Book Review: Gina Barreca’s ‘If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?’

June 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Books, Humor










Purchase on and help support Women’s Voices non-profit mission.



What kind of woman would write an essay from the point of view of a female orgasm? That would be Gina Barreca, feminist humor scholar, humorist, philosopher, and all-around gadfly.  For decades she’s been writing entertaining and illuminating columns that share her insights and observations on everything from pop culture to politics.    

You can count on Gina for essays that are fun, feminist, and provocative. She always speaks her mind, and often says exactly what I’d like to say—only she says it better. In this political cycle, for instance, she penned my favorite Hillary-troll-bashing piece, the sharp and witty “Hillary Is a Woman Who Doesn’t Know Her Place.” And to have a nationally syndicated columnist who is our age, articulate as hell, wildly successful, and a diehard feminist? That’s fabulous.

I first became aware of Barecca with her first book, an analysis of women‘s humor called They Used To Call Me Snow White. But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor. At the time, I was editing collections of humor by women. My sole criterion for including a piece? If a submission made me laugh, it went into the book. If it didn’t, I left it out. I often couldn’t articulate exactly why a piece was funny. I could only say, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart one said about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Reading Barreca, a feminist humor scholar who has studied—extensively—what makes women laugh, and why (and why some so-called funny stuff didn’t amuse us at all), taught me a lot about what I was doing. (And made me sound like less of an idiot when I was being interviewed about my books.)     

Barecca’s latest book isn’t a scholarly work, but a new collection of her humorous essays called If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?: Questions and Thoughts for Loud, Smart Women in Turbulent Times. (St. Martin’s Press). Most of them first ran in the Hartford Courant, Psychology Today, and The Chronicle Of Higher Education.  

Although the book’s subtitle states that it’s for “loud, smart women,” you don’t have to be loud to love it. I’m a soft-spoken librarian and I savored each essay. Even the titles are fun. “If You Run With a Bad Crowd, Can You Call It Exercise?”; “The Cheap Motel Backside of Facebook”; “Why We Know That When Guys Make Slurping Sounds at Us On the Street, It Isn’t a Compliment”; “‘Happily Married’ Is Not An Oxymoron”; and, my favorite, “Girlfriends: As Essential as Cupcakes and Revenge.”  

And then there’s Gina’s riff from the viewpoint of the female orgasm, which is just a gem. “I’m neither elusive nor a mystery once you get to know me—and I certainly hope you will,” she begins. After a look at a number of turn-ons (intimacy, comfort, honesty) and turn-offs (distraction, deadlines, fakery) that most of us will recognize, she concludes with this advice: “If I’m elusive or mysterious to you, kiddo, maybe you’re not doing something right.”  

Amen, sister! 

If You Lean In isn’t the kind of book you’ll bomb through in one sitting. Instead, put it on your nightstand or your coffee table and enjoy an essay or two at a time. My own preference is to read Barecca’s work aloud to the man in my life, a practice that has inspired plenty of laughter, as well as some memorable conversations. 

Needless to say, it would make an ideal book club selection.   

In conclusion? If You Lean In is a thoroughly enjoyable read. But will reading Barreca’s book evoke a mental response that’s as powerful as a female orgasm? There’s only one way to find out! 


RELATED: Library Law: Checking in Books and Breaking Up Fights

Don’t Even Think About Stealing This Essay

June 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Careers, Humor

2602495641_eb84a0e1c4_zPhoto by Satish Krishnamurthy via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Reader’s Digest recently helped itself to one of my humor pieces. They ran an excerpt from “Would You Ask a Librarian For a Lap Dance?”—which first ran right here on Women’s Voices For Change. I had no idea that they’d done it until, reading the magazine, I turned a page. And there it was!  

They did give me a byline. But they hadn’t asked my permission to use the piece, or negotiated a payment. When I emailed the editor, she apologized, told me that they’d fully intended to get in touch, and sent me a check and a bunch of free copies.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. 

In fact, it happens a lot.

A while back, a story of mine was included in an anthology without my knowledge. How did I find out? The book was a collection of stories about doctors. My pal Don, a doctor, was given the book for his birthday. When he saw my story, he phoned. “Congratulations!,” he said, “for being in this doctoring anthology.”  

“Doctoring anthology? What doctoring anthology?” 

“Wait—you didn’t know you were in this book? How could that happen?”

Excellent question. 

When I got in touch with the publisher, I was told that the editors had found “Outpatient” in a long-defunct literary magazine. Although they were unable to locate me to ask my permission to use it, they liked the story so much that they’d included it in the book anyway.

“We owe you an apology,” they told me.    

“Yes you do!” I agreed. “You also owe me $200.” (That’s my usual reprint fee.)

A week later, I had the check. 

I understand how this happens. I used to edit women’s humor anthologies myself. I’d move heaven and earth to track down authors and get the rights. But, in a few cases, the piece was so good that even if I couldn’t find the writer, I crossed my fingers and used it anyway, assuming that writers would rather discover that they’re in a cool book and be paid after the fact than be left out. 

But I’m starting to wonder how much time and effort some editors are actually taking. Is publish-first-and-pay-later an honest mistake? Or is grab-the-content-and-see-who-notices a new business model?

Two years ago, a Canadian company that creates standardized tests included two of my stories in their testing materials without telling me. I found out only because a teacher whose job was to grade the tests liked my stories so much that she wrote me a fan letter. 

When I asked them about it, I was told that they’d found the stories online, but had been unable to locate me.

“But I have a website!” I protested. “My work runs in The New York Times! I blog on The Huffington Post. I’ve even been on the Today Show. If you Google ‘Writer Roz Warren,’ THOUSANDS of links turn up. So-just how hard did you try?”

“We have an escrow account for you,” was the response. “It has $4,000 in it. Where should we send the check?’’

For that kind of money, I told them to help themselves to my work anytime.  

And then there are the Nefarious Content Thieves. These are sites that swipe your stuff, remove your byline, change your title, and presto—it’s new content on their site!

One site recently grabbed one of my essays, changed a few lines, and published it on their site under their editor’s byline. (How did I find out? A reader who recognized it alerted me.) The site didn’t take it down until the editor who’d originally published (and paid for) it wrote them a threatening email.

The good news? If my experience is any indication, we writers can often rely on loyal readers to police this activity. But it’s also clear that a writer in the digital age must remain Ever Vigilant.

“From time to time,” one writer pals tells me,  “I’ll Google a line from one of my popular essays. You’d be amazed how much chicanery this turns up.”

When an editor tells me that using my work without asking was an honest mistake (or even a calculated risk), I believe her. (Especially if an apology and a check are forthcoming.) And you’ve got to trust the Reader’s Digest. It’s almost un-American not to. 

Still, all of this does make me wonder how many magazines, websites, anthologies, and TV shows have run my work without my knowledge. I’ll never know for sure. 

I console myself with that thought that theft, as they say, is the most sincere form of flattery. And feel grateful for the readers who notice when my work is being filched and let me know.  

My advice to my fellow writers? Stay vigilant. Google yourself often. Hope that if your readers see something, they’ll say something. 

And, if all else fails? You can always write an essay about it.


More Essays by Roz Warren

Roz Warren: Damn! It’s a Low-Salt Life for Us

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPouring salt on my food is one of the cornerstones of my identity. “Would you like some soup with your salt?” my brother-in-law will joke, watching me rain salt into his delicious homemade fish chowder.


Library Law: Checking in Books and Breaking Up Fights

9733763683_de45d5361e_zWe librarians are expected to check out your books and answer your reference questions. But we’re often called upon to perform other tasks. For example, breaking up fights between moms in our play area.

Roz Warren: Less Is Less

5436723519_458dec7cc4_zI can’t afford the world travel, the pricey coffee table art books and the expensive restaurant meals that I used to enjoy. Do I miss those things? Not enough to return to the rat race that makes them possible. This is what I’ve discovered — having less means having less stress.


Roz Warren: Damn! It’s a Low-Salt Life for Us

April 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Food & Drink, Humor

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Marlon E via Flickr. (Creative Commons License)

My sister laughed out loud when I told her that one of the few things I could do about the Meniere’s Disease that I’d just been diagnosed with was to drastically reduce my intake of salt.

Why? I’ve been known all my life for over-salting my food. Before I even bother to taste it, I douse everything I eat. When a meal begins, everybody in my family automatically hands me the salt shaker.

I even carry a little packet of salt in my wallet, for Salt Emergencies. Such as? When we order take-out pizza at the library where I work, but when it arrives I find that the library’s sole salt shaker has gone missing.

It’s long been my claim that I’d rather go hungry than eat under-salted pizza.

Pouring salt on my food is one of the cornerstones of my identity. “Would you like some soup with your salt?” my brother-in-law will joke, watching me rain salt into his delicious homemade fish chowder.

I’ve always been lucky enough to have very low blood pressure. So when dinner companions cautioned me about the health risks of covering my entrée with salt, I’d respond with a cheerful “Not to worry. I’ve got low blood pressure. I’m just self-medicating.”

Then came my Meniere’s diagnosis. And wham! Just like that, I was one of those seniors who scan the ingredient label of each item before placing it in my shopping cart, and grill waiters about the sodium content of the soup.

The only silver lining? The man in my life and I are in this together.

On the very same week that I was told to eliminate salt from my diet because of Meniere’s, Mark was told to eliminate salt from his because of his skyrocketing blood pressure.

What are the odds?

In the two decades we’ve been together, Mark and I have shared many things. A love of reading. Good conversation. Taking long walks. Visiting museums.

Apparently one thing we now get to enjoy together is shunning salt.  “It isn’t a ghastly ordeal,” we tell each other. “It’s a fun new adventure!”

Actually, it’s a ghastly new adventure.

But we’re making the best of it. I’ve always thought of our relationship as an ongoing conversation. Now we have a brand-new topic! And going grocery shopping gives us plenty to talk about.

“Who knew that there was so damn much sodium in Original V8? 480 mg per serving! Are they insane?”

“And classic Cheerios! 138 mg of sodium? Really?”

“The folks who make this chicken noodle soup are obviously trying to kill us.”

There’s stealth salt, we’ve discovered, hidden in nearly everything. There’s even salt in romaine lettuce! (But only 5 mg, so pigging out on romaine—if that’s what you want to do—is okay.)

And then there’s the joy of finding something delicious with a reasonable salt content.

“We can still enjoy vanilla yogurt! As long as we do it in moderation! Hurrah!”

Although I toyed with the idea of holding a little ceremony in which the two of us threw away our salt shakers and pledged ourselves to a new life, I can’t quite bear to part with mine.

I do take comfort in the knowledge that low sodium life is better for us. Experts agree that we should eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. Instead, most of us eat at least twice that amount. Of course, I was always willing to take that risk. Over-salting my food was one of the few ways a mild-mannered librarian like me could live on the edge.

This new way of eating is a challenge. But at least I’ve got company. (And everyone knows that the couple that shuns salt together, stays together.)

But if I ever hear that a meteor is heading toward earth and will destroy us in an hour? I‘m going to dust off my salt shaker and spend that last hour enjoying a big batch of matzoh brei with as much salt on it as I damn well please. And Mark will be right there with me.


Recommended For You

Library Law: Checking in Books and Breaking Up Fights

9733763683_de45d5361e_zWe librarians are expected to check out your books and answer your reference questions. But we’re often called upon to perform other tasks. For example, breaking up fights between moms in our play area.

Roz Warren: Less Is Less

5436723519_458dec7cc4_zI can’t afford the world travel, the pricey coffee table art books and the expensive restaurant meals that I used to enjoy. Do I miss those things? Not enough to return to the rat race that makes them possible. This is what I’ve discovered — having less means having less stress.


Library Law: Checking in Books and Breaking Up Fights

March 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Books, Humor

9733763683_de45d5361e_zPhoto by laura redburn via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

We librarians are expected to check out your books and answer your reference questions. But we’re often called upon to perform other tasks. When a Facebook pal recently asked her fellow librarians “What has been your most memorable ‘other duty’ since you began your career?” the responses she got might surprise people who think that library work is quiet, humdrum, and routine:


Breaking up fights between moms in our play area. 

Picking up poop in the Storybook Garden before the ice cream social.  

I once guided the bomb squad as they slowly and methodically combed through our two-story library. Empty phone threat—phew

Furnace repair. 

Escorting a pigeon out of the computer lab. 

Breaking up a couple who were making whoopee in the Women’s Bathroom. (I was the very definition of “coitus interruptus.”) 

Dealing with the dead trout in our fish tank. 

Putting pajamas on a llama. (He was part of a story time presentation.)

Administering first aid to a patron who was stabbed in the computer lab.  

I do Potty Story Time, so once every three months I spend 30 minutes extolling the virtues of pooping into a toilet to a room full of strangers. 

Pulling weeds. 

Posing for stock photos. 

Distracting a student (who’d threatened a prof with a gun before hiding out at the library) until the police arrived.   

Shoveling sidewalks. 

Tending chickens. 

Checking to see if the dude who’d been in his car in our parking lot for hours, motionless, was dead. (He wasn’t. Just sound asleep.) 

Holding a bag containing a baby wallaby so it would stay calm during a story time presentation. 

Calling 911 after a pregnant young woman passed out cold at the computers. (The ambulance arrived quickly and she was okay.) 

Chasing down and tackling the miscreants who grabbed our “Donate Your Spare Change to the Library” canister and ran out the door with it. 

Helping patrons apply for Moose Permits. 

Removing a black widow spider.  

Climbing onto the roof to retrieve a young patron’s stuffed animal. 

Administering CPR to a patron who had a heart attack in the Reading Room.  (He survived.) 

Making a sign for one of our bathrooms that said “There is a live duck in the bathroom. Do not let it out. Use the other bathroom.”


So the next time the line backs up at your library’s circulation desk because there’s only one librarian on duty instead of the usual two? Don’t get angry. That other librarian may be busy fixing the furnace, holding a wallaby, shoveling the sidewalk . . .  or saving a life.  


Recommended For You

Roz Warren: Less Is Less


I can’t afford the world travel, the pricey coffee table art books and the expensive restaurant meals that I used to enjoy. Do I miss those things? Not enough to return to the rat race that makes them possible. This is what I’ve discovered — having less means having less stress.

The Cactus Thief and the Would-Be Library Lap Dancer

2602495641_eb84a0e1c4_zOur favorite librarian polled her fellow shelvers in order to make this list of Outrageous Questions People Ask Librarians. Under the “Hanky-Panky” Category: “Last week, a patron asked me to have sex with him in the alley.”


This Essay Needs a Better Title

Titling has been never my strong suit. Writing a publishable essay? I can do that! But coming up with an amazing title for that essay? Not so much. Thank God for editors! And Facebook!




Roz Warren: Less Is Less

December 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Humor

5436723519_458dec7cc4_zPhoto by Sarah R via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I work at a circulation desk of a public library, and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent watching people rooting through their purses, handbags and backpacks trying to find their library cards.

I stand there patiently as they remove bulging wallets from mammoth pocketbooks and start sorting through the plastic. Credit cards. Health club membership cards. Insurance cards. Department store loyalty cards. “It’s here somewhere,” they’ll mutter. “I know I’ve got it. I really should be more organized.”

I refrain from agreeing, “Yes, you certainly should.” And I certainly don’t add, “What you really ought to do is get rid of most of that stuff.” I just keep my mouth shut and marvel at the huge collection of crap most people carry around.  

Finally, they’ll locate their library card and hand it to me. Or fail to locate the card. “What happened to it?” they’ll wonder.

Who knows? It probably is in there somewhere. The problem is, so is everything else.

I’m a minimalist. I only have one credit card. And just five other cards in my wallet. My drivers license. My AAA card. My insurance card. My museum membership card. And, of course, my library card. And that’s it.

I enjoy not being weighed down by stuff. Yes, I know, that’s almost un-American! Still, I resist consumer culture. I don’t own a smart phone. I live in a small house. I buy clothes infrequently and wear them until they actually wear out.  I drive a 2002 Toyota that I’ve only put 10,000 miles on since I bought it used a decade ago because I’d rather walk than drive.

Fifteen years ago, I left the practice of law to work at my local public library when I realized that having fun was more important to me than having money. Now I make a tiny fraction of what I’d be making if I’d continued to practice law.

But I enjoy my life a lot more.

I can’t afford the world travel, the pricey coffee table art books and the expensive restaurant meals that I used to enjoy. Do I miss those things? Not enough to return to the rat race that makes them possible.   

This is what I’ve discovered — having less means having less stress.

I’m not talking about being poor. Obviously, that’s incredibly stressful. I’m talking about having just enough. But not having too much.

I don’t own a television. I don’t shop for recreation. I never go near the mall. So what do I do for fun? I read. I spend time with my friends. I swim. I go for long walks in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. (Where I can and do, literally, stop and smell the roses.)   

Going for a walk with a good pal and having a great conversation is my favorite pastime.  

Cost to me? Nothing. The best things in life really are free.

The culture we live in is urging us to buy things. Drive a newer car! Wear the latest fashion! Live in a great big house! Get the latest gadget! Get two! Big is better than small, and more is better than less.

All I’m suggesting is that we can choose not to buy into this. (Pun intended.)

Do I have a better life? A happier life? I have no idea. If schlepping around a million credit cards is working for you, that’s great. All I know for sure is that living as a minimalist makes me happy. (Plus, it’s better for the planet.)

And I probably spend a lot less time searching for stuff than you do.

I’m a Jew in a Christmas Book

December 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Books, Humor










Purchase on and help support Women’s Voices non-profit mission.


I’m happy, as a Jewish writer, to be included in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas collection, which promises “101 Joyous Holiday Stories.”  (Actually, my own contribution is more Flippant than Joyous. But “100 Joyous Holiday Stories and One Flippant Holiday Story” doesn’t really fly as a subtitle.)

Over the years, Chicken Soup has welcomed a number of Jews into its holiday collections.  “I was in the last one,” my pal Risa Nye told me.  “Oy! My bubbe would plotz.” 

So why would a Jew want to be in a Christmas book?

For one thing, it pays $200.  Plus, as another pal joked when she heard the news, “If there’s chicken soup, there should be at least one Jew, right?”

There are, in fact, seven Jews in this new collection. So what did we add to a book destined to be shelved in the “Christian Living” section?    

Shari Cohen Forsythe describes the time a law school friend’s family welcomed her into their home for the holidays. “Talk about a gefilte fish out of water!” she jokes. But her friend’s mother had taken the time and trouble to seek out the one synagogue in town and ask the rabbi what a Jewish girl would want for Hanukkah. It was, of course, a menorah and candles! “I learned,” concludes Forsythe, “that simple acts of kindness can remain in your heart forever.”  

Judy Davidson writes about the night that she, her husband and their young kids shouldered the mammoth task of creating a Christmas celebration for a local homeless shelter. Did these observant Jews have any problem with staging a fabulous Christmas?  Not at all. “Judaism teaches that helping others is a commandment,” writes Davidson, noting that performing this mitzvah only solidified her own family’s sense of Jewish identity.  

Susan J. Gordon takes on the topic of secular businesses that attempt to honor Jewish traditions that they don’t really understand in a piece about coaching a well-meaning local bank manager on the fine points of lighting a menorah, which, she has to explain, is a sacred act central to the celebration of Hanukkah—NOT just the Jewish equivalent of putting up a Christmas tree.  

My own contribution, “When Should the Christmas Lights Come Down?” was inspired by a friend’s decision to leave his holiday lights up all winter “to ward off winter gloom” and the responses he got when he posted about his decision on Facebook, ranging from “Great idea!” to “Bah, humbug.”  

Several of the stories are about mixed marriages.  Andrea Bates, married to a non-Jew, describes “raising our little Jewish Southern girl” in a home  in which her daughter places her Hanukkah gifts beneath a Christmas tree—which is crowned with a Star of David.  Ferida Wolff, whose daughter married outside the faith, tells of crafting an impromptu Christmas tree for visiting grandchildren. 

Lisa Pawlak, whose mom was Protestant and whose dad was a Jew, ended up marrying a Panamanian Catholic. The result? A wealth of holiday traditions, including a menorah, dreidels,  latkes, stockings, a tree,  fireworks and arroz con pollo. “We embrace a spirit of adventure,” she writes, “along with the richness of our family’s cultural diversity and absolute certainty of our underlying love for each other.” 

The one thing all these stories have in common is an enduring sense of Jewish identity. All of us have found that even as we encounter and embrace a diversity of traditions, we remain Jews. 

You can have a Christmas tree in your house, put on a Santa suit and distribute holiday gifts to the homeless, or delight in the gigantic illuminated rotating Frosty the Snowman on your neighbor’s roof and still be Jewish.    

Why be a Jew in a Christmas book? When I reached out to ask my fellow contributors, I got a variety of responses:  

“In the long tradition of Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Irving Berlin,” said Shari Forsythe “Jews like to sing, compose songs and write about Christmas—I guess I am no exception.” 

“Culture and custom and celebration all blend at the holiday time, whether Christmas or Hanukkah,” observed Ferida Wolff. “And anything that brings people closer together is a joyous thing.” 

 “I expect that virtually all of the readers will be non-Jews,” Susan J. Gordon told me.  “I hope that my story will encourage them to reflect on how the holiday world looks from a non-Christian perspective.” 

Being a Jew at Christmas can be a challenge.  As the airwaves fill with carols and the stores crowd with holiday shoppers, it can feel as if we’re being steamrolled by a gigantic Christmas Cheer machine, driven by Santa and spewing songs, gifts, tinsel, and trees. 

It’s enough to make a person feel invisible. And nobody likes that.  Being a Jew in a Christmas collection is an opportunity to tell its largely Christian readership: We’re here! We’re Jewish! And here’s what “the most wonderful time of the year” means to us.   

Cantor Debbi: Have Torah, Will Travel

October 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Marriage & Life Partners, Profiles

First published September 7, 2013.


Debbi Baillard

An underwater Jewish wedding, with both bride and groom in scuba gear?

Cantor Debbi Ballard hasn’t performed merely one such ceremony. “I’ve done three!“ she says happily.

“I’m game for anything unique,” she explains. “And I’m always up for adventure.“

Cantor Ballard probably isn’t what you imagine when you think “religious leader.”

That‘s fine with her. “I am, in all ways, untraditionally Jewish,” she says.

Which is exactly what you’re going to need if, for instance, you want a Jewish wedding but your fiancé isn’t a Jew. Or if he is a Jew but you’re both gay. Or if you’re an interfaith couple but you want your child to have a bat mitzvah.

Or perhaps you just want to attend High Holy Day services, but don’t currently belong to a congregation.

If so, Cantor Debbi Ballard, a.k.a. “My Personal Cantor,“ is there for you.

Ballard, a freelance cantor, is redefining the meaning of Jewish worship by creating services and “life-cycle events” that are grounded in traditional Judaism but radically inclusive. Interfaith couples, unaffiliated Jews, and LGBT Jews are all welcome. “Every person,” says Ballard, “regardless of affiliation or orientation, deserves an open-arms approach to Jewish worship.”

This isn’t your grandpa’s Judaism. The message you’ll find on Ballard’s website? “We are not Reform, Conservative or Renewal. We are just Jewish.”

And if a Jew wants to get married under water? Well, why not?

Where a more traditional cantor (who leads the congregation in prayer and sings liturgical music) might turn down the opportunity to perform such a ceremony (or to officiate at an interfaith or LGBT wedding) Ballard’s approach is to focus on the possible.

“I‘d rather say ‘yes’ than ‘no’,” she explains. “’No’ ends the conversation. ‘Yes’ begins a dialogue. With ‘yes,’ you leave the door open.”

By saying yes, Ballard is addressing a question central to Judaism in the 21st century where, increasingly, Jews are marrying non-Jews, and the old idea of what it means to be Jewish is being challenged.

It used to be that you belonged to a congregation, paid your (often hefty) synagogue dues, and married within your faith. If you wanted to marry at your synagogue but outside of your faith, you were (usually) out of luck.

An LGBT wedding? Totally out of the question.

“That old model is broken,” notes Ballard. Most American Jews no longer belong to a congregation. (In South Florida, where Ballard is based, 80 percent of Jews are unaffiliated.) “To bring them back into the fold,” she says, “we need to find a way of being Jewish that works for them.”

Ballard’s vision of Jewish community has nothing to do with synagogue membership. There are no membership dues. (Non-Jews are often shocked to learn that belonging to a synagogue can cost thousands of dollars a year.) Instead, Ballard’s upbeat, affordable services are pay-as-you-go. And although Ballard owns a Torah, she doesn’t have a building.

“Who needs a building?’ she says. “I feel more spiritual connection on a beach than in a sanctuary.”

Indeed, Ballard has held Jewish worship services on the beach, as well as in private homes, restaurants, hotels, on a cruise ship, and in the conference room at the local Dunkin’ Donuts. The services themselves are easy to follow, with plenty of singing, storytelling, and even dancing, but also they include the prayers, blessings, and melodies that more observant celebrants are accustomed to. Ballard‘s mission is to make everyone—from Jewish “newbies” to long-time worshippers—feel welcome.

Ballard, 52, was raised an observant Conservative Jew, but became estranged from her parents when she married outside the faith. When she first introduced them to her future husband, her folks were shocked and furious.

“My faith was so important to me,“ says Ballard, “they were sure I’d marry a rabbi!” Instead, she fell for a blond-haired, green-eyed “goy.”

They found it impossible to be happy for her.

The pain of this estrangement, as well as the years that followed, in which Ballard, as part of an interfaith couple, felt like a second-class citizen in her own shul, radicalized her. She came to realize that there were many people who, as she did, wanted to practice their faith, but just didn’t feel welcome within a traditional congregation.

A problem-solver by nature, Ballard, in her 40s, decided to leave the corporate world, where she’d thrived for decades, and train (at All Faiths Seminary in New York) as a cantor, so she could provide interfaith couples, and others, a way to stay connected to Judaism. A perfect calling, being a cantor combines her love of music, her ability to easily connect with people, and her faith.

Now, as “My Personal Cantor,” Ballard serves not only her South Florida community, but flies all over the world to provide unaffiliated families with weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, memorial services, and other Jewish “lifecycle events” that are personal, authentic, and inclusive. (She is now divorced.)

Ironically, by welcoming anyone who doesn’t feel at home in a traditional synagogue, and by creating services that speak to both newcomers and to the long-observant, “I’m forging the type of faith community that people all over the country are trying to achieve,” Ballard says proudly.

And the best thing? Her once-estranged parents now share Ballard’s vision.

Debbi Cantor

Ballard’s father, in fact, was so inspired by what his daughter had accomplished that, upon retirement, he trained to become a rabbi so that he could work with her. Over the next week, father and daughter will, together, be leading High Holy Day services at the Miramar Cultural Center, an 800-seat auditorium.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been,” Ballard says happily.

What does it mean to be a Jew? Is an age-old question. Cantor Debbi Ballard is giving the answer a vibrant and inclusive 21st-century spin.


Baby Names, Teeth, God and LSD

August 25, 2015 by  
Filed under Humor

Untitled 2Photo by Dorothea Salo via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week a patron at the suburban library where I work spent five minutes telling a colleague  all about why (and exactly how) she should use a water pic. This inspired me to log onto my favorite Facebook Librarian Hangout to ask: “What’s the oddest thing a library patron has ever said to you?”

Within a day, I had dozens of responses.  Here’s a sampling:  

A woman tried to get me to help name her baby. 

I’ve been asked how to make LSD. 

Two recent topics? Coffee enemas and homemade cat food! 

A man asked me if my biological clock was ticking. I was 21 at the time. 

I had a lady ask where she could find a chastity belt. Another asked me where she could buy some weed. I sent them both to the reference desk. 

Patron starts taking off her shoe. “Do you think this is infected?” 

While I was checking out his books, one gent told me all about how humans could slowly build up to deriving all of their necessary nutrients by going outside and starring at the sun, and suggested that I try it. 

A patron once told me that I couldn’t be Mexican because I’m not dark enough. WTF? 

“You know what would make you a knockout? Lose weight!” 

“You don’t look like a librarian. You should be wearing a shirtwaist dress. With horizontal stripes.” 

Direct quote from one patron: “My man shaved DOWN THERE. . .and I didn’t like it one bit. I like a natural man.” What?? (I work in an elementary school library.)  

A patron once accused me of running a sex slave ring from the express computers. 

A woman once asked if I had any hand-me-down clothes I could give her daughter, since we were both “big girls.” 

One man, in a misguided attempt to flirt and/or make me uncomfortable, asked me where we keep the porn. With a straight face, I told him we keep it on the third floor. (It‘s a two story building.)  

I was recently asked how to make an apple into a bong. 

A patron once told me there was a cat in the ceiling. And she was right!   

An elderly man once decided that it was his job to lecture me about every problem that birth control can cause. 

I can’t polish my nails at work anymore because one of our patrons has a fetish and begins giving me sex advice. 

A patron once told me in a stage whisper about her alien abduction, complete with biological details I’d really rather not have heard. 

One patron demanded that my boss fire me for putting a hex on her  incarcerated son.

A patron who was grateful for the help I’d given her with a reference question advised me to keep my kitchen knives in the laundry hamper. “So if someone breaks into your house, they can’t use them to stab you.” 

Recent unsolicited advice from a patron? “If your yard isn’t clean, the mourning doves won’t come.” 

A patron told a co-worker about how he’d prayed for a wife and just asked that God send him one that had not been “used.”

“I just had surgery! Want to see my scar?”

Because we librarians are courteous by nature, we can be counted on to respond to your oddball statements, remarks and requests with dignity and grace. My co-worker, for example, patiently endured that little water pic lecture rather than shutting it down with, “What makes you think that my teeth are any of your business?” 

Still, the next time you’re tempted to share your innermost thoughts about sex, God or teeth with your local librarian, do us all a favor. Think twice.  

This Essay Needs a Better Title

July 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Books, Careers, Humor, Musings

Click here to purchase on Proceeds from your purchase help fund Women’s Voices‘ nonprofit mission.

Every writer (and every reader) knows how important a good title can be. The right title can make a potential reader eagerly reach for your book, while a bad title acts as reader repellant.  

When I needed a terrific title for my new collection of funny essays about books and library work, I waited with hope for inspiration to strike. 

Alas, it didn’t.

A friend suggested that I use the title of one of the essays in the collection for the book‘s title. The two best candidates?  “A Nun Walks Into A Library” and  “The Joys of Library Work.”

In my heart, I knew these weren’t quite good enough, but I ran them by a publicist pal just to be sure.  

“You can do better,” she said.

But, alas, I couldn’t.  

Titling has been never my strong suit. Writing a publishable essay? I can do that! But coming up with an amazing title for that essay? Not so much. Thank God for my editors! For instance? Once when I handed in a humor piece with a humdrum title about a Florida woman who claimed to have undergone surgery to acquire a third breast, editor Deb Harkins quickly renamed it “A Tale of Three Titties.” How perfect is that? 

This new collection would be my 13th humor book. And while I’d managed to come up with a title for my first book (Women’s Glib: A Collection Of Women’s Humor) myself, when I handed in the manuscript for the book that followed, I still had no idea what to call it. So my publisher held a meeting. “We need a good title for this book. It’s a collection of cartoons by women about men,” the staff was told.  “Upbeat. Fun. A little snarky, but loving.”

Men Are From Detroit, Women Are From Paris”? suggested one of the secretaries.   


So it sometimes takes a village to name a new book. Thinking back on this, I decided to try something similar.  I have a bunch of clever Facebook friends. Writers. Humorists. Columnists. Librarians. Maybe they could help me out? 

I went on Facebook and asked my friends to help name my new book.  Suggestions poured in. Within 24 hours, I had some great titles to choose from: 

It’s a Hardback Life
The Book Stops Here
The Internet Is Broken
Laughter in the Stacks
Our Bodies, Our Shelves
The Days of Our Libraries
Librarians Gone Wild

“That’s more like it,“ enthused my publicist pal when I ran them by her. 

Next? I turned it into a contest. “HumorOutcasts Press is publishing a collection of my funny essays about library work,” I posted. “Which of these proposed titles do you like best?” 

I gave them a day to respond. The clear winner? 

Our Bodies, Our Shelves. Suggested by writer Risa Nye.

I knew that Risa’s title was the perfect choice when I revealed it to my writing group — a dozen middle-aged writers around a table — and they burst out laughing. 

Our Bodies, Our Shelves, A Collection of Library Humor has been out for three months now and is selling steadily. I‘m sure that its fun, zippy title is part of its success. (Thanks, Risa!) Even the editors of the longstanding women’s health book franchise Our Bodies, Our Selves tweeted that when they first heard the title, they were amused. 

I hope to be able to come up with a brilliant title for my next humor book. But if I can’t? I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.

Got a better title for this essay? Please leave a comment and let me know. The person who submits the title I like best will receive a signed copy of Our Bodies, Our Shelves.  


The Cactus Thief and the Would-Be Library Lap Dancer

June 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

2602495641_eb84a0e1c4_zPhoto by Satish Krishnamurthy via Flickr (Creative Commons License)


The first response . . .

         Someone just asked me for a good book to read on the toilet.

. . . quickly followed by:

         A patron who was on his way to the casino wanted to rub my red hair for good luck.

         Last week a woman came in asking for my help to get the witches and demons to stop pinching her.

         A patron once asked me to sit on his lap. (I laughed at him.)

Unusual Patron Requests proved to be a hot topic. Within a day I had over 100 responses, as librarians shared stories about that special patron who:  

         asked if she could leave her kids at the circ desk with me while she ran errands.

         wanted me to find books to prove that he was Julius Caesar, reincarnated.

         lifted the bangs from her forehead and asked me to count her gray hairs.

         asked me to tell the man sitting at the computer next to hers to stop controlling her computer with his thoughts.

         brought in a mounted wildebeest head and asked if we could store it in the archives for the summer.

I soon realized that Odd Patron Requests fell into categories. Some requests were from patrons who wanted to look their best—with our help.  

         A woman once asked if she could trade pants with me because she was going on a job interview.

         A man once asked me to use library tape to remove lint from his suit jacket.

         I’ve been asked my opinion about which frame a patron should select for her new glasses.

         One man asked if he could use our community meeting room to shave with an electric razor. (“Is the power out at your house?” I asked. “Nope,” he said. No further explanation.)

         After asking me a reference question, one patron pulled a toothbrush from her fanny pack and went to town on her teeth as I spoke. And when that was done, she brought out the dental floss.

Some requests were car-related:

         People have been known to come to the reference desk and ask if we have jumper cables.

         A patron once asked to borrow my boss’s car.

         One of our regulars asked me to drive her to a town two hours away so she could look at apartments.

There were numerous requests for Library Hanky-Panky:

         Last week, a patron asked me to have sex with him in the alley. I didn’t.

         A 50-year-old guy asked our Children’s Librarian to join him in the rest room. No dice.

        One patron asked me to meet him in the copy room. (Wink wink.) Sorry, no.  

         I once had a male patron in his 50s who wouldn’t leave the reference desk until I told him he was naughty. (Handled by stating, deadpan, no eye contact, “Go on with your bad self, then.”)

Librarians have been asked to break the law:  

         A male patron once offered me $100 if I’d go into somebody’s yard and steal a cactus.

         A patron once offered me $50 to make her a fake passport.

         One patron wanted me to tell her my son’s Social Security number so she could use it to get more financial assistance. (I said no.)

Many unusual library questions are medical in nature:  

         One patron appeared in my office doorway holding a cotton swab and a petri dish and began by saying “You can totally say no to this . . . ” (I did.)

         Let’s just say that if I wanted to diagnose Athlete’s Foot, I’d have a MD, not a MLIS.

         “Does this look infected?”

         A patron came in several weeks in a row asking if he was “okay.” We told him that he was. Found out later he thought we were the drug clinic.

Some patrons want to take our innate helpfulness and eagerness to serve the library community to the next level:

         One patron phoned and asked me to check out a list of books for her and drop them off at her house.

         A patron once asked for my home phone number so she could phone me with reference questions when I wasn’t at work.

         Patrons have asked me to do their taxes, clean their homes, and perform at their children’s birthday parties.  

         I’ve been asked to fix DVD players and edit digital photos.

         Patrons have asked to borrow both my laptop and my cell phone.

         A man recently asked if he could use my credit card to make an online purchase.

         A patron once asked me if he could borrow $7,000.

         A woman once asked me to go look for a dead body she was sure was buried by a lake, because the police wouldn’t listen to her.

We are also called upon to Identify Things:

         A patron once asked me to identify a dead bug she’d taped to a piece of notebook paper.

         I was asked to ID the snake a patron had caught in a bucket.  

         “There’s a brownish-grey fluffy animal under my porch. What is it?”

We’ve also been called upon to research a variety of interesting topics:

         One patron wanted me to find a book to teach her dog German.

         A patron once phoned to find out how to become a porn actor in Paris.

         I’ve been asked to research how to avoid being cloned without your permission.

         A patron once asked me to direct her to the books about Brazil written specifically for Unborn Children.

         We answer reference questions for the local correctional facility. I once received a reference query from an inmate for “books on how to levitate.”

         One patron wanted to learn how to give her husband better blow jobs.

Librarians are helpful by nature, which means that often we’re just fine with going above and beyond our job descriptions to perform small acts of library kindness.

         An elderly woman just asked me to tie her shoes for her. (I did. She was too old to bend down and reach them herself.)

         A patron recently asked me to help her find the tune and lyrics to patriotic songs so she could sing them to her Marine boyfriend on their upcoming road trip to the state capital. (Sadly, this woman had a mental illness, and there was no boyfriend or road trip, but I treated the question as if there were.)

One librarian responded with a different take on this topic:  

         I have come to the point where I no longer think the questions are outrageous. Where else can these people turn? The library should help them if we possibly can. After all, some college libraries now circulate bicycles and some public libraries circulate Kindles. So why not jumper cables?

Despite the odd requests, we librarians remain undaunted. We continue to love library work. And of course, everyone loves a library story with a happy ending. For instance?  

         A divorced dad came to Story Hour, asked me out, then asked me to marry him!! I did!


Book Review: ‘Our Bodies, Our Shelves,’ by Roz Warren

April 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Books


Click here to purchase on Proceeds from your purchase help fund Women’s Voices‘ nonprofit mission.

A library is the great American equalizer. Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, atheist or devout, have a Ph.D. or are a high school dropout, your public library welcomes you. It has no choice, as Roz Warren explains in her new book, Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor

If you read Women’s Voices, you know Roz: She has written 116—yes, 116—humor pieces for this site, on topics ranging from library peccadillos to the appropriate music for a colonoscopy to how she recycled her husband. (She also writes for The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Jewish Daily Forward and The Funny Times.) Warren is the editor of thirteen humor books and a former lawyer; she gave up practicing “because I was tired of making so damn much money.” But it’s her decade of work at the Bala=Cynwyd Library in suburban Philadelphia for that informs this collection.

Librarians are regularly lampooned as dour, shushing matrons. Warren dubs herself and her colleagues “mild mannered librarians.” For, as she points out, librarians aren’t allowed to exhibit any emotion other than politeness. Not even when patrons curse, refuse to pay fines, or use cherry-flavored condoms for bookmarks. In this regard, librarians are true civil servants, obligated to remain calm under fire and withhold their anger, disgust, and laughter until they are behind closed doors. 

What can go wrong in a public library? According to Warren, just about everything. The nun who borrowed a Barbra Streisand video and showed it to her convent sisters, only to find out it was Swedish porn! The woman who is miffed when the library staff refuses to change her flat tire. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue that always vanishes within 24 hours of being put on the shelf. And the patron who doesn’t see why she should have to pay for a book that was three months overdue. “’How could I pay it?’ she whined. ‘I was on vacation in the South of France!’”

At this juncture, Warren shares the secret of all public libraries. No matter how much you owe, no matter how many books you take, they can’t come after you. Librarians in orthopedic shoes will not picket your home or place of business. You won’t get hang-up calls at 3 a.m. No one will show up at your door with an arrest warrant. “Go ahead! Check out the entire library and keep it forever! Nothing will happen,” Warren writes in her signature wry, deadpan tone.

The funniest chapter, the one that me whooping out loud, was Warren’s discussion of Sexually, I’m More of a Switzerland, a collection of personal ads from The London Review of Books, edited by David Rose. Here’s a sample: “Tax-evading, nervous asthmatic (M, 47) seeks woman not unused to hiding under the kitchen table when the doorbell rings.”

But the real joy of reading Warren’s book comes not from what we learn about libraries, but what we learn about the author. At 60, Warren lays bare her past as a “hot chick.” The drugs, the sex, and a night with an unnamed “famous singer.” Following 20 years of marriage, she’s not merely accepting of her divorce, she’s ecstatic! “Now I’m with a guy who is consistently thrilling, and my ex is happily married to the actual love of his life. I call that a happy ending,” Warren writes. Amid the humor, Warren shares her values. “I support LGBT rights,” she proclaims, and shows her support by wearing a rainbow wristband. “That small splash of color sends a signal: I’m not as dull as you think I am.”

She also shares her colorful vocabulary. All those naughty words she’s forbidden to say in the library, she gives free rein to once she leaves work. I won’t quote her, but suffice it to say, Warren could make a longshoreman blush.

Warren also reveals (she revealed it first here on this site) that she has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces, which results in countless embarrassing incidents. If she bumps into a library patron or a neighbor in an unfamiliar setting, such as at the dry cleaner’s, she has no idea who they are. Warren remains nonplussed. She brightly greets everyone with a cheery “Hello!” and hopes that they will fill in the blank. She writes, “Brad Pitt recently ‘came out’ as being face blind. (Which means that he and I have something in common besides our sexy good looks and charisma.)”

She admits that she gives a book only 20 minutes to win her over. After that, it gets re-shelved. She feels no pressure to finish a book just because it’s on a best- seller list or is a classic. Reader, be warned. You’ll be hooked by Our Bodies, Our Shelves way before the 20-minute mark.

CHANGE: Roz Warren’s Response to our March Challenge

March 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Health

Humorist Roz Warren, our very frequent contributor, makes Whoniversal plans as a result of our March Challenge, in which we urged our readers to bring some change, however small, into their lives.—Ed


“There probably aren’t all that many [other] 60-year-old librarians in the Whoniverse. . .”

spring-summer-doctor-who-431x300BBC’s “Doctor Who”

This month Women’s Voices has challenged us to share the changes we want to make in our lives. The change I’m determined to make?  

Going forward, I plan to spend more time in the Whoniverse. 

The Whoniverse is the world of people who are fans of the BBC show “Doctor Who,” which first went on the air in 1963, and in 2013 celebrated its 50th anniversary. The show holds the world record for the longest-running televised science-fiction series, with 813 episodes so far.  

If I want to watch them all—and I do—I’m going to have to spend a lot more time in the Whoniverse than I currently do.  

I first got hooked on Doctor Who as a teenager in the ’70s, but stopped watching as I got older. I’m not sure what it says about me that when I recently checked the 2010 season out of the library where I work, I instantly got sucked right back in.   

And I’ve got plenty of catching up to do, since the show has been running for decades without my watching it.      

Has the same actor played the main character for five decades? Of course not! When the dude who plays the Doctor wants to leave the role, the character “regenerates.” With a whoosh of greenish light and appropriate sound effects, he’s replaced by another actor, whom we viewers pretend is the same guy, who then continues in the role. There have been 12 doctors so far. (Thirteen if you count the so-called “War Doctor.” Which I don’t.)

What’s the show’s appeal for a mild-mannered middle-aged librarian? The Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through time and space, saving the universe and having adventures. It’s just like library work! 

No, I’m kidding. It’s about as far from library work as you can get, which is probably why it’s so much fun. After an afternoon spent wrangling with library patrons about paying overdue fines, it’s a pleasant relief to watch somebody else battling alien monsters and saving the universe. Plus it’s the BBC, so the writing is terrific and the acting is too.   

I’ve got hundreds of episodes to watch. And re-watch, because the plots are so convoluted that it takes several viewings to figure them out. Plus there’s a limitless supply of podcast commentary, in which young men with engaging British accents speculate endlessly about every line and plot twist.     

There are also radio adventures, comics, special behind-the-scenes features, and, of course, books.  Meanwhile, the BBC continues to churn out new episodes. I may never catch up!    

There probably aren’t all that many 60-year-old librarians in the Whoniverse. Most inhabitants appear to be sci-fi geeks and computer nerds in young-adulthood. Many are the kind of people who get dressed up as Daleks (evil cyborgs) and attend conventions. 

I doubt I’ll ever dress up as an alien space monster and attend a convention. But who knows? I wouldn’t have predicted that at 60 I’d re-devote hours of my life to watching a TV show I loved at 14. 

By the time I turn 70, I may well be attending Doctor Who conferences dressed as a Ood. 

Women’s Voices’ prompt about the changes we’re going to make in our lives has prompted plenty of responses about the determination to change (and also the determination not to change). Which is great, and I can‘t wait to read them. But I’m done improving myself.  I’m okay with the way I am. I don’t want to eat more healthfully, learn to flawlessly play through a Beethoven piano sonata, or finally become fluent in French. 

I just want to spend more time having fabulous adventures in time and space with the Doctor. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

On the Money: A Female Face on the $20 Bill!

March 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Humor, Musings

Here’s another post in celebration of Women’s History Month—Ed.

angelou3-sizedA phenomenal woman, Maya Angelou, is a favorite choice for a woman on the U.S. $20 Bill.

There’s a plan afoot to try to get a woman’s portrait onto American currency, and I say it‘s about time! Women on 20s,  whose motto is “A Woman’s Place Is On The Money,” is currently holding an online competition (there’s a slate of serious candidates) to choose a famous American female to replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill. 

Inspired, I asked my Facebook friends: Who would you like to see replace Andy on the twenty?  

The first response: 

Eleanor Roosevelt!

Quickly followed by: 

Harriet Tubman, hands down. 


Moms Mabley. 

Molly Brown. She’s unsinkable, so our currency would never crash.

Mae West. We could change E Pluribus Unum to “Come up and see me sometime.” 

The suggestions continued, both serious and sarcastic: 

Abigail Adams.

Barbara Walters!

Sojourner Truth. 


Minnie Mouse—the quintessential American female icon.

Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul would totally rock a twenty. 

One liberal pal suggested Hillary Clinton—“so she’d be able to raise even more money for her 2016 campaign!” My conservative friend Carol suggested Hillary too. “But only for a counterfeit bill, so it would be just as fake as she is.” (I love Carol for her wit, not her politics.) 

The responses continued pouring in: 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton! 

Marge Simpson—complete with blue hair. 

Amelia Earhart.  

Jane Addams! She was the first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, and she was a supporter of both civil rights and immigration reform. Progressive but non-partisan, an excellent role model in every way.  

Politicians and public figures proved to be popular choices:

Rosa Parks. 

Rachel Carson. 

Shirley Chisholm.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ann Richards! Smart, sassy and savvy. What’s not to love?  

Eleanor Roosevelt, a great American who cared for the downtrodden and spoke up for them and for all women. 

Pop Culture Icons were popular:   

Janis Joplin!

Samantha from Bewitched.

Marilyn Monroe. 

Elaine Stritch! 

Leona Helmsley. But we’d have to replace E Pluribus Unum with  “Only the little people pay taxes.” 

Oprah! After all, at one time or another she’s likely to have owned that dollar bill you’re holding. 

One friend apparently couldn’t choose between a political figure and a pop-culture icon:

I vote for either Eleanor Roosevelt or Grumpy Cat. 

And my sister’s choice? Shirley Temple, iconic child actress and accomplished diplomat.  

Within 24 hours I’d received hundreds of responses. The woman who got the most votes by far? Eleanor Roosevelt. She gets my vote too.  

But my own favorite response was this:  

I vote for Maya Angelou. Especially if her wisdom could be transferred to everyone who handled the bill.

I’d pay a lot more than twenty dollars to see that happen.     

Thanks, Nicole Hollander and Bad Girl Chats, for inspiring this piece!


How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse or Repel an Irate Library Patron

February 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Books, Humor

There are two kinds of people: those who prepare for the upcoming collapse of civilization, calamitous natural disaster, and/or zombie apocalypse. And the rest of us. But I do try to hedge my bets. Whenever I see a new book about coping with the worst, I buy it and put it on my Disaster Bookshelf. 

Yes, I have an entire shelf devoted to books about emergency survival, including titles like The Special Air Services Survival Handbook, Preparedness Now! and How Not To Die. 

I figure that if the world ever starts seriously going to hell, I can consult them.   


Click here to purchase on Proceeds from your purchase help fund Women’s Voices‘ nonprofit mission.

So when the library where I work added Last-Minute Survival Secrets: 128 Ingenious Tips to Endure the Coming Apocalypse and Other Minor Inconveniences to its collection, I bought myself a copy for The Shelf. Written by humorist Joey Green, author of The Mad Scientist Handbook, it’s packed with quirky DIY tips for coping with everything from a power outage to the total collapse of life as we know it.  

“In the wake of a major disaster or calamity,” Green promises,  “you’ll . . . know how to make a radio antenna with a Slinky, revive a dead car battery with aspirin, and start a fire with potato chips.” 

Skimming through the book before shelving it, I learned a lot. And while there are certain skills I’m unlikely to ever need—such as how to avoid detection from thermal imaging cameras with a space blanket—it‘s good to know that I can now, if necessary, create a functioning emergency toilet from trash bags and Kitty Litter. 

And I now know how to defend myself with a ballpoint pen, which is bound to come in handy for library work.     

Even better? I can fashion that pen—plus a few other items easily found at the circulation desk—into a dart gun! What a great way to respond to the irate patrons who go ballistic when I tell them they have to pay a fine.  (And, of course, when zombies attack the library.)

If anyone gets up in my grill, I can take them out with the nearest Bic! (And if our copy machine breaks, I’ll just fashion a temporary replacement with dishwashing liquid and vanilla extract.) 

Here are just a few of the other interesting factoids and tidbits I learned from Green’s book: 

Vinegar neutralizes the effects of tear gas and pepper spray. 

Water doesn’t need to be boiled to be safe to drink. Heating it to 150 degrees F for 20 minutes sufficiently pasteurizes it.   

Pampers can absorb 300 times their weight in water. 

If you’re unable to wash a minor wound, lick it. Scientists have found that histatin, a small protein in saliva known to kill bacteria, greatly speeds the healing of wounds. (Which explains why animals lick their wounds.) 

A helmet made from a plastic bucket does not meet the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In 1985, Space Shuttle astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman became the first person to play with a Slinky in zero gravity. 

A stack of quarters weighs an ounce. 

In 2010, Dr. Elena Bodnar created a bra that can be turned into a face mask which protects the wearer from lethal chemical attack. 

Humans can safely drink water that contains less than 0.5 percent salt. (Seawater contains 3.5 percent salt.) 

Mosquitoes hate the smell of Vicks Vaporub. 

Bounce Outdoor Fresh fabric softener repels mosquitoes. (And rodents!)  

But if you do get bitten? Applying Listerine to mosquito bites will stop the itching. 

Tabasco Sauce will neutralize the pain of an excruciating toothache. 

When a 22-year-old gunman shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others outside a Safeway in Tucson, unarmed shoppers took down the gunman with a lawn chair and ballpoint pens when he stopped to reload.

You can get rid of skunk odor with Massengill Disposable Douche.  

Should disaster ever strike my Philadelphia suburb, you’ll probably find me cowering under the bed. I’ll be the librarian fashioning a Molotov cocktail from tampons. 


Oy Vey! It’s Kosher Porn!

February 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Sex & Sexuality


Click here to purchase on Proceeds from your purchase help fund Women’s Voices‘ nonprofit mission.

Kosher Porn  is a new collection of funny pick-up lines just for Jews, written by humorist Sarah Rosen and illustrated with photos by Tom Stokes. It’s based on Rosen’s popular dating blog, Porn4Jews. And it’s hilarious.

Rosen started her blog after a year and a half of post-college dating, during which, she writes, “I encountered many eligible bachelors who reaffirmed what I WASN’T looking for in a match. But I also began to home in on the qualities that I was looking for.” Which were? “I liked the dark-haired smart ones who were family oriented, seriously funny, and fully equipped to say the blessings at Shabbos dinner with my parents.”

In other words? She wanted a nice Jewish boy.

Rosen decided to explore her “traditional Bubbe-approved taste in romantic partners” through a blog that combined age-old Jewish values with modern-day memes. All with irreverent wit.

The cover of Kosher Porn shows a sexy mensch who gazes at the reader with bedroom eyes . . . as he lights a menorah. (And the author photo is of a curly-haired Jewish temptress who is, naturally, eating rugelach.)

Inside is series of photos of adorable Jewish twentysomethings, uttering pickup lines like:

You’re Jewish? Can I check?

You had me at Shalom.

My shul or yours?

Tonight’s the first night of Pesach. Let’s practice reclining.

If you’re free later, they’re showing Schindler’s List at the JCC.

I went to Camp Ben-Yehuda too!

Let’s have a bunch of kids and name them all Josh.

Guess where I hid the Afikomen?

I grew up Reform but I’d go Reconstructionist for you.

I’m so glad our therapists introduced us.

Just meeting you made me want to break a glass.

I can’t believe we had the same Torah portion!

Let’s spend a romantic weekend . . . at my Bubbe’s in Florida.

I only keep it Kosher in the kitchen.

I’m more than just a nice piece of tuches.

I’ll love you almost as much as your mom does.

Stay the night. I’ll make you challah French toast in the morning.

Next year in Jerusalem? How about right here, right now.

Kosher Porn is a giggle to read. But it’s also a nifty illustration of the way, with laughter, what’s traditional and what’s modern can successfully mix. And even match.

If you happen to be searching for a perfect Jewish mate, here’s one way to tell if you’ve met “The One.” Give him—or her—a copy of this book. If they he—or she—doesn’t crack a smile, keep looking.