The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

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Inspired by Erma

Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop badge(Editor’s Note: When we asked for personal stories about how the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop inspired writers to write — anything from books to blogs — the response was overwhelming. If you missed the opportunity and would like to share your story, send a short note to erma@udayton.edu for a follow-up story. )

One writer dubs the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop the “Woodstock of Humor.” Another calls it a “utopia” for writers — one “that only appears every other year, out of the mist, on the edge of the Great Miami River in Dayton, Ohio (like Brigadoon).”

Many say it’s life changing. Empowering. And, yes, magical.

When we asked for personal stories from writers, they told us they gained the confidence, writing know-how and connections to publish books, write essays for The New York Times and other national outlets, perform stand-up comedy, secure speaking engagements and submit work for anthologies.

“EBWW has been a nonstop chain reaction of success stories for me,” says Bonnie Jean Feldkamp, a freelance writer from Louisville, Kentucky, who credits keynoter and faculty member Gina Barreca for giving her valuable feedback on her essay about her blended family. It later appeared in The New York Times‘ “Motherlode” section.Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Attendee and fellow writer Amy Sherman hired Feldkamp to help her start her Kranky Kitty website and develop a social media strategy. And other writers, Lisa Smith Molinari and Suzette Martinez Standring, introduced her to the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, where she now serves on its board as director of media.

In 2014, an attendee came up to Rosalie Bernard in a University of Dayton hallway after she “totally bombed” her Pitchapalooza book pitch and said, “Hey, I would buy it!” Bernard wanted to hug her. “I kept thinking, ‘If she would, others Rosalie Bernardwill.'” Two years later, she published Mimi and the Ghost Crab Dance, which is now in its second printing, and she’s writing the second book in the trilogy.

“And all this was inspired by Team Erma,” she says.

Allia Zobel NolanAllia Zobel Nolan, a former senior editor at Reader’s Digest who’s written close to 200 books, traveled from Norwalk, Connecticut, to attend her first workshop this spring — with some hesitation. “What could a writers’ conference teach a publishing veteran of 15 years, a been-there-done-that woman on the lookout for innovative, time-saving, smarter ways of doing things while staying relevant in an ever-changing literary world?” she asked herself.

Plenty.

“I learned so much, I could hardly internalize it all — from social media to branding, from the importance of garnering a loyal ‘tribe’ of fans and friends to getting a lousy first draft of your novel done and dusted, not to mention a way into The Huffington Post. (After trying for months to no avail, I’m now a blogger on the site, thanks to the kindness of a most helpful Erma attendee who recommended me),” she says.

“Then there are the people — other writers, authors, humorists — who understand what it’s like writing (sitting down at your desk and opening up a vein), who are not afraid to share their triumphs and failures, and who are more encouraging than your mom coaxing you into the world at birth.”

Stacey GustafsonStacey Gustafson, an author and blogger from Pleasanton, California, caught “the stand-up comedy bug” after learning techniques from comedy pro Leighann Lord and performing at the closing night of the 2014 workshop. Since then, she won a stand-up comedy award, performed at a middle school fundraiser, wrote a feature story for Toastmaster Magazine and landed two paid stand-up gigs.

“The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop has made a huge difference in my writing and confidence,” she says. “Through this process, I discovered that stand-up comedy is way harder than writing humor. When you write a story, you’re in the comfort of your own home, pecking away at the keyboard with the ability to rewrite and massage a story at your leisure. The same cannot be said for stand-up.

“In stand-up, every word must be perfect. Gestures, pauses, eye contact, timing and facial expressions are essential for success plus the ability to gauge an audience reaction. Don’t forget body movement, posture and memorization. …My confidence has soared, and it all started at the 2014 workshop.”Ginger Lumpkin

After Ginger Lumpkin, a columnist from Thorntown, Indiana, heard comic, author and coach Judy Carter give an hilarious keynote talk at the 2014 workshop, she began thinking about what it would take to launch a public speaking career. After this year’s workshop, she registered for Carter’s online class and began working with her on developing and perfecting a motivational talk.

“I am presenting it four times at a corporate training conference, and two other businesses, so far, have expressed interest,” she said. “Judy is phenomenal. EBWW is amazing.”

Mindy Wells Hoffbauer, a writer from Springboro, Ohio, credits the “incredible networking opportunities” at the workshop for helping her land a job in social media marketing for W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, who co-wrote the screenplay for A Dog’s Purpose, available in movie theatres nationwide, starting in January.Mindy Wells Hoffbauer

“I’ve had the pleasure of editing books for Nancy Berk and Barb Best and am now having the time of my life working as a social media director,” she says. “And none of this would have happened without Erma.”

Kim EllerKim Reynolds, of Commerce Twp., Michigan, says the workshop gave her a big dose of “You can do it.”

“I made so many new friends and learned so much about writing that it almost paralyzed me,” says Reynolds, who pens a humorous blog, Kim’s Crazy Life, and writes for the Oakland Press.

At the 2016 workshop, Janet Coburn, a freelance writer and blogger from Beavercreek, Ohio, with bipolar disorder, “learned a thing or two about writing — how to write a better query letter, how to improve my blogs, when to consider self-publishing” — but mostly she learned to pace herself by finding quiet spaces and taking breaks.Janet Coburn

“Am I glad I went? Yes. The experience was good for me in more ways than one. Paying attention to my own limits and not trying to live up to artificial expectations made for a good — and survivable — learning experience.”

Kathy TullyAfter registering for the 2016 workshop, Kathy Shiels Tully, a regular contributor to the Boston Globe and magazines, felt so inspired about her writing life that she sent an essay for inclusion in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s latest book, The Power of Gratitude. It was accepted.

“I’ve sent a few stories in to Chicken Soup and have to say there’s something exciting knowing your story was picked out of thousands,” she says.

After the spring workshop, Helen Chibnik, a lifestyle writer and blogger from Middletown, New Jersey, found the inspiration to write a novel — and more.Helen Chibnik

“You would think that the workshop content would be the best part, but it wasn’t,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong. The content was worth five times the price. It was wonderful, and I still use the timer Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney gave us. (And) Anna Lefler’s session inspired me to work on a novel, to write more and care less about what other people might think.

“But, for me, that workshop provided a community of people who think like me, who understand what it means to be a mom, a professional, a daughter, lose a loved one, and to fail and to still find something to smile about. People who feed on humor for therapy, even for survival sometimes. I don’t think there is another collection of smarter, happier and more insightful people than the Erma attendees.”

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founding director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she also serves as executive director of strategic communications.

Hair drama

 

Hillary IbarraI think my bathroom mirrors have learned to dissemble.

My own reflection stares out at me, seven times out of 10, with bright eyes, a dewy (otherwise known as oily) complexion and lustrous (also known as oily) hair.

Mysteriously, the minute I sit in a salon chair, I am instantly horrified by the lackluster, frizzy hair that frames my wrinkled, squinty eyes and pockmarked face. The shock is akin to seeing yourself in a swimsuit beneath florescent lights in a public dressing room as opposed to the dim, gentle lighting of your own bedroom hundreds of miles from a beach.

Why can’t salon mirrors be like those at the plush lingerie store? Those reflective surfaces are so savvy in their mendacity that we come out honestly believing we look good in a G-string and teddy with fewer threads than a paper napkin. Undoubtedly, they have some kind of special technology that, while reflecting our faces, swaps our bodies out with an idealized, computer-generated version of our 20-year-old selves.

All hairdressers’ studios, on the other hand, seem to have mirrors that make our crowning glory look like it’s in desperate need of chopping above the ears, a dye job defying all things natural or a partial shave. That’s how they rake in the money and convince women to do outrageous things to their heads that cause their husbands to gnash their teeth and their friends to tell bald-faced lies entailing the extravagant use of adjectives such as “cute,” “trendy” and “bold.”

I have yet to cave in, get a platinum dye job and razor my locks to within an inch of their life, but, believe me, I’ve thought about it!

My courage to storm ahead in this life with only my God-given body and color survived a stylist who made me cry by telling me very rudely that I could not pull off bangs in my wildest dreams because I had neither the high forehead nor the full hair for it. It survived an anniversary date with my husband when I asked another hairdresser for big, retro waves, and she — defeated in her valiant efforts by my fine, silky locks — made up an excuse to give me a discount and sent me out the door with hair that resembled no-boil lasagna noodles.

I’ve had my moments at home, too. Every time I try to curl my hair, for instance, I look more and more like Medusa’s offspring in both strand texture and facial expression with each twist of the iron. And a blowout? Forget about it! When an acquaintance told me that her enviable blowout would sadly fall flat by the next day, I had to resist the urge to throw a bucket of water on her head! I could do a handstand for three hours in a gallon of hot volumizing mousse, and the minute I righted myself, my hair would flatten against my scalp. Even the professionals with their expensive tools and products can’t give me a lift.

One particularly catastrophic Sunday I stormed through my house yelling, “Stop lying to me!” at every member of my family who dared to tell me that my hot mess of a curl job looked good. After an hour spent trying to shape my hair with unrelenting, brutal heat, I at least wanted the satisfaction of hearing my family confess that it looked atrocious. Is there any better way to prepare yourself for church on a Sunday morning, after all, than to point a finger by turns at each of your loved ones, exclaiming, “You’re a liar! And you! And you!,”merely because they tried to be kind?

Really, what is it with us women and our hair?

I heard a story about two little girls recently, one with tight, curly hair and the other with stick-straight tresses. They were the best of friends but each wished for what the other had. The curly-haired girl very earnestly said to her friend one day, “When we get to college, I can curl your hair and you can straighten mine.”

I suppose that about sums it up, and that is why — no matter what the world comes to — the hair salon and product businesses will never hurt for money from desperate women.

Wait. Did I say desperate? I meant adventurous. And super trendy.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org and was recently published at Hahas for Hoohas. She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Obituary clippings in birthday cards

Laura BeckerEvery year was the same.

A check for $7.50 together with black-and-white photos of dead people I didn’t know. And as I cracked open the glitter-coated card they would flutter away, helicoptering off in an attempt to escape the glad tidings of “Happy Birthday Granddaughter” emblazoned across the cover of their celebratory sarcophagus.

We moved the 178 miles, from Missouri to Kansas, shortly after I turned five, but far before FaceTime or fax machines. So even though it was only one state over, it was worlds away. And when that first envelope arrived, I was absolutely elated.

Like most kindergarteners, “departed” and “deceased” were not on my list of sight words as my sixth birthday rolled around. So when I first found them, I had no idea what they were. Or who they were, these peaceful, pleasant-faced people on the backsides of coupons and classifieds. Each carefully clipped and inscribed with ballpoint annotations penned in their margins.

The following year, “obituary” flowed phonetically from my first-grade lips, to my parents’ utter shock as I beamed with pride at my new ability to sound out the unusually long word found in the fold of my festive fiberboard regards. I remember that small scrap of newsprint being suddenly whisked away as the card was propped open with the others atop our console TV to commemorate the occasion.

But by my eighth year, my reading skills and vocabulary had increased. Now I got the full picture of the portraits before me. A confusing and ominous overture included with my well wishes. And my father had reached his limit.

I remember it was late, because long distance calls were only conducted after a certain hour. I took the phone and thanked my grandparents for their thoughtfulness then handed it to my dad, who took it in a heated state as I headed halfway to my room. I watched around the kitchen corner as the phone cord coiled and extended, coiled and extended, coiled and extended in a hypnotic rhythm with every pacing step he took. And although the clippings came from a place of trying to keep him connected to where he came from, he wanted my grandmother to know that my birthday card was neither the time nor place. Nor was it my “time nor place” as I was quickly discovered and escorted to my room.

My mother sat me down with stationary and a pair of scissors the next day. Those old enough to read were now old enough to write and select additional material to enclose. You see, something had transpired over the course of the unheard portion of the phone conversation that led my parents to not only see my grandparents’ intentions of keeping us connected to where we came from, but to see our need to attempt to connect my grandparents to where we currently were. Way before wireless, it seems for my grandparents, enclosing a little clipping about what we were up to around town, where we went or even what we had for school lunch, printed out in black and white, somehow made it more real. A third-person point of view reporting on the new land that we lived in — and were most likely never moving back from.

And the obituary clippings in my birthday cards? They stopped, but not the $7.50. That amount will always remain a mystery. But the sentiment behind it will not.

— Laura Becker

Laura Becker is an essayist who currently resides in Redondo Beach with her screenwriting partner/husband. Born in Missouri. Raised in Kansas. Adolescence/young adulthood in Iowa, which, according to Walter Neft in Double Indemnity, makes her a native Californian. She writes, quips, muses and laughs about almost anything…almost.

My guilty one-night stand with a mini van

Chelsea FlaggI know people love their minivans.

I hear about it all the time — from the mom of a trillion kids who has an after-school carpool shift to the adorable family singing about their swagger wagon in those catchy commercials.

I know how convenient and easy they make your life. I mean, they have a freaking vacuum built into them. Heaven, here I come!

Tired of (thinking about) leaving “sorry” notes every time my kids dinged the car doors into somebody else’s car, I timidly said to my husband one night, “I think I’m ready for a minivan.”

I expected him to freak out and talk me out of it on the spot, but much to my chagrin, he nodded and agreed that our decision to have that third child forced us into the “not-cool-car club.”

The next morning, I went about life as usual until I got a call from my husband. “I just signed all the paperwork for you to pick up your new car tomorrow. It’ll be a straight up exchange for our car, just bring the keys!” My jaw dropped. I was the proud owner of a new caaaaar!!! (said in a Tv-show-type of voice)

My kids were thrilled to pieces about the new family member. They pored over pictures of it online, and I even overheard my oldest daughter telling her friend that “minivans are soooo cool. They’re like real vans, only smaller.”

But, even with all the buzz, I was mortified. I didn’t really want a minivan, did I? I mean, sure, that built in vacuum…(drooling). Alright, twist my arm. I can totally handle it. I don’t care what I drive anyway; that’s never been my thing. I won’t be embarrassed. In fact, I’ll rock my swagger wagon like nobody has ever seen!

But, even after my little pep talk, I felt really nervous driving into the parking lot full of mom-mobiles. I suddenly loved my car for everything it was (even though I’m known to complain about it quite regularly). Why was I giving up a good thing for a bubble on wheels?

My fingers involuntarily gripped the key as I tried to hand it over to the sales guy. I needed an out. I had to stall for time until I thought of an out!

“Can I take it for a test drive first?” I shyly asked, as if nobody ever wanted to test drive a car before. The salesperson hopped into shotgun and we drove around the neighborhood, getting lost only once, which is a huge success for me. The sales guy chatted about his kids and something about Disneyland or whatever. I wasn’t listening. I was FREAKING OUT.

And then, it came to me. My garage! This dumb minivan may not fit in my garage! Because my garage is similar to the bat cave. It’s in a tiny alley, and you have to make like a 20-point star turn just to get a bike into it, let alone a car.

“So…here’s the thing,” I said confidently, now that I knew my out. “This monstrosity might not fit into my garage. I need to know that if I take it off the lot and it doesn’t fit, I can bring it back no questions asked and get my old car back.”

He raised his eyebrow at me — as most people do when they try to imagine a garage that is built to fend off cars instead of attract them. Maybe also because most people don’t buy a car first and then say it might not work out. “Uh…sure, no problem.”

“GREAT!” My buttcheeks released for the first time that day. “I need to run quick to the grocery store, and then I’ll call you when I get home to let you know the verdict.”

“Perfect! I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it once you see how well it does on a grocery trip.”

I drove the minivan off the lot, shielding my face in case anyone I knew happened to be driving next to me. I had no idea how self conscious I could feel in a vehicle. I wasn’t myself. I felt like I could drive like a total crazy woman and nobody would even bat an eye because, hey,  she’s in a minivan.

I dug through my purse to find my darkest sunglasses and put my hair up in a way I don’t normally wear it — JUST TO GET THROUGH THE GROCERY STORE PARKING LOT WITHOUT BEING NOTICED. Celebrities everywhere, I felt your pain that afternoon.

I did my shopping and looked around before darting back to the car as inconspicuously as possible. Then, I headed home praying that this new car wouldn’t fit in my garage.

After a good 10 minutes of trying to maneuver that thing, I was relieved to find that I couldn’t do it. WHEW! I called my husband, who was out of town and waiting at the airport to fly home. “See if they’ll let you keep it overnight,” he said. “I’ll try to fit it into the garage in the morning.”

To which I responded an over-eager “NO, that’s okay. I’m just going to return it now.”

I took it back and, much to the sales guy’s dismay, asked for my old car back. Sometimes all it takes is losing something for a minute to appreciate it even more. A rainbow framed my car, and I swear it purred “hello” to me as I got in it to drive home. “I’m sorry, car. I’ll never abandon you again,” I hugged the steering wheel and cried with joy.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, ran up to her bedroom and cried for a solid hour when I broke the news to her that we were not the owners of a new van, only smaller.

— Chelsea Flagg

Chelsea Flagg is a comedic writer and stay-at-home mother to her three practically perfect daughters. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and kids. She published her first book, I’d Rather Wear Pajamas, last fall and has been featured on many different sites. But you can find her hanging out here most often.

Hearing aids and herpes

Anne BardsleyToday I asked my husband if he wanted a piece of Hershey’s. He looked shocked. “Hell no! When and where did you get herpes?” he yelled.

I said, “Hershey’s, the chocolate bar, not herpes!” I plugged his hearing aids in his ears a bid forcefully, I admit.

I never thought I would like my husband’s hearing aids. I thought they were for old people. I wasn’t a fan of wires sticking out of people’s ears. Call me vain if you like. When he had his hearing tested a few years ago, I was invited into the testing room. “I want you to see that your husband really can’t hear. He’s not trying to annoy you.” Sure enough, his hearing in one ear was at 60 percent. His other ear was less, but that is the ear that faces me if he’s driving the car. We could have normal conversations in the car, but not in the house.

Once I told him I was going to take a nap. He left the room and came back with bug spray. “Where are they?” he asked holding the can in spray position.

“The gnats!” he barked. “You said you saw gnats. I’ll spray them while you nap.”

My personal favorite is when I mentioned seductively (in my mind) that we should sneak away for a romp. He smiled and said, “I’ll go sharpen my skates.”

He heard rink, not romp. How’s that for a mood killer? He left to go sharpen his blades.

Another time I asked for a glass of water. He brought me the remote. There are a few things that annoy the hell out of him. My favorite heels apparently sound like a nail gun on our tile floors. I have to hide them in my closet. I know he’ll throw them out.

Now I love those hearing aids. They are more advanced and you can barely see them. If I whisper in the bad ear, he thinks I’m trying to suck his brains out.

If I whisper in his good ear, he takes me to the skating rink.

I love this man!

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Florida, 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.

Hone your craft

Human Race Theatre CompanyIn conjunction with Ohio Playwrights Circle, The Human Race Theatre Company will offer a series of creative writing seminars at the Loft Theatre in Dayton, Ohio.

At the three-hour Saturday sessions, professional writers will talk about their craft and provide insight into their processes. Traditionally, The Race’s writing classes have been focused on the craft of writing for the theatre. “This year, we are focusing on more universal themes to serve writers from a variety of forms, including fiction, film and television, documentary, as well as playwriting,” said Kevin Moore, president and artistic director of Human Race.

Cost is $65 per seminar and registration can be made online at www.ticketcenterstage.com or by calling 937-228-3630. Each session runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Here’s the schedule:

Oct. 1: Building Character with Michael Slade, a New York City-based, award-winning playwright, librettist, Emmy-nominated television writer, screenwriter and children’s author.

Nov. 12: Understanding the Deeper Layers of Your Story with Michael M. London, director of the Ohio Playwrights Circle, novelist and playwright.

Feb. 4: Telling Their Story with Eric Ulloa, playwright of the upcoming Human Race world premiere of 26 Pebbles and librettist of the musicals Molly Sweeney and Passing Through, both currently in development for production. He is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Playbill.

All seminars will be held at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., in downtown Dayton.

Finding your people

Helen Chibnik(Editor’s Note: Helen Chibnik responded to a call for observations from writers about how the EBWW changed their writing lives. Here’s her response, followed by her blog: “I cannot tell you how much I got from that workshop. You would think that the workshop content would be the best part but it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the content was worth five times the price, it was wonderful and I still use the timer that Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney gave us. I use it everyday. It reminds me of so much I loved about the pair of them. Anna Lefler’s session inspired me to work on a novel, to write more and care less about what other people might think. But, for me, that workshop provided a community of people who think like me, who understand what it means to be a mom, a professional, a daughter, lose a loved one, and to fail and to still find something to smile about. People who feed on humor for therapy, even for survival sometimes. I don’t think there is a another collection of smarter, happier and more insightful people than the Erma attendees.”)

I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop last April and responded to a request for comments on successes attendees have had since that time.

If you know this particular group of people, you would know that successes are measured in many ways. “I finally found the courage to ask for what I want” or “I finished and published my novel” are both acceptable answers. I thought long and hard about my own answer to this call for success stories because I did not finish a novel, nor did I find the courage to speak up.

I found my people.

Every meeting, everyday, every meal, snack, session and after-hours moments led me to the most interesting, loving and funny people you could imagine — and not always in the knee-slapping belly-laughing kind of way.

I sat next to a woman who lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide. She shared her story with me, how she came to terms and now was looking to find her “funny” again.  It’s as if  “funny” was a drug. Of course, there were outlandishly funny people there, including stand-up comics, humor bloggers, even TV personalities known for their funny side.  And there was no shortage of fiction and non-fiction writers of satire.  The most hilarious new greeting came from a  person who told me, “I don’t even know why I’m here! I’m not even a writer!” She was looking for something new.

Some of us find our people at Wal-Mart, some at Armani.

It’s important to find your people, no matter what age you are. I first found my people in college, where I learned how to party and realized the value of hard work. I found my people in my first “real job” where all of us post grads suffered under the hands of a boss who made Michael Scott (from The Office) seem average. I found my people when my twins were born, and a bunch of the moms of twins joined together in joy and misery. I found my people at Erma.

From every stage of my life I’ve found my people because I go out and be where we can find each other. I’m not always looking for them, I  don’t know who they are, what they look like or when they will show up. I know it when they come, however, because they fill up a space I didn’t know was open, and it just feels right.

The best piece of relationship advice I ever got was from a friend, a young professional version of myself. I will never forget what she said while I was despairing about meeting that someone. “Just do what you like to do,” she said. “You’ll find like-minded people who like to do what you like to do, and then you can do that together.” In fairness, my mother probably said that to me many times, but, let’s face it, a mom’s advice is usually only good in hindsight.

I spoke to my friend, the advice-giver, recently and even though it had been years since we last spoke, it was as if it was just the other day that we parted.

Once you find even one of your people, they will always be with you — despite distance and time. They will never leave. They’re your people after all, and you are theirs.

— Helen Chibnik

Helen Chibnik is a writer and part-time music teacher who lives in New Jersey with her husband and teenage daughters. Her work can be found in Working Mother Magazine, Your Teen for Parents and Family Fun.  Follow her blog, Instagram and Twitter as Helensgoodideas.

My love/hate relationship
with the county fair

laura-hanby-hudgensAnyone even remotely familiar with small towns knows that that the biggest event of the year (next to Friday Night Football) is the County Fair. For one week, normally sensible parents forego bedtimes, healthy eating, proper hygiene and a whole lot of money in favor of the carnival life. Every year I look forward to the fair. And every year I dread it.

I have a love/hate relationship with the County Fair.

The Rides

There is so much to hate about fair rides. For starters, I question their safely. Three-story mechanisms that whirl, twist, spin and gyrate while simultaneously defying gravity are assembled and disassembled every week like a fleet of Lego ships. This is terrifying. So, I think I’ll strap my kid on board and watch him rotate at g-force speed until he’s on the verge of vomiting. Here’s my 25 bucks for an armband so we can do this over and over. Now, that’s good parenting.

On the other hand, it is the terrifyingness of fair rides that makes me happy to let my kids ride them. It is a good and healthy thing for children to push the limits of their comfort from time to time. It’s empowering to do something scary. So go, Little Man, ride The Zipper and Power Surge and the Ferris Wheel (okay, maybe the Ferris Wheel is only scary for me). Be brave. Be fearless. Just please don’t vomit in the car on the way home.

The Filth

The County Fair is disgusting. My apologies for my continual references to vomit, but it’s a horrifying fact of fairs. People vomit on those rides. Best case scenario, the mess is contained on the ride. Worst case scenario… ya know, let’s not even go there. But it can be bad, like the opening scene from Pitch Perfect bad.

Not only that, but after leaving the fair, there is a layer of dust on everything — our bodies, our clothes, our cars, I think even our teeth. Of course. there are the flies, too. The fair is like Club Med for flies. I guess this is because of the 24-hour buffet of discarded fried pies and animal poop that is available to them. These flies are annoying mainly because after their horse poop fly orgies, they enjoy alighting upon food and people.

And yet, maybe it’s the farm girl in me, but one of the things I love about the fair is the smell of fresh manure. As far as filth goes, that’s about the only perk, but I do dearly love it. Horse manure mingled with the scent of hay and the faint smell of funnel cakes cooking in the distance. It almost makes the dust worth it. Almost.

The Food

Speaking of funnel cakes, I love fair food. Where else can one or would one ever eat a footlong corn dog with a side of cotton candy and a snow cone chaser? The fair is a veritable smorgasbord of all things fried, processed and sticky.

Which is why I also hate fair food. The food at the fair is basically poison, deep fried and/or on a stick. I feel horrible after eating it. My kids feel horrible after eating it. And it most definitely does not mix well with those whirling, spinning rides I mentioned earlier.

The Exhibits

Not being much of a rides person myself, I prefer to spend my time wandering through the exhibits. It’s enough to restore one’s faith in this great nation and in the next generation. There are rows upon rows of homemade jellies, canned green beans and homemade pies. There are handmade quilts, handcrafted bird houses, homegrown cucumbers, corn, tomatoes and pumpkins the size of a VW. This year someone even entered a pineapple she had grown in her living room using a solution of tap water and Epsom salt. The exhibits at the fair are a testament to American talent, ingenuity and craftsmanship.

I, on the other hand, once paid someone to sew a button on my husband’s shirt. This is why I also hate the fair exhibits. After walking through the exhibit hall, I am faced, once again, with the knowledge that I lack any sort of crafty, artistic or homesteading skills. This is a tough realization for anyone who grew up on Little House On the Prairie and who spent her childhood fancying herself a modern-day Laura Ingalls.

In fact, I have spent much of my adulthood comparing myself to Ma. Would Ma have let Laura and Mary watch this much TV? Would Ma ever stoop to store-bought Halloween costumes? Would Ma use a mix to make her margaritas? I can tell you one thing. Ma would darn sure never have eaten a footlong corn dog.

I guess I am glad the fair is only one week out of the year. On one hand, I wish my kids could have that kind of fun more often. On the other other hand, the fair is really gross and expensive. But it’s also wholesome and charming. See what I mean about the love/hate thing? Oh well, I can’t make the fair come around any sooner, but at least I have a whole year to perfect my canning skills.

— Laura Hanby Hudgen

Laura Hanby Hudgen’s work as appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Grown and Flown, Scary Mommy, Parent.co, and elsewhere.  She blogs at Charming Farming.

Reflections of Erma