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The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop takes place April 5-7, 2018, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. We are sold out. To register for the waitlist, click here.

Tips for a great book launch party

On the morning before my book launch party, I looked at the 100 chairs set up in the main sanctuary of my synagogue and gulped. “Are you nuts?” I thought. “Why didn’t you reserve the seminar room, where 25 people would become an SRO crowd?”

I was thinking bigger and bolder with the publication of my fifth book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith. Since my memoir was about my unexpected detour from secularism to Jewish orthodoxy, and to me was in a sense about coming home, it was important to me to have my book launch at a place that felt like my spiritual home. That was my synagogue.

Still, it took some chutzpah to reserve the entire sanctuary, a space that is packed with 300 people on the holidays, and could have been divided neatly with a pocket wall into a smaller space. This would have considerably lowered my risk giving a talk to an empty space, with my voice echoing into the void.

But this book was about finding faith, and I had faith that “If I booked it, they would come.”

And they did! I had the chairs artfully arranged so that, with the addition of two book signing tables and two refreshment tables, the room looked fully furnished. People started streaming in 15 minutes before showtime, and I was happy that I didn’t know all of them.

In a twist on the old adage, woman planned, but God didn’t laugh; He listened.

For those of you with a book launch party in sight, these are the things I did that I found most valuable.

1. Choosing a venue where I felt so at home in every way, and where I had name recognition, was the right move. I didn’t want to have to ingratiate myself with an unknown manager of the few remaining indie bookstores. I had done that before, and had poor results. I was also confident I could fill a space bigger than a friend’s living room.

2. I chose a woman who is a dynamic speaker in her own right and well known in the congregation to introduce me before my talk, and to do a Q and A with me afterward, with audience participation. We met weeks before the event to discuss my goals and to give her an advanced copy, so she’d be prepped.

3. I had a full-color flyer designed that did double duty being shared on social media as well as displayed in the synagogue lobby. I asked a writer whose review of my book was going to run in a local paper to add the date and location of the book launch at the end of her column. I also wrote an author interview focused on the book which I arranged to have run in an online community news outlet geared for the Jewish population. The synagogue’s Facebook page created an event for my book party and the many online RSVPs added to my confidence.

4. People are always busy, so I also sent emails and called all my friends to remind them that, short of having a loved one rushed to the ER that night, I expected to see them there.

5. I timed my talk to be no more than 25 minutes, and spent many hours planning it and rehearsing it. Having it semi-memorized, but totally confident in my narrative flow, allowed me to be spontaneous yet stay on message. I also edited down segments of my memoir that I wanted to read so that none were longer than about three minutes each. I also chose segments with choice humor, and was gratified by audience laughter.

6. While I really didn’t need the gold bags with the rope handles that I bought for book purchases, I felt good offering them, and now am well stocked with bags for the next five years. (They only came by the case.)

7. I  also didn’t need two enormous fruit trays, but I’m a Jewish mother and am genetically incapable of planning an event without excess food. I also served coffee, quality teas, Perrier, and cookies, of course.

8. Perhaps it was the spiritual karma of the synagogue, but I was remarkably relaxed and happy the entire evening. I expressed my appreciation for being part of the community, and for everyone coming. This sincere personal connection I had added to the spirit of the event.

9. I knew that I would not make any financial profit from the evening. I paid to rent the space and for table linens, refreshments and flowers. I sold about 40 books, but many attendees had already bought the book online and read it. It was, I admit, a great feeling to have a line of people waiting for me to sign their books.

My party was meant to be a feel-good event, both the culmination of the publication process as well as an ongoing part of the (endless) promotional cycle. From those standpoints, I could not have been more pleased.

— Judy Gruen

Judy Gruen’s memoir, The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith, was published in September 2017 by She Writes Press. She has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, L.A. Times, Jewish Journal, Aish.com and many other media outlets. Her website is www.judygruen.com.

An incidental finding of a gastric foreign body 25 years after ingestion

My mom has this story she likes to tell that I’ve always believed is totally fiction. This isn’t out of the ordinary—my mom has lots of stories that are, um, exaggerated to say the least. We, her family, have heard numerous versions of how, during childbirth, she broke out of restraints (restraints!) and, depending on the day she tells the story, kicked the nurse/doctor/security guard across the room. In another tale, she suffered through a gynecologic procedure so painful that she dug her fingers into the marble slab on which she was sitting. (Was she a hunk of cheese? And also—what superhuman/supercheese strength! She penetrated marble with her bare hands!) Anyway, let’s just say Mom knows how to spin a yarn.

So this particular story involves her swallowing a ring. The “how” exactly of this is still a little fuzzy, which has always contributed to the incredulity of the story. Said ring miraculously ended up in her toilet two years later. I’ve never believed this is possible. How could a ring be in your body for TWO years without causing a problem? How could it be in your body for TWO YEARS, period? Does my Subway sandwich take two years to travel through my colon? I can tell you with complete certainty that corn on the cob does not.

Needless to say, I’ve always believed that this was another of mom’s semi-fictional stories. But the other day, I ran across this in a medical journal (Yeah, I like to read medical journals. Sue me.)

An incidental finding of a gastric foreign body 25 years after ingestion

Let me set this up for you: A 76-year-old woman goes to the doctor because she’s having diarrhea and losing weight.  A scan of her abdomen reveals “a linear foreign body in the stomach.”

Here’s where it gets really good:

“On subsequent questioning, she recalled unintentionally swallowing a pen 25 years earlier.”

Whoa. And then this:

“While she was interrogating a spot on her tonsil with the pen she slipped, fell and swallowed the pen by mistake.”

Whaaaaat?!?

“Her husband and general practitioner dismissed her story.”

To all the wives out there, does this surprise you at all?

“The consensus of opinion was that despite being there for 25 years without causing any problems, the pen should be removed.”

Must have had good insurance.

“The pen was still in working order (figure 2).”

Are you kidding me?!“

I am not sure what scientific benefit was realized by testing whether the pen was still in working order, but I do feel like this was a missed comedic opportunity.  Is “hello” the best you can do, Doc? Even a simple, “Oh crap” would have been more on target.

-Jennifer Golden

Jennifer Golden’s writing has been published in The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, The Best Women’s Travel Writing, and others. Find more of her writing on her website, mommibomb.com.

Breaking bad – habits

You read about all those good things that writers should do to be productive.  And then there all the things a writer shouldn’t do, bad habits that lead to non-writing.  I have brought a lot of non-writing on myself through bad habits.

I have a book to edit, a humor book. Humor-because it’s supposed to be funny.  I did two edits, one after another. Well, almost one after another…I’m not that efficient.  Then somebody said let it sit for a while, to gain a more impartial perspective when I did the next editing.  So the book sat there. And now, I hate it.  Well, almost. It just doesn’t look very inviting or funny.  It’s almost as if I’m reading something somebody else wrote.  For the third, fourth, and fifth time.  Soon I’ll be able to memorize it word by word.

I know, I should have set up a timeline.   It seems like a good thing to do when you have a major goal.  But while I waited 6 months to do another edit, I managed to develop all of these other side projects.  My brain is always ripe with creative ideas.  I get too many of them.  They wash in like the tide, and pretty soon I am knee deep with a finger in every pie or maybe I should say a toe in every runnel. Too many side projects can be confusing. Maybe even lead to dementia.

I thought of making a story map. Aka graphic organizer, concept map, mind map… Anyway, a chart with a central point and smaller lines coming out of it. I could put it on a big whiteboard, better yet use an entire wall. The use of hierarchies or subgroups could keep me organized. If I did this I might even be able to finish all those side projects one-by-one, assembly line style.   Or maybe I could complete several projects simultaneously.  Finishing multiple projects at the same time? Now that’s productivity! But that’s not going to happen.

I enter all my work on a computer.  Thankfully, on just one computer.  But I’ve set up so many files and subfiles I can’t remember which ones I am working on and which ones I’m not. And often times, I can’t find the file or subfile I am looking for.

New ideas keep coming. I write them down.  On pieces of paper.  Often in the middle of the night. Sometimes I dream story plots.  I get up and write them down and anything else I can remember.  But if I don’t enter that nocturnal inspiration into the computer by the next morning, the idea lays around on the dining room table or somewhere else, like the floor.  I swear some pieces of paper even have legs.  I have to hunt them down, like small game.  And it’s hard to remember what you wrote on which piece of paper.  I should have a file or a drawer, where I could stuff all these pieces of paper.  The problem is, once you forget about a piece of paper, it’s as if you never wrote on it at all.

And then there’s my perfectionist syndrome.  The syntax has to be just right, the punch line a good hit. I want my blogs to be smart, clever. I’m always looking for “clever”, that funny metaphor or maladjusted foible. Sometimes I look too hard. Ideas seem to momentarily lurk around in my brain; then they get lost and I never see them again. In my brain, it only takes an instant for a word, sentence, or idea to disappear if I don’t write it down.

Motivational experts say prioritize.  I do. First thing in the morning, I set up my day. But procrastination and distractions sabotage my best intentions and besides, I’m also very good at ignoring things – like priorities.

All these bad habits create mental pressure and the mental pressure is always there, standing on the toes of its ugly step-brother, self-doubt.  So many issues, so many concerns, and they are not always about the quality of the written word.

I’ll keep writing.  They say persistence pays off in productivity, but first I’ll have to overcome my own bad habits to make it pay.

-Maggie Millus

Maggie Millus is a former teacher who escaped to the world of humor writing. A published writer of several science text books, Maggie writes humor, cartoons, and blogs at her website, Barmy Bottom Hollow (http://barmybottomhollow.com). There she writes about relationships, family, and “just about anything”.  Throughout the New Year 2018, Maggie can be found coping and writing in the heat, humidity, and quirkiness of South Florida.

Happy New Year!
Ok, not so much to those pesky trolls

(This piece originally appeared in the blog and newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.)

Yes, I admit it, I am way too proud of accumulating 42.5K+ Twitter followers and inappropriately boastful of the occasional death threat.

And, that Judd Apatow has retweeted me six times, causing my mom to say, “That Judd seems like such a nice boy.”

So, it’s no wonder I get asked, what do you do about those annoying Twitter trolls? To help put a stop to the annoying trolling, whackos short on medication and Presidents who shall remain nameless with nothing to do at 3 a.m. except hit Twitter, here are a few helpful response tips:

Interesting… Yes, I see your point.

#Sh**ISayToWhackosSoTheyDontGoOverTheEdge: For the passive-aggressive folks out there, the “interesting” part will draw them, the “whacko” part will make them want to block you or hit the all-caps button to let out a primal scream. Think of them as being the model for the virtual version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

RSVFURT: By putting FU in the middle of any response sequence, the troll will spend hours trying to figure out what the rest means.

DTFU: By just changing the first letter of a well-known response, in this case from STFU, the image of the troll, probably on his futon in his parents’ basement, trying to figure out what the “new” word is will give you hours of pleasure.

VQJFTV: This is a completely random sequence. Anyone trying to figure out what it means will have the same experience a hamster has on a wheel without the same cardio advantages.

DFEWRS: Another completely random sequence to follow any response to the above random sequence.

TWDVO: Yes, another random sequence.

FREFWE:  You get the idea.  If a steady diet of this alphabet-soup approach doesn’t cause their professional mental advocate to up their dosage, nothing will.

FWTGIIW: My cat just walked across my keyboard. He has a big, bird-eating grin on his face, so I’m assuming this is really insulting. If you don’t have a cat, then dogs, hamsters or a pizza delivery person will do.

The Treaty of Slavbard: In answer to any argument about foreign policy, refer to an obscure treaty. The Treaty of Slavbard is one I like because the word “Slavbard” sounds like a beer or ale brand and makes me thirsty.

I repeat, The Treaty of Slavbard: Expect the troll to look it up and not see its relevance. Just repeat to any response from this point forward, “I repeat, The Treaty of Slavbard.”  Or, “I repeat, The Treaty of Slavbard, you might want to read the original Norwegian.”

*Yawn*: You’ll probably mean it, but, even if you don’t, who’ll know?  The very temerity of you yawning at their genius retorts will have them so flustered that they might consider moving out of their parents’ basement and getting a job.  Although, don’t count on it.

*Snore*: Any response to *Yawn* should be followed by *Snore.* And every response from this point forward.  If you’re bored, “Loud Snore,” “Big Wet Snore” and “I’m Afraid I’ll Wake Up Your Mama Snore” can all be used.

BDSM: Which stands for “Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism.” Like you didn’t know that.  Make sure it has absolutely nothing to do with prior conversation. Guaranteed to get them searching for their safe word.

Hopefully, I’ve done my part to make those once unpleasant social media exchanges with trolls, nut jobs and the occasional tin-foil, cap-wearing uncle into sport as my way of saying “Happy New Year.” And, if you don’t agree, what can I say, except, “Interesting… Yes, I see your point.”

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month.”

Color me beautiful

This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none. But my little piggies, instead of crying wee wee wee all the way home, said the hell with it and went for a pedicure.

My wife, Sue, who gets pedicures all the time and whose feet are beautiful, thinks mine aren’t. So, to convince her that a little pampering wouldn’t be like putting lipstick on a pig, I arranged to be beautiful, too, by having shiny red nail polish put on my piggies.

I put my best foot forward, followed by the other one, when my office was visited recently by Marianella Aguirre and Jennifer Yepez of Green Spa on the Go, a mobile spa and nail studio in Forest Hills, New York.

Employees could get manicures or pedicures. Even though this is a digital age, and my digits sometimes have hangnails, I decided not to put the man in manicure and instead wanted a trained professional to cure the two titanic tootsies that make me a biped.

That unenviable task fell to Jennifer, who is 28 and has been working at the spa for a year.

“I like your socks,” she said, pointing to hosiery embroidered with fish.

“I’m not wearing socks,” I replied. “The doctor says this rash should clear up in a couple of weeks.”

Jennifer looked stunned.

“I hope you don’t think my feet smell like fish,” I told her.

“No,” she said with a smile of relief as I removed my socks.

“Still,” I noted, “you should have worn a gas mask.”

“Your feet aren’t so bad,” said Marianella, 39, who owns Green Spa on the Go.

“My wife thinks I have the ugliest feet on earth,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” Marianella responded. “Jennifer will make them beautiful.”

And she did. It took a lot of work, but Jennifer’s expert technique rubbed me the right way.

“Be careful,” I warned. “I’m ticklish.”

“OK,” she said, giggling along with me as she massaged my right foot, which she anointed with cream and oil after clipping my toenails and using a pusher to clean them.

“They’re too cuticle for words,” I declared.

They were doubly so after Jennifer performed the same wonderful routine on my left foot (not starring Daniel Day-Lewis).

As Jennifer worked her magic, Marianella told me that Green Spa on the Go has clients throughout the metropolitan area, including my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, and that some of her most notable customers have been former New York Knicks stars Kurt Thomas and J.R. Smith.

“Those guys are huge,” Marianella said. “Their feet are really challenging.”

“Bigger than mine?” I asked, adding that they are size 11.

“Yours are baby feet,” she assured me.

And, baby, did they feel good. Now all I needed was nail polish.

“Men are going with bright colors these days,” Marianella said. “How about red?”

“Why not?” I replied, choosing the shiniest shade, which Jennifer expertly applied to my nails.

“They glow!” I chirped, paying Marianella a bargain price of $20 and giving a nice tip to Jennifer, who in turn gave me a pair of banana yellow, open-toed pedicure slippers, which I had to wear until the polish dried.

When my colleagues saw my glossy hoofs, they could barely contain their excitement.

“Wow!” Kevin gushed.

“I love your toes!” Francesca enthused.

“You have nice feet for a guy!” Janelle exclaimed.

The person I really wanted to impress was Sue. When my shift was over, I put my socks and shoes back on and drove home, where I told her about my pedicure.

“Don’t tell me you got nail polish, too,” she said.

“Yes,” I replied. “Red.”

“Oh, my God,” she said. “Let me see.”

I took off my shoes and socks. Sue looked down.

“What can I say?” she did say. “They’re lovely.”

“Too bad it’s not summer,” I said. “Then the whole world would see that I no longer have the ugliest feet on earth.”

— Jerry Zezima

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

Bill Bombeck: A life well lived

He made me feel the same way Gregory Peck, playing Atticus Finch, made me feel when I first saw the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. That feeling: affirmation. Affirmation, because when Bill Bombeck opened with remarks at the first Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, he spoke so intelligently, and hilariously, and supportively about the success of his wife and the effects of it all on his family. Erma must have felt that affirmation, too.

Bill Bombeck, Erma’s husband, and father to Betsy, Andy and Matt, father-in-law to Shari and Jackie, and grandfather to Eva and Michael, died Jan. 12 at 8:30 am. His family surrounded him in his final hours, and in true Bombeck fashion, among the tears, there were even a few precious last laughs together.

I was an attendee at the very first Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2000 and have played a role in it every year since. After Mr. Bombeck spoke at the first conference I walked up and introduced myself to him and told him I was a writer. He told me the secret of success was to keep at it, keep working, and write about my own view and not to try to be anyone else. He spoke directly to me as though he had all the time in the world to encourage an unknown writer, even though everyone in the auditorium wanted to congratulate him and offer their own bids for his attentions.

At a later conference, I did a keynote humor memoir performance of my Hair Theater show and Mr. Bombeck came up to me afterward and told me he loved what I did and wanted a picture with me. I felt like a movie star to hear such nice compliments and to receive this kind of attention from this good man.

In the meantime I got to know Bill and his kids Betsy, Andy, Matt, their families and Bill’s office assistant, Norma Born. Their kindness, caring and humor over the years in my various roles at the workshops have been a gift from the heavens above. That sense of affirmation emanates from the whole clan.

When conference creator and director Teri Rizvi asked me to become emcee of the conference, I knowingly and boldly abused my power and began unabashedly campaigning, from the podium, to be adopted by the Bombecks. Post a petition signed by attendees, cooked up by Louise Lucas at the 2014 conference, my wish finally was granted.

Arriving at my home right before the 2016 conference was a large manila envelope postmarked “Arizona” and inside was an “adoption certificate” signed by Bill Bombeck. I framed it and placed it on my office wall between photographs of Bobby Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn.

Bobby Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference.” Bill Bombeck did that for me.

Our workshop theme song is one that Bill Bombeck told me some years ago was one of Erma’s favorites. It is, “Our Love is Here to Stay.”

And it is, for Erma and for Bill.

— Patricia Wynn Brown

Pat Wynn Brown is a performer, producer and author of two books, Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Headand Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes Her Maternal Confession.

2018 resolutions and this year I mean it

Here it is, January 2018, and the whole new year’s resolution thing starts again. I don’t know about you, but I take this pretty seriously, so before I make any decisions I look at my list from last year:

                                 2017 Resolutions And This Year I Mean It

This year you will: 1. Stop calling those stretchy garments your “fat” clothes. They are the clothes that fit. Quit pretending you hardly ever wear them and hang them up in the closet already. 2. No longer lay around in your bathrobe and socks binge watching Netflix during blinding winter snowstorms. You live in Florida. 3. Start doing 30 minutes of daily exercise and face the fact that Wii tennis does not count.

So, you can see I over-reached. I totally set myself up for failure. This year I want to set an obtainable goal, something that is hard but doable, you know, one resolution to really focus on. After serious contemplation and much soul searching, I decided to go through all my emails and unsubscribe from those people and products that no longer interest me. Yes. I will begin the year with email that pertains only to relevant issues in my life, like the Nordstrom Rack “Not Your Daughter’s Jeans” Sale and the Boar’s Head hummus BOGO’s at Publix.

So, I begin the purge. The first one is from the Amazing Cats company. Last year I bought a toy bird that is supposed to fly around the room while your cat chases it, giving him lots of good exercise and something to focus on besides your new throw pillow from Crate and Barrel. Unfortunately, my cat ripped the poor little thing to shreds seconds before take-off. Since then Mr. Puff-Puff and I have decided exercise for cats is stupid and he apparently feels quite strongly about it. So, they will be the first to go.

I scroll down to the bottom of the email where it says in tiny letters Unsubscribe. I hit the button and prepare to move on but then a message pops up: SORRY TO SEE YOU GO! WE WILL MISS YOU! “Oh my,” I think. I didn’t mean to hurt their feelings or anything. It’s just that my cat is lazy and fat. It’s nothing personal! They’ve done nothing to warrant this really. It’s not their fault my cat is in a perpetual Meow Mix coma. Not to mention, they seem to really like me. They’re going to miss me! They want me to stay! It’s the fifth grade, class secretary election all over again when Carla Malone had to give up the post because she had ballet after school and Mrs. Clancy asked me to step in. I’m popular!

I hit Cancel Unsubscribe and click out of my email. Maybe I should just revisit last year’s resolutions, and I will. For sure. Next week. This week there are some major blizzards along the East Coast and a brand new season of Stranger Things just hit Netflix.

-Amy Koko

Amy Koko is the author of the humorous memoir, There’s Been A Change of Plans, A Memoir About Divorce, Dating and Delinquents in Midlife, published in October, 2015 as well as the creator of the blog, Exwifenewlife.com, which deals with life after divorce and how great it can be! She is also a contributor to Huffington Post, Bravo Personal Space and SheSavvy. Currently she is finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Tampa, and is planning to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing in the fall of 2018. Amy lives in St. Petersburg, Florida and is the mother of four, mostly well-adjusted kids and is currently working on her first fiction novel.

My ever loving breasts

I was traumatized when I realized I was the only girl in eighth grade who didn’t wear a bra. I was playing shortstop at a softball game when I noticed every girl in front of me had a bra shadow under their white team shirt. I wore an undershirt. If I could have crawled under the second base pad, I would have.

As we jogged back to our bench after the opposing team’s three outs, more bra lines came into view. Every girl on the other team sported a bra, too. I was a loser!

I ran home with my cheeks as rosy as my areolas. I was out of breath when I burst through the front door, “Mom we need to go bra shopping right now!” I cried. “I am the only girl in my class without a bra. I am wearing an undershirt like a third grader,” I sobbed.

She tried to console me, “You don’t need one yet,” she said calmly. This was not what I wanted to hear! “My breast buds could blossom overnight! I need a bra!” I screamed.

She agreed to take me to Richardson’s Store.

I just wanted a white bra that would give me a bra shadow for softball. My mom was across the aisle when I chose a full cup 36 D bra. I wanted to be able to grow into it if I sprouted over the weekend.

“Anne, I asked Mr. Richardson to get us some help choosing a bra for you,” she said.

“You told Mr. Richardson I need a bra???” I was mortified. No sooner did I hear him on the loud speaker say, “Suzie, can you help Bette’s daughter find a bra?” How could my mother do this to me?

As luck would have it, Mary Lou Genaro, the biggest busted girl in my class, stopped to say hello. “I’m bra shopping, too.” She eyed up my massive 36D cup and said, “Uh, that’s my size, Anne.”

“Oh, I’m holding it for my mom.” I lied.

My mom arrived with a big smile on her face and her 34B chest. “Hi, Mary Lou,” she smiled. Busted! (No pun intended) “We’re just getting Anne her first bra.” I wanted to die!

Suzie arrived with three 32AAA bras for me to try on. They were miniscule compared to Mary Lou’s. I could fit all three of them into one of her cups.

Ten years later, at twenty-three, I had the perfect, champagne glass size breasts. I was quite proud that my breasts had recovered from their late-blooming state.

My first daughter was born when I was 27. I read that the best method to toughen up nipples for breast feeding was to cut the tips of my bra off. The friction of rubbing against my shirt would toughen my nipples. What did I know? It made perfect sense to me then.

I snipped four bras to prepare. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I’ve seen this look in a sleazy, mail-order catalog. What had I done? I cut up expensive bras and I look like a hussy with an exploding belly.

When I arrived at the hospital, the labor nurses were all shocked when I removed my top. Shocked is not the best word to describe their faces, actually — appalled, horrified or even disgusted might be better choices. Worse yet, I worked at this hospital. I would be the topic of conversation at dinner in the cafeteria all week.

Over the years, with five children, my boobs have grown and shrunk and grown and shrunk again. They’ve given milk, been squished by mammograms, nuzzled by grandkids, and stuffed into push-up bras. I carry them with pride. And then last week, everything changed.

I was relaxing in a beach chair, listening to the seagulls and reciting my daily mantra, “You are a beautiful and sexy woman.” I say this to myself daily. When I opened my eyes, I noticed a protruding brown spot on my right knee. At second glance, there was an identical spot on my left knee. I’d just had a body scan at the dermatologist. Surely, she’d have noticed them.

I sat upright in my chair and touched them. They were firm, but springy. This was the oddest thing. I felt a tingle in my nipples every time I touched the spots on my knees.

I inspected them closer and realized that my breasts had drooped to my knees! My nipples were on display for every person walking by.

I flailed back in a reclining position and wracked my mind for the patron saint of breasts. St. Jude for hopeless cases might be my best bet. I peeked at them again, willing them to go back up where they belong. They stared back at me. My next thought was, “They need SPF 50 sun block.”

Menopause has taken a toll on my body and mind, but really? I don’t deserve this. I’ll have to roll them up like matching socks and stuff them in my bra. Even if I joined a gym to get in shape, there’s not enough muscle in my upper arms to lift those babies back into place. Besides, I could get tangled in the chest press machine or worse yet, squish them in the thigh press. It’s just not safe for me to entertain a gym membership.

Oh, how I long for the old days at Richardson’s Store when my tiny breasts were just thinking about budding. At that time, I just wanted a bra shadow to prove I was blossoming like the other girls. Now I need Mr. Richardson to page, “Suzie, there’s a woman who looks like Bette here. She needs a hand crank to stuff her breasts back in her bra. Can you meet her in the Tool Department?”

I just wish my mom could be there with me. I bet she’d wear that same big smile.

— Anne Bardsley

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

Reflections of Erma