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The loser-mom cure

(Originally published in the October 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine. Reposted by permission of the author.)

You know those less-than-stellar moments in parenting? Those times when your heart sinks and you feel like the very worst person in the world? If you don’t, congrats, and please feel free to turn the page. If you do, stick around and let me tell you about one of my loser-mom moments and what I did to make them happen much less frequently.

It’s a typical weekday evening: dinner is over, and I’m squeezing in some chores before the kids’ bedtime. As I sit in the kitchen, immersed in making my grocery list and clipping coupons, my son, Will, then age 7, appears with the checkers game and asks me to play.

“I can’t,” I say. “I’m really busy, but I promise to play later.” I suggest that he get out another one of his toys or find his sisters, Meg and Emma. Off he goes.

That night when the kids are in bed and I’m tidying up, I find the box of checkers on the floor. The checkers I’d promised Will we’d play with later — but never did. And, I swear, the smiling boy and girl pictured on the box are actually glaring at me. “What?” I say to them defensively. “I was really busy!” (This isn’t the loser-mom moment yet.)

The next morning, I apologize to Will and ask him why he didn’t remind me. “Because you promised you would play, and you should just remember your own promises,” he answers.

Ouch. Loser-mom moment! I realize that lately I’ve been making more promises than I can keep. I feel horrible. I’m tempted to keep him home from school, spend hours playing checkers, give him ice cream for lunch, and take him shopping at the video-game store. But I exercise self-restraint, telling myself that I’ve apologized and should just move on and try to do better next time.

The solution

That evening I am elbow-deep in ground turkey when Will and the checkers reappear. “Darn! This kid has the worst timing,” I think to myself. But remembering my loser-mom moment, I say, “I’m making burgers right now, but I’d love to play with you when I’m done.”

He gets a look on his face that screams, “Here we go again!” So to seal the deal,  I add, “Why don’t you set the kitchen timer for five minutes? When it beeps, I’m all yours.”

This little idea turns out to be one of the best I’ve had in a while. Will thinks it’s cool that he gets to set the timer, and he loves watching the minutes tick away as I race to prepare dinner. I get to finish what I’m doing and still keep my promise. A win-win!

Three years later, this simple gadget is still working miracles around our house. Both my husband, Jay, and I use it to help the kids stay on schedule. And since, like all moms, I’m always in the middle of something, I often have the kids set the timer when they want my extended, undivided attention. The five-minute interval teaches them to respect my time and lets me wrap up what I’m doing so that I can focus on them. The result: no more broken promises. The boy and the girl on the checkers box have never been more proud.

—  Susan M. Schwieterman

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Susan Schwieterman is a writer, marketing professional, wife, mother, volunteer and doer of the laundry.

Comedy club

(Reposted by permission of author Gina Barreca. This piece originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 4, 2013.)

I’ve been trying to figure out whether it was harder to get into college, get tenure, or get into the Friars Club. The application process for all three was pretty similar: You had to get letters of recommendation, you were interviewed, and you had to show evidence of success as well as promise.

When I applied to Dartmouth College in 1975, I wrote my personal statement by hand in peacock-blue ink. I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t nervous when I answered the questions posed by the admissions committee because I figured if it didn’t work out, I’d go to a city school. An express bus left from my block.

To be honest, I was more nervous about dressing for my alumni interview with a local lawyer. I was afraid of seeming more Janis Joplin than Ali MacGraw (MacGraw was the epitome of an Ivy League coed in the 1970 blockbuster Love Story.) So I borrowed a kilt from a friend — one of those pleated things that close in the front with a big safety pin. It was like being in WASP drag. And while I knew enough to wear a button-down shirt with it, I didn’t know I shouldn’t wear one belonging to my boyfriend. I didn’t look like a model from a Talbots catalog; I looked like an extra from Braveheart.

But I was accepted anyway. The college, which had only begun admitting women three years earlier, welcomed us with banners saying “Better Dead Than Coed.” So what if I didn’t fit in? I was in.

Preparing my dossier for tenure was far more terrifying because I felt as if I had everything to lose. I revised my personal statement until the prose was so tortured that it sounded like a bad translation from Croatian. It was the early ’90s, and my scholarly work made heavy use of terms like “enactment,” “intratextual” and “hegemonic discourse.”

I submitted my promotion, tenure and review materials early. To a meeting with the deans and administrators, I wore a pinstripe suit, taupe pantyhose and two-inch heels to appear authoritative; I was nervous not so much about how I looked but whether I had enough gravitas (another word I threw around a lot in those days). That meeting went well, and despite some muttering, I was in. I’ll admit, however, that in my 25 years of living in Storrs, not one person has asked me “And in what part of Connecticut did you grow up?”

Fast forward to last spring when I gave a keynote speech at the University of Dayton Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. One of the other keynote presenters was Alan Zweibel, winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, playwright, author, and one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live. We hit it off. He had grown up in Brooklyn (and Long Island), too, and nobody would have asked him what part of Connecticut he grew up in either.

We were doing a local television show together, and he was annoying the interns in the green room (a tiny cement-block cell painted blue) about the coffee. We’re doing a live local daytime interview in Dayton, and he’s hocking these kids about not having real milk? I gave him a hard time, and he said “You’re funny” in that deadpan, almost medically diagnostic voice professionally funny people use when they realize somebody else has a sense of humor.

I knew he had written a book about Gilda Radner, with whom he had developed the characters Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella. I mentioned that it had not escaped me that those characters seemed to have a certain Italian flavor to them, not that I was bitter. Zweibel asked me to lunch at the Friars Club.

The Friars Club! Even just to eat lunch there was a big deal. We listened to a lot of comedy in my family. Johnny Carson, Carol Burnettand Jean Shepherd were huge in our house. My parents, neither of whom graduated from high school, read a lot of humor; my brother and I read books by Jean Kerr, James Thurber, Harry Golden, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and, of course, Bombeck. As a New York kid, I grew up worshiping at the altar of Alan King. When other kids in fifth grade were reciting passages from The Wind in the Willows, I was reciting from King’s Help! I’m a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the marble hall of the Monastery (as members call the club’s building), on East 55th Street in Manhattan, was the plaque listing the names of its administrators and committee members. It looked like a manifest from Ellis Island: The names were either Italian or Jewish, with a few Irish names thrown in for luck. In fact, it looked like my high-school yearbook. I was home again. And I wanted in.

But there’s an elaborate application process to become a Friar. You have to write a personal statement. I had to explain why I should be admitted into the category of “entertainment professional.” Of the 1,450 members permitted at any one time on the roster, there are non-entertainment members — agents, brokers, lawyers, publicists, to name a few — but “civilians” pay a far higher annual fee. This “country club for comedians” was founded in 1904 by a group of New York press agents, joined soon after by hotshots like Oscar Hammerstein and George M. Cohan, who insisted that “the retention of the theatrical character is absolutely essential.”

I had to prove that as a writer of humor, as a scholar whose books are about humor, and as a public speaker who addresses humor, I qualified. It took me four changes of font and type size, but I crammed my message into the small space on the application booklet. I probably could have attached a letter, but I wanted to prove how much this meant to me and added a footnote to that effect. Maybe it was the footnote that got me in; they might never have received an application in MLA format before.

Once again, as with college and tenure applications, members had to write on my behalf, and I had to be interviewed.

This time, though, I didn’t cross-dress: I wore a version of what I would have worn to the Dartmouth interview 37 years ago if I’d had the nerve. I wore black boots, black pants, a tight black jacket, and heavy eyeliner. This time around, I wasn’t interviewed by a bored insurance lawyer but instead by the actor Dominic Chianese, best known for his role as Junior on The Sopranos. Dominic wanted to discuss Pirandello and Emerson. He was impressed by my day job.

When I asked the club’s executive director, Michael Gyure, whether any other Friars were professors, he answered “Does Elie Wiesel count?” (That Elie Wiesel is a Friar is not something I had overlooked; his name on the roster surprised me because the Nobel Peace Prize recipient is not someone who comes to mind as a “laugh riot.” Don Rickles he’s not.) I explained that I was asking more about ordinary, full-time faculty members. “I, for the life of me, can’t think of any others. That means you are the only one!” Gyure answered, adding “Semper Sursum.

It turns out that, at the Friars Club, being a professor actually matters.

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca, an English professor at the University of Connecticut, feminist scholar and author of eight books, served as a keynoter at the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

This is 40

Never liked the sound of 39. It’s a last-ditch-effort age. You get that “in one more year it’s all OVER” look over and over on this particular birthday.

For a good week, I had a burning desire to finish out the decade with a big bang. How could I get ahead of the new chapter that would magically start on my 40th birthday? The bucket list was closing in on me. All at once, get it done! Yes!

No. I quickly came to my senses.

I started reflecting a couple of days before 40.

Whhhhhyyyyyyy do you make me do this every New Year’s Eve?” the husband whines.  Looking back from time to time is healthy. Why was the year good? What can we work on? Turning 40 was a New Year’s reflection, multiplied by 10.

Certain experiences of my 20s gave me the most clarity. Being a waitress, the job that offers the most vivid picture into humanity, both wonderful and pitiful, Working on and near a trading floor, a miniature “Lord of the Flies” specimen of the human condition. Teaching at an all-boys high school and seeing firsthand that anyone can grow and learn in a comfortable environment. Traveling abroad, living in NYC with friends, saying “I do.”

I became a teacher and a mother in my 30s.  Motherhood changed everything —expectations of myself, hopes for this crazy world, dreams for the kids, the definition of balance. The baby years were truly amazing days, minus two hormonally nasty months where I didn’t sleep too much and cried when I ate a bagel. It was a humbling, nonsensical time. Going through it during one of my four pregnancies strengthened my thoughts about emotional health. I will never subconsciously judge any woman who cries when she eats a bagel.

Watching a dear friend fight for her life against cancer in my 30s changed my thoughts on health, wellness, strength, pure hope, the need for comedy in even the most trying situations and acceptance of the lack of fairness in life.

Now in my 40s, parenting continues to shape me.  I always wanted to be a mom, but now that I am and that the children are getting older at what feels like an epic pace, I am grappling with every life lesson I need to teach them. In the midst of those lessons, I am finding that they are teaching me more about myself than I could have ever learned on my own. Parenting does not get easier with age. Older parents who say, “It gets easier. Just wait, you’ll see!” lie like a rug. It gets better and harder every day.

I don’t know what else will shape me in my 40s. I never thought when I was a waitress that I’d be writing about that experience 20 years later.

Since I’ve hit 4-0, I am checking off a different box at the doctor’s office. I’m experiencing a similar feeling when you check off that box that you are over 35 and pregnant. The plague. You might as well have the plague.

It means that if I start a new career or go back to school, I will be in class with students or have colleagues I could have birthed myself. (Not a deterrent, not a deterrent!)

I have new mantras. No news is good news! Never say never! You only live once! Find the positive! Life is good! Kale is not a product of the devil!

There’s also the inevitable change in my body. I think about a carb and gain a pound. I can no longer do an inversion in a public yoga class because of the sounds that involuntarily come from certain parts of my body.

Intimacy has taken on new meaning. We bribe each other like 7-year-olds.  If you put the kids to bed, I’ll…and so on.

I don’t underestimate the value of a random conversation with a stranger. A lot of amazing things in my life have begun with a random conversation with a stranger.

At my recent annual dermatologist screening, I was asked, “Can I help you with anything else?” I broke out into a sweat. “Yes.  I mean no. Well, I mean, what do you think?” as I purposely frowned. By the looks of his assistant, who was expressionless at 60, I knew I was in for it. I never thought I’d be having that type of conversation, ever.

Forty seemed so old to me when I was 20. But now it doesn’t. I don’t feel old. It just feels like time passes quicker, and I’m turning into my mother.  (I, too, store tissues in the sleeves of my sweaters). And that unspoken “I will live forever!” feeling of my youth has left the building. Maybe it’s due to those continual Facebook updates with inspirational quotes and pictures of sunrises, but I doubt it. It seems like I blinked away the past two decades.

I fall into a reflection trap with every milestone. But now, I take it a little easier on myself and the reflection is not so prolonged (Yay! says the husband who I just bribed to take out the trash).  Peeking backwards helped me to see so clearly how uncertain, unpredictable and miracle-like the future will be.

This is 40.

—Jen Winn

Jen Winn, who just turned 40, is a parenting columnist for a small arts and entertainment magazine in New Jersey.

What goes well with chicken soup

Lots of writers ask me how to get published in the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. That’s because I’m very lucky to be a frequent contributor. In the past few years, they’ve published 40 of my stories.

Submitting is simple. You go to their website, fill in your name, address, etc., and then just paste your story. Authors receive $200 plus 10 books per story.

CSS editors receive more than 5,000 submissions per book. Therefore, before you submit, I’d like to tell you what they want. The editors want stories, not essays. A term I’ve heard is “a Chicken Soup moment.” I keep that etched in my brain. At this point, I’m acutely aware of when I’m experiencing a Chicken Soup moment. Or notice that someone else is.

I was reading a friend’s Facebook post. She had recently been published for her first time in CSS. On her FB page, she posted a beautiful picture of a Christmas decoration she kept up all year around. She wrote, “I hung these three angels from my dining room chandelier at Christmas two years ago and they have never left.” Her caption for her picture: “Angels Watching Over Me.”

The instant I saw that, I e-mailed her, suggesting that was a perfect Chicken Soup moment. I wrote, “Your life is filled with Chicken Soup moments. You just have to see them.”

Those “moments” do not need to be huge, as in a miraculous medical recovery. You can find them in the simplest of experiences. Although I have had stories accepted about my spinal cord injury, simpler topics have included: “The Appointment,” – my husband falling apart when our dog got groomed for the first time (humor), “Little Things Matter,” – not celebrating Valentine’s Day because we didn’t want to bother, “My Husband is on a Diet” – humor, “Mud-dling Through,” – when I stopped to help an old dog get up from a mucky sandbar.

I have found a major difference between submitting to CSS versus other popular publications. Your story is going to be read. You’re not just sending it to Simon & Schuster, their publisher. You’re sending it to someone who’s actually going to read all of it.

I’m seeing a slight trend of CSS accepting more humor, as well as just a tiny touch of edginess. Example: In Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You, my humor story contains the following dialogue.

Last night he screamed from the bathtub, “I’ve got it!”

I called out from the den, “Geez, Bob. I hate to think what you mean by that.”

In another book, Think Positive, I tell a story involving my husband having X-rays. The technician forgot to remove whatever they call those things that are placed over nipples so that nipples don’t show up as suspicious spots on the films. I wrote this dialogue:

“What are people going to think if you’re wearing nipple buttons?” I grabbed his nipples and started yanking.

Yes, I know that dialogue isn’t all that edgy, but a year ago, I would have edited those parts out before submitting.

Although the editors have published my reprints, as long as the columns ran in a very small venue, they prefer originals. I retain all rights to my stories. However, I do agree to give permission to CSS to use my story in various venues. That’s part of the contract. This works in my favor.

My stories have appeared on www.beliefnet.com, which is a huge inspirational website. Several of my works have been picked up, also via CSS, by King Features Syndicate and, therefore, are published in newspapers all over the country. Women’s World, another gigantic publication with a readership of more than 7 million, picked up one of my stories.

Your chances of acceptance are increased if you submit something that is not on the same topic that most others will be submitting. You can probably predict the most common topics. A terrific writer/friend submitted a story for the book, Runners. It was about finishing his first marathon. He didn’t get accepted. I would bet, because he’s such a great writer, that his story was not included because finishing one’s first marathon was likely the topic of plenty of stories for that book.

CSS editors prefer diversity.

— Saralee Perel

Saralee Perel is an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist and the author of Cracked Nuts & Sentimental Journeys: Stories From a Life Out of Balance. She was recently interviewed on “Books & the World” about her book and won two awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association for serious and humor columns. You can read one of the winning columns here.

Backseat

I sat in the back of my sister’s car so my mother could sit in the front passenger seat. I can’t tell you what type of car it was except inside and out it was clean and white. I was in my thirties, my sister was in her early forties, and mama was seventy-something. As soon as mama got into the car she didn’t waste any time complaining about daddy.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with your father.”

“What are you talking about?” my sister asked.

“I said I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. He won’t leave me alone.”

“Well, what’s he doing?” I asked.

By that time mama was getting a little irritated that her daughters couldn’t read between the lines. She came from a generation that considered certain subjects taboo. Mama’s teeth were clenched behind her pursed lips as she looked in my sister’s direction. When her eyes narrowed, what eyebrows mama had left, due to years of excessive plucking, grew sternly together creating “the look.” You know the one; all mothers get a certain look albeit stare on their face that says you are pushing your luck, you’re not listening, I’m not getting what I want.

“I said he won’t leave me alone.”

Just then my mind went where I wish it hadn’t — to my parents’ tiny bedroom with only enough space to walk around the bed. In the old farmhouse rebuilt in 1929 that we call the old homestead, you had to walk through the bathroom to get to mom and dad’s room. The basement door was in the bathroom, too. What were contractors thinking back then?

I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw only my sister’s eyes.  I could tell she was smiling because they were squinty. It’s a trait my Polish family has; smiling produces squinty eyes. My eyes were big with surprise.

“What am I going to do?”

“Well, mom, you could just make up a reason why you can’t,” my sister said.

“You know your father.  He always gets what he wants. He doesn’t care about anybody but himself.”

I kept silent in the back seat. My sister’s eyes returned to the mirror except this time they were pleading for my help. My thoughts were still on the bedroom. How do you do it when you’re that old? Do they keep their teeth in? Aren’t they afraid of breaking a hip?  How wrinkled are they? My sister’s eyes were still in the mirror.

“How often does he bother you?” I asked.

Mama’s head turned past her left shoulder to glare at me. She didn’t like my question.

“I thought you girls could help me, but maybe I was wrong,” mama said.

“You could fake being sick,” I said.

“Make sure you’re never in the same room with him,” my sister added.

“Tell him you’re worried one of his fake hips will pop out,” I said.

My sister started laughing, which made me laugh, and as Mama glared at both of us she broke into a laugh. Being older, my sister knew when the laughing subsided it was the perfect time to change the subject.

— Lois Heise

Lois Heise, the mother of four young adults, grew up on a grape farm in Pennsylvania and worked beside her husband for 22 years at his full-service automotive garage. At 52, she graduated from college. She’s been published in the Ultimate MMA Magazine and helped write Lara’s Gems, a Build-a-Book production by Bayla Publishing.

Best way to avoid writer’s block? Write.

Want to be published? Here are some opportunities right before your keyboard.

Join the “100 Hours of Humo(u)r” online festival, what’s billed as the “most ambitious and ridiculous web event ever.” Author and teacher Dave Fox calls it flash humor. From March 1-5, he will upload new humor-related content to Globejotting.com every hour for a hundred hours.

“Some hours, I’ll be blogging ‘live,’ testing my high-speed writing skills with quick comedy blasts. Other hours will feature humor writing mini-lessons to help you become a funnier person,” he says.

30 Days to Sanity

Do you have a heartwarming, insightful and powerfully moving story about how to stay sane in our chaotic 24/7 world? If you have a great story and would like to be included in 30 Days to Sanity, please send your stories to 30 Days to Sanity, Box 31453, Santa Fe, N.M.  87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to stephanie@30daystosanity.com The maximum word count is 1,200 words. For each story selected, a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Stories must be received no later than May 1.

Finding Your Voice

How about escaping to a cozy inn in a quaint town along Lake Michigan for three days? Humorist Wade Rouse, author of five books, promises to teach you how to unleash your true writer’s voice at a May 16-19 workshop in Douglas, Mich. Rouse describes the experience as an “intensive literary renewal” that covers “everything from how to get your book published to life-changing writing exercises.” Click here for details.

Paris in the Spring

Or maybe Paris is your cup of tea. The 2013 Paris Book Festival has issued a call for entries for its annual event honoring the best of international publishing.

The 2013 Paris Book Festival will consider non-fiction, fiction, biography/autobiography, children’s books, compilations/anthologies, young adult, how-to, e-books, cookbooks, audio/spoken word, wild card (anything goes), photography/art, poetry, unpublished, spiritual and romance works. There is no date of publication deadline and entries can be in French or English.

Grand prize is $1,500 cash and a flight to Paris for a gala awards ceremony in late May. Deadline is April 25.

Plenty of Soup, Lots of Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul offers writers three opportunities.

The popular book series is celebrating its upcoming 20th anniversary with a special edition filled with stories about how Chicken Soup for the Soul has made a difference in people’s lives. The editors will pair old stories with new ones. Simply indicate which story helped or changed you, then write about it. Deadline for story and poem submission is March 17.

Have you experienced a connection with a loved one who died? The editors are looking for submissions for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven. Deadline is March 31.

If your story is chosen for either of these upcoming books, your piece and bio will be printed in the book. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.

If you have a brief true story (up to 500 words) that shows how your faith in God has shaped your journey as a wife, please share it along with an applicable Bible verse and a two-to-three-sentence prayer. You will receive $100 for each published devotion ($100 due to the shorter word count than the regular books). The deadline for submissions is March 15.

Submit material for these three books here.

The bunion kicker

I don’t want to be my mother, or, more exactly, I don’t want to be her feet. She is a dual-footed bunion bearer, wearing sandals or gym shoes for as long as I can remember in order to accommodate these growths.

Like some kind of teenager determined to revolt against parental say-so, I found an affinity for shoes, especially those with pointed toes, closed sides, straps, buckles and general full foot coverage. I wear sandals in summer, provided they are built for beauty and not comfort and stoop to gym shoes for exercise only. Once home, my fingers fly through the laces, shedding those clod-hopping, bunion friendly monstrosities as soon as I can.

Shoes are important to me and, as such, I’ve always been a proponent of high heels. However, I’m on the short side and consider a two-inch heel as much a necessity as undergarments or mascara. I don’t leave home without elevation. In fact, I don’t leave the bedroom, as those two inches make a difference as to whether or not I can reach to the back of middle kitchen shelf. When I was young, I wore my roller skates in the house, just for the sense of domination it provided me, at least over the countertop. Shoes were my way of fighting back in a world meant for those of average height or greater.

Then, I developed a bunion, right there at the base of my big toe on my right foot. And it hurt. I put a corn cushion on it and slipped, barefoot, into a brown suede Anne Klein pump. It still hurt. I wore the shoes anyway. Surely this was a temporary swelling and, given enough cushioned protection, would flatten itself out in no time at all. Never mind that the thing is made of bone, hard, unbending, unrelenting bone. Its likely cause is ill-fitting shoes. To be exact, shoes that force the toes to slam up against each other and cause pressure to be exerted toward the front of the foot. In other words, a sweet little shoe like my pointy-toed, two-inch Joan and David is painted as nearly demonic.

I’ll admit I do own a couple pair of flats, but they don’t go out in public much. Though they’ve never given me cause to do so, I address them like naughty children, grounding them in their shoe cubbies most of the time. I’ve come to realize I treat my shoes with a perverted prejudice; higher heels simply demand, and get, more respect from me. Research will back me up on this. Studies have shown tall people earn more money, have greater status and command more deference than their shorter counterparts.

Now here’s the bunion kicker — there is no cure. No amount of padding or even surgery will assure a pain-free walk in the park unless “proper shoes” are worn. I have my own definition of “proper” and it does not include anything resembling a man’s oxford, flip flops, bedroom slippers or a shoe used in conjunction with any type of athletics.

Some of the problem is due to age. When we are young, the balls of the foot have a considerable amount of fatty tissue to protect them. Add more than a few decades and those fatty deposits dissipate or even slide towards the toes. The result? Less protection than ever against the ravages of a beautiful pair of high heels.

I’ve noticed more shoe manufacturers are producing comfortable, yet stylish, footwear. Perhaps as the Baby Boomers continue to deny aging, someone will create a line of shoes that look like a pair of Jimmy Choo platform stilettos, but accommodate bunions like a Dansko sandal. Why, before you know it, women without bunions will be wishing they had them, clamoring for shoes that meet the criteria of fashion forward while retaining the comfort level of fashion backward.

In the meantime, I’ll be easing my bunion, covered with multiple corn cushions, into shoes designed to keep podiatrists in business. I realize that, at times, I may be forced to forego the cushioned defense because the design of the shoe may not be such as to completely hide my little turgidity. In that case, I guess I’ll just have to practice unprotected shodding.

At least, that is, until I develop a bunion on my left foot.

—   Heidi Griminger Blanke

Heidi Griminger Blanke writes regularly for several local magazines in western Wisconsin and has penned a yet-to-be-published collection of humorous essays about aging. She has published several academic articles, written many newsletter articles for nonprofit organizations and presented at a writer’s conference. She is currently trying her hand at fiction.

Blowing your own horn

Humor has the power to change us intrinsically. We all know it. We feel the difference a good belly laugh makes or how injecting humor can break the tension in the room. Laughter and mirth (simply feeling the humor) change the chemicals in our brain and in our bodies. There are science and research studies to back it up, yet I don’t need stats. I simply want to experience it. How about you? Want to use humor to feel better every day?

To build a humor kit, go to the dollar store. Invest in a bag of party horns, a can of Play Doh and some sticky notes. Grab whatever else tickles you.

Keep a horn at work, at home and in the car. When a driver cuts you off or your computer drives you crazy, toot your horn! You are letting off steam in a healthier way and the folks around will think you’re silly, breaking the stress that grips them, too.

When you want to get your kids’ attention, blow your horn. It’s much better than yelling. There’s another side, too. You can literally blow your own horn to celebrate. Your new recipe came out great — party horn blow! You landed a new client — party horn blow! You love your new haircut — party horn blow! This “breathing exercise” does wonders for your mental health.

Use the PlayDoh as a stress ball. Squeeze and pass it back and forth between hands. There is left-brain right-connection happening, yet it simply feels good. Take two minutes to make a tiny sculpture and leave it somewhere for someone else to find. That sprinkle of humor creates a ripple effect throughout the home or workplace.

Sticky notes are the greatest invention ever. Post a reminder next to your alarm clock: “I will laugh today.” You have just increased your odds of a more enjoyable day. Write silly notes and stick them in unconventional places. Inside the fridge, cupboard or microwave. On mirrors at home and at work. On a desk lamp, computer screen, briefcase. A funny phrase or sentence, a quote, an inside joke, or anything of healthy humor can make someone else’s day. You’ve upped your happy quotient leaving stealth stickies.

There are myriad ways to inject humor into every day. Of course, read funny stuff. You don’t have to bust a gut. Smiling on the inside has the same effect. Keep a toilet tank reader in the loo and one at bedside. Read a few pages every night. You’ll sleep better, wake up feeling more rested, and face the day with a better attitude. Again, science proves it.

Why not prove it for yourself? Give it a whirl and you’ll see how simple it is to laugh and smile more every day. Your health will improve, and so will your mood. That is something to smile about.

—Kelly Epperson Simmons

Kelly Epperson Simmons, author/speaker/book coach and two-time judge of the Erma Bombeck national humor essay writing contest, is honored to be invited to speak at Gilda’s LaughFest in Grand Rapids, Mich., on March 14. She will speak to the emotional and health benefits of humor and happiness at this 10-day festival that honors the late Gilda Radner and her charity, Gilda’s Club. To learn about LaughFest, click here.

Reflections of Erma