Last week I was over at my sister's house and her boys, ages four and two, asked me to tell them their bedtime story. Before going into their room, Heidi informed me that they like real stories from our past. Wild and crazy stories.
So I told them stories about Alaska.
Jenny, my college roommate, is from Anchorage and the summer after we graduated, my other roommate Lesley and I embarked on a summer of adventure.
Vander and Hudson stared at me with wide eyes as I told them about the moose that tromped through their backyard,
the airplane that landed on water,
and the night when the sun didn't set until midnight so we stayed up fishing while getting eaten by mosquitos. (I'll never forget waking up the next morning and seeing poor Lesley's face COVERED in mosquito bites.)
The boys loved the story about how we hunted a giant porcupine with gardening tools.
And they listened with wide-eyes as I told them about our boat breaking down in the middle of a deserted lake and Jenny and I having to travel along bear paths littered with fish bones to find help. We stole a canoe and paddled to the nearest house where we found a man who could fix the boat. Here we are returning to the boat from our mission:
They loved hearing how Jenny caught a halibut that was half her size:
and, suckers for any stories with bathroom humor, cracked up when I told them about how Lesley and I went to the bathroom in the woods.
One of my favorite memories of Lesley was on this "mission" in the woods when she refused to explore a cave with me. I went in and a few minutes later, let loose a blood-curdling scream which sent her sprinting towards the water. Our brilliant plan had been that if we ran into a bear, we would run into the ocean and hope the bear couldn't swim. I will NEVER forget her face when I came sprinting out of that cave.
I was only supposed to tell the boys one story but they conned me into telling them seven. When I finally convinced them I had no more Alaska stories and had to go, they insisted on knowing when I would return. Here was my conversation with Vander:
Vander: Will you be here in the morning?
Me: No, I have school.
Vander: Can you come over and play after school?
Me: Sorry, bud. I'm actually going on a trip because my friend is getting married.
Vander: Oh. Who's your friend? He's very inquisitive.
Me: Her name is Lori. You haven't met her. Jenny and Lesley, the girls from the stories, will be there too.
Vander: eyes wide and clearly very excited Oh good. You guys can make some more good stories and then you can come tell them to us.
Me: laughing at his logic Okay. I'll try
I thought about this conversation a lot as I drove up to Santa Cruz with Jenny. What makes a story a "good" one?
I think Vander's definition might differ from someone like Donald Miller's. I loved his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which is about living life as one great story but honestly, I've forgotten what it said.
Are wild animals and life-threatening situations necessary elements for a good story? Does it have to be set in an exotic location? Does someone always have to be squatting in the woods to make the story good? Actually, this DID happen during the wedding weekend when a certain nursing mother, who shall remain nameless, didn't want to walk to the bathrooms and squatted by the car. But no, I don't think a character HAS to pop a squat in the open to make a good story. Nor are life-threatening situations or exotic locations necessary.
However, I have found that there are always several reoccurring themes in my "go-to" stories. You know- the stories you go to when you want to impress- the stories you use on first dates- the stories that are continually retold whenever someone who HASN'T heard the story is present. A go-to story never gets old.
My "go-to" stories always involve the following:
some element of randomness,
a dash of adventure,
a surprise twist,
a mix of unique characters,
and some laughter.
Check that. LOTS of laughter.
I had been looking forward to Lori's wedding weekend for weeks, maybe months. I couldn't wait to celebrate Lori Lester as she became Lori Brown and I couldn't wait to be with Iron Well again. Yes, Iron Well- my college friend group that named ourselves. We are certainly a "mix of unique characters" and laughter is always present when we're around each other. All we needed was some randomness, some adventure, and a surprise twist and voila- we would create a go-to story. Confession: I first spelled "voila" as whala- thank you google for helping me not look like an idiot.
I can have fun with these girls sitting anywhere, doing anything. So whether we were hanging out in a coffee shop or devouring Swedish pancakes or arranging flowers or eating vegetarian Sri Lankan food, we were always entertained. And yes, vegetarian Sri Lankan sounded absolutely disgusting so I ate Del Taco Tacos beforehand which I later regretted when the food turned out to be fabulous. Sorry I doubted you, Lor!
But while I was having a wonderful time simply being with my girls, I knew these weren't stories that would entertain Vander and Hudson. We needed adventure; we needed randomness; and we needed a surprise twist. We got it one night when I had a sudden craving for a freshly baked cookie.
I voiced this craving to Jenny who agreed it was a valid one. Then we turned to Lesley and with her yelping magic, we discovered a cookie place open until the wee hours. This should have been our first clue that it was not an ordinary bakery we had found.
Jenny, Lesley, Erin and I swerved through the dark, deserted streets of Santa Cruz and quickly realized we were in a bit of a ghetto. The map led us down a tiny, dead end street with no street lights and no bakeries. However, there was a tiny restaurant which Lesley figured out was the place. I was very skeptical. "This is how people get killed" was a thought running through my mind as we walked through this door:
And by "door", I mean FLAPS. But we pushed past the flaps were suddenly inside a cluttered kitchen. "Yes, people definitely are killed in scenes like this one."
"Ummm....hello?? Anyone here?"
We walked further and stumbled into heaven.
Oh man, do I sound like Rob Bell? Jenny and I listened to "Love Wins" on the car ride and I can't get his voice out of my head.
We had found our randomness, our adventure, and our surprise twist. Cookie heaven was incredible.
There were massive mounds of cookie dough lying about.
Tray upon tray of sweet sugary goodness.
It smelled like heaven.
It tasted like heaven.
It was heaven.
I think Rob Bell would agree with me on this if he ever visits Night Owl Cookies.
We giggled like school girls and peppered the poor college-age lad with questions about his mysterious, late night cookie business. Apparently, no one actually comes to the place; they just deliver cookies. We later realized that the residents of Santa Cruz are big marijuana fans so late night cookie deliveries make perfect sense.
No bears or moose or giant halibut were involved, but this was a random adventure nonetheless with a very pleasant surprise at the end of a dark, dead end street: cookie heaven.
I told this story to Vander and Hudson last night and they were not amused. I thought for sure they would love the picture I painted of a cookie heaven. They love cookies. But they politely listened and then immediately asked for another story.
Four year olds have a way of letting you know when your story bombs- when it's a "I guess you had to be there" story. They much preferred the story of when my brother Travis brushed our dog with my hairbrush and I got so mad, I took the brush and started beating him with it. They didn't understand how ghetto streets late at night are just as scary as potential bear caves. Oh well.
We took our treasured cookies back to the hotel where we met up with Amy and Anne and the four husbands present who had found beer. Go figure.
Amy and Anne brought their baby monitors into Jenny and I's hotel room where Jenny put down her own baby girl and the 10 of us feasted on hot cookies and beer. Well, the girls had milk:)
This story may not have entertained my nephews in the least, but it is one I think I'll remember for years. It does seem to be a "you had to be there moment" so I probably won't share this one on first dates, but it will always be a special memory. The main reason it is so special is not because of my obsession with hot cookies, but rather because of the "mix of unique characters" involved.
Characters make a story. And when you have characters like this:
most moments together are going to be pretty dang unforgettable, even if they aren't all "go-to" stories.
Note: Tomorrow I'm headed to an Indian Reservation for Spring Break. I went last year on this same mission trip with the school and it was my absolute favorite week of the year. Zuni, New Mexico might as well be Madagascar for how foreign it feels so naturally, I love it:)
I'm bound to bring home some "good stories" but I won't have phone or Internet for the week so don't look for any updates on here for a bit. I do plan on writing more about Lori's actual wedding and telling stories that actually involve the lovely bride, so those will come later as well.
Peace out. What? Did I really say that? Yes. Yes, I did. Because it's nearly 1 am and I'm driving 10 straight hours tomorrow beginning at 6 AM. Awesome. Why do I do this to myself