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In your Face(book)

One evening after dinner, my wife and I settled into our respective spots on the couch and easy chair. As normal, we began to unwind from the day’s work by watching TV and checking our Facebooks.

The first post in my newsfeed was from my friend Dennis, announcing his new daughter’s dedication on this coming Sunday. In my usual attempt to be funny, I left a comment that read, “I’ll see you there if I can get approval from her highness,” and then I moved on to the rest of the newsfeed.

A few moments later, a notification popped up telling me that my wife, who was sitting across the room from me, had commented on the same post. When I clicked back to Dennis’s page, she had posted a response under my comment that read, “Why do you always have to make me sound like a nag or a party pooper?”

“I was just being funny,” I answered via comment, annoyed at her lack of humor.

“You are always trying to be funny, but a lot of times you’re just a jerk.”

Before I could respond, a comment popped up from Jill, a mutual friend of ours and Dennis’s, which read, “We are honored to be able to share this blessed day with you and your family.”

Getting angry, I typed, “Do you mind not butting in, Jill? And @wife: You think everything I say is being a jerk! You have NO sense of humor!!!”

The next comment came from Dennis, whose page we were on, “Could you guys go fight on someone else’s baby dedication announcement post?”

And then my wife, “I used to have a sense of humor til YOU wore it out with your STUUUUUPPPIIIIIIDDD “jokes”!!!”

Having had enough, I hit “like” on my wife’s last statement, and exited the page.

I was still stewing when the little scrolling account of what everyone is doing on Facebook showed that my daughter had commented on a status from her iPhone. Wanting to move past the argument with the wife, I clicked to see what she had said.

My daughter’s friend Nikki (with a little heart before and after her name) had posted that she had the flu and wasn’t feeling good. My daughter had then commented that she was sorry, and hoped she would feel better soon. Being proud of my daughter’s kindness, I “liked” her comment.

I then paused for a moment to take a bite of the sandwich that I had been working on while Facebooking. Before I could move on from my daughter’s friend’s page, a comment popped up from my wife that read, “Don’t you dare “like” me and then walk away!”

She had obviously seen in the same scrolling privacy-invasion box that I had liked our daughter’s comment and followed me there.

“I’m not continuing this conversation if you are going to be unreasonable!” I answered.

“Oh that’s you, leave whenever you know you’re WRONG!”

Then a comment from Nikki, whom neither my wife nor I were actually “friends” with, saying, “Who are you guys, and why are you on my page?”

Followed by a comment from my daughter that said, “YOU GUYS ARE RUINING MY LIFE!!! GO AWAY!”     

“@Wife: I’m not wrong! @Daughter: Oh yeah! Did I ruin your life when I bought you two new pairs of jeans last week? @Nikki: Sorry, we’ll be done here in a minute.”

Meanwhile, I saw that the wife had left a comment back on Dennis’s page that read, “Sorry Dennis, he thinks only of himself.”

But before I could respond to that, my daughter commented, “That doesn’t give you the right to ruin my life!”

Nikki wrote, “Will you all please go away?”

My other daughter popped up in the “chat” box, “YOU BOUGHT NATALIE JEANS? WHY DIDN’T I GET ANY?”

Another notification chirp let me know that my wife was tweeting @me that #MyHusbandIsAJerk.

I was now FURIOUS!! I began firing back responses.




I then tried to go back to the dedication post to get the last word in, but discovered that Dennis had “unfriended” us. And he wouldn’t answer my call to see if he would at least let me dictate my response to the wife’s last remark.

So I set my cyber sights on daughter and fired off a comment that read, “WHY DON’T YOU BUY YOUR OWN CLOTHES AND FOOD, YOU SELFISH BRAT!”

But at the exact moment I hit the send button, I noticed that the comment above mine didn’t look familiar. It wasn’t from my daughter, my wife or Nikki. Scrolling up, I realized I wasn’t even on the right post.

Somehow in my angered frenzy, I had hit the wrong notification and had just commented on a link our pastor had posted that featured a starving child from Somalia’s heartbreaking plea for help. … I had just called a starving child from Somalia a selfish brat and told him to buy his own food and clothing.

It took several sweaty minutes for me to figure out how to delete my comment to the Somalian child. After which I called every Facebook friend that I thought had been witness to the whole debacle and apologized.

Then I gathered the wife and daughters all together in the same room, and we had an all-out, old-fashioned, face-to-face blowout, complete with shouting and arm waving.

And just to make sure everything was good, I made a large (by my standards) donation to the charity whose video the Somalian boy had been featured in.

— Jon Ziegler

Jon Ziegler is a 44-year-old husband, father of two girls and a tree trimmer who started writing as an outlet for what he calls “creative madness.” He’s the author of The How-Not-To Guide to Parenting and Marriage.

A match for Martha

I heard that in an interview with Matt Lauer on the “TODAY” show, Martha Stewart, 71, said that she’s had trouble meeting a male friend with benefits and admitted she attempted to (unsuccessfully) join

Apparently she loves dating, but the questionnaire seemed impossible and so she’s just going to keep looking on her own.

Well, I’ve never attempted online dating, but I think I could really help her out with this thing. After all, if weirdo Guy Fieri can find his Gal Fieri, there has to be hope left for Martha.

Username: Martha Stewart

Headline: Lifestyle guru, businesswoman, author, magazine founder and publisher, TV personality and domestic diva seeking companionship and snuggles with someone who appreciates the finer things in life.

Age: A spritely 71

Sign: Leo, which is perfect because I love my Himalayan cats!

Ethnicity: Whitest woman on the planet

Nickname: In prison it was “M. Diddy,” but I would prefer to just go by Martha. Bygones!

Income: Well this is curious! My income range is not represented. No matter. I get by.

Religion: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Also, Dog is my co-pilot. Ha!

Relationships: One ex-husband and several ex-beaus, most notably a software billionaire and Anthony Hopkins, who I had to break it off with after viewing that wretched film, “Silence of the Lambs.” I was unable to avoid associating Hopkins with Hannibal Lecter, a man with absolutely no table manners or sense of proper etiquette.

Children: I’ve had many lovely dogs, cats and horses over the years, but I won’t bore you with those details yet! However, if you’re interested, my two blogging pups, Francesca and Sharkey, have created a photo gallery of all my pets.

Oh, and I have one daughter, Alexis.

Body Type: It depends on what I’m eating, but I prefer an Asti for a light-bodied wine and a Barbaresco for a full-bodied wine.

Celebrity Look-Alike: I’ve been told I could be a mix of that lovely woman who played Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) and Diane Sawyer.

Smoke: Do you mean salmon? If so, yes. It can make a delightful appetizer when done correctly.

Drink: I love a whiskey sour with fresh juice or a mojito, but it has to be a purple basil mojito and the basil has to be cultivated from my own garden and tended to with painted garden tools.

Hobbies: Anything involving a hot glue gun — decoupage, scrapbooking, creating snow globes out of glass from upcycled chandeliers; knitting blankets from the hair of my prize-winning Chow Chows, baking “green” brownies with my pal Snoop Dogg/Lion out of cupcake tins I’ve created from paperclips and aluminum foil; building a billion-dollar empire and tweeting. I love the Twitter!

Who I’m Looking For: Someone who I can laugh with that knows they can use half a potato to unscrew a broken light bulb. He should love animals, personal transformation and organized bed linens. There’s something incredibly satisfying about opening up the linen closet to see not unholy chaos, but color-coded bundles neatly tied in a bow.

Note: Stockbrokers and actors who have portrayed cannibals need not apply.

I think it’s pretty solid and can only imagine that the men would be lining up.  And if all else fails, I’m pretty sure she could try Craig’s List or get cast on “The Bachelorette.”

Martha might just meet her match.

— Abby Heugel

Abby Heugel is a professional writer and editor of trade publications for employment, but a neurotic humor writer the rest of the time for enjoyment. She runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal.

Stroller pains

I left it, all dusty and alone, with bags of used clothes piled on its seat and tray. No one was there to receive it, and no one came out to the loading area despite the loud click when I unfolded it and the rattle of its wheels against the pavement as I set it down. Ah, well…someone will find it, I thought as I rolled it out of the sun and locked its wheels, careful not to let it touch the miscellaneous things around it. (I didn’t know where they’d been.)

Then I got in my air-conditioned van, very slowly drove away, and abandoned it there with all that other stuff strangers no longer want or use at the back of a charity thrift store. I had been so impatient to get rid of it, but as I glanced back in my side mirror, I felt a sudden, painful constriction in my chest.

I turned the corner, and a panicky voice began to plead, Go back for it! What are you doing? What were you thinking? Don’t leave it with all that junk. I breathed deeply and tried to let go, but the voice took on a tone of logic, No one’s going to want it, anyway. It’s too old and faded and it has that orange crayon melted in the pocket. Yes, true. I had taken great care to vacuum it out and wipe it down, but the orange crayon remained as well as some dust I hadn’t noticed on its frame. There, then, said the voice of sentiment, go and get it before anyone finds it and tell the thrift store you changed your mind. All four of your babies rode in that stroller, every single one of them…save it for the memories.

I was already on the street and going through a light, but even as I made my way to pick up my two oldest from school, the lump in my throat was growing along with an urge to turn back. Those tall, skinny kids who were about to be dismissed from class had once been tiny little things, riding in that blue and yellow stroller. And then their two siblings had occupied it after them. All of them had snacked in it, slept in it, thrown tantrums in it and gone for long strolls on city streets, in nature or shopping centers in it. All of them had been nestled in the crook of my left arm many times as I pushed their empty stroller around one-handed.

I thought back on all the baby-rearing history and adventures as I inched through the car line at my kids’ school. I couldn’t take the remorse anymore. I needed support and pragmatism, so I called my Man up.

“Honey, I dropped off the stroller today,” I said. “Do you want me to go back and get it?”


I swallowed several times before saying carefully and tearfully, “Because all four of our babies rode in that stroller…”

There was a pause and then a long chuckle and a gentle reproof, “Silly woman….no, we don’t need it anymore. Let somebody else get use out of it. It’s fine.”

Would somebody else get use out of it, though? Would they sense all the residual love clinging to its fabric and honor that despite its appearance? Or would they cruelly beat it with sticks for being so used and sorry-looking? Surely I had made a mistake in offering it up to the great unknown.

“We could get a lap dog and push it around in it.”

“NO. I’m not doing that.”

I didn’t even mention how my sister had used hers to push around shopping bags on Black Friday. Maybe I could have used it for Christmas shopping, too, with an attached disclaimer that read, “No, I didn’t forget my baby. This stroller is retired and hauls merchandise for a hobby.”

“We should have had more kids,” I said, jokingly.

He replied very seriously, “No, we shouldn’t have.”

As I hung up I felt better, still shaky but fortified. Then my older kids got in the car, and with one look at their sweet faces, the tears came back. Berto watched me sniffling for a while in silence and then asked, “Mama, why are you crying? Is it the paper again?”

My boy knows me too well and my propensity for crying at news stories. I tried several times to tell him what was wrong but faltered on the words. When I finally spilled it out, his response was much like his father’s.

“Oh, Mama…”

Silly woman.

But I still wish I had saved our stroller.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra is a mother of four and a writer at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. She has been published multiple times at the humor site Aiming Low. She lives in Arizona where she takes every chance to explore Native American ruins and natural wonders.

A reunion fit for heaven

My mother possessed the gift of hospitality. All who knew her marveled at her remarkable ability to charm people with spontaneous generosity and kindness.

But her benevolence wasn’t limited to humans. She had the greatest affection for animals, too, especially the many dogs that inhabited our home over the years.

Throughout her life, Mom remained utterly convinced that she would one day be reunited with her earthly menagerie in heaven. With the hint of a smile on her face, and just a faint mist in her eyes, she would remind us every so often to include a box of dog treats in her final resting place. She said it was essential to be equipped with the dogs’ favorite snacks when she was reunited with her departed canine friends.

But not everyone would share my mother’s conviction on the fate of pets.

Preachers tell us that the path to heaven involves redemption. But unlike humans, who are apparently awash with wickedness, animals have never sinned. (Note that being a “naughty boy” on grandma’s priceless, antique Persian rug does not constitute a biblical sin.)

So the question of redemption — and being judged accordingly — simply does not apply to animals.

Perhaps a more fundamental issue revolves around the question of animals possessing a soul.

According to the Rev. David Carucci of St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church, if a soul is purely defined as a living creature’s “principle of life,” then animals and even plants have “souls” simply because they are alive. But, he says, there is a distinction between animals and man.

“Animals do not have immortal souls,” said Carucci, who points out that God breathed his spirit into man, but not animals. “When they die, their life breath dies with them.”

However, some scripture suggests that animals will exist in heaven, such as the 2 Kings 2:11-12 account of Elijah taken up by a flaming chariot and flaming horses.

And in Revelation 19:14, the description of Jesus returning to Earth indicates armies following him from heaven on white steeds.

But hold your horses. Does this mean your favorite childhood pony will be tied to the Pearly Gates awaiting your arrival? By extension, will dogs be wagging their tails and cats purring sweetly in anticipation of their masters coming “home?”

The Rev. Andy Hepburn, pastor at Taylor Road Baptist Church, also sees no biblical evidence that there will be a meet and greet with pets in heaven.

“In the creation, animals were created for man’s use and pleasure,” he said. “Man and animals have unbelievable bonding relationships which are wonderful and fulfilling. But animals are to be ruled by man. We have them as pets, as beasts of burden, for food, etc. I personally do not believe that animals have a spirit.”

In the end, perhaps that’s just as well, especially for those lifelong meat-eaters among us. No one wants an afterlife encounter with a herd of angry cows, pigs and turkeys eager for divine revenge.

But the real issue for most people is the fate of their pets, rather than avenging farm animals.

“I taught high school for seven years and invariably made some sophomore cry ever year when I told them that their pets don’t go to heaven,” Carucci said. “I try to stress to them, that in heaven they will not miss their pet, because they will be with God, and he is the only thing that can ever make them truly happy.”

My mother, of course, entertained none of that “no pets in heaven nonsense,” as she called it. She was utterly convinced that all her dogs would enter a kingdom free from fleas, worms, baths, thunderstorms and vets. She would say if any creatures were deserving of a special place of eternal peace and comfort, after giving a lifetime of unconditional devotion and affection, it would be her beloved dogs.

Mom left us several years ago. It comforted her to believe that a canine welcoming committee would greet her, to experience her hospitality one more time.

— Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas’ features and columns have appeared in more than 270 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. Read more of his work on his blog, “Along These Lines: A Little Silly Seriousness, in a Seriously Silly World.”


Publish your book for free

Greyden Press is accepting completed, unpublished manuscripts in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books for the Greyden Press 2013 Book Competition.

Deadline to enter is June 1, with winners announced Nov. 1. The grand prize is worth more than $3,000. Greyden Press will design and print 50 copies of the winning book for free.

Manuscripts must have been completed in 2011, 2012 or 2013 and should not exceed 45,000 words.

Click here for the prizes, rules and entry form.

Greyden Press, a book printing company in Dayton, Ohio, works with authors who want to self-publish their books. Greyden Press is a co-sponsor of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Think positive for kids

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Kids will contain 101 stories about issues that are important to children. The submission deadline is June 30. Stories should be in the 500- to 1,200-word range.

Some guidelines from the editors:

Stories should be written in a way that kids can understand, but contributors do not need any special ability to write for children. Just focus on one theme per story, keep the message clear, and don’t talk down to kids or try to use “cool” language. They see right through that. We are looking for stories from your own childhood, or about children you know, written in the first person, that both entertain and educate children, and that expose them to positive thinking and good values. These stories will show children how to make good choices — even when no one is looking — how to respect the needs and feelings of others, how to develop their own self-esteem, and how to stay true to their convictions. The stories will remind kids that each day holds something to be grateful for and show them that they are not alone in dealing with difficult issues.

Some of the themes and issues the book will address are:

• Bullying
• Relationships with friends and family
• Divorce
• Moving
• Crushes and relating to the opposite sex
• Self-acceptance
• Helping others
• Being different
• Physical and mental disabilities
• Following rules
• “Telling” on someone when it will help them
• Doing the right thing even when it’s hard
• How it feels to do the right thing

The book will not include stories that might be too mature for younger readers, such as stories about abuse. “We are also a “Santa safe” company — we keep the magic alive for all our readers,” the editors say.

If your story is chosen, you will receive $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.

Submit your piece here. Select the “Submit Your Story” link on the left tool bar and follow the directions.

A Mother’s Day lament

Whose bright idea was it to place the Minnesota fishing opener on Mother’s Day weekend? I long for a lovingly prepared breakfast in bed, leisurely late church service, followed by a sumptuous 20-foot-long buffet enjoyed along with my adoring family.

Instead, I get a cold bed because Jack went fishing at three a.m. Breakfast is dry toast lovingly prepared by our kids, whom I have to hustle to church solo, while mediating the bickering over who gets to sit in the front seat (which in the era of air bags may not be such a prime location). My buffet consists of cheese and macaroni. When Jack’s gone, I don’t have to cook.

Some think Mother’s Day is just another opportunity for Hallmark to rake in the cash for sappy sentimental cards. Jack takes this view: “You’re not my mother. Why do I have to get you a card?” Perhaps to set a good example for our Jack Pine Savage saplings? Nonetheless, I am still expected to buy his mother a card.

I’d like to meet the bureaucrat in the upper echelons of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources who thought he’d placate Minnesota mothers by tossing them a freebie. (Normally I’m a sucker for anything I don’t have to pay for — not this time.) “I know,” he said. “We’ll still put fishing opener on Mother’s Day weekend, but we’ll let all the little mothers fish free on Mother’s Day.” I wonder if his own mother is still speaking to him?

I’m sorry, but that’s like playing a carnival game and winning the cracked plastic bird whistle from under the counter, when you had your heart set on the five-foot, pink, stuffed panda hanging from the marquee.

Aren’t we worth the panda? Is one day of unadulterated worship too much to ask? Mothers are more than women who give birth to progeny. We’re the chief cooks and bottle-washers, the ones who stock up on toothpaste and toilet paper  — and most importantly, the finders of things invisible to any naked eye but our own.

I wish video technology had been invented when Jack and I got married. I’d play the vows backwards to discover the hidden message where I’d promised to love, honor and be “The Keeper of the Stuff.”

There is one person in every household who always knows where an item can be found on any given day. Nine times out of 10, it’s the mother. I’m not a neatnik with a blueprint for a brain, but I either know exactly where to find the warranty for the bug-zapper we bought five years ago, or I can tell you two alternate locations, one of which is sure to be paydirt.

“Where are my keys?” Jack hollers 30 seconds before going out the door.

“Where did you put them?” I reply in auto-replay mode. Does he think I take pleasure in hiding his stuff? Is there a sadistic joy in knowing he is totally dependent on my producing the keys so he won’t be late for work?

His voice rises to a frenzied pitch: “They’re not there.” I wearily walk over to the counter, move aside one of the scraps of paper that he’d deposited along with his keys, and voila, there they are.

“Just because they didn’t pop out and say ‘Here I am,’” I mutter, as he scoops them up and dashes out the door.

This pattern repeats itself with clothes on his side of the closet, “Where’s my plaid shirt?” and condiments in the refrigerator, “Have you seen the barbecue sauce?” My personal favorite is, “Who hid the TV remote?” (I did, of course. When my last afternoon soap opera was over, I shoved it into the bon-bon box and slid it under the couch.)

Being a fishing wife is trial enough. Don’t expect me to fish. I’m still trying to calculate how long I have to keep the leeches in the back of the refrigerator before I can justify throwing them out. Like leftovers, they’re never used again. They just take up valuable shelf space as they slowly grow fuzzy little sweaters.

Maybe this May, when the ice goes off the lake and his thoughts turn to jigs and lures, I can finally turn the whole situation to my advantage.

“Jackie, have you seen my tackle box?”

“Tackle box? Gee, dear, I don’t know. Where did you put it?”

— Jodi Schwen

Jodi Schwen’s humorous essays, Northern Comfort: The Musings of Jacqueline Pine Savage, have been published  in Minnesota’s Lake Country Journal, where she has been editor since 1999. Her credits include Guideposts and Minnesota Monthly magazine. She has written dramas and monologues, and presented workshops on journaling, creativity and “how to freelance.” In her “spare time,” she enjoys being an adjunct communications professor. Schwen once had a child in toilet training and one in driver’s training at the same time. Spare time? What’s that? Read her blog, “Northern Comfort,” here.

Listen to your mother

The Listen To Your Mother Reading Series this spring will feature more than 300 inspirational women in 24 cities across the United States, giving “Mother’s Day a Microphone.”

The Listen To Your Mother Reading Series is a unique national event that showcases moving, socially relevant and humorous stories about a range of modern mothering experiences. In each city, the series will feature local established writers and performers taking the stage with local first-time writers and performers as they share poignant personal essays in front of live audiences, making for an unforgettable experience and celebrating motherhood in a meaningful new way.

Some of the participants who will be performing include Stacy Morrison, editor-in-chief of and former editor-in-chief of Redbook; Adrian Culp, former vice president of TV development for Adam Sandler and Chelsea Handler; Liysa Callsen, who was raised by deaf parents and will sign her story; comedian Jaime Fernandez; and Barb Patrick, a mother from Newtown, Conn.

Born of the blogosphere and mothers who publish online, the Listen To Your Mother Reading Series is changing the way America celebrates Mother’s Day, one story at a time. Started in Madison, Wisc., in 2010 by humorist and blogger Ann Imig, it has evolved into an exciting national storytelling series. Every show’s process — from auditions to rehearsals to the final performances — are shared online via social media. Each show/city also donates 10 percent of all ticket proceeds to local nonprofit causes that support women and families in need. Last year the series took place in 10 cities.

The live-reading series features a number of Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop faculty and attendees. This year’s readers will include Tracy Beckerman, Nancy Davis Kho, Wendi Aarons, Marinka (Motherhood in New York), Amy Wilson, Yuliya Patsay and Karen King. Alexandra Rosa is producing and directing the show in Milwaukee. Founder Ann Imig’s 2012 EBWW roommate, Shari Simpson, is the assistant director for the New York show.

Past participants have included Anna Lefler, Lisa Page Rosenberg, Molly Campbell, Kyran Pittman, Jennifer Sutton, Missy Stevens and Alexandra Rosa.

The cities taking part this year are:

New York City (5 p.m., May 12, at Symphony Space)

Austin (7 p.m., May 9, at the University of Texas)

Boulder (7 p.m., May 12, at the Dairy Center for the Arts)

• Cedar Rapids (2 p.m., May 12, at Legion Arts)

• Chicago (2 p.m., May 5 at the Athenaeum Theatre)

• Denver (7 p.m., May 7, at the Elaine Wolf Theatre)

• Fayetteville, Ark. (7 p.m., May 30, at the Walton Arts Center)

• Indianapolis (7 p.m., May 2, at the Indiana Historical Society)

• Kansas City (7 p.m., May 11, at Unity Temple on the Plaza)

• Madison (3 p.m., May 12, at the Barrymore Theatre)

• Milwaukee (3 p.m., May 5, at the Wehr Hall at Alverno College)

• Lehi, Utah (7 p.m., May 9, at Thanksgiving Point)

• Oklahoma City (2 p.m., May 5, at the Will Rogers Theatre)

Plumas County, Calif. (7 p.m., May 15 at Plumas Arts)

• Providence (2 p.m., May 4, at the Providence Public Library)

• Raleigh (7:30 p.m., May 8, at William Peace University)

• Sacramento (7 p.m., May 12, at the Crest Theatre)

• San Francisco (7 p.m., May 12, at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco)

• Spokane (7 p.m., May 12, at the Bing Crosby Theater)

• St. Louis (11 a.m. and 2 p.m., May 11, at St. Luke’s Hospital)

• Twin Cities (7 p.m., May 9, at the Riverview Theater)

• Valparaiso, Ind. (7 p.m., May 10, at the Memorial Opera House)

• Washington, D.C. (2 p.m., April 28, at the Synetic Theater)

• Wilmington, Delaware (6 p.m., May 12, at World Cafe Live)

For more information, click here. Videos from all the shows will be posted here during the summer.

Reflections of Erma