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Scared out of bed

My childhood was regularly haunted by screams in the night of, “Spiders!  Spiders everywhere!”Hillary Ibero

If that won’t give you arachnophobia, I don’t know what will.

I never could resist mummifying myself from the neck down and scanning  the dark ceiling anxiously as I waited for Dad’s gruff reply to my mother,  “There aren’t any spiders! You’re dreaming again. Go back to sleep.”

Mom always took it well. “They’re going to kill us, but fine…fine!”

My sweet mom had night terrors. These differ from nightmares in an  important way. During a nightmare you’re likely to cry out with your eyes  closed, startling yourself awake. During a night terror you’re likely to cry  out, eyes wide open, before you kill someone, startling them awake, in self defense. Or so you say.

Dad’s strategy was to throw his body across Mom’s at that first suspicious  movement or sound, locking her in an embrace of iron. This was an  important preventative measure because my mother had been known to run full speed through a dark room full of furniture, to brutally wring the cotton out of bath towels and to search for convenient weapons to use against gnomes.

Dad may not have had a choice, but I voluntarily put myself in the crosshairs of Mom’s bad dreams on steroids when I was 14 or so. She had spent a whole day in her room with a migraine. It was a double whammy; she was ill and had been sleeping heavily. Nevertheless, I crept in to say a quick goodnight to my (daytime) saint-like mother, ignoring Dad’s warning to leave her alone. As I entered the room, Mom sat bolt upright in bed. Her large brown eyes were wide in the dim light from the hall and they fixed on me like motion sensing lasers. I halted.

“Hi, Mama,” I said cautiously. “I just wanted to say goodnight.”

I took a step closer but was arrested by her strange query, “Hillary, what do you have in your mouth?”

“Uh, nothing, Mama. I don’t have anything in my mouth.”

“Yes, you do. Come here.”

Fear gripped me. My mom was obviously reliving some incident from my childhood when I used to chew on raw hot dogs as pacifiers and shove half a banana in my mouth at a time, prompting my parents to chant, “Small bites, chew them well!” until I entered adolescence and acquired some manners.

“Mom, I don’t have anything in my mouth!” I cried, attempting to be firm.

“Hillary, come here. Get that out of your mouth right now!”

“What, Mama? What do you mean? All I have is my tongue,” I uttered pathetically. “See…”

As she started to rise from the bed, I quickly pulled my tongue back in and wondered whether I could learn to swallow without it. Back to the wall, I must have managed to squeak out a weak, “Help!” because Dad suddenly appeared and jumped between us.

“Hillary, I told you not to disturb her!” he cried, locking her in his arms. “Now, get out of here now!”

I would never again disturb my mother’s slumber without backup.

However, as I said, Dad didn’t have a choice. Thank heavens he always reacted in time. Except one time he didn’t.

Mom claims she woke up and saw a little man on Dad’s side of the bed. Another menacing gnome, dammit! He was coming toward her and she didn’t have a weapon at hand. She promptly flipped up the mattress to create a defensive barrier.

When he hit the wall and floor, Dad joined the party. The first thing he saw was his wife coming around the bed toward him with that otherworldly gleam in her eye. His yells of bewilderment, outrage and terror didn’t succeed in snapping her out of it, but his consequent mad dash past her did.

We kids were awakened, not by cries in the night, but by an argument in the living room. We wandered out to find Dad sitting imperiously on the arm of the sofa, head back, arms folded, shaking his head adamantly and saying, “Nope. Uh-uh. I am not going back to that bed with you.

Mom, half giggling, cajoled, “Honey, you know I don’t know what I’m doing. Come back to bed. It won’t happen again.”

To which Dad’s only answer was, “Humph!”

It took her all night to win him back.

And he’s by her side to this day, protecting the world (and her) from a gentle, saintly, lovely woman who on one night every month or so turns into The Incredible Hulk…the one who is afraid of spiders.

-Hillary Ibarra

Hillary has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and fifty loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Take your lunch
or I will gut you like a fish

Alison GrambsThey say the secret to a happy marriage is communication.

Well, tonight I am communicating with my husband through a note I have taped to the medicine chest in our bathroom.  It reads:

Take your lunch or I will gut you like a fish.

Now, you saps out there might assume I left this note as secret code for, “Meet me tonight in our bedroom. I’ll be wrapped in cellophane dipped in honey.”

But you’d be wrong.

For when I wrote, “Take your lunch or I will gut you like a fish,” I meant exactly that. “Take your lunch or I will gut you like a fish.

My only regret is not placing a comma in between the words lunch and “or.  Such a sloppy grammatical error will undoubtedly incline my alma mater to rescind my degree.  But other than that, this note reads precisely as I intended.

Why would I leave such a note for my sweet husband?

Because in the hour Tommy spends preparing for his day — burdened by no responsibilities other than getting himself clean and dressed — this otherwise brilliant man demonstrates the mental capacity of a turnip.

You see, in an effort to help him eat better, and reduce our expenses, I’ve kindly agreed to prepare homemade lunches for Tommy. Mind you, with no children of our own (at least none that I know of) I’m not much of a domestic. So, such a task is challenging for me. And yet, I do it.

These lunches are tasty.  Carefully engineered to meet Tommy’s finicky needs, containing at least one half of one third of one of the six major food groups.  They are prepared with love, despite my own exhaustion from working night and day writing the next Mediocre American Novel.  Through fogged contact lenses and intermittent yawns, I stumble around our kitchen each night like a crystal meth addict who’s used up her last stash, banging into countertops and fumbling over the stove — all so I can make my husband lunch. I even include real silverware with the meals, so Tommy’s tender mouth doesn’t have to chew on plastic, and hand-drawn maps so he can locate the special treats I’ve hidden at the bottom of his favorite R2-D2 lunch box.

How does my husband repay me for my efforts?

By forgetting to take his lunch. Every friggin’ day.

Are you cheating on my lunches with Wok n Roll?” I text him after going into the fridge the next morning only to see R2-D2 staring back at me.

Its not you, its me, Tommy assures me, launching into some concocted defense about how he gets ‘confused’ in the morning, and ‘cant find the kitchen.

But you had no trouble finding the computer to go on e-Bay and purchase a replica of Princess Leia in her slave bikini…” I argue back.

It is usually at this point in the conversation that Tommy claims he’s suddenly caught on fire and has to shut off his phone.

But tonight?  The madness stops.

Dear Husband: I may have sworn, under oath, to love you. But nowhere in my vows did I swear not to eviscerate you.  Read the fine print, pal. It’s “until death do us part.” So, when you head out tomorrow morning, ready to take on the world, do yourself a favor and remember to take the lunch I made for you with such love.

… Or I will gut you like a fish.

— Alison Grambs

Alison Grambs is the author of The Man Translator: Your Essential Guide To ManlandThe Smart Girl’s Guide To Getting Even (Citadel Press) and four children’s joke books (Sterling Publishing). A former staff comedy writer and event producer at the Friars Club in New York, her writing has appeared in MAD Magazine, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, www.OneForTheTable.com, and The Daily News.  Her humor blog is www.NapoleonWasQuiteTall.com. She is presently working on a long novel that uses the word ‘the’ in it frequently, and a short one-woman show that doesn’t use the word ‘the’ once.

OMG — feels like a teen spirit

Alisa SchindlerThe phone rings. I immediately recognized the number of one of Tyler’s friends. Not really wanting to, I pick up.

An extremely bored but familiar voice says, “Hey.”

“Hey,” I respond back and wait, but that was all I was getting.

“Do you want to speak with Tyler?” I prompt.

“Uh, yeah.”

Uh, fabulous.

Rolling my eyes (I am years away from them getting stuck there), I yell, “Phone! Tyler!” but there is no response.

Tyler is a very focused boy, and I happen to know that he is watching an extremely important episode of “Sponge Bob.”  “Tyleeeeer!!! PHONE!”

That did it. Something penetrated. My shaggy-haired boy slides in. “What?” He asks, clueless.

“Here.” I hand him the phone. Instantly, my son becomes animated. I listen in fascination to him planning some complicated play date. Uh, I mean, hang out. At 10, it’s a hang out. My bad.

Tyler finishes his conversation, which consists of a bunch of “yeahs” and “okays,” then reports to me.

“Okay, I’m waiting for Jack and then I’m going to Rick’s. We’re going…” The phone interrupts and Tyler immediately answers.

“Oh hi, Luc.”

He instinctively walks into the other room for privacy, where some heavy negotiations are in play.

After a few minutes, he returns. “Okay, Jack is going to Luc’s, so I’m going…”

The phone rings again. I’m guessing there has been a breakdown in the talks.

“Hold on.” He grabs for it and then runs into the other room.

In one minute, he’s back. “Okay, this is what’s going to happen. Because Jack talked to Luc first, now we’re both going to Luc’s.”

This is what’s going to happen? Who is this kid?

Unbelievably, the phone rings again. I don’t even look at it. “For you?” Tyler smiles sheepishly and disappears.  The negotiations resume.

When he returns, it appears there has been a settlement. “Okay, so Jack is coming here and we’re walking to Luc’s.  Rick’s out of the picture because Jay called him, but didn’t call Luc and they don’t want to hang out with so many people because Brian was already going there. It’s okay, because when Rick and Brian are together sometimes it gets, you know, anyway, so we’re just going to Luc’s.”

I’m speechless and exhausted, but have enough strength to raise a brow.

He gets it immediately. “Is that okay?”

“That’s fine.”

He smiles his goofy, boyish smile. I am wildly in love. He is still so much my baby and so solidly boy, and the next stage stands knocking at the door.

“Mom! Jack’s here! Can we go?”

I follow to where his friend waits. They exchange a very cool and manly, “Hey.”

I stand at the screen, watching them go. They start off walking. By the second house away, they are arm in arm, skipping for the half block to Luc’s. Then, there’s some pushing. Tyler’s friend is on the ground. Wait. He’s up. They’re arm in arm again, a skipping to Luc’s house they go.

My heart skips with them. My first real pre-teen moment. Sigh. I was on the verge of serious sappiness, when the phone interrupts my thoughts. It has begun.

— Alisa Schindler

Alisa Schindler is freelance writer who chronicles the sweet and bittersweet of life in the suburbs on her highly entertaining blog www.icescreammama.com. Her essays have been featured on Mamapedia.com and Bonbonbreak.com as well as in the book, Life Well Blogged. She is a member of “Yeah Write,” an online community for writers, where she has won the Jury Prize multiple times in the group’s weekly essay writing contest.  She has just completed her first novel that she feels comfortable showing to someone other than her mother.

The 7 deadly sins of menopause

Marcia DoyleWe all have them. The secret sins that keep us awake at night and tap us on the shoulder during the day while we try to go about our business. The sins that we would prefer our friends and neighbors never see. For some, this means dancing the salsa naked with a Hoover Upright (Hey! I didn’t say that was me!). For others, it’s sticking their face in a bag of mini, cheese-flavored rice cakes at 2:00a.m. (Okay, maybe that was me).

I’m not Catholic and I’m pretty sure you’re not a priest, but I’m sitting in a confessional booth right now about to spill the goods on Menopausal Mama’s seven deadly sins.

ENVY:  I live near a park and a jogging trail. I see women of all ages out there, rollerblading, jogging and biking. Certain ones catch my eye—the PERFECT ones, who look like they just rolled off the Barbie shelf at Target. Pink sweats with the Juicy label across their firm, little butts, and a matching tank top stretched tight across breasts that aren’t jiggling like jello cups in a truck when they jog. THOSE are the women I envy. Their pre-baby bodies are free of stretch marks resembling the NYC subway system. They are blessed with perky boobs on the high beam setting aimed at the stars instead of their kneecaps. It makes me long for my youth and a certain pink bikini I once owned.

GLUTTONY:  This is the reason I no longer own the aforementioned pink bikini. I am a wine hoarder and a Nutella crack head. I am also selfish when it comes to Chinese take-out. Don’t touch my egg roll or lay a finger on my chicken chow mein. To prevent anyone else from stealing my leftovers from the fridge, I cleverly disguise my food in a covered jar marked “URINE SAMPLE.” It keeps my thieving teenager away from my stash while I’m busy Googling Nutella rehab centers.

PRIDE:  This is something easily lost when you’re driving an old minivan with missing hubcaps and a broken door handle, which is why you’ll NEVER see me behind the wheel of the mommy mobile that seizes up at every stop light in town. My husband has inherited that hemorrhoid on wheels because he happens to know car CPR. My own pride is seriously challenged every day at the gym when I look in the mirror and see body parts wiggling and waving back at me in an unnatural way. But if you ask me about my kids or my granddaughter, I’ll whip out my cell phone faster than you can say moo shu pork and force you to watch a terminally long slide show of every phase in their lives, starting with their ultrasound images all the way to their college graduation ceremonies.

LUST:  When you’re menopausal, the mind says, “Yes” but the body says, “Oh, hell no!” So you learn to lust after other things, like a beef burrito the size of a Chihuahua. Or Ben and Jerry’s Triple Caramel Chunk ice cream and a good bottle of Dom Perignon. A trip to Tahiti would be nice too, but at this rate I’ll never be able to fit back into that pink bikini again.

ANGER:  Think Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Anthony Hopkins in Silence Of The Lambs. This is what I become when my son misses the school bus at 6:30 a.m. My head has also been known to spin like I’m in the throes of an exorcism when I send The Hubs to the hardware store for a socket set and he returns with a water-spraying fan or a singing can opener. What’s next, a toilet plunger that chants, “I think I can, I think I can”?

SLOTH:  When I think sloth, the first image that comes to mind is Jabba the Hutt. No, I do not resemble a bloated, slug-like alien, nor do I eat fleshy, aquatic creatures with slimy legs. But I do like having minions (a.k.a. children) around to take out the trash, wash the dinner dishes and fold the laundry before all the socks play hide-and-seek or join Match.com to find their missing partners.

GREED:  While most people associate greed with money and power, neither of those things appeals to me. I’m greedy when it comes to sleep. Those evil, menopausal twins Hot Flash and Fatigue have joined forces with their mischievous cousin Insomnia to deprive me of a solid, seven hours of slumber. My bladder is never one to miss a party either, so she’s right up there playing checkers with her cohorts at all hours of the night. If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a bear so I can hibernate for a few months in a cave and bite the head off the first person who wakes me.

There should be an 8th deadly sin as well, called INSANITY. When my body thermostat mimics the mercury levels of an Arizona desert during the month of July, or I suddenly find myself trolling the girdle aisle at Wal-Mart, I’m bound to feel a little crazy. To combat the bipolar symptoms of my fluctuating hormones, I’ve discovered that the road to happiness is paved with Prozac, chocolate and maybe a side trip to Tahiti with a pink bikini in my suitcase.

— Marcia Kester Doyle

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humorous blog “Menopausal Mother,” where she muses on the good, the bad and the ugly side of menopausal mayhem. She is a staff writer for In The Powder Room and HumorOutcasts.com and a contributing writer for What the Flicka. Her work recently captured first place in VoiceBoks Top Hilarious Parent Bloggers 2014, and her first book will be released in the spring through Blue Lobster Publishing. Marcia’s work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, Bloggy Moms, Messy Mom’s Radio, The Woven Press, the Life Well Blogged series and was voted Top 25 in the Circle Of Mom’s Contest 2013.

Stars! They’re just like us!

Abby HeugelAnyone who has “accidentally” flipped through an US Weekly magazine (as I did while waiting to get my hair did the other day) knows there is more important information on the back of a shampoo bottle than there is in that publication.

One of the most ridiculous things is the “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” segment. For the uninitiated, this is where they feature photos of celebrities doing things like breathing, eating, drinking out of straws and carrying adopted children named after obscure fruits found in Ethiopian villages.

The captions of these paparazzi photos verify/explain the celebrity is breathing, eating, etc., since it would otherwise be unclear that this person is, in fact, a human doing shockingly mundane human things — just like us!

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, these are a few of the captions from that issue:

• They Indulge in Fast Food!

• They Strap on Shoes!

• They Eat Off Others’ Plates!

• They Use the ATM!

• They Write Names in the Sand!

• They Balance Cans!

I don’t know about you, but I would never have guessed that Jennifer Lawrence uses the ATM — just like me! Of course her balance is astronomically higher than mine, but still! She’s so normal!

To be fair, a lot of magazines make the assumption that we all live a charmed life. Food Network Magazine had a spotlight feature on a new cast member and her kitchen in the Hamptons.

She said, “People hear ‘the Hamptons’ and they think glitz and glamour, but it is really just farmland.” The article then goes on to suggest we pick up some of Katie’s finds for our own kitchen. Those include:

• French Bistro stools $674

• Rivera strop shade for a window $209

• Natural-edged bowl hand-carved from a single log $564

I would, but I just won $2 on a scratch-off lottery ticket and am busy trying to decide if I want to take it in one lump sum or a dime for the next 20 years.

Anyway, I might actually take interest in these features if they included things I could relate to a little bit more.

Stars! They’re Just Like Us! They:

Light incense, forget they lit incense and then freak out when they smell smoke five minutes later!

Say, “There’s fungus among us!” while picking out mushrooms at the store!

Excel in “Procrastibaking” — baking instead of doing a bunch of more important things instead!

Get up 10 minutes early in the morning so they have that extra time to stare mindlessly at the wall as they shower!

Can go from “nothing sounds good” to “why isn’t there more of this to shove in my face?” in mere seconds!

Get terrified when putting back a shirt without folding it and then making eye contact with the store worker!

Beat the crap out of a black bean with their spatula when they thought it was a spider!

Spend more time picking out broccoli at the store than picking out the clothes that they wear!

Will practically break their arms before making two trips into the house with the groceries!

True, it might not be as glamorous as sharing that they “Pull Their Hair Back On the Go!” but you can’t tell me they’ve never stood up and had a chickpea fall out of their bra.

Now that’s a headline that I’d like to see.

— 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. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.

How to buy a bathing suit without crying

Linda WolffBathing suit shopping isn’t for the faint of heart. It involves nudity, bad lighting and the awareness of your every flaw. But I’ve found a few tricks to making bathing suit shopping less painful.

Go to your nearest department store, I usually prefer Bloomingdale’s, a day (or two, at most) before you need the bathing suit. It is imperative that you’re slightly desperate and short on time. This helps with decision making.

Head straight to the restroom. You must pee. Any bloat can and will work against you. Then make your way to the cute dress and T-shirt section of the store. Choose a few T-shirts and some pretty flowy dresses that you know will fit. Maybe even a beaded number. Anything sparkly. The key is to divert attention to the task at hand.

Then, and only then, approach the bathing suit section. Pick out a few cover-ups or caftans. They’re a safe bet. As you head towards the bathing suits, move quickly and grab larger sizes than you think you’ll need. Asking the sales lady for a smaller size later will only boost your confidence. The reverse will bring nothing but tears.

Go to the dressing room and try everything on, except the bathing suits. Leave them for last. You will need some successes before you strip down to your skivvies in front of a three-way mirror under fluorescent lighting.

Once in the suit, give yourself a 15-second look-over (no more!) and decide. If at first glance it’s not that bad, buy it and never look back.

And that’s what I did today.  I opted for the sassy sailor one-piece.

— Linda Wolff

Linda Wolff writes the blog Carpool Goddess where she shares her adventures from carpool to empty nest. She no longer drives carpool, but that’s our little secret. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Yahoo! Shine, Scary Mommy, Better After 50, Generation Fabulous and others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Honoring Erma winners,
Talking books with Lisa Scottoline

Mary McCartyDayton Daily News columnist Mary McCarty will emcee the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition ceremony, which will be held at 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 9, at the Centerville Public Library, 111 W. Spring Valley Rd., in Centerville, Ohio.

This free event celebrates the winners of the biennial Erma Bombeck Writing Competition sponsored by the Washington-Centerville Public Library and the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

In 2014, 853 writers from 48 states and 13 countries entered previously unpublished essays in humor and human interest categories — roughly 382,500 words.

Nancy Cartwright — the voice of Bart Simpson — and a slate of accomplished writers from around the country and Canada are judging the entries, with winners to be named in mid-March. The four winners receive $500 and a free registration to the sold-out workshop.

In another event that’s free and open to the public, New York Times’ bestselling author Lisa Scottoline will introduce her latest novel, Keep Quiet, at Books & Co. at The Greene, 4453 Walnut St., in Dayton, Ohio, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 10.scottoline_Lisa_300x400_11262013

A prolific writer, Scottoline has written 22 novels and pens a weekly Philadelphia Inquirer column with her writer-daughter Francesca Serritella. Called “Chick Wit,” the column is a witty and fun take on life from a woman’s perspective.

Scottoline and Serritella will offer one of the keynote addresses at the April 10-12 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Calling all writers

Greyden Press logoThe Greyden Press 2014 Book Competition is now open.

The deadline for manuscripts is midnight, June 2. Children’s works will be accepted until July 1, and all winners will be announced Oct. 1. Greyden Press will publish the books of the grand prize winners for free. For details, follow this link.

David Braughler, publishing adviser with Greyden Press, and author Robin O’Bryant will give an overview of the self-publishing process at the April 10-12 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in their session, “Self Publishing is the New Black.”

This is not an April Fool’s joke. The National Society of Newspaper Columnists has extended its contest deadline to April 1.

“The extension is a direct result of so many of you emailing me with messages that essentially said, “Please, sire, I beseech you — give me more time to peruse my 2013 columns so that I may guarantee that only my very best work is submitted for thine most glorious contest,” NSNC President Eric Heyl wrote in a tongue-in-cheek note in the organization’s March newsletter.

The annual column competition by our EBWW partner welcomes bloggers, new writers and established columnists. For details, click here.

The early-bird deadline for the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition is May 5. Entries are being accepted in a variety of categories — from memoir and magazine feature article to short story and poetry. For more information, click here.

Reflections of Erma