30 In Women Now

When a working vacation goes bad

My professional life

At the end of my workday in San Francisco and all is well in my world


I was in LA last week with my daughter, Erin. We worked with a client making outfits and doing some wardrobe editing. We usually see her in Marin but she spends a lot of time at her LA home, and her closet down there had gotten out of sorts. We also worked with her husband and his wardrobe, which is always delightful.

Getting out of town is fun. LA is a treat for me. I lived there for five formative years in my 20s. We weren’t far from my old neighborhood in West Hollywood. My son, Trevor, was born in our home on Laurel Avenue. It was a home birth. That’s how I rolled back then.

Working in LA

Erin and I are spending the week in LA


Anyway, before I left I came across a story I wrote over twenty years ago about going out of town to work. It’s that type of story that gets better with age. It was not entertaining to me at the time.

It takes place after my divorce, and before I became a published author. Mom and my youngest brother Todd were alive. I talk about a client named Teresa who was also alive but has since passed. I was a single working mom with three kids. I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer.


It all starts with a great idea

I’d gotten this entrepreneurial idea to book a speaking gig in Fargo, take my kids with me, visit my family, and write the trip off. It should have gone well. And part of it did. Mostly, I ended up having a trip that could have been the pilot for a sitcom.


Setting the scene

It starts out at Dead Lake in Minnesota where Mom and Dad had their lake home. Most of the time they were in West Fargo, North Dakota in the house our family mostly built. Our friends and classmates would go home after school and have Cass Clay ice cream squeezed between two graham crackers and watch cartoons. The Reiten kids came home from school and sanded woodwork and applied varnish to doors. By the time I graduated from high school, the house was finished and I was headed for Los Angeles.

Put yourself with me in the early ’90s and let’s get this story started.


Alma Reiten

My cool-under-pressure Mother


My Working Vacation


It seemed like a good idea—schedule a lecture in North Dakota, take the kids to visit their relatives, make money and write the trip expenses off. What could go wrong?

It was July, the lecture wasn’t until Thursday, so we got out of Fargo and headed to the lake where the kids went swimming, caught frogs, and picked raspberries from Mother’s berry bushes across the road.

I had time to practice the opening lines of my talk out on the dock. I was opening my talk, Smart Women, Smart Choices: Getting Accessories Right, with the “intensely personal hello story” technique I’d learned at a National Speaker’s Association (NSA) workshop. In the first two-three minutes of the talk, you tell something that happened to you, something that changed your point of view forever, and makes you the only one who could stand up there and give this particular talk.


White Beauty Bundle

A Beauty Bundle is always a smart choice


I’d decided on the story about working with Teresa. She didn’t have breast cancer when I first started working with her but, one day she called me and said, “Brenda, the good news is it’s time to work with you again; the bad news is that I have cancer. I need your help accessorizing.”

She was going to lose her hair, so I got my hands on an American Cancer Society video about how to tie a head wrap. For a week I covered my hair and wore a head wrap every single day during my other appointments.

I’d never gotten as many compliments as I did in that week. No one thought I was a chemo patient. They just thought I was fashionable!


A polished look with accessories

Accessories polish a look


I could easily fill the 90-minute talk with all the tips I’d repeated in countless other lectures. Besides, I knew my audience. I’d grown up here. This would be a cinch.

Mom and I left the lake the night before my gig and drove my dad’s brown Buick back to West Fargo in a thunder and lightning storm with warnings of tornadoes. The next morning Dad took the Buick and left for the western part of the state on business. He wished me luck. Who needs luck when you’ve got experience?

The presentation was at seven. At 5:15 I started loading up Mom’s car, the one that has the little funny thing going on with the gears. I asked her to show me the funny thing, so she got behind the wheel. I leaned over her shoulder to watch.

She said, “You have to jiggle the shifter a little to the right of ‘Park’ to start the car. Then jiggle a little to the right of ‘Reverse’ to put it in reverse.” Mid-explanation she said, “Oh my gosh! The dial isn’t moving at all! This happened a couple weeks ago. I took it to the mechanic, but it didn’t do it for him, and Don has the decent car. What are we going to do?”

Beats me.

“I’ll call Todd at work,” she said. She tells me his car is filthy, but if we put some sheets across the seats, I probably won’t get grease on my clothes.

“Okay, good. I’ll go get dressed then.” I got into my pantyhose and buttoned my silk blouse. I still had plenty of time. I paid a visit to the hall bathroom and flushed the toilet. The water rose, and rose, and spilled over onto the gold and orange indoor carpet. I ran into the garage and saw the curly tops of my mother’s strawberry blond hair and my brother’s mousy brown hair. Their full focus was still on that gearshift.

“Mom, Mom! There’s an emergency in the house. The toilet overflowed.”

This didn’t seem odd to her. “Oh, that happened last month, but then it didn’t happen again,” she said. “Get Ready, Todd will take you. Just don’t say anything about this in your talk.”

Right, I was going to ditch my opening personal story for this one where the toilet overflows, and I feel like I’m twelve.


Something a mom could have said, too


Getting ready at the auditorium

I arrive at the auditorium, and there aren’t grease stains on my clothes. I’ve only lost 15 minutes. I do a sound check, line up all my props on the table, and hang a few outfits on the clothes rack I requested. I’ve got time to slip off to a remote bathroom to practice my “hello” story. I got two sentences into it when Gladys Brusven walked in the door. She’s one of Mom’s best friends and one of my favorite people of all time. We hugged and chatted, and I decided I’d practiced the story enough. It’ll be okay. Everything will be okay.

The woman introducing me told the audience how I’m a former West Fargo girl, a graduate of the University of North Dakota. I look out and every seat is filled. “Here’s Brenda Reiten Kinsel,” she says.

I jumped into my “hello” story; the room was hushed, just like the NSA guy said it would be. I had them. Then I sailed along. I shared with them the accessories that make you look ten pounds lighter and ten years younger, which ones should be tossed, the ones to wear when you mean business, and which ones to wear when you want to attract a date.


Doubled scarves

Double the scarf tie, double the fun


I end on a funny note, my insistence that there be an Academy Award for Best Accessory. Kissing Kevin Costner at the end of Bodyguard in a zebra print square scarf gets a big laugh. I’m mobbed afterward with questions and comments about how they’d love to have me back next year. I think about going home to the flooded bathroom. I smile and say I’ll do my best.

Mother insisted we stop for Dairy Queen ice cream on the way home. I just wanted to go home. Home-home. California home, back home to my rental house where if anything goes wrong, someone I’m not related to fixes it. A home where the toilets work all the time.


Summertime bracelets

Bracelets for the summer


But there’s more

We got home and no one was talking about my lecture or who was there and who was wearing what because Todd announced that water was running down the walls of his basement bathroom from the upstairs bathroom. Not dripping, not trickling, running.

Water is an adversary that the Reitens are equipped to handle. Living next to the Sheyenne River, I remember lots of flooding in the spring. Dad had vacuums and heavy duty fans to dry carpet out. But this time there was concern that the downstairs bathroom ceiling might fall in. Mom called Dad long-distance at 11:30 pm. The calls continued until 1 a.m. when all the things she tried still hadn’t worked. The decision was made to turn all the water off in the house and see if that makes it stop.

The next morning, Mother told me the water was back on, and so far, there was no water running down the walls. In fact, maybe I could even try the shower. Me? The shower? Are you kidding? I’m not that adventurous. A sponge bath would do just fine.

Mother suggested we get out of the house and go to a matinee movie and see Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. We’re sitting in the theater, sharing popcorn. Harrison Ford is shackled and on his way to life in prison. It’s in the dead of night when the bus he’s in rolls over a bunch of times, lands on the railroad tracks and we see a train barreling toward the bus. He gets out of the broken window without a second to spare. “Gee, his day is going like ours is,” Mother quipped.

She got me. She got me big time. My steely, stoic exterior started to melt like butter.

We watched the rest of the movie and decided to go to the Dairy Queen afterward. This time I enjoyed every lick of that soft-serve ice cream. It was summer and I was with Mom, and we were having fun. She drove us home in the car that wouldn’t let her know what gear she was in. We got home just fine, and Dad was there busy with his tools. I sort of hated to be leaving the next day for home, my California home.


Sonoma Office Tuesday

Summer in Sonoma


I rounded up the kids the next day and we all headed for the airport. When we got out to check our luggage, Mom and I did what we always do: hugged each other tight and cried. We could barely let go of each other.

The flight back to California was arduous. It would be a week or two before I fully landed-in my home in Fairfax, back in my business, back again with friends who’d never been to North Dakota. It can be so lonely living so far from home.


Before the credits roll…

I’m going home in a few days. Mom’s not there, Todd’s not there, and as of last month the lake home on Dead Lake is owned by someone else. Dad’s in his assisted living apartment complex nearby. He keeps insisting that I stay a month. We’re already planning how I can spend the whole summer there next year.

I asked him what he’d like to do this time. He said he’d like to go for drives out into the country, look at the fields and the farms. We’ll do that. We’ll also go to Fargo to visit with Lois Peterson, my second mom. She’s turning 90. I went to first grade with her son, Greg. He’s flying in from Atlanta. We’ll have so much fun.

The last time I visited Dad it was in January. When it came time to say goodbye, Dad and I held each other in our arms, hugged, and we both started crying. I felt my heart breaking. How could I possibly walk away? He said, “This hurts.” I agreed. But then Dad said something that was very comforting. “It hurts, but we’ll get through it.”

It’s true. We’ve gotten through a lot. We’ve had a lot of practice.

I pray for more practice.


My lovelies, do you have summer memories to share? Or stories about being a daughter? I’d love to hear them right now.


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  • Reply
    July 31, 2018 at 2:58 am

    I love this story. It’s all summed up when you say “It was summer and I was with Mom, and we were having fun”. Family, and love and fun, that’s what matters.

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 11:12 am

      It is what matters. I wish I knew then what I know now…I think I would have had a lighter heart about things and just enjoyed, no matter what. Thanks, Love!

  • Reply
    Claudette Spiers
    July 31, 2018 at 5:23 am

    I have only recently found you (my loss I feel) and I am reading your new, and old posts, with great joy, smiles, and sometimes tears. I live in France and my dad lives in England alone since my mother died in September last year. This post and the one about grieving really resonate with me. My dad is 93 and it breaks my heart when I have to leave him. Did I shed a few tears when I got to this part? You bet I did. Love your style too and your insights and thought provoking comments. I am being more adventurous as a result. Thank you.

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 11:11 am

      Claudette, can I tell you that when you said, “Did I shed a few tears when I got to this part,” that I started crying! Boy these shared emotions run deep. Thanks for sharing your experience. It helps me to understand my own. Sending love from Sonoma.

  • Reply
    July 31, 2018 at 6:24 am

    This story could have been written by me (the part about saying goodbyes) every time I left ND to fly back to Florida. For over 20 years I visited every summer & every single time I left my grandmother crying. Then I would cry and my mom would tell me to go back in and give my grandma another hug. YIkes, that was hard to do. I loved your story today soooo much. See you in Fargo soon.

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 11:10 am

      Oh Sandi, I canNOT imagine going in for another dose of pain like that. OUCH, my heart hurt reading it. Yes, see you in Fargo soon. Let’s talk!

  • Reply
    July 31, 2018 at 6:32 am

    Lovely. Enjoy your time with your father!

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 11:09 am

      Thanks, Cara!

  • Reply
    Nancy Molstad
    July 31, 2018 at 7:07 am

    Best Typically Dry Midwestern Response to Adversity: “Gee, his day is going like ours is”.

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 11:08 am

      Isn’t it so true? Reading your mention of it has me giggling once again. And again, and again, and again!

  • Reply
    July 31, 2018 at 7:32 am

    Thanks for sharing this Brenda. Since I also hail from the Heartland and have “been there” with parental care. Enjoy every minute with your father while you can.

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 11:07 am

      Thank you, dear Cindy!

  • Reply
    July 31, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Go to Battle Lake for ice cream!

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 11:07 am

      Oh yes, I know just where you mean! I LOVE Battle Lake. I also love the Lake Cafe. Pretty sure that’s what it’s called. They make the best homemade pies. Have you been there, too? The same family owns the meat/fish store across the street. It’s such a great city to be in in the summertime.

  • Reply
    Katherine Cramer
    July 31, 2018 at 10:21 am

    My nephew was graduating from University of Redlands and somehow my mother thought a road trip would be fun. I jumped on the possibilities bandwagon and we prepared for an Oakland/Redlands/Palm Springs adventure. We decided to take our time and stop wherever and whenever we wanted. I think we made it to Santa Cruz (under a 2 hour drive) the first night. In Santa Cruz we leisurely hugged the coastline and randomly took side roads scouting out beach homes for rent and note for a future vacation. This was not like my usual and rare family roadtrips. Since it only included Mom and myself…we did what pleased us. Any adorable shop we saw–earned a stop. We had to turn to the Inland lands of California eventually. Outlet Malls were our only distraction other than meals. We loved the graduation and gathering of family. It was balmy and we had poolside breakfast, lunch and dinner. Who was this family? Certainly not my family who lived most of our time in Seattle, Washington. This was my ideal vacation life. I recall wearing a midi circle skirt with South-of-the border meets Cost Plus print popular in the early 2000’s. I still have one or two since they embody vacation attire. Surely they will return (again)! Hats were needed every day and adding sunglasses made us Movie Stars. The poolside moments capture my memories. My family had very few, warm weather vacations.

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 11:05 am

      Katherine, I can see every single detail. How WONDERFUL! And having met your mom I can see how much fun you too had going at your own pace, stopping where you want to stop. You’ve enriched my day by sharing this trip. Thank you!

  • Reply
    July 31, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Your “Murphy’s Law” story (When things can go wrong, they will, and in the worst way at the worst possible time.) had me laughing out loud.
    In my family we always call the way you and your family coped the “have a Plan B and a Plan C and …a Plan Z” method.
    Thanks for the laugh with a few tears thrown in for love and loss.

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 10:57 am

      Oh Liz, that story was for you. Living it was not fun, looking back on it has been very fun. It did seem like the peak of everything that could go wrong and how I felt like a teenager again living in a house that didn’t have all its parts yet. I LOVE the Plan Z method!

  • Reply
    Bettye L Rainwater
    July 31, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    Oh, I love that story. And I can relate to the difficult goodbyes, but I’m the mother and my “baby” lives far away. So far away. Too far away.

    “She was going to lose her hair, so I got my hands on an American Cancer Society video about how to tie a head wrap. For a week I covered my hair and wore a head wrap every single day during my other appointments. I’d never gotten as many compliments as I did in that week. No one thought I was a chemo patient. They just thought I was fashionable!” Ha, I NEVER managed anything CLOSE to fashionable when I wore scarves to cover my bald head during chemo. At best, I nailed the biker dew rag look. I watched umpteen YouTube videos and decided my hands just can’t do that kind of thing. But they were fun to watch 🙂


    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 10:56 am

      I wish I had been there to help you, Bettye. You’d have been getting compliments! It was different for me when I lost my hair. I wore a wig the whole time and didn’t want people to know. But then I got a gazillion compliments on my hair and people wanting to know where I got it cut and who colored it and what products was I using. It was crazy! There’s another story to share. Sorry your baby lives so far away. I am grateful every day that my kids didn’t move away from me like I moved away from my own parents.

  • Reply
    Anne Hunter
    August 1, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Love your
    story and I want to drive around and look at the farms too! I share your history of growing up not in California and spending my 20’s there. Are you like me and totally got into LA LA Land? Love that movie even though my goal was not to be an actress. I was surprised at how much it grabbed me! –Anne from Detroit Lakes MN

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 10:53 am

      So fun to hear from you, Ann. Yes, I ADORED my years in Los Angeles. From West Fargo, ND to Los Angeles, CA–quite the change! I’m always happy to come home to Sonoma, which has a lot of fields and pastures reminding me of growing up on the farm. It is fascinating how much attraction it has. I’ll be near you in DL soon!

  • Reply
    Susi Grady
    August 2, 2018 at 8:08 am

    Dear Brenda- thank you so much for sharing this story, so well written. Your family sounds lovely. It is hard to straddle between two places. I can relate with my own experiences with my parents. Keep up the great fashion ideas/stories and your witty writing! Love it!

    • Reply
      August 7, 2018 at 8:26 am

      Thanks, Susi. And you get it about the family. Heading there in just a few days and already thinking the trip is way too short. It’s so hard!

    • Reply
      August 14, 2018 at 5:34 pm

      Straddling–that’s exactly what it is! Thanks so much for being an “enjoyer” of my family stories, Susi. I really appreciate your comment about that!!

  • Reply
    Cindy Scurry
    August 2, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    I absolutely love your writing! I almost started crying! I understand…as I go to Georgia to visit my 87 year old dad every few months and its so hard to leave. I treasure this time we have together. I always try to work on projects he’s been wanting to get done around the house – painting the living room, the hallway and this last visit was painting the front porch. My mom died 2 years ago and dad is doing so good. He lives alone and takes care of himself and the house/yard so well. He is so sweet and such a delight.

    • Reply
      August 14, 2018 at 5:27 pm

      Cindy, you and I are lucky to have our dads. I love hearing what you do when you visit him. Our mothers passed away fairly close to each other. Dad still sheds tears over mom but gosh, I love the relationship we’ve been able to have together since he started healing from the hardest of grieving places. Hugs to you and your dad, my friend!

  • Reply
    Trinnie q
    August 6, 2018 at 5:24 am

    Ohh, how funny, sad and poignant. Life is truly beautiful, such an adventure with its ups and downs ! I loved the story of the struggle for grace,ohhh to be gracious all the time ! We can only try ! Sending much love from Oz x

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin
    August 22, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    Oh, what a beautiful story. I was so touched and right with you and your family.

    • Reply
      August 27, 2018 at 5:58 pm

      Thanks, Sandra!

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