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Poking a dead frog

Deadfrog-Final-SECONDMike Sacks’ new book, Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers, will be released by Viking/Penquin on June 24, 2014.

Up North Happiness Project

Last week Madam and I tried something new, a themed road trip. I needed fodder for my next book, and she hoped to point her book club cronies to a more inspiring topic than Senate filibuster. So, we decided to create the First Annual Up North Happiness Project. Surely it would be more fun than polarized politics and safer than last year’s project — recovering Madam’s stolen horse from Nowthen, Texas.

So I dusted off the Rand McNally Road Atlas, and chose a destination — Ely, Minn., home to North Pole dogsled explorer extraordinaire, Will Steger. It made a perfect spot to launch some lofty happiness goals. Madam invited friends Monica and Miss Vicki to join us. Then, in honor of our first happiness project resolution, Just Say Yes, she also invited Pooch One, Pooch Two and the Fluff Muffin Cat.

Ely is located approximately three rest stops and one doggie throw-up north of Saint Paul. That combined with Madam’s checkered past operating GPS made it a longish drive. Yet, the drive time and the Fluff Muffin’s erratic use of his litter box provided ample opportunity for each passenger to exercise resolution number two, Lighten Up.

The Happiness Project author, Gretchen Rubin, surely would have approved of our third resolution, Spread the Joy. It applied nicely to the birthday celebration we held in honor of Monica. Not only did the party include a fabulous soufflé cake and several bottles of chardonnay, it transformed our happiness blueprint into an AARP enterprise. In other words, the discussion veered sharply from men to Medicare and high-fiber food.

Night one, the women washed party dishes, picked up the cabin and tucked themselves into their cozy beds by nine bells. About midnight, a woodland creature attempted to make entry through an open window. Apparently the women believed the crackling sound came from a bear because they sprang out of bed as if someone had sounded a tornado siren. Madam shouted safety instructions and waved a canister of Mace pepper spray that she mistook for a flashlight. Pooches one and two barked bravely at the possibility of menacing wildlife. All the while, the Fluff Muffin reclined on the kitchen counter where he entertained a small field mouse. The terrified mouse was attempting to transport an M&M chocolate bar to his abode before the Fluff Muffin caught up to him. The candy wrapper made a fearsome crackling sound that no doubt prompted a bear alert. So much for lessons learned from the wildlife expert we just met at the Ely Bear Center.

Anyhoo, in the interest of happiness resolution number four, Be More Inclusive, Madam chased away the cat and prepared a plate of quiet food for the mouse. This meant the candy wrapper had to go, but the tiny intruder could still enjoy a peanut butter sandwich without waking any intrepid campers.

As for the Up North Happiness Project, I’d say it lost a few points in wildlife identification but made up for it in field mouse hospitality.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on the newly published book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy” blogs here.

Deadly

A Deadly Christmas CarolSharon Love Cook has published her latest mystery, A Deadly Christmas CarolShe’s also the author of A Nose for Hanky Panky. The books feature amateur sleuth and reporter, Rose McNichols, and assorted characters from the “sleepy fishing village” of Granite Cove where at midnight “the only things open are the sea clams.” The setting is inspired by Gloucester, Mass., where she grew up.

It’s a mystery

Bloom and DoomBarbara Early, writing as Beverly Allen, holds a degree in engineering, but her creative streak caused her to run screaming from the pocket-protector set. Her book, Bloom and Doom, will be released April 1.

Point me towards the cookies

I recently faced my deep fear of needles and became a heroin addict gave blood.  I decided to go for it for the same reason everyone else does: the free cookies and juice afterwards.

On the drive there, I hit two squirrels and a porcupine tried to block out the image of childbirth and the nurse trying for 45 minutes to ram the IV into my arm saying, “These aren’t veins. They’re pencil marks. Let her die.”  When I arrived at the donor clinic, I couldn’t help but notice the decor. The entire place screamed blood: red walls, red chairs and red dots which I saw just before I went down like Miley Cyrus’s pants. When I came to I was asked to wear a special badge that read:  DO NOT RESUSCITATE I’M A FIRST-TIME DONOR.

Next, a nurse asked me some questions and before I could say, “Get me the f@!! out of here” she whipped out a needle and stabbed my Peter Pointer. I blurted, “Owie! That hurt like hell but I saved a life right?  Book me in for three months and point me towards the cookies!”

Apparently that didn’t constitute ‘giving blood’; it was merely a quality check on my red junk. (Paranoid freaks).  After a 60-minute self-imposed breather, I moved on to the next stage: a questionnaire.  I was appalled by some of the questions:

Have you ever taken a human pituitary growth hormone?

Have you in the last six months handled monkeys or their bodily fluids?

Have you pole-danced naked in Saudi Arabia followed by a blood transfusion and rabies shot?

Equal parts impressed and mortified by their astute fact-checking, I answered: Who wants to know?

Two hours, a change of clothes, (I don’t want to talk about it) and an affidavit (I don’t want to talk about it) later, and I was fighting for my life in the bloodletting chair. A young nurse came at me with a tranquilizer gun smile, examined my arm and remarked, “You are an android.”  After Guinness World Book of Records left, the nurse found a vein. The vein was having a ‘me’ day and didn’t want to be found so it popped the needle out. Which hurt.  A senior nurse suggested I stop yelling: “How would you like it if I did this to you??” try the other arm but assured me I need not feel pressure to stay. I hesitated but then I remembered the bigger picture and asked, “Will I still get a cookie if I bail now?”

With the help of three burly donors-turned-bodyguards, the nurse successfully inserted the needle.  She said my blood was like unstrained porridge and gave me little tips to make it flow better: squeeze my hand, wiggle my fingers and do the Hokey Pokey upside down.  I floated in and out of consciousness for an hour while a hot doctor dabbed my forehead with a warm cloth and told me I was the bravest, most beautiful woman he’d ever met and then it was over. I got another special badge: NURSES HATE ME I GAVE BLOOD.

In the end, it wasn’t worth it. I felt used. The cookies were a massive downer (pre-packaged and hardly the warm homemade macadamia chocolate chip number I’d imagined), the juice was warm, and I wasn’t even offered a manicure fluffy robe. Frig that. I just don’t get the point of being a bloody donor.  Give me one reason, besides saving a life, anyone would do it.

Exactly.

— Colleen Landry

Colleen Landry has been writing since she was a beautiful and precocious child weaving tales of magic mushrooms turtles and princesses.  Now a fully grown (ish) adult, her writing offers very little magic but lots of laughs. Colleen thinks laughing at others life’s stages is healing and infectious.  She has been published in Canadian Living magazine and the Globe and Mail, as well as various local newspapers.  Colleen also teaches high school writing in an online environment where discipline is as simple as ‘Ctrl’ ‘Alt’ ‘Delete.’  She is married and has two teenage sons who eat even while asleep.  Follow her on Twitter @LandryColleen and enjoy her blog.

50. How not to make it the new 75

It seems like I’m constantly stumbling across references to “The New 50.” “50 is the new 40″ articles and posters crop up online and on Facebook seemingly by the minute, assuring us to whom it matters that we may be 50-something, but we can look 40-something. Not as easy as it sounds.

For many of us, our 50s are an age where we begin to struggle with issues that seem to have cropped up overnight. (I swear I gained 10 pounds the day I turned 50, and they’ve permanently parked themselves across my midsection with the tenacity of chewing gum in a toddler’s hair.) Suddenly phrases like “age-appropriate” filter into our clothes shopping, makeup we’ve worn forever now looks somehow wrong, and we’re wondering if we should grow our super-short hair into a more flattering length, but aren’t quite sure what that is.

Having been in the retail beauty business since the invention of lip gloss (I was teaching for Estee Lauder in Canada the year they introduced the first Clinique counter into the country. God, I’m officially older than dirt), I’ve learned that the best source of beauty advice is, not surprisingly, other women. Women are wonderfully willing to share insider secrets and tips, and I’ve yet to meet a beautiful woman who’s tired of being asked how exactly she got that way. I’ve collected dozens of tips over the years on how to age well, and what I’ve learned is that what you don’t do is as important as what you do. So I’m sharing my most-repeated advice from gorgeous women with you (because I’m generous that way).

Top 10 Things to Avoid to Not Look Old:

1. Mom jeans. High-waisted, tapered or cropped at the ankle, and made of heavy denim that adds the equivalent of a backwards fanny pack right where most of us need it the least. The belly. You don’t need to pay $175 for flattering jeans, but you do need to shop at stores whose names don’t end in “Mart.”

2. Bad bras. Ill-fitted, with not enough support for two Chiclets, much less gravity-assaulted beagle ears. By your 50s, it’s time to start buying bras that actually fit and that get ‘em up there. Keep the lacy, dental floss styles for the bedroom.

3. Overdone makeup. Heavy foundation falls into the cracks, red lipstick bleeds, and thick eyeliner starts looking a little “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.” Lighten up. You’ll look years younger and your pillowcases won’t look like a four-color Rorschach test every morning.

4. Mall hair. If your bangs resemble a large cauliflower floret attached to the center of your forehead, it’s time to rethink your stylist. I’m not sure why hair schools teach that unfortunate cut, but they must, because it’s everywhere in rural America. Repeat after me. Bangs should not look like they sprouted from your forehead, independently of the rest of your hair.

5. Baggy, oversize clothes. If you could fit a hamhock up under your shirt, I guarantee you that you look heavier and older than your years. Baggy clothes don’t hide middle-age weight gain. They draw attention to it by suggesting you’re actually filling up all that space. Think maternity clothes. What woman ever looked thinner in anything called a “smock”? Find a style that flatters your shape, then buy every color they make.

6. Conversely, your daughter’s clothes. This is a epitome of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Yippee for you (and I mean that. Really, I do) that you’re 55 and still wear a size 2, but this does not give you free rein to root through your size-2, 17-year-old daughter’s closet for what to wear to your high school reunion. Trust me, everyone will know how tiny you still are, even without the midriff-baring top and the vagina-peeking skirt.

7. No sunscreen. Very few things turn our faces into the backside of a saddlebag faster than sun exposure. Wear a minimum of 15 SPF. Every. Single. Day. And don’t be saying, “Well, I use sunscreen in the summer.” Swell, except that 80% of premature aging comes from UVA rays. The year-round ones that cut through clouds and glass, that we’re exposed to when we go get the mail. In February. And for those of you still using tanning beds… STOP THAT.

8. Church Lady clothes. Skirts longer than your va-jay-jay doesn’t mean a drab A-line down to your mid-calf, and less cleavage doesn’t mean buttoned up to your upper clavicle with a white Peter Pan collar and matching self-belt. If Laura Ingalls Wilder wore it to church on Little House, you shouldn’t be wearing it, ever. There are lots of choices out there that celebrate our shapes and sexuality (gasp!) without shoving it all up people’s business. If you’re not sure, grab a well-dressed girlfriend to go shopping with you and agree to try on every single thing she brings you. You’ll both have a ball.

9. Too thin. I added this one because I love you. Yep, too thin can be aging. The body and face need a little padding to soften lines and smooth the skin, making us look healthier and (there is a God) younger. After raising six kids, my mother mastered the art of brevity in life lessons and told her girls, “At a certain age, a woman has to choose between her face and her ass.” Bless you, Mom. So have a piece of cheesecake. And a glass of wine. Your face will thank you.

10. Woman on Top. Then there’s my Grammy, whose pithy wisdom I still miss every day. Years ago, she instructed me to grab a large mirror and lay it on the floor, then kneel over it on all fours. Look down. That’s what your partner sees when you’re on top. (Go ahead and try it. We’ll wait.) If your face skin falls forward like a TV ad for the Life Style Lift, or your boobs dangle like two sock puppets on a clothes line and your belly drops low enough to sway to the beat, it’s time to get underneath or consider dimming the lights. Hubs and I have been doing it in the dark since I was in my 40s. He blames it on childhood nightmares. He has no idea.

(Author’s disclaimer: I don’t follow all of these rules, so don’t take lessons from me. Most of the time, I’m an insecure mess who does as much wrong as right. But fortunately, I have a lot of beautiful friends.)

— Vikki Claflin

Oregon writer Vikki Claflin writes the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines. Two recent pieces have been published in “Life Well Blogged, Parenting Gag Reels, Hilarious Writes and Wrongs,” sold through Amazon.com.

Bubble and bits with Grandpa Goofus

I love riding my bicycle and I adore playing with my cats, Shilalie and Shmeekie. So, shoot me already. Both activities bring out the kid inside of me. Makes me feel 70 again and all that rot. Unsurprisingly, my children think I’m beyond foolish, hinting that Poppy must be entering his second childhood.

That’s ridiculous. I’m still in my first.

I moved to a retirement housing complex recently. While observing “Poppy’s reckless passion for biking,” my new neighbors smile patronizingly when they notice me pumping along with my hands off the handle bars. (I’m such a showoff). I imagine they’re thinking that the old boy is out to recapture his youth.

Poppycock. The old boy is in his prime, baby.

Until lately, the only thing the neighbors have known about Poppy is that he’s quite the biker. They know nothing about my very favorite childhood passion. Cats. Now I’ve decided I should probably tell them about my felines. Here’s why:

Shilalie and Shmeekie love for me to blow bubbles. It’s become a daily ritual. After dipping a tiny wand into a solution of bubble-soap, I blow on it and fill the room with eclectic-sized bubbles. Last weekend, while proudly blowing bubbles for the little brats, I felt human eyes upon me.

I turned and looked directly into the bugging eyeballs of an elderly couple passing by my window. Recognizing them as neighbors, I started to wave. Then I noticed they were studying me with unequivocal pity. Shaking their heads in mock melancholy, they walked away.

What’s so pathetic about my blowing bubbles for my cats?

Then I realized that the Norfolk Island Pine plants in my apartment had considerably obstructed the neighbors’ view. They could easily see me blowing bubbles –– but they couldn’t possible have seen my cats. Now they surely believe that I’m just an old man who likes to recklessly ride bikes in public and blow bubbles in private. No enigma. No mystique. Just Grandpa Goofus at large.

Henceforth, while sunning my plants, I must be particularly careful because nosey neighbors suddenly love to peek in my windows. Today I was engaged in articulation exercises for a throat condition. My routine was interrupted when I heard muffled snickers. It turned out to be three neighbors blatantly propped against my window, observing me as I uttered nonsense syllables and mimicked the sound of a horse.

Awkward.

Good thing I keep my drapes drawn at night.  Pronto at 11 p.m. Poppy parties heartily with his stuffed animal collection. Don’t ask. Perhaps tomorrow I should take my stuffed animals for a bike ride while blowing bubbles and reciting my speech exercises.

Too much?

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.

Garage sale dishes

Warning! Do not go to garage sales. Things you buy there can create extra work for you.

My wife and I recently stopped at a garage sale late on a Saturday and found a set of Anchor Hocking milk glass plates with gold painted edges.

Even though the dishes were from the 1950s, they were in great condition and my wife was floored when the guy said he only wanted $5 for the set. We had expected him to say $15 or  $20 so we had no excuse not to buy them when he said $5 for this beautiful set of dishes with their gold trim.

We got them home and I started putting them in the dishwasher for a quick cleanup when I discovered why they were so cheap.

“Stop,” my wife Madeline shouted. “You can’t put them in the dishwasher. It will wear off the gold paint,” she explained.

“So, how will we clean them?” I asked.

“By hand.”

“Whose hand?” I asked suspiciously.

“The hand that has the dishrag,” she said, handing me a dishrag.

So, now instead of finishing a meal and putting the plates in the dishwasher for a quick and easy cleaning, we have to wash them by hand. And not just the plates, the cups and saucers, too.

That’s right. We have to use the cups and saucers that came with the set because we have them. I can no longer use my well-loved chipped mug from IHOP for my morning coffee, but have to sip from a milk glass, gold-trimmed cup that sits in a gold-trimmed saucer. And then wash them.

I also accidently discovered that gold-trimmed plates don’t do well in the microwave to heat food. The plates cause the microwave to spark and make mad scientist lab noises when being heated.

I asked Madeline how I’m supposed to heat up food now.

“Well, you just put the food in a plastic container, heat it, and then transfer it to the milk glass dishes,” she said.

“But then I have two things to wash instead of one,” I said.

“No you don’t.  The plastic container you can put in the dishwasher after you rinse it out thoroughly in the sink.”

“What about if I want to reheat some coffee?”

“You put the coffee in that crummy old mug you have. Heat it and then pour the coffee into one of the good cups,” she explained.

“Then I have to wash out my mug and put it in the dishwasher.”

“No,” she said.  “Then you throw that crummy old chipped cup in the garbage.”

So you see by going to that garage sale and buying those fancy gold-trimmed dishes we now have the convenience of a dishwasher we can’t use to wash our dishes and a microwave we can’t use to heat up food. And, I have a lot of extra work on my dishpan hands.

The only good thing is my wife went to a garage sale last week and bought a Malmac (plastic) white bowl with fake gold trim that matches our dishes.  It can go in the dishwasher without damage and reheat food in the microwave without burning down the house.

It’s the only thing I will eat out of now.  She should have bought two.

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is a journalist, writer and owner of the West Michigan-based marketing company, Write Stuff.  He wrote two books of humor, Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Memories of Things I Haven’t Forgotten Yet and Guide to Surviving Life. He also has just published two e-books, Chomp and Something in the Blood.

Reflections of Erma