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How spitting cheesecake at EBWW
can help advance your career

Beckerman, TracyI have a special place in my heart for the Erma Bombeck conference. This was really the place where I got my humor writing start. Well, actually, sitting at my desk in front of my computer was where I got my start, but the Erma conference was the place where I found the courage to turn my passion for writing into a career.

I started writing my humor column for one local newspaper back in 2001, and five years later, decided that I wanted to be the next Erma Bombeck. Where better to learn how to do that than at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop?  I remember being incredibly nervous and in awe of the other writers who seemed like they were so much further along in their journey than I was. On the first night, I noticed a syndicated Canadian columnist surrounded by attendees. I thought, “Gee, if I can get to know him, maybe he can show me the ropes and help me achieve my dream.” So I introduced myself and he invited me to sit next to him at dinner.

Being the cool New Jersey girl that I am, I tried to entertain him with funny stories, and in the process, accidentally knocked an entire glass of wine into his lap.

Then I tried to wipe it off.

Although this was not the impression I was looking to make, it was AN impression, and not one I thought he would forget too quickly.  Being a humor writer, though, he could see the funny in the situation and invited me to sit with him at dinner again the next night.

Dinner with Tracy: Take 2

We made it through almost the entire meal without incident. And then while we were having dessert, he made a joke, and I laughed. Unfortunately it was while I had a large wad of partially chewed strawberry cheesecake in my mouth.  Did you know that when you laugh with strawberry cheesecake in your mouth, it sprays out in a million little tiny yellow and red spots all over whatever or whoever is directly in front of you?

Now you know.

My dinner companion assured me that he would not hold my dual dinner faux pas against me and would most likely make sure to wear a raincoat for all future meals together.

I actually learned two important lessons from that experience.

The first is an equation that has served me well throughout my career. It goes, Tragedy+Time=Comedy.  As bad as something seems at the time, in the hands of a great writer it can become excellent fodder for a humor column.

The second thing I learned was that humor writers, especially those who attend the Erma Bombeck conference, are an incredibly supportive community of people who are just as thrilled for your success as they are for their own. Many of the people I met at my first conference are my biggest supporters, my most trusted editors and some of my closest friends. This is not to say that given the chance they wouldn’t try to bump me off and take over my newspapers contracts, or run away with my Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award, but I know that they would do that in the most loving and supportive way.

Many humor writers today would be surprised to know that Erma Bombeck was almost 38 when she started writing her humor column for the Dayton Journal Herald. By today’s work standards, that is practically old enough to retire to a senior community called “Journey’s End” in Florida and start stealing dinner rolls at the Early Bird Special. Like Erma, I was also in my 30s when I started writing my column. And, also like Erma, my column grew out of the experience of becoming a mother. It was not something I could have written in my 20s. I actually don’t even think I really hit my writing stride until my 40s. With age, they say comes wisdom…but also, sometimes, children.  So, you know, that kind of blows that whole wisdom theory. But with children come hemorrhoids. And with children and hemorrhoids come a humor column.

At my first conference, Dave Barry was the keynote speaker and he was asked the question: “How do you come up with your material?” Dave responded, “You got kids. You got a dog? You got a column.”  Since I was in awe of Dave Barry and his success, I immediately went home, popped out a few kids and got a dog and I have been successful ever since. Eventually, of course, the kids leave home and the dog dies, so it’s good to have a couple more tricks up your humor sleeve…

or at least get another dog.

— Tracy Beckerman

Tracy Beckerman, who’s on the faculty at the 2014 EBWW, writes the syndicated humor column and blog, “Lost in Suburbia,” which is carried by more than 400 newspapers in 25 states and on 250 websites to approximately 10 million readers. She’s also the author of Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir and Rebel Without a Minivan: Observations on Life in the ‘Burbs. In 2014, she was the global humor winner in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition sponsored by the Washington-Centerville Public Library in Centerville, Ohio.

Cry baby

Ronnie WalterWe are a family of criers. Weepers, sobbers, hanky twisting bawlers. We have sniffled through Mother’s Day TV commercials, teared up reading a particularly sentimental birthday card — and that’s in the greeting card section in Walgreens — and as tiny children, we wailed over the death of Bambi’s mom, but then, who wouldn’t?

It’s a given that you will hear the wail of Walter women crying at weddings — lots and lots of weddings — including our own, our friends, our relatives, virtual strangers and the random wedding we catch on television. We also cry at sad books, happy endings, at least one news story a day and pretty much everything in between. My truck-driving daddy choked up at every reading he did at his daughter’s weddings, at the sight of each new grandchild and of course, when Johnny Cash died.

One night my mother and two youngest sisters and I were wrapped in blankets in the den watching an old black-and-white movie. I wish I could remember what movie it was so that I could revisit it now that they have invented Netflix but I can’t, so I’ll never know what it was. I’m pretty sure Bette Davis or Claudette Colbert or maybe even Loretta Young was in it — but unless Jane or Sarah can conjure up the name, it will be lost for all eternity. We turned off the TV and sat in the darkness wiping our tears and blowing our noses in a solemn act of sympathy for old Bette or Claudette or Loretta as she slipped into the next world.

My dad, just returning from a couple of days on the road, popped his head around the doorway. Seeing his wife and three youngest daughters sobbing amidst a sea of used Kleenexes he immediately looked alarmed and said, “Oh my God! What happened?” “Oh, Dad! It was the saaaadest movie!” Sarah piped up from under her quilt. “It was a movie? I thought somebody died!” he replied. “Yeah Dad, she died in the end! It was sooooo saaad!” That was all he needed to go in search for a beer in the back of the fridge.

There are obvious circumstances where it makes sense to cry. When a tiny child sings “Silent Night” at the Christmas Eve service at church. At really truly sad things. During every single episode of Parenthood. And of course, when anyone else does.

But there are certain times when you shouldn’t cry. Like at job interviews. Or on your second date with someone. And if you must weep at work, for God’s sake, do it out in your car with the rest of us. Do not cry in the fitting room at Nordstrom no matter how rotund you might look in the 46th dress you’ve tried on for your old college roommate’s third wedding where your ex will probably show up with his much younger and hotter second wife.  That’s a situation that calls for getting drunk, not blubbering all over a frock you clearly cannot afford.

I’ve always admired the women who can shed a tear or two and, with a quick swipe of powder and lipstick, revert back to their formerly unchoked-up and composed self. I, on the other hand, look as though I’ve been a victim of a horrible and sudden onslaught of nuclear fallout. Swollen, reddened eyes, a nose that becomes both shiny and bright pink and lips enlarged to rival Goldie Hawn’s at the Oscars. And that’s just when I saw a particularly poignant Hallmark commercial.

There is not much I can do to quell the tide of tears once they make an appearance. I’ve tried thinking happy thoughts, doing the double fan effect with my hands and channeling my own inner unflappable Joan Crawford. No go. Once the tears start, I’m done. So if we ever get together for coffee? Or a movie? Or greeting card shopping? Please bring tissues. Your sleeve will thank you.

— Ronnie Walter

Ronnie Walter is an illustrator, writer and self-professed smart aleck. Over the past 20 years she has licensed her artwork and writing onto a wide variety of gift and stationery products and she’s the author of License to Draw — How I built a fun career in Art Licensing and you can too!  As Ronnie says, “nobody has more fun at work than me!” She is currently having a great time working on a collection of humor essays to be published in fall 2014. You can find her in the little house by the water she shares with her husband Jim and Larry (the best shelter dog ever) hard at work writing, drawing or blogging on her website,

Meet me in the bar

Janie EmausPOV. Tags. Hooks. Dark moments. Arcs.

At a conference I recently attended, these terms were tossed into the room, with everyone in attendance taking copious notes, asking questions and adding their opinions.  Now, if you’re not a writer, these expressions may mean nothing to you.

Your world may consist of such terms as: dibble stick, compost, annuals, stratification. That is, if you’re into landscaping and gardening.

Or perhaps you’re familiar with Brazilian Wax, French Tip and Egyptian Threading. And no, these applications do not apply to a foreign translator, but to your neighborhood cosmetologist.

Every profession and every hobby has its own lingo, complete with inside jokes and greetings that only those in the know will understand.

But there is one universal expression, one common phrase that everyone gets, no matter what type of conference they are attending. And that is “meet me in the bar.”

Let’s face it, a lot of great information is garnered in the workshops, taking notes and watching PowerPoint presentations. But some of the real knowledge and connections are made coming to and from the lecture halls, in the elevators and in the lobby.

How many of us have had that serendipitous moment when we find ourself in the elevator with the editor (editor interchangeable with person of power in your chosen field) you’ve been dying to meet forever? And in casual conversation she mentions she’s looking for a story about a middle-aged woman having an affair with the ghost of her first boyfriend. You just happen to have such a story. And the guts to tell her.

In that short ride to the lobby, you see yourself years from now on The New York Times’ bestseller list. Or walking the red carpet at a movie premier staring Diane Keaton.

Or perhaps the elevator dings before you open your mouth.

In any event, you see my point.

Don’t get me wrong. When I pay hard earned money to attend a conference, I want to come away feeling as if I’ve learned something new.

But I usually get just as much from the networking which takes place between the sipping of cocktails, the crunching on nuts and the swapping of business cards. I love all the schmoozing.

But that’s just my POV — point of view.

— Janie Emaus

Janie Emaus believes that when the world is falling apart, we’re just one laugh away from putting it together again. She is the author of the time travel romance, Before the After, and the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. She has an essay in the best-selling humor anthology, You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth and is proud have been named a 2013 BlogHer Voice of the Year. To read more of Janie’s humor, you can find her every week In The Powder Room. To learn more about her crazy life, visit her website

To Russia, with love

Connie BerryCan you have an infatuation with an entire country? Not its people really, because I have only a slight acquaintance with someone from this place. I mean the country itself.

Ever since I was in middle school I’ve had a love affair with Russia. I know. It’s not really popular right now. I was keeping this on the down low.

In high school I took Mrs. Berryman’s Russian history class, and that really cemented the relationship. She even brought borscht to school for us, and the sour cream for on top.

She was a sort of scatterbrained type, Mrs. Berryman. She had my older brother Steve in a different history class, and there’s a story about how he and his best friend Jack covered the outside of a quarter with heavy pencil and then convinced her to roll it over her face several times as some sort of experiment.

Anyway, I loved that class. It was full of seniors, and I was a junior so that made it even more attractive. And trust me, in the whole realm of my high school experience, I have to grab the good parts where I can.

I’ve always been smitten with the Nicholas and Alexandra love story. You know those royals don’t always marry for love, and it appears that those two did. Now, granted their marriage didn’t have the best outcome, but I’m sure there were some great times before the execution. Take one look at those Faberge eggs and tell me that isn’t romantic.

I love Peter and the Wolf. I love Tolstoy, Turgenev and Dostoyevsky. Don’t even get me started on “The Nutcracker.” And the onion domes, for God’s sake, some of them are covered in gold.

You have Catherine the Great, whose prowess with men I can’t even get into here. Then there’s the whole vodka thing. I just feel that with all these strengths, Russia is clearly a cultural powerhouse, at least by historical standards, not to mention my standards.

The Romanovs really are what binds me to this great love affair, though.

There’s the tragic love story and then all the beautiful kids they had together with those fancy names. Then there’s the hemophilia and the Rasputin saga. Then the subsequent intrigue and murder of Rasputin. Then the whole arrest and failure of Nicholas to really pull himself together causing the downfall of an entire nation. It’s like he wanted to make sure Alexandra got a decent foot rub before he read the paperwork on the Bolsheviks.

Then you have the execution of the entire family while the women were weighed down by the jewels sewn into their underwear. This story comes full circle when they discovered the remains of most of the family in the early 1990s, and the remains of the final two missing children were identified 2008. You know the sad part here is that I know all this by heart. Ask me a question about President Grant and I guarantee you I know next to nothing.

I plan to bring this whole love affair into play when I have grandchildren. I shall be called Babushka.

— Connie Berry

Connie Berry grew up reading and loving Erma Bombeck. She is former editor of The Catholic Sun newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and a new resident of Martha’s Vineyard where she is copy editor for the Vineyard Gazette. She lives on the island with her husband and youngest son. Her two older children read her blog,, from Syracuse.

33 going on 106

steven_eskewIʼve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. A stand-up comic. Durn tootinʼ. And, since I served as my high schoolʼs class clown, Iʼve already landed a booking. Iʼve agreed to perform a comic monologue for our 50-year class reunion. I canʼt wait. Since Iʼm a New Yorker and the high school I attended is in Grand Island, Neb., that performance can function as a sort of out-of-town tryout.

Can a baby boomer be a late bloomer in showbiz? Nothingʼs impossible. Iʼve set a goal: If I donʼt become a comic on the stand-up circuit by age 73, then Iʼll … Iʼll keep right on trying until I do, by gum. Why was I ever a businessman anyway? I should have entered showbiz years ago. Itʼs in my blood. Every corpuscle.

Inspired by my Auntie Chartreuse who launched her stand-up career when she was over 70, I already know all the hoops Iʼll have to hop. Of course, I must keep in mind that Auntie Chartreuse had a secret ingredient: talent. Iʼll have to work on that. A lot. Yep, talent could come in mighty handy indeed.

For those laughing “at” me and not “with” me, may I point out that, in our advancing years, baby boomers consistently epitomize an admirable energy and enthusiasm for undertaking new challenges? The only rocking chairs that interest most of us are the chairs we sit in at rock concerts.

Surprisingly, my children and grandchildren actually support my goal for a career in comedy. (But, of course, theyʼre in the will. So far.). Some detractors call my aspiration a pipe dream, but my grandma always said to dream big and to ignore dream stompers, adding: “Reaching the dream itself is great but reaching  for the dream is whatʼs really great.” Grandma began a successful nightclub business after she turned 65. After 20 years, she “retired” to new challenges. Like painting, writing poetry and learning to swim.

Age is indeed just a number and the Fountain of Youth lives within each of us. Human beings donʼt simply grow old; we become old by not growing. We must dare to develop and cultivate goals. Itʼs never too late to change the direction of oneʼs life. End of sermon.

With Grandma and Auntie Chartreuse as role models, Iʼve known for a long time that life doesnʼt stop when one turns 60. Quite the contrary. Itʼs a renaissance. Who the heck isn’t aging? Well, thereʼs that group pushing up the proverbial daisies. Theyʼre not aging a minute. I LOVE aging and when I look in the mirror, I absolutely do not see a 68-year-old man. (Actually, I see a 20-year-old Native American woman. But I digress.).

I must confess, though, that nowadays when I drop something on the floor and squat down to pick it up, I do look around while I’m down there to see if thereʼs anything else I can grab just to save myself another squat.

But nothing will stop me. I expect to revel in a career as a comic for decades. However, is stand-up the sum and substance of my bucket list? No way. Iʼve said repeatedly that the No. 1 item on my bucket list is to be shot to death by a jealous husband at age 106.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website,

The Dayton Riviera awaits —
Are you prepared?

anna_leflerGreetings, ebullient EBWW attendees!  Allow me to be the first to welcome you to this year’s event, which promises to be the most spectacular to date now that arrangements for the kick-off vegan barbeque have been finalized.

In anticipation of the workshop, you are no doubt hanging ten on an emotional tsunami of excitement, suspense, and — let’s face it — steel-cold fear. Well, fear not! I am here to help you tame your anxiety and maximize the benefit to you of this extraordinary weekend.

The key to being a suave, successful attendee is, of course, preparation.  (Or, to use the professional conference-organizer term of art, “Having one’s shizzle in a sack.”)  Sure, you’ve got your neighbor lined up to collect your incoming copies of Yacht Management Magazine and moisturize your Gila Monster in your absence, but here are a few more things you can do to ensure that your EBWW experience is as smooth and satisfying as the rich, dark Daytonian coffee grown on the verdant hillsides of the local Marriott.

Tips for Your Trip to the Dayton Riviera

Start Networking Now

For many of you, the EBWW is the first foray into putting yourselves and your work “out there,” — and that’s great! But why wait ’till the workshop to begin building your fan base? Limber up in advance by whipping out your conference ice-breakers on hometown baristas, appliance repairmen, and EMTs — not to mention your boss.  Here are some tried-and-true faves:

“Hey, losers, I’m getting a book deal next week.”

“You can’t tell by looking, but I’m hilarious.”

“Um, hello?!?  It’s called branding.”

Schedule a Physical

I can’t tell you how many people I saw back in 2012 who clearly had not prepared for the rigors of workshop life.  There they were, splayed on the Marriott lobby sofas, listlessly twirling their badge lanyards and repeating the phrase, “potato croquette.”  Or tipped semi-conscious in the back of the campus bus, hiccuping their elevator pitch while still wearing complimentary hotel slippers. Consult your physician before departure about your particular health risks as well as the necessary vaccinations required for entry to Ohio. And start eating a daily continental breakfast now, for God’s sakes. At least give your body a fighting chance.

Secure Your Club-Level Keycard Upon Check-In

The moment you receive your official workshop name badge, lean in and say with quiet confidence, “I’d also like my Club Level keycard, please.” This will initiate a lively exchange during which the workshop representative will give an Oscar-worthy performance as a hard-working volunteer who has no idea what you’re talking about. Co-workers will be consulted, supervisors will be called, and hotel management will be brought in under duress. Pay no mind to this hubbub, however:  it’s all part of the good-natured “game” played by conference cognoscenti. Show everyone within earshot that you are a Person In The Know by refusing to back down until you have achieved secret Club Level access.  In the end, well…I can’t go into detail here, but trust me:  it will be worth it.

Take Your Passport

Why?  Because a trip that involves a passport is much more important and generates loads more envy than a trip that does not involve one. Everyone knows this.

Pack Plenty of Five-Dollar Bills

Like a secret handshake, there are some strategies for opening professional doors that only true insiders know.  At the EBWW, yours pivots on the effective use of $5 bills. Yes, that’s the key to a successful workshop experience:  lots and lots of Lincolns (humorist street-talk for five-dollar bills). Let me be clear:  you can not overwork this tactic. In fact, the more $5 bills you hand out, the higher your fellow attendees — not to mention influential workshop presenters — will hold you in professional esteem. Like Phil Donahue’s new haircut? Lay some green on him with your compliments! Enjoy the dinnertime banter at Table #27? Share the Lincoln love! Pumped up by Pitchapalooza? Say it with me: “Fiver!” Even if you have to dip into next month’s rent to keep up with the others, you won’t regret this priceless investment in your career.

I hope these tips and tricks have soothed your pre-workshop anxiety while whipping you into a pleasantly flocculent froth of excitement. In closing, have a safe journey to Dayton, don’t forget your matador costume (did I not mention that?) and I’ll see you on the Club Level!

— Anna Lefler

Anna Lefler, part of the faculty at the 2014 EBWW, is a writer, comedian and author of The Chicktionary: From A-Line to Z-Snap, The Words Every Woman Should Know. She is a staff comedy writer and performer on the Nickelodeon/NickMom TV show Parental Discretion with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, where she also serves as a recurring on-camera guest. Her  work has appeared on several sites including Salon, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Big Jewel, and she has been a guest on numerous television and radio talk shows across the country. Her standup comedy has been seen in Los Angeles clubs, including the Hollywood Improv and the Comedy Store.

Embracing the power of bare arms

Sharon ShortA few days ago, I went shopping for the just-right dress for an upcoming important occasion — our first-born’s college graduation. I quickly found the just-right dress, nice but not too dressy for a crowded, sweaty sports arena on a late-spring afternoon.

Then I spotted another dress.

It was pale blue. Fitted bodice. Peplum waist. A-line skirt. Not the usual, loose-fitting style I go for, but so, so pretty.

It wasn’t quite right for wearing to graduation. I didn’t need a second dress.

On the other hand… both dresses were on sale. I even had a 50 percent off coupon. More importantly, I felt a sudden longing to try on something a little different, in both hue and style, from what I usually wear.

So I tried it on. The blue brought out the sparkle in my blue-green eyes. And it fit like a dream. I even thought, I look HOT in this dress. And I never think that about myself.

But then, as I stared in the mirror, a horrid feeling came over me. Not about budgets or the foolishness of buying a dress for an as-yet-to-be-determined event. But about the fact that the dress was also… sleeveless.

I have decent enough arms. I mean, they’re attached, and they function, and my skin is smooth, but I’ll admit it, I’m a bit chubby. Which means my arms are a bit chubby. Not particularly muscular.

I started to hang the dress back on the rack with its mates, but it was so pretty, that I just… couldn’t. I toted it with me to the register. Maybe, I thought, if the coupon covers both dresses…

It did, but I was still wavering. “Sorry,” I said to the check-out clerk — a slender, beautiful 60-something woman with a terrific smile. “I’m still trying to decide. I don’t really have an occasion in mind for this dress.”

“I do,” she blurted. “I’ve been staring at this dress for days. It’s so pretty! And I have a wedding to attend in a few weeks.”

Now, most women hate the idea of showing up at an event only to discover another woman is there in the exact same dress. (Well, not the exactly exact same. That could be awkward. And crowded. But you know what I mean.)

I didn’t know the clerk. There are no wedding invites on my social calendar. So the likelihood of us showing up at the same event at all, what’s more wearing matching blue dresses, is pretty slim. Nevertheless, I was about to put the dress back after all — and trying to think of a non-awkward explanation — when she leaned forward and blurted again, “But I can’t wear it. Because of my arms.”

She looked so sad, so shamed. So I did some blurting of my own. “What’s wrong with your arms?”

Her eyes widened. “They’re… they’re flabby. They look… old.”

Now, there was something about the notion of this beautiful woman, who’d lived long enough to no doubt experience and survive and grow from life, feeling so ashamed about her body — just as I had moments before with my worries about chubby arms — that incensed me. I wasn’t angry at her. I was angry for her. I was angry at the cultural voices that whisper in the backs of the minds of middle-aged and older and chubby and not quite perfect women that only young and beautiful counts. Only the young and beautiful and — oh, God, please, the smooth and firm and slender, too! — need feel comfortable (so whisper those voices in slithery, demeaning tones) in lovely arm-baring dresses, no matter that women of all shapes and sizes and ages might be and even feel beautiful in such clothing, if only we could ignore those silly voices.

Well, I thought, screw that.

So I said, “My arms are chubby.” I pushed the dress toward her, determined to buy it. “But I’m wearing it. Proudly. And you should too. Shouldn’t we get to wear what we want sometimes, without worrying about what other people think, without hiding ourselves because, hey, we’ve lived awhile, and maybe it shows here and there?  You’ve probably survived a thing or two, just like I have. That merits an occasional reward, right?”

Her eyes softened she stared at the dress. She said, “I’ve survived cancer. Almost a year now.”

I couldn’t respond right away. Finally, though, I said quietly, “Congratulations. You will look beautiful in the dress. Your arms will look just fine. I hope you get the dress.”

She nodded, smiled, and said, “I think I will.”

I don’t know if she did or not. But I hope so. What’s more, I hope that I’ll wear mine to some future occasion, and this woman will be there, too, in her copy of the blue dress. I hope we recognize one another, and that we laugh, two women happy to see each other wearing matching sleeveless dresses. And I hope we hug one another with our bare, beautiful, powerful arms.

— Sharon Short

Sharon Short writes the weekly “Literary Life” column in the Dayton Daily News. She is the director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and an accomplished writer. She has published two mystery series, a book of columns and the recent novel, My One Square Inch of Alaska. In 2014, she served as a finalist judge for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. Share your own “power of bare arms” stories and photos on this special Facebook page. Share on Twitter at #powerofbarearms.

Hair gone wild

Stacey Gustafson(This story appears in Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Woman, which was released in October 2012.)

Everything I needed to know about hair I learned from watching Charlie’s Angels. They say that your favorite hairstyle travels back to the time when you thought you looked your best. For me that was the 1970s, and my hairstyle of choice was called the Farrah, after the late actress Farrah Fawcett.

The Farrah was a style I could figure out. Cool, feathered, moussed a mile high, curled up tight with an iron. I methodically worked on it each morning before high school, loading on gel, wax and mousse. I finalized the ‘do with half a can of Aqua Net Hair Spray, thick and sticky. And I added a fake tan, orange streaks and all. Viola, ready for school. The big hair look — no one could do it better than me.

But today — 40 years later — my Farrah style was a bit more lax. But it is still there. As I was getting ready for date night with my husband, my daughter approached me in the bathroom.

“Mom, your hair looks so 1970s. Want some help?” she asked.

“I guess.”

After having two children and lugging them around to 2,890 baseball games and over 10,000 basketball practices for the last 17 years, I admit I’ve become a little lazy. I consider it fancy to put my hair in a ponytail and dab on lip-gloss. And who had time for a blow-dryer?

My daughter combed, twisted, teased and sprayed my hair. After 30 minutes grooming me, she turned me around to gaze at her creation. I was at a loss for words. Lady Gaga in her finest stared back at me, but without a long feather and a tiny black hat. Add a meat dress and I would be unforgettable.

“I think I can handle it from here. Thanks,” I said, as she walked out of the room.

I needed to get current and break from my old ways. I need age-appropriate hair, I thought. With that, I scheduled an appointment to update my look.

“What can we do for you today?” the gal at the salon asked as she pulled back my hoodie and yanked out the elastic band on my ponytail.

“I need an update. Surprise me.”

“But what do you usually do?” she asked as she massaged my head with aromatic oils.

Oh, we don’t want to go there. I have been through more styles than Imelda Marcos has shoes. Remember the shag in the mid 1970s made famous by David Cassidy and Rod Stewart? Shorter at the top, downward layers in the front. Blow-dry upside down after loading on tons of styling gels, fluffy and full.

Or what about the perm? In the 1980s, I was treated to a home perm kit, courtesy of my best friends. Major frizz. Topped it off with an application of Sun In. Teased the bangs out, piled high with a scrunchie. I looked just like a poodle. Gob on gaudy jewelry to complete the ensemble. My friends and I looked identical.

Thankfully I never attempted the Dorothy Hamill or the female mullet.

My stylist tapped me on the shoulder to shake me out of my daze in order to witness her magic as she transformed my locks. For an hour, she snipped and trimmed, paying careful attention to my face, hair texture and lifestyle. She did an awesome job fixing my hair, smooth side swept bangs and straight, glossy locks in the back. A natural look, I thought when I glanced at myself in the mirror. I liked what I saw.

“Thanks, I love it,” I said with a hug.

I purchased all the hair products she recommended. “I can do this,” I said to myself. Once at home, I darted into the bathroom to check it out in my own mirror.

I admired the reflection staring back at me. But what if I just brushed a little here? Or curled a tiny bit there? Within moments, my hair was fluffed, poofed and once again sprayed immobile. Aw, much better.

“Good morning, Charlie! I’m back. Miss me?”

— Stacey Gustafson

Stacey Gustafson is a freelance writer, humor columnist, artist, blogger and stay-at-home mother. Her blog “Are You Kidding Me?” is based on her suburban family and everyday life. Her short stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and Not Your Mother’s Books.  Her work appears in Midlife Boulevard, ZestNow, Pleasanton Patch, corporate newsletters and even a commencement speech. She lives in California with her husband and two teenagers who provide an endless supply of inspiration. She writes about parenting and daily frustrations like her dislike of laundry, the DMV and being middle-aged. Visit her blog,, and Twitter @mepaint.

Reflections of Erma