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Angels, unaware

Susan WilliamsWhen my charismatic, fun-loving friend from college invited me to be in her wedding, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away, despite the trip across the continent to get there. Years later, when I married, she brought her husband and kids to visit us. And thus began a series of cross-country trips, allowing us to maintain our friendship.

But toddlers turn to teens, and the pace of life quickens with each passing year, and those sweet vacations ended. In what seemed no time, 10 years had passed. One afternoon, I called to tell her I was flying into her town and wanted to see her. I asked how she was doing, and in a shaking voice she replied, “Oh, hon. Not well.”

Six months earlier, her 19-year-old son, suffering from deep depression, had taken his own life.  She hadn’t contacted me. How do you call your old friend to say, “Oh, by the way, my son committed suicide”?

I had called hoping to reconnect. I had no idea the heart I would be reconnecting to was broken.

When I arrived, I had the luxury of spending several days with her. I asked her to tell me about her son.

She brought out the video of the funeral, and a movie the family had edited together, made from footage taken throughout her son’s life.

We spent hours watching these and crying together. I grieved the loss of not having known him better. I mourned the pain that my friend had endured. She gave way to the luxury of pouring out her heart, without trying to act like she was doing better than she was, six months after his death.

Wiping her swollen eyes, she said, “I want people to remember that he was SO MUCH MORE than the way that he chose to end his life!”

After I left, she told me she felt like she had been visited by an angel from heaven. But any of us who gives the gift of listening, who allows a broken heart to feel what it feels, out loud, and unmasked, really can be an angel.

What ARE angels, but ministering spirits?

So each of us can be an angel, if only we are willing to give someone the gift of allowing them to tell their story.

We don’t have to rush in with the answers, or “say the right thing.”

I had no answers to give her.

But if “all” we can do is listen? Listening IS “saying” the right thing.

If “all” we can do is bear witness to someone’s pain, then that is a gift indeed.

And we ourselves become angels, unaware.

— Susan Williams

Susan Williams is the author of the blog *That* Susan Williams, where she writes about food, faith and fun. She is a born storyteller, who loves to share her observations about life. Her blog name was chosen when she realized that she was #27 of more than 50 different Susan Williams in her insurance system. She is also the food columnist for a national emagazine, Midlife Boulevard.  Stop by and visit *That* Susan Williams when you need a dynamite recipe, or a little encouragement. Because she’s that kind of friend. She’s that Susan Williams.

Children are superheroes

Stacy EdwardsI’m convinced children are born with superpowers.

They have super sonic hearing. You can open a candy bar wrapper while hiding in the bathroom with the shower on and they can hear it, come running and be banging on the door before your first bite.

They wear cloaks of invisibility. They can vanish into thin air at the sound of you pulling a full bag of trash out of the can.

They wander aimlessly through a house overflowing with toys, electronics and art supplies complaining of boredom. Yet, at the mention of chores, they can entertain themselves outside for hours with a stick and an old coffee can. Nothing grosses them out. They eat boogers, chew gum that has been dropped on the ground and share toothbrushes. (But green peas? Even superheroes have their limits.)

They know the name and story behind every stuffed animal, but they can’t remember where they left their homework. (Lucky for them, moms are superheroes, too, and have the ability to locate anything, anywhere, at anytime.)

They have the power to make you do the most ridiculous things like rush to their school in your pajamas because they forgot some very important something that you told them to put in their bag the night before. With a sad little whimper, they have you crawling on your stomach under a stranger’s car in the Walmart parking lot because they dropped their very-favorite-can-not-live-without-it toy. (Also known as a plastic piece of garbage that came in a happy meal that they will lose in the car before you even make it home.)

They flash a sweet smile and, before you know it, you are scratching their bellies and sharing your Starbucks. (Stop the madness!)

You give up sleep, showers and sanity. They cause gray hair, weight gain and stretch marks but are so thoroughly enjoyable that you have another. )And another and another and another — maybe that was just me.)

Without any effort at all, they teach you humility, sacrifice and a crazy, unconditional, will-walk-over-a-floor-littered-with-legos-and-Barbie-shoes kind of love.

It’s true. Children are superheroes. They can solve puzzles, climb trees and hear an adult conversation a mile away. Now, if they could just figure out how to keep their room clean.

— Stacy Edwards

Stacy Edwards is a trucker’s daughter and a pastor’s wife. She is a writer, speaker and homeschooling mom to five fabulous little girls. If you need her, she’s probably hiding in the bathroom.

Slip ‘n slide:
The infomercial almost writes itself

Mandy WaysmanWe can all agree that when we think fitness, we think Mandelynn.

If you weren’t nodding your head while reading that sentence, trust me, you were in the minority. Like waaay small minority.

Don’t feel bad about yourself, but let’s try being more supportive next time. Especially if you want to be in my upcoming infomercial. I’m going to need you to work on enthusiasm and big hand/facial gestures (appropriate gestures, people!! I can’t believe I have to say that to you. What are we, 13-year-old boys around here? Antlers and flipping the bird=not ok.)

Back to my new fitness gimmick…or I mean plan. For three days now my abs (or the place where people have told me abs should be) have been really sore. I think it’s due to the slip-n-slide. I’m pretty sure I have developed a six-pack from my one hour on the slip-n-slide. I haven’t checked to make sure (I don’t take disappointment well.) I am going purely based on my gut feeling.

(Get it? You got it, right? That’s the kind of joke you can practice courtesy laughing at for our TV debut.)

Now for the exciting part for all you folks at home: I am going to create a workout based on my slip-n-slide signature moves. They will have inspirational names such as “The Shamoo,” “The Stop, Drop and Topple,” and the award-winning “God Help Me, I’m Going For It…Wait, No…Ok, For Real This Time.”

I will provide you with a comprehensive guide with a step-by-step video in order to ensure you have the proper form. Also included: A pie chart showing the order to do the exercises for max results.

Upgrade your order right now and receive additional earth-shattering moves like the “I’ll Show You How It’s Done,” “Am I Flying? No, No, I Am Not,” and the “No, I Swear That’s Mud.” I’m not going to sugarcoat this and say it’s going to be easy. It isn’t.

And when the weather turns cold, you might try to talk yourself out of going outside, unfreezing the pipes and hose, shoveling off your tarp, and starting this workout in the freezing cold — but you gotta want it! Also it wouldn’t hurt to try to grow some more body hair to keep yourself warm during that time (I mean for real. Does Rogaine work on arms/and legs? You really are going to feel it out there.).

Recap: No one said it was going to be easy or fun. Your neighbors might laugh, point and mock you. You know what? Who’s going to be pointing, laughing and mocking 15 years from now when you’ve worked to achieve your goal of losing two inches, and you no longer need a coat because you have managed to grow your own. That’s right! I said two inches in 15 years!!! Hold on to something, people, because it just got real here. (If this were the infomercial, this is where you would stand up and clap/cheer/look amazed.)

Update: During a conversation with my mother it was pointed out that the sensation in my abs might be something else entirely. I believe she threw out the term “bruised ribs.” More market research is required before I can, with clear conscience, begin to sell my product. I pledge to you, the public, to spend at least one additional hour to verify safety and figure out appropriate warning labels. Stay tuned.

— Mandy Waysman

Mandy Waysman is a mother of two daughters in the Midwest who enjoys margaritas. Her “real” job: a reconciliation analyst at a bank. “Those two facts seem like they belong next to each other. I’m not sure why,” she says. “I try to write the funnies that make the world sing, er, laugh.” She blogs at Oh, Mandelynn.

The passive-aggressive, unintentionally
racist Dunkin’ Donuts customer

Abby ByrdMonday
6:47 a.m.

Good morning, Morose Caucasian. Let me give you my card. There you go. And you’re closing the window without saying hello. I must say, I’ve been trying for several months now to cope with the loss of the extremely benevolent Indian employees at the Dunkin’ Donuts near my old house, yet my loss becomes keener each day that I’m greeted by your dour expression. I use the word “greeted” figuratively, of course, given that you’ve failed to offer me an actual greeting. And there’s my medium hazelnut coffee with extra cream, handed to me without a smile.

6:43 a.m.

Hello, Morose Caucasian. I see you’re earning your nickname again this morning. It’s very early — oh, I recognize that. And I hate to keep bringing this up, but your Indian counterpart at the Dunkin’ Donuts across town is smiling right now as he hands a lucky customer a coffee and a free munchkin for the little “munchkin” he’s noticed sleeping in the back seat. Now he’s wishing her a pleasant day. It’s been said that Indians are the friendliest people in donut history, and my experience certainly bears out this saying — but as I said, not to compare. I hope you have a pleasant day, even though you appear not to wish the same for me.

6:50 a.m.

I’m forced to assume that you dislike your job. Or dislike me. Or are suffering through some sort of personal crisis? What is it? Did you fail out of school? Were you recently spurned by a morose female? Perhaps a disgruntled customer had the temerity to point out that your drive-through disposition pales significantly in comparison to the sunny disposition of Mr. Patel, from the Dunkin’ Donuts across town. I may have mentioned him.

6:55 a.m.

I’m considering driving 45 minutes out of my way to once again feel the warm glow of hospitality that always radiated from Mr. Patel. I remember him fondly. What’s that? Oh, hello, Morose Caucasian. Business as usual. Visa card for medium coffee. Quid pro quo. And yet something is missing.

6:38 a.m.

Good morning, Morose Caucasian. Here’s my card, and while I’m at it—no, don’t close the window—I’d like you to put on this moustache. That looks smashing on you. Now, could you please talk in an Indian accent? What do you mean, you don’t get paid enough to do that? Ask me to leave? I’ve never been so insulted. You people’s lackluster work ethic and poor customer service skills are EXACTLY WHY ALL OF OUR JOBS ARE BEING OUTSOURCED TO INDIA! What do I mean by “you people”? I think you KNOW what I mean!


I have purchased a Keurig and several boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts K-Cups, lest my morning coffee be poisoned by the profound existential depression leaking from that White Devil at the drive-through.

Also, I’m not allowed back there.

— Abby Byrd

Abby Byrd is the poster child for existential angst. Her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamalode, and BLUNTmoms and in Scary Mommy’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays. Follow her on Twitter @AbbyBWriter, on Facebook or on her blog, Little Miss Perfect.


Kimba DalferesThis time last year one of my best friends left this world.

My dog Taz, the little miracle mutt who survived a crazy emergency surgery the year before, finally succumbed to the ravages of old age at 13+ years old. Up until his last few months he wholeheartedly continued to chase squirrels and even hauled ass after a fox that appeared quite unexpectedly in the backyard flower bed. Damn near caught him too. For most of his life he was a happy, healthy mutt from the pound who I loved dearly. I sure do miss him.

For those of you who have by chance read I Was In Love With a Short Man Once, you understand my relationship with Taz was not always one of full love and mutual admiration. We survived, sometimes barely, incidences of peeing on the Christmas tree and eating the smoked salmon off the kitchen counter. It took both of us quite a while before we fully recovered from the “ate the wedding bouquet” incident.

Over time I came to love and appreciate life with Taz, even the puppy mishaps and the stubborn “I’m not going out in the snow” tugs-of-war. Taz taught me many lessons, perhaps most importantly the realization that the Universe does not always offer advice and motivation through a dramatic burning bush or a spectacular show of nature’s power. Sometimes, if you really pay attention, quiet little lessons sneak into your thoughts in the most interesting ways. Here is my top-10  list of my favorite Taz-induced insights, let’s call them Tazisms:

1. A sad puppy face can get you out of a lot of trouble.

2. A little nap in a sunny spot is always a good solution.

3. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. We rescued Bonz the cat when Taz was 11. He rolled with it like they had always cohabitated.

4. Almost everything tastes better with a little smidge of peanut butter.

5. No matter how old you get, you still wanna run with the pack every once in a while.

6. A cheerful little wag of your tail often gets you what you want.

7. Love unconditionally; it is contagious.

8. It’s rarely fun to be stuck in the doghouse.

9. Just because you mark your territory doesn’t mean it’s actually yours.

10. Be someone’s very best and most loyal friend.

Rest in peace dear ol’ friend. I hope you’re chasing your fill of squirrels and that you’ve found a sunny place to nap on GeeGee and Grumps’ heavenly front porch.

Kimberly “Kimba” J. Dalferes is a native Floridian who currently pretends to be a Virginian. Her accomplishments have included successfully threading a sewing bobbin, landing a 35-pound Alaskan King salmon and scoring a ceramic sangria pitcher at an estate sale for $1. She also sometimes writes books such as I Was In Love With a Short Man Once. Her humor column – Dock Tale Hour – is published by Laker Magazine. She is often found hanging out on her blog The Middle-Aged Cheap Seats.

‘God Box’ events to help Bombeck workshop

(This piece originally appeared in Sharon Short’s “Literary Life” column in the Dayton Daily News March 8. Reposted by permission of the author. For information about the performances and tickets, click here.)

Mary Lou Quinlan headshot_MLQ Co1 Tickets are on sale for “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story,” a critically acclaimed one-woman show by writer/performer Mary Lou Quinlan.

Performances will be held on March 30-31, each night at 7, at the University of Dayton’s Boll Theatre. The shows benefit the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop endowment fund.

A “talk-back” follows each performance. On March 30, locally based writers Katrina Kittle, Joanne Huist Smith, Mary Jo McCarty and yours truly will join Mary Lou on stage to discuss “Writing Your Heart Out.” On March 31, WHIO-TV (NewsCenter 7) anchor Cheryl McHenry will emcee a discussion with Betsy Bombeck and Mary Lou.

“My mother was my best friend and role model, a true light in my family’s life. She was the first person I called with any news, personal or professional,” says Mary Lou. “Losing her in May, 2006, made everything seem somehow less valuable.”

“As a writer with a career spent in advertising,” Mary Lou adds, “I was used to writing and talking about various aspects of life. I wanted to use my writing skills to somehow process the loss of my dear mother.”

Mary Lou, who lives and works in New York, eventually discovered her mother’s “God Box.”

“The box, it turned out, was mom’s way of both keeping and releasing her concerns, hopes and wishes for her family and friends,” Mary Lou explains. “She’d write a little note to God, capturing a prayer, and tuck it in the box. For example, she might encounter a friend at the grocery who was facing a medical issue, and nervous about the outcome of an upcoming exam. So mom would write a note — ‘Dear God, help Sarah with her medical test … ’ and so on. Her notes in the God Box were written just the way you’d write a letter to a friend — direct, honest, even funny.”

Mary Lou first wrote of her discovery, and the role it played in her mourning and healing process, in an article for Real Simple magazine, in 2010.

“The article more or less took on a life of its own,” Mary Lou says. “It generated such a huge response. So, I expanded the article into a book, which is in many ways a universal story, and a love letter to mothers everywhere.”

Mary Lou is also the author of three other books, including one on marketing to women. The God Box is her first foray into book-length personal writing.

Mary Lou has retired from her marketing career and now spends much of her time performing her show as a fundraiser for charities. She’s performed the show more than 80 times, at venues around the world.

“I heard a lot of great comments about the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop from friends,” Mary Lou says. “I planned to attend in 2010, but sadly my father passed away and I was unable to come. However, I attended the workshop in 2012 as a keynoter. I loved hanging out with the smartest, funniest bunch of women I’d ever met at the workshop.”

“Mom was a huge fan of Erma Bombeck. I grew up hearing my mother read aloud or talk about Erma’s pieces, and whenever mom had an awkward moment, she’d just say, ‘Erma Bombeck!’ And that somehow seemed to explain it all.”

So, Mary Lou says, when the idea arose for her to give her “God Box, Daughter’s Story” performance as a fundraiser for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, the response seemed easy and obvious. “Of course I said yes!”

All proceeds from the tickets and well as from the sale of Mary Lou’s book at the performances will go to support the workshop’s endowment fund.

Learn more about Mary Lou and her work online at

Learn more about “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story” at

For more event details and ticket information, visit or click here.

— Sharon Short

Sharon Short writes the weekly “Literary Life” column in the Dayton Daily News. She is the director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and an accomplished writer. She has published two mystery series, a book of columns and the recent novel, My One Square Inch of Alaska. In 2014, she served as a finalist judge for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

Menopause has turned our bedroom
into a brothel

Lynne CobbPeri-menopause is making me a changed woman. It is doing things to my body and brain that I never knew it could. It is also changing my house. How, you ask? Because menopause is transforming our bedroom into a brothel.

But, not in the way you would think.

The other morning, I made an astute observation. I stepped into the bedroom and I began to blush — and not from a hot flash. If someone walked into our room, they would raise an eyebrow. Or two.

Thanks to menopause, our bedroom is looking like a brothel:

• You never know which woman will be in the room:
It could be the sentimental, sappy, romantic, “I-need-a-hug-because-I-cried-at-the-ending-of “The Notebook”-again.” Or, it could be the screaming, road-rage-crazy lady who could take out Chuck Norris and Batman at the same time because the estrogen and testosterone are battling it out for the win. I guess this can add a little mystery and excitement. But then again, it might not…

• Love Potion Number 9:
All those tiny little brown glass bottles next to the bed? Love potions? Hardly! These bitty bottles are filled with essential oils, carrier oils and herbs that are slathered on in the attempt to control the battling hormones and the achy legs. If you want to know if these work, the answer is yes. But if someone feels better thinking they are for another use, go right ahead…

• Lingerie on the door handles:
Not what you think. These styling, thigh-high hose keep my legs from aching and support circulation. They also are a great upper-arm workout because they are part of my cardio exercise every morning. Putting support hose on makes me limber and creates beads of sweat. The only merit these miracles of the medical world have is that they are made in Italy — only the uppermost in fashion for my support-needing legs.

• Dim lighting:
Not from flickering candles, but from night lights so that I don’t break my neck fumbling around in the dark for my glasses.

• Fifty Shades of Gray:
Not the book – just my own gray hair.

• High-heels in the corner:
Yes, they were tossed in the corner quickly, and not due to a state of undress. My lower back and baby toes protested loudly, and the pile of shoes will be donated. Soon.

• Expensive perfume:
What used to be reserved for special events and evenings out has become a necessity, because, well, I may need to cover up the results of a hot flash.

• Bed sheets in disarray:
Tossing the pillows and ripping the bedding off the mattress has a brand new meaning when living your own personal summer.

Maybe I should not complain because, in many ways, menopause is keeping me one hot lady with a sexy-looking bedroom. Maybe I should not have revealed what is going on behind the scenes. Maybe it’s better to fantasize about our room being a brothel instead of a staging area to keep my hormones in check. One thing is for sure, retaining a sense of humor about this life-changing event is critical — well, until the mood changes again. Which it could. Today. In an hour. In a minute.

— Lynne Cobb

Lynne Cobb is a writer, journalist and blogger, with articles and essays published in local and national newspapers and magazines. Several of her blog posts have appeared on BlogHer and Midlife Boulevard. Lynne is a military spouse, a military mom and an almost-empty nester. She shares her midlife musings at “Midlife Random Ramblings,” where this post first appeared. You can also catch up with her on Facebook or follow on Twitter @LynneCobb.

Invasion of the killer icicles

cook_photo_(This essay appeared in the Salem News on Feb. 22, 2014. Reposted by permission.)

As I write this, the North Shore has gotten a break in the snowy onslaught we recently experienced. On Wednesday we emerged, like hermits, to savor the 22-degree weather. The drip-drip of melting snow was music to the ears.

At the same time it’s too early to make jokes about the Winter of 2015. At this point no one is breathing easily. Yet at my house, I’m experiencing a sense of liberation: Freedom from the tyranny of the Killer Icicles.

These weren’t your everyday icicles, these were prehistoric, reminiscent of the Ice Age. At their peak, before we felled them — or rather before Joe Malloy felled them — they were more than a foot wide and eight feet long. They hung from our front porch like dinosaur teeth. Early on, before they grew to mammoth proportions, I posted photos on Facebook. I even made jokes about them. Meanwhile, they continued growing during the night as we slept.

Every morning I opened the front door to peek at the monster appendages. No longer content to be outside, they’d entered our porch, morphing into a solid mass. I was reminded of a photo I’d once seen of a frozen Niagara Falls, the jagged spikes suspended in the air. Eventually I stopped opening the door. I feared coming downstairs and finding the icicles had worked their way inside, their tentacles creeping across the carpet. I realize this might sound paranoid. On the other hand, when the snow outside is halfway up your windows and the prospect of more snow threatens to engulf your house, you feel vulnerable.

During the worst of the blizzard, Beverly residents got updated phone messages from City Hall. One concerned the falling temperatures and the possible loss of power during the night. In that case, citizens were told to call the police; a “warming room” would be made available. I had a vision of this space, the air steamy as residents thawed.

At our house, we had no alternative source of power. Without electricity, we’re toast — no, we’re bread; toasting required electricity. We depend on National Grid for everything: cooking, heating, microwave popcorn. Thus, when the temperature dropped to the single digits, I was prepared. When I climbed into bed that night, I wore two woolen sweaters, sweat pants, insulated socks and a scarf. If we had to make an emergency trip to the warming room, I was ready. Not one to get unduly alarmed, my husband remained in his pajamas. Meanwhile, I got the cats’ carriers out, hoping they’d be welcomed as well.

Although we survived the night, my Mini Cooper remained buried in snow. When it was finally excavated, I turned on the ignition. An unfamiliar symbol appeared. I looked it up in the Mini owners’ manual: engine malfunction. Gary, of Farms Full Service station, told me to bring it in. Fortunately, as it warmed up, the Mini ceased to display the disturbing symbol.

Before heading out to Gary’s station, I bundled up. From the hall closet I dug out a Swiss military hat, bought years ago from the Vermont Country Store and never worn. The hat has a visor, padded ear flaps and attached scarf. It’s a serious winter hat with everything but shoulder pads. I unearthed it from a carton stuck high on a shelf in our front closet. Alas the moths had beaten me to it. They had filigreed the wool so it resembled a black lace mantilla with ear flaps.

Meanwhile, the monster icicles grew. There would be no peace with them encroaching upon our home. At that point I called in the big guns: Joe Malloy, a retired Beverly Farms firefighter. He donned snow shoes and scaled our 10-foot “lawn” armed with a rubber mallet and a roof rake. Over the next hour Joe did battle. In the end, the giant icicles had been felled. For the first time in a week I breathed easier.

— Sharon L. Cook

Sharon L. Cook is author of A Nose for Hanky Panky and A Deadly Christmas Carol.

Reflections of Erma