Theme Park Survival Tactics (by an Ex-Park Employee & Park Junkie)

26 08 2014

I likely suffer from a theme park addiction.

In the last decade, I’ve had annual passes to Disneyland, Disney World, Universal Studios, Six Flags, and the killer whale trifecta of SeaWorld Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio. I grew up hanging out at Mall of America’s theme park, and have visited theme parks all over the country–everything Busch Gardens to Cypress Gardens to Knott’s Berry Farm to Valleyfair.

I currently hold passes to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando and bounce around between the six different parks every week.

My first dates, work events, end-of-year parties, college extracurricular events, reunions, and bachelorette parties occurred at theme parks. Heck, I even got engaged at a theme park.

I also worked at Universal Studios in Orlando for a summer when I was in college, which I’m still too traumatized to talk about. Let’s just say working in felt pants, knee socks, and a wool jacket in 98-degree weather with 99% humidity and dealing with international tourists throwing shoes and purses at me while operating a high-capacity roller coaster isn’t my favorite way to spend the summer. That’s a different story for another day.

Basically, I’ve been at theme parks every week for the last ten years.

In the many hours I’ve spent regularly at theme parks–both as an employee and patron–I’ve seen a lot.

One of the most terrifying things I’ve realized is that many people don’t know how to survive a theme park. Tragically, with their arms and legs missing from paying sky-high admission prices at the gate, your average visitor doesn’t know how to cope with handling their time at the park.

Luckily, I’m here to point out some vital survival tactics for making it out of a theme park alive (and happy):

IMG_5738Dress for Battle.

Let me make this clear: you are fighting a battle here. Your children’s happy memories and well-adjusted futures depend on you wearing the right clothing.


Wear lightweight, comfortable shoes with good arch support. If you’ve lived in flip flops for at least a year straight (or you’re from California), your feet are automatically tough enough to handle wearing sandals. If you’re from the Midwest, you are not allowed to wear flip flops because you will complain about blisters by lunchtime. Texas, no one wears boots here and I guarantee you’ll have a trail of people laughing at you if you do.

Crocs are simply never acceptable for anything anywhere. Maybe if you’re taking a direct hit from a hurricane while walking around a park. Maybe.

Your clothing should be lightweight, flexible, and able to get soaked and dry quickly. Don’t wear black, don’t wear polo collar shirts with athletic shorts, don’t mix stripes and plaid, and don’t wear skin-tight tube tops. Fine, the last few are personal preferences–based on the fact that these are stupid things to wear in general.

You are not allowed to wear rival theme park paraphernalia, because that’s like wearing the wrong colors in the streets of Compton. You’ll also tempt the theme park employees to cut you off abruptly for the fast pass riders because they don’t like you.

Watch Out for Brazilian Tour Groups. 

You know that scene in Jurassic Park, where the slight jiggle of the jello indicates the presence of approaching dinosaurs?

That’s the same way it is with Brazilian tour groups. You always hear them first, shouting their happy Portuguese chants at the top of their lungs. Then you see them, en masse, like a herd of wildebeests careening over the plains. They’re always dressed in matching brightly colored shirts, which usually proclaim “BRAZIL” somewhere–like the foreign language didn’t clue you in. Often, someone has a flag on a stick that guides the group. If you stand still enough, they’ll cascade around you like a living waterfall, giggling and laughing and cheering loudly.

Bless their hearts, they’re happy to be there. But they’ll scare the livin’ daylights outta you if you don’t see ’em coming.

Strollers Aren’t Weapons.

Someday I’ll write a coffee table book entitled You’re Too Big for That Stroller. It’ll be a best-seller, along with its sequel Meltdowns at Disney.

In order to ensure optimal theme park survival, be advised on the following guidelines for strollers:

1) Strollers are not weapons. Please do not intimidate other guests by shoving strollers into the back of their legs while they are attempting to navigate a dense crowd after a fireworks show. It’s even more alarming  that you do this when your kiddo is strapped into the stroller.

2) Strollers should be small and portable, and able to be flattened quickly when getting on a ride. If you feel it necessary to pack two-thirds of your house onto your stroller, then wait this one out in Stroller Purgatory with the other ill-prepared parents instead of holding up the line.

3) Toddlers should be in strollers when not on a ride, not tottering around aimlessly into gigantic, fast-moving crowds who give you a patronizing smile while thinking, “Gee, that kid’s gonna be flattened and I sure hope their parents learn a lesson from this.”

4) Kids are too large for strollers when their knees reach their chins. They then need to be unceremoniously kicked out and made to hoof it.

Don’t Stop in the Middle of Traffic.

Please grasp the fact that this is the most packed, zoo-like, carnival-on-steroids Happy Place you’ll ever be in.

I know, the lights are so pretty. The air smells like cotton candy and there’s music playing everywhere. Children are actually smiling at their parents, as they whirl around on colorful rides. You’re slacked-jawed at the wonder of it all.

Wake up! This is a human stampede. You will get trampled and left for dead if you don’t clean up that drool off your chin and snap out of it.IMG_5723

Listen carefully to what I’m saying:

Don’t stop in the middle of the path.

Don’t stop in the exit.

Don’t stop on the side of the ride.

Don’t stop in front of me.

Glad we’re on the same page. I’ll happily remind you and bump right into you if it helps.

Don’t Bring an iPad. 

I’m pro-technology on all fronts. But there’s a time and a place for lugging your gigantic iPad to a theme park….and the time is NOT on this trip. If your kid can’t stand in line without being glued to an iPad at a theme park, holy cow…that’s scary. It’s your job as a parent or guardian to entertain them. That’s why you get paid the big bucks. Play a game, or–eeek!–try conversation. You might actually enjoy it.

Added bonus? You don’t have to tromp over to the lockers to get your iPad after every ride.

Oh, and please note that thrusting your iPad into the air to take pictures of the fireworks is A) distracting and impeding the thousands of guests behind you and B) causing snickers of derision from half of said crowd.

IMG_4004Time Your Photos With Military Precision.

Here’s the deal: you may be the center of your world, but that’s not the reality of Theme Park World. That means that the human stampede headed towards you is under absolutely no obligation to stop and wait for you to get the perfect family photo.

There’s a slight difference when you’re in front of a picture-worthy icon, though–say, the fire-breathing dragon at Diagon Alley or the castle at Disney World. However, I believe that polite theme park etiquette means you can hold up traffic for no more than four seconds to get a photo.

Count it: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand…

Oh, couldn’t snap it in time? Guess you need more efficient fingers. That’s how you learn.

Leave the Social Media on the Back Burner. 

First of all, unless you’re Kim Kardashian, how many people are actually hanging on your every tweet? Chances are that no one looks at your social media posts any longer than it takes them to think, “Lucky duck, they’re having fun and I’m doing this”–which, of course, basically sums up the entire point of social media.

Yes, post a snap on Facebook or tweet a few excited phrases, but live in the moment. I can’t tell you how many miserable kids I’ve seen dragging along behind their parents, who are excitedly live-tweeting the entire experience and completely ignoring their kids.

Not to sound sappy, but you only get a few chances in life to see someone’s face light up with pure and utter joy–don’t miss it because you’re texting or tweeting to someone who doesn’t really care.

Don’t Be a Sidewalk Hog.

I’ll be fair and advise that you can walk up to three people wide at a theme park. If you dare walk six people wide, though, that’s unrealistic. Theme parks are crowded, busy, fast-paced places. Be sensible, and realize when you’re hogging more than your allotted asphalt.

Stop Being “That Guy”. 

You know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t be “that guy” who shouts business deals into his cell phone while waiting in line, the idiot teenager who screams incoherently trying to impress girls, the bonkers kid who climbs all over the queue with a parent who does nothing to control him, the broody athlete who incessantly bounces a basketball while everyone else stands dutifully still. And, heaven help us all, please don’t be “that guy” who passes gas while in line with a bunch of hot, tired people crammed into a tiny corridor.

Don’t be “that guy” who bugs the poor employee standing at the front of the line to ask, “Is the wait time accurate?” Don’t be “that guy” who complains to the food vendors about how expensive the park is. Don’t be “that guy” who sets up a camcorder smack-dab in the middle of the crowded walkway.

Simply put, avoid doing anything that can annoy anyone around you. If you can’t handle it, go park your rear on “Small World” and rot your brain there for the rest of the afternoon. Trust me, you’ll hear the music in your nightmares.

Don’t Turn Off Your Brain. 

This is the most crucial survival tactic, when it comes to theme parks. I won’t even elaborate on this, in order to give your brain more room to store this memo.

Remember these theme park survival tactics, and I assure you–you’ll not only survive your trip to the Happiest, Most Magical, Most Exciting, Most Eye-Wateringly Expensive Place in the World, but you’ll have fun, too.

If not? Rest assured, I’ll memorialize your poor decisions in writing for you right here
















A Savvy Girl’s Guide to Sporting Events

28 03 2014


A few days ago, I went to a professional hockey game with my husband.

We had a great time.

I’m a big fan of  sports, you see, and have spent a good portion of my free time attending professional sporting events–everything from baseball and basketball to hockey and football, soccer and bodybuilding to volleyball and tennis. I’ve even been to my fair share of competitive swimming, cheerleading and dance,  and–oddly enough–synchronized swimming.

But in looking around at my fellow females at said hockey game, I realized something:

There were a lot of obviously clueless women at this sporting event.

Naturally, this prompted me to offer up this helpful blog post for all of you ladies out there who are oblivious on how to handle attending sports functions.

I’ve compiled all of my knowledge into one condensed list for your viewing pleasure.

So here you are, my Savvy Girl’s Guide to Sporting Events:

Rule #10: Don’t Dress Up.

I’d like to point out the obvious, that the people attending this sporting event have paid money to watch a fast-paced game–not to oogle you. The only reason you should ever curl your hair and wear a mini skirt to a sporting event would involve you singing the National Anthem on the field. Otherwise, bleachers and stadium seating and heels just don’t mix.

Is there a time and a place for dolling up? Sure! It’s called “every-other-occasion-besides-attending-a-sporting-event”.

Rule #9: Don’t Wear the Rival Team’s Colors.

You may try this as a diversionary tactic–“Baby, look how competitive I am! I’m rooting against your team!”–or you may honestly think you don’t look good in your team’s colors. Or, sadly, you might just be that clueless about sports. Do a bit of research (or spend some time watching guys at the local gas station) and figure out what colors you probably should be wearing. Be forewarned, too–some stadiums will actually boo you if you show up in the opposing team’s colors (St. Louis, I’m looking at you, my friends).

If you’re neutral on team allegiance, give ’em the old French classic: basic white. Oh, and it’s never “cute” to root for a guy’s rival–even if you want his attention.

Rule #8: Your Purse Doesn’t Get a Seat.

First of all, do you really need to bring a purse to a game? Ok, maybe you can’t condense your stuff down into a small clutch or your coat pockets for one evening…but keep in mind, your precious leather satchel will be sitting in its rightful place: on the sticky, popcorn-littered floor.  It’s not a small child, even if you’ve affectionately named your Louie or Jimmy or Dolce.

At an NBA game with my husband a few years ago...

At an NBA game with my husband a few years ago…

Rule #7: Get Your Own Food.

This principle will save you from endless frustration over the course of your entire life. Here it goes: men do not want to share their food with you. Ever. If they ever do, it means that they’re humoring you or aren’t really very hungry. If you’re choosing to eat at a sporting event, get your own food. And goodness gracious, definitely get your own drink. Asking to share a man’s drink with him is like trying to steal a meaty bone from a hulking dog.

This brings me to another point that needs to be stated–it is never, ever acceptable (or advisable) for you to ask a male to get up from the game and get you a pretzel or an ice cream cone or a refill on your Coke. Get it yourself, girl. You’ve got legs.

Rule #6: Focus, Focus, Focus.

Sorry, darling, no one at a sporting event wants to hear about what Jenny said to you at work today, and how frustrated you are about your sister’s boyfriend saying that stupid political baloney on Facebook. For all intents and purposes, Pinterest does not exist when you’re at a game. Conversation is fairly limited to sports-related topics and players. Be content to actually watch the game and ask questions if you don’t understand what’s going on.

And don’t just fill the void with constant cheering, either. Don’t believe me that it’s annoying? Watch the people sitting around a loudmouth at a game. Their eyes roll more than the dice at a Vegas roulette table.

Rule #5: Don’t Trash Talk.

I’ll give you a pass on this one if you actually understand the sport in which you choose to talk smack. For instance, I played basketball and soccer enough to intimately know both sports–to the point where I nearly got punched by an annoyed Lakers fan in Los Angeles a few years ago because my trash talking was a little too accurate when it came to Kobe Bryant. But in general, it’s never wise to jabber fiercely about something you don’t really understand…especially if you’ve been drinking.

Rule #4: Don’t Draw Attention to the Cheerleaders.

Let’s face it–when have the words, “Oh my gosh, look how short her skirt is!” ever had the intended effect on anyone, let alone any guy? Save your righteous criticism, however accurate it may be, and don’t needlessly point out the skimpily dressed cheerleaders any more than you have to. Besides, some of them are Harvard-bound law students…right?

Rule #3: Don’t Be Cutesy.

Don’t get me wrong, you can hold hands with your significant other while at a sporting event. If your honey puts his arm around you, by all means–that’s fine. But if you go into a sporting event expecting to be coddled and cuddled and hugged and kissed, you don’t really get what sports are all about. People love sports because they are competitive, raw, unpredictable–it’s battle. Unfortunately, smooching and war just don’t go together.

Rule #2: Don’t Get Up From Your Aisle Over and Over Again.

Nothing makes the people around you hate you more than traipsing up and down the aisle over and over again. I figure you get one or two chances to make everyone stand up so you can climb over them and step all over their toes, and that’s it. Push it to three times? You’re getting the evil eye from everyone you’re inconveniencing. Four times or more, you risk getting “accidentally” spilled with beer next time they have to get up. Or beat up in the parking lot, if it’s in Boston.

Rule #1: Don’t Make Fun of Sports Fans Geeking Out.

As you attend sporting events, the ultimate faux pas you can make is to poke fun at those fans who love geeking out. It’s not often that hardworking adults are able to paint their faces, pull on a colorful shirt, and wear a goofy foam hat on their heads while screaming themselves hoarse–so don’t take that away from anyone. Save your caustic wit for your inevitable arguments with your internet provider’s customer service representative, and let people enjoy themselves at games and events.

If all else fails and you’re truly bored to death at a sporting event, go buy yourself a pretzel and silently remember all the times your significant other has spent wandering around a department store, vainly searching for a chair as you try on endless outfit combinations. That should muffle your inner criticism until someone scores another goal and shuts down the game.

Just remember, ladies–if I see you wearing a lacy dress and playing Candy Crush at the next game I’m at, I’ll be lobbing some of these tips your way…






The 10 Commandments of Flying

5 01 2014

A few weeks ago, I jetted across the country–to be exact, from Florida to California (which one might say is a flight from the Land of Weird to the Land of Plastically-Enhanced Weird). It was upon this long flight that I typed a few notes into my iPhone about air travel.

And when I say notes, I mean basically a list of things that my fellow passengers were doing to annoy me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed a great many flights all over the world. I’ve met some fascinating people, heard some incredible tales, and learned a Wikipedia-worthy amount about various subjects by talking to my fellow flyers (though I’d prefer to forget about my gruesome conversation with an emergency room nurse from inner city Minneapolis).

However, spending a good portion of my life traveling has prompted me to be a bit of a flying expert. As you’ll see, I’ve put together the definitive list of rules one should follow when engaged in air travel.

So here you are, my friends:

The 10 Commandments of Flying…

1. Thou shalt not take another passenger’s arm rest, especially if thou is sitting on an aisle seat. Thou is not given an exception for sleeping, either. Thou needs to suck it up.

2. Thou shalt not apply lotion, cologne, or perfume (or anything that stinks to high heaven) before or during the flight, and thou is prohibited from wearing Clinique Happy around the rest of humanity.

3. Thou shalt not allow thy carry on bag to infringe upon my leg room, unless thou is willing to share thy pretzels and/or a napkin (if necessary) with me.

4. Thou shalt put on thy seatbelt immediately upon sitting down, not waiting and digging into my hip trying to find the loose end while I’m trying to catch a pre-flight nap.

5. Thou shalt keep thy baby’s mouth shut while flying, and thou shalt probably have an iPad and a pacifier ready to go for this very purpose–and thou shalt not be forgiven for screaming that lasts beyond 15 minutes total, even if thou has an adorable baby. And furthermore, thou shalt stop thy ornery child from kicking the back of my seat before I have to turn around and lay the smack down.

6. Thou shalt have one free pass to the lavatory during the flight if thou is sitting in a middle or window seat.1435105_89345740

7. Thou shalt not watch an overly gory, explicit, or dialogue-laden movie while in flight, but shall instead watch something that I will also enjoy watching over your shoulder.

8. Thou shalt not place thy drink too close to my seat-back tray, lest the heavens knock your drink down during turbulence and splatter my Kindle Fire instead of thou own paperback novel that looks like it got left out in the rain already.

9. Thou shalt not close thy window during take off, landing, sunrise, or sunset–unless thou is taking off from Iowa, where there is nothing interesting to see from the sky.

10. Thou shalt get thy act together and use thy God-given brain to collect thy junk before the row in front of thee is already exiting the plane. Some of us have connecting flights to catch.

Dare you break one of these commandments while flying, you better pray that God has mercy on your  sinful soul.

You also better hope that I’m not on my iPhone behind you, either…

The Differences Between Your Early 20’s Vs. Your Late 20’s…

17 07 2013

Just the other night, I was awoken by a late-night text. I kid you not, the first thought I had was, “I’m too old for this.”

How very Grinch-like of me, I know.

I used to love when my friends texted me in the middle of the night…when I was in my early 20’s. Now at 27, I’m comfortably into my late 20’s…and life has changed drastically in these few short years between my early and late twenties.

Here are some very candid differences that I’ve realized, when it comes to your Early 20’s vs. your Late 20’s:

Early 2o’s “I can sleep anywhere” vs. Late 20’s  “I need to sleep in my own bed”

I didn’t realize this one until I spent the night this year stretched out on the floor, attempting to sleep at a youth lock-in (yes, an oxymoron, I know). And then again when I attempted to sleep on the ground at a campsite. And again when I tried to nap on a couch. Back in the day–which translates to five years ago, if I have to approximate–I could sleep anywhere. And I pretty much did: in closets, on floors, on bean bags, in hammocks, and in cars. Now, I have to sleep in my own bed. So lame.

A regular midnight romp, in our early 20's...

A regular midnight romp, in our early 20’s…

Early 20’s “You’re too young to get married!” vs. Late 20’s “So when are you going to have kids, anyway?”

As a friend of mine from high school remarked recently, “It’s so strange to be almost a decade out of high school. Back then, couples were trying not to get pregnant. Now, suddenly, everyone is desperate to have a baby. What the heck?”

I have to agree. At 22, I was too young to be married. Now at 27, I’m getting questions in my birthday cards and weekly from congregation members about when I’m having kids. Thanks, world, for your confusing timelines. Apparently you’re much too young to make a life-altering decision like marriage in your early twenties, but you’re ready to raise little mini-people from scratch within a mere few years?

Early 20’s “Let’s go out, it’s only 2:00 am!” vs. Late 20’s “It’s midnight, I am so tired!”

In all seriousness, I probably averaged no more than 4 hours a sleep a night for the entire eight years I was in high school and college. We used to go out at all hours of the night, driving to the beach at 3:00, In N’ Out Burgers at midnight, or Hollywood at 4:00 am.

One time, I started hiking up a mountain in central California…at midnight. We hiked in total blackness (yes, as dangerous as it sounds–please forget I admitted to this, Mom) for several hours. Incidentally, we found out three days later that the mountain was closed to hikers that weekend because of some recent mountain lion attacks. But hey–water under the bridge now, right?

Somehow, though, in my late twenties, my body has aged about a thousand years and suddenly I actually need sleep. Like…if I don’t get at least 6 or 7 hours, I feel like a slug for days. No more midnight mountain hikes for me.

Early 20’s “Can I help you, young lady?” vs. Late 20’s “Yeah, the woman over there needs help”

Somehow, in the span of a few years, I went from being alternately called a “girl” and “young lady” by everyone–sales clerks, coworkers, and everyone in between–to being referred to as a “lady” and “woman”. And to boot, I don’t ever get carded anymore. Boy, who would’ve figured I’d miss that when it was gone?

Early 20’s “You’re like, so cool” vs. Late 20’s “You’re like, middle-aged, right?”

In my early 20’s, I was usually mistaken for one of the teenagers I worked with. We’d go out and people would ask me what grade I was in. I could confidently sit in the bleachers at a high school football game and not be recognized as an adult, and I felt like I almost had VIP access to the Teenage World because of my camouflage.

Now, when I ask my youth how old they think I am, they vaguely guess that I’m somewhere between 20 and 50. Yup. Nothing like being aged nearly 30 years by a clueless teenager. Quite a hit to the ol’ self-esteem.

Early 20’s “I totally got checked out at a college campus” vs. Late 20’s “What’s that creeper doing on our campus?” 

In probably the most unexpected turn-of-events, once you hit your late twenties, cautious college students start eyeballing you with a questioning look when you walk around their campus. Once upon a time, I used to get checked out by curious males when I stepped foot on a university campus. Now, heads swivel to see what that “old person” is doing on their hallowed turf.

And no, I’ll never tell you young punks exactly which campus vending machine gives out free candy. So there. That’s what you get for ostracizing me now.

Early 20’s “I love me some glittery eye shadow” vs. Late 20’s “When do I start using anti-aging wrinkle cream, anyway?”

Back in the day (again, five years ago), I wore all sorts of crazy clothes and makeup. Without sounding like an 80’s pop star, I’ll just say I rocked some awesome lime-green leather jackets, glittery purple eye shadow, and spiky high heel stilettos. I’d wear just about anything bright and colorful, whether it was on my body, face, or feet. But now that I’m in my late twenties, I find myself increasingly muted in every way and wondering seriously about when a young lady–er, woman–is supposed to start using anti-wrinkle products. No, I’m not really asking for advice. It’s just a thought trapped in my head, ruminating up there…

Early 20’s “I’ll happily waste my paycheck on shoes and coffee!” vs. Late 2o’s “I gotta pay off this debt and save for a house!”

In a truly cruel twist of fate, it seems that you spend your entire life training up to get a job, and then you get an entry-level job out of college which affords you a few blissful years to spend your piddly income on frivolous little niceties like new shoes and Starbucks Frappuccinos…only to realize abruptly that your dreams of a disposable income are, alas, dreams.

In my early twenties, I didn’t think too hard about dropping $4.35 on a latte. Now, in my wise years as an oldster, every dollar counts towards boring future things like a mortgage, a new car, and future loans. Adulthood is a yawn sometimes, isn’t it?

Well, there you have it. A scattered collection of thoughts on life from an aging gir…er, young la…uh, woman.

On Being a “Yankee” in the Heart of Texas.

6 05 2013

I’ve been called a “Yankee” many times since moving to Texas about 9 months ago.

A few weeks ago, I was called a Yankee 8 times in just a few days. I found  it slightly disconcerting to be so obviously an outsider in the state I now claim as my home. Growing up in Illinois and Minnesota and then attending to college in California failed to prepare me for the reality of the “glorious South”, I guess.

With my husband at the Texas State Capitol in Austin...

With my husband at the Texas State Capitol in Austin…

Which means I’m pursuing my Texas education in my own way, as a an intrepid and bespectacled scholar might study a native tribe in the wilds of Madagascar.

Do they have native tribes there? I don’t know. I don’t have time to consult Wikipedia on this one, so just go with me on it.

Without further ado, here it is…

Various Things this Yankee has Learned from Living in Texas:

  • Everyone really does say “bless your heart” and “y’all” and “fixin’ to”.
  • Yes, I have to be instructed on how to use a bootjack. And what the heck it is.
  • I’m open-minded when it comes to barbecue. I’m not ready to stab someone with a pitchfork when they claim that my homemade BBQ might not be the best they’ve ever tasted.
  • No, I don’t have a clue what “pearl snaps” are (to the rest of the world, it’s a complicated name for what appears to be fake pearl buttons on a western-style shirt).
  • Everyone has handled guns from a young age, and pretty much everyone owns one. And it’s not unusual to keep yours in your vehicle–even at church.
  • People dawdle on roadways, usually driving a few miles under the speed limit no matter if it’s 55 or 80. I wonder if it’s a holdover from galloping horses over the trails?
  • Two-stepping? I thought maybe it was a move you did to step over a rattlesnake.
  • Speaking of rattlesnakes, every single person in this state has had a close call with one…at some point. Supposedly.
  • The state capitol is holy. Even the grass, I’ve been told.
  • High school football is possibly even more holy than the state capitol.
  • I didn’t know what they did to the horses and bulls to make them so angry at the rodeos. Yes, I had to ask. The answer made me blush.
  • It’s apparently normal to have dinner at someone’s house and then spend the dessert hour perusing their gun collection.
  • People know livestock here. Even the city “folks”. Who knew how many people could factually instruct me on the finer points of a longhorn?
  • It’s socially unacceptable for a woman to drive a large pickup truck. My first vehicle was a pickup truck. Gulp.
  • There’s no such thing as a universal salsa or queso dip anywhere. Every restaurant and/or household has its own unique concoction, and each one is proud to proclaim their creation as the best.
  • Texans are serious about being a republic, and if this country ever falls apart, I’m pretty sure they’ll go back to defending it as such.
  • They consider it chilly when it hits below 70. And it’s incomprehensible to them that that used to be a nice summer day for me as a Minnesotan.
  • Hot sauce is served universally at every single restaurant.
  • Water moccasins do inhabit every lake, and they do swim towards your boat. And yes, it’s terrifying when you’re  alone in a kayak.
  • Everyone does own cowboy boots, regardless of age, race, or gender.
  • In the summer, the streets are devoid of life. Except for fire ants. They rule every inch of sod in this state all summer long.

However, there are some uniquely Texan claims that I must (somewhat begrudgingly) admit are true…and better yet, I actually enjoy…

Surprisingly True Things About Texas that I Love:

  • Spring in Texas–particularly the fields of gorgeous wildflowers dotting the landscape– is indeed the most beautiful thing in the world.
  • Without a doubt, the best ice cream in the country is here. And it is Blue Bell.
  • Men are more chivalrous. I don’t think I’ve ever opened a door on my own when I’ve been with a man.
  • Prickly pear juice is real–and delicious.
  • Children are incredibly well-mannered (“Good morning, Ms. Cassie” and “Yes ma’am” are phrases I’m still getting used to hearing on a daily basis)
  • Food is spicier, but a thousand times more delicious than any other state I’ve lived in.
  • The Texas state flag does indeed fly as high as the national flag. And it’s treated just as reverently.
  • It’s normal to eat tacos for breakfast. And every gas station and fast food joint has its own style of taco.
  • People love it when you play the banjo and/or harmonica in church.
  • There’s more fierce pride in Texans than any other state I’ve ever lived in. And it’s well-earned, when you manage to survive summer here.

As for what I’ll learn in the next few years? Well…I guess you’ll just have to wait and see how countrified this “Yankee” will end up being.

Bless your purdy lil’ heart…

A 21st Century Guide to Survival in the Wilderness.

9 11 2012

Trees, ferns, and woods–we go way back.

But how I navigate the wilderness now has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

I spent a large portion of my childhood living in the woods of Central Illinois, where most of my free time was spent wandering around in undisturbed acres of forest with my massive dog, Bomber.

I would venture off with a book in one hand (and sometimes some marshmallow Peeps that I would split with my furry guardian) and, after blissfully dipping my feet in a small creek or picking a bouquet of sweetly scented wildflowers, I’d sit down on a mossy log and read for hours.

I carefully researched plants and bugs, and listened with rapt attention to my grandmother–who had also grown up in the woods–as she pointed out edible plants and flowers and explained various uses for them. I also read books about explorers and adventurers, filing away useful information about how to build fires, forts, and skin animals. I even went through a phase where I carried around a knife everywhere with me, carving messages into trees for miles.

I’ve since traded in my muddy tennis shoes for more urban living environments, but I’ve always loved getting out into nature as much as possible. A few weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to return to a hallowed nature preserve that’s been a part of my life since I was a child and flex my wilderness survival skills once more.

We made a trek to The Cabin.

No, it’s not the name of a creepy novel, though that may be valid when you consider that The Cabin has no electricity or running water, so the only place you can use for a restroom is a neglected outhouse that’s been sinking slowly into the same spot for nearly 80 years.

The Cabin is a log home my great-grandparents built by themselves in the 1930s in northern Minnesota, sitting on a beautiful lake in what’s now a protected national forest. My great-grandparents lived at The Cabin for years, and our family has many happy memories of it. My brother and I used to visit often in the summer, and we’d wander through trails in the woods that my great-grandpa set up with little plastic critters lurking in trees and under logs, pick blueberries and make pancakes with my grandma, dig up clay from the lakebed and make statues, and learn how to whittle walking sticks.

The idyllic picture of The Cabin you just conjured up, though, is not entirely accurate.

The Cabin, in its full splendor.

The Cabin also a place of raw terror–the place where we laid in our bug-infested beds, wide-eyed and scared over the animals thrashing around in the woods behind us. It’s where we got lost in the woods at night, had to clean fish while combating thousands of buzzing horseflies, and ended up with aggressive leeches all over our legs every time we went swimming. We once spent an afternoon cleaning out a beaver dam, and ended up walking through a tick colony. You think you know horror? No, you don’t.

And, we had to drink warm cream soda every time we were at the cabin, to boot.

While at The Cabin a few weeks ago, however, our experience was remarkably different–probably because my cousins and brother and sister-in-law and I are all of the Millennial generation and tackle survival in the remote wilderness a bit differently than our parents and grandparents.

Here’s how a 21st century twenty-something survives a trip to the woods:

1) We always have an iPhone on hand.

Need a flashlight? Two clicks, and the flashlight app’s open. Grandma is trying to give complicated directions to the church fish fry? Record it as a video and play it back as you’re driving. Spot an interesting tree behind the cabin? Snap a picture and look it up online. Fact-checking someone’s tall tales? Search Wikipedia to find out the truth. Bored on the desolate ride out to The Cabin? That’s why they invented “Angry Birds”. Making a note on your next family vacation? It’s a cinch with your iPhone’s notepad feature.

2) No electricity? No problem.

Our vehicles are all equipped with electrical outlets. And just in case we happen to end up in an older model car, we have adapters that plug into the cigarette lighter. So we play our iPhone jams recklessly. And we can even plug in a crock pot full of wild rice soup, if we need to…and double-check the reheating instructions on Pinterest.

3) Forget living off the land–we have a supply of vacuum-sealed snacks.

Forget scavenging for berries and roots, or trying to shoot our own game. We may have grown up learning how to catch and prepare our own fish, but now we have coolers and containers full of delicious drinks, organic granola bars, and peach rings ready to tickle our tummies.

4) Hand sanitizer is our best friend.

Dig around in the woods, and then try to clean our hands before eating? No problem. Most people our age carry around at least one small bottle of hand sanitizer at all times–sometimes even clipped to our purses or man-bags. And it comes in such mouth-watering flavors, like sun-kissed raspberry and vanilla cupcake. You almost want to get dirty just to smell the heavenly scent of cleanliness on your palms. Almost. We don’t really like to get dirty, anyway.

5) Skip the “Kumbaya” and get to the s’mores.

We’re not like those darn hippy parents we have–we don’t like to sing by the campfire. Just give us some roasting sticks, a bag of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. That’s our feel-good bonding time together. And don’t worry, we know how to build a solid campfire…we’ve seen it done on shows like “Survivorman” and “Man Vs. Wild” plenty of times.

5) Cleaning up’s a breeze.

Collecting trash isn’t a problem for our generation. Since we all carry our own personal (and usually expensive) water bottles, made of hardy repurposed plastic, we don’t have to collect soda cans or clip plastic rings to save the eagles or turtles or whatever gets caught up in discarded waste. And we usually have a stash of large reusable grocery bags in our cars, which means we don’t have to chase down flimsy plastic bags that are flying around because we neatly carry all of our junk. Besides, we secretly like carrying around a stylin’ trash bag on our shoulder.

6) We share the experience in real time.

We’re the generation that overshares everything, and has absolutely no boundaries on our personal lives–as a labor and delivery nurse I was chatting with grotesquely reminded me on the last flight I took. On our visits to the wilderness, we carry our smart phones with us on canoes, into tree tops, and into caves…and our 700 Facebook and Twitter friends can keep up with our adventures as they’re happening. Not sure if that’s a grizzly bear chasing you through the woods? Tweet a description of that dark mass howling behind you and let your friends google the information for you as you sprint through the forest. And then post a picture (edited through a fancy filter in Instagram) of your lacerated torso and no doubt a few dozen people will comment on how you can dress your wounds properly.

7) We’ll either blog about the experience or get a tattoo to commemorate it.

I think you know what my choice was, friends.

The Tale of the Sneaky Squirrel and the Baffled Businessman

13 09 2012

I live a pretty ordinary life, but my ability to observe the world around me at all times with acute awareness has given me an arsenal of unique stories to tell.

Some might say I’m hyper-aware of what’s going on around me at all times. That’s true.

For instance, I was once shopping with my best friend in high school, when a blaring siren went off in the department store where we were checking out. I looked up to see a man drop a giant trash bag full of stolen designer purses and sprint out through the parking lot. When security arrived a few moments later, they grilled the clerk who was checking us out, asking about a physical description. My friend and the store clerk could remember nothing. I was able to give a complete physical description, accurately giving details about his height, weight, the color of his shirt, pants, shoes, hat, and what row he ran down in the parking lot.

Trust me, with the level of attention I pay to the people around me in public, you definitely don’t want to see me in airports.

I’ll often observe something going on in daily life that others haven’t noticed. I once noticed Elijah Wood, famous Hollywood hobbit-extraordinaire, as he walked through Disneyland in disguise. Without cluing anyone else in on who he was, my friend and I managed to sneak behind him onto multiple rides and overheard his private conversation with his pals. Another time, I saw a disguised Tom Selleck in LA, and locked eyes with him and smiled and winked. He smiled back at me, as crowds of people swarmed by with shopping bags.

Last week, though, I observed one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.

I was eating a late lunch at Chick-fil-A with my husband, and was aware of two well-dressed men having a business meeting a few tables over. One of the men had his laptop out and they were intently discussing some sort of important business deal. Suddenly, one man’s phone rang and he looked at it. “Excuse me,” he offered up as he stepped away.

Not far enough away that I couldn’t hear him, mind you. Because what I heard was classic comedic fodder–even though I could only hear one side.

“Hello?” the man said into his phone.

“Wait, wait…hold on. Say that again.”

“Um………………..are you sure?”

“How did that happen?”

“Wait, he’s in the house?”

“How did he get in the house?! Get him out!”

“What do you mean, he’s been in my office? Seriously?”

“Honey, get him out!”

“Well, I don’t know how. There’s gotta be a way.”

“But……….I’m in a meeting right now. I can’t.”

“Honey, he’s not going to hurt you. He’s probably just scared.”

“Listen, I’m not mad at you. I don’t really understand how this happened. Just get him out of there.”

“Baby, no. No. Don’t even open the door again.”

“Fine. I’m sorry. Just….I don’t know. Try looking it up on the internet.”

“I love you too. Good luck.”

The businessman hung up his phone and trudged back to the table with a somber expression. My mind was racing as he went to sit down. What could that strange conversation possibly be about? An intruder broke into his house? An angry client forced his way into his office and stole his files? His wife let a crazed circus clown in the front door, and now he was busy painting tears on his face in the bathroom?

As the man sat down, the other man looked up from his notes and said, “Everything ok?”

“Yeah,” replied the man. “My wife called.”

He hesitated, obviously quite conflicted about admitting what was going on. I awaited his explanation with bated breath.

“She…uh…she told me a squirrel somehow got into the house. And he got into my office and tore up a bunch of stuff. And now she can’t figure out how to get him out of the house before the kids get home from school, because she’s afraid he’ll attack the kids.”

I hid my smile in my sandwich, listening to him relay this saga.

Plotting….always plotting….

The man started packing up his stuff, regretfully explaining that he was going home to chase this marauding squirrel out of his domicile. Suddenly, his phone rang again. He zipped away, and came back in just a few moments.

“Never mind!” he said almost gleefully to his associate. “My wife just called and said my father-in-law is coming over to get rid of the squirrel. I can finish up with you here.”

The other man settled his papers and asked the question I would’ve asked, too: “Are you sure your wife doesn’t need you at home?”

“Nah,” said the man. “It’s just a squirrel.”

“I wonder if he’ll be saying that when he gets home and finds his office torn to shreds,” I thought to myself.

Although I have no closure to the Tale of the Sneaky Squirrel and the Baffled Businessman, I can tell you this: I’m always watching. I’m always observing. It’s just a matter of time until I see something else that makes me chuckle.

Until then, carry on, my friends.

Just keep an eye out for the hilarity hiding all around you, in thin disguise.