How to make an impression

I went to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop last week with 300+ people I had never met. Surrounding yourself with strangers for three days is an excellent way to test your social skills.

Overall it was an amazing experience. I learned a lot, I was inspired, and I met some truly kind and funny people including Leigh Ann, who convinced me to attend. She wrote a great recap of the event here. I admit I was pleasantly surprised to discover that so many of the people I’ve come to ‘know’ online were even more likeable in person. The internet has normal people in it!

I was leery that I wouldn’t measure up to the experience of other writers in attendance, but I did my best to convey my expertise with opening lines like, “I have a blog and a really shitty Facebook page.” This is how I actually introduced myself. Twice. Fortunately I had the wisdom to stop mentioning my abysmal Facebook presence by Day Two.

I finally hit my stride on Day Three when I sat next to a nice woman during a workshop session. She was polished, poised and professional and I enjoyed chatting with her. I gave her my business card, sat up straight, and did a decent job explaining my background. At last maybe I, and others around me, could begin to take me seriously as A Writer.

Once the session got underway, the moderator gave us all 60 seconds to write a list of words we thought were funny. He encouraged us to be creative – any and all words were welcome!

I fought the thick haze hanging over my brain and managed to scribble 5 words. I knew they were lame, but at least I wrote something.

Then the moderator instructed us to share our words with the person sitting next to us, who would have to use them in a sentence.

Oooh sweet mother NO. Abort. Fake an injury. Find the nearest exit immediately.

No more than 10 seconds after I had just begun to feel like a grown-up, I had to reveal my award-winning list of words to this poor woman. My list looked like this:

words

Hello my name is Amy and I am 12. I felt so bad for my partner that I only shared my first two words – as if I were doing her a favor by forcing her to write a sentence about moist panties, and nothing else. I can only imagine how troubled she must’ve been by my thought process.

It was not my finest creative moment, but I have never been quick on my feet. And while I stand behind my belief that ‘boobies’ is a mildly amusing word, I would like to redeem myself a tad by saying that ‘moist’ is a word I have always disliked. I have no idea why I wrote it down, other than I was in a state of panic. Surely if I had been given three hours vs. one minute, I would’ve come up with words more like kerfuffle, lutefisk or blarney. Right? RIGHT? But I didn’t. Because I’m me.

And that was one of my favorite takeaways of the workshop – be true to yourself, your voice and your humor, regardless of what everyone else is doing. The additional lesson for me? Always have an emergency exit strategy. The lesson for everyone else? Whatever you do, do NOT sit next to me at a workshop.

How to leave your kids. Not forever – just for a few days.

This week I’m traveling across the country and leaving my kids at home with my husband for the first time ever. Preparing for this adventure has been a learning experience, so I’ll share my top 5 tips for a successful getaway.

1) Have your toddler stage a sleep strike for two consecutive weeks prior to your departure. Make sure she skips naps, and demands that you wake up and rock her for 1-2 hours every night around 3 a.m. This will help get you even more excited to stay in a hotel where you will attend your first sleeping writing conference.

2) Leave your husband a painfully detailed day-by-day, hour-by-hour agenda of household activities he needs to cover in your absence. Consider telling him when he should go to the bathroom each day, but realize that might be overkill (you can text him that info later).

3) Tell your husband that you will prepare a few meals in advance that he can feed the family when you are gone. But then forget to do it.

4) Remind your husband 40-50 times that your toddler has developed a dangerous habit of running into the street to ensure he never leaves her unattended in the yard. Incorporate this reminder into a blog post as a subtle, yet annoying, means of reminding him yet again.

5) Pack only the essentials.

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Ok, so perhaps these are more tips to avoid vs. tips to follow. Details, details.

On the whiteboard, with black marker

It’s the start of a new month! I don’t know about you, but for me that means one very special thing – I get to erase the whiteboard calendar and start anew! Ahh nothing beats the aroma of a dry erase marker on a rainy spring morning. By the 29th or 30th of every month, I am breathless in anticipation of my wipe off / write on ritual.

If you do not have a whiteboard calendaring system, I suggest you get yourself to Storables STAT. Don’t be distracted by the pretentious food storage systems. Keep walking past those overpriced closet organizers. Focus, people, FOCUS. The most worthwhile investment is a stylish yet affordable whiteboard calendar. Does it need to be the 2014 model? No, you silly fool! With a whiteboard, you can change the date - including the year! It never expires!!

Tell me more, Amy!

The revolutionary ability to quickly wipe away mistakes or cancellations on a whiteboard allows you to change your entire schedule in just seconds. The only thing that would be easier is if some sort of machine or technological advancement made it possible to create and modify a calendar with the push of a button on a handheld device. But if you think that kind of futuristic robot exists, then I’ve got some land in Florida to sell you!

It’s so easy to re-do a whiteboard calendar that you can even let your kids try it. Last month my daughter had a blast sketching out the month as she wanted it to go:

calendar

‘Disnieland’ on the 1st, a ‘fashin show’ on the 15th, fly back on the 31st. So precious!

Now erase that hopeful garbage and fill that whiteboard to the brim with PTA meetings, swim lessons, doctor’s appointments, birthday parties, snack duties, field trips… Get after it and make it a good one! Happy April!

Overthinking it

My 2-year-old has been in love with the pacifier since the moment it touched her newborn lips. It soothes her like nothing else.

Leading up to her 2nd birthday, we reduced her usage (mostly) to naps and bedtime, knowing that we’d want to eventually break the addiction.

Then at her 2-year check-up, her doctor said we missed the window. She felt it would be better to wait until my daughter can understand and communicate more about why we are taking it away. Otherwise she could be scarred for life (not the pediatrician’s exact words, but something like that).

A week later, her dentist disagreed and said we needed to kick the habit ASAP. Otherwise my daughter’s teeth would be damaged for life (not her exact words, but something like that).

Conflicted to the core, I researched successful methods to kick the habit. Staging a visit from “The Binky Fairy” seemed to be a common approach, and was what our dentist recommended.

I also read several in-depth book reviews, and eventually purchased a delightful tale designed to empower and enable my toddler to say Bye-Bye to Binky.

And I sought advice from friends, one of whom explained that her daughter finally ditched her pacifier when they told her it would be given to a horse at a nearby stable. That was two years ago, and they still have to visit the horse regularly to make sure he’s doing OK.

There aren’t any horses in my neighborhood, but so help me, if that method works I considered driving 30 miles to find a farm.

Then two weeks ago a speech therapist gave me her recommendation. The conversation went something like this:

Speech therapist: “Cut the binky in half. When she asks you about it, play dumb and say you don’t know what happened.”

Me: “That’s it? Just cut it?”

ST: “Yes. Cut it.”

Me: “Should I stage some sort of elaborate scene to make it look like her toys did it? Maybe our Elf on the Shelf could be the perp?”

ST: “No, just cut it.”

Me: “Should I also damage something her sister loves so neither of them feels it is unfair and resents me for it later?”

ST: “No, just cut it.”

Me: “To help ensure she will always see the glass as half-full vs. half-empty, should I tell her that a giant buzzsaw ripped through the city, but luckily, the only thing it managed to hit in our house was her binky?”

ST: “No, just cut it.”

Me: “Should I cry when I show it to her so she sees that I am empathetic and wants to confide in me when she is a teen?”

ST: “No, just cut it.”

Me: “Should I start to breastfeed her again as a means to compensate for her loss?”

ST: “No, just cut it.”

Me: “Should I use organic scissors?”

ST: “No, just cut it.”

So I cut it. And that was the end of it. No tears. No drama. No interest in using a binky ever again.

binky

So simple, and yet so painstakingly researched. Well played, parenthood.

TGIF and S and P

I was going to write a stellar post for today, but instead I’m going to start a Kickstarter campaign to return clocks to pre-daylight savings time. I admittedly don’t really understand how Kickstarter works, but it seems to solve problems for other people, and let me tell you – this time change has been a PROBLEM in my house all week.

I won’t bore you with the details of my sleepless, grouchy children, which have in turn led to a sleepless, unproductive me. But I will give you some advice - whatever you do, do NOT choose the week of daylight savings to make other significant changes in your life. I’m not talking about potty training, or sleep training, or moving to a new house or having a baby. Those are minor blips.

I’m talking about things that are life-altering. Changes that will turn your world upside down. Specifically, I’m talking about switching your salt and pepper shakers.

Apparently my entire life I have been misusing salt and pepper shakers. I grew up putting the salt in the shaker that has a lot of holes, and the pepper in the shaker with fewer holes. Blame my Midwestern upbringing – frequent consumption of bland casseroles can lead to a salt addiction. I’m not a pepper person.

Little did I realize how much my flawed shaker system bothered my husband. He’s been shaking in silence for nearly 8 years. Then last week, when the salt ran out, he seized the opportunity to stage an uprising and overturn the shaker establishment. He switched the shakers without warning. He didn’t even bother to put an ‘S’ and ‘P’ on the front to remind me of the change. Cold turkey. Figure it out, Amy. You’re on your own.

All week long I have been inadvertently peppering my eggs, my dinners, my everything. On a normal week, it might take me a day or two to catch on. But this week? With my constant state of fatigue? It’s like Groundhog Day: Kitchen Edition. I make the same mistake over and over and over. Heaven forbid, last night I even over-peppered some tuna casserole. RIP.

I’m hoping that balance will be restored in the universe this weekend so we can all sleep and eat in harmony. Otherwise I will stage my own culinary rebellion and fill both shakers with salt.

So you think you can write

Next month I’m attending my first ever blogging/writing-related conference – the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Ohio. It’s an event for humor and human interest writers. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also a little unsure about the whole thing. There will be people at this event who get paid to write – for blogs, media, books. They are legit and profesh. I, on the other hand, have written more than 10 blog posts about a masked baby doll.

She's pretty much my third child at this point

She’s pretty much my third child at this point

A very large portion of my brain has been questioning this decision since the moment I registered. I think that’s why I’ve had a mild case of writing paralysis lately. I love to write and I love to laugh, but it’s hard to justify that as something worthy of a cross-country trip with travel expenses, not to mention 3+ days away from my family. Especially when I have never left my kids before and OMG I HAVE NEVER LEFT MY KIDS BEFORE.

But at this point I need to quit doubting myself and embrace reality because I bought a non-refundable plane ticket. Ain’t no stopping me now.

The main reason I’m going to the conference is to learn and be inspired. I tend to look at writing as my guilty pleasure. My secret pastime. My excuse to tell fart jokes on the internet.

But the truth is that I often enjoy writing silly stories more than I enjoyed my 13-year career. And I invested a lot of time, effort and energy in that career. So why not put a little effort into my writing? After all, maybe there’s a better way to tell a good fart joke?

Ok, so perhaps I’m a little confused about why exactly I’m going to this conference and what I will gain from it.

But I do know this – writing is and has always been a passion of mine, and I blog because it’s fun. Going to this conference feels indulgent and selfish and weird and exciting, but I’m not going to overthink it or beat myself up for being a small fish.

Instead I’m going to soak it all in, appreciate the opportunity to meet and learn from people with similar interests, savor the chance to get a full night of UNINTERRUPTED sleep, and enjoy meeting fellow bloggers in real life for the first time (including Leigh Ann, who convinced me to attend. If it sucks, it’s all her fault. I kid!).

And if I start to doubt my reasons for attending, I will remind myself that I do have at least one legitimate, non-Creepy Baby piece of writing to author.

A few months ago my mom mailed me an obituary she had cut out of the newspaper. It was for a woman named Margaret who passed away at the age of 92. I didn’t know Margaret and neither did my mother, but she sent it to me because she thought it was well-written and peppered with an appropriate touch of humor. She wanted me to see it for reference, to serve as an example of the tone and content she would like in her own obituary – which she has tasked me with writing.

To be clear – my mother is healthier than I am. She just has a deep appreciation for good writing, a morbid desire to plan ahead, and a disturbing fascination with tributes to dead strangers. I don’t foresee needing to pen her obituary anytime soon, but given how important it clearly is to her that I get it right when the time comes, I think it’s only prudent that I attend a workshop on ‘human interest’ writing.

So you see? I kind of owe it to my mother to attend so I don’t let her down. And because I couldn’t find a conference for obituary writers.

Sorry for wearing my shoes in your dojo

First, I apologize for another sports-related post. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Blame the Olympics.

The other day I took my 5-year-old to watch a kid’s Aikido class to see if she might want to join. I admittedly don’t know much about Aikido except that it’s a form of martial arts, and supposedly less of the hit-kick-whack variety, and more of the Namaste variety. Or something like that.

I’m window shopping for a new activity for my daughter. She’s tried soccer, gymnastics and dance in the past with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Here she is enjoying one of her soccer lessons two summers ago. She’s the one on the right taking a nap.

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I fully acknowledge that those soccer lessons were premature and a waste of money. On the upside, it made me realize how much I hate wasting money.

I find it sort of stressful to pick an activity for my kid. I realize she doesn’t need to do anything. She’s only 5. But she is a child who does better when she has a couple balls in the air. Otherwise she gets bored and starts throwing those balls through my windows.

But at this age, when they change their mind every 5 minutes and don’t necessarily always know what they want, you are inevitably projecting your own interests onto them at times. I mean, would Tiger Woods ever have played golf if it weren’t for his dad’s love of the sport? Would I have taken my kid to a martial arts class if I didn’t still lust after Danny LaRusso?

Danny LaRusso

So much hotness right there. SWEEP THE LEG.

So instead of just signing my kid up for the Aikido class because I think it sounds cool, I opted to bring her to one to watch and let her decide. I felt like this was a wise move. I am learning!

As usual, on the day of the class I was running late, it was pouring rain, and I was a wee bit frazzled. Long story short – on my way into the building, I somehow failed to see the 15 signs that said “NO SHOES IN THE DOJO,” “LEAVE SHOES BY THE DOOR,” and “NO SHOES BEYOND THIS POINT.”

So we traipsed right in like a bunch of ogres wearing our sloppy dirty sneakers, leaving a trail of crud behind us. Fast forward 7 minutes – the head of the dojo, Mr. Dojo, sees our offensive feet and walks over to my daughter, leans over her shoulder and into her face, and instructs her to “REMOVE YOUR SHOES.”

He wasn’t a jerk about it, but a) he was a big intimidating dude, and b) he was speaking in a stern whisper. It’s remarkable how frightening a whisper can be sometimes.

This in-your-face moment with the Dojo Whisperer scares the ever-loving-bejeezus out of her, she tears up, wants to leave, decides she hates Aikido, and says she will never ever ever return.

Well done, Amy. Well done. Golf, anyone?