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Never pay full price for half a shoe

Tricia JelonekAnyone who has raised teenage girls can tell you that we end up “sharing” (even if unwillingly at times) our shoes, clothes, make-up, money, cars etc…

So I thought, why stop there?  I am a middle-aged “mom.” Well, slightly middle aged. I prefer to think of myself as a fine chardonnay, complex and beautifully crafted to perfection. Why not enlighten my daughters with my knowledge before they evaporate what’s left of my sanity? After weeding through life’s ups and downs, I have managed to come up with a few pointers.

If it looks like a zebra and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Don’t ignore the signs. Or even worse, don’t try to reshape the signs into what suits you. Like if you’re having a gut feeling to, let’s randomly say, call off your wedding, run…don’t walk to the nearest exit. Certainly don’t listen to those voices in your head when they are telling you such things as “He’s just having cold feet” or “I know things will be different once we are married.” The voices fib… a lot. Maybe they just like to throw us off our game, not sure which one, but either way my point is to always listen to your instinct, or your mother’s reassuring voice in your head (had to sneak that one in there).

This brings me to my next words of wisdom.

When life gives you lemons, add vodka. Life is hard. In fact, anything worth doing is hard. If I had quit every time something in my life turned out to be challenging, like motherhood for example, I would have stopped when my labor got to be, oh let’s say 100 on the Richter scale for pain. But I pushed through, no pun intended, and was deeply rewarded with all the joys of motherhood. Not to mention all the benefits of raising girls by a kick-a** mother such as myself.  (Don’t say anything; just let me have my moment).

Now, let’s move on to my most important piece of advice.

Money can’t buy happiness; it can, however, pay the rent. I know buying those Jimmy Choo shoes would look absolutely amazing on you. But if you suddenly end up walking the last 10 blocks to work in them because your car died, every heel click that hits the sidewalk will be a painful “I told you so.” Prioritize your budget. Always live within your means and pay the necessities first. After all, I have no doubt you’d be just as happy when you score last year’s shoe collection (but still fabulous) on super duper sale. Let’s face it, they are Jimmy Choos, do we really care what year they graced the store shelves? I think not.

Always keep these three things in mind, and you will find yourself enjoying more of life’s ups than downs. Just be sure to keep your hands and feet inside the “Adventure Express” at all times.

— Tricia Jelonek

Tricia Jelonek is a single, progressive mom of three (!) girls. Born and raised in the North and moved down South in her mid 20s, she’s what the locals here refer to as your “d**n Yankee.” And to make matters worse, she’s Catholic (insert gasp here!). She does three kinds of cooking — frozen, takeout and microwave. Her post-divorcing dating life has been less than desirable. Her father is always saying that she flies by the seat of her pants, so she figures, why change now? She writes a blog about her life’s misadventures. Strap in and enjoy the ride!

Gone fishing (I wish)

Maggie MillusThe wind is blowing today. That means no fishing. We’re not going to take the Whaler out. We’re going to stay home and go nuts.

We stay in when the wind is blowing 15 miles an hour or more. Fewer black and blue marks that way. Getting knocked against the gunnels is rough on thighs. And then there’s always the chance you’ll get impaled on something.

I don’t mind staying home on a day of very bad weather, but there’s a “Him” factor here.  The “Him” factor? That’s when a certain somebody in my household loses his mind because he can’t fish. Fishing is the antidepressant to his forlorn misery of boredom. There is no other cure. Only calmer seas, lost bait and big bucks poured into that infinite hole in the ocean called a boat.

Terminal boredom, that’s what I call it. Why terminal? Because boredom can kill you. And I know. There’s a great big chasm of boredom that runs right through my living room when we’re not fishing. Fall down in it, and there’s no way out. You just drown in the repercussions of not fishing.

The day usually begins like this: “What are you looking for?”

“Nothing,” he replies.

“You must be looking for something.”

“Okay, something.” And he digs around some more.

“Well, why are you going from closet to closet, room to room, and drawer to drawer? And who’s going to clean up that mess you left on the counter and on the floor?”



“Well, what?”

“What exactly are you trying to find?” (I don’t know why I ask.)

“I’m looking for my Magic Tuna Killer.”

“It’s on the boat.”

“Well, what’s it doing there?”

“You left it there.”

There are other things he could do in the meanwhile. He has the time, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to do them. He could repair the leaking bathroom faucet. But then he’d have to replace the plumbing, and worse yet, the moldy, squishy wallboard underneath. And he’ll insist, “I don’t do plumbing.”

The silence continues.

I really hate it when a man is silent. When this one won’t answer a question or when he answers a question with a question, it’s like it’s a purposeful evasion based on a lack of commitment.

Two hours later and he’s finally busy. But busy at what? I see he’s in the dining room. He’s stuffing Ballyhoo or “rigging bait” as he calls it. No matter. At least it’s something.

He does this on our dining room table when he’s in the mood and after we’ve lost all the bait on the last fishing trip.

Dead ballyhoo bodies float in a big, briny bowl of water. Their silver scaliness reflects the dining room light. I have to feel sorry for this little baitfish with its humongous underbite. An underbite because its mouth has a congenital exaggeration — a short upper beak and an extremely long lower beak. If a fish could wear braces…

I’m distracted by the slosh of the smelly, saline water onto the embroidered tablecloth. I wonder, does Martha Stewart stuff ballyhoo on her dining room table? Does she have ballyhoo stuffing get-togethers?  And how does she remove the smell?

“Boy that’s a lot of Ballyhoo,” I tell him. Wires and hooks are everywhere. Big blind fish eyes gawk and goggle post mortem. No help here for you little fish. No help from any one. No fish deserves an undignified end like this. Oh well, it could be worse. We could drag it through the water live. Nothing like watching some voracious carnivore bite off your behind.

Ballyhoo fins and shiny bellies float, and wait… I watch him run the wires and hooks through their guts and heads. Deliberate, calculated surgery being done here. But no survivors. Not that they were alive when he started.

I ask, “Why do you rig it that way?”

“Because bait rigging is an art.”

Pretentious smart ass. All he had to say was it prevents another fish from coming up and biting off his catch.

“Hand me…”

“Nope,” I say.

I don’t know what he wants. And I’m not even going to ask.  If I don’t help him rig ballyhoo, then maybe he’ll stay busy a little longer. Busy at something. Preoccupied.

I’ll drive the boat, I’ll fish, and I may even clean fish. But…I don’t do bait.

— Maggie Millus

A published writer of several science textbooks, Maggie Millus writes humor, cartoons, and blogs at her website, Barmy Bottom Hollow  ( . She likes to write about relationships and issue, issues she insists are caused by others. When Maggie isn’t working on her collection of humorous pieces and vignettes about coping, she can be found,  on hot summer days, fishing far offshore surrounded by miles and miles of South Florida waters. Find her on Twitter @MaggieMillus.

Clutter village

Jan MarshallWhat do ribbons yo yo’s and dental floss have in common?  They are all knotted together in the same drawer in a dwelling known as the Marshall’s Fibber and McGee house .

While I have a place for everything, I do not really know where that place is. Whenever I need to find a household item, I do a Google search but never get an answer. Even Siri, my iPhone assistant, refuses to find my stuff though I graciously loaned her my magic moisterzer SPF 80.

I long for a day when every item in the universe has its own beeper that I can click on to appear in the room that I am in.

When I do find something that looks familiar, I am clueless what it is for. On the coldest day of winter, when the heater key was missing, I could remember that item but not where I put it. So I’d sing the words to Frozen as I searched.

I truly love order. I crave it. But while everyone talks about organizing for spring, nobody mentions the alien Martian devils that come through my doors in the dark of night, sneak in and throw assorted documents around my place.

A magazine survey asked women how they felt about housework. The majority said “Bleckkk!” The others were too weak from laughter to respond. Straightening up is like putting beads on a string without a knot at the end. It is an endless job. So in order to get through maintaining my mansion, I developed a timeless stress-relieving, reframing technique. I hypnotize myself to believe that my home is a museum. Therefore, I need to leave everything out for display for the paying public.

To those perfectionists who continue to judge, what about this kindhearted excuse, I mean explanation? Papers piled high, documents hither and yon, scattered clothing and topless jars are being sorted to send to the poor people who have lost everything playing Bridge and Angry Bird. What can I do? My legal name is Joan of Arc.

Please address your thank you notes to Saint Jan.

Oh, may I suggest the next time you visit me, forgot the hostess gift. Instead, please bring me a pair of thigh-high boots. It’s a just a silly health department thing. But really, bring it!

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall has devoted her life’s work to humor and healing through books, columns and motivational speaking. As founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute, she worked with board members Norman Cousins, Steve Allen and other physicians and entertainers, including John Cleese. Her newest satirical survival book, Dancin’ Schmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! is dedicated to Wounded Warriors, Gabrielle Giffords and Grieving Parents. She donates a percentage of the profits to these organizations as well as to the American Cancer Society and the American Brain Tumor Association.

The day my leg almost ‘sploded

Lee GaitanI’ve had several dogs in my life, each with its own idiosyncrasies.

There was the one who collected used Q-tips, the one who was afraid of wallpaper and the one who snatched a wedge of cheese right off the serving tray in the middle of a dinner party, generously leaving his half-chewed bone in its place. But until now I’ve never had a dog who tried to detonate one of my limbs. Enter Harper, our recently adopted Labrador mix. Mixed with what is anyone’s guess, but my money is on unbridled lunacy.

The first time we took Harper to the park, he jerked the leash out of my husband’s hand, leapt into the lake and attempted to navigate its full length and breadth for 45 minutes, oblivious to our frantic commands — accompanied by wild arm-flapping — to return to shore.

That’s when I got the bright idea to attach a long rope to his harness, allowing him to swim while enabling us to reel in his defiant little behind if necessary. My husband fastened the other end of the rope around his waist and we were in business.

The plan was working well until Harper spotted another dog back on the shore. Faster than you can say “Marley and Me,” Harper launched himself out of the water and lunged in the direction of the other dog, pulling the rope tight and lashing it like a high tension wire against the back of my leg. I collapsed, yelping in pain, as my husband, propelled forward by the semi-airborne Harper, stumbled past me.

My leg instantly began swelling like a water balloon and turning a deep shade of purple. It looked as if my calf were giving birth to an overweight eggplant. I watched in horror as an engorged, steel-blue vein violently pulsated while my skin strained to contain it. I swore I could hear my skin stretching.

My formerly well-spoken Colombian husband took one look at my leg and suddenly began channeling Ricky Ricardo. “Oh my God, baby, I ‘theenk’ is going to ‘splode!’” he exclaimed.

“Oh dear God, can that actually happen?” I cried.

Off we sped to the E.R. where the doctor, barely suppressing his amusement at the circumstances of my injury, had some “splainin’” to do to allay our fears. Despite the rope rupturing approximately 1.7 billion capillaries, he determined no real damage had been done. My leg would not, he assured us, “splode.” It would, however, resemble an overstuffed sausage for quite some time.

Since the rope incident, I’ve caught Harper gazing longingly at my leg on more than one occasion. Surely, he wouldn’t confuse my leg with a real sausage, would he? Ay, ay, ay, I can just imagine myself “splainin’” that one at the E.R.

— 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 After 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard, Fab Over Fifty 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.

Confessions of a bathroom predator

Dear Politicians Drafting Bathroom Bills,

Claudia Gryvatz CopquinLook, I can’t speak for all women but I am. We thank you for your concern. Frankly, in all my years using public restrooms, it never crossed my feeble female mind that a predator could be lurking by the hand dryer, ready to strike as I obsessive compulsively check and recheck my fly (if not for that one time in fifth grade…).

But I confess: I was a bathroom predator once. We were dining at Nobu in Manhattan, my husband and I. Word on the street had it that notorious BFF Gayle King was holding court in a back room of that very establishment that very night. Gayle King — just one degree of separation from the Big O, only steps away from me and my volcano roll! I get star struck; I had to have a looksee.

I sauntered over to the rear of the restaurant ever – so — slowly, disheartened at seeing nothing as I made my way to the ladies’ room, which unlike my Lilliputian bladder, was empty. Moments later, just as I was heading to the sink, the door opened and in walked a coughing, statuesque goddess, who zeroed in on a stall. It was all I could do to contain myself.

“IT’S HER!!!” I hollered internally. Then, “No, it can’t be!” Then, “IS IT??”

“I can’t get this faucet turned on,” I said out loud to no one in particular except Gayle King, who was peeing and sneezing just inches away, behind the door.

That was true, not just a clever stalling device. A lifelong feeble bladder has turned me into an emergency restroom connoisseur:  Short of squatting between parked cars, I say with confidence I can pindrop a “secret” New York City toilet like nobody’s business (number one AND number two).  The cans, I’ve got covered. But figuring out faucet mechanics and their myriad, newfangled variations is a legit stressor. (Does the handle work up or down? Where is the handle? Oh, this one has motion sensory? Then why isn’t the water flowing — are my hands too high, too low?)

“Yeah, this one’s tricky,” said the phlegmy voice within the stall.

“I know, right?” I countered smartly, as she blew her nose.

Fumbling nervously, I finally located the switch and deliberated by repeatedly lathering and scrubbing my hands with the vigor of a surgeon heading into the OR. Meanwhile, I could tell the woman in the stall was, well — stalling as long as was humanly possible for a person of her frame and stature in 2 x 2 square feet of space.

“She thinks I’m a crazed fan,” I thought, as I briskly scoured my fingers one by one until all 10 were sparkling, and then launched into the process all over again. I had to know if it was Gayle King, and I was going to win this pissing contest if I had to scour my hands raw!

Sure enough, with nothing further to occupy herself with, she finally flushed, exited the stall and swiftly washed her hands. I was still going at it, too — as evidenced by the small pool of blood now floating down the drain. And just when she was ready to make her escape —

“ARE YOU GAYLE KING??” I shouted, as she was sliding out the door.

“I am,” she said, and like the crazed fan she had taken me for, I fumbled for her hand, accidently grabbing her pinky instead, shaking it up and down manically. Gayle King wrenched it free, running off in a tizzy.

You’ll be glad to know I was punished for my behavior, Politicians Drafting Bathroom Bills. Days later I caught Gayle King’s wretched cold — no small irony, given my excruciating hand washing.

So you’re right. Lavatory predators must be stopped in our tracks! Because I just can’t promise to hold back on a future victim. By the way, I hear Caitlyn Jenner’s in town. God help her if I run into her in the john — I’ll pounce on her faster than you can spell LGBT.

— Claudia Gryvatz Copquin

Claudia Gryvatz Copquin is a seasoned journalist, author and essayist, and the founder of Long Island’s first literary festival, Word Up: Long Island LitFest, now in its third year.

Should I forgive him?

Molly StevensAfter 24 years of marriage, my husband Patrick did something I’m not sure I can forgive. This will surprise anyone who knows him, since he is almost a saint. He is kind, patient and always willing to sprint the extra marital mile to make me happy.

What could he possibly have done that is unforgivable? Here’s what happened.

I was going through the credit card statement and saw a charge for oil-bronzed shower rings. I asked, “Did you order these?” and immediately panicked, thinking we were victims of identity theft. He replied (and I quote), “I made a unilateral decision to buy new rings.”

Let me give you some background. Several years ago when we I redecorated the bathroom, I chose a pine theme since we live in a pine forest in the Pine Tree State. I even clean the bathroom with Pine-sol. You can imagine my delight when I found adorable pine cone shower hooks (not rings) to unify the look.

It seems Patrick became exasperated about the way they detach from the rod with everyday use. Unbeknownst to me, he started cruising online bathroom accessory stores to find alternatives.

Since I am shallow, I have tolerated the inconvenience of reinstalling the shower curtain daily. My priority was maintaining a matching motif worthy of the cover of an L.L. Bean home catalog.

You might think I’d applaud Patrick’s courage and initiative. But if a butterfly flaps its wings in China and can cause a hurricane in Florida, what tempest could result when a husband starts making unilateral decisions? Decisions that his wife used to make, unilaterally?

If I let him off the hook, will this drop the curtain on our perfectly balanced power distribution? And what other unilateral decisions will he start making?

•Will I find mysterious Victoria’s Secret bags in my underwear drawer?
•Will he order MY meal in a restaurant of HIS choice?
• Will he book a vacation?
• Will he dictate our next Netflix series?
• Will he sneak out and buy generic shampoo?
• Will he insist I learn how to barbecue?

I broke into a sweat projecting a future where shared decision-making was the norm and decided to take a shower. I couldn’t help but notice that the new shower rings floated effortlessly across the rod. No snags. No hassle.

*sigh* St. Patrick strikes again.

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.

Doggone it.

Natalie CinelliA dog? Why would I get a dog at this stage of my life?

“But, you’ve got to see this dog. He is so cute and cuddly.” So said my son’s girlfriend, Roz. She owns a veterinary clinic and this little guy was brought in as a stray — no collar, no vaccines, no micro chips, nothing. A messy, matted hairball. “He’ll be adopted in no time,” she warned. Her staff named him “Bobby.”

Okay, so I drove to the clinic to check “Bobby” out. What can I say? He was adorable and he snuggled into my arms when I picked him up. He slid into my heart just the way Cosmo Kramer would always slide into Seinfeld’s apartment on the TV sitcom. And because “Bobby’s” hair was just as wild as Kramer’s, I renamed him Cosmo and brought him home.

We haven’t had a dog in our house in 20 years. Not since our sweet female yellow Labrador retriever died. How could we ever replace her? I used to call her my best baby. Why? “She licks my feet,” I explained to my daughter. “You and your brother don’t.”

My husband was not on board. “Don’t bring a dog home,” he said. But I couldn’t resist Cosmo’s charms. He was just so doggone cute.

He was also not house trained. “It’s only going to get worse,” my husband declared. He said this every time Cosmo peed in the house.

“No,” I told him. “It will get better. He’ll be trained.” I repeated this phrase to myself every time I cleaned up after one of Cosmo’s accidents. But then even I considered giving him up for adoption after wiping up one too many puddles.

My 7-year-old grandson’s Little League teammate fell in love with Cosmo when we brought him to a game. “Please can we take him home?” he pleaded with his mom.

“Maybe we should let your friend take Cosmo,” I said to my grandson. “He’s sad because his dog just died.”

“He’ll get over it,” he replied. “Cosmo stays with us.” And then, as if to prove his point, he took hold of Cosmo’s leash and ran with him toward the dugout.

How could I disappoint my grandson? How could I resist Cosmo’s adorable face?

“It’s only because you’re so cute that you’re still here,” I tell him as he snuggles with me on the couch.

My husband has grown to love him, too. Whenever he takes a nap, Cosmo is right there with him lying on top of his chest. The two of them snoring contentedly.

As for me, I knew for sure that Cosmo was a keeper the night he got up and was twirling on his hind legs while I was watching “Dancing With the Stars.” I had gotten up to dance along to a Kenny Loggins’ song. And Cosmo was dancing right along with me. My new dancing partner.

Both of us “footloose” and fancy free.

— Natalie Cinelli

Natalie Cinelli is a freelance writer who has had articles published in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and American Baby magazine. She wrote a humor column, “In a Nutshell,” for the Suburban News in Reading, Massachusetts. She also worked as a lifestyle editor and columnist for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Sharing the laughter

rajeanWant to experience (or relive) some of the high points of the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop?

Check out the workshop’s YouTube channel. We’ve posted seven new videos, including excerpts from keynote talks by Roy Blount Jr., Amy Ephron, Leighann Lord, and Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff. You can also enjoy Wendy Liebman’s stand-up opening at Attendee Comedy Night, excerpts from Gina Barreca’s Erma 101 session and a conversation with the Bombeck family, playwrights Allison and Margaret Engel and actress Barbara Chisholm following the one-woman play, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End. These segments on our YouTube channel join 14 stand-ups by brave, funny attendees who closed the workshop with humor and panache.

You can also peruse the joyful photos of attendees and images from the classroom, podium and dinner table of the talented writers who taught and inspired us.

Who needs Netflix? You can binge right here.

Reflections of Erma