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Slush shopping slalom

Abby-Heugel-228x300The winter Olympics are coming up, so I hope you’re ready to compete for national pride!

Well, maybe you’re not an Olympic athlete in the traditional sense, but I suggest we look into some new alternative events.  After all, anyone who has slipped on a fabric softener sheet and performed a double axle on the kitchen floor knows we’ve been training our lives for these moments.

“Slush Shopping Slalom”

In this event our amateur athletes at the grocery store get behind the wheels of a grocery cart and enter not a smooth and icy track like a bobsledder gets, but the slush-filled parking lot of the store.

Large amounts of stamina are required to make it to their car in less than 10 minutes. And while lower body strength is needed to propel the cart through the slush, upper body strength is necessary to try and steer the cart away from the direction the slush wants to go — most often into another parked car.

The athlete who clocks the quickest time from the automatic door of the store to their car without taking out any pedestrians is declared the wintery winner.

“Weather Update Biathlon”

While the biathlon usually includes cross country skiing with random stops to shoot things with a rifle, this event requires the athlete to check the weather report by running to the window to see if it’s started/stopped snowing yet, checking other sources of information—Internet, TV, radio—and then shooting off updates to anyone who will listen.

Competitors who can do this the most number of times in an hour will be annoying, but also declared the winner. Extra points are given for checking more than one source simultaneously.

“Digging the Car Out of the Snow Sprint”

In this event, the athlete is given a shovel, an ice scraper, a parked car and two feet of snow. The first team to get their car out of the driveway and get to work on time wins.

Using your arms to push the snow off the hood of the car and/or the automatic car starter for the front windshield is legal, as is using various forms of profanity. However, bribing the neighbor kid to help by stealing their sled is grounds for immediate disqualification.

Bonus points are given to the competitor who can open up the driver’s side door without any snow falling onto the driver’s side seat.

“Outdoor Freestyle Photography”

Here competitors are given a digital camera and 30 minutes to go outside and take pictures of how much snow has fallen, often using things like rulers stuck in the snow for comparison and captions like, “What happened to global warming?” and “Can you believe how much snow that we got?”

After the time is up, each athlete is required to submit their top images to the judges who will decide a winner based on technical merit, required elements, presentation and number of “likes” on Facebook.

“Refuse Relay”

Athletes are timed as they put on multiple layers of clothes and run from the warmth of their house to the trash bins stationed outside, deposit the bag of trash, wheel the bin down to the curb and then sprint back into the house, all before a) the trash collector comes and b) they freeze their ass off.

This event is usually frantically done in the early morning hours on the day of trash collection, and bonus style points are given to the competitor who can take off their winter boots without losing a sock in the process.

So as you can see, this will obviously require massive amounts of carb loading and couchgating on my end. Lucky for me, unlike skiing or luge — this is an activity I’ve been training for my whole life.

Go for the gold!

— Abby Heugel

Abby Heugel is a professional writer and editor of trade publications for employment, but a neurotic humor writer the rest of the time for enjoyment. She runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.

What’s so funny about turning 55?

Birthday-dinner-1-My father thinks it’s hilarious that I’m turning 55.

Why? Don’t ask me because I don’t find anything funny about it.

But, the other night, when someone mentioned that my birthday was coming up, he started laughing hysterically.

Hysterically.

To the point he could barely speak.

“What are you laughing about?” I asked, in the tone of voice that brings a sudden chill to the air and is accompanied by a raised eyebrow.

The tone of voice that makes my kids apologize, even if they’ve done nothing wrong.

“You’re turning 55!” he sputtered, with tears rolling down his cheeks.

This set off everyone at the table, with my sister — who, by the way, just turned an apparently-not-as-hilarious 52 — practically spitting out her iced tea.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” I burst out. My brother-in-law was grinning, my nephews were trying to hold in their laughter, and my mother just smiled and said, “He thinks it’s funny.”

I glared at my dad and said, “You know how old that makes you?”

He just kept laughing, and repeated, “You’re turning 55!”

I sighed and reached for another cookie with my still-54-year-old hand.

Then, last night, Michael, Sara and I went out for Birthday Dinner #1. (I like to celebrate my birthday for more than one day. Yes, I’m high maintenance.)

As we were driving home, Michael asked, “How old were you when we met? 21?”

“Yeah, something like that,” I said, mumbling “18” under my breath.

“We met when you were 18 and now you’re 55!” he screamed in delight. “Isn’t that funny?”

Uh, no.

What is so damn funny about me turning 55?

As I’m typing this, Michael is on the elliptical machine in the garage, talking on the phone to his parents.

This is the part of the conversation I heard:

“Lois and I met when she was 18 and now she’s turning 55! Isn’t that funny?”

Seriously?

I sit here and think about this for a while, and it dawns on me.

The two most important men in my life (sorry, Alex, but you are still a boy in my heart) are reacting in a way that seems bizarre to me — but I get it now.

It’s like when little kids laugh as they’re being thrown into the air or when we giggle after a roller coaster ride or after running across the street against the light.

It’s the pure joy of having survived a potentially dangerous situation.

Life is a potentially dangerous situation, and keeping that in mind makes every single day feel like a gift —  especially when you’re lucky enough to have people you love along for the ride.

I am deeply moved by this realization, and so thankful for my father and my husband. I feel how blessed I am by their love — and laughter.

With hormones raging between pre-menstrual and pre-menopausal, toes stiffening from arthritis and hair that changes texture daily, I have not been particularly amused by my age.

Grateful? Absolutely.

But amused? Well, I guess it’s time to start finding the humor in it. After all, I was just named Humor Writer of the Month during my birthday month by Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. (Did you like how I managed to get that in there?) That’s got to be a sign, right?

So, for the rest of this year, I’m going to find the humor in being 55. I will share those findings with you and we will all laugh so hard, we may need to start wearing Depend.

Because, as we get older and have to deal with weird ailments and body changes, I’m hoping laughter just may be the best medicine.

— Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and The Huffington Post. In December, she was named the top blogger in Blogger Idol, the premier blogging contest for bloggers. She also won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013. After being selected as an Ultimate Viewer by Oprah, she accompanied her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime.

The joy of cooking

Anna EdmondsI’m on a quest to find something positive about doing things I don’t enjoy but must be done. One day, this entailed scouring scalded milk, dripped egg yolk and other charred food off my stove. What led to this dreaded chore was the odor of burning mozzarella cheese after my son decided a cookie sheet wasn’t a necessary piece of equipment when heating up frozen pizza.

While scouring the grates and wiping grease off the range and points beyond, my thoughts wandered back to the day I acquired my stove and how much I appreciated it.

Not a month after moving into my adorable post-divorce house, it was apparent I needed a new stove. I accepted that news about as well as any single mom struggling to get by each month would. But my sister had sent me a $100 gift card to a big-box home improvement store as a housewarming gift, so I figured it was time to use it, if only for the down payment.

I lucked into a top-brand gas model on sale with all the features I wanted. When I presented my store credit card to cover the balance, I was told the card was outdated, and I would need to reapply to be issued a new one. I did so, then went home to await delivery of my new range and credit card.

In less than 24 hours, the appearance of my kitchen improved drastically. It had the equivalent of a shiny black stretch limo parked next to the fridge. Now I was cooking with gas! Literally.

Many weeks later, I received a phone call from the store’s credit department informing me that I was not an authorized signer on the account and would not be receiving a new card. I listened to the credit rep explain that the card was issued to my ex-husband and I was no longer authorized to make purchases on the account. I remembered that he had opened the account when we made some home renovations years earlier. I told the credit rep that apparently he never listed me on the account but was issued two cards.

As she continued talking, it hit me that I’d been cooking on my new stove for well over a month. No wonder I hadn’t received a statement yet! After a lengthy silence, I cautiously asked: “What if I simply hung up the phone and denied we ever had this conversation?”

Without skipping a beat, she replied, “As a fellow divorcée, I’d say have a nice day and goodbye.”

I paused a moment, then thanked her before gently hanging up the phone. I never heard another word about this — from anybody. It’s hard to feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t notice being charged for and paying several hundred dollars for merchandise they never purchased. In fact, it makes the job of cleaning the stove almost enjoyable.

— Anna Edmonds

Anna Edmonds blogs at Carolina Yankee and RandomAnnAcdotes, and was a finalist in the 2012 Washington Post Magazine Humor Writing Contest for this piece. A freelance journalist and winner of a 2012 South Carolina Press Association award, she’s also the recipient of two research grants for a project on artwork by Holocaust survivors.

Floss this!

Rosie-Sorenson-230x29613I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling overloaded from too much information (TMI).

The problem is that by nature I am an information junkie so I try to keep up every day.  Every day I fail. There’s Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest, YouTube and LinkedIn, to name a few of the notable Time Sucks of All Time. It’s now time to cry “Uncle.”  (And, where did that idiom come from, anyway — another thing I must know.)

What’s the result of having TMI?  Let’s start with our health, shall we? In the “good old days,” (which are pretty much the days prior to the day you became a responsible adult), it was enough to go for a walk in nature because it was fun. Now, a walk has become a quest for increasing our endorphins, for producing Vitamin D in order to prevent cancer and bone fractures, and for lowering our dreaded cortisol levels. Walking, especially in the morning, has also become a way to re-set our bio-rhythms, our body’s wake/sleep cycle, by influencing the pineal gland.

Even sex has become something other than a lot of whopping fun. It’s now a way to kick-start our natural oxytocin and vasopressin factories into production.

And as if that’s not enough, there’s more!  Eating a green salad?  Consuming phytonutrients, especially lutein and zeaxanthin.  Enjoying a tasty salmon dinner?  Ingesting Omeg-3 fats, the Good Fats, we are told.  Playing Sudoko?  Stimulating our axons and dendrites to enhance our neurological connections and thus stave off Alzheimer’s.  Brushing our teeth because it feels good to get rid of the slime?  Getting rid of bacteria that could leak into our blood stream and kill our hearts. And speaking of the latter, during my last check-up I was given more than enough dental care products to weigh down a pack mule.

So now, instead of brushing, and doing a quick floss in the evening, I have to add the Peridex-squirt-rinse-repeat procedure followed by 20 minutes as the gum massager has its way with me.

Just to take care of the basics, I must start my bedtime routine at about 4 p.m. which cuts down on my sex life, which eats into my vasopressin stores, which cuts into my sleep, which raises my cortisol levels, which makes me depressed, which makes me want chocolate and chocolate alone, screw the lettuce, and makes me want to stay in bed in the dark until my bones rot, which make my omega 3 stores drop, which…you get the picture.

Then, of course, I have to go back online to get more information about what to do about all these dilemmas, and after that I must tweet it, FB it and blog it to let the world know what a loser I really am.

Anybody know of a 12-Step Program for TMI addicts? Tweet me!

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the author of Humor Me! Short Amusing Takes on George Clooney, Fruit Fly Sex, the NSA, Halle Berry, Compassionate Rats and Other Wacky Topics. She won honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition in 2007. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesSan Francisco Chronicle, Pittsburgh-Tribune Review and other publications.

Bad news

Helene Bludman“Mom,” the voice quavered through the crackle of the international connection, “I’ve got some bad news.”

Surely anyone hearing those words from a loved one would react as I did: a sharp intake of breath, a lump in the throat thudding into the pit of the stomach, sweaty palms.

Whatever pronouncement was forthcoming from Emily, a reassuring hug would be weeks away. My 20-something daughter was in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for a month, volunteering as a medical assistant at a local clinic. Bolivia. Three long plane flights away.

I had a flashback to last winter when Emily began talking it up. “Doesn’t it sound amazing?” she had enthused. “I can really make a difference. And I can improve my Spanish, too.”

Although I deeply admire my daughter’s altruism, to say that I was less than thrilled is putting it mildly. And as a natural worrier, I was able to quickly tick off the negatives: poverty, diseases, unsanitary conditions, political unrest. Was there political unrest? I wasn’t sure, but I went with it.

So she launched into a full-court press, peppering my inbox with upbeat articles about up-and-coming Cochabamba. The travel section of The New York Times had touted the area as a “must see” for adventurous travelers, she pointed out.

I still wasn’t convinced. Just scanning the list of recommended vaccinations gave me the willies.

“Em, do you understand the risks?” I argued. “Malaria. Snakes. Big insects. What if you get bitten?’

This is, in fact, what she was calling to tell me. She got bitten. But not by a bug.

By a monkey.

Dear reader, do not apologize for suppressing a giggle. I confess to a fleeting notion, a teeny tiny thought in a remote recess of my brain, that this scenario might be kind of funny. But that impulse quickly gave way to panic. My mind was clicking as I began to ask questions and process what needed to happen.

Does it hurt? Not really.

Did you see a doctor? No, there weren’t any doctors.

Did you get any medical attention? I went to a pharmacy and got antibiotics.

When can you leave? As soon as possible.

I told her to start packing while I called the airline.

What I would learn later was that Emily and a few friends were visiting a nearby nature preserve. This Bolivian version of “Great Adventure” served as family entertainment for the locals. Swarms of people — including tons of noisy kids — hiked on its trails. Monkeys roamed freely and, accustomed to the sounds and movements of humans, interacted calmly with the visitors.

Until my daughter arrived.

What turned this serene simian into a pernicious primate? It was likely Emily’s decision to crouch down to monkey eye level. With a monkey mama and baby nearby, this was a Bad Idea. SCREECH! SCREECH! The monkey alarm system was activated. As if in a scene from a horror version of “The Lion King,” an alpha monkey grabbed a tree and started shaking it violently. A hush shrouded the onlookers. The only sound was the ominous rustling of leaves. Monkey minions lurking nearby looked up with curiosity. One by one, they muttered their displeasure. The chattering intensified. Emily’s monkey, just a couple of feet away, bared his teeth in a fearsome grin, lunged toward her and sank his teeth into her calf.

She screamed. He gripped her leg. She tried to pry him off. What seemed like hours was probably less than a minute, but he finally released her. They glared at each other (another Bad Idea, for those of you who might be in monkey company some day). She backed away and slowly headed down the trail. Her attacker followed for a few steps, then thought to leave well enough alone. He probably strutted proudly in front of his bare-assed buddies back at the ranch.

At times like this, you think about what could have been, and you are thankful for escaping with minimal damage. I was able to get my daughter on the next plane home. It was a grueling journey, but she was seen by our local doctors just 48 hours after the incident, and except for the painful rabies shots she endured, she was no worse for the wear.

Despite everything, she has fond memories of her time in Bolivia. And now we can look back and laugh.

— Helene Cohen Bludman

Helene Cohen Bludman blogs at Books is Wonderful about the quirks of midlife, parenting adult children, modern culture and, or course, books. She left a career in marketing to become a full-time writer.

Woman arrested for cleaning Chuck E. Cheese’s

(Susannah B. Lewis wrote about a fictitious crime she committed as her entry during the second week of the 2013 Blogger Idol competition.)

Susannah LewisPODUNK, Tenn. — Onlookers cheered as a woman attending a birthday party with her children at Chuck E. Cheese’s began cleaning the establishment, but the cheers turned to uprisings when police officers stormed the arcade and demanded that the woman stop or she would be arrested.

“That lady was doing us all a service,” Lily Faye Watson of Podunk told us. “The only crime committed here was those pigs forcing her to put down her mop.”

Susannah Lewis, 32, was arrested on Friday after she held a Chuck E. Cheese’s employee at gunpoint and demanded the keys to the supply closet. Once she gained access to unused bottles of Lysol, hand sanitizer, a Dirt Devil vacuum and a Swiffer Wet Jet, she mopped the terrified employees’ urine from the floor and proceeded to clean the entire 4,200-square-foot fun-place.

“She was going to town! I watched her disinfect everything from skee balls to slides. She refilled the hand sanitizer dispenser and she even Windexed the Ticket Blaster. It was an inspiration, really,” said one spectator. “And then those cops put her in handcuffs. They said something about her putting a pistol to some employee’s head, but what’s the harm in that? She didn’t kill anybody. She probably saved lives that day.”

Chuck E. Cheese’s on Dirt Road has failed an astounding number health inspections since May 2013. The Daily’s own Diana Hopkins of “Dirty Diana’s Dirty Dining” segment reported last month that the restaurant had failed inspections for an array of violations including “salad tongs riddled with cat urine, improperly and obscenely stored pepperoni and boogers on everything.” An actual live rat named Chuck was removed from the establishment in June 2013 after defecating in the ball pit.

“I understand that this is an extremely disgusting place,” Officer Reginald P. Swine commented, “but you can’t just come up in here and hold someone at gunpoint because there is Dysentery brewing on the confetti-covered carpet. I mean, I wish you could, but you can’t.”

Three other parents were detained for rioting, throwing greasy slices of pizza and jumping on police officers’ backs while shouting, “Swiffer, Susannah, Swiffer!” But they were released on their own recognizance.

We spoke with Mrs. Lewis’ attorney, I.M. Liar, via telephone on Saturday. “Mrs. Lewis understands that holding an employee at gunpoint to gain access to cleaning supplies is wrong, but in her defense, she asked Chuck E. Cheese’s personnel several times that day to remove snot, Salmonella and marinara sauce from her table. When she was ignored, she decided to take matters into her own hands.”

chuck e cheese mug shotMrs. Lewis has been charged with displaying a firearm in an angry and threatening manner with the intention to clean. She is being held without bail at the Shady Ladies’ Correction Facility. Fellow inmates say that her cell is spotless, and she even whittled soap out of a gun.

— Susannah B. Lewis

Susannah B. Lewis is a freelance writer, blogger, aspiring best-selling author, wife of one and stay-at-home mother of two. She was chosen for the Top 13 in Blogger Idol 2013 and contributes pieces to The Huffington Post. Her work has been featured in several humorous e-books. When she’s not putting pen to paper, bandaging boo-boos or spraying “Shout” on unidentifiable stains, she enjoys reading, playing the piano and teaching her children all about Southern charm. Read her humor blog, Whoa! Susannah.

Babes in newsland

Ann_GreenI’m a news junkie, so I’ve observed my share of newscasters.

The more I watch these days, the more I find myself disturbed by the serious disconnect between newsmen and newsbabes. Yes, newsbabes. I’m not being sexist; the fact is about 90 percent of the women in broadcast (no pun intended) news are gorgeous and model-thin, mostly blond, with long hair which delicately brushes their shapely shoulders but doesn’t obscure those toned arms. They are meant to be seen and only secondarily to be heard. The men’s looks are evenly distributed among good-looking, average, not much to look at and elder statesman. Even facial expressions are different. Men can look somber, while women smile so wide their teeth must blind the cameramen (or women).

What really gets to me is the matter of attire. Tune into your favorite newscast, national or local. Without exception, the men wear suits and ties, looking very professional.  Most of the women, on the other hand, look like they’ve been poured into their skintight, sleeveless sheaths in day-glow colors, short enough to give ample display to their seemingly endless legs. Newscasts where the anchors are not behind a desk look like “Leggs” commercials.

What gets me the most, though, is what peeks out over the plunging necklines. To wit, cleavage. I saw Lara Logan introduce a very serious segment on “60 Minutes.” Her neckline would have been perfect for a pick-up bar, but for newswomen, par for the course. I have to wonder if the male newscasters have trouble looking the women in the eye. No doubt many of the men watching are too distracted to have any idea of what the women are saying.

So, let me get this straight newsladies, you want to be taken seriously as hard-hitting reporters so you show your, er, attributes?  I’ll bet most of you call yourselves feminists. Forget what the boys in the boardroom tell you to wear; you could stand up to this.

Maybe we should just be honest about the distaff side of the news and call the broadcasts (there’s that word again) what they are: beauty pageants. TV stations and networks should hold contests, then have the women wear sashes indicating their titles. There could be “Miss Local News,” “Miss Weather,” “Miss Foreign Affairs,” “Miss Investigative Reporting,” “Miss Fluff Pieces” and, sometimes, “Miss Sports.” Parade them during the opening credits, the blonde leading the blonde. Message: our station will keep you abreast of current events.

Another option would be to dress the men equally sexy. The possibilities are endless: Chippendale outfits, open shirts a la the disco age, form-fitting workout clothes, bathing suits.  On the other hand, considering that they’re not all young, buff and attractive, forget about it.

In keeping with the goal of honesty, how about more realistic names for the shows:  “Eyewitness Cleavage” (pun intended), “Headlines and Headlights,” “News That’s Uplifting.”

All the news shows brag about being up-to-the-minute, hard-hitting and relevant to your everyday life.  When it comes to the women, the only thing that’s up-to-the-minute is the fashion. Why bother going to journalism school, ladies?  Just read Vogue.

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.

Please, don’t help

Michelle Matthews-DeLorgeI’m a grateful woman, most of the time. There are times when I can take people for granted, I’m human. I forget to say thank you or don’t show my appreciation enough. Then, there are those times when I’m really not grateful, not appreciative — not because I’m evil; I just didn’t want the help.

This letter is for husbands everywhere who help a little too much. Please feel free to copy and send to a too-helpful husband you may know.

Dearest Husband,

Love of my life. You are an awfully good husband. You’re attentive, caring and nurturing. A wonderful father. Most importantly, you love to help. You enjoy it. You say it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I would hate to be the one to take all those warm and fuzzy feelings away from you but, please, stop helping.

I hit the jackpot when I met you, I really did. You realize that being a stay-at-home parent is not an easy job. It’s tiring, and sometimes it will suck the life right out of you. So even though you’ve had a hard day at the office, you’ll come home and finish cleaning up the house.

I used to ignore it when you’d cook and forget to wash the pans, just putting them back in the cabinets. Contrary to popular belief, a good rinse doesn’t really clean silverware all that well. There has to be soap and a sponge involved. I appreciate the fact that you realize that I’ve been on my feet all day and that I might not want to stand at the sink and wash dishes but please, don’t help. Repetitive motion is good for me. It will help prevent osteoporosis, and you wouldn’t want me to get that, now would you?

When I do the grocery shopping, please help me bring in the bags and feel free to leave when you’re done. I really don’t need the help putting things away. There’s a method to my madness. It helps me tell you exactly where the crackers are when you’ve looked everywhere and can’t find them. Also, just as an aside, don’t forget the gallon of milk in the trunk. The smell of spoiled milk, spilled in a car trunk, lingers just a little bit.

On laundry day, I am most grateful that you will get up, round up the laundry and drag it all the way down to the basement for me. You’re awesome for doing that! Once in the basement, feel free to leave it there. There’s no need for you to overload the washer, forget to put in the detergent and have the clothes come up smelling worse than when they went in. You know I hate doing laundry — I would rather eat a teenaged boy’s toe jam then do it. I know you’re just trying to spare me the ordeal but please, don’t help.

There are so many other ways that you could help me, husband. You could walk the dog, make sure the trash is empty every morning, keep the faucets from dripping and the filters changed. You could take the children out for ice cream or backpacking through Europe as long as I get to stay at home. You could even help me by not helping at all.

Signed,

Your Loving and Grateful Wife

— Michelle Matthews-DeLorge

Michelle Matthews-DeLorge graduated from George Washington University with a B.A. in criminology. Her love of forensics has managed to seep into quite a few of her flash fiction pieces. A self-professed movie and TV snob, she also has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things musical. Before kids, she was a paralegal and an aspiring novelist. Today, she’s a stay-at-home mom and an aspiring novelist. When she’s not chasing twin toddlers, a kindergartener or catching up on the latest tween drama, she’s blogging at “Scattered Wrecks.” Her writing has been featured multiple times on BlogHer and Mamapedia. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and blended family of five.

Reflections of Erma