The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Sidewalk ice and the winter graph

Tracy BucknerWith all of the talk about the polar vortex, I can’t help thinking that winter, snow and the sidewalk are upon us — and what all that means for the next few months.

Sidewalk ice has different meanings depending on your age. It’s like looking at a graph with a downward slope: fun is the top point and death is the bottom point.

If you’re a child, winter, snow and sidewalk ice can only mean one thing: Fun with a capital F. You’re at the high point on the winter graph. Your mom bundles you up and out you go into a winter wonderland filled with sledding, sliding, falling, snowballs, snow angels and snow forts. Your nose is running and your fingers are wet and freezing, but you don’t notice. Children are blissfully unaware of impending doom and a visit to the ER when they look outside. Sidewalk ice? If you slip, you slip.

On to the teen years, where style comes before warmth at all times. At this age, looking good is more important than being warm. Take a trip to a local high school where in 2- degree weather, the girls are dressed in uggs with mini-skirts and you will know what I mean. My mother would be lucky if she could get me to wear a winter coat. I wore a hat until she was out of sight. So similar to today’s teens, I was usually freezing, but damn, did I look good. Sidewalk ice? I didn’t give it a moment’s thought.

During life’s next stage, you’re working outside the home, or home with the kids. (“Home with the kids” is also “working” but you don’t get to leave the house for adult conversation, no coffee or lunch break, you don’t get paid for putting your life on hold, and, best of all, you get no respect whatsoever. I’m sounding bitter, aren’t I? But that’s a future blog, so stay tuned).

During this stage, your children, upon hearing that phone ring early in the morning, are ecstatic, knowing it can only mean one thing: A SNOW DAY! If you’re a stay-at-home or a working mom, however, you hear that early morning ring and you think….”shoot me.” It might mean fun with a capital F to your kids, but you are probably thinking of another word, also with a capital F. The point on the winter graph is beginning to drop significantly.

But, I remember once after the plow had come, my kids went outside and saw the tremendously high drift that the plow had left at the bottom of our drive. Within 10 minutes they had made it into a fort with snow windows and little seats. Then they made a small slide. A few neighborhood kids came over and it was all fun and laughter and snowsuits, and hats and gloves and boots. As I watched from my window,  I thought to myself, “Go outside. Forget the ice.”

So I did.

None of them seemed to notice that I was dressed like an Eskimo, so I started collecting rocks and sticks and began decorating their fort. Before long all of them were collecting whatever greenery they could find and decorating along with me. My nose was running and my hands were wet and freezing, but I was having a great time. It was like being Snow White with her seven dwarfs. If I fell, there would be seven kids to pick me up.

I didn’t fall.

Afterwards, I went inside and made hot chocolate for everyone and even had marshmallows handy in the pantry. Then I invited some of my friends over who were similarly thrilled with the snow day and darned if Jack Daniels didn’t go great with the hot chocolate! Why should only kids have all the fun?

Now I’m at the bottom of the winter graph where its uggs without the mini-skirt for me. Looking good? Forget it. It takes 10 minutes to get ready to leave the house as you put on a winter coat, tie a scarf around your neck, pull the same scarf over your nose and mouth, put on gloves and a hat. I imagine it’s like wearing a burka as only your eyes are exposed.

My daughter says, “Mom, you’re only walking 20 feet to get the mail,” but I don’t care. And I can’t think of letting her get the mail because she would only wear a mini skirt with uggs. My only concern is staying out of the ER and keeping the circulation going in my fingers and toes.

At my age, I’m at the lowest point on the winter graph. I look at sidewalk ice and think, “I’m going to die.”

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills, which serves 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.

How to write a book

Molly CampbellNow that I am a “real” author, I can give advice to all of you out there who want to publish your novel. I have perfected a system that works for me. I thought I would share it for your benefit:

Sit down at the computer. Think of what your main character is wearing. Try to describe it without using the words “nice” or “very.” Picture your character getting dressed in the morning. Then wonder if he likes fried eggs over easy or scrambled.

This reminds you that you are out of eggs. Get up and add eggs to the grocery list, and then remember to add coffee and cottage cheese. Wander into the living room, where you notice that there are two dead Stinkbugs on the windowsill by the bird feeder. Yell “You Goddamn f******!” really loudly. Get a Kleenex and flush the disgusting insects. Return to the living room to make sure the rest of the room is free of bugs. Notice that the bird feeder is empty, and experience a pang of sympathy for that darling, starving cardinal who is sitting dejectedly on one of the feeder’s perches. Rush onto the back porch to get more seed. Go outside and fill feeder.

Once out there, notice how chilly it is getting. Look around and remember that you never planted that bag of daffodil bulbs that is sitting in the garage. Go into the house for a coat and work gloves. Take the bulbs from the garage along with a trowel. Attempt to plant one. The ground is way too hard, and what’s more, you feel that even though you might have gloves on, your manicure is in danger.

Put gloves and bulbs back in the garage. Go back into the house and make an appointment to get your nails done. Have a glass of ice water. Go upstairs and change into a more presentable shirt — you don’t want the people at the nail salon to think you are a slacker.

Look at your watch. Oh, gosh! Your appointment is in a half hour! Rush downstairs, get your purse and keys. Rush into the garage. Turn around, go back and lock the door.

Drive to the salon. When you get there, decide that you have earned a pedicure as well as a manicure, because you work so hard as a writer and wife. Tell them you want the hot stone massage, too.

Enjoy your lovely mani/pedi. As you sit there, try to decide what to have for dinner. Chicken is good. Maybe some salad.

After your nails are done, go to the store for dinner ingredients. Make the chicken recipe, and put it in the oven. Look around the kitchen and realize how dirty the floor is. Get down on hands and knees and wash floor, feeling guilty that you are such a horrible housekeeper.

Take a break. Maybe a chair nap.

Have dinner and clean up. Watch that great PBS show about British detectives. Yawn. Go to bed. As you drift off to sleep, remember that your character was wearing dark brown corduroys, but no shirt — you didn’t get that far. Vow to be more disciplined tomorrow.

If anybody asks you how long it takes to write a book, say this, “It takes years of hard work. Writing and polishing. Rewriting. Editing.”

Now you know the story behind the story…

— Molly D. Campbell

Molly D. Campbell writes a blog from her pantry, often in pajamas. She is a two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award winner, winning honorable mentions in both the humor and human interest categories in 2010 and 2012. She recently self-published Characters in search of a novel, and her novel Keep the Ends Loose will be released by The Story Plant in late February or early March 2015.

Do’s and don’ts of chaperoning the middle school field trip

Shannan Ball YoungerWhen chaperoning a school field trip, you need to be prepared, and that’s especially true when dealing with middle schoolers. This info to keep in mind when called upon to do your time herding the cats help shape the minds of our youth as they go out into the world to learn what they cannot in the classroom. Well maybe not, but you’ll at least be more prepared than I and some of my fellow chaperones were when exploring the local arboretum recently.

Don’t talk to or make eye contact with your child.

I don’t mean this, but your kid would want me to tell you this.

When students, teachers and chaperones gathered in the cafeteria prior to departing on our adventure, I waved to my child. It was subtle, no more than the mere wiggling of a few fingers. She turned beet red, buried her face in her hands and was consoled by friends.

Mission accomplished.

Do wear a turtleneck if at all possible.

Despite the admonition to not pick anything at the arboretum, a boy in my group ripped off a ton of seeds from the tall grass in the prairie. (The fact that his mother was also chaperoning did not deter him, as she did not put down her camera for the entire five hours and followed the rule above.)

The  boy launched the handful of grass seed into the air and a strong wind gust blew all the seeds directly into my face.

I stared him down. He seemed baffled by getting “the look.” Guess it’s hard to do that through a camera lens.

Fast-forward several hours after the field trip. I was running errands and felt a stabbing pain in my breast. I tried to subtly adjust the girls while pumping gas and moved along. In the grocery store, sharp pain in a different part of the same boob, then a third one when I returned home.

I know breast cancer is not typically painful so I instead started wondering what awful, obscure medical condition I was facing. (This happening in October is probably somewhat related to that thought.)

I reached into my bra and discovered grass seeds.

Those little f-ers hurt.

When I was bombarded in the face, and apparently chest, with the grass seeds, I was wearing a raincoat over a fleece over a sweater over a t-shirt. What? I believe in layering. I had, however, failed to think about my neck. Had I been wearing a turtleneck, I would have been spared the pain. Please, learn from me.

Do change immediately after returning home if you don’t like turtlenecks or live somewhere warm. Also, take a long, hot shower.

Those would have meant a significantly more comfortable afternoon.

Don’t agree to chaperone outdoor field trips.

Such a policy will greatly lessen the risk of sharp, pointy seeds down your shirt. Indoor-only field trips will not completely eliminate the risk. We’re talking about tweens, though; they can be squirrely.

Don’t forget to notice that your kid and his/her friends are pretty snazzy.

On the bus back to the school, a fellow chaperone said she had enjoyed observing her son and was reminded that he is good egg. Tweens and teens may drive us crazy at home, but part of the fun of this age group is getting to see the fruits of those dozen or so years of hard work when they are in public.

Apparently, that’s something I’m willing to spend five hours walking through the woods and shooting pain to witness.

— Shannan Ball Younger

Shannan Ball Younger is a writer living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and tween daughter. She blogs about parenting at Mom Factually and weathering the hormone hurricane at Tween Us on ChicagoNow. She grew up in Erma’s home state of Ohio and was thrilled to attend the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2014. Her essays can be found in the anthologies My Other Ex and The HerStories Project. She was part of the Listen to Your Mother Chicago 2013 cast. You can also find Shannan on Facebook and Twitter.

My lunch with Saul Bellow

Con ChapmanIt isn’t every day I have lunch with a Nobel Prize-winning author, so I’ll never forget the day in 1970 when I walked into the faculty club at the University of Chicago and saw Saul Bellow, author of The Adventures of Augie March, among other great works I hadn’t read.

I didn’t actually have lunch with Bellow. I had lunch beforehand, in the kitchen with the rest of the help. I’ll admit it — I was just a waiter, not a member of Bellow’s inner circle of friends, or even his inner circle of enemies, which was a slightly larger group if one reads his works as romans a clef.

So I didn’t eat with Bellow, but I was as close as I’d ever been to literary fame at the time, and probably ever will be. Bellow was a living, breathing novelist with an international reputation who would go on to win the Nobel Prize six years later. It was all I could do not to rush up to him like some stupid Hollywood autograph hound and say “Mr. Bellow, you’re one of my biggest fans!”

But I respected his privacy and stuck to my role, bringing out the food, filling water glasses, sneaking a peek at the two greatest hits underneath the blouse of the Barbra Streisand look-alike on my shift.

I watched Bellow’s every move because I wanted to see how a famous novelist acted in real life.Would he be ferocious, skewering the chalky professors at his table? Would he be captivating, regaling his listeners with stories of his years in Europe? How exactly is a minor living legend supposed to behave, I asked. Just in case I ever needed to know.

The answer? Bored. Bellow sat down at an empty table and looked around the room with an expression that said he’d rather be dead in a ditch than where he was just then. My guess is the luncheon was a dog-and-pony show for potential donors — just the way a guy who probably had to fend off high-brow literary women with a stick would want to spend his day.

Being a big-name author in academia isn’t a bad gig. You give a graduate seminar every semester, boff a couple of coeds — it’s in the contract, right after the “Whereas” clauses — get your picture on the cover of the alumni magazine. But you’re also there for some contact with actual human beings, like say a wealthy alumnus/alumna who’s written a first novel.

Bellow’s aspect was distant, and everyone who passed by knew he was famous. So no one joined him at first, which he appeared to prefer. He stared around the room, then took his butter knife, stood a pat of butter up on edge, and put his knife down again. After a while a few people sat down at his table, introduced themselves, and he broke into a slight smile, which did nothing to dispel his air of ill-suppressed discomfort. I was distracted for a moment by someone and when I turned around, he was gone. The only evidence of his brief presence was that pat of butter on its edge, as Bellow must have been the whole time he was there.

From this close encounter with fame, I took a lesson that has come in handy over the years. If you want to appear superior to everyone around you at a social gathering, look bored — and play with the stuff on your table! Here are a few of the techniques I’ve perfected that lend me an aura of literary snootiness at gala dinners, business lunches and power breakfasts:

Balance two forks on a toothpick: Snap a toothpick at its mid-point and stick one end in a salt shaker. Join the forks at the tines, and suspend on one end of the toothpick. Where are you going to find a toothpick in a faculty club of a major university, you ask? Ask the assistant professor of long-haul trucking sitting next to you.

Balance your fork on your finger: If you can’t do the above-described trick, try this one, you klutz. Lay your fork right side up across your index finger at a right angle, and allow it to teeter-totter back and forth until it reaches equilibrium. Knives do not have a concave surface, and spoons are too light for this trick.

Drop a wine cork so that it stands up on an end. This is easier than it sounds. Hold the cork horizontally, so that it is parallel to the surface of the table. My preferred grip is between the outstretched second and fourth fingers, although this leaves the middle finger pointing across at your tablemates, which may lead to misunderstandings. Hold the cork gently, then release both ends at the same time. At first, if you succeed in making the cork pop up on its end just one time in 10, you’re doing fine. With practice, you should be able to do it in three tries or less, causing ingenue poetesses to look on you as a God of Belle Lettres.

Matchbook field goals. You can’t smoke in most fancy restaurants and clubs anymore, but you can get a book of matches — what for is not exactly clear. Stand the matchbook on its edge and flick across the table at finger goal posts set up by a table mate

The cooperation of another bored person in your party is essential, but a Nobel Prize in Literature is optional.

— Con Chapman

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

No river named Tomorrow around here

Lesley KagenWhen my first novel, Whistling in the Dark, was declared a breakout hit and New York Times bestseller, I was utterly bowled over.  Especially after the invitations came pouring in from readers who invited me to their monthly book club discussions, and the bookstores that’d set aside evenings for me to speak. Almost overnight I, a 57-year-old menopausal woman who felt lucky to remember where she’d parked her car, had magically morphed into a sought-after author.

I’m truly grateful for all the time I’ve spent talking to readers who share their wine, tasty treats and feelings.  While many of their reactions to my books have moved me to tears, it’s not always been a smooth sail.  I’ve received more than a few comments from readers and others along the publishing trail that would qualify as out-and-out odd and decidedly, well, testy.  Here are a couple of the more intriguing ones along with my responses that I may or may not have spoken aloud:

1. This from a woman at a library event during a discussion of Whistling in the Dark:  “I like the book and everything, but I grew up during that era and I think you should’ve tried harder to be more accurate. You do know that there were no homosexuals in Milwaukee during the 1950s, don’t you?”

Me: (Stunned.) “Ahhh…are you suggesting that gay men weren’t invented until 1967 in San Francisco?”

2. A young woman commenting during the Q & A time at a bookstore appearance for Good Graces, which is set during my childhood years: “I really loved your book and I don’t normally like historical fiction!”

Me: (Unable to respond because my jaw had dropped down to my historically sagging bosom.)

3. During a book club discussion for Mare’s Nest: “Clear something up for me. You just told us this book took you almost 10 years to write. How come?  I read it in three days.

Me: “Hmmm…do you have any more of those peanut butter cookies?”

4. In an email from a reader in Virginia commenting on my novel, Tomorrow River, which was set in her hometown: “I lived here my whole life and there’s no river named Tomorrow around here.”

Me:  It’s not a real river.  The book is just titled that because it was something the girls’ mother told them. I made it up.”

Her response:  “Well, what ya wanna go and do that for?”

5. When absolutely nobody showed up to hear me speak in a bookstore in Michigan, the manager tried to cheer me up by telling me: “Don’t feel bad. Everyone’s probably at the grand opening of the new Dollar Store. They’re giving away combs. You wanna head over there?”

Me: (A woman who hasn’t had a drink in 30 years.) “Can we stop at a bar along the way?”

7.  This last encounter took place when publisher’s representative, Sylvia, and I were lunching before the release of my first novel. This gal, who was supposed to be my book’s number one supporter, had just inserted a dinner roll into her mouth when I asked her what she thought the chances were that Whistling in the Dark would be selected by the exclusive independent booksellers BookSense list. Sylvia began snort-laughing so uncontrollably that the roll became lodged in her throat.

Me: (Sitting in the ruins of a burst bubble.) “Oh, gosh.” Barely patting her on the back, just a graze, really.) “I used to know the Heimlich maneuver, but my memory just isn’t what it used to be.”

— Lesley Kagen

Lesley Kagen is a mother of two, a grandmother of two, an actress, former restaurateur, celebrated public speaker, essayist and the award-winning, New York Times’ bestselling author of Whistling in the Dark, Land of a Hundred Wonders, Tomorrow River, Good Graces, Mare’s Nest, The Undertaking of Tess and The Resurrection of Tess Blessing. Her novels have been published in the Netherlands, China, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Russia. She lives in Wisconsin in a 100-year-old farmhouse. Find reading guides and event information at www.lesleykagen.com and at www.facebook.com/LesleyKagenBooks.

Open letter to my husband’s work wife

Samantha RodmanDear “Work Wife,”

Ha ha! I think that term is so funny. Mark only uses it to be ironic. He is a really ironic guy. I mean, you should see his collection of funny T-shirts. Wait, you can’t, since you only see him at work. There is so much about him you don’t get to see, I guess. “Work wife,” super funny.

I think it’s so great that you guys are close friends, though.  I mean, not close close, since you’ve never even been over to our house.  Except for that one time, the barbecue, and people invite everyone to a barbecue. You barely have to know them. Not like you, though. Of course, he knows you! From work.

I really also appreciate that since he can’t call me during the day, because of that work policy, he has you to talk to. He loves to have someone listen to him talk, ha ha!  Meryl says it’s because he was an only child, and he got so much attention.  Oh, Meryl is his mom, you wouldn’t know that. I never call her Meryl, though, except to strangers. I call her Mom. We’re super close.

I heard about how you’re getting really into golf. I never liked golf even though Mark does. He said it was fine because he liked to hang out with the guys anyway. Now he takes you. Guess you’re like one of the guys, ha ha! I use that time to go to spin class and Zumba. Because golf isn’t really exercise. Men can just hang out in a golf cart and drink beer, but if a woman wants to look good, she has to work at it! But I’m probably boring you; you don’t look like a gym type, ha ha! To each her own!

The time you guys went to that conference and he didn’t pick up his phone for two days didn’t bother me at all. I understand about how there aren’t a lot of cell towers in Orlando. I was grateful that at least he had you there if spouses weren’t allowed to go. And I saw how sad he was that he couldn’t take me along, even though he didn’t want to say it out loud and make us both upset. And it was so sweet that he got me that Mickey Mouse mug, since he knows I love Disney. It’s the little things.

In fact, did you know we went to Disney on our honeymoon? We had a lot of sex then. Oops, TMI! But it was really over the top. We just have that physical connection. It’s a shame about work making Mark so exhausted lately. But I’m sure we will get our mojo back! Even the best marriages take work, which you wouldn’t know, since you’re still single. But it’s okay; I mean, being single is fun. Ha ha!  I mean, for some people, it really is! For me, though, it was actually super lonely and depressing, and I was so happy to find my soulmate.

Speaking of that, I’ve tried to ask Mark to set you up with some of his single friends, but it goes nowhere. It even seems to irritate him when I ask. I think it’s probably because you’re not any of his friends’ types, so it might end up awkward for everyone. His friends are really attractive guys, so they usually go for model types. And who can compete with that? I mean, I modeled as a teenager for some catalogs. But nothing major. Mark got a kick out of the pictures, though!

It’s too bad about that new thing where you guys have to work late twice a week. It’s getting so strict there. Totally different than when Mark started and he was home every night by 6 and never had to go in on weekends. But I guess that’s why he makes the big bucks! And you do too, of course.

Let’s definitely hang out sometime. If you’re the “work wife,” it makes us like sister wives! Ha ha! I love those shows with sister wives. I always think they’re so funny because the man so obviously prefers one wife to the others. It’s always the first one, too.

Anyway, talk soon!

XO,

Mark’s Real Wife, ha ha!

— Samantha Rodman

Samantha Rodman is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Maryland and a happily married mom of three kids under 5.  She blogs on Dr. Psych Mom and has been featured in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and Scary Mommy. Like her on Facebook, and tweet to her @DrPsychMom.

A newborn, a toad and a knight in a raincoat

Anne BardsleyMy daughter and son-in-law were in the hospital nuzzling their newborn daughter. I was at their home entertaining my two-year-old grandaughter, Kaylee. I was in heaven! They’d left at five a.m. for the hospital. Contractions were coming fast. I seem to remember some directions about the alarm as I pushed them out the door. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “Go have that baby.” I went back to bed.

When Kaylee awoke around eight, I explained that mommy and daddy went to the hospital. Her new baby sister, Riley Mae, had arrived. We were going to see her, too. Their Labrador, Tahoe, was prancing to go outside. I picked Kaylee up and carried her to the door to let him out. Wait, wait…what about that alarm? Do I turn it off? Or is it already off? I couldn’t remember. Tahoe needed out so I hit the passcode and opened the door. “Intruder! Intruder! Intruder!” the alarm screamed. I hit cancel. Nothing! More intruder warnings ensued. My meltdown was brewing.

I hit reset. I hit every button on the panel, smacking at it like a wild beast. It got louder and louder! Kaylee started wailing, the dog was barking, and I was cursing. By the grace of God, I hit a button, and it stopped.

“Shut the DUCK up!” Kaylee mimicked me loudly. I looked at her in horror, thankful that she misunderstood me.

A UPS delivery arrived just as the alarm quieted down. I put Tahoe back in the house and stepped outside to sign the receipt. I was holding Kaylee in my arms. We were both in pajamas. My hair was matted from the sweat of the alarm snafu. Kaylee’s looked like she’d been electrocuted. I apologized for our appearance. I got the paperwork all squared away and went to go back in the house. UH-OH, the door was locked!  My cell phone was inside. I had no way to contact my daughter. We were in a jam, big time. Did I mention no diapers? Meltdown was increasing to a Defcon level.

God was watching over me because the neighbor, Jay, was working from home that day. They actually call him Neighbor Jay. Kaylee refers to him as Uncle Neighbor Jay. I padded across the lawn in the swampy grass. Then it started to rain really hard. “Oh, Neighbor Jay,” I called sweetly dripping all over his porch. Fortunately he had a spare key, and he knew the pass code for the alarm. He let us in and headed back across the lawn. “Let’s keep this a secret between us, okay?” I asked. “Oh sure, Gigi, no problem.” I loved Neighbor Jay at that moment.

I put a load of clothes in the washer and proceed to make us breakfast. Kaylee sat on the counter watching me get her bagel ready. Suddenly Tahoe was at my feet nuzzling me. He kept jumping at my wet socks. I looked down to see something moving. I thought it was a hairband or a dust bunny. Tahoe began to bark incessantly.

I looked at my feet and sitting right on my toes was a huge, brown spotted toad. I’m not afraid of frogs, but I screeched, grabbed Kaylee, shoved Tahoe in the garage and tore ass back to neighbor Jay’s.

By now it was pouring sheets of rain. My hair was soaked, Kaylee was hanging on for her life…sagging on my hip. I was puffing from all this excitement. “Oh, Jay,” I bellowed again. Poor Neighbor Jay. All he wanted was a peaceful day to work from home, and here I come in meltdown mode, like a raging wild maniac.

“Neighbor Jay,” I pleaded, “I need you to be my knight in shining armor…. again.” This can be a secret, too, right?” He nodded. “Sure Gigi. Do you want to come in and dry off?” He got us each a towel.

I explained that I’d just done some laundry and out of nowhere this toad arrived. He was somewhere in the kitchen; at least I hope he’s still in the kitchen. I didn’t know what to do. He grabbed his hat, an umbrella for me and his rain jacket. We trudged back through the soaked grass. We gingerly got to the kitchen and, sure enough, he was waiting for my wet feet to come back so he could perch longer. He was probably recovering from the boot I gave him when I realized he was a toad!

Jay scooped the frog up in his hand. “Do you want to pet him?” he asked. Mr. Toad looked at me, and I felt bad. All he wanted to do was sit on my wet socks. He was content there. Now we had all this excitement. I declined the touching experience as he took him to the garden. Kaylee started crying because she didn’t get to pet the frog.

I hadn’t even take a sip of coffee yet when my daughter called to brag about the baby’s cuteness. “How things are going there?” she asked.

“Oh, things are good here. We’re having breakfast. It’s all good. Kaylee woke up at eight, had her breakfast, and we’re watching Mickey Mouse. I did a load of laundry. It’s in the dryer now. I’m having my second cup of coffee. Everything is calm as can be here. I let Tahoe out, and I signed for your delivery. All is good.” I breathed deeply.

I didn’t mention the screaming alarm, getting locked out, bothering Neighbor Jay or the toad. Basically, I lied.

“Oh, Brett just talked to Neighbor Jay, and he said he saw you this morning. Twice!”

What kind of knight in shining armor can’t keep a secret?!?!? Seriously! If it wasn’t raining so hard, I’d trudge back to his house and give him hell. A calmer mind prevailed as I remembered that he really was my knight in a raincoat that morning. It wouldn’t be fair to yell at him after all he’d done for me that morning.

And who knows? I might get fired and have to stay at his house next trip. I baked him cookies instead.

— 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.”

Bacon and lies

Doug CloughJust last week I got the best compliment from my son that a man can possibly get. When I asked him how he liked his breakfast, he said, “It was in the top five of my bacon moments.” I was so proud that I posted it on Facebook.

My good wife saw the post and everything went awry. You see, I made the eggs, but I really didn’t cook the bacon. She did. She baked it in the oven resulting in pork belly perfection that my son proclaimed, “not burnt and not chewy — awesome.”

In my defense, I didn’t tell him I made it; I just smiled and walked away in triumph. Those of you who have teenage boys knows what it’s like to receive the slightest praise — deserved or not — and run with it.

To this end, I offer this formal apology to my wife. This isn’t the first time our kids have given me praise for something that she’s done. I’ve been thanked for wedding, birthday and Christmas gifts that I had no part in choosing.

The extent of my participation is uttering the noncommittal ‘uh-huh’ when my wife asks for my opinion.

My daughter has thanked me for UPS packages when I barely knew the contents. I’ve even ribbed my wife for a gift choice and found out later that toddlers still do play with a ball for hours. She’s smart like that… simple or complicated, she knows her audience and enjoys playing to it.

This could be a gender issue. My mother was clearly the gift giver in our family. Even when we wrote letters to Santa, we gave them to mom to get mailed. Give them to Dad? Preposterous! He would have uttered the noncommittal, “uh-huh,” and the letter would have been kindling in a yuletide fire.

A single-income family, our father financially backed mother’s love for gift giving but left her entirely to the details. Keeping track of her son’s likes and dislikes is what mom did best: a rocket kit for Charlie, art supplies for Jeff and a weight-lifting set for Mike. If my dad would have been cornered into buying me a gift, he may well have bought shrimp cocktail on sale — and I have a shellfish allergy.

I refuse to play the gender card, however. I am above such behavior even if my gift is the ability to lie by omission. This Thanksgiving, I will let my daughter know who sought out the perfect gift for her birthday. At Christmas, I will make sure my son knows who gave the presents that are under the tree. Like, Ebenezer Scrooge, I will be a changed man.

I most sincerely regret my Facebook post. Granted, it was bacon. I put the four tender slices on the plate with the same fried eggs I slaved over. You should have seen my boy’s expression and his genuine sense of gratitude. As proof of my presentation, my post got 37 likes, nine comments and an invitation to a Missouri Bacon Festival. A man rarely lives to get that kind of praise. You’d think my wife would be more supportive.

Uh-huh.

— Doug Clough

Doug Clough writes a column for the Ida County Courier in Ida Grove, Iowa, called “From our backyard…”  His work has appeared in Farm News, The Iowan and Boating World, and he served as a travel scout for Midwest Living. “I am a father of a salad bowl family (aka ‘blended’), a customer service manager, the possession of my Labradoodle and — in a former life — an English teacher. Someone has to enjoy that mix; it may as well be me,” he says.

Reflections of Erma