spends her days dreaming of things she’d like to do but probably never will — like swimming with dolphins, cleaning the attic and someday overcoming the trauma of elementary school picture day. She’s spent the majority of her professional writing career covering entertainment, freelancing and penning columns for dozens of newspapers, magazines and websites in the U.S. and Canada. She’s received three Evangelical Press Association awards and an Excellence in Writing Award from the Ozarks Christian News. A collection of her columns, What The Dog Said, was published in 2013.

Calling the Erma tribe: Be our champion on #GivingTuesday

Erma Rocks!The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is the envy of many in the writing world because of its top-notch slate of keynoters and faculty — and its immense popularity.

“The workshop sells out in a matter of hours largely because of a steadfast group of passionate writers who have become our social media champions,” said Teri Rizvi, the workshop’s founder. “In the digital age, they have carried the banner of the workshop far and wide. They believe in our mission of inspiring and encouraging writers — and are a huge reason behind our success in drawing writers from all parts of the country and beyond.”

That’s why Rizvi is reaching out to writers in the “Erma tribe” for help in launching the workshop’s first online fundraising drive on Nov. 29 on #GivingTuesday. It’s a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to make a difference in the lives of others and the causes they support.

“Registration fees cover only half the cost of operating the workshop,” Rizvi said. “To keep the workshop affordable for writers, we’re raising money for the endowment fund. The size of the gift doesn’t matter. We’d love to see broad support from those who love the workshop and believe in its future.”

You can make an online donation here.

The workshop has set an ambitious goal of raising $20,000 in contributions by the end of the year to take full advantage of a generous $20,000 matching gift from an anonymous donor. The #GivingTuesday social media campaign is part of that push. Between now and Dec. 31, all donations to the workshop will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $20,000.

Rizvi is asking supporters to make a gift and post an “UNselfie” on social media on Nov. 29 to encourage others to give that day. Here are step-by-step instructions for creating an #UNselfie:Madeleine Eiting

1)Download blank UNselfie sign. Share how you are giving back or why you give on the UNselfie sign.

2) Say “cheese!” Hold up the #UNSelfie sign and take your selfless selfie.

3) Share your #UNselfie on social media and encourage your friends to give.

4) Or make it easy on yourself and download one of these Erma #UNselfie signs to use at your photo shoot: You Can Write!, Inspiration or Erma Rocks!

5) We plan to compile a Facebook album, so please send your #UNselfie to erma@udayton.edu.

To make an online gift, click here. Checks can be mailed to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-7054. If you or your spouse works for a matching gift company, the impact of your gift may be doubled or tripled. Please check here or your human resources office for details.

“We’re continually amazed and inspired by the generosity of all involved in the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop,” Rizvi said. “It’s a community of talented, supportive writers who encourage and empower each other. It’s a workshop that keeps on giving, and we’re grateful to all — keynoters, faculty, attendees and friends of the workshop — for their support.”

Pen pal

Aline.WeillerEvery writer has their pen. I’m fond of the complimentary pens at TD Bank North. Very. In fact, I run errands close to any bank branch or make separate trips for transactions to score a freebie at the deposit slip counter. As a journalist and essayist, there’s just something about the pens I relish: their chunky torso conducive to a firm grip, their cheery green plastic shell, their reliable clacking click. Each drawer in my midst is home to a healthy reserve. My pen has doubled as a dependable sidekick, priceless wing woman, and the ultimate, steadfast writing companion.

Some writers go the fancier route: Mont Blanc or Cartier, others opt for a plethora of popular Pilot pens, still others may choose the basic Bic. I’m a fan of an ‘everywoman’s pen’ — the core characteristic embodied by my lovable writing implement. I hoard at least two at all times. Party purses pose space limitations, but I manage to squeeze in at least one of my precious TDs. I’m an English Major’s English Major, rendered incomplete sans my pen. My very thoughts vanish without it; my mental inkwell is left essentially empty. It’s a withdrawal I don’t fancy and have been known to barter pro bono publicity for a TD or two.

On the rare occasion my TD pen dries up, I miraculously happen upon a spare — at the bottom of my beach bag or under the driver’s seat after a car wash — and marvel at it as if I’m parched in the desert, imagining a water-filled mirage. Like a hair elastic, I keep them stashed in the corners of my life. And feel a bit betrayed when someone ‘accidentally’ keeps one, or my kids ‘borrow’ it. If the TD is one day discontinued, I’ll be the frenzied writer surfing eBay, paying a fortune for a vintage edition.

I’ve seldom strayed from my go-to fav’, but for the time when the bank replaced it with a slimmer, younger model. I was nonplussed, to say the least; I rebelled. Yes, there was a brief time when my TD pen and I were apart —  Like Friends’ famed TV couple, Ross and Rachel — “we were on a break.” That skinnier version just wasn’t the same; I tried to remain faithful, but couldn’t get my groove back, so…I pen cheated. There was my short-lived tryst with a miniature Tiffany ballpoint I’d gotten for a milestone birthday. Oh, and that summer affair with a red, Rollerball felt tip, when I went on an editing bender, not to mention my brief stint with a certain tangerine-hued Pentel. I wince to think of my one night stand with that little midnight blue number from the Ritz Carlton.

Though I did stay true to ink; as I’m no mathlete, it’s easy for me to resist the charms of even the sharpest No. 2 pencil. Other than those minor transgressions, I’ve been a one pen gal. To my delight, the unmatched TD pen and I are back together — corporate came around and sensibly reembraced the original. I cheerfully applauded the comeback and contemplated slipping into a little black dress for our reunion.

I’ve since noticed the trusty TD is used by many in the service industry, and feel an immediate kinship with those toting it. It’s as if we’re comrades unaware, or distant cousins meeting by chance, through mutual friends on Facebook. Just last week, the Planet Pizza delivery guy and I shared a moment, declaring our joint preference for the pen. And yesterday, I was equally stoked and bonded with a waitress who enclosed it within a pleather credit card holder. A youngish Millennial, she was not quite as enthused as I, but still agreed the TD was her pen of choice.

With this fervent community of TD pen enthusiasts abounding, I’ve contemplated a secret handshake or even launching an old school fan club, of which I’d be the overzealous president. Or perhaps, I could organize a bona fide lovefest called PenCon, where we’d all wear green attire or maybe sport those snappy, V-neck vests donned by TD’s tellers. I could even develop a catchy tagline and collectively convert others in search of the perfect pen. But until then, I’ll continue campaigning for its admiration and use.

My loyalty has deep roots. The TD and I have experienced much together — it’s the instrument through which I’ve penned endless ‘to do’ lists on oversized, yellow legal pads (my affection for said pads garners an entirely other essay). Not to mention its use during my middle-of-the-night inspirations in the form of nearly illegible words, titles and phrases scribbled on uncooperative ATM receipts or coated magazine covers. My TD pens have inked childhood memories in a keepsake journal, my signature on mortgages, and my son’s early decision agreement. They have scribed the ideas that germinate and become the very backbone of my essays. The TD is an extension of my very essence, mapping the magic of me.

— Aline Weiller

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

Roommates

Mari' EmeraudeIf you are a roommate, you just gotta read this. Being a loner has its perks, especially when I hear all the horror stories from friends with roommates.  I suppose being married is the ultimate roommate situation. Here you have two people from two totally different households and backgrounds, with different beliefs, lifestyles, etc., and you throw them together and make them try and live as one. Not an easy task.

It’s funny how little ‘quirks’ can be the driving force in creating a wedge between two friends, even married couples. Whenever I go to others’ homes and observe the problems that arise in the roommate scenario, I think to myself – if I had to make a list, I guess the top three things would be:

#1: The roommate won’t pay his/her share of expenses;

#2: The roommate is a slob;

#3: The roommate has a pet.

Now if I didn’t touch a nerve with one of these, you’re probably in denial. To break this down, I will take apart one problem at a time:

#1:  How many times has a person agreed to move in with their roommate, only to find that the roommate loses his job after only one month in the apartment? Now roommate #1 is stuck paying all of the expenses while roommate #2 sits in the house watching television, eating all the food and reaping the benefits that both are supposed to enjoy. This roommate has also become somewhat of a ‘mooch.’ “Hey man, ya got a cigarette?”, “Toss me over one of those beers,” or “Hey man lemme hit that.” (sound familiar?)

#2: It seems one roommate is always the picker upper. Their room is spotless – bed made daily, room is dusted, clothes all neatly put away, while roommate #2’s room looks like something straight out of “Hoarders”. Unfortunately, the roommate’s sloppiness isn’t confined to their room. They leave the bathroom in disarray – wet towels on the floor, smeared toothpaste on the counter, pieces of plastic from their new bottle of contact lens solution, wads of hair from their brushes, etc…(you get the picture). The kitchen is the hardest hit. Dirty dishes everywhere, beer bottles from last night’s party (that YOU paid for, he drank), ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts (that YOU bought, he smoked) – again you get the picture.

#3: The new four letter word in a roommate’s vocabulary may be PETS! What one person calls cute, furry, playful and fun, the other person finds noisy, smelly, obnoxious and annoying. (and no I am not talking about a husband and wife)!  I am describing roommate #2’s doggy or kitty. The same bundle of playful fur to roommate #2 may be a yappy, snippy, shedding shoe-eating ‘demon’ to roommate #1.

I say to me it’s just not worth the bother. I don’t like confrontation, and I will go to great lengths to avoid it. I lived by myself before I was married and have no regrets. When I finally did get married, we were able to accept the differences between us. Sometimes he was roommate #1 and sometimes I was. We learned to compromise on the financial, housekeeping, even pet problems that arose. I think the only one that stumped us was when I wanted a kitten, and he wanted a girlfriend.

— Mari’ Emeraude

Mari’ Emeraude is a writer and poet from Denver, Colorado. This essay is an excerpt from her book, “Your Face Will Freeze Like That” and other stuff mom told us’.

Reflections of Erma