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Ripping the headlines

Paul_LanderThe news doesn’t need to be complicated and confusing; that’s what any new release from Microsoft is for. And, as in the case with anything from Microsoft, to keep the news from worrying our pretty little heads over, remember something new and equally indecipherable will come out soon.

Really all you need to do is follow one simple rule:  barely pay attention and jump to conclusions.  So, here are some headlines today and my first thoughts:

A Meth Lab was built in a WalMart bathroom
Someone tried to do that in an IKEA, but couldn’t figure out the instructions.

Gary Dahl, the inventor of the pet rock, dies
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you just get stoned.

The world’s most elusive cat has been captured on camera
All it took was some person going into a nearby bathroom and leaving the door ajar.

Krispy Kreme co-founder dies at 95 years old
No word, if he was buried in a box with a dozen family members.

Obama reveals his favorite Girl Scout cookie
Man, that would have a whole different meaning if it were Bill Clinton.

Happy National Poetry Day
A day where I think, therefore iamb.

Bristol Palin’s Alaska home for sale
At least according to Putin, who can see it from his house.

This is what happens when you step on molten lava
Ouch… ouch… sh**… ouch… ouch… sh**… ouch…

Reports actor Dennis Hopper just died, despite having already passed away five years ago
In fairness, given the amount of acid he took, his corpse could be having a flashback.

How ‘marijuana refugees’ brought legal cannabis to Georgia
I’m guessing on a midnight train.

Putin says Russia will stand firm in standoff with West
Kanye says, ‘What his problem with me? Just because I think Russia should be run by Beyonce.’

Happy 91st birthday, Gloria Vanderbilt
Congratulations. Your genes are longer lasting than your jeans.

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney‘s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake.

The detour

Jayne Robinson(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Jayne Robinson’s upcoming book, The Convertible Chronicles: Going Topless. Click here for guidelines for prospective contributors.)

“The really happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery when on a detour.”

— Unknown

I make my way down the crowded aisle. I am headed to Paris — my luggage lighter than the limit, but I carry the diagnosis of cancer.

The plan was to spend four weeks teaching. And then 10 days in Provence with my two daughters, Lizzie and Kat, traveling by train and a mini-Cooper convertible. I am forced to detour by a cluster of unruly cells.

#          #          #

“Excuse me, would you like a stick of gum?” my seatmate, a woman in her 60s, says. I take it and mumble thanks. I am in a metal cocoon with a woman battling fourth-stage liver cancer. Her husband died when she was in her 40s leaving her to raise her children alone; her daughter died of diabetes. I tell her about my convertible and how my trip was supposed to end not in cancer surgery but a roofless ride through Provence with my two daughters.

She tells me her sister has a convertible. She says, “You know that face? The face you have when you are in a convertible and wind and time are rushing past.” I do. I have often been accused of looking sad or tired when I am neither. People taking my photo say, “Look happy, for God’s sake. … Well, OK, just say cheese.” After my first child was born I sent a photo of me holding her to my father. He tells me it is the first photo of my life where I looked happy. But in a convertible the wind transforms my face. Joy wipes away the years.

“You know,” she says, “cancer, like convertibles, is good at blowing unnecessary things out of your hair and mind.”

On the day before I am set to fly home we visit Reims. The cathedral is lovely, but my religious experience comes in the cellars of Maison de Champagne Taittinger. Bottles destined to travel the world, to toast babies not yet conceived, life partners not yet drawn together, anniversaries of people now struggling, who hope their union will be celebrated, the burning of mortgages and degrees bestowed, cancers in remission, ships launched in calm seas. …

Surgery morning is dark with a fine rain. It has rained on all the significant days of my life. The rain on our wedding day stopped just as we crossed over the Ambassador Bridge, and a double rainbow graced our Canadian honeymoon. It rained on the day I defended my Ph.D., the birth days of both Lizzie and Kat, the day Lizzie was diagnosed with MS — and four solid days after; the universe wanted to be sure I understood that this meant the disease would not conquer this girl. And today.

I take this as a good omen.

I ask my husband, Wayne, if he will drive me to the hospital in the convertible. I want to feel the rain on my face. I wish I was heading to the hospital with my uterus full of child, not cancer. It feels like yesterday Kat was born. Einstein insists time is not linear. Today it is evident.

The surgeon emerges and tells Wayne and my daughters that it went well. Earliest stages.

Lizzie uses her vacation to take care of me. Both daughters join me in bed for pillow talk. Wayne dotes. …

I see love, the love of the humans we travel with — who chauffeur us when we are broken and ride shotgun in convertibles when we joyride.

Summer is running out. Do I feel well enough to go river rafting?

So, under a perfect blue sky, we tumble our way down one of the world’s oldest rivers. Between whitewater we jump into the river and float — our family a flotilla. Kat often says we are like one soul in four bodies. The river drowns my worries. Back home I am ready to drive solo. Wayne helps me put down the top and lower myself, gingerly, into the seat of our almost classic convertible. I head out on the highway and then cut away into the woods. I drive until I am at the speed of life. Time slows, and flows, like caramel in the sun. It is like the river, this road. It flows and I flow with it; I am 17 driving down a road in Southern Ontario. And I feel it … convertible face.

— Jayne Robinson

Jayne Robinson is a professor of biology at the University of Dayton and author of The Cake Chronicles: Finding Sweet Hope In This Crazy World. This is an excerpt from her upcoming book, The Convertible Chronicles: Going Topless. It first appeared in the spring 2015 issue of the University of Dayton Magazine.

Going topless


Author Jayne Robinson is seeking personal essays from women of a certain age who love and own convertibles for a new book, The Convertible Chronicles: Going Topless. Click here for an excerpt of an essay she wrote for the book.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

Format: The book will consist of chapters, mini-chronicles (1,000-2,000 words), written by women who love and own convertibles.

Content: Each essay will focus broadly on the woman’s relationship with her convertible, e.g., what led you to get one, how/why riding topless makes one feel better, freer, more joyful and the like. Chapters will range from a very focused story of a particular trip or experience, a meta approach to all the convertibles you’ve owned or lusted after, or a philosophical/psychological analysis. Her hope is that all essays/stories would be personal and explore the terrain in ways that address themes of joy, freedom, aging, recovery; and all others that emerge.

Special Criteria: Contributors will be over the age of 50 (women of a certain age), so ageism will be a common theme.

Personal Profile: In addition to the essay, each contributor will also be expected to provide a personal profile that is made up of answers to provided prompts a la Dewars Scotch advertisements (see examples below). Prompts are provided as a separate file to be completed by contributors.

Dream convertible?

Ultimate topless trip?

Craziest time in a convertible?

For more information or to offer submissions, email Jayne Robinson at

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry.
You’ll want to call your mother.

god_box_poster_homeWriter/performer Mary Lou Quinlan is bringing her critically acclaimed one-woman show, “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story,” to the University of Dayton’s Boll Theatre March 30-31 as a benefit for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop endowment fund.

It’s been called “a beautiful play with a heart full of love behind it.”

Tickets can be ordered online here, by calling 937-229-2545 or visiting the box office on the first floor of Kennedy Union on campus.  The box office is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Parking is available in lots B and C.

Here are the details for the two performances:

7 p.m. March 30, Boll Theatre. Tickets: $25 (includes book) or $15. Group rate: Buy four tickets, get one free. “Talkback” follows the show: “Writing Your Heart Out,” with Mary Lou Quinlan joining local authors Katrina Kittle, Mary McCarty, Sharon Short and Joanne Huist Smith onstage. Bring your mothers, daughters, girlfriends, book clubs, soul mates and the special men in your lives. We’re calling this night “Mother’s Day in Dayton.”

7 p.m. March 31, Boll Theatre. “The Bombeck Family Special Benefit for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.” Tickets: $50 (includes book and dessert reception). Emcee: Cheryl McHenry, WHIO-TV anchor. “Talkback” follows the show: “A Mother’s Bond,” featuring Betsy Bombeck and Mary Lou Quinlan onstage.

Like many who lose a loved one, Quinlan, an overachieving and devoted daughter, struggled to come to terms with the death of her mother until her remarkable discovery of her mother’s “God Boxes,” filled with hundreds of private petitions written by the very hand that had slipped away.

The notes trigger Quinlan’s unraveling, an emotional roller coaster of the heart, revealing things about her mother and herself that she never knew and driving her to the ultimate human challenge — learning to let go.

This true story, written by Quinlan, became a New York Times’ best-selling book The God Box and inspired her solo show “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story.” Performed by Quinlan, and co-written and directed by Martha Wollner of New York City’s  Labyrinth Theater Company, this theatrical piece follows Quinlan on the journey of a lifetime.

Quinlan, a charismatic storyteller with a blue-chip career as a CEO, entrepreneur, author and speaker, has performed the showMary Lou Quinlan across the U.S. for three years, including a sold-out New York run at 59 East 59th Theater Off-Broadway as well as 24 performances this past summer at the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland to rave reviews.

After Quinlan served as a keynote speaker at the sold-out Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2014, she offered to bring her one-woman show to campus to support the workshop’s efforts to remain affordable for writers from all levels of experience from all over the country.

“Mary Lou is as generous and gracious as she is talented,” said Teri Rizvi, founder and co-director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. “She shares her mother’s gift of faith, love and letting go in a show that entertains and moves audiences. In the spirit of her mother, she donates all proceeds to causes she believes in — from women’s health issues to education. It’s beyond inspiring.”

Here’s what the critics are saying about her solo show:

“A beautiful play with a heart full of love behind it.” Five Stars, British Theatre Guide

“Moments of joy and discovery and…tearful loss. It’s very intimate to (look) through the windows of the soul, with sympathy and compassion. Quinlan’s performance feels as natural as a conversation.” Marti Sichel, NY Theater Critic

“Heartfelt, well-acted and engaging. Quinlan’s character is vulnerable and basely human…an impressive production.” Broadway Baby, FOUR STARS

“Compelling and emotionally involving…excellently crafted and delivered…heart-rending show.” Three Weeks, FOUR STARS

Proceeds from performances of “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story” have raised nearly $250,000 for charities supporting cancer and hospice care, education and community causes. More information is available on and on Facebook.

The March 30-31 performances are co-sponsored by the Dayton Rotary Foundation; CareSource Foundation; PNC; Mauro Orthodontics; the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association; Office of Special Programs and Continuing Education; Provost’s Office; Communication Department; the Women’s Center; the School of Education and Health Sciences, Division of Student Development; Merle Wilberding and Susan Elliott; Erik and Kelly Freudenberg, HORAN; Jack and Vicki Giambrone; Greg and Mindy Hoffbauer; and Zafar and Teri Rizvi.  WHIO-TV is the media co-sponsor, and Washington-Centerville Public Library is providing promotional support. Other support provided by Progressive Printers, University of Dayton Bookstore, Bob Ross Auto Group, Walling Photography LLC and Skip Peterson Photography.

In 2004, University of Dayton alumnus Ralph Hamberg and his wife, Cindy, gave a $100,000 gift to start a workshop endowment fund in memory of her cousin, Brother Tom Price, S.M.  This University of Dayton English professor first told Erma ”three little words” of encouragement, “You can write!” The Hamberg family, the Bombeck family and other supporters continue to contribute to the endowment fund, which allows the University of Dayton to keep the workshop affordable for writers. To make an online gift, click here.

Three friends, the MammoVan and the flat tire

Nancy L. WolfMen think it’s weird when women go to the ladies’ room in groups.

Men may think it even weirder that I go with two friends each year to get our mammograms.

We call it the “MammoVan.”

Let me clarify — the three of us travel together in one car but we have separate mammograms in consecutive appointments. Even the most advanced imaging machine can only accommodate two breasts at a time.

The three of us — Martha, Liz and I went to the same college and ended up in the D.C. area. All lawyers but not the boring kind.

We became friends before our breasts did.

Somewhere in her 30s Martha developed breast cancer (she’s fine now but pretty religious about keeping it that way, as you can imagine). And Liz, somewhere in her 40s, discovered the BRCA gene ran in her family so she got the same religion.

Me? My breasts have been the healthiest part of my body so far.

Fortunately, another college friend of ours, Dr. Linda, is an expert radiologist with her own practice less than an hour from D.C. devoted solely to breast imaging. Picture a spa-like setting with plush robes, soothing music and soft colors on the walls together with cutting-edge digital technology. The best part is that all of her patients get the results directly from her that same day. No waiting a week to get a letter in the mail with scary words like “dense tissue” or “ductal.”

If you might be expecting bad news, what better way to take it in than with close friends?

That was the idea that launched our now annual MammoVan.

On our first visit Dr. Linda showed us around her new digs. In the darkened room where she reviews the images that look like white squiggles with a few bright dots on a blurry field she displayed three of our latest studies.

Liz innocently asked Dr. Linda, “Whose image is whose?”

Dr. Linda very sweetly answered, “Can’t you tell? Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear.”

Perhaps TMI, but let’s just say that the three of us have differing physical characteristics of our upper torsos.

This morning we set off for our annual visit in the MammoVan (aka Martha’s car.) Halfway there, while on a highway with trucks whizzing past us, we started to hear a clinking sound. Liz, the car expert, confidently announced that was a tailpipe that had come loose. The ridiculous potholes we have had this winter have done their damage. But as the tailpipe clinking becomes a louder, more clunk-a-clunk sound, Martha guessed correctly, the car had a flat tire.

We pulled over to the side of the highway.

(I was silently cheering. Surely it will take hours for the road service to come and install the spare tire? Yay, we will miss our mammogram appointments!)

No such luck.

While Martha called for help, I noticed that we had pulled over on an overpass precisely between the National Security Agency (barbed wire all around) on one side of the road and some kind of penitentiary (more barbed wire) on the other.

Yup, we and our breasts were stuck between two heavy and ominous places already — and we hadn’t even made it to Dr. Linda’s office.

Sadly, the roadside assistance arrived promptly and quickly put on the spare tire. Liz impressed me by knowing the location of something called a lug nut. And when I called Dr. Linda’s office, her receptionist told me she was able to squeeze us in (the squeezing thing!) even if we arrived late.

30 minutes later —  for the benefit of any men still reading this, the following occurred:

1. I took off my bra and sweater and put on a fluffy blue robe, then was escorted into a room with the giant machine.

2. I took off the fluffy blue robe.

3. While standing in front of the giant machine, a technician with a very soothing voice guided me into proper placement upon a solid glass plate onto which my breasts, first the left, then the right, got squished between the solid glass plate and a sledgehammer appearing device which came ever so gently slamming down on the top.

4. “Hold your breath!”

5. The technician moves away behind the screen. A few buttons are touched.  I breathe again. Unsquished.

6. Then, while staring at a lovely painting of calming flowers, I was repositioned to stand with my side to the machine. Again, the right, then the left, or maybe it was the other way around.

7. Squash, “Hold your breath!” Squash again, squeeze, more breath-holding. Breathe.

8. Done.

It wasn’t so bad at all. I’ll take a mammogram over dental work anytime.

And then, one at a time, we take turns going into Dr. Linda’s office where each of us was told, “You look fine, you are good to go until next year.” Good news: our breasts are healthy as is our friendship.

If you don’t have a MammoVan in your life, may I suggest you get one? And bring someone along who knows where the lug nut is kept.

— Nancy L. Wolf

Nancy L. Wolf is a recovering D.C. lawyer, semi-retired but hardly retiring. You can find her writing in the Washington PostHuffington PostMidlife BoulevardBetter After Fifty and in emails to her kids. She blogs at Witty, Worried and Wolf.

Why I can’t return the sour milk

Jocelyn pihlajaStep into my mukluks for 17 minutes.

Minute One: Park car in lot outside “fancy” grocery store in town. As door slams, congratulate self on not locking keys inside. Simultaneously marvel at surprising deliciousness of cotton candy gum.

Minute Two: Walk across parking lot to store. Remember time you ran into cousin there, in middle of asphalt. He wore long wool coat. When he was young, you’d never have pegged him as wearer of long wool coat. Wonder about intersection of coat and his recent “vice president” title at work. Related?

Minute Three: Enter store. Notice college student ordering latte at the coffee stand. Quash urge to yell, “Get the Turtle Mocha. They cut up a Snickers bar and put it on top of the whipped cream, and you’ll never have a better boyfriend than that!” Reject notion of getting cart, as you have short list. Pick up basket and congratulate self for traveling light. You are restraint on tiny cat feet compared to conspicuously consuming shoppers hacking around dairy section. Gad. Watch lady in North Face puffer coat loading yogurts into her cart like 12-day blizzard, or prolonged course of antibiotics, is imminent. Thorstein Veblen would clutch cravat in choked dismay.

Minute Four: Look at shopping list. First item: 10x yogurts.

Minute Five: Even though not on list, toss bag of pita chips into basket. Midnight snackies favor hummus and get shrill if not coddled.

Minute Six: Recall kids have been wanting little Jell-O cups. Green ones. As occur in nature.

Minute Seven: Bananas! On list! Virtue restored!

Minute Eight: Self-righteously march past bulk nuts. Crack nonsensical joke to self about “bulk nuts.” Slip by woman near cans of beans who needs new stylist. Hard black hair against 63-year-old face highlights, rather than masks, age. Tangentially wonder if Oprah dyes hair. Ruminate about how girls who have graduated from Oprah’s school in South Africa are doing and if they have seen Selma. Imagine what girls would wear to Oscars, had Selma been nominated and Oprah brought them as special guests. Predict strapless with sweetheart necklines. Hot orange.

Minute Nine: ORANGES! Head back to produce. Fruit supply at home is low. Mercifully, so is population of fruit flies. Pull out mental gratitude journal, noting unnecessarily that Oprah Is Ubiquitous, and jot “No fruit flies means don’t have to cover wine glass with coaster” as today’s entry. Watch as mental script fades away in middle of “coaster” because mental pen is running out of ink. Stupidly, toss oranges on top of pita chips. Cringe at ensuing crunch. Congratulate self for tricep workouts that enable you to carry light-footprint basket even when loaded with 15 pounds of items not on list. Wonder if Thorstein Veblen was any fun at parties.

Minute 10: Feel underwear tag scratching heiny. Complete sly mental scan of five-foot radius. Clear. Casually slide hand down pants and adjust offender.

Minute 11: As long as scratching crack, time for cracker aisle. Rue that Triscuits aren’t negative calorie food. Wonder if science fiction writer could ever create world where oil-rich food saps body. Wonder if, should this book be written, you would read it. Decide not. Send out mental signal to fictional science fiction writer not to bother. Wonder what his name would have been. Derek?

Minute 12: Get mired down in front of protein bars. Check calories and shake fist at sky. Note sugar grams and drop forehead into hands. Spiral, in under three seconds, into black void of hunger, exercise, intake, output and ceaselessly soft mid-section. Jar brain out of unreasonable rut with observation that protein bars are processed food. Also observe that husband and son aren’t bar-oriented while daughter and mother are. Feel exasperated by gender politics of food. Load eight bars into suddenly-heavy-feeling basket. Give triceps pep talk and remind them how hard they worked at gym while lady wearing microphone yelled motivationally about 16 more reps.

Minute 13: Walking past plexiglass case, get distracted by prospect of muffins. Realize, in complicated emotional bargaining that is parenthood, you “owe” son muffin since you bought several for daughter two weeks ago when she went on extracurricular event for three days and stayed in hotel. Store had no chocolate chip muffins then. Store has no chocolate chip muffins now. Get philosophical and ask self, “What is a muffin without chocolate chips, really?” Deliberate merits of massive pumpkin muffin instead. Decide no. As you walk away from pumpkin, bid him “Adieu, Derek.”

Minute 14: Realize you’re supposed to be picking up daughter and friend not named Derek from ski practice in one minute. Hope they find enriching conversational topics to temper waiting. Consider texting daughter quick message: “Beyoncé. Pregnant again? Discuss.” Concede Beyoncé topic not enriching. Revise unsent text to: “Are corporations people? Answer is NO. Discuss Romney’s failed bids for presidency.” Speculate about product Romney uses in hair to make it look like shellacked guitar strings. Smile at image of guitar strings because Taylor Swift plays guitar and daughter loaded your iPod running playlist with Taylor Swift songs. Oops, DAUGHTER. Should go get her. Do driving math of “four miles that direction before six miles another direction,” push gently on spongy internal organ to test its mass, and decide bathroom stop is essential.

Minute 15: Enter bathroom, sliding gaze to floor so as to avoid verbal exchange with hair-fluffer obsessed with volume of noggin’s silhouette. Skulk into stall. Set down bag of groceries while simultaneously setting rear onto ring. As soon as relief begins, realize there is no toilet paper. Unzip jacket pockets. Frisk self. Peer into amazing lime green purse that could easily hold Kleenex were they stocked. Check for feet under next stall so you can query, suddenly friendly, “Can you spare a square?” On every front: out. of. luck.

Minute 16: Contemplate brown paper grocery bag at feet. Ripping off some inches would be admirably pragmatic. Consider thickness of paper. Stiff stuff. Not absorbent. Entertain possibility of “tanning” brown paper as traditional hunters did deer hides: with urine. Realize, damn it, you just wasted that most precious resource. How can someone tan brown paper bag with urine when she’s just released all of hers into five gallons of water? Let brain drift to one of its favorite vacation spots: life of Ayla in Clan of the Cave Bear. When not domesticating animals or inventing needle and thread, assuredly that woman harnessed potential of urine.

Minute 17: Spot nine-inch receipt inside brown paper grocery bag. Push through nano-second of worry about vaginal ink poisoning. Grab receipt, blot cooch with it, and watch paper swirl and swirl again — so full of drama with swirls — before disappearing down porcelain chute. Take moment, bowing head like traditional hunter standing over elk with arrow in its side, to thank water, sky, earth for always providing.

And that’s why, when I got home and discovered the milk I’d bought was sour, I couldn’t return it.

— Jocelyn Pihlaja

Jocelyn Pihlaja has been teaching writing and literature at the college level since 1991. She has a husband who cooks dinner every night, kids who hold up hands requesting “silence” when their reading is interrupted and a blog, O Mighty Crisis. Her writing has appeared on MamalodeBLUNTmomsThe Indie ChicksThe Good Men ProjectMamapediaIn the Powder Room and elephant journal. She also is a regular contributor to a local public radio program, Women’s Words, where she delights in wearing huge headphones — and not just because they remind her she actually remembered to wear earrings that day.

Have a day!

Anne BardsleyI was going to wish you a Happy Easter, but that would be offensive to so many.

First, I’d offend the cows. This is a bunny/ chick day. If the cows get offended, you know what happens next. They go on strike and there goes my mint chocolate chip ice cream cone.

Next, I’d offend the chickens and hens that lay bland color eggs. The robins might compete with their blue-speckled eggs, but that would just incite the woodpeckers. I cannot mention tye-dye bright-colored eggs, or our feathered friends might go into a roosting protest. Imagine that smell! Then it would offend the farmers who had to sweep out the roost.

I almost mentioned my favorite colored Easter grass is pink, but the turf builders would be on my front lawn with signs protesting artificial pink grass.

Next on my list of offensive things would be the little marshmallow chicks. Mother hens everywhere might unite and peck me to death for making fun of the color of the chicks: blue, pink and yellow. I don’t want to be a marshmallow-chick racist. Rumor on the street is that the blue ones are supposed to be the tastiest. Shhhhh!

The rabbit community actually has the right to be offended. They are shy creatures in reality. Those six-foot bunnies with huge beady eyes and ceiling-high ears do not do them justice. No wonder my kids had panic attacks when they met their first Easter bunny at our local dairy farm. They locked the doors and refused to get out of the car.

I really wanted to wish you an Easter sunrise with renewed faith in the world. This is my religion’s most holy day, when Christ rose from the dead. In doing so, I might offend other religions.

I’m not sure when we all got so offended about things to celebrate. More importantly, why is it so offensive? It seems to me that a few cranky people ruined it for the rest of us. Now, isn’t that insane? There is a saying, “Be careful when you follow the masses; sometimes the M is silent.” Oh dear, I think I just offended the donkeys.

So with all of this offensive stuff going around, how can I ever hope we’ll have a renewed faith in this world of ours? If you figure it out, please let me know. I promise not to be offended.  And by the way, Happy Easter!

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She’s been featured on Scary Mommy,, Better Writers After 50, local magazines and more. She barely survived raising five children and is so glad she didn’t strangle them as teenagers. Grandchildren have erased those late night, missed curfew, memories.  She lives in St Pete, Fla., with her husband and two spoiled cockapoos.

Celebrating Erma — and more of history’s greatest women

Beckerman, TracyIn case you didn’t know, March is Women’s History Month. Personally, I think we should celebrate women every single day, not just one month out of the year, and I make sure to remind my husband of that as often as I can.

Anyway, there are so many women who are recognized for their contributions throughout history, but there are a few, sadly, who go unmentioned even though they made a HUGE impact on society.

Take Marion Donovan. In 1946, after three kids, Marion had had it with washing out their dirty cloth diapers, clothes and bed linens, and decided to take matters into her own hands, or rather, her own sewing machine.  Using just a shower curtain and some heavy-duty thread, Marion fashioned a waterproof diaper cover, and then later, the first disposable diaper. In 1961, her design was used to help create Pampers®, the first mass-produced disposable diaper. But it was Donovan who we should thank for all those diapers we no longer have to wash by hand.

Then there was Mary Phelps Jacob, a young New York socialite in 1914 who decided corsets were both uncomfortable and unattractive under her clothing. Determined to create a better alternative, Jacob took two silk handkerchiefs and, with help from her maid, sewed them together to make the first bra. As an aside, I have to imagine that women of that day must have been significantly smaller in the bosom area than we are today because if someone my (generously endowed) size tried to get away with a bra made from two silk handkerchiefs, the weight around my neck would probably cause my head to snap off.

Ann Moore was a Peace Corps nurse during the 1960s in Togo, West Africa, when she noticed how African mothers carried their babies in slings on their backs. Moore saw that this way of toting around their babies not only made life a lot easier for the mothers, but also seemed to make the infants feel more secure.

When Moore came back home she decided to try creating something similar to carry around her own child and thus, the Snugli® was born. As mothers, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Moore for this invention, and I’m sure Moore owes a debt of gratitude to Marion Donovan for creating that disposable diaper, because the one thing worse than having a wet baby is having a wet baby in a Snugli® on your chest.

In 1930, Ruth Wakefield was mixing a batch of chocolate cookies for her guests at her lodge, The Toll House Inn, when she discovered that she was out of baking chocolate. All she had were some Nestle’s semi-sweet morsels. So, expecting the morsels to get absorbed into the dough like the baking chocolate, she used them instead. But as we now know, Nestle’s Morsels don’t ever fully melt when you bake them, and the resulting cookie launched Ruth Wakefield into fame as the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie.

This was obviously a great moment in culinary history but also a potential problem for many women who could just not get enough of Wakefield’s Toll House cookies. Fortunately for us, Jean Nidetch, another great woman in history, came along in 1963 and founded Weight Watchers.

Clearly, these women have had a profound effect on our lives, but I have to say, as a humor writer, the woman who probably influenced me the most, aside from my mother, was Erma Bombeck.

Most people don’t realize that Erma Bombeck was almost 38 when she started writing her humor column for the Dayton Journal Herald. By today’s work standards, that is practically old enough to retire to a senior community called “Journey’s End” in Florida and start stealing sugar packets at the Early Bird Special. Like Erma, I was also nearly 40 when I started writing my column. Like Erma, my column grew out of the experience of becoming a mother. It was not something I could have written in my 20s. I actually don’t even think I really hit my writing stride until my 40s. With age, they say, comes wisdom — but also, sometimes, children. That kind of blows that whole wisdom theory to heck. But with children come hemorrhoids. And with children and hemorrhoids come a humor column.

Erma Bombeck wrote about children and hemorrhoids and other familial things that annoy and inconvenience us in more than 4,000 columns that appeared in over 900 newspapers. She wrote 12 books, nine of which made The New York Times’ Best Sellers List. Considering she didn’t start writing until she was almost 40 and she passed away, sadly, when she was 69, that is a heck of a body of work for such a short time.

So what did Erma Bombeck really achieve aside from all these books and columns? What makes her someone worth celebrating during Women’s History Month? Well, she made people laugh. She made us forget our financial struggles and health issues and parenting challenges for a short time by helping us see the humor in life. She helped us feel less alone with our problems by letting us share in hers. She opened a window into the challenges of child rearing and let us know it was okay to laugh at our mistakes. Most importantly, she taught us the healing power of humor and the fundamental need we have, as humans, to connect through laughter.

Interestingly enough, although she was undoubtedly one of the most gifted columnists of our time, Erma Bombeck was incredibly humble about her achievements and defined herself as a wife and mother first, and a writer second.

As for me, I define myself as a writer first, a wife second, and a mother third because my kids really annoyed me this morning, and if my husband doesn’t come home with flowers today to make up for all the hell the kids put me through, he’s definitely dropping into third place.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I’m taking the time to remember some women in history who did so much to improve the quality of our lives. But I think we should also take a moment to celebrate ourselves. Everyday we simply make someone else smile, we are doing something that makes a difference. For me, that is writing a humor column, but it can also be as simple as just telling someone how much I appreciate them.

I think a lot of the time we are way, way too critical of ourselves. My husband says if anyone else talked about me the way I talk about myself, he’d deck them, which isn’t saying much because even I can bench press more than my husband.

But this is the time of year when the media tells us we should start feeling bad about the weight we gained over the winter, or the book we didn’t write, or the kids we forgot to feed (and by the way, I only did that last one once).  It’s hard to feel good about yourself when it feels like everyone else is telling you you’re not thin enough or working hard enough or a good enough mother. However, if history is any indication, our foremothers did not have perfect bodies or perfect careers or perfect children, either. They did the best they could and sometimes they had amazing results and sometimes they had so-so results, just like us.

So instead, let’s celebrate what we do achieve, not what we don’t, and everyday just be the amazing, authentic individuals that we are.

We might not get our house on the National Register of Historic Places like Erma just did, but we are certainly likely to make someone’s day.

— Tracy Beckerman

Tracy Beckerman, who served on the faculty at the 2014 EBWW, writes the syndicated humor column and blog, “Lost in Suburbia,” which is carried by more than 400 newspapers in 25 states and on 250 websites to approximately 10 million readers. She’s also the author of Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir and Rebel Without a Minivan: Observations on Life in the ‘Burbs. In 2014, she was the global humor winner in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition sponsored by the Washington-Centerville Public Library in Centerville, Ohio.

Reflections of Erma