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Uncommon writing duo

Mary I. Farr’s wildly funny and gently inspirational book, Never Say Neigh, has won honors from The Paris Book Festival, the Great Midwest Book Festival and the Animals, Animals, Animals Book Festival.  A retired hospital chaplain with plenty of wisdom under her belt and a lifelong passion for horses, Farr chose an unusual writing partner for her award-winning book — her American quarter horse, Noah Vail. He eschews violence, prejudice and polarized politics — all with a generous dose of levity and fun.

Zany zoo

In Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper, British comedy writer Bill Naylor gives a humorous account of his experiences as a zoo keeper. In the book, animals behave badly and people behave madly. Even readers with only a passing interest in the creatures that flutter or slither across the pages will be entertained. Be prepared, however, for a liberal amount of gratuitous violence, inflicted by zoo inmates on unsuspecting zoo personnel.

The canine soul

The talented W. Bruce Cameron has published another heartwarming, hilarious book, The Dogs of Christmas. Kirkus calls the novel “a book about dog lovers by an author who understands the canine soul.” Cameron is the New York Times bestselling author of A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey and 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, which was turned into the hit ABC series.

In memory of an impulsive dad

My late father was a loving, loveable guy. His impulsive actions, however, often masked those admirable traits.

Combined with his affability and innate friendliness, his good intentions sometimes wrote a recipe for embarrassment if not potential disaster. Even when in the wrong, Dad would turn a negative into a positive.

Dad was definitely gung-ho about everything he did in life. With his many interests, he did a lot in his 89 years of living. He went full force, no holds barred. Dad was simply passionate about life.

If he knew this about himself, Dad certainly never acknowledged this reckless abandon approach to life as a fault. The way he lived, he had to have seen this passion as an attribute.

Dad loved sports, especially outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. He also amassed an extensive Indian artifact collection. Dad was involved in many community activities, almost always in leadership positions. The end result was that he made many friends in his lifetime.

Dad’s enthusiasm sometimes got the best of him, and others, too. The story my nephew shared at Dad’s memorial service three-and-a-half years ago pretty well summed up my father’s impulsiveness. The story is true with no hyperbole interjected.

A favorite activity of Dad’s was to pile everyone onto his pontoon boat for a combination cruise and fishing trip around the 14-mile long lake. The scenery was always enjoyable. The fishing on the other hand often was more bait than catch.

On this particular voyage, Dad had found a spot right across the lake from the cabin. My nephew reported that the fishing was good until my father’s impetuosity intervened.

Dad cherished interacting with people, often to the point of being late for supper or forgetting an appointment altogether. I think he invented the word “relational.”

While my brother and his family were concentrating on catching croppies, Dad noticed another boat on the opposite shore. He thought it looked like the owner of the cabin next to his.

Dad suddenly announced to his surprised passengers, “Hey, that looks like Bennett over there,” and up came the boat anchors. Lines were reeled in, and across the lake they went at full throttle.

Since Clendening isn’t a very wide lake, it didn’t take too long to reach the spot where Mr. Bennett was fishing. My nephew recalled wondering why his grandfather wasn’t decreasing the pontoon’s speed as they got closer and closer to the south shore.

Seeing the inevitable, my brother motioned for Dad to slow the boat or change coarse. He did neither.

Instead, Dad responded by yelling a series of “Hellos” to Mr. Bennett, who at first waved back, then tried frantically to wave Dad off.

Dad greeted his neighbor by ramming the pontoon boat into the much smaller bass boat, tipping it and its owner into the murky lake. Fortunately the water was shallow there. But all of Mr. Bennett’s rods, reels, tackle boxes and stringer sank straight to the lake’s bottom.

Dad had finally stopped the pontoon by the time Mr. Bennett had popped up soaking wet. What was my father’s first comment? An apology? Not exactl

Dad matter-of-factly hollered, “Hey, Bennett, are you catching anything?”

— Bruce Stambaugh

Bruce Stambaugh pens the blog, Roadkill Crossing, and other tales from Amish Country. His weekly column appears in The Holmes Bargain Hunter in Millersburg, Ohio.


You know that iPod Classic I bought for my husband?

Well, I didn’t buy it for him.

I bought it for me – to shut him up.

He’s a linguist, you see.  A word man.  I love that about him because we can yammer and joust with words all day long.  In fact, we’ve been known to race each other to the dictionary to find out who knows the correct meaning of a word, say, “defenestration.”  If I beat him, he will then say, “Wull, yeah, but I bet you don’t know the etymology.”

To which I reply, “Please enlighten me, oh Word Master.”

This is great fun most of the time, up until it isn’t.  Our house is small and there’s no place for me to hide when I write.  In peace.  If he’s at home, I have to rely on him to be quiet.  Not an easy feat since he’s an out-loud linguist:  “Honey, did you see the article in Newsweek about lexical gaps?”  “Do you remember what that word was we argued about yesterday?”

My response is often, “Sweetheart, what is it about keeping quiet that you don’t understand?”

“Oh. Sorry.”

The only place where I can hide behind a closed door is the bathroom.  Believe me, if it were large enough to accommodate a desk, I’d set up shop.

Since Steve loves music almost as much as he loves words, I got him the iPod because: a) He can listen to Bach as much as he wants and I don’t have to hear it; and b) If he were listening to music, I figured, he’d be quiet.

Well, you know what happens when people are so plugged into their iPods that they are unaware they exist in real space and time and, worse yet, in other people’s space and time? You’ve no doubt heard them on the train, you’ve heard them on the bus, you’ve heard them walking down the street, bouncing their heads and mumbling.  They’re apparently singing along to some kind of music, but you don’t know that for sure because you can’t hear it; you only hear the drone of the uninvited noise in your personal space.

The other day, I was in my loft writing while Steve was downstairs at his desk.  All of a sudden, I heard an indecipherable set of human sounds.   Normally, my honey has a lovely singing voice, but as I was about to discover, when he’s listening to his iPod you’d think he was the most tone-deaf man on the planet.

I crept downstairs and moved within his line of sight.  He pulled out his ear buds.  Turns out, he was listening to “Oh Happy Day,” the popular ‘80’s song by the Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Which is fine, but . . .

“You know that line in the song,” he says, “where she sings,

‘When Jesus washed . . .’?”

I nod.

He smiles and says, “Well, not many people would know this but there’s an “Open O” sound in the word ‘washed’ and she does something really cool with it – she turns it into a triphthong!”

See what I’m talking’ about?

That’s my guy.

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

Trouble on the Verizon

Since I am a Verizon customer, the news that my phone records may have undergone surveillance has led me to change the way I converse on my phone.  (Yes, I know that’s a bit like shutting the barn door after the cow has escaped.)  I love Verizon’s product.  I never have dropped calls, and their coverage area is great.  I suppose it was those very reasons that led to this “alleged” government surveillance.

If I were a bad guy, I would need a reliable system to plan my capers.  But what about us non-bad guys?  What about those of us who use our phone to convey information to other non-threatening types?  Aren’t we likely to be misunderstood?  The answer is, yes.  I am routinely misunderstood by those who know me best, so what happens if the government tries to listen in and figure out what in the world I am talking about when my husband and I are on the phone?

The obvious answer is: Bob could use any help they can give him.  Beyond that, though, I have drafted a plan to confuse anyone listening to me.  I have a code that I now use when speaking with Bob on my cell phone. Unfortunately, I could not text it to him as then it could fall into the wrong hands.  I thought it may be helpful for you in your efforts to fly beneath the radar.

When I ask “Are you coming home from work on time,” I really mean, “Why is the government involved in baseball’s doping problem?”

When I say, “We need to go out on a date tonight,” I really mean, “I’m afraid the IRS is going to audit us.”

When I say, “It’s raining here,” I really mean, “I can’t believe our taxes are so stinking high.”

Yesterday when I was on the phone with Bob, I suddenly said, “Hi President Obama!”  That, I’m sure, caused a lot of confusion.  At least it did for Bob.

Think about this, if Gill Bates (catch that?  It’s simple but effective in baffling listeners) had used code in verbal language and not just computer language, maybe the Microsoft anti-trust/monopoly situation could have been averted.  On a side note, I trust Microsoft; and with the exception of Windows Vista, they have provided me with a lot of great computer stuff (hope I’m not too technical here).  On the other hand, I am pretty much over the game of Monopoly.  It takes too long to play and unless I monopolize the red properties and own all four railroads, I generally lose.

I’ll close here with things I regularly say to Bob that could be misconstrued by somebody who is tapping my phone.

1. The package has arrived.

2. Please stop and get money from the bank today.

3. The garbage men are picking up the trash.

4. There’s a snake in our grass.

5. I’m doing the laundry.

6. I’m going to a tea party.

7. There is a new bird on my feeder.

8. Bring home some tacos.

9. The mailman is late again.

10. I need to pick up my sister from the airport.

I’m sure I’m not being overly paranoid, but just in case, please delete this blog post after you read, comment on it and share it with your friends.  Thank you.

— Bonnie Anderson

Bonnie Anderson, of Orlando, blogs at Life on the Lighter Side: Viewed With a Dash of Humor and Sprinkled With Sarcasm. She’s currently working on a novel for middle schoolers. ” My perspective on life keeps me chuckling; that’s what fuels my blog,” she says.

Top shelf

USA Today’s snapshot: What is your ‘pantry personality’?

It showed percentages for people who were neat, disorganized, a minimalist or a doomsday prepper. Just like my husband and I have an interfaith marriage, we have a mixed pantry.

I’m in the nice-and-neat percentage and he’s a doomsday prepper. It’s hard to keep things organized when you live with a prepper. So, basically all I do is organize the masses of stuff he buys. Recently I was kind of happy when pantry supplies started to run low as I could see the shelves. My husband saw empty space, panicked and ran to fill it. Rice-a-Roni was on sale so he bought 12 boxes. For us, that’s a year’s supply. Pasta was on sale and even though we didn’t need it, he bought it because “It never goes bad.” So, he brings the sh… I mean supplies home and I organize.

I do try to have some semblance of order in the pantry with tall stuff in back and short stuff up front. Although I’m not a fanatic, I do not alphabetize my spices. I organize the shelves I can reach. I can’t reach the top shelves. I want to know the person who designed ceiling-high cabinets, unreachable to the short person, and thought they were a good idea. A short person should be able to reach the top shelf in her own house. You should not have to get a ladder, chair or department-style pole to retrieve what you want. We have cabinets above our refrigerator that I have no idea what’s in them. My husband could be hiding money, knives, a small mistress or, my guess, Rice-a-Roni.

If grocery stores strategically stock sugary cereals for kids at eye level, why can’t home builders place cabinets at eye level?

Because then and only then will I know how many boxes of Rice-a Roni my husband has stored away.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento is the author of Deal with Life’s Stress With a Little Humor. Her award-winning columns and essays have appeared in numerous newspapers and in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Click here for her blog.

Erma and me

Times and themes change. Families change. Children grow up and away. The ultimate change, or transition, is death.

Yet the ability to pen life’s facts and fantasies with a measure of humor keeps the spirit alive and well during these phases.

Being able to share the foibles of motherhood and raising a family adds a bit of perspective to what could be constantly chaotic.

Columnist Erma Bombeck had a special talent for chronicling the ups and downs of family life.

Over the years friends and family have sent me clippings of Erma Bombeck’s work, knowing I appreciated her unique brand of humor.

Family and friends sometimes compared my work to Erma’s. The best kind of compliment!

In reading the introduction to one of Erma’s books I was amazed to learn that we shared the same birth date. I just had to write her.

She thanked me for my letter, saying how pleased she was with my success. (I don’t remember what success I’d had at this point.)

She went on to say, “It isn’t the money. It isn’t even your name underneath the story. It’s a special feeling that your words are reaching people you don’t even know.”

She asked me to keep her posted on my successes.

She always answered my letters. Unlike some writers, she answered her own mail. Her stationery was unique with its bedraggled hausfrau holding an even more bedraggled house plant.

I sent her a letter in 1981 for Valentine’s Day.

In her reply she wrote, “Since you have such a great sense of humor, try to imagine this pot is filled with $60-a-dozen roses. I knew it wouldn’t work.”

Times and scenes change. Somewhere along the line Erma moved from Ohio to Arizona. She returned to Ohio in 1981 to appear on a popular Cleveland daytime talk show.

Knowing I was enamored with this neat lady, my brother got tickets to the program. I wrote a column about the event, met her, handed her a note and some clippings before leaving.

She answered the note saying, “It was nice meeting the face behind Norma’s Nook (the column I did for a newspaper in Ohio). Sounds like you are having a wonderful time writing it and that’s what it’s all about.”

I believe Erma realized the magnitude of her position in the limelight, and she seemed to take special care to encourage me.

“I do believe that you are limited only by your talents, and they will take you as far as the traffic can bear. I look back on 30 years of trying, of failing, of going one step forward and two back, and throwing myself at the mercy of readers. There are no shortcuts or easy answers. You just have to take advantage of any situation and pray a lot,” she wrote.

And she protected herself as well as the writer.

“In case you’re wondering why I have never commented on any of your pieces, it’s because I have a hard, fast rule for years not to read other people’s material.”

This was to protect both herself and the writer. She didn’t want to take the chance that one day she’d come up with a story, coming from her subconscious and forget it was by another writer, maybe even Norma Sundberg.

A constant theme that ran through all the letters was, “Keep on keeping on as long as you enjoy what you’re doing.”

I enjoyed homemaking and raising children for a lot of years — 40 to be exact. But there came a day when it wasn’t fun anymore — and it was becoming dangerous to stay in my marriage — so my youngest daughter and I ran away from home, coming to live with my daughter and her family in Florida.

A few years ago Erma did a serious commentary on Earth Day on “Good Morning America.” I wrote to tell her how much I enjoyed it, commenting that sometimes her serious pieces were better than the humorous ones.

She thanked me for letting the house and lunch wait while I sat down to tell her about the Earth Day piece. She went on, “Every day I thank God for women like you.”

She was delighted I hadn’t succumbed to rejection or disappointment. Again, “Just keep doing what you’re doing — as long as you’re having a good time doing it.”

And I put off writing again until it was too late. Yet even to the end of her fight with a kidney disease she merely “slowed down a bit,” as Ellen Goodman wrote. She kept on doing what she loved. It kept her going.

Times and scenes change. I’ve moved once more, from Tallahassee to Crawfordville. I learned that Erma had been living in Northern California when she passed away.

Erma Bombeck died on Earth Day. It was also my grandson’s 10 birthday.

I suspect she’s charming everyone in heaven.

She was a role model for stay-at-home moms, for career women, for the kind of friendship we all yearn for. The words echo from many of those I talk to, “We will really miss that column.” We will miss what Erma Bombeck did best. Made us laugh — at ourselves.

— Norma J. Sundberg

Norma J. Sundberg has been writing on and off for nearly 60 years. Her writings include a weekly column, “Nidbits from Norma’s Nook,” in The Free Enterprise in Ohio for 10 years and articles and poems in an online newsletter, “Extra Innings,” sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. Her poetry and articles also have appeared in a wide range of other publications, including Writer’s Journal, Christian Science Monitor, the Tallahassee Democrat and literary magazines. Over the years, she received 11 letters from Erma Bombeck.

Reflections of Erma