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Nostril straws

Laura Grace WeldonI don’t buy straws.

Yeah, I’m cheap, but I prefer to believe I’m making an ethical stand.

Straws have one purpose: to spare us the workout of lifting a drink to our lips while tilting the glass slightly.

Each of these miniature plastic pipes are used for a few minutes, then discarded to burden the environment for decades. I think they should only be sold as medical supplies for people who physically cannot perform the lifting/tilting maneuver.

Naturally, straws fascinate my children. Their grandmother, who thinks I’m an extremist for picking up crying babies and limiting screen time, keeps several jumbo packages of straws in a low cupboard where my children can get them any time they choose. Because she lives with us, that’s all the time.

This afternoon two-year-old Samuel ran full speed from grandma’s cupboard with not one, but two straws.  I might have paused to wonder what lesson on physics my darling could learn while trying to get a drinkable airlock around both straws, but my attention was diverted because this precious child was wearing the straws shoved mightily up his nostrils.

Such behavior might be funny among a certain type in college. Not at home. I picture a fall drastic enough to force the straws up into his frontal lobes. Doctors would shrug sadly and comment on how the child would now be among those who cannot physically perform the lifting/tilting maneuver.

I believe parents can make stuff up if it’s for a good cause. So I grab the straws and say in a melodramatic you-scared-Mama voice, “Oh no!  If you fell, these straws could get stuck in your nose!”

Unconcerned, he countered, “I like to put things up my nose.”

“You do? What things do you put in your nose?”

“I put food in my nose all the time.”

Now I’m thinking major medical. Is he the child I hear snoring at night? Is there a lima bean acting like a flapping valve cover in some inner chamber of his respiratory system? What kind of traumatic scope-down-the-nose emergency room procedure might have to be imposed to discover this?

I ask sweetly, “Why would you put food in your nose?”

He says, “Horses live in my nose. They get hungry.”

Clearly there is a kid rule; they can make stuff up if it’s for a good cause. Anything to avoid hearing mom’s philosophy about straws. I’ll raise a glass to his nose horses as I practice some lifting/tilting maneuvers of my own this evening.

— Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon lives with her straw-deprived family on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose. She is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and a handbook of natural education titled Free Range Learning. Hang out with her online on FB and her blog.

With Deflategate flattened,
Conflategate pumps us up

Charles HartleyBrian Williams, the GQ Magazine cover boy turned NBC News anchors aweigh, admitted this week he “conflated” the truth about whether he was on the U.S. military helicopter that got shot down in the Iraqi War in 2003. By using the word conflated, he conflated the issue further.

Does anyone know what conflate means? It’s like asking if anybody knows the capitol of Peru. When Williams used this word conflate to describe how he embellished the truth, that he was not on the plane shot down but another one that wasn’t, less than 9 percent of American citizens knew what he meant by conflate. The few who knew included syndicated newspaper columnist, George Will; ESPN basketball analyst from the esteemed Duke University, Jay Bilas; and Ryan Fitzpatrick, an NFL quarterback from Harvard University who posted the highest score ever on the IQ test for quarterbacks.

With Deflategate flattened, Conflategate is pumping us up.

In all walks of life, from sea to shining sea, conflation runs rampant — and it is ruinous. When Tom Brady said recently that he knew nothing about the football air pressure being taken out before the AFC title game, everybody knew he was conflating.

When his coach, Bill Belichick, said he knew nothing about the ball-tampering, he sounded like a card-carrying conflator. When Roger Clemens said several years ago that he “misremembered” details about whether he used steroids to help him fire a baseball faster, he could have just said he misconflated. This would not have been misrememberable. The biggest conflation of all time was President Bill Clinton who on worldwide TV pointed at the gaggle of salacious reporters and said: “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, not a single time.”

Everybody’s guilty of this insidious act. You may not have noticed, but when I write these blogs, I conflate sometimes. In the sports-blogging arena, conflations are table stakes. Speaking of steak, I would love a T-Bone with A1 Sauce right now.

When I gain weight, I conflate. Are you taking the bait? I need a date. When is it time to mate? It is our fate to conflate. Guard the gate. A woman is beautiful if her name is Kate. Kate Upton, we love you. Happy Valentine’s Day.

It took Lance Armstrong telling the lie 898 times that he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs before he finally admitted he conflated. Is lying better or worse than conflating? I don’t know because I haven’t looked up the word’s meaning. For now I’m conflating about the word conflate. Let me tell you, it feels great. Guys named Nate tend to be good basketball players. Remember Nate Tiny Archibald? Dude could ball.

At least lying is a word people understand. Wouldn’t you respect Williams a lot more had he gone on the evening news this week and said, “I lied about being on that chopper. I did it to make myself sound like I was part of a group of brave soldiers. I wanted to position my personal brand as not only a great news anchorman but also a courageous American hero so more women would love me. I lied. I lied. I lied.”

No one ever says they lied. They only admit to conflating, misleading, misremembering and forgetting. The irony is this: everybody lies. I swear I’m not lying. But I might be conflating.

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

Sgt. Tim Cotton

Tim_CottonSgt. Tim Cotton, the author of the police department’s Facebook page in Bangor, Maine, is a storyteller at heart who connects with readers with his amusing musings. Bangor boasts a population of about 33,000, but the department’s Facebook page has attracted more than 100,000 followers — boosted by some recent practical, yet humorous, snowstorm survival tips that went viral. The best advice: Stock up on Cap’t Crunch. Count The Washington Post, Huffington Post and The New York Times among fans. NPR calls the page not your typical police blotter fodder.

Grandfatherly advice

Grandfather Knows BestWhat guy takes his granddaughter to the aquarium and spouts fish puns all day? In Grandfather Knows Best: A Geezer’s Guide To Life, Immaturity, And Learning How To Change Diapers All Over Again, nationally syndicated humorist Jerry Zezima writes about the joys of grandparenthood and the things one man will do for the little girl who has captured his heart. He’s the author of the Leave It to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles and serves as president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Lessons I learned from playing Clue

Stephanie D. LewisI spent many a childhood evening around the kitchen table eschewing Monopoly because my brother stole from the bank and pretended to flatten my dog token with his iron one.  That’s when Clue became my game of choice. And oh — the pertinent things it taught me!

SCARLET — I learned that Miss Scarlet is either a southern Belle with a petulant personality (and an 18-inch waist!) who makes sure that men frankly DO give a damn or she’s a smoldering femme fatale character with a long cigarette holder who would be pronounced guilty if “looks could kill.” I realized that by choosing Miss Scarlet, I would ALWAYS be entitled to go first in the game. After all, it was written in the rules, which I would eagerly drag out to prove to anyone who mistakenly thought the highest roll on the dice determined order. But I would have picked Miss Scarlet anyhow, even if she was destined to go last (although I’m quite sure all men wanted to be behind her!) because aside from Veronica (in the Archies) I had very few raven-haired role models. From my 11-year-old perspective, she was both smart and sexy. Plus from her starting position, she could quickly sneak into “The Lounge” where everyone knew was the prime place to knock someone off.  Yes, I got into many a rowdy tussle with my female cousins who claimed Miss Scarlet before we even removed the lid to the box. Disclaimer: I never used a lead pipe on any of them.

WEAPONS — Having grown up with a father whose idea of fixing the plumbing was letting his fingers do the walking in the Yellow Pages, I learned from Clue that a wrench was a murder weapon, not a tool. The first time my handy boyfriend came over, noticed my leaky sink and pulled a wrench from his car — I was already dialing 911 to report domestic abuse.

PALACE — I learned that when I grew up, I wanted an opulent house (like the Clue board) with its own Billiard Room, Library and Conservatory. And since when is a “Hall” a special room in and of itself? In our home, a narrow hall led to a dingy bathroom — sadly the hall was the only way we got from one room to another. There were no “secret passageways.” Deprivation.

COERCION — I learned that you can pressure your opponents into giving you information you need by moving your token into the Kitchen (when you already hold  card for the kitchen) and then asking to see either Mr. Green (when you already hold a card for him as well) and the knife. Nowadays, I walk into our kitchen and upon seeing a knife (with some crumbs) I’m able to force a character named Mr. Son (who wears a green shirt) to admit guilt in eating the last piece of cheesecake.

ENTERTAINMENT — I learned that when you run out of things to write about, you can use board games to create a blog that breaks you into The Huffington Post like I did here. Or you can just create a movie like they did in 1985 when they turned Clue into a feature length film starring Leslie Ann Warren as my favorite, Miss Scarlet.  However, this was no “Whodunnit” plot but instead it was a “Howdunnit?”  How DID they keep her from falling out of that dress??

WINNING — I learned that whenever I beat my family at Clue, my “prize” was getting to put the game away.  Interestingly, when I lost — my penalty was also . . . yep, you guessed it! Let’s just say I wasn’t the sharpest weapon in the arsenal.

FLIRTING — When I played Clue with a boy I had a crush on, I learned to wear a red dress, flutter my Miss Scarlet eyelashes at his Colonel Mustard’s hot dog, and try to land in the Ballroom a lot to see if he would ever get the hint and ask me to a school dance. I then learned this never worked. Nowadays, I just beat the pants off men I like in Scrabble, while spelling out their favorite seven letter word, “Bedroom.”

Thank you Parker Brothers for all the valuable life lessons!

— Stephanie D. Lewis

Stephanie D. Lewis regularly contributes to Huffington Post as well as pens a humor blog, “Once Upon Your Prime” where she tries to “Live Happily Ever Laughter.” She also writes an ongoing “Female Fun” column for North County Woman Magazine called Razzle, Dazzle & Frazzle and was recently named one of 2014 Voices of the Year by BlogHer. Her 2008 book, Lullabies & Alibis, is the tale of marriage, motherhood, mistakes and madness.  As a single mother of six, she knows a lot about the madness.  She’s supervised potty training and driver’s training simultaneously.  Too many accidents.  A live-in housekeeper?  Nah, she’ll take a live-in psychotherapist.

Three ways to waste time
during the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is a waste of time.Charles Hartley

With that in mind, during Sunday’s behemoth boondoggle I recommend you take wasting time to new heights.

Your goal should be — trust me on this — is to waste more time and be less productive during the game than any one of the 100 billion who will tune in.

For your first time-wasting task, take out a yellow notepad. As the first quarter unfolds, doodle pictures of what you see. Draw doodles of whatever you think is not worth doodling such as a sideline cameraman, a speckle of dust of your TV set, the TV wire on your living room floor, or a person in the stands who looks dull and non-reflective.

Once you finish three doodles, get scissors. Cut out your doodles. Take them outside in your backyard. Drop them on the ground. Stand there for one hour and 45 minutes. Don’t move. Your job is to think about nothing. Focus on that word: nothing. Visualize it.  Once one hour and 45 minutes have elapsed, pick up the doodles, walk into your front yard, and punt each doodle in succession with your right foot.

The paper won’t elevate. No matter.  You will have killed time. This should get you to the half-time show.

Second, go to your junk drawer. Every house has one. Yours will be an eclectic spread of something similar to broken screwdrivers, unsharpened pencils, photos of your kids playing on the swing set, balls of cotton and the like.

Dump everything onto your living room floor. Organize the junk by categories. Put the tools, such as the screwdriver and paint scraper, in one area. Cluster the office supplies, such as pens and yellow post-it notes, in another area. And so on.

Then — and this is critical — walk around your house searching for other things to add to the junk drawer. If you find things that don’t belong in any of the groupings you created, be strong. This might be a Raisinette you find underneath a den couch or a hair pin worn by your daughter in kindergarten. Be open-minded.

Drop to your hands and knees and look under every bed in the house. There is bound to be something in there that, in your gut, you believe should be in the junk drawer. Before you commit to doing anything with this new-found junk, hesitate for 25 minutes. This will waste time. The longer you hesitate the more time will run by.

Don’t move until you are sure the fourth quarter has begun.

Then, instead of actually putting the new junk you find into the drawer, lay it all out on the floor with the other junk. Don’t expedite. Avoid efficiency. Drag this process out.

Midway through the fourth quarter, embark on your third and final time-wasting trek, which is full-blown investigation of the inside of your loafers. Go in your closet and grab them. Sit on the floor. Peer into one of them. Notice the color and texture. See what brand is it. Go to your computer and Google the brand name. Once you get it called up, do not — I implore you — do not read it. Go back to the shoe. Smell it. If it smells, smell it again. Judge the smell.  Go get the yellow notepad on which you doodled.

Scribble lines to make a makeshift chart. Along the X axis write in separated columns “smells like Newark, New Jersey,” “smells like my high school locker room rest room” and “smells like a trash dumper.” Along the Y axis create two rows. In the first row write “left shoe” and in the second “right shoe.” Put a check mark in the appropriate box for each shoe.

By this time the Super Bowl will be over. You will have wasted more time during the game than anyone else.

Don’t devalue this. You outperformed 100 billion people.

In my mind, you will deserve to be awarded the NFL’s Vince Lombardi Trophy.

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

Boot camp hell

It all started with the misguided decision that I should try something new. Why I thought the answer was boot-camp class and not a nice wine-tasting class remains a mystery.Alaina Smith

The first sign of trouble appears when I see the teacher, whom I will call Miss Perky. She’s just finished teaching a weights-workout class, yet she remains alert and ready to lead boot camp. She is a petite, lean, muscle-covered machine. Tiny droplets of enthusiasm glisten on her forehead.

I ask her what gear I need. She says to grab a step and light, medium and heavy weights, though only one of each size. I pick up the lightest triplet of weights possible, set up my step and survey my classmates. Although this is new-year’s-resolution season, I see no curvy comrades. Instead I see very fit men and women, possibly bionic. I ignore this red flag at my own peril.

The class starts at 5:45 p.m. with jumping jacks. Soon we are punching, jabbing and shuffling while holding a weight in our right hand. We do three sets of each move amid Miss Perky’s shouts of “UPGRADE!” — our cue to frantically chuck the weight aside and snatch a heavier one without missing a beat.

The stereo is playing popular songs wound up to a frenzied tempo designed to explode the human heart. Miss Perky is singing along, as holding a heavy weight while doing speed drills on her three-tiered step has not yet put her out of breath. Meanwhile, I’ve decided I’m not going to “UPGRADE!” except occasionally, and never to the heaviest weight.

By 6:25, she’s still on the right arm. This does not bode well. Assuming this is an hour-long class, she’s past due to change sides. By the time she finally switches arms, I am exhausted and despondent. I’m barely going through the motions, sullen as a knocked-up check-out girl.

As we near the one-hour point, Miss Perky whips out the truly crazy moves. My classmates don’t seem daunted, but all I can think is, “Oh, hell, no.” I have already been “modifying,” doing my lunges off the step at a normal speed rather than attempting her scissor-legged, lunge-bounce. I’ve already put my head below my pounding heart to try her plank-like, kicky thing, AND NOW, I’m supposed to mimic her as she bounces out of push-up position and jumps atop her precariously high step?

By the time she suggests push-ups, I want her dead. It is unclear whether this has anything to do with the fact that I forgot to eat my protein bar at 4 p.m., and so my last food was approximately six hours ago, or whether my homicidal urges are completely appropriate given the circumstances. Rather than cooling the class down, she has kicked it up a gear. As we were already in super-high gear, I have no idea what to call this. It’s the kind of gear that makes normal people throw a rod. All I know is that I am totaled, my engine steaming and  hissing with futility.

Just past the hour mark, Miss Perky shows no signs of slowing down. The voice in my head that had urged me not to quit walked out 15 minutes ago. I decide to throw in the sweaty towel. I put my gear away and go, leaving the maniacs and their supreme leader behind.

Next time I want to try something new, I’m going to the cute little Italian trattoria I’ve heard so much about. I can’t think of a better way to “UPGRADE!”

— Alaina Smith

Born with an appreciation for all things sedentary, Alaina Smith pursues her love of great stories by writing, reading and watching movies with her husband, Frank. Her true tales appear in anthology series including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Chocolate for Women, A Cup of Comfort and more.

Out of touch

Judy ClarkeThere’s a first time for everything. Ah yes, I remember the days when, if you wanted a table in a busy restaurant, the hostess would write your name on a pad, tell you how many minutes you’d have to wait, and point you towards a comfortable sitting area.

Then along came those annoying buzzer things to hold or stick in your pocket. They resemble something from “Star Wars.” Scare the bejesus out of you when they buzz.

Now there’s a newer twist. The technology that arrived with iPhones and iPads usurped buzzers. Where have I been, you’ll ask? Hm, well, locked in my own little world still using a landline, and neither twittering, tweeting nor texting. I do have a cellphone, but it’s only for emergencies, my emergencies. My immediate family and one or two friends have the number. Phone’s seldom turned on, though.

Recently we went to a new restaurant within walking distance from home. I gave the hostess our name, told her there would be four of us. She asked for my phone number. I considered lying since it was obviously a marketing ploy — get our number and hound us with phone calls. But I gave it to her and prepared to wait. Not minutes, mind you, but an hour — an hour until we were seated, and 40 minutes until we got the pizza we’d ordered the instant we sat down. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, when Leslie and Martin arrived, I mentioned I’d had to give our phone number. Leslie burst out laughing. “You gave them your home number, didn’t you, Mom?” Her laugh bounced off the high ceilings.

“Well, she asked for my phone number” I huffed. “I don’t give my cell number to just anyone, you know.”

My daughter knew without asking that I didn’t even have my cell phone with me. She explained restaurants nowadays want your cell number to alert you, especially when there are a lot of people waiting to be seated. By this time there were at least 25 people standing around, and as many more walked out when they heard how long the wait time would be.

“I’m standing right here. If she calls our name, I’ll hear her…” Leslie started to interrupt, with a comment about my hearing I was sure, so I amended my words to, “…I’ll read her lips.”

“What if you decide to go shopping down the street?”

“If I wanted to go shopping, I’d go shopping. I wouldn’t be standing in line here…” I spluttered. “And, no, I don’t want a smart phone so a hostess can call me to say my table is ready when I’m standing two feet away!” Oh yes, I was on a toot.

“Other people like the convenience,” my daughter argued.

Convenience would be getting seated in a restaurant in a reasonable amount of time, without benefit of a phone call,” I grumbled.

“Sorry, Mom, but you’re out of touch.”

At least I’m not as out of touch as my grandparents who refused to have a telephone at all. “If someone wants to talk to me,” Granddad said, “they can come to the door. We’ll set on the porch and we’ll talk.” 

My mother was as frustrated with her parents as my daughter is with me.

— 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).

Reflections of Erma