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In defense of the revered spud

Molly StevensI grew up on an Aroostook County, Maine, potato farm where the spud was revered.

It represented nutritional calories on the table, money in the bank and the ability to buy my own school clothes after serving my annual sentence of forced child labor.

I’ve been upset about the WIC program’s sole exclusion of the white potato from fresh vegetable options, and am very proud of Susan Collins’ effort to gain its rightful place in the WIC grocery cart.

While I am excited about this breakthrough, I have some unresolved resentment about the maligning of the white potato. And I have a proposal that will exact some revenge for all the years of unfairness.

Let’s nominate some other vegetables to take their turn as forbidden WIC vegetables.

• Sweet potato — this haughty relative of the white potato has claimed superiority due to its orange color and lower carb content, parading its beta-carotine like a coat of arms. Behind closed doors, however, it has been making X-rated vegi-tales with jet-puffed porn star — the marshmallow.

• Broccoli — Nutrients are drowning in a molten sea of Velveeta.

• Green beans — “French’s green been casserole” has been impersonating a healthy side dish for decades. While we are at it, let’s ask Susan to sponsor a bill to make this recipe illegal.

• Onions — Let’s crack down on home onion ring labs where beer-battered ecstasy is being cooked up and served to carb-craving junkies.

• Tomatoes — You start out with recreational salsa on the weekend, and before you know it, these lycopene-laden beefsteaks are plastered on pasta and pizza every day of the week.

• Carrots — Known to be glazed, candied and incorporated into cakes.

• Celery — Pretending to be high fiber and lo-cal, these hypocrites embed themselves in platters of hot wings with blue cheese dressing.

• Spinach — One word: Salmonella.

• Eggplant — Don’t be fooled by this glossy purple perennial. I did a little research and was appalled to learn that they are a relative of tobacco, and their bitter-tasting seeds contain nicotinic alkaloids.  Are we willing to have our most vulnerable become hooked on this addictive nightshade?

• Cucumbers — How many summer picnics have you attended where this innocent vegetable has been corrupted by carbs in a macaroni salad?

• Beets — You can try to dignify this vegetable with Ivy League status, but this is one case where Harvard is just another word for fructose.

I think you get the idea. Every vegetable has its own dirty little secret if you dig deep enough. Let’s celebrate the digging of pure white potatoes, and hope that our homegrown tubers fully recover from this nightmare of discrimination.

— 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.

Ice cream therapy

Anne BardsleyIn my whole world right now, nothing brings me more joy than my grandkids. I’ve become one of those grandparents who turns into a five-year-old when they are around.

They bring the simple, childlike view of life front and center. I think I might need to start a college course to teach this. Forget trigonometry, chemistry and political science. This is much more important in the scheme of a rich life. I’m not saying, ”Don’t go to medical school and become a brain surgeon.” I just want young people to learn early what a rich life might look like. It’s not always about money.

I didn’t pay a therapist $200  an hour to pry open my mind to this realization. My husband and I took our granddaughters to an ice cream store and spent $9 dollars on ice cream. Yes, $9 dollars! Two pumpkin pie ice cream cups with pie crust, complete with whipped cream and two vanilla cones dipped in multi-colored sprinkles were our delight of the day.

We sat on the porch of Sunny Skies Ice Cream store in rocking chairs watching the world go by. The ice dripped and sprinkles fell onto laps, but no one moved to clean up the little messes. This was a “who cares about a little mess day?” The youngest wore her sunglasses upside down and smiled at everyone. The local sheriff arrived with his family and put his sunglasses on to match hers. We’d gone back to the past and now lived in Mayberry. I really like the past.

We sat for about 15 minutes, rocking gently in our chairs. “We should do this more,” my husband said. I agreed, “We can make this a tradition every time we visit.” The girls continued to lick their sprinkles off their melting cones, oblivious to the fast-paced crazy world out there.

“No, I mean at home, too,” he grinned. I rocked a little slower and thought, “This is one of those small moments that makes a sweet memory. I’m going to keep this one close.”

Pass the sprinkles, please.

— 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 Anne Bardsley: Perfectly Imperfect.

John Stamos finds his Zen in rehab

Ann Rita DarcyRecently I was lucky enough to spend a weekend viewing the beautiful waterfalls in the State Park at Watkins Glen, New York.

Being certified seniors, Mr. Darcy and I got up very early and compounded the stereotype by attempting to take full advantage of the free breakfast at the motel. Since we found it was not available till 8 a.m., we were stranded and hungry in our dinky room watching a fuzzy television airing a show entitled “Good Morning in America, Today” or some such. The scrawl below the talking heads announced the wonderful news that an actor had “found his Zen in rehab.”

Naturally I wondered if the actor, John Stamos, had somehow misplaced his Zen but then thought maybe he had a religious conversion in rehab following his DWI in California. I have never seen his TV shows, but I understand he is especially beloved by a generation of women who grew up watching his character “Uncle Jesse.” I have nothing against the man; he seems a pleasant enough celebrity and relatively scandal-free until recently. I further understand that he has little or no control over what TV producers run in promotional teases.

Still, I hoped he might have something interesting to say about Zen Buddhism. Sadly and horribly and weirdly, his interview progressed to the point whereupon he and the host, Matt Lauer, started slapping each other in some sort of acting exercise and it all became unwatchable until it was thankfully time to eat the free breakfast. But it, nonetheless, reminded me of the first time I took an interest in Buddhism.

In high school I took a class in comparative religion taught by a man who also coached the football team. Not that these activities should, in any way, be mutually exclusive but Coach did say upon the introduction of each new religion, “Hey, I can’t help it if these people believe this stuff.”

Despite the questionable abilities of Coach, I did learn a little about the Buddhism originally from Nepal and its Chinese/Taoist influenced offshoot known as Zen Buddhism. The elimination of desire (the root of suffering) is achieved by following the “Eightfold Path,” which instructs one in right views, intentions, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration and leads one to right knowledge and liberation from the cycles of birth/death/re-birth.

Buddhism’s core principle is that you achieve Nirvana by ridding yourself of the suffering that is brought on by desire. Believing this added a new and not-fun layer of angst to my fading Catholicism by making me feel even worse about wanting anything, even if it was to be relieved of crushing migraines. (These headaches brought much betrayal. When St. Therese de Liseaux had excruciating pain, she at least had holy visions and I got nothing, which led to my feeling guilty about being bitter.) Still, the elimination of desire and a path of non-materialism remained a guiding force in my life and now makes me wonder why the term “Zen” has come to mean SELL anything you want.

For years I have seen ads for things such as “Zen cut jeans” and “Zen salads.” Jimmy Choo is advertising “Champagne Suede ‘Zen’ cut booties,” which look like toeless boots with stiletto heels. Incidentally, since the evolutionary purpose of feet is to enable us to walk upright, this seems to be a “step” in the wrong direction.

There is a “Zen Salon and Spa” in Mission, Texas, that is offering a “Zen conditioning treatment.” I did not quite have the nerve to call them up and ask about the depth of their commitment to Buddhism.

Donna Karan has an entire line of products to buy called “Urban Zen.” The ultimate irony is that Zen Buddhism espouses non-materialism and yet has become a marketing device.

Another item I found online was a “Zen Cut-out Collar Necklace.” It is out of stock. That an object is advertised online and doesn’t really exist, at least for purchasing, is well, kinda Zen!

The fact that Zen rarely discusses sin, offers no punishment other than that of reincarnation, does not consider itself to be a religion despite having nuns and priests and gladly accepts Christians, Jews and atheists alike into its welcoming fold may have caused it to mean just about anything. The incomprehensible nature (to most Westerners) of Zen lends itself to many interpretations.

That is a sorry excuse for using a philosophy to sell things. Please consider the following: “Jewish flavored ice-cream,” “Existentialist-cut lawn furniture” or “Mango-Methodist salad dressing.” Is it just that “Zen” is a cool word and fun to say? Just as “fascism” has come to mean any ideology or political system that you don’t like, “Zen” has come to mean something that represents clean lines, (like Calvin Klein!), is a little upscale and urban but also down to earth and simple, something that requires deep concentration but also empties the mind. OK, I give up. It means everything and nothing.

If you really want to contemplate all this, go back to the very beginning. Yes, the beginning of this blog. Go to Watkins Glen, sit on a rock by one of the 19 lovely waterfalls and just listen.

All the best to Mr. Stamos, who remains entirely innocent of promoting “Zen.”

— Ann Rita Darcy

Ann Rita Darcy is a nurse and grandmother who lives on Long Island.

Beach bag bell curve

Tracy BucknerShow me a bag anyone is bringing to the beach and I’ll tell you how old they are. It’s like looking at a bell curve of your life: the bag starts small, becomes larger until it’s bursting, then slowly tapers off.

Like your life.

During the teenage years I carried a very small beach bag. All I needed was a bikini, baby oil, a chair and Cousin Brucie on the radio. My Italian mother supplied lunch for the entire beach whether she knew you or not. Back then I wasn’t worrying about what I looked like from the side or behind. I sat upright in my chair because I could. Because when I looked down I wasn’t wondering, “how the heck did that happen?”

The dating years come; the bag gets larger. You are still in a bikini and haven’t yet had children, who destroy your life,

…I mean your body.

The chair remains upright.

My mother still supplied the lunch but only if she liked my boyfriend. No lunch delivered, I knew he was history. When I brought my future husband around, she delivered breakfast and lunch to the beach and my dad carried down gin and tonics.

…Subtle like a sledgehammer, my parents.

During the years I was raising children, getting to the beach required a large bag busting with shovels, pails, sunglasses, flip-flops, trucks, diapers, sun screen, hats and diapers along with strollers, small tents, umbrellas and chairs. Attempting to cross Ocean Avenue to the beach with two kids in tow required an act of God. By the time I had survived the crossing, unpacked, the cramp in my bicep finally subsiding, it never failed that one of my kids needed to go back to the house to use the bathroom. The bikini has been traded in for a mu-mu. And that chair? My sister, eight years my junior with a tight stomach and no kids yet now sits in it…upright.

Currently my bag is considerably smaller, my life quite different. This was apparent when I spent a few days with a girlfriend at the beach. She used to remind me to bring my ingredients for margaritas; now it’s my heart meds, gluten-free wraps, probiotics and vitamins. I used to remind her to bring sauvignon blanc, now it’s microwaveable quinoa, green tea pills and bee pollen for our metabolism. We lined everything up on the bar and took a picture of our “stash” to send to friends remembering how we used to send pictures of cosmopolitans. The sun is no longer our friend, so our hats are large enough to carry a small child.

I’ve ditched the mu-mu and am back in a 2-piece but that chair needs to be at a very specific back-angle so that it appears I have a flat stomach. One notch up in the wrong direction and it’s all over.

Now about that bag… Sometimes I forget the bag. Sometimes I forget the book. Sometimes I have the book but forget the glasses to read the book. I wish my kids were around so I could send them back to get whatever it is that I’ve left behind. It would make me feel like I had gotten my money’s worth for giving birth to them.

And when I finally make it to the beach, unpack, grab my hat, unfold the chair, put up the umbrella, get out the book, apply sunscreen, what’s the first thing I do?

I face the beautiful ocean.

Grab that small bag.

Turn around and head back for the bathroom.

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune Newspaper of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills Newspaper, serving Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.

Dishes Your Life

Jerry ZezimaAs the very model of the modern mixed-up man, I have long been baffled by one of the great mysteries of domestic life: If a dishwasher washes dishes, why do you have to wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher?

That is the question I have been asking my wife, Sue, for the past 37 years.

Her thoroughly convincing answer: “Because.”

It does no good to point out that in television commercials for dishwashers, or even for dishwashing detergent, dishes that are encrusted with food chunks the consistency of concrete always come out shiny and spotless.

That wasn’t the case in our house recently. In a spiteful act that would never be shown on TV, the dishwasher conked out. So I had to wash the dishes by hand.

Sometimes Sue washed them and I dried. Or I left them in the dish drainer to dry, which prompted Sue to ask, “Why aren’t you drying the dishes?”

My thoroughly unconvincing answer: “Because.”

One thing was clear (and it wasn’t the wine glass I streaked with a damp dish towel): You don’t appreciate something until you don’t have it anymore.

That’s the way Sue and I felt about the dishwasher, which had served us well for about a dozen years before dying of what I can only assume was food poisoning.

This forced us to wash dishes the old-fashioned way. When doing so, you have to place a basin in the kitchen sink and fill it with water hot enough to scald the hide off a crocodile. First, however, you should squirt in a stream of dishwashing liquid, which will make enough bubbles to obscure the utensils and cause you to slice your thumb on a steak knife.

To prevent me from bleeding to death, which would have stained the counters, Sue bought — and forgive me for being too technical here — a dishwashing thingie. It has a long handle with a screw top on one end, so you can put in detergent, and a brush on the other, so you can scrub the dishes.

That way you don’t have to fill a basin. Instead, you can let the water run for such a long time that it would overflow Lake Superior, which isn’t a good place to wash dishes anyway.

But you have to get them clean because you need something to eat on. After a while, however, taking nourishment intravenously seems like an appealing alternative.

The situation, like the water, reached a boiling point. This happened after dinner one night when I seriously considered killing one of the actors in a dishwasher commercial and going to prison so I wouldn’t have to wash the dishes anymore. But then, I figured, I’d be assigned kitchen duty for the rest of my life.

Before I could say to Sue, “We really ought to buy a new dishwasher,” Sue said to me, “We really ought to buy a new dishwasher.”

So she went to an appliance store and bought one. But when it was delivered, it didn’t fit because the measurements were wrong. (The dishwasher’s, not Sue’s.)

Back to the store went Sue. And back to our house went another dishwasher.

The delivery guys, Tom and Anthony, sympathized with our plight.

“You don’t want to be without a dishwasher for too long,” Tom said.

“It’s bad when you have to wash the dishes yourself,” Anthony chimed in.

After much measuring, and maneuvering, and manpower, Tom and Anthony got the dishwasher to fit.

Then came the moment of truth: “I’m going to give it a test run,” Tom said.

Sue and I held our breath, collectively thinking, “Please, God, make it work. And don’t flood the kitchen.”

Tom pressed some buttons.

“It’s so quiet,” Sue noted.

“Unlike me,” I added.

The dishwasher ran, and the water drained, and, lo, there was no flood in the kitchen.

That evening, with spotless wine glasses, Sue and I toasted our new dishwasher.

“I’ll load it,” I said after dinner.

“Thanks,” Sue said. “And don’t forget to wash the dishes before you put them in.”

— 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 six 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.

Is your home tidy and serene?


Roz WarrenThe Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up is a wildly popular book by Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo about de-cluttering. Given how shallow and acquisitive our culture can be (Kardashians, anyone?), the fact that a book about getting rid of unnecessary stuff is on the New York Times bestseller list is probably a good sign.

Kondo promises to help transform your home from the chaotic mishmash it is now to “a place of serenity and inspiration.“ Essentially, you’re supposed to lighten your load by taking a good look at each item you own and asking yourself one question: “Does this item spark joy?”

If it does, you hang on to it. If it doesn’t, you get rid of it.

I went around my house recently with this question in mind.

Does this salt shaker give me joy? (Yes! I love salt.)

Does this bicycle bring me joy? (No, but  if I ever get around to dusting off the cobwebs and putting some air in the tires, it might.)

Does this lamp bring me joy? (Nope. But sitting in the dark doesn’t bring me joy either.)

Does this vacuum cleaner bring me joy? (Are you kidding me?)

I soon realized that, for me, this wasn’t the right question.

Nevertheless,  I’d like to move from this house to an apartment, which means that I definitely need to downsize, so I came up with my own version of this little mantra: “After I get hit by a bus, eaten on safari by a ravenous gnu or flattened by a falling anvil and my son inherits this object, will he keep it or throw it out?”

If he’d throw it out, I figure I can save him the trouble and get rid of it now.

The stuff that my son will undoubtedly want to get rid of includes most of my books, all of the dishes I inherited from Grandma Sadie and almost everything in the attic. It’s fabulous how freeing this has been. Employing this principle, I’ve given away, tossed or recycled:

A beautiful (and very expensive) pair of glasses that I no longer need now that I’ve had cataract surgery.

500 “Let’s Get Started” AOL discs.

A Steinway grand piano.

A crate for the Yorkie-poo that the Yorkie-poo refuses to go anywhere near.  (Being crated has never brought Captain joy.)

Hundreds of cassettes containing wonderful music that nobody will ever listen to again because let’s face it, it’s 2015 and who has a cassette player?

Half a dozen books about, ironically,  downsizing and clearing clutter.

And then there are the things I’m not sure about, like my son’s childhood toys, his kindergarten artwork and his baby clothes. For instance, my favorite of his onesies. Tom, at 27, no longer needs a onesie. (Which is a good thing.) But when he and my daughter-in-law have their first kid, maybe he’ll want to dress that child in his old onesie? And give him his  plush tigers to play with?

Throwing out my son’s baby clothes and plush tigers, I’ve decided,  is where I draw the line. Do they spark joy? Not exactly. But they do bring back loads of happy memories along with a touch of where-did-all-of-those-wonderful-years-go melancholy. (Cue the song “Sunrise, Sunset,” from Fiddler on the Roof.)

If, after I’m dead and gone, contemplating his childhood tigers doesn’t bring my son joy, he can throw them out himself.

I’ve given myself a year to clear out this house, put it on the market, find a terrific apartment and move there with only my Truly Necessary Items. Plus a bunch of plush tigers.

In the meantime, what about this fondue set?  And this spare fan? And what about the unflattering portrait of me that my Aunt Freida painted back in the ’80s which makes me look like a deranged serial killer?

Wish me luck.

— Roz Warrem

Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor. This essay first appeared on Zestnow.

Hansel and Gretel to perform during World Series

Charles HartleyFor the first time in Major League Baseball history, two players from the same team have a last night name beginning with a lowercase “d” letter.

Travis d’Arnaud and Jacob deGrom are these “d”-men. To be precise, deGrom’s name has changed to deGrominator because he dominates with his 99-miles-per-hour fastball. But that’s a nuance. The theory holds because his last name, no matter what it is or was, begins with a small d.

He could change that small “d” to a capital one, “D,” and be named “DeGrominator.” On paper this looks like a guy who throws the ball hard whereas deGrominator feels less so. Small “ds” before big Gs lack visual punch.

Two Mets teammates share a similar last name kinship: Jeurys Familia and Yoenis Cespedes. They are not American names. When I when went to grade school during the Nixon administration, none of my classmates were name Jeurys or Yoenis. Each name has three syllabus. Both end in “s.” Neither conjures up images of anyone we know named Hank, Stan or Billy.

Jeurys either sounds like he’s on a jury in a New Jersey court case. Yoenis rhymes with Dennis from the 1960s TV show, Dennis the Menace.

My favorite Mets name is Hansel Robles because it reminds of me a famous kids’ fairy tale and/or book titled Hansel and Gretel.  I can see Hansel Robles having the last name of “Pan” to remind us of the Peter Pan fairytale.

Noah Syndergaard hung out on Noah’s Ark. There he fired 100 miles per hour fastballs to Hansel, Gretel and Peter Pan. None of the three could make contact with Noah’s Ark heater.

Which brings us to the World Series.

If there were a half-time show, Hansel, Gretel and Peter Pan would perform a dance number on Noah’s Ark. But there isn’t a half-time show in baseball.

The sport does, however, have a seventh inning stretch. That will be the time when all the smelly fans spray their necks and wrists with Bartolo Cologne, the new product being marketed by the Mets bullpen pitcher, Bartolo Colon.

The smell of the World Series is deJuerys.

— 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.

Mayhem of motherhood

Barbara_ChisholmActress Barbara Chisholm turns an ironing board into a makeshift desk, complete with an electric typewriter.

As she plops on the bed behind it, she dispenses bits of Erma Bombeck’s wit and wisdom to a sold-out audience, many of whom grew up on a diet of her columns and books.

“If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?” she laments as she brings the celebrated humorist to life in the world premiere of “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

The stakes are high for Chisholm’s performance this night. The audience for the one-woman show includes Bombeck’s family, literary agent, longtime assistant, former “Good Morning America” producer and the playwrights, Margaret and Allison Engel.

“Erma is one of my heroes of all time,” Chisholm told the family after receiving a standing ovation. “Thank you for allowing me to introduce new people to her.”

At the height of her career, Bombeck’s “At Wit’s End” column appeared in more than 900 newspapers, reaching 30 million readers. Her entertaining essays hung on refrigerator doors around the country because they captured so perfectly the foibles of family life. She’s arguably the most famous graduate of the University of Dayton, which honors her legacy through the popular biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

In an onstage discussion with the playwrights after the show, literary agent Aaron Priest talked about Bombeck’s popularity. “She was a voice for a generation of people who didn’t have a voice at that time. She touched a nerve,” he said. “She had a natural sense of humor. She was in many, many ways one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.”Bombeck_discussion

Bombeck drew on everyday family life for inspiration — and laughs.

“The mayhem in our house just happened,” said her son, Matt Bombeck, a screenwriter in Los Angeles.“We never saw the connection between what we did and the column, he said. Pausing, he quipped, “We never made that connection because we never read the column.”

His brother, Andy Bombeck, remembered when their mother first appeared on “Johnny Carson.”

“The first night she got bumped, so we got to stay up late the next night, too,” he said, recalling his surprise at seeing his mother draw laughs on national television. “She was someone who worked at a typewriter all day long, and we couldn’t believe it.”

Bombeck poked fun at the joys of motherhood and housekeeping during a time of social change for women, drawing a legion of like-minded women as fans. On her own time and expense, she worked tirelessly for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which fell three states short of ratification.At Wit's End illustration

Playwright Margaret Engel called the play a “valentine to Erma and our mother and gave her “a greater sense of appreciation for the work women did in the home. …I felt a sense of sisterhood with her.”

To research “At Wit’s End,” the playwrights read much of Bombeck’s immense body of work — thousands of columns and a dozen books — and viewed “Good Morning America” clips from her 11 years on the show. They perused the University of Dayton’s online Erma museum for photographs, speeches and other material and interviewed Erma’s husband Bill, longtime assistant Norma Born and the three children, Matt, Betsy and Andy.

“I love that people love Erma,” said Chisholm, who most recently appeared in the Oscar-winning film “Boyhood.” “What I love about the show is that it’s an opportunity for her to receive some of the respect that is her due.”

Learn more about Chisholm’s admiration for Erma Bombeck in this interview.

“Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” runs through Nov. 8. For information and tickets, click here.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder and co-director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she also serves as executive director of strategic communications. (Photo of Barbara Chisholm by C. Stanley Photography. Illustration by Ed Fotheringham. Courtesy of Arena Stage.)

Reflections of Erma