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Ermapalooza

 Emmy Award-winning talk show host Phil Donahue used to live across the street from humorist Erma Bombeck in an ordinary, middle-class neighborhood in Centerville, Ohio. From those unpretentious beginnings in suburbia, both soared to national popularity.

This spring, Donahue returns home to kick off the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton with memories of that special friendship in a keynote talk.

Online registration for the workshop, slated April 10-12, opens at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 4. A link will be posted when registration opens. The registration fee is $395 with a number of free scholarships available for University of Dayton students, beginning in January. Besides Donahue, the keynoters include:

New York Times’ best-selling novelist Lisa Scottoline and writer-daughter, Francesca Serritella.

• Author Mary Lou Quinlan, marketing expert and writer of four books, most recently The God Box, Sharing My Mother’s Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go, which became a New York Times bestseller in just three weeks.

• Author and comic Judy Carter, whose bestseller The Comedy Bible was touted by Oprah Winfrey and described by the Washington Post as “the number one comedy essential of 2010.” Her 2013 book, The Message of You, teaches readers how to inspire others and advance their careers.

• Author and Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated writer and producer Bruce Ferber, whose sitcom credits include Home Improvement, Bosom Buddies, Growing Pains, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and Coach. He’s the author of Elevating Overman: A Novel.

The workshop will feature “Pitchapalooza” — described as the “American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler.” Five years ago, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry created an event that has drawn thousands of people into bookstores, writing conferences and book festivals all over the country — and captured attention from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and NPR. Writers get one minute to pitch a book idea before a panel. The judges pick a winner, who will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for the book idea.

The workshop will include a special panel, “Women Writing Their Lives — Truth-Telling, Wisdom and Laughter,” with Suzanne Braun Levine, the first editor of Ms. Magazine, and two former keynote speakers — humorist and scholar Gina Barreca and author Ilene (Gingy) Beckerman. Patricia Wynn Brown, the workshop’s popular emcee, will moderate the discussion.

In addition, New York Times best-selling author W. Bruce Cameron and his screenwriting partner Cathryn Michon will share excerpts from their 2014 romantic comedy, Muffin Top: A Love Story, and talk about turning a novel into a screenplay. Michon, one of the film’s stars and an advocate for putting more women in front of and behind Hollywood’s cameras, raised $75,000 from a Kickstarter social media campaign to conduct a nationwide red carpet tour of the movie.

The workshop’s faculty includes Dan Zevin, the winner of this year’s Thurber Prize for American Humor,  and two nationally syndicated cartoonists (Tom Batiuk and Tony Cochran) among the 25 experienced writers and publishing professionals. Here’s the full slate:

Nina Amir, author of How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual, 9 Steps to Prepare You and Your Book Idea for Publishing Success

Gina Barreca, feminist scholar and author of eight books, including It’s Not That I’m Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World

Tom Batiuk, creator of the nationally syndicated comic strips Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft and a Pulitzer Prize finalist

Ilene Beckerman, author of the memoir, Love, Loss and What I Wore, the inspiration for an Off-Broadway play that broke records

Tracy Beckerman, nationally syndicated humor columnist and the author of two books, including the recent Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs

Dr. Nancy Berk, online columnist for Parade Magazine, host of the celebrity podcast “Whine at 9″ and author of two books, including College Bound and Gagged, which can be seen in the Tina Fey movie Admission

David Braughler, self-publishing adviser at Greyden Press

Patricia Wynn Brown, performer, producer and author of Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Head and Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes her Maternal Confession. She has performed her humor-memoir Hair Theater shows nationally.

W. Bruce Cameron, screenplay and sitcom writer and author of A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey and The Dogs of Christmas

Donna Cavanagh, humor entrepreneur and founder of HumorOutcasts.com and HumorOutcasts Press/Shorehouse Books

Tony Cochran, creator of the nationally syndicated comic strip Agnes

Arielle Eckstut, agent-at-large with Levine Greenberg Literary Agency in New York and the author of nine books, including The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

Anna Lefler, writer, comedian and author of The Chicktionary: From A-Line to Z-Snap, The Words Every Woman Should Know. She’s a staff comedy writer and performer on the Nickelodeon/NickMom TV show Parental Discretion with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor.

Robert F. Levine, New York City attorney and literary agent for best-selling authors, publishing executives and celebrities in the arts and entertainment world.

Suzanne Braun Levine, first editor of Ms. Magazine, first woman editor of Columbia Journalism Review and the author of six books, including her newest e-book, You Gotta Have Girlfriends: A Post-Fifty Posse is Good for Your Health

Leighann Lord, stand-up comedian and comedic commentator who pens a weekly humor blog, “The Urban Erma”

Dahlynn McKowen, CEO and publisher of Publishing Syndicate, former co-author of Chicken Soup books and creator of the new book anthology series, Not Your Mother’s Book

Cathryn Michon, best-selling author, stand-up comic, actress and Hollywood screenwriter who stars in the films Cook Off! and Muffin Top: A Love Story

Robin O’Bryant, award-winning humor columnist and New York Times’ best-selling author of Ketchup Is A Vegetable: And Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves

Ken Palen, adjunct professor of communication at the University of Dayton, where he teaches writing, editing and design

David Henry Sterry, author of 15 books — from memoir to young adult fiction — actor and regular contributor to The Huffington Post

• Suzette Martinez Standring, nationally syndicated columnist and author of two books on writing commentary, including The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets From Top Op-Ed Columnists (2014)

Kelsey Timmerman, co-founder of The Facing Project, which seeks to connect people through stories to strengthen community, and author of Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People That Make Our Clothes and Where Am I Eating? An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy.

Dan Zevin, 2013 winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor and author of four books of personal essays, including Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, which has been optioned for a TV series by Adam Sandler

If past workshops are any indication, the popular event will fill up quickly. Every workshop has sold out — some in a matter of days, others in weeks.

The 2014 workshop is expected to bring more than 350 beginning and professional writers to Dayton. Why the enormous appeal? The workshop has attracted such household names over the years as Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Nancy Cartwright, Don Novello, Gail Collins, Garrison Keillor and Alan Zweibel, but the personal involvement of Erma Bombeck’s family makes the event at her alma mater memorable and sets it apart from the myriad other writers’ workshops offered across the country. Alumnus Bill Bombeck and his children, Betsy, Andy and Matt, regularly attend the workshops.  In 2010, the workshop was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Click here to meet the faculty and here to check out the workshop sessions.

The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is co-sponsored by the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association, the University of Dayton’s College of Arts and Sciences, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Greyden Press, Dayton Marriott Hotel, University of Dayton Bookstore and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Endowment. Workshop sessions will take place on campus, with dinners held at the Dayton Marriott Hotel, 1414 S. Patterson Blvd.

Black Friday

Black Friday, a day some women associate with childbirth — a lot of pushing and screaming, but in the end you wind up with a pretty new bundle, sometimes multiples.

I got out of bed and stretched, loosening my muscles for a day of shoving, running and jumping over people who would stand between me and the perfect gift. I dressed in the clothes picked out the night before, not wanting to waste undue time. I wrote my family a note letting them know how much I love them and requested they pray for my safe return from battle. I threw Band aids in my purse (for wartime wounds) and headed out.

The first store on my list is a bookstore to buy myself a Christmas present. I find the book, go to the cafe, order a hot chocolate and muffin and take a seat. From page one I was drawn instantly in and in my head was screaming at the main female character, “Don’t marry the guy.” She married him. What was the matter with her? How could she not notice the red flags?

Somewhere into chapter six two ladies sit at the table next to me and talk about Christmas shopping, which reminds me I need to get busy shopping…but, after this chapter. I find it ironic their conversation is about yarn and knitting needles since the female character in my book attempted to stab her husband with her newly purchased knitting needle before he pushed her down the stairs. If I was to try and kill someone, I would go with the oldies but goodies, like a knife or gun. They’re reliable. I shook my head at her poor weapon selection.

Somewhere into chapter 20, the ladies vacate and are replaced by an elderly couple talking about the parking lot accident they witnessed between two motorists fighting for one spot. The fact the officers were slow to arrive at the scene because they were busy holiday shopping reminded me again, I needed to get busy shopping…but, right after this chapter. The officers, like the detectives in my novel, asked a lot of questions in order to get the true story.

In yet another ironic twist of simultaneous events, an ambulance was called to the crime scene for the injured motorist and the now, unconscious, unsuspecting wife (in my book), who was taken to the hospital.

Somewhere into the last chapter when the cafe’s lights went dark, signaling its closure, so did the lights for the heroine in my book. She never woke from her coma and she never got the chance to use her new knitting needles.

I never did do any Christmas shopping that Black Friday. I consider it the best one ever.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento is the author of Deal with Life’s Stress With a Little Humor. Her award-winning columns and essays have appeared in numerous newspapers and in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Click here for her blog.

‘Erry Chri’ and a ‘Py New Ye’ everyone!

Every Christmas since I was a boy, my dad grudgingly erected our nativity scene. A nine-piece life-size plywood depiction of the first Christmas. One shepherd, three wise men, Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, a camel and one donkey. Sometimes also in attendance (weather permitting) were an assortment of snowmen all paying homage to the baby Jesus.

Shining down on this first Christmas stood our Sears easy-to-assemble three-piece die-cast metal “Merry Christmas” seasonal lawn tower. Located between Merry and Christmas was a large screw-in 3,000-watt floodlight. Like a shining star, it illuminated our family’s version of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night.

My mom was so proud of her front yard. She figured we were the best Christians on the block.

“Our nativity scene is a brilliant, glowing testimony of what Christmas is all about,” she’d say.

That was the first year.

Then came January and my dad (who still believes his four boys, single handedly, caused global warming by constantly leaving the back door open) got the electric bill for December.

Christmas next year was going to take on, as we say, a different light. Now my dad loved and kept the true meaning of Christmas in his heart every year. What he didn’t love were large electric bills, or setting up of life-sized Biblical characters in winter weather. And now added to the dislike list was the so-called easy-to-assemble, three-piece die-cast metal “Merry Christmas” seasonal lawn tower, with its electric-sucking capabilities.

“The neighbors know we’re church-goers. We don’t need a manger scene to prove it!” he’d complain. But every year my mom made him put it up. What changed during that second year and every year after was the number in front of watts on the face of the bulb between Merry and Christmas. What once was a bright and shining star wishing a Merry Christmas to neighbors near and far now was a 40-watt bulb. A bulb so dim that it oozed an eerie shadow of brown across nine unrecognizable plywood figures accompanied by piles of dark snow wearing what might be hats. The brilliantly bright “Merry Christmas” easy-to-assemble three-piece die-cast metal seasonal lawn tower had now become a flight hazard known as “Erry Chri.”

In the daytime it was still the best nativity scene in the neighborhood, but days are short in winter. Come 4 o’clock, that ghastly glow would soon cover our yard and an “Erry Chri” was all that was squeezed out of the night in our front yard.

My mom tried candles one year to brighten the scene, but the donkey caught fire and several snowmen were sacrificed to save the house.

It got so bad that my friends started teasing me, “Have an Erry Chri! Oh and a Py New Ye!” they’d taunt.

This lack of illumination brought on a crime spree in which I also participated. Points were assigned to the shepherd, camel, what was left of the donkey, and each of the three wise men. These points were collected by snowball strikes. A hit on the shepherd was worth more than on the camel but if either Mary or baby Jesus were hit, it was an eternity in the burning fires of hell.  A large price to pay for an errant snowball!

As years passed, our plywood Biblical characters could no longer weather the elements. On Father’s Day (some years sooner), my dad got around to taking down the nativity scene. “The neighbors need to know we’re church-goers, and a manger scene proves it!” he’d say every month until June. So because of my dad’s testimony, and his lack of getting around to it, “Erry Chri” towered alone over an empty yard for many years.

But “Erry Chri’s” dimly lit hope shone bright within my dad. When he shook your hand, looked you straight in the eye with his million-watt twinkle and wished you a “Merry Christmas,” you believed it would be.

My dad has now passed on and I have inherited the easy-to-assemble three-piece (which has become two because of rust and three coats of marine paint) die-cast metal, “Merry Christmas” by day and “Erry Chri” by night seasonal lawn tower. But because of my back and sandy soil conditions, the heavy old seasonal tower spends Christmas (and every other day) in the garage.

I asked my son if he could use old “Erry Chri” this Christmas. But he had just bought one of the new “Happy Holiday” inflatable  snowmen with the LED lights. It’s an eight-foot-tall snowman on skis that sings “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s in the garage behind the bikes, skis and exercise equipment (that’s supposed to fit easily under the bed) if you need it.”

He won’t need it. His “Happy Holiday” inflatable singing snowman with energy-efficient lights is what he’ll use every year. ‘Happy Holidays’… PHFFT!

So my now one-piece die-cast metal “Erry Chri” seasonal lawn tower will stay in the garage until my dying day, for I’ll never sell it for scrap metal. Those eight bleary letters from my childhood mean so very much to me.

And for what it’s worth, I hope an “Erry Chri” shines brightly for you this season. And to all who would just like to wish a joyous festive season, have a “ppy Hol!”

—  Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names) honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs at superiordribble.blogspot.com.

Auntie Chartreuse

I sat at a birthday party recently in a senior center with my short, chubby, cherub-faced Aunt Chartreuse. Sheʼs 84. The birthday boy was her frisky cousin Fred whoʼd just turned 97.

As Fred blew and blew and blew at the one and only candle on the cake, I asked Aunt Chartreuse if she planned to indulge in a piece of it. “No way. Iʼm trying to cut down on saliva,” she deadpanned. “Thatʼs an old line, but then Iʼm an old broad.”

With that witty little retort, she was sneaking in a small sample of her standup comedy act.

Possessing a natural talent for rhythm and timing, Auntie Chartreuse, whose real name is Minerva, started her standup act after she turned 70. Nicknamed Chartreuse when she was a girl “because I was so loud,” the handle stuck.

When she grew up, she graduated from loud to loquacious. But nowadays as soon as she realizes that sheʼs been “rattling the gums” too long, she swiftly interrupts herself and says, “My head itches.” Thatʼs her way of apologizing to her listeners for speaking every thought out loud. Sheʼs incorporated those three little words into her act, using them at least twice per set and always allowing “my head itches” to serve as her signature closer.

Auntie Chartreuse dreamed of doing professional standup since her days as class clown, but “life kept getting in the way.”

The red-headed old galʼs caustic comedy routines include acknowledging the viciousness of gravity on the human body. She bemoans her own “sinking rack.” But notes that “it perfectly matches my inflatable boyfriendʼs man-boobs.”

Her stage persona stands in stark contrast to her actual character. Never a substance abuser herself, her act includes lively tales of a lifelong bout with booze and pills.

“My career with drugs began when I took diet pills to lose weight. Discovering that the little dolls gave me boundless energy, I worked tirelessly on many a project. I accomplished a heck of a lot, but I quit cold turkey when I found myself vacuuming the sidewalk at 4 a.m. After that, I became a big-time boozer. And, trust me, nobody drove me to drink. I flew.”

Auntieʼs act includes such oldies but goldies as: “By the time I finally got rid of my baby fat, I already had the middle-age spread.” And: “Iʼm at an awkward age. Iʼm too fat to meet anyone new and too old to wait until I can get thin.”

I love hanging out with Auntie Chartreuse. For one thing, itʼs nice to be around someone whose actually older than I. But her attitude is far from that of many octogenarians. As we sat at the birthday party, she began to complain about other “less spirited people” from her generation.

“Oh Stevie, just look at ʻem. They just sit here nodding off. Theyʼre not with it. My inflatable man has more oomph. Why are they so old-actinʼ? Whereʼs their moxie? Whereʼs their energy? Whereʼs their…”

Suddenly she produced a sly smile: “My head itches.”

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.

Contenders

It just so happens that at a recent potluck dinner, standing first in line at the table, I was destined to make the initial cut in the lasagna. After checking the balance of the spatula and the keenness of its edge, I paused to admire the artistic surface of the casserole, the tomato flecks and basil bits decorating melted mozzarella and Parmesan—so Italian you could cry. Only good could come of this dish.

I heard waiting diners shuffling behind me, so into the casserole I plunged my sharp-edged tool, only to have it bounce back, leaving not even the trace of a dent in the mozzarella surface. Twice more I tried, twice more rejected, the spatula handle now slipping in my sweaty grip. I could feel my cheeks warm from my duel with the lasagna.

After viewing the pan from all sides, I tried sneaking the blade down inside along the short end, but no luck. My audience leaned forward, silent, expectant. How I wished they’d head for the ratatouille at the end of the table and leave me to face what had become a major life assignment. And then I spotted a point of vulnerability at the very edge of the rubberized mozzarella hugging the pan—a small nick.

Maneuvering the tip of the spatula, I worked the metal blade into the nick, then through the layers until I hit bottom, guiding the tool up and down and around and finely carving out a right angle that became a square. I had to remind myself this was lasagna, not geometry or world peace.

With the spatula, I lifted out the layered square of flat noodles, smelled the rising, enticing odor, saw the oozing meat, soft cheese and tomato-mushroom sauce. Perhaps this lasagna would redeem itself after all.

But the struggle was not over. Stretching down from the sides of the square into the casserole, streamers of mozzarella cheese clung like umbilical cords to Mother Lasagna, and clearly, she was not about to yield up one of her own.

Aware of the impatience of those in line, I could think of no graceful gesture to liberate my captive slice. The challenge allowed no turning back, no second thoughts, nothing less than derring-do. Purposeful and accurate as a surgeon, I nipped off the hangers-on with my bare fingers, flouting decorum and disregarding the gasp of disapproval that came from behind me. I deposited the hard-won booty on my plate, my victory over lasagna complete, and made my triumphal march to a chair.

— Anne Fox

Anne Fox copyedits Write Angles, newsletter of the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch. She co-copyedited the CWC Write On! story contest chapbook and copyedits for fiction and nonfiction writers. She’s been published in Able Muse; Tiny Lights; The Sun; West Winds Centennial anthology of the CWC; Hippocampus Magazine (December 2012); the anthology, BacopaA Literary Review, 2013; Flash in the Attic: 33 Very Short Stories; and You, Me, & a Bit of We.

12 reasons sex is better after 50

Several years ago, Diane Keaton starred in a romantic comedy called “Baby Boom.”

In one early scene, she and Hubs were sitting in bed together, side by side and both reading, with the bedside clock showing 11 p.m. Diane looks over at Hubs and asks, “Do you want to have sex?” “Sure,” he replies. The next scene shows the two of them exactly like they were earlier, but both wearing smiles and the clock showing 11:03.

This scene cracks me up every time, and I love how it captures middle-age sex. Not because it only took three minutes, which was hilarious (Where do we think the word “quickie” came from?), but because they were both smiling and obviously satisfied with their recent adult play date. One of the best things about middle-age sex is the freedom and confidence to have it the way you want it.

If you think back to your 20s and 30s, reliving epic prank stories from your college days, sentimental memories of your wedding, and endless tales about raising your uber-amazing offspring, you’ll probably also remember personal insecurities, financial struggles, new babies and months of sleep deprivation, and career anxieties (honestly, would you be 25 again??), none of which lends itself to freestyle sex on demand, despite the enthusiasm and willingness of youth.

But by the time we’re in our 50s and beyond, our kids are grown and out the door, our careers are established, we’re reasonably financially stable, and life isn’t such a struggle. Simply put, we’re more relaxed about most things and sex is often more fun.

On that note, I’ve compiled my personal list of the 12 Reasons Sex is Better After 50. (Anything I’ve missed?)

1. No one expects thongs and thigh-highs under everything you wear. TV starlets are invariably wearing tiny lace bras with matching thongs and thigh-high stockings under everything from yoga pants to suits. Who goes to work like that?? If we choose to bust out the lacy dental floss, we can change into it when the time is right. We don’t need to be ”alert and always prepared” like trampy Girl Scouts at summer camp.

2. We can finally put 4″ stilettos where they belong. In the bedroom. And we’re putting them on in bed, because limping to the bedroom, yelling “Ouch, ouch, ouch” is not foreplay.

3. We no longer have to invent sudden migraines or imaginary menstrual cramps if we’re not in the mood. Some days, we’d rather watch a movie in our one-size-fits-all, pink leopard print Snuggie (don’t judge), preferably on separate couches. No explanations necessary.

4.  We worry less about having a perfect body. Yep, boobs are swaying like palm fronds in a tropical windstorm and cellulite makes our thighs look like 5-pound bags of rice , but he hasn’t seen the 6-pack abs of his youth for at least two decades. Ain’t nobody pointing any fingers. So WTH, turn the lights back on and have fun.

5. The journey becomes as important as the destination. ‘Nuf said.

6. We can’t get pregnant. Let’s face it. In our fertile years, no birth control (abstinence excluded) is 100% guaranteed, so that possibility, however slim, hovers over every late night booty call. There’s a fabulous freedom in knowing there’s not even the tiniest chance that today’s hay romp will result in 427,000 repetitive choruses of Little Bunny Foo Foo over the next several years.

7. Nobody has to ask “Was it good for you?” By this age, we can pretty much figure that out without asking. And if you don’t know what to look for, you weren’t paying attention in your earlier years (which, ironically, pretty much answers the question).

8. We can leave the Kama Sutra to the young. Most of those positions are stupid and/or impossible unless you’re both 12-year-old Romanian gymnasts. Variety can be fun, but pulled hamstrings and strained backs (usually accompanied by shouts of “Get off, get off!”) tend to kill the mood faster than a drunken phone call from your ex. We recognize our limitations and leave the Indian Headstand to the young. They’re more bendy, and they heal faster.

9. We can have sex in any room of the house. The kids are gone. As in “not home now, not coming home later, and we’ve turned his bedroom into an office” type gone. We don’t have to lock any doors or stay in the bedroom. If we have neighbors, we may (or may not…you showboats) close the blinds, but other than that, we get to explore the house from a whole different perspective.

10. We learn to work around small distractions. The dog scratching at the door and whining to get in to see what Daddy is doing to Mommy? Don’t even hear it. And if Fido somehow manages to get in and tries to stare us down in the act? What the hell. We carry on.

11. We tend to go to bed earlier, which also means earlier sex. After years of youthful and often alcohol-induced ”Oh my God, it’s 2 a.m. and I’ve got to work tomorrow” sex, we’ve discovered that 8 p.m. and sober is great too. Who knew?

12. We’ve discovered that laughter during sex can be a good thing. Got a foot cramp? A touch of gastrointestinal distress? Fell off the bed trying something new? Admit it, people. Sex can be funny. So unless you’re staring at your partner’s junk while doubled over in uncontrolled merriment (virtually guaranteeing no sex with that person again ever), spontaneous, joyful laughter can be the most erotic sound in the world.

So to our children, who think they invented great sex (or any sex, for that matter), and our grandchildren, who will believe the same thing in 20 or so years, carry on with your randy selves. Some day you’ll be our age, and then the sex will really be great.

— Vikki Claflin

Oregon writer Vikki Claflin writes the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines. Two recent pieces have been published in Life Well Blogged: Parenting Gag Reels — Hilarious Writes and Wrongs: Take 26.

Quel courage!

Last  year,  on our trip to Paris, my friend Judy arranged a private tour of the Louvre. Our guide Francois escorted us from room to room, pointing out  he highlights of that mighty museum.

“Voila Les Sabines,” said Francois. “Painted in 1799 by Jacques-Louis David.”

Look at that mother, arms stretched out, protecting her babes. Quel courage! Never have I experienced such an intense, awestruck reaction to a work of art.

I bought the postcard in the Louvre gift shop. Stateside the next week, I uploaded the photo into WordPress. It’s been sitting there for a year, waiting for some magnificent words to match the painting’s magnificence.

My plan was to say something about courage. Something remarkable.

The remarkable isn’t coming to me, but it’s time to write about Les Sabines and that brave, bold mother.

Years ago, I suffered a second trimester miscarriage. I gave birth to a baby who wouldn’t  become my little girl.

We had moved to North Carolina that spring. Grace Jean, fifteen years my senior, attended our new church. The day I came home from the hospital, she called.

“You’re very brave,” she said.

I’ve never forgotten her words. I bring them back when I need courage.

And so what I have to say about courage isn’t groundbreaking advice; it’s not remarkable.

It’s just this:  When we need it, we have it.

Hmm.

Maybe that human quality is indeed remarkable.

Aging, among other life events, is calling me to be courageous.

I keep Grace Jean’s words and my Les Sabines postcard as courage tokens.

What about  you?

Any tokens of courage you call upon when armies invade?

P.S. Turns out I’ve got the story behind this painting wrong. This is Romulus’s wife Hersilia trying to stop a battle between her husband and father by putting her babes between them. Yikes! Still brave, no doubt, but I worry one of those babies might get trampled or kicked. Spoiler Alert: The women succeed and peace prevails!

— Barbara Younger

Barbara Younger writers an upbeat, witty blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster. Healthline placed Friend for the Ride on its list of Best Menopause Blogs of 2013.

Father knows best

I know a farm father who, when his kids were loafing at chores, told them, “Don’t just stand there with your teeth in your mouths!”

My dad had a similar line that he picked up during the Korean War. It has to do with canines and mating behaviors. Since I was old enough to hoe the garden, I knew the meaning behind his one-line motivational quip; it wasn’t until I thought of the metaphor concretely that I was utterly appalled.

My dad and the farm-family father know the importance of saying what you mean in just a few words.Why belabor a point when you can just state it? Here are a few samples of our patriarch’s compact points:

On my latest car purchase: “Heated seats? Aren’t you afraid your candy-ass will melt?”

On my angst-filled puberty: “When I was your age, I could have gone for the rear end of a skunk.”

On the cause of “shingles,” an affliction my mom had a few times throughout their 53-year marriage: “Sin, I tell you. A pure heart doesn’t put up with such tom-foolery.”

On my brother’s Ph.D achievement: “That’s right, son, you have a Ph.D, and I have a J-O-B.”

As much as he is the master of word economy, my dad also knows when silence is the best option; I am especially reminded of this when spring storms roll around every year.  You might know a person who has a fear of thunderstorms. Not so for me, and I have my dad – and peanut butter – to thank for it.

One particular late-1960s memory finds a sleeve of saltines, my dad and I sitting below our front door’s overhang, and a jar of peanut butter. Crashes of thunder and blinding flashes appeared on the black canvas sky as my dad spread the creamy goodness on each cracker.

He simply sat with me, eating peanut butter crackers, without lecture or effort to coax me from fearing the storm. He did, however, ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ at the explosions of thunder as if it were an Independence Day celebration. His enjoyment was contagious, and I too was reacting with joy at each bolt and subsequent boom.

A secure soul was engraved in me that day I’ve carried into my adulthood storms.

It’s no wonder then why I sleep like a baby during severe weather. The wind, rain, and thunder may as well be a Brahms lullaby. That’s the power of a parent who knows when to say nothing just as well as a poignant canine reference.

— Doug Clough

Doug Clough writes a column for the Ida County Courier in Ida Grove, Iowa, called “From our backyard…”  His work has appeared in Farm NewsThe Iowan and Boating World, and he served as a travel scout for Midwest Living. “I am a father of a salad bowl family (aka ‘blended’), a customer service manager, the possession of my Labradoodle and — in a former life — an English teacher. Someone has to enjoy that mix; it may as well be me,” he says.

Reflections of Erma