Back in a dorm, chance meetings, and memories of my first kiss

In our last episode, you learned that I spent the week in Storm Lake, Iowa, attending Synod School with a bunch of Presbyterians. Six hundred and thirty-nine of them, to be exact.

There is much to tell. Oh-so-much. So much that you will be receiving it in doses.

Today’s dose will cover my overall impression of the week, along with the story of my first kiss. (Trust me, in some weird way, they relate.)

We were not long into the week – I believe it was the second day – when we knew we’d return the next year… and the year after that and the year after that. I believe my exact thought was, “Where has this been all my life?!”

The people were charming, the food tantalizing, the information challenging, the activities fun. If I had any complaint, other than the extra-firm dorm bed…

It’s been a long time since I slept in a dorm. I didn’t miss it.

I’d say there was a lack of sufficient free-time to unpack all I was taking in. Keeping in mind I require more mental-unpacking time than your average human.

In hindsight, I could have found more free time. I didn’t have to attend every class — as it was, I skipped one birdwatching class on account of a sore neck. And of course I could have skipped the daily worship services and convocations.

I could have, but I didn’t want to. Their musicians were top-notch and the convocation speaker and worship leaders were some of the best I’ve seen. In particular, the evening worship leader. Her name was Shawna and she pastors a church in Chicago.

Here’s a picture of Shawna — keep in mind it’s with my phone and she moved around a lot: Shawna

Not sure if you can tell, but she has some mighty impressive arm tattoos. Also, her hair is rainbow colored.

If you’re thinking she doesn’t look very Presbyterian, you need to broaden your perspective on Presbyterians. Just sayin.

Back to the dorm room – did you happen to notice that plastic-wrapped blue cup on the one desk? They gave us those when we checked in.


It was a quality cup, kept my tea warm, and the color spoke to me. Yet I stopped carrying it on the second day on account of it alerting everyone that we were first-timers. (Sneaky of them, don’t you think?)

Though there was an advantage to carrying that blue cup, as it turned out. When we walked into the dining hall for our first meal – completely overwhelmed by the noise and people (seriously, my first thought when we walked into the cafeteria: “This is my version of hell!”) – a woman waved enthusiastically, beckoning us to her table.

“Do you know her?” I asked Husband. He did not.

Her name was Carol V. and she was making it her mission to help Husband and I feel at home. (Based on the Enneagram class I took, I’d say she was a quintessential 2 — the Helper. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. More on that later.)

Meeting Carol V. turned out highly fortunate. She gave us plenty of tips for making the most of our week, as well as how to navigate the campus. Her best advice: hit the cafeteria line about 45 minutes after they open. Enough time to miss the families with kids, but before the soft-serve ice cream ran out.

She also encouraged us to not skip the evening activities, and there were plenty of them to be found. Monday night we attended a “Further Conversation with DeeDee” – the convocation speaker. (Husband told me I said something especially profound during the discussion, but I honestly have no memory of it. I think he imagined it.)

On Tuesday we attended “Music with the Stanfield Family,” (most of them musicians from the worship services), where once again we sat next to Carol V.

Carol knew everybody, even the musicians. She wrote down their names for us on a napkin.

band napkin

Halfway through the evening, Carol whispered in my ear, “I’m going to invite you to something, but please feel free to say no if it’s not your thing.”

I leaned closer, intrigued…

“There’s a small group of us who get together for wine–”

I think it was my “oOoh!” that led her to believe I was open to the idea.

It was happening the next evening, around 8 pm or so. She gave me the instructions: basement level of Smith Hall, enter by the South door. Go down the stairs and the long hallway. The room is through the big metal doors at the end.

“Keep this under wraps,” she added. “It’s not like we’re breaking rules, exactly. We just don’t want to… well… just keep it under wraps.”

The next night was the Synod School dance. We attended for about an hour and I’m proud to say I am now reasonably adequate in doing the box-step. Sometime after 9, we made our way to Smith Hall.

The building was terribly quiet, even down the long hallway. “Are you sure it was tonight?” Husband asked. (Of course I wasn’t sure. I’m never sure.)

We got to the big metal doors and heard some muffled voices on the other side. We knocked – the voices hushed. “This feels weird,” Husband said. I agreed and opened the door.

The room was apparently the college hang-out. A sign above the counter said, “The Underground” and I saw a cappuccino maker and popcorn machine. However our attention was drawn to the 15 or so people seated in a circle on our right, all wearing women’s housecoats. The kind of housecoats your grandmother probably wore.


One of the men, a pastor from Wisconsin, said, “Don’t worry, we’re not crazy.”

(You know, when you have to say that… )

We were promised the story behind the housecoats, but first we had to select our own to wear. Those were the rules. No housecoat, no wine.

Husband looked slightly terrified, but there was wine at stake. I wasn’t backing down. I selected for him a lovely pink number with small teacups all over. For me, blue satin to bring out my eyes.

As the story goes, two of the women present (and another who passed away, Marjorie) have been attending Synod School since the early 90s. They didn’t know each other at the time, neither did they realize they’d be sleeping in a dorm and using a bathroom down the hall. Without planning, they all wound up at WalMart and bought the same grandma-inspired housecoats. Hilarity ensued. They bonded.

The wine party was Marjorie’s idea. Ever since she passed away, they continued their parties in housecoats. Additional ones purchased for husbands and newcomers.

“To Marjorie!” someone shouted.

“To Marjorie!” the group returned, raising their glasses.

Several toasts later, one of the men brought up that we had missed their opening sharing time. (On account of me being a slow learner on the box-step.) The man was wondering, were we willing to tell our first kiss stories?

“Our first kiss with each other or my first kiss ever?” I asked.

Husband said, “You mean I wasn’t your first?”

“We’re gonna assume your mother kissed you first. We’re talking about your first kiss with a boy.”

Another added, “Or girl. We won’t judge.”

“But what kind of kiss?” I insisted. “There are kisses that are forced upon us and kisses we welcome.”

(This is an important distinction, it must be said. The tale of my first kiss belongs less at a wine party than to a #MeToo discussion.)

It was agreed: a welcomed kiss is a much better tale. And so it is.

“This is a bit embarrassing to admit,” I began, “but it was my first year of college.”

“Mine too!” exclaimed Carol V. (We shared a moment.)

“I was at a roller skating rink.” I said.

“Oooooh,” the group intoned.

“I met a boy. His name was Drew.”

“Ohhh, Drew!”

“He was French!”

“Ooooohhh, French!”

“But was the kiss French?” a man asked.


The conversation began to drift, but the man was insistent: “Wait, I need more details! Did the kiss happen mid-skate? How did this play out?”

“Oh, no, it happened at the dorm. He drove me home.”

“Oh, at the dorm!”

“Wait! Was it in the car or was it–”

I deflected all other questions with a toast: “To Drew!”

“To Drew!”

Indeed, let us all raise a glass to Drew. The sweet, gentle boy who taught me how to trust again.

The world could use more Drews. (And more Presbyterians, too.)

Stay tuned until next week, when we’ll cover more on our Synod School experience. Such as our birdwatching class, where we learned about geese and men in funny hats and how a stiff neck is never your friend.

I’ve gone bird watching in Iowa, among other things

Right now I am in Storm Lake, Iowa. Learning great truths and experiencing deep personal growth and doing some bird watching while I’m at it.

Or at least I assume I am. As I write this I am still at home. Such is the wonder of the WordPress scheduling tool.

A few months ago I hinted at this Storm Lake trip, way back when I told you about a birding class I signed up for. It’s part of “Synod School” – a week-long event offering both educational and recreational activities for Presbyterians in the Synod of Lakes and Prairies.

I’m showing you this I don’t have to explain what the Synod is. (It’s from their website.)

Just imagine: a whole week with Presbyterians! In Iowa! (I bet you’re burning with envy right now.)

I don’t always tag along with Husband on church-related trips, but there was a reason I agreed to this time. Namely, I thought we’d tango.

One of the courses was “Beginning Ballroom Dancing.” Husband said if I went, we could take the class together. Now how could I pass that up?Shall we danceAlas, it was not to be.

Due to professional obligations, Husband had to attend a different class that, sadly, conflicted with the dance class. And beings how I didn’t want to tango alone – or with a stranger – and beings how I already asked for the time off, I selected some other classes. I could do up to four, and I decided to make two of them serious and the others just-for-fun.

These are the four I’m taking:

1) Robins, Raptors and Ducks: This is the one I told you about. We’re instructed to bring a pair of binoculars and a journal to write in. On two of the days we’re going to NW Iowa Watchable Wildlife areas to “test our skills.” I’ll let you know how that works out.
(No, I haven’t bought a pith helmet… yet.)

2) Mark and Radical Discipleship: One of my serious classes – it was the radical part that appealed to me. The course description read, “We will explore the timeless issues of poverty, gender, justice, liberation, equality, etc., using the Gospel of Mark as a guide.” If the class turns out radical enough, I’ll let you know.

3) The Letter from Birmingham Jail as a Confessional Statement: My other serious class, I feel it requires an explanation. You see, the Presbyterians have a constitution. It’s made up of two books: The Book of Order and the Book of Confessions. The Book of Order has all kinds of policies and procedures of how things are done or not done in the church, and this book changes a lot. The Book of Confessions is filled with statements of faith, such as the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed, among others. This book never changes. Meaning once something is added, it’s never removed. Therefore, adding something to it is a Big. Hairy. Deal.
Right now there’s a movement afoot to add Dr. King’s Birmingham Jail letter. That’s what this class is covering and I thought it sounded intriguing. I’ll let you know what I find out.

4) The Enneagram for Soul Strength: Maybe it sounds odd, but I chose this as a “just-for-fun” class. If you know what the Enneagram is – no worries if you don’t – it’s kind of like a personality test that assigns you a number. The instructor emailed ahead of time with some links for taking the test and to be honest, when I saw that she emailed all 27 participants without using bcc and that her note was written in Comic Sans, I judged her. And then when three people responded saying, “looking forward to it” using reply all?!
I judged them, too.
And then I wondered if this wasn’t some kind of clever ruse on the part of the instructor to test our personalities.
Anyway, I took the test and found out I’m a 5. And then I looked up some other tests online and took them too. They all said I was a 5. And then I read something that said of all the Enneagram types, the 5 is the most likely to take the test over and over again to make sure they’re getting the right information.
So, yeah. Guess I’m a 5.

There’s supposed to be a number of evening activities during the week as well, one of which is a “Synod School Dance.” (Maybe we’ll pick up some tango tips?) All of this is taking place at Buena Vista University – a Presbyterian college right next to the lake. Husband and I will be sharing a dorm room. (No kidding.)

In short, I shouldn’t have any trouble finding things to write about. I’m taking along my laptop and tablet and I’m hoping there’ll be plenty of time for this writing and also for keeping up with my blogger buddies. Heck, maybe I’ll even draw a bird or two. Who knows?

So until next week, this is me in Iowa (not really but yeah) saying: Keep it real, keep it interesting, and keep on dancing. 🕺🏾

Why I’ll Never Enter Another Contest

Have you ever read about lottery winners who won a huge jackpot, then messed up their lives?

That’s not the kind of contest I’m referring to, but even winning on a smaller scale has its drawbacks. Trust me on this.

Husband and I were at store recently and they had a drawing for a $25 gift card. As the guy was reading off numbers, I realized I was the only one not holding a ticket.

marbles1This was no accident. I duck past drawings, raffles, ‘guess-how-many-marbles-in-the-jar’ contests I see. Because I know, with my luck, I’d probably win.

And I’d probably hate it.

Because having my name announced in a room full of people brings back painful memories. Dark memories.

Such as the time I was in college…

Continue reading “Why I’ll Never Enter Another Contest”

The Following Blog Post is Clothing Optional

In which I have my first experience with nudists and meet my future husband.

In last week’s post, I mentioned my college journal and how I failed at recording true events. One blogger commented — Claudette from To Search and To Find — that I should fill in the blanks nakednow and not bother with the facts.

I like the way she thinks.

About the same time, Husband sent me a link for a nude restaurant in London.

No, we’re not planning a trip to London. I think he just likes to keep our options open.

This is a long way of explaining why I suddenly remembered an event from my college days – a factual event – worthy of a journal entry if ever there was one. What follows is that event.

Continue reading “The Following Blog Post is Clothing Optional”