Tuesday, April 29, 2008

For the Love of Kon Tiki

In case you missed it, yesterday was "Kon Tiki" day....

If you aren't savvy to Tiki, it's the 101 day expedition by a Norweigan explorer in 1947 who decided to build a balsa log raft and see if it would be possible to sail across the Pacific Ocean to South America. Just to see if he could...

Now the deeper story here is Kon Tiki is a bit of a talisman thought to me. Just hearing the words takes me back to being 12 years old again.

As a kid, my dad thought my education would never be complete unless I read the book Kon Tiki. For him, it was pivotal, it was a man triumps over nature story. It was a guy who was rugged tough and with cowboy like gusto, went for his dream, no matter how far out. As a 12 year old, I thought they were just a bunch of numbskulls.

Who in their right mind is going to build some raft out of a bunch of trees and sail half way around the world just for fun? Turning the pages made my teeth grind and want to shout "what were they thinking?" Even at age 12, I had some sense.

But my dad kept on pressing. "Read it, it's good, it's essential, you need to know the story.." And so I plugged on, that whole summer, resenting every moment, reading that felt like trudging through mud, desperately wanting to get through it.

Now as an adult, I get it. I get it because as a grown up and a parent, a lot of my days feel like you are constantly living on that ridiculous raft. Life is a lot of trudging through, braving the storms, doing things that don't make sense, embarking on the unknown and barely hanging on.

The gift of Kon Tiki is that everyone has one. Everyone has that crazy, no good sense dream lurking inside of them. The one that everyone around you will scream "idiot" and with only your voice quietly whispering, yes. My dad wanted me to see the possibilities of Kon Tiki.

Yesterday was the anniversary of their launch. And that is a day worth remembering...

If you want to learn more about Kon Tiki, visit:

Thursday, April 24, 2008


The d-word was uttered in the back seat by my six-year old this week and I found myself in uncharted mommy waters. You would think by now that this should be a parenting lay-up. Your kid swears, they get punished.

Yet I found myself in my "talking spot" with my son on the sofa fumbling over the words on how to explain why he is was in trouble. He knew it was wrong, I knew it was wrong. But how do I explain in a way that's meaningful? Here's how it went...

Me: You know why you are in trouble, right?
Him: (Sad cow eyes) Nodding somberly.
Me: You know why you're not supposed to say those words right?
Him: (even sadder) Sort of.
Me: Okay, well, we we um, don't say those words because they are bad. And it's not right to swear. And it's not right to swear because people will think you are bad.

(In my head all the while -- bad is the best you can do? Isn't there some lofty parenting principal about character or integrity or some other important sounding word on why we really should swear. *!!@@* - that's me swearing in my head because I can't think of something really good to say.)

I guess I'm shocked that we are already now in the curse phase. I thought that didn't come until about 10 years old. So I guess I sort of blew my teachable moment.

Hopefully he will curse again soon so I can work on it and have something really inspiring to say next time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Survival of the Funniest

Growing up as the youngest of five kids, funny was the only way to survive.

As the baby and the youngest girl, I was constantly scheming with my family members on pranks we would pull on each other.

There was the puppy chow in the cereal trick – hidden secretly beneath the Cheerios. Or the flour bowl perched over the door – messy but good. My personal favorite was the ice cold pitcher of water tossed on whoever happened to be showering at the moment. Naked and screaming – the victim could never retaliate, making it the best prank of all.

I think my family loved huckstering tricks on each other because we had nothing better to do with our time. We had no computers or VCRs. We didn’t even have cable in those days – our small Midwestern town was lucky enough to get three channels of TV, four if you count UHF, which didn’t really get any shows anyways.

Those were the days where we would spend hours at the park (by ourselves), built forts in the backyard and rode bikes endlessly up and down main street. We lived on a lake and would sometimes take our small rowboat out to a nearby island or explore the secret cemetery directly across from it. I can recall entire afternoons doing nothing at all but skipping rocks, pulling apart cattails, and collecting piles of snapdragons. I guess that’s why we loved pranks – it was pure, simple fun that we could invent ourselves.

We were the typical small town family where there was literally nothing to do but watch the grass grow. In desperation for fun, I can actually remember making up entire songs out of the contents of the bathroom cupboards. I would hum a little ditty called “Lysol, Listermint, Dial, Shout!” until my family would beg me to stop. I wish I was making this up.

That’s what got me started on dumb jokes. As another way to pass the time, we would make up jokes filled with ridiculous nonsense. I loved making up my own funnies with punchlines that sometimes made sense and often times would not. We would tell jokes late into the night where we made popcorn the real way, with Jiffy Pop from a long handled popcorn popper over a fire. Telling jokes wasn’t to be funny, it was something to fill the endless spaces of boredom in our lives.

Now I recycle jokes from my childhood by sharing them with my six year-old son. Every day he insists that a joke is put on a post-it note in his lunch for school. I oblige because I desperately want him to appreciate the plain funny things in life. To know that everything doesn’t have to be loaded with graphics, music, technology and pizzazz to be great. Some things are sweet and funny all by themselves.

Dumb jokes have a simple, easy humor about them that I adore. They don’t require any sort of high-minded intellect or even much thinking at all. They are a great equalizer of people – no matter whether they come from the Ivy League or a small farm town. If they are 6 or 60 years old, everyone appreciates a good joke that is meant solely for delight.

The thing that I like best is that jokes remind me of the days when we had to invent our own fun. Where we couldn’t simply look up a website for a thought, we had to actually create it. All we had was our imagination and endless hours to fill.

Despite the fact that I am now past pulling pranks on my family members – sometimes I still can’t resist a good trick. My childish dark ways come out at inappropriate times – like cocktail parties. I cannot resist a friend’s purse sitting innocently by itself at a table. While the unsuspecting gal is off filling her plate at the buffet, I load it up with silverware, salt and pepper shakers and whatever else I can find. Girlfriends have discovered entire menus and vases (depending on the purse) after an evening out with me. I hug them goodbye with my wicked smile and they wonder curiously how their purse got so much heavier than they remember. The pure pleasure of a good practical joke is a sweet devilish thing.

Funny started for me as a way to get through my childhood. And now I find it as the best way to keep that spirit of youthful joy alive. With this child-like notion, I wonder if perhaps one of the most treasured parts of life might be a dumb joke and a deep belly laugh.

Monday, April 7, 2008

One Wild and Precious Life

My writing coach recently shared a poem by Mary Oliver called "The Summer Day."

Wait, "my writing coach" -- I love saying that. I love saying it because it means I'm writing and by the very action statement of it makes me, uh huh, a writer. Okay, I digress.

Back to "The Summer Day" -- I have been playing around with this neat book about summer idea and she shared this lovely poem with me in that same notion. The very best part of the poem and not to spoil the ending, but Mary asks "what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

I love that. Wild and precious. I love the fact that my (yes MY) life could be WILD and PRECIOUS. It's a daunting and delicious question that I want to dive down deep into and ponder for days at a time.

That line says to me -- hey! it's not too late. You can still savor up your dreams, you can still do anything you want. You haven't missed it, yet. If I were to get into Mary Oliver's head, I'm wondering if she was trying to encourage her readers to know that your life is like a summer day. It's gorgeous and wild and precious and right now. So chop chop, get to it!

Here it is for your own personal thinking and pondering...

The Summer Day
By Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Re-Thinking Me

Do you ever keep doing things the same way even though you have no idea why?

I had this realization recently about my son. Every day I pick out his clothes and lay them out on what I call the "road map." It's basically a fun trail of clothes for him to follow to make getting dressed fun. I called it that when he was 3 years old to make it a game. The problem is he's now 6, almost seven. He knows how to get dressed.

Today I asked him if he wanted to pick out his own clothes. He immediately said no. Sensing his underlying fear of the unknown -- I then reviewed the process of where the pants are, where the shirts are and how to make stylish choices. Then he immediately said "Mom, can I pick out my own clothes?" almost as if it was his idea in the first place. But of course.

This mommy has been a bit on auto-pilot. Doing the same things over and over, even though they make no sense, even though my son can do many of these things on his own perfectly well and without me. Ouch. Maybe that's why change is hard -- having to admit he needs me a bit less each day.

Last night he cooked for me and we made Thai Stir Fry -- I'm not sure if Thai people actually use woks, but my son was so fascinated by the cool cooking equipment and stirring up everything with his wok tools that we went with it.

Picking out your own clothes yesterday, making Thai food today -- what will he learn to do on his own tomorrow...I guess we'll have to wait and see.