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$500.00.

A weekend away in an unknown destination.

Details to be given once you arrive at the airport with your carry-on bag.

Are you in?

I said YES!

Last fall, my friend Cindy decided to put together a Mom’s mystery trip. She’s the director of the private school where I teach and my kids take classes on Fridays. She’s also an experienced world traveler, having led several educational trips abroad for high school students, and done some traveling of her own with her family. She excitedly made the first announcement to see if anyone would be interested.

The responses ran from “YES, YES, YES!” to “Are you crazy? I’m not spending money to go on a trip without knowing the details!”

In the end, it was a chilly January morning when five excited women met Cindy at the airport with our carry-on luggage in tow. (A very special thank you to my mystery friend who made it possible for me to go on this adventure! I can’t thank you enough!) After we gathered around, Cindy announced we were booked on a non-stop flight to Miami where we would spend the night in a luxury suite before driving to the Port of Palm Beach the next morning to board a ship for a two-day cruise to the Bahamas! It was more than I ever hoped or imagined! WOW!!!

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2016 Mystery Moms

We arrived in Miami and drove to the Marriott on Biscayne Bay. It was beautiful! We settled in a bit then talked and laughed our way through dinner at Primo Restaurant near our hotel. My friend Veronica and I ordered different meals so we could share. Delicious! I also tried crab cakes for the first time and loved them. Who knew?

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Marriott at Biscayne Bay

After dinner we drove our minivan down to south beach and cruised past all the clubs. Can you picture it? lol We were so cool. The traffic was insane! We came back to the hotel and took some pictures of the bay (and each other) and hung out enjoying the cool breeze. What a beautiful night!

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Miami Sunrise over Biscayne Bay

The next morning, we headed for Little Havana to eat breakfast at the famous Versailles Bakery & Restaurant. I tried Cuban coffee (yuck) and took lots of pictures of the architecture and my breakfast. I’ll spare you those particular photos. Not having seen palm trees since I was a little girl living in California, I loved the drive to the port! You could feel the excitement and energy in the van as we planned possible activities: A glass bottom boat tour, swimming with the sharks (Ellison was the only one up for that adventure), shows on the boat, and of course, shopping.

Then we arrived at the port and our trip took an unexpected turn.

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.

As we were checking in, we found out Amanda had a copy of her birth certificate and wouldn’t be allowed to go on the cruise. The port only allows state-issued birth certificates or passports for re-entry into the United States. I suddenly felt like I had swallowed a pile of rocks. I have a military hospital issued birth certificate. Sure enough, when it was my turn at the counter, the guy practically rolled his eyes at me as he handed me my documents and told me no, I would not be leaving with my group.

Stunned, angry, sad, disappointed. I didn’t know what to feel. We were just told we needed an original birth certificate with a raised seal. That’s what I have. It’s the one I’ve used my whole life. But it wasn’t enough. It was a terrible mix up, and Cindy felt awful about it. My tender-hearted friend was beside herself trying to fix it.

It was a struggle looking into the sad faces of my friends. Everyone felt terrible. I love them and wanted them to enjoy their cruise. A few deep breaths and hugs later and they were off, leaving me and Amanda to form a new plan for a few days in Florida.

We were both in a bit of shock, but we pep talked each other into looking at it as another unplanned adventure. It worked! We had a blast! We decided to take lots of pictures and post them to Instagram so our cruising friends would know we were having fun, and they’d be included in our part of the trip too. We didn’t know they didn’t have internet and couldn’t see our pictures or share their own. My friend Ellison was the only one to interact with us at all, so now I’m convinced she’s either a spy, has her own satellite phone, or connections in high places. I’m leaning towards spy. 😉

Amanda and I found a nice place to stay in West Palm Beach and spent our two days walking, talking, going to the beach, visiting a state park, and attempting an Anthony Hernandez scavenger hunt. Our first night in West Palm Beach we happened upon a pretty cool wall mural of JFK, so I googled the artist and found out he had street art all over the city! (See above and check out his website, the ones below are other people’s art.)

The whole art district was pretty great. We stayed up late into the night talking, got sand all over the rental van, laughed, cried, shared the highlights of our lives with each other, ate great food, and relaxed.

And what is a trip to Florida without spending a bit of time writing at the beach and playing in the waves? The photo of my hands full of sand is me rescuing a stranded baby jellyfish. He’s the bluish blob on top. I carefully scooped him up and threw him back into the ocean and cheered him on with the hope he’d beat the tide.

Our vacation flew by and soon it was time to meet the other ladies at port and begin the uncertain trek back to Denver – which was in the middle of a snow storm. I kind of hoped our flight would get cancelled so we’d have another day with all of us together. I even bought this postcard and texted the photo to a few friends. Ha! No such luck. We actually arrived home early?!

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It was a fabulous trip! It was good that I didn’t have a plan, and even though it didn’t go according to Cindy’s plan either, I would do it again! And guess what? Last week, Cindy announced the next mystery trip is scheduled for February! I wonder how long it will take me to get my passport?

What about you? Would you go on a mystery trip?

Do you have any suggestions for great WARM places to visit while it’s freezing in Colorado?

 

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Crush. n. A brief but intense infatuation for someone, especially someone unattainable or inappropriate.

Been there. Done that a few hundred times. When I was younger, I thought it was love. I know the difference now that I’ve experienced the real thing. Crushes can be harmless or destructive, depending on what you do with them. Every time I got my heart broken over a crush I felt…well…crushed. I wondered if that’s how the word came into being. Unreciprocated feelings are crushing. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to look at it through a fun lens instead of a heartbreaking one. And sometimes crushes like you back!

crush-21Having a crush on someone is exciting! Your adrenaline pumps harder, your heart beats faster, and you either become mute or can’t shut up when your crush talks to you. Yeah, thanks for that, stupid body. Sometimes our brains make us dumb or at least look like we are. As a kid, it’s really embarrassing. As an adult, it’s even more embarrassing. Have you ever met someone you strongly admired? I have. I get star-struck/fan girl about very few people, but when it happens, it’s humiliating.

I shared about my very first crush when we did the drawing challenge in 2013. From that post:

30 Day Challenge 003“I never went through the “boys are gross” stage, and I’ve had about a hundred crushes, but my first was Michael Hurda. He was the boy next door. Okay, more like a block away. I could see his house from our porch. He had dark brown hair and a big cheesy grin. We walked to our elementary school together all through first and second grade, and logged hundreds of miles circling the neighborhood on our bikes. He never treated me like a girl when we were kicking a ball around or playing tag, so of course I loved him. On a field trip to our teacher’s farm in first grade, he told my mom he loved me and was going to marry me someday. Then we moved away the next year and I didn’t see him again until a chance meeting in high school. He had moved to another city but was visiting our hometown and we ran into each other. We reconnected for a bit as friends, but lost touch again. Not to sound all stalkerish, but I know where he is. I found him on Facebook, but didn’t friend request him. I also found the biggest crush of my childhood, and we ARE friends on Facebook, but that’s not today’s challenge.”

Except now it IS today’s challenge. If you asked me to immediately name my childhood crush, my answer would be Chris Thiede. (Sorry Michael.) He’s the boy I fell in love with in 4th grade. Blonde hair, hazel eyes, goofy grin, and a gentle spirit. He was nice to me and I was glad he was my friend. He liked me too. He was the first boy I passed love notes to, and I remember he dressed as a pirate when he came to my house for a Halloween party. I remember which bus Chris rode to and from school and how he looked in his boy scout uniform. I remember the horror I felt when I accidentally hurt him in front of everybody on the playground, and the softness of his hands when he let me help him back to his feet. One of my favorite memories was the look of triumph he gave me when I won the spelling bee. When I first found him on Facebook, I was sure he wouldn’t remember me, but he did.

I’ve wondered many times why Chris sticks out so much when I think back on my childhood. I think it’s because I met him right after I woke up. There are almost two years of my childhood that are a complete blank. Trauma related. My memory picked back up when we moved to Random Lake and I remember a crazy amount of details from the two years we lived there. All of my friend’s names, what my soccer uniform looked like even though there are no pictures to prove it, what my best friend’s bedroom smelled like, everything. A few years ago I went back to visit the little town. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, but I knew where everything was, even destinations miles away from town. I drove straight to them. As I reread this before posting it, it’s obvious I had a crush on Random Lake too. Ha!

We moved back to LaCrosse right before 6th grade and I thought I was going to die of a broken heart. On my first day at Longfellow Middle School, they herded all of us 6th graders into the library. I was sitting at a table talking to my new insta-friends Koua Lo and Terri Rudolph, when a beautiful boy with brown hair and blue eyes walked through the door. I think my heart skipped a beat and I forgot to breathe, so I was doubly shocked when his twin walked in right behind him. Wow. Chris who? And that’s the day I started crushing hard on Brian Weaver. No matter who I dated through middle school and high school, Brian was always in the back of my mind. I wasn’t annoying about it most of the time, but my high school best friends can all attest to its constancy. Though I’m sure he knew, I never told him I liked him for two reasons. 1. He was WAY out of my league. 2. Even though he was always nice to me, his twin was a total ass and didn’t like me at all. Trust me when I tell you it’s possible to love one twin and hate the other – both with a fiery passion. I don’t know what happened to them after high school, but I can tell you Brian DID have competition.

From 1986 on, I was also in love with my birthday twin, Wil Wheaton. I first saw him in my favorite childhood movie, Stand By Me. He played Gordie Lachance, a writer and the story’s narrator. I was smitten! What? He’s cute and a geek like me!

WilWil and I were born on the same day, in the same year, in the same state, in hospitals just a couple of hours away from each other. I’ve written about him before because I love him in a non-stalkerish-he’s-a-celebrity-and-doesn’t-know-who-I-am sort of way. Celebrity crushes: Everyone has them. Wil Wheaton is mine. MINE. Kidding. Did you know he’s a blogger? Oh yes! He’s a blogger, writer, actor, husband, father, and more. I stop by his site from time to time.

There have been other crushes since then, but these four are the ones worth highlighting. And for the record, I didn’t have time to crush on Benny. Our relationship went from non-existent to unofficially engaged inside of a month. Twenty-three years later, I can confidently say we are the definition of whirlwind romance! ♥

My friend’s crush stories are shorter and even sweeter:

Don at donhillson.wordpress.com

Beckie at free2b2much.blogspot.com

Tracy at countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com

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You’ve probably seen the headlines this week about Leelah Alcorn. The suicide note posted on Tumblr went viral in a matter of hours after **his/her death. It was shocking to watch social media blow up with this story and even more so to read the malicious, hateful comments about the grieving family left behind. Compelling as it is to call for better discussions about transgender issues, the media and most of the people commenting have taken away the liberty of Leelah’s family based solely on a letter written by a teen suffering from depression, and they’ve done so without having all the facts.

I get it. I’ve been there.

In 1999, I watched in horror as the news reported the shooting at Columbine High School. I knew a student there and practically shook with relief when we heard she was safe. It didn’t take long for the community and the media (and me) to cast stones at the shooter’s parents. What kind of parent would let their child have access to weapons? What kind of parent didn’t understand how sick their child was and get them help? What kind of parent would allow their child be bullied to the point where they decided to plan a massacre? Was there abuse in the home? Or neglect? Surely the parents held some (or most) of the blame. I watched as reporters swarmed their neighborhoods, trying to get a glimpse of the families or a few words from neighbors. There was a complete disregard for their privacy, and somewhere in my head, I justified it. We, the public, had a right to know, didn’t we?

I confess, as I grappled with that tragedy, I judged the parents pretty harshly. I judged the school for not stopping the bullying, and the students for being the bullies. Then I judged Eric and Dylan for being hateful people. I couldn’t see past my anger and fear. I was pregnant with my first child at the time and wept at the thought of bringing him into a world where kids are gunned down in school. I felt bad for Eric and Dylan’s families, but I didn’t understand what they were going through. Was there some part of me that thought they deserved the bad press and condemnation? Such ugly thoughts went through my head when I was desperate for answers. Have you been there too?

You know who I didn’t judge? The media. They terrified parents when they grossly over-reported the casualties based on incomplete information. They interviewed traumatized students who hadn’t reconnected with their parents yet. There was a lot of false and biased reporting going on, but that’s not what sticks out in my mind all these years later. They were just trying to do their jobs, right? I so easily forgave that, but held on to my judgments of everyone else. I am glad I know better now.

Last summer, a friend of ours went to prison. We watched as the media reported false information about him, including the basic details of the charges. Then a reporter and cameraman from Channel 7 decided they had the right to stand on our friend’s porch and put the camera right up to the window to shoot footage inside their home. They stopped neighbors and questioned them about our friend’s children – their names and ages, if they seemed distraught. When they got a glimpse of the girls, they tried to question them about their dad. Picture that with me, reporters aggressively pursuing children at their own home. Shame on them!

We are being marketed to. Bad news sells, and we buy it. We watch and listen to it on TV and read it in the newspaper or on social media, and we make our snap judgments based on data that may or may not be true. Shouldn’t we expect reliable details over sensationalism from our media? And what about the shocking lack of accountability? When they do get the facts wrong, we don’t hear the corrected version or apologies for rushing to be the first to report a story instead of verifying what they’re reporting is actually true. They cover their butts by using phrases like “alleged” and “reportedly”.  Retractions, when they do exist, get buried. They’re never headline worthy. In the meantime, lives are changed or destroyed and reputations ruined over shoddy reporting. Even if the truth is later revealed, by then it’s too late. The damage has been done.

Responsible reporting is a tough job. The story has to pique the interest of the people and it needs to be done quickly so it’s not scooped by someone else. Perhaps a little more time is all a reporter needs so they can check their facts before going public. It’s the media’s job to make us feel the news they’re reporting. If they can hook us emotionally, we’ll keep coming back for more.

Hear me! Tragedy or conviction of an individual does NOT remove the rights of their family. They still have a right to privacy, and to choose how or if they interact with the media. Oftentimes lawyers and law enforcement request that families refrain from speaking to the media at all, especially when there is an ongoing investigation. The typical response is to punish the family for their silence, using phrases like “refused to talk to us.” Families are treated as if their lack of interaction is a sign of having something to hide.

A friend of mine said we tend to process the news by either consuming it or condemning it. My guess is you and I have chosen both of those routes depending on what’s being reported and whether or not we agree. We are all guilty of assuming that a quick snapshot of a situation gives us the full picture. We assume, and from our vantage point, we’re sure we’re right even without knowing the whole story.

Words have tremendous power. With just a few clicks of a mouse and some carelessly chosen wording, we (the people on the internet) become judge and jury, and we’re bold about it because we’re holding court from behind a computer screen. We don’t have to see the pain in people’s eyes, or hear the sobs that wrack their bodies. We don’t have to form responses for questioning children who don’t understand the cruelty in the world. We proudly boast of freedom of speech until someone opposes our opinion and we don’t want to afford them the same freedom.

We don’t always consider the consequences of wielding our weapons of words. I don’t believe our hearts are evil, we just don’t always think before we speak or type. Notice WE is my chosen pronoun. I am guilty, but I want to do better. I want to BE better. Because of what I’ve experienced through my reaction to the Columbine tragedy, my friend’s conviction and now Leelah’s story, I’m choosing to step into a deeper level of maturity. I’m going to work on my discernment and how I respond to such things.

You see, Josh/Leelah is my family. His/her mom is my cousin. Carla is a good woman who loves all of her children. She is well-liked in her community, yet she’s being called a monster who rejected her son. One media source reported “years of abuse” based on the suicide note. It’s an unfounded claim, but no one seems to care. Because she’s a Christian and wouldn’t allow her child to undergo a sex change at the age of 16, she’s been labeled a homophobic, strict, hateful mother. There’s a bigger picture than the snapshot blowing up news feeds.

We, the public, have done it again – swallowed everything fed to us even though the investigation is ongoing and we have no idea what will come out of it in the end. Because Josh/Leelah struggled with her/his gender identity, there are many who are viewing this as if it were a hate crime perpetuated by the parents. THAT is what has gained global media attention. Josh/Leelah’s suicide does not give the media license to harass the family and report false and incomplete information. We need to expect more from them, and from each other.

After Josh/Leelah’s death, someone created a Leelah Alcorn Facebook profile, hacked Carla’s Facebook account and sent friend requests and messages to her entire friends list, and began posting hateful messages to her from her dead child. Carla is bearing the brunt of the blame for Josh/Leelah’s suicide as if it were her choice to lose her beloved child in this horrific manner. Merciless internet trolls posted her phone number on the web and encouraged people to harass them and make them pay for “killing their child.”

What we’re not seeing in the media are the reports of them having to call the police because of people peeking in windows, or news of all the hate mail they’re receiving, or anything about the group who plans to picket at the funeral. The LGBTQ community is leading the way in this “fight for justice” yet all we’re seeing is hateful vitriol. Isn’t there a better way to further the cause than to treat a grieving family with such callousness? Doesn’t the hate speech and encouragement of violent behavior coming from them contradict their mission? How is it any different than those who use the same tactics against them?

There’s a petition circulating to try to force Carla and Doug to use the name Leelah on the headstone instead of Joshua Ryan Alcorn, his birth name. As if that’s a decision that should be made by anyone other than the parents, especially the parents of a minor. That is not up for public debate or decision. Why on earth would we think it should be? None of us would want others to cross that line into our personal business like that.

A few of my friends posted the Leelah articles on their Facebook pages out of concern for the way transgender conversations are handled in the Christian community. I have no problem with that. I too am concerned and saddened by the lack of love shown in a lot of these situations. I have many friends who identify themselves as LGBTQ. I have always done my best to love everyone regardless of their gender identity or belief system, and I don’t withhold my love and affection based on a set of religious beliefs. In fact, my set of beliefs is the larger context for how I love others and there is no room for anyone to be left out of that. I prove that over and over, publicly and privately. There are lots of Christians out there who feel the same way I do but we are often labeled and rejected before given the chance to show it. I welcome respectful discussion on this and any other topic, but I’d like to get back to the point of my post.

I want to encourage you to have discernment when you read or watch the news, and to firmly grasp your humanity as you remember the humanity of others.

Please think before you speak or type.

I didn’t know Eric and Dylan’s families, but the Columbine tragedy and my reaction to it shaped me. I am sorry I jumped to harsh, unfair conclusions based on what I heard and read. I saw them as one-dimensional people as presented by the media and didn’t let their grief touch me.

My friend who is in prison? I miss him terribly. I love his wife and daughters and I am investing in their family, loving them through a tough time and speaking out on their behalf because they can’t. The media trashed them when they did nothing to deserve it. They were collateral damage. There have been no corrections or apologies and they don’t expect them. The media kicked them while they were already down.

PLEASE don’t do the same to my cousin and her family. They’re deeply grieving the loss of their child and being judged and crucified by people who know nothing about them. People who feel justified in their cruelty and want to make them pay. There are three other children missing their brother today. I wish I could protect them from the ugliness of those who don’t feel these kids are off-limits. Imagine yourself in their shoes and the terrible grief they’re experiencing. Let your heart ache for their loss, and don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Josh/Leelah left behind a gaping hole in our family. There was no hatred for him/her. He/she was and is deeply loved.

The media is selling you a snapshot before the larger picture has been developed.

Don’t buy it.

**I chose to use both gender pronouns to honor Josh/Leelah AND his/her parents. There is no malicious intent behind my decision though it will undoubtedly upset some of you.

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