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The Pope’s nose

All of us have fond memories of Thanksgiving get-togethers with family and friends. It’s just like the old days, when we watched “Walton’s Mountain.”

People we have not seen in a year or more come over with an overnight bag and a side dish; then, we all sit around, eat, talk, bicker, bring up all the reasons we only see each other once a year; and actually fight over the Pope’s nose — “Naso del Papa,” also known as “the part that goes over the fence last.” I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a Vatican dispensation for calling it the Pope’s nose. I never broached the subject in a confessional. Why spoil everyone’s fun?

Murphy’s law kicks in, and someone forgets to add the egg to the pumpkin pie mixture and it turns out runny. We drink the recipe (in our case, a keg of beer in the garage), a fight breaks out, the Yorkie takes off with grandma’s dentures in its mouth, one of grandpa’s suspenders ends up dangling off the piano, somebody screams in the bathroom about sitting on cold porcelain, and Uncles Harry and Dick are still arguing about whether Canadians eat Bald Eagle, rather than turkey, for Thanksgiving — on a tip from Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland, who originated the idea. This is a typical American traditional Thanksgiving party (and everyone worries about whether or not the kids will behave).

This year, in preparation for the annual holiday fiasco, Uncle Harry Googled all the Canadian web sites trying to find Bald Eagle recipes. “Their Thanksgiving is in October,” he said. “If it’s out there, I’ll show him!” he bellowed.

Here’s another interesting tidbit to add more fuel to the fire — the Enrique Iglesia half-time performance during the Miami vs. Dallas Thanksgiving Day football game last year. I can still see Uncle Dick in his Dolphins mascot hat, munching on a leftover wing, singing “I Like It,” while pouring himself and mascot “Flipper” a beer.

I was looking over Uncle Harry’s shoulder online today, and found something of interest — a video on YouTube, “How to Pick Out a Tender Butterball.” They were blindfolding folks outside Macy’s to pick out the tenderest turkey.

Watch yourself at the mall.

— Rose A. Valenta

Rose A. Valenta is the author of humor books, Sitting on Cold Porcelain and Dueling Microphones, and a weekly humor column called Skinny Dipping — the skinny on current events, life, sports, and politics from a humorist’s perspective. She is the membership chair of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC), a director of the Robert Benchley Society and a regular attendee at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

It’s more than okay to be silly

Sometimes teachable moments come with wigs and fake mustaches.

For those of you who know me personally, it may come as a surprise when I say that up until this weekend, I’m pretty sure my husband and I hadn’t yet mortally embarrassed our son, Tony. Sure, there’s been lots of “Mom, would you please stop (dancing, singing, being generally goofy, etc.)??” After all, I am me. But this weekend brought a little more significant mortification potential.

A dear friend’s birthday party was also a costume party, and Mike and I knew it was our calling to attend as the ’80s pop duo Hall and Oates. The look came together pretty nicely and included a mullet wig for Mike/Hall and a black, curly wig for me/Oates.

Mike grew some sideburn chops for his look, and with a little coloring help, they blended right into his mullet that was fanned out into a coif of ’80s glory. Daryl would be proud.

My Oates’ wig could also serve as the wig Jan Brady wore in her attempt to get noticed over Marcia in the Brady Bunch movie parody, as well as Groucho Marx or Mr. Kotter (at least that was the word on the street). To complete the rockin’ look, I sported a groovy ‘stache that just may have looked like a newly born puppy snuggling on my upper lip.

We looked authentic, as some people might say. Others might say other things.

Since the party was a surprise (and kids were included), we kept our son out of the loop so he wouldn’t spill the beans, and when we did finally explain, he was apprehensively excited. “You’re going to wear those?” While he thought it was very funny, he also had the nervous laugh of someone who didn’t know if he should run away from home now or later.

When we donned the full look and got into the car to go to the party, Tony’s mortification settled in. He was wearing his Halloween costume which, though it was a biker skeleton dude, was still much subtler than his parents. We all enjoyed pulling up to stoplights and seeing people notice us, but the idea that people we knew and loved were going to see us making fools of ourselves was unsettling to him.

We reassured him that it was going to be better than all right — it was going to be downright fun. Over the course of the ride, he accepted that he was going to live through whatever the night might bring.

He is our kid, after all, and he does have a very big silly bone. But he is also at that stage of weighing what other people think and deciding how much all that matters — and sometimes that doesn’t make it easy to embrace your inner silly.

At the party, there were people in varying degrees of costume — some full-blown participants and others who had a little something on in the spirit of things. I think I’m safe in saying most people were amused at our look. From the bad hair to the increasingly moist ‘stache (how do you mustache wearers eat and drink with that thing?!?!), there were lots of giggles to be had. Let’s just say Hall and Oates kissed a few times. Let’s just say it was weird.

Over the course of the night, Tony went from being embarrassed to wanting to wear my mustache and wig. He realized that it was more than okay to be silly — it was a whole lot of fun. Fun for us and fun for others. Sometimes you just gotta let your hair down. Or your fro out, so to speak.

I hope the lesson sticks for him, but I know it will be a lifelong journey of knowing that it’s okay to let the silly out. Luckily, he’s got a mom and dad who can be pretty serious about being silly.

The wigs are put away for now, but they can be ready at a moment’s notice…

—Lisa Ancona-Roach

Lisa Ancona-Roach works part-time in one world, tries to write in another, manages a household in yet another, and, finally, tries to be present in her various relationships, including wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, co-worker…and whatever else she’s forgetting. She calls it living the Juggle Struggle.

How do we wash our clothes?

We wash our clothes expensively, that’s how!  At the moment I’m ready to try beating my clothes against a rock in the river.

It was still as dark outside as my six o’clock mug of coffee when I heard an annoying high-pitched beep.  Every three minutes the sound interrupted my morning solitude.  None of the usual culprits was guilty, not my tinnitus-affected ears, nor cell phone, dishwasher or microwave. The beep came from the laundry room.  My washer’s control panel was lit up like the instrument panel on an airplane. The machine was frozen on “Express,” a setting I’d never used in 15 years, and I hadn’t done any laundry in three days. The darn thing wouldn’t run, nor would “stop” make the lights go off.

I pulled the plug.

When the rest of the world woke up, I placed a mayday call to Dan, the repair superman I found several years ago. Dan can fix any major home appliance. He came as soon as he could, carefully performed a number of tests, then shook his head sadly. My washer had spun out for the last time. A new printed circuit board and power supply would cost more than $300, labor not included. I could buy a new washer for that. The dryer still worked, though barely. The rational me said, “No new dryer” — I hang most things outside to dry in the sun or, during bad weather, in the basement — but the fussy me whispered, “Matchy, matchy.”

After a quick recce to “kick the tires” on what I thought would be my pick, I came home and logged in to Consumer Reports. Should have done that first, of course.

Oh, my.

I spent hours comparing features and benefits.  No, I do not want to communicate with my laundry while I’m playing canasta with my friends.  No, I do not want a dryer with steam option that would necessitate a water line to an appliance that is supposed to be drying my clothes.  Maybe that’s a good thing, but it seems counterintuitive to me.  I’m just sayin’.

Some of the newest washday appliances will let you link to the manufacturer via an app on your smart phone. You can select your equipment’s symptoms and get a diagnosis before the repairman comes.  Not only that, you can phone your washer to check on the status of your delicates while you’re visiting the in-laws.

Just what I need! Another set of commands to learn, more passwords to forget, oh, and a smart phone to buy. Note to Maytag, GE, Whirlpool, Samsung et al:  I’m doing laundry here, not launching a submarine! When someone invents a machine that moves the washed clothes into the dryer, and a dryer that matches socks, folds towels and puts everything away…then we’ll talk.

Satisfied with my choice at last, I clicked on “user comments.”  Some were enthusiastic, but most were not suitable for a G-rated blog!  I’d spent a gorgeous autumn weekend researching laundry appliances, and I was no further ahead than when I’d started.

And the laundry hamper overflowed.

Oh yes! Cost!  That printed circuit board/power supply replacement suddenly seemed a bargain.  Some of the highest-end appliances cost more than $6,000 for a washer/dryer combo. My first car didn’t cost even half that much.

Who needs a “smart” washer? I’m a smart washer.

I’ll get my DublHandi washboard out. These primitive “appliances,” first manufactured in 1938, are “ideal for silks, hosiery and lingerie or handkerchiefs.”  Plus, at 8.5″ x 18″ they’re “just the right size to fit a bucket, pail or lavatory.” They “pack easily into suitcase or traveling bag,” too. What’s not to love?

FYI, DublHandi washboards are still manufactured in Logan, Ohio. They sell for about 23 bucks.  If you’re interested in a cost-effective option to a smart washer, click here and here for some nitty gritty info.

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).

The 5 stages of writer’s block

As any writer can attest, getting on a creative roll is one of the best feelings in the world. When I want to, it’s easy. When I have to, it’s hard. And those times when I’m suddenly faced with the fact that the writing well is dry, I become even more moody and broody.

So today I’m going to turn the tables on that textual dysfunction and write about writer’s block instead.

The Five Stages of Writer’s Block


During the first stage of writer’s block I can still pretend nothing is wrong and rationalize that I write for work, no one really cares if I blog or not and that I just posted a couple of days ago. And after all, it’s possible that a bird might fly into my head and then BAM! Instant blog post. No need to worry.

But after a couple days without writing, the denial really starts to kick in. Someone will be talking to me and I’ll be thinking about how I wish a bird would fly into their head so that BAM! Instant blog post. But when that doesn’t happen, I can no longer deny and I move onto the next stage.


Here I spend time pacing and blaming any small interruption for my failure to even produce as much as an account of going to the ATM. I get annoyed with people who can write funny posts and wonder why the cat purrs so damn loud.

But anger takes a lot of energy I would rather channel into navel gazing, so I move on to the next lovely stage.


Sometimes it’s not that I don’t have anything I could write, it’s that I don’t like anything that I write. I’ll sit in front of my blank screen and think, “Oh, hell. Maybe I can just write something short or do a picture post with some jokes thrown in for fun. Just getting down notes is a start.”

But then I remember I don’t have pictures and the only thing I’ve written is a to-do list that says, “write something.” So no matter how simple the writing goal, my bargaining will fail. There is no bargaining with writer’s block here, which brings us to the next stage.


Convinced that I will NEVER WRITE ANYTHING EVER AGAIN, I crash on the couch watching TV while taking shots of garlic hummus. In my mind, I relive all of the good times I had writing. I think of the people who told me that something I’ve written made them laugh or changed the way they thought about something — all five people.

Now with my writing days behind me, I am left with a couple books and hundreds of blog posts to my name. Some day, years from now, I will pull up my dusty blog and show the cat how I misspent my late 20s and early 30s.


Now that I know I’ll NEVER WRITE ANYTHING AGAIN, I wonder what I’ll do with the rest of my life. I start by doing activities I enjoy — Swiffering, feeding my feelings, exercising and watching videos of skateboarding hedgehogs.

I go online and do a Google search to learn how to teach a hedgehog to ride a skateboard. After all, I’ll probably be doing a lot of that now that I’LL NEVER WRITE ANYTHING AGAIN.

But then the new non-writing me has one of those rational thoughts that I’ve heard so much about and decides to give writing a shot once again. After all, if a hedgehog can ride a damn skateboard, I can write a damn post.

Bring me my cape and my keyboard.

There is work that needs to be done.

(And we circle back to denial…)

— 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.


How I Earned My WrinklesHumorist Anne K. Bardsley‘s book, How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause, is inspired by everyday life. Available for the Kindle and in paperback, it’s been described as “funny, wise and open-hearted.”

Stacey Gustafson

Stacey GustafsonStacey Gustafson is an author, humor columnist and blogger who has experienced the horrors of being trapped inside a pair of SPANX. Her work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the SoulNot Your Mother’s Books, Midlife Boulevard, More Magazine, Better After 50 and on her daughter’s bulletin board. Her book, Are You Kidding Me? My Life With An Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives, will be released September 2014.

Death by toilet paper

death_by_toilet_paperDonna Gephart’s new book for tweens, Death by Toilet Paper, has been published by Penguin Random House. She’s celebrating its release by supporting Bess the Book Bus, a mobile literary outreach program that gets books into the homes of underprivileged children and families around the country. You can help promote literacy by either making a donation or buying a copy for a child in need.

All the secrets to writing funny

You can’t force funny writing. It helps to look for the absurdities in everyday life, make fun of yourself and, like the best comedians, learn how to set up the punch line.

When we recently polled our Facebook audience of writers, dozens offered tips on how to improve humor-writing skills.  Here’s their best advice:

Pamela Burger: “Be able to laugh at yourself first.”

Mary Catlett: “Read funny things, hear funny things, learn the cadence and rhythm and word usage. Take improvisation classes — (because) every moment you are writing.”

Nancy LaFever: “Don’t try too hard. When I read humor, it always jumps out at me if someone is trying to be funny. It’s difficult to describe, but real, organic humor appears to be effortless. (Even though we KNOW it isn’t!).”

Bruce Stambaugh: “When making a joke in my column, I only make fun of myself.”

Lisa Crandall: “Don’t take life so seriously. There is humor in everything, everyday. (You) just have to be open to seeing through the mundane. Laugh more, even if it is at rather than with the crowd. Just stay real, not mean.”

Nettie Reynolds: “Writing funny is in the details. It’s those little moments, the ones that Erma captured so well and that we all aspire to.”

Sarah Hunt: “Be real. Read everything.”

Christine Birney Wans: “Honesty. The more brutally honest, the better.”

Barb Best: “Surprise. Delight. Exaggerate. Play. Tease. Tickle.”

Barry Parham: “I like Woody Allen’s advice: if it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, that’s not funny.”

Kathy Frederick: “My blog wouldn’t exist without a healthy dose of self-deprecation.”

Alyson Rennick Herzig: “I write my funnies exactly as I think them. (It’s) more authentic, with crazy interwoven.”

Kathy Turski: ” You should read the kind of humor that you like, the kind you want to write. Soak it in like a sponge — the style, the cadence — and think about what it is that makes you laugh. I’m not saying copy the work, but learn from it. My other advice is to write humor the way one should make a pie crust — with a light, deft touch. Work either one too hard and you end up with something stiff and stodgy like cardboard. Handle it lightly, and you’ll have something delightful.”

P Shane McAfee: “Sit back and observe. Most of the stuff I write about actually happens. Then I just put my warped perspective on it.”

Ruth Hanley: “Be around humorous/witty people and read humor (good humor). I find that it inspires me to ‘speak the language.’”

Georgia Vallejo: “Don’t force it.”

Susan Bloch Leach: “If you are not funny, leave it to the funny people. Comedy writers need the work. Bad humor just makes us cringe.”

Meredith Bland: ” If it makes YOU laugh, it will make other people laugh. Try to put it into words in a way that captures what you found funny. If you read it back and you smile or giggle, you’ve done it.”

Abbie Gale: “Practice finding the humor in everyday. This is why there aren’t successful 18-year-olds. They haven’t had enough “everydays” to be funny. You have to live to have the experiences, the perspective.”

Vikki Claflin: ” Write about what makes you laugh. Have fun doing it. And a little personal humiliation never hurts.”

Paige Kellerman: “It has to make me laugh first. If it doesn’t, I scrap it.”

Amy A. Mullis: “When something happens to me, I think, ‘If I were going to tell this to people, how would I embellish or twist it to make them laugh?’ The light globe fell off the fan in the kitchen narrowly missing me last night. My story will be, ‘The kitchen is trying to save the world by stopping me from cooking.’”

Lisa Kanarek: “Don’t try to be funny. That never works. What you write should feel natural and not forced.”

Mike McHugh: “Don’t always accept the first thing that comes to mind when trying to come up with something humorous. Sometimes lightning will strike, but more often, I have to spend a few minutes thinking through possible punch lines to come up with something good.”

Terri Lehr Spilman:  ”Humor is so subjective. Naturally funny people have a certain rhythm, intelligence and point of view that can’t be taught. They can only be studied.”

Carol Band: “It’s not a funny situation — it’s how you view life, everyday situations. It’s a distinct voice, a fresh personality, a perspective that brings people together in the understanding that they are not alone in this absurdity that is life.”

Linda Lohman:  ”I was once attacked on the street by another woman. In looking at the stud in the indentation of her neck I thought to myself, ‘Doesn’t she know that’s dangerous? Someone would only have to push it in, just a little…’ Unfortunately, I didn’t think of this until the next day. That NIGHT I was thinking of two Margaritas. I think perspective and exaggeration can make things more light-hearted.”

Jane R. LeBlanc: “Rhythm and timing are the keys to humor. Watch comedians on stage. Notice their rhythm and timing, and make an effort to find that in your writing. Your writing can be much funnier if what you say is set up properly.”

Lisa Romeo: “Read the great humor writers and STUDY what they do. Take a comedy class (stand up, sitcom writing, anything). Pay close attention to rhythm, timing, the pause between phrases. It has to sing. The ‘Rule of Threes’ is a simple, time-tested technique. Always be the one who gets the bum rap in your humor pieces. A little self-deprecation goes a long way.”

Beth Hickman: “Don’t try to be funny. Be subtle. Let the readers ‘get it’ on their own.”

Lindsay LaVine: “Find the funny in real life — be observant, study pop culture. The funniest stuff, I find, you can’t make up.”

Jerry Zezima: “Bang your head against a wall three times. If this gives you a funny idea, write about it. If it gives you a headache, write about that. Take two aspirin and go to bed. Don’t write anything else for a couple of days.”

Alexandra Rosas: “Specific visualizations do wonders. ‘She had a screechy voice’ is okay, but ‘she had a voice that children and dogs love’ even better.

Andrea Monroe: “No — she had a voice that children and dogs RAN from is funnier.”

Tara LaVelle: “She had a voice that only dogs and children could hear.”

Marcia Fine: “Work on the punch line. That final wind-up to the story matters.”

Carol Merrifield: “Write it just like you’d say it, awkward silent moments included.”

Charlotte Johnson Jones: “The best stories are the ones that made me the angriest or craziest when they happened, as in ‘You won’t bu-leeve what your mother-in-law did today.’ Big emotions can make for big laughs.”

Reflections of Erma