Sunday, December 14, 2014

Stranger Things Happened in Milwaukee

Yowza, did we get happy last Saturday night on the Partridge Family Party Bus Stranger Party adventure in Milwaukee! What a wild and wonderful evening!

Our initial cozy group of ten met at a fireside table at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery. ("Best Place" is the actual and very apt name.) After introductions and small talk, we hopped onboard the bus—with our traveler cups—to set sail that day for a six-hour tour. A six-hour tour… (Are you singing along? Because we sure did, all night.)

By our second venue, we were feeling so comfortable together and enjoying ourselves so much that our server at Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, Milwaukee’s “oldest cocktail lounge,” warned us twice to keep the noise down. It was a lovely place with terrific PERSONALLY TAILORED cocktails, but we moved on to where our loud enthusiasm might be better suited.

Over the next several hours, we cruised downtown Milwaukee, visiting a total of eight bars and pubs. They varied from Victor's on Van Buren, a hot local dance club that my 23-year-old son cringed about going to with his mother (oh, I danced, just to embarrass him further), to Who's On Third, Milwaukee's Pub (the BEST cheese curds in Milwaukee), to the Old German Beer Hall, where we sang the E.I.O Polka and took shots from a wooden shot-ski. (The last time I did a shot in a bar? Probably in the eighties. The next time? Don’t hold your breath.)

Midway through the night, our Partridge Bus morphed into the Pied Piper Bus. Our passengers more than doubled as we made adventurous new friends along the way, including a middle-aged couple, their power-lifting pro daughter, and their delightful companions. And, a special shout-out to Taylor, who was a hard-core trooper.

In between our stops, we sang, did classic TV trivia, laughed nonstop, and annoyed the hell out of our somewhat patient bus driver.

It proved to be one of the craziest and most entertaining nights I’ve ever had, accentuated by the company of a handful of close friends plus many new and random ones.

Ten other outings remain on the Stranger Party Tour over the next year, including our Jan. 24 events in Chicago, to cave-spelunking in Austin, to a scavenger hunt in Boston. The bar’s been set pretty high by the first two outings in Orlando and Milwaukee. Yet I have a feeling we’ll find a way to match that fun.

When’s the last time you did something for the first time? Those of us who joined in on the Partridge Family Bus escapade in Milwaukee can say: Just last weekend. 

Read about other upcoming events on The 52/52 Project's National Stranger Party Tour here:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Take a Risk, Change Your Life, Meet New Friends, and Make Memories

Are you considering, but still on the fence, about joining in one of The 52/52 Project's Stranger Party National Tour outings? Here are a couple heartwarming responses I've gotten:

"I wanted to express to each of you how grateful I am for the time we spent together during the Stranger Parties! You guys have rocked my world and raised me out of a depression period that I could not shake! I am reignited and ready to take on the world (well, maybe not the whole world because that would be insane). So, thank you! Love you all and hope we can get together again!"

And this:

"Sherry has taught me a lot about risk-taking, I'm not very outgoing, little old shy me:). I didn't know what to expect. But it was a life changer. I had so much fun! I have to thank all of you for a trip I'll always remember!"

Wow. Can't wait to meet more new friends and for us to make new memories together! For details on joining one of our upcoming Stranger Party excursions, see the Events page:

Milwaukee is only a week away--sign up now!

Monday, November 24, 2014

From Strangers to Friends: Coming Your Way

I'm excited to provide an updated list of locations for the 52/52 Stranger Party Tour! Many dates are still pending--so check back often here and at The 52/52 Project's Facebook page. Hoping to meet up for fun, adventure, and the always amazing experience of meeting new friends:

December 6—7:30 p.m. in Milwaukee: Come on, Get Happy, as we rent the Partridge Family Party Bus for a pub crawl through downtown Milwacky, Wisconsin! Along the way we’ll test our worthless know-how of classic TV trivia and theme songs: Click on the Events tab to "join" and to see how to register through PayPal. Plenty of seats still available. Only $25 to reserve your seat for a fun night! REGISTER NOW!

January (date TBD)—Chicago: Because, seriously, who wouldn't want to ice-skate in the Windy City in January? The good news is we'll be skating indoors. The bad news is we'll be skating on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building. Toughen up, ye who are afraid of heights! We'll cap it off with a fun dinner and drinks.

February 21—Toledo: We'll be TRAPPED in Toledo. We'll need to use our wits to get out, before time runs out. A great dinner with all our new friends will follow.

March 28—Austin: Now’s your chance to finally get over those pesky personal fears like acrophobia, claustrophobia, nyctophobia, and entomophobia, as we master the messy and somewhat frightening art of cave spelunking. Evening festivities still pending, per the know-how of our co-hosts, Insane-in-the-Mom-Brain, RachRiot, and The Kick Ass Social Club.

April (date TBD)—Boston: Nothing here but old-fashioned fun in a slightly crazy new way, while we take part in a group scavenger hunt. The only caveat: If you’re on my team, be prepared to meet a brutal taskmaster. We’ll win this thing, or else:

May 23-24—Denver area: Join me for a night of séances and ghost-hunting at the haunted Stanley Hotel, where Stephen King penned The Shining. The next day, any survivors (or those who choose to forgo the ghost-hunt) will grasp hands and grimace our way across the Royal Gorge Bridge, the highest freaking bridge in the U.S.:

June (date TBD)—Cincinnati/Newport: If you’ve had a lifelong burning desire to roll around inside a human-sized hamster ball, here is your opportunity. Yes, apparently this is a thing. Barf bags not included. After, we'll fight off any lingering nausea with dinner at Newport on the Levee:

July (date TBD)—Toledo: Join us on the mighty Maumee River while we compete in the Partners in Education’s famously fun Dragon Boat Festival. Be prepared to show off your teamwork skills and your muscles. Word is, you’ll need to make up for a huge slacker in the boat. Celebratory dinner and drinks following, of course.

August 13-16—Southern Ohio: We’ll join the fabulous Brittany Gibbons and a cabinful of friends we haven’t yet met, at Camp Throwback. Relive your best childhood experiences with traditional camp activities like archery or arts and crafts—updated for adult fun by drinking margaritas around the fire pit:

September 19—Southern Indiana: No obstacle too great for those of us taking part in The Stranger Party Tour of 2015! Unless we’re competing in a Rugged Maniac Race. And then, all bets are off: Those who aren't too exhausted can join us for some evening camaraderie.

October—Location, date, and activities still pending

Why are we holding a National Stranger Party Tour? Out of The 52/52 Project's personal new challenges last year, being part of a "Stranger Party" proved to be the most popular--and the experience readers said they would most enjoy. Trying something new and semi-crazy with a diverse group of people of all ages and backgrounds will lead to the most intriguing conversations you've ever had--and lots of laughs. Read more about our very first stranger party here:, and see The 52/52 Project's Facebook page for photos from our inaugural Orlando stop in November. 

More details and registration information coming. Check back here and at the The 52/52 Project "Events" tab. And share with your friends!

Hoping to meet up with many of you on the 52/52 Stranger Party Tour!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Harvesting Your Talents at the Winter Wheat Festival

Just a reminder that I'll be presenting a session at the 14th annual Winter Wheat Festival, a celebration of writers and readers, to be held Nov. 13-15 at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Produced by the literary journal "Mid-American Review," the festival includes appearances by authors Sharona Muir, Anne Valente, Marcus Wicker, and Allison Joseph. In addition, participants can attend their choices of 56 diverse and interesting workshops.

On Saturday morning, Nov. 15, I will lead a session on "Enhancing Your Narrative Non-Fiction through an Anti-Bucket List." I'll be talking about The 52/52 Project and also discussing how attendees can change their lives through their own experiences outside their comfort zones.

Winter Wheat is a terrific (and very affordable) event for writers seeking to sharpen their skills, as well as aspiring writers looking for a great place to start. For more information about the festival's events and registration, click here:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Crashing with Class

It's not often I find myself the normal one in the crowd. Then again, this wasn't the kind of crowd I generally run with...

I knew, when "20/20" contacted me, that wedding-crashing was the topic of the segment. I can't say, however, that I was aware of the particular slant they had planned for most of the show. I bit off half my fingernails while watching the first 45 minutes.

I wish they had managed to capture the goal and the essence of The 52/52 Project, with a brief mention that wedding-crashing (with a conscience) was just one of 52 new challenges I checked off a list last year. Yet rather than proving to be a cautionary tale (it wouldn't have been my first time), I was relieved I appeared to be the moral of this story.

My national TV debut provided an unexpected and bizarre finish to my year of new adventures. I faced another huge challenge--talking in front of a camera for a national audience--with little time to plan or prepare. 

When you choose to put yourself out there, it's amazing what you can do.

Maybe that's the real moral to any story.

If you don't want to watch the whole segment, skip ahead to 4:55 in the video here.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Going out with a Bang--and a Crash

Thank you to everyone who tuned in to "20/20" last night, especially those who endured the preceding hour of miscreants and marauders, pondering--as I did--how exactly I might fit in.

As footage continued of serial criminals, psychopaths, and dancing hamsters, I slunk down into my seat and began questioning my judgment in advertising my appearance. Because this clearly would NOT end well.

My mother murmured something about regretting that she spent the last two days calling everyone she knew: including our dentist.

When the camera suddenly opened up on a shot of me at my laptop, my mother and friends shouted in unison. I guzzled half-a-beer and waited to see how my story would play out.

Admittedly, I was perplexed there was no mention of The 52/52 Project or how my wedding-crasher escapade fit into an entire year of new personal challenges. Within that context, I think my story's angle would have proven clearer and more interesting.

But that disappointment was far outweighed by the positive slant my story was given: especially considering how the interview might have been sliced and diced. Instead of fitting me in with the rest of the cast of characters, the producers chose to give me a slightly-less-crazy, nontraditional wedding-crasher status.

The clincher appeared that, even though I'd walked in off the street to mingle with the crowd and enjoy a couple drinks, I'd brought the bride and groom a gift. (Well, of course I did. I do have a FEW social skills.) And the news correspondent's final line about my segment provided me with full redemption: "If you're going to crash, crash with class."

One reader friend said I was "a rare voice of sanity amidst the criminal horde." Huh. "A rare voice of sanity." That was something I didn't often hear. I guess sometimes it pays to run with a bad crowd, even it's only on-screen.

My national TV debut proved to be an unexpected addition to my year of new and strange adventures. While it didn't play out exactly as anticipated, the strangest and most exciting experiences seldom do. As I learned early on in The 52/52 Project: Sometimes the best plan is no plan at all.

And, as one reader pointed out, the experience allowed me to finish out my 52nd year with a bang--or should we say--a crash.

Today is my birthday. I am 53.

Cheers to a new year of living life.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The One Where They Allowed Me On National TV

A still-shot from our shooting: looking far less terrified than I was.
Breaking news from The 52/52 Project: I will be featured tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 24, on the ABC show 20/20. 

Total craziness. And it started the very next morning after I posted a quote on my 52/52 Facebook page about fate--and making sure you opened the door when opportunity comes knocking. Ahem.

Quite the whirlwind experience. An editor from the show was researching a story on Monday about wedding-crashers, and she happened upon a story about my own 52/52 wedding-crashing experience, which had been published just a few days prior. Pure serendipity.

Long story short: They contacted me and we jumped massive hoops to make it happen. After being on again and off again for three days, we taped Wednesday night. 

So, I'm making my national TV debut this Friday, Oct. 24, at 10 p.m., on 20/20. And you guys thought it would probably be on "America's Most Wanted."

If you tune in, you may wish to make a drinking game of it: a drink for every time I mumble, "um," or adjust my bra strap. (Surely they'll edit all that out??) 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stranger Party Tour of 2015

I'm excited to provide a tentative list of locations and events for the next leg of The 52/52 Project journey: The Stranger Party Tour of 2015 (beginning in November 2014). A few locations are yet undetermined, and several dates are pending--so be sure to subscribe to this blog by email and follow my Facebook page at

Hoping to meet up with several of you for fun, adventure, and the always amazing experience of meeting new friends:

1) November 10 and 11—Orlando: Be sure to wear your elastic-waist pants as we eat and drink our way through every country around the world at Epcot. The next evening, we’ll burn off all those calories through nonstop laughter while playing Drag Queen Bingo:

2) December 6—Milwaukee: Come on, Get Happy, as we rent the Partridge Family party-bus for a pub crawl and sightseeing through Milwacky, Wisconsin! Along the way we’ll test our worthless knowledge with Silly Sitcom Trivia. Among the highlights is certain to be the requirement for each passenger to sing a TV show theme song at one of our stops. Just $25 to reserve your seat on the bus, with reservation information coming soon:

3) January—Pending

4) February—Pending

5) March (Date TBD)—Austin: Now’s your chance to finally get over those pesky personal fears like acrophobia, claustrophobia, nyctophobia, and entomophobia, as we master the messy art of cave spelunking:

6) April—Boston (Date TBD): Nothing here but old-fashioned fun in a slightly crazy new way, while we take part in an outdoor group scavenger hunt. The only caveat: If you’re on my team, be prepared to meet a brutal taskmaster. We’ll win this thing, or else:

7) May (Dates TBD)—Denver area: Join me for a night of séances and ghost-hunting at the haunted Stanley Hotel, where Stephen King penned The Shining. The next day, any survivors (or those who choose to forgo the ghost-hunt) will grasp hands and grimace our way across the Royal Gorge Bridge, the highest freaking bridge in the U.S.:

8) June (Date TBD)—Cincinnati/Newport: If you’ve had a lifelong burning desire to roll around inside a human-sized hamster ball, here is your opportunity. Yes, apparently this is a thing. Barf bags not included:

9) July (Date TBD)—Toledo: Join me on the mighty Maumee River while we compete in the Partners in Education’s famously fun Dragon Boat Festival. Be prepared to show off your teamwork skills and your muscles. Word is, you’ll need to make up for a huge slacker in the boat.

10) August 13-16—Southern Ohio: We’ll join the fabulous Brittany Gibbons and a cabinful of friends we haven’t yet met, at Camp Throwback. Relive your best childhood experiences with traditional camp activities like archery or arts and crafts—updated for adult fun by drinking margaritas around the firepit. Tickets are on sale NOW:

11) September 19—Southern Indiana: No obstacle too great for those of us taking part in The Stranger Party Tour of 2015! Unless we’re competing in a Rugged Maniac Race. And then, all bets are off:

12) Pending

More details coming, so stay tuned. And please share with your friends. Hoping to meet up with many of you on the Stranger Party Tour of 2015!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Baring It at The Huffington Post

One of The 52/52 Project's most, uh, revealing stories was just published over at The Huffington Post. Hope you'll click over and check it out here!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Breaking News

I am excited to announce that I have signed with a wonderful literary agent, Renee Fountain of GH Literary, for The 52/52 Project.

Thanks to all you wonderful readers who have been so supportive. You have given me the enthusiasm and confidence to pursue making this book a reality. One of this project's greatest appeal for prospective publishers is sure to be your terrific interaction and comments on this blog and on my Facebook page,
If you haven't already, please click through and "like" that Facebook page and also subscribe to this blog by email (link to the right on the page), so I can share future news.
I will provide more book news as it comes, as well as updates on our new monthly adventures for the coming year. I hope many of you can join me to participate in that fun!

Now, fingers crossed she sells this baby. I need to buy a new pair of pajamas.

Are you crossing those fingers? Have you "liked' my Facebook page and subscribed to this blog by email? If not, can I offer to stop by and wash your dishes and clean your toilets this weekend?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Coming Soon, to a Town Near Me...

I'm happy to announce I am presenting at the 14th annual Winter Wheat Festival, a celebration of writers and readers, to be held Nov. 13-15 at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Produced by the literary journal "Mid-American Review," the festival includes appearances by authors Sharona Muir, Anne Valente, Marcus Wicker, and Allison Joseph. In addition, participants can attend their choices of 54 diverse and interesting writing workshops.

On Saturday morning, Nov. 15, I will lead a session on "Enhancing Your Narrative Non-Fiction through an Anti-Bucket List." I hope several of you will join me, because you know I hate talking to myself.

Winter Wheat is a terrific event for writers seeking to sharpen their skills and aspiring writers looking for a great place to start. For more information about the festival's events and registration, click here:

Friday, September 12, 2014

All Right, Mr. DeMille, I'm (Not) Ready for My Close-Up

I endured another photo shoot last night. *sigh* Having my photo taken ranks on my list of favorite things to do just above--or maybe even below--having a root canal.

I went through my first author photo shoot about a year ago, so you'd think it would get easier. But all day I kept thinking I'd gladly swap this out for almost ANYTHING on my 52/52 list. And that list, as many of you know, was a bit squirm-worthy.

This got me thinking about experiences we each have to face occasionally or on a regular basis. Dental work, public speaking, and flying are the three that have always made my anxiety soar the highest. I continue to endure them all, out of necessity, but if I had to choose between one of those and, say, another Brazilian wax? A close race, but I'm fairly certain I'd choose the wax job. And I'd take that waxing over having my photo taken, any day.

So, your turn. What activity or experience do you dread or despise most of all? I'll do a random drawing for a copy of Fifty Shades of Funny: Hook-Ups, Break-Ups, and Crack-Ups from the comments of readers who fess up.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ready for New Adventures--In Your Part of the World

While I'm busy working on the book edition of The 52/52 Project, I am ready to share some fun news about the next year.

I recently posted a Facebook poll to find out where pockets of my readers reside. Here's why:

Over the next year, beginning either in October when I turn 53 or in January at the start of 2015, I will undertake one new venture each month in locations throughout the U.S. (or beyond, if I can swing it). Readers and their friends in those areas are invited to join me in each experience. Like my Stranger Party that so many of you said you vicariously enjoyed, we yet-to-meet friends will also get together for dinner and drinks before or after our escapades.

I am so psyched about this! What a fun opportunity for me to perpetuate my 52/52 Project journey while allowing several of you to join in! I look forward to meeting many of you and to cringing, crying, or laughing our way together through a new experience.

Based on my poll results, plus time and expenses, several will likely be in the Midwest: Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, or Wisconsin. I'm also eying Florida (especially Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa or Orlando), Texas (perhaps Austin or Dallas/Fort Worth), and California (maybe San Diego or San Francisco).

But locations are really still up for grabs. The selling point is what cool or crazy experiences we can pinpoint in a specific city or area.

I'm ready to start planning. Are you ready to join up? Let's hear your ideas. What exciting, enlightening, or frightening ventures await us in your part of the world? Lay it on us....

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From One Adventure to the Next

Thanks to all you wonderful folks who came out to the Way Public Library in Perrysburg this week to hear me speak about The 52/52 Project. I had a terrific time meeting so many of you! 

Standing-room only? Who'd have thunk? Clearly it was a slow night for television...

Next time, I promise to sport the pajamas and curlers.

Hope you'll all subscribe by email to this blog for news of my upcoming book. 

Thanks to everyone for following along with The 52/52 Project. Information about next year's adventures is soon to come.

Don't go away yet: Promise me you're still here?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Did What?

Someone recently asked if I could provide my list of experiences for The 52/52 Project. I realized it changed quite a bit since I posted it months back, so here is the full and final list (last item still pending). I smiled as I recalled some of these, and sighed deeply after I typed a couple:

1. Taking Belly Dancing Lessons
2. Competing in a Pizza Eating Contest
3. Watching a Peep Show and Conducting “Research” at an Adult Bookstore
4. Attending Services at Three Churches or Temples of Unfamiliar Religions
5. Enduring a Week without Caffeine
6. Auditioning for “Survivor”
7. Eating Insects
8. Having a Professional Shoot for My First Author Photo
9. Being Hypnotized for Past-Life Regression
10. Having a Brazilian Wax
11. Going Camping Alone
12. Getting an Extreme Haircut
13. Crashing a Wedding Reception
14. Taking a Homeless Person to Lunch
15. Online Dating
16. Going Vegan for a Week
17. Going on a Police Ridealong and a Raid with the SWAT Team
18. Taking Professional Voice Lessons
19. Appearing as a College Mascot
20. Shooting at a Range with a Gun Dealer
21. Spending the Night in a Convent
22. Volunteering at a Nursing Home
23. Zip-lining
24. Undergoing a Colonoscopy
25. Performing in Public as a Mime
26. Going au Naturel at a Nude Beach
27. Dark Dining
28. Singing on Stage with a Band
29. Bell-Ringing for the Salvation Army
30. Going Totally Unplugged for a Week
31. Taking a Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s Day
32. Tackling My First Major Home Improvement Project
33. Doing a Radio Show
34. Being Zoo-Keeper for a Day
35. Taking a Road Trip with My Ex Husband (and Another with His Girlfriend)
36. Staying Up All Night to Watch Horror Flicks Alone
37. Hosting a Party for All Strangers
38. Floating in an Isolation (Sensory Deprivation) Tank
39. Spending the Day in Public in Pajamas, Slippers, and Curlers
40. Babysitting Quadruplets
41. Taking the First Available Flight Out—Wherever It Was Headed
42. Bartending on St. Patrick’s Day
43. Attempting a High Ropes Course
44. Attending a Frat Party
45. Driving a Segway
46. Giving the Keynote Speech at My Alma Mater’s Academic Banquet
47. Running a 5K
48. Ghost Hunting with TV Professionals
49. Riding Shotgun in a Race Car
50. Bee-Keeping
51. Undertaking a Week of “Speed-Dating”
52. Going on a Hot Air Balloon Ride

So, out of curiosity, which of these would you a) most like to do, and b) be most likely to say "Hell, NO" to?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Speed-Dating: Solo-Style

As many of you who have been following The 52/52 Project on Facebook know, the Gods of Finishing Projects on Schedule have been messing with me. It seems I can't control the winds which dictate my hot air balloon ride. However, rather than wait around for the next scheduled speed-dating event--and risk that being cancelled again too--I've decided to take that item into my own incapable hands. And I've chosen also to up the ante.

Enter Sherry's Solo Speed-Dating Venture.

Over the next week, I plan to visit seven bars to interview men. (And no, "interview" is NOT a euphemism. Honestly, you people.)

Here are my rules:
- I must sit by myself up at the bar.
- I must strike up a conversation with at least two guys at each establishment.
- I must stay for an hour.
- I must work a few of my preplanned questions into our conversation. For example, "Out of curiosity, how many cats may a woman own before you would label her a crazy cat lady?" Also, "Have you ever been actually convicted of an ax murder?" (OK, I promise to have a more boring line of questions included.)

And, here's the clincher: If a (presumably) single man piques my interest and doesn't run away, I must ask for his phone number.

If I were 22 instead of 52, this venture would be only slightly pushing my boundaries. Now? My fingers are a bit shaky just typing this.

I think what makes this experience so far outside my comfort zone is that I'm really not searching for a man in my life. I'm very independent and fairly satisfied being on my own. If I were actually focused on finding someone, I'd probably enter into this more easily.

Still, if there's one thing The 52/52 Project has taught me it's to push ourselves beyond our status quo. Some of my best experiences in the past year resulted from bad odds and low expectations. As my friend, Murf, who suggested this escapade, reminded me, "You never know what you'll find when you're not really looking." Maybe. At the very least, the journey usually proves interesting.

What, really, do I have to lose? I mean, except for my dignity?

Advice, encouragement, sympathy, loud guffaws: I'll take whatever you have to offer.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Giving It Your Best--and Then a Bit More

My mom and dad, in the mid-eighties. Handsome, yes?
With Father's Day approaching, I've been thinking a lot about my dad, who died at the far too young age of fifty-three. Here's my favorite Denny Stanfa story, which both my sisters remember experiencing, too:

Dad: Squeeze my hand. As hard as you can.

Me: (squeezing tight)

Dad: You're squeezing hard, right? Now, squeeze a bit harder. As tight as possible.

Me: (squeezing harder)

Dad: OK, now squeeze even a bit more.

Me: (squeezing, squeezing, squeezing)

Dad: Are you squeezing as hard as you can?

Me: (gasping) Yes, yes, as hard as I can.

Dad: (nodding) OK. Now, I want you to squeeze harder yet.

And, somehow, I managed to do just that.

This is why my sisters and I learned to never give up in most anything in our lives. My dad taught us that even when we thought we were giving something our all, we could always, always try a bit harder.

He may have been been gone for twenty-four years, but his life lessons live on. Thank you, Dad. xo

What's the best lesson one of your parents ever taught you?  Who in your life is gone and is missed the most? Could you have tried harder, that one time, before you gave up?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Catching a Buzz

As I pried open a box of bees to install into a hive, I hesitated. I tried to recall the last time I was stung. Maybe thirty years ago? I don't remember the episode clearly, but I know it was fully unpleasant. Yet, I was certain it was nowhere near the pain I'd endure if something went awry now, as 10,000 bees swarmed in front of me.


Although I was a newbee keeper and carefully coached through the ordeal by an experienced keeper, Christian Kuhl, I was outfitted like a pro. Thanks to another local reader, John Curtis, I was covered by a slightly snug bee-keeper suit (the diet resumes next week) and a helmet with face netting. It was a fabulous look. I resembled a Star Wars Stormtrooper--only minus that stoic courage.

Were these the drones I was looking for? I flinched and blinked twice. No, apparently, I was only looking for trouble.

But between the suit, a bit of smoke (sadly, not THAT kind of smoke), and some sugar water sprayed on the bees to help render many of them temporarily flightless, I managed my task successfully. After forty-five minutes, I escaped with only one--nearly painless--sting on my ankle (I failed to wear socks), which I didn't even notice until I left. And my EpiPen proved unnecessary.

The experience was so fool-proof, it almost felt like cheating. I vowed that next time, like Christian, I'd bravely attempt this with no protective suit or gloves. My friend Marion, who'd once been stung by a swarm of bees and trembled this afternoon as she took photos from about fifty yards away, made no such promise.

My biggest disappointments were accidentally smashing one bee and learning that all these little creatures--my tiny new friends--would die in about five weeks. *sigh* Such is the sorry cycle of life for a busy bee.

I gained a whole new understanding of and appreciation for bees. As I pulled off my bee suit and climbed into my car--holy hell, did I breathe out a huge sigh of relief.

And, it appeared I was more a Jedi than a Stormtrooper. Because---although it had failed me through so many of my 52/52 ventures--on this particular day, the Force was strong with me.

To bee or not to bee? When's the last time you faced one--or 10,000--of your fears? What's the buzz; tell me what's a happening?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Scared to Live, Scared to Die

This post is outside my usual 52/52 Project material. And, I generally don't post sad stuff, preferring to go for the laugh or the simply thought-provoking. But in looking through some old high school mementos tonight, I came across this poem written by an old classmate, back in the late seventies. I encouraged him to let me publish it in our school newspaper, but I never read into it what I truly should have. Several weeks later, he committed suicide.

It punched me in the stomach when I discovered it tonight. I so wish teens back then would have been trained to look for suicidal signs from their friends.

"I'm scared to live
I'm scared to die
I just survive
By staying high.
Reality is what
I must face
To stay a part
Of this human race.
My mind is gone
but not my heart
For to live
Is where I must start.
I am dead
My feelings shot
But I thank God
For what I've got.
I have my friends
A family too,
They all wonder
What to do.
They do not know
What my problem could be
They're not blind
But they still can't see.

My only problem is me."

I'm so sorry, Ted, that we didn't truly know you and didn't understand.

Reach out, people, to those who might need you.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Of Errors and Absurdities

As I come closer to completing my list of 52 new life adventures, I can honestly say I don't regret undertaking any of them.

A few had the best possible outcomes:
  • The eight total strangers I invited to my "stranger party" have become true friends, and we now get together on a monthly basis.
  • I still can't believe my great fortune that my unscheduled first available flight out of the airport--amidst a never-ending Midwest winter--took me to Fort Myers, Florida.
  • I am enormously relieved that I didn't get a spot on Survivor. Because, let's be honest: How long could I truly survive?
Yet, do I wish any of my ventures had resulted in a slightly different outcome? Oh, hell yes.
  • I wish I had managed just a couple graceful steps in my belly dancing classes.
  • I regret not finding some way to reconnect with the homeless woman I took to lunch.
  • I feel certain my tent-camping alone experience would have been far more enjoyable if I'd brought along a six-pack of beer.
  • I would like to say I got at least one freaking date on, though preferably not with a serial killer or avid camper.
I recently came across this quote, by 18th century writer Fanny Burney, which sums up the 52/52 Project fairly well:

"It’s a delightful thing to think of perfection; but it’s vastly more amusing to talk of errors and absurdities.”

The past year has been chock-full of errors and absurdities. Even when I've failed, I have still found most of my experiences enlightening and often amusing, indeed.

Who needs perfection?

What would you change about the last time you tried something new? Have you learned as much from your failures as you have from your successes? When's the last time you were able to laugh at yourself?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts

My friend, Marion, and me: BEFORE we were scared silly. 

A half-dozen celebrity ghost-hunters, 175 practicing amateurs and aficionados, and one paranormal virgin enter a haunted prison.

Oh, you're waiting for the punch line? No joke: This was one weird and eerie experience.

As a newbie who entered the old Mansfield Reformatory last night out of curiosity--being somewhat open-minded but fairly skeptical--I left there early the next morning thinking anything is possible.

Was there possibly staged or only imagined paranormal activity? Yes, indeed. Was there more to it? Hmm.

Strange voices who audibly answered our questions via "spirit boxes"? Check. An unexplained "orb" in a totally dark cellar? Check. Two knocks when the three of us asked in the same empty cellar for a spirit to tap on the pipes? Check.

A paranormal virgin and one of her best friends, clenching each other's arms in fear? Oh, HELL yes.

Who can say what can be easily accounted for and what might really exist, even if not so easily explained? Surely not me. Not now.

After our ghost-hunting experience, what clearly remains for my friend, Marion, and me are some creepy photos, a weird recording, and a couple welts we inflicted on each others' arms. Proof enough that it was one crazy and creepy night.

I ain't afraid of no ghosts.

Just the ones who might truly exist--and scare the living shit out of me.
Believer or not so much? Any paranormal experiences you can share?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Motoring Italian Style

So, my little training session at the Segway shop in Florence, Italy seemed to be going well. Until I tried to turn a corner in the lobby. Apparently, I attempted a wide turn when I should have taken a tight one, and I began spinning in circles. The harder I tried to stop, the quicker I spinned.

As the shop clerk shouted orders, the Segway bounced off walls. I tried jumping off, but hopping off this strange small motor vehicle--which was in gear, whirling uncontrollably, and slamming into walls--wasn't an option. Dizzy and disoriented, I crashed one last time into the wall and finally fell off, backwards. The clerk came to my rescue, perhaps a moment too late, and brought the Segway to a stop.

My mother ran out of the shop's bathroom, yelling, "What happened? What was that crash I heard?" But as the three of us glanced down, little explanation was necessary. The baseboards I knocked off two of the shop's walls--and which now lay broken on the floor--seemed to tell the story just fine.

Shop destruction and all, the clerk still signed off on my rental, and I headed out to the busy streets of Florence. Probably not a wise decision by either of us.

But I figured I'd already set the Segway-riding bar exceedingly low, so what did I have to lose? Per che' non?

Are you more Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday or Kevin James in Mall Cop?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Big Fat Greek Party

Apparently I have disappointed several Sigma Chi guys and all their fabulous female friends by not posting a story about my frat party experience. I do not want to let down my new BFFs, so I will say this much:

These guys know how to host a party! Want to throw a beach party in chilly Milwaukee in early April? Fill the basement with sand! (They make the freshmen shovel it out the basement windows later.)

Want to make the strange old lady feel at home? Play "Shout!" And dance with her without even questioning her attendance. (Although one girl did come up to me and ask, "Who are you and why are you here?" I said I was pledging the fraternity. She seemed oddly OK with that.)

But do warn the grandmotherly aged woman about that far back room, the dark one with strobe lights and couples in the corners. Even the moonshine I swigged from a communal bottle didn't prepare me for THAT.

An Animal House it may have been, but Dean Wormer's wife I am not. I figured it was a good time to take my talents to a local bar, with Son #2, and managed to close the place up.

A win-win night, all around.

I'm thinking my fraternity pledge is pretty much guaranteed.

Impossible to pick me out in the crowd, yes? What would you have brought along as a hostess gift? How are your partying skills? 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Learning the Ropes

Haley's "thumbs-down" says it all.
By week #43 of The 52/52 Project, the biggest lesson I’d learned by pushing myself outside my comfort zone was the expectation is almost always worse than the reality. Apparently though, the expectation can sometimes prove frightening enough.

While I don’t have an actual fear of heights, I am terrified of the sensation of falling from high places. I hardly even quiver on the top of a presumably stable skyscraper or bridge, but any structure that moves—or any experience that results in my moving and potentially plunging downward—is generally a deal-breaker.

The high ropes course at The University of Toledo’s Recreation Center is situated forty feet above the ground, high above the center’s basketball courts. It includes a series of swaying ropes and wooden swings strung from the three-story-high ceiling. The goal is to climb, stretch, and step one’s way across this mid-air obstacle course. Presumably, a harness and single cable prevents one from crashing to the ground. From the online photos and description, it appeared intimidating. Possibly fun. Nope. Just intimidating.

Yet, because my zip-lining experience had proven to be way more enjoyable than expected, I figured I’d hope for the best and push myself through this. I’d grown braver and more open-minded. Possibly, I was just more stupid.

My friend, Laura Maylene Walter, and her fourteen-year-old cousin, Haley, drove in town to join me. Laura had done a high ropes course when she was fifteen, and it proved less than a positive experience. At the age of thirty, she was willing—with great reservation—to give it another shot. We thought we’d make a good match: two chicken shits supporting each other through an agonizing challenge. And, young Haley would surely provide the necessary naïve bravado to encourage us onward.

Our litany of excuses to back out commenced as soon as we climbed into the car. We should call it all off because poor Haley had a stomach ache. The parking lot was crowded; maybe we wouldn’t find a parking spot. And, if we got really lucky, the Rec Center office wouldn’t find the free guest passes I’d been told were left for us. By the time we reached the center’s third level, we devised a half-dozen excuses before we ran out of any viable ones.

Once we filled out our waivers and took our place in the long line, we took a good long look around. Every other participant appeared to be a college student. Most were lean, muscular, and surely in the physical prime of their life. Yet, to say they were struggling on the course would be an understatement.

The online photos didn’t give justice to the terror. The challenge wasn’t just in the height. It was obvious the course relied on both intricate coordination and great upper-body strength in order to grab each consecutive rope, balance upon the swing, and step to the next.

We watched a young woman in a tie-dyed shirt attempt to step from one swinging wooden beam to another. The swings were situated a couple of feet apart, but as she stretched her leg from one to the next, the wooden plank kept rocking further away. Over and over, she stepped and missed. She finally grabbed the next rope and managed to secure one foot on the beam. She reached her second foot over and succeeded in balancing her entire body on the wildly rocking swing.

The step onto the next swing proved even more challenging. As she tried to balance herself, the swing flipped backward. She slipped off. The security cable clipped onto her harness jolted her to a stop. She dangled and swiveled, mid-air.

We couldn’t watch her another minute.

We turned our direction to a young man maneuvering his way across. He painstakingly watched his footing, trying to catch hold of the next violently rocking beam, all the while pulling his security cable along the way. His odds didn’t appear so good.

He paused and shouted to someone on the catwalk. “OK, this is why they make you sign a waiver!”

I turned to one of the attendants. “How often have you seen people slip off and have to dangle there?”

She shrugged. “Pretty often.”

We observed the participants for nearly a half-hour, during which we subtly—without even mentioning it aloud to each other—stepped out of line.  But, we knew we had to make a decision. The time had come to take flight or to flee.

“This is way worse than the one I did when I was fifteen,” Laura said.  “And I was in great shape then. I’m not sure I have the physical strength to do this. And, I might puke in my mouth from terror.”

I nodded in spasms. “Yeah, and I’m even more worried about the coordination required. Because I have a whole lot of none.”

I realized that was the true deal-breaker for me. I could—although reluctantly—handle airplanes, zip-lining, and hopefully my upcoming hot air balloon ride, because those relied on the skills of a qualified pilot or technician. Left up to my own inadequate coordination, I was fairly certain I’d be S.O.L.

“Honestly,” Laura continued, “I’m pretty certain I’d have a panic attack midway through. What then? When you’re halfway through and can’t take another step, how do you get down?”

Our panicked eyes met.

The disclaimer for the high ropes course specified only that participants be at least fourteen-years-old and four-feet-ten-inches. I was safe by thirty-eight years and two inches. But those requirements didn’t take into consideration my stubby legs and arms or my chronic clumsiness. And I was fairly certain the terror of these recreational gallows would take twenty years off my lifetime.

I made my decision. “I can’t do it. I just can’t. I’m sorry.”

Laura sighed in relief. I turned to Haley, who had remained fairly quiet. “What do you want to do?”

She raised her hands up in the air. “Not this! This should be illegal!”

The decision was mutual. We agreed this was a disaster just waiting to happen. Those swinging ropes might just as well have been wrapped around our necks.

Over the past ten months, I’d made it through forty-two of fifty-two new challenges. This was the first I’d failed to see through fruition. As we crumpled our waivers and headed downstairs, my failure troubled me. I hung my head. “I can’t believe I couldn’t go through with it.”

"Maybe we could just Photoshop ourselves in," Haley suggested.

Laura patted my back. “You failed at one. Look at it like a narrative arc in a story. There always has to be one really low point, one major conflict for the protagonist. And this was yours.”

From a writer’s view, she had a point. And, maybe there was more to it. Perhaps acknowledging our limitations is an essential part of self-discovery. We may learn just as much about life and about ourselves by discovering our weaknesses as well as our strengths.

Besides, the evening wasn’t a total loss. Being there together to watch the participants and imagine our own agony and defeat, while my cohorts spewed out some terrific one-liners, proved pretty enjoyable. Quite likely more fun than if we’d actually gone through with it. I’d never simultaneously shuddered and laughed so much. And, as a bonus, we survived to be able to say we’d failed.

I never stepped a foot on one of those treacherous swings. 

But, damn if it wasn’t the best experience I never had.

What constitutes failure and success? Do we get points in life just for showing up? When's the last time you failed and felt OK with it?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Catching a Flight to Nowhere

I am not an obsessive worrier, and one glance at my mopboards confirms I’m no compulsive cleaner. Yet my approach to planning and scheduling screams OCD. I write a detailed to-do list every morning and every night. I compile lists of lists. I jot down completed items I forgot to originally note, just so I can literally cross them off. And, before I head out on a vacation, I plot every minute.

Clearly, I would never consider getting up one day and driving an hour to the airport, booking the next available flight out to wherever it was going, and then hopping aboard—with no hotel reservations, no car rental, and no itinerary. Until the day I did.

I wouldn’t allow myself to plan specifics of this new life experience, yet a few details did require forethought. I needed to hire a pet-sitter, schedule a couple days off work, and pack. But how does one pack for a weekend trip to a totally unknown location, especially in mid-March with its infamous lamb-and-lion split-personality? Considering I could land anywhere from Miami, to Denver, to Fargo, North Dakota, I made a packing list (thank God, this one list was allowed), covering all my bases with a bathing suit, cover-up, and a pair of Sperry boat shoes—but also a winter coat, gloves, and boots.

I also had to ponder how exactly I might pay for the trip. I had no idea how much this last-minute flight might set me back. When I posted my plans on Facebook the night before, readers began quoting me disturbing estimates. In a panic, I threw out a half-joking request for donated air miles. An hour later, a long-time friend offered me enough unused points for my entire flight. Score!

I called Delta and was assured I could simultaneously transfer the miles and book a flight at the Detroit Metro counter the next day.

For the first time ever, I was able to take my time that morning heading to the airport. Forget my usual race through the terminal, praying I didn’t miss my flight. This time, I knew I’d be right on time for some flight—I just didn’t know which one.

I wandered into the terminal, both excited and nervous about the possibilities of my weekend. I could wind up somewhere like Hopeulikit, Georgia or maybe Hooker Corner, Indiana (which I recently discovered are totally real towns). I was sure both these places were lovely. Still, I hoped I’d end up in a big city I’d never visited or even better, a warm beach somewhere, especially after the sadistic Ohio winter that kept roaring in my frostbitten face.

I approached the Delta counter and explained my long story to the attendant. She gave me a somewhat confused smile and said she’d love to help me. However, she had no way at all of knowing which departing flights had available seats, let alone which ones were eligible for SkyMile points.

I readjusted my dropped chin and plopped onto a bench in the terminal. I called the phone number on my SkyMiles card and explained my dilemma. My new best friend at Delta loved the idea of The 52/52 Project, but didn’t seem to fully comprehend the idea of that day’s mission.

“OK,” she said. “So, where exactly do you want to go?”

“I don’t care. See, I’m not allowed to choose,” I explained again. “Just tell me the next flight out from Detroit—wherever it is going—which hasn’t begun boarding yet and still has an available seat that is eligible for SkyMiles.”

“Oh.” She paused. A very long pause. “So, I have to choose a flight for you?”

“Exactly,” I said. “Hey, I’m really sorry. Am I putting too much pressure on you?”

“Um, yeah. But, alright, if you truly just want the next available flight, it’s… well, it looks like it’s Fort Myers, Florida.”

I did a happy dance around the terminal.

My celebration was premature. She told me she couldn’t book the flight until the miles were transferred. And that could only be done online.

Did these people not understand my planning anxieties? I needed a boarding pass pronto, so I knew where I was going and when, and could then at least check those rather significant items off my mental list! While I was at it, I also wanted to make a list of every person who had lied or misinformed me about this whole fiasco of a process, so I could file a formal complaint.

I plopped back down on the bench. Sure, I had both my iPhone and my laptop with me, but I knew my best bet was to call Son #2, the techno-geek in the family. He was surely sitting in front of a computer and could manage the entire thing faster than I could even look up the web site. But he kept getting error messages, and a half-hour passed with no progress.

Just as I began to feel certain the flight would begin boarding before I was booked and I’d end up on the next flight instead (it would inevitably be Fargo), my confirmation flashed across my phone. Happy dance resumed! I collected my boarding pass and raced through the airport.

Next up: Finding a hotel. As I rode through the terminal’s seemingly endless series of moving sidewalks, I searched on my iPhone. Huh. Apparently, Florida in March was a popular destination. Thanks to spring breaks, most hotels were either full or charging prime rates.

Finding I still had 30 minutes left before boarding time, I stopped for a Bloody Mary. Did I mention my deep-seated fear of flying? One Bloody Mary generally took the edge off just enough to get me through any turbulence and fears of faulty-engine crash landings. I glanced up at the TV in the airport bar and watched a breaking news report about a missing Malaysian plane. Maybe I’d suck that drink right down and order another.

Meanwhile, I called my sister, DC, a travel guru. Within minutes, she texted back with information about a single room available at an oceanfront hotel in Fort Myers Beach. Although I’d stayed there years ago and knew it was terrific, the nightly rate was definitely more than I planned to spend. But, my airfare was covered and only a few decent hotel options remained. I decided to splurge. Wasn’t I worth it? Besides, I wouldn’t have to pay for a single night after my plane crashed enroute.

Thankfully, the flight was smooth and proved eventful only because I found myself seated directly across from a co-worker, and I discovered the woman next to her followed The 52/52 Project. What were the odds? She bought me a Bloody Mary. Between our conversation and the vodka, I never noticed if the plane—or my legs—were shaking.

My hotel balcony overlooked the pool, the tiki bar, and the ocean. It was sunny and 80 degrees in Fort Myers. As I unpacked, I gleefully tossed aside my coat, mittens, and boots.

I spent the next day with old high school friends who drove over from Naples, where they happened to be vacationing when they read on Facebook about my final destination. I hung out that night at the hotel’s tiki bar. The crowd, not particularly warm and fuzzy, was disappointing. After the bar closed, I wandered back toward my room to sit on the balcony.

After a while, I heard a group of people talking and laughing by the pool. The introverted and unmotivated part of me felt compelled to sit tight. But through the past several months, I’d learned that pushing myself and taking a chance often paid off. So, I headed back down and invited myself to their little group.

Out of everyone I talked to that weekend, these six guys and the one young man’s girlfriend—all of whom were twenty-something and Muslim—were the best folks I met. Much like the Stranger Party I hosted a few months back, this evening proved that new friendships don’t always require having a whole lot in common.

Other than these couple of social outings, I spent the weekend simply walking the beach and gorging on seafood. But was there really any better plan of action for a Florida vacation? Besides, I figured how I spent the trip was far less important than how I’d planned—or more specifically hadn’t planned it.

Although I had originally expected to return home on Sunday, as soon as I learned I’d been blessed with a warm and sunny setting I scheduled my return flight for Monday. It never crossed my mind that this would be St. Patrick’s Day, and that a St. Paddy’s parade would be marching down the street right in front of my hotel.

My taxi waited for me about a mile up the blocked-off road, yet I figured I was nearly obligated to watch the parade. I stopped along my walk to the cab to take some photos with the crowd and mingle with the crazies. The morning could have only been more delightful if I’d had time for a green beer or two. I’d settle for a Bloody Mary on the plane home.

When I made my list of potential 52/52 experiences, this impromptu adventure appeared to be my most half-assed idea ever.

For the new me, who has learned to let so much roll off my shoulders, that made it the best—by a sky mile.

Maybe the very best plan is no plan at all.

Are you a planner or an off-the-cuff sort? What's the last vacation you took and loved? If you headed out on a mystery trip, where would you hope to land?