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Creamed onions and reindeer sneezes

A friend mentioned she was making creamed onions for Thanksgiving dinner.

The memory flashed in my mind, “Santa’s reindeers never catch a cold because they eat creamed onions,” my dad told us at the dinner table. He passed the warm bowl in my direction. I passed it to my Gran. The soupy mixture with floating eyeball-sized onions didn’t appeal to me in the least. “I’d rather catch a cold,” I told him.

And so began the latest health update at the table.“Think about it, Anne, have you ever seen a sleigh of Santa’s with a missing reindeer?” he asked, pausing his carving duty.

“Dad, I’ve never even seen Santa or his sleigh in the sky. How would I know if one was missing?” I retorted with a snarky attitude.

“Well, in all of my years, I’ve seen it plenty of times and those reindeers fly in the harsh, cold winter weather, with no jackets. They fly in the rain and the snow and sub-zero temperatures and not one of them ever sneezes!” He sounded like an North Pole expert.

“How would you even know if they sneezed? You can’t hear them from that far away.”

“Are you kidding me? On Christmas Eve I have super hearing powers. I hear everything! How did you not know this?” he asked seriously.

He turned to my mom who had a big grin on her face. She nodded her head at me, with her blue eyes open wide. “It’s true. He has great hearing and he can pick up the reindeers’ course in the sky,” she fibbed.

I must have been six at the time. It was back in 1958, a simpler time for kids. We believed for a longer time back then.

“So the reindeer eat creamed onions and don’t catch a cold and you get super hearing on Christmas Eve?” I asked, confused.

“Well, where do you think I got the special hearing from?” he asked.

He passed the bowl of creamed onions back my way.

I put two onions on my plate. I figured I could do a chipmunk move and hide them in my cheeks if I didn’t like them. I thought it would be really cool to sit up with my dad and track Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. I plunked one onion into my mouth.

It was gross! But missing out on that sleigh sounded worse. I ate both onions and I didn’t sneeze that entire winter. My dad was a genius!

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Florida, with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause and Angel Bumps. She blogs at www.annebardsley.com.

You can write!

Can you craft a short essay that either sparks laughter or touches the heart in the way that Erma Bombeck wrote?

Writers around the world are encouraged to capture the essence of Bombeck’s work by submitting an original essay in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, sponsored by Washington-Centerville Public Library in conjunction with the University of Dayton. The contest opens at 8 a.m. (EST) on Monday, Dec. 4, and entries will be accepted until 8 a.m. (EST) Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. The entry fee is $15.

The competition, held every two years, pays tribute to hometown writer Erma Bombeck, one of the greatest humorists of contemporary times and arguably the University of Dayton’s most famous graduate.

Entries should be 450 words or less. Essays submitted may not have been previously published (either print or online). New this year: the local category will include all of Ohio. The global category will include the rest of the world. It’s a chance to win $500, a free registration ($450 value) to the April 5-7, 2018, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton — and bragging rights.

One entry per person will be accepted, and previous contest winners are encouraged to apply. All winning essays will be published on the library’s website, as well as in the Dayton Daily News and the workshop’s printed program. Those receiving honorable mentions will receive certificates.

The entries will be blind judged by a panel of authors, syndicated columnists and experienced writers. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry and award-winning novelist and short story writer Bonnie Jo Campbell will serve as the finalist judges for the humor and human interest categories, respectively.

Winners will be announced at the end of February with a celebration event set for 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 4, at the Centerville Library. The awards ceremony is free and open to the public.

“The quality of these essays has shot through the roof over the years. Having Bonnie Jo Campbell and Dave Barry as our final judges escalates the excitement factor to a new level, and I am excited to get started,” said Debe Dockins, Erma Bombeck Writing Competition coordinator.

In 2016, 563 writers from around the world entered previously unpublished essays in humor and human interest categories — roughly 253,350 words. To read the 2016 winning entries, click here.

For complete writing competition guidelines, the online entry form or more information, click here.

Worth the weight

As a 175-pound weakling whose idea of lifting weights is doing 12-ounce curls, I had always vowed that I would never go to any gym that wasn’t situated next to a bar.

I recently found such an unlikely combination when I won a one-day trial membership to Blink Fitness, which has gyms in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California.

Because going to the West Coast would entail hopping on a plane, a form of exercise frowned upon by the Federal Aviation Administration, I drove to the Blink location in Melville, New York, which happens to be situated next to Blackstone Steakhouse, an establishment that has a bar where powerlifters such as myself can do 12-ounce curls.

My brief membership began after work, where I didn’t work up much of a sweat, and ended an hour and a half later in the upstairs equipment room, where I didn’t work up much of a sweat, either, because I was too busy talking to members who were trying to work up a sweat but couldn’t because, of course, I was talking to them.

“How’s it going?” I asked Scott Grimando, 48, an illustrator who was in the middle of a workout on the shoulder press machine.

“OK,” Scott replied between huffs and puffs. “Trying to keep in shape.”

Except for a woman who was working out with a personal trainer and appeared to be even older than I am (63 physically, 12 mentally), Scott was one of the more senior members, most of whom appeared to be in their 20s and already in such good shape that they shouldn’t have bothered working out.

“I have a one-day membership,” I told Scott.

“Make the most of it,” he said, adding that he’s a pescatarian.

“I’m Catholic,” I responded. “And I may need last rites before the night is out.”

Scott patiently explained that a pescatarian is a person who doesn’t eat meat but does eat fish. “It’s a good diet to be on,” he said, returning to his shoulder presses.

I sat down next to him and did 10 at a weight that probably didn’t exceed that of a Chihuahua on a pescatarian diet.

Next I spoke with David Kahn, 50, a lawyer who was on a pedal machine.

“I want to look buff,” said David, who did. “Also, I got hurt Rollerblading, so coming to the gym is safer.”

David, who used to play soccer and softball, practices corporate law and said he couldn’t represent me if I got hurt working out.

“But I could represent the gym,” he said with a smile.

“In that case,” I said, “I’ll take it easy on the machines.”

And I was on plenty of them. There was the treadmill (where I watched Charlie Sheen in a rerun of “Two and a Half Men”); the moving stairs (which I climbed steadily but didn’t get anywhere); the calf exerciser (I didn’t see any livestock); and the dumbbells (I was the biggest one).

All in all, it was an invigorating experience. The gym was clean and spacious, the people were friendly and the equipment was top-notch. And I didn’t need last rites.

“How was it?” assistant manager Christian Dellosso, 23, asked as I was leaving.

“Terrific,” I said. “Considering I’m 40 years older than you are, I feel really good.”

“Great,” Christian said. “I hope you’ll join.”

“I’m thinking about it,” I said. “But first, I have to go next door for one more workout.”

I strolled over to Blackstone Steakhouse and ordered a beer from bartender Vinny Fodera, 59, who sported a sweeping mustache and a muscular build.

“Do you work out?” I asked.

“No,” Vinny said. “I used to lift weights, but they were too heavy.

“If you don’t mind,” I said, lifting a cold one, “I’m going to do some 12-ounce curls.”

“Be my guest,” Vinny said. “For guys our age, it’s the best exercise you can get.”

— Jerry Zezima

Stamford Advocate humor columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of three books. Visit his blog at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. Email: JerryZ111@optonline.net.

The garage sale strikes back

Once a year, or so, I feel an uncanny need to atone for my sins against our household budget by holding a garage sale.

When our home begins to look like it should be featured on the season finale of “Hoarders,” I simply can’t resist the urge to put all of our surplus underwear and small appliances on display in the front yard, and invite complete strangers over to rummage through them. (Some even pay actual money to carry them off.)

The most punishing aspect of the entire garage-sale experience is the preparation. This usually involves arguing with my wife and daughters over whether we actually need four Easy-Bake Ovens, or if we might be able to survive the winter with just three. I then spend two solid days sorting through enough outgrown female children’s clothing to costume a synchronized dance troupe at the national birthday party of Kim Jong-un. Sometimes, going through the girls’ old clothes actually makes me kind of wistful and sad, not because I’m sentimental, but because I think of all of the Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits I could have purchased with the money I’ve spent on overpriced, matching designer clothes that the girls might have worn for 20 minutes until they whined enough to convince us to let them change back into their cut-off shorts and Hello Kitty t-shirts from Walmart.

On the day before this year’s sale, I got out of bed especially early (which, when I’m not at work, is any time before noon) to turn my garage into a miniature Hanna Andersson outlet. I had felt a little woozy that morning, but I figured it was just the shock of being out of bed and actually wearing pants at that hour on my day off. As I stood in the open garage enjoying the breeze and carefully arranging an enormous pile of fleece pajamas that appeared to belong to a family of polygamists living in the Arctic, I began to feel the unmistakable sensation in my gut that told me I was about to “L’Eggo my Eggo” all over my display of ballet leotards if I didn’t move quickly. Unfortunately, the closest semi-private vomitorium I could reach in time was a massive hedge along the side of my neighbors’ house. Luckily, they weren’t home at the time (and if they happen to read this column, I want to invite them to barf in my begonias any time the need arises).

Once I had thoroughly fertilized the shrubbery next door, I began to feel much better and managed to convince myself that I might have just ingested an expired waffle, instead of contracting a dreaded “tummy bug.” Since I was practically finished setting up the garage sale, I did what one naturally does after a good upchuck on the neighbor’s landscaping; I mowed my front yard. (I strongly believe in an aesthetically pleasing presentation when I invite the community onto my property to browse through my family’s unwanted belongings.)

About two-thirds of the way through my mowing, my bowels suddenly made it clear that they were surrendering to the dark side. It was as if Darth Vader found my lack of respect for the rotavirus disturbing and applied his telekinetic stranglehold to my large intestine. At first, I couldn’t move at all. I just stood there with the wheels of my self-propelled Husqvarna spinning in place and tried to clench every orifice shut for fear of turning into a human pressure washer in front of the entire neighborhood. Eventually, I gathered the strength to lean forward against the mower and waddle it back to my storage shed like a penguin with sciatica.

My only hope at that point was to retreat indoors and apply my traditional stomach virus remedy of taking a few warm baths, remaining isolated in my bedroom for an entire day, making my wife and daughters feel really sorry for me, and hoping to shrink my love handles in the process. (If it weren’t for the crippling nausea, near-fatal dehydration, and deprivation of Mexican food, I might do this more often.)

The next morning, other than feeling like a tube of hemorrhoid ointment that had been trampled by a stampede of water buffalo, I was well enough to carry on with the garage sale. As I sat in my garage, fielding awkward questions from shoppers about my partially mowed grass, I felt blessed to be alive and thanked the Lord for the inventors of Saltines and Gatorade. I even made enough money on the sale to buy myself a brand new pair of Darth Vader fleece pajamas.

May the hork be with you! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

— Jason Graves

Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective for the Cagle Cartoons syndicate and his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.

Turkey day has become chopped liver

I just heard Tony Bennett on the radio singing, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” And Thanksgiving is several days away. Like Christmas, (and unlike Halloween), Thanksgiving is an actual holiday. But it has been lost in the Christmas hype.

Maybe Thanksgiving would get more respect if it were not tucked in between Halloween and Christmas. So I vote that we move Thanksgiving to January. January is a pretty depressing month, so I believe Thanksgiving should be moved from the fourth Thursday in November, to the fourth Thursday in January. That way, people won’t be preoccupied with Black Friday.

No one has any money left in January anyway, so the focus would be on thankfulness – thankful that Christmas is over and the relatives are gone. And surely they wouldn’t return in January, would they? And turkey in January tastes just as good as it does in November.

I know turkey day was carved in stone by an act of Congress in 1941, to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November; but they never saw Black Friday coming. Nor Walmart. I believe had they envisioned the commercialism that would occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they never would’ve have chosen the fourth Thursday in November to celebrate Thanksgiving.

And Congress had no way of knowing that Halloween would become the second largest commercial holiday – next to Christmas – in America. Tucked in between lies poor little Thanksgiving. Indulge on turkey as you wish, but chopped liver is what this holiday has become.

Anyhow, I just wish the air leading up to Thanksgiving could be filled with music fit for the occasion. But the only songs that even come close are buried in church hymnals. There are just no secular songs that hint of Thanksgiving.

Bing Crosby singing, “I’m Dreaming of a White Thanksgiving,” probably wouldn’t have much of a ring to it, I suppose. Neither would Tony Bennett singing “I’ll Be Home For Thanksgiving,” or Elvis singing, “I’ll Have a Blue Thanksgiving Without You.”

But if dogs can bark, “Jingle Bells,” you’d think “The Chipmunks” could’ve come up with a Tom Turkey tune that marched to a different drum stick.

Let’s face it. When it comes to holiday music, Thanksgiving will always play second fiddle.

—Raymond Reid

Raymond Reid is a national award-winning humor columnist. He can be contacted at rreid7@triad.rr.com

I’m ovulated to say that!

Years ago, we were at our regular stomping grounds – the McDonald’s drive thru – when, after I gave my order from the dollar menu, the voice from the box enthusiastically said, “Happy Holidays!”. I mumbled under my breath about the dearth of the “Merry Christmas” salutations when one of my kids who shall remain nameless said quite matter-of-factly, “She’s ovulated to say that.” Well….that certainly changed the trajectory of the mood in the car.

Because of my unique position as the mother of many kids, I am often “ovulated” to say things. Take last night, for example, conversation went from contently answering one child’s question to a full scale assault from sibling who declared adamantly, “Oh, we all know she’s your favorite.” Again, the trajectory of the mood in the car changed.

Said child then, in her most jurisprudent manner, cited all my high crimes and misdemeanors against herself as well as my alleged significant favoritism to fellow sibling. Well, after a long day, not feeling like a domestic tete a tete, I nonetheless rose to the challenge. I mustered what evidentiary support I could gather from my 50+ memory that was subsequently low on calories and countered the charges with adequate support to negate her accusations. I’m ovulated to defend myself.

“I have no favorites.”

“Yes, she’s your favorite, remember when you went to Starbucks, and out you come with a strawberries & cream just for her, and for me….NOTHING!”

“Uh, I don’t really remember that.”

“Oh yes, you do, you do that all the time. You don’t do anything for me.”

“Uhm, well, I came all the way down here to pick you up tonight. You know I don’t like to drive at night. I always tell you how talented and pretty you are.”

“Well, you’re obligated to say that, that’s mother duty.”

“You mean, ‘I’m ovulated to say that?’” trying to inject humor into the ride home. Didn’t go over well. Turns out, said litigant was very hungry and retracted her accusations after some divine lumpia and a couple of danimals.

But, we parents, are often called to say things out of “ovulation”. I laugh because that particular obligation is a direct result of successful “ovulation” processes. We are obligated to say many things to our children. And some of those things are a mandated obligation to these souls entrusted to us.

“Mom, are these jeans old man jeans?”

“No, son, they look good on you.”

“Mom, can you see my collar bones.”

“Yes, I can see your bones, they look nice.”

“Mom, how does my makeup look?”

“Looks great.”

“Mom, why does everyone hate me?”

“Honey, they don’t hate you.”

“You like her better than me.”

“No, that’s not true. I love you just the same.”

I’ve had to wrestle emotionally with most of my kids. It is a tough task. Especially during the teenage years. But we are obligated to tough it out with them. As much as they drive me crazy, when at times, I want to give it all up or say things I wouldn’t be able to unsay or totally disconnect from them, by God’s grace, most of the time, I am able to respond to their accusations, disappointments and pain with some semblance of objectivity and compassion. Yes, said child is right, it is mother duty, it is parent duty. I’m ovulated to do so, to say so and I want to do so because I love them. I really love them.

— Donna Fentanes

Blogger Donna Fentanes is a mother of 10 kids living in Pacifica. She mixes humor and philosophical musings with everyday life.

How to prepare for the family Thanksgiving gathering

This month families will gather all over America to enjoy quality time and share a marathon Thanksgiving dinner. Can this be overwhelming with potentially awkward moments? How do you keep the conversation flowing as smooth as the gravy?

Here are some talking points for lump-free dialogue:

1.If you have a four-year-old boy at the table, avoid any words reminding him of body parts, since this could encourage an unwelcome exhibition. Ask for white meat (not breast), refer to the ham butt as a shoulder, and DO NOT let him get a glimpse of the turkey neck.

2.Don’t ask Aunt Martha how her recovery is going when she arrives more sauced than the cranberries.

3.If you are facing unemployment or are jobless, boycott work-related topics. You are happy for the success of those who’ve had promotions, but it ruins the festive atmosphere when you sob in the midst of the main course. Don’t be surprised when no one pays attention since they are focused on sobering up Aunt Martha.

4.Study the weather report so you can comment on the extended forecast in great detail. This is a filler to evade personal Q&A sessions when someone finally notices your puffy eyes and tear-stained face.

5.Quell the urge to respond to cousin Joe’s comprehensive, violent suggestions for solving the world’s problems. Instead, stuff a super-sized dinner roll in your mouth and concentrate on not choking to death. This is still a lower risk than enraging Joe, who packs a pistol.

6.Will you have trouble with number 5? Have someone nearby locked and loaded with a super-sized dinner role and license to cram it in your mouth at early signs of an inflammatory rebuttal.

7.Don’t say the word rebuttal. See number 1.

8.Designate the ‘grace sayer’ ahead of time so Uncle Buddy, the lay preacher, doesn’t volunteer. The potatoes will be ice-cold and the gravy congealed as he concludes his forty-minute sermon. Better to nominate Aunt Ruth with her efficient invocation: “Bless this dinner, and all us sinners. Amen!”

9.When your siblings share tales of your legendary teenage escapades in front of your own teens, pretend to choke on a turkey bone. Once you have ‘recovered’ from this near-death experience, your skeletons will be securely stored in the closet where they belong.

10.Do talk about all the beloved people who are permanently absent from the gathering; parents, grandparents, a sister, a nephew, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The younger ones can only know them through your memories.

11.Thank God for all the imperfect people present in your life and family. Give them a hug, mumble ‘I love you,’ and launch into speculation about which team will win the Lions/Eagles game. After all, you don’t want to get too mushy, even on Thanksgiving Day.

—Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens is the award-winning author of the newly published Boomer on the Ledge, described as “an adult picture book that explores the antics of an aging boomer.” Molly believes humor is the emollient that soothes life’s rough patches and promotes these convictions in her blog: Shallow Reflections. She is the November 2017 Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop Humor Writer of the Month, and won third place in the 2017 National Society of Newspaper Columnists writing contest. She is a contributing author for These Summer Months: Stories from the Late Orphan Project, edited by Anne Born.

Single Parenting

“If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it, Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh…,” I sang out loud and proud as Beyonce thankfully drowned out my voice. That song “Single Ladies”, coupled with Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman”, helped me believe I could do it all.

I was enjoying the song when I suddenly realized, “I’m not actually single anymore.” It sounds silly, but I hadn’t truly internalized that reality until then; regardless of the whole meeting a wonderful guy and having a wedding thing.

I don’t know if this happens to others who’ve been single parents for a lengthy time but it happened to me. I was single for 10 years while I was raising my daughter and went back to school. I know, I know, such a cliché. I think during that 10 years of focusing on family and education my brain got re-wired somehow.

Even after being happily married with two more children there are moments when I viscerally feel single. Not in the physical sense of being single, because that would include panic attacks, night terrors, and profuse sweating, but sometimes I have to shake myself and realize that what I thought would never happen, and had in fact not been looking for, had happened; I found a partner.

Being a single parent for so long made me okay with being single.

Being a single parent made me stronger in my convictions.

Being a single parent made me, well, exhausted, something that never goes away.

Because of my experiences as a single parent, I realized that life can throw what it will at me and I’ll handle it; some things better than others, but I’ll handle it. You come out the other side of single parenthood with more confidence simply because it hasn’t killed you. Single parenting is, of course, not all fun and games, but neither is married parenting, so I blame the common denominator: the kids.

I still enjoy Destiny’s Child, although I don’t like that it’s now on the soft rock/oldies station. I don’t think I’ll ever completely forget that part of me that blossomed as I was single parenting. I suppose I shouldn’t want to since that makes me as much who I am as any other part of my life. I’m sure my husband would agree, although he might want the singing to stop.

To this day, if those empowering songs come on the radio my daughter says, “I know, I know. The shoes on your feet, you bought ‘em, the clothes you’re wearin’, you bought ‘em. I get it, Moooooooom.” As a parent, I believe my work here is done.

—Christine McCue

Short bio: Besides my day job as a trophy wife (they give out trophies for anything nowadays), I am also a freelance humor writer and retired attorney. I divide my time between trying to appreciate the absurdity of life’s little mundanities and cleaning gunk out of the bathroom drains magically put there by the house-fairies which I’m sure has nothing whatsoever to do with my three children, one husband, two dogs, and one cat.

Link to my blog: http://blog.timesunion.com/mycape

Reflections of Erma