Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Different Lattitude, Same Attitude

Different Latitude, Same Attitude

As a four year old I had no words for it, but I knew that something big was happening. It was a hot summer evening and I felt weird – some odd combo platter of emotion…dread…excitement…fear? I couldn’t tell. But I knew that my six brothers and sisters were thrilled, and that my mom, though she was smiling, was feeling something else, something much more sinister.

Around 6pm my dad burst through the door with a puffed up chest and a mischievous smile. “Pack up the kids Doris” he bellowed, “We’re going on vacation.” It was a Friday in late August, commission check time for feed salesman in small town Southern Minnesota, and it had been a good week. My brothers and sisters were jumping and hollering. “Whoo Hoo! Vacation! I get Mom’s lap.” “Hugh-ungh you got it last time.” My mother got this odd look on her face – something between fear and homicidal mania.

You see vacation to our family was not some rustic, cozy cabin in the north woods on a lake – or even roughing in a tent with a camp stove. Our vacation home was an old abandoned farmhouse in the middle of a cricket-infested field in southern Minnesota. It had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no bedding, no dishes – and my mother was to pack up seven children, supplies, equipment, and food at 6 pm on a Friday night so that we could arrive before dark. How she went 55 years without smothering that man in his sleep I will never understand.

Packing the car was an exercise in advanced geometry and triangulation. Nine people, food, sheets, towels, supplies, and Poncho – the nervous, incontinent, motion sick terrier were all to fit into the midnight-blue Buick Roadmaster. We were lap-sitters, the lot of us, four in the front and five in the back. As the baby of the family, I got to ride in back window of the sedan along with Poncho, and it was my job to yell “CAR” whenever I saw one approaching or trying to pass.

What would turn out to be our very last visit to the abandoned shack began just as all the others had, with frenzy and excitement and undeniable dread. And now it was nighttime – dark as pitch. I was curled up with my sister on an army surplus cot built for one. We were a tangle of clammy arms and legs, sweaty brows and musty old blankets, waging a sleep-war for the only pillow. It was a hushed symphony of cricket chirps and sleep murmurs. Then everything changed.

At first I could only hear the huffing. This was not the rhythmic familiarity of my dad’s snoring. No, whatever was breathing like that was definitely not human and it smelled horribly of musk and mold and decay. Satan’s perfume. I heard my mother’s voice.

“Ellis” she whisper-screamed “there is a BEAR in here!”
“Just go back to sleep. It’ll leave” my dad replied.
“GET IT OUT OF HERE!” She was no longer whispering.
“How in hell am I supposed to do that? I don’t have a gun.” He said.
“You want me to chase a bear?”

Muttering curses like Yosemite Sam, my dad hurled himself out of the bed and made all the noise a 5 foot 4 inch, 145 lb man could make. He shouted and flailed and banged on whatever was near him, completely blind in the darkness. My nine year-old brother Jimmy took an inadvertent cuff to the ear and howled out in pain. This started a chain reaction of screaming and falling to the floor from seven children and a very small, very frightened terrier.

The commotion died down when Mom lit the gas lantern and we looked around the cabin. No bear, no boogeyman, just that unholy, lingering odor.
The door was standing wide open and we held our breath as Dad bravely advanced on the door, and beyond it, the wild, ferocious animal that had nearly massacred his family.

There at the bottom of the steps sat a very confused, very hairy golden retriever, panting and huffing with his head tilted a little to one side. “Well there’s you bear Doris, there’s your damn bear.” My father shook his head, quenched the light, and went back to sleep.

Fast forward 35 or so years and I am in a lovely hotel with my husband and three kids. We have a pool, a beach, a kitchen and air conditioning. “C’mon you guys, this will be an adventure.” I coaxed. I had met a man named Christian who was building a resort on one of the undeveloped outer cayes in Belize. His resort wasn’t open for guests yet, but would be very soon. He was looking for someone to market the resort in the US, and I, being a travel agent who was already marketing a hotel on another caye, I was a natural choice. He offered free accommodations for the weekend.

We packed a boat with provisions and took the two hour ride to Long Caye Resort. As we docked the boat and unloaded, I noticed that my husband had this strange look on his face. He didn’t seem nearly as excited for this adventure as I was. “Jeez” I thought. “Where’s your sense of fun?”

The cloud of mosquitoes descended on us almost immediately. I’d never seen anything like it. They were as thick as fog, buzzing and biting like the frenzied vampires they are. At once they were in my eyes, up my nose, in my mouth and ears. Choking and swatting, we jumped into the ocean to escape.

“Careful of the stinging jellyfish ma’am.” Christian, our host announced. “They’re everywhere.” We snatched the kids out of the water and put on long sleeves and pants, hats and bandanas. Trouble is, it was about 106º and humid. Everyone was miserable, sweating and itching like crazy. “Quick – inside the hotel” I offered.

Christian showed us to our rooms – a 10x10 box with no cross ventilation, no screens on the only window and gaping holes in the unfinished roof. It did have a ceiling fan, and I was hoping that after the sun set the mosquitoes would abate and the breeze of the fan would keep us cool.

“You have electricity right?” My husband accused.
“Yes, of course.” Replied Christian.

And he did. Except, he forgot to mention that the generator was turned off every night around 10 pm - turning the 10x10 hot box of a room into a sweltering, buggy oven. We passed that hideous night taking turns trying to cool off in the shower down the hall – fully clothed.

The next morning we were up and out of there before our host was even awake. I was appropriately contrite about my mis-adventure. However, on the way back I asked my husband if we could stop at another island just a little further south. I had heard about a resort that some American had built and then abandoned. Apparently he had been in trouble with the law and had to flee country. “We should stop and take a look.” I said. “I guess it’s brand new and just sitting there empty for anyone to use. We could stay the night. It would be an adventure!” He just looked down and shook his head.

How that man has gone 22 years without smothering me in my sleep I will never understand.

Word Count 1248
Julene Nolan

Life Lessons in St. Lucia

Long about load number sixteen of the pre-trip laundry piper-paying , I wonder. "Is this going to be worth it?" How much fun will this trip have to be to justify the weeks of sock matching and grocery hauling, necessary to leave 3 children for 8 nights. "A lot" I think. "One hell of a holy lot".

But the moment I round the corner of the MN-5 exit and the Lindberg terminal bursts into view, I am in love. Yes, the obnoxious long lines, the crabby, clueless travelers, the slow, confused, elderly man in front of me in the security line, who stinks of mothballs, garlic and Efferdent, and has to be prompted to remove every single personal item, "And your belt please sir...and your jacket please sir...and your hat please sir...and your phone please sir...and your shoes please sir..." I love them all. Ditto the self-important business man talking into the collar of his expensive shirt, sporting a star trek, blue tooth, headset, and shoving me with his $1400 alligator briefcase as he cuts ahead of me...okay, maybe him I don't love.

But I do adore the delicious anticipation as the seatbelt glides across my lap and I hear that satisfying click. And I always, oddly, feel a trifle self satisfied if I need to cinch it in just a tad - that means I am thinner than the last occupant. I poke the earbuds in my ears and Springsteen wails "Baby We Were Born to Run".

"Yes Bruce. Yes we were."

The plane starts its jerky rumblings down the runway. It relaxes me so much that I often fall asleep just then. While nervous flyers are white-knuckling their armrests and jamming their heels into the floor all around me, I am off in dreamland, head lolling, probably drooling, pleased with my good fortune. But this time, awake, I turn and catch my reflection in the window, and I am changed. I am a woman on a trip. That's what travel does for me.

And this trip was to be better than most. My husband and I were off on a second honeymoon of sorts (though I contend that 3 nights of watching my husband fish in northern Wisconsin does not qualify as a first honeymoon). We were off to St. Lucia - an island deep in the Caribbean West Indies. This island is said to be for lovers - very popular with the honeymoon set. I had heard it offered lots of adventure, diving, sailing, jungle treks and great food.

St. Lucia has a romantic, if violent history. It is called "The Helen of the Caribbean" for its great beauty and desirability. In fact, it is so beautiful that the powerful rulers of France and England each saw fit to allow their soldiers to die in battle over her, not once but seven times. But it was a battle of a different sort in which I would find myself embroiled here. It was a battle of intuition and trust.

On a dive boat we met Stuart, a Canadian man traveling alone. He seemed a rather nice guy - and the fact that he said "a boot" when he meant "about" made me giggle. Perfect traveling companion. He was also interested in finding a private charter sail around the island.

"But" I asked "Aren't there catamarans that do group sails much cheaper?"

"Oh sure" he answered. "They have those eh? - 150 sweaty drunks, jammed elbow to knee on top of each other trying to get to the buffet first. And speakers the size of refrigerators that blast rap music and scare the dolphins halfway to Cuba. Here comes one now. Look at that tall bloke peeing off the starboard. Charming bloke eh? And what's it called? The S.S. Chlamydia?"

But that meant we had to find someone who would do a private charter. To travel like this you need to be either astoundingly rich, or willing to trust people you don't know. I am not rich and so I must trust. "See that fellow over there with the blue toque?" Said Stuart. "That's Robert. He's supposed to be the one to hook us up". I saw that he was referring to a very shaggy looking island boy, whose dreads were gathered up in a blue stocking cap. "Oh dear" said mid-western sensibilities.

Robert met us on the beach under a palm tree. "You like-a my office mon?" He smiled gesturing toward the sand. "Friends are callin' me Doctor Feel-Good." Now either he was a licensed Doctor of mind-body holistic medicine, practicing on the beach for the connection it offers to the earth, or he was a drug dealer. Everyone knew Robert, greeted him by name, and he assured us that he would be able to hook us up with anything we wanted.

"Well Robert, we want a sailboat, a nice one. And a captain, also nice, to sail around the island tomorrow. What would that cost?" Stuart asked.

"You are my friends, and for you - good deal" Robert replied. We agreed on a price and made plans to meet the next morning.

That night I awoke with worrying dreams. What did I really know about this guy? Sure he had water-taxied Stuart around for a few nights - had looked after him at the local festival, but what was I doing? Was I being naïve, irresponsible? Or was this feeling of uncertainty a racist response to a person who looked different than me? In the creaky, rusty hours of the night, my paranoid fantasies had me believing horrible things about this young man, and alternately about myself.

The next day was cloudy and rainy - an ominous sign if you believe in such things. Robert and his pal Frederic arrived right on time to pick us up in the water taxi. Robert assured us that the weather at the south end of the island would be better. I looked at him with uncertainty on my face as he held out his hand to help me into the boat. "Do you trust me?" He asked. And at that moment, for better or worse, I did.

This story ends well, with a beautiful day of sailing, another glimpse of the S.S. Chlamydia as it passed to our port side, with too much noise and too many people, confirming the wisdom of our decision. But it also ends with a lesson in trust - a lesson for both Dr. Feel Good and me.

We had just started our sail - beautiful weather, beautiful boat, when I realized that my formerly predictable feminine cycle was betraying me, and arriving a full two weeks early. I had nothing in the way of feminine products. NOTHING. There was nothing on the boat, and we had sailed out of the only populated area for miles We were hours from anything but a tiny village with no stores. But I could see women there on the beach and I know where there were women there are feminine products.

I had my husband ask the captain to find a mooring here, and ferry us into the beach for a little while. The captain said that while we could moor here there was no reason to go to the beach. "There is nothing here to do. No snorkeling, no restaurant, no stores. I have a much better place up ahead in one or two hours."

But my husband insisted. Suspiciously the captain moored the boat and ferried us in the dingy. We walked the beach for awhile trying not to look so conspicuous. I went from one group of women to another asking for a "favor". Finally a very bohemian-looking young woman nodded. She had the "stuff" I needed, and we ducked behind a palm tree to make the exchange. She didn't want to take money, but I insisted knowing that supplies like these, in places like this are neither inexpensive nor easy to come by. She had saved me.

My husband told the captain that we were ready to go back to the boat. I noticed a distinct chill coming from both Robert and the Captain. I wondered if they were embarrassed to have to deal so blatantly with a woman's issue and I began to get indignant. I was ready to show these men a little American Feminism.

I asked, "Is there some problem?"

"Yes" Robert said. "That stuff is not legal here on the island and is not legal on the boat. The captain is afraid he will have big trouble from this and be fired from his job."

"What is not legal?" I asked incredulous.

"What you bought from that girl" Robert said.

"You mean these?" I replied and opened my hand to reveal half a dozen tampons.

Robert's eyes grew wide. He covered his face with both hands and doubled over with laughter and embarrassment "No," he said "No, not that."

In the end both Robert and I learned a little something about trust, about making assumptions, and about what all women really want at one time or another. Who knows, maybe Dr. Feel-Good carries them himself now.

Word Count 1528

Julene Nolan

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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Not Really Kids Anymore

They are teenagers now. One in college, two in highschool, but we continue to take the kids with. Our latest adventure was over spring break this year, to Curacao, Netherland Antilles. This island nation is home to more than 50 different nationalities. Local residents speak English, Dutch, Spanish and a local dialict called Papiemento. Rich in culture (UNESCO world heritage site) and adventure (cliff-diving, scuba, snorkel, hiking, biking, even riding an ostrich if that tickles your fancy) this island has something for everyone. We stayed at Habitat resort (our 4th visit) which is great for those wanting to be out of the city and have lots of face time with the fishes. More beautiful, centrally located, and expensive is Kura Hulanda - a must-visit hotel, even if you don't stay there. The slavery museum shouldn't be missed.

As part of my new career (getting my doctorate in school psychology) I worked at ISC - the international school of Curacao. Spent 40 hours giving reading and literacy probes to kids from preschool to 2nd grade. Fantastic bunch of polite and well-behaved kiddos. It was a great way to spend my spring break.
Plus I got to jump off a cliff or two, scuba dive once, and snorkel every day after work. I could spend a good long bit of my life that way

Monday, November 30, 2009

Habitat Curacao

HAve stayed twice - charming with great diving. A bit of a drive out of town, but shuttles run a few times everyday.

in reference to: Habitat Curacao Resort - The dive hotel in the Caribbean - The home of diving freedom. (view on Google Sidewiki)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What Will You Bring Home?

I can hear them in the next room playing guitar - my kids, along with their friends Jake and Evan. Anna is trying to write the music for Evan’s new song “Paper Cuts”. Charlie is trying to choose which harmonica to blow. They are in a spirited discussion now, about a name for their new band. Will it be the Banana Bandanas? The Banana Smurfs? I love this. And believe it or not, this is a result of traveling.

Follow me here…..I have brought lots of souvenirs back from our travels and realized along the way that it’s not the things that have made my life richer, but the ideas.

On dozens of hopping Saturday nights in Belize, over the past nine years, I have performed with area bands. There is nothing in the world quite like the feeling I get while belting out “Me and Bobby McGee” on the beach – with a band. I watch the honeymooners dance, all snuggled up together. The singles and old-marrieds sway in their chairs with their drinks held aloft. Some croon along softly, smiling. Others are surfing on a memory and sing full throttle, their heads thrown back, their eyes closed.

And on Sunday afternoons in Belize, local musicians meet at a certain beachfront bar and hold a jam session. They work on songs that are not ready for primetime, and case the crowd for anyone who might want to sit in. Often they have to cobble a band together in order to play at all, asking over the open mic if anyone can play bass or drums, or knows all the words to “Hotel California”. The musicians, the regulars, the newcomers, everyone has fun, because it is impossible to have a bad time when you are singing.

I have brought this concept back home, and a couple of Sundays a month we host a “Sunday Sundown Jam Session” in my dining room. Now the crux of this gathering is the talent and willingness of my two actual musician friends, Joe Tougas and Ann Fee. But thankfully they happily attend, and even bring food. Everyone is invited to bring their whole family and something to strum, pluck, shake, blow or bang on. It is impossible not to have fun, especially when the babies dance.

When I meet someone new and they seem receptive, I ask if they play an instrument, or sing, and if they would be interested in bringing their family to a jam session. Most people are shy about it, or downplay their talent. But when they show up on a Sunday afternoon; when they plug in their guitar, or grab the microphone, shake the tambourine or bang on a bongo, they get that look in their eyes. The same look that I must have when there is a guitar strap on my back, a microphone at my lips, and sand between my toes.

And now as I listen to my kids with their friends, playing something that doesn’t involve shooting or exploding, death or injury, I am sure that this is one of the very best things I have ever brought home.


Last year at this time I was in Japan. This year I am sorting socks, school shopping, and taking kids to dental appts. Last year was better.

Here is a link to all the photos from the trip and some that I've posted since.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

And Now It's Your Turn

If you’ve ever read my column you understand that I have an almost pathological love of travel, of moving on, of finding the next place. I have visited more than 23 countries and schlepped my family across 5 continents. Last October, after 180 consecutive days on the road, my weary family landed at the Minneapolis airport. As we were blearily shuffling our way to baggage claim, my son was talking about how good it was to be going home. “Can you imagine how great it will be to sleep in our own beds tonight?” Eldest son remarked.

“Yea, and to stay home awhile. I don’t think I will leave the house for a month” Middle son replied.

“I want to see my friends tomorrow – but I’ll invite them to come and see me at MY house.” Youngest daughter said.

I however, was completely distracted by the airline departure signs, announcing the destinations for which these lucky crowds were bound. “Oh wow” I thought. “Those people are going to Hawaii. That might be a fun….”

“JULES!” My husband shouted as I started to wander off in the direction of the departure gate. “Where are you going?”

So you get the picture. I like to keep moving.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

WomenInc Covergirl

WomenInc used my photo as the cover shot for the June issue. It's terribly embarrassing and a nice compliment all at once. has the cover shot and you can read the story at The story is called "Bouncing Back From Fear"

Also, I will be hosting a trip to Belize for WomenInc readers and friends! We will be going for 7 days January 16-22 and will be learning about the rich culture, magnificent natural environment and warm, welcoming people of Belize.

We will be doing some sailing, snorkeling, touring Mayan Ruins, jungle-spa-ing, and beach bbq-ing. With all of the great friends I have made in Belize over the years, this promises to be a very special trip. Please let me know if you are interested in joining us. Since we are staying at a small, independently owned hotel, availability will be limited.

Laying that Big Spike Down

Wow it's been awhile since I wrote - and so much has changed!

First I became a scooter mama. My favorite new past time is scootin' around the town. It makes me feel like I can fly. Also helps me deal with "pump anxiety" as I've put 200 miles on this bike and spent less than $10 in gasoline. I bought a "Buddy" from the Genuine Scooter Company through a local Yamaha dealer called Star Cycle It is sweet.

My friend Beth says "riding a scooter is like giving the earth a hug"

Also, I am back in school. I started classes this summer in a new doctoral program in School Psychology. I will be an old, grey lady when I finish (5 years) but I would be an old grey lady anyway wouldn't I?

I scored a graduate assistantship through the Department of Institutional Diversity at MSU-M and am working in the Writing and English Language Lab, tutoring writing. It is a blast and the students are very cool. Lots of countries represented in one room. The next best thing to being there myself!

The kids are out of school for the summer and are already busy with activities. Charlie is doing The Hobbitt through community theater, Anna took off for Florida to visit Grandparents, and Jack is working at Scheels in Mankato building bikes.

Mike is doing some business consulting and continues to look for the next big gig.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Laws of Life

Brilliant daughter Anna, was one of the winners of an essay contest called "Laws of Life". It is sponsored by the Dollars for Scholars organization for 7-12 grade students attending Mankato Schools. Anna's story is about a young girl who has inspired her. Her name is Emily Brose.

Here is the award winning essay and a couple of photos of Anna receiving her award.

Inspired by a Friendship
By Anna Nolan

When we think of someone that we admire we think of someone who is great, famous, or who has changed the life of thousands. When I think of someone I admire, I think a little closer to home. The person that I admire is strong, both of mind, and spirit, she is brave and selfless. Also, she is compassionate and she is a great friend. She is also different; different because she has Down syndrome. I have learned so much from her and I think that she is one of the greatest people I know.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder. It is caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 21st chromosome. It is a form of mental retardation. People with Down syndrome usually have a distinct physical appearance. They also might not be able to talk. Despite all of this she is still absolutely amazing. I knew all of this from the moment I met her.

Before I met her I had not really ever spent time with a person who has a disability. I admit that before I met her, I became very nervous. My hands were sweaty, and I was extremely uncomfortable. When she came out, she said hello to me, normal as anything, and I said hello back. One of the first things I noticed was that she has an amazing personality. After that, I realized that just because she has Down syndrome, does not mean that I should not get to know her. This was the first of many things that she has taught me.

Afterwards, we started to hang out more, and this is when I learned many new things. For example, I learned to always get to know someone before you make false assumptions. Also, I learned to always persevere and not to give up. One of the most important things I have learned is that everyone has challenges in their life, some have more than others, so you should not give up no matter how hard it becomes. She is thoughtful and kind and she has a great spirit.

Being her friend is an honor. I would like to learn more from her. For now though, she has taught me some things that I am sure I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Yes, she is different, but that does not make me not want to be her friend. I think that if we all had the same outlook on life that she has, the world would be a better place, for everyone.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's Here

Spring is an interesting time of year. I remember when I was young girl, the calves on our farm would get themselves into a lot of trouble in spring. They would bash each other a good deal and get tangled up in places they didn’t belong. They bubbled with energy and their wobbly legs didn’t move in the ways they intended. They stumbled around a lot.

Teenage families are a lot like that. Spring brings out mischief and uncertainty and bashings. Teenagers, more than any other "agers", feel that intense craving for movement. They are using limbs, which have grown unweildy over the winter, in ways they haven’t in awhile. Lots of things get broken in the spring including windows and furniture and bones. Sometimes hearts too, but that's another blog entry altogether.

Teens are also feeling overwhelmed with deadlines at this time of the year. Most of their big projects are coming due next month. They are crabby.

Our house needs to be held upside down and shaken. It needs a spring cleaning of biblical proportions. It needs a hosing off and a blowing dry like never before. And lots of stuff needs fixing. We are crabby too.

I’m going to go sit out in the sunshine on the deck and ignore the mess a little longer. It will be there when I get back.