Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Video Tuesday!

Good morning!

Here's what's coming up in Jen's World tomorrow... from a writer who looks like she was, indeed, up at 4 a.m.

My Barn Bar Debut

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about my guest-starring role on the fun local YouTube serial, Barn Bar. (Can one actually count it a "guest-starring role" if one only has five lines?)

At any rate: The episode is live! You can watch all nine minutes and thirteen seconds of it here:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thesis

Thesis

Thesis

Thesis

Thesis

Thesis

Thesis

Thesis

This is my life right now, which is why I've been absent. It's due tomorrow! Expect a celebratory post soon!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Best Line

It seems that in most books I read, one line, one phrase, one section will stand out for me. It's the line that makes me pause the longest, reread the most times, or reflect for days afterward.

Don't get me wrong, in the best books, this happens repeatedly. But still. There's always that one line.

In Sonja Livingston's Ghostbread, which I just finished reading this morning, the line that most spoke to me didn't reveal itself until the very last page.

Ghostbread is Livingston's memoir of growing up in poverty in western New York. In her epilogue, relating how coincidence and circumstance helped her move on from that life -- and how her nieces, nephews, siblings remain in it -- she writes:

“…there is no rope strong enough to pull someone from one life to another. And perhaps it is arrogance to try” (239).

And now I'm going to think on that some more.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lit

So, today I'm flipping through the pages of Lit, a memoir by Mary Karr (author of The Liar's Club and Cherry). I read Lit a couple of weeks ago, and am now making notes on it for my VCFA advisor.

Lit has received numerous accolades. According to the back cover, it was named "Best Book of the Year" for publications from The New Yorker to The Washington Post.

And it was good -- quite good, actually. It held my interest and maintained a level of honesty that many authors never reach. But would I consider it a "Best Book of the Year"? I don't know.

I did find some great writing advice, though -- such as these words of wisdom regarding the reliability of memory:

“Decades ago, I trained myself to mistrust [my own] perceptions. No doubt [I] projected as many pixels on to the world’s screen as [I] took in. So while I trust the stories I recall in broad outline, the interpretation through my old self is suspect” (88).

And this bit of advice regarding writing about oneself (as given to Karr by Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy's Life):

“Tell your stories and your story will be revealed… Don’t be afraid of appearing angry, small-minded, obtuse, mean, immoral, amoral, calculating, or anything else. Take no care for your dignity” (248).

Have you read Lit? Would you recommend it?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jen's World 11/10

In case you missed yesterday's Jen's World, here's what it was about. Kind of.



It won't go on the P-B site for a couple days, but if I can find it (that site is horrible to navigate), I'll post it.

Quote of the Day

I came across this quote, quite serendipitously, this afternoon -- but it's one that will stick with me:

An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but it will never break. -Chinese Proverb

Lovely. I feel this to my toes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Remembering a friend

One year ago today, my friend -- and Austin, Mason, Joshua, and Sienna's mommy -- lost her life in a car accident.

I think of Tristen and her family, of those four children and her husband Patrick, so often. But she's especially been on my mind this week -- and every hour of today -- as this first anniversary touches us.

It's a hard day -- and I cannot imagine how Tristen's family must be feeling today and everyday. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

In remembrance of my friend, I'm posting the "Jen's World" column I wrote about her last year. It comforts me to put these stories out in the world, helping to keep Tristen's spirit alive in this small way.

* * *

Last weekend, I was supposed to visit my friend Karmen in Manhattan. We were going to catch an off-Broadway play, attend a reception for a new Monet exhibit, take a jog around Central Park. But plans change.

Instead of landing at LaGuardia on Friday afternoon, I was in northern Minnesota, saying goodbye to my friend Tristen.

One brisk morning last week, after a night of freezing rain, Tristen lost control of her minivan on an icy bridge and suffered a head-on collision. She died instantly. Of her four young children, two were buckled into the car with her. They survived.
The news hit me like a full-body slam. Since then, memories have played back as movie shorts and snapshots.

It’s seventh grade and Tristen and I are at the roller rink, where our tight-knit group of friends has gathered over Christmas break. Tristen has a permed, V-shaped bob that sways in front of me under the disco lights.

We’re in high school and Tristen’s standing in front of the mirror in her bedroom, spraying her bangs with AquaNet as we sing along to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Her mom yells from the bottom of the stairs, “Trissy! Do you need a ride to the game?”
It’s 6:15 a.m. on senior skip day. We’ve all spent the night at Sarah’s parents’ hunting cabin, where we wake to Tristen’s video camera in our faces. “There are my sleeping beauties!” she laughs. “Rise and shine!”

We’re at one of our first college parties, where Tristen flirts with that cute RA from 3B Oak Hall. On the way back to the dorms, we blare Kiss songs in Sarah’s orange Granada.

I throw a Frisbee to Patrick — that former RA who has become the love of Tristen’s life — outside their new house. My husband stands at the grill and the sun peeks through the trees and we say it’s a perfect day.

We old friends share a 10-bedroom cabin at Itasca State Park and there are husbands and children and dogs in every corner. At night, after the kids go to sleep, we sit on the screen porch and laugh at our teenage selves.

Tristen’s in my kitchen, doling out juice boxes and PB&Js to her sons as I hold her baby daughter, whose cheeks I must literally restrain myself from pinching. After lunch, Tristen’s three boys pile on top of their mom on the couch and she calls them her “pumpkins.”

I’m reading an e-mail she sent just days ago. She writes about wanting the H1N1 vaccination for her oldest son, her seven-year-old, who hasn’t been struck by the virus yet. About the school referendum that just failed. About how she, Patrick and the kids are heading to our hometown for Thanksgiving. “Anyone else?” she writes.
And, now, the most recent snapshot: I’m sitting in a church holding hands with my old friends and watching Tristen’s grieving husband and their children — her suddenly grown-up Austin, her impish Mason, her sleepy Joshua, her pink-tighted baby Sienna — gather around that wooden coffin and listen to the pastor talk about how “’til death do us part” doesn’t mean “happily ever after.”

In her life, Tristen modeled love and loyalty and humor. In her death, Tristen teaches me that life can change with every breath we take. That we should live each day like it’s our last. That nothing’s more important than hugging our kids and saying “I love you” like we mean it.

These are life-changing lessons. But the price for them is too high.

It’s too high.

I would give up the enlightenment Tristen’s death brings — this newfound appreciation for life, this renewed closeness I feel to my old friends, this palpable connection I feel with Tristen’s family — to reverse what happened to my friend last week. I would trade it all if those four children could just have their mommy back.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

This Week in Jen's World...

Yesterday was my birthday -- the big 3-9. So, of course, I wrote about it. (If you had to come up with 52 columns a year, you'd write about your birthday -- and anything else even remotely out of the ordinary -- too. :)

You can find this latest Jen's World column HERE.

I had a fabulous day. Breakfast in bed, a movie with the fam in the afternoon, an Ugly Denim party with friends in the evening. Life is good!

And tonight, as my 8-year-old and I had our own little living room dance party (MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" may or may not have been involved), I started planning my playlist for next year's bigger 4-0. FYI: The 80s will be disproportionately represented.

Best to you all!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How Cool Is This?

Fire jumping. Vikings helmets. Free beer.

I think I just found my Summer 2011 fitness goal:

http://warriordash.com/

Here's the Minnesota course:

http://warriordash.com/register2011_minnesota.php

Seriously. How cool is this?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday is the New Friday

It's a short school week for the kiddos, which means it's a short work week for me. To celebrate, we're taking off for the cabin for our annual winterizing extravaganza. (Cue the air compressor and giant, rubber-handled rakes!)

I'll be away from any kind of Internet -- wifi or otherwise -- for several days. I'll catch back up with you next week!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Speaking of proofreading...

Spurred by my last post, a friend sent me this link on "The The Impotence of Proofreading," by Taylor Mali:

The Power of Proofreading

And this is why I proof everything I write a bazillion times...

Earlier this month (October 8, to be exact) this story hit the news wires: "HIV-positive black gay men to get the Bayard Rustin Project, a District campaign against AIDS."

Clearly a serious story, the lead read: "Last month, the Centers for Disease Control released new figures charting the HIV epidemic among black, gay men in D.C. The figures are grim: One in three black men who have sex with me is HIV-positive."

Unfortunately, it had to be followed by this all-too-straight-faced correction, which cracks. me. up:

Correction:
This blog post originally stated that one in three black men who have
sex with me is HIV positive. In fact, the statistic applies to black
men who have sex with men. Also, the photo caption incorrectly
attributed Bayard Rustin's photo to "Wikipedia Commons." The correct
title is "Wikimedia Commons."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Flashback Friday

Back in February, I wrote a column about one of the most sincere Valentine's Day gestures I'd ever witnessed. At the time, I received a few "Sweet story" and "Thanks for sharing" comments from readers. But I also received this one:

"Oh, Jennifer, so sad that you missed the real meaning in this husband's gesture. Such gestures of caring and kindness are evidence of a lifetime of mutual behavior between loving partners, and your lack of insight demonstrated a real failure to understand the love that God ordained in the sacrament of marriage. But, don't fret too much, you still have time to learn. Joanne Murray"

(meow.)

Whenever this kind of mail comes in to the P-B offices, managing editor Jay Furst loves to add it to his blog. You know, stir the pot a bit. Which he did with Ms. Murray's letter, with this kind preface:

"Some readers are harder to understand than others...here's a very strange and caustic note directed to columnist Jennifer Koski regarding her column Wednesday (not yet posted) -- Jen's beautifully crafted column could hardly have been more to this point, that the man's gesture was one of intimate kindness toward his wife, though I suspect this letter writer's comment is purely religious."


Okay, so that's a lot of back story to get to the point of today's post: Most column-related mail comes in within a week of the story's printing. But sometimes I get mail on a column I've long forgotten about. That happened this morning, when a reader sent the Post-Bulletin this message, about that February 2010 column--and Ms. Murray's catty letter:

"Jay Furst 'read Joanne Murray right' in his response to her remarks on Jennifer Koski's beautiful column regarding the older gentleman's loving and kind gesture to protect his sleeping wife from the glaring sun. If Joanne is incapable of recognizing that Jennifer truly did comprehend that his gesture perfectly expressed 'understanding the love that God ordained in the sacrament of marriage', Joanne is obviously the one who lacks 'insight' and really missed the mark in her caustic comments. Perhaps Joanne still "has time to learn" what love truly is."

It may be eight months after the fact, but wow -- I love that this anonymous reader came to my defense! And now, here's the column that started it all...

* * *
Valentine's Day last year found me at O'Hare International Airport.
I'd been at a conference in Chicago and was waiting for my return flight to Rochester in front of a gate marked “LaCrosse/Winona.” Close enough.

The gate is surprisingly empty for a Saturday afternoon. I have an entire row to myself, as do the people sitting across from me and to the left a few seats.
They’re a couple in their mid-60s. He’s in brown loafers and ankle-high sweat socks. Below his chocolate-covered shorts, the hair on his legs is thin and worn along the shinbone. His calves are mildly sunburned. These are legs, I decide, that are used to hiding behind long pants in February — not exposed in a golf cart. He wears a short-sleeved, button-up shirt and a mustache. He’s balding and wearing glasses that are more rectangular than oval. Trendier than one might expect based on his footwear.

Below him sits a black gym bag and next to him a roll-on bag with a wide-brimmed straw hat on it. They’re returning from Arizona, I think. Or maybe Florida. Definitely south.
His wife wears peach pants — leisure pants, you might call them — and a pink-and-blue flowered short-sleeved shirt. Her gray hair, pulled back in a barrette, curls along the back of her neck. On her feet are blue slip-ons and white socks.

Both of them wear watches (his leather; hers gold) and have rings set so deeply on their fingers that I know theirs is a marriage that has weathered years.

They’re in adjoining seats, sharing the same armrest. And, it must be said, she’s sleeping. Her head rests on his shoulder. His left arm rests around her. Every once in awhile his fingers squeeze her arm.

In his other hand is a phone, and he leans forward playing with it. Maybe sending a text. Maybe just checking his messages.

I settle in. I thought I was going to be late for my flight, but I'm early. There are still 30 minutes until my plane boards. I'm drinking a bottle of water and eating from a small bag of Bugles that, together, cost me $5.77 at the Hudson News stand, and this annoys me a little, but I was hungry, and the combination was cheaper than the bottle of Sprite and $4.99 bag of Raisinettes I was eyeing.

I balance the chips on my black roll-on suitcase and set my water on the floor. My mind wanders over the things minds wander over when there is nothing pressing to do. I wonder if I'll need a cab when I return to Rochester. I wish I had bought my husband something for Valentine's Day while I was gone, but figure I can make a card on the flight. I become suddenly worried that I've lost my boarding pass and riffle urgently through my bag.

I look around for a clock, and that’s when I see it.

The man's left arm is still around the woman’s shoulder. But now, instead of his phone, he's holding the straw hat in his right hand, over his wife’s face. At first I think he's trying to talk to her privately. Then I think perhaps they're attempting a discreet kiss.

But I'm wrong. It's far sweeter than that. He's holding the hat to block the sun from her face, which is turned to the window where the sun has begun its descent on this Chicago afternoon so she can sleep undisturbed.

I think about all the grand Valentine's Day gestures people make. The proposals and vacations and jewelry. The flowers and chocolates. The professions of love and forever.
And I realize that the man across from me is demonstrating the most romantic thing I've seen in years. And his wife doesn't have a clue.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A conversation with my husband

This will undoubtedly make it into a column at some point. But until then, I have to share a conversation I had with my husband earlier today. (In his defense, I'll tell you this: He has remembered and acknowledged our wedding date every month since we got married 14 years ago. Every month.)

Okay, so this is what I mean when I say that life provides all the material I'll ever need for my writing...

* * *

Him: When’s Hoover Fun Night?

Me: November 11.

Him: On your birthday!

Me: No…

Him: Sorry! Your birthday is December 11.

Me: Are you kidding me?

Him: November 11?

Me: Jay.

Him: I’m sorry! I’ve been in a meeting for four hours. I can’t think straight.

Me: [silence]

Him: November 7.

Me: Seriously?!

Him: When is it?

Me: I’m not telling you.

And I didn't. But he figured it out a few minutes later. Facebook might've been involved...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Not-So Video Tuesday

Today's Jen's World video is so boring that I'm not going to ask you to sit through it. In an unusually long 1 minute and 11 seconds, I use far too many words to say this: This week's column is about decorating my home.

There. Now you know.

And here's a heads-up that nobody -- not my editors, not my husband, not anyone -- knows, yet. Next week's column is about a typical day at my house... including a cruel joke played on me by my husband.

In other news: I may be caught up! One thing about being a self-employed writer is that if I don't do it, my work doesn't get done. So when I take, oh, say, 10 days off to travel Greece, I have 10 days worth of work waiting when I get home.

But, yay. I think I'm back to where I was before I left -- which is still crazy busy, but in a manageable, exciting way.

And, in yet other news: I don't think I've mentioned on this blog that I've accepted a position at Rochester Magazine. It's a great mag with a fun personality and I've enjoyed freelancing for them off and on over the years. I've taken a PT assistant editor position, and I think it's going to be a great fit for me. I'll still get to do my freelance work, but at the same time will have a chance to be more heavily involved in a larger project.

For the November issue, I've written a fun little piece on returning to the "on staff" work world. I'll be sure to post it when the issue is published.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Video Tuesday!

If you live in the Rochester area, check out the two events I'll be promoting in Jen's World tomorrow. Here's a teaser:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last Week in Jen's World...

I've been a blogging loser -- and will be for a couple more days as I continue to play catch-up from my trip. But in the meantime, here's the column I wrote about what I did while I was away...

http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=2&a=472070

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jen's World 9/29

I'm back! It's been a long time since I've posted, but I have the best excuse ever: I was traveling Greece and Turkey with my mamacita! We had a fabulous time... in tomorrow's Post-Bulletin, I'll tell you all about it.

Here's the video (which I just made about five minutes ago), promoting it:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

(In Case You're Wondering)

1- My column prints in the Rochester Post-Bulletin on Wednesdays. But the P-B doesn't put Jen's World online until at least a few days later. (You know, added incentive to get people to pay for the paper.)

So that's why I can't typically link to the current week's column. Just in case you were wondering.

2- Also, in case you were wondering: Two weeks after my surgery, I feel GREAT. Except for a bit of incision tenderness, I'm back to the norm. Gotta love modern medicine.

3- And, finally, in case you were wondering: Back to school is going great for my kids... and me. I always get a little sad when I have to return my boys to school in the fall. But they have fantastic teachers this year and I have been the model of productivity in their absence. I'd forgotten how much I can get done when actually given the time to do it.

Last Week in Jen's World...

...I effused on my love for IKEA -- even though my last two trips didn't go as smoothly as I planned.

After this column ran (on September 3), a reader e-mailed me with just one comment: "What is IKEA?"

How can that even BE?

You can catch this column HERE.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Video Tuesday

Here's what's happening this week in Jen's World (and what's happening this afternoon in my living room... where I still sit):

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back to School for the Kiddos

Backpacks packed. Snacks bagged. Alarms set. Clothes picked out -- but not without some drama. Here are two conversations I had tonight:

To the 11-year-old: You picked out your clothes? Oh, there they are. Are you sure you want to wear that old T-shirt? You don't want to wear one of your new ones? No? As long as you're sure.... It still fits? You're sure? Okay... you know, you have some nice new ones... but as long as you're sure...

To the 8-year-old: I'm sorry I gave your tie away. I thought it was too small. I'm sorry, honey, I didn't know you'd want to wear it tomorrow. Yes, I understand you want to dress up -- but maybe you can dress up without your tie? Oh, sweetie, please don't cry. I can buy you a new tie. No, I know it won't be here for the first day, but you can wear it later this week.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Small-Group Writer's Workshop

Hello friends!

Well, my plan today was to post the registration information for the small-group writing workshop I'm hosting through Community Education in October. But it turns out that the class is already full -- with a two-person waiting list!

Just in case you're interested in getting on the waiting list... or you want to see what my one-day workshops entail, here's the link, anyway.

I'll be launching another independent four-week workshop in the near future, as well. I'll keep you in the loop.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why I Was MIA Last Week



So last week, it was time to do some evicting. It seems a couple of cysts and a polyp (what a weird word: polyp) were having themselves a little party in my ovary and uterus. My lovely surgeon (who -- interesting factoid -- is younger than I am), put a stop to the shenanigans and gave me four incisions and a good spattering of stitches. Which has significantly upped my street cred around the house.

Above is my "before" picture. See how happy I am to be going into surgery?

Below is the "after." See how happy I am to be done? No? You don't? Well, I'm sure I was.

All's well that ends well (says Shakespeare): Everything was benign, and I'm on the mend. What could be better?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

VCFA Rocks

I love my school! The latest issue of Poets & Writers magazine lists Vermont College of Fine Arts as the #1 low-residency MFA program in the nation.

See the proof here: Poet & Writer's Top 10 Low-Res MFA Rankings

And you can check out my school here: Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I'll be sad to leave when the semester is over (but will sure enjoy having my free time back!).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Flashback Tuesday

I got an e-mail today from a friend looking for the name of my piano tuner. I remembered his name was Paul... but blanked on the last name. Remembering that I'd written a column about him, I did a quick search of my computer and got my answer. (Oh, the wonder of technology.)

I also re-read that column, which reminded me (1) that I need to make an appointment to get my piano tuned; and (2) that as long as Paul Chick is working, he will be the only tuner I will ever call.

Here's why, from the files of Jen's World 2007:

* * *

Last week, piano technician and tuner Paul Chick proved to me again why he is a man of integrity. But before I tell you why, I need to give you a little back-story.

Last year, I got a free piano. A neighbor was moving and didn’t want the instrument in the new house.

This, of course, should’ve sent up a red flag. But I wasn’t thinking clearly, because from the moment I’d heard “free piano” I’d been playing the scenarios in my head: My children glued to my side as I taught them scales. My family lovingly gathered ‘round, singing carols. Dinner guests entertained by my masterful playing.

We drove the minivan over that night, wild with anticipation. But it quickly became apparent why our neighbors didn’t want the piano in their new house. It was chipped. The legs were twisted. It was missing the entire front portion of its wooden case.
It also became apparent that this was not a minivan job. The ancient upright would, as my four-year-old is fond of saying, squash my van “like a grape.”

Plan B: It had wheels. We lived two blocks away. We could do this.

So there I was, knocking on any house with a light on: “Do you have a few minutes?” I’d ask. “Want to help move a piano?” (A little advice: It’s imperative that you determine that people are indeed free before you tell them you need help rolling a 700-pound piano down the street.)

Ten minutes later, my husband and six neighbors who were unable to come up with an excuse were pushing the piano ever so slowly down the middle of River Court. I followed in the van, my headlights leading their way down the dark street.

Our cluster made it halfway down the first block when we were abruptly stopped. A wheel had fallen off. Determined the rolling part of our adventure wasn’t over, I ran home and returned to the scene with two dollies and my seven-year-old’s X-Men skateboard. The skateboard worked.

A block-and-a-half later — after much giggling on the ridiculousness of the situation and some photo ops (“OK, stop — you can’t stop? Well, ok, everyone look up — Brian, stop grimacing! — and smile!”), I had a piano.

It looked bigger and uglier in my living room than it had in the neighbor’s garage. But I didn’t care. As soon as the crowd dispersed, I began to play. Due to the gaping hole in the front, I was able to watch the hammers strike the strings as I launched into the only song I knew by heart anymore — my ninth grade recital piece, Invention No. 2 by Bach.

Some keys didn’t work. Some stuck. Some played entire chords. All were off key.
Still, I’d play for hours in the evenings. “I’m not making mistakes!” I’d yell to my husband over the din. “It’s the piano. Some of the keys are off!”

When my children began saying things like, “That song gives me a tummy ache,” I called Mr. Chick — who told me that fixing my piano would be like putting a new transmission in a 30-year-old, rust-bucket car. “I could do it,” he said, running his hand along the keys. “But I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”

That’s when I first knew Mr. Chick had integrity. But it was last week that he left me truly impressed.

A few months ago, he helped me find my piano’s replacement — a used, but infinitely prettier and better sounding model. At the time, he told me he’d come back to tune the piano once it settled into its new home. I forgot. He didn’t. He not only took the initiative to set last week’s appointment — but he even made a couple of repairs when he was done tuning.

When I asked him what I owed him, he said, “Just put a little extra money in the offering plate on Sunday.” And I will.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm Burly

Tomorrow, I'm going camping in South Dakota. In a tent. With my kiddos. And without my husband, who has to stay back here to work.

This will be the first time I'm putting our tent up by myself -- which may mean that we'll be sleeping in the car that first night. You think I'm kidding, but I actually made the kids come out to the car yesterday so we could do a test run. "Okay, everyone in," I said. "Let's see how we'd all fit if we were to sleep in the CR-V."

It more-or-less worked.

But I must have high hopes because today I made a Target run to buy an air mattress. And I'm pretty sure we won't be able to inflate it IN the car...

I've been packing all night. I'm getting close. I've packed flashlights and snacks, towels and swim suits, rain ponchos and itty bitty book lights. But I haven't packed my laptop. And I'm not going to.

The campground has wifi -- and I know myself too well. Leaving the computer at home is the only way I can guarantee that I won't succumb to Facebook -- or worse, People.com -- while sitting around the campfire.

No, this vacation is going to be nothing but kid-centricity. I'll check in with you when we return next week!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Video... Monday

Hola! Here's what I was doing at midnight last night... a bazillion times in a row.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's 11:30 a.m. and I'm Still in my Pajamas

It's one of those days. I mean, it's not a bad day -- but it's one of those "I've got a nine-item to-do list and can't even seem to get past No. 1" days.

See, here's the deal. I have no plans today. At our "morning meeting" over breakfast this morning, the boys and I decided to axe all of our plans and veg at home.

"Veg!" said Christian when I called for the vote.

"Veg!" said Bergen.

"Wonderful!" I thought. "I'll get so much done!"

And then we cuddled up and bed and watched Let's Make a Deal.

It turns out I work best on deadline. If I had appointments today? Reasons I had to leave the house or finish a project by, say, noon? I'd be ON it. I'd be on top of it. All that.

But no. I'm still in my pajamas, e-mailing my sister and checking Facebook with a stack of papers next to me just begging to be completed or organized.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Video Tuesday

Here's my PB teaser for tomorrow's Jen's World. It's another one of those "no make-up, no hairstyle" deals. Be forewarned.

Monday, August 9, 2010

It Must Be Pretty Good

I had ANOTHER person recommend The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein to me today. This must be one fantastic book. I was going to wait until I finished my semester to read it, but I may have to squeeze it in before that.

Jen's World: 20-Year-Reunion

Last week's column can be found HERE!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Mom Forgot Her Camera at the Cabin....

...so my sisters and I left a few surprises on there for her. A little something she can show her friends when they ask how her kids are doing.

Oh, we crack ourselves up.



Ends and Odds

I sit here tonight, fresh off five days at the cabin (with no wifi -- or any kind of "fi" for that matter), writing the coming week's to-do list. Here's what I've got so far:

* Call the a/c service people. I am quite literally sticking to my couch as I type this. Our a/c has been out for a week, but since we were heading out of town, we put off that phone call. Can you say REGRET? We're all sleeping in the basement tonight with fans blowing directly on us. And I'm not even a fan person. In fact, I'm SO not a fan person that I've written a column about what a fan person I'm not. I was going to post a link to that column here, but I just read it for the first time in years and decided it's kind of sucky.

* Go to the pool. See above.

* Watch school board candidate videos. The primary election is being held on Tuesday. If you live in Rochester, you know the school board election is a big deal this year. Videos (taped at a League of Women Votes forum) are available on the Rochester Public Library site here: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=rplmninfo#p/u/14/aHJjFpC9TP4

* Call the a/c service people back.
And ask them if they can get here any sooner.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Odds and Ends

Oh my goodness, what a whirlwind. I wouldn't have it any other way, but still...

Since my mind is full of random bits of information this morning, I'm not going to force it into any single cohesive post. Instead, here's a look inside my brain:

(Warning: Did I mention I'm fairly certain I suffer from adult ADD?)

* I did yoga for the first time in years yesterday. My stomach HURTS today. But, wow, it was incredible. Hope I get back there.

* Slept in a tent in the backyard with Bergen last night. Was so wonderful to hang with my son and hear all about Pokemon from the Sinnoh region. I mean that.

* Brett Favre?! Retired for real? No way! We'll see...

* Hosting Christian's birthday party in just over an hour and I haven't showered yet.

* Also, his birthday was in June.

* We really need to weed wack.

* Neighborhood Night Out picnic tonight and I was supposed to make something in the crock pot. I think that's not happening. Hello big container of Boy Scout popcorn in my pantry...

* Dangit. I just remembered I have to make one of those videos for the P-B today. Suppose I should wait 'til after I shower. Better get to it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Books, Books, and More Books

Three things:

1- I get to go to IKEA today and buy another bookshelf for our little basement library because I've filled the others. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me feel.

2- I have officially had three people recommend the same book to me over the past month and a half, which makes me think it's worth picking up. It is: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

A quick Google search gave me this Publisher's Weekly review: "If you've ever wondered what your dog is thinking, Stein's third novel offers an answer. Enzo is a lab terrier mix plucked from a farm outside Seattle to ride shotgun with race car driver Denny Swift as he pursues success on the track and off. Denny meets and marries Eve, has a daughter, Zoƫ, and risks his savings and his life to make it on the professional racing circuit. Enzo, frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs, watches Denny's old racing videos, coins koanlike aphorisms that apply to both driving and life, and hopes for the day when his life as a dog will be over and he can be reborn a man. When Denny hits an extended rough patch, Enzo remains his most steadfast if silent supporter. Enzo is a reliable companion and a likable enough narrator, though the string of Denny's bad luck stories strains believability. Much like Denny, however, Stein is able to salvage some dignity from the over-the-top drama."

3- I'm currently reading David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and wishing he hadn't killed himself.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jen's World Wednesday

Welcome to a Wednesday!

Here's what you'll find in today's Post-Bulletin:

* * *

Last week, I received an e-mail message of which the subject line read, “[Fw: Fwd: Fwd: Best thing ever!]”.

Usually, I stop right there, hit delete and move on. But this message was from my fifteen-year-old niece, Alexa, who happens to be one of my favorite people in the world. I decided to give her a fair shake and open it.

It was one of those “getting to know you” question-and-answer things with a bold, highlighted introduction shouting messages like, “Don’t Spoil The Fun!” and “Send This To Everyone You Know Or You’ll Have Seven Years Bad Luck!”

I decided to play along. (Hey, the alternative was actually doing some work.) And since I count you, reader-friends, among the “everyone I know,” here you go:

Were you named after anyone? My middle name is the same as my mom’s.

When was the last time you cried? Sunday, when I watched 1,450 motorcyclists parade up to the Ronald McDonald House to make a $119,000 donation. (Crud. Now I’m going to start crying again…)

What is your favorite lunchmeat?
Cheese. (Does that count?)

If you were another person, would you be friends with you? Yes.

Do you use sarcasm a lot? No, not at all. Except right there.

Do you still have your tonsils? Yes.

Would you bungee jump? There are many adventures I’d like to try—but bungee jumping is not one of them.

What is your favorite cereal?
Cinnamon Life or Cocoa Krispies.

Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? Nope. But when it comes time to put them back on, I always wish I had.

Do you think you are strong? Yes.

What is your favorite ice cream? Cookie dough. Unless I'm at Coldstone, and then it's definitely cake batter.

What is the first thing you notice about people? Whether they’re friendly.

Who do you miss the most?
Too many people.

What color shoes are you wearing? Green. Wait. That’s just the grass stains on my feet.

What was the last thing you ate?
Cocoa Krispies.

What are you listening to right now? The air conditioning. And wondering why it’s still on at 11:14 p.m. [Writing Jenny update: Since the writing of this column, our air conditioner has broken!]

If you were a crayon, what color would you be?
If I was a crayon, I think “color” would be the least of my worries. Okay, fine. I’ll play along. I’d want to be one of those funky multi-colored crayons.

Favorite smells?
Vanilla. Buttered toast. Babies.

Do you like the person who sent this to you? Love her! (But, seriously, who’s going to write “no?”)

Hair color? Depends on the month.

Eye color? Blue-ish, gray-ish, green-ish, depending on my mood and the weather.

Do you wear contacts? Nope.

Favorite food: Cold cereal.

Scary movies or happy endings? Happy endings.

Last movie you watched? Shrek 4.

Summer or winter? Fall.

Hugs or kisses? Why can’t I have both?

Car or truck? Car.

Favorite sound?
My kids’ laughter.

Do you enjoy blowing bubbles? Yes—good, cheap entertainment.

Where were you born? Alexandria, MN

Do you have a special talent? I’m scrappy.

Rolling Stones or Beatles? Beatles. [Side note: My niece actually answered this question, “Who are the Rolling Stones?]

Monday, July 26, 2010

Packet 1...

SENT.

Man, I can't tell you how good that feels.

I'm officially 16 packets in to my MFA, with just 4 to go. I think I'll celebrate by watching the end of "500 Days of Summer," a movie I half started to watch while doing the dishes this afternoon. (The little nine-inch TV with built-in DVD player made a pit-stop on the kitchen counter on its way to the Salvation Army... which may have actually been its salvation. I have a feeling it's not going anywhere now.)

My Packet 1 Celebration -- which is already starting in my head, complete with confetti and champagne -- is much appreciated, though it will be short-lived. Tomorrow I have to get busy on the writing I actually get paid to do and that I've been putting off as I cranked out this packet.

Thank goodness it never stops. I continue to feel so lucky to be able to do what I love to do -- no matter how crazy it gets.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Calling All Readers

I'm beginning work on my graduation lecture for VCFA, and could really use your help. Can anyone recommend a book in which an urban writer has written a rural, small-town character badly, or as a caricature? (I'm thinking the book equivalent of the Cohen Bros. movie, Fargo.)

I'll be lecturing about writing rural characters -- and would love to gather some examples of authors who've done it poorly, using:

* exaggeration
* generalizations
* belitting or contempt
* humor that laughs at, rather than with, the character
* overemphasizing rural dialogue

The character can have a fleeting role in the book, or can be a main character. Please let me know if you have any recommendations. I'll be eternally grateful! Thanks!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hangin' at the Coffee Shop

With the boys at camp mornings this week, I've found a cozy little coffee shop. Unlike my regular digs at Dunn Bros. in Rochester, Bridget's Cafe in Zumbrota seems to cater to the farmer and retiree crowd. I'm digging the atmosphere here and find myself playing a bit of a spy, recording conversations in my head and committing characteristics to memory. (The joy and burden of the writer.)

Earlier, two gentlemen--both in jeans, T-shirts, and baseball caps--settled at the table next to me. Spanning a maybe 10-, 15-year age gap, they read the paper while eating their breakfast and broke only occasionally for conversation that fascinated me. An excerpt:

50-something man in red hat: So, the Twins.

40-something man in tightly belted jeans: Yep. Today.

[Sound of silverware against plates, coffee cups being set on Formica, newspaper rustling.]

50-something: So, you have a good visit with your dad?

[40-something takes a sip of coffee. Scoops a forkful of eggs into his mouth. Turns the page of the paper.]

40-something: Was okay.

50-something: Yep.

[Three men at another table get up to leave. One nods at my table neighbors. They nod back, before settling back into their coffee and newspapers. Minutes go by.]

40-something: 'ts gonna be a hot one.

50-something: You know it.

* * *

I have to say: I feel completely at home here; it's like being back in my hometown in northern Minnesota. And bonus: I'm starting work on my graduation lecture this month. My topic: Writing Rural Characters. Turns out there's delicious material all around me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Viva la Summer Camp

I remember, with fairly amazing recall, the camps I attended as a kid. There was Girl Scout day camp, a 4-H overnighter, a conservation camp in which I was one of three girls, a couple of church camps, and a week-long stint at a French language camp.

I had my share of painted wood nametags.

But I never ventured off on anything so cool as what my kiddos are doing this week.

I dropped my sons off this morning at Clay Animation camp -- where they're actually learning to animate their own movies. The day camp is being held at Crossing at Carnegie, an arts center in Zumbrota, Minnesota, a small town about 30 minutes north of Rochester.

Crossings plays host to a number of arts classes and opportunities, as well as frequent live music. It's a quaint little place surrounded by wildflower gardens and housed in an old Carnegie library. (Get it? Get it? Crossing at Carnegie?) If you live in the area and want to learn more, you can check Crossings out here: http://www.crossingsatcarnegie.com/.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why?

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me now, I registered for a 5K the morning after my 20-year reunion.

I'm lacing up my running shoes and heading out the door in a few minutes. I'll let you know how it goes...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jen's World: Can I Be Cloned?

This week, Flashback Friday is being replaced by Current Friday.

Granted, "Current Friday" doesn't have the same ring to it -- but since Wednesday's column went live on the P-B site today, I thought I'd post it here for you, as well.

I wrote this week's Jen's World column from my MFA residency in Vermont -- where I felt the pull to be in two places at once. You can read about it here.

Two Decades and Counting

No sooner did I settle back in Rochester than I hit the highway again. After a 12-hour road trip with my friend Nenna, I'm snuggled cozily in bed at my parents' house in Thief River Falls.

(The drive to TRF isn't usually a 12-hour trip. But seeing as our mantra was, "We have all day!", we took full advantage. Stops for bathroom breaks, pizza parlors, the cabin, a friend's house, and a photo opp with Paul Bunyan and Babe stretched the schedule.)

So what am I doing away from home again without my husband and kiddos? This weekend marks my 20-year high school reunion. To mark the occasion, I've been taking little walks down memory lane. Here are a few tidbits.

In 1990:

...a gallon of gas cost $1.34. In 1990, I was driving a cream-colored Chevette with fenders held together with bungee cords. And I only had to put in $5 of gas a week.


...Milli Vanilli was exposed! Lip synchers! This broke my heart, as my friend Lynn and I spent more time than I'd like to admit practicing Milli Vanilli's dance moves in front of the TV to their videos. ("Girl you know it's true...")


... the movie Dances With Wolves was released.
I went to Dances in Bemidji during my freshman year at BSU. I sobbed so hard that my friend Cathy asked if I wanted to leave early. (I didn't.)


... Vanilla Ice sings "Ice, Ice Baby."
A group of my friends made a special trip down to Minneapolis just to watch the Ice-man at club First Ave. I didn't go, but secretly wish I had.


...the first known World Wide Web page is written.
I won't have an e-mail address (j1j2koski@earthlink.net) for another six years.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jen's World: Lucky No. 11

Check out the latest Jen's World column here!

What Is this Phenonemon Called?

Well, I'm back from Vermont safe-and-sound -- sufficiently cooled and pooled after my 11-day VCFA residency. But the weirdest thing is happening to me. I'm seeing my MFA friends e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

Does this happen to you?

This morning at Dunn Bros., as I scrawled out next week's column, I heard one of the graduate assistants talking to her friend in the couch next to me. When I glanced her way, I realized the "grad assistant" had aged about 10 years over the weekend and cut her hair short. Also, she lives in Chicago.

At the pool on Friday afternoon, I saw one of the people from my workshop walking to the cabana in her flowered one-piece suit. Even though she's in Boston.

And at the Farmer's Market yesterday? I caught a glimpse of two faculty members and one of my dorm roomies. Wisconsin, Washington, New York.

It seems to be some kind of initiation of re-entry. After each of my four residencies, I've jerked my head in the direction of someone who isn't who I think they should be. Maybe it's my mind's way of connecting these two disparate worlds I love. Or maybe I'm jet lagged.

Whatever the reason, it's been nice to revisit VCFA -- if even in error -- for a few minutes these last couple of days. Though I miss my family tremendously while in Vermont, the opportunity to focus solely on school (no laundry, no errands, no cooking) is a luxury.

But now it's on to real world, back to balancing family and work with packet deadlines and writing exercises. Bring it on.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Graduation Day

Well, it's not MY graduation -- but it is graduation day at VCFA. The summer class had a lovely grad ceremony today, followed by an outdoor reception. Here are some pics:




The photos above are in College Hall's chapel -- a beautiful, though not air-conditioned, room.



Hanging with another "student" outside College Hall after the ceremony.



My friend and roomie, Sara, and her daughter at the reception. Sara's a new graduate!



This is my vantage point for much of the residency. My bag, my water bottle, my knees.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Playing Tourist

Though I've spent more than 40 days in Montpelier over the last couple of years, I'd never made it down to the state capitol building until today. (Of course, I chose the 90-plus degree afternoon to take an hour walk!)

Man. This is really a beautiful town. Here are some pics I shot today:




Sunday, July 4, 2010

Literary Bliss

If you don't count the spotty Internet access and lack of air conditioning (and I don't), life is great in Vermont. I've spent the last seven days attending lectures and readings and workshops and hanging out with other writers. I suppose in some -- and probably many -- circles, this would be considered geeky. But all I can say is: Life is good.




The campus here is beautiful and seeped with history, and Montpelier is the quintessential New England town. Since the campus actually sits up on a hill, I try to squeeze in time every couple days to venture down, down, down the hill and into town, where there are several bookshops, a fantastic old library and some cool restaurants. Every time I'm here, I wish I could take my family and all my friends along to experience Vermont and VCFA with me.




To my great excitement, I landed my first choice advisor for the coming semester. I'll be working with Sara Mansfield Taber, who has done a great deal of writing and teaching. She's actually my workshop leader during this residency, as well, and I've been impressed by her feedback and insight. I think it's going to be a fabulous final semester for me.





Final semester -- wow. I'm constantly reminded that I'm almost done here at VCFA. In six months, which will undoubtedly fly by, I'll have finished my MFA and will be back for my graduation residency. As hard as it is to be away from my family and "real life" during the residencies... this really is a fantastic experience.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Can I Get a V-C-F-A?

It's that time of year again -- time for me to trek over to Montpelier for my MFA residency at VCFA. (That's Vermont College of Fine Arts -- or, as I discovered to my great glee last winter when I sent a box that way and ran out of room on the mailing label: Vermont College of F.Arts. I'm still laughing about that.)

I have one last semester left of my program and it's going to be a doozie. Over the course of the next six months, I'll write a lecture AND finish my creative thesis. This residency is kind of the gateway to all that, though, and a chance to spend nearly two weeks with a bunch of great people. Also, I get three squares a day without having to wash a single dish.

I don't know how much time I'll have to blog while I'm away at school -- but I'll try to stop in more than a few times. See you then!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flashback Friday: On the road again...

It seems I spend most of my summer behind the wheel.

Today we leave Thief River and head to Maple Lake, where we'll hold an early family birthday party for my almost-11-year-old at my grandma's cabin. The weather looks fan-tas-tic for nine cousins to play in the water, so we've lucked out there. (It's so much a better scenario than nine cousins chasing each other around the cabin...)

Then tomorrow it's the long drive back to Rochester. I'll sit pretty for just over 24 hours, then it's off to Vermont for my MFA residency. Good times.

In honor of this flurry of travel, Flashback Friday features a roadtrip story from last summer:

* * *

‘Tis the season for hitting the road. For throwing the luggage in the back of the car and heading out — to the beach, the reunion, the woods, the wedding.

Both my and my husband’s families live “up north,” so we spend more than our fair share of summer weekends on the road. I’d like to say we’re seasoned pros, but to be honest, there’s room for improvement.

On our last trip, we took my husband’s Kia Sportage. With no a/c. And with so many bags, backpacks, and portable DVD accessories that the stack o’ stuff on the floor in front of me was level with my seat. I had two available positions: legs folded “criss-cross applesauce” or feet on the dash.

And did I mention there was no a/c?

The space issue was my fault. I’m a chronic over-packer. I fill the vehicle like I do the dishwasher — wedging pieces into every last nook and cranny. I think it’s because I throw my stuff together fifteen minutes before we leave — frantically running around the house with an open backpack.

“Will we need the bug spray?”

“We’re going to an indoor waterpark.”

“Yah, well, I’ll throw it in just in case. How about the karaoke machine?”

“No.”

“OK, just the portable CD player with a couple of the disks.”

Even as I’m making my final walk out the door, I’m grabbing random supplies. Anything in my path makes it on our trip — a box of Legos, a couple of couch pillows, the kids’ baby books.

By the time I’ve gathered the necessities, everyone’s waiting in the car — juice boxes loaded, earphones plugged in.

“Are you ready, yet?” my husband pleads.

“Almost, I just need to get my knitting.”

“You knit?”

“I did. Once. I thought I’d start again.”

“During the drive?”

“Yes.”

“I thought you were going to update the baby books.”

“I am.”

“And finish your article.”

“I am.”

“And build a city made of Legos.”

“…I am.”

“You do know it’s only a five-hour drive?”

Truth be told, those are the things I’d like to do… if I didn’t spend most of the ride sleeping.

It turns out that spending any more than 20 minutes in the passenger seat of a moving vehicle is my equivalent of taking a handful of Nytol. By the time we hit Pine Island, I’m usually out cold.

Which is unfortunate, because there’s no pretty way to sleep in the car. And I know this because I’ve seen others sleep in cars as they drive alongside me. Their heads pressed against the glass, mouths gaping open, the imprint of the door lock on their foreheads.

And I think, That’s Love. If they get where they’re going, and their significant other — the person who watched them drool on themselves for 150 miles — still wants to be seen with their door lock-lined face at the family reunion, that’s love. And if my husband, who has put up with me packing three suitcases for a two-day trip up north for 10 years, still wants to travel with me, then that’s love, too. Roadtrip love. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Time Travel

After traversing the state from corner to corner yesterday -- a trip that took more than seven hours and two stops at fast-restaurants -- the boys and I are in Thief River Falls. Thief River (also affectionately called TRF, TR, or my personal favorite, Tough Rubber Balls by the locals), is my hometown, and the place where my parents, sisters, nieces and nephews still live.

There's a comfort in being here. Even though it's been 20 years since I left, the landscapes of Thief River are as familiar as if I'd never gone. (Even after Wal-Mart bullied its way into town and left several downtown storefronts empty, and the 7-11 turned into a meat market.) When pumping gas at Pennington Main or stopping at Lori's Hallmark for a birthday card, I'm likely to run into an old neighbor or one of my cousins. And at the Rusty Nail, I'm almost guaranteed to see one of my old high school teachers hanging out at the bar.

That's, actually, a little strange.

But with the exception of seeing Mr. H with a beer, time has stopped for me here.

When I go to the Hugo’s parking lot to pick up milk for my mom, I’m still looking for Tom Pittman’s white ’68 Mustang in the parking lot and his toothpaste smile and dark brown eyes at the checkout lanes.

When I come in on Hwy 59 at the double lanes and cross the intersection at the Holiday gas station, I see the charred remains of the stoplight after a high-speed chase killed an older couple and landed a teenager in jail.

Oakland Park Road leads to the park, not where my family reunion was held last summer, but where my high school boyfriend and I used to make out in the tall grass at the base of the old sanitarium. Tindolph is where my high school best friend Nenna lives, regardless that she’s in New Mexico now. And the light at the end of that long driveway we pass on the way to my parents is my grandfather’s reading light over his recliner… even though the chair is gone now and my grandparents sold the house to my little sister years ago.

When I come home, I drive by these landmarks and others -- my other grandparents’ little white house with the “214” still peeling on the garage, the beach where Nenna and I drank from two-liter bottles of wine coolers, the dock off 8th street where I wished on pennies with a boy I hoped was wishing for me -- jostling time and place and confusing facts until I leave and life is as it should be again.

This Week in Jen's World...

What are you reading this summer? Here are my picks -- straight from this week's Jen's World.

* * *

When I was in grade school, my friend Kelly and I regularly sang the entire Grease album at sleepovers. We belted out “You’re the One That I Want” with diva-tude and layered on the drama for “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” But “Summer Nights” was our piece de resistance. Somehow, Kelly always landed the Sandy part while I was stuck with Danny.

While reminiscing and humming “Summer Nights” the other day (and taking both parts, thank you very much), I realized something: Instead of singing, “Summer lovin’…” I was saying, “Summer… reading.” As in, “Summer reading, had me a blast…”
What is up with that? Am I so boring now that summer reading trumps summer lovin’?

Geez, I hope not.

At any rate, it got me thinking about the book I just finished, which, seeing as it’s June, is officially summer reading. Now, I’ve got a personal problem and it’s called whenever-I-read-a-good-book, I-want-everyone-else-to-read-it,-too. I’ve told dozens of people—from my mom to my writing students to that guy at Kwik Trip who made the mistake of saying, “How are ya?”—about the book I just read. But apparently that’s not enough, because I thought, “Hey! Why not spread the word to all my reader-friends, too?”

So excuse me while I turn all Oprah on you and list my summer must-reads. Consider it the Jen’s World Book Club.

I get a little nervous about this, because the books I love you could think are absolute drivel. In fact, I once recommended a book I thought was pure genius (it's actually titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) to a friend who couldn't get through the first chapter. I later redeemed myself, though, when I recommended it to another friend who loved it so much that she claimed to want to “lick the author's feet.” So, you know, I'm going to take a chance:

1. Right now I’m reading Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. You may be familiar with Bryson as a travel writer. In Thunderbolt Kid, though, Bryson writes about growing up in Iowa in the 50s. A gifted and entertaining storyteller, Bryson’s anecdotes are heavy on the wit and laced with humor. On a recent road trip, I read excerpts to my husband and kids, and had them laughing out loud.

2. Considerably less funny is Abigail Thomas’ A Three Dog Life. In this memoir, Thomas’—an author and teacher living in New York—writes about her life and marriage after a traumatic brain injury irretrievably changes her husband. Thomas writes sparsely, and the book isn’t heavy with emotion or sentimentality as you might expect. It had such an impact on me that I read it twice, back to back.

3. Population: 485 is written by Wisconsin’s own Michael Perry, who also happens to front Michael Perry and the Long Beds, a band that played in Winona recently. Population: 485 recounts the people Perry meets when he returns to his hometown as volunteer firefighter/writer. And really. Who doesn’t like a book that features an entire chapter on a cross-eyed butcher called Bob the One-Eyed Beagle?

I have more recommendations—ranging from Dr. Suess to Anne Lamott. (And if you’ve never read Joan Didion, find her essay, “On Going Home,” and just try not to shake your head and mutter, “wow” when you’re done.)

But I’ll hold those for another time. Until then, this has been the first edition of the Jen’s World Book Club. There’ll be no quiz later. But if you decide to pick up one of these reads, I’ll be interested to know what you think.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Yesterday

Dangit! I missed a day. It happens.

Even though I haven't been doing Writing Jenny for long, I already have this kind of internal alarm clock reminding me to post daily. (It's a recording that pops up when I'm pouring milk into my son's Honeycomb or stepping painfully on the seventh Lego of the day: "Blog! Blog!")

But the truth is, I didn't think about this blog even once yesterday. Didn't cross my mind.

I've spent a good chunk of time at Mayo lately -- a habit I'm none too keen on continuing. Yesterday, I had my fifth appointment in as many days, three of which found me with my feet in stirrups while I made small talk over my knees.

So it hasn't been my favorite week in the world... but it could've been much worse.

Last week, the doctor holding my test results told me he was going to "ruin my day." Not exactly the intro I was looking for. He told me that I have a mass on my ovary... and that we better screen for cancer.

He talked about surgical options and risk factors, too, but they came after "cancer," so they're pretty much a blur. I took a blood test, and then spent the weekend prepping for the triathlon, staring at my kids, and whispering "benign" to myself, as if repeating it would make it true.

And then yesterday, the doctor who ruined my day told me that my blood test -- which screens for ovarian cancer -- came back negative. Is it 100% accurate? Nope. But it's promising, and I'll take it.

I have some more not-so-fun appointments ahead of me, including surgery later this summer. But I can't help but feeling incredibly lucky.

I feel lucky to not only have access to healthcare -- but to have access to some of the best healthcare in the world. I feel lucky to live in a country where health information is accessible, so that I have long been educated about warning signs and when to get help. I feel lucky that medical research has developed screening tests -- and that mine came back negative. I feel lucky that I have a support system of friends and family at times like these.

So I didn't blog yesterday. I didn't blog because I spent the first half of the day making that above-the-knee small talk, and the second half hugging my kids while thinking about how lucky I am to be me, here, now.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Flashback Friday

In honor of my parents' road trip to Washington this week, I'm pulling this old column from the vaults. It first appeared in the Post-Bulletin in May 2006.

* * *

Back in March, the P-B ran a story about a retiree who left his wife at a Wal-Mart when he drove away in the couple’s motorhome. Hours later, he realized she wasn’t sleeping in the back, after all. Outrageous, right?

Not exactly.

It was 1996, and my parents were driving across Minnesota in their Pace Arrow RV. A couple hours into their trip, my dad pulls over to check on his Harley, which is strapped on the back. My mom decides she could use some fresh air, too — so, unbeknownst to my dad, she hops out her side of the rig. She reaches the back of the motorhome just in time to see her husband jog up the other side — and pull away.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” she thinks as she watches the RV fade on the horizon. “He’s got to realize I’m gone; I was sitting right next to him when we stopped!’”

But, of course, he doesn’t. My father, the career cop, assumes my mother has headed to the bedroom for a nap.

Back on the road, my mom’s assessing the situation. It’s about 9 p.m. on a moonless September night. Best as she can tell, she’s somewhere between Perham and New York Mills on Highway 10. This is, by the way, the definition of the middle of nowhere. She has no cell phone. No purse. No one to turn to to say, “What just happened?!”

So she starts walking. Certain my father’s returning for her any minute, she keeps potential rescuers (and “crazy people”) at bay by pretending to be out for a power walk — swinging her arms wildly whenever cars pass by.

About two hours into her hike, she’s passed a potato plant (no phone), a farmhouse (big dog), and spent a good hour walking the median (skunks in the ditch). At long last, she takes a ride with a truck driver who drops her at the first open gas station, about 20 miles down the road.

“You won’t believe my story,” she says to the clerk as she walks in.

Meanwhile, just north of St. Cloud, my dad and his brother, who he’s been following, pull their RVs off to the side of road. My dad decides it’s time to wake his wife.

Except, as you and I know, she’s not there.

This is where all hell breaks loose. When he doesn’t find her in the bedroom, my dad checks the bathroom. He looks under the table. He tries the bedroom again. As he tells it, “Honest to God, I was looking in cupboards.”

He calls 911. Admits he’s lost his wife. They’ve no one available to look for her, but they do have reports of a woman wandering the median on Hwy 10.

Commandeering his brother’s Ford Escort, my dad drives 90 miles per hour back up Highway 10 in search of his wife. (The poor car would rattle until the day they sold it.)

At about this time, my phone rang. “Have you heard from your dad?” my mom says. “I’m in Wadena and I can’t get his cell.”

"Aren't you with him?" I ask.

The story unfolds. I call an uncle, another cop, who promises to reach my father.

As it closes in on midnight and he speeds up Highway 10, my dad gets a call. “Is that motorhome so big you could lose your wife in it?” my uncle asks.

The rescue was swift. But the teasing and ribbing went on for years. In fact, it’s reached epic proportions. My parents were on vacation a few years back when a new acquaintance started telling a story. “Did you hear about that guy who left his wife on the side of the road in northern Minnesota…?”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

There's a New Cook in Town

Dinner tonight was courtesy of my eight-year-old.

A couple weeks ago while I napped ("Today we're going to work on telling time," I'd told him. "Wake me up at 3:45..."), Bergen honed his culinary skills. And by that, I mean that he not only watched the Food Network, but grabbed a notebook and jotted down the featured show's recipe.

He must've figured it was a winner.

To his great pride, Bergen prepared his main course for dinner tonight (with a bit of help from Mom). It was delish. In fact, the whole family raved and Bergen ate two servings.

I thought you might like the recipe... just as Bergen recorded it that afternoon:

Mini Meet Ball Samwiches
eggs
corn flacks
parsly
2 table spoon ketcup
2 table spoon oliv oil
cheese
salt
peper
half pond Beef
$375 for 15 minits
wroll up in hand tell meet Ball shape.
Serv on buns.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's Ridiculous Is What It Is..

Today's Jen's World column....

* * *
Last year, I did my first triathlon. I spent the entire summer getting ready for the big event. I swam between the buoys at Foster Arends. I biked up and down the Douglas Trail. I ran loops around my neighborhood until I was practically dizzy. I went so far as to drive out to Waseca the week before the race to try the course. And when the starting gun went off that fine August morning of the race, I might not’ve been the fastest athlete out there—but dang it, I was ready.

This year, I’m doing the Rochesterfest Triathlon. It’s being held in four days. I can’t help writing that last line without breaking out laughing. It’s ridiculous is what it is.

I haven’t been anywhere near as dutiful in my training this time around and I’m trying to figure out why. Am I not scared enough? Am I in denial? Has my mind been preoccupied with other matters? (School + Work + Family + Volunteer + Facebook does make for a full schedule.)

Until a few weeks ago, I thought I was doing okay. I’d even been doing the “interval” course on the stationary bike for up to 10 miles—which is how far the bike portion of this tri is.

But then, last week, I did my first training ride on the actual Rochesterfest course on 18th Avenue. I’ll tell you what: I could’ve stepped off my bike, laid down on the shoulder of the road, tucked in my arms, and rolled up that hill faster than I was biking it. Holy hills.

I huffed and puffed up 18th, making contorted expressions with my face and desperately trying to come up with an excuse to get out of this triathlon. (Quick? Do I know anyone with strep?) But by the time I rolled back into my driveway an hour or so later, I thought, “Well, I guess it wasn’t all that bad.” (Kind of like childbirth, now that I think of it.)

And besides, I convinced myself, I already signed up for the fool thing and paid my money. So I’m doing it even if I come in crawling. Which is a very real possibility.
The swimming portion feels tougher this year, too. When I train in the pool, I rotate between multiple strokes—usually the breaststroke, followed by the side stroke (so I can see what’s going on), and then the backstroke (to rest up). You may’ve noticed that I didn’t mention the freestyle (“the front crawl”). Apparently it’s the fastest stroke, which is why everyone does it. But it kicks my butt, and my goal isn’t speed, anyway. It’s completion. I’ll doggie paddle if I have to.

I bought a wetsuit this year. Not because I’m freaked out by the weeds or anything (actually, I kind of am)—but because a wetsuit adds some buoyancy. I’ll take any help I can get. Come to think of it, I haven’t even tried it on yet. I should probably get on that.

The last event of a triathlon is running. And, oddly enough, I’m not too worried about that. I figure the worst thing that could happen is that I’m so exhausted by that point that I end up walking those last three miles. Worse things have happened. As long as I make it to the run, I’m optimistic that I’ll finish, even if I do straggle in last.

I’d really prefer if that weren’t the case, however. I still have a few days left to build my endurance. And you can bet I’ll be using these days to their fullest. Watch for me: I’ll be the one biking up and down 18th Avenue in running shoes and a wetsuit.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Video Tuesday

I was just in from swimming at Foster Arends when I remembered I had a video due today...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Shhhh.... he's sleeping

I'm typing this as my 10-year-old sleeps next to me on the living room floor. To tell you the truth, I kind of wish I was him -- but my goal is to post to this blog every weekday... and seeing as it's now 11:11 p.m., I'm getting this one in just under the wire.

Christian had trouble falling asleep tonight. He had hockey camp this afternoon followed by an evening of pizza and kickball at a friends' house, so those endorphins were really pumping today. I've been there. So when he wandered out of his bedroom at 10:15, I told him to grab a pillow and blanket and settle in next to me so I could rub his back while I work. (Tonight, by the way, "work" equals considerable amounts of time surfing Facebook while printing a grant that's due tomorrow and putting off writing next week's column.)

So here Christian sleeps, on the floor next to where I sit. (My office is so yesterday.) He's in last year's Relay for Life T-shirt, a pair of shorts, and a mop of hair that I think is getting too long and he thinks isn't nearly long enough.

When he sleeps, Christian still looks like my little boy. His skin is creaseless and soft. His eyelashes curl above his pink cheeks. His nose is dotted with freckles. But sticking out from the blanket, his feet are as big as mine and his legs aren't far behind.

He has an e-mail account. Can edit his own videos. Knows yo-yo tricks. Yesterday, he had a personal best 5K at 25 minutes on the nose. I came in at 31 minutes, a minute from my personal best.

I remember when I was 10. I remember telling my Mom with a sigh, "I'm in the double-digits now," as if she and I were suddenly in the same club. I remember feeling somehow wiser. Like I'd left something behind.

I just reached out and pushed some of Christian's hair behind his ear. Instinctively, his hand raised in his sleep, but fell again before it reached mine. He fascinates me, this boy who taught me more than a decade ago how to be a mother.

"We're both learning how to do this," I tell him sometimes when we butt heads. "You're learning how to grow up and I'm learning how to mother you as you grow up. We have to help each other."

This summer, Christian will be 11. "A preteen," he tells me with a bit of a swagger. It's a time of contradiction. He doesn't want to go to sleep without a cuddle, but he also doesn't want me going in the locker room with him at hockey practice.

As he bridges this time -- this child whose leg is crossing mine as he sleeps -- I hope he stays safe, of course, and happy, and the good-natured boy I know. And I hope I don't screw it up... don't stand in the way of letting him become who he's supposed to be.

I think that's going to be my greatest challenge: Letting this peaceful little boy dreaming beside me grow up.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wednesday's Jen's World

Wednesday's column is up on the Post-Bulletin site. It's a bit dated now, but if you want to read about how I spent my Memorial Day, you can find that article here.

Happy weekend to all! I'm looking forward to the Farmer's Market in the morning and some hardcore triathlon training in the afternoon. (The tri is a week away and I'm justifiably freaking out!)

Then Sunday finds me and Christian at another 5K (the MacAttack down at Silver Lake), followed by a progressive deck party in our neighborhood.

What a fantastic weekend. Hope the same for you!

Flashback Friday

Traditionally, I've closed the school year with a Jen's World ode to my sons' teachers. But I'm not writing a sappy end-of-the-school-year column this year, and you can read into that any way you like.

Instead, Flashback Friday features the column I wrote last year -- about two fabulous teachers who taught my kids more than they know.

* * *

I always get sappy at the farmer's market. It just makes me so happy.

For starters, the number of people who come out to support local farmers blows me away. Last Saturday morning, as I joined the throngs crossing Fourth Street, I found myself immersed in an electric hum of music, conversation and laughter. From young families pushing strollers to old couples walking hand-in-hand, everyone just seemed so glad to be there.

And why not? They were carrying bags of hand-washed onions and artisan breads, tomato plants and jars of honey, baskets of flowers and bags of fresh salad greens — all bought directly from the people who produced them. How cool is that?

I wanted to hug everyone there — but especially the farmer who was so kind to the elderly customer in front of me that he put his arm around the man's stooped shoulders, leaned in close to hear his request, and carried his purchases to his truck. I bought my tomato plants from that vendor for that reason alone. It's also why I had to forcibly restrain myself from screaming, "I love this place!" on my way out.
But I'm always emotional this time of year. It's the end-of-the-school-year thing. It gets to me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm excited for summer vacation — for lazy mornings and long bike rides and afternoons at the pool. But, oh, the goodbyes.

My sons have had, once again, excellent teachers in the Rochester public school system. My nine-year-old's teacher, Mr. Heins — whom Christian calls "the best third-grade teacher ever" — impressed me from the start. Way back at "Meet the Teacher" night last August, Mr. Heins told a room full of eager-faced parents that we were welcome in his classroom any time, that he limits homework so that we can prioritize family time, and that he expects a lot from our children.

But it got better. Over the course of the year, I learned that in addition to reading, writing and math, Mr. Heins also stresses the importance of ecology and environmental responsibility. That he encourages storytelling by helping his students publish their own books. That he rewards hard work with extra (and much-needed) time on the playground. And (I'd be remiss if I didn't add Christian's highlight): That he makes balloon animals for birthdays.

No, it won't be fun saying goodbye to Mr. Heins… but I hope we'll meet again when my seven-year-old moves up the grade-school ladder.

For now, however, my seven-year-old's final schooldays mark an even more poignant ending. By an incredible stroke of luck, we've had Bergen's teacher, Mrs. Hansen, in our lives for three years. She was, after all, his big brother's kindergarten and first-grade teacher, as well.

Mrs. Hansen is patient and positive, has a terrific sense of humor, and treats her students like people — which, when you're in first grade, is a very big deal. But mostly she really cares. She doesn't want her students to "get by." She wants them to succeed — and she works her butt off to make sure they get the tools to do that, whether it's extra services or extra face time.

Saying goodbye to Mrs. Hansen reminds me of that part at the end of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy tells the Tin Man that she'll miss him. She tells the Lion that she'll miss him. And then she tells the Scarecrow that she'll miss him "most of all." That's how I feel. I'm going to miss all of my children's educators — but Mrs. Hansen, I'm going to miss you most of all. (Warning: This is the part where I get weepy.)

Thank you, Mrs. Hansen, for being an advocate for my children. Thank you for encouraging my boys to work hard and to aim high. Thank you for convincing them that they are smart and interesting and capable people. You have given them a foundation that will inform the rest of their lives.

Maybe my children don't realize how fortunate they are to have had Mrs. Hansen and Mr. Heins teaching them this year. But I do — and I couldn't be happier. Or more sad.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Google Yourself

Okay, admit it. From time to time, you Google yourself.

I like to check in every once in awhile to see how close I'm encroaching on Jennifer Lynch Koski, the longtime holder of the No. 1 "Jennifer Koski" spot. (We kind of even look alike, though it seems we don't share similar interests. She's a professor at the Michael G. Foster School of Business.)

Jennifer Koski is also a preschool teacher in the Midwest. And a "new emerging" artist in Delaware. And a 21-year-old in Phoenix who claims rarely to use her MySpace anymore.

We're a varied, though clearly fun, bunch.

So this morning, as I decidedly put off working on a grant for the next school year, I thought I'd check in to see what we Jennifer Koskis are up to today. And that's when I saw the Google images link.

In addition to a terrible past Post-Bulletin head shot (in which I look both naked and like I have several chins), I see that some of my video screen captures are also up for the viewing.

Here's an especially lovely one:



Great expression, right? And what am I wearing? Is that a sundress over pajama bottoms and under a sweater?

Here's another great expression (though the kiddos look cute):



So tell me: What happens when you Google yourself?