7 Quick Takes about haunted houses, affordable weekend wines, and #TWEETSONAPLANE

— 1 —

I am about to have a crazy week, starting tomorrow. After months of living a life that was like a reality show called Suburban Survival! in which the sadistic producers wanted to see how long one woman and six children could be trapped in a living room without resorting to cannibalism, I’m finally going to be doing all sorts of things that take place outside of the downstairs area of my house. Exotic!

Tomorrow we’re going out with friends; my cousin will be in town over the weekend; on Monday I’m filming a Q&A for the Explore God series with some local Protestant pastors; Tuesday is the big Texas Alliance for Life benefit dinner, otherwise known as Every Single Person the Fulwilers Know, All in One Ballroom; on Friday I jump on a plane to go speak at the Thirst Conference in Bismarck; and thanks to the lack of direct flights from Bismarck to Austin, I get to hang out with Brianna Heldt in Denver on the way home.

In the back of my mind, I thought that all of this great stuff was spread out throughout the month. When I looked at my calendar and realized that it all takes place in one week, I kind of started to twitch.

— 2 —


It’s usually a lot worse than this.

Here’s another, shorter way to phrase what I just said: it’s time once again for #TWEETSONAPLANE!!!!!! Since my health issues earlier this year cleared off my speaking calendar, this will be the first time in a long while that I’ve flown.

For those of you who weren’t reading the last time I found myself locked into a metal tube that was hurtling through the sky, air travel is not my favorite thing. I mean, it’s okay if the flight goes smoothly, since I can just sit quietly with my knees in my chin and wonder what tall people ever did to the guy who designs airline seats to make him despise them so much, but the moment a plane hits turbulence, it is ALL OVER for me.

It is unfortunate for all involved that many planes now offer internet connections, which gives me access to Twitter during said “it’s ALL OVER” experiences. For the sake of everyone who happens to be online next weekend, let’s hope that we have clear skies in the middle part of America.

— 3 —

I actually have a suffering evaluation metric that I use to help keep myself calm during difficult times, in which I ask myself “Would I rather be experiencing this or stuck on a plane going through turbulence?” Nine out of ten times, the question makes me joyfully embrace whatever difficulty I’m going through and thank God over and over again that I’m not being bounced around in a flying coffin.

When the baby was born in April, it was a fairly un-fun experience that included twelve blood draws in the same arm in one day. When the nurse slunk back into the room to say that she’d have to do yet another draw (I believe this was the ninth) because the lab LOST the last sample, I looked down at my bruised and throbbing vein and considered picking up my IV stand, wielding it as a weapon, and making threatening statements about what would happen to the next person who came near me with a needle. Then I asked myself, “Is this worse than being on an airplane in turbulence?”, and I suddenly felt like I was at a day spa and happily extended my arm for another draw.

— 4 —

Brianna HeldtSince I mentioned Brianna Heldt in #1, I just wanted to confirm that you all read every post that she writes on her blog. You do, right? Okay, good.

In case anyone needs a recap: Brianna is a mother of eight, including four adopted children. Her two daughters who came to their family through adoption have Down Syndrome and needed heart surgery shortly after they arrived in the U.S. Through all the ups and downs and craziness of her busy life, Brianna always manages to be joyful yet also completely real. I just love reading her thoughts on faith, trusting God, feminism, motherhood, adoption, and pretty much everything else she writes about. Definitely add her site to your must-read list.

— 5 —

One of Joe’s favorite things is to seek out great “bang for the buck” wines that taste like expensive bottles but don’t break the budget. After months of yeoman work on the subject, and with the help of a gift certificate to a wine store that my dad gave us for our anniversary, Joe has finally collected what he considers to be the definitive list of Best Weekend Wines under $15. Behold:


photo (3)

From left to right: Peachy Canyon “Incredible Red” zinfandel; Dreaming Tree cabernet sauvignon (people on Instagram tell me this is Dave Matthews’ winery); The Show cabernet sauvignon; Kenwood cabernet sauvignon; Kendall-Jackson Vinter’s Reserve red blend; Joel Gott zinfandel; Decoy merlot.

The year doesn’t matter too much, since these are wineries that have a consistent quality level. You should be able to find most of them at any grocery store or liquor store with a good wine selection. Enjoy!

— 6 —

I have spent all week trying to understand the lure of haunted houses. I like taking a walk in other people’s shoes, trying to see the world through the eyes of someone totally unlike myself. For example, the other day I was thinking of what would be the job for which I would be most ill suited in all the world, and I came up with Morning Show Radio DJ. At first I wondered why anyone would ever want to subject themselves to that kind of misery, but when I took a moment to think through it, it made sense. I could see how a high-energy morning person might find that to be a great way to have some fun while making other people’s days better.

But haunted house people have me stumped.

I have tried so hard to put myself in the shoes of a haunted house lover. I attempted to re-create their inner dialogue when making the decision to visit a haunted house, but it turned out like this:

What I need in my life is for someone to jump out of a closet with a chainsaw and scream in my face. I’d like to be able to walk by things that are perfectly still and not know if and when they might burst to life and start moving towards me. I want people who appear to be deranged to stare at me menacingly. I could also use some strobe lights, creaky door sounds, and moaning torture noises. If this could all happen in an enclosed space that I could not easily exit, that would be cool.

I would ask what I’m missing, but I think that trying to explain the lure of haunted houses to someone like me would be like trying to explain the unique beauty of a Picasso painting to a dog. It’s a lost cause.

— 7 —

I’ve had various blogs and websites for 10 years now. Some of them did quite well, others were mostly ignored. It’s given me lots of opportunities to see what works and what doesn’t in terms of how to have a “successful” blog, whatever that means. I’ve never seen a “how to have a good blog” writeup that jibed with my experience of what works and what doesn’t, and I always wished someone could articulate the real secrets behind what makes a website work. Finally, the other day, someone did.

This post by the Bloggess really does pretty much say it all (which makes sense, since she has one of the post popular personal blogs in the universe). Read her point #16, and you’ll know everything there is to know about blogging — or, at least everything I know. I’ll warn you that she’s a big fan of profanity, and I don’t think there’s a single paragraph that doesn’t contain an f-bomb. If you’d rather avoid sites that are drenched with salty language, I get that. But I wanted to put the link out there, because I think that everyone with a blog could relax and have more fun if they took her advice.

Have a great Fall weekend!


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  1. says

    I remember hearing from my dad about a time when a local (to him) group arranged a ‘haunted house tour’ of a REAL haunted house. They got local schoolkids to dress up as pirates and ghouls and monsters and hide in the rooms to jump out at the tourists.

    But the actual ghosties didn’t like it, and started chucking things at some of the kids (as I understand it, they don’t normally do more than slam a few doors or move the odd item now and again) so the poor kids came pelting out of the rooms, scared half to death, and the venture was put rapidly on hold!

  2. says

    I am so glad you posted that link to The Bloggess. It was just what I needed to read. (Usually people say stuff like that when they mean “that inspirational story deepened my understanding of God’s unconditional love for me” so I feel kind of bad that I mean “I am so glad someone else is that irritated about all the latest blogging tricks.”)

  3. says

    Is it bad that I gravitated to the wine take first? I do want to go read the salty language lady though. My blog is not exactly “taking off.” haha.
    Seriously Jen, I admire you. I can hardly write one thing every couple weeks. And my youngest is fourteen! Wait…

  4. Theresa says


    When the nurse or phlebotomist tells you the ‘lab lost the tube’, that is almost never the case since they are constantly being scanned and checked in numerous times. And in a larger hospital, like I’d imagine they would have in Texas, their path throughout the lab would be on an automated belt system that doesn’t really leave much possibility for lost samples.

    What they usually mean is that either they lost the sample like it may have bounced off the cart or the most likely scenerio is that your tube had a clot or had hemolyzed so they couldn’t run the tests on it. This is due either to improper drawing technique or sometimes it just happens.

    I certainly understand though if you are about to draw blood from someone who is somewhat scared and annoyed already you don’t want the patient to think you messed up and are causing this unneccesary draw. it is more comforting to blame the faceless ‘lab’.

  5. Sara McD says

    Haunted houses are scary enough in English, but it’s a whole other level of fear in a foreign language. 16 years ago, my husband and I honeymooned in Barcelona. We looked at Gaudi architecture, went to the zoo, ate at one famous, fancy restaurant that made me feel small and stupid AND went to a haunted house. After about ten terrifying minutes, our guide seemed to be indicating that it would only get worse and that this would be last chance to exit. I fairly flew out of there.

  6. says

    I laughed so hard at your haunted house description. I totally do.not.get.it either. I mean, my blood pressure is high enough with all these kids screaming at me, I don’t need scary looking ghouls doing it as well.

    I remember one time I went to this whole haunted house park thing with some friends in college. We (a bunch of girls) spent the whole time walking through totally hanging onto each other. Yes, we were a bunch of mature 20-year old women hanging onto each other while walking through a haunted house.

  7. Judy says

    We’re heading to the THIRST conference Friday morning – I’m 5’11” and my husband is 6’1″. I’ve been known to tap the shoulder of the person in front of me and inform them my knees are already in their back – so don’t try to recline!! My husband is mortified when I do this ;). See you at THIRST!

    Judy (who is about to mail off ~100 rosaries I volunteered to make for the THIRST conference when I had the delusion I was a productive crafter!!)

  8. says

    Ah – the Dreaming Tree wine is a fave in our house as well. Expensive wines don’t always mean good ones. And I, too, never understood the appeal of haunted houses. In fact I find Halloween to be one of the most annoying holidays of the year.

    Yes, my middle name is Pumpkin-season-Grinch – why do you ask? :-)

  9. says

    I read somewhere once that the people who love skydiving, roller coasters, scary movies etc. really just lack their own adrenaline (or something like that) and need to do those crazy things to replenish their own. We introverts therefore, are “normal.”

  10. says

    To your #3, I do something similar with the “things could be worse” moments in my life. When something terrible has occurred, to calm myself, I try to think of much worse things that COULD or MIGHT have happened.

    Like when I wrecked my car exactly 30 days after buying it when I was in my 20’s. I had no car, no money to buy a new car, and still had to make my FIRST payment on the car I just totaled. It COULD have been worse the cop told me- if I hadn’t slumped down, I MIGHT have been decapitated he said.

    I didn’t feel quite so awful making those payments knowing I was still alive to make them.

    Things really can be worse.

  11. Stephanie says

    I agree with the response above, blood tubes are simply not “lost”. There could have been many reasons as to why they were redrawing your blood; hemolyzed, clotted, short sample, etc. However, it IS easier to blame the lab. It is so frustrating that nurses simply throw medical technologists/phlebotomists under the bus, hence our “vampire” nickname. If we had better PR, our profession would be better respected in the health care industry. I will get off my soap-box now.

    On another note; your coming to Bismarck!? Oh-geez, I will prepare myself for your review. Most people don’t understand why we live where we do.

    If you do happen to come into the hospital during your stay (and I pray you don’t), I promise I wont “loose” your blood tubes.

  12. says

    It’s been forever since I’ve read the Blogess! Thanks for the link to her!!

    Oddly enough, as I clicked over to her blog, I said to my girls, “Oh! I used to read this blog all the time!”

    My 12 year old answered, “How about Hyperbole and a Half? Do you still read that?” (which was linked to in the post).

  13. Amanda says

    Looking forward to having you in our Diocese for Thirst!!! Though, I empathize with the fact that you have to fly to get here. I dread traveling in the tube of death as well! Hope it goes smoothly for you.
    Add me to the list of people who don’t get haunted houses. Seriously. Why?!?! I don’t like Halloween in general and can’t wait for it all to be over so we can’t get on to All Saints Day.
    See you at Thirst!

  14. Tracy G. says

    Oh my goodness – #3 – me, too! Except I use an MRI as my benchmark. I’m extremely claustrophobic and found out that I needed to have an MRI earlier this year. Thankfully, they totally get people with this phobia, so they quickly offered – and I just as quickly accepted – the option to have medication. Even with that I still had to do some “mind work” to get through the half hour coffin-like experience (thank you washcloth over the eyes and visions of my Hawaiian honeymoon) but I did manage to survive. It’s funny, earlier this year I also had a kidney stone that required surgical removal (it’s been a really fun year health-wise), which truly is as painful as everyone says, but the MRI is still mybenchmark. I guess I’m more afraid of fear than of pain!

  15. Wendy says

    Ared wine not on the list but is a must try………Apothic Red. Try the white as well. Just hits the 15$ mark. Love, love, love, the red.

  16. Barbara C. says

    I have very fond memories of working in a charity Haunted House in high school. It’s a lot more fun at that end.

    “…someone to jump out of a closet with a chainsaw and scream in my face. I’d like to be able to walk by things that are perfectly still and not know if and when they might burst to life and start moving towards me. I want people who appear to be deranged to stare at me menacingly. I could also use some strobe lights, creaky door sounds, and moaning torture noises. If this could all happen in an enclosed space that I could not easily exit…”

    Just substitute “chainsaw” with some other weapon/toy and that pretty much describes my life with five kids. LOL

  17. says

    I have zero trouble with flying, except for the security part. The last time I flew they pulled me out for a “random” security check, which involved a full pat down and going through my luggage. All I have to say about the pat down is that it could trigger full-blown PST for a rape survivor (which I’m not). Before they started, the woman asked if I would prefer to be patted down in private while they looked through my luggage in the open. I was like heck no! Leave my luggage out in the security area while I get “patted down” in a room in the back somewhere? Are you nuts?

  18. says

    I totally agree with you about haunted houses. Never been in one, no plans to ever check one out.

    Am I misreading the labels, or do you guys not drink much white wine? Any chardonnay thoughts? I always get overwhelmed and just buy trader Joes wine so I will definitely check out some of your recommendations soon.

  19. says

    1, 2, and 3: You crack me up about having yet another blood draw and the way you talked yourself through it. That is some serious fear, wishing you the smoothest flight ever.
    5: I’m jotting down this list to take with me to the wine store…looking forward to trying them.
    6: I’m right there with you! I just don’t get it, never have, never will.
    7: So glad you are blogging and whatever you are doing, you are doing right!

  20. Lynne says

    I actually considered the idea of driving to Bismarck *just to see you*. But I Gmapped it and it is 5 hrs and 18 minutes. I might be able to do 4 hrs, but after that I fall asleep at the wheel. But if you ever come to St. Paul, I’m there. Or if I ever again come to visit my relatives in E. TX. Which may be never.

    I wonder what Joe’s evaluation of Goats Do Roam (by Fairview, S. Africa) might be? I’m not a wine drinker, but I got this in a silent auction along with three tubs of goat cheese. I thought it was a clever pairing, anyway. The cheese is all gone now, but I still have the wine. If I come see you one day, maybe I’ll donate it to your collection.

    Today it hit me that even though I have decided I don’t have time to blog, that maybe I could just publish a quick takes thing once a week. I could even do one short take each day, rather than all in one day. It would be like a baby step to blogging and would serve to get me writing down the random thoughts I have that wouldn’t really amount to a blog post–like today, when I thought about how I wish I had a butler to make coffee for me just so I wouldn’t have to wash up the various coffee equipment when I’m done. Or I could buy a Keurig. I’ve been making a new version of coffee which goes by the name “Bulletproof”. It sounds disgusting, but is quite good. And so I have a way to ingest coconut oil other than gagging down a spoonful. Which reminds me–never try to shake steaming hot coffee in one of those mixer/shaker bottle things. There is a scientific reason to avoid this, but I was bad in science and thus got burned by spewing coffee/butter/coconut oil. I smelled good.

    Have a great weekend and good luck on the upcoming rush!

    • says

      Oh my gosh, the coffee shaker / coconut oil story had me laughing out loud, mainly because it sounds like something that would happen to me.

      And I can see how five hours might be a little tough. I’d love to get to St. Paul sometime!

  21. says

    Turbulance is so scary, but I don’t tend to mind flying. But ask me if I mind after I spend 11 hours on a plane for our adoption in a couple weeks, and I might have a different answer.

    Love Brianna’s story! Inspirational.

  22. says

    Bloggess is right on #16. It reminds me of something Henry Fielding (I think) once said about Rules for Writing the Novel: “There are seven rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” The only helpful advice I ever learned from writing teachers was this: “The only reason to learn the rules is so that you can learn how to break them.” Matt Walsh just the other day said that the reason behind his success is that he writes what he thinks and doesn’t give a [insert Bloggess verbiage here] whether people like it. The #1 thing people have told me I need to do differently on my blog is to try to write shorter posts. But my longer posts have been my most-read. What works, works.

  23. says

    What you were saying about haunted houses? That’s exactly why I don’t watch TV dramas anymore. A dozen years ago I woke up in the middle of the night, having had a terrible nightmare about the ER episode I’d just watched, and it hit me: this is not actually fun. WATCHING this stuff and getting emotionally yanked around by TV people is not. actually. fun.
    So now I read blogs instead. Much more peaceful. Mostly.
    AND, I would like to say that not only do I read Brianna’s blog, I am on the same homeschooler’s email list as she. So. I am practically going to be seeing you this weekend, in a one degree removed sort of way.

  24. Amy says

    Have never commented on your blog before, but I read it religiously and love it. About turbulence, I hate it too. However, an aviation lawyer who defends the big guys (e.g., Boeing) in crash-related lawsuits, told me, “It’s never turbulence. They never go down because of turbulence.” That has been a big comfort to me on turbulent flights. Hope it helps you a bit.

  25. says

    My husband is a commercial airline pilot, so he’s my barometer during turbulence. If he’s not looking or feeling concerned about the bumpiness, then I know not to be concerned. On the occasions he’s not been with me while I fly, he has told me to watch the flight attendants during turbulence. If they’re going about their normal business then there’s no need to worry. However, if they suspend beverage service and strap themselves into their seats that’s when my rosary comes out and I start sending those Hail Marys heavenward. :-) Be assured, airline crews don’t like turbulence either and the pilots are doing everything they can to fly over, under, or around it, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. Have a bump-free flight!

  26. says

    Jen, if you and Joe are looking for even *more* awesome and affordable wines, you gotta check out http://bjwine365.com/ – it’s a blog written by one of Scott’s co-workers. Jean and her husband, Brian, drank a glass of wine a day for 365 days and wrote about it. I know, simply fabulous.

  27. says

    I’m thinking I’ll do a seven week blog series on Joe’s wine recommendations…I’m still only thinking about it because I’m about to go into labor. But as far as postpartum commitments go, making sure to meet my “one bottle of wine per weekend” quota might not be so stressful.

  28. says

    Thank you for your stories, your faith, your insight, AND hosting this weekly linkup. It’s my first time contributing, and I’m grateful to have a community of women blogging their lives like this and sharing it. Good luck on that flight!

  29. says

    Um, I only spend $15 on a bottle of wine if it’s a gift. Usually $10 is my limit because I am CHEAP and I usually aim for $6-$8. And I’ve also heard that fancy-wine-taster-peoples rate cheap swill as well as expensive vintages in blind taste tests. Oh, and I think that the coolness of a winery’s name and/or label is super important. So all that to say that if I came to your house and you served Dreaming Tree, I’d think you were super-fancy-pants since I have yet to try it because I haven’t been able to rationalize such an expensive wine purchase.

  30. says

    I am with you when it comes to the planes. I don’t care how much reasoning and explanation it is presented to me. That thing is heavy and there is nothing holding it!!!

    • says

      I’ll just be speaking to Brianna at a McDonald’s in the airport during a layover. :)

      Oh, it occurs to me that you might be referencing the screenshot from the tweet. That was from last year, when I spoke at the Living the Faith conference. Hope to get back there one day! I love Denver.

  31. says

    Many moons ago, you wrote about a change in diet and had a link for a wonderful site that had tons of recipes for good salads for lunch. I can’t find it at the moment and need it for my honey, who has to start eating like that to get his cholesterol and blood sugar down to healthy levels. Please help.

  32. says

    I am so excited for THIRST and I am excited to hear you speak in person! I will pray that you have a very nice and safe flight to Bismarck and back home.

  33. says

    Hi Jennifer! Please tell Joe “Thanks a lot!” for including our Incredible Red in his Very Important Definitive Wine Collection / List (working title, consider it a gift).

    Seriously, thanks so much for imbibing and spreading the vino love.


  34. Rachel K says

    I’ll be the one to defend haunted houses. :) I enjoy Halloween and horror fiction. Always have. When I was little, I used to feel a little down after Halloween was over,though– part of me expected to see a real vampire, a real witch, a real ghost, and have some amazing Halloween adventure just like in the stories I enjoyed. It never happened, of course, and that made Halloween just a little bittersweet for me. (Sidebar–I have many, many thoughts about how this was really part of a longing for the eschaton, but that’s a whole other post.) Ray Bradbury describes a similar feeling in The Halloween Tree,so I imagine it’s not uncommon for us horror nuts.

    But haunted houses let us pretend we ARE having that adventure. We can pretend for a few minutes that the monsters are real, that we’re in danger, but that we ultimately escaped the horrors, just like we always imagined doing. And they even let us feel the fear connected to those stories–the difference, of course, is that we know the vampires aren’t real and wouldn’t be scared enough by some guy in a vampire costume, so they have to scare us by going for the adrenaline rush. (Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t. I recently went to a haunt with such creepy, detailed props that I wanted to tell the spooks to go away and let me admire the scenery.)

  35. says

    I have seen that the people who love to do stunts. really just lack their own adrenaline and need to do those crazy things to replenish their own. We introverts therefore, are “normal.”