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My hip hugger

Anne BardsleyBack in my teen years I wore hip huggers. They hung perfectly on my hips. Back then I never had to suck in my stomach. Actually, I don’t suck in those old stomach muscles now with my current hip hugger. This one stays firmly in place regardless of what I do, or where I go. This hip hugger’s name is Riley.

I think she may actually be related to Suzanne Summers. It’s very possible she used that thigh buster machine in the womb. She has thighs of steel. Her chubby legs are firm as can be. She looks at me with her big hazel eyes and says sweetly, “Gigi, hug you.” Naturally, I have to pick her up. Once she swings onto my hip, she clamps down with her sturdy thighs and she cannot be removed. I can load the dishwasher, she remains. I can walk the dogs, she remains. I could very possibly take a shower and she might slide off. No guarantees of a slippery Riley.

She prefers to hang on my hip like an appendage. Every time I try to put her down I get a cry, quickly followed by an award-winning smile. She has my number. Last week at the beach she had my number once again. She refused to let her feet touch the sand. It was a very long walk to the water. By the time we got our beach chairs set up, I needed aspirin, a huge fan and an ice bucket challenge to cool me off. She stayed firm, never flinching. I was in her grips.

I attempted to sit in a chair and had to shift her. Those muscled legs went into a frenzy trying to get back around my hip. She settled in facing me with her legs around my waist and put her head on my chest. A little body heat is always a good thing in 100-degree weather at the beach. Again, she smiled at me, and all was good in my world. I think I may have even hummed, “What a Wonderful World.” What I’m really saying is I love you.

After she went home, I went to the beach with my husband. It was 90 degrees with a light breeze. The water was crystal clear and tranquil. Sailboats dotted the skyline. I had a chair all to myself. It was just not the same. I heard a voice in my head ask, “Gigi, hug you?” I put on my sunglasses to hide my tears.

I love my hip hugger!

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at Anz World.

Writer under deadline:
Add speed to your writing

Linda CraigIf you want to speed up your writing, then learn how to touch-type and take the time to eliminate your mis-key errors where you press a key with the wrong finger. Plan your work with as much detail as possible so that you avoid writer’s block and so that you work flows correctly and fluently.

Here are some tips geared toward Millenials, but helpful reminders to beginning writers.

Write notes

If you are struggling, then isn’t it possible you are doing it the hard way? People overlook this tip as just another piece of filler in a never-ending barrage of online content on the subject, but it is the most powerful piece of advice you will ever read if you want to speed up your writing.

It is not a technique or a trick; it is more of a mental aid. Your brain is not like a computer or a camera. It doesn’t store big chunks of detailed information; it is more like the Google search engine in that it picks up certain key elements and stores the rest for later. That is why a smell or a song can bring back long-forgotten memories from times past. What does this have to do with notes?

If you research something and write notes, even if they are bullet point notes, those notes are used by your brain as key points. When you go back to your notes and read a bullet point, your brain brings up all the information you remember about that point. It makes writing faster and it dramatically lowers your chances of getting writer’s block, which is a writer’s biggest time waster.

What drinks up most of your time?

Forget your research, layout and thinking issues for the moment and consider your actual writing technique. What is it that takes up most of your time? Some good examples are people writing with capital letters. Many people have to look at the keyboard to locate the shift key, and some people press it with the wrong finger. Practicing using the correct finger and practicing using it without looking may help you dramatically.

Another common “time vampire” is when a person has to press a number key. Most people cannot press the numbers above their keyboard without looking, and this is especially true if they have to press the shift key and use a symbol from the line of numbers. Practice writing numbers and/or symbols so you don’t have to look at the keyboard.

How good are you at typing?

Some people brag about how quick they are when they write on their computer. Some people use word counter programs and brag that they are writing at a rate of over 40 words per minutes. That is cute, but it is meaningless. Forget testing yourself with those programs.

Test yourself by thinking up something you want to write. It can be any old thing, from describing the smell of your lover to what you are planning to do tomorrow. Put your hands over your keyboard and set them in place. Now, close your eyes and write your piece. If you make a mistake, you can even try deleting with your eyes closed.

Write a short passage and open your eyes. If most of what you wrote is correct with few mistakes, then you are a fast writer when you are not distracted. Your biggest problem is not your writing speed, it is the amount of times you take your eyes off your screen, or the amount of times you stop and remove your hands from their position on the keyboard. Work on these issues and not on the issue of making yourself a faster typist.

— Linda Craig

Linda Craig is writing enthusiast and a professional editor at Assignmentmasters. Her passion is modern British literature and digital education tools.

Calling directory assistance

Gianetta PalmerFor someone my age, mid 40s-ish and up, calling directory assistance was something you only did in cases of extreme emergency.

For starters, making a long distance phone call was not done on an everyday or anytime occasion. At my house we had one telephone and it hung on the wall in the kitchen. It must have had at least 50 feet of cord attached to it because you could take it outside, across the porch and almost to the end of the sidewalk. That was your only chance for privacy — at the end of that long cord. Of course, calls were never uninterrupted because someone was always running in and out the door or you were being yelled at to get off the phone because there was work to be done.

When mom was going to make a long distance call, we all gathered around and tried to pick up any good tidbits of information such as who was coming to visit, where we were going on the family vacation or who had gotten sick and died. Long distance was for important and emergency calls only — plus, it was downright expensive. And you never called the operator for any reason other than to ask what time it was after a long power outage.

My, how times have changed.

Nowadays, when I need to find a number, I normally use Whitepages.com — and usually with mixed results. You have to be careful what you click on, though, because a wrong click can send you on a search for every pervert within the tri-state area or even worse — a site where all of the Republican presidential candidates are playing “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the biggest bore of all?” (Everyone’s a winner!)

Through trial and lots of error I can usually find the number that I’m looking for, but this wasn’t the case recently. I finally decided — as a last resort — that I would call directory assistance. I remembered the number — it’s 1-the area code-555-1212; in my case it was 1-706-555-1212.

The following is my conversation:

Nationwide Directory Assistance (DA): “If this is a police or fire emergency, hang up and call 911. Say your city and state, like San Francisco, California or Chicago, Illinois.”

Middle-Aged Fat Woman (MAFW): “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Please say your city and state like San Francisco, California or Chicago, Illinois.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “Okay, did you say Augusta, Georgia?” (Um, no — it’s on the opposite side of the state.)

MAFW: (Yelling loudly into the phone) “NO! ROME, GEORGIA.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry; your call cannot be completed at this time. Goodbye.”

Now, I know I’ve acquired a Southern twang these last 30 or so years that I have lived south of the sweet tea line (Kentucky/Ohio border for those that don’t know). but it doesn’t have THAT much twang. I didn’t have a cold so I didn’t sound nasally; I decided to try it again and this time I used my radio voice and e-nun-ci-a-ted ev-er-y darn syl-la-ble.

It was the exact same results: The automated voice wanted to connect me to Augusta, Georgia. I don’t know, maybe it had a Caesar complex or something.

Not one to give up, I changed tactics and decided to call the operator directly. This I did reluctantly because somewhere in the back of my mind I could still see my mom holding the phone bill and shaking her head yelling: “Who’s been making long distance calls?” and “Who called the operator?” while all of us kids scattered to the far corners of the property.

The following is my conversation with the operator:

Operator: “Hello? Operator.”

MAFW: “Hi, I’ve been trying to get a number at directory assistance and it doesn’t seem to be working.”

Operator: “I’m sorry about that. It’s fully automated.”

MAFW: “I know. I kept asking for Rome, Georgia, and it kept giving me Augusta, Georgia. Those towns are on opposite sides of the state.”

Operator: “I’m sorry you’re having trouble. Did you hang up and try again?”

MAFW: “I tried several times, so that’s why I’m calling you.”

Operator: “It’s fully automated.” (For the third time.)

MAFW: “I see. Can you connect me to the number?”

Operator: “No, ma’am. It’s fully automated. Make sure when you get your bill that you weren’t charged for the attempt.”

MAFW: “What?” (Realization finally beginning to sink in.)

Operator: “Directory Assistance is fully automated. We no longer give out numbers.”

MAFW: “Even for a fee?”

Operator: “Not even for a fee. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

MAFW: “I need a number in Rome, Georgia.”

Operator: “I’m sorry. Have you tried Whitepages.com?”

— Gianetta Palmer

Gianetta Palmer lives in the North Georgia Mountains and is the author of Reflections On A Middle-Aged Fat Woman and Scrunchie-Fried. She recently finished her first novel and blogs regularly on her popular website. Visit her at www.middleagedfatwoman.com. Or on Twitter @mafatwoman.

Helen of Troy: beautiful nudnik

Helen of Troy, possessor of “the face that launched a thousand ships,” in truth possessed the tongue that launched a thousand ships.

The reason that history has accorded her face the honor is not so much that she was beautiful (though she was admittedly that, perhaps the most beautiful nudnik in all history, even though there are those who favor Cleopatra), is that the Greeks put a higher premium on facial beauty than on nudging. (Discourse, or rhetoric, had declined in Greek esteem ever since Demosthenes had espoused marbles in the mouth as an aid to effective speaking).

First, Helen nudged Paris to take her to Troy (some say she urged one Troy to take her to Paris, but this is a canard). She was tired of the “ennui” of Sparta, and Troy had a reputation as a metropolis with plenty of glitz. It was called “the Big Olive” for the same reason that New York (centuries later) was called “the Big Apple.”

Then Helen nudged Troy to fight the Greeks instead of surrendering her. “Achilles has a weak heel,” she nudged. “He and I once engaged in a mild flirtation during which I became intimately familiar with every part of his body. Of course that was before I met you.”

Then, after the victory was apparently achieved, Helen nudged Paris to take in the wooden horse. “Wood is in this year and I am betting on that horse to make our victory garden party the talk of the whole Aegean-Mediterranean.”

In her twin set of memoirs (Recollections of a Distaff Ship-Launcher and The Last Time I Saw Paris), Helen claimed that she had actually nudged Paris to burn the horse, as it turned out on closer inspection to be decidedly non-avant garde in design and was made of olive wood and not the mahogany which was in fashion — but that he refused, saying he needed it as a knight for a giant chess set he planned to construct on the forum.

It is difficult to judge the truth of much of the above, as Homer, who used Helen’s memoirs as the basis for a large part of the Iliad, could not abide nudniks and Helen may have accordingly suffered image-wise in Homer’s tale.

— Larry Lefkowitz

Larry Lefkowitz’s literary novel (with humor): The Novel, Kunzman, the Novel! is available as an ebook and in print from Lulu.com.

Handicaps schmandicaps!

Cynthia SchulzLearning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage, as is a parent running alongside the two-wheeler absent its training wheels.

Remember your first time? That instant you felt the sensation of flying free and pedaling “all by myself” into a whole new league with the big kids.

Noni’s younger sister was almost 5 years old, itching to learn how to ride her bike one early-summer Sunday. Off came the training wheels and out came the parents, taking turns blocking, tackling and catching her before each fall.

That’s when we saw the pout and heard the whine, “I want my training wheels off, too.”

Oh, my. Noni sees her little sister doing something she wants to do, but can’t.

We look at each other, and without a second thought my husband says, “Hey, she wants her training wheels off?  I’m not telling her no.  Are you?  Okay then, I’ll take them off for now and put them back on later.”

So off they went, and off she went, flying. All by herself.

At that moment, I thought of Erma Bombeck, the funny lady, whose 1980 Mother’s Day column about how God chooses a mother for a child with handicaps is signed and framed in my office.

Bombeck’s take on this mother: “She doesn’t realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a spoken word. She will never consider a step ordinary. When her child says ‘Momma’ for the first time, she will be present at a miracle and know it!”

There I was standing in my suburban driveway witnessing a miracle, along with our neighbors who came out to see her ride. Between excitement, laughter and tears, I told my neighbor that I never thought I’d see this day. She replied, “Shame on you, Mom. Don’t ever put limits on her.”

I deserved that admonition. Me, the mom who prides herself in being progressive and raising this child to live life to the fullest. I had room to grow.

But Daddy heard and listened to her longing, even when it seemed impossible for her to ride a bike, given her motor impairments. We had been oblivious that years of joyful riding on training wheels back and forth and back and forth along the sidewalk propelled our now 8-year-old with enough practice to make it happen, against all odds.

Safe to say she stunned us.

And she was stunning on “Show Off Your Talent Day” at school. Daddy drove her bike to the school yard, where her inclusion classmates gathered, and she pedaled and beamed to their cheering and slapping of high-fives.

Afterward, a classmate approached her saying, “I wish I could ride a bike like you, Noni. I’m still learning.” Since special-needs kids rarely can perform better than typical kids, that compliment landed softly in my heart.

Admittedly, her turquoise Hampton Cruiser is not the fastest or flashiest, but it’s taken her far, from family fun to medal winning in Special Olympics.

If we let them, kids with disabilities will teach us this lesson: Prepare to be amazed.

— Cynthia Vrsansky Schulz

Cynthia Vrsansky Schulz, a highly successful communications executive for 35 years, is principal of CVS Consulting and author of the blog Baloney Macaroni. She has four young adult children, including one with special needs. Her blog, at baloneymacaroni.com, is about living a wonderful life with special needs — and not taking no for an answer.

Special gift

book jacket coverHumorist Erma Bombeck shied away from the limelight, but when a magazine writer asked if she could interview her for a biography for middle-school students, she surprisingly relented.

“She loved kids and thought it was important to inspire them to write,” said Lynn Hutner Colwell, author of the 1992 book, Erma Bombeck: Writer and Humorist. “I lucked out. She was an extremely modest person. It was all about the work. It was never about her.”

In packing for a recent move, the Seattle writer stumbled across seven cassette tapes from a full day of interviewing Bombeck at her Paradise Valley, Ariz., home. She’s donating those never-before-heard-publicly tapes, her handwritten notes, photo releases and other material to the University of Dayton archives, which is building a repository of artifacts about the late humorist, one of the school’s most famous graduates. The University also honors Bombeck’s legacy through the biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which draws writers from throughout the nation.

Excerpts from Colwell’s book are already the basis for biographical material in the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Online Museum. The book — part of Enslow Publishing’s contemporary women’s series — is the only authorized biography of Bombeck’s life.

“It was well known that she didn’t want her life written about,” Colwell said in a telephone interview. “She told me, ‘I will do this only because it’s for kids.’”

Colwell, who’s written for Reader’s Digest, Family Circle and other national magazines, had never tackled a book before.Lynn Hutner Colwell

“When I visited her house, my knees were shaking. I was a complete wreck,” she recalled with a laugh. “But she put me completely at ease. There wasn’t a fake bone in her body. She was just an amazing person.”

When Colwell finished the 112-page book, she worried whether she had done justice to Bombeck, who achieved extraordinary fame as a newspaper columnist by chronicling the absurdities of ordinary American family life with wit. At Bombeck’s height of popularity, 900 newspapers carried her column, nine out of her 12 books landed on the New York Times’ bestseller list and she appeared regularly on “Good Morning America” as part of the original cast. A champion for women’s rights, she stumped for the Equal Rights Amendment.

“I was not worried if the book sold a single copy. I was worried about her reaction,” Colwell said. “A few days after I sent her a copy, I received a big bouquet of flowers and a card that said, ‘Please add to resume miracle worker. Love, Erma.’ You can imagine how that sent me over the moon for a day or two.”

Kirkus gave the book a strong review, noting that Colwell “makes a smooth presentation well sprinkled with anecdotes, especially from Bombeck’s early years.

“She also includes good summaries of related topics — syndication, book publishing, the changes in women’s lives and self-perception that buoyed Bombeck’s popularity,” the reviewer said. “The focus here is on the public figure and the writer; the family is offstage, and even Bombeck herself remains essentially private — though what evidence Colwell offers confirms her picture of a sensible, conscientious person who is a compulsive, dedicated writer.”

Colwell describes her interview with Bombeck as “the highlight of my life.” She found her to be unpretentious, warm, friendly — and funny.

“She was comfortable in her own skin,” Colwell said. “She was just a very good human being in my estimation. I felt so privileged to have met her and written this book.”

The donation of Colwell’s tapes comes at a time when Bombeck’s life is receiving renewed appreciation. The world premiere of a one-woman play, “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End,” is slated Oct. 9-Nov. 8 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder and co-director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, where she also serves as executive director of strategic communications.

Just what the doctor ordered

Jerry ZezimaBy the time you read this, I could be dead. If so, I am going to get a second opinion.

Fortunately, that shouldn’t be necessary because I recently got a first opinion from my doctor, who not only said I probably won’t die in the next five years but predicted I will live to be 151.

I began to wonder about my longevity when I read that researchers in the United Kingdom had created a survey that can calculate a person’s chances of dying in the next five years.

I took the 14-question survey, which inquired about my age (61), my gender (male), if I am married (yes), how many cars I drive (one at a time), practically everything except my underwear size (34, in case you can’t afford to buy me another car), and the results were encouraging: My chances of dying in the next five years are only 2.7 percent and my relative age is 53, which means I seem eight years younger, physically, than I really am. Mentally, I belong in kindergarten.

Soon after I took the survey, I went for a physical to Dr. Antoun Mitromaras, who has a practice in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.

“You are in excellent condition,” Dr. Mitromaras said after examining me, perusing my blood test (good thing it wasn’t an algebra test or I’d be on life support) and looking at my EKG. “Are you active?”

“If I were any less active,” I responded, “I’d be in hibernation. Why?”

“Because,” Dr. Mitromaras informed me, “you have the heart of an athlete.”

“I hope it’s not Babe Ruth,” I said. “He’s dead.”

“You are very much alive,” the good doctor declared.

“Speaking of which,” I noted, “will I die in the next five years?”

“I don’t want to say anything because you might get hit by an airplane,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “But otherwise, you should be around for a long time. I predict you will live another 90 years.”

“I’m 61 now,” I said.

“That means,” Dr. Mitromaras said, “you will live to be 151.”

“Will you still be my doctor?” I asked.

“Of course,” said Dr. Mitromaras, who is 73. “Do you think I am going to die? Never!”

This was very reassuring because Dr. Mitromaras has impeccable credentials.

“In addition to being a physician,” he said, “I am a head and neck surgeon.”

“I’m a pain in the neck,” I told him.

“I can fix that,” he said.

“And my head is empty,” I noted.

“Then I guess there is nothing to operate on,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“My heart is in good shape, but what I really need is a brain,” I said, echoing the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Maybe you can get a transplant,” the doctor suggested.

“Here’s what I really want to know,” I said. “Have you ever seen those medicine commercials on TV in which the announcer says how good the product is, then spends the rest of the time warning how it can kill you?”

“Yes,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “They’re very entertaining.”

“And the announcer always says, ‘Ask your doctor.’ Has anyone ever asked you about these medicines?” I wondered.

“Yes,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“What do you say?” I inquired.

“I say that if they can kill you, don’t take them,” he replied.

“Sound advice,” I said. “The only thing I take is cholesterol medicine.”

“It’s working because your cholesterol levels are good,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“As they say in those commercials, after I take it, I shouldn’t operate heavy machinery,” I said. “You know, like a steamroller.”

“I wouldn’t drive one, especially in traffic, because you’d get high blood pressure,” Dr. Mitromaras said. “Then you’d need more medicine.”

“Thank you, doctor,” I said as I shook his hand. “You are a credit to your profession.”

“See you next year,” Dr. Mitromaras said.

“And for the next 90 years?” I asked.

“Yes,” he promised. “I’ll be here.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Your friend and mine — Mad Dog

Con ChapmanStatistics from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that 11.9 percent of all adult American males are known by the nickname “Mad Dog,” while the remaining 88.1 percent have a friend nicknamed “Mad Dog.” We know these figures are correct because if you add them, the resulting sum is 100 percent.

Viewed from the point of view of American females, 100 percent of “Mad Dogs” are undesirable vestiges of bachelor life, when your ability to select your friends was not constricted by outmoded and hide-bound rules imposed by females. Rules such as “Should have nice wife/girlfriend,” “Must not burp” and “What kind of lunatic has a komodo dragon for a pet?”

Your Mad Dog probably stuck by you when you needed a friend, like the time that girl who was studying Hindu culture dumped you because you ordered a hamburger at an Indian restaurant. Or perhaps Mad Dog was there as you were about to cross some major threshold into adult life, pulling as hard as he could to stop you. Consequently, you can’t drop Mad Dog like a hot rock just because your significant other finds him to be somewhat deficient in the civilized graces she expects you to possess, like not showing your kids how, if they stay in shape, they’ll be fast enough to escape injury when they throw a can of spray paint onto the barbecue grill.

What wives and S.O.’s need to know is that Mad Dogs are essential to our way of life, just like the rain forest. The rain forest is full of poisonous snakes so you wouldn’t want to live there, but without it we’d run out of oxygen — or something. Mad Dogs may not be ideal guests for a backyard croquet party, but they are the ones who drink tequila until last call with girls named “Sheena,” then go off and get matching tattoos. If they didn’t do it, we might have to.

So your job, as a friend of a Mad Dog, is to find ways for him and your S.O. to co-exist peaceably. Here are a few tips from the last four decades of my friendship with my Mad Dog, and my three decades of marriage.

Don’t invite Mad Dog to your wedding. Big mistake. Your wedding day is the time for your bride to be the center of the universe. You don’t need a rogue asteroid like Mad Dog careening through her solar system, crashing into the heavenly bodies — her bridesmaids — that surround her like moons, dragging them onto the dance floor and asking Sy Oliver and His Society Syncopators if they know any Bob Seger.

If Mad Dog wants to crash at your place, the answer is no. The downside is too great on this one. Mad Dogs sleep late and don’t shower before entering the kitchen and asking “What’s for breakfast?” Mad Dogs don’t do dishes until they are stacked in the sink — the dishes, not the Mad Dogs — like some misbegotten work of modern architecture. Mad Dogs don’t bring cute “hostess gifts” when they come or send “bread and butter” notes after they’re gone.

If your wife asks if you know any nice men who might like an unmarried friend of hers, do not suggest a Mad Dog. If your wife’s friends wanted to meet a Mad Dog, they could do so by dropping into one of America’s many clean and friendly biker bars, or attending a National Hockey League game. Mad Dogs tend to find their future spouses by looking for women who can whistle through their teeth at professional sports events. It’s their mating call.

If, by following the foregoing rules, you find that you are gradually losing touch with your Mad Dog, that’s the price you pay for a happy and stable home in which to raise your children to be thoughtful, well-mannered and productive citizens who receive Certificates of Commendation at their high school Senior Awards Assembly.

Unlike Mad Dogs.

— Con Chapman

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

Reflections of Erma