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Women, yard work and the silent treatment

Charles HartleyDown through three generations of my family, there has been one constant. When I finally succumb to doing yard work — in a disenchanted and perturbed frame of mind each time since the age of seven — the women in my life leave me alone. They go inside the house or walk away from me, stop talking, and my world goes quiet.

My grandmother, for example, used to ask me to help her rake leaves from her magnolia tree in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The tree is taller than Mount Everest and has more leaves on it than there are grains of sand on America’s East Coast.

Every year those magnolia leaves would fall. Before I went to the beach hoping to get some sun and walk the boardwalk to buy funnel cakes, my grandmother would ask me to help her rake those leaves. It seemed that every time I went there was the time for raking those leaves.

On one visit we were out there at 7 a.m. on a day when I had planned to sleep in after battling through my tough daily life back in Washington, D.C., where the world is a struggle, traffic is insane, and intellectual competition is ferocious, and politicians tell half-truths all the time.

But what choice did I have? It was her house in which I was staying. In that sense, she owned me. You can’t argue when any host asks you to do housework. You couldn’t argue with her anyway, God rest her soul, because when she wanted something to happen, it happened no matter what interference she met such as me suggesting I wanted to lie on the beach instead.

Once I started raking, I got depressed. There were so many leaves. They were like cockroaches that reinvented themselves ceaselessly. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing that doesn’t work over and over again. Source: Tony Robbins or someone he quoted in one of his mega-seminar speeches.

Once she had me trapped pushing leaves around, she would wander off to another part of the yard and pick weeds from her gardens. Talked ended. She had me going — on the ropes — and didn’t want anything or anyone to disrupt the flow.

This same dynamic occurred many times with my mother while living in her house. If she got me to cut the grass, it was striking how she would disappear into the house and not say anything to me. This was unusual because she often spoke to me. I was out in the yard and, like her mother, she didn’t want anything to happen to stop me from working. I think she thought conversation, my sight of her, might cause me to complain or debate the need to do the work. She wouldn’t allow me to see her. To this day I wonder if she was hiding in the house somewhere so that if I came in complaining, I couldn’t be able to find her to engage in any conversation.

Fast forward a few decades. The cycle continues. A few weeks ago my wife unloaded a request that I trim several of our bushes in the front yard. They were overgrown, she told me. I hadn’t noticed. I never do when it comes to this sort of thing. The less I know the better.

But I wasn’t getting out of this. You can just tell when you are going to lose. She asks if I want to use the old school manual clippers or the electric shaver. At first I think it would be good exercise to use the manual ones. Getting old, I’m concerned about losing my muscle tone. The manual ones could have been good for building my forearms.

This thought left me, however, when I thought about how much easier it would be to use the automatic blades powered by an electric cord.

Once she told me exactly what she wanted done on all the bushes, helping me visualize what was in her mind’s eye, suddenly she disappeared into the house. There I was again, alone, in the yard, in the silence, not being talked to, facing the beast, yardwork.

Clipping those bushes turned out to be less fun and more tedious than even I expected. I find that while doing yard work some tool or some bugs or some cobweb always ruin the vibe. This time it was the sweat steaming off my forehead into my eyes. It made them sting like a jelly fish. How much I prefer the beach to yardwork is incalculable.

Even more annoying than the sting-ray sweat was that the plug inserted into the electric clippers outlet would not stay in for more than a few seconds. What a piece of junk. I couldn’t get it to fasten in tightly even after trying in earnest, for once, to do something in the yard without asking anyone for help or just quitting before the job was done.

Quitting is not a good habit unless it’s quitting yard work. This is my credo.

So every few seconds, after clipping a few bush stems, the clippers would go off. I had to plug it in — again — and push start — again — wipe more acidic sweat from my eyes — again — and clip a few more branches.

Except for the lousy clippers, all was silent.

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

I don’t want to be a mommy

Allia Zobel NolanIsn’t it always the way — people you hardly know ask the most personal questions. I have a ring on my finger, so the “What no husband yet?” has finally stopped. Now, strangers stare at my stomach and inquire, “Any babies yet?”

I have a pat answer for this intrusion. “Ah, no,” I murmur in a low tone and look gravely. “There’s insanity in the family.”

Time was a woman of my tender years could have said, “Get real. I’m too old,” and that would be that. Today, though, it seems nothing’s impossible. Like a bad science fiction movie, real-life doctors are fertilizing eggs in everything but a martini shaker and implanting them in females of all ages — even those on Medicare. As a result, women old enough for life alert and Polident are becoming mothers for the first time, (some even having their own grandchildren). I give these women credit. Anyone who can manage a walker and a stroller deserves a toast — Ensure, of course, because she’s going to need it.

At any age, becoming a mommy isn’t something a woman does just because she can. Choosing motherhood is the single most important decision a female can make, one most women don’t take lightly, given the commitment it involves.

It takes a special person to be a Mom. She has to be loving, understanding, self-sacrificing, brave, and have a good sense of humor. She must be as patient as Job, know as much as Google, and be as generous as a Political Action Committee in an election year. Moms have to be nurses, chauffeurs, seamstresses, teachers, cooks and friends. They have to have a cache of money stashed away for frequent emergencies, and keep a spare bed always at the ready.

In short, Moms have to be superheroes. Most (like yours and mine) are all that and more.

Still, not every female is cut out to be a mom. And I think it’s the smart woman who recognizes this. Take me, for instance. When God handed out maternal instinct, He gave it all to my sister, (who — honest to goodness — has 12 children). I figured this out early on because while other kids were playing with dolls, I was writing poems about them: “Mary’s baby has one blue eye; the other eye fell out. Mary ate it yesterday on a roll with sauerkraut.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love kids, (roasted with little russet potatoes — just  kidding). It’s just circumstances weren’t right for me to have them before. (I did get plenty of offers from donors, though. Unfortunately, none of them was affiliated with any sperm banks.) And now that my situation has changed, I don’t think I could, or that I really want to, balance deadlines and diapers, colic and bursitis.

Some psychologists contend women need to have children to feel complete, except if they’re creative in other ways, because that fills the gap in their inner spaces. I think it’s fat (or cats?) — not writing — that’s filled my gap. But then, I’ve never put much stock in such mumbo-jumbo anyway.

Still, thoughts of being a mommy did cross my mind once.  It was at the park, and my girlfriend was playing with her daughter.  The little girl laughed, gave her mom a huge hug, and I felt a sudden pang (which turned out to be gas from the garlic pickle I ate at lunch). Later, my friend wanted to leave, but her daughter didn’t.  At this, the little cherub kicked her mom in the knee and ran into the playground where a swing hit her in the head leaving us to race madly to the emergency room where the youngster got 11 stitches, bit the resident trying to give her a tetanus shot and, after letting out a screech that’d curl iron, threw up all over him.

This episode cleared my head, and at the same time reinforced my belief that it takes a special person to be a mommy — someone younger, with a stronger heart and a better stomach. Nevertheless, I have to say, though I wasn’t cut out to be one, Moms are super people. And after all, where would we be without them?

— Allia Zobel Nolan

Allia Zobel Nolan (ironically)  is the author of 200-plus children’s books and adult humor books on cats, including Cat Confessions: A Kitty Come Clean Tell-All Book and Women Who Still Love Cats Too Much. Her website is

Wendy Liebman

wendy liebmanWendy Liebman is a nationally known stand-up comic who’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, Ferguson and Hollywood Squares. She was a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent. She’s hilarious. As part of the faculty at the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, she sparked laughter and encouraged learning — sharing her special brand of humor and grace.

Missing the Erma experience?
Come to Indy!

Michelle FreedFeeling a little blue because you can’t get your Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop fix this year? Gazing out the window,  just longing for the opportunity to be inspired, stimulate your brain and hang out with other writers who “get” you?

Walk away from that window and come spend a few summer days in downtown Indianapolis for the 2015 National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) Conference, June 25-28. This annual gathering of columnists and bloggers from across the country features a jam-packed agenda that will foster your creative mojo, help you grow as a writer and give you amazing stories to tell all your friends. Seriously.

This year’s lineup of speakers is spectacular and includes: Chicago Tribune columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Schmich; Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners); Pulitzer Prize winner and photojournalist Bill Foley; Tony Messenger, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; and Gene Seymour,  film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. And that’s only the beginning.

NSNC-Conference-Indy-2015Attendees will enjoy excursions to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana State Museum and the Kurt Vonnegut Library, just to name a few. But perhaps the most alluring attraction comes in the form of the NSNC hospitality suite. Yes, that’s right — a haven where attendees can network and exchange ideas the old-fashioned way through personal conversation. Is there anything better?

You’ll also get some free time to use as you please, whether it’s exploring all that downtown Indy has to offer, or soaking in the beauty of The Alexander, a boutique hotel recognized for its emphasis on art and design. Guests will enjoy stunning accommodations, inspirational meeting spaces, unparalleled views of the city and an energetic vibe that will help make the weekend unforgettable.

So get away from that lonely window and give yourself the gift of connecting with other writers and forming lasting friendships. We can’t wait to see you there. To register, click here.

— Michelle Freed

Michelle Freed is a writer, humorist, journalist, social commentator, public speaker and occasional cheap therapist. Her contributions have appeared online and in a variety of publications including the Indianapolis StarKansas City Star, and She is also a playwright, having written, produced and performed the one-woman show, Come Dance with Me (But First Can I Borrow Your Pants?). Find her at; Twitter @MichelleFreed; or Facebook at

Turn the other cheek

Judy ClarkeElectronic devices with beeps and blinking lights and cables baffle me. Lead me to a cave. I’ll carve my messages on rocks.

Take my new smart phone, for instance. True, my ancient fliptop was beyond help, but did I really need a so-called “phone” that reports on the stock market, takes my pulse, lets me send texts, emails and question an otherworldly woman who doesn’t know the answers either? I can take photos with this “phone,” read a book or a map, listen to music, play games, get a weather report and watch a movie. The “phone” part of the phone seems incidental.

No one calls me.

My technical advisers — family — insisted it was time. So I bought a phone that seldom rings, and, when it does, I’m not sure how to answer it. Son-in-law Martin called a few days ago. “Hello,” I said to no one there. Three more calls, and we finally connected. Martin thought something was wrong since I never call him and I’d rung so many times. I said I was returning his calls.

He laughed. “Oh, must’ve been ‘butt dialing.’”

Ack, really‽

That same evening, our blank TV screen advised that our service was down. I’d figured that out because the screen was…um…blank. I called help and after intense questioning to identify myself and our equipment — think CIA interrogation — the young woman instructed, “Unplug the cable box from the power source.”

I followed the cable to the power strip. Done!

“Now, what is the bar code number on the back of the box?”

I couldn’t see a bar code. “Where would it be?” I asked.

“Upper right,” she said.

“Nope, nothing there.” I recited all the numbers I saw, but none was right.

I  should say here, that the floor behind our TV is a nest of cables that coil around each other in an incestuous stranglehold.  As I studied the entwined mess, I realized I had not only unplugged the wrong box, but I was looking for numbers on the wrong box, too.

I explained what I’d done. “Sorry,” I said, “but you should see what I’m dealing with here!” My laugh was hysteria-tinged because now I was wedged between wall and TV, sitting in a nest of dust bunnies. Getting out would not be pretty.

She giggled. “No problem,” she said. “Let me know when you’ve found the bar code number.”

“Bingo,” I yelled.

“Now tell me what you see on your screen,” she said.

“Hang on while I crawl around to the front.”

She explained the next steps as patiently as I hope she would explain to her own grandmother — service reconnecting, channels reloading, etc. “Wait 15 minutes before trying to select a channel,” she reminded, then bid me good night.

Next day, Bill, my husband’s companion, arrived to take Peter and Nobby to their weekly therapy dog nursing home visit. Bill and I chatted while we waited for Peter. Repetitive beeps came from behind Bill, but he wasn’t “pocket dialing.” No, he was leaning against the stove’s set-timer button.

A while later — I knew it was only mid-afternoon — when I looked at the stove’s clock, it read 6:15. Apparently Bill had “turned the other cheek” when he moved to the left, and in the doing had set the clock several hours ahead. This without a phone in his pocket! What a guy.

— 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).

Chloe and Poppie go to the White House

Jerry-Zezima1-219x300Since becoming a grandfather two years ago, I’ve really been on a roll. But nothing could top taking my granddaughter, Chloe, to Washington, D.C., for the White House Easter Egg Roll.

On Easter Sunday, I (known to Chloe as Poppie) drove from Long Island, N.Y., to the nation’s capital with my wife, Sue (Nini); our younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy); and, of course, Chloe (Chloe). We stayed with our older daughter, Katie (Aunt Katie), and her husband, Dave (Uncle Dave), who live and work in Washington.

Katie, a Washington Post reporter who until recently had covered the White House (she’s now on the campaign trail for the paper), got four tickets to the Easter Egg Roll, a national tradition dating back to the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, whose wife, known as Lemonade Lucy, banned alcoholic beverages from the White House. In keeping with a family tradition, Katie and Dave had them at their house.

The next day — which was 75 degrees and sunny, with a refreshing breeze and no humidity, a rarity in D.C. — Chloe, Lauren, Sue and I showed up at the waiting area, tickets in hand and ready to roll.

We had plenty of company. Over the course of the day, which began at 7:30 a.m., about 35,000 people converged on the White House grounds. We were in the last group — our time slot was 4:45-6:45 p.m. — but the line was still so long that we must have been in a different ZIP code.

At the checkpoint, Sue and Lauren had to empty their pocketbooks.

“I don’t carry a pocketbook,” I told one of the agents.

“That’s OK, sir,” he responded. “Empty your pockets.”

He went through my wallet.

“Please don’t harm the moths,” I said.

He kept a straight face and handed it back to me.

Even Chloe’s bag was searched.

“Those diapers aren’t mine,” I noted.

I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested.

As we waited in line, Lauren asked an Egg Roll volunteer named Sheila if Peppa Pig, Chloe’s favorite cartoon character, was still there.

“Yes,” Sheila replied.

“How about President and Mrs. Obama?” I asked.

“They were here this morning,” Sheila said.

“My granddaughter won’t mind,” I said. “She’ll be more excited to see Peppa.”

At that point, Chloe wasn’t excited about anything. In fact, she was sleeping in her stroller.

A volunteer named Jean offered to write Lauren’s phone number on Chloe’s wrist band in case Chloe got lost.

“I’m always being told to get lost,” I said. “Will you put my wife’s phone number on my wrist band?”

“No,” said Jean. “Nobody in your family is going to come and get you.”

I felt sorry for Jean, who said she had been there since the gates opened that morning. “It’s been a long day,” she said wearily. “After this, I’m going home and having a cocktail.”

“Where do you live?” I asked. “We’ll join you.”

“Come on over,” Jean said.

After about 45 minutes, we finally reached the South Lawn of the White House, which was swarming with excited kids, costumed characters, friendly volunteers, awestruck parents and one confused grandfather.

The star of the show — Chloe, of course — woke up as we approached the Egg Roll area. I had the honor of accompanying her.

A volunteer named Carolyn handed Chloe a wooden spoon so she could roll an orange hard-boiled egg down a grassy lane about 10 yards long. There were several other lanes, each with a spoon-wielding child and an adult.

The race was on. Or it would have been if I hadn’t dropped the egg in front of Chloe and across the starting line before the whistle blew.

“I cheated, didn’t I?” I said sheepishly.

“Yes, you did,” Carolyn replied.

Then she blew the whistle. The crowd roared.

“Come on, Chloe!” I cried, showing her how to roll the egg with her wooden spoon.

She’s only 2, so she didn’t quite get the hang of it at first, but she figured it out in pretty short order and — with help from Poppie — made her way toward the finish line. Sue and Lauren cheered her on.

Chloe didn’t win, but she got the ultimate compliment from Carolyn: “We saved the best for last.”

Only one thing could have been better — a photo op with Peppa Pig. Sure enough, the pink porker and her younger brother, George, were greeting their little fans in the shadow of the South Portico. Chloe hugged them both and posed for pictures.

At day’s end, she was back in her stroller, holding a commemorative wooden egg signed by the Obamas’ dogs, Bo and Sunny.

The little girl had the time of her life. So did I because, as Chloe would agree, that’s the way Poppie rolls.

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won five humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

My least favorite things

Ashlyn Jackson3. Group Projects

First off, I do not like working with other people in anything.

I do not like depending on people because my grade could be affected. My grades are everything to me, and someone is not going to get in the way of my goals. If my partner/partners are slackers and become lazy in a class project, then I will a) become a nightmare partner and ride their back until something changes or b) I will take on their load and end up throwing them under the bus. Group projects are a nightmare for me. I do not like interacting with strangers, even though I know that comes with life, but these strangers have a piece of my grade resting in their hands.

Group projects also take too much time out of my planned day. I have to reset my whole schedule just to meet up with people for a little bit to talk about what we are doing and then I will not hear from them until two days before the project is due. That scares me to death! Teachers need to understand that group projects are an inconvenience to everyone.

2. Unclean Hair

I have to take a shower or wash my hair everyday. I know that may sound like I’m a neat freak to some people, but my hair get super oily and it is the most disgusting thing to me.

Other people who have greasy hair also gross me out. I may have pulled out my judging handbook a time or two, but it is a pet peeve of mine.

I understand that some people may not have time to wash their hair everyday like me. When I was in high school, I would wake up super early just so I could have enough time to wash my hair. I used to have a roommate who went four straight days without showering. Not only was her hair looking like it was going to crawl off her head and die, but the smell coming off of her made me want to bolt every time she came within 20 feet of the room.

Clean hair makes me feel good, and if I feel good, then I am going to look good, and if I look good, then I am going to be good and have a good day. That is my mindset. I think this also springs from when I was little and would go to my Granny’s house with unclean hair. She would tell me that a rat was building a nest in my hair, and that scared me. What little girls want mice building a nest in their hair and living there? From then on I took a shower everyday, so rats would not live in my hair. Thank you, Granny.

1. Broken Feet Syndrome

Walking is a natural tendency that most people learn at a very young age, but some people forget that they have feet that can help them walk.

Hallways are a place for moving, not stopping. Many students have forgotten this hallway rule. I have run into so many people with “broken feet syndrome.” They get mad at me as if it were my fault that this syndrome has fallen upon them.

I think I will start a charity for “broken feet syndrome,” and all the proceeds will go toward new and improved moving hallways. The No. 1 victims of this syndrome are couples. It randomly strikes couple in the middle of hallways as they kiss and/or hug in front of moving people. I have found one cure for couples, but it is not always 100 percent effective. You could walk in between the couple and separate them. This can either make the syndrome completely disappear for that moment or they get mad and yell at you. Most of the time the second option occurs, but it is always worth a shot.

Donations will be accepted. Call 1-800-PLEASE-MOVE.

— Ashlyn Jackson

Ashlyn Jackson is a young writer with a new blog, People Aren’t Really My Thing.

Science takes on female hormones

Con ChapmanScientific breakthroughs have made our lives richer and more fulfilling in a number of ways. The problem with science, however, is scientists.

Take Alfred Kinsey — please.  Beginning in the early 1900s, he collected over 5 million gall wasps before he realized that . . . nobody gives a crap about gall wasps. As soon as he turned his attention to human sexuality, he was rolling in grant money and under constant pressure to invite women back to his apartment to see his etchings. He remained married to his wife, Clara Bracken McMillen, even though she threw out his wasp collection to make room for family photo albums.

Thankfully, once science got interested in sex it didn’t let up, and scientists created technological devices such as the Internet, which allows us to use search terms such as “cheerleader AND zucchini” for endless hours of innocent fun.

For those women who are still unhappy because they do not enjoy fulfilling sex lives, new breakthroughs on the horizon promise to make the 21st century the most satisfying ever, even better than the 19th when Sigmund Freud discovered how to talk dirty and get paid for it. Online research conducted earlier today provides answers to the problem of a flagging libido in women over the age of 40, and possible scientific cures:

Problem:  You’re distracted during sex.

If you’re like most middle-aged mothers, your mind is in a constant turmoil thinking about the kids’ social schedules, what shade of taupe to paint the den, and whether you put the sponge in the dishwasher. Why? Women’s brains are more active than men’s due to lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which increases the flow of sensory impulses to the genitals.  Here is an actual transcript of a married couple in Beaufort, Ga., trying to have sex.

HUSBAND: Unh . . .

WIFE: That’s it . . .

CHILD: Momma, Sparklepuss has a tick . . .

WIFE: Honey, Momma’s kinda busy right now . . .

CHILD: It’s behind her ear — I can’t get it.

HUSBAND: Unh . . .

WIFE: Did you try putting some alcohol on it?

CHILD: I did — I used some of Daddy’s after shave.

HUSBAND: You didn’t take it from my Dale Earnhardt Commemorative Shaving Set, did you?

CHILD: Yes . . .

HUSBAND: Gosh darn it, Tiffany — did you use it all up?

CHILD:  No. There was a little bit left, so I put the bottle in the microwave to see if it would blow the plastic squirt cap off.

WIFE: Tiffany, you should never . . .


Problem:  You feel disconnected from your partner.

Many women grow apart from their spouses because their interests develop in different directions; for example, he becomes more interested in scratching his butt in her presence, she becomes less interested in watching him. Viola Guthrie of Portland, Maine, says science can help resolve this sort of difficulty. “Science is always coming up with volatile toxic substances, some of which are found in common consumer products such as anti-freeze,” she says.

“A cocktail made of two ounces of antifreeze and six ounces of Gatorade Thirst Quencher in an 8 ounce ‘grab-and-go’ size bottle is enough to kill a water buffalo,” she notes on visitor’s day at the Maine State Maximum Security Prison for Women, where she is serving a life sentence.

Problem:  You have low testosterone.

We tend to think of testosterone as a “male” hormone that makes men do stupid things such as tearing down goal posts and carrying them into contact with overhead electrical wires after their favorite football team wins a wild-card playoff game.  Surprisingly, testosterone — blended delicately with estrogen and dark chocolate — helps fuel a woman’s sex drive after menopause. A blood test can determine if you suffer from a testosterone deficiency, and, if so, what the proper dosage would be to give you stronger, more powerful orgasms without going completely nuts and wiping out a biker bar with a broken beer bottle.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Reflections of Erma