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Making a splash

Kathleen Gerard

Photo: North Jersey Media Group — The Record

My dog, Sissy, has a host of peculiar behaviors, but her chronic tendency to hide takes the prize. Sometimes her disappearances make me feel as though I’m living with a covert CIA operative!

I work from home, and there are days when Sissy and I get up and have breakfast together, and I don’t see her again until dinner. I’ve gone on plenty of search missions only to find her, an eight-pound Yorkshire terrier, hidden under my bed or behind the upholstered flap of the sofa. After 10 years of this, nothing really surprises me anymore. But one day, when Sissy was still a pup, she completely floored me.

A raging nor’easter was pummeling our little corner of New Jersey. The rains had come and stayed for days, complete with kabooms! of thunder and zigzags of lightning that tore through dark skies. Sissy didn’t like i t— not one bit. Shaking and shivering with anxiety, she actually let me cuddle her close. She didn’t want off my lap or out of my arms. The disappearing covert operative had suddenly become like Velcro!

During a reprieve from the storm, Sissy detached long enough to let me take a shower. Before I flipped on the water, I decided to keep the bathroom door ajar just in case Sissy had the urge to be near again.

When my shower was done and I flipped off the water, a loud rumble of thunder and a bright flash of lightning pierced through the mini-blinds shrouding the bathroom window. I wrung the water from my hair and, as a few droplets of rain pelted the roof, another thunderous quake clapped as if to usher in an after-shock of the storm. In the silence that followed, I heard a tiny splash.

What was that? Did I drop something into the tub, maybe the soap? I looked, but all was clear.

 As I ripped open the shower curtain and stepped onto the cold tile floor, something caught my eye—a dark splotch rising up from inside the toilet bowl. I did a double take: two triangular shapes, like dueling dorsal fins from baby sharks, rose from inside the toilet seat.

The pointy ears, wet face and doleful eyes of Sissy emerged.

I gasped. Yikes — what a place to hide!

A pitiable look on the shivering drowned rat telegraphed, Help! Get me outta here!

The Thing IsI quickly reached into the bowl. Drenched, trembling Sissy jumped into my hands as if my fingers were magnets and she were made of iron.

She licked my wrist and looked up at me with a warm, grateful gaze as I wrapped her in a dry towel and drew her close, feeling as though the storm had served to bond us.

When the sun finally broke through the clouds a short while later, Sissy, her hair blow-dryer soft and smelling squeaky clean from her very first bath, went back to normal — her idea of “normal.” She scampered away from me and went into seclusion. I didn’t see her again for hours.

— Kathleen Gerard

Kathleen Gerard writes across genres. Her work has been short-listed for the Mark Twain House Humor Prize, The Saturday Evening Post “Great American Fiction” Prize, Short Story America and Best New American Voices, all national prizes in literature. Sissy served as the inspiration for the dog-hero of Gerard’s latest novel, the thing is. The story deals with serious issues in a lighthearted, comical way and centers on a blocked romance writer, Meredith Mancuso, a young woman who is grieving the death of her fiancé.

Public service announcement

Lou ClydeAs a celebrity public figure blogger I have the responsibility to give back to my fans readers family. And I take that responsibility seriously.

Here you go.

How to prevent a torn rotator cuff:

1. If you are over the age of 50, do not go to a Trampoline Park with your children and act like you are 16 again.

2. Stay away from balance beams. Especially those that are no wider than dental floss.

3. If you happen to find yourself on a balance beam the width of dental floss, attempt to hold onto the loops suspended from the ceiling. They are there to help you maintain your balance.

4. If, when you grab for one of the loops, it begins to swing like a pendulum, be patient. Wait until it returns to the center, or at least within reach, before attempting to grab it again.

5. If attempting to grab for the loop causes you to further lose your balance, simply fall into the pond beneath the balance beam. It is full of foam bricks. That prevent injury.

6. If, when falling, you lack the wherewithal to aim for the pond of foam bricks, do now throw your body backwards, toward the edge of the foam-filled pond. It is made of cement. Not foam.

7. If you fall backwards toward the cement edge of the foam-filled pond, do not put your arm out to break your fall.

8. If you put an arm out to break your fall as you are headed backward toward the cement edge of your foam-filled pond and you are left handed, put out your right hand.

9. If you are left handed and fall off a balance beam onto the cement edge of a foam-filled pond and break your fall with your damn left hand, go home.  Do not move on to the Ninja Warrior Obstacle course.

10. Ignore your husband when he says, “I told you so.”

But then again, ignoring your husband when he says, “I told you so,” may not be the best advice.

You will need him to drive you to your MRI (because you can’t drive under the influence of Valium).  And you’re really going to need him after the surgery. You’ll be in a sling for six weeks.

And there’s no way you can open a bottle of wine with just one hand.

When your husband says, “I told you so,” smile and say, “You’re right, honey.”

— Lou Clyde

Lou Clyde, whose car has “NERDLING” vanity plates, has been publishing Notes from a Nerdling since 2009.  She has also authored the play, “Heck the Dolls with Chardonnay,” which will be staged later this year in Columbia, South Carolina.  By day, Lou is the director of customer insights and analysis at a South Carolina energy company.

The pure electricity of a snit

Laura BeckerThe day started with seven dead electrical outlets, one broken toilet, three cereal bowls full of popcorn and a snit.

As I mopped, ran back and forth to the breaker box and started the unanticipated load of toilet-water laundry, I could have done it all without a word, letting him finish readying for work to head out the door to a hopefully better day…but I did not.

It seems the electrical outlets were not the only ones burned out by the overload of activity in the sum total of 30 minutes my feet had been on the floor. The friction of my frustration at our manic morning electrified my emotions as I amped up the voltage and hit him with one of those live wires that starts, “Why didn’t you just…”


I was in a snit. Not a full-blown fit where everything overheats and melts down. A snit. Not a fight where sparks fly and you lash out at the other person with malintent and heat-seeking precision. Just a snit, my own personal huff where I should phrase my questions better or not ask them at all because the answers are really no longer relevant. Just a snit where if someone had not been grounded enough to know better than to engage, they might have gotten quite a jolt.

My husband and I are wired very differently. Differently than most outsiders anticipate. Many a mechanic has been shocked to find I am the one they need to direct their diagnosis to. I am the spatial-relations-assemble-the-furniture-fix-the-vacuum-with-a-butter-knife-call-the-plumber-can-always-find-true-north-fix-the-immediate-problem partner in our nuptial pact. But I still love nail polish, Vogue and huge glitzy holiday parties filled with friends.

He is the way-with-words-master-communicator-buy-quality-so-it-doesn’t-break-always-book-a-reservation-let-someone-else-drive-make-sure-everyone-is-heard-resolve-the-issue-to-the-best-resolution-for-all component to our cohabitation. And he still loves boxing, hoagies and EA PlayStation marathons with his brothers at Christmas.

AC and DC, two very different types of current, both powering the same household. AC changes directions quickly, plugs right in and rolls with it. She gets her energy from outside connections and is great at keeping the daily things running. But she shuts down when the wires get crossed or the squall becomes incessant.

DC weathers the storm, is self-sufficient, great for portability and keeps the lights on when the darkness is closing in. He supplies a direct, focused, steady flow of current. However, the batteries drain and he needs time out from all of the activity to recharge.

And, for the most part, we ebb and flow as needed according to our individual talents. However, this particular morning, the current chaos had all landed directly in my wheelhouse and I had revved up my resentment over our existing electrical grid.

Zap! Snit! Zing! I was short-circuiting. And once my husband walked out the door, I satiated my stress with three full cereal bowls of salty satisfaction popped to perfection for breakfast. Crunching the kernels as I bit my tongue and swallowed down all of the unhelpful utterances which sought to escape my now fully galvanized disposition directly into my empty kitchen.

Then I fixed the toilet, dried the clothes and called the electrician.

I waited for his prognosis, prepared for some massive problem that required immediate maintenance. An underlying error so monumental it was placing us all in peril and required a complete dismantling of the current system…but no.

Turns out, the breaker box was fine. All of the outlets were fine. All of the connections were solid. It was the wiring that was a little wacky. It had been laid long ago and all routed in a very unconventional way. Which worked for the most part, but on occasion, with just the right configuration of demands, overburdened the circuit. It happens in most households from time to time. So he put in a reset button.

According to him, no matter how screwy the wiring, if everything’s good overall and there’s no chance of getting burned, unless it’s driving you to drink, just go with it. Take a moment, unplug for a bit, then press reset.

Sound advice.

So, after he left. I took a moment and unplugged for a bit. Then I picked up my phone, called my husband and pressed reset.

— Laura Becker

Laura Becker is an essayist who currently resides in Redondo Beach with her screenwriting partner/husband. Born in Missouri. Raised in Kansas. Adolescence/young adulthood in Iowa, which, according to Walter Neft in Double Indemnity, makes her a native Californian. She writes, quips, muses and laughs about almost anything…almost.

The Barbie complex

Meg Myers MorganI had a parenting rule that no child of mine would ever own a Barbie.

This rule was grounded in the need for my child to understand that women very rarely have eyes that are bigger than their breasts, or thighs that are wider than their waists. And that most women can bend their arms and knees to accommodate tasks like hard-hitting journalism and rocket science.

Four years and two daughters into parenthood, I have never once bent this rule. But then, despite my best efforts, my whole parenting framework fell apart. Because of one ruthless and vicious infiltrator. Better known to some as “Nana.”

She took my oldest daughter Lowery to the store and let her pick out a toy. When she brought my daughter home, Lowery came running toward my open arms carrying none other than, a Barbie. Stripper Barbie. Complete with a skintight leather dress and glittery shoes that reeked of daddy issues.

When my eyes lifted from the doll to meet my mother’s gaze, I saw panic wash over her. “Oh,” she said, looking down. “I forgot about your Barbie rule.” Now, I feared, my child would grow up thinking women stand on their tip toes.

After a week of having Barb around, I began to feel as though perhaps just this one anatomically incorrect doll couldn’t possibly warp my daughter’s sense of self-worth. But then, when I picked Lowery up at school, I found a large, lumpy bag in her cubby. I opened it to see a lovely note from one of the teachers: “Dear Meg, these are my daughter’s old Barbies for Lowery. Enjoy!”

And under the thoughtful note was a tangle of perfectly tanned plastic limbs, peeking out through sparkly spandex and shiny hair.

That night, Lowery came downstairs with her arms filled with plastic.

“Play with me,” she said, as she handed me G.E.D. Barbie.

“I’ll play with you, Sweetie,” I responded. “But I won’t play Barbies.”

She looked hurt and confused. “But they are so fun to play with.”

“That may be,” I said. “But they aren’t realistic.”

“But mom…” Lowery sighed heavily. “They are just pretend.”

It was likely, I thought, that my child was out-maturing me in what was possibly a defining moment in my parenting. If she could grasp that Candy Striper Barbie and Pharmaceutical Sales Rep Barbie were just pretending to be attacked by a dinosaur, then she would probably realize their body shape was also a thing of make believe.

“And they have the cutest shoes!” she declared.

“Right there!” I stood up and threw my hands in the air. “That’s exactly what I’m worried about. These dolls are not a realistic depiction of what women can or should dress like! Have you ever tried walking in heels that high?!”

She looked at me, clearly confused, so I pushed on, forgetting I was talking with a four-year-old. “Lowery, I’m worried you will grow up thinking this is what women look like.” She looked at Barb for a long time. And then back at me. Then at Barb again.

“But, this is what you look like!” she exclaimed. “You look just like this doll! Your hair is the same color. Your skin is the same color. You look just like Barbie!”

I looked at her, looking back and forth between the Barbie and her mother, trying to find what exactly was different between us. And so, before she had the chance to figure it out, I got down on the floor next to her, grabbed a Barbie and said: “Let’s keep pretending.”

— Meg Myers Morgan

Dr. Meg Myers Morgan is an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma. She holds a Ph.D. and an MPA from the University of Oklahoma, and a degree in English and creative writing from Drury University. Meg is the author of Harebrained: It seemed like a good idea at the time. The book ranked in the Top 10 humorous books on Amazon, was awarded a gold medal in humor from the Independent Publishers Book Awards, and was recognized as a  Foreword Reviews “Book of the Year.” Her piece “Tabling the Discussion,” about female behavior in the classroom, was a cover story for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Based on the themes in her writing, she gave a TED Talk, “Negotiating for Your Life,” for TEDxOU in 2016. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her husband and their two strong-willed daughters.

5 ways to pass the time until 2020 Olympic swimming begins

Sammy SportfaceWe’re about four years away from when Tokyo holds the 2020 Summer Olympics swimming events.

Until then, what are swimming people supposed to do? Waste time? Get jobs? Take up scuba diving? Send tweets to Michael Phelps?

Four years can seem like forever. What’s the best way to pass the time until the splendid swimming extravaganza comes our way again?

Here are five ideas worth considering:

One: Go to It’s an Internet site. The Internet is pervasive and easily accessible.

Read about the 50 or so American swimmers who participated in the 2016 Games. Learn about the early years, hometowns and spouses (if applicable) of Anthony Ervin, Michael Phelps, Ryan Murphy, Maya Dirado, Ryan Held and David Plummer. Oh, and Katie Ledecky.

See what each of their Wikipedia pages says about each of them beyond the basic who, what, where, why and when. If you spot any errors, correct them. This is the beauty of Wikipedia. Anyone can update the text. Don’t be paranoid that Swimswam readers will go on the site to correct you. This is an iterative, crowdsourcing endeavor. Embrace it.

Read each entry out loud five times. Do this every night for the next 100 days. If you are off on any of these your name pronunciations, read it again.

Once finished reading, cut and paste all the pages into a single email. Send that email to In the body of your email type: “FYI in case you might need it for some investigative stories you’re working on.” Include this caveat: “I can’t be sure everything I’m sending is true, only the parts that I edited and am knowledgeable about.”

Two: Chase down Rowdy Gaines. If you don’t have his number, call Dan Hicks. When you reach Rowdy, tell him you want to set up a weekly Skype call with him, one-on-one, to talk about who he thinks are the up and comers around America who are going to be first-time Olympians competing for the gold in 2020. Assure him you won’t bother him at any other time as long as he commits to one-hour calls with you every week until August 2020.

Three: Follow Michael Phelps on Twitter. Every day set aside two hours to track his account. It will be exploding non-stop. Even if he’s not posting tweets, other people will be retweeting his stuff or “liking” it. Everybody likes Mike. They will be sending him questions, words of praise, and just joking around. Some may be killing time until the 2020 Olympics — like you. In this sense you may feel symbiosis with these swimming soulmates.

Four: Read Swimswam for two hours every day. You choose when. You may want to read it for an hour in the morning and an hour at night, or two hours in the morning and none at night, or none in the morning and two hours at night. Or feel free to read it more than two hours each day. Maybe set aside four hours of Swimswam on Sunday. Your call. Keep scrolling and navigating around the site. Loose yourself in the content like you do in a bookstore. Don’t worry about time. Let it pass. You want it to pass. Go. Go. Away from Rio, onward to Tokyo.

Five: Comment on Charles Hartley’s Swimswam blogs. He will respond to your comments, and you will respond to his, and on and on. The time you eat up doing this will seem to fly by because you will be engaged and enraged. You will feel such vitriol you won’t even realize that minutes and hours and days will have gone by commenting and re-commenting on his bodacious blogs. It will all go by like a dream.

When you wake up, the 2020 Summer Olympics swimming events will be here. You will be able to read all about them on

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to

What doesn’t hurt? Aging gracelessly

I have bursitis in my hipsAnn_Green

Arthritis in my back,

I’m both near- and far-sighted

And there’s some memory I lack.

There’s discomfort in my legs

Sometimes in my tummy,

And my lack of total recall

Make me feel that I’m a dummy.

My posture has seen better days,

I’m careful with my knees,

I limp on some occasions,

And always lose my keys.

I see my dermatologist

For a nasty, ugly itch.

I have so many doctors,

I can’t tell which is which.

My neuralgia travels all around

Wherever it hurts most.

I forget what I was cooking

And always burn the toast.

Computers confuse me,

Make me feel obsolete

Somedays I’m stiff all over,

And, oh, my aching feet!

I’m short and getting shorter,

Everything is sore.

What did you say your name is?

Did I forget to lock the door?

My kids say they don’t mumble,

That I have trouble hearing

I can’t really tell, and,

Oh, damn, I lost an earring.

Some say use the heating pad,

Some say to put on cold.

Sometimes both or neither,

At least I think that’s what I’m told.

As soon as it’s made legal

There’s one sure thing — I’m gonna

Get me a prescription

For medical marijuana.

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.

Why my plants hold their ears

Jan MarshallI heard plants are like people. They must be spoken to in a gentle manner.

I took elocution lessons from Ms. Manners. I enunciated every syllable. What did I get for my effort? Rotten roots, sagging stems and flaky foliage. My surviving plants don’t look great either.

I have spent a fortune on plants plus food for the plants and aspirin for me. Too much sun, not enough sun, overwatering or underwatering. Whatever the reason, many plants passed on.

A relative left me a rubber plant called a Ficus Decura, which was in our family for three generations and known as “the strongest of the ficus.

Thirty-six hours after it arrived in my home, it left for the rubber plantation in the sky. Perhaps it’s because one day in earshot of the Ficus I muttered, ”Geez, another mouth to feed.”

Could it have sensed my resentment?

Another time my Dieffenbachia wet the coffee table, and I admit I got angry and said a few choice words that required me to wash my mouth out with Tequilla. Sure enough, the thing wilted and died.

Then the Philodendron formed a fungus and was soon on its last leaf. Life, as you can see, was not a bed of roses. Next, the Creeping Charlie went, though slowly, and the Evergreen, now Puce, did not look well.

I’m embarrassed to tell you what I did. But I was desperate. I poured chicken soup in the soil. The plant seemed to rally. It said,”Oye! Oye! And then it was gone.

I bought more plants. This time I decided on complete honesty. I quoted Bronowski and said, “Nature is not mastered by force but by understanding.” I told them this worked both ways. I told them sometimes I would not feel like talking and they should respect that. I think I heard applause.

I felt much better after our chat. The pressure was off me to be sweetness and light all the time. They were  understanding. Except for the delicate Fern.

Once, after a particularly festive night and finding that my one silk plant had aphids, I let forth an expletive and Fern got the vapors and expired.

As for the few left, they love me for who I am — a kind, gentle, loving person. With our therapy sessions at Lowes, the rest now keep their opinions to themselves.

— 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.

What does it meme?

Melissa JablonskiI’ll tell you what makes me feel old. Every day, my teenage daughter shows me memes and I don’t understand them.

We’ve all seen them. Memes are small images with text on them that are all over the Internet. I suspect they are supposed to be funny because when she shows me one, she’s laughing out loud and looking for the same reaction from me. And I try to give her the reaction she’s looking for, I do try. But all I can manage is a look of confusion and a “Sorry sweetie, I don’t get it.”

I’ve learned that there are memes for just about everything including celebrities, shopping, politics, sports, school, bad days, short people, breakups and frogs. Frogs? Yes, there’s an entire line of frog memes. My daughter recently showed me a popular meme of a frog on a unicycle with the words, “dat boi,” written on it. She was laughing and I’m like, “huh?”

I know I’m not alone in my reaction to memes. When our daughter shows my husband a meme, he crinkles his brow, shakes his head and walks away. My daughter created a poll on her Twitter account asking her followers if their parents understand memes. The response was overwhelmingly “no.” So, I wonder, who takes the time to create memes? “We do,” my daughter says. And more importantly, why? “Because it’s fun,” she says. It is? Are there memes about not understanding memes? I might understand those.

A friend of my daughter’s recently told her that he noticed his mom using the word “meme” in casual conversations. She said that filled them both with hope. And my daughter is thrilled that I can now pronounce “meme” correctly. Though, I’m still disappointed that it’s not pronounced, “memay.” These are all steps toward embracing this meme generation but still not necessarily understanding the point of their memes.

While I was writing this, my daughter texted me many memes desperately trying to find one that I might relate to. She sent me a couple more of the frog memes. And still, “huh?” There were a few with her favorite band on them that went way over my head. And then, she sent me one of a picture of a woman cleaning and the words, “Cleaning with kids in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.” Finally, a meme I understand! A meme that made me laugh a little even if I still don’t see the point.

— Melissa Jablonowski

Melissa Jablonowski is a mother of two who doesn’t put all sarcasm aside as she tweets about it at here. She writes about midlife and motherhood.

Reflections of Erma