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Three March Madness tips

Charles HartleyThe March Madness college basketball tournament is on the brink of exploding on Americans. Strap yourselves up. Zero in. And take to heart these three tips:

Tip One: For those of you who are employed, figure out a way to watch all the games while at work and not get caught by your boss. This will be especially important for the 12 first Round games that start on a Thursday at noon EST.

You must — this is a command not a request — pipe the games into your office computer and watch them including the thousands of commercials. If you have any work to do that day, get it done in the morning. If you don’t have any work to do that day, that’s even better. Stay out of the office fray. Lay low. Don’t ask any questions. Don’t offer any suggestions. Don’t respond to emails even those marked “urgent.” Don’t add value. Don’t help the business.

Focus on your main objective: watching the games on your computer the entire afternoon. This won’t boost America’s gross domestic product, which is the total output of goods and services. But nothing else can or will. You are not to blame for America’s economic malaise. That’s on them.

Tip Two: For those of you who don’t work, you’re golden. Absorb all 12 games without fear of losing your job because you don’t have one. This is the biggest upside to being unemployed. On the first day of March Madness, you get to hang out and watch all the games in peace. No need to be coy and dishonest. As you watch, don’t search job boards. Take the day off. Kick your feet up. Munch Funyons. Drink Cream Soda. Think about your basketball career if you had one. Imagine one if you if you didn’t. Ask yourself why you never got to play in the March Madness tournament. It probably was because you didn’t want it bad enough. This is always the reason people don’t succeed. They are not willing to pay the price. They reveal their weakness. In your case, you were not willing to go outside in the cold and practice one thousand foul shots every day 365 days a year from the ages of 12 through 17. That’s on you. Girls distracted you. They ate away at too much of your basketball practice time. You let it happen. You were weak. Meek people deserve what they get.

Tip Three: To bone up on the March Madness teams, read essays from me here until the title game on Monday night in April. I pledge to deliver to you a bastion of sports paraphernalia that will give you all the March Madness you need, don’t need and don’t care to know, such as player profiles, psychological dilemmas, historical context, links to academic concepts, interpersonal conflicts between players and coaches, weather reports, and inappropriate personal asides.

I will distill all you need to know about the tournament into chicken nuggets of content that is as digestible as butterscotch pudding and/or chicken nuggets. Ignore the millions of other writers covering the tournament. They will give you what you already know and expect and are comfortable with: who won, who lost, a prediction that Kansas will go to the Sweet 16. Those people will be sensible, insightful, logical and good at what they do.

You don’t need that. Break from your comfort zone. Live a little. Marinate with me in some real March Madness.

— 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.


Rachel BarlowThe sweat from a few hours of cleaning was beginning to cool as they collapsed on the green recliner sofa.

“All I want to do,” said Dad, “is keep my feet up for the rest of the night. What’s on?” Mom handed him the remote and put her own foot rest up.

“Nothing sounds good. How about a few episode of ‘That Trite Sitcom’ for background noise, ” she suggested.

Dad reclined all the way back, grunting his approval. Mom clicked to the play-it-now channel and closed her eye as the opening credits played. She pulled a nearby superhero-themed fleece blanket over her legs, vaguely registering that a heavier, living blanket was wrapping around her remote-control arm.

“Oh, I love this show,” chirped 8-year-old  Thing-Two. He adjusted his red satin cape so that it covered Mom and himself. He then spent most of the progrm squirming as he tried to find the ultimate snuggle position. Mom decided it was nice that her youngest child was still young enough to have not put away childish things like cuddling. Thing-Two was still trying every hug technique known to science as Mom began to drift off.

“Awe,” Thing-Two sighed. “Mom, mom! Look at that baby.” He patted Mom’s arm gently and then firmly until she  opened her eyes. “Isn’t he cute?” Thing-Two gestured at the TV.

“Very cute,” Mom mumbled and closed her eyes again.

“I want to be a dad someday,” Thing-Two said, wrapping Mom’s arm around himself.

“Someday,” said Mom, “you’ll be a great dad, Buddy.”

illustration“Yeah, I can’t wait,” said Thing-Two. “It’s number 4 on my bucket list.” Mom’s eyes opened wide. She twisted her head to look at Thing-Two’s face and saw Dad had focused his attention on their son.

“You have a bucket list?” Mom asked.

“Of course,” answered Thing-Two.  “I’ve been working on it for years.  I want to grow up and marry a sweet girl and be a dad and dance and have a…”

“How do you now what a bucket list is?” Mom interrupted.

“I’ve always known about them,” he answered. “Don’t you have a bucket list, Mom?”

Dad was listening quietly and smiled at Mom.

“Well, I’ve heard of them, and I could start one,” she stammered. “But we’ve done a lot of bucket stuff.” She looked at Dad and shrugged, hoping he would have something to add.

Thing-Two looked into Mom’s eyes. He was silent for a few minutes, inspecting her  face.

“Mommy, you really ought to have a bucket list,” he said. He squirmed to face the TV and see the baby again.

“Otherwise you might spend the rest of your life doing nothing but cleaning and siting on the couch.”

— Rachel Barlow

Blogger Rachel Barlow describes herself as “a midlife crisis waiting to happen, closet nomad and middle-aged work-at-home-mother of two.” Her life is “wrapped up in peanut butter sandwiches, fat (sometimes losing it), bills and blogging (her way) to sanity.”

Food for thought

Jerry-Zezima1-219x300According to an old saying, you are what you eat. Since I am full of baloney, I eat what I am.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what to eat these days — especially bologna, which means I am out to lunch — because I am on three different diets.

This has nothing to do with fat, which is all in my head. It stems from the fact that: (a) I have a history of kidney stones, (b) I have a history of high cholesterol and (c) I aced history in high school.

Naturally, all three diets contradict each other.

The first one, which was given to me by my urologist, is called the Low Oxalate Meal Plan. I had never heard of oxalates, but they sound like a species of cattle (“the male oxalate, which can weigh 1,500 pounds, is one of the dumbest animals on earth”) whose meat makes an excellent steak that I could wash down with beer.

Imagine my horror when I, a guy who loves beer so much that my blood would probably come out with a head on it, saw that I’m not supposed to drink it (beer, not blood, in which case I would be a vampire whose only meals are midnight snacks).

The first item in the “beverages and juices” part of the Low Oxalate Meal Plan, under the heading “avoid completely,” is: “Beer: draft, stout (Guinness), lager, pilsner.”

But when I looked over at the list of good beverages, I saw: “Beer, bottled.”

At that point I needed a beer, bottled, because I was on a diet that contradicted even itself. At least I could use it to wash down an oxalate steak because beef is among the meats that are OK to eat.

I could also have beef with red wine, which I am not surprised is on the good beverage list because I have long considered it over-the-counter heart medicine.

Speaking of which, my second diet is called the Heart Healthy Meal Plan and is designed to lower my cholesterol.

I got the diet from a nurse who took my blood pressure (she kindly gave it back) and measured my cholesterol during a wellness fair at work.

Before I was put on medication, my cholesterol levels rivaled the gross national product of Finland. Now, the nurse said, my good cholesterol is good (and very polite, I might add), and my bad cholesterol isn’t good but isn’t as bad as it used to be.

To make it better, I am supposed to follow the Heart Healthy Meal Plan, which contracts the Low Oxalate Meal Plan because on the former I can eat peanut butter but not beef and on the latter I can eat beef but not peanut butter.

On my third meal plan, the High Fiber Diet, which I got from a nurse in a hospital where I recently had an endoscopy and a colonoscopy at the same time, I can have beans, which I am not supposed to have on the Low Oxalate Meal Plan, and I can have beef, which I can’t have on the Heart Healthy Meal Plan.

I must admit that I am not a fan of vegetables, even though I am one, which makes it easy to ignore all three diets because I can have certain vegetables on one or more of them but not other veggies on one or more of either the same or opposing diets. So, to avoid confusion, as well as kidney stones, high cholesterol and a heart attack, I won’t eat them at all.

My favorite meal plan is the High Fiber Diet because it allows me to have any beverage I want. That goes for beer. Whether bottled or draft, stout (Guinness), lager and pilsner, I don’t know, but I am going to drink it anyway.

If you’re on a diet these days, it’s the only thing that makes any sense.

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won five humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.


Michelle Davis BakerHave you ever thought about all the friends who have come and gone throughout your life?

If you are anywhere close to 50 in age, you should be able to relate to this post.

If you are in the 20-something to 30-something range, you might get some of it, but you’ll also find yourself saying, “what?!?!”

If you are in the 70+ range, well, sorry you’re pretty much on your own. I wasn’t around back then in the “olden days,” the time of my parents. You know, back when there were one or two televisions on a block, you turned a knob and got maybe three channels (if you were lucky), and the picture only came in black and white.

(For the 20-30 crowd, the definition of a “knob:” a rounded button for adjusting or controlling a machine. Synonyms: dial, button, “the knobs on the television.”)

Back to friends. They come into and out of our lives, from preschool to death. Sometimes, when we’re very lucky, the very special ones come into our life and NEVER leave. Have you ever thought of the categories of friendship?

• First Friends — These were the little kids you hung out with who lived on your block. They didn’t necessarily fit the other categories, i.e., church or school. These were the kids who walked in and out your back door without ever knocking. They opened the fridge for a glass of milk or opened the cookie cupboard when they were hungry. When it was time to go home, they were called. Not on the phone — but the old-fashioned way with their mom standing in the doorway of their house hollering their name.

• Neighborhood Friends — These were usually a combination of first friends and school friends. Their proximity encompassed a larger square footage than just a single block. You would either walk or ride a bike over to their house. You probably knocked before walking in, but you still felt comfortable enough to open the fridge or help yourself to cookies. There was usually an overlap of parental friendship, too. Your parents were friends with their parents.

• Church Friends — Yep, pretty self explanatory. You saw them on Sundays and, for most Southerners, on Wednesdays, too.

• Early School Friends — They were the ones you saw Monday through Friday, nine months of the year, for the first nine years you went to school. (Kindergarten through middle school — or, in my case, junior high.) You knew them through all those awkward years, when everyone was at their not so finest. These were the times of self-cut hair because every class had at least one kid who got a hold of a pair of scissors. The best beautician (they weren’t called stylists back then) couldn’t cover up the damage done to their bangs. Ironically, it usually happened right before picture day. They’d forever be captured with bangs that started at the rootline of the forehead with giant chunks missing from all over their head. You saw these friends when they were eating paste, stuffing crayons up their noses, acting unruly, looking unkept, prepubescent, first period, chunky, chubby, skinny, short, tall, flat-chested, knobby kneed, training bras and pimples.

• High School Friends — These were the friends you bonded with because you chose to. Proximity didn’t play into their selection. You had commonality. They “got you” and “you got them.” These friendships ran deep. My high school identity could have been described as outspoken, social, nerdy, outgoing, preppy, artsy fartsy, theatrical, jock, honors, remedial, virgin (thank you, John G), speed freak (cars, not prescriptions), pin-up who didn’t drink, cuss, or do drugs. In high school you where either the participant or recipient of bullies, cliques or clubs. Some of my greatest friendships originated in high school and continue to this day (so many, many, many moons past high school!),  Wow, now that I see it written out — with the exception of being a non-virginal drinking cusser — my identity remains pretty much intact.

College Friends —  You lived with them, studied with them, socialized with them, drank with them, laughed with them, cried with them and puked with them. You shared ramen, pizza and really bad cheap wine. They stood up with you, and for you, and after you graduated and were ready to settle down, they stood up beside you — when you said “I do.”

• Adult Friends — By the time you are an adult with a kid or four under your belt, or on your gravy train, you’ve pretty much left your “work friends” at work.  This leaves you to continue your friendships (if you’re lucky) from any of the categories listed above and to meet and make new friends based on what’s happening in your children’s lives. You know those people. They are:

1) Parents of your children’s friends

2) Parents in the PTA (These parents join the PTA in disguise. They are there because they are: a) desperate to get out of the house; b) desperate for adult interaction; c) desperate to avoid cooking and/or housework for an evening; or e) complete FREAKS of nature who truly enjoy endless meetings, fundraisers and dry cookies. Really, wouldn’t a nice glass of wine promote a little more creativity at these planning and marketing meetings?)

3) Parents of your children’s sports teams and activities. WARNING!! This category contains multi-dimensional sub-levels that I’m not even going to attempt to quantify.

I consider myself blessed. Blessed with every single friendship I’ve ever had.  And blessed for the ones I’ve yet to make. In the words made famous by Mr. Rogers, “Would you be, could you be, my friend?”

— Michelle Davis Baker

Michelle Davis Baker considers herself an “Erma Bombeck student of life!” She is known by most as Momma Baker. She is a wife, birth mother to four sons and self-appointed adopted mother to hundreds. After all, love makes the world go round. Momma Baker was born in Michigan, graduated high school in Erma’s old stomping ground of Centerville, Ohio, and considers Decatur, Ala., as her “forever” home — yet is a 30-year permanent visitor to Kansas City, Mo.  If she’s not in front of a computer writing, she’s behind a camera shooting.  You can check in on her at

Are you disappearing?

Noah Vail and Mary FarrMadam stopped in today to talk about our winter foray up North on the Gunflint Trail. Since food preparation is always top of mind for this snowy event, I figured she wanted to discuss my recent Pillsbury Bake Off winner. But she surprised me by opening our coffee klatch with a strange revelation:

“I’m invisible,” she declared while pulling off her chopper’s mitts and flumping on my horsehair lounger.

“Then why can I see you nibbling on one of my freshly baked nickerdoodles?” I inquired. “And, by the way, you’re wearing Dickie coveralls and an earflap hat. That makes you pretty visible in a crowd, if you ask me.”

She sighed deeply and eyed me as if I had grown a moustache.

Then I remembered reading on Wikipedia that humans start to shrink when they hit a certain age. Come to think of it, Madam did mention that she’d lost an inch or two over the last few years, but she’s still 5’8,” which seems visible enough.

Anyhoo, our Gunflint Trail planning session would have to wait. Instead I delicately asked Madam, “What was your first clue that you had become imperceptible?”

She pondered that for a moment. “It all started when the COSTCO checkout clerk handed me my grocery receipt and said, ‘Thank you sir.’”

“Ah… do you think it had anything to do with that fetching earflap hat you’re wearing? Or, perhaps COSTCO clerks aren’t trained in how to assist mature females dressed in coveralls accessorized by spurs.”

After holding forth about how countless horsewomen shop with their spurs on, she asked what I meant by mature females. This took me a moment.

“Then there was the hostess at Amy Lou’s House of Pancakes,” she quipped. “This woman could clearly see that I was next in line, yet she tossed the guy behind me a radiant smile and hauled him off to a table next to a sunny window. Or, how about last week when I got an audit notification from the IRS addressed to Mister M. Farr, Esquire?”

“Well, I suppose one could call that better news for you than for Mr. Farr,” I added encouragingly. She was on a role.

“Last week Geno’s Tru Test Glass delivered my new shower door to the Delrose family next door,” she pressed on. And two of my clients forgot to pay me, probably because they forgot my name. Why, just last night, a friend and I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey, and the guy at the window sold me a children’s ticket.

Oh dear, all this talk of vanishing caused me to wonder and worry. Was this an aging problem or a wardrobe problem? In either case, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth and short on the wardrobe, so it’s high time that I get myself in front of a mirror to see that I haven’t disappeared, too.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy,” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival. Their newest book, When Your Plan A Bombs, is due out this spring.

50 shades of grey-haired dates

Jan MarshallOne would think that at my age the fact that Captain Crunch is not actually a captain wouldn’t throw me and I would learn not to be naïve.

Can I still believe that Ms. Muffet actually sat on a Tuffet or was it a recliner? Was the tooth fairy a gimmick perpetrated by a dentist? If so, why isn’t there remuneration when folks take out their dentures each evening?

When does the truth manifest itself in the dating world?

Have I been looking for love in all the wrong places?

Up until recently I thought I knew the secret. For those not currently in a smoochy relationship, the most popular meeting ground to find a partner seemed to be the line at any pharmacy.

I once overheard one man saying to a woman while gazing soulfully into her shopping cart, “Gas and heartburn pills? Gee whiz. Me, too!” Burping, they interlocked their carts and frolicked to check out. Perhaps the solution is to find someone with a similar malady and we could be on our way.

I used to prefer Internet dating compared to my previous pastime, which was singing “Love for Sale” at malls, with rouged cheeks wearing my Anna Lucasta, off-the-wrinkled shoulder gown. Since I became, um, a seasoned citizen, guys want me to pay for their parking and give them an appliance as well.

Surfing the Web is cheaper. I have met many interesting but sometimes unsuitable characters online.

My first responder was from “Schlemiels on Wheels.” He arrived on skates. I had to grab onto the back of his jacket as we whizzed down the boulevard for the early bird special.

BTW, what brilliant advertising man came up with that title early bird? Worms?? Bleck!

My next computer match was a dermatologist. He wrote that famous book, “7 Solutions for Highly Itchy People.” On Valentine’s Day he bought me one long stem bottle of Calamine lotion. I scratched him off my list.

One nutty lover wanted me to call him Ida Lupino during coitus.

Another drank his wine from a “sippy cup.”

Destiny intervened during my last connection and in a most unusual manner.

Having urged all seniors to practice safe sex, I myself usually wear a seat belt.  But this one time, I did not.  At the height of passion I whispered to my partner, “Are you comfortable?”

He answered in a suddenly strange accent, “I make a living.”

I laughed so hard. I fell off the bed. Injured my back.

So now, as everything always works out as it should, I am currently dating my chiropractor.

He is truly nice, but very manipulating. To this very day though, he is still the only man I have ever allowed to place me in a headlock.

— 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.

A weighted matter

Anne BardsleyI just found out that for the bulk of my life, I have been exercising the wrong muscles. I am so depressed.

Years of leg lifts, squats and miles walked on the treadmill, all for naught. I just flipped through the new catalog of Self Care Products for Women and there it was — just in time for my birthday — a vaginal weight set!

The depressing part is that now, in addition to my thighs, buttocks, triceps and biceps, I have to worry about my hidden parts. I seriously thought they were in great shape. I think I may have even bragged about them at a party after a few glasses of wine. Why did I ever open that catalog?

In my family, we never discussed anything below the naval and above the knees. When my dad learned that my aunt was having surgery on her uterus, he asked her if that was close to her Sagittarius.

My mother never mentioned that my sisters and I needed to do Kegels or lift weights with our vaginas. When I was growing up, no one had ever even whispered the actual names of sexual organs at 245 Willow Avenue.

Now, there it was in plain print — the word vaginal!

Women didn’t have to concern themselves with this stuff in the old days. Just once, I’d like to open the Sunday paper’s fashion section and read, “Scarlett O’Hara hoop dresses are back this season.”

Oh! I would be such a happy lady! Imagine not having to suck in my stomach, tuck in my derriere or lift those damned vaginal weights. The hoop dress would hide everything below my waist. Actually, I might need to invest in a corset for above my waist.

The only requirement to look good in a hoop dress is a full bust, and every woman knows that if you just gain a few pounds, your bust increases. With the scooped neckline so low, my husband wouldn’t even notice if I had a double chin. I doubt he’d even notice I had a face!

So now, in addition to working, cooking, cleaning, carpooling and my mending (I just slipped that in for Scarlett), I have to tend to more body parts. The ad men had struck again; it’s just one more reminder that I’m not good enough just as I am.

The set only costs $125 and includes a leather carrying case. I envisioned the old “Don’t leave home without it” commercials for American Express. The ad also offered me free shipping if I ordered an extra set for a friend. I guess they don’t realize that I wouldn’t have a friend left in the world if I started giving vaginal weight sets as gifts.

The ad assures me that I’ll be less embarrassed, more confident and have more control over my life. They swear that the weights are foolproof.

I think I’d be more embarrassed and less confident if I didn’t already exercise my self-control and profess that I, too, am foolproof. Who would ever think that bodybuilding a strong vagina could make such a difference in a woman’s life?

As Rhett Butler would say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

Missy and Sam:
A cautionary tale

Linda DotyLast month, my husband and I went on vacation.  We went to an all-inclusive place and decided not to include our children in the plans.

My youngest said, “Mommy, why can’t we go with you?”  I said, “Oh, honey, let me try to explain. You wouldn’t like it if Mommy put Daddy in a consistent vegetative state with an iron skillet, would you?  Because then I’d be in prison and he’d do even less around the house than he does now. Really, this vacation is for your benefit.”

She looked a little frightened, but I think someday she’ll understand.

So there we were in Punta Cana, spending a day pool-side. My biggest stress was over whether to order a Pina Colada or a Mudslide.

There was another couple near where we were that day. While Bill and I were quietly reading our books (which is our way of “reconnecting,” I suppose), this other couple was never quiet.  Well, he was kind of quiet, if you think about it. Missy was never quiet.

“Sam, I need you to put sunscreen on my back.”

“Sam, will you get me another drink?”

“Sam, bring the camera!  Take a picture of me!”

All Sam ever said was, “Yes, Missy.”

Newlyweds are so cute.

By the time they left, I was glad to see them go.

I said, “Goodness, but she bossed him around a lot.” My husband didn’t respond.

You don’t have to hit me over the head with an iron skillet for me to realize something. In the weeks that have followed our vacation, there have been times I’ve asked Bill to do something and he’s simply replied, “OK, Missy.”

At first, I thought this was a refreshing departure because he used to only say, “As you wish,” which may be what started me thinking of myself as a princess. He was my Wesley and I was his Buttercup, which I suppose means that the children can be considered Rodents of Unusual Size.

But I digress…

Later, at home, I got to thinking about all this and came to the realization that perhaps the reason Missy annoyed me so much is because I observed something about her that I am less than proud of within myself. That warranted some introspection. I’ve penciled it in for next Tuesday.

It’s been a few weeks since our vacation and we continue to play this little game where by he calls me Missy when I am too demanding.

There is a lesson in here for all of us, I think.  Here’s the moral of the story:

When he’s referring to me as Missy, it could be I’m being too bossy.

And when I’m not referring to him as Sam, it probably means there is some need of mine he could be fulfilling if only he’d hop to it.

— Linda Doty

Linda is a writer. She writes on Twitter as @LindaInDisguise, on her personal blog, Just Linda, and sometimes on her professional blog Linda Doty Writes. Rumor has it, she even writes on bathroom walls.  She’s a St. Louis native, married for 29 years (sure, to two different men but she wants full credit for time served). She has five daughters, ranging from age 10 to 31, and one grandson with another grandchild on the way. Linda works as an astronaut for a large corporation (not really, but it’s easier to say that than to try to explain what a VP of Sourcing Operations does).  She writes and writes and waits to be discovered, but is secretly terrified it will be by a concerned mental health professional rather than a big-time publisher.

Reflections of Erma