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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

News

My brush with death in the kitchen

Pam SieversIn our second day at Retirement Camp (that’s what I’ve decided to call these 10 weeks in this “active adult” community in Arizona), I guess I agreed to play pickle-ball.

It happened like this. We were driving around the area, each of us getting more and more excited over all the offerings that we’d be able to take advantage of.

Kathy: “So would you like to play pickle-ball sometime? Oh look, there’s a Culver’s.”

Pam: “Great!”

You see what happened here, right? She thought I was excited to play pickle-ball, when in fact, I was anticipating a Butter Burger and scoop of frozen custard in my future.

The next thing I know, we have a date for a lesson with our neighbor, Rick. He stops by to go over some of the rules and the first thing he asks is, “What kind of shoes do you have?”

Oh no. I am not going to buy a pair of pickle-ball shoes just to join my list of “special occasion” footwear long forgotten, but lined up neatly in my closet — I dust them annually: golf shoes, cross country ski boots, water work-out shoes, tap dancing shoes and here’s the biggie — my curling shoes. That’s right, I took a curling class one long winter, and you cannot curl without shoes adapted for the purpose. However, would you toss or sweep? Nope, I’m playing pickle-ball in tennis shoes, even knowing I could catch the edge and go tumbling. It was a risk I was willing to take.

Pickle-ball is the official sport of retirees in Florida and Arizona and as such, is part of the orientation here, I am convinced. As the thermometer works its way north of 90, it feels more like hazing to me. It’s for people whose knees and backs don’t support tennis anymore, but who still have the competitive spirit. I have great knees and a strong back and no competitive spirit (except for euchre), but a trip to Culver’s — I’ll play for that.

It’s played with a wiffle ball on a badminton size court, with a tennis net and oversized ping pong paddles. It features a “kitchen,” the seven-foot strip of real estate on each side of the net, and sometimes you can go in the kitchen, and sometimes, you can’t. I’m still working on that rule. I just know I love to cook, so usually, any chance to be in the kitchen is good with me. You play in partners (usually) until the first team gets to 11 or if you’re me, until your ice water runs out. Then I’m done.

A week or so after our lesson, Kathy asked if I’d like to play in a novice tournament. I swear I thought she said “would you like to play with other beginners?” Realize, we had not stepped on the court since our only lesson. I agreed and as luck would have it, we were paired with Phil, 82, and Patti, 85, a former tennis champion who had the right court shoes, I might add. I won’t tell you the final score, but on many occasions, I slipped a bit closer to death in the kitchen, and wasn’t one bit sorry. They reached 11 before my bottle of water was half gone, and on many occasions, I slipped a bit closer to death in the kitchen, but I was only there looking for my frozen custard, so it didn’t really matter to me.

— Pam Sievers

Pam Sievers writes a weekly blog from her home in Lansing, Michigan, or wherever she might be traveling. She’s a retired Girl Scout executive and when not writing, she loves to quilt and plan her next trip.

It’s a low-salt life for us

Roz WarrenMy 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 as I rain salt into his delicious home made 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’m one of those women 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 Menieres, 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. One more thing we now get to enjoy together? 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 characterized 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 V8? 481 mg per serving! Are they insane?”

“And Cheerios! 140 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 the 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 Brie with as much salt on it as I damn well please. And Mark will be right there with me.

— Roz Warren

Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor. This essay first appeared in www.womensvoicesforchange.org.

Sportface flies the Xanax skies

Sammy SportfaceThis week I took a plane ride from Las Vegas to New Jersey.

During this trip I kept pondering whether the 600 milligrams — or whatever dosage of Xanax I swallowed minutes before take-off — were kicking in. Why wasn’t I sleeping? Or was I asleep? Or was I imagining I was sleeping? What the hell was going on? What is this plane ride about?

I tried to see if the delicious drug, an anxiety assuager, was making me see the chairs in the airplane differently. Did they look more fuzzy? I looked over them as if they were below me or not the main point somehow. Was I asleep again and dreaming that I was looking over the chairs? It seemed I wanted to stare at nowhere yet was somewhere but really just nowhere.

The flight attendants looked like flight attendants but somehow sort of far away as if they didn’t know who they were and were just walking up and down the aisle because that’s what they do. It was them over there and me over here.

Was I asleep? Why can’t I get to sleep?

Was the plane high in the air? How high was I?

When I got my drink, a Diet Coke, I took some sips, put it down, and then forgot it was there. Maybe waking up from what may have been sleep, my left arm knocked the cup several inches to the right.

This wasn’t my intention. It just happened. While tripping on Xanax on airplanes, I tend to knock my drinks around by accident. I do like a sweeping motion with my arm across the tray table without thinking it through beforehand.

I didn’t really know where I was other than flying around somewhere or just sitting in a chair somewhere. There were people beside me, but we weren’t talking. One was reading. I stopped reading ever since I started writing sports blogs because you don’t need to be well read to write sports blogs. All that’s required is that you create a pen name such as Sammy Sportface and write about your plane rides fueled by Xanax.

So I sat there wondering what I felt like, how much my anxiety had been reduced, whether these were bogus placebo pills and therefore not quelling my well-founded anxiety about flying in an aluminum tube 60,000 miles above sea level with someone else I didn’t know in control of whether I lived or died.

Where was I? How high is high? Why was I sitting there? What is an anxiety reducer? How does it work? Was this the last plane I would ever take because I don’t like being crammed in a seat and tortured? Why so many questions to ask when all you’re doing is sitting there theoretically relaxing? Was I the only one clenching the seat in front of me when the turbulence rocked us?

Was it foggy on the plane? Sure seemed so. Things were blurry, softer, less meaningful. It was all not worth caring about.

It was like a plane full of see-through pillow cases.

Next thing I knew the plane landed.

Where was I?

Had I been sleeping the whole time? Is all of life a dream, as Descartes once suggested?

What was going on? Where had I been?

None of it added up.

It was all as mysterious as the sky.

Which is really high.

On Xanax.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to Amazon.com.

Freud would turn over in his grave

Jan MarshallDid you hear about a school that is training bartenders, hairdressers and Uber/taxi drivers to become counselors?  The theory is that these people come in contact with many humans and their assorted problems.  So a state grant will be provided to teach these folks to deal more effectively in handling our pains.

In a crash course, they learned to listen creatively, communicate responsibly and, in general, take the role of a helper.

Today, I did not appreciate their effort, that is, until day’s end, 

Scene 1
THE CABBIE

ME: Taxi!  I’d like to go to Francois’ Beauty Salon, and could you hurry, please?

CABBIE: This compulsion for promptness — do you look at Francois as a father figure, thus your fear of displeasing “daddy?”

ME: Huh?  I’d just like to be on time, or he’ll give my appointment to someone else.

CABBIE: Ah! You see the other customers as a symbol of your resentment toward a brother or sister. Perhaps you have a little sibling rivalry going.

ME: [sotto voce]: I can’t wait until my car is repaired.

CABBIE: What was that?

ME: Never mind. Just drop me off here.

CABBIE: Did you know that leaving a dollar tip on a $10 ride indicates a holding back, an unwillingness to let go . . .?

ME: And did you know that my slamming this door on your nose reflects my uncompleted relationship with Pinocchio?

CABBIE: †§$%$(%¢%

ME:  Same to you, fella.

Scene 2
THE HAIRDRESSER

ME: Hi, Francois. Today I’d like a change. How about a short haircut?

FRANCOIS: I can see an obvious conflict that I must bring to your attention. You think by changing your outer self, your internal enemy can be placated.

ME: In that case, cut it for both of us. The real reason I’d like it trimmed is because it gets in my eyes while I’m playing tennis. I’d just like to be able to see the ball when I miss it.

FRANCOIS: You don’t want to miss. You probably are extremely competitive, which stems from your need to be in charge. …I sense that you are agitated. Tell me, what are you feeling right now, at this very moment?

ME: You really want to know? I’m feeling great hostility toward your leotards. As a matter of fact, I’d like to be perfectly candid. I never thought you had the legs for them.

FRANCOIS: Well, I never . . .

ME: I can believe that. Good-bye!

Scene 3
THE BARTENDER

ME: Set ‘em up, Joe.  I’ve got a little story I’d like you to know.

BARTENDER: Lady, can’t you just ask for a drink like everyone else? I sense a bit of the exhibitionist in you. Were you ignored during your formative years?

ME: Listen, these are my formative years. Being ignored would be the highlight of my day. Why don’t you simply give me a Bloody Mary,

BARTENDER: I sense a deep-seated fury raging in you. Obviously you could have chosen from over 1,000 cocktails, including a Sweet Casis. Why did you choose that prticular mix?

ME: I did it for purely medical reasons. My body craves the vitamin C that’s found in the tomato juice.

BARTENDER: I think you chose the Bloody Mary because it reflects your preoccupation with violence, blood and gore.

ME: Were they a rock group? Actually, I’m getting nauseous. Leave me alone.

BARTENDER: I can see your rage. Who do you suppose really is the recipient of your wrath?

ME: I’m looking at him.

BARTENDER: Oh, no. You don’t mean me. I’m merely a therapeutic stand-in for someone else in your past.  Tell me, who are you angry with?

ME: I’m not angry.

BARTENDER: Ha. You can’t kid me. If you’re not angry, then why are you pouring your drink down my apron?

ME: It was a childish impulse. I once accidentally set fire to my hoola hoop, and for a moment because of your beer belly I was transported in space, and I attempted to put out the flames.

BARTENDER: Ah! Now we seem to be getting somewhere, but your time is up. Why don’t you go home, take two martinis and call me in the morning?

ME: Listen, whatever you say. You’re the doctor.

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall has devoted her life’s work to humor and healing through books, columns and motivational speaking. As founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute, she worked with board members Norman Cousins, Steve Allen and other physicians and entertainers, including John Cleese. Her newest satirical survival book, Dancin’ Schmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! is dedicated to Wounded Warriors, Gabrielle Giffords and Grieving Parents. She donates a percentage of the profits to these organizations as well as to the American Cancer Society and the American Brain Tumor Association.

The good news, according to Erma

DONNA FENTANES Recently, I wrote a blog post titled “Though Dead, Yet They Speak” marking the 20th anniversary of the deaths of the Monks of Tibhirine and Henri Nouwen.

But there is another person who also had a profound impact on my life like those gentlemen. And through her humor and writing, she spread good news to other women. I forgot about this lady who died 20 years ago yesterday in my hometown of San Francisco. And even today, she still speaks.

The ’90s were a blur; from 1990-1999, I had six children. I was actually living the life Erma had been writing about for decades. Nineteen ninety-six was one of the few years of that decade I didn’t have a child. I had one at the end of 1995 and would have another in the summer of 1997. I had two in the ’80s and two more in the first decade of the 21st century. A total of 10. I would’ve engraved and framed the words Erma would have crafted regarding my chosen lot in life. And yet, that is just what she did throughout her career: craft words and stories that highlighted the life of the American woman, the American mother in particular, and all her cares and responsibilities. Women, who felt invisible doing all that needed to be done to maintain their homes, could turn to Erma and laugh as if they were sitting at their kitchen table with a good friend. That good news produced laughter, encouragement and perseverance. Definitely good news for the weary woman.

Perhaps I couldn’t have grouped her with the monks and Brother Nouwen anyway because their content and their lives were definitely different than Erma’s. So it seems. The monks by their lives’ and Henri by his writings changed my life spiritually. But Erma packed a spiritual punch in many of her writings as well, and it behooves us to remember and admire how she wove great truths into her writings.

Of course, we all remember her essay, “When God Created Mothers.” She loosely translates the Genesis record and she nails it on the head as she describes the mystery of motherhood and its incalculable worth. She wraps up the essay with the sublime:

Finally the angel bent over and rang her finger across the cheek.
“There’s a leak,” she pronounced, “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”
“It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”

“What’s it for?”
“It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”
“You are a genius,” said the angel.
Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”

Her words were not just for the mother, “the one who was overkidsed, underpatienced, with four years of college and chapped hands all year around,” but for any woman. Many of her writings were for women in general, and for older women in particular. And for the woman who looked in the mirror and thought it was too late for her, she wrote these gospel-like words:

“For years, you’ve watched everyone else do it. …And you envied them and said, ‘Maybe next year I’ll go back to school.’ And the years went by and this morning you looked into the mirror and said, ‘You blew it. You’re too old to pick it up and start a new career.’ This column is for you.

“Margaret Mitchell won her first Pulitzer Prize for Gone With the Wind in 1937. She was 37 old at the time. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1948 at the age of 51. Ruth Gordon picked up her first Oscar in 1968 for Rosemary’s Baby. She was 72 years old. Billie Jean King took the battle of women’s worth to a tennis court in Houston’s Astrodome to outplay Bobby Riggs. She was 31 years of age.

“Grandma Moses began a painting career at the age of 76.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh followed in the shadow of her husband until she began to question the meaning of her own existence. She published her thoughts in A Gift from the Sea in 1955, in her 49th year. Shirley Temple Black was named Ambassador to Ghana at the age of 47. Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel. She had just passed her 71st birthday.

You can tell yourself these people started out as exceptional. You can tell yourself they had influence before they started. You can tell yourself the conditions under which they achieved were different from yours.

Or you can be like the woman I knew who sat at her kitchen window year after year and watched everyone else do it. Then one day she said, “I do not feel fulfilled cleaning chrome faucets with a toothbrush. It’s my turn.

I was thirty-seven years old at the time.”

She preached that we can have a second act, or a third act; shoot, some of us can have sequels.

In 2007, more than 10 years after she died, the year my first column was printed, I was 48 years old at the time. Act II.

— Donna Fentanes

Blogger Donna Fentanes is a mother of 10 kids living in Pacifica. She mixes humor and philosophical musings with everyday life.

On swim suit shopping and other mortifications

Jennifer BeldenMy new neighborhood has been rife with the activity of new pools being built and existing pools being serviced, signs that summer and swimsuit season is near.

Confession #1: I hate swimsuit shopping.

Confession #2: I have been wearing the same two swimsuits since 2009, the year after my daughter was born. In that time, I have gained weight, lost it, gained it back and lost again.

If you look at any family holiday pictures, you would be hard pressed to guess the year by looking at me because I have am wearing the same two suits, due to the warped mentality of “I’ll buy a new suit when I lose weight.”

Don’t get me wrong — I really like these suits. But seven years is a long time, so off to the mall I went.

The swimwear store displayed suits in blocks of color on floor racks and up the walls. After I’d searched all the racks twice, an anorexic 20-something salesperson approached and asked if I needed help.

I explained: “I’m looking for a suit. I need a LONG tankini and bottoms that are not a bikini — something with tummy coverage.”

She looks at my tummy. She looks at me.

She pulls a few suits from the rack.

They all have tiny bikini bottoms. With strings on the sides. I sigh.

Patiently, I start: “Gee, those are SUPER cute. But I need a swim bottom that is more like a brief.”

Salesgirl: *blinks* Offers the suits she has pulled.

Me: “No, see *embarrassed laugh* I can’t wear those bottoms. I prefer more coverage.”

*Silence*

Feeling desperate, I stammer on. “Look, I had a C-section and my tummy is, well, it’s no longer flat. Low-cut bikinis hit my C-section line. Do you have any bottoms that offer more coverage?”

Salesgirl: *blinks* She pulls another swimsuit. This one is also a bikini bottom, but without strings. Instead, it has plastic rings on the sides, so my hips can look like Play-doh extruding from a mold.

Me, now irritated, because she is going to make me go THERE, oh yes, she is. I breathe deeply. I count to 10. It does not help.

“No,” I say through gritted teeth, “Those are still bikini bottoms. I had a C-section. I look like a sharpie, and my tummy will hang over that bottom. I NEED a swim brief. Or boy shorts. Or a tummy tuck, but I doubt you’ve got one of those in the back.” Her semi-vacant eyes go WIDE.

I take the suit I’ve found and stomp off to the dressing room. Shortly she drapes a suit over the door — it has a tummy-coverage bottom! However, still lacking understanding, she has also offered a tight cropped top which squeezes everything I have out the bottom.

If you want to look like you are sporting a flesh-colored inner tube, this was the suit to get.

I wrestle out of the snug-fitting top, vowing to hit the gym harder, and quietly hand back the suits with look of defeat.

She drops them on the counter as if contaminated and takes another traumatized peek at my well-camouflaged stomach area.

I may have scarred her for life.

I might not be sorry for that.

With that, I departed to order a suit from Lands’ End, with their hidden panels and flared swim tops, because they get me.

This was LAST spring. Trying on my suit yesterday, I discovered that once again, I ate my stress over the winter and now this suit doesn’t fit as well as before.

Thank goodness I still have that old swimsuit.

— Jennifer Belden

Jenn is a Yankee adapting to life in Texas, where she is is called mom by two sarcastic kids and one ebullient (and flatulent)  spaniel and wife by one bossy guy. When she’s not writing on her blog, Momma on the Rocks, she can be found working on her first childrens’ book, drinking too much coffee and making creative excuses for avoiding the laundry.

My child-rearing views
prior to having children

Adrian WoodMy children would never watch television.

Perhaps an educational show here and there when at a friend’s house or maybe Sesame Street or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. In my defense, we don’t have cable. We do have YouTube and Netflix and so, television is a necessary evil in our household. How else would I clean up or be lazy myself?

My children would never have a video game system.

Not in my house. My cousins had an Atari, and that was good enough for me and would be fine for my children, too. Well, the Wii came first, a gift from grandparents though I suggested it. The Xbox arrived this year as a gift from Santa. Yes, I blamed Santa so my children would not know I was a total wimp and liar. Upon hearing Blair tell her church friend, “I got kilt by a cop,” I reconsidered my decision of exposure to Grand Theft Auto. Too late.

My children would never be allowed to have toy guns in my house.

How was I to know I would have a son like Russell who came out of the womb with his thumb and index finger in shooting stance? Long before I conceded the the impressive arsenal we have today, he could make any household or yard item into a useful weapon, odd-shaped stick, paintbrush, paper towel roll. You name it. It particularly undid our very kind proper babysitter we had at that time. Now we are swarming with teenagers glued to their phones and upgraded to civil war mock weapons and impressive rapid shooting Nerf guns.

My children would play with gender-neutral toys — my sons with dolls and my daughters would play with cars.

I took this job very serious as I was a graduate of a women’s college and one of my favorite professors had a hyphenated last name,. He and his wife had both combined their last names. My first two sons were provided baby dolls, kitchen sets, as well as cars and trains. The first son never gravitated to any toy item as a little person as he seemed mainly attached to me. The next son was car and train obsessed. Indeed, he would push his small pink jogging stroller loaded down with his matchbox cars, and around the neighborhood we would venture.

My children would try unusual foods and, of course, I would make my own baby food from my own garden.

Again, I was perfect in my mind — even when my first son was the only child. I remember our family of three all enjoying salads, pork tenderloin, roasted veggies. You get the gist. My garden was planted, and we had a ton of squash, lettuce, zucchini and watermelons. Two problems, one being I had no idea you should pick the squash while it was still liftable. Two, weeding was not on my priority list and so, the garden lasted one season.

My children would be read to every evening at bedtime.

How could I refuse to read at bedtime? An expert in early childhood education and I’m here to tell you the whole reading at bedtime is a big farce. Reading itself is important, but the time of day does not matter one bit. I have been known to read a big pile of books on a rainy afternoon. Maybe once. Who has the energy to read every single night? It feels like the same rule about exercising every day. It makes me want to totally abstain so I go by the rule of often, sometimes or occasionally.

My children would be disciplined positively with natural and logical consequences.

I remember the first time I told them to SHUT UP. It was not by accident, however one may want to take that. No, I deliberately chose my words carefully and spoke them calmly and clearly. We were in to the third hour of our car trip, and a howling toddler and fighting siblings had gobbled up my last nerve. I recently discovered hot sauce and was suitably impressed and even a bit frightened by the results it brought. Inappropriate perhaps.

My children would be dressed neatly in knee socks and saddle shoes, their faces shiny clean.

My children used to look nice. My oldest resembled Little Lord Fauntleroy in appearance, facial features and dress. He was downright pretty. Before I knew it, he was wrapped up in athletic shorts and neon hoodies. Oh well, at least his younger sister has the exact same taste so she can shuffle around in too-big hand-me-downs. Now in relation to the filth, I didn’t know the bottoms of feet could turn so black from just a few hours outside especially after few sips in the pool. Giving baths past 7 p.m. is right up there with reading and so, I glance and ignore the black feet climbing in the not-so-clean sheets.

My children would only taste breast milk their first six months of life.

That was my plan until I dumped an entire bottle of breast milk on the floor in our basement den at our first house. I had pumped and was going to pour the milk into my new Playtex bottle, the one that you are supposed to put the liner in first. Well, a tired first-time mother remembered the liner as she poured the liquid gold all over the arm chair and tile floor where my husband held our week-old son. I cried and cried and then in a necessary showing of defeat, found the tin of free formula powder and fixed a bottle. He lived and I learned.

My children would always be properly supervised.

Who plans to leave their son at a restaurant on a bathroom break? Not me, but I did. Two miles down the road in an unfamiliar town on a major highway and I remembered. There goes my plan of my conscious plan for hands-off parenting though under close supervision. Too late.

— Adrian H. Wood

Adrian H. Wood, Ph.D., is a rural Eastern North Carolina mother of four, one with extra special needs. She’s a past preschool teacher, nanny, children’s ski instructor, early interventionist, college professor, early childhood researcher, wife and full-time mama. She began writing in 2016 after a 20-year hiatus and blogs at Tales of an Educated Debutante, where satire meets truth, faith meets irony, despair meets joy and this educated debutante escapes the laundry and finds true meaning in graceful transparency.

My happy place

Life gets in the way of my writing way too often, so I am late to this Erma experience party.

Yvonne RanselAfter leaving three hours late from Dayton because of high winds and snow in April and missing my flight in Atlanta, I spent a sleepless night at a Residence Inn with a police car parked outside, when I should have been revelling in Erma memories. So, after the two-day drive back home from Florida and then a trip to Ohio for an important event — here I finally am at my kitchen table with forsythia and tulip blooms outside my window. And remembering my happy place at Erma.

It was my second “official” Erma, so I wasn’t a virgin. Terry Sykes-Bradshaw and her daughter, both alumni of many Ermas, were on the same flight from Atlanta and we shared my first Uber ride in a tiny red sedan with an Erma newbie, Kathy Shiels Tully.  When we entered the Marriott lobby and saw the smiling faces and heard the chatter, I grinned at her and said, “See, I told you!” It wasn’t until the last night in the hotel bar did she reveal that she wrote for the Boston Globe, with way more experience than most of us, proving that Erma’s content reaches wide.

So many faces in the lobby smiled at me and Gianetta Palmer, the unofficial official greeter, gave me a big hug. Bless her. Oddly, my room was on the lobby floor in a distant wing, so I never rode the elevator with fellow writers or other famous people. A silly disappointment, but one that I noted. The first cocktail party was a joy, reaching out to familiar Facebook faces and hunting down my publisher, Elaine Ambrose, to thank her in person.

After that, it was all a blur, albeit a happy one. I propped myself up in bed that night, with my final glass of pinot noir, to finally narrow down my session choices. It wasn’t easy, but I knew from 2014 that I wanted to hear Tracy Beckerman, with her quit wit and succinct advice about blogging, and she did not disappoint. And there was no way I was going to miss Elaine Ambrose’s session on turning my blog into a book — one, because I have every intention of doing just that with my dozens of essays and two, because she is responsible for my being published in her Feisty After 45, a wonderful anthology by women writers (if I may say so myself.)

After taking myriad notes, I took a break and was entertained by a panel of funny people, including Alan Zweibel and am grateful that I purchased the audio cd. I listened to and laughed at his session this morning in the car and want to replay it for my husband. Friday night’s dinner was so enhanced by the poignant solo performance of Barbara Chisholm as Erma. Tears and laughter and joy were felt throughout the ballroom

I saved Gina Barreca for Saturday morning because I wanted to be fresh and funny when she signed my book. She was delightfully hilarious, as usual, and pranced across the stage in her Italian New Jersey way, waving her arms and expounding on feminism and our incessant need to apologize for everything. I took that to heart when I got back to Florida and did not apologize to my son for the rainy day, as if it were in my control anyway.

Elaine and Gina have emerged as tribal leaders among many in this group of attendees and my confidence has grown because of them, even spilling over to other parts of my creative life. Earlier this month a friend and I were staring in awe at a stunning pink and orange sunset over the water. She said, “You could paint that,” and I started to say, “Oh, no,” but then replied, “Yes, I could,” and smiled.

There was no better way to send me off on Saturday afternoon, than to take in Judy Carter’s “Message of You” workshop. I unknowingly sat down at the same table with Lisa Marlin who shares a crooked smile with me — mine from surgery years ago, hers from Bells Palsy. Neither of us bemoaned our fate much, though she sadly had to give up a television news career. We both cheered and teared up at the emotions Judy evoked in her insightful demonstrations and knew we would be better for it.

Fate or serendipity or whatever you would like to call it also sat me at two different lunch tables with attendees who could very well help me along this year with my family memoir/cookbook — Debbie Moose, who has written cookbooks and Barb Cooley, who will help me “preserve my family memories” as her business card reads. I am confident I can publish this before Erma 2018, because  Erma has my back.

— Yvonne Ransel

Yvonne Ransel is a writer of essays — some humorous, some poignant — who is inspired by life’s crazy, everyday events. She was a librarian, then a bar owner, now a librarian again. She survived the ’60s and the millenium and the years in between as mother, wife and now grandmother of six. Her goals for writing and publishing between now and 2018 are quite lofty, but “Erma’s got my back.”

Reflections of Erma