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It’s there. Somewhere.

Maggie MillusI haven’t written for a week.  Is it because the ideas, the creativity, just aren’t there?

It would be nice if I could squeeze ideas out of my head like toothpaste. I just can’t think of anything, and when I do, it’s at the most inopportune time. Like in the middle of the night, when I have insomnia.

I lie there, staring at the ceiling, and then the creativity hits.  In bits and pieces. If I look hard enough, I might actually see sentence fragments on the ceiling, in a sea of darkness.

I gotta get up and write something down, even if it’s only one thing at a time. Let’s see…where is that piece of paper?  Oh, I know, out on the dining room table. If only I can make it out there without waking my husband, Howard. Turn on the lights? Not going to happen. Breaking my toes on the corner of the bed frame? Making that loud phalangeal crunch? Stifling a bone-chilling  yell? Yes, yes, yes. But that’s not writing. Yet.

Sometimes I get an inspiration for which I don’t have words.  I want to write something that I can’t articulate. It’s probably deep inside the non-verbal side of my brain, the right side according to neurological experts.

Right side?  What a misnomer.  Seems to me that it can’t be right if I can’t write about it. This must be the kiss of death for a writer. If I can’t describe it, how can it possibly even be there?  Does the idea or inspiration really even exist? Like a one-handed cap in the woods, who can sense it?  I can feel my left brain’s frustration. It’s as if it wants to reach  into my right brain for a good chokehold on what I should be saying.

Maybe it’s my writing environment. It should be conducive to writing, right?  For me that would be orderly, organized and aesthetic. Maybe I need a good view of the ocean, or a garden with lots of flowers and trees. Not! I write at our dining room table.

In better times, I cranked out two books on that table. But back then, it wasn’t so cluttered. Now I could spend a whole week clearing off its clutter.  I guess I would have a good excuse for not writing — for that one week anyway.

I could consult the supernatural for inspiration. Maybe I should go to a séance. But Halloween is over and besides, I might run into my deceased mother who would tell me to go get a real job. Nothing like family disapproval  to squelch inspiration.

I know. I’ll find an astrology website for writers. I can hardly wait. But what if It tells me I’m too indecisive to decide on a topic, that I’m just  an insecure Libran who needs help because she can’t decide what to write about.  But that’s not me. I mean, how can you be indecisive about your writing if you are not writing?

Creativity comes in so many forms. What to do? I know. I think  I’ll get my laptop out and just type whatever comes out of my mind. If it has syntax and makes sense, maybe I can call it writing.

— Maggie Millus

Maggie Millus writes humor and blogs at Barmy Bottom Hollow. She lives in South Florida, where she has taught high school science for more than two decades.  She left teaching to write full time and regain her sanity.

My mom is red hot. Your mom ain’t diddly squat.

Alisa SchindlerEvery day, I look at my reflection and think, I remember that girl’s younger sister. Every day, I see small little changes. Laugh lines that aren’t funny. Freckles that have turned to the dark side.

Every day I look at my mom and wonder how the hey she’s aging in reverse while I’m speeding light years ahead.

Why is she rolling up her shorts, while I won’t even wear a pair?

How does she go to the gym every day, play tennis and go dancing at night, while I’m exhausted just running away from my children?

I honestly don’t know if there’s ever been a 65-year-old woman so…cute.

Even as she registered herself for Medicare, the woman behind the counter, probably 20 years her junior, gushed, “Stop it! You’re not 65 years old! You’re just the cutest thing.”

My mother smiled coyly and showed her license. Yeah, she’s sexy, too.Mom

Having an adorable, sexy mom is not an easy thing for a girl starting middle age. Okay, fine, it wasn’t easy for a girl starting high school, either.

Everywhere we go, people are always assuming we’re sisters. That would be fine if I could at least be the hot one, but it’s no guarantee. Because while I may be younger, she’s still MaryAnn with a side of Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, and I’m, uh, the Professor? It’s just how it is.

Still, she continues to try to ‘hotten’ me up.

For as long as I can remember, she’s been unbuttoning my blouse to show off a little more, reminding me to put on lipstick and fixing my hair.

I, of course, decided to never wear lipstick, or brush my hair, and for a while took to wearing large prairie dresses. I still kind of like them. Sue me.

She brings me white strips for my teeth every three months and sexy low-cut tops to wear going out.

She is no longer allowed near me with a tweezer.

Not too long ago, she took one of her pretty manicured nails and pointed at the crease between my brows. “I can have that fixed,” she said with the cutest giggle.

“Mom!” I said, a little too defensively, gnawing on an unpolished nail, “Maybe I don’t want to be fixed.”

She giggled again. “Okay. You let me know.”

Sigh. I will.

Because even though I naturally try to resist her wily ways, her hotness is a blessing. It makes me try a little harder. Run a little farther. Without her, my teeth wouldn’t be as gleaming. and my cleavage would never come out to say hi.

So today, I honor my forever young mom who’s helping me to age the best I can.

— Alisa Schindler

Alisa Schindler is freelance writer who chronicles the sweet and bittersweet of life in the suburbs on her highly entertaining blog Her essays have been featured on and as well as in the book, Life Well Blogged. She is a member of “Yeah Write,” an online community for writers, where she has won the Jury Prize multiple times in the group’s weekly essay writing contest.  She has just completed her first novel that she feels comfortable showing to someone other than her mother.

I can see your dirty pillows

Lisa PackerIt’s finally time to face a hard truth.

My dog has an addiction that has gotten out of control. I’m ready to admit we need help. Help from Pillows-Anon.

I’m not sure when the problem started, but I know it started off fairly innocently. Sure, he’d comfort himself  with the occasional stuffed animal or decorative throw pillow. Who doesn’t? But then, he started  stealing the pillows off our beds, and that’s when it got real.

VP walked into the bedroom  the other day and spied the dog having his way with one of the pillows from our bed. “Aaaagghh! Don’t let him do that to my pillow! My face touches that!”

“What do you want me to do about it?” I grumbled, bored with the conversation already and eager to get back to perusing unattainable hairstyles on Pinterest.

“I don’t know, but this…this is your fault! You’re an enabler!” he shouted, pulling the slobber-covered pillow from the dog’s maw.

“It’ll be fine,” I countered. “Just change the pillow case, and it’ll be good as new.”

I looked at the dog and murmured, “Take it easy on the pillows, buddy. You’re one step away from…from…being busted down to a lower-priced gourmet dog food! Yeah, that’s right. There’s grain meal in your future if you don’t cut this out.”

See, all of the human members of the family take their sleep, and, thus, their pillows very seriously.  VP and Magpie sleep with two apiece. I require a squashy down pillow. The Boy prefers a pillow that stays fluffy after it’s plumped. And Lucy has her special full-body pillow with her name embroidered on the case, a gift from my sister.

All of which is thrown into chaos, chaos I tell you, when someone’s pillow gets stolen off their bed by a weak-willed Weimaraner. And since we never know exactly where he’s hidden his stolen stash, it’s like a domino effect.

At bedtime, the first person to realize they are sans pillow steals one from someone else’s room. And so it goes. Until the poor sap who is last in bed (Okay, it’s me. I’m usually the poor sap)  resorts to attempting to steal one from under a sleeping child’s head, reasoning that “He won’t even notice! This kid could sleep through a playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium!” Which only works until said child wakes up and gives me an accusing glare, causing me to slink out of the room in shame.

To say nothing of settling in for the night, putting your head on your pillow, and finding it wet and stained with dog slobber. In the beginning, it was nothing really. It started off as more  of a social thing, like how he would grab a pillow as soon as company came in the door, you know, to help him relax. Or maybe a Webkinz to help him unwind at the end of a long day.When he was a puppy, it was kind of cute, actually. Now he’s a full-blown addict, sneaking off the minute our backs are turned to snag a down-alternative side sleeper or even a Symphonic Harmony 600 thread count in Luxury King.

He’s even sunken to stealing from his own grandparents. You heard that  right. My parents were packing their car for a trip, and he snuck into the back of the car and stole a pillow, running laps around the house with it until he was finally caught. We tried to have an intervention, but he just yawned and started licking his own naughty bits.

He’s obviously in deep denial.  He thinks he doesn’t have a problem, but when he’s violating his latest fluffy conquest, the look in his glazed-over eyes whispers, “I can’t quit you!” How long before he hits rock bottom? How long before we find him passed out in a pile of feathers and shredded but Supremely Soft 100% Breathable Egyptian Cotton?

I’d ask him, but he just wandered off for some foreplay with my daughter’s Pillow Pet.  Not to worry, though. I’ve got Dr. Phil on speed dial.

— Lisa Packer

Lisa Packer is a humor writer, freelance copywriter and blogger. Her blog, Notes from the Shallow End, was a Top Ten finalist for Blogger Idol 2013. She lives with her husband and three children in Cincinnati.

All shook up

Connie BerryIt was the late 1970s and I was dabbling with wearing a scarf on my head like Rhoda Morgenstern. I was into “Dust in the Wind” and “Slip Slidin’ Away,” but my older sister, my aunts and my mom were all caught up in the great Elvis impersonator craze of 1978. Try as they might they couldn’t bring Elvis back, but they sure had a great time trying.

We lived outside of St. Louis, which is — and I don’t know if you are aware of this — home to one of the best Elvis impersonators of all time. He played at area dinner theatres and theme parks and I’m pretty sure he still does, which is an obvious testament to his skill. The female members of my family ate this up like gooey butter cake on Easter Sunday.

I went along one night when he played at a dinner theatre near where we lived. I should have been the designated driver because I was of driving age and too young to drink, but this was long before we worried about such things. As I remember it, I went along for the dinner part of the dinner theatre.

The grownups were having a blast. I’m pretty sure Tom Collins and the Whiskey Sours were the warm-up act. None of them were feeling any pain by the time “Elvis” took the stage.

He was a consummate performer and managed to nail all of Elvis’s moves, including the sexy way he pulled his scarf off and tossed it to his adoring fans. The ladies in our group determined after the first scarf came off that by God, they were going to get one. My sister was especially anxious to get one. She took Elvis’s death particularly hard. My Aunt Cookie —never one to back down from a challenge — said to my sister, “Come on, Carol. I’ll go down there with you.” And off they went.

Well, once they got down there Aunt Cookie had a change of heart and they returned to the table unable to score. Now, my mom, Doris, was the older of the two sisters and she and my Aunt Cookie could have gone by the name “Double Trouble” (Elvis film, 1967).

“Don’t worry, Carol,” our dutiful mother said, pulling my Aunt Cookie along. “I’ll get you one of those damn scarfs.”

The rest of us followed their dissent from our table shouting encouragement as they made their way through the crowd of hot, messy women.

We cheered when we saw that they had gotten as far as the steps to the round revolving stage. Our Elvis was belting out “Hound Dog” and they were this close. It was incredible.

Then, all of a sudden to our complete amazement, we saw my mom and Aunt Cookie take to the stage. We couldn’t believe it. And by the looks on their faces they couldn’t either. They looked terrified. The stage was spinning around slowly, but spinning it was. They held onto each other for dear life, as if their seat restraints had just come off on the roller coaster.

It didn’t take long before a couple of security guards headed towards them. The guards waited for them to make it around again, while Mom and Aunt Cookie clung to each other until they could coordinate their footwork well enough to get off the stage without falling.

Somehow they managed to climb off the musical merry-go-round, holding hands the whole time like a couple of second graders. The guards pointed them in the direction of our table and they made it back none the worse for wear and waving a white scarf over their heads.  Thankfully, they didn’t come back empty-handed this time. My sister kept that scarf for years.

I Googled Elvis impersonators the other day and found our man. In fact, there’s a picture taken right around the time we saw him. The caption reads, “Performs patented switch kick during karate moves.”

— Connie Berry

Connie Berry grew up reading and loving Erma Bombeck. She is former editor of The Catholic Sun newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and a new resident of Martha’s Vineyard where she is copy editor for the Vineyard Gazette. Connie has been writing for nearly 30 years and has won journalism awards from the Catholic Press Association, the Syracuse Press Club and the New York Press Association. She also received a 2011 Eileen Egan Award for Journalistic Excellence from Catholic Relief Services. She lives in Vineyard Haven, Mass., with her husband and youngest son. Her two older children read her blog,, from Syracuse.

The queen of accidental disaster

Hillary IbarraI have prayed over major appliances, but only expensive ones or ones that belonged to somebody else.

Prayers such as Lord, please may this stereo experience a revitalization of its necessary components, so my brother-in-law won’t kill me, and please, I ask this dishwasher be given the strength to process that huge chunk of glass in its filter.

I need the intervention of a higher power, because I am Destroyer of major appliances, Public Enemy No. 1 of all things breakable, and Spoiler of white, immaculate things. I am, in fact, the Queen of Accidental Disaster. I have put permanent stains on my parents-in-law’s creamy white carpet during two separate visits. I have broken half the stoneware and three-fifths of all drinking glasses in every home in which I have lived. I have annihilated numerous irreplaceable objects, created stains on other people’s clothing from a respectable distance and lost the personal property of family members while on vacation.

I am on the fourth microwave in my married life and the fifth set of dinner plates.

And Matthew, that poor man, is married to me. When he breaks something, loses something or spills something like that coffee he left by the couch a year ago, what do you suppose I do? I rejoice! I keep the score. Sure, it’s my 3,984 accidents to his dozen or so, but every new tally on his page gives me leverage for compassion when the next accident strikes via Hillary. And it will, probably in the next five minutes.

Once I busted a whole case of beer after I shoved it beneath a shopping cart. ”It’s wedged,” I said lightly, even as I heard the faint squeak of that inner warning voice, so weary and hoarse from years of clamoring for the attention I never give it. But it got its validation when that case crashed against the pavement as my husband traversed a speed bump.

“Yeah, it’s wedged.” he said acerbically as he bent over the damage, flicking beer from his fingertips.

I wasn’t about to face my husband’s disappointment over the loss of pricey beer, so I shamelessly asked the store for a new case. I’m an old pro at acknowledging my catastrophes, garnering sympathy, gaining forgiveness and compensation out of pity. A case of beer? That’s nothing. I’ve broken three cases of vintage soda in a novelty store/restaurant by swinging my child and the carseat into a carefully arranged display, and all that after forgetting my wallet at home and finding myself unable to pay for my breakfast.

The worst moment I’ve ever had in my prolific accident career happened when I realized our car keys were MIA three states from home. We turned out my purse and the diaper bag and all suitcases, searched every room in our friend’s Camille’s house, scanned the driveway, crawled through our vehicle, and dumped our dirty laundry out in the street.

And then…then I found them on my 10th or so desperate dig through the dirty clothes in the chill Oregon air. They were in the zipper pocket of a pair of pants, and those pants belonged to…Matthew.

I cackled and danced like Rumpelstiltskin in triumph. I shouted exuberantly that it was NOT MY FAULT! I skipped about and rattled the keys for my Man and everyone to see. This is not to say that I went out of my way to make my wonderful husband feel bad about it. No, no — my joy was not bridled by such petty feelings. I simply felt liberated from remorse and justified, innocent when assumed guilty, like a career criminal who didn’t actually commit the one crime for which he was standing trial.

Of course, my lovely guy did apologize, albeit with a look of shock on his face. I needed something to celebrate my rare good fortune, so I begged a piece of Camille’s birthday cake from her to take on the road.

She replied, “I already gave a piece to Matthew for you.” Aha! His gift to acknowledge his false accusation, I thought, but then she added, “And he asked for it before he knew he’d lost the keys.”

Well, well. He got me an enormous piece of chocolate cake, risking an upholstery apocalypse, even as he thought I’d lost the keys to our new minivan several hundred miles from home? What a wonderful, long-suffering man!

But it still went on his accident tally. It can’t quite even things out, but it is a BIG boon for me in future beer-busting situations. Hey, I love the guy, but I need all the leverage I can get.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers, but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Slush shopping slalom

Abby-Heugel-228x300The winter Olympics are coming up, so I hope you’re ready to compete for national pride!

Well, maybe you’re not an Olympic athlete in the traditional sense, but I suggest we look into some new alternative events.  After all, anyone who has slipped on a fabric softener sheet and performed a double axle on the kitchen floor knows we’ve been training our lives for these moments.

“Slush Shopping Slalom”

In this event our amateur athletes at the grocery store get behind the wheels of a grocery cart and enter not a smooth and icy track like a bobsledder gets, but the slush-filled parking lot of the store.

Large amounts of stamina are required to make it to their car in less than 10 minutes. And while lower body strength is needed to propel the cart through the slush, upper body strength is necessary to try and steer the cart away from the direction the slush wants to go — most often into another parked car.

The athlete who clocks the quickest time from the automatic door of the store to their car without taking out any pedestrians is declared the wintery winner.

“Weather Update Biathlon”

While the biathlon usually includes cross country skiing with random stops to shoot things with a rifle, this event requires the athlete to check the weather report by running to the window to see if it’s started/stopped snowing yet, checking other sources of information—Internet, TV, radio—and then shooting off updates to anyone who will listen.

Competitors who can do this the most number of times in an hour will be annoying, but also declared the winner. Extra points are given for checking more than one source simultaneously.

“Digging the Car Out of the Snow Sprint”

In this event, the athlete is given a shovel, an ice scraper, a parked car and two feet of snow. The first team to get their car out of the driveway and get to work on time wins.

Using your arms to push the snow off the hood of the car and/or the automatic car starter for the front windshield is legal, as is using various forms of profanity. However, bribing the neighbor kid to help by stealing their sled is grounds for immediate disqualification.

Bonus points are given to the competitor who can open up the driver’s side door without any snow falling onto the driver’s side seat.

“Outdoor Freestyle Photography”

Here competitors are given a digital camera and 30 minutes to go outside and take pictures of how much snow has fallen, often using things like rulers stuck in the snow for comparison and captions like, “What happened to global warming?” and “Can you believe how much snow that we got?”

After the time is up, each athlete is required to submit their top images to the judges who will decide a winner based on technical merit, required elements, presentation and number of “likes” on Facebook.

“Refuse Relay”

Athletes are timed as they put on multiple layers of clothes and run from the warmth of their house to the trash bins stationed outside, deposit the bag of trash, wheel the bin down to the curb and then sprint back into the house, all before a) the trash collector comes and b) they freeze their ass off.

This event is usually frantically done in the early morning hours on the day of trash collection, and bonus style points are given to the competitor who can take off their winter boots without losing a sock in the process.

So as you can see, this will obviously require massive amounts of carb loading and couchgating on my end. Lucky for me, unlike skiing or luge — this is an activity I’ve been training for my whole life.

Go for the gold!

— Abby Heugel

Abby Heugel is a professional writer and editor of trade publications for employment, but a neurotic humor writer the rest of the time for enjoyment. She runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.

What’s so funny about turning 55?

Birthday-dinner-1-My father thinks it’s hilarious that I’m turning 55.

Why? Don’t ask me because I don’t find anything funny about it.

But, the other night, when someone mentioned that my birthday was coming up, he started laughing hysterically.


To the point he could barely speak.

“What are you laughing about?” I asked, in the tone of voice that brings a sudden chill to the air and is accompanied by a raised eyebrow.

The tone of voice that makes my kids apologize, even if they’ve done nothing wrong.

“You’re turning 55!” he sputtered, with tears rolling down his cheeks.

This set off everyone at the table, with my sister — who, by the way, just turned an apparently-not-as-hilarious 52 — practically spitting out her iced tea.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” I burst out. My brother-in-law was grinning, my nephews were trying to hold in their laughter, and my mother just smiled and said, “He thinks it’s funny.”

I glared at my dad and said, “You know how old that makes you?”

He just kept laughing, and repeated, “You’re turning 55!”

I sighed and reached for another cookie with my still-54-year-old hand.

Then, last night, Michael, Sara and I went out for Birthday Dinner #1. (I like to celebrate my birthday for more than one day. Yes, I’m high maintenance.)

As we were driving home, Michael asked, “How old were you when we met? 21?”

“Yeah, something like that,” I said, mumbling “18” under my breath.

“We met when you were 18 and now you’re 55!” he screamed in delight. “Isn’t that funny?”

Uh, no.

What is so damn funny about me turning 55?

As I’m typing this, Michael is on the elliptical machine in the garage, talking on the phone to his parents.

This is the part of the conversation I heard:

“Lois and I met when she was 18 and now she’s turning 55! Isn’t that funny?”


I sit here and think about this for a while, and it dawns on me.

The two most important men in my life (sorry, Alex, but you are still a boy in my heart) are reacting in a way that seems bizarre to me — but I get it now.

It’s like when little kids laugh as they’re being thrown into the air or when we giggle after a roller coaster ride or after running across the street against the light.

It’s the pure joy of having survived a potentially dangerous situation.

Life is a potentially dangerous situation, and keeping that in mind makes every single day feel like a gift —  especially when you’re lucky enough to have people you love along for the ride.

I am deeply moved by this realization, and so thankful for my father and my husband. I feel how blessed I am by their love — and laughter.

With hormones raging between pre-menstrual and pre-menopausal, toes stiffening from arthritis and hair that changes texture daily, I have not been particularly amused by my age.

Grateful? Absolutely.

But amused? Well, I guess it’s time to start finding the humor in it. After all, I was just named Humor Writer of the Month during my birthday month by Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. (Did you like how I managed to get that in there?) That’s got to be a sign, right?

So, for the rest of this year, I’m going to find the humor in being 55. I will share those findings with you and we will all laugh so hard, we may need to start wearing Depend.

Because, as we get older and have to deal with weird ailments and body changes, I’m hoping laughter just may be the best medicine.

— Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and The Huffington Post. In December, she was named the top blogger in Blogger Idol, the premier blogging contest for bloggers. She also won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013. After being selected as an Ultimate Viewer by Oprah, she accompanied her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime.

The joy of cooking

Anna EdmondsI’m on a quest to find something positive about doing things I don’t enjoy but must be done. One day, this entailed scouring scalded milk, dripped egg yolk and other charred food off my stove. What led to this dreaded chore was the odor of burning mozzarella cheese after my son decided a cookie sheet wasn’t a necessary piece of equipment when heating up frozen pizza.

While scouring the grates and wiping grease off the range and points beyond, my thoughts wandered back to the day I acquired my stove and how much I appreciated it.

Not a month after moving into my adorable post-divorce house, it was apparent I needed a new stove. I accepted that news about as well as any single mom struggling to get by each month would. But my sister had sent me a $100 gift card to a big-box home improvement store as a housewarming gift, so I figured it was time to use it, if only for the down payment.

I lucked into a top-brand gas model on sale with all the features I wanted. When I presented my store credit card to cover the balance, I was told the card was outdated, and I would need to reapply to be issued a new one. I did so, then went home to await delivery of my new range and credit card.

In less than 24 hours, the appearance of my kitchen improved drastically. It had the equivalent of a shiny black stretch limo parked next to the fridge. Now I was cooking with gas! Literally.

Many weeks later, I received a phone call from the store’s credit department informing me that I was not an authorized signer on the account and would not be receiving a new card. I listened to the credit rep explain that the card was issued to my ex-husband and I was no longer authorized to make purchases on the account. I remembered that he had opened the account when we made some home renovations years earlier. I told the credit rep that apparently he never listed me on the account but was issued two cards.

As she continued talking, it hit me that I’d been cooking on my new stove for well over a month. No wonder I hadn’t received a statement yet! After a lengthy silence, I cautiously asked: “What if I simply hung up the phone and denied we ever had this conversation?”

Without skipping a beat, she replied, “As a fellow divorcée, I’d say have a nice day and goodbye.”

I paused a moment, then thanked her before gently hanging up the phone. I never heard another word about this — from anybody. It’s hard to feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t notice being charged for and paying several hundred dollars for merchandise they never purchased. In fact, it makes the job of cleaning the stove almost enjoyable.

— Anna Edmonds

Anna Edmonds blogs at Carolina Yankee and RandomAnnAcdotes, and was a finalist in the 2012 Washington Post Magazine Humor Writing Contest for this piece. A freelance journalist and winner of a 2012 South Carolina Press Association award, she’s also the recipient of two research grants for a project on artwork by Holocaust survivors.

Reflections of Erma