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The emptying nest

DONNA FENTANESI’m not at the official empty nest season yet; I still have a couple perched to fly as well as a couple still needing nesting. But many of my birds have, indeed, flown. The season has started.

In 2005, when we left our home in San Pablo to live in El Sobrante, all 10 were under the same roof. One birdie flew away for a bit, but came back, bringing a new bird to our family. He nested with the brothers. So for a time, the nest held 11 chicks. The nest was hustling and bustling with all the chicks and their friends.There was a constant band playing from the garage, little kids running after chickens in the yard, fighting, bickering, eating, laughing…our last time as a family together. For me, those three years were a refuge from the dark times we left. Getting ready for the three holiday seasons we spent there was the funniest part of the year.

“I miss you most of all, my darling(s) when autumn leaves start to fall.”

In 2008, circumstances  caused this nest to be vacated, to be vacated immediately. That was the last time all my birds were together. Two birds moved away from me. I took eight with me to the Peninsula. But eventually, two more would fly away, and for awhile I had six. But the carousel goes round and round; two more would graduate. Then a third. One flew off last year, and another moved elsewhere this spring. We are down to four. Two of them are adults, perched. I’m not going to nudge them like a good mother eagle would do.

I don’t know how I did all that. I don’t think I did it (mothering) very well. But I know I loved it. I loved the little kids, the craziness, the boundless energy, the joy in the midst of pain. I loved them. I still do. But I miss them most of all when autumn leaves begin to fall.

As poignant and nostalgic I sometimes get, I have learned these past few years not to fear the future. I have been raising kids for almost 30 years. For 30 years that has been my primary purpose. I can start to see beyond this purpose, and I’m not sure what lies in that territory. But I trust the Lord to guide and provide. Maybe I’ll go back to Europe for a spell before the carousel slows to a stop. Maybe. I don’t seem to fear my fears so much anymore.

“Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43:19, NASB

— Donna Fentanes

Donna Fentanes is a mother of 10 kids living in Northern California. The name of her blog, From the Shoe, was swiped from Cheaper By The Dozen’s Lillian Gilbreth’s summer newsletter. The “shoe” reference is to the children’s nursery rhyme. She mixes humor and philosophical musings with everyday events.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Jan MarshallThe yearly pitch for changing insurance carriers has arrived to coax us from one company covering nothing I need (prostate practitioner?) to others whose plan does not include even one of my preferred doctors, especially Dr. Love.

Hopefully I won’t have to return to my own physician whose specialty is Recommendology. He doesn’t actually treat. He calls everything a virus, which is Latin for “I don’t know what the hell you have.”

He simply checks his computer and then recommends a colleague from his own original country of origin.

Still, I manage to generally stay healthy; well, except for the fall, which gave me an opportunity to pick up items on the floor that I dropped months ago and could not otherwise bend to retrieve.

Life works out well, don’t you think?

Oh, wait. There was the incident of the headache that led to the cast on my arm and the nervous breakdown.

One morning after an extremely festive evening, my head ached. I reached for an aspirin and couldn’t open the childproof jar even after pressing down and aligning the arrow as the teeny directions suggested.  I fumed and twisted and then accidentally banged my arm against the sink.

Luckily my little granddaughter came by after kindergarten, opened the bottle and then texted (50 words per minute!) and found the nearest emergency room and sent me on my way.

The room was mobbed, so I took a number; 72 to be exact, which gave me time to observe the crowd.

One woman saw her medical form menu of choices and mumbled, “allergies, heart, ear, nose, gums?…and then she sang, “All of Me. Why Not Take All of Me?” We all sympathized and hummed along.

One man who evidently had been waiting a very long time called the receptionist at the desk in the room and asked to speak to the urologist. She said, “Please hold” and he shouted expletives and said if he could hold, he wouldn’t be in the emergency room!

I am fed up with my current medical programs. I think I will return to the psychic who said I would meet a tall dark stranger…who would remove my gall bladder.

I hope he and any man is aware of my strict personal dating rules. I never allow a gent to shave my back until the third date. Well, usually anyway.

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall has devoted her life’s work to humor and healing through books, columns and motivational speaking. As founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute, she worked with board members Norman Cousins, Steve Allen and other physicians and entertainers, including John Cleese. Her newest satirical survival book, Dancin’ Schmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! is dedicated to Wounded Warriors, Gabrielle Giffords and Grieving Parents. She donates a percentage of the profits to these organizations as well as to the American Cancer Society and the American Brain Tumor Association.

Extra! Extra! Extra!

Paul_Lander(These pieces originally appeared in Huff Post Comedy. Reposted by permission of the author.) 

Happy 50th Star Trek: ‘Star Trek vs. Rocky: The Wrath of Arthritis’ Announced

Big announcement just confirmed as part of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary celebration. In the tradition of Godzilla versus King Kong, the teaming of two giant film franchises was announced in what the studio hopes will be the blockbuster — “Star Trek vs. Rocky: The Wrath of Arthritis.”

Although script details remain hush-hush, a source reports it all begins when Captain Kirk and crew pay a visit to Rocky’s Philadelphia, only to get into legal trouble when they forget to shut off the turn signal light on the Star Ship Enterprise. Rocky takes offense to this “dissing” of his hometown, and the ensuing drama culminates with Rocky, despite hip replacement surgery, making his way, one last time, up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Reports indicate that multiple corporate sponsors have signed lucrative product placement deals. In fact, a spokesman for Pfizer announced that its popular ED drug Viagra would play a prominent role in the film. “Let’s just say,” the spokesman said, “The term ‘beam Me Up, Scotty’ will take on all kinds of new meaning.”

Trump/Pence Against Spanish Inquisition for Not Being English Only

After meeting Mexico’s President Nieto, to show their resolve and draw a strong line against illegal immigration, the Trump/Pence campaign came out against the Spanish Inquisition for not being English Only.

Trump said this was his toughest call so far in his run for the White House, but that because the Bible’s in English, so should be any torture, coercion or persecution in its name. He added, “Believe me. We’ll have the best torture. It’ll be huge. Believe me. Huge.”

Trump/Pence campaign surrogate and a self described ‘cradle Catholic’ New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, speaking for the Trump/Pence campaign, said, “We’ve come a long way from those times, and a lot of so-called tortures should now be used to keep marriages together.” Adding, “There’s nothing like a good flaying or a few cracks of the whip to add spice to a marriage, as long as it’s done in English.”

Due to missteps on message between Governor Pence and Mr. Trump, Governor Pence did add: “As a supporter of former President Bush, I believe he did the enhanced interrogation thing right. Except where he didn’t. So I agree where he was right and don’t where he wasn’t. That is, by the way, my position on all things. Except when it isn’t. What were we talking about again?”

A-Rod Announces Retirement From Yankees, Enters Santa Anita Derby

After a stellar and controversy-fueled career in Major League Baseball, New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez announced his retirement. Bidding farewell to the game, he, once again, apologized to teammates, fans and strangers who happen to be passing by for taking banned substances.

In fact, A-Rod admitted to years of taking Trenbolone, a steroid usually taken by thoroughbred horses. Now that his playing days are over, he confirmed he has returned to taking the drug and will attempt to fulfill a lifelong dream to run in the Santa Anita Derby. When asked how long he thought it would take to prepare for such a grueling challenge, A-Rod replied by stomping his foot six times on the ground, each stomp representing one month.

In related news, A-Rod’s plans caused Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to file paperwork claiming a desire to change their names to Full Count Fleet and Giant California Chrome Dome, respectively.

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month.”

First world injury

Molly StevensSo what exactly is a first world injury?

When I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop last April, I had an injury in the hotel room. As I opened the heavy hotel curtain wielding the drapery pull rod, I bonked myself on the face.

It hurt and I examined myself for welts wondering how I would explain to my fellow writers what happened. Then I imagined this scenario.

Excited to start another day of learning and laughter at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Molly bounded out of bed and reached for the log attached to the curtain to unveil a glorious new day.

Thwack!

It was curtains for her consciousness as she sagged to the floor in a heap.

Meanwhile, Molly’s new friend Lee was pacing as the last shuttle bus was leaving in five minutes. “Where can Molly be? I bet she stayed in the bar for three hours after I went to bed and she’s nursing a hangover. I don’t think it would be wrong for me to go to the workshop without her; after all, I just met her. Why should I miss a lecture because of her irresponsibility?”

Alas, even though Lee has many shallow qualities that drew her and Molly together as friends, her conscience prevailed and she reluctantly pushed the elevator “up” button to investigate.

She knocked on the door and heard a groan. At first, she thought it confirmed her suspicion about Molly’s late evening revelry but her mother instincts told her it could be an expression of pain.

She knew her new friend was klutzy from the moment they met when Molly ran to give her a hug, tripped and knocked her into a potted plant. It wouldn’t have been so nettlesome, but it was a cactus.

Lee panicked and called hotel security. “I need you to check on the person staying in room 635. I think she is having a medical emergency.”

In a flash, a hotel official unlocked the door to find Molly lying in a puddle of humiliation with the imprint of the drapery pull rod on her forehead. Lee screamed, “Oh my God! It’s a first world injury! Call 911!”

So what exactly is a first world injury?

I found this definition in the Urban Dictionary:

“An injury most likely to occur in an advanced first world country due to the high standard of living. Example: Karma suffered a first world injury walking into a dumpster while tweeting on her smart phone.”

I began to chronicle my traumas in the context of privileged circumstances.

• Applied hypoallergenic mascara, missed lashes and injured eye.
• Thumbed through a Pottery Barn catalog and incurred paper cut.
• Fell off spin bike and sprained ankle.
• Waved hand over steam vent of rice cooker and sustained burn.
• Fished lipstick out from under front seat of car and wrenched shoulder.
• Chopped shallots for Steak Diane and cut fingernail.
• Pulled an excessively dry cork from a wine bottle that had been stored incorrectly and bruised nose.
• Slipped with the box cutter when unpacking special order French roast coffee and slashed arm.
• Poked a touch screen repeatedly and developed tendonitis of index finger.
• Hopped on a hammock, flipped onto ground and scraped elbow.
• Ate microwave popcorn and broke tooth. While watching Netflix.
• Opened dishwasher and bruised shin.
• Failed to reapply #50 sunscreen and exposed unprotected skin to sun. While waiting in line at Disney World. Because I ran out of Fast Passes.

I know I should feel irritated about these boo-boos spawned from a first world lifestyle, but instead I find myself with a strange sense of gratitude, realizing these are small prices to pay for a luxurious existence.

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at www.shallowreflections.com, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.

Emails, texts, shmexts
What’s the difference?

Tracy BucknerOf all the things we may wish our parents would stop doing — like driving, eating too much salt and sugar or becoming too sedentary — my suggestion to my parents isn’t quite health-related.

I simply want my mother to place her iPhone under the front tire of her car and then drive over it. Many times. Until it’s pulverized.

First, the calls to me:

“Delly?”

“No, Mom, it’s Tracy.”

“I didn’t call you, I called Delly.”

“Mom, you called ME. You’re talking to Tracy.”

“Well, I meant to call Delly.”

At times I may receive a text with a red pin on a map indicating her current location. According to the map, she’s in her house and apparently not lost and hoping I can find her so there’s no need for alarm.

The FaceTime application makes me yearn for those days of the land line telephone. My mother doesn’t know why my face appears on her phone even though she is the one who initiated the Facetime call. It’s difficult to converse; she is too busy laughing and has no idea what to do next. Turning her phone this way and that makes her face jump side to side, up then down on my phone. I get dizzy trying to follow her image. “Mom,” I ask, “what the heck are you doing?!” She replies, “I’m LOLing.”

Calling her takes patience until she figures out which pocket, which purse, which counter, which chair, which car, which room her phone is in. Then she swipes to answer. Usually she swipes the wrong way no less than three times, disconnecting me each time. When we finally connect, she’s still laughing. I’m learning to take deep breaths as I count to 10.

When I call and my mother’s out of the house, she puts the phone on speaker and then places it to her ear. I hear the lawn mower, the check-out girl, a blow dryer, all sounds going on around her, but I can’t hear HER. She can’t hear me and I can’t hear her. My ears are ringing. We’re like walking advertisements for Verizon: “Can you hear me now?”

Despite my frustration, my dizziness and the constant ringing in my ears, I’m impressed technology doesn’t scare away this 80-plus-year-old. My interesting, intelligent mother reads the New York Times on her iPhone, forwarding articles on Tesla, hedge fund tax loopholes and recipes. So it’s with patience, respect, love and deep breathing that I explain to my mother that no, I didn’t receive her message in an email, but received it in a text that didn’t include the attachment indicated, and oh, by the way, the text went to four people I don’t know. From my still feisty mother, “Email, text, schmexts, what’s the difference?” And she inserted a red-faced emoji.

But the worst day of my life happened with the inevitable, dreaded phone call.

I knew it was coming, but still not quite prepared for it.

My distraught sister on the line, tearfully saying…

“Mom’s on Facebook.”

STEP AWAY from Facebook, I quickly texted my mother. This is nothing to be LOLing about. She texted back an emoji of a certain hand gesture.

So I accepted her Facebook friend request.

It might be easier to get her to stop driving.

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune Newspaper of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills Newspaper, serving Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.

It’s not alright if you have to hurry

Teece Aronin A lot of things had happened.

I was buying a house. I’d dug so deep into my pockets that I’d gouged my ankles for the money to send my son Jon to Ireland with his school choir. My mother died.

One day it hit me: The only way Jon would have his passport in time for his trip was if I paid the extra fee to expedite it. I thought of the movie California Suite where four L.A. tourists are merging onto a freeway. The driver yells to ask if it’s clear. His wife yells back, “It’s alright if you hurry!” The driver then bellows: “It’s not alright if you have to HURRY!”

I hoped the Department of State thought it was alright if they had to hurry.

Next I realized I was missing a form, the DS-3053, the notarized one from my ex-husband giving his permission for Jon to leave the country.

I called my ex-husband who lives in Maryland. He was leaving town early the next morning and it was already late afternoon. With the Herculean effort only a father whose kid is about to lose out on a trip to Ireland can pull off, he made it to the post office where the form and a notary were available and had the whole mess overnighted.

Days passed. Then I received an email from the Department of State saying there was an error — a discrepancy between two dates noted on the form.

I called my ex-husband who was in L.A. He rushed to the nearest mailing service and filled out the form again. Calling me from the store, he said, “Here — I think you should talk to the notary.” A voice on the other end said:

“Ms. Aronin, this is Mazhar.”

“Yes?”

“Well ma’am, I was just explaining to Mr. Aronin that as a notary in the State of California, I’m not allowed to notarize this exact physical form from the Department of State. What I can do is attach a separate notarized form showing that I witnessed Mr. Aronin’s signature on this date and on that form, but I can’t notarize that exact form.”

“And the reason for that?”

“Because the State of California doesn’t recognize the language of the DS-3053.”

“The State of California doesn’t recognize English?”

“No, ma’am. I mean the State of California doesn’t recognize the language of the DS-3053.”

“So what you’re telling me,” I said, “is that the State of California is saying to the federal government that it has an issue with the wording of one of the federal government’s own forms? Really, don’t you think California is being a bit of an upstart?”

“Ma’am, I can’t say I understand it either; that’s just the way it is,” said Mazhar.

When the passport arrived in time, my ex-husband and I would have high-fived each other if not for the fact that, as indicated by the need for the DS-3053 using language unrecognizable by the State of California, we weren’t standing close enough to reach each other.

— Teece Aronin

Teece Aronin is an essayist and humor writer. You can find her work at ChippedDemitasse.blogspot.com, CAWLM.com and TrueHumor.com.

Happy almost Halloween

Mari' EmeraudeHappy almost Halloween all you parents!

Hey, I’m all for the little ones having a good time although I still think we need to design children’s costumes out of their winter coats. Here in Colorado it always seems to snow hard on the festive night.

This year Halloween falls on a Thursday, which means Friday is gonna be a difficult one for school teachers what with all the kids bouncing off the walls from massive sugar overload.

I used to stay in and hand out the goodies, but I was the one in the neighborhood who actually doled out toothbrushes or cheese sticks. Needless to say, I wasn’t the most well liked among the kiddies!

I remember Halloween was a little different when I lived in the United Kingdom. There, the children received mostly apples and nuts (and these kids whine about my cheese sticks). I guess it was in keeping with tradition when the adults were offered a drink at each house they went to — a nip of brandy here, a shot of whiskey there. By the time I reached the fourth house, I was pretty smashed! I staggered up to the door and called out, “triCkur TreAt – an’ make it a double.

This year I decided I’d go around with my grandchildren. I hope they won’t be too scared. They’ve seen me without my makeup so they should be good to go.

I’ve never been real big on Halloween, mostly because I don’t want to bother with the festivities of carving pumpkins and decorating. I hate anything pumpkin and can’t really handle the smell of apple cider. I suppose I should try and get into the groove of things for the sake of the grandkids though. I guess dressing up as a tired, worn-out mother of four just doesn’t have the horror it used to. I’ve overdone it.

Nah, I really need to rev up the scare tactics.

I know! Maybe I’ll hang my credit report in my front window — that oughta do it.

— Mari’ Emeraude

Mari’ Emeraude is a writer and poet from Denver, Colorado.

Joking till the cows come home

Jerry ZezimaEven though I have always been more apt to milk a joke than a cow, which can create udder confusion (see what I mean?), I have long wanted to be a gentleman farmer.

First, of course, I’d have to become a gentleman, which would ruin my reputation, or what’s left of it.

Then I’d have to buy the farm, which both my banker and my doctor say I am not ready to do.

So I recently did the next best thing: I went to Ty Llwyd Farm in Northville, New York, on the North Fork of Long Island, and met Dave Wines, who is both a gentleman and a farmer.

I also met June-Bug, a calf who has developed a bond with my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

Chloe previously visited Ty Llwyd, a Welsh name pronounced Tee Luid, meaning “Brown House,” with her mommy, my younger daughter, Lauren, a member of the Southold Mothers’ Club, which arranged the trip.

“The kids had a nice time,” Dave recalled. “June-Bug took a liking to your granddaughter. She gave her lots of kisses and wanted to follow her out.”

“Maybe June-Bug will like me, too,” I said hopefully.

But first I watched as Dave meticulously planted a row of carrots. It was in a part of the 30-acre farm on the east side of the, yes, brown house. At the entrance, where there’s a west side story, visitors are greeted with these signs: “New York Permitted Raw Milk,” “Chicken Manure” and “Caution: Ducks.”

Dave, who’s 67 and fit as a fiddle, even though he doesn’t play one, was on his hands and knees, holding a little plastic doohickey (a farming term meaning “doohickey”) that contained carrot seeds. He used his right index finger to tap the seeds, one by one, into a long indentation in the dirt.

“Do you like our modern equipment?” asked Dave, adding that the farm has been in his family since 1872.

As he inched his way along, a process that took half an hour, Dave told me about an uncle of his who lived off the land and was, as a result, strong and healthy.

“He was in his 80s and his doctor had put him on a special diet,” Dave remembered. “He came over one day and said he wasn’t on the diet anymore. I asked him why. He said, ‘My doctor died.’ ”

Dave isn’t on a special diet, even though his doctor is still alive, but he does abstain from alcohol.

“When people find out what my last name is, they say I should open a winery,” Dave said. “But there are enough of those out here. Besides, I’m a teetotaler. I drink milk.”

I have more than made up for Dave’s lack of wine consumption, but I am now sold on his milk, which is the best I have ever tasted.

His son Christopher, who lives on the farm, is Ty Llwyd’s “milk man,” said Dave, adding that he has another son, Thomas, who lives in Boston, and a daughter, Judy, who lives in upstate New York.

“They’re in their 30s,” Dave said. “I forget their exact ages because the numbers keep changing. It’s hard to keep up.”

Dave’s wife, Liz, was born in Wales, where she and Dave were married.

“Today is our 42nd anniversary,” Dave announced proudly.

When I wished the delightful couple a happy anniversary, Liz said, “I’m celebrating by collecting eggs.”

She said the farm’s 1,200 chickens produce 65 dozen eggs a day. She also said Ty Llwyd has 33 cows.

“How much milk do they produce?” I asked Dave.

“A lot,” he answered, adding, “I told you I’m bad with numbers.”

After giving me a tour of the farm, which has plenty of modern equipment, Dave introduced me to June-Bug, who was in a fenced-in area with her fellow calves: Cassandra, Cricket, Flower, Millie and Twinkle. They all had name tags on their ears.

“Hi, June-Bug,” I said. “I’m Chloe’s grandfather.”

The sweet calf walked up and started kissing me with her large, rough tongue. The others kept their distance.

“She likes you,” Dave noted.

“It must run in the family,” I bragged.

“When she’s old enough, you should come back and milk her,” Dave said. “And that’s no joke.”

— 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 Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Reflections of Erma