Are You Kidding Me? A Surprise Cover Reveal

Greetings from the Northern satellite office of Notes from the Shallow End. I hope your summer is going swimmingly. Get it? Swimmingly? Hehe.  Speaking of swimming, it may be warm where you are, but here it’s so cold I had to chisel through ice on my cereal bowl this morning. It’s so cold last night a bear climbed into my bed to snuggle.

I know we’re only partway through summer but it’s going fast. If you’re the type to start making your fall reading lists ahead of time (because I know you’re just that organized) I have a book for you to put on your must-read list.

Stacey Gustafson is a writer whom I was lucky enough to meet at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop back in April. I also got to see her bravely do stand-up. (Spoiler alert: she nailed it!) She also lives in California where it’s probably very warm right now. But I’m not bitter. Okay, yes I am. But despite the fact that I’m currently swaddled in layers of fleece and Stacey  is probably lolling about on a beach like some kind of, um….beach loll-er,  I’m happy to help with the surprise cover reveal for her new book, Are You Kidding Me? My Life With An Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives, due to be released in fall 2014.

Are You Kidding Me?

Laugh-out- loud funny, Stacey is the person you wish was your BFF or at least your neighbor. A talented humorist, blogger, and mother of two teens (which alone should qualify her to win all the things her work has also appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, several Not Your Mother’s BooksMidlife BoulevardErma Bombeck Writers’ WorkshopGeneration FabulousZestNowMore MagazinePleasanton Patch, Lost in Suburbia, and Better After 50.  Her new book will be available in print and eBook on Amazon, B&, and other retailers. Here’s a sneak peek from the publisher:

Hop into your minivan and get ready to cruise through the crazies of Suburbia! Humorist Stacey Gustafson makes an entertaining tour guide in Are You Kidding Me?, a brash, voyeuristic peek inside the topsy-turvy world of suburban motherhood, midlife madness, and all points in between. If you’ve ever called SWAT on a neighbor, faked a heart attack in church, or pulled your hair out while questioning the sanity of your family, Stacey’s tongue-in-cheek brand of humor will resonate with you. Enjoy the ride and don’t forget to fasten your seat belt.

Now, doesn’t that sound like the perfect fall book? Nothing better curling up with a hilarious read with plenty of laughs to keep you warm when there’s a chill in the air. Now, I’ve got to go put on another layer of fleece, because the bear isn’t returning my calls.  Happy Wednesday, everyone!


My Weekend with Erma

A few weeks ago, I went to my first Bruce Springsteen concert.  For almost four hours, the Boss delivered his hits plus some and never slowed down once. Impressive for anyone, let alone a 65 year old, right? There’s a reason he’s nicknamed The Boss. As a matter of fact, some would call him the biggest rock star in the world.

I jumped right in to “the pit”, dragging my daughter with me as we shoved our way to the front of the stage. My word for the year is “adventure”, and I wasn’t about to waste a minute.

Erma Bombeck

Cut to a couple of days after the Springsteen concert, when I left for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, held every two years in Dayton Ohio.  Put on in honor of Erma, my writing idol since childhood, attendees and faculty are humor and human interest writers from around the country; these are the people who
leave me tongue tied and intimidated by their sheer level of talent. People that have spent their lives dedicated to stringing together words to make you nod in recognition, to make you chuckle, to make you full-on belly laugh.

In other words? These people are my rock stars.

Yes, I fangirl over humor writers.  Get positively stupid around them. If there was a Tiger Beat for humor writers, I’d totally be the first subscriber.

Because I’m in such awe of them, before I arrived at the hotel I worried about what I would do if I ran into someone I admired in the elevator or the lobby.  An awkward encounter with a well-known humorist years ago taught me that I cannot be trusted to open my mouth in front of anyone of that caliber; I can’t remember what I said to Dave Barry that made him look at me funny; probably something along the lines of, “Gwaaahhfuuusneeblesnrrrkrk! Muhhh!”

Yep, as soon as I opened my mouth I apparently suffered some sort of mini-stroke. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And the trauma has stayed with me for life, my friends.

Yet when I got there, the atmosphere at this workshop put me immediately at ease.  The famous humor writers in attendance didn’t set themselves apart like cossetted celebrities. As a matter of fact, they weren’t even the least bit intimidating. Hanging out, talking, and drinking wine with us mere mortals, without fail each and every person I encountered was warm and down to earth. I was comfortable, able to be myself. No weird looks.

I was home.

So when, after waiting a lifetime, or at least the long two years after you discovered the conference’s existence, you finally get there, what do you do?  You jump right in, and you don’t waste a minute.

Case in point: When you are at the coffee bar in the morning, and standing next to you is a mega famous author who just happens to have written the book currently on your nightstand, you strike up a conversation.  And then you walk with her because she happens to be running your first session. And she doesn’t even call for security.

Lisa Packer and Gina Barreca EBWW2014

Me and Gina Barreca. At EBWW, stalking is totally acceptable.

And when the winner of the Thurber Prize gives you an opportunity to read some of your work out loud, with a pounding heart you do it.  Then you float for the rest of the day on his positive feedback.

And when a well-known comedian and writer asks if she can sit with you at breakfast, you say yes. You try to play it cool but in your head you’re like a twelve year old girl who just got invited backstage to meet One Direction and all you can think is, “Holy crap I can’t believe this is really happening and please God don’t let there be anything in my teeth!”

And when a famous columnist calls you over, introduces herself, and wants to know what’s in the bag of stuff you just bought at CVS, you introduce yourself right back and let her paw through your bag. And are grateful you didn’t just buy hemorrhoid cream or anything that involves the words “Summer Breeze”.

So I spent three days in the company of the most fabulous, talented, and supportive group of people I have ever met. People who get it. People who get me. We laughed until our sides hurt, we teared up, we learned from the best.  Not once did I have to tell someone I write humor and get that awkward silence in return. (Why is it that no one ever knows what to say? It’s humor, people. Not competitive macramé or the Occult.)   I want to thank each and every one of the organizers, faculty, and attendees, including the Bombeck family, for the got-your back, supportive, inspiring atmosphere.

And by the time I left?  I had 350 new rock stars.

‘Cause Springsteen’s got nothing on the Bombeckians.

An Erma Smack-Down

Any time you submit a piece of your writing for a contest or to be considered for publication, you’re leaving your most tender parts exposed and vulnerable. Picture a hermit crab without a shell; that’s a writer waiting for someone else to hand down judgement.  You’re all nervous and pink and quivery, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.  And it’s even scarier when you submit a piece to a contest that bears your writing idol’s name.

Back in February, I submitted a piece to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Competition. And then I waited. As the time for the winners to be announced drew near, I imagined various scenarios that were taking place behind the scenes regarding my contest entry. Either  A) the judges were immediately declaring me the hands down winner, or B) the judges were scanning my entry, tossing around words like “crap-tastic”, and then balling it up for a three point shot into the trash can. After spitting on it.

Well, the winners were announced this week. And no, I wasn’t one of them. (Insert pathetic, sad trombone here.)  But I will hold my head high, because I’m proud of what I wrote. All 853 people who entered should be proud, for that matter. So while I lick my wounds and self-medicate with pie, I invite you to read my contest entry, which, because I lost, is now available for your reading pleasure. You’re welcome.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back to the Tree Farm

Tragically, the festivities took a dark turn when the children took the phrase “tree lighting” a bit too literally.


The brisk air and the appearance of twinkling lights tell me it’s time. Time to shake off the confines of our suburban cocoon and venture forth to the wilds, as our ancestors did before us.

“We’ll go today,” I tell my husband. He’s apprehensive, but knows nothing can deter me. I feel like Quint hunting the Great White, except…less grizzled. Yes, today we’re off to find the Christmas tree.

Lesser mortals have been felled by the Christmas tree farm’s porta-potties, hot cocoa the temperature of molten lava, $50 wreaths, and rusty saws. But not I. I will claim my prize, threat of tetanus or no.

Over the trilling of Jingle Bells coming from the parking lot loudspeakers, I sidle up to the white-haired farmer and deliver my edict. “Direct me to your most hearty trees, good sir,” I say grandly, as my kids try to pretend they’re with a different family.

“Well, we have some nice Scotch Pines… or maybe a Norway Spruce?” He offers. But I know what I came for and I’m not leaving without it.

“Ha!” I scoff.  “Not good enough. I want the toughest tree you’ve got,” I say, grabbing my children as I notice them trying to sneak off with a group of Mennonites.

He hesitates, then looks around before leaning in and whispering, “Well, there’s the Blue Spruce, but…” He shakes his head. “Are you sure you want that? Tough branches, but them needles are as sharp as… well, needles.”

Not to be dissuaded, I set my jaw and push up my sleeve. “See this scar? The Great Decorating Debacle, 2006. And this one? 2009. I was putting the star on top. Tree fell over. Lost seventeen ornaments that day…let’s just say I’ll never use a stepladder again.”

I see fear in his craggy blue eyes… and something else. Respect, perhaps? A few seconds later, he relents.

“Across the creek. At the second row of trees turn left. And…good luck out there,” he murmurs.

“Onward, family! The trees be yonder! Prepare to come about!” I shout, adding an “Arrrggghh!” and a  squint for good measure.

“Um, since when are you Scottish? And a pirate?” My husband asks. Ignoring him, I grab the proffered saw and sled and we plunge into the wilderness.

After an hour, we locate the Holy Grail: A tree we all like.  “That’s a twelve footer!” my husband says in awe. “Twelve and a half,” I say with authority. Sawing commences, and we load our trophy onto the sled to drag it back. It takes twenty minutes to lash the enormous tree to the roof of the car.

But as the leviathan on top of the car creaks and strains all the way home, I realize it might be time to face the inevitable truth.

I think we’re gonna need a bigger minivan.

They’re Coming to Take Me Away

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

I have to write this quick because I think they’re coming for me.

I’ll explain. See, I wrote a post for Blogger Idol his week, and the assignment was that we were supposed to reveal a secret. And since I have no secrets (come on, I’m a blogger for crap’s sake… it’s all out there, ya know?) I wrote a silly expose about myself and other mom bloggers. About how we are secretly more together than we portray ourselves to be, and how we tend to play up our ineptitude for laughs. Funny, right?

Except the judges didn’t get it. They thought it was funny, but didn’t see how it fit the criteria of the assignment. I think they were hoping that I’d reveal that I’m secretly a man, or sit around huffing Sharpie marker fumes when my kids are at school. Sorry, nothing to see here folks. Move along. And the most illicit thing I do when my kids are at school is watch The Chew. Anyway I’m pretty sure the judges are on their way to my house en masse to break my kneecaps or worse.

Sshhhh… did you hear something? Oh, okay, it was just the wind. Phew.

So here’s the thing. Given that I’m very very certain to have a judges score this week probably in the negatives if that’s even possible, simply for the crime of having no drama in my life, I’m going to need your help. The only thing that will save me is a decent number of votes. Seriously it only takes one minute. Click on this here fancy link, scroll down to the shaded voting box, check Notes from the Shallow End, and click “vote”.  I just… wait… what was that? Seriously. Outside. In the bushes. It was like a rustling. Ah. Never mind, just a bird.

It’s no secret that, as a smaller blogger, it’s harder to generate votes. I’ve been an underdog since day one in this competition. (And can I just say that without the help of my AOPi sisters, I wouldn’t have gotten through to this point. Thank you ladies. Mwah!)   But I want to be the one to show the world that you don’t have to be a mega-blogger to be considered successful. Can you imagine if a blog like mine, not even a year and a half old, could go the distance? Please vote for me. Or else the terrorists have won.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, someone’s at the door. (Whaaaa? Torches?! Aaaggghhhh! THUMP! KA-POW! OmmyGodsomebodyhelpmeeeee! (Sound of corpse being dragged)

Notes from the Shallow End


What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

What I look like when I write. What, you don't?

What I look like when I write. What, you don’t?


This post is for Finish the Sentence Friday…

I blog because… I am done taking “no” for an answer.

I am at the point in my life when I am done hearing, “You can’t, you’ll fail, it’s too late, you’re too old to start something new”.

I’ll back up. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write humor. Let’s not look too deeply into the need for this kind of validation. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. (No, wait, don’t! I wasn’t finished.) And then I discovered Erma Bombeck, and read every book she ever published. Her writing was a revelation to me. I realized for the first time that you could be a funny AND a mom, and somehow I knew I wanted to be a part of that tribe.

I faithfully read Dave Barry and every other humor columnist that came along in our local paper. And I started to write. I figured yearbook and the school newspaper were a great jumping off point to a fantastic career in journalism, which would of course lead to my own syndicated humor column! It’s just that simple, folks, right? (Um, no. But my former naiveté makes me giggle.)

So I chose a college based on its great journalism school. And then came the college “advisor” who “advised” me not to pursue entrance into the journalism program. “Don’t even try. You won’t make it,” were his exact words. Way to spit on someone’s dreams, Professor.  (And by the way your vest and goatee were stupid and made you look like that Burl Ives-voiced snowman in Rudolph. Except in my memory you have devil horns.)  Yes, I walked away from writing. Because of one guy’s opinion, I went belly-up faster than a church festival goldfish.

Fast forward through all of the post-college corporate years. I was now at home with my kids, and because I wanted to contribute financially, I took a part time job as a freelance writer. And suddenly remembered how much I loved to write humor. I sucked at “housekeeping”, was flying by the seat of my Target yoga pants as a parent, and was a failure in the PTO. What better way to document my complete ineptitude?

I started to consider my options. It turns out there was a whole community of funny people, being funny online!  But I met another freelance writer at a party and when told her I was thinking of starting a blog, she looked horrified and said, “Oh no! Don’t do THAT!”As if I had casually mentioned that I was thinking smuggling a vial of live Ebola virus back from Africa in my carry-on. While drunk and on roller skates.

Seriously? Another “no”?

Negative Nelly aside, I started to figure out a way to blog that I was comfortable with, that wouldn’t be hurtful or embarrassing to my kids and husband, and would also protect their privacy. And the day my son went off to kindergarten I published my first post.

So I blog because… I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.

I blog because… I love to write.

I blog because… even awkward situations make for good stories. And I’m the Queen of Awkward. Ask me about the time I got trapped in the balcony at a funeral. Yeah. It happened.

I blog because… I love to make people laugh. (With me, not at me. Thought I’d clarify  that).

I blog because… I love reaching other people with my writing. The best, the absolute best, is when I get a comment that someone thinks my writing is funny.

I blog because…along the way I have found a community of people who are funny, supportive, and incredibly talented. Most are parents as well, so they can identify with what I’m going through. And it’s okay that none of us are perfect.

The negative people are still out there. But I’m not listening any more. I’m having way too much fun.

Why This Blog, and Why Now?

There are reasons I waited until all of my kids were in school to start a blog.

1. Let’s start with the term “Mommy Blog”, from this point forward banned on this site. I waited because I didn’t want to be called that. My distaste for the term stems from the fact that it is loaded with condescension. Any time society attaches “Mommy” to anything, the result is to minimize the importance of the second word. “Mommy Wars”, anyone? Just a silly little tiff among the hens. Ahem. “Mommy Business”? Oh, look how cute she is, playing like she’s a real grown up. Pat pat.

It bothers me because being a parent is the hardest job in the world, with dire consequences if you screw it up. And if you attach something else to that job as well? You are a hero.

If you have a blog, you are a writer. Or a business owner. Or a brand.  Or you’re really, really good at something like photography. You are a person with talent, drive, and passion. You might also happen to be a parent. And I’ll bet you are a damn good one.  Own it, and let’s move on.

2. I had no desire to write about the years of infancy and toddlerhood. With a few exceptions, it’s the same for all of us. Poop, diapers, naps, drool, spit up. Lather, rinse, repeat.  Though rife with funny stories, those years were pretty easy for me because my kids were all good sleepers. They weren’t horrible, and I never felt the need to knock back a couple of margaritas at a 10 a.m. playgroup. (I know, I know, go ahead and hate me.  But never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep.)  Anyhow, there are others out there who write in that genre, and they are really funny and talented! So they’ve got that area covered.

3. I have always been a writer, but I back-burnered it  even before kids because it wasn’t my career path. And also there was that one college advisor who “advised” me to not even try to get into my college’s journalism program. I believe his exact words were, “You’ll never make it, so don’t even try.”  Excuse me while I jump in my DeLorean to go back and slap him.

Okay, I’m back now. God, I’ve wanted to do that for years. Anyhow, growing up, I wanted to be Erma Bombeck. (Well, not be her, exactly. I’m not talking about “single white female” or anything. That would just be creepy.) Then I wanted to be Dave Barry. (Also not literally.) But you get the idea. Working on my high school yearbook and newspaper convinced me I would be a journalist. In college, I was great at cranking out papers while standing up with one foot out the door, typing madly 10 minutes before class started. A’s abounded, though whether because of my mad writing skills or because I was a master of BS I’m not sure. Let’s go with the first one, okay?

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. I am a writer. Always have been. If I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing.

Fast forward through my post-college corporate years, to my life as a parent.   I discovered that freelance copywriting allowed me do not only write from home, on my terms, but get also paid for it. Snoopy dance! And the subject matter was different for every assignment, perfect for someone with a tiny attention span. (I’m not kidding about this. At this point, my attention span could fit into the little box in my junk drawer that I keep paperclips in. With room left over for the paperclips.) So I was back! Back to what I was meant to do.

4. Fear. Fear of putting myself out there. Fear of violating my family’s privacy. Fear of the mean people out in “anonymous” land who attack via the comments section. (Pleeeaase don’t do this, mean comments people! Play nice.)

Finally the time was right, so this blog was born.  The name “Notes from the Shallow End” comes from my summers, eleven and counting, on the “shallow end” side of the pool. There are people on the other side, but I’ve never met them. They have older kids, so while we at the shallow end sling juice boxes and help our kids hoist up wet bathing suits after potty breaks, they lounge on the other side, probably getting pedicures and swilling Veuve Clicquot. Kind of like Goldie Hawn at the beginning of Overboard.

So join me in this new endeavor. Raise a glass with me to the coming years, won’t you? They’re going to be great.