letters to camp


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This summer, The Little One went to his first-ever overnight camp, five nights in a cabin in the woods.  Swimming, archery, campfires, horseback riding, night hikes with the fireflies — this was the real deal, just as I always imagined camp would look like, based on the book settings and movie locations and my imagination.

Since he was a first time Camper, I was the corresponding first time Camper Mom.  I had a lot of questions.  I knew I could be very brave.  I read all the camper instructions on the website, packed the five t-shirts and five pairs of shorts, the bug spray and sunscreen, and labeled everything as he packed it into his stuffed duffel.

The website said no calls and no visits all week, but we could write letters to our camper if we wanted.  To have the letters delivered each day, they suggested we label each envelope with the day of week, and drop off all the letters at the camp office on Sunday.

This presented a bit of a challenge, since it is harder to write newsy, interesting accounts of family events at home that have not yet actually happened.  So I did what any self-respecting mother would do, and made everything up.

One the eve of his departure, the boy’s biggest concern was not that he knew no one there, or the scary camp mashed potatoes, or snakes, or thunderstorms — his greatest fear was that his brother would have fun at home without him.

Normally this would be the perfect setup for that special kind of torture that makes parenting worthwhile, but I was already missing the little bugger and he had not even left yet.  Plus, I knew that deep down, he was terrified of being homesick.  So instead, I sat down on that Sunday morning with the yellow notebook pad and wrote all about our week at home, the days of tedium and torture, long days that were NO FUN AT ALL without him:

Monday:  begin knitting lessons for his brother.  Lose satellite reception and have to resort to reading the dictionary out loud to pass the hours of mind-numbing boredom.  Read and read and read until we make it all the way to the letter D.  Watch the grass grow. Hope you are having more fun than we are.

Tuesday:  Continue to read the dictionary out loud, continuing late into the evening to make it to letter M.  More knitting for your brother, as he tries to finish the sleeves.  This is after he has to brush the dog’s teeth with the squirrel-flavored toothpaste.

Wednesday:  Celebrate reaching the letter R in the dictionary by eating only foods that begin with R all day: rhubarb, rutabagas, radishes — and that was just breakfast.  Your brother has resorted to cleaning the litterbox with the dog’s toothbrush just for fun because he cannot find anything else to do.

Thursday:  after many hours of knitting, the sweater your brother is making for you did not “turn out right”. Maybe we can use it as a potholder instead.  We finished the dictionary last night and we do not want to talk about how many hours it took.

Friday:  Can’t wait to see you tonight!

We picked him up Friday night.  He had the most exciting week of his life.  He looked older, more confident.  And he looked torn when we walked up, a simultaneous “I don’t ever want to leave this place”,  and “I can’t wait to get back home.”  He had been homesick, but he was brave.  And, it turns out, after the emotional roller coaster of independence and activity, the unfamiliar and the fun, he was so mentally fried that he believed all the letters I had written were real accounts of life at home, that all the newsy news I shared had indeed happened.

I felt a little guilty, but only for a moment.  The end almost certainly justifies the means, not to mention that lying to my kids has been the cornerstone of my publishing credits.  Perhaps the news of his brother’s boredom had soothed his soul during the dark hours of the night.  I think the letters did make him smile, because he saved them and brought them home, damp and crumpled much like all the possessions that made it back into the duffel.

Because I had a large pile of unopened mail on the counter for days, I found the  letter he wrote to us FROM camp long after he returned.  He did not even remember writing it.

The note was sweet, written with a stubby pencil on the writing desk of his knee, slightly self-conscious and clearly trying hard to not think about being homesick.  He wrote that the food was good and camp was fun.  Then he signed it with his full signature, in case we were confused about which kid had not been home all week.

Like I had not been sneaking into his room while he was gone and laying my head on his pillow to breathe the lingering still-sweet smell of little boy.

Oops.  Did I write that out loud?

I missed him an embarrassingly ridiculous amount, which of course made this an invaluable experience for all involved.  He had a great week.  Separation is good, and reunions are so sweet.

summer forecasts


“Hello friends,” says a wee voice from somewhere off the face of the earth.


Here I am, alive and kicking, sweating and bitching about the heat, and gratefully enjoying this summer with my boys more than any other summer season on record.  There have been notable highs, seasonable lows, with scattered life lessons and only a 20% chance of irritability on any given day.  Not bad, overall.

A Summer Recap:

June:  always my motherly month of endless possibilities and ambitious plans.  I will take the boys to many culturally enriching events.  We will eat balanced meals (three of them) each day.  What fun we will have, planning our menus and grocery shopping together, skipping down the aisles and the youngest will not crash the cart this time — oh, no, not this summer! — because we are going to have a grand time.  I will lovingly help The Little One stay fresh on his homework skills by doing worksheets each day, and I will review them and put smiley face stickers on them and he will look up at me with grateful brown eyes, content in the knowledge that his school year will have such a smooth start…

*Will someone just go ahead and cue the foreboding music already so we can end this fantasy passage???*

June is so full of hope. And, camps.  Camps keep people busy (and gone).  Gone is good.

July:  Oh, July, you prankster, by now I know all your sneaky games —  the sunshine that looks bright and sparkly until I open the door and the wave of humidity hits like a slap on the face, a punch in the stomach, and many more similes I need not mention;  the pre-vacation preparation and corresponding post-vacation fun hangover, no, you will not catch me by surprise — not this year! — We will go to the nice, cool library every week and check out books and frolic (very quietly) through the stacks and come home and read together in the nice, extremely air-conditioned house.  And then I will make the children go outside and run around.

July is so full of reality.  And mosquito bites.  And that nameless feeling that time is passing too slow, yet somehow much, much too fast, all at the same time.

So, here we are at August.  I will hazard a forecast that we will shop for that looonnnnngg list of school supplies, and early, before all the composition notebooks are sold out.  (Really, retailers, there are 18,000 kids in this school district — could you stock up on the composition notebooks?  We will need 36,000 of them.  Thanks in advance.) We will have purchased shoes that fit, prior to the night before the first day of school.  We will play another 37 games of Trouble, make more juice popsicles, camp in the living room, go out for ice cream, splash in the pool, and somewhere in between we can pull an all-nighter of math worksheets.

Summer is looking good.

Proudest Moments


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One person’s humor can be another person’s yawn.  One person’s proud can be someone else’s embarrassment.  On either side of the fence, I find that most things in life are not as they appear on the surface, because there exists the chapters before and the chapters not yet written, and all we see is a snapshot.

Profound?  Maybe.  Prophetic?  Confirmed.  Pedantic?  That’s your call.

(Forgive my lack of an obvious segue here — hang with me),  I recently completed a writing course with author Christina Katz called Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff.  I want to make some money as a freelancer, with a side benefit of feeling more comfortable calling myself a writer when I have more clips.  I know, I know, it is not necessary to be published to be a true writer, but truthfully there is some ego involved.  And freelancing is my next challenge.

The class was a fantastic experience — a wealth of information on writing list articles, how-to pieces, fillers, tips, cover letters and much more.  Most importantly for me, it was a kick in the pants.  I willingly signed up for a kick in the pants and I am so glad I did.

I have been following Christina’s blog and reading her newsletters for over a year.  I own two of her books, and am ready to purchase the third.  I respect her advice.  But it was one of her most recent posts that touched me more deeply, one where she asked “writer mamas” to share their Proudest Moments.  I think it is a great read whether you are a writer, a mama, both or neither.

After reading story after story, here is what I chose to share in this on-line conversation about pride.  Because I am still a self-handicapping procrastinator budding deadline embracer, my contribution is in the comments section (umm, missed the cut-off):

This collection of Proudest Writer Mama moments left my heart on my throat. I am so touched by these stories of accomplishments, ones that society may consider large or small, but are each huge to all of us that have this goal. Thank you Christina for inspiring each of these writers to post these experiences, and to each writer for sharing the private insight into their dreams.

My proudest moment came the day I received my copy of the anthology “ The Ultimate Mom“, in 2009. My essay “The Impromptu Birthday” was my first published piece, and was not just a shot-in-the-arm of confidence, but really the I.V. drip that kept me going through my self-doubts. I held that book in my hands with the late afternoon sun streaming in the windows, looked at my name in print and smelled the pages as I let them riffle. Then I looked at the mountain of dirty laundry in the dining room and the sink-full of dirty dishes still left from breakfast, (and quite possibly the previous night’s dinner) — and felt a sense of accomplishment, a quiet peace that after many years and multiple careers, I had finally found what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Subsequently, things started hopping. I appeared twice as a guest blogger on Jane Friedman’s Writer’s Digest blog “There Are No Rules“, was invited to do a radio interview about my story, did a book signing at my local Barnes & Noble (did you know you could do a book signing by being a contributor to an anthology? I didn’t!) and most recently appeared very briefly on CBS Sunday Morning as an attendee at the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers’ Workshop. No matter that my published story of motherhood is about poo and lying to my kid to accelerate the potty training process; the radio interview was broadcast from a nursing home-based radio station with a broadcast range of approximately five miles; at the book signing I sold 11 copies, with eight of those purchased by my friends; and on my seven second stint on national TV, I inadvertently uttered the words “incontinence problem” and “recovering valedictorian”. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, that lots of things in life sound far more impressive to others until they know the details.

But I am proud of these moments, even though a disturbing number of them involve bodily functions. The real pride blooms from this: each and every time, I had pushed myself far beyond the edge of my comfort zone, and laid myself bare with as much authenticity as I could bear.

…it is that same authenticity that I feel in these Writer Mama stories. We can all feel proud.

Other than being a mom, my best job ever, nothing has been as personally fulfilling as being a writer.  Wife, daughter, sister and friend are treasured roles…  and in all these areas, I have been unbelievably blessed.  But, writing?  I can hardly wait to see what happens next, (and it will not be the missing component of the body function trifecta, I promise).

Life is funny, or why I started screaming at the TV


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Have I mentioned before that life is funny?  It bears mentioning again, because it is the only explanation I have for why my Mother’s Day included blood-curdling screams.

Like most of my adventures, this one started out innocently enough.  As I have mentioned 53 times already, I attended a writing conference a few weeks ago.  By chance, CBS Sunday Morning was also at the event, filming a segment for Mother’s Day about Erma and how her humor helped revolutionize the way America viewed the career of Motherhood.  Tracy Beckerman, humor columnist, blogger, conference speaker, and author of the book Rebel Without a Minivan, was on deck as a feature interview for the show.  Tracy is smart and funny, and she signed my copy of her book even though I do drive a minivan, and I once commented on her blog “Lost in Suburbia”, and we are friends on Facebook, so really I’m almost a real friendstalker,  quasi-acquaintance, so I tuned in to see her (and, truth be told) to try to catch a glimpse of my aforementioned disastrous haircut from behind, somewhere in the crowd.

The TV cameras were around every day, filming many, many hours of mingling attendees and numerous workshop sessions.  No biggie, until they popped up in a session where I stood up and shared some very personal information as part of writing exercise on our greatest fears and most embarrassing moments.*

*A lethal combination.

I felt rattled to have a camera in my face while speaking, but was reassured that with 350 attendees, many speakers and an estimated 147 hours of raw video footage, I need not give it another thought.

So, fast forward to 9:00 Mother’s Day morning, and I know the show is on but I have recorded it on the DVR so I would not interrupt the family making a fuss over me early on my day. Watching Tracy would be fun, but I knew the enthusiasm for showering me with gifts and cards would too soon come to an end, so I wanted to savor it.  Indeed, my guys gave me a wonderful day.

As the fawning masses were running out of steam later in the late afternoon, I settled in and cranked up the DVR.  The segment was a sweet piece about Erma and motherhood, with fun interviews of her kids.  It included cute little cross-stitch segment transitions of Erma quotes, such as “Insanity is hereditary — you get it from your kids.”  Fade that first cross-stitch, and there is my face.

I found this shocking.  I started screaming.  I don’t know why.  It was so not cool.  I bet Tracy did not scream at the TV.  I was on the screen for five seconds, and said one sentence.

The Little One came rushing up the basement stairs to see if I was being murdered — apparently seeing myself on TV when I don’t expect to see myself on TV makes me emit a blood-curdling type of scream.  We didn’t know that about me, but now we do, for future reference.

It is a good thing to know, because life is funny.

Why Erma?


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“Why Erma?” someone asked.

Erma Bombeck was the first humor writer that I ever read.  As a kid, when I had exhausted the stack of books from the summer bookmobile, I would browse through the house for reading material.  There on the living room bookshelf, near the Reader’s Digest Condensed versions and the set of encyclopedias, stood several Erma books in various stages of dogearedness.  The paperback that stands out in my mind is “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.”  I used to think the title meant something like “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”, but later, as I contemplated the uncanny ability of septic tanks to either green up a lawn in no time, or kill the grass completely, the title had great depth.

Or it is entirely possible that I over-thought that book title.  I had a lot of time on my hands.

To me, the wonder of her humor is this:  I was a 10 year old kid who had never lived in a suburb.  Erma’s world of grown-up responsibilities and tedium and frustrations and joys — that was not my world.  Yet her situations were so comically real and her descriptions so universal that somehow I understood how she felt.  And I would laugh out loud.

I forgot about Erma for many years.  Then, staying in a vacation house on Marco Island, I found a bookshelf filled with an eclectic mix of titles, the kind of collection that grows from people leaving a book and taking a book as they come and go.  I spotted Erma there on the shelf and started to read, and I laughed out loud.  I watched my own kids race around and bicker and joke and I saw my family, and I smiled.

A recent comment from the wonderful writer Darrelyn Saloom sums it up for me:

…I adore Erma Bombeck. Her column and books were a housewife’s drug before anti-depressants. I never needed ‘em. I had Erma to fire up those synapses in my brain.

As I listened to writer after writer share their stories at the conference, women and men, I heard so many experiences that mirrored my own.  As children themselves, they also related to her humor.  And here I thought I was the only pre-tween who found these books funny even though the setting was on another planet.

Yet, funny or not, I must admit that Erma’s world in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio served as a cautionary tale to me as a kid.  I had no aspirations to be a Midwestern housewife, or a stay at home mom.  In fact, I spent a long time running in the opposite direction.  But, as I learned from reading Erma’s stories long ago,  life is funny.  The winding paths of the years can even land an unsuspecting girl in suburban southwestern Ohio, not 30 miles from where Erma’s septic tank was fertilizing the lawn as she raised a couple kids.  I have found myself in an unforeseen life, one I never dreamed could make me happy.

But this life does make me happy.  Thanks, Erma, for finding the funny in everyday situations, and sharing the stories.  Now I can see that being a mom can be the most noble profession of all.  Even in the ‘burbs.  Writing about it sounds good too.

funny people


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I love writing conferences.  Every writing workshop I attend leaves me feeling energized, inspired, and armed with, well, armloads of useful information.  This time, I can add one more take-away to the list: the endorphins from laughing until I have tears running down my face.  It is the final day of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop and I am surrounded by the largest group of funny people I have ever seen assembled under one roof.  I have looked forward to this particular conference for over a year.  The chance to meet like-minded writers, authors, bloggers, speakers, columnists and comedians?  Whoa. *Highly recommended experience*

I particularly enjoyed these speakers:

Tracy Beckerman, author of Rebel Without a Minivan and the blog Lost in Suburbia as well as the syndicated column of the same name.  Very funny lady who makes me feel better about a life in the ‘burbs.  (Much like Erma herself.)

Donna Gephart, author of several successful middle grade children’s novels that incorporate humor.  I feel optimism about my work-in-progress nanowrimo middle grade novel, based on her presentation.  I think I am on the right track with the characters, format and plot.

Karen Walford and her beautiful blog chookooloonks — this was a delightful look into how a woman with a passion for writing and photography can leave a former career behind, and follow her heart.

Wade Rouse, author of several best-selling humor memoirs.  This happens to be my new favorite genre to read.  He reminds me of David Sedaris, except Wade lives in the woods, and I don’t think David would do that.  This break-out session did involve an unfortunate incident involving a TV camera and me reading aloud our “assignment” for the day — a personal essay on one of our greatest fears.  All in good fun except I started crying while reading mine, which can lead to my next great essay about my new biggest fear, which is crying in front of a TV camera and room full of strangers while reading out loud.  But he was great.

Add in the chance to talk to the most helpful editor of a regional parenting magazine that I could hope to meet, and hear Gail Collins, Bill Scheft, and many other authors… I need to go lie down somewhere before my head explodes.

bulbous thoughts

Things are hoppin’ here in Ohio, with the switch back to sunshine and warmth.  We are ready for April and Easter and chocolate bunnies and real bunnies and all things pastel.  We had a minor setback here when some local Polly Positive decided to wash all the winter coats and put them away while it was still March.

OK, I’ll admit it.  It was me.  But let’s all just be thankful that I did not also wash the mittens.

…or this could have been much, much worse.

To be on the safe side, I will leave all the mittens where they are until next winter.


A few hours later, the snow disappeared in the sunshine, leaving this crocus looking particularly hopeful.  It amazes me how a delicate plant can burrow a perfectly round hole through something like a crumbly dry leaf, without the bud bending or the leaf shattering.  A crocus flower will flop under the weight of a large raindrop, but it can slice its way through an obstacle like a knife through butter.  Maybe the key is moving very slowly.  This is comforting to me, since slow is my modus operandi.  (Had to throw that in for all those enthusiastic new Latin fans out there.)

It’s a petal powered drill bit of sorts.

This feels like the perfect spot to say something truly profound about life, but I can’t think of anything.  Can anyone lend me a soaring and inspiration metaphor?  It would be a nice touch.


In addition to floral musings, I have been working hard on growing out a disastrous haircut, identifying the source of the kitten flatulence problem, and pondering the next potential fork in the road.  More to come.

collossal, colossal


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The Colosseum was, frankly, collossal.  Spellcheck says it was colossal, but I think it was collossal.  The whole concept — the Roman Empire building such amazing structures 2000 years ago, piecing together a thriving civilization that lasted 1000 years itself, that then promptly went to crap —  the scale of it all blew a collossal hole in my mind.  Apparently, an empire built with an unlimited number of slaves can lead to high productivity, but on the flip side, also to one’s eventual demise.

But before that slide down the slippery slope, the Romans built a spectacle on par with today’s new Dallas Cowboys stadium, using the technological equivalent of some chisels and the wheel.  The accomplishment prompts deep thoughts.


The day we visited the Colosseum, it was sunny.  We did not see much more sun that week, but considering it had snowed in Rome for the first time in 25 years just the week before our visit?  A little drizzle and clouds posed no significant problem.

Plus, we had not seen the sun in our hometown for many moons.  So, in a way, it felt more like home to have it be a bit dreary.  The sky remained cloudy here for the two weeks following our return.  Then, last week, something happened — the sun came out and remained out for the next seven days.  Someone Somewhere flipped the Spring switch.  And it has been glorious:  that long drink of cold water when you are thirsty, a warm hug from above, insert other soaring metaphors here…  because there is nothing quite like Spring to follow a long winter, including a February that by a bizarre mega-leap year phenomenon ended up being 87 days long.

And along with the sun, finally, came the first blooms of the season for my crocus.


OK, spellcheck, I see your point — colossal has nothing to do with size.