(Editor’s Note: Kathy Kinney, known for her iconic role as “Mimi” on The Drew Carey Show, and Cindy Ratzlaff, marketing guru behind the South Beach Diet, will serve as keynoters at the March 31-April 2 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. The longtime friends are the creative force behind the Queen of Your Life book series, calendar and blog. In a Q&A, they talk about what brought them together — and why it’s so important to develop a “Queen voice.”)
Q: The two of you have such different backgrounds. What brought you together to collaborate on inspirational books and calendars?
A: We met at college one very hot, muggy Wisconsin summer while working on the children’s play George and the Dragon and have been friends now for over 35 years. Cindy intended to be an actress, and Kathy had decided to write the great American short story and so after college we headed to New York. While pursuing our careers we had a massive amount of survival jobs, including Director and Membership Director of the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant to the Head of Finance and Publicist Liaison for the Muppets at WCBS-TV — as well as producing, directing and starring in the comedy groups Belles Jeste and Prom Night. During our time in New York we had successes, failures, boyfriends, love found, love lost and our friendship always endured. Cindy eventually found herself with a successful career in publishing/marketing, and Kathy moved to Los Angeles and became an actress. Could life be any more mysterious, baffling or wondrous? After half a lifetime of shared memories and exciting adventures, it seemed like a good time to write a book about what we had learned and what we wanted to achieve in the next half of our lives.
Q: You’ve described your journey together as “hilarious, sometimes tearful, but always honest.” Is that the appeal behind the “Queen of Your Own Life” movement?
A: Queen of Your Own Life is about learning to be honest with yourself and letting go of your fears so you can keep moving forward without self-judgment. We like to say it’s about taking care of yourself and learning to take the “ish” out of “selfish.” Taking care of your needs does not make you a bad person or selfish; it means you’re smart.
Q: What’s the secret to being Queen of Your Own Life?
A: The secret is that you already are the Queen of Your Own Life, but sometimes you just need a good friend to remind you. It’s about getting past the negative internal voices that say, I should’ve, could’ve and oh, if only I would’ve, to finally uncover your true Queen voice. The voice that says you were enough, are enough and always will be enough just the way you are. Your Queen voice is loud and reminds you that life is a grand adventure and you are the woman who is brave enough to live it.
Q: Has Erma Bombeck inspired you in any way? Did she use a “Queen voice” in her writing?
A: Erma Bombeck was definitely the Queen of Her Own Life, and that’s why everyone loved her so much. She was always authentically herself, and her Queen voice was loud and clear. She was funny, warm, clever, and it was a joy to read her column and her books. She had the gift of making you laugh till you snorted and yet think about, and be grateful for, the life you were living. Our favorite Erma quote is, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” Truly a worthy goal.
Q: You talk about walking through your fears and taking control of your life. Why do some people, particularly women, have such a hard time doing that?
A: It’s a lot better out there, but the message woman still get from the media is you aren’t enough the way you are. In order to be valuable or desirable in our society you need to be young, curvy, blonde and very sexy. It takes courage to make the choice to be your authentic self — a strong, smart, creative woman who shows up everyday owning her power. The key is that we are all more alike than different in our fears about being accepted and loved. Deciding to be yourself gives permission to everyone around you to do the same thing.
Q: You’ve brought your empowerment message to huge conferences around the country. What appeals to you about the crowd at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop?
A: First of all, we just love, love, love authors and writers. They are our people! Also, folks spend a lot of time talking about the East Coast and the West Coast, and we’ve lived both places, but the middle of this country is truly the “Heartland.” We are Midwest born and raised —and while you can take the girl out of the Midwest, you can never take the Midwest out of the girl.
Q: What message do you want to leave with writers struggling to find their own voices?
A: Just get out of your own way and do it! Everyone has the right to write a book, play, poem, blog or, for that matter, a rap song! If you write it, there will be someone there to read it, and someone who needs to hear what you have to say. Don’t let your fear of not getting it “right” stop you from expressing yourself. And, above all, have fun with it! If you’re not having fun while doing it, then change directions until you are enjoying yourself. It’s your adventure, so don’t talk yourself out of living it.
Q: Besides the work you do together, what else keeps you busy these days? What brings you joy?
A: Joy for us both is family, friends and leading a creative life. Kathy still acts and has a children’s character called Mrs. P at mrsp.com who is an advocate for literacy and libraries. Cindy still works in publishing and helping authors find their own brands. We both find a lot of pleasure in being successful in these jobs. We also find great joy daily in posting “Queenisms” (positive affirmation combined with a vintage image) on our Facebook page. This means we spend many fun hours in antique malls questing for vintage images of woman. After we have the images, oh my, that is when the fun really begins! We scan all of the photos, then reimagine and redesign them on Adobe Photoshop and then add an affirmation. Voilà, as the French say, a Queenism! We love using and exploring Adobe Photoshop so much that we have secretly dubbed ourselves the Nerd Queens. It’s great to have a hobby you adore.
It started with a recipe.
I misread the amount of flour that was to go into a cake and added too much of it to the batter. That night, I served a frosted hockey puck to my dinner guests. I was certain the mistake was due to my lack of attention while baking. Note to self: Do NOT watch “America’s Hottest Firemen” on cable TV while making a cake.
There were other slip-ups that soon followed — little things I stubbornly ignored, such as squinting while reading a book. Or leaning over the car steering wheel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame just so that I could see the road beyond my dashboard. It wasn’t until I backed my van into a telephone pole one rainy afternoon that I knew it was time to face the painful truth: MY MOTHER LIED ABOUT THE CARROTS.
I really couldn’t blame Mom for feeding me an abundance of carrots when I was young. The myth that they help our vision dates back to WWII with the British Royal Air Force. They attributed the success of their pilots’ night vision during German reconnaissance missions to the vast consumption of carrots by their airmen. Perhaps if they had consumed mass quantities of cauliflower instead of carrots, they may have needed less fuel to get their planes off the ground.
It was my love for books — and the fact that I was struggling to read the small print — that prompted me to purchase a pair of glasses from the drugstore (it was either that or buy all my romance novels in Braille). This tactic worked for a little while until everything around me became slightly fuzzy. I had trouble reading the numbers on my cell phone, and instead of dialing my gynecologist, I called the pest control guy to complain about my irregular periods. My typing skills had also diminished considerably, and the emails I sent out were often questioned by the recipients: “When did you start calling your son Zarf?” “What do you mean you ate the dentist?” My husband had already threatened to enroll me in the Helen Keller Institute For Typing if I didn’t do something about my poor eyesight. I finally admitted that he had a point when I could no longer tell if I was petting the family cat or my uncle’s toupee. It was time to find an optometrist.
After having my eyes dilated by the doctor, I strained to read a chart that was a mile away and filled with ridiculously small letters. By the end of my appointment, I had two sets of glasses; one for reading, and one for driving.
It wasn’t long before I was stockpiling glasses of various strengths — some for working on the computer, others to watch TV, and another pair for walking the dogs at night. But no matter how many pairs of glasses I accumulated, I lost them as quickly as I lost my socks every time I did the wash.
Fed up with wearing (and losing) my glasses, I returned to the optometrist’s office to be fitted for contacts. I learned how to insert the flimsy lenses into my eyes and returned home, optimistic that I’d solved the problem of my glasses disappearing into the same black hole that my missing socks were orbiting.
It was all fun and games until it came time to remove the lenses. The harder I tried to slide them out, the farther they slipped under the folds of my eyelids. Panic set in when both contacts disappeared into the caverns of my eye sockets. You know what true love is? A man who uses a magnifying glass and a mini flashlight to probe his wife’s eyeballs for missing lenses.
Ten minutes and two scratched corneas later, I swore off contacts and decided to live my life as a blind mole. My only comfort was in knowing that at least my eyesight was a step up from the rhinos, who are notorious for attacking trees and large rocks due to their poor vision.
Living life in a blur became too difficult ( I was tired of walking around with bruised knees from walking into furniture), and eventually I caved in by buying more glasses, along with several pairs of brightly colored contacts. I needed to be prepared in case I was forced to go on another eye expedition in search of my elusive lenses.
The way I see it, putting up with lost glasses and slippery contacts is worth it to be able to see the world clearly again. And I may add a few more carrots to my diet, just to be on the safe side.
— Marcia Kester Doyle
Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humor book, Who Stole My Spandex? Life In The Hot Flash Lane, and the voice behind the midlife blog, Menopausal Mother. Her work has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, The Huffington Post and Scary Mommy, among others. Marcia lives in sunny south Florida with her husband, four children one feisty granddaughter and two chunky pugs.
I wasn’t the favorite.
My sister’s weren’t, either, nor were any of my cousins. Chrissy held that title. Of all the aunts and uncles, she was their favorite. You might have thought she was extraordinary!
I was eight when I first saw her. She was lying in her bassinette waving her hands wildly at me. She had the brightest blue eyes and a goofy smile. The adults were talking about Chrissy’s problem. I couldn’t imagine that she had problem. I thought she was perfect.
As Chrissy grew older, it was always a treat when she arrived. My mom bought her favorite soda and fancy desserts. It was always a special occasion. Her every word brought the aunts to laughter. She got extra hugs and presents from all the aunts on her birthday. Seriously, you might have thought she was a princess.
As Chrissy got older, her charm blossomed even more. She’d bring her mom flowers, and she learned to sign I Love You. At a crowded party, you’d see her signing to our aunts. They melted each time. She loved a good party. If there was music and dancing, she was the first one on the dance floor. Naturally, the aunts followed. This charming, sweet act was very difficult to follow for the rest of the cousins. We were always out-charmed.
When Chrissy visited Ireland with who else, but the aunts, she entertained an entire pub with her singing abilities. The band had just set up when Chrissy began to sing, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” They quickly grabbed their instruments and joined in. Within a few minutes, the entire pub was singing in harmony with her. They insisted on an extra verse. So maybe this night she was really spectacular.
Chrissy liked to come to the parties at my house. She called me “the party girl” and very rarely called me by name. I’ll admit that she made me feel special with that nickname.
She always wore a grin that would quickly turn into a genuine smile. An unkind thought never crossed her mind. In that way, she really was lovely.
Chrissy had Down’s Syndrome. When she was born, everyone worried about her future. There was no need to worry. She brought so much love, light, laughter and happiness into our families. She knew more about love than all of us. She expressed it in simple, but meaningful, ways. She was unselfish, pleasant, kind, humble and sincere.
She just recently passed away. She’s in Heaven with the aunts now. I have a feeling that all of Heaven thinks she’s perfectly lovely, too.
— Anne Bardsley
Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at www.annebardsley.com.
I pride myself on having a wide range of female friends.
And I mean wide range rather literally as several of my girlfriends happen to be clustered at the extreme ends of the height spectrum. Over the years, I have listened sympathetically to each end gripe about the ridiculous-to-rude remarks they routinely endure, but lately it’s become almost a competition about who has it worse, the under-talls or the over-talls. I feel their pain, and if your personal altitude has exposed you to unfair ridicule and mockery, I feel your pain as well. But you all are not the only ones suffering injustice on the vertical plane.
Why leave me out? This is still America, gosh darn it, and I intend to claim my fair share of victimhood.
Now hear this: middle dwellers suffer, too. We are your mothers, your sisters and your daughters, although it’s likely you never noticed us as we blend into the crowd without distinction. We of nondescript height are neither charmingly petite nor alluringly statuesque. We are stuck in the middle, part of the pack, just one of the herd. If height were hair color, we’d be dishwater blond. If height were grades, we’d be a “C” average. We are neither rare, nor well-done; we are plainly and unremarkably medium. Medium, a breath away from mediocre.
We are the usual; you are the unusual. We are the typical; you are the atypical. We are the expected; you are the exceptional. Let’s face it, we average-heighters put the ordinary in extraordinary. Even the Bible eschews those of us who occupy the middle ground. It says we, the lukewarm, being neither hot nor cold, will be spit out of God’s mouth. Spit out of the mouth of the Almighty (who presumably made us this way in the first place!). That’s a bit more severe than having to suffer foolish comments like “How’s the weather up there?” or “You don’t have far to go when you fall down.”
You, both the height-gifted and the height-challenged, command attention wherever you go. Heads turn and tongues wag when you walk in a room because you are, folks say,“something to see.” The most people say about us middle-of-the-roaders, if they say anything at all, is that we are nothing to write home about. So, tall ones and small ones, be grateful for your major or minor stature. It accords you recognition we fair-to-middling types will never attain. Tiptoes can never lift me high enough nor slouching push me low enough to be of note, a status you achieve just by being who you are. And who better to be other than yourself?
Come to think of it, who better for any of us — high, low or somewhere in between — to be other than ourselves? I hereby declare the height-whining competition null and void. (But, I still think I should have won!)
— Lee Gaitan
Lee Gaitan is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and My Pineapples Went to Houston — Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She also has written a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Better After 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard, Fab Over Fifty and The Good Men Project. She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog and blogs at Don’t Just Bounce, Bounce Back. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
I’m an Ohioan, a buckeye, rooted in Mount Vernon just a few miles north of the geographical center of the state. My father never lived anyplace other than Knox County, nor any town other than Mount Vernon, except for the first four months of his life. He was born seven miles northwest in tiny Fredericktown.
That my dad lived such a long life — 90 — is attributable, in part, to pie. That’s what he would say anyway. In Ohio, pie is a meal, a food group!
The man never met a pie he didn’t like, with the possible exception of coconut crème and butterscotch. Fruit was his filling of choice: apple, cherry, peach, rhubarb, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, elderberry, grape, plum, banana and even raisin. Now he didn’t bake the pies — women’s work, he said — but he did pick, clean, sort and chop the fruit.
My mother rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. After mom died, dad remarried and Martha rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. I never asked, but I’ll bet in addition to “Love, honor, and obey” there was a clause in their marriage vows that promised, “pies to last you the rest of your days.”
It is difficult to say no to a home-baked pie warm from the oven. Dad never even tried to resist as his waistline proved.
When my daughters were small and visited during the summer, their gramps let them have pie and homemade vanilla ice cream for breakfast. “You got your fruit, you got your dairy, perfect breakfast,” he’d say.
I wondered at him letting them eat pie every morning. When I was their ages, I had to eat Shredded Wheat, Cheerios or Cornflakes. Sometimes I got a sliced banana.
Last Thanksgiving, our granddaughter Samantha wanted me to show her how to make a pie from scratch. She was a quick learner, and her first pies — apple and pumpkin — were excellent. I’m sorry to say that she’s as messy a baker as I am. Her great-grandmas would be horrified to see the mess she made.
But her great-gramps would have loved the results.
— 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).
This past December, my husband and I took our two 20-something-year-old kids on a vacation to St. Croix. I love vacationing as a family, but the older your kids get, the more opinionated they become on what is considered vacation worthy and what isn’t.
Fun for my daughter is a beach. Fun for my son is anything BUT the beach. It gets a little heated between those two and telling them to face the wall and think about their behavior and tone doesn’t work anymore. My dream of being The Waltons had faded long ago.
So in past vacations it usually came down to my husband and son claiming any activity with the word extreme in front of it, and my daughter and I sitting on a beach with an extreme tiki bar.
But this vacation was different. I thought someone had kidnapped my children, replacing them with siblings who actually agreed with each other. When did this happen? It certainly hadn’t happened all through grade school when I paid my son to be nice to his sister for the babysitter. It hadn’t happened when I paid my daughter to play NASCAR on GameCube with her brother. I was constantly asking my husband for $20. And for those of you who say bribery will get you nowhere, guess again.
It’s expensive trying to be the Waltons.
During this vacation we went to tiki bars — TOGETHER! We went to beaches TOGETHER! Both wanted to ride wave runners and ride on ATVs, TOGETHER! I was dumfounded. Was that my daughter covered in mud and laughing as her brother deliberately ran through every single mud puddle? When the Captain on a boat trip to an outer island invited my son to ride up on the bridge, his only question was, “Can I bring my sister?”
Turning to my husband wide eyed, I said, “Did you bribe them to be nice to each other? Is that why you’re always searching for your wallet? Did he really say, “Can I bring my sister”?
OMG, we were the freaking Waltons!
I always pictured a life with my grown children living close enough to drop in whenever they wanted, to come for Sunday dinner. But my son was switching jobs and had accepted a position in California and my daughter, who would soon be graduating college, had accepted a job in Boston. Those sweet childhood years would be in my rear view mirror, and my role as Mom was changing. It’s a turning of the page, I guess.
At the end of our vacation both kids presented my husband and me with a thoughtful and generous gift, but they could have saved their money. Their friendship with each other was priceless. Their greatest gift to us was their laughter I heard through the walls long after we had gone to bed. It filled me up with such happiness that it’s hard to describe. Despite their bickering all those years, it was evident they were their own biggest fans. My daughter told me it had always been so, that bickering and siblings go together. Imagine the money I could have saved.
As we were getting ready to leave for the airport to catch our flight home and thinking we should be singing Kumbaya, my son looked at my daughter and said, “You are not going to the airport in those shorts.” And then my daughter looked at my son and said…
Well …. I can’t really repeat what she said.
I’m not expecting perfection.
After all, the Waltons aren’t a real family.
— Tracy Buckner
Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune Newspaper of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills Newspaper, serving Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.
There are at least two if not many more universal truths known to all mothers. The first, is that while no child can hear the words “go get dressed” even when shouted directly into their eardrum, they can always hear any mother unwrap any item of food at any decibel and from any distance.
The second and equally important truth is that whoever doesn’t pack some spare clothes in the carry-on is the one who is going to need them.
Any guesses as to who didn’t pack herself a spare shirt?
As we set out on the rental car yesterday to begin our journey home from vacation, I turned to my husband who would not be making the trip back with me and my three kids and said something like, “It’s no problem. Really. I’ve got this.”
At which point God, overhearing this exchange, literally laughed out loud, put on his favorite footy pajamas, poured himself a drink, and I imagine said something like, “Well, this ought to be a good show.”
Was it the two-hour delay that turned into a four-hour delay or the toddler vomiting banana crepe all over me during that delay or the gate that wouldn’t go up in the parking lot to get us to the car that wouldn’t start because the battery was dead? I mean honestly, I’m not sure.
Truthfully, none of that matters now. What I really need to tell you is this:
• Never ever feed your children banana crepes ever and most certainly not when you are traveling.
• Other mothers are amazing. Should you find yourself alone in an airport with three children whilst covered in vomit, mothers will spring into action from all directions. I honestly did not know any of them nor where they came from, hoisting upon me plastic bags and wipes a plenty. I know on the Internet and even in real life we have a tendency to judge one another, but when it counts, we show up. We know full well that we are in this together.
• Our kids are capable of more than we think. We spend most of our days yelling not particularly useful things like, “Pick up your plate and shut off your video games!” and I wonder if they just start to believe they really aren’t capable of much more than that. Until one day you find that they are surprisingly adept and responsive as you yell, “Hose the baby off with your water bottle!” and “Grab those suitcases!” Sometimes I wonder if we’re just overthinking this whole enterprise. Maybe the best and most we can ever do at any one time is just believe in them.
• Lastly, pack yourself some spare clothes. Literally and figuratively. Throw in an extra shirt for yourself on that carry-on. Maybe it will just be a drop of soy sauce. Maybe it will be baby puke. Who knows? It can’t hurt. But more than that, think about what you will need. Practice thinking about and prioritizing your own needs.
Though I forgot some spare clothes yesterday, I was fortunate to remember a book which I read during a brief moment of bliss affectionately known as video game/nap time. It occurred B.B.C. (before banana crepe) and as I sat there, flipping through the pages of an old Erma Bombeck book, I could just picture my mother, buried deep within the pages of Erma’s columns and books on our vacations so long ago. I know now what she knew then: that if you give a child in a pool a mother, someone will suddenly need to pee or puke or eat, and that the mere sight of you will illicit the desire for someone to express their needs. My mother wasn’t reading. She was hiding.
God, that woman was smart.
I loved this line from yesterday’s pages in particular: “I don’t think women outlive men. It only seems longer.”
And if it’s going to feel longer, remember what I told you. Pack yourself some spare clothes, a candy bar that has had the wrapper previously removed and a good book. At the very least, God shouldn’t be the only one to enjoy this show.
— Jennifer Meer
Jennifer Meer writes a personal blog about parenting and family. Her work has been published in several online publications including, BlogHer, The Huffington Post, Kveller, Mamalode, The Manifest-Station, Modern Loss, Momastery.com, Parenting.com, Scary Mommy, The Stir and The Washington Post.
We’ve all had embarrassing moments. My most recent one was forgetting to brush my teeth before I left the house in the morning and then wondering why everybody I spoke to kept backing away.
At least this time people didn’t laugh and point the way my classmates in sixth grade did when my skirt got stuck in my underwear. They all pointed and laughed as I walked to my seat. I guess I should be happy it happened before social media where it would be plastered for the world to see. Social media takes embarrassment to a whole new level.
Sometimes we’re embarrassed not for ourselves, but for others — “second hand embarrassment.” You ever get embarrassed for a comedian dying on stage? You feel bad (squirming in your seat) knowing they know they’re bombing. Silence to a comedian is worse than a tomato in the face.
As part of a couple, if your spouse tells a joke and it falls flat, the embarrassment falls also on you — “second hand embarrassment,” embarrassment by relation.
In a house where the bathroom is off the kitchen, the stage is set for embarrassment. Tell me the genius who thought the kitchen/ bathroom combo was a good idea. It’s not.
You go to a friend’s house for dinner and halfway through the meal someone dashes to the bathroom. As you’re chewing your steak, you’re now being serenaded by moans and groans. You winch when you hear grunting and noises heard only from animals in the wild. You applaud when you hear the flush, but your glee is short lived as there’s a round two.
This round comes with cursing and air freshener being dispensed. Finally, the boxer emerges looking weary, but triumphant. Nobody acknowledges what went on in there. You keep eating and gradually realize you smell more than what’s on your plate. The smells wafting out from the bathroom and mingling with your food has created a rancid, overpowering stench of a cloud. People lose their appetite. Nobody wants to eat steak that smells like that. You gag with every bite. Guests offer excuses and make a hasty retreat. You, the hostess, watch people run to their car and think, how many friends did this cost me? Some embarrassing moments come at a high price.
— Cindy Argiento
Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.