The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Welcome to the jungle

Marcia Kester Doyle(This piece is an excerpt from Marcia Kester Doyle’s newly released book, Who Stole My Spandex? Midlife Musings From a Middle-Aged MILF. Reposted by permission of the author.)

It started with the hamsters.

The minute my daughters saw the fuzzy little rodents at the pet store, they started begging me to buy them. Against my better judgment, I agreed, and we left the store that day with a deluxe critter condo equipped with tunnels, chew toys and a fancy exercise wheel to keep our new pets in perfect hamster form. Little did we know that these furry, nocturnal nightmares would take their exercise in the middle of the night, running for hours on that squeaky wheel like toddlers hyped up on Kool-Aid.

We also discovered that hamsters breed much faster than their rabbit relatives. When Mama Hamster gave birth to nine babies and ate three for lunch, my daughters learned a valuable lesson in parenting: never cross your mother when she’s having a bad day.

Hamsters were only the beginning of our family’s adventures in animal hoarding. There were turtles that caused my son’s bedroom to smell like rancid swampland. There was a long-haired guinea pig that looked like a misguided hippie from the era of peace and love. And yet who knew guinea pigs had such sharp teeth?

Our home quickly earned the reputation of being a modern day Noah’s Ark, and we were soon inundated with enough homeless animals to start a petting zoo. At one point, we fostered two albino rats, a hedgehog, a sugar glider and seven chinchillas. The day I brought home a stray rabbit, my husband protested loudly over my inability to turn down any creature covered in fur. He was certain that one day he’d come home to find Sasquatch sitting at our dinner table.

In addition to our smorgasbord of exotic pets, we also own three rescue dogs. One is on heart medication, the other is losing all of his hair, and the third wears a diaper — it’s like we’re running a canine convalescent home. The diaper-wearing dog is a pug with the appetite of a goat and a digestive system that functions like a recycling plant. We make his diapers by hand from feminine hygiene pads. Unfortunately, he often eats the pads and then poops out tampons.

Besides being messy, our animal collection has also been a source of family drama. When my children were teenagers, they accused me of loving our animals more than I loved them. (This was a no-brainer for me since the animals never talked back.) My husband also grew suspicious when he noticed hordes of squirrels colonizing in our trees, and I’ll admit that the daily buffet of peanuts and seeds I’d been feeding them was costing enough to support a third world country. I’ve also been banned from visiting the zoo or even watching Animal Planet, for fear that I’ll bring home a family of penguins or jackalopes.

I don’t think I’ll tell my family that lately I’ve been googling BOGO sales on Kinkajous. My husband has already threatened to enroll me in a 10-step program at Animal Hoarders Anonymous if I don’t stop. He’d much prefer I collect Hummel figurines or enroll in some knitting classes.

Which I’ve agreed to do — at the yarn shop right next to the pet store.

— Marcia Kester Doyle

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the newly released book, Who Stole My Spandex? Midlife Musings From a Middle-Aged MILF, and the humorous blog “Menopausal Mother,” where she muses on the good, the bad and the ugly side of menopausal mayhem. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post, a staff writer for In The Powder Room and and a contributing writer for What the Flicka. Her work recently captured first place in VoiceBoks Top Hilarious Parent Bloggers 2014. Marcia’s pieces have appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, Bloggy Moms, Messy Mom’s Radio, The Woven Press and the Life Well Blogged series. In 2013, her work was voted Top 25 in the Circle Of Mom’s Contest. In 2014, she was named a Blogher Voice Of The Year.

Letting go for the holidays

Kim Brown ReinerMy father was born just weeks before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. His mother worked as a seamstress on the Lower East Side to support him and three girls.

In the two-bedroom walk up there were very few toys.

Maybe that is why as an adult he collected things he never used like toy cars, tin soldiers, chess sets, coins, stamps, Swiss Army knives, books, ties, owls, watches, pens, photographs and crystal.

Maybe he never learned to let go.

Growing up in an apartment with a father who never threw anything away made me clutter phobic. Besides, I’ve realized the more we have the less special each object becomes.

I read school notices and sign them the day they come home, I throw out art projects almost immediately after they’re completed and pass on clothing as soon as it’s too small.

I’ve given away my collection of playbills, my wedding dress, letters from old boyfriends and rock albums. I’ve let go and moved on.

When my father got sick with cancer he continued to order more and more things from catalogues — a new coat, an umbrella, a cashmere scarf — even though he hardly left his bed, let alone the apartment the year before he died.

At 79, he had spent too much time working and worrying to live a full life. He was not ready to die.

But we must. We must.

When my son James was three he inherited my father’s miniature cars. James’ collection suddenly swelled from the two he played with constantly to more than a hundred.

Soon after he never played with cars again.

Now James is six; every holiday and birthday he asks for Lego sets.

So far, he has the Eiffel Tower (321 pieces), the White House (560 pieces), Super Heroes Artic Batman vs. Mr Freeze (198 pieces), Super Heroes Batman: the Riddler Chase (304 pieces), The Lego Movie Benny’s Spaceship (940 pieces) and The Creator Family House Playset (756 pieces).

This and the classic Lego Brick Building set should be enough to last a lifetime, but I know the piles will continue to grow.

My son loves collections and he wants to save everything: baby shoes, stuffed animals, superhero costumes, Bey Blades, baby clothing, baby teeth, wooden puzzles and wooden blocks.

“You don’t need that stuff anymore,” I say. “You’re growing up. It’s time to let go.”

For the holidays I want to buy him and my daughter more experiences than things: like music lessons, karate classes, and tickets to shows.

Last night we were looking through winter clothing and came across a pink wool hat that no longer fits my 8-year-old daughter. It was the one she always wore to build snowmen, go sledding and make angels in the snow.

“Do you still need this?” I asked.

“I don’t want to grow up,” I imagine she is thinking.

But you must. And that means letting go.

She says, “I want to keep it, to remember.”

But you do.

You do.

— Kim Brown Reiner

Kim Brown Reiner is a New York City mom to Tessa, 8, and James, 6; an education consultant; and a freelance writer. More of her work can be found at Follow her on twitter at

Time to end the 5 o’clock shadow

Jerry-Zezima1-219x300(This piece first appeared on CBS Sunday Morning’s website on Nov. 22. Click on this link to view the video, Jerry Zezima’s first TV commentary. Reposted by permission of the author.) 

A male grooming trend has humor columnist Jerry Zezima bristling:

When I was in high school and was just starting to shave, which led to so much blood loss that I should have been honored by the Red Cross, I read “The Razor’s Edge,” the W. Somerset Maugham classic that was not — much to my amazement, because I was a stupid kid — about shaving.

Young men reading the book today would no doubt be similarly surprised, which is why many of them, unwilling to risk bleeding to death, barely shave at all.

Lately I have noticed that stubble is in style. Everywhere you look, there are guys with 5 o’clock shadow.

I do know that women love this look on young guys, but hate it on geezers like me.

It all started in the 1980s, on the hit TV show “Miami Vice,” in which two cops played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas tracked down bad guys while wearing neon jackets and sporting three-day-old razor stubble. Since they had to solve crimes in 48 minutes, they probably didn’t have time to shave.

When the show ended, so — it seemed — did the stubble look.

Now, scruffy guys are getting lots of face time again. It’s not uncommon to see them on TV shows, in movies, in commercials, and even in magazine ads looking like they just rolled out of bed.

What gets me is that some of them are wearing suits or tuxedos. They can take all that time to get dressed to the nines, but they can’t spare an extra five minutes to run a razor across their chins?

Then again, maybe they can. Recently I was in a store called the Art of Shaving and saw a trimmer that can be set to help guys keep a perpetual stubble. I guess they do shave after all, but just not enough to prevent them from looking unkempt.

Me? I like to look kempt. My wife likes it when I do, too.

Recently I snuggled up to her on a rare day when I sported stubble. She shrieked and told me to go away. So I did. I went upstairs, foamed my face with shaving cream and used my trusty razor to smooth out the situation.

I came back downstairs and snuggled up to her again. This time she didn’t tell me to go away.

Talk about a close shave!

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

From the live broadcast
of my high school reunion

Abby ByrdTom: Good evening and welcome to our live broadcast of Abby Byrd’s 20-year high school reunion, brought to you by Pfizer, Maker of Zoloft and Other Fine Pharmaceuticals.

Barbara: And our co-sponsor Ben and Jerry’s, Maker of Ice Cream for Sad People Who Want to Die Soon.

Tom: That’s right, Barbara. Have you had their new Black Widow flavor? With fudge-covered razor blades and a crunchy arsenic swirl?

Barbara: I haven’t yet, Tom, but I hear it’s delicious, and acts much more quickly than the artery-clogging varieties. What will they come up with next?

Tom: [chuckle] I don’t know, Barbara. The world today, huh? How ‘bout it? Well, we’ve challenged Abby to survive her class reunion tonight using the same coping mechanisms she employed 20 years ago in high school.

Barbara: Oh, this ought to be fabulous.

Tom: Absolutely. And here’s Abby now, entering the restaurant looking timid and self-conscious.

Barbara: She’s carrying something. What is that, Tom?

Tom: Looks to me like a spiral notebook. What is—oh, there we go. Abby has found a seat by herself and is furiously scribbling in her notebook, hair covering her face, safely ignored by everyone.

Barbara: That tactic will work for a while, Tom, but what about when she runs out of pages in that notebook?

T: She’s going to need a backup plan. Look—did you catch that? That tortured look? Can we get a camera in there?

B: Looks like she’s writing about how effortlessly the popular girls are interacting with others.

T: That’s an audience favorite, Barbara. We can only hope we’ll get to see her being spurned by a man she inexplicably can’t tell is gay.

B: Oh, that’s fun. Here we go: Abby has closed the notebook and is burying her face in Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. She’s almost daring members of the opposite sex to come near her. Can you believe this, Tom?

T: Barbara, this is classic Abby. We’ve seen these plays time and time again from her. She’s a master of avoiding social interactions.

B: I hope we get to see her appearing overwhelmed and scuttling into the bathroom.

T: What’s this?! She’s walking up to the podium and taking the microphone? What could she possibly have in store for us?

B: Tom, it appears she’s donning a headband with taped-on cat ears and…starting to sing. And…she’s singing “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat” from the long-running Broadway musical Cats!

T: Barbara, is she attempting to connect to other human beings through the performing arts?

B: I think she is, Tom. Well, the audience is certainly getting a treat tonight. I did NOT think Abby would pull this one out of her playbook.

T: Remember, Barbara, her coping mechanisms are extremely limited. Would one of her sponsors please airlift in a cocktail? She’s dying out here!

B: Haha, that Hunger Games reference was both amusing and timely, Tom. But seriously, alcohol.

— Abby Byrd

Abby Byrd — writer, grammarian and poster child for poor self-esteem and existential despair — has been featured on Scary Mommy and BluntMoms. She is in disbelief that she has yet to receive any financial compensation for being so clever and hilarious.You can follow her on Facebook, on Twitter and at her blog, Little Miss Perfect.

Dear Starbucks

Tammy ChildDear Starbucks,

As you know from the last letter I wrote you, I love you. However, I do have a bagel-sized bone to pick.

This past Sunday, my husband ran his first half marathon.  I, being of sound mind, decided to forgo the months of training and drive to the finish line, to cheer him on.

So, bright and early Sunday morning, I loaded the girls in the car and, since this mom requires a chai latte for any drive longer than 11 minutes, we headed to your drive-thru. Once there, I ordered, amongst other things, an everything bagel with butter. I asked that the bagel be buttered, instead of a few butter packets being thrown into the bagel bag. That’s when my friendly Starbucks barista informed me that she wasn’t allowed to butter my bagel.  What the what?

I drove up to the window, and as she handed me the bagel, my friendly Starbucks barista apologized and said it was company policy that they don’t butter bagels. What was this non-bagel-buttering nonsense?

I pulled into a parking spot, crawled into the back of the van, and as I knelt down to butter the bagel, I began to think. Does Mr. Starbucks know how dangerous it is to butter a bagel while driving? I’m pretty sure buttering a bagel while driving is right up there with texting while driving, on the list of things not to do while driving.

And, does Mr. Starbucks understand the concept of the drive-thru window? By its very design, you need to be in a car to use the drive-thru window, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that I was driving at the time of ordering the buttered bagel. Also, drive-thru windows are supposed to save time. They are supposed to be efficient.  But kneeling down in the back of a van in a Starbucks parking lot is neither a time saver nor efficient. And, to add insult to injury (and I do mean injury. . .I knelt down on a piece of Lego), the butter in the packet was so cold and so hard that, despite my best effort, I couldn’t get the butter to spread across the bagel.

And so, dear Starbucks, I suggest you call an emergency meeting and change this non-bagel-buttering policy immediately. It’s ridiculous, and not indicative of the Starbucks I have come to know and love.

Thank you,

— Tammy Child

Tammy Child is a stay-at home mom who loves chai lattes, anything chocolate and all of The Real Housewives.  She hates cleaning bathrooms.  Having a husband, a 4-year-old, a 5-year-old and an opinion on everything provides more than enough material for her blog, The Secret Life of a Stay at Home Mom. Tammy fancies herself a cross between Martha Stewart and Peggy Bundy, but really, she’s just a mom doing her best, blogging about the highs and lows and all the funny bits in between.

It’s Judy’s 70th birthday!

Andrea SchellWhen Andrea Schell couldn’t get her Mom a diamond or trip to Morocco for her 70th birthday, she did the next best thing — produced a personalized, funny, delightful and inspiring music video for her, starring 40 of her friends and family.

All You Magazine declared the video the Best Gift Ever in its December 2014 issue.

You can see the video by clicking here.

“Be careful. The song is addictive,” says Schell, a Santa Monica, Calif., writer and performer whose solo plays and monologues “make women feel great.”

Item not on my bucket list

Cindi LabadieI have quite a few kids. I may have alluded to the fact that sometimes life brings the unexpected. Understatement. Have you noticed that sometimes you do things and think, “Well, now, THAT wasn’t on my bucket list?” And the next thought may just be, “and I hope to never do it again.”

This happened exactly as I am going to explain it. One of the darlings (and, yes, they may report that I call them hooligans) came in the house one sunny summer morning to report that his bicycle was no longer where he left it. This did not concern me greatly because this person and his possessions often became displaced from one another.

Did this trait follow him into adulthood? I have promised not to tattle on my family, but let’s just say a remote key/wallet/shoe/sunglass finder would make a fabulous Christmas gift for him.

A few hours later it was apparent that his bike had been stolen. This made for an unhappy mom and an unhappier son. Life goes on. I needed to run some errands, so I loaded the darling children into the car so we could take care of business.

We stopped at a light as we left our subdivision and found ourselves behind a police car. A police car with a bicycle sticking out of the trunk. The police car made a right turn. We were heading that way as well. All of a sudden bikeless boy yells, “Mom, that is my bike.” It did look familiar, but I was faced with a number of dilemmas at this point.

Problem 1

I am driving behind the police car.  I do not have red-and-blue flashing lights to get his attention and request that he pull over. I do not have a bullhorn with me. Usually my voice is loud enough to get anyone to listen. Tailgating him does not seem like a wise choice. Speeding around him and then stopping fast in order to get him to stop does not seem in my best interest.

Please think about this for a moment.

How would you get his attention?

Problem 2

Of course, I have no paperwork showing this is my son’s bike. I have not filed a police report. Let me be candid here. Even if I did still have the paperwork confirming ownership of said bike, I would not have it with me and am quite sure it may have taken a week or three to locate it at home.

What to do?  I did what any red-blooded American mom with a passel of kids does. I followed the patrol car. Yes, I did. At a safe distance and five miles under the speed limit. I did not drive aggressively. I was asking myself how far he could be going. And I determined it probably WAS a stolen bike in his trunk, which he most likely was taking to the bike impound center or wherever stuff like that goes. It seemed unlikely that he loaded his own bike into the back of the police car that morning thinking he may have car trouble that day. I failed to mention that I am a very logical person, but I’m sure you have figured that out by now.

Back to my story. As luck would have it, my friendly police officer was probably thirsty because he turned into a convenience store parking lot. Of course, I followed him. I did park a respectful distance away. However, he did not exit his vehicle immediately but was watching me in his rear view mirror.

When he did get out of his car, he was kind of looking our way. I certainly didn’t want to startle him, but I also couldn’t leave the group of children unattended so I rolled down my window and politely said, “Hello. Excuse me. Hello.” Or something equally as exciting.  He approached my car, and I told him that my son’s bike had been stolen and we believed it was the one in his trunk. He was somewhat suspicious but asked if we had any paperwork to verify this or if we had filed a police report. I said no, but then my brown-eyed wonder shouted, “It has an orange piece of yarn tied around it.”

Who does that? 

The officer walked to the trunk, looked at the spot where the orange piece of yarn was attached (not visible from where we sat). Sure as shootin,’ that was our bike. He took it out of the trunk and told us to have a nice day. He said we saved him a lot of paperwork, and he was appreciative.

So ends the saga of a seemingly ordinary happening.

Have you ever chased down a police car and, if so, how did that work for you?

— Cindi Labadie

Cindi Labadie, mom to five and wife to one, blogs at “Seemingly Ordinary.”

Old Jingles

Bob NilesWe all have that one singing, dancing, repetitive, now-annoying Christmas decoration.

While shopping, we spotted a whimsical, very amusing, how does it do that, figurine. And it somehow danced and sang its way into our shopping bag. And now we have to live with it every year for a month.

Visitors come over and press the spot on its hand, foot or belly, and it sings a well-known happy Christmas song while dancing about. For us, it’s a dog wearing a toque with a bell that rings when its head moves back and forth as it sings “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It’s not a visitor playing the dog that causes one of us to say, “If I hear that stupid dog again, I’ll go crazy.” It’s one of the four grandkids.

Each one in succession has feared, tolerated, laughed and appeared unsure of the dog. Around the fourth Christmas, they’d play it over and over and over until you couldn’t stand ever again hearing these well-loved carols.Sketch

At first, it was fun watching each one on their first Christmas react to the scary dancing dog. Their eyes would get wide,  and they’d try to make out exactly what they were seeing. The whole family would gather around to watch their reaction. By their second Christmas, they would laugh a bit and then turn to hug grandpa or grandma. They weren’t sure how they felt about it. And because grandpas and grandmas are hug addicts, we would do it over and over again.

By the third Christmas, they’d play with it like it was a hot fire. They’d cautiously squeeze the spot as if were hot, then jump back as it started to dance and sing before laughing their heads off.

While we’re introducing the second granddaughter to Jingles (the first granddaughter named him), the first one, who is now four, is burning up two AA batteries playing it over and over and OVER again. By the time our oldest granddaughter is eight, two more grandkids have joined the fold — twin boys who are now three.

We removed the batteries from Jingles that year and lied, yes lied, to our own grandkids that Jingles was broken. I know there must be a special extra hot spot in Hell for grandparents who lie to four grandkids. But I couldn’t take another year of Jingles throwing his head back and forth ringing that bell on the end of his toque and singing at the top of his voice “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Our master, Hell-bound plan lasted but one Sunday visit. The next Sunday the well-schooled 8-year-old reasoned that it probably needed new batteries. “Ah, too bad grandpa doesn’t have any more AA batteries,” I lied again. Pour more coals on the fire.

“No worries,” Gabriella sang. “I’ll get them from another toy.”

What! She can’t do that, can she? I didn’t see that coming! I would have removed every battery in the house if I thought she’d grasped that knowledge. Or I would have kidnapped old Jingles and hid him under heavy boxes in the garage. Transplanting batteries! Now I could only hope for a AA rejection between toys.

She went through all the battery-operated toys like my wife at a BOGO shoe sale. Toys flew everywhere. She assessed the size of the batteries and wondered if she could live without that toy until stingy, old grandpa got around to buying new batteries. Gabriella and Charlotte (now five) both agreed that the “Little People” castle would still play fine without its two AA batteries.

I hoped they would put them in old Jingles the wrong way. Just mix up the positive and negative sides. That’s when their dad, who hasn’t done anything around here since he was 16, made the girls aware of the laws of polarity. It was at this point I did something that I’m not proud of. Without thinking, I said that if Gabriella got it working, she could take it home with her.

I have now ruined the boys’ Christmas for all eternity with this singing blight of a decoration. More coals on my fire.

But my problem was solved. No more Jingles!

Since my wife was now short one decoration, she went out and bought this ever-so-cute snowman surrounded by kittens that perform a squeaky sing-song version of “Frosty the Snowman.” The grandkids just love it!

— 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.

Reflections of Erma