READING BETWEEN THE PINES

If life's about the journey, does it matter how many bathroom breaks you take along the way?

Sometimes, on a day that’s not so lucky, life can punch you right in the face. Hard. And change your trajectory forever. One minute you’re standing tall, smiling at the sun and soaking in its warm flood of love, and the next you’re flat on your back, face in the dirt in stunned silence, wondering what happened and why everything suddenly went dark.

Storm Clouds

If life’s dealt you a difficult blow, you know these moments are as real and raw as it gets. They burn with an indescribable intensity, and the pain lingers for a collection of minutes and days that are often too deep and long to count.

Many times, bad things happen not because we deserve them, but due in large part to timing. A change in plans. A slight move right when you should have gone left. A split-second decision as subtle as a shift in the wind and as consequential as a seismic tremor.

Earthquake

And you find yourself asking a question that’s almost always answered with silence – Why?

Why me? Why now? Why not someone else? Why anyone?

Once you work through the initial shock of change, with the weary understanding that you can’t throw your gears in reverse and turn back time, what prevails, through minutes of clarity and moments of pain, is a tiny concept with enormous possibility. Hope.

Even if it can’t answer answers life’s clueless riddles, hope opens the door wide to the anticipation of better days ahead. It’s the antidote to fear and walks side-by-side with love. Hope feels good. It’s a tangible belief that you can hold onto. It has teeth. And it’s permeable. Malleable. Exponential. The more people who feel hope? The more it expands and grows. It floats and it flies, and when enough people grab hold? It soars.

sunrise

I don’t believe bad things happen for a reason. They just happen. And when they do? Hope can light a path through a winding tunnel that seems like it has no end. Hope doesn’t solve problems, but given time and space, it can provide enough oxygen for that little flicker of light to start a fire, igniting a flame that helps create change. Change for the better, not for the worse. At least, I hope so.

In addition to the multitude of things that inspire me to write, I’m a contributor to our local community paper, The Castle Pines Connection. Come check out the neighborhood and people who make it meaningful at www.castlepinesconnection.com.

 

 

Last week, our family spent spring break in super-sunny Mexico, and I thought I’d impart my hard-earned wisdom with the hope that anyone reading this might be a little more savvy than we were on our first family trip south of the border. Because sharing is caring, even when it includes bodily fluids you won’t ever see on The Great British Bake Off, here are some tried and true tips to make sure you maximize your time on the beach and minimize your visits to the ER.

Great Brit Bake Off Poop 2

Episode 132: The Great British Bake Off team goes to Mexico!

Don’t spend more on tequila than you do on hand sanitizer.

The drinking age in Mexico isn’t 18. It’s actually “fresh out of the womb” so when you see a toddler stumbling around in a fake pair of Ray-Bans drinking a triple shot Mai Tai?  Look the other way.

Raybans2

Nothing says “cool kid” like mirrored Aviators and a cocktail.

The only Spanish words you really need to know are happy hour, ransom, and Pepto Bismol. 

Don’t let your kids out of your sight without LoJack-like tracking devices programmed to detect earthquakes, a spike in area crime activity, and excessive use of resort charging privileges at the swim-up bar.

Kids with Cocktails

Taking “Kids Club” to a whole new level!

Contracting norovirous is a great way to shed those extra vacation pounds overnight, so if you’re looking for a shortcut to weight loss via spending 24 straight hours over the toilet? Head to a small town and dive right into the raw sewage floating in the ocean. It’s like swimming with dolphins except all the marine life is dead and there aren’t any happy feels when you emerge from the water. Just a gritty film on your lips.

Raw Sewage Lips

Only Kylie Jenner can make raw sewage lips a fashion statement.

Re the aforementioned norovirous, you’ll be back to your pre-vacation shape in no time even if you lose a little tooth enamel along the way.

Pay attention to tripadvisor, especially when it comes to food sanitation, cartels, and the best cities to contract flesh-eating diseases.

Street vendors are a great resource for sombreros, fake silver jewelry, and those weird Lucha Libre wrestling masks that are super-popular with kidnappers. Street vendors aren’t really the place to turn for raw food unless you know the aforementioned Spanish word for Pepto Bismol and if so? Go for it. 

mexican-lucha-libre-masks

If you’re walking down a dark alley late at night and see someone wearing one of these? Run.

Timeshare presentations are an awesome way to waste a sunny day indoors, so when the salespeople say “it’ll just take an hour” offer them some tasty oysters from yesterday’s norovirus excursion and you’ll be out of there in 10 minutes flat.

Always use the buddy system.

So that’s it. Mexico, with its limitless fun, gorgeous beaches, and captivating culture is a wonderful place to spend time with family and friends. Just make sure you coat your stomach with a gallon of Drano and enough activated charcoal to flush anything that goes into your body right back out. Happy Travels!

On a recent Monday morning, I impatiently stood at the front of a long post office line. With an internal clock calculating the minutes until I was late for my next stop, I wasn’t exactly the picture of poise and grace. As the woman behind the counter labored to keep up with the demand of a day better known as “the absolute last chance to deliver a Squatty Potty for my great aunt’s birthday without selling a kidney to get it there on time,” I huffed and fumed.

Squatty Potty

That’s not my great aunt, but isn’t she cute?

I’d like to say I was late to a high-stakes hostage negotiation where, without me, lives would be lost. But I was actually on my way to a tennis match. I was behind not so much due to this woman’s job execution, but because I went down the rabbit hole better known as “teen perp alert” on nextdoor.com when I should have been out the door. Nothing strikes fear in a mother of teen drivers like a video of some kid drag racing down the middle of Castle Pines Parkway that’s coincidentally shared with 1,400 communities and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. It’s mesmerizing, and luckily it was your kid, not mine.

Boy dragracing

This kid got 2,352 comments on nextdoor.com. OK not really, but should we launch a GoFundMe campaign to buy him a hood?

At the post office, the woman behind the counter struggled. I was unsympathetic. She was in a tough position, and as people left the line in frustration, I found myself in a place of sanctimonious strength. I let out my seasoned mom sigh. She rolled her eyes. I whispered, loudly, that her job wasn’t that hard. She accused me of being the reason why she couldn’t keep up. We were in a standoff, and as my turn at the counter finally came, I stared at her from a chasm of pronounced silence, intent on being the self-proclaimed winner.

Which I was. And it felt great. Until about 3.2 minutes later as I sat in my car and wondered why? Why did I need to win a battle with no reward? Why didn’t I take my ego out of the equation and acknowledge hers? Why couldn’t I have just been nice? Because that’s what I am most of the time. Nice.

I’d like to take my actions back, but I can’t. I’ve gone to the post office twice to apologize for my behavior, but she’s gone. And now, without the ability to say I’m sorry, I’m left with a loss that ultimately bears the fruit of one of the loneliest feelings in the world. Regret. It hurts, but regret is almost always the aftermath of a self-inflicted wound. Life doesn’t offer a do over card, no matter how much you want to pull it from your deck.

Get out of jail

I keep trying to use this to get out of speeding tickets – so far no luck.

There’s no doubt that I’ll end up at the post office again, in line with not enough time and too much to do. And when that happens? I’m gonna keep my mouth shut, bury my face in my phone, and go right back down that rabbit hole.

***

In addition to the multitude of things that inspire me to write, I’m a contributor to our local community paper, The Castle Pines Connection. Come check out the neighborhood and people who make it meaningful at www.castlepineschamber.com.

It doesn’t matter what Elon Musk, the Ghost of Steve Jobs, or the five Chinese conglomerates that control the entire U.S. economy say. The self-driving car isn’t going to happen, ever, due to one glaring disruptor.

Costco’s parking lot on a Sunday afternoon.

Parking

Look familiar?

If you’ve been to Costco on the weekend you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a fight or flight situation, and take it from me, that four foot long churro you’ve been craving since you popped last night’s Ambien isn’t worth risking your life. Instant gratification is great until you’re sideswiped by an octogenarian trying to text in his Lipitor prescription while simultaneously parking a 1988 land yacht in a space half its size.

Old man car

Perfect fit!

Flatbeds loaded with enough bacon, booze, and 2-ply toilet paper to fill a Ford Focus careen from lane to lane. Customers who’ve lost their minds because Johnsonville ran out of free beer brat samples sprint haphazardly through the crosswalk. Drivers, panicked at the thought of paying $0.02 more per gallon down the street will cut you with a shiv to be 14th in line for gas. The Costco parking lot simply isn’t safe for a seasoned driver, much less a driverless car.

Costco Gas

Sunday Funday!

It would take an engineering feat from some combination of George Jetson, Andy Warhol, and Kanye West’s therapist to unscramble the traffic patterns at Costco because nothing makes sense. Not. One. Thing. So how does a computer operated vehicle perform the kind of split-second, logic-defying, three-point turn driving decisions that real people can’t seem to figure out? The answer’s simple. It doesn’t.

Jetson

I’m riding with these guys.

The greatest engineers in the world can build an autonomous car, Bill Gates can fund it, and the Costco parking lot will singlehandedly destroy it. Game over before it begins.

So if you’re like me, cruising down the highway at a cool 90 mph blasting Adam Ant’s Goody Two Shoes while switching lanes every 10 seconds to find the fastest one? You’re in luck and you’re still in control. Thanks to Costco, self-driving cars are already a thing of the past before the first one even rolls off the lot.

Old lady driver

Power to the people!

***

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might like Ode to an 80s Tan.

Dear Gemini Girl in a Random World (Non) Readers,

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Why? Because I’ve been busy with more important things like child rearing, work, and trying to figure out why so many women keep falling off the back of cruise ships.

Cruise Ship

Great footwear choice for an imminent Death Plunge! http://www.cruisehive.com

But I’m now transitioning to another life phase, and with it comes a new blog, new branding, same voice (well, same multiple Geminiesque voices) – all here to expound on life’s intricacies for anyone who’ll take a moment to listen.

Gemini

Gemini Girls Still Rule

I’ve found that as the kids get older and increasingly less interested in what I have to say, I feel a growing need to talk. Due to my blossoming “irrelevant” status in their lives, I’m turning back to a wider, and hopefully more friendly, audience. Even though nothing says “love you mom” quite like being blocked on Insta, Snapchat, and every communication channel supported by Verizon, I’m not deterred. In fact, I’m even more determined to speak my truths, and as much as my offspring would like to think otherwise, I’m still the boss. Of them. I can change our Netflix password any time I want, and that, along with random car searches and putting a lock on the liquor cabinet, is the true definition of power.

kids

Even though I’m nowhere to be found in this selfie I’m always around. Like an omnipresent Fairy God Mother capable of transferring all their hard earned cash into my “Vegas or Bust” account with the tap of my wand.

Reading Between the Pines is all about laughter, reflection, transitions, and decisions, because sometimes taking life’s shortcut when you hit a fork in the road is the quickest way to get where you want to go. Other times, you encounter a detour, and find that the longer, winding path through foreign territory puts you in a place that you might not want to visit, but that you’ve needed to end up all along.

I’m glad you’re still here and I hope you’ll settle in, fasten your seatbelt, and stick around for the ride. Whether we’re traveling down bucolic country roads or through the Taco Bell drive-thru at 1AM, I promise it’ll be a fun trip.

***

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might like Reading Between the Lines When Your Family Cares Enough to Send the Very Best and What Every Girl Needs to Know About Skin Care and Shaving The Fuzz Off Her Face.

 

 

In 1992 I was twenty-two years old and living in Chicago. The market was tough for recent college grads, and after a part-time series of temp assignments and waiting tables, I took a job selling industrial products on the south side of town. It wasn’t a career move by any stretch, but it paid the bills and afforded me independence and the opportunity to spread my wings beyond the Kentucky state lines that bordered my childhood.

Anyone who’s visited Chicago in the winter knows it’s cold…complete with a biting, frigid wind that can cut you in half and come back for more before you’ve barely taken a step. It was on this kind of night, having worked late and in a hurry, that I jumped into my car, popped the clutch toward I-94, cranked up some music, and began the long drive home.

Just as the chorus crescendoed, my car started to sputter, gurgle, and lurch. In my haste to pick the right mini-skirt, tights, and oversized sweater that morning I’d forgotten one small detail. To look at my gas gauge. Before completely running out of fuel, I was able to ease my car onto an exit ramp, right in front of this:

Long before rap culture decriminalized the word, Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes were the true definition of “ghetto”. Worse than anything you’ll ever see on The Wire, these gang-riddled, drug-controlled, high-rises were the living, breathing embodiment of a failed social experiment better known as Hell.

There were no mass-market cell phones back then, so in order to get help, I had to walk right into the middle of the most brutal section of the housing development, better known as “The Hole” in my mini-skirt, tights, and not-feeling-so oversized sweater. The streets were busy that night, and for the first time in my life I was clearly part of the minority, the only white girl in a sea of black faces, hardened to the harsh elements, who, like me, were just trying to get where they needed to go. I hurried, one uncertain step after the other, to the first high-rise I came across. Surrounded by darkness, there was a security guard in a low-lit office at the base of the building. He either didn’t see me or didn’t want to be bothered, so I balled my hand into a fist and banged on the bullet-proof window.

“Please, Sir,” I yelled into the howling wind,”Can I use your phone?”

“Ain’t no phone here baby girl,” he answered. “You best keep moving and find somewhere else to be.”

I hesitated, somewhat stunned by his response, and stared through the window, willing him to change his mind. When he crossed his arms and turned to watch his security monitors instead of meeting my gaze, I knew I was truly alone.

With no other choice, I walked back into the dark night. The snow was falling with a hard sense of urgency, and the swirl of faces around me faded in an out, like ghosts. I stumbled and caught myself, the slick pavement beneath me now covered in a sheen of icy snow. Not knowing what else to do I stopped. I looked left, then right, only to see replica after replica of a building that could offer me no shelter. In that moment, surrounded by nameless strangers in a dangerous place no one wanted to own, I lost something critical to finding my way. Hope.

And then something miraculous happened.

“I know you,” I heard from behind as someone caught my elbow in their grasp.

“Excuse me?” I replied. I turned, startled to see an old lady about my grandmother’s age who seemed to have come out of nowhere, bundled up in her winter clothes.

“I saw you from the bus when your car broke down,” she said. “Follow me. I know where to go.”

We didn’t talk. The temperature had plunged to a degree that made my nostrils cringe and shocked my lungs with every breath. But slowly, step after step she led, and slowly, step after step I followed.

After weaving around multiple, desolate buildings, we moved deeper into the projects and came upon a county hospital. I have no idea how we got there and couldn’t replicate the path. Again, there were people everywhere, but I had the acute understanding that no one wanted to offer a hand. Except her.

She led me to a bank of telephones and gave me a quarter.

“Call 9-1-1” she instructed, “and tell them where to find your car.” I did exactly as she said. When I turned to thank her for the quarter, for taking time to help me, and for somehow seeing me when I felt invisable, she was gone. She had literally disappeared into thin air. Standing in her place was a police officer, who again took me by the elbow and said three simple words: “You’re going home.”

Sometimes I sit on the right side of God, and other days on the left. On that night, however, I was fully in his sight. I know, with a whole heart and eyes wide open that an angel was sent to me in the moment when I needed her most. I don’t know why or how, but something much bigger than me was at play, and it was an experience so profound that I have no choice but to believe.

I believe in the greater good of humanity. I believe that no matter the circumstance, everyone on this earth has the power within to rise up. I believe in equality. I believe in the kindness of strangers. I believe that tomorrow holds the possibility of being better than today. I believe life is worth living. I believe in me. I believe in you. The Giving Challenge for today is to Believe.

When I was young, I was the queen of the white lie. My intentions were good, but somehow the result often ended up being…bad. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more comfortable in my skin and with my beliefs. With age comes experience, confidence, and a certain nonchalance known as having better things to do than worry about what everyone else thinks. Wisdom is the benefit to those wrinkles around your eyes that no cream or bovine cellular fluid injection can erase, an advantage that can only by earned over time.

With that thought in mind, today’s Act of Kindness is to Spill a Secret. To get things started, here’s one of mine:

In 2012, I believed I had a real chance to appear on The X Factor. Finally, there was a show willing to highlight the talent of a not so young but not too oldish aspiring songstress. Like me. For a full five days in a row, I pulled out my son’s amp and microphone and sang The Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces over and over and over in the playroom while the kids were at school. Then one day, my husband came home from work early, secretly recorded what was to be my audition tape, and tweeted it to the world. He didn’t get any retweets, so I locked myself in our bedroom for two days and cried. O.K., that was a lie. Not a white one. A real one. The truth is I realized that years and years of no vocal training except singing in the shower wasn’t gonna cut it, plus the weird synthesizer effects I was using to make my voice sound like Natalie Maines gave me a headache and made my dog whine. So I gave up and started serial watching Doomsday Preppers instead.

My destiny.

When you share your secrets you make yourself more vulnerable, transparent, real, and best of all, give all your friends something to talk about at the Girl’s Night Out they somehow forgot to tell you about. Give it a try. Just lay it out on Facebook that you’ve got a Chucky doll collection, because anyone who blocks you after the fact wasn’t a true friend anyway. You won’t regret it unless you’ve committed a felony, in which case, you might want to skip today’s act of kindness and catch up on back episodes of Snapped.

That’s not my house.

 I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days(ish), to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

Everyone wants to be heard. It’s a natural, inherent desire that often has the power to lift you up, and can sometimes bring you down. The up? Kind words, personal validation, anything that lightens your load. The down? Meaningless conflict, petty arguments, self-righteous posturing that takes the air out of a room and returns…nothing.

The Giving Challenge for today is to Forgive and Forget, and the scope of that forgiveness is entirely up to you. Maybe it’s as simple as ignoring a Facebook comment that only ignites one side of a debate. Maybe it’s more difficult, like excusing a longstanding grudge that, when you look at it from the inside out, grew stale long before its expiration date.

Whatever you choose, there’s one thing, based on personal experience, that I know for sure. The greatest beneficiary of your gift will be you.

I saw this on the backside of a bathroom stall at my son's basketball tournament yesterday. Proof positive that inspiration can come from really strange places.

I saw this written on the backside of a bathroom stall at my son’s basketball tournament yesterday. Proof positive that inspiration can come from really strange places.

*If you’re wondering what happened to days nineteen and twenty? So am I.

 I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days(ish), to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

The Giving Challenge for today is to Make Someone Laugh. If you’re not feeling particularly funny, just tickle someone, preferably not a cop, priest, or your parole officer.

xmas

One from the archives. Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

 I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

Birmingham, AL: $481.00. Charleston, WV: $1,000.00. Moraine, OH: $15,000.00. Bellingham, MA: $20,000.00.

All the denominations listed above are payments that Secret Santas across the country have donated towards items, often toys and children’s clothes, held on layaway. I love the anonymity of these acts because secretly extending a helping hand to another person is the purist form of giving. The reward is internal, not external, yet the act is powerful, emanating from the most complicated organ any of us possess: the heart.

With that in mind, The Giving Challenge for today is to Do Something Anonymous. Even though the generous folks in the scenarios above parted with cash for their anonymous acts of kindness, you don’t have to spend money to secretly do something nice. If you’re having trouble figuring out what that might be, use the photos below for inspiration. It took me about 60 seconds to roam the house this morning for examples of how a child (let’s say mine), could anonymously make someone’s day (again, let’s use me as an example), by doing something kind in secret (one more time, for me).

 

IMG_5416

Thanks to mysterious shadowing created by the iconic IKEA Maskros pendant light, you can’t even tell that my middle child’s bed is never made. Like ever. Not in the history of never is it ever made. What a gift from the heavens, if, just once, I could walk into her room and not see, you know…this.

 

IMG_5419_2

One of my top Secret Santa wishes is that my kids will someday hang up the clean clothes that I wash, dry, fold, and organize into neat piles to be put away. This is a picture of those very treasured possessions, thrown in a heap onto a dresser by my youngest daughter. While no animals were harmed in the making of these photos, our dog is seriously scared shitless to go into Essa’s room.

 

We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day when we f****** hang up our towels.

We are the world.
We are the children.
We are the ones who make a brighter day when we f****** hang up our towels.

 

We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day when we f******* close our dresser drawers.

Ahhh, the infamous “I’ve got way too much homework to close my drawers” excuse. Full discloser: nothing in this picture was photoshopped to make my kids’ crap look skinnier than it is.

 

No words for this one.

No words for this one. Not one.

So there you have it. Several real-world examples of how to anonymously make someone’s day. With those thoughts in mind, go out and do something secretly fantastic, and stop by my house if you need some inspiration.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

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