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The phantom of the cell phone

Stephanie D. Lewis“You called three times but didn’t leave a message, is everything ok?” my mother asks.

Confession: I regularly hang up on my mom’s outgoing phone message because she gives excruciating instructions on waiting for beeps, admonishes you to speak slowly, enunciate clearly and requires you to give the date and time of your call. A former schoolteacher, she insists on educating people on leaving proper voicemail.

But on this occasion I’m certain I didn’t call at all, let alone three times. I look at my caller ID log and sure enough I have telephoned my mother thrice within a 10-minute period this morning. The Benadryl I took for a cold must’ve made me groggy and blurred my recall.

A couple of hours later, I receive a message from my old Avon Lady announcing that light blue shimmery eyeshadows just came in and how shocked she was to hear from me after more than 30 years. What?? I’m also kinda shocked, envisioning her hobbling up to front porches at age 75, ringing doorbells, gleefully shouting, “Ding Dong, Avon calling!”

Minutes after we disconnect, my long lost Tupperware gal calls, claiming mere moments ago that I telephoned her but promptly hung up when she answered. She wants to know if the reason I’m currently reaching out is to schedule a Tupperware party?

“Does the word ‘Ziploc’ mean anything to you?” I ask.

What’s the deal with my cellphone and the 1970s throwbacks? If I’m butt-dialing people, my a$$ is way behind the times.

Suspicious, I carefully set my mobile device flush on the kitchen table and scrutinize it cautiously as I eat my cottage cheese w/pineapple and lime jello. It behaves itself and doesn’t dial up Dorothy Hamill or Billy Jean King. Just a nondescript, innocent dark screen.

Just as I swallow the last of the curds, suddenly my cellphone emanates an ominous glow and a notification pops up stating, “1 outgoing call.” Seriously??  This was no pocket or purse dial! Paging Rod Serling.

I click on it to see the name Layla Down, a woman I loathe. For one thing, she always asks, “Who died?” just because I wear the color black a lot. And she pointed her finger at my youngest daughter Natalie for the lice infestation in the sixth grade. “Nitty Natty” sticks to this day. I shudder, anticipating what’s next and sure enough, it rings right on cue with the big fat phony Layla on the other end of the line.

Me: Nitty Nat’s mom speaking, how may I help you?

Layla: My, my, what a droll sense of humor you still have. So when’s the funeral? Actually I’m returning your call, Sugar.

Me: Uh, I never called you, Sweet Tart.

Layla: I have proof that you did, Sucralose.

Me: Think again, Sweet‘N Low.

Layla: Better wash your daughter’s hair, Aspartame.

We went on like this until we used up all the saccharin terms of endearments we knew and began repeating a few. Click. Maybe this was Siri’s revenge for when I let her nearly drown in the washing machine?

During the next week, my cellphone honed its interpersonal skills, not only making random embarrassing calls all on its own accord, (old boyfriends, old dentists, dead people) but it actually started efficiently connecting people together from my online address book via its three-way conference calling feature!

It introduced my following contacts to each other:

• My gynecologist to my Rabbi

• Dr. Harris, my cocker-spaniel’s vet, to Harrison, a cocky Vietnam vet

• My handyman Richard to Betty, a broken-down divorcee

• My Weight Watcher leader to my chocoholic friend

• My divorce attorney to my wedding planner

• My hairstylist to my friend Nan, the Nun

• My life coach to my son’s football coach

• Sherman, a needy guy I dated (and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy) to Layla

• My therapist to my Mother (so she could analyze why nobody leaves her voicemail?)

And when I saw the newest popular trend on the market — a clear plastic food storage container (with a burping seal) filled with pale pink frosted lipsticks — I knew the Phantom of the Cellphone could take all the credit for striking again. He’d actually gone and hooked up my Tupperware Gal with my Avon Lady. Bravo!

— Stephanie D. Lewis

Stephanie D. Lewis pens a humor blog, “Once Upon Your Prime” where she tries to “Live Happily Ever Laughter.” She is a frequent contributor to In The Powder Room. She also writes for North County Woman magazine in San Diego where she has an ongoing “Female Fun” column called Razzle, Dazzle & Frazzle. Stephanie was recently named one of 2014 Voices of the Year by BlogHer. Her 2008 book, Lullabies & Alibis, is the tale of marriage, motherhood, mistakes and madness. As a single mother of six, she knows a lot about the madness. She’s supervised potty training and driver’s training simultaneously, but there were too many “accidents.” Live-in housekeeper? Nah, she’ll take a live-in psychotherapist, thank you.

7 universal writing fears

fredrick marion1) My writing sucks.

2) No one will read it.

3) I’m wasting my life by writing about it and not living it.

4) I’ll die before I finish my book.

5) I’ll finish my book and get 1-stars on Amazon.

6) I’ll send a manuscript to my friend/agent/editor and she’ll say, “try again.”

7) I’ll get a rare disease where I’m paralyzed and can only communicate by blinking my eyes, and then I’m going to subject my wife and children to helping me write, and I’m going to get self-conscious about my first drafts, and I’ll stop writing altogether, and I’ll get bedsores, and my wife will fall in love with my home health aid, and I won’t even be able to kill myself like a proper writer, and they’ll put me in a home and someone will turn on reality TV shows thinking they’re being nice not knowing I hate — really f*cking hate — reality TV shows — hate them more than I hate bedsores — and I’ll spend my days crying silently, slurping nutrients from a tube staring up at a white drop-ceiling wishing I could escape into my stories or at the very least have my hospital bed rolled outside so I could feel the wind.

We all have these fears. And they will never go away.

— Fredrick Marion

A former columnist and staff writer at the Palm Beach Post and Rocky Mount Telegram, Fredrick Marion now writes on napkins, blogs and sidewalks. He earned an English degree from Wright State University, and he’s hard at work on his first children’s novel with representation by The Bent Agency. He also writes a weekly email newsletter full of writing tips, which you can find at

The ultimate challenge

Hillary IbarraHave you ever contemplated building a safe room in your house? A place to hide from the kids until help arrives?

With the continual tattling, Wild West savagery and whining apocalypse in my home this summer, I seriously thought about it. But my husband said that if such a room existed, he would have no qualms in beating me to it and locking me out. It wasn’t a lack of gallantry, he asserted. Certain situations demand every man for himself.

Sigh. Raising good human beings is challenging.

Maybe impossible.

Children can lie boldly by age two with no formal training. They covet their neighbor’s toy, then rip it from their hands and claim they had it first. They smack or pinch a sibling just to entertain themselves, then say it was an accident. They splatter sticky substances over your walls, furniture and floor every five minutes daily, and then pretend not to see the mess.

They also flout your best efforts to keep them safe, scaling slippery surfaces and climbing towering pieces of furniture in order to reach a pair of scissors or that grill lighter you put out of their way. When bored they’ll play dodge ball with bricks and pick-up sticks with knives!

(Okay, I exaggerate. My boys played dodge ball with whiffle balls, and they still hurt each other.)

Our most even-tempered child, Ana, was not exempt from challenges. When she was three years old, she came up to me after peering at her baby sis in the crib, her brown eyes wide and innocent, and asked solemnly, “Mama, if I hit the baby like this, that wouldn’t be good, would it?”

“No, no, it wouldn’t,” I assured her, shocked. “We never want to hurt the baby. We have to be gentle.”

She nodded her head sagely, but then came back not long after and asked, “If I threw this at the baby…”

“No!” I reiterated.

The most challenging thing about raising kids isn’t the jealousy, brutality or fibbing, though. It’s that they make a hard job radically more difficult by robbing their parents of that most basic necessity of life and brain function: sleep.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We love the little buggers. It would be nice to remember why, but our brains can only retain information for an average of two minutes when sleep deprived. Sometimes less.

If you are not a parent or you’re a new one, you may well believe that your sleep will someday be normal again after having kids, and I must say….oh, excuse me….haha…cabn’t tyupe weel for laugfhingy…

Where was I? Ah, yes. Normal sleep. Nevermore, quoth the Raven. Nevermore!

There will be restless nights spent nursing sick children, providing lukewarm baths, medicine and cups of water at ungodly hours, and then washing vomit and less pleasant fluids from clothes and sheets. There will be midnight revelations of, “Mama? Papa? I wet the bed again” or “I had a bad dream…” You’ll sleep in recliners, blood pooling in your legs, your weary arms encircling a child or two. And 7 a.m. from now on will qualify as a luxurious, miraculous sleep-in.

Worse, your dreams will be haunted for years by the dreaded midnight visitor. This little schemer sprawls in your bed half the night instead of creating havoc from his/her own room. Your poor husband will curl up in a fetal position on a single square foot of sheet for hours, sheltering his manhood from wild, unpredictable assault by little limbs while you have the hair repeatedly yanked out of your head by tiny merciless hands.

I’ve spent years trying to keep this nocturnal, parent-seeking creature out. I’m this far from throwing out the baby gate and bribery and instead attaching a rubber mallet on a spring to a steel door.

But all this talk about outrageous demands on your resources coupled with inadequate sleep isn’t meant to discourage you.

No, I’m here to tell you that if you persevere through the thick fog of uncertainty, the dark clouds of frustration, and the deluge of angst and guilt from pint-sized tyrants on a mere four to five hours of sleep, you can — yes, you — raise fine, upstanding people. You may not know it until they enter school, but if you persist in teaching your little delinquents morals and civilized behavior between cat naps, one day you’ll hear their teachers say, “I just love your child! She’s so kind/helpful/respectful/sweet.”

And on the drive back home with your cranky, fighting children you’ll think to yourself, “We did it!” Then you’ll promptly forget what you did.

After all, the drive took longer than two minutes, and you can’t stop thinking about that safe room.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and and was recently published at Hahas for Hoohas. She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. 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.

Go get your moms and dads

orangeaid lightSince social networking is really geared more towards younger people, I say, “Hey kids, go get your moms and dads. I’ll wait. Are they here? Okay.”

This is to all the moms and dads who were teenagers back in the ’70s like I was. Face it. Life was much easier wasn’t it?

Parents, remember when we could brush our long, thick lustrous hair without having to recheck the sink to see how much had fallen out or see that our ever-growing bald spot was covered? Take sunbathing, for instance. I used to jump out of bed, brush my hair, don my swimsuit and lay in the sun for hours. Now I can’t even GO in the sun for fear of aggravating my crow’s feet or spontaneously bursting into flames when my hot flashes reach their boiling point.

Some of us ladies used to climb out of the car and jump on our guy friend’s back for a piggyback ride into the house. That was then. Now we need help getting out of our car from our guy friend (if we even have a guy friend); and if we do, we certainly wouldn’t risk jumping on his back. Chances are his osteoporosis would make that impossible anyway. To add insult to injury, we have to tug and pull at our blouses to make sure our fat bulges are covered and that our big, spandex elastic-waist pants aren’t too short. Heaven forbid if they drag on the ground like our jeans did back in the day. Remember that? The more they dragged in the dirt, the cooler they were! Now our pants just might cover our white, rhinestone studded sandals.

Remember how we used to sit in the car with our bare feet perched up on top of the dashboard? I’m lucky to be able to get my feet off the ground now. And how easy was it to squat down and look at something close to the ground? Now some of us have to actually fall into a sitting position, tuck and roll, then hope that someone will be around to help us back up.

Guys, try getting out of the car like you did when you were 17. No holding your breath until you’ve cleared the steering wheel and no pushing the seat back until it’s practically hanging out the back window.

Music. Two words. Eight tracks. Mind you, these may seem a tad “lame” to you kids, but at least these didn’t get as jacked up as the stupid CDs we have now (even though my kids insist I do that by holding them wrong)…duh! Pahleezz — I know how to hold a CD. Remember, I grew up in the Frisbee era!

— Mari’ Emeraude

From the book Your Face Will Freeze Like That and other stuff mom told us, poet and author  Mari’ Emeraude draws humorous observations and the relentless urge to write about them from her four children and five grandchildren.

Do the ride thing

Jerry ZezimaAs a geezer who has learned that life has its ups and downs, as well as its twists and turns, especially with small children who aren’t prone to motion sickness, I have often been taken for a ride.

That’s what happened recently when I took my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, to the Mattituck Strawberry Festival on Long Island, New York, and accompanied her on all the best kiddie rides.

This brought back fond if unnerving memories of the many times I took my daughters, Katie and Lauren, on roller coasters, Ferris wheels and other vertiginous vehicles designed to scramble brains, overturn stomachs and test the bladder retention of adults whose young companions were required to complete the physical and psychological damage by screaming directly into your ears and causing a lifetime of auditory damage before the white-knuckle experience was mercifully over.

As it turned out, I loved these rides even more than my daughters did.

We were regular (and sometimes irregular) visitors at the St. Leo’s Fair and the Annunciation Greek Festival, both in our hometown of Stamford, Connecticut; Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut; Lake Compounce Family Theme Park in Bristol, Connecticut; Playland in Rye, New York; Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey; and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

We never visited Disney World in Orlando, Florida, possibly because I didn’t want to get in line while the girls were in kindergarten and finally reach a ride after they would have graduated from high school.

Also, I wasn’t keen on the idea of having to take out a bank loan just to buy a day pass and then melting to death in the blazing heat.

That’s why the Strawberry Festival was so much fun: It was low-key and inexpensive.

As soon as I arrived with Chloe and her daddy, Guillaume, we scoped out the rides, some of which were tame and meant for younger kids like Chloe, and some of which were wild and meant for older kids like me.

I went on the tame ones with Chloe anyway.

We couldn’t find the Teacups (maybe because it wasn’t 4 o’clock), so we went to the Carousel, where Chloe shunned the horses (she won’t grow up to be an Olympic equestrian, I guess) and instead rode the bench (which I used to do in Little League).

First, Guillaume went with Chloe, then I did.

“Are you having fun, Sweetheart?” I asked as we went around and around and waved to Guillaume every time we passed by.

“Yes, Poppie,” Chloe answered, though I could tell she wanted to go on something a bit more exciting.

She’s too young (and short) to go on crazy rides like the Octopus and the Giant Swings, so we settled for the Wiggle Wurm, which not only proved, as every fisherman knows, that worms can’t spell, but was so cramped for adult riders that, as my knees rammed into my nostrils and my boxer shorts rode up into an area generally reserved for medical specialists, I could have been the lead singer for the Vienna Boys Choir.

It bounced and jounced along, swooping up, down and around at a speed that seemed excessive under the constrictive circumstances but probably wasn’t much greater than that of a car driven by a little old man creeping in the left lane with his turn signal on.

Finally, we went on the Fun Slide, which required Chloe and me to climb a set of stairs not appreciably shorter than those in the Empire State Building and then, settling onto a canvas bag, whoosh down at a speed that could have broken all existing records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

It was so much fun that we went three times.

Next year, Chloe will be old enough to go on some of the bigger rides. My heart, stomach and boxer shorts can’t wait.

— 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 Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave 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 the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Lessons from a junk-a-holic

Yvonne deSousaThe diagnosis was terrifying and overwhelming. I had a chronic illness. Then I was told something that was meant to be encouraging but instead, added more horror to my world. I could help control the severity of my fatigue and other symptoms, as well as my overall health, by committing to a healthy diet. I’m shaking right now just thinking about it.

You see, my name is Yvonne and I am a Junk-a-holic. Sweets, meats, salty things, starchy things and all things processed were my main food groups.

Monday’s dinner, drive-through.

Tuesday’s dinner was with my best buds, Ben and Jerry.

Wednesday was a healthy night that consisted of something frozen and microwaveable.

Thursday, processed pasta, the cheesier the better.

Friday was about being social; dinner out with friends.

Saturday, takeout pizza of course.

Sunday, combo night, leftover takeout pizza and leftover takeout from Friday.

I was not completely hopeless. I knew that my five foods groups were not the food pyramid the experts recommended. The people in the know (everyone) insisted that I get serious about my diet.

I am, but it has been a long and bumpy road, fraught with many nutritional errors and setbacks. Along the way, I learned some shocking things. Please allow me to share them so you don’t make the same mistakes I was making. Reading Shape magazine is not enough. You actually have to do what the articles tell you to do.

1. Reeses Chocolate Peanut Butter Pumpkins are not actually made from pumpkins and, thus, are not good for you.

2. Similarly, a Mounds candy bar does not count as two servings of fruit. If you get the king size bar, however, and eat the whole thing, it does count as half of one fruit serving.

3. This one is really confusing. Just because you buy something at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market, it does not mean it is 100 percent healthy. Some of their items may actually be only 60 percent healthy.

4. Also frustrating: not everything in the yogurt section of the grocery store is good for you. For some reason, adding flavors, candy and cookies to various yogurts greatly diminishes their nutritional value. Doesn’t seem fair, but there it is.

5. Some spices can add health benefits to your diet. Cinnamon is a classic example. Cinnamon is good for you. Yet the experts don’t suggest sprinkling cinnamon on ice cream and puddings as the best way to reap the cinnamon benefits.

6. You need protein in your diet, and hamburger has protein. But big, fat juicy hamburgers are not that good for you.

7. You need dairy in your diet, and ice cream is full of dairy. Yet a big, fat ice cream sundae is not good for you.

8. You need grains in your diet, and bread is made from grains. But for some insane reason, fried bread dough is not good for you.

9. Finally, and this one broke my heart, raw cookie dough is bad for you and the calories DO count. I thought the calories didn’t register until you actually baked the cookies. It is a cruel, cruel world we live in, friends.

Please try not to be too overwhelmed with these lessons. If you get too confused, you only need to remember one thing. If something looks super delicious, it’s probably bad for you…

— Yvonne deSousa

Two years before Yvonne deSousa’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a relative volunteered her to write an article for a local newspaper. Little did she know it was the beginning of a writing career. When MS threatened to turn her into a lunatic, she started writing more frequently and quickly discovered that writing about the insanity that is MS was helping to keep her sane. Her work has appeared on and in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Finding My Faith and Something On Our Minds, Volumes 1, 2 and 3. Yvonne also writes a weekly blog and since finishing her book, MS Madness! A “Giggle More, Cry Less” Story of Multiple Sclerosis, she presents programs to help others use humor to cope with chronic illness.

Sizzling weather sweats cool thoughts

Sammy SportfaceIt’s been so hot in my town lately that I’ve been re-watching documentaries on the Discovery Channel about Antarctica, ice sculptures and grape freeze pops.

It’s been so hot in my town that I have been reading books about the North Pole, Santa Claus and different brands of show shovels.

It’s been so hot in my town I’ve thought about frying eggs and bacon on my back patio but haven’t because experts tell me these foods will raise my cholesterol levels — the bad kind.

It’s been so hot in my town I have thought of getting an ice tub — like the ones you see in NFL locker rooms — and soaking my head in it every 15 minutes of every day but take a break while I sleep.

It’s been so hot in my town I have been reminiscing about a trip I took to Harvard University a few winters ago when there were 20-foot snow drifts and no students to be seen because they were hunkering down in their dormitories, probably doing what college students do.

It’s been so hot in my town I’ve been contemplating what life is like in cold weather states such as Maine and Minnesota, and chilly countries such as Denmark and Siberia.

It’s been so hot in my town I’ve thought about wearing an ice pack body suit.

It’s been so hot in my town I’ve wondered if we live closer to the equator than we realize and, if that’s the case, why haven’t we figured that out sooner.

It’s been so hot in my town I haven’t even considered wearing a suit and tie anywhere for any reason including weddings and funerals.

It’s been so hot in my town that when I touch the outside of my car in the front driveway it feels like when I was a kid and accidentally touched the kitchen stove while it was set to “high.”

It’s been so hot in my town that when I cut the grass sweat got in both my eyes, causing them to sting as if a bumble bee injected its juice into my veins.

It’s been so hot in my town that I thought I might be crying, but the tears evaporated before I could understand my emotions.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to

Bye, bye shorts
Hello, varicose veins


Barrie BismarkI’m getting old.

Old age has arrived at my doorstep, and I think she is here to stay. I have just been living my life the way I have always been living it and suddenly…BAM. The horrifying realization that I am no longer the young, sweet thing I once was. I have morphed into an old and weathered mom, wife and co-worker.

Over the last few months, it seems like this aging process went from 0 to 60. Here are the things that have happened to me just in the last two weeks. I broke a tooth and had to get a crown and threw out my back while putting a plate into the dishwasher. I repeatedly told my kids to turn down the music/movie/video game because the volume was literally hurting my ears and had to go to the eye doctor because my up-close vision is not what it once was. And I am quite certain I had a mild concussion from being hit in the head and nose by the back of my toddler’s head.

What’s next? A broken hip? A bunion? A walker? Damn. It’s clear I’m past my prime.

The physical ailments are mounting every day. I have acne again, wrinkles, hot flashes, slowing metabolism causing weight gain, grey hair, dry skin, blotchy skin, new chin and lip hair. And can someone please explain to me the new, saggy, excess skin that is now above my knees and under my belly button? Where did that come from? Go away flab, you are not welcome here.

It’s a bi***, but I’m still alive. I mean it is better than the alternative. I remember my mom once said to me when I was in my 20s that this is the best my body is ever going to look. I didn’t believe her at the time. Now I completely understand. The transformation is brutal, and I dream of the days I looked like I did the first time I thought I was fat.

Millennials. Those young whippersnappers make me feel old as sh**. When I first entered the workforce, I was the new, young, fresh one. Suddenly, I find myself being the old bag of the office, the one with the experience, kid advice, life lessons and the funny stories from my many years in the workforce. All these young kids are explaining things to me because they just assume I’m too old to grasp them on my own — and some of the time they are right!

And the slang. Please stop the nonsense. “Totes Adorbs.” I don’t get it. Why can’t we just say totally adorable? Is it that much easier to say “totes adorbs”? It just sounds stupid. My rapidly aging brain just doesn’t understand this new, crazy talk.

I’m now the one in mom jeans that don’t show my ass crack, shirts that cover the parts they are designed to cover and shoes with good arch support. I am the one judging these young kids who are wearing inappropriate skirts and shorts and who listen to their inappropriate music too loud.

I can no longer get up off the couch or floor without making grunting sounds or other sound effects, and I’m lucky if I don’t pull a muscle. And, once I do get up, I can’t remember why because of my forgetful mind.

Ma’am, that’s what I get called now. No more miss or young lady. I’m an old bag, Ma’am. When did this happen? Clearly I am way too young to be called Ma’am, right? I am in my mind. People say I’m grouchy in my old age. I’m not (at least not any more than normal). I just dislike traffic, people, waiting, loud sounds, barking dogs, driving too fast, dressing skanky when you are 11 and other things I can’t remember because of my old age. So, there you have it. I’m old.

This getting older thing…physically, it’s not so great. But, it is necessary. Otherwise you’d be dead. Life, it’s one giant parade to death. So, here we come. Jowls, grey hair, crow’s feet and Depends…welcome.

— Barrie Bismark

Barrie Bismark, the mother of three, is “amazed every day at the chaos, laughs, adventures and exhaustion that motherhood brings.” She works full-time in commercial real estate and in her free time she enjoys. …Oh, wait. She has no free time. She blogs here.

Reflections of Erma