Monday, 16 November 2020

Asked and Answered

First Thought

I get very excited when people write in asking me for advice. Today however I received a letter where Wendy solved her problem and needed absolutely nothing from me.

Verbatim Reprint

Dear Ask Amy,

I wanted to write to you about a situation that I successfully resolved today. 
A large pine tree was uprooted in a recent windstorm and was leaning on power lines in the backyard. I called the power company who sent a truck to the house. Hubs talked to the tree people, who said they intended to drive their very large truck over the rain-sodden yard to remove tree. Hubs said that was unacceptable as it would leave large ruts in the lawn and destroy the garden. Tree people said that was the only option and asked if we were refusing service. Hubs said yes. Tree people went to sit in their large truck outside my house.

Hubs informed me of the situation and was very upset. I did not know how to resolve this as I want electricity, my lawn not destroyed, and my Hubs happy all at the same time. I remembered your fine advice and decided to start by asking questions. Is it possible to remove tree without huge ruts in lawn? Who else has had this problem? How did they deal with it? Who could answer these questions?

I then made breakfast and called the power company because breakfast always helps. I feel this is very important though I don't remember if it is enumerated in your book. I outsmarted the automated system by yelled "representative" at every voice prompt and I actually got a human on the phone. I explained the problem very nicely and asked her what we could do to solve this. She had no idea but found a supervisor who was happy to send a smaller truck and planks so the tires didn't sink into the yard. 

Everyone was happy, no one yelled, and breakfast was delicious. Thank you for your excellent book which helped me solve my problem.

Windy Wendy in Wisconsin 

Closing Remarks (from me)
  1. Please provide more detail regarding your breakfast order.
  2. Yelling "representative" sure does fast track things.
  3. Asking for a supervisor at the right moment helps too. 
  4. Planks so the tires don't sink was a good idea.
  5. My advice is so good, I don't even have to be there to implement it.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Books and Other Resources Recommended at This Years' Erma Bombeck Virtual Workshop

Books about Writing or Motivation 
Small Move, Big Change by Caroline L. Arnold
Mastering Suspense, Structure and Plot by Jane Cleland
The Writing Life by Anne Dillard
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Inside Story by Julia Goldberg
Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Julie Cameron
Mojo: How to Get it, How to Keep it, How to Get it Back if You Lose It by Marshall Goldsmith
Story Trumps Structure by Steven James
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Naked, Drunk and Writing by Adair Lara
Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
Comedy Writing Self- Taught by Gene Perret
The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks by Susan Shapiro
The Hero's Journey by Chris Vogler
On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Non-Fiction Essay/Memoir
A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson
Fourth State of Matter by Joanne Beard (New Yorker article)
Giving up the Ghost Baby by Estelle Erasmus (essay)
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
You're Leaving When? by Annabelle Gurwitch
An Earlier Life by Brenda Miller
Halfway to Each Other by Susan Pohlman
Once More to the Lake by E.B. White (Essay)

Books to Read for Story Structure/Suspense
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkar Braithwaite
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben
Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Saturday by Ian McEwan
Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

Books That Were Recommended But Are Not My Cup Of Tea Even Though They Were Widely Acclaimed and Possibly Won the Pulitzer 
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson

Movies That Came Up in Conversation
As Good As It Gets
Bridget Jones Diary
Bringing Up Baby
Elizabeth (with Cate Blanchett)
(500) Days of Summer
Girl Friday
High Fidelity
Notting Hill
Public Speaking
13 going on 30
When Harry Met Sally

Books That People in the Workshop Wrote And Asked Me to Include on This List

Stardust: A Memoir (of sorts) About Fear, Freedom and Improv by Joanne Brokaw

Latkes for Santa Claus by Janie Emaus

Practice, Practice, Practice: This Psychiatrist's Life by Daniela Gitlin

A Dragon Song: An Allegory of a Life Half-Lived and Fully Processed So Far by Jill Brehm Enders

Whistleblower’s Guide to Family Court: How to Survive Custody and Visitation by Christine McCue

Why a Cat is Still Better Than A Man by Allia Zobel Nolan

Bookshop Owned by Erma-ite That We Should All Support

Uber Suggest web site to look for trending words
Timed prompts to get you writing: @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter
Katrina Kittle's online courses with Word's Worth Writing Connections
Where to Submit: Duotrope
The Writing Cooperative

Oh Right And One More Thing

Monday, 25 May 2020

How to Make Everyone Happy During Lockdown

I Need Advice

Dear Complaint Department,
Here’s my problem. I have two teenagers, very close in age. One kid wants out of the house as all his friends are out and not distancing. The other kid is petrified to go out due to everything he has heard over the past 2 months as well as he sees all the kids breaking the rules. I find myself pulling back one kid and pushing the other kid out the door for at least some air! Then there’s the husband who says he doesn’t want any of us at risk.... he says he’ll get his own apartment if any of the kids put us in danger. This Corona virus is driving this mom crazy. Nobody is happy.
Mom On The Brink

Dear Mom On The Brink,
First, I am so sorry to hear you're having a rough time. Please know that you're not alone. Many of us - moms or otherwise - are struggling with paying our rent, keeping our floors clean and hanging on to our last shred of dignity sanity. It sounds to me like your main issue is that you are trying to make everyone happy during lockdown and it's not working. Let's see if any of these tips work for you.

Accept The Differences

It sounds like some of your frustration is coming from pushing one kid out the door and pulling the other one back in. To make everyone happy during lockdown, we may need to first accept that it takes different things to make different people happy. For efficiency's sake, it would be better if all our kids were exactly the same. They would be able to share hoodies, musical instruments, goalie skates. However, let's also admit to ourselves that it would make life kinda boring. One of your kids wants to go out all the time. One would rather stay in. One may like carrot sticks and ranch, the other might prefer sautéed beet greens. There is no reason why they need to be on the same page just because we are mid-pandemic. The lucky thing is that you know what each of them needs/wants, and you can tailor your parenting accordingly. Now that you know where they stand, you can expect and anticipate what kind of coaching each person needs.

Kid Is Petrified

For your kid that is scared, being happy during lockdown may not be possible right now. If he doesn't want to go out because of what he's been hearing, you may want limit his news exposure and to be careful what you say in front of him. He may be picking up on some of the anxiety in the house, or he may been reading some of the extreme posts on line that would scare the pants off of any of us (if we are wearing pants, these are trying times). Another is to openly discuss with him what his fears are, and show him some of the scientific articles discussing calculated risk.  If you go outside with him, or if he sees you going outside, this may be reassuring for him. Or, he might generally be the kind of person who prefers to stay home in which case you may have to continue to gently suggest that he get some fresh air, as you've been doing. Finally, we need to consider that he may be extra stressed and upset because of the huge disruption to his life. In that case, you may want to seek some help for him depending on what's available in your area, with your insurance, etc.

Kid Running Around

For your son that is cavorting in the streets, as long as he is doing so safely while maintaining rules for social distance and keeping in touch with you, I am not majorly concerned. It sounds like he is happy during lockdown and probably doesn't need any intervention from us.

Husband's Apartment

Things are stressful for many people right now and marriages are no exception. If your husband is offering to get an apartment because he's concerned about the risk level in your house, you may need to sit together and re-visit your rules to come up with something that works for both of you. If he is threatening to flee to an apartment because he just can't take it anymore, it may not be the worst idea for him to take a few nights in his own place and re-calibrate before he returns to family life. Or, he may want to rule the roost while you take a few nights off. What I don't like here is the threat. If things don't go his way, then he's going to leave. I might suggest that we take the threatening aspect off the table, and if the two of you really do need a few nights (or weeks) apart, then let's see how to make that happen in a peaceful way so that it will strengthen your relationship and bring you closer to being happy during lockdown, instead of you trying to singlehandedly operate a household with a sword dangling over your head.

Happy Is A Big Word

I understand that you are trying to make everyone happy during lockdown but I have to tell you honestly this may not be possible. Lockdown is hard, COVID-19 sucks, and happy might be a big ask. We may need to lower our expectations to finding some happy moments or joyful laughter but to expect that one person (you) can singlehandedly keep four people (your family) happy for weeks at a time during a global pandemic might not be realistic. 

More Than A Hot Bath

Listen to me. You need to take care of yourself. When your stress level escalates like this - completely understandable under the circumstances - this is a red flag. Your body is telling you that you need to replenish, refill, do whatever it takes to make yourself happy during this lockdown. For some people it's a hot bath - for others, that's lame. It may be new books, great coffee, some moments alone in the sunshine. Your assignment is to figure out what YOU need and make sure you get it. You will not be able to look after all these other people if you are feeling depleted. This is your permission slip: Please. Put yourself first. Give yourself some time each day that is just about you. 

In Conclusion

Take care of yourself. Everything else is gravy.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Should I Allow My Teenager to Social Distance?

I Need Advice

Dear Complaint Department,
Help! My kids are 15 and 11 and sick of staying home with me. They want to go out and see their friends but I've been saying an emphatic NO. Apparently, I'm the only one. Their friends are riding bikes together, sitting on benches in the park, even walking to get pink drinks!!! Do their parents have rocks in their heads? Are they not following the news?? I don't mind taking a hard line if necessary but I need a sanity check - Am I crazy? Should I allow my teenager to social distance?
Mean Mom

Dear Mom,
I don't think you're mean, or crazy. I think you're trying to keep your family safe during really difficult times. Many of us with kids, jobs and a roof over our heads have the luxury of lying awake at night asking ourselves the same questions:
  1. Where am I going to get vanilla extract?
  2.  Is it safe to pick up Tim Horton's coffee?
  3. Should I allow my teenager to social distance?
The short answer is: you need to do what works for you and your family.
The longer answer is: here are some things to think about when making your decision.

Don't Be Ugly

Whether or not you allow your teenager to social distance, I have one ask: Please don't be ugly.
When I say COVID-19 has brought out the ugly in so many of us, you might be thinking about chipped nails or grey roots. Yes, I would like a shellac mani as much as or maybe more than anyone else, but that's not what I mean. What I mean is that COVID-19 has turned us into a bunch of Gladys Kravitzes - neighbours that are peering through our windows, hoping to catch each other in an act of subversive witchcraft or at least less than six feet apart. 
It is understandable that we are spending more time observing our neighbours - we're home more, and Tiger King only has so many episodes. But. Please. Remember that your teenagers are always watching you and learning from your behaviour. You need to model being a good citizen. If you are constantly judging your neighbours and commenting on what they wear to take out the trash , what they are ordering for take-out and who is passing around red Solo cups, your kids might think it's ok to be critical of those we disagree with.
Yes, maybe your neighbours are more lax about allowing their teenager to social distance. They also might have a pet ferret. You don't have to share all the same values with those around you but I ask you to please not be mean about it. Repercussions will last way longer than lockdown.

Risk Reduction

If deep in your heart you want to allow your teenager to social distance, but you are nervous about it, think about what could happen to make you more comfortable.
From everything I've read, it appears that social distance visits held outdoors at six feet apart are not very dangerous. Therefore, it seems to me that if your kids want to see one friend at a time, from six feet apart, outdoors, you might consider allowing it. If you are concerned that they might get carried away, you can insist on supervising. Keep your headphones (or stay engrossed in a book or take on a complex knitting pattern) on so that you don't listen in to the conversation. If you are immunosuppressed, or compromised, or anyone in your family is at super-high risk, this solution might not be appropriate. But, if you have no specific reason to be worried, safe and supervised social distancing might be a realistic option. If you are concerned about transfer on materials, request that the friend bring their own chair. If this still feels uncomfortable to you, consider offering masks and gloves.  If you are concerned about particles escaping while chewing, insist that this will be a snack-free event. If you are concerned about bathroom usage, keep the visit very short to eliminate this possibility. 
Alternately, bike rides with a friend might be an option. It is my understanding that riding bikes outside is a very low risk activity. If your teenager has a bike and if you live in an area where biking is a safe option, this might be something to consider allowing. You may want to tag along (from a distance) to ensure that the rules of social distance are maintained when stopping. 
I am not saying you should allow your teenager to social distance. That is 100% your decision. I am just asking you to consider if it would be possible to sufficiently reduce the risk so that you are comfortable.

You Don't Know What You Don't Know 

When you see teenagers roaming around your neighbourhood or sitting in the park, please note that the alternative (being home) might be much worse for them. They may have parents who are abusive, or unwell, or who scream at them all the time. The teens may be suffering from eating disorders, or they may be in recovery from substance abuse, or they may be in a situation where staying home for one more second makes them want to jump out the window. You may know these people, and you may know their families but we don't always really know what is going on behind closed doors. Before we jump to judgement, please consider the possibility that this family or this teenager has weighed out the risks and rewards and has come to the conclusion that seeing their friends is a less risky behaviour for them than following the public health directives. We don't know what drives a teenager to social distance (or not). We do know that we don't always have all the facts. Please consider the possibility that someone's mental health may be at stake here, and they may be doing the best they can.

To Answer Your Question, "Mean Mom"

  1. You are not crazy or mean, these are tough times
  2. Even if you don't see eye to eye with your neighbours, try not to be ugly about it
  3. There are probably ways to allow your teenager to social distance safely, figure out if any of them work for you
  4. When you see teens wandering outside, please note that there might be more to the story.

Monday, 11 May 2020

How to Get Vanilla Extract During a Pandemic

1. Refresh grocery website endlessly to secure home delivery spot
2. Order pure vanilla, premium artificial vanilla and boring artificial vanilla
3. Receive e-mail with list of items not available this week including vanilla
4. Ask kids to unpack grocery order because it arrives at 9pm so late you are already in bed
5. Order vanilla again from second grocery store
6. Pick up groceries. Get free turkey bacon from clerk for being so patient while lady in white car screams and yells about being next in line, despite not being parked in car order zone. Listen to couple in minivan have raging fight about going to the Post Office. Open trunk to receive order, wipe hands with Clorox wipes. Check e-mail. No Vanilla Available.
7. Get call from your Dad asking if you want to add something to his online order. Ask for vanilla.
8. Get call from your Dad. There is no vanilla.
9. Give up on vanilla. Bake poppy seed cookies from cookbook that is so old vanilla extract has not been invented yet and is therefore not required.
10. Decide fridge is filthy and do a pre-clean to ascertain how much time the deep clean will take.
11. Reach behind the Intense Bon Maman strawberry jam and knock over giant bottle of artificial vanilla extract.

Lesson Learned
Sometimes we look everywhere for something and it's right under our nose the whole time.

Other Lesson Learned
No matter how much time we spend teaching the kids there are always some things we forget to mention like where to store the artificial extract.

Final Lesson Learned
We are slowly getting used to the pandemic normal and I'm not sure if that's good or bad.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Next Year, Ice Cream?

1. My Uncle Avi died last year
2. It broke my heart
3. It broke a lot of other people's hearts too, read about him here
4. He put the date on everything. If he gave you a lamp, you could turn it upside down and find it dated.
4. May 3rd was his birthday

1. I am marginally obsessed with the work of greatly admire contemporary artist and writer Austin Kleon
2. Austin Kleon and I were both interviewed on the same podcast (him) (me) which makes us practically cousins
3. Austin Kleon has a complex system for keeping notebooks that he is always going on about and I have notebook issues too so this is one of the reasons I have tattooed his face on my wrist I love his work.

A friend of mine posted a few months ago that on her (late) mother's birthday she drinks her mother's favourite drink and gets her mother's favourite lottery scratch off tickets in memory of her mom on that day

Which Got Me Thinking
1. That we should do something like that for Uncle Avi, which would include either eating breakfast for dinner (his favourite meal) or having ice cream (same) or being philanthropic and doing an act of kindness (see link in Background above).
2. However this was just a thought in my head and I did nothing to make it happen.

Back to Kleon
1.  Kleon has a few shticks and one of them is that he uses an old fashioned date stamp with an ink pad on all his pages, post-it notes, journal entries, etc
2. It looks great, very neat, very retro-library

1. The date stamp and ink pad are dirt cheap but when I put them in my cart, it turns out that they are "add-on" items. In other words I have to order something else to get them sent to me
2. Add them to cart and wait for next time I want something

Also Amazon
1. Meaning to read friend of mine's husband's book so I add it to my cart
2. Get an email from amazon saying that the date stamp and ink pad have shipped without the book
3. Why would you make something an "add-on" to save shipping and then not ship it together.

Sunday May 3rd
1. The date stamp and ink pad arrived on Uncle Avi's birthday.
2. Unexpected opportunity to celebrate him and something he really cared about.