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Is that a dog?

Years ago, we had new neighbors move in to the upstairs apartment in the house next door. One Saturday afternoon shortly after the couple had moved in, I saw them out with their dog on the grassy median strip dividing our residential street. The couple was talking with some other neighbors, so I went out to say hi.

After meeting the friendly guy and his girlfriend, with no introductions to their scruffy dog sniffing at my feet, a question formulated in my head:

“Is that a male or female dog?”

(Because, really, how can you tell without being, y’know, obvious?)

In a moment of supreme brain-body disconnect, the question that came out of my mouth, however, was:

“Is that a dog?”

Write that down as an excellent example of how NOT to make a good first impression.

But it still cracks me up when I think about it, even though it happened more than 25 years ago.

I probably take myself and the foibles of life too seriously much of the time. But I also love laughing at myself. Not in a way that feels like a self put-down, but in a way that makes me feel human and hopefully approachable, in an “I screw up, you screw up, we all screw up” kind of way.

If I’m at a party, I’m not always a great conversationalist. I’m not especially politically astute (although for some reason lately, I’ve had more of an opinion than ever before — go figure). I’m not good at remembering details from trips and vacations, so I can’t name that “memorable” restaurant on the lake in Skaneateles, New York, and I can’t discuss which historic sites we visited in Philadelphia.  (Other than the Liberty Bell, of course — the memory bar isn’t set that low.) I’m also severely “directionally challenged,” so don’t even ask me the best way to get from East Poestenkill to Cropseyville.  You might end up in Massachusetts.

But I can tell a funny story about myself and I always seem to catch a listening ear.

Our imperfection — our vulnerability — is a great human connector. Like the K’nex building blocks that my kids played with years ago, it pulls us together and helps us stick with each other. In fact, a little more self-deprecating humor and a lot more K’nexing may be what the world needs right now.

— Karen DeBonis

Karen DeBonis blogs about her wild adventures as a homebody, including writing (aka avoiding housework), meditating (aka napping) and serving a nightly smorgasbord to deer and other critters in her yard (aka gardening). She lives in a wonderfully emptied nest in upstate New York with her husband of 34 years.

At the heart of it all

My husband Matthew teases me every year. “You want that key in a heart necklace, don’t you?” or, “Oh, look at that heart charm. I’m going to get you that!”

He knows if he really did, it’d be the first gift of his I’d take back. I can’t abide hearts. But in the spirit of the holiday, I tolerate heart-shaped chocolates — if they’re dark chocolate. Milk chocolate is a greater abomination than cute jewelry.

Disliking hearts as I do, you can see why Valentine’s Day and I did not get along until 16 years ago.

Okay, there’s more to it than that. Truth be told, not once as a young woman did a young man declare his infatuation with, his adoration of — not even his hope-to-get-to-know-you-better feelings for me on that day. Nothin’.

I did receive a beautiful arrangement of flowers when I was 18, but imagine opening the card on your first V-day bouquet to discover they’re from your sister.

My older sisters received tokens every year. I think young men just threw roses at them in the hall as they walked to class, cheering and whistling and laying down their jackets over old bubble gum and spit wads to protect their lovely feet from the filth of a high school floor.

I was attractive, too…in my own way. I had a large nose, lazy eye, pimples, braces from ninth grade on, and the constant appearance of pink eye due to hard contact lenses that, while aiming to make me more attractive, were viciously sucking the juices out of my eyeballs. But, man, I was a looker. Really!

Ah, well. Valentine’s Day is for all lovers, but an anniversary? That’s for two. It just so happens February 14 is the anniversary of the day Matthew announced he wanted to be my guy for life.

Sixteen years ago, we were strolling the San Antonio Zoo when he popped the question. He had asked my Dad’s permission, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he led me off into a little area by a lush pond. A large blue parrot perched there, squawking noisily. I gazed at the pretty spot absentmindedly and then turned to leave, coming face to face with my boyfriend. Smiling up at him, I put my hand on his chest.

“Wow, your heart is really pounding!” I said lightly, completely oblivious as I made to go around him. He grabbed my hand and whirled me back. I saw him kneeling with a small box in his hand, but I have really no clue what he said after, “Hillary…”

“No way!” I cried, cutting him off and trying to bolt as he gripped my hand tighter. He continued his declaration until a few seconds later I heard quite distinctly, “Will you marry me?”

“Yes,” I said in a shaky voice.

My ring was beautiful, and I even got flowers. I’ve been spoiled every year since, including one exceptional year when my Love lead me out to discover a wine-colored guitar in the trunk of his car.

Matthew has a running joke he’ll no doubt be employing until we’re 90. When some commercial, movie or TV program shows a man proposing, he always turns to me and says, “See, she doesn’t try to run away.”

Well, he needn’t worry. It’s hard to wander off anywhere with these four balls chained about my legs, also known as children.

Oh, and the beautiful blue parrot who witnessed our engagement all those years ago? We framed his picture to hang on the wall of our home.

It looks far better there than a heart would.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published online, most at the incredible She is hoping to publish a book this year that she began when she was 17 and recently rediscovered with the help of her children. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

It (usually) never rains in California

When I was notified I had won a prize for rainmaking, I was gob-smacked while trying to close my umbrella. The last one to win that prestigious award was Burt Lancaster whom I’m often mistaken for without my makeup.

I don’t know what came over me, but after some graffiti artist seeing the unwashed car wrote “dirty girl”(though I’m actually a “nasty woman”) on my car, I was glad his pen got stuck in the soot.

I was then forced to wash my car by hand — these lovely hands only meant for rocking babies and royal waving.

Here I was trying to be a good citizen by conserving water in our drought-forsaken state of California and was actually being berated for it.

Still, my car washing  did bring the rain and so I will accept graciously (unlike Bob Dylan), the most coveted “Raindrops Are Falling On My Head” accolade.

Now I’ve been receiving threatening notes saying, “ENOUGH ALREADY!”

What you should know is that I am only in charge of causing the rain though not always stopping it, so shush!

I admit the excess has caused distress.

Even the animals in my neighborhood are walking two by two seeking an ark or two-bedroom suites.

The rain caused a roof leak not covered by my homeowner’s fee as the house was remodeled 50 years ago by the original owner. Nothing is covered in my homeowner’s fee except for the battery in my smoke detector. (As I do not do much comparison-shopping, does anyone know if $7,500 a year is excessive for a battery?)

I made calls to various roof repair services. No one was available until June. I asked what I should do until then and, coincidentally, they all gave the same spiritual advice, “Pray it doesn’t rain until then.”

I realized the storm was a tad lucky for me as I wouldn’t have to attend yet another baby shower for my second cousin who was having her fourth child with her third husband, who had planned to drive me to the event.

He had also promised to have a vasectomy the first of the year, but he couldn’t start his car as his battery got wet and which left me stuck at home leaving me oh, so disappointed while I lit the fireplace and sipped my hot toddy.

But enough about family!

In addition, I was stuck all day watching television while stuffing my face with leftover pizza. Oh, don’t cry for me, Pizzerias.

Having nothing to do with anything, I’m very curious to know why you all set aside only 24 hours to celebrate “Pizza Day” when, in fact, I celebrate it all year…week in and week out with only holidays set aside for Weight Watcher’s meetings?

A bit of truthiness here; sometimes when one has supreme and potent power like myself, one must be cautious when making a weather request change. Results may have unexpected consequences.

I recall my last conjuring while wishing for a tan. I slathered sun screen all over my body, which takes a bucket or so, and issued my command while singing, “Here Comes the Sun” and then, waving my wand.

I quickly learned that when the sun also rises, it fades the drapes.

Along with a roofer, I am currently seeking curtains.

— Jan Marshall

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

Not my privates you don’t

It’s 2004, and the day has dawned sunny and bright, giving me hope for my travels.

It’s my first trip abroad in 30 years. My driver drops me at the terminal in good time, leaving me two hours to get through security — maybe even time to loll in the café, sip coffee and obsess over my itinerary to Spain. I finger my boarding pass and peek at my ticket. Detroit to Madrid. Ten hours. I’m happy I brought my flight pillow and two bestsellers.

​Finally, my turn comes to put my jacket, carry-on, shoes and purse in the bucket and let them slide down the conveyer belt. Two men on either side of the screening booth look like the narcotics squad from “Law and Order.” ​I think, what can they do to a silver-haired lady?

“Step over here, lady,” the meaner looking officer says, motioning me into a large X-ray machine.

I enter the scanning booth and the warning bell goes off. I look around to see what has caused it. The two men also try to determine what caused the forbidden alarm.

​I look down. The shirt I’m wearing is a cute beige fashion T-shirt, given to me by my friend, Nancy, for the trip. I feel pretty sexy in it, but now, to my dismay, I see the neckline of my shirt is covered with gun metal studs.

​“Wow, I am so sorry, sir!” I say to the less threatening security guard. “I believe my shirt has set off the alarm. It has metal décor on it.”

​Both men stare at me. One of them turns to a guard at the next booth and asks, “Hey, can you see what set off the bell?” The third guard looks around at me and the people behind me.

​“Nope. Ya’ got me,” he says, and turns back to the people in his aisle.

​“Excuse me, I said, “if you will notice, I have metal buttons on my shirt, I believe they might be causing the alarm. Since I can’t take the shirt off here, can you suggest a solution?”

​The scary guard begins to rummage through my belongings that have already passed through the scanners.

The other guard says, “Lift your arms, ma’am. Keep them up.”

He proceeds to pat his hands up and down my body.  Passengers around me look on with sympathy, but they were not about to intercede. Feeling uncomfortable with this violation, I begin to panic. Having heard scary stories about TSA, I had promised myself I would be a little lamb and not be difficult. But now, the lioness emerges, and, as these two goons continue to rummage deeper into my luggage and pat harder in the wrong places, I lose it.

​“The problem, gentlemen,” I shout, with venom in my voice, “is my f–king shirt!”

The two men bolt upright as if they’d been shot in the rear with buckshot. Worse than that, they look as if they are delighted to collar a real perpetrator.

“OK, lady, step way over here!” the scary one says, guiding me further from my belongings and escape.

“Stand here and don’t move,” says the other. “Keep your hands out in the open. Don’t say another word.”

​Just as think I might be detained in a dark room with no food or water, another security guard steps up.  He looks over the situation thoughtfully. Then I hear him whisper to my two captors, “Guys, I think it might be her shirt.”

​After staring me down for a few seconds, the nicer guard, looking down at the floor, says, “You can go, Ma’am.  But don’t fly with that shirt again.”

“No problem,” I say, as I gather my things. “I wouldn’t want to meet up with you two again anyway.”

That brings a scowl from Mr. Meany, and when it looks like he might detain me again, I run like hell.

​— Kaye Curren

Kaye Curren has returned to writing after 30 years of raising two husbands, two children, two teenage stepchildren, three horses, umpteen dogs and cats, and several non-speaking parakeets. She used to write computer manuals but now writes humor essays and memoir, including two other blog posts on this site, Find her musings on her website/blog at

A Dog’s Purpose for a mom and daughter

Grace and I read A Dog’s Purpose over winter break in December, using two bookmarks.

It was the first time we have read a book at the same time. I had suggested it when I found out that the author W. Bruce Cameron and his wife, screenwriter Cathryn Michon, are part of the Erma Bombeck writers’ tribe to which I also belong. Though I’d never met either one, I felt a kinship with them. I needed to read and see their work. More importantly, my daughter and I needed something to bond us together during the trying times a teenager and her menopausal mom often experience. And we both love dogs.

On Jan. 26, we attended a private showing of the movie. Granted it didn’t officially open until Jan. 27, but I knew it would start playing a day earlier than advertised. I learned this a few years back when our family went to the theater to buy tickets the night before Divergent was to open. We discovered the movie would show in a few minutes, so we parked the car and went in to a practically empty theater then, same as now.

We chose seats two-thirds of the way up and in the middle, sharing a large bucket of butter-drenched popcorn for our dinner. I made a Snapchat video to commemorate the occasion. It was a privilege to sit alongside my 15-year-old daughter and pretend this was our private screening of A Dog’s Purpose, with the exception of a man down front and two women who came in during the previews and sat a few rows behind us.

We leaned close and talked in hushed voices about how the movie differed from the book, like only hearing “doodle dog” spoken once when it had been used repeatedly in the book. There were scenes in the movie that never occurred in the book, like the swallowed coin, and vice versa, like the police dog having two masters. That is, of course, the way it is with book-to-movie scripts to condense some dozen-plus hours of reading into less than two hours of screen time. Some don’t succeed with the transition; this one did.

On our way out of the theater, Grace said she thought the book was better because more things happened. I think the real reason that may be true is because the book gave us more time together as we plowed through its pages. She never wanted me to get ahead of her either, so it made it a fun competition as reading became a priority over other daily distractions, such as checking social media and putting away laundry.

But the movie was great, too, she quickly added. Greater still, I believe, was sharing both with her, from laughing and crying as we talked about the chapters each of us had just read, to whispering at our private showing between more giggles and tears.

The book and the movie certainly served their purpose for us. Five stars and two thumbs up for that.

— Lisa Marlin

Lisa Marlin, a marketing professional, started her career as a journalist. Her essays have been published on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog and in The Denver Post, The Dallas Morning News and Dallas Child Magazine — penned under various last names that she has tried on over time. Four children call her Mom, and each of them has provided their (un)fair share of writing prompts throughout their 28, 25, 22 and 15 years of life. Find her at, on Twitter @lisa_marlin and on Facebook at @lisamarlinwriter.

Start texting like an adult

The subjective topics in academia seem to suffer from the highest amount of oral and written atrocities. Front and foremost in our high-tech world are the text-atrocities. (Look, I just made a new word, so it must be true.)

For example, should I happen to text you that 5 x 5 = 20 and insist that it’s just the “way we do math,” you would probably put up a great argument. Perhaps enough people would like to decide that Washington, D.C. is in Washington state, or that Hollywood is not in Los Angeles. The new President of the United States must be President Bernie Sanders if we think it so in our colloquial neck of the woods.

No, you say? We cannot change the facts, you say? If your so sure, idk what your talking about. I may as well SMH and go on. For one thing that’s 4 sure, textbreviation (another new word) has become a harrowing nightmare for most people who are Baby Boomers. So, to regain my sanity (it’s shaky anyway), I occasionally slip on over to Ellen DeGeneres’ Clumsy Thumbsy site for a chuckle and so that I can blame it on technology.

I am unsure whether to be more bothered by poor grammar and the endorsement and adamant defense of same or in the deleting of letters from words and then pretending they are words. Perhaps we can throw both abominations together and text like this:

I seen ur bae 2day. Wow, YOLO, but she b w/a dood.

While your officially butchering the English language, go ahead and make it good. How bout dis:

U go wit me? Hav u eat der?

I think, “Sure, I will meet you there. While you’re waiting for me, please do not text me in 21st Century Technobonics (new word #3), because when the bill comes for our meal, and I debate that $15 will pay half of the $40 owed because I just do Mat like dat, “you’re” blood pressure will arise to astonishing levels.

One of the main reasons I believe this has become the norm is the explosion of social media. If you ask millennials and America’s youth the social media platforms they use the most, you’ll probably get Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Those four sites alone total over 3.3 billion active monthly users. No one writes like Charles Dickens on these sites. Social media, along with texting, are the two main contributors to this, let’s say, grammar nightmare.

Furthermore, when I do something nice or give a gift, I have become so accustomed to being told “Your welcome!” that I finally have retrained myself to just realize that the welcome must be all mine. Okay, I can rationalize that you are (which contracts into YOU’RE) giving to me a benevolent verbal gratitude, so it must be MY welcome.

LMAO today reading an article about texting faux pas. It was reassuring to me that I’m not the only so-called “Grammar Nazi” left. Or, as a society, perhaps we can also alter other dimensions, such as math, geography, science and so on. And that, my friend, is my defense for penciling in “Rocket Scientist” on my resume.

— Gordon Hayes

Gordon Hayes hails from New York City where he is a marketing associate by day and blogger/wanna be funny guy by night.

Finding your tribe

I could feel the tiny glands in my armpits firing off, one by one. I fidgeted, pushed the lettuce around my plate, and smiled blankly at the gentleman beside me, too distracted to make conversation.

It was no use. I would be a nervous wreck until my speech was over.

The organizers of the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop had given me five minutes to speak about NSNC during the Friday lunch program. I had plenty of public speaking experience, but — if there was one thing I knew about these Erma folks — they didn’t want anyone to interrupt lunch unless laughter was involved.

I had stayed up late in my hotel room the night before, standing before a mirror in my Spanx, rehearsing my remarks, timing myself, and making sure I inserted a few decent jokes. The pressure was palpable. How could I plug NSNC and make hundreds of humor writers laugh in five lousy minutes?

“Let me introduce Lisa Smith Molinari of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for an exciting announcement!” I gripped my index cards with clammy hands and headed to the podium.

With 400 people staring up at me, I thought my bladder might let loose.

But then I remembered, that just a few years ago, I was one of those people out in the EBWW crowd, wondering if I could succeed at my dreams of being a columnist, looking for others who wondered, too.

I told the crowd my story. About the nights sitting alone at my home computer, figuring it all out by the seat of my double-digit-sized pants, with nothing but a can of Pringles and a Diet Coke to keep me company.

That is, until I found my tribe. Joining NSNC and attending EBWW gave me information, inspiration and a whole bunch of new friends with the same hopes and dreams.

I asked for a show of hands, how many at the luncheon were NSNC members, and arms popped up at every table. I could see that the other attendees were surprised that their new friends were “newspaper people.” I explained to them that, despite its traditional name, NSNC is not just for newspaper people.

“NSNC members are columnists of all types, including bloggers…anyone who is a serial essayist,” I explained, hoping that they wouldn’t think we were a bunch of axe murderers.

I heard murmuring in the crowd, and could tell that they were skeptical that NSNC was open to bloggers. I made an offer to prove it: “Anyone attending the conference this weekend can join NSNC for a free 2016 membership.”

No sooner did I retake my seat, now starving and ready to wolf down my salad, than I was inundated with people crowding around me, grabbing at the NSNC sign-up cards I had at the table, asking me, “Are you sure I can join?”

I never got to eat my salad, but I was filled up with emotion over the deluge of 153 new NSNC members, and I was excited about finding ways to make them feel welcome in our tribe.

Erma Bombeck, who passed away on April 22, 1996, wrote her columns on a typewriter, alone in her bedroom. She once said, “It takes a lot of courage to show someone else your dreams.” But when Erma — a housewife in a world of serious journalists — mustered the courage to approach others with the idea that she might be a columnist, she became a phenomenal success, published in 900 newspapers each week and writing a series of best-selling books.

And I’d like to think, if Erma were alive today, she would have a successful blog, too.

With this spirit that Erma inspires, NSNC welcomes aspiring and established writers of columns in all applications — be it blogs, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, or alternative media.

Come to the table, and share your dreams with us. Join or renew your membership here.

— Lisa Smith Molinari

Lisa Smith Molinari is the president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, one of the partners of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Her work has been published in The Washington Postseveral anthologies, various magazines, websites and other publications. Her blog, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life,” is an expanded version of a weekly newspaper column that runs in military and civilian newspapers. In 2013, she won second place (under 100,000 monthly visitors) in the online/multimedia category of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ competition and was a finalist in the Robert Benchley Society Annual Humor Writing Contest.

How I turned down Brad Pitt

Once, about 20 years ago, I turned down a night with Brad Pitt.

It unfurled just before I was married, before he became a producer, aged backwards as Benjamin Button, or showed us his butt in Troy. Before a word like “Brangelina” made any sense.

Although my memory is foggy on the exact words, it went something like this:

My Roommate: “Wanna go bowling? We’re going with Brad Pitt.”

Me: “What?”

My Roommate: “Brad Pitt. The guy from Thelma and Louise.”

Me: “You’re serious?”

My Roommate: “Dead serious. My sister met him at a club last night. He wants her to bring friends.”

Me: “I can’t bowl!”

My Roommate: “Don’t worry, he’ll like you. Best thing is, if you run out of stuff to say, you can just stand there and look at him. I’m sure he’s used to it.”

And what would a middle aged woman, as I am now, 20 years on, do if in such a position? Would she run in for a bit of quick Botox? Get a pedicure? Would she spend hours trying on the coolest designer Manolo Blahnik bowling shoes (surely this product must exist, for exactly these moments)?

Here is one thing a middle-aged woman would not do: she would not say no.

She would not say “no” to going bowling with this man, under any circumstances. If her child were graduating from high school, she’d hand her husband a video camera and say, “Tell her I wish I could be there. Get me some video. I’ll be back by midnight.”

If her beloved dog of 10 years has just died, she’d say, “Put that thing on ice until tomorrow…I have some pins to take down!”

But, since I was only 23 and didn’t have the wisdom of age, I said: no.

I had just met my husband-to-be, Tim. I loved him, and still do. I loved him more than Italian sausage pizza, more than crème brulee. I had more feelings for him than Brad Pitt had muscle packed into his derriere, which is saying a lot.

But these thoughts still ran through my mind:

What if I’m hanging around with all these A-List celebrities and lose my anonymity? Could I still go to WalMart undetected by paparazzi?

What if Brad decides I’m the perfect leading lady to star in his next film, and I need to move to L.A., away from Tim?

Of course there was the best of all, the question still conjured up purposefully at times when I need a laugh:

What if Brad falls for me, and I have to choose between Tim and Brad?

These are the thoughts of someone who is 23. At 23, we’re romantics. We still believe the endings of movies. We have big, watery eyes. If you could somehow draw a picture of our souls, the portrait would have eyes like characters in Japanese anime — huge, reflective, dual abysses that reach deep inside, but see only possibilities and never ghosts. Back then, there was one thing we definitely would have all believed in: the notion that a People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive could somehow cause us a dilemma.

A married 45-year-old does not have such thoughts. Here’s what she thinks:

He’s rich…maybe he can pay for my bowling.

Or, more than likely,

Damn, it’ll piss Tim off if I go bowling with the sexiest man alive. I’M THERE!

And that’s the extent of it. We of middle age have been around the block a few times. We know nothing unusual would happen.

Even though she still might have the last minute Botox, the middle-aged woman has seen enough to know that talk of French fries and bowling form would be the likely conversations. Why? Because despite what you may think, this is what people talk about when bowling, even people with rock hard abdomens.

Gals who have crossed the zenith of that “over-the-hill” hill accept that our bowling companion may be A-List, but we already have the real sexiest men alive.

The really sexy ones are waiting for us at home. They’re sitting on our couches, grinning like boys because they secretly took the remote control when we got up to pee. They’re the ones cutting the grass, sweaty bellies sticking out from under yellowed T-shirts.

The real sexiest men alive are snoring in front of the TV, tired from working to pay for the dream house and college fund. Their feet are up, propped on top of our stack of women’s magazines featuring photos of a certain Mr. Pitt. They’re tired from loving us so hard.

They love to look at us despite our saddlebags and gray hairs. They stand by us. They don’t duck out after a quick game. They stick around, always letting us choose which restaurant we’ll go to, which video we’ll watch. They rarely comment on our form. They build something with us every day, something worthwhile, and, in some instances, everlasting. And we know that nobody in a bowling shirt with “Brad” embroidered on it could ever have an effect on any of that.

So we middle-aged ladies, we’re unafraid. We go bowling. We stare at the abs, unashamed, with absolute glee.

— Kara Martinez Bachmann

This essay is a shortened/adapted excerpt from Kara Martinez Bachmann’s essay collection Kissing the Crisis: Field Notes on Foul-Mouthed Babies, Disenchanted Women, and Careening into Middle Age. Her work has also been heard on NPR radio and has appeared in dozens of publications, including The Writer, Funny Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Find out more at

Reflections of Erma