Category Archives: Trips

Making Shelley a creative girl

A snowy day at Mankato's Wine Cafe, the perfect place to discuss writing.

A snowy day at Mankato‘s Wine Cafe, the perfect place to discuss writing.

I’m keeping notes on my various writing funks.

When a funk hits, it’s usually tied to isolation. Day after day of writing in a house with silence, with nobody to talk to, makes me go a little Stephen King. All work and no play makes Shelley a dull girl. Except I resist the part where Jack Nicholson hacks up his family and talks to ghosts.

Although talking to ghosts sounds fantastic. Company! They could tell me stories about the old days, and I could get them up to speed on Breaking Bad. We could share a bottle of wine. Talk books. Swap recipes. Discuss politics throughout history.

Or I could visit Mankato and rejoin my writing group, which sounds healthier and not as likely to prompt a psych ward visit. I know these writers can drink wine. Lots of wine. Ghosts? I’m not so sure.

The four-hour round trip was worth every mile.

Before the group met, I worked in the Blue Earth County Library. A creative explosion happened on that little table. My fingers have never hit the keyboard so fast. The energy and excitement of being “home” helped pull me into my novel.

Then I went to the Wine Café, a funky place that should be on your Mankato tourism list. On a notebook – and without any wine – I outlined the entire plot of a book that’s defied my wish to write itself.

Group members arrived and helped me solve problems with setting and a device. We critiqued another piece, too, an essay, which worked the adult part of my brain. For nearly an hour, I wasn’t thinking about the minds of kids. No butt jokes or little-girl social crises or bugs brought home in jars–all of which are my personal and professional life.

Then we talked about our projects, chatted about personal stuff, and laughed adult-style.

That’s one reason to be part of a writing group. Look for more reasons tomorrow.


All he knows

During a recent family visit, I volunteered to take charge of six kids, ages 5 to 16. How could I pass this up? It was the perfect kid-lit writer’s research project and a chance to see what it’s like to be a mother of six children. (It is exhausting.)

I took pictures and notes, especially the chatter of the 5-year-old boy. He’s Hollywood cute and creative, too. His charm takes over a room. And his lips never quit moving.

This boy spouts random observations, sometimes expressed in a conversation but usually just tossed into the mix with no context at all.

These are my favorite quotes. (Maybe they’ll turn up in a future novel.) No need to wonder about context because often there wasn’t any.

He's a comedian AND a golfer. A two-for-one cutie.

He’s a comedian AND a golfer. A two-for-one cutie.

That dog was so freaky it made my eyes throw up.

(About his cold.) Everyone’s always telling me, “help, help, help” with our chickens. That’s how I got the sinuses.

On TV I heard if you eat glue you get laser eyes and turn into a monster.

(About those monsters.) Superheroes are not real, but monsters are.

Bigfoot only eats s’mores. (Looks around at amused adults.) What? A s’more is a sandwich!

(At Dairy Queen.) If you mix strawberry ice cream with vanilla, it gives you the color chocolate.

Your chest doesn’t have a brain. That’s it. That’s all I know.

The banks of dumb creek

It was one of the great livery-stableman’s most masterly intuitions to have discovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.

Edith Wharton, Age of Innocence

What? An hour wait in the parking lot?

What? An hour wait in the parking lot?

It’s not that we wanted to get away from the amusement. It’s that we wanted to get away from the crowds getting away from the amusement.

My friend Angie and I took our girls to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove. After touring a wonderful museum center, we drove into the country and parked in a grassy field with hundreds of other cars. This was the site of an outdoor play about Laura’s life and Walnut Grove’s roots.

The play ran from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., and after that, we had a two-hour drive. Angie said, the last time I was here, it took one hour just to get out of the parking lot.

Sure, we’d paid for the tickets. And we faced a long drive with tired kids regardless, so what’s another hour?

Sixty minutes to be exact — an hour of honking horns as drivers rush the exit. It’d be 20-year-old trucks and minivans against my cute new car, only 7,000 miles old.

Maybe we should leave early, I said. It’s not like we don’t know the story’s ending.

Right, she said.

Trapped in Walnut Grove, the place we'd been so eager to see.

Trapped in Walnut Grove, the place we’d been so eager to see.

I vacillated. It was our day for Laura Ingalls, my daughter’s first beloved heroine. Mine, too. It’s Laura from the Banks of Plum Creek, not Laura of Silver Lake or Laura of those Happy Golden Years. Plum Creek Laura is our favorite, a book with an action-filled plot and fun cast. The bratty Nellie Oleson, the dugout, Johnny Johnson, the country party vs. the city party.

Also, Angie and I are writers. Exploring Laura’s town was our study in setting and character.

I shivered and said, it’s really cold for July. Maybe we should leave early because of the parking lot and all.

So Angie and I calculated reasons:

  1. It was cold, but not cold enough to kill pesky mosquitos.
  2. The seats were uncomfortable.
  3. The drive would be late, dark and long.
  4. The bathrooms were gross.
  5. The kids were tired.

Bingo! The kids. That settled it. We’d leave early. Our poor kids!

After intermission, during scene seven, we gathered our stuff, slipped between the seats, and dashed for the car. We were out of the field and on the road before the applause.

The girls settled in with their electronic gadgets. Angie and I chatted. We chatted about the Ingalls family, about Angie’s new novel, about my new novel, about OHMYGOD DEER IN THE ROAD.

Four screams, a thunk, a deer rolling over the windshield, rolling over the hood of the car, and disappearing in the ditch.

All passengers were fine. The car’s front was mutilated and the top smeared with blood and (sorry) deer poop. We eventually made it to Angie’s house and collapsed into nervous slumber.

So, Edith Wharton, you made a poignant reflection about our culture when you wrote Americans are more eager to leave their amusement than they are to get to it.

But why?

Is it really about cold seats and mosquitos?

Is it because we feel guilty? Because people suffer around the world while Americans enjoy demolition derbies; pizza buffets; carnival games with junk prizes, like those big purple teddy bears; and TV shows about swearing, smutty housewives?

Because our country is such a vat of amusement, we’ve developed the attention span of a gnat?

Because we’re so arrogant that each and every one of us believe we deserve the first shot out of the parking lot? Our lives are so important we couldn’t possibly wait one hour?

I’m not drawing a lame karmic connection between a deer crash and being a jerk, although the deer probably thinks I should.

I simply want to understand why Angie and I decided to flee an event we’d been planning for months. We’ve both survived uncomfortable chairs and mosquitos and disgusting bathrooms – often in our own homes.

So I leave the laptop today with a nod to pageant patrons who enjoyed the show’s final two scenes and withstood the parking chaos. Kudos to them for living the moment while they were in the moment.

Maybe I’ll try that next time. For Edith and for Laura.

For Edith, for Laura, for the deer.

For Edith, for Laura, for the deer.

Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?

Students yesterday field tripped to the Twins stadium and enjoyed America’s favorite pastime. They laughed, they cheered, they used sunscreen for the first time since September.

Since I’m not a sports fan, I spent my time people watching and stadium inspecting.

I guess this is where I’m supposed to complain about billionaire owners charging $4.50 for water or $6 for mini-donuts. The water situation is extortion, but you can’t put a price tag on mini-donuts.


Make it a perfect game, US Bank!

Or maybe I should point out how fans are held hostage by marketing and money. But everyone already knows corporate logos are stadium wallpaper; and that Ronald McDonald himself strolls past the U.S Bank Home Run Porch, waving at fans looking for the Budweiser Roof Deck.

Old news.

But, please, let’s consider one boundary. I hate to deliver a bloated patriotism lecture styled after Limbaugh or O’Reilly, because nobody owns patriotism, although corporations are bidding for it.

Yesterday’s pre-game tradition began with fans standing, taking off their hats, and singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” This rendition was brought to you by Super America. Not as in, our great country, but the gas station.

The announcer actually said it. Today’s national anthem is brought to you by Super America. He didn’t even gag.

While a digital version of the U.S. flag spanned the lower screen, the Super America logo popped up next to it, so gallantly streaming.


Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

What’s left to sell?

I like writing dialogue, so I spent two innings imagining the chumps brainstorming a marketing plan for client Super America.

I’ve got it! We’ll sponsor the national anthem and mix company’s logo with the flag!

Umm … the American flag?

Hello, knucklehead! You think we’d mix the logo with the Venezuelan flag?

I’m just not sure about this, Jerry. Seems a little disrespectful.

It’s profound. Nothing’s more patriotic than baseball, the flag, the national anthem, and our client’s name. I can just hear it. America the Beautiful and client Super America. Because America is beautiful, and our gas station is super. Super America!

Umm … the national anthem is the Star Spangled Banner.

You sure?

I googled it.

Crap! It doesn’t even have the word America in the title. Can we get that changed?

And so we have a gas station writing a check for the anthem and the flag. Super America. America is super. Come buy our gas.

I’ll be filling up at Kwik Trip. They sell hot dogs, but not at the stadium.

Not yet.

Worlds Collide: Harry Potter, the Titanic and the airport

Universal Park and Harry Potter World! There’s nothing better than Florida in January, even though the park is filled with lines and tourists.

Between Hogwarts food and souvenirs, I spent most of my galleons. Still, the weather was perfect and, except for all the people in t-shirts and shorts, we fell into Harry’s magical world.

For example: Harry’s mother, if you recall, sacrificed her life to save Harry. I’d planned to buy Hermione’s wand, but my daughter wanted one, too. At $35 each, we couldn’t buy two wands. So my daughter got the wand, not me. Oh, the sacrifices mothers make for their kids!

ImageYet another: Everyone in Diagon Alley, whether they were from Brazil, Japan, or Wisconsin, began to speak British phrases with an accent. Where’s your flat? and Oh, bollocks, I dropped my tea.

Yet another: There’s no sorting hat, but you quickly identify yourself with a Hogwarts house. Turns out, I’m Gryffindore, and my daughter is Hufflepuff.  I think she just likes to say Hufflepuff.

Yet another: The adults enjoyed butterbeer after we recovered from the disappointment of learning it’s alcohol-free.

Tomorrow: The Titanic, the airport, and a bit of magic.