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Where’s Snoopy?

For my wife, watching the Macy’s Parade on television is the absolute highlight of Thanksgiving Day.  Nothing else really matters to her.  My efforts to deep-fry the turkey could morph into a re-enactment of D-Day, but so long as she gets to see the parade, she’s good.

On Thanksgiving morning she’s like a child at Christmas, leaping out of bed at first light.  Wearing wool pajamas and slippers that make her feet look as if they were being consumed by ferrets, she paddles off to the kitchen, puts on some strong French roast, and slides a pan of cinnamon buns into the oven. Then, she wraps herself in a blanket and plops onto the sofa, there to await the magic hour.  It’s all part of the Yankee ritual, no matter that Thanksgivings here in Louisiana are more apt to involve jet skis than snow skis.

It’s not long after that I’m out of bed and joining her on the sofa.  She leans her head onto my shoulder and sighs, “I can’t wait to see Snoopy.  It’s my favorite balloon of the whole parade.”

Personally, I’m indifferent to the Macy’s Parade, but still, I want to be a good husband and share this event that is so important to her.  And besides, who can sleep when the house is brimming with aromas of coffee and cinnamon?

If anything can make me a fan of the parade, it’s cinnamon buns.  It’s the only time all year that something without the word “lite” makes it onto my wife’s shopping list.  I just hope the TV network doesn’t go and screw this up.

You see, my wife’s been getting more and more discouraged over the quality of network coverage.  These days, they seem to be showing less of the giant balloons, the floats trimmed in holiday style, the celebrities and the Broadway troupes that she has grown to love.  In their place are the talking-head emcees and side-stories.  “Why can’t they just stop talking already?” she wonders.  “I want to see Snoopy!”

I recall one Thanksgiving not long ago, a cold and rainy one where at least the pajamas and blanket didn’t seem so out of place.  After about 45 minutes of introductory banter about everything from how much helium it takes to fill the balloons to how much waste is generated by the horses, we finally got a glimpse of an actual float, one that happened to be carrying Gladys Knight.  My wife’s face showed a hint of color, contrasting with the sky outside, as she began to sing “Midnight Train To Georgia.”

It didn’t take long for an announcer to cut in over the music. “Gladys Knight, also known as the ‘Empress of Soul,’ has sold millions of records during her illustrious career, and at age 65 she’s still going strong.  She’s won seven Grammy Awards; she’s well known for her humanitarian efforts, and her son has a chain of chicken and waffle restaurants that bears her name.  We recently visited one of the restaurants and talked to some of the patrons.”  Cut to a glutinous chap who’s seen shaking a drumstick at the camera while he talks.

“I don’t care about chicken and waffles!” she cried.  “I want to hear the song.  And where’s Snoopy?”

Eventually, we’re returned to the streets of New York City and a high school marching band.  “And here’s the Charles Cotesworth Pinckney High School marching band, doing their rendition of ‘Iron Man.’ Let’s go now to their hometown of Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, where we had a talk with the school’s principal.

My wife kicks her feet, and a ferret slipper goes flying toward the screen.  “I don’t want to go to South Carolina!  And where’s Snoopy?”

I try to console her. “I’m sure it’ll get better as things move along,” I say.  “In the meantime, are there any cinnamon buns left?”

Her hopes lifted again as coverage turned to the cast of the Broadway musical Elf.  “I love Elf!” my wife sighs.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the network to break to yet another side story, this time having to do with the costume designer and her selection of buttons or some such thing.

“Who gives a flying ferret about buttons?” she cries.  “And WHERE’S SNOOPY?”

Fortunately, she didn’t have long to wait, as the camera returned to show an unmistakable big, white snout float around the corner onto Herald Square.

“Snoopy!” she cheers, hands clapping as she bounces on the edge of the sofa.  Then suddenly, the sky outside the widows darken, the rain picks up, and Herald Square is replaced with a message from the satellite receiver — “Complete Loss Of Signal.”

I knew this would not be a good day to screw up the turkey.

— Mike McHugh

Mike McHugh’s column, “The Dang Yankee,” offers a zany view of life in Louisiana from the eyes of a slowly graying northerner who never quite grew up. It appears in The Louisiana JAM, a publication covering Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas. He has also contributed stories to the Not Your Mother’s Book series by Publishing Syndicate. Read more of Mike’s wit at thedangyankee.com.

Where is Aristotle when I need him?

There was no test for it back when I was born.  Had there been, the doctors would have informed my parents that their little bundle in the pink blankie was lacking a crucial piece of female DNA.  That’s right, I was born without the scrapbooking gene.

You may be saying to yourself, I didn’t know there was a scrapbooking gene, Gloria.  Oh my, yes, any doctor worth his Salk (sorry, couldn’t resist) will tell you it’s right there in the mix, as surely as the “let’s stop and ask for directions” gene or the “irresistible urge to spit on your thumb and rub schmutz off of strangers’ faces” gene.

As a rule, most women afflicted with SDS (Scrapbooking Deficiency Syndrome) are unaware of their impairment until it’s too late.  Though I should have suspected something in grade school when I used my sticky bottle of brown mucilage for repairing a hole in my bicycle tire instead of gluing construction paper leaves onto construction paper trees.

Note to parents: it’s difficult to display a bicycle tire on a refrigerator door, but not impossible.

And it never occurred to me as a teenager, I might be headed for creative heartbreak.  Each year I started yet another five-year diary (a perennial Christmas gift from my well-meaning but forgetful grandmother) with this entry on New Year’s Day:

“Dear Diary,
 Not much going on here.  Will write more tomorrow.
Your pal, Gloria”

And that was pretty much it until next year, the heady excitement of journaling snuffed out again in one day.

There was, however, no doubting my sad condition the day I showed up at my first scrapbooking party equipped with the pair of blunt-end scissors my children had used 20 years ago in kindergarten, a container of Elmer’s with a permanently plugged tip, notebook paper with the tattered bits still attached from the spiral binding, a ball point pen I acquired from Motel 6 on my last vacation, and a collection of cardboard toilet paper tubes, a handy item for any craft project, or so I thought.

When I saw the array of gadgetry the other women had brought — the punches, the die cutters, the colorful stickers and journaling pens, not to mention the archival paper guaranteed to outlive cockroaches — suddenly, I knew.  I didn’t have it.  I mean I literally didn’t have it. The gene…or the supplies.

I made it through the evening (after hiding my pitiful supplies in a potted plant) by feigning dizziness from the acid-free adhesive fumes and hanging out in the kitchen next to the chips and dip.

But on my way home, too much guacamole gurgling in my gut, I vowed to compensate for my deficiency by doing some research.  If I couldn’t be a “natural” scrapbooker, then by golly, I’d fake it.  I might not be able to walk the walk, but surely, I could learn to talk the talk.

With the aid of the Internet, I brushed up on the lingo.  I learned that “light-fast” is not something I hope my charcoal will do when cooking out, but rather, refers to anything capable of retaining its color, even when subjected to an atomic blast. I found that “die-cut” was not something a hair stylist could do for you, but instead, was a quick and easy way to put a hole in your finger in the shape of a shamrock. Or that “out-gassing” (not kidding) was not the result of feeding burritos to the dog.

Now, I felt confident to tackle the subject of scrapbooking history.  Did you know that it was actually men, Aristotle and his peers, who were the first to keep notebooks?  There’s no archeological evidence of puffy stickers or scalloped edges, but clearly, modern-day journaling has its roots in their writings, as evidenced by this entry from Aristotle himself.

“Dear Diary,
You should have seen the nerdy toga Plato had on in study hall today.  Will write more tomorrow.
Your pal, Ari”

But most importantly, thanks to cable networks like “Home and Garden,” “Discovery” and “DIY,” I learned how to make our family photos (the ones where we resemble the Griswolds at Wally World) look like an outing at the park with the Cleavers. And with nothing more than a bit of ribbon and a pneumatic drill.

But sadly, in spite of my newfound knowledge, I discovered I couldn’t deny my genes, or the lack thereof.  I showed up at the next scrapping party with the proper scissors, the correct glue and an empty Styrofoam egg carton — a handy item for any craft project, or so I thought.

The evening wasn’t a complete loss, though, despite the egg carton faux pas.  I proudly explained how I had stopped for directions on my way to the party. And for good measure, I rubbed a bit of schmutz off my hostess’ face.

— Gloria Slater

Gloria Slater, an expatriated Floridian, is a freelance writer/columnist living and freezing in western New York.

Trash talk

“Honey! It’s garbage day tomorrow, you have to prepare the trash! If you’re looking for your glasses,I last saw them on top of your head! I’m heading out.”

She knows I need my glasses to prepare, not take out, but to arrange and properly place unwanted articles and food waste in their respective bags and boxes. I need my glasses to find that dad-blang triangle on the plastic containers. Lord forbid if I get the wrong numbered triangle in the recycle box. If they could make the numbers bigger or color them, it would certainly make my life easier.

I have to twist and turn them trying to get the light right, running my finger across the ridges trying to caress out a single digit number. I look like I’m trying to strum some instrument made of recycled garbage. The wife’s jealous of her plastic salad box, complaining it gets more loving attention on the way to the Blue Box than she does all week.

Now the plastic’s taking care of, it’s time to wash the bottles and try to remove labels from the glass. I say try, because usually that’s all it is, an attempt. If they (the garbage police) want labels off, why do they (again the garbage police) let companies crazy glue them on. They are at one with the glass! Hot water, soap and razor blades are needed to try and hide the fact that it was once a pickle bottle. It seems anonymity is very important to the people down at Bills Brought Back Broken Bottle Bin, where their motto is ‘Be an un-labeler enabler!’ I think Bill drinks what’s left at the bottom of the bottles.

Onward to the papers! For this I refer to my ‘Recycle With Confidence’ section of my recycling bible (provided by our fair city), which I now find out got mixed up with the recyclables last week! And thrown out! So now with anything but confidence, I attempt the next to impossible.

The house receives and brings in a lot of paper. And for this we have two different bags with which to recycle our papyrus. So do I use the blue bag or the yellow bag for a non-glossy insert flyer with removed plastic window made from cardboard with a newsprint insert? I hum and haw over this one for some time, and then, with little confidence, place it in the yellow bag. I then get off the floor and phone Tom next door to see which bag he used. No answer.
Newspaper after newspaper checked for hidden paper infractions. Cardboard boxes flattened, and staples removed. Egg cartons squished. Plastic windows removed. Tear away all traces of my name and address on any envelopes. Become like the pickle bottle. Find interesting article in Time magazine and waste 10 minutes determining if your spouse is cheating on you.

Now, not only am I not sure I’ve got the right paper in the right bag, I now lack confidence the wife is staying true to our wedding vows! I’ll try Tom again.

Still bothered by the flyer made of cardboard with the newsprint insert, I complete all paper products and move on to food scraps. Confidence builds. Either cooked or non-prepared foods all go in the kitchen container and then the green cart. What my wife can do with a $30 dollar roast is criminal. I just throw it out before it becomes a crime scene. For Christmas one year I got her a serving platter with the white chalk outline of a roast, like the police do with a dead body. In response, she used my suit pants that day as a pot holder to remove the turkey from the oven. Asked why my now-ruined expensive suit pants became a pot holder, she replied, ‘That’s what you use them for!”
I search fridge and freezer for all past and future offending food scraps., careful to leave the frozen fruitcake from Aunt Tilley that’s been there for three years, then away for two, only to be re-gifted back to us for an additional four years more.

Now waving and clapping my hands, I make my way to the kitchen container.  I look like a blessed, praising churchgoer as I enter a small cloud of fruit flies. I affix both hands to the container’s smooth exterior, careful not to slop any residue on my skin. It’ll stain, burn and stink on contact, immediately, and for an extended period of time. Eye protection is a must! Now down a flight of stairs, opening two closed doors, I reach the green cart outside. I clear a 10-foot radius to pour the offending odor into the green cart. I open the lid of the kitchen container, and my fruit fly herd triples in size as they try to escape my wife’s meat loaf. I carefully pour out this offending odor, turning nose and eyes away, noticing all the lights at Tom’s house are off.

Now it’s off to the end of the driveway for tomorrow’s pick up.

I see Tom’s Blue Box is at the curb already. I go through his yellow and blue bag to see which one he used for the flyer (I’m sure we both got one in the mail) made of cardboard and newsprint. No luck! It’s not there. I try his phone again.

Several more trips to the end of the driveway conclude garbage eve. All garbage has been prepared and expelled less than one week from entering my abode.

The digital alarm clock shows the score all tied up at a dozen apiece as I lay in bed looking at the ceiling. I lay there wondering where my wife is and thinking back to my youth.

“Honey! It’s garbage day tomorrow have you taken out the trash!?”  My Mom would ask my Dad.

“I’ll do it during the commercial!” was his reply. Two minutes done! Which is why I guess we are where we are today.

I toss and roll and notice all the 2s on the clock. The wife’s not home yet. I get up, put on my housecoat, go outside to the Blue Box and retrieve my worrisome flyer. Back to the house, crumple it up and flush it down the toilet. Problem solved! Tomorrow I’ll wipe up the water from the toilet overflowing and unclog the throne from its offending flyer.

I lay there, now at peace wondering why I never thought to separate the papers from the flyer. Silly me. Sleepy, I hear a car next door. Tom’s car. My wife tiptoes into the room.

I sit up and turn on the light, “Honey it’s 2:30 in the morning! Do you know which bag Tom used for that stupid flyer!?”

—  Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names) honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs at superiordribble.blogspot.com.

Being a mom, check

It’s Mother’s Day weekend and while I did not intend to blog around the “big day,” I find myself deep in thought about motherhood and being a mom. And before you sit up in your seat and get prepared for a lovely, sentimental piece on the joys of motherhood, I should insert a little disclaimer here — This blog may contain materials that are unsuitable for perfect moms, individuals who have perfect moms or those human beings who aspire to be the perfect mom. 

All righty then. Let’s begin.

When I started the “mom” thing, I attacked it like I did every other role or job.  I set out to be the best, most perfect mom ever.  Our world was full of  cloth diapers, organic baby soap, two of every piece of clothing — one for play, one for good — theme birthday parties with matching cakes, dance lessons,  special sippy cups, lots of  gadgets, video footage and the rest.   Every so often, I  would run down the perfection checklist in my head: adorable child, check, clothing from the Gap, check; educational toys, check; lots of children’s books, check; Raffi music for the car, check; plenty of events to show off adorable child, check.  Ahh — perfection.

After the birth of Max, Genevieve and Izzy, the list looked a bit different: cancel cloth diaper service, buy Kool Aid in bulk,  accept Spaghetti O’s as a vegetable substitute, give away the sandbox some night while the kids are sleeping, forgive myself for leaving Genevieve at the store  during that one camping trip, remember to thank sister-in-law, Karen, for finding Genevieve and returning her.

From where I sit, the whole motherhood thing  is an evolving process.  I pretty much abandoned any and all ideas of  being the ideal Mom somewhere between child two and three.  The sheer mathematics of having four children means someone, at sometime, is going to be disappointed, short-changed or, in the case of Genevieve, left behind.  Once you get your head around this, it’s not so bad.  No more pressure to be Wonder Woman. And the kids, well, you just set simpler, more attainable goals:  You make certain they are potty trained, use their words and can dress themselves.  Sure, there will be other graduating  seniors who  can recite the Gettysburg Address or  calculate the square root of  Pi.  But let’s face it, the world would be a far better place if teenagers would just pull up their pants, say please and thank you and flush when they are done.

Okay, if you want to be an overachiever, you can add another goal or two to the list. You can try something crazy like responsibility and trust. Before you do, however, let me share what can happen.

Maybe it was  Mother’s Day or maybe it was the string of  amazing report cards that came home this week. Somehow I got the feeling we were on track. I felt empowered. The kids were really coming along and well, maybe I should expand my list a bit. How about that trust thing anyway?

And then I had my chance. I dropped Max and four great big football players off at the house. These were  extremely large 16- and 17-year-old football players. I told Max I had to return to the shop. Max turned and said, “Mom, they are not coming in the house. They are just going to wait outside for me. Then we are leaving.” I could see my neighbors watching from their front lawns, eyes glued to my next move. I felt strong and certain. I ran down  my new mental checklist: “He is my son. We trust. I trust him. They are outside. They will not be inside. They are outside. I trust.”

I  pulled away, smiling  and  waving to the neighbors.  A confident, princess-style wave that said, “He has a 90 overall average, he dresses himself and is polite. We are working on the flushing thing, but in the meantime, I trust him unconditionally and I am a great mom.”

Hours later, I went to pick up Izzy from my mom’s house. She greeted me with, “Do you allow Max and his friends at the house when you are not home?”

Ha, I felt all smart and prepared. Obviously she had not caught onto the fact that I am a wonderful mom. “Yes. I am aware of it. I dropped them off, and Max and I discussed it.”

Wow, that felt amazing. How cool is it to be able to trust your kids and give them room to grow? I was driving home thinking of  what other things I could add to the list. Basking in the glow of my new level of proper parenting,  I was suddenly overcome by a wave of  reality. “Hey, Izzy. How did Grandma know Max had friends over today?”

“Oh, Diane from across the street called her.”

“Called Grandma?  Why?”  And as Izzy was about to answer, I pulled into our driveway to find this:

In order to properly feel my pain, see below for what it looked like only hours earlier.

This free-form aluminum sculpture is what happens when you mix high speeds, gravity, a rope swing, size 10 dangling feet and the latest in “go green” umbrella racks.

As Max was trying to calm me down explaining “that he already called Dad,” I was busy spewing words like liability, lucky to be alive and lawsuits. And as I walked around the whole twisted mess of nylon ropes and poor judgment, I knew what I was really mad about.

It wasn’t the damage to the clothesline or the fact that in no time at all, Max had shown trust is a little more complicated than I wanted to believe.

No. It wasn’t any of that. It was that everyone knew. Everyone had watched me set this up, leave and arrive back home. Once again, my world had become “Watch me. I am probably going to do yet another dumb parenting thing. No perfection here, folks. I will do something really dumb, and it won’t be behind closed doors. Nope. It will be right out there so you can all go to bed tonight shaking your heads and wondering what I was thinking?”

While I was  so caught up in how this affected me, I failed to recognize that Max had already called his father. He had explained what happened, offered to pay for the damage and then sent everyone home. There was good stuff here. There was some learning, some trust and even a dose of responsibility.

So, when you make your lists, you can add stuff if you like. Just remember it makes the mom job a bit more complex.  And you have to be prepared for those very public failures.  This weekend, I was reminded that we are moms.  We are used to standing up in the middle of  “Disney on Ice” with a toddler in tow asking anyone in our way to stand back.  “Out of the way!  We are heading for the potty!”  Yeah. We are already used to humiliating ourselves in public. It’s part of the job.

I held my head up high the rest of the weekend. My confidence returned after a good night’s sleep. I waved to the neighbors. I even yelled out to one, “Max made the Honor Roll at school. He is paying for the clothesline, and this morning he flushed the toilet all on his own. Happy Mother’s Day to you!”

— Pamela Huber-Hauck

Pamela Huber-Hauck is a wife and mom in upstate New York as well as a former yarn shop owner. When she is not spending her entire paycheck at the grocery store, she does laundry, chauffeurs, cleans, does laundry. She dreams of being shipwrecked alone on a deserted island. She blogs at Spirit Work: Love, Laughter and Life with 4 kids, 3 puppies & 1 husband. Did she mention she does laundry?

A squeak by any other garment

If it happens to you, do you try to ignore it, laugh at it, or run and hide? Yeah, me, too.

When it happens to others it’s plain annoying. Every time they move you hear it.

Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!

With every step you want to stomp on their toes. Or grease their shoes.

It happened to me today.

But not with the shoes. I have expensive shoes and take good care of them.

But when I got out of the car this morning, I heard it. That familiar annoying squeak.

I listened closely, without my ear on my feet to see where the noise was coming from.

It was a bit higher than the feet. And yet, every time I move, in any direction, up, down, left, right, there it is. A definite squeak!

I reach across my body, and there it is.

I lift my arm, and there it is.

I type on the keyboard, and there it is.

I move in any way, including breathing, and there it is.

Yes folks, my expensive, gorgeous, uplifting bra squeaks.

There. I have confessed.

I shall not oil it for fear of killing someone with the resulting explosion of human body parts.

I shall not wet it for fear that as it drips someone may drown.

I shall not remove it for fear of total embarrassment, not just to me but to anyone I may come in contact with today.

I will walk around squeaking proudly. I really have no other choice unless I want to install a radio or alarm or some other motion-activated noise maker that might drown out the squeak that emanates from my bra.

I am thankful that I do not have any meetings today. I don’t have to see customers, or patients or physicians. See, there is always a reason to be thankful.

I shall sit at my desk, typing and squeaking to my bra’s delight.

Stop by if you’re around, and I will happily squeak for you. If not, be happy that you are not walking around today squeaking, unless you have squeaking shoes. Perhaps you should check BEFORE leaving the house.

FYI: There is a real, actual cause for squeaking bras.

I searched around and found that the squeaking sounds is caused by the underwires rubbing with each other or with the fabric. Often a “flat” (i.e., two-dimensional) underwire may squeak when trying to bend around a curved torso. If the torso is very curved, the underwire has to bend a lot, pulling on the fabric and squeaking in the taut tunnel. A squeaky bra is born.

— Wanda M. Argersinger

Born with a purse and lipstick in one hand and a pen in the other, Wanda Argersinger arrived in life with a very vivid imagination and the need to write. She moved to Florida with her family in 1959 and considers herself a Southerner, reveling in all the quirks, Bubbas, bar-b-ques and seafood of Southern life. She wrote Y-Mee’s A B C Book of Emotions, Bare Elements: Stories of Women of the South and EB and the Ladies of the Bird Table Take Flight, a book published after the 2010 EBWW.

Singing in the drain

Ordinarily I would rather troll for green beans in the drain trap in the kitchen sink than clean the bathroom, but today the plumber’s coming and at $60 an hour, I don’t want him slogging through three weeks’ worth of soggy bath towels to get to the pipes. The culprit is the toilet. The thing swallowed a jelly glass from my prized Flintstones collection and now it’s weak on Yabba Dabba and noticeably heavy on Doo.

So my manuscript and three half-finished blog posts while away the time getting to know Words With Friends and I’m here in sweat pants and tube socks, business end of a toilet brush poised before me like a magic wand.  If you believe what you see in television commercials, glossing the porcelain is two flushes away from a career in the entertainment industry.  Therefore, the only difference between me and Elizabeth Taylor is 40 million in diamonds and a date with the Tidy Bowl Man.

Contagion, our middle school Rare Disease Specialist, is home sick with something even Google can’t identify, and music filters in from the TV.  I flip the toilet brush into microphone position and sing passionately into the bristles.  It’s not a bad day when you look like Elizabeth Taylor and sing like Celine Dion. Bathroom acoustics could make stars of us all.

Behind toothpaste spatters, Celine beckons from the mirror and we launch into the Titanic theme, “Near, far wherever we are. . .”  As the music on the television swells, I throw my arms out wide.  I’m on the bow of the Titanic with the wind in my potscrubber.  The ocean breezes billow around my bathrobe and I sail away on pine-scented dreams.  “My heart will go on and on.”

Suddenly an anxious voice comes from the doorway. “Mom! There’s a woman commercial on, and I have to go to the bathroom.”

Why are kids never too sick to wait until the show is over?  And am I living my dreams to the tune of a feminine hygiene commercial?

I refuse to give up the moment.  My hands reach out to the future. “My heart will go on and OOOOOON!”

The door swings open to reveal an amazingly healthy preteen with an urgent look and a perplexed plumber clutching a drain snake. The preteen rolls his eyes. The plumber blinks and clears his throat with a sound like he’s swallowed half a jelly glass.

“Lady, if it means that much to you, I’ll get the thing out whole.”

In the mirror Liz and Celine sink with the Titanic.  But I can call them back anytime.  All I need is three minutes alone in the bathroom with a toilet brush, a feminine hygiene commercial and a cruise ship bigger than the whole town of Bedrock.

— Amy Mullis

Amy Mullis sings off key from her acoustically excellent bathroom in small-town South Carolina.  She earned an honorable mention in the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition and has served up essays in The Christian Science Monitor and a buffet of anthologies.  For more “Don’t Let This Happen To Me” moments, visit her blog.

7 reasons I would never want to be young again

(Posted by permission of Suzanne Braun Levine. This piece appeared first in the Huffington Post on Nov. 7, 2013.)

I spent last evening at dinner with my “post-50 posse” (that’s what I call that special group of special friends in my eBook You Gotta Have Girlfriends). We have been meeting once a month since 1989, and over the years we have come to count on each other more and more, until, like almost all the women I interviewed about their friendships, “I couldn’t have gotten through it without them” — “it” being any of the challenges, delights and disappointments of navigating a new stage of life.

Back in my thirties I didn’t have time for friends. I was too busy with work and family. But since I have entered the age of self-discovery and adventure — anthropologist Margaret Mead called what feels so good about being over 50 “post-menopausal zest” — I have made new friends, reclaimed long-lost schoolmates, and rediscovered people whose lifestyle (late nights, lots of travel, dating) made it too hard to stay in touch back then. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without them.

That is just one of the reasons I would never want to be 30 again. Thirty is so good riddance. Fifty and beyond is where the action is. I have yet to meet a woman who wants to trade her life at 50 or 60 for an earlier one. Sure, I’d like to have my waist back — and my memory — but weighed against all the rest, it is a no-brainer.

Why would I never want to be 30 again? Let me count the ways:

I am happier now. I have become much better at taking things as they come; no longer does a minor mix-up ruin my whole day the way it would have in the past. Several recent studies confirm that we get happier as we age, because of that mellowness and ability to roll with the punches. In fact, according to neurological findings, as we get older, the brain literally filters out minor annoyances and disappointments. Who needs them anyway?

I’m less popular now. I used to be a people-pleaser. As soon as I found the voice to sing the “I don’t care what people think” anthem, I was off and running — talking back to anyone who was putting me down, taking advantage of me, or just wrong. I now take pleasure in being disliked by people I don’t like. It’s a refreshingly honest state of affairs.

I’m more forthright. I have figured out that I can take the truth and, even more important, I can tell the truth. Well, sort of. I’m still working on not sugar-coating bad news, disguising criticism as faint praise, and laughing when I really want to tell someone they have hurt me. Every time I succeed I feel closer to my goal — authenticity in everyday life.

I have let go of my prized collection of grudges and disappointments. I used to be the one who never forgot a slight — to myself or anyone I loved. So much so that I often found myself seething with resentment long after the offended party had forgiven and moved on. I just can’t be bothered with stale, old baggage any more.

I find other ways to spend my personal time than watching my body deteriorate. Unless it means sharing a good laugh with my friends. I like my body for what it can do and for being healthy and strong; back then it looked better and could do more, but, the truth is much of the time I liked it even less.

I am making a fool of myself. Dignity doesn’t seem such a priority any more. I am told that you don’t really lose all sense of shame until you find yourself frolicking with a grandchild, but I am getting there, trying out uninhibited behavior just for the fun of it — I sign up for a chanting (as in “Om”) workshop — and taking risks without feeling that my whole being has failed if they don’t work out.

I cherish the glass half full. I have a coffee mug that says “Today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” The precious moments in the day; my husband’s lovable qualities, which seem so much more important nowadays than the flaws; my own spirit and skills — and my “post-50 posse” — are all gifts I count every day.

As we often hear ourselves say about our circumstances, “It’s better than the alternative.” Even if the alternative is to be 30 again.

— Suzanne Braun Levin

Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988), and the first woman editor of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, on television, radio, at lectures and on her website. She’s the author of four books, including You Gotta Have Girlfriends — A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your Health.

Out of the frying pan

I am one of those people who posts pictures of things that I am either cooking or eating on Facebook.  Yes.  I am THAT person.

This modern way of sharing a meal replaces the old-fashioned get together. Although this type of sharing is a necessity of modern life due to our chronic over-scheduling and far-flung friends and relatives, it’s also useful for hiding our mistakes.  You see the delicious end result, not the destroyed kitchen it took to create the dish, or the five times I got the recipe wrong before I finally hit on the magic combination that made it edible.

I am not someone considered a “natural” in the kitchen. That title is held by my older sister, Mignon. No matter what she decides to cook, the food looks magazine perfect, is delicious and is prepared correctly the first time.  Always. Culinary perfection in a way most of us stumbling around the kitchen trying not to burn the pot of water we left on to boil would aspire to, if only we could remember why we put the pot of water on to boil in the first place.  I have had open pouting fits because she made one of her heavenly (and HEAVY) cream cheese pound cakes, and either due to timing or the cake being for someone else, I couldn’t get a piece.  She is the only person who can cook liver that I will actually eat, and one Christmas she served up a re-imagined banana pudding that has the entire family begging her for it at every holiday.

I am not a terrible cook, but I know my limits.  So long as I keep it simple, the kids don’t end up eating sandwiches or cereal for dinner due to my attempts at creativity.  My disasters are numerous and legendary.  Just ask the kids.  Take the steak I killed the other night.  Yes, I know it was dead when I bought it at a huge markdown from the store, but I delivered the cheap cut of meat (it was hugely marked down for a reason) to a second death by way of what was supposed to be a short stint in the oven that wasn’t quite short enough.  When I pulled the steaks from the oven, I’m not sure what alarmed me first: the strange smell, or the way the steaks had curled up in the middle of the pan, as if recoiling from the marinade I had put in the pan to keep them moist.  The steak knife met with a great deal of resistance as the meat absolutely refused to be separated from each other, and the first taste reminded me that I needed to clean my daughter’s sneakers for school the next day.  The kids tried the steak, and managed to set a record for spitting it out without ever chewing it.

Mercifully, it’s not always that bad.

The saving grace for me has been cooking shows. I am a visual learner, and watching people do things while they explain what they are doing goes a long way in making sure I actually understand the process, as well as giving me an idea of what each step is supposed to look like.  I can’t tell you how many times I have followed a recipe only to end up with food that looks more like it came from the Cartoon Network than the Food Network or the Cooking Channel.  Before America’s Test Kitchen on PBS taught me how to make a bechamel sauce, add cheese, choose whatever pasta I wanted to use, then bake the whole thing in the oven, I was still making boxed macaroni and cheese, my daughter’s favorite food.  I have now attained bad-ass status in my daughter’s eyes because I don’t have to use the boxed type anymore; I can cook what she likes from scratch. If the ability to make my kids favorite dinners, or heck, even make something they will eat without complaint or mysterious frowns, gets me hero status, I’ll take it.

My son, Damani, is turning into quite the cook himself.  He’s also a visual learner, and by watching me, figured out what not to do in the kitchen, as well as how to make sure at least some things go right.  He took a summer course from a chef at our church and performed work study in a Marriott Hotel kitchen.  He has the added benefit of YouTube for learning to cook new dishes, and a knack for adapting recipes if he doesn’t have every ingredient he needs.  He also has a unique gift of being able to taste a dish and not only guess the ingredients, but how to prepare it. I found out about this trick with a breakfast casserole I had purchased from a convenience store. He took one bite, told me what was in it, and after I bought the food needed to re-create the dish, he made a better version of the casserole, and it is now a staple on weekend days when we are going to be particularly busy.

Just so you know, I do not cook on Mother’s Day.  I buy the groceries needed for my special dinner, then tell the kids what I want.  This past Mother’s Day, I found steak on sale (not a cheap cut, just on sale), fresh broccoli and potatoes. I didn’t have to give my son much direction, my daughter happily helped out, and the dinner pictured was the result.  It was every bit as delicious as it looks. I describe myself as an average cook, but my son is turning out to be quite the superior cook.  To the point where he and I can switch off cooking duties during the week, and I never have to worry that the food will be inedible.

I love it. And I’m so glad he didn’t learn it all from me.  Then I’d be worried.

— Erica Washington

Erica Washington is a 41-year-old self-described geek who works for The City in Southern California.  In her spare time, she hikes, wrangles two children with ADHD, does lots of church stuff and blogs about how finding things in her apartment is an all-day task.  She blogs at House of Perpetual Distraction and tweets at @SouthBayGeekGrl.

Reflections of Erma