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A nobody in a somebody world

(Lorraine Holnback Brodek lovingly dedicates her new book, A Nobody in a Somebody World: My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills, to her dear friend, Erma Bombeck. This is an excerpt from the book’s dedication.)

Humor columnist Erma Bombeck wrote her own obituary on a hot August day in 1977 on the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon. I was with her and her family: husband, Bill; sons, Andy and Matt, and daughter, Betsy. It was all her idea. She had presented the plans for this vacation one evening while we were gathered in their living room.

“Hey, I know the perfect trip for all of us to do together. How about the Grand Canyon!” she said excitedly.

“Hold the phone,” I said. “Is that where you see people screaming for their lives as they bounce down a torrential river and into the rapids and then realize they can’t swim?”

A month later, we drove to the Canyon. All we had to do was hike down the eight-mile Bright Angel Trail to the rafts. Erma’s outfit was electric eclectic, including her shiny new hiking boots.

As we headed down the steep, switchbacks, Erma began limping. “I knew I should have cut my toenails this morning,” she grouched, “the front of these God-forsaken boots have jammed my big toe right up to my left knee!”

The unrelenting Arizona sun was beating down. The 120-degree sand created a burned-rubber smell from our boot soles. The water canteens were with the family jocks who were probably at the rafts by now.

I was 37 and Erma was 50 and suffering from Polycystic Kidney Disease. I knew that water was critical. Not a drop to drink — anywhere!

The next thing we knew, our knees buckled and we hit the sand. Gasping for air, we rolled under a nearby crag from which a scorpion skittered. That’s when Erma mumbled her obit.

“I can see the headlines now…” She rolled her eyes with devilish intent. “Famous Humorist, Newspaper Columnist and TV Celebrity Dies on Trail with  Little Unknown Person.”

Then Erma thought she heard angels treading. I said, “All I hear is a clippity-clop.”

And as if on cue, here came the mules!

“You’re the famous columnist, TV star and humorist,” I said. “Stop them!”

Erma rolled out from under the rock and, while flat on her back, yelled up at the old geezer on the lead mule, “Halt! Your money or your salt tablets!”

The crotchety cowboy looked down and grumbled, “I’s sorry ladies, these fleabags have riders waitin’ for ‘em at the river.”

What followed was not pretty. Because Erma was so short, she went eyeball to eyeball with the lead mule. “I know Mr. Ed personally! You’ve heard of the glue factory? Well, I even know Mr. Elmer! Don’t you dare move a hoof until we’re on.”

The wrinkled wrangler relented and helped Erma get her short little legs and tiny shiny boots into the stirrups. Glad to be off our feet and in the saddle, we started humming the Grand Canyon Suite as happiness pervaded the Bright Angel Trail again.

— Lorraine Holnback Brodek

Lorraine Holnback Brodek is the author of A Nobody in a Somebody World: My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills, a humorous collection of memoir essays, and The Tale of Peeky Peeker, a whimsical Christmas children’s book.

Tracing Dayton’s literary heritage

The January/February issue of AAA Journeys magazine traces Dayton’s surprising literary heritage — and points to the University of Dayton’s efforts to keep Erma Bombeck’s legacy alive through a workshop in her name.

An excerpt:

“At first blush, the city of Dayton in Ohio’s Miami Valley seems like a typical Midwestern city: friendly, accessible and affordable. So how can such an Orville-normal place produce such genre-busting literary figures as Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African-American writer and poet to garner national fame, and the nationally syndicated humor columnist and author Erma Bombeck, considered one of America’s first ‘domestic goddesses’ even before comedian and actress Roseanne Barr coined the term?

There is no single explanation, but visitors and aspiring writers may find their own Miami Valley muses by soaking up the history at the Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial House, attending the University of Dayton’s biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop or just hanging around one of the Midwest’s largest bookstores, Books & Co., where Garrison Keillor likes to sing.”

It’s worth a read. Click here for the full story.

The Super Bowl — a romantic comedy

It’s Super Bowl week. Time to start feigning interest in football. It seems no matter how many times my husband and sons have explained the game to me (usually once annually, on Super Bowl Sunday), I just can’t get into it.

I recently realized why: There is basically no tangible relationship between the pigskin and the guy carrying it. Sure there’s motive to bring it to the end zone and score your team a ring. The lure of jewelry, I totally get.

But where’s the back story that draws me in and compels me to keep watching? The witty repartee laced with sexual tension? The protagonist’s inner demons that need to be battled? It coincidentally does not take place in a circa 1960s advertising agency where everyone broods, drinks and wears fabulous clothes. This alone could be a major contributor to the problem.

Yes, I know it’s insane to think the Super Bowl could play like an episode of a TV drama like Mad Men. I mean, hello. …. It’s obviously got much more of a romantic comedy vibe. After all, the agony on the players’ faces must have a cause. Who’s to say it’s not unrequited love? And have you seen what these guys wear and how ridiculous grown men look all piled up on top of one another? Comedic gold.

The viewing experience would be vastly improved by simply illustrating the relationship between man and football. These proposed tweaks would make me actually want to see what happens next during the game…Are you listening, CBS?

Picture this: A quarterback and a football leave college to drive all night, bickering and bantering their way from Chicago to New Yor — er, I mean, New Orleans. The quarterback points out how he and the football can never truly be friends because their underlying attraction for each other will get in the way, a fact that will be driven home when the football fakes an orgasm at a roadside diner near the 50-yard line. The two part ways to head into separate locker rooms, and I’m glued to the edge of my seat because I just know they’re meant to be together.

Close to midnight on Super Bowl Eve, the quarterback finally admits he’s been in love with the football all along. He swoops her up and carries her an unstoppable 90 yards to the end zone, pushing all others out of his way — because when he realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, he wanted the rest of his life to start as soon as possible. The marching band plays “Auld Lang Syne” as they score the winning touchdown together. Afterwards, the quarterback says he’d like a coconut Vince Lombardi Trophy cake, with the chocolate sauce on the side.

All right, I’ll admit part of that just isn’t plausible. I mean, when do marching bands ever play “Auld Lang Syne” during the Super Bowl, right? Maybe Madonna was busy. Work with me here.

How about this? The football and the wide receiver have been fighting their attraction for a long time due to his emotional immaturity. When the quarterback throws the pass, the wide receiver leaps high into the air to catch the football. As the two tumble to the ground together, the football says, “You complete me.” Later, in front of all the cheerleaders, the wide receiver explains the football simply had him at “hello.”

C’mon, that could be the first Super Bowl in history where you’d need tissues. Hear that, Kleenex? Potential sponsor opportunities! You’re welcome.

Still not convinced of the Super Bowl’s romantic comedy potential?

Okay, final suggestion: A linebacker feels hurt and abandoned by his beloved football. Enraged, he charges the other team, being careful to avoid the quicksand, fire swamp and Rodents of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S.). He tackles the six-fingered quarterback, and as the football rolls down the synthetic turf, the linebacker hears her cry out “….as…you…wish….” The linebacker realizes the football never really stopped loving him and had merely been forced to play a scrimmage with the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Tell me you wouldn’t turn in for such blockbuster Super Bowl plots as these proven winners. I can’t believe Hollywood has yet to call upon me for my screenwriting skills.

But something tells me the networks won’t go for it. I’ve heard those R.O.U.S. are ruthless when it comes to salary negotiations, and the Super Bowl is certainly no place to throw billions of dollars around.

Guess I’ll just have to resign myself that the only declaration of undying love during this Super Bowl Sunday is going to be mine — for the nacho platter.

Actual Length of Super Bowl:  4 hours…give or take eleventy-billion hours of pre/post-game commentary 

Real Feel:  36 hours

Real Feel If Super Bowl Were a Romantic Comedy:  30 minutes, tops

Chance They Will Change It into a Romantic Comedy:  There’s always 2014

HOW ABOUT YOU? Which do you prefer? The Super Bowl or a romantic comedy? 

— Christie Storms

Christie Storms has written stories since she was old enough to use a stapler. While she did not write with said stapler, it was vital in binding pages together to begin presenting her parents with a multitude of unsolicited manuscripts. Professionally, Christie has written numerous articles for local publications over the past decade and additionally blogs material she has been told is humorous by somewhere between 3 and 3,000,000 people.

Twitter twaddle

(Mary Farr’s newly published Never Say Neigh is told through the mouth of a wise and witty horse, Noah. Noah’s tongue-in-cheek blog on the challenge of tweeting with his hooves is reposted by permission.)

The release of my new book has prompted me to pause and reflect on this unexpected and occasionally awkward path I’ve chosen as an author. Well… awkward for a horse anyway. A case in point: social media.

Yes, social media is a must for aspiring aspirers. Whether pitching fat-free cupcakes or kitty house training curriculums, everyone seems to be jumping into online self-promotion. Frankly, I had high hopes for my Equine Epicurean blog until Google Analytics informed me that my recipes contained too much fiber for anyone under the age of 70.

Anyhoo, I now find myself grappling with a dainty iMac keyboard designed for dainty fingers not hooves. Take WordPress, for example. When Madam told me it was my job to manage the “back door” of my WordPress website, I thought she meant the back door—that place where the Waconia Co-op drops off my groceries. But no, instead I’m busy uploading blog posts and trying to size photos smaller than the barn door. A recent attempt to post a glamor shot of myself resulted in a close up of my left nostril.

Then there’s the Facebook challenge. Though I’m never short of things to say, getting the words right side up on the screen presents a technical quagmire for a horse. That and the fact that fans ask me bewildering questions such as, “Can I come to work for you?” Or, “Will you marry me?” Or “What musical instrument to you play?” Following that last question, a band director from Fargo offered to teach me how to play a trombone. It’s a mystery.

So, my friend Gabe the cribbage whiz said he would help me set up a Twitter account. By the way, Gabe spends a lot of time online studying cribbage CliffsNotes. This explains why he never loses a game. Due to his technical expertise, I assumed he knew something about Twitter. He did, or at least he set up the account. Then he took off and left me to manage it.

Let me just say that my first Twitter follower was a woman who called herself “Sweet Cheeks” and wanted to meet me under the Yum Yum tree. The next arrival claimed her name was “Anything Goes.” This one included a photo of herself as evidence that anything and everything had already gone. Her dress, that was. Me oh my, it was time to change my profile from tall, dark and handsome fellow to tall, dark and handsome gelding.  It’s another social media mystery.

Meanwhile it’s almost noon, and I have yet to post anything original on Linkedin.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on the newly published book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy” blogs here.

In praise of Nordic walking poles

On a recent trip to Costco, the Silverback and I each purchased a pair of Nordic Walking Poles. We convinced ourselves we’d walk more frequently and more effectively with said poles in our hands. The first week, they sat in the garage, still in their boxes. Today, after deferring our walk from 9 a.m. to noon to 3 p.m., we finally set out at nearly 4 p.m. First order of business was determining what length the poles should be.

Me: Should they be ergonomically correct with the elbow at a 90-degree angle when the arm hangs down or should they be longer or shorter?

Silverback: I don’t know. Whatever’s comfortable, I suppose.

After futzing around with the things for at least 20 minutes we were off.

First, the dog did not approve of the sticks and was constantly checking over her shoulder to see if she was in danger of being stabbed. The Silverback attached her leash to his belt loop keeping her a few paces behind him. As the beta female who I expect to challenge me for alpha bitch any day now, she was not happy about this either. But such is a dog’s life.

Use of the sticks proved challenging too.

Me: How do we hold them?

Silverback: Not like you’re doing. The little feet at the bottom need to both point forward. One of yours is gimpy.

Me: Why would that matter? The surface area is like one square inch.

Silverback: Alright but when you start veering off to the side and walking around in circles, don’t come crying to me.

Me: I think we need to take a training course in the proper use of these things. I have no idea what I’m doing. Do we move the poles independently in a walking stride or do we use them like ski poles and we’re shushing across a flat part?

Silverback: I’m shushing.

Me: Was there a book or pamphlet that came with the sticks?

Silverback: They’re not sticks, they’re walking poles. And no, no manual. Just three different tips — one for all-terrain, one for sand and one for snow.

Me: (laughing) You’re kidding, right?

Silverback: No, I’m not. These are the all-terrain tips on them now. Watch out for that slug.

Me: (shuddering) Whatever. My shoulder hurts. I think mine are too long. (We stop for five minutes adjusting the length of my poles while the dog runs around off leash scattering her #2 business in her typical 50-foot radius.

We take off walking again, garnering a few stares from the younger crowd. Why wouldn’t they stare?

We get about a quarter into our usual route when I feel a pole poke me in the butt.

Silverback: Slow down a little will you?

Me: Where’s the speed control on these things? I can’t help but go faster and faster. It’s like wearing the magical dancing shoes. No matter how tired you are, the slippers force you to keep dancing!

Silverback: Well, that’s silly. Just stop for a second. (He catches up.) There! Was that so hard?

Me: You couldn’t have increased your speed to catch me?

Silverback: I do have the dog to consider, remember. I’ll bet no one’s seen people using walking poles around here before.

Me: We got them at Costco. That means we’ll see everyone and his brother using these things before long.

Silverback: Yeah, but we’re the cool kids who got them first.

A yard full of children point at us and laugh.

Me: Yeah, real cool.

Silverback: I think they’d make decent disciplinary implements, too.

It starts to rain.

Me: They should have put umbrellas in the tops of these things so they aren’t just pretty faces.

Silverback: I think they’d be better if they put weights in them, in the middle. Of course, I guess we could just walk with weights in our hands instead.

Me: I’ve seen people do that, and walk carrying umbrellas.

We continue to walk and nearly two hours and a Starbucks latte later, we’re back in our own neighborhood.

Me: These poles are all that are keeping me moving now, I’m so tired.

Silverback: I feel like I’m on autopilot.

Me: I’ll bet my arms are sore tomorrow.

Silverback: (laughs) Oookay.

Me: Do you think the kids even missed us?

Silverback: Probably not. Here we are. Give me your poles. I’ll tether these babies in the garage.

Me: Be sure to give them a good rub down. They worked hard today.

— Claire Gillian

Claire Gillian is the pen name for a number-crunching executive by day and a darkly romantic curmudgeon by night. Her debut novel, The P.U.R.E., was released in April 2012. She also writes 50 shades naughtier stuff under the pen name of Lila Shaw, but please don’t tell her mother.  No matter which name she uses, Claire is happiest penning romance drenched in humor with a dash of intrigue and loads of spice. She lives in the boggy Pacific NW with her husband and two teen-aged sons.

My (sag)rifice

After reading on Facebook (where else!) that my 21-year-old son was planning to be “grumpy” for the next 40 days by giving up fast food and caffeine for Lent, or more likely using Lent as an excuse to do something healthy, I decided that I, too, would be grumpy.

Certainly not by crossing caffeine off my list, but rather by giving up the one thing that has kept me relatively sane these past few years: my hormone replacement therapy. My son Nick had motivated me to complete my first marathon last year, and as it was an experience I’ll never forget. I figured it was time to do something memorable again. Plus, I was not about to be outdone by this young whippersnapper; after all, I was the one raised as a Catholic, not he. It was my job to suffer more.

We women know how to suffer, but the summer of my 50th year was particularly traumatic, and I’ve done things in my life. I graduated from West Point. I’ve jumped from airplanes. I’ve birthed monster spawn the “natural” way. I got my navel pierced when I turned 41 and my first tattoo at 51, and finally just had the nerve to show my mother. Shouldn’t have. I’ve taught in the public school system for five years. I’ve been with the same man for 29 years. But the warrantee on my “parts” had expired quite surreptitiously, and like truculent students in the springtime, they all wanted to be out. It was as if Mother Nature — that bitch! — was jealous of my accomplishments and good health, and felt the need to remind me that women’s “sufferage” was meant to be a lifelong gift. Pretty much everything south of my bejeweled belly began behaving badly.

“But teacher, you told us that words starting with ‘pro’ are good things, like professional and pro-literacy?” Well, kids, every rule deserves its day in court, and every “prolapse” deserves the death sentence. Now look up the word “kegel.” Ready? Begin, and don’t ever stop. And don’t even think twice about letting the nice doctors remove your 9 pound 7 ounce baby in a way requiring knives and drugs. There’s a reason both my darling cherubs ended up as natural climbers; I believe they clung to every possible organ during their descent into this world. Thus, years later, after being a brave young woman and doing things the way they “should” be done, I nevertheless went under the knife, drugged, and joined the ranks of those already sweating out their “change of life.”

Change of life? Let’s just call it what it truly is: a horrifying metamorphosis from butterfly back into shriveled cocoon. But perhaps I exaggerate; after all, how wonderful is it to be rid of “the curse,” which is really just years of routine practice for menopause with the added inconvenience of all the yuckiness? It’s pretty wonderful, and although I still get that “Awww!” feeling whenever I see a cute baby or a puppy, I’m quite happy with my current inability to produce either. Hooray for change?

My 83-year-old mom doesn’t remember having a hard time with menopause. Of course, she doesn’t remember giving birth to five girls, either, because doing things naturally wasn’t “in” back then. My understanding is that while the gents were smoking stogies in the waiting room, the moms were offered red wine and spinal taps, and when they awoke, were handed their neat little bundles. “No hot flashes?” I ask Mom. “Well, nothing bad, but my poor sister still gets them.”

WHAT? Hold the phone! I rush to WebMD, search “menopause,” and read, “Some women have hot flashes for a very short time during menopause. Other women may have hot flashes — at least to some degree — for life.” Sweet! Possible lifetime membership in the Hot Flash Club! While my hubby is cocooned under the covers in our 55-degree bedroom, I’m down to one sheet waiting for my internal organs to spontaneously combust. Suggestions for preventing hot flashes include avoiding everything you enjoy, and taking nonprescription vitamins or prescription antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, other hormones, soy products, black cohosh, flaxseed, evening primrose oil, and the list goes on. “Although there is no scientific evidence to support this… [and] side effects include nausea and diarrhea.” Well, harrumph.

We Americans love our drugs, and so it was easy to say, “Hook me up, Doc” after months of post-surgical menopausal madness. But after a couple years of taking my daily dose, the guilt I felt about being “on drugs” ultimately overpowered my rationalized need for comfort. My recent decision to embrace the changes of my metamorphosis as a way of cherishing the experience of womanhood (almost sounds like I mean it, right?) has freed me to re-evaluate how I will handle my remaining years.

I’m 53 now, and I like telling people that I’m not even middle age yet because I plan to be dancing on a bar, around a bar, behind bars (it won’t matter) for my 110th birthday. I’ve already decided that by the time I’m 70ish I’ll have saved enough for my “six-pack-lift trifecta,” cheek lifts (and I’m talking both sets here) and the inevitable “thanks for the mammaries” lift.  What I failed to get from my progenitors in the way of “booty pop,” I more than made up for in my frontal region. Since I’ve already had my first reduction of the axe-handle-wide endowment I received from my mother’s mother (it just had to be done), I figure “the girls” will have gravity thwarted for at least a decade or two more. The cheeks, however, both fore and aft, will require attention.

When your cheek bags (and I’m talking about the face here) are floppy enough to flip around your neck as a fashionable scarf, it’s time for the scalpel, and although I’m not there yet, I see my future in my mother’s face. I thought it was awesome to finally have a mature, “chiseled” profile with pronounced cheekbones, now that the baby fat is gone, until I realized that my youthful filling was now starting to hang, Deputy Dog style, below my chin. Perhaps in 15 years there will be a drive-through for this fix.

As for the droopy ass issue, I may have found a solution already in the eyes of a Brazilian dreamboat! Yes, Leandro! I want to lift my butt for just three easy payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling! I may have been booty butt challenged for the first 53 years of my life, but with the Brazilian butt lift workout, I believe I can finally sculpt the supermodel butt of my dreams! Well, at least I can still dream. Although…

Perhaps it’s because I’m awake for so many hours that I think I might also be losing weight with all these hormonal changes. I’m hoping it’s not just bone loss setting in already; I’ve had a sinking feeling over the past several years that I’m shorter than I used to be, but when asked how tall I am, I’ll stick with “five-five-and-a-full-half,” thank you very much. I think I’m getting soft, too. But “women should be soft and round,” says my bag-of-bones mother, her decorative-scarf-cheeks swaying gently with emphasis.

It’s not just the softness, however, that disturbs me. Along with the chicken skin neck meat and the cable-top hands is the saggy leg syndrome. I remember resting my feet on a table several years ago and looking over at what was hanging from my shin bones. It was frightening. It used to be my tights that were baggy around the knees. Now, my knees are baggy without tights, and the hair which is thinning on my baggy knees now grows — willy-nilly — in ridiculous places.

As a child I was horrified by the fact that Grandma needed a shave. After several boxes of wine with sisters some years ago, we laughed until we peed (just a little bit) over our “chair hins,” and then they shared with me the secret of their smooth, hairless, just-starting-to-sag faces — a little $14 “trimming wand.” But those abominable spiky chin hairs still grow at the speed of light, completely thwart the magical wand and will always require diligence, just like my new Einstein eyebrows. I always thought those mad professor eyebrows were awesome — on dudes — but add those to the nose and knuckle hairs I’m now sprouting (what’s THAT all about?), and I’m thinking about making a reservation at the zoo for my Golden Years.

And so I say, “Herpa-derpa-schmerpa.” It would appear that one more menopausal “side effect” is early dementia, or “chronic brain syndrome,” as the PubMed Health site calls it. Do yourself a favor: do not look up symptoms of dementia because it will make you lose sleep at night, which is, by the way, one of the symptoms. I’m seriously praying that this side effect won’t last too much longer as it may interfere with that…longish…thing…I’m writing.

I look at the calendar (trying to pretend that I remember the day’s date) and commend myself on sticking steadfastly with my sacrifice. Nick’s resolution was thwarted on day three when his college buddies couldn’t stand what a bummer he had become sans caffeine, and that’s okay; he’ll have plenty of time to be grumpy when his future wife hits menopause. As for me, I’ll sleep soundly, someday, knowing that suffering is good for the soul.

But wait! I forgot to tell you about my hemorrhoids! OMG!

— Laurel McHargue

Laurel (Bernier) McHargue teaches as an adjunct instructor at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colo. She is the co-creator of Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Stupid Kid and will have stories in many of the series’ titles. Read her blog here.

Ode to a sneeze

Flu season is here. Bathe in Purell. Do not kiss anyone unless it is Tonto in a mask. Wear fashionable gloves day and night. Unless you are on your honeymoon and staying in your room 24/7, postpone hugging.

While every possible precaution must be taken to avoid this dangerous virus, I encourage you to catch a cold. Yes, my friends, the common cold.  Why it is called the common cold is beyond me as even a Duke and a Duchess have been caught in its clutches. Yet it is the very best thing that can happen to you. It benefits your body, which is crying out for love.

Grownups rarely cry. Sure, when they lose at golf or a caterer runs out of cake, tears may flow, but even then, it’s not too often. It’s too bad. The truth is, a cold gives one an opportunity to revert to a childish state: to be pampered and cared for. It permits the strongest people to let go without tarnishing their reputation.

Here are a few documented medical examples:

One man literally strikes fear wherever he journeys. He is a tyrant and a huge troublemaker. Yet when he is at home with a bad cold, he sucks his thumb and calls his wife “Mommy.”

An actress who played the warden in prison films permits her mate 24 hours to be sick, prepares chicken soup and allows him to moan, “I’m dying, I’m dying” every hour on the hour while she rocks him in her mattress-size arms. The next day, she makes the bed and pushes him out the door. This one day keeps him functioning for the rest of the year. He is often seen without a jacket on wintry days, stepping in puddles and sleeping with a wet head stuck out an open window praying for a relapse.

Historical Fact:
The reason some battles are called “Cold Wars” is because the need for love was not met. It might have been avoided if opposing sides could stay home and get a little cuddling. And really, who feels like fighting with a runny nose?

My Advice:
If someone sneezes, don’t just say “Gesundheit.” Understand that this person craves compassion. Be gentle, but no kissing. Unless you yourself feel needy, in which case, place a lip-lock.

When you do catch a cold, get into a cuddly bed and collapse. You can drink liquids or not. It doesn’t matter whether you stand on your head singing the Kardashian National Anthem, your cold will last two to seven days or as long as you need it. That’s it. Call me in the morning and leave your insurance information.

P. S. If you happen to have an extra Kleenex coupon, send it. Along with some cough drops and…a spare lover!

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall is the author of her second satirical survival book, Dancin, Schmancin with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! She’s a columnist, certified clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. This piece, reposted by permission, appears on her blog.

Humping, biting, pooping wonders

I love Black Jack.

No, not the game, my dog. My wonderful, dorky, pubic-haired Schnoodle. Sunday was his last day with us. About 10 p.m. that night he went to his new home. I’d like to say I handled it well, crying just enough to look beautiful in my sorrow, but I’m a terrible liar.

For two hours prior to his departure, I cradled him in my arms while sobbing into his curls. He licked the salty tears and snot off my face, enjoying the treat, not understanding what was about to take place. That made me bawl even harder. He’s so innocent. I don’t care if he bites the kids when he’s excited. So what if he likes to demonstrate his dominance by hugging  your leg. He’s a good dog!

By the time his new owner arrived, I was a blubbering, red-faced, swollen, snotty mess. I could not pull myself together. It didn’t matter that Black Jack’s new owner was my best friend, who just lived down the street. All I knew was that my feet were going to freeze at night without my fur blanket to keep them warm.

Black Jack’s leaving was a long time in coming. I knew back in May that he would have to go. On Mother’s Day, my sweet boy, Ian, was hospitalized for a massive asthma attack.

Following this trauma, I took Ian to see his asthma doctor.

“Do you still have the dog?” Dr. Gourley asked.

“Yes,” I admitted sheepishly. “But this one is hypoallergenic and Ian seems to be fine…”

Dr. Gourley was shaking his head. “He’s not fine. There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog to an asthmatic.”

I love dogs. I grew up with them and cannot remember a time when my youthful feet weren’t tripping over metal food dishes on the floor. My first pooch was Penny the Toy Poodle, and then came Kachoock, our Siberian Husky with different colored eyes, and finally Mindy, the stray Collie my mother rescued on a stormy afternoon.

Having grown up with dogs, it was only fitting that I would want them to be part of my own family. When my oldest daughter was about two, she developed a mild discomfort for all things canine. My husband and I decided the best way to combat this unnaturalness was to welcome a tiny ball of fluff into our home. Tank joined our family and for the next 13 years; he worshipped my husband and pretty much hated everyone else.

At least he cured my daughter of her fear. And while he tolerated four children, I would never recommend a

Pomeranian as a good family dog. In spite of his propensity to bite and his inappropriateness with stuffed animals, I loved him and cared for him when age claimed his hearing and bladder control. Three months after his passing, my husband, Scott, surprised me with an American Bulldog.

Once in a while, an animal comes along who is different from all other animals. There is something special and unique that draws you to this creature. My bow-legged, barrel-chested, Tinkerbell, was such an animal. She had a magnetic soul. Weighing in at 50 pounds, she was the largest puppy I’d ever owned.

Caring for a dog means that you are willing to make certain sacrifices. You understand that poop will be tracked into the house on the bottom of a sneaker, you learn that library books shouldn’t—but do make good chew toys, and you decide that the short white hairs in your food really aren’t that big of a deal. You make these sacrifices because the rewards of having someone in your life, who loves you unconditionally, are worth it.

For me, dogs are the best medication, the best therapy, the best cure-all for whatever ails you. They fill a need in me that I can’t get from anyone or anything else. With a dog in my life, my soul feels complete.

After two months with Tinkerbell, I knew it wasn’t going to work. Ian’s allergies intensified around her so much, that with one lick of her tongue, he’d break out in hives. After giving her away, I came home and climbed into my bed. I didn’t leave it for three days. And when I did, I refused to wear anything but black. I wasn’t in a good place.

Along with my appearance, my thoughts and mood were dark. I admit that during that time I had some very un-motherly feelings toward my son. It wasn’t rational and it wasn’t fair, but part of me thought, If it weren’t for you, I could have a dog. I’m ashamed that those thoughts and feelings once had a

place in my mind and heart. Ian couldn’t help his allergies and asthma. He was born with those ailments.

What I failed to realize at the time, was that he was losing something special too. Like me, Ian loves dogs and is happier when he’s around them.

But as with dogs, raising children requires certain sacrifices. We know that sleeping through the night is a rare treat, and the ruins at Mesa Verde will wait, but a kidney infection will not. We understand that a dinosaur diorama is a family project, and we know that teenagers—when unsupervised—will break a brand new La-Z-boy. Our children’s needs always come before our own, even if we don’t want them to.

Black Jack was my last attempt to have a dog. Being a Schnoodle, he was considered a hypoallergenic breed. I lived in denial for two years, but eventually came to realize that it was Ian or the dog. The canine season of my life had come to a close, and it was time to put my child’s needs before my own.

The night Black Jack left I knew I needed to stop looking at my losses and start counting my blessings. I have many of them and the best ones are my children: Tawni, Rebeka, Zackary and Ian. No pet is better than them.

So with eyes that tear up occasionally — but remain clear — I am choosing to look for the good, and I’m finding it.

Although my feet are cold.

— Polly Bringhurst

Polly  Bringhurst of Sandy, Utah, is a stay-­at-­home mom who is returning to school after a 22-year hiatus. She’s spent the last two decades raising four children in a house with a revolving door. Foster children,  homeless siblings, neighbor kids and  rowdy teenagers all contribute to the loving chaos called “home.” She blogs at The Fourth Gift.

Reflections of Erma