Round One of the Columnist Contest Has Arrived!

We wanted your voice to be heard, and you did not disappoint! We’ve received so many great submissions that we decided to expand the contest throughout multiple issues. This is a win-win for everyone. So here’s how it’s gonna go down:

This week we’ll print the first five of our finalists (from the earliest date of submission). Their columns will be numbered 1-5. Voting for Round One begins Wednesday, April 4, and ends Tuesday, April 10, at 10 a.m. The winner of Round One will be announced in our Wednesday, April 11, edition, and the next batch of five columnists will be printed for Round Two. The victors of each round will then go head-to-head in a final bout to decide the new columnist of The Tolucan Times!

There are three ways you can vote for your favorite: by email, info@tolucantimes.com; by phone, (818) 762-2171; and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/TolucanTimes (be sure to “Like” us while you’re there). When voting, just notify which number (1-5) you think deserves a spot in our pages. If by email, put your choice in the subject line.

So without further ado, let the contest begin – it’s your turn!

1: Disco Liz

By Lisette St.Claire

Hi there. I’m Lisette and everyone tells me I should have my own TV/talk show, book, radio show … something. California native with an East Coast mentality here. At 53 I’ve done more interesting stuff than most people get to do their whole lives:

I danced as a “regular” on American Bandstand for six years in the ‘70s. We invented the “YMCA” arm thing and can prove it.

I mud wrestled my way through beauty school in the early ‘80s and traveled to Japan and Mexico on tour. Almost got killed and arrested in Mexico twice, but that’s another story. I’ve been a hair color specialist since then and still have some of the same clients.

I’ve worked in just about every popular nightclub back in the day as either a bartender, waitress, or shot girl.

I love to dress up for Halloween.

I’m still a Disco Queen. I have my “Disco Drill Team” that dances in the Doo Dah Parade every year and have become the crowd favorite. I still dance a couple times a week and host a once-a-month dance social.

I now work at a major casting office as I have for about 15 years as a casting director, but am now on the graveyard shift 13 hours/night. I love getting calls at 4 a.m. from people that can’t sleep, want to chat, tell me their problems. People compare me to Peg Bundy, Fran Drescher, and Lucy all balled up into one.

I have a crazy family that is the Addams Family and My Big Fat Greek Wedding combined. My mother was a beauty queen.

I’m a single, straight female still looking for Prince Charming … or his brother. I’ve been on the Dating Game and Love Connection, which didn’t get me much but a couple freebie trips. I won a boat on The Price Is Right though.

I’m very outspoken; I tell it like it is — don’t sugarcoat it. I love to hit local casinos and play penny and nickel slots and can give you fun casino tips!

I love to travel when I get the chance. Cruising is my favorite, and I can give you some informative tips on those too.

I’ve been yo-yo dieting most of my adult life and finally found something that works, even if you can’t exercise! It’s tough for gals my age.

I love reality TV, but don’t tell anyone.

I have lots of different food likes and have been to just about every great restaurant in town. I can recommend nice romantic to stretchy-pants and flip-flops choices.

My fave nonprofit organization is Daphneyland, the Basset Hound Rescue Ranch in Acton. I had basset hounds for 25 years. No brothers or sisters, no kids … but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about yours.

Vote for me! Thanks for the opportunity and have a groovy day!

2: The Pet Reader

By Patty Schaller

I said to the cat, “Hello, Emma, I’m the lady who talks to animals.”

Emma considered me silently for a moment. Then, “Humans can’t do that.”

“I’m doing it right now,” I said, and being a cat, she saw the logic in this.

I have been a professional animal communicator for over 35 years, but I’ve always been able to talk with animals and also people who nobody else sees or hears. As a child, I thought everyone could do this. As I grew, I realized that not only do they not, but they think you’re nuts if you admit you do. I truly believe everyone comes into life with a purpose. Mine is helping people and animals.

Animals communicate in three ways: they send each other feelings, pictures and, those who live with people, pick up the words they hear around them. This is how children learn language, and the animals learn our language exactly the same way.

I would like to share my experiences as an animal communicator in a column for The Tolucan Times. I think people will enjoy reading tips on how to “speak” with their own animals and hear about the experiences of others. I will also answer general questions in the column.

My writing experience includes a career as a reporter and feature writer for a daily paper in New York. I also freelanced for both local and nationwide papers and magazines (including the LA Times) and wrote a pet column for The Pet Press a few years ago before moving out of state. I still freelance and am working on a mystery novel.

My website is www.petreader.com.

3: Keep Your Friends Close. And Your M&M’s Closer.

By Claudia Grossman

Intellectually, I know I’m an emotional eater. Hel-lo. Show me a room of ten women and I’ll show you nine emotional eaters. And one female who loves fiber.

In trying to explain this condition to my husband, I am rewarded with a puzzled look, somewhere between that of a puppy that truly doesn’t understand your command and a cat that gets it but would rather check out the litter box (or watch the Lakers).

Not surprising, then, that the audience of choice for an emotional eating intervention is girlfriends who have all been there, all get it, and all will, at one point or another, turn back to food because it truly is the only thing that understands.

Think I’m kidding? What soothes the soul after a ridiculously stressful day trying to work with a woman half your age who is certain that she is in charge and, by the way, “My mom wears her hair exactly the same way you do”? A five-mile run? Only if it’s to the nearest market to pick up that extra-large bag of M&M’s.

Who knows better than a woman the way that eating frosting from the can promises an instant cloud of comfort and the sense (false as it may be) that all is well with the world?

And really, when you finally get home after a flat tire, a rude tow truck driver, a broken heel, and a lost laptop, who are you gonna call? Foodbusters? I don’t think so. I think you’re going to call that Chinese place down the street for warm, golden soup packed with soft, pillowy wontons, and an order of sticky, satisfying, sweet & sour chicken. And don’t forget the white rice.

Like everything else we, as middle-aged women, face in our lives, emotional eating falls into that “staying in balance” dynamic. As an everyday way to live, we know it’s not the answer. But as a once-in-a-while, comfy, cozy way to unplug and unwind our way back to sanity, there’s no question.

I’ve got dibs on the green ones.

Intent of column: A mix of humorous, touching, opinionated, intelligent writing based on the life experiences of a 50-something woman (me). Think a combination of Erma Bombeck/Nora Ephron/Anna Quindlen in terms of tone and subject matter, with my own original, quirky style.

4: Things That Make You Go Hmmm

By Ree Sponsa Bilatee

OK, maybe it’s just me, but I was wondering and then thinking “this just seems so wrong.”

The HBO show Luck, which I did not watch, was cancelled. The reason given was due to the death of three horses. I say great. The actors were wonderful and many were provided with jobs besides the actors, but here’s my confusion. We cancel a show due to the death of three animals; one should have been enough, yet, we allow worse tragedies to take place.

Why do we as a society leave shows like Dance Moms, Kate Plus 8, Toddlers and Tiaras, 19 Kids and Counting, etc., to remain on the air, where children — I repeat — children are abused on a regular basis. None of these kids gets a salary. Yes, their parents do, but the children are not paid. There are no monies put aside for their future. The child can’t say “turn the camera off and leave me alone,” their guardians won’t allow it. These minors have been signed into servitude. We allow it by tuning in to watch. Yes, some shows have been cancelled, not to protect the children, but because people stop watching.

The scary part is these shows are titled “Reality” shows. Parents should be embarrassed. Producers should be embarrassed. Most of all, we as a society should be embarrassed for watching such shows and allowing them to go on without insisting – demanding —that the kids involved get the same considerations and protections we afford animals.

I guess our excuse can be explained by the analogy of traffic coming to a halt on the freeways when there is an accident. There is no reason for traffic to stop in all lanes, except for the “rubberneckers” who are hoping to see some kind of tragedy.

I know I am not alone in my dismay over subjects like this. Each week I want to write about subjects that make all of us go “that’s wrong” or “what the hell.” If more people, just like me, start saying enough is enough, as a society maybe we can bring about change.

5: The Great Communicator

By J.P. Reynolds

I was born in NYC — Bronx, Irish, Catholic. What this means is that I was raised by good, sweet people, most of who were outrageous storytellers and serious drinkers! As a child I loved hiding underneath my mother’s dining room table, whose long, starched tablecloth made it my tent. I relished listening to my mother and her three sisters tell stories, debrief, and argue with each other in ways that put the ladies of The View to shame. By midnight at least one of my aunts would leave in a pride-wounded huff.

Now, in New York, most arguments begin in the kitchen for some reason, and it’s there that most of my parents’ arguments started. Slowly, though, my father would float off to the living room, while my mother was still lecturing him. Suddenly, she’d realize he was gone and inevitably would find him in his recliner — asleep. The man had narcoleptic powers! My mother would throw her hands up in the air and lament, “Why do I even bother? I might as well talk to the wall.”

A cold snap would blow through the apartment and after about an hour of silence, I’d ask my mother if anything was wrong. “Wrong? No, why would you think that? Why don’t you ask your father if anything is wrong?” He, though, was still snoring away.

It took grad work at USC’s Annenberg School and a dose of therapy for me to figure out how to communicate so as to get better results than my parents and sweet relatives ever got. And since old habits die hard, I’m still learning.

Today I teach classes on business and cross-culture communication at UCLA Extension (also lectured at LMU for 15 years). I provide businesses with workshops on topics related to those anything but “soft” skills of interpersonal communication and I do one-on-one coaching with people who are competent at what they do, yet struggle to communicate with confidence.

In addition, I’m a non-denominational wedding officiant! I help about 70 couples a year celebrate their great day — and along the way show them how to keep the “I” in “I Do” by communicating in healthy, non game-playing ways with each other and their crazy-making families.

From the classroom to the boardroom down to a rose-petaled aisle, I show folks how to improve the quality of their lives by improving the quality of their communication.

I’d love to use this column as a place for telling you stories that will assure you that you’re not (totally) crazy and offer tips & tricks for communicating in ways that increase your chances of getting heard and understood.

There’s more to communicating than snoring in a recliner!