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The gift that cannot be regifted

Traditionally, people did not take down Christmas trees and other decorations until after the first Sunday in Epiphany, which this year would be Jan. 8, but nowadays we begin to see Christmas trees out on the curb on December 26.

Christmas is over; it is time to put the gifts away or return them or exchange them. And then comes the regifting. I don’t know about you, but I confess that I usually make three piles for my Christmas gifts: keep, return, regift. (Did you know that there is even a National Regifting Day — an annual observance held each year on the Thursday before Christmas? Who knew?).

I recently looked up on the Emily Post Institute website to find the protocols for receiving gifts. Rule number one on Ms. Post’s list is that when you open a gift in the presence of the giver is to thank the person enthusiastically. Even if the present is the last thing you wanted, thank the giver for his or her thoughtfulness, drawing on the actor in you to mask any disappointment. Be pleasant but non-committal, saying something like: “It’s so nice of you to think of me!” or “What a creative choice!” Or my personal favorite: “Oh my, you shouldn’t have; no, really you shouldn’t have.”

Last year, as I sorted my gifts into the requisite three piles and, much to my surprise, I only had one gift in the regift pile: a very, very expensive gift from someone who has been the bane of my existence. I was holding in my hands this very beautiful gift that had never been used (I know this because the return receipt was tucked inside with the PRICE of the gift clearly listed). Trust me; I did not want this gift from that person.

At Christmas dinner, I had a chance to chat with one of my family “aunties.” I told my auntie about the gift and about the giver and how I planned to either donate it to the Salvation Army or to Goodwill or perhaps to even re-gift it.

Auntie leaned over and looking me dead in the eye, said, “You can’t give away that gift. That was a gift asking for forgiveness; it was a gift of atonement. You have to keep that gift.”

Keep the gift?! Why, I don’t think I even want that gift in my house!!! And I told my auntie as much, to which she replied with a knowing smile, “Well, it’s a good thing you aren’t God then, isn’t it?”

Wow! God? The God who forgives me every day — often times more than once a day — who never turns me away? That God? Yet there I was, ready to regift a gift that can be neither returned nor regifted: the gift of love, of mercy, of grace, and of forgiveness.

Let me confess right here that I did not keep the very expensive and unexpected gift I received from my nemesis. But just so you know, per Emily Post, I did send the giver a very profuse and genuine handwritten note of thanks. And because I already had this same gift item and did not need it, again according to Emily Post, I could give it to someone else if : 1) I told the person that I already have one and, very importantly; 2) it was not gift wrapped.

Maya Angelou once wrote, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Yes, that unwanted, extravagant gift I received last Christmas turned out to be one of the best gifts I have ever received because it gave me an opportunity to remember that there is one gift that can never be regifted.

— Westina Matthews

Westina Matthews is an author, public speaker, retreat leader, professor and a contemplative spiritual director. A tiny mustard seed motivates Westina who has found a way to connect with others through a series of poignant spiritual books, essays, reflections and her teaching. After residing in New York City for more than 30 years, she is now writing along the banks of the Wilmington River in Savannah, Georgia.

Cure for the common cold

On New Year’s Eve, with no bubbly in sight, my husband started hiccuping, or hiccoughing as he would spell it. Uh oh, I thought, he’s getting a cold.

I dosed him with vitamin C in the form of Clementines, cups of sweet, hot tea and homemade elderberry cough syrup. He grimaced and muttered at all my attempts, so I gave up and went to bed. Later, I was awakened from a sound sleep by a cacaphonus hiccup accompanied by an echoing, hacking cough. “Arrrrgh-h-h-h!” I groaned.

“Sorry,” he whispered. He always attempts to be very quiet so as not to wake me. He twisted and yanked at the covers and  finally settled onto his side. “HUH-HUHH-CK,” he said. “Sorry.”

He was asleep instantly, but the staccato sounds continued. I pulled my pillow over my head. “Try holding your breath.”

“Why?”

“To stop your hiccups,” I said, though from experience I knew it would not.

He didn’t even try. The bursts continued until I suggested that he might sleep better if he went into the other bedroom.

“Why would I sleep better there?”

“Because I won’t poke you all night!”

He clomped down the hall and I drifted to sleep. I knew I hadn’t handled that well, but, I rationalized, no one dies from hiccups.

Later still, Peter got up to use the bathroom, but forgot he was sleeping in the guest room. He returned to our bed, grabbed for the covers but instead got my arm which I’d flung across to his side. Both of us yelped. “What are you doing?” I said.

“Coming back to bed…I thought you were sleeping in the other room…”

“No, you were!” He plodded back down the hall.

Sunday morning, froggy-voiced, weepy-eyed, drippy-nosed and still hiccuping, he croaked, “Good morning.” His voice was in the basement.

“How do you feel?” I asked. He patted himself all over and grinned. I rolled my eyes. That’s always his answer to my how-do-you-feel question.

His symptoms continue to this moment. He’s in the next room watching television, hacking and sniffling and still hiccuping endlessly. When I asked how his cold was this morning, he shook his head and said indignantly, “Cold? I don’t have a cold. Sneezing a bit, that’s all.” He coughed hard enough to untie his shoes and knock his socks off.

And that, Readers, is how I discovered the cure for the common cold, at least at our house. Dementia, dementia, that’s the cure. Peter insists he is not sick, does not have a cold or a cough or a hiccough. Since he doesn’t have a cold, there’s nothing for me to catch.

Knocks the achoo right out of the Kleenex factory, doesn’t it?

— 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). She placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2016 writing competition, in the category of online, blog, multimedia under 100,000 unique visitors. This essay originally appeared on her Dementia Isn’t Funny blog.

This Gift is Personal: Bombecks Donate $20,000; Campaign Tops $60,000

Some of the biggest enthusiasts of the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop have a heartfelt reason for supporting the workshop’s endowment fund.

To the Bombeck family, Erma’s legacy is personal.

That’s why they’ve made a $20,000 gift through the Arizona Community Foundation as part of the workshop’s first major fundraising campaign.

“The University of Dayton, and now the Writers’ Workshop, are both a part of our mom’s legacy.  What better way to honor her then to help support writers from across the country to learn, to laugh and be inspired,” said Matt Bombeck, Erma’s son and a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

After the workshop received a $20,000 challenge gift from an anonymous donor this fall, organizers launched a drive to match it. To date, without final yearend gifts tallied, the Bombecks and other supporters have stepped forward to more than meet that challenge.

The campaign’s unofficial $61,000 total includes a five-year $5,000 pledge from Vicki Giambrone ‘81, former president of the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association who helped launch the inaugural workshop, and a $2,520 contribution from the University’s communication department, which co-sponsors the event. Other major gifts included a $2,500 donation from Bob Daley ’55, a retired journalist and communications professional who’s helped plan every workshop, and $2,000 from novelist/comedy writer Anna Lefler, an EBWW faculty member. Other gifts ranged from $1,000 to $10.

All funds will be used to help keep the nationally renowned workshop affordable for writers and support programming.

“We’re so grateful to all of our supporters and offer a special thanks to the Bombeck family for their generous show of faith in the workshop we started together in 2000. Their devotion to sustaining Erma’s legacy is inspiring. The family’s presence at every workshop reminds us that this is a legacy worth preserving,” said Teri Rizvi, founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Rizvi expressed appreciation to the major donors and the approximately 100 writers, faculty, keynoters and friends of the workshop who stepped forward to support the workshop: “I’m thankful for their belief in the power of this workshop to inspire and encourage writers. Erma found that same inspiration and encouragement while a student at the University of Dayton, where she first heard three life-changing words from her English professor, ‘You can write!’”

On #GivingTuesday — an international day of philanthropy on Nov. 29 — nearly 50 writers-turned-social media champions jumped into action with donations, words of support and creative #UNselfies. Here’s a sampling of some of their reasons for supporting the campaign:

• “Gratefully paying it forward for the tremendous gift that Erma Bombeck and her family gave me!” — Mary Kay Fleming

• “I support the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop because it literally changed my life. I’m a better person — creatively, spiritually, personally — not only because of the education, but because of the friends I’ve made at EBWW.” — Joanne Keltz Brokaw

• “I got my start at EBWW!!” — Tracy Beckerman

• “Thanks EBWW for helping me internalize the words — You can write!” — Becky Koop

• “I’m proud to donate to EBWW! The world needs as much quality humor as it can get!” — Anna Lefler

• “EBWW helped me find my funny.” — Kate Mayer

• “The writer in me came out @EBWW! Thank you!” — Astra Groskaufmanis

• “Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will improve your writing, and your life.” — Amy Sherman

• “Erma gave Moms a voice and her EBWW legacy gives writers a pathway to shine on in her memory.” — Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

• “I support EBWW because it is three days of laughter, learning and loads of inspiration.” — Christy Heitger-Ewing

In 2004, University of Dayton alumnus Ralph Hamberg and his wife Cindy gave a $100,000 gift to start a workshop endowment fund in memory of her cousin, Brother Tom Price, S.M., the English professor who launched Erma’s career with three simple words of encouragement. The Hamberg family, the Bombeck family, workshop faculty members, volunteers, writers and other supporters continue to contribute to the endowment fund. In 2015, actress and playwright Mary Lou Quinlan brought her one-woman show, “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story,” to campus for two benefit performances for the endowment. That effort raised nearly $33,000.

The University of Dayton’s Alumni Association underwrites the cost of scholarships that allow between 25 and 30 University of Dayton students to attend the workshop for free. The University of Dayton’s Human Resources Office provides 10 scholarships for faculty and staff.

The next workshop is slated for April 5-7, 2018.

Seeking Great Teachers
Who Inspire Great Writing

We’re seeking top-notch faculty and session ideas for the 2018 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Deadline for proposals is April 10, 2017, with prospective faculty notified by June 15 if their sessions have been selected. To submit a proposal, click on Call for Faculty Proposals, fill out the form and email it to erma@udayton.edu.

The vast majority of writers surveyed after the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop told us they loved it, but a number said they’d appreciate a greater focus on the craft of writing. They appreciated the addition of tracks for beginners and more established writers. Others requested tips on how to navigate the myriad ways available to publish and market your writing today.

Among the hundreds of helpful write-in survey comments: “My favorite sessions were the ones where we wrote and shared. I’d love more writing,” one said.

“I’ll bet more people attend to learn more about publishing their work than anything else,” another writer observed.

Attendees want to learn from high-quality, experienced faculty. “The quality of the speakers was fantastic. Continue bringing in the ‘big guns.’ Saturday Night Live writers, screenwriters, comedy writers — loved it,” one wrote.

Many writers praised the workshop’s ambiance. We are committed to maintaining the workshop’s supportive atmosphere for writers from all levels of experience.

“I left inspired, uplifted, much more knowledgeable about writing and life, and spiritually enriched,” one told us. “The organizers set the tone of affirmation, support, intelligence, laughter and talent. The weekend was Ermafied in bringing us together as writing kindred spirits,” wrote another.

“I’ve been to other conferences that were overwhelming (too much going on, no time to absorb) and/or discouraging, with “experts” in the field who repeatedly tell you the chances of being successful are slim to none. EBWW was fun, encouraging and empowering (and, of course, hilarious). I left feeling that ‘I can write.’

If you’re an established writer and teacher with an enthusiasm for helping others become stronger writers, we’d love to hear from you. The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be held April 5-7, 2018, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. It’s the only workshop in the country devoted to the craft of humor and human interest writing.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she serves as executive director of strategic communications.

Late again

Get this — I wake up to the calm daybreak, the warmth of my heater and my cat meowing into my face. Whoa. That shouldn’t be. Why is it so light out at 3 a.m.?

Darn it! My alarm didn’t go off! I’m late again! I spring out of bed and hurl the covers off as my poor cat goes flying into the wall. I’m so discombobulated!

What day is it? I don’t know where the door is. I’m in the closet trying to find the doorknob. I’m in such a panic! Okay, what day is it? I ask myself again. I run in to take my shower, but I don’t have time. I’ll just pull my hair back, wash the top and rinse my face. I brush my teeth rapidly, slopping toothpaste all over the mirror as the cap goes flying off into the toilet. I throw on some clothes. Nope. I can’t stop to look for socks. I’ll just carry my shoes out with me.

Dammit! It snowed! Welp. I don’t have time to warm the car up so I skate in my bare feet, open the door, start the car and back out of the driveway purely by faith. I can’t see a thing.

Man are my feet cold! I spray my windshield with wiper fluid — after all, it’s sort of an antifreeze isn’t it? Now the ice is just blurry. My windshield wipers are stuck to the window, so all I can hear is the motor trying to free them. I figure I’ll drive really fast to make the antifreeze dry. As I slide down to the end of the street, I can just start to see out of the tiny circle my heater has created on my windshield. My frozen hair ‘cracks’ as I turn my head to open my window. That’s the way I remove the snow when I don’t have time. I just unroll it, then roll it back up before the snow forms a big heap at the bottom and falls back into the car.

Whew. I made it! I’m finally at work. I get out of the car, put my shoes on — one black, one brown — and stumble up to the door. There’s nobody here but the cleaning woman who informs me it’s Sunday.

— Mari’ Emeraude

This essay is an excerpt from Mari Emeraude’s book, Your Face Will Freeze Like That and other stuff mom told us. Visit her author page here.

Coffee in the keyboard:
Why you should never lie

A few years ago my former employer sent me to an off-site computer training course. It had been a long time since I was a student, and I was excited about the chance to learn, but the class started significantly earlier than my normal work day so I was only half awake and carrying a to-go bucket of coffee that first morning when I walked into our classroom.

I was one of the first students there and the instructor grinned happily at me and shook my hand, but I pushed past him with the slightest of smiles. Nothing personal, I said with my eyes, I just had to hurry to grab the highly sought after but still open introvert seat: the one in the back corner, farthest from the instructor.

He was a big guy, tall and thick and red-faced but friendly and clearly — unlike me — at home up there in front of a crowd. He was wearing a suit and a tie but didn’t seem too psyched about that, pulling at the tie and at his pants in a way that reminded me uncannily (and quite fondly) of Chris Farley in those old down-by-the-river SNL skits.

I claimed my seat, setting my bag down and draping my coat over the chair.  I was about to set my coffee-bucket down in the center of the work station when I saw it. Taped to the computer was a sign; or more specifically a sticky note upon which someone had scribbled “no food or drink please!” with the dot part of the exclamation point a little smiley face. I looked from my coffee-bucket to the sign, and back again, like a sleepy spectator at a morality tennis match. I was a rule follower. More accurately, I was a back corner lurker who didn’t want to attract attention to herself.

BUT I WAS SO TIRED, I rationalized, clinging to my coffee the way my children now cling to their blankies. And surely they weren’t targeting the likes of me, a reasonable minded coffee drinker, with this hastily scribbled sign? And further, could we really even call it a “sign”? Post it notes were not the medium people chose to deliver important rules. God did not have Moses scribble the commandments on a Post it note. For all I knew this was left here by the last person who sat in the introvert seat. Yes! Maybe she had been struggling to stick to her diet and needed a visual reminder, and this post it was more a sad forgotten remnant than a stern warning.

Maybe I should ask the instructor.

“Coffee? Oh yes of course. Drink up, sister!” I imagined the Chris Farley  look-alike saying. And then we would clink our mugs together and nod knowingly at each other and be forever fast friends. Except no, because I was really far away from him back in the corner and he either didn’t hear me when I mumbled, “Is this cool?” into my scarf and  pointed in the general direction of my coffee bucket or, more likely, he let his complete absence of reaction to me be his (affirmative) answer.

Then these three things happened, in this order and all within the next 30 seconds:

1. I smugly and defiantly sipped my coffee.

2. My new bestie started class.

3. I spilled my coffee.

Oh and it went everywhere, pooling on the desk in front of me and dripping into my lap and down my legs. I looked around the class, panicked, trying to gauge if anyone had seen, but no one was paying attention. I realized that really only my head was visible to them anyway, the rest of my body obstructed from view by the computer monitor I sat behind and the desk it sat on. If I continued to look very, very engaged in the instructor’s lecture, I decided, I could probably clean this up without anyone ever knowing. So I gritted my teeth against the burns on my legs, locked my eyes maniacally onto the instructor, and quick unwrapped my scarf from around my neck so I could use it to sop up the puddles.

When I was done — and without breaking my focus on the instructor, who had started to sweat and look a little uncomfortable like my eyes might bore holes into his forehead — I shoved the wet scarf and the now empty bucket into my bag and settled back into my chair, fully prepared to never acknowledge that this had even happened to anyone, ever.

And then I realized my keyboard wasn’t working right. In fact, it wasn’t working at all, despite my increasingly desperate attempts to get it to respond to my violent finger-stabbing. The instructor saw me struggling and came over, poised for action. “My keyboard seems to have stopped working,” I explained, throwing my hands up lamely.

It all happened so fast after that. I must have blinked, and when my eyes opened he had dropped onto the floor and crawled under the desk by my legs. For one very confusing moment I remembered how I used to have a boyfriend in middle school who sometimes would sit under the lunch table and hold my legs while I ate, and I wondered if the instructor had taken my unwavering eye contact as something more than it really had been.

“What are you doing there, buddy?” I bent and whispered to him. No sense embarrassing the sweet guy. After all, I had been the one staring.

“I’m checking your keyboard connections,” he answered, but it was muffled because he was under a desk and turned away from me, which also meant that when I had bent down to whisper to him I had basically put my face directly into the good six inches of butt crack that was now exposed and at my eye level.  A little involuntary noise of alarm snorted out of me and my rolling chair shot backwards into the wall behind me, taking me with it. I straightened up just in time for the back of my head to make contact with the wall.

“Hey, are you wearing scented lotion?” He asked from under the desk. “I like it. It smells a little like coffee, right?”

Everyone was staring. I rubbed my head and contemplated bursting into tears, but then with some grunts and a lot of pants and tie adjusting, he emerged from under the desk, his face as red as a tomato and sweat now dripping from the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, everything looks good down there,” he said, shrugging. I considered taking this as a leg compliment, although clearly it was not. “I don’t know. I’m just gonna have to swap this keyboard out with a new one.” He swept my (now disconnected) keyboard up from the desk, and as he turned to walk back towards the front of the room it  tilted just a little and coffee started to pour of it and onto the floor.

He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at the growing brown puddle on the floor.

The entire class, actually, stared at the brown puddle on the floor.

“Is that…?” he trailed off.

“Coffee, maybe?” I offered quickly, before someone could suggest something else brown but worse.

He rubbed the back of his head the same way I had a few seconds prior and looked back at me, the keyboard in his hand still dripping. “What in the hell?”

I knew this was the defining moment. I could have come clean and owned it. I could have shrugged and explained that it was my first training class and I didn’t know any better and if they really wanted people to follow rules, they probably shouldn’t punctuate them with smiley faces. I should have. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. From the moment he had plunged under my desk and my face had gone into his a** I had known we were too far into this for me ever, ever to admit the truth.

I was paralyzed.

“Humph,” I said, shrinking down in my seat so only my eyebrows were visible over the monitor, “that’s super weird,” which technically, if you think about it, is not exactly a lie because the whole thing really WAS super weird.

And I never made eye contact with him again, not even when he came back a few minutes later with a new keyboard for me, and to his credit, went on to teach a whole weeklong class without ever calling me on what the whole room already knew: that I had been too chicken-sh** to admit to my own rule-breaking truth.

At the close of the week, when he asked if anyone would like to fill out a short survey about his performance, I practically jumped him to grab one. “YES. ME. I would.”  I gave him a glowing review. And in it, under the “additional suggestions” section, I wrote: “this man is the picture of dignity. Please consider giving him both a raise and a break on the dress code. I think he would be more comfortable without the tie. Also consider having disposable coffee cups available. With lids.”

It was, truly, the least I could do.

— Liz Petrone

Liz Petrone is a mama, yogi, writer, warrior, wanderer, dreamer, doubter and hot mess. She lives in a creaky old house in Central New York with her ever-patient husband, their four babies and an excitable dog named Boss, and shares her stories on her blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

It’s great to be a guy!

“Happy New Yeeaaarrrr!”

It fills the entire room and what little gray matter I have left between my ears. All three hands on the clock incriminate 12 as the reason for all the hoopla.
The start of a new year, the chance to start anew. January the oneth.

Now two minutes into January I’m breaking my wife’s New Year resolution (for me) as I trace a line with my belt buckle all around the top three inches of the midnight buffet.

She’s decided that one of my New Year resolutions was to cut down on my calorie intake. I countered by promising never to eat more than I can lift at any one time. Which my plate, at this very point in time was challenging me with.

Plate piled high (but moveable), veins in my forearms and forehead protruding, I carefully navigate toward a feeding area and trip over a sleeping grandkid. I attempt to stay upright, but fail. Now linear, I verbally express my disappointment at failing my first resolution. I then go on to express more disappointment about grandma’s country estate dish pattern now in pieces scattered across the floor. To which , the once sleeping angelic cherub, turns on me and announces that another dollar was to occupy the potty mouth jar. Now a second resolution broken.

In my defense, it wasn’t an adult swear word. I just happened to mention an immovable object that holds back water as my, not one, but three chins and midnight snack were hitting the floor.

Two New Year resolutions down and the hands in the clock were closer together than my thumb and index finger. How many more resolutions would end on this night? How many were there? She had made me a list, but I had left it at home. That in itself could be a violation of a resolution.

I have come to believe that New Year resolutions are a woman’s thing. Let’s face it, ladies, if it were up to us guys we would just keep going wayward in all our bad habits.

We could be 30 pounds overweight, walk naked past a full-length mirror, suck in our gut and with two fingers pointed at our reflection, like the bartender from The Love Boat, make a clicking sound between our teeth and gums and pity the poor woman who could refuse this.

If guys ever start to feel like they might be getting a bit too excessive in any one bad habit, we just look for an example worse than ourselves and  find comfort that we aren’t as bad as “that guy.”

And it doesn’t even have to be the same fault!

When a woman perceives  herself overweight, she is always jealous of skinnier women and will set goals to lose weight.

With guys if, let’s say, he’s 30 pounds overweight and might somehow feel less than perfect, he doesn’t look at a healthier male as a goal but rather finds fault in his buddy’s choice of vehicles to better his self image. “Phffft, the guy drives a 64 split window Corvette. Thing has a huge blind spot!”

So what if we’ve gone from eye candy to eye broccoli!  Accept us, ladies.

Happy happy happy is the couple when the wife has dropped that girlfriend promise they all make to each other: “I’m going to change him.”

You know that promise all you women make when you announce to your friends of  your intended betrothed. “If he asks me to marry, I’ll say yes. Oh I know he’s always kidding around, he’s overweight, has no sense of style and his hair is a disaster, but I promise you once we’re married, I’ll change him into the man I’ve always wanted.”

And with the start of each new year you revisit that challenge you’ve placed on yourself by encouraging him to look inward and make a resolution to do better.
Or, you take a more proactive approach and make him a list.

It seems like the only day of the year it’s appropriate. Oh sure you think a change is needed every time you look at him as he watches his Scooby-Doo cartoons. All in his sweat pants finery, with his matching ripped T-shirt. That once crazy head of hair now all wispy and thin as it clings on, fights the good fight to remain on his head. And it’s not like he can’t grow hair cause now his back, ears and nose all support some sort of exotic growth.

Well, at least he doesn’t laugh so much anymore. Life sorta solved that problem.

So ladies as you enter your “Stop-n-Start” season, we on the sidelines wish you well. As you stop the many things you perceive in your life as wrong or bad, and start to do better in mind, body and soul, go forth knowing we are somewhere behind you. We might notice your hair is cut different, or you’ve lost a few pounds or you’ve adopted a favorite frock rather than buy a new one.

We might. …then again, we might not. But please forgive us, we’re men. This is a rough season for us as you go about trying to better with your life and us along with it. You go, girl! Do your thing! But we’re happy minding the small things that somehow take up our time.

Men, take comfort as you watch the wife and her girlfriend power walk out of the driveway. They, and many women like them, all walking and jogging around the neighborhood while you, with coffee and doughnut in hand, survey their struggles from the comfort of your domain. To us January the oneth is college football, not a day to get all excited about changing things all around.

Relax.  There’ll be another list next year…or sooner.

— Bob Niles

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

2016 Christmas letter

Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.

That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; Dave and Guillaume, the sons-in-lawiarch; and Chloe and Lilly, the granddaughtersiarch.

Dear friends:

It sure has been an exciting 2016 for the Zezimas!

Jerry had a particularly exciting year, which began with the publication of his third book, “Grandfather Knows Best.” Like his first two books, “Leave It to Boomer” and “The Empty Nest Chronicles,” it’s a crime against literature. It also comes in handy for propping up wobbly table legs. Somehow, it didn’t make the New York Times bestseller list.

Jerry reached the pinnacle of his journalism career when he got a paper route. On a rainy night, he helped his newspaper carrier fling papers into subscribers’ driveways and returned a lost dog to her grateful owners, which was the best delivery of all.

Jerry also completed his two-year term as president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists without running that otherwise august organization into the ground. Members attending the NSNC conference in Los Angeles celebrated with a four-letter word: beer.

Jerry’s other adventures included being a server for a night at a restaurant. To ensure that the place wouldn’t go under, he waited on his own family (Sue, Lauren, Guillaume and Chloe) and got a nice tip: Don’t quit your day job.

That same group went bowling and Chloe, in an outing to celebrate her third birthday, beat everybody in the first game. She kindly let Jerry, whom she helped roll a strike and a spare in two late frames, win the second game.

Chloe also had her first sleepover at Nini and Poppie’s house and began a tradition of making breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and a bagel) with Jerry, whose scant culinary skills pale in comparison with those of his granddaughter.

Chloe got her first haircut (Jerry got one the same weekend, approximately his millionth) and got her first big-girl bed, where she keeps her stuffed friends. (Jerry, who goes to bed when he’s stuffed, keeps pajamas and other dirty clothes on his.)

Sue and Jerry refinanced the mortgage on their house, a hellish process that took months and was almost undone by a three-year-old unpaid traffic ticket. Now Jerry is afraid to drive to the bank to pay the new mortgage.

Jerry turned 62, which means he is eligible for Social Security and can, if he wants, retire. Considering his financial obligations (see above), he is convinced he will be working posthumously.

Speaking of death, Sue and Jerry lost Bernice, the last of their four cats, who at age 17 went to that big litter box in the sky. To fill the void (Bernice was fat), they welcomed Maggie, their sweet granddog, who is 11 and living with them temporarily. She keeps the house safe by being a canine alarm system, which makes her more valuable than Jerry.

Katie and Dave, both journalists living in Washington, D.C., had lots to report on this year and learned the wisdom of the late, great humorist Art Buchwald, who also was based in the nation’s capital and famously wrote, “You can’t make anything up anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.” Katie and Dave record it very well.

For the record, the best thing to happen in the family in 2016 was the birth of Lilly, Lauren and Guillaume’s beautiful baby daughter. Everyone loves the adorable girl, including Chloe, who kisses her little sister and helps Lauren and Guillaume take care of her. So does Sue. Jerry tells her jokes, just as he does with Chloe. When you’re a grandfather, that’s your job.

Merry Christmas with love and laughter from the Zezimas.

— 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