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The DIY PSA

Rachel BarlowThing1 is going to hit high school next fall, and, even in out-of-the-way Arlington, Vermont, stories of adolescent bacchanals fill most parents with dread.

Thing1 and I have talked about booze and consequences, but every once in a while I get an unexpected bit of help helping him resist temptation.

On the TV, little yellow minions were shepherding a dozen kinds of fruit down a conveyor belt into a jam-making vat. When the fruit hit the vat, the stars of Despicable Me2 began stomping the grapes and apples into jam. One of the minions got stuck in a jar on the way to the next step, and 7-year-old Thing2′s curiosity crested.

“Is that why the jam tastes so bad?” he asked.

“Because there’s a million kinds of fruit in one jar?” Thing1 asked looking for clarification.

“No, because they’re stepping on the fruit with their feet.”

“Maybe,” said Thing1.

“I think it’s the conveyor belt residue,” I said. Then I added, “Anyway, that’s how they still make wine some places.” Thing2 gave me a funny look.cartoon

“They step on it?” he asked. “Is that why wine tastes so bad?”

I was quiet for a moment and then said, “Ye-e-e-ss.” Thing1 doesn’t really like the taste of wine, but he was dubious about the source of the bad taste. Thing2 was quiet as he mulled over the science of wine making.

“So basically wine is just foot jam with water,” he said after a few more minutes of watching the movie quietly.

“Wow,” groaned Thing1. “I’ll never be able to get that thought out of my head when I look at a bottle of wine again.”

When my own stomach finished doing back flips over the thought that I’ve been drinking glorified fermented fruity foot-jam-juice with my pasta all these years, I gave Thing2 a quiet kiss on the head as Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ began to play on the TV screen.

— Rachel Barlow

Blogger Rachel Barlow describes herself as “a midlife crisis waiting to happen, closet nomad and middle-aged work-at-home-mother of two.” Her life is “wrapped up in peanut butter sandwiches, fat (sometimes losing it), bills and blogging (her) way to sanity.”

My diet came in like a wrecking ball

Linda RoyI’m riding atop a thousand pound wrecking ball wearing nothing but a pair of ginormous granny panties, Doc Martens and the smile I was born with.

Oh, and I’m jamming a Mars bar into my mouth as I swing precariously to and fro. Did I mention I’m just a tad overweight perched on this implement of destruction? To further underscore my girth, the chain begins to slowly break, one link at a time.  This does nothing, however, to deter the progress of the Mars bar consumption as this task is seen to completion commencing in finger licking and then…

CLANK…BANG!!!

I’m jolted to consciousness in the wee hours of the morning, the only thought crossing my mind is the question of how I can possibly get my hands on a Mars bar this early in the morning.

Yeah, I’ll admit. Maybe I’m a little stressed about the extra pounds I’ve put on. And yeah, perhaps I’m ūber sensitive to my over-40 body image status, what with the constant parade of taut 20somethings gracing the media lately. How dare they remind me I’m aging and can’t drop the last of the stubborn baby weight — seven years later?

My dream is my subconscience egging me to put down the chips and reach for a bar bell. As I type this, I should be at the gym on the treadmill watching Food Network.

Why can I not commit to a diet/exercise regimen and stick to it? For the love of all that is holy (like Swiss cheese and that fresh baked bread that you find big holes in, but it’s okay because if the butter falls through, you can still catch it with your tongue).

The truth is, I know exactly why I can’t commit. I’m stressed. I’m bored. The last three years were really rough. I’m on anti-depressants, I’m going through menopause and I like food. Okay? There, I said it.

Oh, and I’m lazy. I also spend countless hours parked on my tush typing away. And as much as I want to fit into those new jeans that I bought in a size too small because “Hey, I’m going to lose weight soon,” as good as it felt four whole years ago to be only a pound above my target weight, able to wear anything in my closet with confidence and to hear compliments from my husband and children instead of little jabs like “Better get that Twinkie before Mom does,” I still rationalize it all away. I tell myself that it could be worse.

But the truth of the matter is that I’m on the last belt loop. I tore my favorite jeans a few months ago. I’m choking myself trying to do the last button on my pants. I’m tired and grumpy and lacking in confidence. I have the potential to look better at my age and I’m squandering it. For what? Some jalapeño potato chips and a French dip? Oh, that sounds so good.

This ends today! Starting now I will recognize that the salty/sugary contraband in the cupboard is for the kids and is nothing but poison to me. I will cut the bread, cut the sugar, cut the crap. Literally. And I will exercise. That’s right. Ho ho, ho ho, it’s to the gym I go. Salad will be my closest ally.

And because I’m really serious…no more Food Network on the treadmill.

— Linda Roy

Linda Roy is a humorist/writer/musician living in New Jersey with her husband and two boys. Her blog elleroy was here is a mix of humor and music she likes to refer to as “funny with a soundtrack.” She is managing partner and editor-in-chief at the politics and pop culture website Lefty Pop, and she also writes and records a musical humor column at Funny Not Slutty.  She’s contributed to Aiming Low,  Sprocket Ink, In the Powder RoomMamapediaBonbon BreakThe Weeklings and Earth Hertz Records.  She’s thrilled to have been selected as a BlogHer Voice Of the Year for 2014. When she’s not snarking and kvetching, she’s fronting the Indie/Americana band Jehova Waitresses and being social at TwitterFacebookPinterestGoogle+ and Bloglovin’.

Pomp in uncertain circumstances

Dan Zevin(Reposted by permission of author Dan Zevin. This piece appeared in The Huffington Post on May 22, 2014, and on Cognoscenti on May 21, 2014.)

Salutations and good tidings to the class of 2014. Today is a day to be met with youthful enthusiasm, steadfast commitment and powerful anti-anxiety medication. For today you stand poised on the precipice of Mount Tomorrow, searching for pomp in uncertain circumstances.

My friends, I feel your pain.

Long ago, I was much like you: a nervous young graduate forced to appear in public wearing a humiliating cap-and-gown ensemble. What the real world had in store for me, I did not know.

And yet, I persevered, learning the hard way the skills one needs to succeed. And now, as you approach the Starting Gate of Possibility, it is my honor to pass you the torch. Let the other commencement addressers puff you up with their pie-in-the-sky platitudes. I am here to dispense inspiration you will find far more useful.

As you set forth to negotiate the serpentine twists of your career path, you may occasionally find yourselves lost, confused, searching for a way to convince potential employers that your past jobs were vastly more professional than they actually were. It is at these junctures that I urge you to remember the impressive SAT words you memorized to get into college, and to apply them to your résumé.

Allow me to provide an uplifting yet fictionalized personal anecdote, a technique I have borrowed from my commencement-addressing colleagues. Many years ago, I spent an afternoon filing invoices at my father’s office. Here is how that career appears on my résumé: principal alphabetizing-systems-implementation liaison.

Another question you are asking yourselves as you come to the Crossroads of Potential is, “Where will I be after college?” To you I say this: you will be in an apartment with more roommates than rooms. But as you take that titan step from dorm to dump, do not settle for the first dump you see. Look at many dumps, and in time, you will find that special dump that suits your needs. This is because the more you look, the fewer needs you’ll realize you have. For here at the Tollbooth on Independence Turnpike, you do not need a microwave oven or a flat screen, internet-ready, high-definition television. You simply need a roommate who already owns these things.

Perhaps there is another question you are asking yourselves as you dive into the deep end of your destiny: “How will I adjust to life after college?” I will tell you how: by having a drink. Graduates, you heard that correctly. I said “a” drink. Singular. One. Of the myriad challenges that await you beyond these hallowed halls, the toughest of all will be that traumatic transition from keg to cocktail. I will not kid you by pretending it will be easy, for change never is. But I will assure you of this: in the years that lie ahead, the idea of drinking warm beer foam out a rubber hose connected to a garbage can will lose a certain amount of allure. And when it does, I am confident that you will rise to the occasion. For you are a generation of achievers.  Soon you’ll be achieving with one stiff cocktail what used to take half a keg to achieve.

In conclusion, I would not be doing my job as a commencement speaker if I did not leave you with some useful pearls of wisdom about the World That Is Your Oyster.

1.    When in doubt, choose a career the same way you chose your college major: according to which ones start latest in the afternoon.

2.    When reading classified apartment ads on Craigslist, remember that “fireplace” usually means “a place that was (or is) on fire.”

3.    Moving back into your parents’ house is an excellent idea as long as you move your parents out first.

4.    Treat your search for a perfect mate the same way you treat your search for a perfect job: lower your standards.

5.    Above all else, keep two very important words in mind as you leave the Sheltered Shores of Scholarship to enter this strange new world — a world where the calendar no longer revolves in cycles beginning in September and ending in May; a world where you are expected to wake up each day before the sun sets; a world where job attendance is mandatory. Those two words, my young friends, are these: graduate school.

— Dan Zevin

Dan Zevin, the 2013 winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, served on the faculty at the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. His latest book, Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, along with his previous one, The Day I Turned Uncool, have been optioned by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. He has followed his readers through each phase of life, from post-college coping (Entry-Level Life) to tying the knot (The Nearly-wed Handbook) to developing a disturbing new interest in lawn care and wine tastings (Uncool). And that was all before he had kids.

I love not camping

Abby-Heugel-228x300Spring has sprung, which means many people will be packing up to go camping in the coming weeks. I will not be one of them, as I do not camp.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the outdoors and worship the sun and nature. And while I’m not high-maintenance, I don’t find appeal in sleeping on the ground in a tent pretending I’m homeless.

But despite the tent aversion, I do have a bit of camping experience.

When I was younger, we had a trailer up north that we spent a good deal of time at in the summer. It was a decent-sized rig with a shower, small kitchen, deck, etc., but it was still a trailer.

I fished, shot my bow and arrow (not at anything living, at least not on purpose), tore around on the 4-wheeler and hit the lake with the inflatable alligator before coming back to nighttime campfires, Cribbage games and attempts to attract bats by throwing random crap up in the air by the park lights.

I was young, and other than the fact that I rolled out of the top bunk of triple bunk beds — a bed rail was quickly installed — I had no real complaints. Now that I’m older and (questionably) wiser, I would have many complaints, which is why I don’t even attempt to pretend to want to camp.

Why someone would want to leave indoor plumbing and decent food and increase the likelihood of contracting mosquito malaria, dirt-covered food and being attacked by a baby deer in the woods is beyond me?*

*Of course, to each their own (disclaimer so campers don’t get pissed, although if they’re camping, they shouldn’t have access to Wi-Fi.)

But for those who enjoy camping and would like to recreate this experience at home, I have a few suggestions:

• Hang your clothes over a wood fire to get that signature smell, the one that will hopefully cover up the other signature smell of musty dampness.

• While you’re over the fire, singe your eyelashes and grab a hot poker to recreate the experience of starting the fire and attempting to roast anything with a metal stick.

• Scald the skin on the roof of your mouth in an attempt to eat whatever it is you were trying to roast that didn’t fall into the flame.

• Hover — a lot — and get used to swatting bugs with one hand while wiping with the other. This takes skill, which is why you will most likely find yourself pissing on your own leg (hey, you wanted to go camping.)

• Pour sand directly into the bottom of your bathing suit and any exposed crack or opening in your body. If a lake is nearby, also include seaweed.

• If you feel like getting fancy, spray yourself with a water bottle to recreate the (lack of) water pressure trailer showers provide. Forget about washing your hair (this is actually a positive in my book).

• Plant families of the loudest bugs on the planet in your backyard directly next to your window. If available, add in the mating calls of mystery creatures you’re sure are rabid and hunting you down.

• Roll your meals in damp dirt.

• Roll your clothes in damp dirt.

• Roll yourself in damp dirt.

So for those of you starting your camping season soon, may the force be with you. I plan on working in the yard a bit, reading and enjoying the luxury of warm showers, good food I didn’t have to catch and a few good baseball games.

I love not camping.

— Abby Heugel

Abby Heugel is a professional writer and editor of trade publications for employment, but a neurotic humor writer the rest of the time for enjoyment. She runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.

The importance of eyebrows

janie3-214x300So, the other day, I looked down and wondered whose hands were those attached to my wrists. They looked too dry and wrinkly to be mine. They reminded me of my grandmother. Well, she was a hard-working woman. Having her hands might not be such a bad thing.

Then I looked at myself in the mirror. And I realized that my teeth weren’t exactly in the same place as they were yesterday. But my smile is still a good one.

And my ears. Well, let’s just say, I knew from family photos, that this particular part of my body would someday get larger.

In fact, it seems that the entire landscape of my face is experiencing a shift in its foundation. From a geological point of view, I’m having eruptions (old age spots) floods (eye leakage) and quakes resulting in new fault lines everyday.

Most of these changes I expected and can deal with.

But the other day, I discovered something quite unexpected.

I took off my glasses. Something was missing. I leaned closer to the mirror. And closer still. Until my nose pressed against the cool surface. Yes, this particular part of my anatomy had vanished.

My eyebrows!

Where there should have been a nicely shaped arch covering the length of my eye and beyond, there was this little apostrophe. Just hanging there. Like it actually belonged on my face.

When did this happen? I have a ton of hair. On my head. Under my arms. Sneaking out from my bathing suit bottoms. Even some very unwanted hairs above my upper lip.

So why had my eyebrows gone missing?

I thought about all those wonderful adjectives associated with one’s brows, words used  to describe feelings and  emotions.

Sadness:  Her eyebrows dipped inward.

Confusion:  His bushy eyebrows crinkled.

Determination:  Her eyebrows, straight as a ruler, told me she played by the book.

Flirty:  He lifted one eyebrow and winked at me.

Eyebrows scrunch, gather, stray, lift, sag. They are an important part of our face.

I couldn’t help but stare at myself.

I was totally shocked.

But, of course, you couldn’t tell by looking at me. Because I no longer have eyebrows to raise in surprise.

— Janie Emaus

Janie Emaus believes that when the world is falling apart, we’re just one laugh away from putting it together again. She is the author of the time travel romance, Before the After, and the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. She has an essay in the best-selling humor anthology, You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth and is proud have been named a 2013 BlogHer Voice of the Year. To read more of Janie’s humor, you can find her every week In The Powder Room. To learn more about her crazy life, visit her website www.JanieEmaus.com.

Color me amused

Rosie SorensonJust when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes the New-New trend: Gray hair on 20-somethings. Put there not by Mother Nature but by hairdressers at the request of their young female clients. On purpose!

According to hairstylist, Amber Jahn, interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle, “A gray streak is Cred — it’s exhilarating; it’s something new.” As my Midwestern grandmother would say, “Well, if that don’t beat all.”

This new fad sounds a tad ridiculous to us Boomers who have been forever coloring away the gray that kids now think is hot. I’ve had blonde highlights for many years and can tell you unequivocally, that even though there’s some gray in there, I’m not feeling the Cred.

Crud, perhaps, but definitely not Cred.

What’s next for these young people with too much money and too much free time?  Professionally applied, artificial wrinkles? Silicone turkey waddles? Spider vein tattoos? Have at it, kids.

And as long as you’re searching for Cred, how about tossing in a few faux night sweats, a bit of insomnia and some lovely bloating? Those would give you enough Cred to last a lifetime, or at least until you pass through menopause, at which time you can rail against your own daughter for wanting to be so different. So unique. So not.

And, as if that’s not ridiculous enough —

Researchers at Brigham Young University discovered that when shopping in high heels, women were less likely to overspend. The higher the heel, the more cautious the spender. The researchers reasoned that having to concentrate on one’s balance might trick the brain into making more “balanced” decisions. Indeed, participants who were asked to stand on one foot were more likely to buy a mid-priced TV.

I’m sure this has not been lost on the good folks at Best Buy. Soon, they will ban from their stores all women wearing high heels. Signs will be posted: “Sneakers Only! Violators Will Be Prosecuted.” Lawsuits claiming discrimination will follow. This must be covered somewhere in the Constitution. Surely our forefathers thought ahead to the time when our land would be dotted with women shod in Jimmy Choos.

But, the upside could be huge. Picture, if you will, all members of Congress wearing custom-fitted stilettos. Don’t you think John Boehner would look especially dapper in pink Kate Spades, standing on one foot on the floor of the House crying, “No, No! We can no longer afford those tax breaks for Exxon and the top 1% — we must be balanced!”?

Ah, research — it’s not just for scientists any more.

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

One size fits none

Marcia Kester DoyleI hate clothes shopping, which explains why I’ve never been accused of being a fashionista. It also explains why my daughters always call first to ask what I’m wearing before they bring their friends over to the house.

Shopping is a miserable way for me to spend a day, but when my underwear drawer looks like it’s been attacked by hungry moths, I know it’s time to hit the mall.

After birthing four babies by C-section and sweating my way through menopausal hell, having a root canal is preferable to me than clothes shopping. I might enjoy it more if I was 25 pounds lighter, but shopping isn’t fun when I’m forced to skip the petite section in favor of the Orca department where everything comes in black, white or shower curtain pattern.

My husband often accompanies me during my clothes hunting expeditions because he is: (A) Bored with all 500 cable channels (B) Needs to replenish his tube sock collection or (C) Wants to make sure I don’t spend all my cash on animal print house dresses and takeout from the Burger Barn. Normally he’s pretty helpful while I scan the aisles for something I can squeeze into. It’s always a challenge to find an outfit that doesn’t leave me looking like the exploding dough from a Pillsbury Crescent Roll tube.

While I’m on the other side of the store pondering zippers v.s. elastic waistbands, my husband feels no shame in shouting across the room for everyone to hear:

“Honey, can you still fit in an XL?”

“Hey Babe, you want those jeans with a control top panel, right?”

I try to be frugal while I shop, but by the time I hit the clearance section, there are only two clothing sizes left on the racks — hummingbird or mastodon.

Once I’m able to find a dress that doesn’t resemble a large paint tarp, I head for the dreaded dressing room. It’s always at this moment that I wish I lived in the 1500s where everyone bought one-size-fit-all clothing from Dirty-Smocks-R-Us and dressed by dim candlelight to mask the effects of a meat and potato diet.

Another reason I dread entering the dressing rooms is because there are some shoppers who use these cubicles for more than just trying on clothes. How do I know this? Several of my children worked in major department stores during their high school years and shared a few nightmare tales that have scarred me for life. These popular stores should consider posting signs so that paranoid people like me don’t have to worry about stepping into DNA samples left by the previous occupants. Simple signs that would be helpful, such as: “FECAL FREE ZONE” or “MOTEL 6 IS DOWN THE STREET …..THEY’LL LEAVE A LIGHT ON FOR YOU!”

It never fails that by the time I get to the checkout counter, the angry woman in front of me with three returns and a missing receipt was once the president of her high school debate team. My eye starts to twitch the moment she engages in refund warfare with the young girl behind the cash register. Obviously neither one of these women knows I’m two hours late getting home to walk a dog known for bouts of IBS. That’s one “WELCOME HOME” surprise I can do without.

Along with the shopping spree comes the daunting task of cleaning out the old clothes to make room for the new. I’m a firm believer in recycling and have found some creative ways to repurpose my granny panties with a needle and thread. By sewing them together, I can make an outdoor patio umbrella, a tent for camping trips or an heirloom quilt for the grandkids. Pinterest has nothing on me.

The reality is that when I try on the new clothes at home, they don’t look as good on me as they did in the dressing room. I’m convinced that department stores use trick mirrors so that every woman appears as shapely as an hour glass. When I get home and look in my own mirror, all I see is a pear dressed up in a shower curtain.

Chances are I’ll be returning my one-size-fits-none clothing to the mall — but only after a quick stop at the Burger Barn.

— Marcia Kester Doyle

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humorous blog “Menopausal Mother,” where she muses on the good, the bad and the ugly side of menopausal mayhem. She is a staff writer for In The Powder Room and HumorOutcasts.com and a contributing writer for What the Flicka. Her work recently captured first place in VoiceBoks Top Hilarious Parent Bloggers 2014, and her first book will be released in the spring through Blue Lobster Publishing. Marcia’s work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, Bloggy Moms, Messy Mom’s Radio, The Woven Press, the Life Well Blogged series and was voted Top 25 in the Circle Of Mom’s Contest 2013. In 2014, she was named a Blogher Voice Of The Year.

Back in the saddle

Barbara ScharfenbergEvery family really should take a nice, long road trip.

We decided to drive from our home state of Minnesota to Yellowstone National Park. This trip posed fear factors for each of us. First, there was no television or Internet, and our twin sons were certain they would perish from lack of electronics. Just the fact that we were all in a van together was enough to send our teenage daughter right over the edge.

There was the strong scent of sulfur in the air at Old Faithful, no fast food and when it got dark at night, you had to go to bed. Even if it was only 9 p.m. My husband, Steve, was so encouraging of this trip. “It will be so much fun,” he said. “An adventure we’ll always remember,” he said.

Steve wanted to go horseback riding while we were there. He had researched the corral and made all the arrangements. Our three children were over the moon. I was glad to be horseback riding. I hadn’t been for many years but was willing to get back in the saddle again. Steve was pretty happy to see us so excited. The trail boss explained where we would be riding, that the horses knew the trail and to just relax and enjoy the ride. And, oh…we would be gone for about 90 minutes. We were each paired with beautiful, laid-back horses. Steve, however, was given a Clydesdale named Mandan. Mind you, Steve has a 30″ inseam. He cannot flex at the hip and his legs do not bend. Sometimes when he sits down, his legs go out in a “V” like an old Barbie doll. He hasn’t tied his own shoes or put on socks in over 8 years. Now he was basically straddling an animal with a girth of a covered wagon.

He was at the end of the line on this gigantic workhorse. He was no longer smiling. Mandan didn’t understand English. Mandan liked to back up instead of go forward. Mandan didn’t want to stay on the trail and he didn’t care if his rider was horrified. Mandan was a very naughty horse.

As we all proceeded on our trail ride, it was just the sound of the breeze and the rustle of the grasses. It was beautiful. The kids loved the natural setting and being in one of the most wonderful places on the planet. Quite a way behind me all I heard was Steve yelling, “MANDAN!” I was certain he was struggling. We were only 30 minutes into the ride.

At one point I looked back at Steve. His lips were white. He was sweating. His face was twisted in a comical grimace. “Oh, my gosh are you alright? Steve, are you having a heart attack?” I asked. “My. Legs. So much pain,” was all he managed to squeak. I asked in jest if he was still having fun. All I got was attitude. Steve eventually was helped off the workhorse. He limped the rest of the trail, chewed a handful of Advil in the parking lot and had two stiff gin and tonics at the hotel. It was a great day.

Our next day adventure was a raft ride. My fear of water was about to surface. I told Steve I would be ok because “it’s not like we’re going down the Snake River, right?”

“Well, actually it IS the Snake River,” Steve said with a grin. “It will be so much fun” he said. “An adventure we’ll always remember” he said.  And that it was.

— Barbara Scharfenberg

Barbara Scharfenberg is a professional stay-at-home mother. She remembers fondly how her own mom howled at the stories of Erma Bombeck and tries to evoke the same reaction with her writing. She resides in a small town west of Minneapolis, Minn. Her college-age daughter, twin teenage sons, husband and beloved Schnauzer provide her with great fodder. Her daily quips and snippets about real-life events can be read on her Facebook page www.facebook.com/BarbisBarb.

Reflections of Erma