Friday, April 6, 2012

10 Vacation Observations

We're spring breakin' it up in Cozumel this week. It's our first Mexican vacay. I woke up this morning with these random thoughts:

1) I remember what a warm shower feels like. Can't wait to experience it again.

2) We have a very diligent pool guy. Our condo is on the first floor, with all windows facing the pool (and ocean, mind you). That guy is out there every morning and every night, working with that pool.

3) He's like our own private pool guy because we have been the ONLY family to use the pool all week.

4) Even though there's fab snorkeling just outside our condo and it cost us $70 to get in, the snorkeling at Chankanaab National Park was totally worth it. I was swimming with the fishies, people. WITH the fishies.

5) Cheap, knock-off, plastic ruin replicas at Chankanaab -- why bother?

6) It takes about five days to get all cocky and lax with the sunscreen. Last night the boys had trouble falling asleep because of their burns.

7) I've never wanted to go on a cruise. But those Disney ships at the pier the other day had water slides on top. Reconsidering.

8) $290 for a "four-hour fishing charter with an English-speaking crew and packaged fillets of your catch" = $290 + tip for 2-plus hour fishing charter with a crew that could say "here, take this" and "fish" and threw our fish in a used ice bag when they were shocked to find that we expected to take it with us.

9) Am I a bad mother if I say that a week, 24-hours-a-day, is a long time to spend interruption-free with these children?

10) The clear blue waters of the ocean that I'm viewing right now from my balcony is breathtakingly GORGEOUS. But so is a pine-lined Minnesota lake.

Snorkeling right outside the condo. Seriously.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bad Parenting #527

After seeing the midnight Hunger Games movie, I figured we should have a friendly little talk about violence in movies. Here's how that conversation went:

Me: Wow, that was a pretty violent movie.

Him: Yeah.

Me: How do you feel about what you saw?

Him: Fine.

Me: Did it make it easier, do you think, that you read the book? Because you knew what was coming?

Him: I don't know.

Me: Do you think you imagined it more violent or less violent?

Him: I don't know. More, maybe.

Me: Wow, that was probably the most violent movie you've ever seen.

Him: No, I saw Shaun of the Dead.

Me: What?! You did not.

Him: Yes, I did. That time you and Dad watched it downstairs I could see it through the bedroom door.

Me: What?! I thought you were sleeping.

Him: I wasn't. Remember when they tried to kill that zombie by decapitating her with record albums?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Crazy or Cool? The Verdict's Not In

The latest Jen's World was posted on the Post-Bulletin site this morning. You can read it there, or wait a couple days and I'll post it here, as well.

It's about taking my sixth grader to the midnight showing of Hunger Games last week. Was it the most responsible thing to do? Nah. Did Christian get enough sleep that night? Certainly not. Was I an eye-bag-wearing zombie the next morning? Hell yes.

Would I do it again? Without a doubt. What a great memory we'll have -- just the two of us.

Funny related story: We didn't tell my nine-year-old that we were going. Didn't want him to feel bad, didn't want to argue about it, and I figured what he doesn't know...

So Christian and I get back that night with our cool Hunger Games popcorn bucket, which I stow on top of the fridge in my 3 a.m. blur. First thing the next morning, Bergen walks in the kitchen and says, "Hey! Did you go to Hunger Games?"

How did he even SEE it?


"Yes," I say. (It's one thing to omit information, but quite another to lie outright. I draw the line.)

"Did Christian go?" he asks.

My stomach sinks. "Yes," I answer.

"Oh," he says.

That's all. "Oh."

Sometimes they shock me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Flashback Friday

This column ran in the Post-Bulletin in September 2007. I'm sorry to tell you not much has changed -- except now I have a car that tells me when I have "0" miles left to go on a tank of gas, which, in instead of making me more responsible, only ups the anxiety factor.

* * *

I was on my way home from “up north” last week when I realized my fuel gauge was on E. By the time I made it to the next town, I practically rolled into the gas station on fumes. This is typical. I always think my gas tank can handle one more errand, get to one more town.

You’d think I’d learn.

Two years ago, I was on that same stretch of road on the way to my grandparents’ cabin. In a move that I believed to be genius, I decided to make the 6-1/2-hour drive at night. I figured I’d cheat time by driving in the dark and get an extra morning out of the deal.

So I bid my husband and kids goodbye, threw in an audiobook and hit the road. I was making good time, and had just an hour to go when my fuel light blinked on at midnight.
“Ah,” I thought, dismissively. “I’ll just stop in the next town.”

It turns out there are long strings of towns in northern Minnesota — with names like Ogema and Bejou — where pay-at-the-pump doesn’t exist and gas stations close at 8 p.m.
So there I was at 12:30 a.m. — the glowing orange pointer of my fuel gauge resting decidedly below E. By the time I hit Waubun — the fourth town in a row without an all-night gas station — it was time to make a crucial decision: Was it better to spend the night in a service station parking lot or stalled on the side of the road two miles outside the next town? I went with the parking lot.

But here’s the thing. In the middle of the night, even quaint little towns with populations of 388 look eerie and dangerous. I decided I needed to get low, keep hidden and find a weapon in case someone decided to break into my van and/or kidnap me. (I was fairly convinced that at least one of these scenarios was inevitable.)
So I locked the doors, crawled into the rear seat and covered myself with my emergency blanket. Then I turned on my cell phone, pulled out the antenna (sharp and weapon-ish), entered my husband’s phone number, and poised my index finger above the “send” button.

Two hours later, with my trigger finger still at the ready, I heard tires slow and then stop on the gravel outside my van. Terrified, I lifted my head to peer outside.

It was a police car.

Did I breathe a sigh of relief? Did I wave a white flag out the rear window? Did I run to the cruiser in gratitude?

No. I ducked and prayed he didn’t see me.

For some reason, I was afraid it was illegal to stay overnight in a parking lot. (OK, so I don’t do my best thinking at 3 a.m.) And, frankly, I felt like an idiot. What was I supposed to say? “Hi. I’m just waiting for the station to open. But, hey! I’ve got this here cell phone I can use as a weapon, so don’t worry about me. I’m good.”

No, it wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have.

The officer was gone when I woke at 5:30 a.m. to the sound of keys in the gas station door. I was relieved to realize I hadn’t been kidnapped — though I did succumb to an untamable case of bedhead. When the overhead lights flickered on, I was the first in line to gas up. And I vowed to keep my tank above the half-way mark for the rest of my life.

But, apparently, I’m still working on that.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I'm reminded of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird today. Maybe it's because -- praise God almighty -- Lamott has joined Twitter.

I'm embarrassingly excited about this.

I'm not a big twitterer. Or, I guess it's a tweeter. I don't know.

Anyway. I've been trying to check in to the Twitter universe more often since AWP (which, yes, I know, was just a few days ago) because I recognize that it has potential for deepening my writing community -- with both those who write 140 characters, and those who write thousands.

I've been fairly neutral about the whole thing. Dipping my little toe in. Throwing up the occasional tweet. And then I found Lamott on there. And she's ON there, updating five, six, seven times a day:

On-Star installed; Sam got for Xmas. He's worried I'll be a spacey old lady who backs over herself. Ha; already am. "Oh, Ms Lamott? R U OK?"

On tour w/ Sam 3-20 as co-writer. He grew up on floors of bookstores, libraries,churches. He thought it was normal. I may have told him that

Ms Lamott? This is the On Star Writing nurse. Our sensor detects you frozen in place at yr desk. I'm going to stay on the line w/you ...

Suddenly I get Twitter. ("Oh, so THIS is what Twitter is all about.") I get front row access to my pedestal people? Daily? Like they're talking to ME?

Hot damn.

So, anyway. That's what got me started thinking about Bird by Bird, Lamott's book subtitled, "Some Instructions on Writing and Life." It's a brilliant book -- full of wickedly sound advice and anecdotes. I spend a lot of time saying, "Hell, yes!" -- aloud and to no one in particular -- while reading it.

The idea behind the phrase "bird by bird," is taking things one item, one day, one project -- one bird -- at a time. (Lamott tells how her brother had procrastinated on writing a school report on birds. It was due the next day, when he sat distraught, panicked, at the table. Their father said (something like), "Just take it bird by bird.")

This phrase has played in mind a lot these last few days.

I came home from the AWP conference in Chicago on Sunday to a pile of deadlines. Just take it bird by bird.

I'm newly inspired with all these great ideas I want to jump on... now! Just take it bird by bird.

So I have all these annoying deadlines and exciting ideas... and a house that's falling apart while calling out, with its dying breath, "Prioritize me! Ignore all that other stuff!" Just take it bird by bird.

So here I go, one day at a time. I have Anne Lamott to entertain me on Twitter. I have free child labor (woot! woot!) in the form of my very own tweens. And I have renewed enthusiasm for my personal writing, which I've committed to pursuing one day (and one bird) at a time.

Monday, March 5, 2012

PostSecret Sunday on a Monday

Got a little thrill today when I remembered that I hadn't checked the PostSecret blog on Sunday. The above postcard (one of the site's secrets) was on it. To read more, head to PostSecret website.

PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. The facilitator, Frank, posts about a dozen new secrets every Sunday. I've been following it for years, and have found the secrets range from quirky to funny to bittersweet to heartbreaking. My greatest takeaway from the site? "Everybody you know has a secret that will break your heart."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Feeling the love for words

It's March! A fresh start! So let's start, shall we?

I'm supposed to be writing my column tonight, but instead I'm sipping Tea Forte (holy crud, this stuff is good) and writing to authors.

This is my new thing (fresh start!): Following authors on Facebook and Twitter and sending them little love notes disguised as random comments. But not random. Not at all.

My new favs? Cheryl Strayed, whom I heard read at the AWP 2012 conference over the weekend. Man, that was some powerful stuff. It was like the entire room held its breath. Her memoir, Wild, comes out later this month. [The full title is actually Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.]

I also heard Stephen Elliott from The Rumpus read his first Letter in the Mail. I'm a subscriber, so I'd read it -- a few times, actually. But hearing Elliott read it aloud? That, my friends, was a dream.

I'm so not finishing my column tonight. I'm too antsy. So, in the meantime, enjoy last week's edition -- all about how I paid someone to squeeze my boobs. (It wasn't Dave Barry, but he plays into this column as well.)