Say What?

I make every attempt possible to never say never. I even outlined my reasoning behind this ongoing personal goal here.

But this is different. Even though I don’t say things like, “I’ll never get a bad tattoo” or “I’ll never leave the oven on” (for fear of eating my words), I’m relatively certain you’ll never hear me say any of the following.

“No, thanks—I’m not really in the mood to hold your baby.”

At one time, I wanted to be a Rockin’ Mama so bad, I was calling around to all the hospitals, trying to get information on the process. It’s a program where hospital baby wards put you in rotation to hold babies who don’t have anyone—so the newborns can get love, warmth and human contact.

I just have an endless capacity to hold babies, and I get geeked when friends tell me they’re pregnant. I’m less geeked when they tell me we can’t actually share the baby. That’s pretty selfish; but I’ll take what I can get. Sometimes they’re all, “Oh, let’s lay him down so he doesn’t get used to being held while he sleeps” and I’m all, “Shut your dumb mouth.” The feeling of that warm little nugget on my chest is an unmatched delight for which my longing never ends.

“I’d really like to see him in a jock.”

I don’t care if you’re Roger Federer or Magic Mike, I don’t want to see you in a jock. No day is made better by seeing a man in a jock.

“No, thank you—I’m full.”

You might hear me say no to food, but it won’t be because I’m full. If it’s food I love (and not dessert), I’ve got the restraint of a pack of raccoons who’ve just found campfire leftovers. On special occasions (i.e. weekends and vacation), I like to eat until I’m full up to my collarbones. Some days—especially when traveling—my lone goal is to get hungry again after a meal. And I’m not ashamed to admit that when I’m greeted by that first hunger pang, it feels like such sweet victory—like precious hope in a dark, dark world.

“I don’t really care who wins the game.”

I have to root for someone. Even if I’m not following the teams or the series or the sport—if it’s on—I have to root for someone. I can’t be ambivalent. If nothing else, I just need a good human interest story on one of the players, and I’m set.

Me: Who are you for?
Jocelyn: Oh, no one really—I don’t really care about this one.
Me: No, come on—help. If it’s gonna be on, I need to root for someone.

The following are the types of things I’m looking for at this point—to tip me to one team or the other:

Jocelyn: Their coach is that one who made it to his 14th conference championship, but still got fired.
Jocelyn: A Utes win would help the Zags.
Jocelyn: Their running back got arrested for domestic violence.
Jocelyn: #4 has the little sister who can’t walk and he carries her everywhere.
Jocelyn: Their shooting guard wasn’t expected to ever play again after his compound fracture.

“There’s no hope for that situation.”

I believe there is hope for everything. Hope is what gives life color. Prayer—and a basic understanding that we don’t know a fraction of what we think we do—tells me that there is always hope.

“Here, take a picture of me drinking out of this straw!”

“And make sure to snap it when my eyebrows are raised mid-drink!” I just hate those posed drinking-out-of-the-straw pics. I can’t explain it. And the recent “Slurpie Day” was just an excuse for everyone to post one and dampen my day.

“Just sayin’.”

Unless you were raised by a honey badger (an animal who truly does.not.give.a.$%#@), then I challenge you to start taking steps to break this fall-back phrase habit. I understand how tempting it is to say what you want—no matter how hurtful or bossy or judgmental—and then smooth it over with a shrugging “jus’sayin’; but please stop.

It’s now so prevalent that people are ending posts and comments with “JS.”

“Well he sure is dumber than a box of hair. JS.”
“The sound of her voice alone makes me wish she’d burst into flames. Just sayin’.”
“My day would improve if she’d go play in traffic—jussayin.”

“Just sayin'” and “Bless her heart” are not get-out-of-being-a-jerk passes.

“I’m not reading anything at the moment.”

Lord-willing, you’ll never hear me say this. I read a lot and can’t imagine my life without books, stories, characters—and the joy they bring.

“Oh here, let me just throw this bloody Band-Aid down for the next person to see.”

I hope this is self-explanatory. Pretty much any awesome day can be wrecked by one sullied Band-Aid sighting.

“Nah, Mexican food just doesn’t sound that good today.”

This nonsensical statement is akin to, “I’m actually pretty ambivalent about oxygen today” or “I’ve never really bought into the wisdom of needing all 10 fingers.”

There is not a day on earth when I couldn’t get down with some tacos. Or burritos. Or chips and salsa. Or all of the above.

“Traveling is a hassle. I think I’ll just stay home.”

Nope. Hassles always arise when traveling—always. But the trade-off isn’t even in the same ballpark for me. A little airport or luggage nuisance in exchange for exploring the world and seeing new things? I’ll “endure” that any day, any time, anywhere. Almost anywhere.

“You relax—I’ll tie those balloons for you.”

I don’t want to blow them up either. I go too fast and too hard and end up hallucinating that Rue McClanahan has come back to cross stitch with me.

“I don’t care what kind of grocery carts they have.”

FALSE. Target’s new, chunkier carts have ruined me for all other carts. I’m obsessed. It feels like I’m pushing around a weightless hover craft. They make me want to sing and skip and do good deeds.

Additionally, there are no words for the sheer and utter joy those smaller half-carts bring me. They’re like little speedy athletes with the agility of a gymnast, the focus of a goalie and the eagerness of a Wimbledon ball boy.

If anyone ever combined the two carts, I’m not sure I’d make it out alive.

“You’ll never hear me refer to the universe as a living thing.”

“The universe has a way of …”, “The universe lets us know we should …”, “This is what the universe has told us …”, “This is what the universe asks of us …”

Never. Like, ever.

“Hmm, I haven’t heard from Whatsherface in a while; I think I’ll poke her on Facebook.”

“Why aren’t you breastfeeding?” or “Why are you breastfeeding?”

Why won’t you ever hear me ask this? Because it’s none of my business, and I assume a mother has a very good reason for her choices. Oh, and I’m not the breastfeeding police. Oh, and that’s right—it’s none of my business. Or did I already say that?

“I’m not a crier.”

I’ve been able to say that truthfully most of my life. But I’ve now come to accept that I can’t see a soldier’s reunion with a loved one or a marriage proposal, and not cry. I’m not a weepy, soppy mess—and I don’t cry over much else—but these two things start the waterworks. I also cry sometimes when I hear the song, O Holy Night. Not so much the David Archuleta version, as the Celine Dion one. And sometimes I cry when the food is over.

“Tush”, “Tushy” or “Bum.”

It’s butt, bottom, ass—or nothing. I remember once, a long time ago, I read a quote from Freddie Prinze, Jr., and he said someone was looking at his “tushy.” No. No, no, no. FPJ was instantly dead to me. He was a grown damn man calling his own butt a tushy. Maybe, maaaaybe if he’d been talking about his baby’s bottom, I could have let it go. But he wasn’t. And I no longer had a place for him in my life.

Do you have things you’ll never say?

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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.

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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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World Class Empathy

I’m not bragging, but I have a rather large capacity for empathy. Is it greater than yours? Maybe. Do you empathize with waiters of demanding people? Homeless folks in winter? NFL kickers who blow a win? Me, too; that’s child’s play.

Do you empathize with a candle’s life who was cut short because of your faulty wicking abilities? Do you feel bad when—because of your mistakes—a recipe goes awry and has no future with your family? Do you feel sorry for the rarely used Kelvin filter on Instagram? Does your heart ache for the remote control batteries who’ve performed flawlessly for six months, and who are now being thrown (with force) into the trash, while being called hurtful names? Nah, didn’t think so.

Most of you know I Talk To Fruit (and a good many of you do, too), so none of this should be too shocking. Let’s rip off that bandage.

I feel bad for my clothes and shoes that never get to go on vacations. I worry that the chosen ones act haughty in the closet or drawers when I’m not around, “Hey, Old Tee, have fun working in the yard today? *snicker* Hey, Old Jeans, how was that quick run to Kroger for the forgotten tortillas? *snort* Hey Too-Big College Sweatshirt, have fun painting? *high-fives vacation tee buddy* What—you don’t want to ask me if we had fun in Italy? Nope, you’re good?”

I hope this doesn’t happen, but I worry that it does. If I think too much about any of the lucky pieces acting superior when I’m not around, then I start fixating on ways to keep them separate—maybe some zoning in the closet to cut down on intermingling? I know the ones left behind don’t think life is fair. I know they wonder why they have to clean the pool filter and go up in the attic. Most of them have had their time in the sun, and been able to get out-and-about at some point in their lives, but I still worry about their self esteem.

Side Note: Now I’m wondering if my work clothes exude an air of importance, too. If I hear as much as a whisper about it, I’ll march them straight out to the garden and dig up an old potato. Don’t test me, Dress Clothes—don’t.test.me.

BBQ. Even though it’s loved by millions, I wonder if it fixates on the few of us who don’t care for it? Does my ambivalence towards ribs and barbecue sauce and potato salad bring it down and make it question its very existence? I feel like I need to show it some love occasionally, so its insecurities or possible feelings of unworthiness aren’t on my conscience. I want BBQ to enjoy its massive fan base, but I feel like maybe it can’t fully immerse itself in congratulatory gaiety because it knows I’m out there … never even considering it an option.

Harry feels the way I do.

Harry feels the way I do.

When I see a lady’s bra strap twisted on her back, I want to fix it. When I see a belt loop that’s been missed on a guy’s pants, I want to tell him. When I see the clasp on someone’s necklace butted up against the charm, I want to point it out. Why? Because all these things want to be pretty and do their job—and by no fault of their own, they instead, spend the day off their game. It’s especially unbearable if they see me see them in disarray, and watch me walk away. I worry about the message that sends them in regards to their importance in this life.

Side Note: I have a confession that doesn’t align with the previous confession. I’m very reluctant to I don’t tell people when they have something in their teeth or in their nose. I know, I know—lower your voice. I’ll answer your questions calmly. 1. No, I don’t want you spending the day like that. 2. Yes, I’d want to know. 3. No, I don’t think it’s OK to say nothing, but that’s what I’m going to do.

kwiig teeth

Oh hey Kristin, you have … there’s … you have … such kind eyes.

I feel bad for things that do such a good job—such a solid, thankless job—and because they’re not flashy, they go unnoticed … until, that is, they don’t do their job.

Think of the anger directed at such priceless items like water heaters, washers, dryers, refrigerators and car batteries. It’s shameful the names they’re called once they meet their Maker. A sorry S.O.B. and a stupid P.O.S. Where was the praise for their solid performance hour after hour, day after day? Did you offer even one ‘attaboy along the way, when it functioned a thousand times without incident?

How about your body? You love your pretty eyes and strong forearms, but have you admired your kidneys lately? No. Revered your thyroid? Doubtful.

Imagine a few hard-working bodies meeting up for a beer after their owners are asleep. Every part is sitting around, exhausted from putting in their thankless time for the 7000 day? 18,000th day?

Head: So how was everyone’s day?
Chorus: Eh, pretty good.
Brain: I’m wiped out. Tina worked 18 hours today while taking calls from Jake’s school, because he put bugs in Sadie’s pencil box—so she was all over the place mentally, and is barely asleep now, so keep it down.
Butt: Laney talked shit about me all day—no pun intended. She tried to squeeze into some jeans from last year, and then talked bad about me to every friend who would listen. It really bummed me out.
Eyes: Waa-waa, Michael’s been talking smack on me since he turned 40 in April.
Retina: (interrupting) Shut up beautiful Caramel Eyes, he’s not talking bad about YOU, he’s talking bad about ME. You get complimented almost daily. It’s me he’s treating like crap, because he needs reading glasses.
Lips: I guess I should count myself among the lucky, Bette seems to like me. She keeps me hydrated and lets me in on all the gossip. And best of all, she ditched her boyfriend with the constant stubble—I hated that lumberjack.
Hands: Pretty good day. I was cold a lot—couldn’t seem to shake the chill, but all in all I had a good day.
Liver: Hey guys, I can only stay a minute; I’ll be working overtime tonight. Maddie went to happy hour and got into some tequila, so I’ve got my work cut out for me.
Sphincter: Dani just doesn’t get it. She was taking a Buzzfeed quiz today and it asked what body part was her favorite and she said her lips. Guys! She said her lips! She never gave me a second thought—I wasn’t even in the running! That’s a girl who just doesn’t understand basic biology. You wait, one day, when I’m in a bad mood, I’m gonna show her once and for all why answering anything other than sphincter is a bad, bad move.
Heart, Lungs, Large Intestine: Chill out Sphinc, we’re way ahead of ya. You are truly important, but we’re vital and Chris has never once talked about us like he talks about his pecks and calves. You just have to get over it.

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Fanny packs. The one and only thing wrong with fanny packs is their name. It saddens me that these poor, handy bags had their life cut short because of a detrimental naming mistake. I feel just as badly for me as I do for them. Imagine if that convenient delight had a cool name like “hip sling.” They’d still be enjoying the limelight, and we’d still be enjoying a life with both arms and hands.

I don’t know a single girl who doesn’t wish it was acceptable and cool at certain times to wear a hip sling—Disney, the zoo, a movie, etc. I want to find the person who said, “fanny pack!” and explain what they’ve done to us. I simply must know how the word “fanny” ever even came up in the first place. Even “waist wallet” is better than fanny pack, and waist wallet is super bad. Crossbodies and messenger bags are terrific, because they keep you hands-free—it’s as good as we can hope for thanks to the fanny debacle—but they start making one side of your body hurt after a while, because they’re not balanced. Poor hip sling. Poor me. Curse you fanny pack namer!

As worked up as I am, I need to move on. I’ve got appliances to brag on and a tumbler of water that needs ice to feel sassy.

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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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Marge And In Charge

*some names have been changed to protect the guilty*

Let’s just get this out of the way. Marge is not a nice person. I’m sure she has her reasons, but I’m no longer content with her “moody” label—as that would indicate fluctuations.

Almost every year, we head up to the Pacific Northwest to spend a week in a family cabin on a beautiful lake. Our time is spent in one of three ways:

  • lounging on the dock (reading, talking, daydreaming)
  • riding in the boat (exploring, lounging, hydrating)
  • eating

Depending on the time of day, we either troll languidly, able to talk and enjoy the vast blue skies, or we zip from bay to bay, eagerly patronizing their quaint establishments.

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Each bay we visit has its own vibe, and we love stopping for bites and brews. When we’re approaching a marina, the three of us not driving, start gathering the buoys and bungee cords, while our expert captain parallel parks along the dock.

Side Note: He parallel parks his boat better than most of us park our cars. It’s both impressive and secretly defeating.

The rest of us take our jobs very seriously, hoping to earn our keep while he plays the role of skilled chauffeur. We hold our buoys and stand by, ready to secure the boat (as soon as we figure out on which side he’ll be needing our assistance). Sometimes gleaning this information in a timely manner is half the battle. You may wonder why we don’t just ask, but I think we feel like this inquiry paints us as inept … and therefore disposable. It’s possible I’m over-thinking it.

Once we get parked and anchored, we start our adventure. It’s an amazingly simple and wonderful way to spend seven days.

There is a particular bay we like to visit, but with some measure of reluctance. We really like the bar and grill we go to, but the owner—Marge—scares the living daylights out of us. She’s rarely nice. And even when she’s relatively nice (my gosh I use “nice” loosely here), it’s still a very slippery slope. One eccentric request or high maintenance substitution … and it’s over.

You are dead to her.

We don’t really talk about it as we secure the boat, but we’re all thinking the same thing: Don’t piss off Marge. We know we’re only as strong as our weakest link—so while three of us might be expertly toeing the fine Marge line, the slightest misstep by the fourth can doom the team. We know we’re in it together, so we allow our body language to encourage or discourage behavior. For instance, if my attempts to appear confidently upbeat start to tip toward over-kill, I’ll get a “let’s tone it down a notch” look from someone.

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What made this particular recent visit so precarious was that we’d been on the boat most of the afternoon—sipping on cold ones under the lake’s full sun. We were extremely thirsty. This meant one thing—we needed water with our beverage order. Let me explain something. This is a lake bar and grill. The food and drinks are great, but it’s not exactly a place where you ask for an addendum to your order.

The person who asks for gluten-free bread is the person who gets backhanded to the next bay laughed out the door. Asking for dressing on the side would go over about as well as asking for free range, grass fed chicken at KFC.

So we knew we were on shaky ground with our need for water. Before she made her way over to greet us (“greet” hahahahaha), I asked the others without moving my lips, “What will we do for water? I really need some water.” Fred looked at me so quickly and with such fright that I was struck silent—which I’m sure was his intent.

In an urgent but hushed tone he said, “We might just need to run next door and get water from the store.”

This is not something I can make up. But what’s more shocking is the fact that I felt it was a sensible solution.

We chatted Marge up the best we could, trying to be neither too cheerful nor too chill. She seemed busy but not overly cranky. Score! This false sense of comfort is probably what led Jocelyn to deem it acceptable to bypass Marge and go directly to the bartender for four waters.

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We watched in horror as she weaved around crowded tables and approached the bar with our absurd request. My eyes darted around like crazy looking for Marge and I hoped she was too occupied with customers to notice the rogue stunt. Just when I thought we were home free, they brushed shoulders as Jocelyn two-fisted four glasses of water.

She set them before us and whispered worriedly, “Marge caught me.”

We told her to keep her chin up and decided we’d just own up to our thirst and plow through; although, each of us was painfully aware of the possible repercussions. We contemplated a game plan, which included but was not limited to, going ahead and ordering meals—so we didn’t seem cheap—even though we’d just eaten a full lunch elsewhere and weren’t remotely hungry.

I said, “I understand the ramifications of Jocelyn’s our actions, but none of us are hungry, so is it worse to just have this beer—come what may—or order four meals which will be half-eaten at best? Either way, I think we’re toast.”

While trying to make a collective decision, we were jarred by a booming, “Who in here is driving a white and blue Seacraft named ‘Bad Kitty’?”

A wide-eyed guy at a table of four, silently claimed the boat by sticking up his index finger.

“You need to move it. You’re parked in a slot this gentleman pays good money for and you need to move it NOW.”

The guy, slightly irked but mostly terrified, replied, “I thought I parked where I was supposed to—it said ‘Courtesy Parking’ for your restaurant. How would I know? What can I do?”

“You can stop talking is what you can do. You can move your boat is what you can do. You’re parked in a paid spot.”

As he opened his mouth to continue his defense, his girlfriend jumped up and grabbed his arm, smiling at Marge and saying they’d move it. This chick was a regular. No ifs, ands or buts.

Marge watched them walk out with a victoriously smug look on her face that said, “I’m a bad ass broad—not to be messed with, talked back to, or crossed.”

Full Disclosure: As I saw how gratified she was by her dominance, I swear I thought she might turn to the group and shout, “FEAR DOES NOT EXIST IN THIS DOJO, DOES IT?!” And we’d all roar, “NO SENSEI!”

The whole place was tense—some in mid-bite—momentarily unsure of how to proceed. Marge watched the two of them walk all the way out, then sucked her teeth and turned—with still boiling self-righteousness—and walked straight to our table. She looked at all four of us, blew out a deep breath and then suddenly and without warning … full-on CRAZY-SMILED. “Now! What can I get you guys?”

“I want a cheesburger!” I blurted out with all the breath I’d been holding for the last minute.

Everyone nodded wildly and pointed at themselves to say “Me too!” and Marge, still on a bully high, tipped her head and winked confidently, “I can do that!”

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We felt like we’d dodged a major bullet and escaped the visit relatively unscathed. Well, thanks to Jocelyn’s mom, who, as we were leaving awhile later, looked back and noticed I hadn’t finished my water. She grabbed my elbow and hissed into my ear, “You didn’t finish your water! Go finish your water! Are you trying to get us banned?!”

I pretty much pole vaulted back to our table and drained it like a boss—as if I had one square inch of room in my stomach for ANYTHING.

Side Note: On my way back out, I wanted to quietly lean in and comfort the group who got scolded, but I was terrified Marge would see me sympathizing with the outlaws. The consequences would be felt for years, so I wisely aborted the mission.

I believe Marge’s antics were in direct correlation to what happened next. After we got back on the lake and laughed at yet another typical visit to said bar and grill, we decided to take a leisurely ride over to the marina restaurant near our cabin for one of their spicy bloody marys. A few minutes from the dock, we gathered up the buoys and bungees and stood by, waiting on Fred to slide us into a double slot where another boat was already anchored.

We’d figured out the correct side to station ourselves as he began making the turn into the slip—something he’s done hundreds of times—but for some reason (and this is where I think Marge comes in), he misjudged the turn, forcing me to leap to the other side and push off the moored boat to keep us from hitting it. I was laid out like an NFL receiver as I turned my head to see what Fred was doing. What I saw was that he’d fallen out of his captain’s chair and was clinging to the steering wheel.

I was unprepared for this visual.

Meanwhile, Jocelyn and her mom frantically grabbed and pulled here and there like we were on a blasted sailboat, when all we were trying to do was park in a spacious slot. Without words, we righted the ship and got everything secured. We climbed out of the boat and onto the dock, straightening our clothes and attempting to brush off what just happened.

As we began walking I said, “Well. That wasn’t our best game.”

We died out laughing and started talking over one another, “What happened?!” “Why’d you fall?!” “Why’d the boat drift so fast?!” “Yeah, why DID you fall?!” “What just HAPPENED?!”

Then we were faced with what we all already knew to be true. Lots of people had seen our landing. Marina restaurants have plenty of outside seating which, unfortunately, yielded us a decent crowd to witness our disaster.

I put my arm around Fred and said, “All those good games … all those wins … year after year, yet your one bad game makes it on the highlight reel … for all to see. Tough blow.”

We usually feel pretty good about our arrival and ability to smoothly disembark—skilled captain, capable crew—but not this time. We just passed the onlookers the only way we knew how … with knowing, regretful nods.

Did Marge disrupt our A-game? I think so. She shifted our focus from carefree living to second-guessing “courtesy parking.” We still don’t know how Fred fell out of his chair. We may never know. But I believe that too-freely swiveling chair had Mean Ol’ Marge’s name written all over it.

Oh, don’t get me wrong—we’ll be back at her place in a year. We’ll just proactively troubleshoot by arriving with an empty stomach—and our own water.

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