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Lost in translation

Lee GaitanIf you’ve ever been offered baked goods made “from scratching” or asked if you give hard “testes,” there’s a good chance you teach English as a Second Language (ESL).

Our crazy language is a minefield of unintended consequences, just waiting to ambush new learners. One seemingly insignificant change in spelling or pronunciation can affect meaning in a very significant way. I had the same experince a few years ago when I changed one teensy little vowel in Italian and instead of asking for my room key ended up inviting a hotel clerk in Florence to have sex with me. In the most explicit terms possible. (Not that I was opposed to it, mind you, but I still needed my key.)

Those teensy little changes will get you every time. That’s all it took for one of my favorite students to become temporarily — but hilariously — lost in translation. Olga had only been in the U.S. a few weeks when she enrolled in my adult ESL class. One evening she came to my room about 15 minutes early and we began chatting. She wanted me to know how hard she was working outside of class to improve her English. She had started reading the newspaper in English, she said, and as a result, she’d made an important life decision.

“I read an article about how is good for the woman to have the condom,” she told me with great certainty. “So, I decide I want buy the condom.”

As diet Coke was shooting out of my nose, she quickly reassured me of the wisdom of her plan.

Si, si, Lee, I think is very good idea,” she insisted, nodding her head vigorously. “You have the condom, Lee?” she asked.

“Well, not on me,” I said, a little flustered. “I don’t really, I mean, my husband had a vas—. Um, never mind. No, I don’t have a condom.”

She was looking at me quizzically when suddenly — pop—the light bulb flipped on for her, but not quite all the way. “Oh, Lee, I know what you think. You think I am crazy. Is so much money for buy the condom.“

“No, it’s not that,” I said, puzzled.

“No worry, Lee,” she continued. “Is cheap for me because I no buy new condom. I only buy used!” She dramatically drew out the word “used” for about three syllables.

I couldn’t even speak. All I could picture was a clothesline with a little row of freshly laundered condoms pinned to it, just a-swinging in the breeze.

In my head I was screaming, Oh, dear God, here’s 10 bucks—please splurge, buy new!

Then suddenly — pop — the light bulb again flipped on, but this time for me and, I was pretty sure, all the way. “Olga, what do you think a condom is?” I asked.

“Uh, is like apartment,” she answered with a casual shrug of her shoulders.

“No, my dear Olga, it is most certainly not like an apartment,” I said emphatically.

I then filled her in on the difference between “condo” and “condom.” One teensy little letter.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the particular shade of red her face turned. When the blood, shock and laughter finally receded, she shook her head and said, “Ah, si, it is like you say in the class. One little letter makes the big difference.”

Ah, si, indeed it does. And in this case, adding one teensy little “m” could be the difference between using that spare bedroom in your condo as an office — or a nursery!

— Lee Gaitan

Lee Gaitan is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and My Pineapples Went to Houston — Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She also has written a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Better Over 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard and The Good Men Project.  She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog and blogs at Don’t Just Bounce, Bounce Back. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Amanda ElderI know that time is fleeting. I know that I’m going to get through my mountain of dishes, put the rag down, and my children will be grown.

That is why I am trying to be present. I am trying to enjoy these precious moments with my children, but sometimes that is just way harder than it should be.

My three-year-old pretty much mirrors a teenager — the way he stomps his little a** away and slams a door every time he is told something he doesn’t want to hear. He gets so offended when I tell him to please stop screaming “butthole!” in the baby’s face. As if I’m being the offensive one here…

He is a short list of reasons my darling son got pissed off today:

1.) I mixed his yogurt. Same way I do everyday.

2.) He didn’t go fast enough on the slip n’ slide. Never mind the fact that he pretty much had a splash park in his yard.

3.) Batman’s cape got bunched when he sat on his Bat Jet. And I refuse to cut off Batman’s cape.

Did I mention it is only 10:30 a.m.?

I need wine and a babysitter.

— Amanda Elder

Amanda Elder is an elementary school teacher-turned-stay-at-home mom to two boys. She relies heavily on coffee and wine — and stays up too late blogging about the good, the bad and the ugly of motherhood.

Focus pill

Anne BardsleyI’ve heard of focus groups, but never a focus pill.

My husband suggested I take one daily. Just this morning before he left for work, he said, “What are you going to do today? FOCUS,” he reminded me!

I assured him I absolutely would focus. I immediately began to ponder what I should “focus” on. The dogs needed baths. I needed a facial. The floors needed a good cleaning. I had a doc appointment and a hair appointment. I needed to find a website designer. I think I volunteered for something, but I don’t know what, where or when.

So, this focus thing is going to be a challenge. Oh, did I mention a friend bought a little houseboat? I have to go see it. Focus, Anne, focus! I can do this. For the love! We are out of creamer again. Who the hell is gulping the half and half? Add it to the grocery list that I was focused on last night. Where is the damn list? I open the refrigerator and there next to the empty half and half container is my grocery list. I left it there for safe keeping.

Who was the genius who said, “A busy mind is a healthy mind?” That ranks right up there with some other fancy saying that I can’t remember because right now I just had a flash that we need lettuce.

Wait. I open the fridge and add toothpaste to the grocery list.

Let’s get back to “Focus” now. Breathe in. Breathe out slowly. I attempt a yoga pose on the floor, and I can feel myself slowing down. Jump up and run to fridge to add toilet tissue to the grocery list. Back to the floor to continue my Zen-like thoughts. As my breathing slows, I can feel my shoulders drop as I slip into a relaxed state. My eyes pop open and I jaunt back to the fridge once more to add peanut butter to the grocery list.

While I am there, I notice a piece of coconut cream cake. I swear it called my name. I only ate half of it before I returned to my Zen state. More breathing. It can get boring after two minutes. By now I realized that I should not have eaten that cake. I should have had ice cream instead. I grunted as I got back up again to be sure we had ice cream in the freezer.

My husband called to see how my Focus day was going. I told him it was a great day so far. I bragged about my breathing experience and relaxed shoulders. I think he was actually proud I was taking his advice. He said it would be great to see me more relaxed. Then he asked if I’d mind picking up his shirts at the dry cleaner. When I said, “Hold on I’ll add it to the list in the refrigerator,” he hung up.

How am I supposed to focus after that?

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., 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. She blogs at Anz World.

Out of the way!
Poop to deliver

Jennifer Louise Diaz“My stomach hurts.”

The complaint was a recurring one, uttered by my 5-year-old for the past year. We’d been to the pediatrician, endured several rounds of bloodwork and a three-month wait to see a specialist.

At our appointment, the doctor informed me that he wanted to perform some stool tests. I returned home with a document that highlighted the need for a frozen sample, in addition to one that was required to be delivered to the lab within 60 minutes of collection.

Time-sensitive poop. Fabulous.

Apparently, there is a proper way to retrieve a specimen. The first step was to line the toilet with plastic wrap.

You’ve got to be kidding.

Here’s a fun fact about me. I detest plastic wrap. I can never rip it off the roll without the piece adhering to itself, forcing me to angrily wad it into a ball and start over. I, in fact, do not even allow it in the house. I shoved all four kiddos into the car to purchase a supply, in case the 5-year-old suddenly felt the urge to go.

I arrived back home, armed with my clinging antagonist, and the waiting began. Every time my daughter rounded the corner, I pounced.

“Do you have to poop?”

“No!” she replied, each time a little more exasperated than before.

Day turned into night, and the sun rose again. My 5-year-old had now taken to hiding on the floor of the house where I was not. Finally, I heard her yell, from two flights down, “Mom, I have to poop.”

It’s go time!

I leapt down the steps, three at a time, breathlessly shouting, “Just keep holding it!” I grabbed the box of wrap and pulled out a generous supply, which, you guessed it, clung to itself. I vowed to burn this roll of ridiculousness as soon as the exercise was complete. I managed to get the plastic applied, the collection bowl in place and balanced the 5-year-old precariously on top.

By now, an audience of siblings were gathered around the door to observe the entertainment.

You could hear a pin drop as we all waited for the magic to happen.

My 5-year-old let out a tiny toot and giggled.

“Sorry, don’t have to poop, but I do have to pee.”

The instructions specifically cautioned that urine in the container would contaminate the sample. I really hoped these directions weren’t crafted by a lab intern who thought it would be funny to add absurd steps, just to mess with mamas everywhere.

“Don’t pee in the bowl. Wait!”

I scrambled to remove the insert and the plastic wrap, which of course clung magnificently, while she danced in urgency beside me.

The wait continued, but later that same day, the spirit moved, and a successful specimen was collected. Sixty minutes on the clock.

I frantically stuck one sample directly into the freezer and a second one, on ice, into the only cooling container I could find, a kiddo’s lunch box. I shooed all the children into the car, amid grossed-out protests that they would never eat from that lunch box again.

Of course she had to poop during rush hour. Traffic was bumper to bumper and the stopwatch was ticking down. We screeched into the lab parking lot with 20 minutes to spare. My 4-year-old instantly unbuckled and sprang from the van.

“Out of the way,” he bellowed to those passing by. “We’ve got poop to deliver.” He began to walk determinedly towards the entrance.

“Oh geez.” I apologized to the lady exiting the car next to us and hurried after him.

With a great sigh of relief, I deposited the…ummmm…deposit onto the desk, and the technician began to log it in.

“Where’s the second sample?” she inquired.

“At home, in my freezer,” I replied slowly with a sinking feeling.

“Oh,” she chuckled. “We freeze it here. I’ll need you to run home and bring it right back in order to get these processed today.”

Time stopped. Words escaped me. There are some moments in life when you just need to laugh.

Filled with worry over a sick child, when everything surrounding you seems like, well, poop, thank goodness there is the rejuvenating gift of laughter to heal the soul and lift the spirit.

And, as I loaded the kiddos back into the car to spend another hour of our day transporting bodily waste, you better believe I threw back my head and laughed.

— Jennifer Louise Diaz

Jennifer Louise Diaz is a writer, ministry leader and motivational speaker. She has a degree in social work, and her years working in this profession have ignited her passion for helping women find their buried laughter, faith and joy. Jenn’s love of comedy, the written word and storytelling create an engaging platform to share her message, both online and in person. She writes a weekly blog called “Devo on the Go” that highlights the hilarious insanity of being a mama to four kiddos.

In the spirit of Will Rogers

Robert L. HaughtWhen Will Rogers died 80 years ago this month, the world lost a phenomenal figure.

The “Cowboy Philosopher” from Oklahoma was an expert trick roper, star of stage, screen and radio, book author, newspaper columnist, aviation enthusiast, goodwill ambassador and humanitarian. Authorities generally agree it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace him. But his legacy is being kept alive, and writers have an opportunity to take part in this important enterprise through the Will Rogers Writing Contest.

During the month of August this wide-open competition will seek to identify individuals who can write in the style of the philosopher-humorist whose words are still alive as when he kept America laughing, and thinking, in the 1920s and ‘30s. Cash prizes will be awarded the three top winners of the contest, which is sponsored by the Will Rogers Writers Foundation. First prize is $200, second prize $100, third prize $50.

Robert Haught, foundation president, said the contest, which originated with the 2007 Will Rogers Writers Workshop in Oklahoma City, is being revived in observation of the 80th anniversary of Rogers’ death on Aug. 15, 1935 in a plane crash in Alaska.

Will RogersTo enter the contest writers will submit an essay of 500 to 750 words written in the style of Will Rogers. It may take the form of humor, commentary, human interest or briefs. The essay should be on a current (or timeless) topic. Essays must be in English, and must be original, i.e. written especially for this contest. Entries will not be returned. Entries must include the writer’s name, mailing address and email address. Telephone and fax numbers are optional. This information should be separate from the essay. It will not be seen by the judges. No more than three essays per entrant will be accepted, and each must be a separate entry. There is no entry fee.

You can find a world of information about Will Rogers at the Will Rogers Memorial website.

Contest entries may be submitted in one of two ways:

1) Mail to: Will Rogers Contest, P.O. Box 1582, Madison, VA 22727 or

2) Email to

Entries must be submitted to reach either of the above addresses no later than Sept. 1, 2015.

— Robert L. Haught

Robert L. Haught is a former Washington-based columnist who writes a political commentary blog as well as articles for his online magazine at He is a former board member and newsletter editor for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and is coordinator of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award program. He is president of the non-profit Will Rogers Writers Foundation. Haught is the author of a novel, Here’s Clare, and two humor books: Now, I’m No Expert on Cats and Other Mysteries of Life and The POTUS Chronicles: Bubba Between the Bushes.

Swamp thing film festival

Con ChapmanAt the impressionable age of 17 I left the small town where I grew up to attend college in the big city. There I learned that movies weren’t just a convenient occasion to feel up a girl and, if she turned you down, to blow into your empty Milk Duds box and make a fart noise.

No, they were “films,” a form of entertainment that, when molded by a master director — an auteur — achieved the status of art.

At my college there were film societies for foreign films, contemporary films, documentary films — you name it. The people who ran these clubs dressed in black turtlenecks and wore berets — indoors! They talked about “tracking shots” and “jump cuts,” which I thought was a passing route run by a tight end. I was woefully behind in my knowledge of le cinema, but I got up to speed as fast as I could on the road to becoming a cineaste.

I boned up on Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. I watched the films of Indian director Satyajit Ray. I saw Orson Welles play Harry Lime in The Third Man, before Welles got so big the phone company gave him his own area code.

At the end of the school year I would return to my hometown to harvest fescue or haul ice. Believe it or not, I found it hard to squeeze my hard-earned knowledge of French New Wave directors into the conversation when we’d go out to lunch for chicken fried steak.

The contrast between the two cultures was striking — “decomboobulating” in the words of Bird Dog, a guy I worked with on one summer job. How could one live with such cognitive dissonance? And then came the epiphany — l’apercu — that helped give form to my summer leisure time. Why not apply the finely honed bullsh***ing skills I had picked up hanging around avant garde film fans to the Swamp Thing cinema that flourished all around me?

It isn’t easy to jump into the bog of Swamp Thing cinema. Like the early British films of Alfred Hitchcock, the prints have often deteriorated, and they are hard to find. Your local library or video store is unlikely to offer The Legend of Boggy Creek, whose heart-stopping slumber party scene ranks with the Rosebud shot in Citizen Kane: A gaggle of high school girls assemble in a mobile home for an evening of popcorn and cootie catchers, and are dreamily discussing who has cuter eyes, Joe Don or Gene Ray, when the hairy arm of the Boggy Creek monster busts through a window, spoiling all the fun!

But, you ask, what if my local adult extension school doesn’t offer a Le Cinema du Swamp course? How will I hold my own when somebody says “I found the denouement of The Swamp Thing Escapes anti-climactic, and the jute-and-epoxy costume unconvincing”?

Simple — take this quick and easy online Introduction to Swamp Thing Cinema!  It’s pass-fail — continuing education credit may be available in some states.

Swamp Thing Returns: 3 1/2 gatorsAs every aficionado of le cinema du swamp knows, Swamp Things never die, they merely withdraw into the muck to lick their wounds. When they recover, they come back madder than ever. In this fine debut flick Roger Nelson, who went on to direct It Came From the Compost Heap, lures you into the ultimate horror with a succession of increasingly larger victims, from a baby chick to a miniature French poodle.

Beauty and the Swamp Thing: 3 gators. “Unga” is a misunderstood Swamp Thing who is befriended by a young woman after he picks a tick out of her hair. A worthy effort, but the plot is overpowered by the soundtrack, especially “Swamp Thing’s Love Theme.”  The production numbers flag as the creatures flop their tails around a lackluster swamp set, giving the film a claustrophobic feel. I found myself wanting to hold my head under brackish swamp water until the film died a natural death.

Bride of Swamp Thing: 4 gators This romantic comedy sends an important message: if abducted by a Swamp Thing, make the most of it!  You may find love where you least expect it — the arms of a seven-foot-tall ape-like creature with day-old possum on its breath.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Dog gone

Robert HoffmanAlong with the four kids our combined family also came bundled with two canine additions: a brilliantly high-strung Border Collie, Meg, and a dumber than a doorstop Siberian Husky, Maya.

While Meg has her own assortment of doggie quirks (number one of which is her singular devotion to Nicole to the extent that she will pine miserably by the front door until her raison d’être returns), the many annoyances of Maya are much more difficult to catalog.

We could talk about the “husky tumble weeds” that drift freely about the house requiring us to strap on a vacuum cleaner like the Ghostbusters and chase down the offending hairballs, or perhaps the way she sleeps on her back until roused by a convulsive burst of gagging snorts followed by a long series of sneezes.

But by far her single biggest doggie quirk is the fact that she’s not much of a dog at all. She doesn’t come when you call her, has not an ounce of loyalty and is driven solely by self-interest; basically, she’s a large, dumb cat. She is not a member of the family sharing our home. She is a ward of the state imprisoned within our house.

Given the choice, she’d run wild without a backwards glance. She plots constantly for her escape and has succeeded on multiple occasions. We’ve met more neighbors through prisoner exchange then we have from the PTA and block parties combined.

Unfortunately Maya comes equipped with both the old school dog tags and a sub-dermal GPS tracker that both direct the little convict back to our front door.

During one such prison break she was taken in by a nice family of dog lovers, including one little girl who was hoping and praying that Maya’s owners would never find her. How many times since then have I regretted picking her up or thought about going back to make a little girl’s dreams come true.

I thought about it when Maya peed all over the entryway the morning I was rushing out the door for a business trip. I thought about it when Maya started treating bathroom garbage cans as her own person smorgasbord. I thought about it when Maya got sick repeatedly all over the house, 90 percent of which landed predictably on carpet.

Now this last one brings us to the other joy that is Maya — the expense.

Being a husky she is already predisposed to have certain joint conditions, specifically in her hips, that require some additional expenses: supplements, medicine, therapeutic beds, a doggie walker with little tennis balls on the feet — you get the idea.

And I get it, too. I’m a dog lover, and dogs can be an important part of the family. But an animal that runs past your outstretched arms choosing the open road over your loving embrace does not embody the spirit of Ohana. I start to ask myself, “How much money do I want to invest in an apathetic animal?”

This was the dilemma when Maya started to have difficulty standing, then walking, and then the next day became a fountain of bile. Luckily our local vet is gracious enough to be open on Sundays so the first thing in the morning we brought Maya in for a checkup, knowing full well the potential money pit we were leaping into. Our worse fears were confirmed on both fronts, and after a $1000 visit, the radiologist suspected a possible tumor in the stomach and throughout the intestines.

Now, I wouldn’t be telling this story if it actually ended that horribly. I may not be organizing a Maya fan club, but I’m not completely heartless. Penniless perhaps, but not heartless.

So when the vet suggested we follow up with an ultrasound, we reluctantly agreed. I figured that since the diagnosis had no real treatment options, we at least owed it to her to get solid confirmation of her condition. In my mind, though, it was merely a formality.

For a fleeting moment my mind danced with the freedom of having a single dog. A loyal dog. An intelligent dog. Not a chain-sneezing flight risk. It was a world free of fur drifts, free of unpleasant surprises. It was a beautiful, peaceful, allergy-friendly world. And then it was gone.

After a $500 appointment with the ultrasound the very same tech that had, only the day before, condemned our overgrown furball to imminent doom gracefully back pedaled with a new theory that maybe it was just something she ate, like a lump of clay or an extra helping of toilet paper. The governor’s pardon on her supposed death sentence. The convict was coming home.

And now every time I see one of those husky tumbleweeds I can’t help but see little money signs — money signs drifting off her body with every step, money signs bursting off her body with every sneeze, money signs littered down the hallway with the shredded tissue paper. Every annoyance that is Maya is now decorated with sad little money signs.

Is it too late to make a little girl’s dreams come true?

— Robert Hoffman

Robert Hoffman delights in being a struggling writer and artist. He’s illustrated the children’s book A Different Kind of Day, and worked as staff cartoonist at the Sacramento State Hornet.  When he’s not struggling creatively, he works as a code monkey specializing in educational software and working with such fancy clients as Disney and Nickelodeon. Robert lives in Rocklin, Calif., with his fiancé and their Brady-sized family.

Letters for hot babes

Charles HartleyConsider the letters of the alphabet. By now you should know all 26 letters.

Some of them conjure up images of hot women, whereas others something else, or nothing at all.

Consider these:


The letter C is not a chick’s name. But in high school I knew this white-blonde-haired, blue-eyed bombshell named Ci Ci. A friend of mine dated her. I wanted her to date me. Jealousy ripped out my heart and intestines. Ci Ci looked like a classic beach babe from the shores of Los Angeles.

She was the type who made you want to quit high school, buy a convertible Mustang and drive away with her to live at the beach and surf the rest of your life. You would drop out of high school in a minute if Ci Ci would go with you to live on the beach in a shack.

This would go bad, however, as many things do.

A few years into the shacking life some other guy would be so enamored with her gorgeousness, and she so tired of your personality and staring at her too much, that they would drive away into the sunset in his convertible Mustang.


Like C, D is not a hot babe. But I know of a few women named Dee Dee who have been pretty fine. But Dee Dees tend to be too talkative. I get tired of listening to them. Twiddle Dee Dee, Twiddle Dee Dum.


I is not a woman’s name either. But any babe who uses the word “I” too much is narcissistic and too self-involved. She’s probably an actress or supermodel because they talk about themselves a lot. They say stuff like “I am beautiful,” “I need to lose weight,” “I am so nervous about my movie audition.” I, I, I, and then we all die.


Jay is a guy’s name so he’s out.


Kay may be the most smoking hot babe’s name in the alphabet. Every Kay I’ve known is sweet and desirable. This is also true of Kates and Karens. I have never met an unattractive Kay. Every Kiss Begins with Kay (Jewelers) is the best corporate advertising slogan since “Where’s the Beef?” by Wendy’s circa 1978. Every kiss does begin with Kay because she’s a looker.


P? No. Not on me, please.


U, like I, is a selfish woman. She is also accusatory. She says stuff to men like, “You never take the trash out and you never buy me anything nice.” You can find a better woman to live the rest of your life with than U.


Y is not a woman. It is, however, a great question. Any woman who asks a lot of why questions is attractive. Asking questions, being curious, wanting to understand why we are here, where we’re going, and why the sun rises in the morning is why I love Y.

Don’t ask Y.

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

Reflections of Erma