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How to prepare for the family Thanksgiving gathering

This month families will gather all over America to enjoy quality time and share a marathon Thanksgiving dinner. Can this be overwhelming with potentially awkward moments? How do you keep the conversation flowing as smooth as the gravy?

Here are some talking points for lump-free dialogue:

1.If you have a four-year-old boy at the table, avoid any words reminding him of body parts, since this could encourage an unwelcome exhibition. Ask for white meat (not breast), refer to the ham butt as a shoulder, and DO NOT let him get a glimpse of the turkey neck.

2.Don’t ask Aunt Martha how her recovery is going when she arrives more sauced than the cranberries.

3.If you are facing unemployment or are jobless, boycott work-related topics. You are happy for the success of those who’ve had promotions, but it ruins the festive atmosphere when you sob in the midst of the main course. Don’t be surprised when no one pays attention since they are focused on sobering up Aunt Martha.

4.Study the weather report so you can comment on the extended forecast in great detail. This is a filler to evade personal Q&A sessions when someone finally notices your puffy eyes and tear-stained face.

5.Quell the urge to respond to cousin Joe’s comprehensive, violent suggestions for solving the world’s problems. Instead, stuff a super-sized dinner roll in your mouth and concentrate on not choking to death. This is still a lower risk than enraging Joe, who packs a pistol.

6.Will you have trouble with number 5? Have someone nearby locked and loaded with a super-sized dinner role and license to cram it in your mouth at early signs of an inflammatory rebuttal.

7.Don’t say the word rebuttal. See number 1.

8.Designate the ‘grace sayer’ ahead of time so Uncle Buddy, the lay preacher, doesn’t volunteer. The potatoes will be ice-cold and the gravy congealed as he concludes his forty-minute sermon. Better to nominate Aunt Ruth with her efficient invocation: “Bless this dinner, and all us sinners. Amen!”

9.When your siblings share tales of your legendary teenage escapades in front of your own teens, pretend to choke on a turkey bone. Once you have ‘recovered’ from this near-death experience, your skeletons will be securely stored in the closet where they belong.

10.Do talk about all the beloved people who are permanently absent from the gathering; parents, grandparents, a sister, a nephew, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The younger ones can only know them through your memories.

11.Thank God for all the imperfect people present in your life and family. Give them a hug, mumble ‘I love you,’ and launch into speculation about which team will win the Lions/Eagles game. After all, you don’t want to get too mushy, even on Thanksgiving Day.

—Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens is the award-winning author of the newly published Boomer on the Ledge, described as “an adult picture book that explores the antics of an aging boomer.” Molly believes humor is the emollient that soothes life’s rough patches and promotes these convictions in her blog: Shallow Reflections. She is the November 2017 Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop Humor Writer of the Month, and won third place in the 2017 National Society of Newspaper Columnists writing contest. She is a contributing author for These Summer Months: Stories from the Late Orphan Project, edited by Anne Born.

Single Parenting

“If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it, Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh…,” I sang out loud and proud as Beyonce thankfully drowned out my voice. That song “Single Ladies”, coupled with Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman”, helped me believe I could do it all.

I was enjoying the song when I suddenly realized, “I’m not actually single anymore.” It sounds silly, but I hadn’t truly internalized that reality until then; regardless of the whole meeting a wonderful guy and having a wedding thing.

I don’t know if this happens to others who’ve been single parents for a lengthy time but it happened to me. I was single for 10 years while I was raising my daughter and went back to school. I know, I know, such a cliché. I think during that 10 years of focusing on family and education my brain got re-wired somehow.

Even after being happily married with two more children there are moments when I viscerally feel single. Not in the physical sense of being single, because that would include panic attacks, night terrors, and profuse sweating, but sometimes I have to shake myself and realize that what I thought would never happen, and had in fact not been looking for, had happened; I found a partner.

Being a single parent for so long made me okay with being single.

Being a single parent made me stronger in my convictions.

Being a single parent made me, well, exhausted, something that never goes away.

Because of my experiences as a single parent, I realized that life can throw what it will at me and I’ll handle it; some things better than others, but I’ll handle it. You come out the other side of single parenthood with more confidence simply because it hasn’t killed you. Single parenting is, of course, not all fun and games, but neither is married parenting, so I blame the common denominator: the kids.

I still enjoy Destiny’s Child, although I don’t like that it’s now on the soft rock/oldies station. I don’t think I’ll ever completely forget that part of me that blossomed as I was single parenting. I suppose I shouldn’t want to since that makes me as much who I am as any other part of my life. I’m sure my husband would agree, although he might want the singing to stop.

To this day, if those empowering songs come on the radio my daughter says, “I know, I know. The shoes on your feet, you bought ‘em, the clothes you’re wearin’, you bought ‘em. I get it, Moooooooom.” As a parent, I believe my work here is done.

—Christine McCue

Short bio: Besides my day job as a trophy wife (they give out trophies for anything nowadays), I am also a freelance humor writer and retired attorney. I divide my time between trying to appreciate the absurdity of life’s little mundanities and cleaning gunk out of the bathroom drains magically put there by the house-fairies which I’m sure has nothing whatsoever to do with my three children, one husband, two dogs, and one cat.

Link to my blog: http://blog.timesunion.com/mycape

Choir misfits

I recently attended a women’s retreat at our church, St. John Vianney. I needed some quiet time with God to thank Him for all my blessings. Forty other women filled the room. I think all women need some quiet time to reflect. This was our time.

The gals at my table were sharing song books. “Please join us in song 456 in your missal. “Here I Am, Lord,” hymn #456.” The music began and filled the room. This is one of those songs that immediately brings me to tears. Thirty-eight women sang like angels, while two women sang off key. Meet me and my new friend, Evelyn. She sang soprano, while I bellowed in alto. Next verse, I tried to imitate her beautiful voice and went high. She must have thought the same thing about my voice because she went low.

By the third verse, we were a mixture of Celine Dion and Kermit the Frog.

I leaned in and whispered, “I do better singing with men.” She grinned and said, “Me, too.”

By the forth verse, I was tired of trying to sing properly and in tune. I said, “Hey Evelyn, let’s just belt it out.” And we did! She was Celine, I was Kermit. But we sang and God loved us. He may have held his ears, but He gave us these voices to sing.

This all brought back the memory of my mom’s friend, Peggy Bohn. She was a tall, dark-haired woman with a big smile and laugh that could be heard two streets away. Her singing voice was the same. She never worried that she was the deep voice in the soprano pews. She belted out every song from the bottom of her heart. Her voice resonated throughout the church. I often think of Peggy when they announce the hymn at church. I admire her more with each off-key hymn I sing. Peggy had one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. She even smiled when her husband, Bud, brought home a raccoon as a pet.

As we wrapped up “Here I Am, Lord,” Evelyn and I had reached an entirely new level. The words of the song were caught in our throats with emotion. Tears were streaming down my face. The other women sounded like a choir from heaven. Evelyn and I sang from our hearts like pre-pubescent boys. Once again, she was high soprano and I was Kermit low alto, and then we switched again. We sang with joy-filled hearts, as we swayed to the music.

When it was over, I spread my arms in exultation. I handed her a tissue as I hugged my new friend. “We did really good on that one,” I sniffled.

Evelyn agreed, “That was our best one yet.”

I think I heard God clapping. Peggy gave us a standing ovation.

— 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 and Angel Bumps. She blogs at www.annebardsley.com.

Love is a battlefield – midlife style

Love is a battlefield…

So, I am standing in line at Trader Joe’s. As usual, my quick trip yielded a cart and a half of food, water and wine. I think maybe their carts are too small.

Anyways, I am making small talk with one cashier, when another one walks up and starts chatting and bagging my groceries.

The piped-in store music had Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield playing, and of course, a few hours later, it is still on loop in my head.

“I always loved her voice,” said one of the cashiers. “And she’s right – love is a battlefield!”

Me, laughing, responded by saying, “In my world, it’s only a battlefield when it comes to TV remotes and thermostats.”

And now she’s laughing.

We are strong…

Yes, I am a blessed woman, because we rarely get into a battle about petty things. Maybe 34 years of marriage will do that.

But I was totally serious about the remote.

And the thermostat.

I don’t watch much TV, so that battle isn’t truly a battle. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but my dear husband insists the remote “has the power.” I do like to grab it from him time-to-time and claim, very boldly and loud – of course – that, “I have the power!” while waving the remote in the air.

But the thermostat…

For the first 32 years of marriage, even while stationed in Hawaii, I was always freezing. Well, maybe I am exaggerating. Maybe not freezing. But for sure, most of our marriage I’ve been in sweaters, pushing the thermostat up, up, up, and sleeping under 18 inches of blankets.

No promises, no demands…

However, the last two years, I have been living my own personal summer. Hot flashes are for real. I dress in layers to discreetly peel off my clothes without embarrassing the family. Or blinding innocent bystanders.

From the woman who was happy to be bundled-up, with windows locked tight to prevent drafts and blasting sub-tropic heat through the vents, this change in me is huge. But then again, I’ve written before that menopause has made me a changed woman

These days, if a restaurant is too crowded or hot, I am not one to stay. When the option to eat outdoors is available, guess where we sit. Ask anyone – they will verify this. In fact, I’d be happy to push the snow off the patio furniture in January and dine al fresco. I can totally see me running the air conditioning in the dead of winter.

I never thought I’d appreciate the fact that I’m running like a blasting furnace most of the time. But instead of being too upset, it dawned on me that it could be great for our marriage! My spouse had to deal with the house being too hot for his liking for years. Now we can appreciate lower temperatures and zero complaints. It will be pure bliss.

Until the other day.

I, being comfortable with the internal temperature, saw him nudge the thermostat up to 68 degrees.

Hmm – that was the highest setting I used last winter. And it’s only fall…

It was then I had an ah-ha moment. My dear spouse spent almost a year deployed in the desert, living with 120-plus degree temperatures. It was what he was used to. Poor guy hasn’t dealt with fall or winter in over a year. So, naturally, he’s going to feel the cool, damp, autumn air like it’s an arctic blast. Me, I am welcoming it with open arms.

And I’m chained to your side…

My vision of our midlife couple-ness having a mutual love for cooler temperatures – after all these years – went out the proverbial window – which I still have open a crack.

Ah, love is a battlefield. So here I am, choosing my battles. He is welcome to the remote. I won’t need it – not this winter anyway. Chances are I’ll be sitting on a block of ice in an igloo in our backyard. With an ice cube in my wine. And a fan. I will envision palm trees swaying as I enjoy endure in my own tropical paradise.

No, I don’t get the remote. He can have it, as long as I get the thermostat! And when I lock it in at a cooler temp, I shall stand back and loudly proclaim, “I have the power!”

— Lynne Cobb

Lynne Cobb is a metro Detroit freelance writer, with articles, essays and blog posts featured in major and local dailies; national and niche magazines; and various Websites, such as Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, HuffPost50 and Midlife Boulevard. Recently, a blog post was published in the popular anthology Feisty after 45 — The Best Blogs from Midlife Women. Keep up with Lynne and her “Midlife Random Ramblings” at lynnecobb.com.

Just say, “huh?”

Auto correct has made us dumb.

I have texted, I’m heading to the bank, when can I experience you?

I’ve texted, I love to HIV, instead of I love to give.

And when my frustration elevates into the danger zone, am I mad at myself?  Of course not! I get mad at Auto correct!  Duck you auto cucumber!

Auto correct is supposed to suggest corrections in spelling or grammar.

It isn’t there to finish our thoughts with words it thinks we want to use. We need to be in charge of it.  Not it in charge of us.

But that means reading before sending. And based on texts I’ve sent and received, this doesn’t happen that often.

Take this text I received from my sister prior to meeting for lunch: In really pumpkin. Not here.

If you’re wondering what she was trying to say, you’re not alone.

This happens a lot. I receive a text and have no idea what she’s trying to say. I look at the keyboard, hoping to think of the letter she wanted to press but obviously didn’t.

It is close to Halloween, so the word pumpkin, well…maybe that’s a clue?

When all else fails, I simply text back, huh?

Her response…LOL.

We are going on 10 minutes, and neither one of us has moved off the mark.

Realizing all bets are off, I try to mess with her a bit.

I text, bring your pumpkin…really.

Her response… Huh?

I text back LOL.

2 educated, college graduates going nowhere quickly and one of us is an English major.

I think your phone should be able to flash the word, huh? when necessary. Similar to when your computer asks you if you really want to delete something. It would be an alert of sorts that we are sounding dumber than dirt. A last chance to sound smart.

Not only are our phones making us sound dumb, they are also making us annoying, and dangerous. Today you practically need a helmet and certainly a lot of patience to walk from point A to point B.

How many times have you needed to bob and weave your way around the mall, the street, wherever you are, avoiding a collision with an oblivious person, head down and buried in their phone?

And there’s nothing more annoying than being behind a person who is walking and then simply decides to stop short! The pile-up of humanity behind them is akin to a pile-up of cars on the parkway, but without the broken glass.

Huh? How’d that happen, I’m sure they wonder.

I remember hearing about a woman in Miami who fell into an open cellar space because she was walking and texting.  Forgive me but when I saw the video, I laughed.  Out. Loud.

Huh? she must have said as she hit the floor.

Did you know that it’s illegal to cross a street in Honolulu if you’re texting? A city council member said, “this is really milestone legislation that sets the bar high for safety.”

My friends, we have melting glaciers, the threat of nuclear war, 300 million guns in the USA, and white supremacy rallies.  Laws are needed to help us cross the street? Seriously?!

Before crossing the street LOOK BOTH WAYS LIKE YOUR MOTHER TAUGHT YOU WHEN YOU WERE TWO!

In the words of someone who wants to make America great again” …SAD.

Talk about the dumbing down of humanity.

So back to in really pumpkin not here.

Previously to receiving this text, and because I hadn’t read before sending, I texted my sister, are you interested in tight places? 

When what I meant to text was, Are you in the right place?

She texted back in really pumpkin. not here.

What she meant to text was, in the right place. here now.

All together now my friends…. Huh?

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner writes for The Observer Tribune of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills family of newspapers, which serve Madison, Chatham and Chester, New Jersey. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can read more of her musings on her blog: “Aging, Kids, Family and Why We Self-Medicate.”

Be an Erma champion on #GivingTuesday

“I thought I could write,” Anne Bardsley wrote. “EBWW gave me my wings.”

Joanne Brokaw quickly tapped out a heartfelt essay about how the EBWW changed her life.

We had so much fun — and were so inspired by the creativity of the testimonials and  “UNselfies” posted by Erma champions on #GivingTuesday last year — that we’re going to do it again.

The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will kick off the season of giving by asking those who support the workshop to make a gift and post an UNselfie on social media to encourage others to give on #GivingTuesday, Nov. 28.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to make a difference in the lives of others and the causes they support.

“The size of the gift doesn’t matter. We’d love to see broad support from all those who love the workshop and believe in its future. All funds will be used to help keep the workshop affordable for writers,” said Teri Rizvi, founder and director. “Please help us honor Erma in a way that will allow us to reach as widely and as powerfully as her writing and humor have.”

Check out our Facebook album of 2016 “Erma Champions” and get to work making your #UNselfie. Here are step-by-step instructions for creating your sign:

1) Download blank Unselfie sign. Share how you are giving back or why you give on the UNselfie sign.

2) Say “cheese!” Hold up the #UNSelfie sign and take your selfless selfie.

3) Share your #UNselfie on social media and encourage your friends to give.

4) Or make it easy on yourself and download one of our Erma #UNselfie signs to use at your photo shoot: I Found My Tribe at EBWW, You Can Write!, Inspiration or Erma Rocks!

5) We plan to compile a Facebook album again, so please send your #UNselfie to erma@udayton.edu.

To make an online gift, click here. Checks can be mailed to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-7054. If you or your spouse works for a matching gift company, the impact of your gift may be doubled or tripled. Please check here or your human resources office for details.

“We’re continually amazed and inspired by the generosity of all involved in the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop,” Rizvi said. “It’s a community of talented, supportive writers who encourage and empower each other. It’s a workshop that keeps on giving, and we’re grateful to all — keynoters, faculty, attendees and friends of the workshop — for their support.”

An overflowing glass

If the glass is half full, then my house is half clean.

I’m an optimist who chases a toddler around all day. I follow him into the kitchen and while he pulls the potatoes out of the pantry, I wash a dish. I don’t wash every dish because I then follow him into the bedroom where he puts a potato in his dad’s pants drawer and I pick up the laundry.

The laundry is the easy part. My toddler likes to help with laundry. He knows how to get the lint out and takes pride in removing, cleaning and replacing the lint screen. Ahchoo! But when I stop him from throwing the fabric softener sheet into the toilet, it’s time for him to throw a fit. It’s hard to argue with a 16-month-old who doesn’t get the difference between a dryer sheet and toilet paper. Let’s hope he figures it out before he’s responsible for his own wiping.

His new favorite game is to take everything out of cabinets and leave them on the floor or place them in drawers and on shelves he deems appropriate. The house gets reorganized several times a day. Just not in ways you or I would imagine. I try to harness his love for this kind of activity and give him the job of placing grapes in the colander for washing before bagging them up for quick-grab snacks from the fridge.

We’re semi-successful. Some grapes get squished. Some get tossed. Some get licked. The teenager in the house now refuses to eat snacks she hasn’t personally prepared. We’ll call this a bonus.

Snack options are laid out in front of him like a toddler’s Old Country Buffet because you never know what he will eat or reject today. Rejected snacks get dropped to the floor. We call this the “gravity game.” It’s only temporary rejection because stray grapes and Cheerios taste better when found later to be eaten with the added entertainment of Mom grilling him about, “What’s in your mouth?”

I wear a Bluetooth headset for taking phone calls because otherwise I’m down a hand or would require a chiropractor after I hang up. This mom’s world is ruled by text — voice text even. If you want my undivided attention, schedule an appointment and bring your own sitter or call me in 10 years.

Nap time is for meeting writing deadlines. Bath time includes extra playtime so mom can sit on the closed toilet seat and read. Unless he poops in the tub.

Between all of these “have tos” in our day, we walk to the park, read books and tumble around in the pillows on the bed. Things are hard in our world sometimes, but I’m filled to the brim with love. At the end of the day, my house may remain half clean but my life, my heart and my wine glass overflow.

— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer, wife and mom of three kids whose ages span two decades. Her work has appeared in the The New York Times; Brain, Child Magazine; Scary Mommy and more. Her Cincinnati Family Magazine mom blog earned Best Overall Blog in the 2017 Ohio Society of Professional Journalists Awards. Bonnie is also the communications director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @WriterBonnie or on her website at WriterBonnie.com.

Don’t quit your day job

When my kids were young and had already fallen into the expensive habit of eating every day, I came to a sad realization: If people waited until they could afford to have children, the human race would die out.

Now that my kids are grown and have kids of their own, which means I don’t have to feed them anymore, I have come to another sad realization: If people waited until they could afford to retire, most of them would die at their desks.

This, I fear, is the fate that awaits me. My bosses would argue that nobody could tell the difference because I’d be just as effective as I am now. At least they wouldn’t have to pay me anymore.

Still, to get an idea of how long I could survive once I quit my job, or if I’d have to continue working until my kids retired, at which point they could feed me every day, I recently met with Jeff Sena, a regional consultant with Fidelity Investments, a multinational financial services corporation that is based in Boston and does business with the company that, in its limited wisdom, employs me.

“How old are you?” Jeff asked me at the start of the hourlong session.

“Old enough to know better,” I replied.

“Do you?” he wondered.

“No,” I said.

“Then I need to know your age,” he said, “because Social Security won’t accept ‘old enough to know better’ on your paperwork.”

“OK,” I conceded, “I’m 63.”

“You don’t look it,” Jeff said. “And you don’t act it.”

“I’m shockingly immature,” I responded. “It makes me seem younger.”

“I wouldn’t put that on your paperwork, either, or you’d have to work even longer,” said Jeff, who is 65 but doesn’t look or act it himself.

“You’re 65 and you’re not retired?” I said incredulously. “Can’t you afford it?”

“I can, but I love what I do,” said Jeff, who also loves hiking and belongs to the Appalachian Mountain Club.

“You must have clients from all walks of life,” I noted, adding: “People are always telling me to take a hike.”

“You should,” Jeff said with a smile. “But don’t take one now because we have to go over your finances.”

“That shouldn’t take long,” I said, producing the required documents, including bank statements, income information and investment records. “As you can see, I haven’t won Powerball.”

“Neither have I,” said Jeff, who scanned the figures and told me that I have a good RPM.

“My car has a good RPM, too,” I said. “And it will retire before I do.”

“I’m talking about your Retirement Preparedness Measurement,” Jeff said. “But more important than that is your FRA.”

“My car doesn’t have one of those,” I said.

“No,” countered Jeff, “but you do. It stands for Full Retirement Age.

The standard FRA, Jeff said, is 66, though people can draw on Social Security beginning at age 62.

“I can’t draw on anything except my granddaughter’s coloring books,” I said.

“If you were retired, you’d have plenty of time for that,” Jeff said. “But you’d be better off working until you were 70 because Social Security payments go up 8 percent a year until that age.”

Jeff said he could plan a retirement strategy for me until I am 94 and for my wife, Sue, until she is 96. “Women live longer than men,” he noted.

“If it weren’t for my wife,” I said, “I would have been dead long ago.”

Nonetheless, I told Jeff, longevity runs in the family.

“You must have good genes,” he said.

“Of course,” I responded. “My wife does all of my clothes shopping.”

“The question is,” Jeff said at the end of the session, “would your wife want you around all the time if you were both retired?”

“I’d probably drive her crazy,” I said.

“Then you should keep working,” Jeff suggested. “You can drive your bosses crazy instead.”

— Jerry Zezima

Stamford Advocate humor columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of three books. Visit his blog at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. Email: JerryZ111@optonline.net.

Reflections of Erma