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My guilty one-night stand with a mini van

Chelsea FlaggI know people love their minivans.

I hear about it all the time — from the mom of a trillion kids who has an after-school carpool shift to the adorable family singing about their swagger wagon in those catchy commercials.

I know how convenient and easy they make your life. I mean, they have a freaking vacuum built into them. Heaven, here I come!

Tired of (thinking about) leaving “sorry” notes every time my kids dinged the car doors into somebody else’s car, I timidly said to my husband one night, “I think I’m ready for a minivan.”

I expected him to freak out and talk me out of it on the spot, but much to my chagrin, he nodded and agreed that our decision to have that third child forced us into the “not-cool-car club.”

The next morning, I went about life as usual until I got a call from my husband. “I just signed all the paperwork for you to pick up your new car tomorrow. It’ll be a straight up exchange for our car, just bring the keys!” My jaw dropped. I was the proud owner of a new caaaaar!!! (said in a Tv-show-type of voice)

My kids were thrilled to pieces about the new family member. They pored over pictures of it online, and I even overheard my oldest daughter telling her friend that “minivans are soooo cool. They’re like real vans, only smaller.”

But, even with all the buzz, I was mortified. I didn’t really want a minivan, did I? I mean, sure, that built in vacuum…(drooling). Alright, twist my arm. I can totally handle it. I don’t care what I drive anyway; that’s never been my thing. I won’t be embarrassed. In fact, I’ll rock my swagger wagon like nobody has ever seen!

But, even after my little pep talk, I felt really nervous driving into the parking lot full of mom-mobiles. I suddenly loved my car for everything it was (even though I’m known to complain about it quite regularly). Why was I giving up a good thing for a bubble on wheels?

My fingers involuntarily gripped the key as I tried to hand it over to the sales guy. I needed an out. I had to stall for time until I thought of an out!

“Can I take it for a test drive first?” I shyly asked, as if nobody ever wanted to test drive a car before. The salesperson hopped into shotgun and we drove around the neighborhood, getting lost only once, which is a huge success for me. The sales guy chatted about his kids and something about Disneyland or whatever. I wasn’t listening. I was FREAKING OUT.

And then, it came to me. My garage! This dumb minivan may not fit in my garage! Because my garage is similar to the bat cave. It’s in a tiny alley, and you have to make like a 20-point star turn just to get a bike into it, let alone a car.

“So…here’s the thing,” I said confidently, now that I knew my out. “This monstrosity might not fit into my garage. I need to know that if I take it off the lot and it doesn’t fit, I can bring it back no questions asked and get my old car back.”

He raised his eyebrow at me — as most people do when they try to imagine a garage that is built to fend off cars instead of attract them. Maybe also because most people don’t buy a car first and then say it might not work out. “Uh…sure, no problem.”

“GREAT!” My buttcheeks released for the first time that day. “I need to run quick to the grocery store, and then I’ll call you when I get home to let you know the verdict.”

“Perfect! I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it once you see how well it does on a grocery trip.”

I drove the minivan off the lot, shielding my face in case anyone I knew happened to be driving next to me. I had no idea how self conscious I could feel in a vehicle. I wasn’t myself. I felt like I could drive like a total crazy woman and nobody would even bat an eye because, hey,  she’s in a minivan.

I dug through my purse to find my darkest sunglasses and put my hair up in a way I don’t normally wear it — JUST TO GET THROUGH THE GROCERY STORE PARKING LOT WITHOUT BEING NOTICED. Celebrities everywhere, I felt your pain that afternoon.

I did my shopping and looked around before darting back to the car as inconspicuously as possible. Then, I headed home praying that this new car wouldn’t fit in my garage.

After a good 10 minutes of trying to maneuver that thing, I was relieved to find that I couldn’t do it. WHEW! I called my husband, who was out of town and waiting at the airport to fly home. “See if they’ll let you keep it overnight,” he said. “I’ll try to fit it into the garage in the morning.”

To which I responded an over-eager “NO, that’s okay. I’m just going to return it now.”

I took it back and, much to the sales guy’s dismay, asked for my old car back. Sometimes all it takes is losing something for a minute to appreciate it even more. A rainbow framed my car, and I swear it purred “hello” to me as I got in it to drive home. “I’m sorry, car. I’ll never abandon you again,” I hugged the steering wheel and cried with joy.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, ran up to her bedroom and cried for a solid hour when I broke the news to her that we were not the owners of a new van, only smaller.

— Chelsea Flagg

Chelsea Flagg is a comedic writer and stay-at-home mother to her three practically perfect daughters. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and kids. She published her first book, I’d Rather Wear Pajamas, last fall and has been featured on many different sites. But you can find her hanging out here most often.

Hearing aids and herpes

Anne BardsleyToday I asked my husband if he wanted a piece of Hershey’s. He looked shocked. “Hell no! When and where did you get herpes?” he yelled.

I said, “Hershey’s, the chocolate bar, not herpes!” I plugged his hearing aids in his ears a bid forcefully, I admit.

I never thought I would like my husband’s hearing aids. I thought they were for old people. I wasn’t a fan of wires sticking out of people’s ears. Call me vain if you like. When he had his hearing tested a few years ago, I was invited into the testing room. “I want you to see that your husband really can’t hear. He’s not trying to annoy you.” Sure enough, his hearing in one ear was at 60 percent. His other ear was less, but that is the ear that faces me if he’s driving the car. We could have normal conversations in the car, but not in the house.

Once I told him I was going to take a nap. He left the room and came back with bug spray. “Where are they?” he asked holding the can in spray position.

“The gnats!” he barked. “You said you saw gnats. I’ll spray them while you nap.”

My personal favorite is when I mentioned seductively (in my mind) that we should sneak away for a romp. He smiled and said, “I’ll go sharpen my skates.”

He heard rink, not romp. How’s that for a mood killer? He left to go sharpen his blades.

Another time I asked for a glass of water. He brought me the remote. There are a few things that annoy the hell out of him. My favorite heels apparently sound like a nail gun on our tile floors. I have to hide them in my closet. I know he’ll throw them out.

Now I love those hearing aids. They are more advanced and you can barely see them. If I whisper in the bad ear, he thinks I’m trying to suck his brains out.

If I whisper in his good ear, he takes me to the skating rink.

I love this man!

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Florida, 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

Hone your craft

Human Race Theatre CompanyIn conjunction with Ohio Playwrights Circle, The Human Race Theatre Company will offer a series of creative writing seminars at the Loft Theatre in Dayton, Ohio.

At the three-hour Saturday sessions, professional writers will talk about their craft and provide insight into their processes. Traditionally, The Race’s writing classes have been focused on the craft of writing for the theatre. “This year, we are focusing on more universal themes to serve writers from a variety of forms, including fiction, film and television, documentary, as well as playwriting,” said Kevin Moore, president and artistic director of Human Race.

Cost is $65 per seminar and registration can be made online at or by calling 937-228-3630. Each session runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Here’s the schedule:

Oct. 1: Building Character with Michael Slade, a New York City-based, award-winning playwright, librettist, Emmy-nominated television writer, screenwriter and children’s author.

Nov. 12: Understanding the Deeper Layers of Your Story with Michael M. London, director of the Ohio Playwrights Circle, novelist and playwright.

Feb. 4: Telling Their Story with Eric Ulloa, playwright of the upcoming Human Race world premiere of 26 Pebbles and librettist of the musicals Molly Sweeney and Passing Through, both currently in development for production. He is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Playbill.

All seminars will be held at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., in downtown Dayton.

Finding your people

Helen Chibnik(Editor’s Note: Helen Chibnik responded to a call for observations from writers about how the EBWW changed their writing lives. Here’s her response, followed by her blog: “I cannot tell you how much I got from that workshop. You would think that the workshop content would be the best part but it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the content was worth five times the price, it was wonderful and I still use the timer that Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney gave us. I use it everyday. It reminds me of so much I loved about the pair of them. Anna Lefler’s session inspired me to work on a novel, to write more and care less about what other people might think. But, for me, that workshop provided a community of people who think like me, who understand what it means to be a mom, a professional, a daughter, lose a loved one, and to fail and to still find something to smile about. People who feed on humor for therapy, even for survival sometimes. I don’t think there is a another collection of smarter, happier and more insightful people than the Erma attendees.”)

I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop last April and responded to a request for comments on successes attendees have had since that time.

If you know this particular group of people, you would know that successes are measured in many ways. “I finally found the courage to ask for what I want” or “I finished and published my novel” are both acceptable answers. I thought long and hard about my own answer to this call for success stories because I did not finish a novel, nor did I find the courage to speak up.

I found my people.

Every meeting, everyday, every meal, snack, session and after-hours moments led me to the most interesting, loving and funny people you could imagine — and not always in the knee-slapping belly-laughing kind of way.

I sat next to a woman who lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide. She shared her story with me, how she came to terms and now was looking to find her “funny” again.  It’s as if  “funny” was a drug. Of course, there were outlandishly funny people there, including stand-up comics, humor bloggers, even TV personalities known for their funny side.  And there was no shortage of fiction and non-fiction writers of satire.  The most hilarious new greeting came from a  person who told me, “I don’t even know why I’m here! I’m not even a writer!” She was looking for something new.

Some of us find our people at Wal-Mart, some at Armani.

It’s important to find your people, no matter what age you are. I first found my people in college, where I learned how to party and realized the value of hard work. I found my people in my first “real job” where all of us post grads suffered under the hands of a boss who made Michael Scott (from The Office) seem average. I found my people when my twins were born, and a bunch of the moms of twins joined together in joy and misery. I found my people at Erma.

From every stage of my life I’ve found my people because I go out and be where we can find each other. I’m not always looking for them, I  don’t know who they are, what they look like or when they will show up. I know it when they come, however, because they fill up a space I didn’t know was open, and it just feels right.

The best piece of relationship advice I ever got was from a friend, a young professional version of myself. I will never forget what she said while I was despairing about meeting that someone. “Just do what you like to do,” she said. “You’ll find like-minded people who like to do what you like to do, and then you can do that together.” In fairness, my mother probably said that to me many times, but, let’s face it, a mom’s advice is usually only good in hindsight.

I spoke to my friend, the advice-giver, recently and even though it had been years since we last spoke, it was as if it was just the other day that we parted.

Once you find even one of your people, they will always be with you — despite distance and time. They will never leave. They’re your people after all, and you are theirs.

— Helen Chibnik

Helen Chibnik is a writer and part-time music teacher who lives in New Jersey with her husband and teenage daughters. Her work can be found in Working Mother Magazine, Your Teen for Parents and Family Fun.  Follow her blog, Instagram and Twitter as Helensgoodideas.

My love/hate relationship
with the county fair

laura-hanby-hudgensAnyone even remotely familiar with small towns knows that that the biggest event of the year (next to Friday Night Football) is the County Fair. For one week, normally sensible parents forego bedtimes, healthy eating, proper hygiene and a whole lot of money in favor of the carnival life. Every year I look forward to the fair. And every year I dread it.

I have a love/hate relationship with the County Fair.

The Rides

There is so much to hate about fair rides. For starters, I question their safely. Three-story mechanisms that whirl, twist, spin and gyrate while simultaneously defying gravity are assembled and disassembled every week like a fleet of Lego ships. This is terrifying. So, I think I’ll strap my kid on board and watch him rotate at g-force speed until he’s on the verge of vomiting. Here’s my 25 bucks for an armband so we can do this over and over. Now, that’s good parenting.

On the other hand, it is the terrifyingness of fair rides that makes me happy to let my kids ride them. It is a good and healthy thing for children to push the limits of their comfort from time to time. It’s empowering to do something scary. So go, Little Man, ride The Zipper and Power Surge and the Ferris Wheel (okay, maybe the Ferris Wheel is only scary for me). Be brave. Be fearless. Just please don’t vomit in the car on the way home.

The Filth

The County Fair is disgusting. My apologies for my continual references to vomit, but it’s a horrifying fact of fairs. People vomit on those rides. Best case scenario, the mess is contained on the ride. Worst case scenario… ya know, let’s not even go there. But it can be bad, like the opening scene from Pitch Perfect bad.

Not only that, but after leaving the fair, there is a layer of dust on everything — our bodies, our clothes, our cars, I think even our teeth. Of course. there are the flies, too. The fair is like Club Med for flies. I guess this is because of the 24-hour buffet of discarded fried pies and animal poop that is available to them. These flies are annoying mainly because after their horse poop fly orgies, they enjoy alighting upon food and people.

And yet, maybe it’s the farm girl in me, but one of the things I love about the fair is the smell of fresh manure. As far as filth goes, that’s about the only perk, but I do dearly love it. Horse manure mingled with the scent of hay and the faint smell of funnel cakes cooking in the distance. It almost makes the dust worth it. Almost.

The Food

Speaking of funnel cakes, I love fair food. Where else can one or would one ever eat a footlong corn dog with a side of cotton candy and a snow cone chaser? The fair is a veritable smorgasbord of all things fried, processed and sticky.

Which is why I also hate fair food. The food at the fair is basically poison, deep fried and/or on a stick. I feel horrible after eating it. My kids feel horrible after eating it. And it most definitely does not mix well with those whirling, spinning rides I mentioned earlier.

The Exhibits

Not being much of a rides person myself, I prefer to spend my time wandering through the exhibits. It’s enough to restore one’s faith in this great nation and in the next generation. There are rows upon rows of homemade jellies, canned green beans and homemade pies. There are handmade quilts, handcrafted bird houses, homegrown cucumbers, corn, tomatoes and pumpkins the size of a VW. This year someone even entered a pineapple she had grown in her living room using a solution of tap water and Epsom salt. The exhibits at the fair are a testament to American talent, ingenuity and craftsmanship.

I, on the other hand, once paid someone to sew a button on my husband’s shirt. This is why I also hate the fair exhibits. After walking through the exhibit hall, I am faced, once again, with the knowledge that I lack any sort of crafty, artistic or homesteading skills. This is a tough realization for anyone who grew up on Little House On the Prairie and who spent her childhood fancying herself a modern-day Laura Ingalls.

In fact, I have spent much of my adulthood comparing myself to Ma. Would Ma have let Laura and Mary watch this much TV? Would Ma ever stoop to store-bought Halloween costumes? Would Ma use a mix to make her margaritas? I can tell you one thing. Ma would darn sure never have eaten a footlong corn dog.

I guess I am glad the fair is only one week out of the year. On one hand, I wish my kids could have that kind of fun more often. On the other other hand, the fair is really gross and expensive. But it’s also wholesome and charming. See what I mean about the love/hate thing? Oh well, I can’t make the fair come around any sooner, but at least I have a whole year to perfect my canning skills.

— Laura Hanby Hudgen

Laura Hanby Hudgen’s work as appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Grown and Flown, Scary Mommy,, and elsewhere.  She blogs at Charming Farming.

My baby looks like Orson Welles

Ali Solomon“Does she have a big nose?”

My husband and I stared at the printed ultrasound photos from our 20-week scan to try and figure out what our baby would look like.

“That’s not her nose, that’s the umbilical cord.”

“Coming out of her face? I don’t think so.”

I spent the next 20 weeks waiting to see if my dulcet darling would emerge looking like a pint-sized Jimmy Durante.

We expect newborns to resemble gelatinous mushballs, with squishy, wrinkly faces and unfurled limbs. But as the months progress, their faces fill out, they get rounder, and by the three-month mark are downright cherubic, at least in the eyes of the beholder.

I did not expect my baby girl to look like Orson Welles. But there it was.

Let me be clear: my baby daughter was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on. But there was no doubt that the person she resembled most was not me, nor my husband, nor any set of grandparents. It was Orson Welles. And not The Third Man Orson Welles, where he had roguish if slightly stocky good looks. My baby was Touch of Evil’s Hank Quinlan, complete with bad comb-over, portly chub and jowls. Really, really cute jowls.

My husband thought she looked more like an old Marlon Brando, which I found upsetting. “Can’t she at least resemble a young Marlon Brando, before he got fat?”

“Have you seen this baby?” he replied. “I tried to put a onesie on her, and it was like stuffing a sausage into a casing.” He saw the look on my face. “A really, really cute sausage.”

Hmmph. I put her to bed before she could make us an offer we couldn’t refuse.

If my husband and I, the doting parents, think our baby resembles an old-timey male actor, what do others think? When family members say she looks like my husband, do they mean she looks like a 40-year-old man? My friends claim that my daughter is cute, angelic, adorable…the same words that can be used to describe a French bulldog or an Oompa Loompa. When someone calls her “precious,” do they mean like in the movie Precious?

While out for a walk with our respective babies, I asked my friend Lori, “Does my baby look like Orson Welles?”

“Oh, no, he doesn’t! He’s adorable! Look at those cheeks, I just want to pinch them.”

SHE! I have a DAUGHTER!!!

Lori glanced into my stroller. “Lord Almighty, put a goddamn bow on her or something. It looks like you birthed ‘Citizen Kane.’”

Last week, my infant sat on the floor in her purple-footed pajamas, trying to wedge an entire stuffed bunny into her mouth. Her hair was wispy from static, and her big brown eyes widened when I entered the room. “She looks like Buddy Hackett,” I whispered to my visiting brother.

“I have no idea who that is. Was he in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

“That’s Bob Hoskins.”

“Wow, your daughter totally looks like Bob Hoskins. She even has a rabbit sidekick!”

Ugh. Really.

But the thing about babies is that no matter which fat middle-aged celebrity they resemble, they’re still adorable. Those cheeks! That tummy! That 5 o’clock shadow! And as time passes, my daughter may emerge from her chrysalis looking like a radiant Audrey Hepburn. Well, probably not Audrey Hepburn. Maybe Phyllis Diller. I’d even settle for a young Orson Welles.

And that’s fine. Orson Welles married Rita Hayworth and won an Oscar. My daughter could do worse.

— Ali Solomon

Ali Solomon is a cartoonist and art teacher who lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters. Her work can be found on the Huffington Post, McSweeneys, Scary Mommy, Today Parents and other parenting sites. Read more of her ridiculous nonsense at and @Alicoaster.

Why my tennis instructor abandoned me

Usually after finishing our half-hour tennis lesson during the past several months, my instructor would ask me when I wanted to have another lesson.

Sammy Sportface

A few weeks ago he didn’t ask me that.

Our relationship has ended.

When it began, he sent me text messages asking about days and times when I could take a lesson. From the start we had been focused on fixing my forehand because it was, and still is, lame. I couldn’t stop launching the balls towards the ceiling and into the curtain some 20 feet behind the court’s baseline. When I did this, he made an unsettling noise sort of like a cat shrieking.

“You need to hit that forehand more consistently,” he said.

Those were his parting words.

For a while I thought it was the money he wanted out of me. Not improving, I figured, was good for him because that would mean I would pay him to have more lessons. But evidently not dealing with me anymore is worth more to him than what I pay him for lessons.

Mark this down as another relationship of mine that has gone south towards the equator. You know the scenario. Two people just stop talking to each other. There usually isn’t a big argument at the end. They just avoid each other, usually for the rest of their lives.

Whether my tennis game improves seems to be less important to him than not having to watch me mis-hit the ball dozens of times. Maybe he figured I will never get it right so it wasn’t worth his effort. Maybe he got tired of me talking all the time during the lessons and asking him vexing questions about the forehand swing.

Being abandoned by my instructors has become a trend. A few years ago I had a nutritionist who, suddenly, stopped calling and texting me even though I felt the need to come see him to confess about eating Big Macs and caramel sundaes when he told me I needed to eat carrots and green beans. He broke his silence a few months later saying he had gotten out of the nutritionist field. No more meetings.

Would any of us be surprised if my tennis instructor emails me soon saying he’s no longer a tennis instructor?

Tennis, anyone?

— 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

Northerly Hills 6020D

Jass RichardsWorking part-time meant I often had more than one job.

One year, I worked the night shift at a residential program run by the Mental Health Association, wherein selected patients from the local psych hospital (those with potential!) were transferred, at some point in time, to 602 — so called because its address was 602 Bonkers Street (I kid you not) — where the staff would teach the residents life skills, help them find a job and an apartment, and generally provide support during their transition from institutionalized living to independent living. I also worked at the O & D (Observation & Detention), another residential program wherein young offenders were observed (O) while detained (D) prior to their court appearance — for trial, sentencing or whatever.

At the end of a week during which I was lucky enough to be staff escort for a trip to the grocery store with the 602s and a trip to an outdoor festival with the O & Ds, I had a great idea: why not pair a 602 with an O & D? I imagined a program that was a cross between those that paired juvenile delinquents with dogs and those that paired ex-cons with people in wheelchairs. I presented the idea — I called it “Northerly Hills 602OD” — to each place during the weekly staff meeting. Surprisingly enough, it was accepted. Perhaps not so surprisingly, it was a disaster. Except for one pairing.

Lily was 602’s compulsive shopper. Luann was one of O & D’s shoplifters. The three of us headed out to a mall one day, the two of them delighted at discovering in common an enthusiasm for shopping. They made a bee-line for one of those sprawling economy department stores that have everything you could possible imagine but nothing you could actually want. Let alone need. I trailed behind, at a discreet distance that was supposed to make them feel independent, one of such a trip’s many purposes.

Lily grabbed a shopping cart and began to fill it at once — with socks, T-shirts, scarves, hats, jeans, sweaters, umbrellas — all the while maintaining a chatter that was part auctioneer and part shopping channel spokesperson. Luann followed, recognizing Lily as the perfect decoy, and stealthily secreted various items into various pockets.

By the time they left Ladies’ Wear, Lily was onto her second shopping cart. By the time they’d gotten through Kitchenwares, she’d enlisted Luann to push a third. She was in Shoppers’ Heaven. She’d never filled three shopping carts before.

Luann was feeling aggrieved — it was clear she was outdone. She’d never be able to lift more than Lily was accumulating. So she scored the next item when Lily was watching, and winked at her. Lily was confused for a moment, looking much like a puppy seeing for the first time an older dog calmly walk away with the just delivered pizza box. While stealing clearly had advantages over buying, she realized, as Luann had, that she couldn’t possibly take nearly as much that way. So she decided to stick with compulsive shopping. And that made Luann doubly aggrieved. So when Lily put shoehorns into that third cart — six of them, one of each color — Luann blew.

“YOU DON’T F***ING NEED ALL THIS SH*T!!” she yelled. So loudly she lost half her loot. Among the many items that fell clattering to the floor was a mini-shoeshine kit. Lily stared at this shoeshine kit. Luann stared at the shoeshine kit. Lily looked at her shoehorns. Luann looked at the shoehorns. I call it “the shoe moment.”

Then, wordlessly, they both left the scene. Unfortunately for me, through different exits. I eventually found them both, wandering in the parking lot, looking for my car. (I was doing the same thing.) We left the mall and neither one of them went “shopping” again.

Jass Richards has a master’s degree in philosophy and used to be a stand-up comic (now she’s more of a sprawled-on-the-couch comic). Despite these attributes, she has received four Ontario Arts Council grants. In addition to her Rev and Dylan series (The Road Trip Dialogues, The Blasphemy Tour and License to Do That), which has reportedly made people snort root beer out their noses, she has written This Will Not Look Good on My Resume, a collection of short stories described as “a bit of quirky fun that slaps you upside the head,” followed by its sequel Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun. Her most recent novel, TurboJetslams: Proof #29 of the Non-Existence of Godcan be purchased (in print and various e-formats) at all the usual online places.


Reflections of Erma