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My sixty-three four-year-old self

I am 63 years old in my body, but I am really four on the inside.

Anne BardsleyFour is a perfect age. I enjoy the innocence, the energy and their creative mind. It’s an age of wonder and discovery. There are few inhibitions and four-year-olds believe they can do anything. Yes, I’m definitely four!

I started to notice this after watching my granddaughter. She has no idea that she sings like her grandmother. I usually apologize to people in the pew in front of me at church, “I’m sorry, but God gave me this voice so I have to sing. I won’t be offended if you move.” She, on the other hand, holds a karaoke show in her room and the family must all attend. She wiggles, giggles and sings so loud the windows shake.

After spending a few days with her, I inherited her spirit. On the plane home, I decided to channel my four-year-old self. The change was revitalizing. I smile more. I laugh more. I appreciate life more. Here are just a few things that I have noticed:

I like to giggle. Giggling is contagious and it makes wrinkles disappear.

I noticed how my flowered skirt flows in the breeze when I twirl. When I dance, I lift it up a little higher and twirl some more. I watch myself in the mirror and laugh when I do this. Sometimes I laugh so hard I pee a little.

I can sing really well, if no one is listening. If people can hear me, I sing really loud even though they make funny faces when I sing. Some people hold their ears, but maybe they have an earache.

I like to watch the moon and the stars at night. I wonder how far away they are. Some nights I feel like I could touch the moon with my nose, like an Eskimo kiss.

I like to hunt for the tree frog in my plants. I can hear her singing, but I can’t find her. I know she’s hiding in my hanging baskets. Some days she sits on the top of my doorway. I love those days. I say, “Good morning! I’m so happy to see you today.” She stares at me. Maybe she’s an elderly frog. I wish she should sing and maybe shake her little suction-cup finger at me as a wave hello.

I like to write with bright color pens and markers. I like smooth, gel pens that are multicolored. Purple, orange and green are my favorite. My desk pad at work looks like a happy kindergartener keeps my schedule. Sometimes there are flowers, balloons and birthday cakes that take up the entire two-inch block of that day. There are a lot of suns with bright beams shooting out, too.

I like to make marshmallow treats in different shapes. My hands get all sticky, but I keep making shapes. Horses, dogs, cats…so fun!

I like my hair to stick up. When my hair was longer, I had French braids, buns and twists. I wore one-sided pony tails. Now that my hair is short and I’m older, I fluff up the back with mousse. My husband says it looks like a chicken is stuck on my head, but I like it. My inner little girl thinks it looks fantabulous!

I really want a horse. I want to comb her mane and talk to her. I want her big eyes to look right into mine. I’m pretty sure I understand horse language. I’d feed her an apple and a carrot and we’d be girlfriends. I don’t really want to clean her stall, but I would. I don’t want my girlfriend to live in a stinky stall.

I love sparkly fingernail polish. I really like polka dots. …I call them “Polka-spots” on top of each nail. Glittery purple nails with red polka spots make me smile.

My favorite thing to do on a rainy day is to walk with my umbrella and step in puddles. Splash!

My next favorite thing to do, after puddle jumping, is to watch a funny movie and eat popcorn.

I like to watch snowflakes fall from the sky. I stick my tongue out to catch one. I wish they tasted like Life Savers candy, but they don’t.

It’s so fun to make a snow angel. I lie on my back in the falling snow and make my wings as big as I want. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine an angel is helping me.

Sea shells! I love to fill a bucket with sea shells. I only pick special shells. I like the shiny ones that a crab used to call home. Some round shells have a hole that I could make into a necklace.

I like to write in the sand. I can make a house, a car, a star, the sun, a big heart, a smiley face and so many other things.

I wish my mom and dad were still alive. I also wish my grand mom and grand pop were here, too. We could all go on a picnic together.

My favorite nap time is when my puppies sleep in my bed. They are so excited to be on my pillow, even though they snore. I don’t mind.

I love my friends. They are the best! We laugh so much. Sometimes we cry and we tell each other it will be alright. We hug each other. That’s what friends do.

Most women my age realize they are turning into their mothers. I’m turning into my granddaughter!

What a wonderful world!

— 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 Anne Bardsley: Perfectly Imperfect.

My close brushes with fame

Con ChapmanWhenever I get tired of depressing news stories about overpaid fat cat CEOs, I turn to the sports pages for relief. There you can return to the lost innocence of youth and find depressing sports stories about overpaid fat cat athletes.

Take, for example, Albert Pujols who abandoned the St. Louis Cardinals, my boyhood favorite, for a bigger paycheck with the Los Angeles Angels a few years ago. He’s a lock to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he was once a kid, and not just any kid. He was a kid on a high school baseball team that the son of my second-eldest sister’s third husband’s first wife threw batting practice to.

I could let that kind of fifth-hand notoriety go to my head, but my friends — or at least those I consider to be my real friends — say it hasn’t. “He could Lord it over us,” they say, “but he doesn’t. He’s very down-to-earth.”

I’m also hot-wired in the world of soul music. When I was a high school senior, I drove 100 miles with friends to an Aretha Franklin concert. As the Queen of Soul brought down the house with her #1 hit “Respect,” an inspiration struck a member of our group. “Let’s go backstage and try to meet her!” she said, and the word became the deed quicker than you could say “sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me.”

We made our way past security guards to a narrow passageway outside the singer’s dressing room and, after a decent interval during which Aretha did whatever R&B legends do after a concert, she emerged into the hall and came thisclosetotouching me.

The irony, of course, is that if this encounter occurred today, Aretha and I would touch since both her circumference and mine have increased substantially in the past four decades.

It isn’t just me. When my wife worked in Manhattan, she sat next to two-time Academy Award-winner Dustin Hoffman one time in a diner. “He was nice, not at all stuck-up,” she recalls. “He asked me to pass him the ketchup, because his table didn’t have any.” As you might have guessed by now, my wife has passed me the ketchup numerous times in the past quarter century, so it’s as if there’s this great-chain-of-ketchup-passers that links me to the star of “The Graduate.”

Hanging out with the stars isn’t all sweetness and light, though. You have to be there for them when they go through personal tragedies. Take Christopher Cross, the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter whose 1984 song “Thinking of Laura” recalls a friend who died young.  One of my wife’s college roommates’ best friends went to high school with that girl, and she (my wife, not the roommate or the dead girl or the best friend) can’t listen to that song without getting all choked up. Actually, she can’t listen to it at all because I took the album to a used record store shortly after we married and sold it. I can’t stand the guy for making my wife cry, although that’s a relatively easy thing to do since she bursts into tears over certain particularly emotional commercials for instant coffee.

I hope you won’t think I’m just dropping names if I mention that O.J. Simpson’s daughter once spit on my wife’s sister. We don’t have the loogie to prove it, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the two eyewitnesses I’ve spoken to, who are both related to me by marriage.

I like to think that the famous writers I have known have influenced my work in some small way. Take John Updike, for example. I didn’t actually know him know him, but a friend of mine lived in the same town as the famous novelist north of Boston.

I savor the memory of the story my friend told me about the Saturday he found himself in line behind Updike at the dry cleaners. Those cable-knit sweaters you see on Updike on the covers of some of his most famous works? Updike brought one in that day, and went into the same kind of detail you will find in works such as “Rabbit, Run” with the woman behind the counter about how he wanted it cleaned. And I heard about it — second hand!

But I never let this kind of stuff go to my head. I think I’m still the regular guy I used to be, before I met my famous friends. People tell me it’s true.

“You’re so modest,” they say. “And you have so much to be modest about!”

— 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.

Houseplant psychology

jocelyn-jane-cox hsAccording to the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, houseplants help to create a positive flow of energy throughout a house. On the other hand, dead or dying plants have the opposite effect. Of course, keeping them alive and healthy can feel like an uphill battle.

Water, sun and the correct soil are obvious things to provide for your houseplants, but caring for them is actually far more complex than this. Though some might suggest a degree in botany, what you really need is a psychology degree, or maybe a master’s degree in social work because it’s all psychological.

Here are some tips on how to not become an owner of dead plants:

• Reverse Psychology: “Frankly, I don’t care whether you prosper or not. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re wilted or perky. In fact, drooping suits you.”

• Healthy Competition: (To the fern) “Are you going let that little jade grow taller than you? And Aloe told me he’s going try and grow two more inches by next week. They’re all going to be bigger than you pretty soon — how is that going to feel?”

• Guilt trip: “I didn’t get my thumbs tattooed green for nothing!”

• Threats: “I can go pick up a whole fleet of fake plants any time I want, and those don’t require any of this high-maintenance TLC.”

• Motherly Nagging: “Please sit up, dear. Your posture looks terrible.”

• Hypnosis: (Waving a pocket watch back and forth) “You’re getting verrrry green.”

• Tough Love: “Look, we come into this world alone, and we leave it alone. What you make of your time on this plant stand is up to you.”

• Guided Visualization: “Inhale. Imagine that you’re in a rainforest, lush and verdant. Exhale. You are surrounded by friends. Inhale. A light mist covers your leaves. Exhale. If you work hard enough and do your share, you’ll protect yourself and your family from deforestation. Inhale. Only you can save the forest. Exhale. But no pressure.”

• Militancy: “Fifteen stretches! Now! And I don’t want to hear all this bellyaching — if you think that’s what plants did back in ‘Nam, you got another thing coming!”

• Begging: (Get on your hands and knees and let a few real tears fall down your cheeks.) “Please?”

(Disclaimer: I have only ever been able to motivate one type of plant with the above methods and that is the extra-hardy philadendrons. I have pushed many of them to the edge, then talked them off the sill. My husband, on the other hand, has two real green thumbs, without tattoos.)

— Jocelyn Jane Cox

Jocelyn Jane Cox’s two-year-old son runs circles around his crib while she types. Her husband is an artist who works mostly with packing tape and wire (true story). She has a collection of decorative mushrooms that she should probably mention less often. In addition to writing, she coaches figure skating — “a cold job but somebody’s gotta do it.” She blogs about the lighter side of parenting and homeownership at The Home Tome and write a bi-monthly humor column, Chronicles of Parenting. Her satirical book, The Homeowner’s Guide to Greatness, was an Amazon bestseller in the humor category. Her writing has appeared on Slate, The MidMamalodeIn The Powder RoomBLUNT MomsSammiches and Psych Meds and Mock Mom, among others. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

How I taught my daughter
to steal from a church

Cindy ReedI needed 12 mini-pumpkins stat for my younger daughter’s birthday party craft — the only activity I’d planned for the preschoolers who’d be descending on my home in a mere two hours.

Here is the craft, in case you want to save it to your “Super Fun Kids’ Parties!” Pinterest board:


•12 plastic Dora the Explorer placemats

• 12 washable black markers

• 12 mini pumpkins


1. Chuck a pumpkin on each placemat.

2. Distribute one marker to each preschooler.

3. Instruct children to color a face on the pumpkin.

4. Watch fun ensue.

Craft time: 20 seconds

* * * * * *

I grabbed my older daughter, Astrid, and we made our way to the pumpkin patch.

It was closed.

Who the hell closes a pumpkin patch on Oct. 28? This was crunch time. These pumpkins were practically medically necessary at this point.

“Let’s just take the pumpkins and I’ll leave a note,” I said. “We’ll come back later to pay.” I began to examine pumpkins and stuff them into the fair trade basket I bought to look like I’m about to head to the farmers’ market even though I never go.

“Isn’t that stealing?” Astrid asked. So innocent.

“Nah. It’s more like a rent-to-own situation. See? I’m writing in my best handwriting and leaving my name and number and how many mini-pumpkins we took.” I scrawled my explanation onto the back of a Dunkin’ Donuts flyer. “Look. I even made a little invoice that shows I know how much I owe them.”

I wedged the note inside the screen door of the abandoned pumpkin hut and heaved the basket into the car.

Astrid glanced across the parking lot. “Why don’t we just go in that building and ask?”

I followed her gaze. The world beyond the pumpkin patch resolved into focus. She was pointing at a church.

A church. I was quasi-stealing pumpkins from a church.

We crept in the side entrance, my confidence in the whole rent-to-own scheme wavering. To the distant hum of unfamiliar hymns, we tiptoed down the stairs in search of answers to our pumpkin dilemma.

“Mom, what’s that rumbling sound?”

I panicked. “THEY’RE GETTING OUT!” Parishioners, freed from their pews to go in peace to Cracker Barrel, stampeded like herd animals to the exits, ready to lose their church offering envelopes in the nearest collection basket.

We tore up the stairs. “Mom! Why are we running?”

I didn’t know. All I knew is that we were strangers in a strange land, and I had a load of hot mini-pumpkins in the passenger seat of my van. I imagined the Town & Country surrounded by pitchfork-wielding churchgoers demanding atonement.

I turned to Astrid. “Act natural.” We folded ourselves into the crowd. I tried to look like my soul had recently been nourished.

We ambled to the car and left with our loot, promises to return flapping in the autumn breeze.

— Cindy Reed

Cindy Reed blogs at The Reedster Speaks, where she writes with humor and clarity about family life, mental illness, and her underwear. She is a three-time recipient of BlogHer’s Voices of the Year award and her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, In the Powder Room, and Aiming Low. She teaches storytelling for bloggers at and speaks frequently on the craft of writing.

Knock on wood, as long as you are healthy!

Jan MarshallIt was said that the safest place to be is in bed since the only accident there would result in a soft cuddly being that would take care of us in our senior years. It seems to be less of a threat recently so try not to worry.

The common wisdom is to keep active for a healthy life.

Out of the bedroom there are so many hazards with sports and exercising that one must keep a doctor on speed dial or attached to your iPad.

For seniors, white is a prominent color: the favored shade for wrapped elbows, knees and eyes because of sports injuries. When our tennis and lawn clubs require proper attire, it means bandages.

Bowling was never considered dangerous unless your fingers became stuck and you were flung down the lane with the ball. If you made a strike, it was worth the concussion. The new affliction: bowler’s toe caused by stress from trying to avoid stepping over the foul line or your whiney partner’s face.

The ocean’s exquisite stillness and ever-present surf teach us much about life’s ongoing process. Still, those senior beach boys better watch out. The danger: surfer’s ear brought on by waves bouncing off their bifocals into the eardrum.

Since more people are sitting at computers all day, they get a “barrel bottom.” (I believe a polka song was written for me that kept me happily rolling along). The medical term for the condition, though, is “secretary spread.” If you are an executive, it is known as the high-priced spread.

I just learned of a new pain which comes from twits who tweet. It is known as twitter thumbs. If you see someone with thumbs in an upright position, it is not because they are happy to see you. Nor are they hitchhiking as one anonymous Medicare Mama did. Someone told her to please stop lifting her skirt while seeking a ride as her blue-striped stockings were causing a distraction. She was not wearing stockings. Okay, it was me. Shaddup!! The upright digit you see is from the frozen fingers of texting fools, including me.

We are all members of the “Dancing with the Scars” club. It is a smash, excuse the expression. Join us and line dance to our theme song, “Our Achy Breaky Parts.”

— 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.

Wrestlemania matches: The Norton Anthology of Literature edition

Paul_Lander(Editor’s Note: This piece by Paul Lander originally appeared in the humor journal, The Higgs Weldon.)

Brett Hart Of Darkness Vs. Sgt. Slaughter House Five

Rowdy Roddy Pippa Longstockings Vs. Jimmy ‘Lord Of The Superflies’ Snooka

Kane Mutiny And Captain O’ Captain Lou Albino Vs. The On The Road Warriors

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter Hearst Hemsley Vs. Henderson The Rain King Kong Bundy

Norman Mauler And Jules Verne Gagne Vs. Pride And Prejudice: Jane And Stone Cold Steve Austen

To Killer Kowalski A Mockingbird Vs. A Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Mankind

George ‘The Animal Farm’ Orwell Vs. Tony Atlas Shrugged

Moby Dick Murdoch And Ivanhoe Koloff Vs. Blood And Gore: Flannery ‘True Blood’ O’Connor And Gore Vidal

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney‘s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in theNational Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month” in April.

Menu at the college campus ice creamery

All Flavors Homemade from Momma’s Recipes

Freshman Freedom Swirl—Sprinkled with our hot salted tears.

Fudge Shui—Two scoops guarantee you’ll keep your dorm room clean.

Rum Raisin—You might be drinking, but are you pooping?

Virgin Vanilla Bean—Comes with a single cherry.

Ebony and Ivory—The yinyang since you’ve been gone. Are we happy for you? Are we sad?

Ginger-vite Ice with Candy Floss—So delicious in your mouth, where your teeth are. Speaking of which, did you brush?

Orange You Forgetting to Call Your Mother?—Special delivery at parent’s request, live streamed for proof of life.

Additional Toppings

Butterscotch kisses

M&M—Better on your ice cream than on your iPod!

Mixed Nuts—This best not describe your choice of new friends, thank you.

Peanut Butter Chips—Ha! Only a test, is your epi-pen with you?

— Peyton Price and Alexandra Rosas

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her at Alexandra Rosas is a storyteller for the nationally acclaimed The Moth, as well as a contributor to several anthologies and weekly columns. You can follow her on twitter @gdrpempress and on her blog.

The temptation to resist change

Mary Farr(This is an excerpt from Mary Farr’s newly published book, The Promise in Plan B: What We Bring to the Next Chapter of Our Lives. Posted by permission of the author.)

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Lao Tzu

I’m convinced that few of us actually choose to change much. Instead, we tend to resist moving with the flow until all else fails. Rarely do we resist, like a woman I knew who simply said no to the altered life that stood before her when her husband died. Instead, she retreated to an empty farmhouse on a remote hilltop. At age 94 she had no intention of changing anything, including her cloistered lifestyle. Living with other people would have required more adjustments than she was willing to make. She chose isolation.

I met Florence Sedgwick in the hills of western Wisconsin. Over the decades following her husband’s death, she had withdrawn from her small farming community. Only an occasional bit of gossip reminded local residents that she ever lived there.

Jason Bauer in the Mondovi Co-Op Equity claimed she buried a fortune under her hay shed. A butcher from Bob’s IGA insisted that she was once committed to a mental institution. A World War II veteran in the local nursing home insisted that she set fire to a bunkhouse up the valley on the Werlein farm, a fire that killed her supposedly philandering husband.

PromiseinPlanBNevertheless, after years of speculation, nobody really knew much about Florence, or Flossie, as she chose to be called. All this struck me as curious, because the unpainted fortress she called home was only a few miles from town and within riding distance of the place where I kept my horse Dixie. Every time we rode through the hills, I wondered.

Flossie’s story was both troubling and seductive. I saw something deliciously alluring about the idea of vanishing, of casting off the complicated relationships, damage and responsibilities that sapped me of energy. That trip back to the drawing board to plot a new course for my children and myself had often felt daunting. Yet as she told her story, it was evident that Flossie bore the burden of estrangement and sadness that accompany a choice to retreat. Though she spoke with enthusiasm about her life on the forty, she clearly longed for human contact.

And so it happened that Flossie Sedgwick and I became unexpected friends.

— Mary I. Farr

Mary Farr is a retired pediatric hospital chaplain, teacher, motivational speaker and author who has devoted more than 30 years to exploring the worlds of hope, healing and humor. Her latest book, The Promise in Plan B: What We Bring to the Next Chapter of Our Lives, has been published by Shorehouse Books. In all, she has written five books, including the critically acclaimed If I could Mend Your Heart and Peace (Intersections Small Group Series).

Reflections of Erma