Kids write the darndest things

I love this kid.

This week his second grade teacher sent home a journal entry he wrote so we could read it. The kids were supposed to finish the prompt: “The best gift I ever received was…” Here’s what what was scrawled in his sloppy handwriting:

My mom and dad were the best gift I have ever received and I know it. I love my mom and dad so much that I don’t think any gift is better than them. Also food. I need food and water to live because I can die of hunger and thirst too.

Seriously, what parent doesn’t want to read that? I nearly cried, and I think Husband teared up a bit too.

What makes it even better is that last week I was called in by his teacher to read some other examples of his writing. The assignment was to use his spelling words to write original sentences. And they definitely were original… Here’s one of our favorites:

I have the notion that you will never get married, grow old, and die alone.

Of the other nine sentences, seven were just as lighthearted as this one.


When we asked him about the sentences, his response was, “I can’t think of anything else to write!” (He soon learned that he could think of other things to write about besides someone being pushed into the ocean, maimed in a fight or dying alone as Husband and I made him write new sentences. Imagine that!)

So for now, I am thankful that my son is capable of writing something sweet as well as something disturbing. My anxiety levels have dropped and I am hoping that soon my recurring nightmare that I am raising Dexter will subside.

(So even though I would still love you even if you did grow up to be a serial killer, Boy #3, I really hope you choose to use your powers for good, not evil.)

Move over Honey Boo Boo

This morning I was checking my email when I came across an email from Lisa Leonard Designs announcing that Lisa and her family will be the subject of a new reality TV show, “Life By Design.” If you don’t know who Lisa Leonard is, you must take a moment and click over to her site. She is an amazing artist and blogger who creates incredible jewelry and photography, and her life story, faith and outlook are just as inspiring as her necklaces and bracelets. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Lisa (although I’m pretty sure I did not make as a distinct impression on her as she made on me!), and she is charming, gracious and kind.

So this got me to thinking…if someone were to make my life into a reality TV show, what would people see? Watching the trailer for Lisa’s show, I saw she and her husband working together at home and at work, and I saw an incredibly calm and patient Lisa interacting with her two boys. If a production company were to pluck down a camera crew in our house, would the result be inspiring, like Lisa’s show, or train-wreck horrifying, like, say, Honey Boo Boo’s?

I’m really afraid to think what the answer would be.

Taking the past few days as a small slice of our life, here’s what a typical episode would include.

Paula and Husband spent two chilly evenings and one frigid morning watching their sons play football and soccer. During the soccer game, they were heard to be cheering for the clock to run faster and for their son to run at all, as he prefers to just follow slowly behind the rest of the team so he doesn’t accidentally get kicked in a fight for the ball.

Paula made two trips to the local archery shop to the dismay of the shop owner, who undoubtedly wanted to pull his hair out when she kept calling the arrows “bows.” Husband reinforced his own hunting prowess when he asked Boy #1 what he was going to do with the deer once he “caught it” (with a lasso, maybe?). Boy #1 promised Paula that he would someday shoot her a wild turkey so she could get it stuffed and mounted on a big tree branch to hang in their living room, just like the one they saw at the archery shop. Paula hopes he realized she was kidding.

Unexpected company prompted Paula to secretly die inside when her sister-in-law came inside her home to see the boys, two of whom were, of course, still in their underwear, and the dog, who had just peed on Boy #3’s coat that was, of course, laying on the floor, along with about 15 loads-worth of dirty laundry that had been moved from the bedrooms and was now piled up in the hallway for public display.

Paula came home from a scrapbooking event to find the boys had actually picked up a few things (but curiously left a pair of dirty underwear in plain sight) and that Husband, despite not having gotten the kitchen cleaned up from the last few meals, had baked an apple pie. From scratch. Yes, even the crust. Paula ate one piece. Then she ate Boy #2’s piece that he had left on the counter. Then for breakfast the next morning, she ate another piece. (She forgave him for not cleaning up afterward.) Later Paula and Husband ignored the dishes and laundry and opted instead to veg out in front of the DVR, watching two episodes of “Person of Interest” and the series premiere of “Elementary” (Go CBS!).

Other highlights of the episode include Paula finding a petrified Hot Pocket in a cup on her dresser and Boy #2 sending the following text to her at bowling: “So I’m guessing if the French bread is green, I shouldn’t eat it?”

I’m pretty much convinced that our reality show would be a cross between Hoarders and Honey Boo Boo.

Athough, after reading that Honey Boo Boo’s family now makes up to $20,000 per episode, I could probably learn to live with that.

Our perfectly imperfect themed birthday party

I have a thing for themes.

Any kind of theme, really. I love pulling things together into a fun package. I loved it as a H.S. Language Arts teacher, I love it as a curator of features like Handmade in Iowa for the Des Moines Register, and I love it as a mom.

In fact, sometimes I get so carried away with planning themes that I neglect everything else, like personal hygiene or cleaning my house. I’m pretty sure there’s a mental disorder with my name on it.

So when it came to Boy #3’s birthday party, I knew I wanted to go with a theme. My sister and I decided to do a joint birthday party for her son and mine since they’re both in the same grade (although a year apart in age), and since we were both belated in our planning (one’s birthday was July and one’s mid-August). Better late than never, right? (Just don’t ask a 8-year-old that…)

Both boys are really into LEGO Ninjago right now, so I decided to run with that. I Googled and Pinned until my fingers bled, finding some incredible ninja-related party ideas and some REALLY elaborate parties. All I can say is WOW.

And WOW again.

This kid’s party is more professional-looking than my wedding was! I totally admire all of the work and creativity that went into putting together this themed party, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend the money nor time that this party probably cost (Hello, new screens, tables and floor pillows??), and since I’m living in the middle of Iowa and not Hollywood, I figured no one would expect me to.

So, my sister and I put together a very imperfect party for our boys, and it turned out good enough. In fact, Boy #3 told me after the party, “I didn’t know you were going to make it so fun!” As if I would, instead, make them do “un-fun” things, like play “I Spy a Toilet That Needs Cleaning” or “CNN Headline News BINGO.”

We made the brilliant decision to rent a building that our friends own for the party. There is a kitchen, a smaller room with tables and chairs and a HUGE open gym, perfect for boys because there was not much in there they could damage or destroy. PLUS, I didn’t have to worry about planning the party AND getting my house clean, and if you would’ve seen my house before we left for the party, you would understand why — it looked like a Nobbies had exploded.

When the boys arrived, they were each given a headband with their name on it. My sister made these and they looked awesome. The font was a perfect “ninja” font, and the boys loved wearing them. Then we did “The Ninja Walk,” which was a variation of a “cake walk” or “book walk.” They had to walk in a circle and were supposed to walk stealthily like a ninja while the music played. Ah, yes, the music. Well, I thought I had downloaded the theme song to the “Ninjago” cartoon onto my computer, but when I went to set it up at the building, I couldn’t find it. And unfortunately, I had lost all of my songs on iTunes several months ago when my hard drive was rebuilt. I had literally ONE song on iTunes — “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. (Yeah, don’t ask.) So the ninjas discoed around the circle instead of ninja-walked, and when the music stopped, Husband called out a number, and whoever was standing on the number got a prize.

While half of the kids did the Ninja Walk, the other half made a Ninja scroll. I downloaded the word “Ninja” written in Japanese Kanji and showed the kids. Well, I’m trusting the Kanji meant “Ninja.” For all I know it really said “llama turds” or “bite me.” But since I don’t think any of the parents can read Kanji either, I think I’m safe. I had scrolls already made up, using two 10-inch dowels I found in the cake decorating section of Wal-Mart and tracing paper (which is much thinner than computer paper). We watered down some black paint to look like ink and gave each kid a paintbrush and had them try to copy the Kanji on their scroll. They really enjoyed this, and some of them just did their own thing with it, which is totally cool.

We also had each boy stand in front of a photo booth with their choice of prop to hold. I literally copied these from someone else’s blog, printed them out and glued them to a cereal box to make them sturdy. I hung up red wrapping paper as a backdrop, but of course I hung it way too high for the kids. Oh well… They still looked cute.

Next, we gave each kid a weapon. (You’re welcome, parents!) My sister made Ninja swords by spray-painting paint sticks silver and then covering the bottom of the sword, or the handle, in black electrical tape. They looked really cute and proved to be very effective as well! I wish I would’ve gotten a “before” picture of the Ninja Training Center because once we turned them loose, it was destroyed in about 2.4 seconds! We had blown up quite a few balloons with helium, tied ribbon around them and taped them to the floor so the balloons were about head-high to the kids. They were supposed to “spar” with the balloons, but apparently wooden sticks and balloons are not very good friends, and the game became “see how fast we can pop all of the balloons.” Some balloons escaped to the ceiling, and then the swords starting FLYING to try to hit the balloons. I was envisioning having to take a Ninja to the ER with a sword in the eye, but luckily no one was injured during this game. When we saw that boys were started to STAB with the swords, we quickly collected them until the kids went home (Again, parents, you’re welcome!) and moved on to food.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a store-made cake when I knew the boys would probably take one bite and then run off to play, so I attempted to face my culinary fears and create my own. Fortunately, frosting can cover a lot of mistakes, including the cake breaking into pieces. Of course, I copied these cakes off someone’s Pinterest board, although mine were very sad adaptations of theirs.

A green ninja…

And a blue ninja…

Even though I used the same cake mix for both, the green cake was about 4 inches taller than the blue cake. I can’t tell you how much food dye I went through to get the blue frosting that color, which I was cursing myself for as I cleaned up bright blue dog vomit off my carpet the next morning.

I decided to also try making “sushi” out of Rice Krispie treats, Swedish fish gummy candy and Fruit Roll-Ups. I am embarrassed to admit that I cannot for the life of me make Rice Krispie treats, which I think is a prerequisite to joining the “Good Mom Club.” Everyone and their dog can make Rice Krispie treats — except me. They never turn out right, either so gooey that you cannot dislodge them from your fingers no matter how much you shake them, or so crumbly that you can’t even cut them into squares — you just have to take a spoon and eat them out of the pan. So not trusting myself to make these, I cheated and bought Rice Krispie treats, except not even REAL Rice Krispie treats, the cheap Little Debbie version of them. They were about $2 cheaper per box! I figured the kids would just inhale and then run off to play, so I hoped they wouldn’t notice the difference.

And finally for the food, I wanted to just give out fortune cookies and then decided to dip them in chocolate almond bark …

… which then looked exactly like goat hooves. I’m not kidding. One of the boys even asked, “Why did you make goat hooves?”

I was too cheap to buy Gatorade for the kids, so I just bought bottled water and downloaded some Ninjago water bottle labels from another more-talented mom blogger than me. Boy #2 helped out by presenting each Ninja with his “element,” depending on the color of the Ninjago character on the bottle. They seemed way impressed and excited, which was funny. Hey, dudes, it’s just water!

Afterward we opened presents and apparently my camera was hijacked for a while by a little person because as I uploaded photos, I saw a bunch of photos like close-ups of presents, the door and other photos I hadn’t remembered taking. But this photo, taken by the Anonymous Ninja, was perfect! I love how it’s at eye-level with Nephew and completely captured his mood at the party!

After the party, we made Husband and Brother-in-Law pose for a photo. I’m not quite sure about their Ninja moves…

So of course, Sister and I had to show off Ninja moves of our own.

After which, Sister said that it’s obvious we’re related as both of our first instinct for a Ninja move was to hike up our knee, which I’m not even sure looks anything like a Ninja. (If you’ve heard us both talk, you’ll know that we sound exactly alike, too, so apparently we share more than just the “Ninja” gene.)

Overall, it was a fun party, and I think the fact that it wasn’t polished and perfect made it even more memorable. After all, imperfection is my middle name. Boy #3 is already planning his theme for his 9th birthday party. I think I may try to not wait until the morning of the party to make all the food and decorations next year, though. Yeah, right…

Want to see where I got my ideas? Check out my Ninjago Birthday Party Ideas Board on Pinterest. And if you can’t find something there that I’ve written about, leave a comment and I will get you the link!


There, and here: A perspective on suburbs vs. small towns

It’s nearly been a year since moving from suburbia to small-town Iowa. It’s incredible how different life can be only 45 minutes away, especially considering we went from one of the wealthiest cities in the state to one of the poorest counties. Overall, we’re loving the slower pace of life and the stronger sense of community we feel here. We also think it’s important for our kids to grow up in a place where not everyone has everything they want and need.

We moved from a four-bedroom home that we custom built in a newer neighborhood to a three-bedroom 1960s ranch right across from a development of squeezed-together townhomes that I’m pretty sure are run by a slumlord and apartments that don’t always attract the kind of folks you want to invite over for a barbecue. Don’t get me wrong — we love our home and will love it even more when we can afford to update some rooms and finish the basement. But it was quite a change from there to here.

For instance, I used to stress out in our last house because we couldn’t afford to hire a lawn-care company or fertilize and water as much as many of our neighbors. I know our next-door neighbors with the perfectly manicured lawn LOVED it when our dandelion seeds blew into their yard and our creeping charlie crept on over their property line. But here? Well, considering just down the street there are several abandoned homes/meth labs, one of which has its windows broken out with the filthy, faded curtains still blowing in the wind, I don’t get too worried when our grass gets a little too long. We have all of our windows intact, so we are still lookin’ good.

In the suburbs, most people keep their drama confined to indoors. In the 10 years we lived there, I came to realize that some people put on a good show but then live ugly lives when no one’s looking. But we’re finding that in our new neighborhood, people aren’t much for putting on airs. Maybe it’s because the townhomes and apartments are so small that drama often gets played out in public. We’re not startled quite so much now when we hear curse words flying through the air from a nearby driveway or yard. And the cops have made our street part of their regular route. (I’ve only called them once!) My favorite was when an elementary-aged girl and her little brother were getting cussed out by their middle school-aged sister because they wanted her to take them to church. I later learned she has the F-word carved into her forearm. Classy.

Another fascinating difference I’ve noticed between there and here involves bicycles. In suburbia, cycling is a hugely popular recreational activity, with miles and miles of beautiful trails constructed and completed just within the past few years. It was impossible to drive through the city without seeing at least a dozen serious cyclists training for the next road race or just getting exercise with their expensive recumbent bike. Families, all donning their properly fitting bike helmets could be spotted nearly everywhere each evening or summer day, happily riding to the library or just tootling along to spend some quality time together.

That was there. But here? Yes, we see many bicycles, too. However, in many cases, the function of the bicycle has shifted from recreational to transportational. Sure, there are still kids riding bikes (although helmets are rare), and we have seen actual families riding together on an occasion or two. But for the most part, if you’re an adult riding a bike in town, it’s because either you don’t have a license or you don’t have a car. Usually it’s the jeans and cowboy boots that give it away. Not really popular biking attire. Or, in the instance of a man I saw last week, it’s the case of Michelob he is balancing on his hip. You don’t see that much on the Tour de France.

And although we did have a strolling guitar-playing gypsy spotted several different times in our last neighborhood, we did not live near a cross-dressing man who wears a tiara on his balding head and rides a little girl’s bike with pink tassels hanging from the handlebars. That’s something reserved for small-town residents, and something that we just accept (after the initial shock wears off).

The sounds here are different, too. There, we were right off a major road, so the noises of traffic were part of our daily soundtrack. Here, besides the intermittent fighting and cussing, we hear many more birds and animals, including a woodpecker that lives in one of our trees and coyotes that howl at the moon and the passing trains at night. One morning not too long ago I began to hear the sound of a rooster crowing. Kind of charming, in its own way. I figured that since we live on the edge of town, we must be able to hear it cock-a-doodle-dooing from one of the nearby farms a mile or so away. That is, until I took our Boston Terrier for a walk last week and saw the barnyard bird in someone’s backyard in the middle of town. No other animals, just the rooster. I wonder if the adjacent neighbors even have to set an alarm clock?

Even though life is more laid-back here, it’s never really dull. There’s always some interesting development if you just walk down the street or take a quick drive to the post office. I’m not trying to put down life in the suburbs at all. I did it for 10+ years and made great friends and memories. But I do believe it’s not for everyone. For some people, small towns are the only place you truly feel you’re “home,” roosters, booze-toting bicyclists and all.





When it’s hard NOT to write

Some say writing is hard. But sometimes not writing is even harder.

As I look back at the past year’s posts, I’m ashamed at how few there are. And as worn out those “sorry I haven’t posted lately” posts can be, I do feel compelled to reflect a little on my negligence.

When you’re a writer, you are intrinsically driven to share. And anyone who knows me personally knows I’m a sharer. Sometimes I share WAY more than a person cares to know about me, but I can’t help it. I put it all out there and allow people to make their own judgment about whether I’m refreshingly open or downright annoying.

When I started my blog, I loved having a place to share my family’s foibles, as well as my feelings and frustrations. And as I started receiving feedback from readers, we developed a weird kind of collective friendship, and I wanted to tell you even more. I wanted to stay up all night, eat graham crackers dipped in a can of frosting while “Friday Night Videos” blared from the TV, and tell each other everything.  I didn’t want to hold back; I wanted to be totally transparent. After all, that’s what friends do.

But I knew I couldn’t tell all. This weird collective friendship included some of you I’ve never met in real life and others I’ve known nearly all my life. And while I’m the type of person who isn’t bothered much by what people think of me, it isn’t just about me. I have three boys and a husband, as well as family and friends, and what goes on in my life involves — and affects — all of them. My story is not just my story to tell. And that’s become really hard.

With Boy #1 being in high school now, and Boys #2 and #3 being fifth and second graders, I have to be incredibly conscientious about what I share and think about how they will feel about it if people they know read it. And I would never want to say anything that would make my husband embarrassed or uncomfortable (although I’m sure I’ve done this more than once).

Over the past year and a half, we have gone through so many changes. Let’s see…I lost my job while my husband was on a month-long trip to Poland, we downsized and moved from a large new home in the suburbs to a smaller 1950s ranch in our small hometown, the boys had to adjust to new friends and a new school, I turned 40 (of course, without having lost the weight I’d wanted to)…and those are just a few of life’s recent stressors. We’ve also dealt with issues that I can’t write about right now, to be fair to my family. For someone like me to not share such big things in my life, it feels inauthentic. Fake.

Cue the anxiety.

Writing became something I dreaded because everything I tried to write just seemed trite or forced. It wasn’t what I really wanted to tell you all, so I did what I do best when my anxiety gets the best of me — I avoided. I avoided for a long stinkin’ time.

But lately I’ve found myself running across quotes about writing from all different sources, and one theme has seemed consistently highlighted, just for me.

To be a writer, you have to write.

That’s it. You have to write. Whether you feel like it or not, whether or not you know what to write about — you have to write. Every day, no excuses, no avoidance. And I figure now that I’m officially calling myself “a writer,” partly because that’s what I want to be and partly because I don’t want to have to find another job, I should probably follow that advice. I have to write.

So I am officially recommitting myself to this blog and to my career as a writer. I figure if I have the nerve to publish this post, I’m going to look pretty stupid if I don’t post again for another two months, so in that way you’re all holding me accountable. (Thank you very much.) And although I can’t say everything I want to say at this point in my life, I know the time will come when the stories can be told. It would be nice if I still had an audience left to read it when that happens. Until then, I will share what I can in ways that I hope you’ll find interesting and entertaining. Just know that when I do have to hold back, it’s nothing personal, friend.



The 2012 Small-Town 4th of July Parade Recap

If you want to get a good seat at my hometown 4th of July parade, you’ve gotta get there early. And hard-core parade junkies like me aren’t going to let a little heat get in the way of snagging those front-row (or front-curb) seats. So this year, Husband dropped me off uptown two hours early so, being the glutton for punishment I am, I could guard our regular spot, in front of Chris’ Photography and one of the too-many vacant storefronts on the north side of the square.

Loaded up with four chairs, a beach towel, water, sunscreen, candy bags for the kids, a book and a camera, I was a little surprised when I saw that there were still many curbside spots left. Then I glanced at the east side of the square, where the buildings and awnings provided shade for an already crowded group of parade watchers, and realized that this was because most people in town weren’t stupid. And apparently I was. No matter that it was already 98 degrees at 9:15 in the morning and that I was settling in for a good two hour sunbath before the parade even started. It was tradition to sit in this spot! Sure, we could never understand the parade emcee on the loudspeaker here; it wafted over in Charlie Brown’s teacher-esque “waah waaaahs.” And sure we had a perfect view (and if we were lucky enough to be downwind — smell) of the porta-potties across the street in the courthouse parking lot. But it was tradition. And we didn’t need a pretty view, or shade, or to be able to hear, in these here parts. We were tougher than those east-side dandies.

At 9:30, as I was wiping the sweat out of my eyes, I started to rethink tradition.

But fortunately for me, tradition was saved when Chris (of Chris’ Photography fame) opened up her shop and invited me to come guard my chairs with her in the comfort of her air-conditioning. She did not have to ask twice. If she hadn’t offered, I’m pretty sure when the rest of my family showed up at 11, all they would’ve found in my chair was a puddle, along with my corn-cob pipe and stove-top hat.

The parade provided some old favorites as well as some new additions. And as always, a few head-scratchers. For instance, we always have an abundance of old and classic cars. But apparently the definition of “classic” has become a bit liberal. If this is the standard, I’m pretty sure my 1976 Chrysler Cordoba with the robins egg blue “pleather” interior from high school would’ve looked pretty sweeeeet in the parade route… I’m not entirely convinced that this person wasn’t just trying to find a place to park.Coming in under “old favorites” were the walking Spam can (apparently getting a bit big for his aluminum britches now, he refuses to walk in the parade and demands to ride like royalty)…

the choreographed shopping cart routine performed by the Fareway grocery employees (I’ve heard tryouts are cut-throat!)…

and of course (we ARE in Iowa, folks!)…lots and lots of tractors.

“I don’t need no stinkin’ umbrella…I don’t care how hot it is!”


The kids tried to keep cool while darting around for candy. It was so hot that the bubble gum being thrown out by parade participants was already melted, which was as awesome as you imagine it was. Here my poor nephew, who was making his first appearance at our parade, tried to keep cool with a wet washcloth. Heat exhaustion, peat, uh, mexhaustion…it’s never too hot to celebrate our country’s freedom, people!

The poor saps giving away Freeze Pops in the parade never knew what hit them. Here, Boy #3 tries to eat his in the 3.4 seconds before it turned into hot grape sugar water.

I don’t think this poor guy realized he wasn’t really in the Civil War. Really, dude, we’re a free, united country now. You can just wear a pair of shorts and a tank top!

“If I don’t see at least one politically polarizing float, I swear I’ll jump!”


Whoa, man, take it easy! Here you go! (I don’t even think I get this one. Must mean I’m one of the “dummies”…)

You say you want to see animals? We’ve got animals! Nah, it wasn’t too hot for them. The marching band? Yes. A horse wearing a heavy saddle and carrying a 230-pound man for several miles on hot concrete? Nope.

(He was carrying a gun, so I don’t think the horses had much choice in the matter…)

Horses weren’t the only animals that paraded through town. We also saw goats…

and corn dogs…

Zac Galifianakis even made an appearance and showed off his karate ninja skills!

And of course, George was there. Who’s George, you ask? No idea. But he is counting on our vote. For what, I’m not sure either.

Like most parades, our town offers up some coveted awards every year for entrants.

And every year they win the “Best Use of Color” award.Those Red Had Ladies just think they’re soooo coool.

I think this float won the “Best Use of Duct Tape” award.

And my favorite parade entry this year, by far. In fact, I am bestowing my own award to them: “Most Enthusiasm.”

Are we having fun yet?

Thanks for reliving the 2012 4th of July Parade with me. Stay tuned for a review of our carnival!

Happy Independence Day!

Happy 4th of July, friends! I hope you’re all spending the day with your loved ones, exercising those freedoms that only America offers!

If you’ve been with me for a while, you probably know how I spend my 4th of July — hanging out in my hometown, which is also now my residence again. The parade…the fireworks…the carnival… I love it all. This morning I’m heading out to plunk myself in front of Chris’ Photography on the square, our “usual” spot, to watch the parade. It’s only supposed to be 103 degrees today, so this year I will have the delight of watching the parade dripping wet with sweat. YES!

I will be taking lots of photos so that I can share our small-town celebration with you. Until then, go ahead and enjoy one of my accounts of past Independence Day celebrations!

4th of July 2011

4th of July 2010

4th of July 2009

4th of July 2008

Getting there is half the fun

airplaneIt was finally here, the day I’d been anticipating since December 6, when I swallowed my fears and doubts and registered for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. I would be heading to Dayton, Ohio, where Erma lived and taught at Dayton University, to run elbows with the Bombeck family as well as some of the most talented and funniest writers in the country.

No, I wasn’t nervous or anything.

As I finished (Well, started and finished; it’s me, you know!) packing my bag late the night before I was to leave, I decided I should print out my flight itinerary. And that’s when I saw it…

Departure from DSM: 8:34 p.m.

Yes, it said “p.m.,” as in “not a.m.”

I will admit — I shouted a few words that Erma Bombeck probably would not have approved of. How could I have booked a flight for 8:34 p.m. instead of a.m., especially for a trip that I was so excited about?

I decided to go ahead and proceed as planned the next morning. Husband would drop me off at the airport (an hour away from home) on his way to work. Surely I could catch a standby flight. How many people could possibly be flying out of Des Moines, Iowa, on a Thursday?

So at 7:15 a.m. I trotted up to the United Airlines counter hopeful that the flight I had intended to book a seat on wasn’t full.

Of course it was. As were every other flight to Chicago that day.

The United representative was sympathetic, but her hands were tied. “This is very unusual,” she said. “I’m not sure what’s going on today, but every single flight is overbooked already. There are no standby-eligible flights at all.”

Of course there weren’t.

My optimism starting to fade, I got a little teary-eyed as I pictured the day that was ahead of me: hanging out for the next 12 hours in the airport just to board my flight and arrive in Dayton after midnight instead of meeting keynote speaker Alan Zweibel, of Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.

I even considered renting a car. It would only take me 10 hours to drive. But after finding that the large rental companies were all rented out (of course), and getting a quote from some fly-by-night rental car company for $500-some odd dollars for a one-way trip, I decided that probably wouldn’t be a smart choice.

So I made myself comfortable, wiped away my tears and settled in to get some work done while I had time to kill. Surely, that would make time go quickly.

10:18 a.m.


Fortunately, Husband felt sorry for me, even though my own carelessness had gotten me into this mess, and offered to come pick me up at the airport to spend a few hours that afternoon in his classroom. At least I’d have a change of scenery. He even took me out for an early dinner after school got out before he dropped me back off at the airport and headed home. What a good guy.

Finally, after what felt like 12 hours (possibly because it was 12 hours), I boarded the itty-bitty plane for the first leg of my flight to Chicago.

The flight went smoothly, and we landed at Chicago on time.

And we waited. And waited. Finally, the pilot came on the loudspeaker and said, “Folks, we’re going to have to wait here for a while before we disembark. Seems that the computers are down at O’Hare, and they are having to do everything manually.”

Of course they are.

Nothing like being stuck on the runway of a teeny plane after 10:00 p.m. when by now I was supposed to be rubbing elbows with some of the funniest writers in the country. It was fantastic.

After my fellow hostages and I were finally released, I had to make a mad dash through O’Hare to catch my flight to Dayton. And when I finally found my gate, I was told that they’d reassigned us to a different gate, clear across O’Hare, because of the computer issues.

Of course they had.

So I pulled up my big-girl pants and ran, once again, to my gate. Something was finally in my favor — sort of. The computer malfunctions had delayed all of the flights, so even though I was late, I hadn’t missed the plane. But it did mean I would get in even later than I was supposed to.


By this time, I was completely disheveled and could barely think straight. All I wanted to do was get to my hotel, catch some sleep and be ready to actually participate in the workshops the next day.

When we touched down in Dayton, I will admit, I got teary-eyed again. This time, they were happy tears. Or tears of exhaustion, I’m not entirely sure which. I got off the plane and followed my flight-mates through the eerily deserted airport to the baggage claim area. As I waited, and waited . . . and waited for my brown suitcase to roll past me, I started to get a sinking feeling. No, it couldn’t be…

When the conveyer belt finally stopped, three of us were still standing, bagless and hopeless. We asked the only worker we could find what we were supposed to do, and he ushered us into his office to fill out the “lost luggage” paperwork.

I was the last one to fill out my forms, and by the time I was finished, the airport was completely closed. Fortunately, the guy helping me was friendly, and after telling me that the hotel I was staying in didn’t have shuttle service this late (It was after 1 a.m., after all), he walked me out to the cab stand. I was literally the last customer to leave the airport.

Of course I was.

I climbed into a minivan with an angry-looking young man who seemed not at all happy with his life behind the wheel, and I went the 20-minute ride in the dead of night in complete silence, thinking, “I’m pretty sure this is how some women end up dead.”

After arriving at the hotel and paying my friendly cabbie $40, I nearly collapsed at the front desk, happy to finally be there but wishing I actually had some luggage to accompany me. I gave the person at the counter my name and explained that I had called in earlier and told them I would have a late (extremely late) arrival. And she proceeded to tap the keys on her computer for way too long, her brow furrowed in a look that said, “I don’t dare tell this crazed woman that we gave away her room.” A Seinfeld-esque moment indeed. (“You see, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to keep it.”)

Finally, after literally 10 minutes, she came up with a room for me. At that point, I would’ve probably slept in the linen closet, (Maybe I could make a toga out of sheets to wear the next day, too!) but it was a room. A real room. Next, I asked her if they had any toiletries I could have since my luggage was MIA. I did have a toothbrush and makeup in my carry-on, but no deodorant, hairspray, anything else of that nature. She looked a little flustered, went into the back room, and came back with a little baggie of toiletries for me.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but we only have men’s deodorant.”

Of course you do.

“I’ll take it,” I said.

When she handed me my room key, I looked at it and laughed: 665. Yep, I was about as close to hell as you could get.

After having to sleep completely in the nude (which is not something I’m extremely comfortable with, if you couldn’t guess) so I could wear my clothes again the next morning, I woke up after a restful three hours of sleep and realized why I’d scored that room: the thermostat didn’t work. The only two temperatures were frigid and sweat-your-ass-off, even if you only adjusted the temperature by one degree.

But no matter. Finally, I’d made it. And even though I had to put on dirty underwear after I’d showered, along with a T-shirt that was completely wrinkled and had evidence of various airport foods all over it, and even though I had to comb through my wet hair with my fingers and smell like an old man with my Speed Stick deodorant — I’d made it, dammit.

And I had to think, as I rode down the elevator to start my day, that Erma would’ve made a good story out of this.

Airplane photo credit