I Still Talk To Fruit

We’ve been down this road. I previously confessed my tendency to consider the feelings of inanimate objects. There was no fallout from that disclosure, and I have no regrets for divulging what weighs on my heart.

I Still Talk To Fruit

Since that post, things haven’t necessarily escalated, but this tendency hasn’t diminished, either. Does this make me a little crazy—or just irresistibly caring? I’ll let you decide.

I won’t leave for work in the morning without opening all the shutters in the whole house. Is it because I love the morning sun pouring into the space I love? Kiiiiinda. Is it because, as we’ve discussed, I’m a morning person and the idea of a new day, with new opportunities, starts coming to life as soon as I welcome in the new day’s rays? Sorrrrta.

Is it that I feel like the house wants to see outside?

It is.

I feel the house exhale a satisfied “ahhh” as I begin opening the shutters—and I feel it escalate with every new window I open.

I sometimes think it’s a shame the A/C unit is outside the house, working its butt off for a home it can’t even see into. That’s why I love opening the laundry room shutters the most. The unit is right outside that window, and I feel like I’m giving him a peek inside the house he’s grinding it out for.

Side Note: I do not think the A/C unit says, “Mornin’ Miss Anna” every time I open those shutters—and whoever told you that (or insinuated it), is a slanderous lying liar trying to tarnish my good name. Seriously, that would be so tilted if I thought Marvin the air conditioner greeted me each day.

umm

Is it really that weird? Asking for a friend.

A lot of my angst around non-human things centers around guilt I feel about the things I choose for my day (a towel, a banana, a shirt), or for a recipe (a bunch of cilantro, a package of mushrooms), or for groceries (lemons, a roasted chicken, avocados). I never want what I choose to cause the ones not chosen any grief.

I Still Talk To Fruit

Not knowing (if things want to get picked or want to stay with their family) is what weighs on me.

Enter paper towels.

Most of you already know, we shop at Costco. One of the things we buy in bulk is paper towels, and they go up in the laundry room utility closet. Every time I go in to get a new roll, I’m momentarily paralyzed by the uncertainty of their desires. Do the rolls want me to choose them, or are their fingers crossed that they get to stay? Is getting chosen like getting OFF death row, or is it like heading TO the electric chair? Is it like being pulled up from the minor league to the big league or is it like being yanked from the big leagues and sent to coach junior high? Do they consider this closet a place to hang with their crew—and do crew things—or do they think they’re stranded on an island, where most of their days are spent waiting to get rescued?

I’ve convinced myself that, like people, they want to do what they were created to do. They want to clean up spills and get your count tops spotless. I have to believe that. For instance, if I was put on this Earth to break dance (and I’m almost positive I was), and I never got to shock and lock, then I’d never fulfill my role and my existence would feel incomplete. Yeah, hanging out with other break dancers would be cool for a while, but what I’d really want is to get out and execute a real smooth b-boy sway into a flawless windmill. Then I’d be whole.

So I tell myself that as soon as I grab a new roll, the other rolls are chanting and cheering it on. “Eddie! Get it boy! Show’em how it’s done son!” Sure, there’d be one hater not chiming in (there’s a hater in every bulk pack of Bounty—trust me on this.)

I usually just grab the roll, take his jacket plastic off and place him on the paper towel holder. I let him know we’ll be spending a couple of weeks together, doing big things. I’m more and more convinced my choosing him made him proud.

I also experience a fair amount of guilt over tossing a product before I’ve used the last bit of it. Liquid soap, bar soap, mustard,

Side Note: That’s not why I drink pickle juice from the jar before I toss it.

I Still Talk To Fruit

Can we just go ahead and agree that the last bit of any product is like, “Wait! Don’t go! No fair!” Here they are, surely knowing they’re in their twilight days, but wholly unprepared for a sudden death—not when they still had life left.

Don’t you feel bad now that I’ve shed light on this unfairness? WELCOME TO MY WORLD.

I’m consistent, if nothing else—I continue to apologize to things I run into. I can’t stop; the apology is out before I know it. And it’s a double sorry, because I’m sorry for the object—and the body part involved. My body is counting on me to execute the most basic function of protecting it. It probably knows that some things—like car wrecks, falling shelves at Kroger and spooning too-hot soup into my mouth—are accidents, with no ill-intent whatsoever. But I’d bet good money my body expects me to protect it from slamming into a door facing I’ve successfully avoided for 10 years. I bet it absolutely does not give me the benefit of the doubt when I smack the hair dryer into my head, when I’ve escaped this errant motion the last 490 days. How could I NOT apologize?

I feel bad for things that annoy me just by doing their job—like our chirping fire alarm. The ONLY other way I’d know about its dead battery could end in my own death. Also doing its job? My alarm clock. I wake up about three minutes before my alarm goes off around 90% of the time. But when it does get to obnoxiously buzz me awake, I feel aggravated and bitter—but then I feel bad because it’s doing the job I actually asked it to do.

And I’m not about to hit snooze. Snoozing holds no appeal for me. All it does is provide a new layer of annoyance. Why would I want to relive the shock of the alarm, over and over, for nine-minute bouts of semi-sleep? I liken it to snacking. I’m not a snacker because I want the real deal—a meal. And when nighttime comes, I want the real deal—sleep. That’s probably why I’m not a napper either. I want the whole shebang.

Side Note: Obviously I snack sometimes and nap on occasion. Please—I’m not THAT weird.

I Still Talk To Fruit

Maybe I’m a little weird; whatever.

As bad as I feel for all these things, you’d think personality tests results would show extremely high empathy levels, but surprisingly, they do not. I know why. It’s because those online tests are trying to discern if you are empathetic to the human race—which I’m probably not. I’d like to be, but mostly, I have too many issues with humans and their …  ways.

I do, however, have an abundance of potentially misplaced empathy for animals. Not house pets—they’ve got more than enough crazies caring for them. Sorrrrrry, I shouldn’t say things like that; I know I’m the minority and I know it’s now societally acceptable to call a dog your child, to let your hairy canine sleep in your bed, and to let his butt-licking mouth touch your pillow.

I’m talking about wilder animals. I find myself feeling kinda sad for animals who didn’t have a choice in who they’d be in our world. Take crows, for instance. The stiff ones that skulk around restaurant patios with their beaks half open, squawking loudly for a french fry. They’re not pretty, they don’t move gracefully, their voice isn’t melodic and they get a lot of dirty looks—what a crappy life.

That brings us to vultures. How would you like to come into this beautiful world … as a turkey vulture?

I Talk To Fruit

Imagine sort of looking like an eagle, but having an unattractive head that’s a little bit dinosaur’ish. Then imagine that you weren’t designed to hunt; but strictly to be nature’s sanitation service. What a fate.

– Daddy, why am I bald?
– Oh, sweetie—your fleshy head makes being in carcasses more sanitary. You don’t want those pesky intestines sticking to your pretty feathers, now do you?

– Babe, what sounds good for dinner?
– I could really go for some road kill.
– Mmm, raccoon innards—that’s what up. You plan the best dates!

– Aye Dude, what’chu you wanna do today?
– Oh I don’t know, maybe just sit on this telephone pole, look down menacingly at all these passers-by and wait for some juicy roadkill to waft up into our prehistoric nostrils?
– A’ight, cool.

– Hey Dad, I’m heading out with the crew—I’ll see ya later.
– Son, you’re not a crew, you’re a kettle. A crew works at a construction site, or is in charge of flying a plane. When you hang with your kind, you’re a kettle. Remember that.

Side Note: Vultures can sniff out a dead critter from a mile away. That’s how I feel about some of my coworkers feet. But that’s another story.

Another Side Note: Speaking of being born this way. I feel so bad for vegan vultures.
– Mom, what’s for dinner?

Probably possum.
MOTHER, I’m vegan!
Fine, rattle snake?
Mom!  
Well Heavens, can you have armadillo?
Mom! I can have leaves, sticks and dirt that’s never had an animal walk on it. That’s it.
Can you have frogs?
-<flies away really hard>

Yet Another Side Note While We’re On The Topic: Wanna know which non-human I don’t feel especially sorry for? Siri.

She’s extremely helpful, and I often wonder how I survived without her—but she also makes me shake my fist at the sky. Why is it that she always says “left” and “right” EXCEPT when I need it most—when I’m just getting started out of a parking lot. “Go northwest on Mulberry.” NORTHWEST? Sooo, up and sideways? Come ON, Siri. Are you here to help me or hurt me?

She’s also super repetitive and naggy—UNTIL I need it most. “In 2 miles, turn right on Bishop Hills Drive. In 1.5 miles, turn right on Bishop Hills Drive. In 1 mile, turn right on Bishop Hills Drive. In half a mile, turn right on Bishop Hills Drive.” Then when I’m going through the light, “Turn right on to Bishop Hills Drive.” That’s too late, Siri Michelle Gellar!

And how about her favorite non-directive, “Proceed to the route.” I’d love to … IF I KNEW THE ROUTE!

Oh well, she makes us laugh though. Recently, she kept calling Chicon Street “Chicken Street” and it got funnier every. single. time.”Continue on Chicken Street. Arrived at destination—1171 Chicken Street.”

Go home Siri, you’re drunk.

I’d like to say that this time next year, I won’t be attaching human emotions to inanimate objects, but I think we both know that’s unlikely. I, in fact, just had a little pep talk with our shy peonies. It was less of a pep talk and more of a guilt trip. We got them from my Grandma’s garden after she passed away, and although they’re further along than last year, they’re not really rep’ing her the way I’d like (and the way I know my Grandma would like!) I got down real close to the new, but flowerless growth, and used the sandwich method … told them I was excited for what they would become (then slid in how disappointed Grandma would be if they didn’t step up to the plate) then said I knew they’d come through with flying colors.

I’ll let y’all know if they respond the way the sago palms did.

I Still Talk To Fruit

Do you talk to fruit?

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Sometimes I Want Funyuns

My eating habits aren’t too bad. They’d need to be better if I cared more about six-pack abs than general happiness, but I do not—so for what I value most, I do pretty well. For me, the quickest way to make life less lovely, is to wake up day after day with food restrictions.

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I opt for a more doable solution, which is simply … moderation. I eat really well more meals of the week than I don’t. If there are 21 meals in a week, I go wheels off for probably 6-7 of them. That’s really all there is to it.

When it comes to the other 14-15 food decisions, I’m usually pretty good.

Although.

Sometimes I eat good and stay mindful of what I’m putting in my body—doing quick calculations of my veggie and protein intake, ensuring I have a well-balanced eating day in the works … but sometimes, I just want Funyuns.

Sometimes I want to take a short plunge into clean eating—really go all-out whole foods from the earth—and truly experience feeling light and good and full of energy. I want to blog about whole food recipes that I’ve tweaked for full flavor; I want to post on Facebook about a new spaghetti squash recipe that hit the spot … but sometimes I just want two dozen donut holes and a quart of chocolate milk from the “spudnut shop” where I grew up.

Sometimes I count calories and do my best to stay away from empty ones (or ones that are a total waste simply because they’re not shared with someone who’s fun to eat with) … but sometimes I count how many Takis I can eat in a single sitting without a drink of water.

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Sometimes I want to go home after work and make baked Dijon chicken, cauliflower mashed “potatoes”, grilled asparagus from the garden and a spinach and edamame salad with Meyer-lemon balsamic vinaigrette … but sometimes I just want to whip up some Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. From the box. And not share.

It’s really not much different in other aspects of my life. My intentions are usually good and I typically end the day feeling pretty happy with my decisions and follow-through.

Except.

Sometimes while driving, I’m deep in thought, pondering the gift of life and love, the importance of forgiveness, the beauty of hope and the depth of my gratitude for having all of them … but sometimes I’m just thinking about all the ways Stephen Curry lights up an often dark world.

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Sometimes I’m listening to books and learning more about things like Aspergers or organic gardening or slavery, through the magnificent characters in the stories I choose … but sometimes I’m listening to my iTunes library on shuffle, which means—for reasons I can no longer recall—I’m listening to Barry Manilow singing Even Now, live at Madison Square Garden.

Sometimes I wonder what it will be like to be in God’s presence. I think about the depth of His grace and mercy and play out all the ways I imagine Heaven to be—full of everything good and happy, from love and peace to music and feasts … but sometimes I just wonder what it would feel like to drive a riding lawnmower.

Sometimes I want to extend grace to the driver who rushed past everyone on the shoulder, and now demands entrance in front of me … but sometimes I want to get out of the car, assume an athletic stance—with my knees shoulder width apart—and fully extend my arms in front of me to flip them a double bird. For a full 5 Mississippi count.

Sometimes I want to dive into the gazillion pictures I have on multiple hard drives, and take time to go through them and delete near-duplicates and ones I’ll never need again … but sometimes I end up watching YouTube videos of animals who became unlikely friends.

unlikely friends2

Sometimes I want to stop wishing for it, and talking about it, and wanting it, and just get online and register for Rosetta Stone and learn Spanish … but sometimes I end up on curious.com trying to learn how to start a fire in the wild.

Sometimes I want to be really patient with people who aren’t keeping up, (like when I’m deep into a great story, and building to the ending, and then I reach the crescendo and someone says, “Now who was this about?” voiding out the entire narrative.) I want to be kind and understanding and give them the benefit of the doubt that I wasn’t clear who the main character was (even though I know I’m not that inept) … but sometimes I actually just want to forbid them from being in my presence until they’ve taken some classes on keeping up.

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Sometimes I sit down to hand-write a couple of notes or letters … but sometimes I end up just practicing my autograph instead.

Sometimes I want to be more limber and get my muscles stretched out. I’ll read about an ideal stretching routine and all its benefits … but sometimes I just squat like a catcher for 6-7 seconds, then pour myself a cold beer and take pictures of the garden.

Sometimes I become resolute in my intentions to kick my Chapstick habit addiction … but sometimes I tell myself to calm down and remember that there are worse compulsions— then I reward my enlightenment by replenishing my stash in every spot I might spend more than 10 minutes.

Sometimes I’m good at dealing with difficult people at work and at Costco. I employ tactics like imagining them as a 6-yr old child, or telling myself everyone is fighting some kind of battle … but sometimes I watch them being their stupid, controlling, infuriating self and I want them to burst into flames.

Sometimes I want to finally go through old boxes and throw away some things I’ve hung on to, and no longer care about … but sometimes I end up reading my middle school report cards and college basketball stat sheets—and posting them on Instagram. #baller #3pointsforme #notalwaysanAstudent #basketballb4boys

Sometimes I have the patience of Job and enjoy the journey … but sometimes I have the patience of an itch and just want all of the guacamole in my belly.

Sometimes I want us to keep saving as much money as we do now—even more—so we can spend our retirement very comfortably and happily, traveling the world and decorating a second home bungalow … but sometimes I think surely all these blood moons mean something, and the end is near, and maybe we should just head out now.

Sometimes I get really antsy wanting to go back to Italy and spend two weeks looking at the Mediterranean, enjoying the Tuscan countryside, eating fresh pasta, eating fresh bread, drinking local wine, getting away from work, getting away from traffic and construction, getting away from a schedule … but sometimes I … no wait, I always want that. Those intentions are solidly in place.

Where do your good intentions take a sharp left turn?

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Coziness Of The Soul

I crave small, cozy places and amber-lit spaces. I swoon over the soul-fulfilling ambience of food and drinks, laughter and joy—shared with mindfully-present people I love.

But I had no idea this deep-rooted affinity for authentic conversation—and coziness of the soul—had a name.

Hygge. (pronounced hue-gah)

hyggefeeling

It’s Danish, and it’s the concept of being present … of creating a warm, comfortable atmosphere that makes us feel rooted and connected. It’s about our behavior towards one another, and the coziness and shelter found through reciprocal giving and receiving. It’s the art of creating intimacy, camaraderie and contentment all in one—and it often occurs around a candlelit table, while sharing good food, good drinks and good conversation.

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Hygge nourishes the soul, and is presumably the #1 reason Danes are considered the happiest people in the world. You heard me—the happiest people in the WORLD.

Before you turn into a 2nd grader and start making faces behind the Danes’ backs and whine-chanting, “Woo-hoo, I’m Danish and I’m the happiest person who ever freakin’ lived,” you need a few facts. Scandinavians experience some of the darkest winters in the world. They are accustomed to long, cold months, where the sun emerges for a few lonesome hours a day. Just reading that will lead half of the U.S. population to a Seasonal Affective Disorder diagnosis.

Yet, people have settled in Scandinavia for thousands of years—essentially choosing to “suffer” through darkness and cold. Why?

Hygge.

“Hygge is, at its essence, the feeling of warding off the dark and cold through the light and love of those around you,” says Philip Trampe.

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From hot tea, cocoa and wine … to candles, crackling fires and conversation, it’s the art of creating a place where people can lay the hustle aside, while adding another log to the fire, allowing the candle wax to run and absorbing tranquility—without distractions or the noise of the outside world.

And while no other language has a direct translation, words like coziness, security, comfort, fellowship, simpleness and living well are often used to describe the idea of hygge.

Side Note: Of the many attributes of hygge, there is one common—dominant, prominent—thread. Candles. Always candles. In windows, on tables, on stairs, with every meal (even breakfast). Danes feel that lit candles dispel the gloom and defy the long dark hours of winter. They believe there is no distinction between time worthy of candlelight or not. The warm, signature glow is at the core of hygge.

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In outlining the components of hygge, have you noticed the exclusion of smart phones, TV, drama, heated debates and hurried schedules? Yeah, Danish people don’t partake in the glorification of busy. #blessthem

Hygge is all about celebrating reality, being present and mindfully enjoying the moment with good people, in a warm setting.

But let’s not gloss over “celebrating reality.”

No, none of these.

No, no, no. NOT THESE.

I’ll tell you what that means to me—someone who is not Danish, not living in Denmark and not in the middle of a very dark winter.

It means being in a cozy space with people I love and people who love me; people who want the best from and see the best in each other; people who are too busy being happy for and proud of each other to feel competitive or threatened. It’s us celebrating life’s victories—getting raises, getting the baby to sleep all night, getting better at life—because through those wins, and our shared affection, we all feel lifted. It means being with people free of motives and full of a desire to share in daily joy, good news, successes and answered prayers; people who enjoy talking about pop culture, but also like talking about gratitude, the absolute hilarity of life, acting better, living longer and loving stronger.

It means laughing; because we know that a good, hearty, lose-your-mind-laugh-fest—that builds and spreads and ends in a blinding, breathless pounding on the table—adds a full 365 days to our lives. A mind lost in laughter finds stress healed, anxiety deadened and worry abated. Shared laughter pumps hope into our cells and creates wellness, memories and love.

rafafederer-o

Federer and Nadal actually laughed like this for about 14 minutes straight.

My idea of hygge also means … a second helping and another round, as the candles burn down a little more. It’s not about focusing on rotten people, destructive conspiracy theories, unspeakable tragedies or overly partisan politics; it’s ensuring that after the deluge of negative news and Debbie Downers all week, we’ll take an evening and let the good stuff in. We’ll allow the intrigue of life to nourish our minds and hearts—not pretending everything is good and right, but making sure all the things that are good and right take center stage: a child’s good week at school, a nephew’s home run, a friend’s kid finally asking his crush out (and her saying yes), a project at work that turned out better than you hoped, a loved one’s answered prayer, a parent’s successful transition into retirement (and a fun conversation on why they deserve it), your friends who worked out the problems in their marriage and are stronger than ever, your friends who couldn’t work it out but have successfully put their children first. I want to talk about Heaven and grace and books and why babies are really just tiny drunk people.

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If you’re thinking this sounds great, but isn’t realistic, I have a theory. Your circle is too wide. If you’re having trouble imagining being surrounded by people you can do this with, your circle is too wide. The unworthy people you’ve let in are making it impossible for you to envision hygge. Your “friend” who instigates, your “friend” who sees the negative in everything (and if unable to find it, creates it), your “friend” who only wants the best for you as long as it’s not better than hers, your “friend” who may or may not take up for you when given a chance.

I learned a long time ago that I’m happy with quality over quantity—in all facets of life—but especially with my inner circle. I’m meticulous and unwavering in choosing the people I truly let in. That leaves me with a small, loyal, trustworthy and wonderfully fulfilling inner circle to whom I’m extremely devoted and who faithfully love me back.

We’re talking about inner circles here, not regular everyday friends and acquaintances; it’s not rocket science, so don’t panic. I’d just encourage you to be very judicious with whom you surround yourself, and get comfortable with the fact that you are not obligated to include anyone in your inner circle who doesn’t feel right to you.

Side Note: I have far too much to say on the topic of inner circles and eliminating toxic people from your life for a side note, so perhaps we’ll revisit this. But I will say that toxicity isn’t usually anything overtly evil; it’s typically very personal and subjective—meaning, a lot of times, it’s just you “knowing” someone isn’t healthy for you. If you’re confused and wondering if you have a toxic friend, then just know this much … if you have a friend who competes with you (in life, not in Trivia Crack) … that’s not a good sign. A competitive dynamic overrides a supportive friendship—and you’re never going to alter the actuality of that. So once you identify this issue, you need to know that it’s absolutely and unequivocally OK for you to shift gears and change lanes. I implore you to not give toxic people—or people on the periphery of your inner circle—access to your life. Again, we’re not talking about being cruel or never conversing—we’re talking about access to the inner workings and private, personal parts of your life. Those areas are for people who truly love and protect you.

love&protect

Imagining the comfort and security of hygge forces you to think about who, in your life, would fit into that environment. Knowing it’s a warm atmosphere and a time to enjoy the good things in life, with good people—who do you want with you? I hope you can name a few. My family and friends are at my table. All are eating, some are drinking, a few are talking and a few are listening, and most—thank goodness—are laughing.

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Not All Who Wander Are Lost

I have a passion for traveling—deep, abiding wanderlust and a consuming love for adventure.

I’ve been fortunate to visit 42 of the 50 states, and various places like Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, Mexico and Canada. Two years ago, though, I was finally able to take two full weeks off and travel overseas. Thankfully, I got to do the same thing about a month ago. During those combined four weeks, we visited Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Greece—with 75% of that time spent in Italy. Heavenly, dreamy, unmatched Italy.

Before my first true international trip, I was under the assumption the biggest challenge would be communicating with locals. I thought it might be frustrating trying to read signs and order pasta and wine. I believed we’d encounter many residents who really didn’t want us in their village, town or country. I had a lot of preconceived notions about what traveling abroad would entail. Boy, was I wrong. None of these concerns came to fruition—not one.

But there were real surprises for which I had not accounted.

1. Trusting strangers becomes normal and natural.

I don’t know why, but I found myself trusting people and situations I’d have never even considered back home. In fact, there were times I didn’t want to text anyone in my family about something, because I knew it would sound the alarm.

Case in point.

Jocelyn and I headed to the train station in Salzburg, Austria to board a train going to Venice, Italy. Because of a stretch of railway under construction, we were going to have to take a train part of the way, then transfer to a bus, then back to a train. The first train leg was amazing in every way—watching the Austrian countryside become the Italian countryside was a dream come true. We disembarked and made our way to the bus to ask about tickets. It was leaving soon, and although we try to never split up when traveling—and succeed at this about 98% of the time—time was of the essence, and I needed to wait with our bags while Jocelyn ran in to buy tickets.

Suddenly, after a few minutes of me frantically looking back and forth at the driver (who was clearly getting ready to hit the road), and the door (where I hoped she’d shoot out of, with tickets in hand), he waved at me in a way that said, “We’re leaving and you’re not going with us.”

I was a bit crestfallen because we had a room reserved in Venice and the next train wasn’t leaving for hours. I wheeled our bags into the ticket area, where I found Jocelyn … beaming.

Me: They left.
She: (all bright-eyed and awash in jubilation): There’s a lady who can take us to the train station in Latisano!
Me: (hard, slow blink … stare … trying to make sense of the words coming out of her mouth and reconcile them with the merriment in her eyes): I’m sorry; what’s that?
She: I met a lady. She’s like a mix between my mom and yours, totally normal and nice, and she heard me trying to get tickets and tapped me on the shoulder. She said she just dropped her college-aged daughter off and was driving back to Latisano and would be happy to give us a ride!
Me: You want to ride in a car … on the highway … with a stranger? Is this what you’re telling me?
She: She’s not a stranger! She’s Katherine! And she’s a mom! Oh, here she comes—what do you think?

I’ll cut to the chase. Katherine was indeed a mix of Katy and Meralyn—in both maternal demeanor and warm disposition. She had a nice mini-van and the three of us had quite the little adventure.

While en route, I sent a text to my mom and dad: “So, I can’t send a lot of texts, but I figured this would qualify as important. We’re speeding along the Autobahn at 90mph with a mom named Katherine who helped us out of a jam. Don’t worry! More details through email later!”

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It gets better. We had some time to kill before going to the train station and she asked if we’d like to visit the local winery and get some vino to take with us. Oh, why not.

We got there and ended up meeting some neat people and seeing part of the real-deal wine-making process. It was as Italian as it gets, and we were in hog Heaven. We just kept sneaking looks at each other like, “This is crazy. We’re crazy.”

Umberto Baccichetto Winery ... and Katherine translating.

Baccichetto Winery … and Katherine translating.

We bought red and white wine, and she asked if we’d like to see the villa she and her husband were building. Go to a remote location with a stranger in another country? What’s not solid about this plan?

But, it was beyond cool. Very “International House Hunters.”

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After the tour, she took us to the train station, and we felt like we were saying goodbye to a beloved aunt. We took our seats, and the train started moving. We just looked at each other, shook our heads and laughed.

I’m thankful we trusted our instincts and intuition, and said yes. It’s an experience we still talk and smile about today.

A similar’ish thing happened on our most recent trip to Italy. We were leaving a two-day Farm Stay at a working organic farm between Rome and Naples. Our cab driver picked us up at 6am, to take us to the bus station. From there, the bus was going to take us to the train station in Rome, for our ride to the Amalfi Coast.

He picked us up in supremely rural Italy, in the pre-dawn darkness, and took us to his full-time job—the restaurant he owned that overlooked incoming and outgoing buses. We got there a little early and he said, “Come in’a, come in’a, I make a’cappuccino!” We followed him as he raised up a garage door-like front. He turned the lights on, got the coffee machine going and we talked about his family. He presented us with a perfect espresso, and as we finished it, our bus arrived and he sent us off.

Sweet Maro and his Bar & Pizzeria.

Sweet Maro and his Bar & Pizzeria.

There wasn’t one thing truly scary about any of it, except the idea that we should be wary—but we just weren’t. It was another lovely experience.

2. Bathrooms.

Bathrooms are surprising, for so many reasons and in so many ways. Even if you aren’t one who discriminates between public restrooms and the ones in your home—a lot of the bathrooms overseas will test your resolve.

My first experience with this was at the winery Autobahn Katherine took us to. I was about to bust and asked the owner for a restroom (well, Katherine did; he didn’t speak a lick of English). I hustled back, only to come face to face with this:

The heck?

The heck?

I just stared—truly unsure of what I was seeing or what I was supposed to do with it. I buttoned back up and poked my head out and did a quick, “Psst!” in Jocelyn’s direction. I tossed my head like, “Come here! Trouble is afoot!” and she rushed over. I said, “What is this madness?” She laughed so hard. Even after her explanation, I kind of wanted to die— but I had to go too bad to waver much longer. That was my first, but not last, foray into in-ground toilets. Here is another one in Desenzano, Italy. Again, I’d waited far too long to discriminate; it was this or an even worse alternative.

So we meet again.

So we meet again.

Side Note: If/when you travel overseas for the first time, make a point to use a WC when you see one. They’re not as plentiful as they are in the states, and as a best practice, you should take advantage of the free ones when they appear. (Yes, exactly when you are at your most desperate, they’ll cost €1 to use.) Oh, WC stands for “water closet” … bathroom.

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Greece upped the ante with many, many WC’s displaying signs reminding users to not flush toilet paper. I’ll say it again … you’re not supposed to flush used toilet paper in the toilet. You’re supposed to put it in the trash. I don’t feel guilty telling you I rarely followed this order.

Most of the time, it was neither here nor there, but truly, the Santorini airport smelled like a giant port-o-potty—which was shocking, because the island itself is stunning beyond measure.

There is one particular highlight of all the restrooms though—the signs on the doors  indicating the gender. I wish I’d taken pictures of all of them from both trips, but I do have a few. Each and every WC has its own personality and it’s fun to see them all.

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3. The array of quality—and fun—transportation.

Another surprising thing about traveling overseas is how many forms of transportation you take—and often in the same day. It becomes second nature to hop on a train, a bus, a ferry, a quad, a funicular, a plane, a bike, a scooter, a kayak, a gondola. And it’s all so organized and seems to run like clockwork. The schedules for us, so far, have been largely accurate and seamless. It makes you realize how far behind most states in the U.S. are, when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B—without a car.

My absolute favorite—trains.

My absolute favorite—trains.

Quads, scooters, bikes.

Gondolas, planes, buses.

Ferries, chairlifts, funiculars.

Side Note: Jocelyn and her mom have this word they say that means one of several things. The word is “oofta” and it can mean something’s hot, something’s cold, something’s strenuous, something’s shocking, etc. A synonym might be “wowza” or “yikes” … from what I gather.

Anyway, we were on a train going to Cinque Terre … the region of Italy with the five famous villages that look like this:

Nothing compares to Cinque Terre, Italy.

For reasons still unclear, the train was jam-packed and we ended up having to ride in the area between the carts, where you typically just board and pass through. There was a pole in the middle that we were able to hold on to. Here:

If you don’t note a hint of impending hysteria on my face, then you’re not looking.

Standing—and holding on to the pole during a ride—normally wouldn’t be necessary, because that area isn’t often crowded. Most of the time, it’s only used by someone getting on, and then quickly off, at the next stop. But this time, more and more people kept boarding at each stop and we were completely smashed in there. In fact, upon subsequent stops, we became so tight and immobile that the next time we stopped, and the doors opened, we bellowed, “No room!” But guess what; 11 more people shoved their way in, and Jocelyn and I became separated (but when you’re in an 8×8 area, what’s the difference?) We had never experienced such an over-packed train—and the escalating situation would’ve been comical—if it weren’t for the HOUR remaining on our trek.

Then came the smells, y’all. The smells. With every boarding body came a new odor. It was a 95 degree morning and many people had their arms held high, grasping the pole, and others had opted to skip toothpaste. I started getting slightly panicked, not over anything clausterphobia-related—I’m not clausterphobic—but over the smells, and if I was going to survive them. We were so sandwiched in place, that I couldn’t even bring my hand up to cover my nose, so I was getting nasal-assaulted in a major way. Someone in particular was quite tart—like really super-rank—and I was talking myself off a ledge, when all of a sudden I heard a faint, “Oofta!” Suddenly, all was right in my world, because in the midst of that tense ride—even though I couldn’t see her—I realized Jocelyn detected the funk and registered its severity, and I began silent shake laughing to the point of tears.

4. Architectural character.

One of my absolute favorite surprises abroad is, not just their architecture, but how they build their homes, towns, villages, shops and cafes around the landscape … and into the landscape—not leveling it all and starting fresh. It’s exquisite. It’s swoon-worthy. It’s the definition of character—and it’s captivating. Getting away from cookie-cutter buildings, strip malls, houses and highways—and immersing yourself in the pure art of their landscape—is breathtaking.

Nothing sparks my creativity or sends me into a glorious daydreaming stupor more than being surrounded by such character and beauty.

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Although, along with this design style comes one very predominant thing. STEPS. Lots and lots and lots of steps.

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Regardless of ample transportation options, our #1 preferred mode is walking. It’s truly pleasurable to be able to get around by foot—something we simply can’t do back home. Our Fitbits got LOTS of playing time. The image below was just one particular day.

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5. Traveling changes how you think.

Traveling overseas—or really anywhere for me—makes my head spin in such a good way. When I’m in new places, seeing fresh sights—and away from my normal routine—it becomes so glaringly obvious to me that we (as people) just aren’t doing life right. That’s a strong statement, but I believe it. I work 48 weeks a year, so I can do what I actually want to do four weeks a year. I don’t know about you, but that math is a real downer.

Don’t get me wrong, I L-O-V-E those 48 weeks—namely the evenings and weekends—but I love them in a different way than I love traveling. They’re comfortable, safe and very fulfilling; but, they don’t ignite my imagination the way adventures do.

Inevitably, every time I travel, whether it’s abroad or two states over, more than one person asks on Facebook, “Do you ever work?!” It’s comical to me. Why, during the 48 weeks I work, doesn’t anyone ask, “Don’t you ever take time off?!”

We met many people on our trips who were in the middle of month-long vacations. Successful, well-balanced people.

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Traveling is a blessing. I’m so abundantly grateful every single time I get to climb out of the lather, rinse, repeat cycle of commuting to work—to see how others live and to enjoy their landscape and eat their food and hear their stories. I thank God every time I get the opportunity to experience more of His world. I don’t travel to escape my life—I’m in love with my life—I travel to show my eyes something new; to open my mind to life outside of my tiny, tiny world, and to revel in the heart-swelling splendor of it all.

6. I almost forgot.

The single most surprising thing about traveling 5,600 miles away is passing Guy Fieri on the chairlift—and somehow capturing a pretty clear selfie—on the Isle of Capri.

Yes, this happened.

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I’m Not That Picky

It’s not a secret that quite a few things in this life bug, bother and baffle me. We’ve united in furytwice. But the other day, I was chopping up pickles for tuna sandwiches—and making absolutely certain to keep the butts (where the stem had been) out of the mix, for people who are particular about such things—when I realized that it really all balances out. Meaning, there are lots of things I don’t mind at all, that others simply cannot abide. I noted this fact as I popped the butts of about 15 baby dills in my mouth, while doing a happy food dance.

Maybe I’m not as picky as I once thought. Let’s swan dive into some examples.

I don’t panic over banana strings, because I’m too busy eating them. They’re called phloem bundles—but I just call them “part of the banana”—and they help carry nutrients to the entire fruit. So while you’re delicately removing them with grouchy, pursed lips, my fully nourished body has moved on.

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I also don’t mind extreme heat. I was born and raised where it’s routinely over 100 degrees in the summer—and I like it. In fact, I like it to be so hot it’s hard to breathe. Bring it. I prefer dry heat, but I’m not that picky. I also love the deliciously crippling heat of saunas and steam rooms.

Side Note: My mom loves steam rooms, too. One time we were at a spa in Arizona and decided it was time for a good steam. The room was rather large and looked a lot like this:
steam room
Ours was brighter and appeared welcoming. Other women were already in the middle of their terrifying experience steam, so we found a spot and sat near each other. Our moods were good as we anxiously awaited purification. We were quietly carrying on about something—more than likely the location of our next meal—when all of a sudden, the loudest, eeriest, most horrifying sound came surging out from below the benches. I’d liken it to Darth Vader’s breathing, but about three minutes longer and maybe how he’d breathe if he had fingernails and someone was pulling them off, one by one, with needle-nose pliers. Right when the sound started, I jumped out of my skin and held both palms up high to show I wasn’t armed, then turned to look at my mother—who I thought would always protect me—but I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t even see my own body. WHERE WAS MY BODY?! It was like a thousand angry cumulus clouds had filled the room. The sound, plus the absolute blindness—and truly not knowing if something had gone awry in the bowels of the generator—had me disoriented and confused. Just when I was about to assume the fetal position and re-invite Jesus into my heart, the steam stopped. I could sort of see the door, and soon, a few faces even came into view. I looked to my left and my mom was sitting straight up, bug-eyed, with both hands on her heart. Once we made eye contact and blinked hard a few times, we died out laughing. Then we held each other and promised to never let go. Then we remembered food was next on the itinerary, and the joy was back.

We needed comfort.

We needed comfort.

I’m guessing this isn’t common, but I like to listen to songs on repeat. If I fully and completely love a song, I can literally have it on repeat for several days. However, I never re-read books—ever—even ones I dearly love. I have zero desire to re-read a story I’ve already fictitiously experienced. I’m sure these two things don’t jive, but it’s my reality. I also never re-watch movies. Wait—that’s not true. I forgot about Dumb & Dumber. And Tommy Boy. And Knotting Hill. Oh, never mind; I was younger then. These days it would feel like such a waste of precious time to re-watch a movie.

And now I’m probably going to make some of you mad. So if you have a short fuse or feel defensive over your slothful ways, you might want to go stand by that sink of dirty dishes and count to ten. Here goes.

I enjoy cleaning. The house, the garage, the porch, the car. I love trimming trees and pruning hedges. I like putting away clean laundry. I like taking out the trash. I like sweeping off the patio. Certain tasks are more rewarding than others, and I especially delight in the ones where I can see marked improvement and revel in the visual appeal of orderliness. A cluttered space is a cluttered mind, so I love making—and keeping—things neat.

Order creates harmony and happiness in my brain synapses, so cleaning doesn’t feel like a chore to me.

Side Note: This is one of the many reasons I’d find driving a tractor or running a lawn service more fulfilling than wordsmithing Hello Kitty dresses. Plowing a field, mowing, landscaping—something where I can see progress—satisfies my being on a cellular level.

Side Note For The Side Note: My friend text the other morning and said she stopped to fill up on her way to work and saw a bunch of lawn guys jump out of a truck. She found herself looking at them longingly, like TAKE ME WITH YOU. She also has a good job—the kind we’re supposed to want—but there she was, looking dreamily at the crew and wanting to jump in the back of the pick-up with her own bag of Takis. She thought I’d think she was crazy, but I told her, “Shut. Up.” the way I do when she texts me pics of good food, because, I. KNOW. AND. I. WANTS.

This plus this equals YES PLEASE.

This plus this equals YES PLEASE.

Hand in hand with cleaning is this: organization soothes my soul. I love the satisfaction I get from changing a light bulb, putting new batteries in a flashlight, charging my Fitbit and cleaning out a junk drawer (I’m almost totally positive I don’t need the gas bill from 2012 or those tiny, random screws or 2-year old lip balm I never liked to begin with.) I love adding new passwords to my master file and feeling like I have my affairs in order. Disorder weighs on me—I can feel it physically. I have approximately umpteen thousand trillion photos and videos saved across 3 hard drives and the Backblaze cloud—and they’re mostly organized by date and event—but I also have lots of duplicates because of edits and photo albums. It soothes me that they’re safe, but weighs heavily on me that they’re not fully organized the way my brain wants them to be.

Side Note: At any given time, if someone thinks I look off my game and asks what’s wrong, it’s probably just that I need to organize the pantry or pack for a trip. Nothing is wrong, I’m just mentally tidying up—which often times presents itself as a serious face.

Please don’t get physical with me, but I also love waking up early on weekends. I know that’s not popular, but for me, it just means I have more time to do things I love. An extra hour or two allows me to make the most of every minute not spent at my work computer. If I’m asleep, I’m just dreaming of life, but if I’m awake, I’m actually living it—and that makes me happy.

I drive 40-45 minutes to work each day—each way—and I don’t mind it at all. I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Reading is fuel to my soul and my commute allows me to get through exponentially more books than I would if I just read before bed. I actually look forward to getting in my car each day, so I can get back to my story.

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I know many people who just hate certain words. I have to say that, while I completely and irrationally despise the word “tasty” … I’m not as passionately disgusted by “moist” as a lot of people I know and love. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it or use it, but I don’t run away plugging my ears either.

Side Note: One time, my sister and I were discussing words we dislike and most of the usual suspects came up (ointment, panties, goiter), and then she said, “I HATE the word duvet.” I just laughed like, “Duvet? You hate duvet? You actually have an opinion about duvet?” She got more and more worked up the more she considered this “obnoxious” word. I was becoming weak from laughter when my niece—just as serious as her mom—chimed in, “I can’t stand the word “elsewhere.” I decided they were two peas in a pod—just two peas hating-random-words-they’d-have-a-hard-time-escaping-in-this-life in a pod. Just two ointment-hating peas in a moist, tasty pod.

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Unexpected Joy

So many things make me happy. Little things like finding $5 in my coat pocket, and big things like finding $20 in my dad’s wallet.

I realized this week that a few other things make me abundantly and irrationally happy. I’d like to share my joy with you now.

1. My Mom’s Unintentional Hilarity:
Here is the deal. My mom Cracks. Me. Up. Most of the time, it’s just these very inadvertent one liners that make me hit the floor. Let me reiterate—she’s not trying to be funny, she just is—so it usually comes out of nowhere and knocks me out.

Me: I was surprised how much I enjoyed the judges on American Idol this year. I mean, Mariah was a bit long-winded, but …
My Mom: Oh, Mariah didn’t offer a flippin’ thing other than her big dumb boobs and a dress so tight she couldn’t give a standing ovation when she knew dang good and well they deserved one.

"Dahhhlings, please enjoy this mental standing ovation."

“Dahhhlings, please enjoy this mental standing ovation.”

The other night she sent me a text about a big tomato worm who’d taken up residence—and begun to binge—on one of her beloved plants.

Pic #1: A fat freeloader attached to a lush green stem
Her caption: Uninvited blubber gut.

Pic #2: The aforementioned blubber gut, now in pieces on the ground (his remains looked like a crime scene)
Her caption: Dad’s a pretty good bouncer.

We also have this ongoing joke about inflatable holiday yard decor. We find it endlessly funny when various “characters” lose air and end up with deflated parts—unable to fulfill their role as a pumpkin or a turkey or one of the three wise men. When we see them limp and lying on the ground, we like to fashion stories about their wild night of drunken debauchery.

We often call them ne’er-do-wells and somberly characterize them as individuals “struggling with the bottle.” I’ve lost count of the times we’ve had to accept that the Michelin Man or Rudolph needed a 12-step program.

One December night, on my way home, I saw Santa at my neighbor’s house—out cold and belly up. I snapped a pic for my mom, to let her know she wasn’t the only one living in a neighborhood of boozehounds. She called me about ten seconds later.

Moma: Do you have a second?
Me: Yeah, what’s up?
Moma: You’re never going to guess who was face down as I left the house this morning. JOSEPH. Anna, he was OUT. He was face down, but had just enough air in his head that it looked like he was giving it some effort, as if to say, “I got this!”

2. Booty In A Brawl
You know when you see a booty that—if not corralled by sufficient denim—looks like two water balloons fighting each other? I’ll give you a second to visualize.

I feel utter jubilation over the fact that I’ve witnessed this more in the past year than usual. If I see someone in front of me with this particular issue, this dialogue runs through my head as I watch the two cheeks battle it out:

Left cheek: Pow.
Right cheek: Pow-pow.
Left cheek: Pow-pow-pow.
Right cheek: Whatchu lookin’ at?
Left cheek: WhatCHU looking at?!
Right cheek: You lookin’ at me?
Left cheek: You lookin’ at ME?!
Right cheek: Pow.
Left cheek: Pow-pow.
Right cheek: Pow-pow-pow.

I mean, their sparring is rather benign, as they both seem to understand the space they occupy will never change too drastically. I just think in certain clothes—like sundresses and yoga pants—they find it easier to antagonize one another.

3. Disdain That Takes On A Life Of Its Own
Isn’t it an awful place to be in when you simply do not like someone at all and everything becomes amplified to a point where they can do no right—and even the way they walk or breathe darkens your day? For me, that situation is very rare, but it has happened and I do not like it. However, I don’t mind it as much if I’m observing it as a third party and we’re not blood relatives.

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Anyway, this phenomenon came into full funny view this week in an unexpected way. Our neighborhood is having a little issue with a developer who bought the plot of land connected to our small, quaint subdivision. What’s problematic is that he’s asking for some variances to the current zoning and tree ordinances (variances that do not set well with our discerning crew, who—thanks to our fearless leader at 2209—has us poised to pounce).

It’s turned into quite a situation, where we’re all uniting in objection and writing opposition letters, going to meetings, signing petitions. For a group of adults beyond school sports or paint ball age, the team work is nothing short of impressive.

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The other night, I was sitting in a meeting being held by the Planning and Zoning committee. Its purpose was to officially hear the developer’s plans—and our formal, verbal opposition.

It was already quite Parks & Rec’esque and I found myself searching for Amy Poehler’s character. I was awash in merriment at the promise of free and imminent entertainment.

Sitting in the back, I had a really great view of the room and all the players. The developer journeyed to the podium and my normally professional, mature neighbors eyed him with such visible disgust that I bit my lip to keep from laughing. I had to make myself think of Geraldo Rivera’s recent shirtless selfie to quell the giggles.

Side Note: Have you ever rolled on the floor laughing IN YOUR HEAD? It’s a real treat.

As if it wasn’t amusing enough—watching grown-ups abhor a perfectly nice stranger—the fun escalated when the developer started explaining his plans. Not because of any nuances of the proposal, but because he SLIGHTLY mispronounced one of our street names.

People were looking at each other, mouths cockily agape, tisking and nudging their neighbor, as if to say, “Can you believe this joker? He can’t even pronounce McLemma—he calls it McLeeeema! What a joke! Is this a joke? How are we supposed to take this guy seriously?! He’s a millionaire who never learned phonics or the alphabet! We’re supposed to let this imbecile cut our trees down?! Are we on candid camera?!”

So yeah, it’s not fun to dislike someone with a fervor that affects the quality of your life, but it sure is fun to watch from a distance.

4. Witnessing People Getting (Safely) Knocked Off Their High Horse
I’ve written about poor grammar and the seemingly constant misuse of words like there/their, so it’s not news that I’m Judging You. I also admitted that I make mistakes and understand that we all do—of course we do. But I ran across this in my Facebook newsfeed not long ago and feel it’s worth sharing.

Side Note: On the outside chance the culprit is reading today’s post, I’d just like to say, “Hey You! We sure had some fun times growing up and jumping on the trampoline, huh? So … talk to ya later!”

Her Facebook post (verbatim):
“Wanna know one of my biggest pet peaves…..peoples misspelled words on facebook…oooohhh it kills me7!!”
My comment:
“You mean like misspelling “peeve?”

Seriously, I expend an enormous amount of energy not commenting on Facebook when I know it can’t go anywhere good. I’m like an Olympic-level Facebook Walk-Awayer. But I just couldn’t stop my fingers from typing. And then I couldn’t stop them from hitting enter.

I’m counting three solid errors in that one post and four strong potentials. Walking away would have been illegally painful.

Too many things make me happy, so I see a Part 2 in our future. Tune in next time when we’ll discuss the shocking but have-to-laugh phenomenon of when parents start forgetting to tell you important stuff and you get this text:

Don’t forget, your daddy and I have that meeting to finalize our will tomorrow, so we won’t be home until around 3:00. Oh and PS. say a prayer for his eye surgery … you know he doesn’t do well with general anesthesia. Ily.

What brings you unexpected joy?

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