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Lyin’ lipo

Rosie SorensonIn the past few weeks, we’ve been subjected to extreme depictions of female beauty as represented by Keira Knightely and Kim Kardashian. Everyone knows by now that Keira, fed up with being airbrushed by the media, posed topless and demanded no Photo-shopping. “Here I am,” she seemed to say. “Deal with it.” As if her slim figure represented some kind of controversy, some outlier of femininity that needed to be “dealt with.”

Next up, Kim Kardashian, whose butt occupies its own zip code. A glossy magazine featured a photo spread of her, oiled up, naked, and with God knows how much Photo-shopping applied.  The picture, she said, has made her feel more “confident.”  Oh, snap. No college degree for this girl, no siree!  Forget about that book learnin’ — pumped-up boobs and butt is all a girl needs to feel “confident.” Oh, double snap!

It’s not new to notice that our culture is ca-razy when it comes to women’s bodies — probably always has been, but it seems more perverted now than ever. Women are caught in a slip stream of sexism that vacuums up their thoughts, actions and self-esteem in a way that neatly bypasses men.  Men are not subjected to the daily, hourly hammering of their self-image. Just imagine if men had to bob and weave and skirt and deal with full frontal scrutiny, criticism, contempt and downright hatred. Their productivity would suffer accordingly.

As much as we rail, though, who among us is immune to all the images of surgically enhanced “beauty” that bombard us every day? Not me. I admit to feeling the inexorable pull toward Botoxlandia. Will I be able to resist?

Fifteen years ago, I decided to have liposuction. I simply had to do something about my saddlebags — you know, those wobbly bits protruding from your upper outer thighs? In retrospect, I realize they weren’t all that big, but I had lasered in on them like a heat-seeking missile, an enemy to be obliterated.

I scheduled a consult with a famous San Francisco dermatologist-cum-cosmetic surgeon who made frequent appearances on TV talk shows to tout his talents. He led me into a very cold exam room, ordered me to undress and to stand naked in front of a white screen. He whipped out his magic marker and drew lines around the places on my body he thought needed work. When he completed his drawings, he snapped a few Polaroids and handed me the photos of my front, back and sides. I glanced at them, horrified, at his handiwork. I’d been transformed into a trembling bovine, my body parts readied for market: here’s the sirloin, here’s the rack of ribs, here’s the rump roast.

I donned my clothes and hurried away from this over-eager scalpel of a man, my hand clutching the outrageous cost estimate for allowing him to have his way with my thighs, butt and tummy.  What I did instead was lose 15 pounds and exercise more. Now that I’m older and some fleshy stuff is relocating to a more southern hemisphere, I realize that if I had succumbed to his treatment plan, my lower body might be mistaken for that of a 10-year-old boy.

Several years after that humiliation, I learned the doc had lost his license because, during an eyeliner tattooing procedure, he stabbed a young woman in the eye and left her half-blind. Oh, triple snap.

But, have I learned my lesson? The siren call of Botox, with its easy-peasy promise of removing that pesky cross look of furrowed flesh between my eyes is getting louder and louder. I mean, who wants to look mad all the time when you’re not?

Stay tuned.

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster HollowHer work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

Why MOMD doesn’t honk his horn

Cindi LabadieMOMD (Man Of My Dreams) and I were running errands a few months back and someone cut right in front of him. Being the man that he is, he patiently backed off. Being the woman I am, I encouraged him to give a little toot (of his horn, people) to let the person know that cutting someone off is a rude thing to do.

Enquiring minds and all, I asked him why he didn’t honk. He reminded me he disabled his horn a few months back. That takes us back even further in the story.

Months earlier we were out running errands, (yes, we are party animals), and we made a right turn. Simultaneously our horn honked and hubby waved. The person on the sidewalk waiting for the light to change looked at us and hesitantly waved back.

“Who was that?” I asked.

MOMD admitted that he had no idea. He informed me that when he made right turns, his horn would honk so he took the opportunity to be friendly.

This made me laugh.

EVERY time we turned it honked. Pedestrians looked at us with startled expressions.

People in the cars directly in front of us were not quite as amused. MOMD waved every time.

We then drove through a neighborhood that is known for prostitution.

A young woman was slowly crossing the street just as we made a right turn.

Yep.

It happened.

She looked up somewhat expectantly and began walking toward us. MOMD waved but drove away as fast as  possible. I kid you not when I tell you that the street was a dead end.

What does one do when one reaches the end of a dead end street?

One turns the car around.

So turn around we did, passing the same intersection, occupied by the same young woman. And OF COURSE to get to our destination we had to make a right turn.

I believe it was shortly after arriving home that day that the horn was disabled.

You can only have so much fun with a situation before feeling the need to move on to something even more exciting.

Are we the only ones that have weird things happen?

— Cindi Labadie

Cindi Labadie, mom to five and wife to one, blogs at “Seemingly Ordinary.”

What to expect when you expect to move,
tips from a veteran movin’ mamma

Kathryn StreeterBefore and after a move, there are plenty of rather predictable steps to make things easier. And then there are those other, more elusive things that only veteran moms can share.

After moving 22 times in 23 years of marriage, I’ve adopted several habits when faced with a move to help reduce the risk for melt-downs — and I’m not just referring to the kids here. Moving well takes a lot of composure and having insider knowledge will only help you be a better person (read: less crazy) through the chaos. If you’re lucky, you may even do it gracefully.

So when the ink on your new job contract has dried and the likely move morphs into the category of certainly, it’s like the start of the Indy 500 (yes, I’ve lived in Indianapolis and know what I’m talking about): there’s so much noise and confusion you can hardly hear yourself think. So digest this now, before the drivers start their engines.

Pre-Move

1. Start hoarding boxes, bags and newspaper. As soon as you know for sure that you’ll be moving, immediately start squirreling away random boxes and all types of plastic and paper bags. These items become your best friends as you begin the chore of purging. You’ll be sneaking things out of the kids’ rooms to deposit at Goodwill. You’ll be making hard decisions about consigning something quasi-valuable and sentimental — like maybe the dusty china you received long ago as wedding gifts. (Eeerp, nope, I haven’t done that yet. But maybe you will.) You’ll be transporting bags of hand-me-down clothing to best friends for their kids. You’ll be taking older towels and linens to a nearby shelter. You’ll be carting unwanted books, DVDs and CDs to Half-Price Books. And even if you’re lucky enough to have the company pay for full-moving services, you’ll probably want to pack some personal things yourself. Ziplock bags are great for your bathroom closet. Wine boxes from the grocery are terrific for personal journals and sensitive folders with confidential documents you’d rather pack yourself. Be ready and have these supplies around.

2. Locate every permanent marker in the house. Track down every last Sharpie you already have and then look out for sales so that you have an ample supply. In this case more is better. Go nuts. Permanent markers help save you time later because you’ll be more likely to label those boxes and bags with as much detail as you have the energy for. When you arrive and you’re looking at a neatly folded mattress pad tucked into zipped plastic storage bag, you’re better off knowing if it’s a queen size for the guest bed or two singles for the kids’ beds before you open it up. Don’t even be tempted to think your recall will be helpful. Trust me, your recall won’t show up in time to be remotely helpful. In fact, it may not even make the move.

3. Packing tape: you can’t have too much of it. Packing tape allows you to keep things from getting separated. Sometimes the movers will get it all done perfectly and every little screw or attachment will not only arrive (that’s generally not the problem) but they will be found. Mostly, various bits and bobs will tend to be illogically packed so you’re on a scavenger hunt to make your various household goods whole. And sometimes, things just don’t show up. I screwed up on this latest move to Austin. I should have taped over the newly replaced battery for our daughter’s wall clock to keep it from jiggling loose in the hands of the packers. The clock showed up just fine, minus that damn battery. You get what I mean. This stuff doesn’t rise to the level of major, but it’s amazing how when multiplied, all of these little missing parts can cost you time, money and your beloved sanity, which will already be in short supply.

4. Stash an arsenal of paper plates within reach. And plastic spoons and forks. And paper towels. Your kids are not going to be thinking about how their kitchen messes become a bigger problem as your moving date nears. Take charge and give yourself a break. Restrict use of glassware and go disposable so that you’re not stuck the night before the packers come with some late-night dishwashing party. By this point, your dishwasher should be verboten; hand-washing it will be, a party you’ll wish you could skip. Avoid this scenario by using paper products the week of your move. You may just be a little less crazy because of it, and your kids will think that’s a good thing.

Post-Move

5. Got gardening gloves? Use them. Cardboard is not your friend, moms. When you’re faced with mountains of boxes, you’ll feel like you may just survive the move if you have your garden gloves to protect your poor hands as they handle vast quantities of that hostile material. Also, handling sharp scissors and/or box-cutters when you’re teetering from exhaustion is dangerous. It’s easy to nick a finger and having even a humble pair of gardening gloves will provide a small degree of protection.

6. Bonus tip: Keep Band-Aids handy. No need to ask why. As you unpack, someone will need one. Trust me. And blood, dirty cardboard and newspaper or packing paper don’t mix. Unpacking towels and smearing blood on them isn’t cool. Stop the flow, stop whining and move on…

— Kathryn Streeter

Writer, traveler, mom and wife, Kathryn Streeter writes about people, places and family adventures. She’s highly mobile — Streeter has moved 22 times in 23 married years. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications including elephant journalMamalode, The Briar Cliff Review, BLUNTmoms and CSMonitor.

Pillow talk

Anne BardsleyAt three a.m., I heard my husband wake up to go to the bathroom. When he came back to bed, I could feel his usual flipping of the covers, and he sighed deeply. Then I heard him say, “Do you think I should cut my hair?” He was silent for a few minutes. Then another deep sigh. “I am so tired lately. Maybe it’s my thyroid.” Silence… sigh. “I really should join that gym,” he said. Silence, a sigh.

I started to giggle under the covers, and told him to stop.

“Have you noticed that my teeth are getting whiter?” Sigh.

“I only ask that to see if my whitening strips are working,” I protested.

“Why did I eat those potato chips?” he continued. Silence… sigh. “Do you think my legs are getting fatter?”

“Now stop!” I told him. “I really think I’m getting chubby.” Why was I listening to him at 3 a.m. anyway?

“I really have to get my hair cut,” he continued. Silence… sigh.

“So you agree I need a haircut? Maybe I should try a new color, too?”  I asked. This piqued my interest. I am never too tired to talk about my hair.

“My nails are a mess. French manicure or pink and white?” he continued. Silence… sigh. I started to drift off, but then he started again. “Oh, these hormones! Maybe I should stop taking them.” Silence and two big sighs.

Okay, so I do say that one a lot.

“I need a nap.” Silence, he yawned.

I was starting to feel sleepy and yawned, too.

“Maybe I should leave my hair long.” Silence, and a sigh. “Oh, I need more wrinkle cream.” Silence… big sigh.

“Thanks for reminding me,” I told him and smacked him.

“Does my face look old?” Silence… sigh.

I put the pillow over my head.

“Maybe I should do Zumba.” He was silent for a long time… two sighs. “I am just so confused lately!” Silence… loud sigh.

It sounded like he was winding down. By four a.m., he had covered every possible thing I’ve said.

Who knew he was listening?

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

My new BFF

Suzanne Braun Levine(©Copyright 2014 Open Road Integrated Media. “My New BFF,” was originally published as a guest blog for the Open Road Media Project with Gloria Steinem, “Reading Our Way to the Revolution.”)

I have always been curious about Margaret Fuller. I knew only enough to think of her as the hippie of 19th-century feminists.

I picked up Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall, eager to get to the hippie part — Brook Farm, the commune she founded in the 1820s with her Transcendentalist friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. That turned out to be a minor moment in the rich and radical life of this journalist, activist, intellectual and social rebel, who was dubbed a “fore-sayer” because of her visionary and mind-blowing ideas.

Reading this lively biography was like discovering a long lost girlfriend. If we sat down over a cup of coffee, I know we would get right down to the kind of wide-ranging and irreverent conversation that I look for in a new friend. In her most influential book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, for example, she addressed a circumstance any woman of any era would recognize. Why, she wondered, do women fall for bad men? “The preference often shown by women for bad men arises,” she wrote, “from a confused idea that they are bold and adventurous, acquainted with regions which women are forbidden to explore.”

She understood that she was too smart for her own good and too outspoken for a woman of her times — “a mind that insisted on utterance” — but was unapologetic about it, and bore the consequences. She had passionate intellectual relationships with like-minded men — including Emerson, who shared endless details about his unhappy marriage, but never considered Margaret more than a pal. She formed what were consciousness-raising groups — called Conversations — among the educated women in her Boston circle. Not surprisingly to my generation of feminists, when the men insisted on being included — to raise the level of discussion — the meetings lost energy.

She became a crusading columnist, a first, and was sent to Rome by the pioneering newspaper editor Horace Greely to cover the revolutions of 1848. As her assignment became more bloody and dangerous, she, in the Hemingway tradition of (male) war correspondents to come, fell in love — with an impoverished and uneducated young Italian marchese. When she became pregnant, she didn’t abandon her post and gave birth to their child in the midst of a bombing raid.

Knowing she had broken every rule in the book, she hesitated to return to America, and when she finally decided to brave the censure and sail for home with her family, all three of them were drowned in a shipwreck off Fire Island in 1850. She was only 40. Yet, as Marshall points out, she had already found heaven — a life “empowering [her] to incessant acts of vigorous beauty.”

— Suzanne Braun Levine

Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988), and the first woman editor of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, on television, radio, at lectures and on her website. She’s the author of four books, including You Gotta Have Girlfriends — A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your HealthIn 2014, she served on the EBWW faculty.

The ladies who yawn

Con ChapmanI have been a member of the male sex my entire life, actually longer, since my masculinity — such as it is — was determined when I first acquired one of those dust bunny-like creatures, the Y chromosome, nine months before I was born.

Despite my lack of a disinterested point of view, I will readily admit that men are the grosser sex.  We don’t smell as good as women, and we tend to scratch ourselves in places where we shouldn’t — even on national TV, in the case of professional athletes. With the exception of maybe Cary Grant, whose gentlemanly manner was as close to perfection as any man ever achieved, it’s hard to understand what women see in men at all.

The exception to this rule — I won’t say it proves it — is yawning. Perhaps because men have so many other faults to make up for, they seem to realize that when they open their mouths involuntarily to public view the polite thing to do is to cover them.  That’s what I was taught by my mother, and apparently somebody told other men — except for the out-and-out louts — to do the same.

I’ve come to believe that there’s a secret women’s handbook of manners floating around somewhere that says “Because we are the more delicate sex, and leave the room when we feel a giant taco burp coming up, we are allowed to yawn uncovered for great lengths of time in public. This is our ‘free space,’ like the middle square in Bingo. Have fun with it!”

It has taken me a long time to formulate my feelings on this point, but after years of control-group testing, surreptitious observation and late-night reveries fueled by red wine, my research points to one inescapable conclusion: women are less likely than men to cover their mouths when they yawn.

This week was something of a tipping point.  I have a walk of several hundred yards from my office to the train station, across a plaza where one can have an unobstructed view of a person walking in the opposite direction for a minute or more.  Yesterday I saw a woman emerge from the subway, start to yawn, and maintain a full, open-mouth position for a count of 14.6 seconds.  This is the etiquette counterpart to football’s “good hang-time,” the ability of a punter to kick a ball high in the air, giving his special team precious extra seconds to run downfield and pummel a speedy kick returner like a pinata at an 8-year-old’s birthday party.

Last week, as I was riding the MBTA’s Green Line, I sat opposite an attractive young woman and her boyfriend/fiance/husband. They were on their way to the airport, apparently at the end of a vacation, looking at the pictures they had taken around Boston. The woman began to yawn at the Boylston Street stop and — I swear — didn’t stop or cover her mouth until the conductor pulled into Park Street, several blocks away.  Park Street and Boylston Stations are the nation’s two oldest subway stations, built at the end of the 19th century when ladies who felt a belch coming on were sequestered in an upstairs bedroom or sent to the seashore until it had passed out of their system.

One of the great breakthroughs of quantum physics, Werner Heisenberg’s “Uncertainly Principle,” teaches us that the act of observation modifies the thing observed, so that absolutely precise measurements are impossible. I suppose it could be the case that women deliberately extend their yawns when they see men watching them, thinking, “Maybe if I show that creep my molars long enough, he’ll stop staring at me.”

The other possibility — actually, it’s more like a certainty — is that the woman you see yawning her head off in public today was kept up the night before by a man snoring like a sawmill at the mouth of roaring river.

That’s our free space, and if you don’t like it, you can take your bingo card and go sleep on the couch.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

A song in my head, a worm in my ear

Ann_GreenJingle Bell, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way!… 

Sorry. I know the season is over, but that song is lodged in my brain. No doubt you’ve had that experience, when a song pops into your head and won’t go away. Scientists who study such things call these malevolent melodies “earworms.”  In other words, the songs worm their way into your mind. And thanks for that visual, professors. 

“Fundamentally, an earworm is your brain singing,” says British researcher Dr. Victoria Williamson in an interview in Science Friday. Dr. Williamson is an authority on how music affects our minds and behavior. The good doctor asserts that most earworms are either pleasant or neutral and that only 30 percent are annoying. I would dispute those findings. Few of them are pleasant, and 90 percent are irritating. She also claims that earworms tend to last eight seconds. You could have fooled me.

Almost everyone — more than 90 percent of us — has earworms at least once a week. A lucky 25 percent have them more than once a day. That would include me. 

A month ago my brain was bursting with “Jingle Bells” and “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas.”  I don’t happen to celebrate Christmas, but with the muzak tracks in every store, restaurant and public space it was hard not to wind up with seasonal songs playing between my ears. There are some very pleasant Christmas songs. In fact, I’m partial to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Somehow none of the good ones made their way into the cranial wormhole.

I asked my hairdresser and the salesman in the Verizon store if the in-house soundtracks ever got to them. My hairdresser rolled her eyes and sighed. The Verizon guy said, “You have no idea.”

Earworm experts don’t completely understand what triggers them, and it’s hard to track therm. (Unless the early bird catches the earworm.) Study subjects keep diaries; that must be fun. Among the songs which tend to enable earworm larvae are “What Does the Fox Say?” and “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

These intrepid scientists are also looking into the function of a person’s mood in creating earworms. This could lead to a chicken-or-egg conundrum: does the earworm cause a bad mood or does a bad mood lead to an earworm?

The military has caught on to this phenomenon, sometimes employing what has been called music torture. This is the tactic of subjecting prisoners to loud or non-stop music to get them to give up important information. After the U.S. invaded Panama in 1989, the country’s dictator, Manuel Noriega, took refuge in the Vatican embassy. Troops surrounded the embassy and opened aural fire, bludgeoning his brain with hits including, naturally, Van Halen’s “Panama.”

Noriega surrendered within a week. It has been reported that Iraqi prisoners of war were subjected to the theme songs from “Sesame Street” and “Barney.” Some things truly are beyond the pale. The Geneva Convention did not anticipate a purple dinosaur.

Once we’re infected, though, there are ways to deworm our brains. Williamson says the best method is to distract yourself with other music or conversation. Other suggestions, of which I am skeptical, are to listen to the earworm repeatedly or listen to the entire song.

The Science Friday article includes a playlist of 149 songs identified by Facebook and Twitter users as most likely to induce earworms. I was afraid to read the list, lest they all congregate in my gray matter.

It seems that there isn’t much we can do to prevent ear worms, although being judicious in what we listen to might be just the thing to prevent us from opening a can of earworms.

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.

Seeking a few rock stars

Erma typewriterWe’re seeking top-notch faculty and session ideas for the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Deadline for proposals is April 1, 2015, with prospective faculty notified by June 1 if their sessions have been selected. To submit a proposal, click on Call For Faculty Proposals, fill out the form and email it to erma@udayton.edu.

The vast majority of writers surveyed after the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop told us they loved it, but a number said they’d appreciate more writing exercises in workshops and greater focus on the craft of writing. Some recommended tracks for beginners and more established writers. Others requested tips on how to navigate the myriad ways available to publish and market your writing today.

Among the hundreds of helpful write-in survey comments: “I’d love to hear more about the mechanics of the writing — the butt-in-chair, deadline-aware, professional approach,” one writer said.

Attendees want to learn from high-quality, experienced faculty. “I was amazed at the high caliber of speakers. Keep that! I also liked the accessibility of writing rock stars,” another writer noted.

We are committed to maintaining the workshop’s supportive atmosphere for writers from all levels of experience.

“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,” one wrote.

If you’re an established writer and teacher with an enthusiasm for helping others become stronger writers, we’d love to hear from you. The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be held March 31-April 2, 2016, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. It’s the only workshop in the country devoted to the craft of humor and human interest writing.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder and co-director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton.

Reflections of Erma