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Things I never thought would happen…
before I was a mom

Janene DuttLast week my son’s sixth grade science class was scheduled to dissect a sheep’s eye. Though he loves science, Jack was not looking forward to the dissection, as he tends to get easily grossed out by things of that sort (as does his mother).  Driving home from school that day I asked him about how the dissection went.

“It was actually really, really cool,” he replied. “It was so cool that I asked my teacher if I could keep a piece of the sheep’s eye and he let me.”

“What do you mean KEEP a piece of the eye? Like to take home?”

“Yup.”

“So you have it right now?  Where is it?”

“In my lunchbox.”

“In your LUNCHBOX?!”

“Yeah, why?”

“How could you put a sheep’s eye in your lunchbox? That’s disgusting. Is it in a bag? Is it wrapped up?”

“No. And it’s not the whole eye, it’s just the lens.”

“So there is the lens of a sheep’s eye just rolling around your lunchbox where your food goes?”

Yes, there was. My son did not see anything wrong with this scenario. And he also could not locate the piece of the eye when I asked him to get it out so I could sterilize his lunchbox. So now here I was, frantically looking through his lunchbox and backpack for THE LENS OF A SHEEP’S EYE. And I thought to myself, “this is one of those moments of motherhood where you realize what a crazy a** job this is.”  I mean, I could not even think of another job in life where I would ever even come across the eye of a sheep.

Here are a few other things I never thought would happen…before I was a mom:

1. I never thought I would walk around in public for an entire day with postage stamps stuck on my back because my 2-year-old used me as a sticker book while I was distractedly working on the computer.  I did not think my husband would be the only person to tell me this when he got home from work, after he stopped laughing, of course.  Did people think I was making some sort of statement walking around like that? Or that I was planning to mail myself somewhere?

2. I never thought I would be lying constantly. “The tooth fairy didn’t come last night? Oh, right…that’s because it was the third Tuesday of the month and that’s her only night off so everybody knows that if you lose a tooth on the third Tuesday of the month, then she comes on Wednesday and leaves you twice as much money! So you’re actually super lucky. Sorry, I forgot to mention that yesterday.” Or, “I wish we could go to Disneyland right now, too, but they actually had to close the park today because it was too crowded so nobody else can go in.”  Or, “I don’t know why all the Kit Kats and Snickers bars are missing from your Halloween candy…that’s really weird.”

3. I never thought that I would be asked such a wide range of constant questions by my children, at least half of which I had no acceptable answer for.  Questions such as, “Can I see heaven, but not die first?” (Jack, age 4) to “Mom, what’s the population of Greenland?” (Jack, last night)

4. I never thought I’d consider waking up at 8:30 a.m. on the weekends to be “sleeping in.”

5. I never thought I would let my child nap in a dog bed.

6. I never thought to not allow my 2-year-old to play with expensive luggage in a luggage store. Luggage is fun, right? They can roll it, they can ride on it. They can also stick their head through the rectangular pull-up handle of the suitcase and not be able to get it out. And once they realize their head is stuck, they can scream and cry so hard in the nice luggage store that they proceed to vomit all over the expensive luggage while their head is still stuck through the handle of the lovely suitcase. No, I never thought THAT would happen.

7.  I never thought I’d be so calm and collected when my son ran into a parked car while playing tag on our street and cut his eyebrow badly, blood gushing everywhere. Yes, I was proud of how calm I remained as I cleaned the wound, stuck a Band-Aid on it, and sent him back outside to play.  Not so proud later on that night when it turned out that the kid actually needed 12 stitches, not a Spiderman Band-Aid. Oops.

8. I never thought I would feel so comfortable peeing in front of other people. I never thought my greatest goal in life would be to someday pee alone in my bathroom.

9. I never thought that watching my daughter go on an extreme roller coaster ride would be more terrifying than going on it myself.

10. And I never thought the old parenting adage would hold so true, “The days are long, but the years are short…and I never thought I’d have a job I loved so much.

— Janene Dutt

Janene Dutt is brand-new blogger who has no legitimate writing experience to speak of and was, therefore, panicked when asked to write this bio. She recently relocated from Southern California to a small island in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three children. Her mother said her blog was funny so she now has grandiose and delusional dreams of becoming the next Erma Bombeck. You can read about her experiences at www.imightbefunny.com.

The writing process

Linda WolffWhen I was asked to join a group of lovely, talented writers who are taking turns sharing their unique writing process, I jumped at the chance, because oh goody I get to talk about me! I love learning about writers’ creative process and, in turn, discovering and sharing my own.

Why do I write what I do?

I wanted to be a writer ever since I got my hands on my first diary. (Oh, those drama-filled pages!) My dream was to create my own magazine, so my dad bought me a notebook with dividers, which I filled withridiculous amazing content. My vision was a kind of a Cosmo meets Tiger Beat.

As a former shy girl, writing opened up a whole new world and way in which to live large. Occasionally, I write heavy pieces, but then I think who on earth would want to read that, so I purge my soul and find the funny, which I much prefer to share. It brings me much joy to know I’ve made people laugh or brought a little sunshine to their day. One of the perks of writing is that it’s given me the chance to meet so many talented, wonderful people whom I now call friends.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think we all have a unique voice. I’ve been told that my voice is like the warm, funny, yet savvy girlfriend you love chatting with over a long lunch. Wait…maybe that’s just me — anyway — I’ve always been someone who people come to to share their life and ask advice. And, obviously, I enjoy putting my two cents in. I’m having a good time here, and I think that’s reflected in my work.

How does my writing process work?

Everything begins with coffee. Then the hair has to be dealt with. It’s impossible to focus unless the entire unruly mop is affixed to the top of my head, a la Marge Simpson. (Voila, I can see!) Then I sit at my desk, which is covered with colorful Post-it notes filled with scribbled blog ideas and funny lines — organization isn’t my forte — and then I do what I do best.

Procrastinate.

Often I would rather focus on social media than write — so much easier! When I’m up against a deadline is when I start cleaning out drawers. I’m convinced this helps with the creative process.

When get really stuck, I go for a walk and listen to music — it’s when ideas come alive and I take notes (imagine Mr. Magoo walking blindly between darting cars). Then I come home, grab a bottle of water or cup of tea, and write. Stare at the screen. Send a text. Write. Edit. Get up, do a few laps around the kitchen, eat some snacks, then rewrite some more. Often, finding a typo just after I click publish. It’s a labor of love, really.

What am I working on?

I have several projects simmering on the burners right now. I’m a little superstitious so I don’t like to share until the ink is dry, but I have created a blogging/writing bucket list and I’m slowly (oh, dear God, slowly!) working my way through it.

Having a bucket list keeps me focused on my goals (and less on online shopping), which tend to evolve and become more clear each year. Of course, I write about where I’m at in my life so expect a post or two about hitting a major milestone birthday soon! Those of you not yet 30, I’ll let you know how it is;).

— Linda Wolff

Linda Wolff writes the blog Carpool Goddess where she shares her adventures from carpool to empty nest. She no longer drives carpool, but that’s our little secret. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Yahoo! Shine, Scary Mommy, Better After 50, Generation Fabulous and others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Motherhood and regrets

Barbara-Younger-HeadshotRegrets.

Who’s got ‘em?

Motherhood lands us in Regret City by the time our children are grown.

Mine include not enough tea parties, Play Dough Guilt, overreaction on some occasions, and a few episodes of tip-top temper.

The lack of tea parties I can’t excuse.

After all, I’ve got the tea cups.

I’ll spare you the details of overreaction and temper, but I will hint that they range from guess what on the wall (age 23 months) to guess who is staying out too late (age 16).

But let me explain Play Dough Guilt.

You know how little people drop tiny blobs of Play Dough on the floor?

And then it gets ground in and has to be chipped off with a paring knife?

I got tired of that.

My remedy was to hide the Play Dough.

So my girls grew up with not enough Play Dough Moments, hence Play Dough Guilt for me.

I don’t know what to do about regrets.

The articles tell us to toss them to the wind.

But this Mother’s Day, I’d like to officially say to Katherine and Laura that I’m sorry about the lack of sufficient Play Dough Hours. I wish I’d been more laid back. I wish I’d chosen your creative fun over the state of the kitchen floor.

For real.

But I’ve saved the recipe all these years.Play Dough

Come on home and we can make a big old batch of Play Dough, or I’ll take you to the mall.

Or both!

Here’s the recipe:

One cup flour

1/2 cup salt

Two teaspoons cream of tartar

One tablespoon vegetable oil

One cup water

Food coloring

Mix dry ingredients. Add food coloring to the water and stir into the dry ingredients. Stir over medium heat for a minute or so until the mixture forms a ball. Let it cool and then knead until smooth. Store in an airtight container. Have fun! Ignore the kitchen floor.

— Barbara Younger

Barbara Younger writers an upbeat, witty blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster. Healthline placed Friend for the Ride on its list of Best Menopause Blogs of 2013 and 2014.

A class act

Phil_and_Pat_Wynn_BrownThe vast majority of writers who attended the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop told us they loved it.

In particular, they loved Phil.

Phil Donahue’s poignant, inspirational talk garnered the highest ratings for an opening-night speaker in workshop history and set the tone for the three-day gathering. Attendees called the legendary talk show host classy, authentic, warm, funny and gracious.

“He was phenomenal. Inspiring doesn’t even cover it,” wrote one attendee. He “moved me to tears,” another observed. He “wowed me regarding the power of the pen and humor to change the world. (And he) reminded me that everyone, including me, makes a difference.”

A record 66 percent of attendees completed an online survey that rated the workshop’s sessions. The overall workshop, its cost vs. value, and the networking opportunities all received scores of 9 (out of 10). More than three-quarters said the knowledge and connections they gained at the workshop will cover the full cost of attending or far more than the cost of attending.

The emcee, keynoters, faculty, stand-up comedy night and Pitchapalooza all received high marks. “Patricia Wynn Brown is an amazing emcee. She has the rare combination of intelligence, compassion, beauty, elegance and a sharp wit,” one attendee said.

Pitchapalooza, billed as the American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler, “was sensational,” another attendee wrote. “I loved hearing the pitches and couldn’t wait for the judges’ comments, which were often humorous, always constructive and so helpful for me in crafting the pitch for my own novel.”Pitchapalooza_panel

Approximately 350 writers from all parts of the country converged at the University of Dayton, Bombeck’s alma mater, for the April 10-12 biennial workshop that’s become so popular that it sold out in 12 hours. It’s here that Erma first heard the words, “You can write!” from an English professor.

Highlights among hundreds of write-in responses include:

• “I’ve been to many different conferences for many different subjects in many different places. This is by far my favorite. Granted, the topic is dear to my heart. But the feel of the EBWW conference is very much like going to visit family, even though it was my first time and I hadn’t met anyone attending before. I like that it’s relatively small. It feels like a warm hug.”

• “I was amazed at the high caliber of speakers. Keep that! I also liked the accessibility of writing rock stars. But also, the high level of competency — from organizing to emceeing — was wonderful. I felt welcomed, was inspired, laughed and cried, and learned.”

• “I will definitely keep coming back and will continue to be an Erma evangelist! I absolutely love how accessible all the speakers are and the myriad networking opportunities you provide. Thank you so much for all you do to put together such an incredible conference and make us all feel so welcomed and valued.”

• “The workshop is so energizing, so supportive, so accessible to authors and faculty, it is amazing.”

workshop program• It is always good to have a mix of marketing, craft, inspiration and connection. I believe you achieved this in spades.”

• “The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is truly a class act!”

• “By the time 2016 rolls around, writing will be my career — not just a dream for the future!”

• “The best thing about this conference is the lack of competitive spirit. Everyone wants everyone to succeed.”

• “World class.”

The food, depending upon who you asked, was either “awesome” or “lacking in every way.” The best comment? “Keep the cake, no matter what the national health movement is.”

Writers offered us constructive criticism, too. Attendees want more writing exercises in the workshops and greater focus on the craft of writing. Some recommended tracks for beginners and more established writers. A few suggested better organized breakfast roundtables and larger rooms for the workshops. Finally, a number recommended more down time between the afternoon sessions and the dinner program.

In addition to survey responses, more than 50 writers tapped out literally thousands of words to capture their experience at the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. For links to their newspaper and online stories, blogs and podcasts, click here.

Audio recordings of the individual sessions or the complete workshop can be ordered here.

The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be held in the spring 2016. The date has not been set yet. To keep in touch, like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter. To subscribe, visit our blog.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and executive director of strategic communications at the University of Dayton.

Laugh-in, love-in

PitchapaloozaPennsylvania blogger Helene Cohen Bludman describes the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop as “Destination Hilarity — a veritable laugh-in and love-in.”

Oregon writer Jane Rosen uses these words: “Inspirational. Side-splitting. Magical. Generous. Heartwarming. Authentic.”

California columnist Jill Fales writes, “Imagine luxuriating in your dreams and having your courage and resolve fostered to achieve them.”Gina, Gingy, Suzanne

Ohio blogger Lisa Packer notes the workshop’s “got-your back, supportive, inspiring atmosphere.”

In all, more than 50 writers tapped out literally thousands of words to capture three laugh-filled days of learning and networking at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater.

Here are links to their newspaper and online stories, blogs, podcasts — and even a video tribute to EBWW faculty member Cathryn Michon’s new movie, “Muffin Top.”

Elaine Ambrose: Laughing With Erma Bombeck and Her Friends

Meryl Baer: Top 10 Reasons I Loved the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

Gina Barreca: Worshipping at the Erma Altar

Amanda Beam: A Life More Ordinary

Tracy Beckerman: The 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Left Me Speechless (Which is Quite an Achievement for a Writer) and How Spitting Cheesecake at EBWW Can Advance Your Career

Nancy Berk: For the Love of Erma (a series of Parade.com interviews and Whine at 9 podcasts about the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and the enduring power of Erma)

Helene Cohen Bludman: My Bra-Mance With Erma Bombeck

Mandy Brasher: Loving My Mess

Valentine J. Brkich: Like a Sore Thumb — A Man’s Perspective of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 

Phil Donahue selfiePatricia Wynn Brown: An Open Letter to Mr. Bombeck and Erma on My Right

Kathy Buckworth: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

Liz Carey: Taking Care of Business From a Million Miles Away 

Barbara Cooley: Women at Work

Norm Crowl: Chasing Dave 

Kimba Daleres: The Erma Zone

Shannon Duffy: Thank You, Erma

Jill Fales: Mom’s Voice: Doing the Write Thing

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp: What to Really Expect at the EBWW in Dayton, Ohio; There Are Many More Stories I’ll Tell; An EBWW2014 Photo Collection (set to Matt Nathanson’s song “To The Beat of Our Noisy Hearts”; and Muffin Top, The Song: A Tribute to Muffin Top, The Movie 2014

Astra Groskaufmanis: Anything to Declare?

Ann Guaglione: Like a Virgin 

Holly Kelsey-Henry: There’s a Special Place in Hell

Sarah Hunt: Long Live Erma

Nancy LaFever: Erma Wine Glass Finds A Big Sister

Michelle Lamarca: First Day of School — Erma Style

Anna Lefler: The Dayton Riviera Awaits — Are You Prepared?

Lori Fetters Lopez: I Will Forever Miss You

Leighann Lord: Have Wine Glass, Will Travel

Lois Alter Mark: Thank You, Erma Bombeck 

d. d. Marx: My Weekend With Erma Bombeck…in Spirit 

Kate Mayer: Phil Donahue Saved My Writing Soul 

Maggie Millus: Post EBWW Conference Blues 

Meredith Moss: Writers Gather in Dayton and Dayton is a Town Built on Brains 

Michelle Newman: Anything is Possible

Lisa Kendall Packer: My Weekend With Erma

Gianetta Palmer: I’ll Never Tell…One Tale From the EBWW and We Heard You…Another Thought on the EBWW 

Yvonne Ransel: The Erma Place

Marci Rich: Erma Bombeck: No Ordinary Woman

Jane C. Rosen: Writing With Purpose, or How I Found My Mojo at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

Jessica Rosenberg: Processing the Post-Conference Chaos 

Linda Roy: The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop: Where Life is a Bowl of Cherries…And a Piece of Cake

Anne Saker: In Bomburbia: The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 

Kristin Shaw: With a Little Help From My Friends 

Amy Sherman: EBWW in a Nutshell and How Do You Spell Your Name? 

Terri Spilman: The Power of Humor

Suzette Martinez Standring: Wannabe Erma Bombeck 

David Henry Sterry: Phil Donahue on Books, TV, Muhammad Ali and Erma Bombeck and Pitchapalooza Photos

Laura Stoll: Finding Humor When Nothing’s Funny

Rebecca Sydeski: Clueless in Dayton 

Janine Talbot: When Tact is the First Thing to Go

Leigh Ann Torres: Why You Should Attend the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

Ronnie Walter: Erma 

Linda Wolff: Making Friends, Finding the Funny and Sharing French Fries

Barbara Younger: Keepin’ em Laughin’ at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2014 

For photos from this year’s workshop, visit the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Facebook page.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and executive director of strategic communications at the University of Dayton.

With a little help from my friends

Kristin ShawIt was the last session of the conference, and I knew it was coming all day. I spent time in the earlier sessions scrawling, and then rewriting in a neater hand, my pitch. Stuffing it into the new bag provided by the conference organizers, I took out a fresh piece of paper, and tried to write another pitch; one that I thought might be more exciting. More suitable. Funnier. Less like me.

I crumpled it up and met up with my friends outside the door; I was as ready as I was going to be. I let two of my friends sitting next to me read my pitch and I said, in my junior-high-school voice, “Is it dumb?” As any friend would, they said no. They gave me a few suggestions and we chatted along with the cacophony of 150 people in the room.

The session was called Pitchapalooza — an invitation to stand in front of a panel of four agents and professional writers and be judged, in a manner much kinder than American Idol, on a book pitch.  And there was a golden ticket at stake: an opportunity to be represented and a very real chance for a book deal.

When the time came to write my name on a small slip of paper to place it in the basket, I stalled. I felt unsure of myself and my pitch, and I chickened out.

“I changed my mind,” I told Angie.

“No, you did not. Go get up there and put your name in,” she said. She pushed me gently.

Leigh Ann chimed in with, “Go. You’re prepared to do this.  You can do this.”

I walked up to the judges’ desk and nervously made small talk as I waited for the person in front of me to finish filling out her slip. Sitting down, I prayed that my name wouldn’t be called.

And I hoped fervently that my name would be called.

I said I would do this for the experience, even if I bombed. I’d see it through.

Others paved the way for me with their witty, prepared, and smart pitching. With each one, I learned a little more, and mentally re-crafted the minute-long speech I had prepared.  When they called my name, I heard my friends cheer through the roar in my ears.

Have I mentioned that I don’t love public speaking?

The person scheduled to speak in front of me didn’t show up, so I was invited to approach the stage quickly, mercifully. Starting with a synopsis of my story and finishing with a brief bio, I finished before the judge could call time.  I stood there alone, on the stage, my heart threatening to beat out of my chest as the panel offered my kind and constructive criticism to improve my technique.

I sat back down and Angie hugged my shoulders in congratulations.  Fellow conference attendees caught my eye across the aisle to give me thumbs-up signs and encouraging smiles.  And my phone buzzed with a message from a new friend, someone I had long admired but hadn’t gotten to know very well yet. I didn’t think she had taken much notice of my work until she said, “You are good and deserve this chance.” Her message brought the bright sting of tears to my eyes.

I didn’t win the golden ticket, and I didn’t expect to. But with every risk, with every limb I scale, inch my inch, taking a chance is something I want to learn how to be better.

I’m lucky I have friends to push me out of the nest and try to fly.Erma drawings

Be that friend with every chance you get to help someone else stretch their wings, because it’s going to come back to you.  I promise.

(P.S.  Look — someone at the conference drew all of the participants in Pitchapalooza. I’m the one all the way on the right, above the woman with a cat stuffed animal on her head. Yes, a stuffed cat. Photo credit: Ronnie Walter.)

— Kristin Shaw

Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer, wife and mama to a mini-Texan. In 2013, her blog Two Cannoli was named a Babble Top 100 site, and she was recognized as Type-A We Still Blog awards finalist. She’s proud to be a 2013 cast member and 2014 co-producer of the Listen To Your Mother show in Austin. She was recently named a BlogHer Voice of the Year reader for 2014, and she writes for the Huffington Post.

What new car smell?

Judy ClarkeI’m not a car person, but I do become very attached to my vehicles and quite weepy when I hand over the keys. A few months ago I decided it was time to replace my 11-year-old Subaru Forester. It was a less stressful parting than usual because our grandson Miah bought it.

In years past, husband Peter did extensive research to scope car options for me, but dementia has him in a vice-grip. I did my own research and felt confident, thanks to encouragement from our son-in-law. When the day came to pick the car up, my friend Joanne, who is a car person, was more excited than I was.

My Dad’s car-loving genes didn’t jump into my pool. He bought a new car every two years except during WWII when he rode a bike to work. Automobiles weren’t readily available and gas was rationed anyway.

Dad was a car-washer, too — it was nothing short of a sin to drive a dirty car. Every Sunday, religiously, he washed his “machine” in the heated garage tucked beneath our little house. He even hooked the hose to the hot water tap in the basement. “You can’t get a car clean using cold water,” he preached. I didn’t get car-cleaning genes either.

On the other hand, a car-maintainer he was not. He once drove the 500 miles to visit us with a “little red light blinking” on the dash. The car was gasping for oil. Another time, a loud, repetitive flap-smack-flap-smack announced his arrival. Two tires had worn through to the steel belts. He grumbled about having to buy new tires. “Dad, do you ever check the oil, or have your tires rotated?” I ranted.

“Nope,” he said, “cars are supposed to last.” Since he traded every two years, it was a moot point.His vehicles still had their new car smell when he was ready for another.

When I picked up my new Forester, it didn’t smell “new,” but my old nose probably needed a tune-up. Joanne’s nose worked and she was giddy on Essence of New Car. She sat in the backseat while I got nearly a 90-minute instruction, not that I remembered it 60 minutes later! If I choose, the car will tell me its lifetime fuel consumption, accelerator opening ratio, journey time and distance, average vehicle speed for entire drive time, and mundane things I actually understand like engine oil status, tire pressure and maintenance schedule.

My car is way smarter than I ever was or ever will be. If I keep it as long as I’ve kept my others, I’ll be too old to drive anything except a three-wheeled scooter.

I’ve had it nearly two months and still haven’t been able to reset the clock to daylight savings time. The manual directed me to section 3, page 35, then 3-39, 3-45, 3-47, and 3-55 before I found “DST select.” It takes time to absorb all that information, so it still shows EST. That’s OK. I hate DST. I do not like to be outsmarted by a car, though!

The clock/calendar feature, if I could use it, would let me add birthday and anniversary reminders, but I already remember those dates without assistance.  This would help Peter — he doesn’t remember his own birthday, much less mine or our anniversary — but he doesn’t drive!

But new car smell? Um, no. What I smell is a faint Eau de Dog Vomit. I’d had the car less than a week when Nobby went on a short road trip with us. I thought he’d outgrown his carsickness.Wrong! When he started his telltale gulping, I couldn’t pull over quickly enough. He deposited his stomach contents down the opening in the seat cover where the seatbelts come through.  Usually-prepared me didn’t have anything to clean up with except three tissues. I improvised with plastic bags and a sheet of newspaper.

Yuck.

That same day I had a backing-up incident, first time ever. I realized I’d missed a turn-off and backed into the parking lot of a country church. A shrill, ear-shattering crunch came from the car’s nether region. I didn’t know what was wrong because I was slighly rear-end down in a shallow ditch. All-wheel drive hauled me out easily and I pulled forward into the lot. I’d flattened a mailbox that had already been knocked down, but there wasn’t even a scratch on the car. Whew!

Now, a rear-view camera connects to the multi-function display, but with polarized sunglasses the screen has a big brown smudge. I’m a good backer-upper, and side mirrors have always worked for me. Later I realized, even if I’d used the rear-view feature, the mailbox wouldn’t have been visible. A search in the owner’s manual warned, “You should always check the rear view…with your eyes and mirror. …Moving backward only by checking the rear-view [screen] could cause an accident.”

I rest my case.

In addition to being a mailbox flattener, I was still lost, my phone was dead and I couldn’t make the #!*^ GPS work either. Help came from a man working down the road.

We were an hour late.

The dog was fine.

The car was unscathed.

But my self-confidence was wrecked — State Farm Insurance doesn’t cover that.

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).

Laughing through the pain

Allia Zobel NolanMost people have a hero.  Someone they admire.  Mine was Erma Bombeck. She did more for the American housewife than any other woman. She validated her and gave her a voice. For starters, she admitted she was one. Then she went on to build a career around writing about what it was like.

Bombeck was to housewives what Spock was to babies.  We grew up reading her.  Her material came from her own experiences. She held up a mirror to her life, burst out laughing, then sat down and chronicled it for millions to enjoy.

And boy, did we ever. We devoured each word of her columns, then excised them neatly with coupon cutters to pass along to a friend or hang prominently on the refrigerator door, under the cow magnet.

That’s because Bombeck was “Everywoman.” We were her; she was us. When she wrote about her adventures in “ma-ma” land, we roared, because they were our adventures. We could relate to dust bunnies under the bed so thick they clogged the Hoovers. We had served not-quite-defrosted white bread and Spaghetti-O’s (with ketchup)  for dinner (on occasion).  And we could recognize what a sardine sandwich smelled like after a month in a jeans’ back pocket.  We could identify with tile fungus. We knew husbands who snored. We had experience with neighbor’s dogs who pooped in our yards.

Indeed, Woman’s Day and Good Housekeeping gave us the ideal. But Bombeck gave us the truth. She was the first woman to hint that being a housewife might/just/could, possibly not be all it’s cracked up to be. Still, because she wrote about it with such hilarity and absence of malice, it was okay. So what if it were more fake geraniums than long-stemmed  roses; more Barney Goes To The Zoo than Martha Stewart moments? Every profession had its ups and downs. Truth is, the inanities of being a housewife were, for Bombeck, what made it such a hoot. Erma_Bombeck

Bombeck was first to go public with the idea that housewives didn’t have to be perfect.  She dispelled the myth of  “the total woman” as just that: a fairytale perpetrated by the same folks who brought us girdles and The Stepford Wives. And if you burnt the roast or hemmed your husband’s pants with a stapler, you weren’t odd. You were normal.

Bombeck made it okay not to look like a Barbie doll, cook like The Galloping Gourmet and keep house like Mr. Clean. In fact, if you managed to change the beds and shave your legs once a month, you were doing just fine. Indeed, and if you didn’t have a religious experience when you diapered the baby, you weren’t strange. She never said you had to love putting down toilet seats and cleaning chrome fixtures with a toothbrush, just that since you were going to do it anyway, why not have fun with it? She certainly did.

Bombeck not only raised the status of women as housewives and moms, she also put  “women’s humor” on the map. With her successes, (syndication in more than 900 papers and 12 bestsellers), she legitimized women’s humor as relevant commentary, no longer relegated to an occasional essay on the back page. Not surprisingly, she paved the way for zillions of Bombeck wanna-bes to be taken seriously.

What makes Bombeck even more remarkable is she did this under enormous hardship. She suffered kidney disease which eventually led to a three-times-a-day dialysis. On top of that, she developed breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy.

Through it all, she kept her spirits up and her writing jovial. “(So) I wrote all these books with a kidney problem,” she told an interviewer once. “That doesn’t affect your brain. It doesn’t affect your sense of humor.”

Thank goodness for us. Still, Bombeck was never the type to complain. She preferred to count her blessings, not her ills. When something bad came her way, she smoothed down her apron, and did what any good housewife would do: got on with things. But then, what else would you expect from someone who listed her hobby as “dust?”

Golly, I miss her.

— Allia Zobel Nolan

Allia Zobel Nolan is an internationally published author of 200 children’s and adult trade titles with close to two and one-half million books in print. Her books reflect her two main passions, God and cats, and include such varied titles as Cat Confessions: A Kitty-Come-Clean Tell-All Book, Women Who Still Love Cats Too Much, The Worrywart’s Prayer Book, and her latest, Whatever: Livin’ the True, Noble, Totally Excellent Life, a tween devotional She lives and writes in Connecticut with her husband, Desmond Finbarr Nolan, and their three feline children, Sinead, McDuff and Angela. She wrote this piece for her column in The Connecticut Post when Erma Bombeck died on April 22, 1996.

Reflections of Erma