Tag Archives: true story

Before I Met Keanu Reeves, I Also Ran Into Bigfoot

Many of you now know about my serendipitous run-in with Keanu Reeves. I still don’t understand quite how that happened, but I’m glad it did as it was awesome. What you don’t know is that I also ran into Bigfoot.

Jess Witkins Meets Keanu Reeves

I was planning to write a very different story for my blog that weekend. A story about a hiking trip that Joe and I went on.


I know, I know, we all know how THAT goes. One of us ends up missing

And to that I say, at least we’re consistent, which is a prime foundation to have in a marriage, especially when one party may have pooped their pants while hiking thereby ruining all shreds of romance forever. 

So before Joe and I ended up at the bar where I glanced out the window and commented “That guy looks like Keanu,” we were hiking.

IMG_6058Sure, sure, this is exactly how it’s supposed to look. I always crawl through death branches to get from point A to point B. 

True to form, Joe rarely lets me pick what direction we go since I’m supposedly the one that got us lost the first time. But then, he went and picked a trail that looks like this!


Me: “Well this looks like a dark and treacherous path.” 

Joe: “I’ve made my peace with it.” 

It doesn’t even phase him anymore!

When we crept upon the creepiest cavern looking structure, we debated.

Me: “Oh look at that. I bet that’s the witch’s cabin.” 

Joe: “That’s just a rock formation.” 

Me: “That’s what she wants you to think.” 

Amazingly, we were not witch-napped and forced to eat sweets until our bellies burst and no one made pies out of our intestines and such. But it was a close call, lemme tell you.

On a sunnier trail, we fell into one of our usual conversations comparing our relationship to various film or book references. You know, a “you’re Wild Bill Hickock and I’m Calamity Jane from Deadwood” or “you’re Lonestar from Spaceballs, but I’m Dot not Princess Vespa.”

And then Joe tried to sum us up with this…

Joe: “The difference between us is that I’m more crass, but you have the dirtier mind.” 

Me: *leans in really close to his ear and whispers* “You’re welcome.” 

And then this is the part where I’m guessing Joe got sun poisoning. Or temporarily possessed by aliens because I shot this photo….

IMG_6083Pretty funky lighting, amirite?

And then he did this…

Who knew, Bigfoot’s in Wisconsin?!


How was your week everyone? 

Top Five Things I’ve Learned About Married Life

Break out the champagne and candles! We’ve been married for one year!


I know it’s hard to fathom. Two youngest children forced to play nice together. Most odds would have us laying tape lines around the house, each sticking to our respective sides. Or at the very least, using a conch shell to determine whose turn it is to talk.

“Sucks to your assmar!”

But we’ve managed to co-habitate with relatively little violence and debauchery.

(In case you’re wondering, the violence is from our new set of kitchen knives. Every time Joe uses them, he manages to cut himself. Either those knives are sharper than a Lady Bic throwaway razor or Joe has the skin of a flower petal.)

In contemplating our one year anniversary, it occurred to me there were many learning lessons along the way.

Top Five Things I’ve Learned About Married Life

1. Simply Being a Wife Does Not Make You More Domestic

I admire those women who are able to keep perfect households where everything matches and dinner is on the table at 6. When we first got married, we needed to buy a couch. One year later, we still need to buy a couch. And Joe does all the cooking. I am, however, an exceptional take out orderer.

2. Being a Wife Does Not Make You More Medically Intelligent 

You know how some women just know all these natural, home remedies for how to fix everything? They can cure fevers and soothe upset stomachs with nothing but a nail file and a half a lemon. (I don’t know if that’s what they actually use, I told you I’m not one of them!) My husband once suffered a sneezing fit, and I treated it like the hiccups.

“Hold still, and I’ll come out and SCARE you!”

3.  Some Decor Ideas Do Not Find Compromise

You know that scene in When Harry Met Sally where Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher are arguing over whether or not a wagonwheel coffee table goes in the living room or not. Well, I’m Carrie Fisher in that scenario, and it doesn’t.

4. All Those Times You Blamed Your Roommate, It Was in Fact Your Spouse

If you and your spouse ever shared living quarters with a roommate, you may have bonded over a mutual frustration with said roommate’s bad habits. Now that said roommate is gone, you may have discovered your spouse has extremely similar bad habits as your roommate once did. What are the odds? 

5. Date Night is Still a Thing

You may think by “putting a ring on it,” you’re work is over. The reverse is true. Married life requires more creativity, more compassion, and more commitment. And this is where I publicly thank Joe for creating the #Appetour date night – wherein we hop from stop to stop in town and enjoy a drink and/or appetizer, maybe some live music, and then head to the next place.

Side note* If your spouse leaves you to play on stage, they pay for the next round. It’s not technically in our vows, but now I’ve got witnesses. 

So thank you, Joe, for that last date night. It was most enjoyable.


What are some lessons about love you’ve learned, whether married or not? 

Do you think we’ve earned our paper anniversary?
Maybe I’ll print this post out and put it in an envelope for Joe. ❤

And, you can relive the magic from Our Big Fat Secret Greek Wedding.
Or hear us sing “Home” from our stateside ceremony
below. Enjoy!

Gift Giving Gone Wrong

My father, Jerry, is a good man. A hardworking, well-intended and thoughtful man. Any time I go home, he never fails to send me off with some homemade food, a spare cake or two (he’s a baker), or a surplus of some great deal he found – anything from mini cans of juice to say…soap.

One such visit home my dad sent me away with two bottles of soap and two bottles of lotion. They looked like your basic sanitation brand, some great deal he’d found that did nothing for my mother’s decor but got the job done. I grudgingly accepted the bottles and once back at my place offered up the lotion to my boyfriend and my roommate. If they would use it, good for them. I was going to stick with the far better smelling and more visually appealing lotions that I bought, the ones with flowers on the bottle that smelled like coconut or almond oil.

A few months went past and I decided “What the heck! Put the soap in the main bathroom and use it up.”

Later that night I could hear my roommate and his girlfriend laughing in the bathroom. It got so loud I opened my door to see what the fuss was about.

soap and lotion bottles

Of course! It was the soap.

Had I, or better yet my father, bothered to read the bottle, I might have known why my roommate and his lady had a serious case of the giggles.

To start with, in its bold yellow lettering it reads: MULTI PURPOSE PERINEAL CLEANING* BODY WASH AND SHAMPOO.

Good gravy! Where do I begin?!

My dad gave me free butt soap!!!

The definition of perineal is the skin in front of one’s anus. You may know it by its street name, the taint. Please imagine now the sheer look of momentary horror on my face. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

If that wasn’t enough of an introduction, the back of the bottle gave more explicit instruction.


If you’re not already a fan of this FABULOUS multipurpose cleaner, just read: it’s “designed to dissolve fecal soils resulting from incontinence.”

Well yippy skippy! No need to rush when the urge strikes any longer! One pump of this magic and you’re fecal free fresh!

Can I get a “just clean ahhhhh!”

But if simply clean is simply not enough, there’s a lotion for that too!

Between the his and her snickering I was subjected to from the roommate and his girlfriend, I pulled a “Jerry”, shrugged, and said “It’s free.” I also reminded them it was the same brand as the lotion I gave them earlier, which prompted sock-footed running to their room to gather the other bottle.



Where exactly should one rub this lotion? I’m not sure I feel comfortable using the same lotion a person puts on their kid’s toucas also on my face! Though when questioned later, my dad said it’s good at preventing wrinkles.

Gee Dad, your gift was really something! I wonder what you’ll share with us next time! But be warned – this soap could end up in your “Welcome to the Nursing Home” basket!

Have you ever received a gift that was well intended, but so wrong? Did you tell the gift giver? Have you ever BEEN the shamed gift giver? How did you recover?

Grayson: A Book Review and Lesson on Positivity

Lynne Cox (source: newyorker.com)

For Lynne Cox, a champion long distance open water swimmer, practice and positivity go hand in hand.

If you’re unfamiliar with Lynne and her triumphs, here are just a few of her records:

  • In 1972 at age 15 Lynne swam across the English Channel and shattered the men’s and women’s world records with a time of 9 hours and 57 minutes.
  • In 1975 Lynne became the first woman to swim across Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Her time was 12 hour and 2 1/2 minutes.
  • In 1976 Lynne became the first person to swim across the 42 degree F waters of the Strait of Magellan with a time of 1 hour 2 minutes.
  • In 1985 Lynne swam “Around the World in 80 Days” by swimming 12 extremely challenging waterways some that had never been attempted.
  • In 1987 Lynne became the first person to swim across the Bering Strait as a way to open the US-Soviet Border for the first time in 48 years with a time of 2 hours and 6 minutes.
  • In 1994 Lynne swam through the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt to Israel and from Israel to Jordan tracing the progress of peace between the three countries.
  • In 2002 Lynne became the first person to complete a 1.2 miles in Antarctica, from the ship the Orlova to Neko Harbor in a time of 25 minutes.  (All facts from Lynne Cox’s website)

Not bad right?  Would you believe me if I said Lynne was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame?  She is.

Lynne’s journey in the water began at the age of 9, when she was coached by Harvard University coach, Ben Muritt.  By age 12, she was working with 4 time US Olympic trainer Don Gambril.

Grayson, is a memoir by Lynne about a routine swim practice that became a life defining moment.  She was only 17 years old when this happened.

Imagine yourself swimming laps early in the morning, back and forth between pier points.  The sun is not up yet.  You are alone in this day where the black sky blends into the dark waters.  Suddenly, hundreds upon hundreds of anchovies are swimming past you!  And behind them are grunion.  Slippery, iridescent fish are moving so fast, that one grunion ends up in your mouth!

This is a grunion. (source: latimesblogs.latimes.com)

After the grunion, you become swarmed by large, 40 pound tuna, bouncing out of the water, all chomping for their next meal.  That’s when you realize, you’re in a food chain cycle.

Below you, the current is weighted.  You can tell something is beneath you.  Something big.  It’s following your path.  As you continue to stroke forward, you peer behind you with each breath checking for dorsal fins.  Is it a shark?  Panic in every fiber of your body tells you to leave the water, but the fighter inside you says stay.  Stay and finish your workout.  This situation is real and you will face it again on another swim, you have to prepare yourself.  Stay.

You can see a friend on shore waving their arms at you.  He comes running down and he tells you, “It’s a whale!”


That is the beginning of the story of Grayson, a four month old baby gray whale and how Lynne meets him while she is practicing in the ocean.  What follows is an epic journey that lasted hours where the two new friends go in search of Grayson’s mother, without whom he will not survive.

Lynne Cox swimming (source: laurinswim.com)

You will not believe what they go through, and yet through it all, Lynne is a consistent reminder of the power of positivity in our thoughts.  There are times where her body becomes weak, where she loses Grayson, where she wonders if his mother is dead.  But Lynne will defy it all and remain assertive.  She will remind you that there is no task too big if you break it down and go piece by piece.  She will remind you that the hardest and most difficult trials of our lives are best made with decisions of heart instead of head.  And she will do all of this with such imagery as you can barely imagine.

For this midwest girl, the Mississippi River is the closest thing I have to open water.  I have been to both oceans surrounding our country, but I have never had the delights and trepidations that Lynne describes while encountering dolphins and jellyfish.  It has been a few months since I read this book, it was at the end of summer.  I just went to my library’s book discussion on it and it reminded me that I while I was reading this book, I was sitting on a patio chair outside with my feet up on the seat because reading about the food chain cycle around her was terrifying!  I also shared bits of the book aloud with my boyfriend because the descriptions are so rich and magical. Lynne Cox does something only a handful of us can do, but she invites us along in her writing with beauty and awe.

If any of you are looking for a great Christmas present idea, I highly recommend Lynne’s book.  She intended it for an adult audience, but teens all over have grasped at this inspiring story and found hope in its pages.  It’s a book that with a message that will make you go, “Ok Lynne, I know you’re talking to me!” and anyone can appreciate it.

Go get this book!

For more information about Lynne, her world records, her speaking engagements, her other books, and even her blog, check out her website www.lynnecox.org.

What do you think?  Can you imagine swimming in the ocean with a baby whale?  What experiences have you had growing up where positive thinking played a crucial role in helping you face an overwhelming situation?

The Mayflower: A True Story, and One You May Not Know

Source: Google Images

The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

For those of you busy prepping for the Thanksgiving holiday, making mad dashes through the grocery store, stocking up on cans of pumpkin like it’ll never be back again, may I ask that you sit a moment and learn the true story about the people who sailed from England to the New World and how they came to know the natives who lived here before them.  If nothing else, you’ll have a great conversation starter for your Thanksgiving table and everyone will be so impressed by what you know.  😉
For starters, to say that Thanksgiving was a time where the pilgrims and Indians came together as friends for a feast, is severely underrated.  And, were I to try to recap for you the 50+ years of alliances and wars that occurred between these people in the historical retelling of The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, we’d both be here a long time!  So let me give me the basics, and encourage you with absolute sincerity that this book is a phenomenal read.
Now, our story starts in Leiden, Holland.  Before the pilgrims set sail for religious freedom to the New World, they attempted Holland.  Most of us thankfully will never know the hardships that these people underwent in their attempt to make a new life for themselves.  For the pilgrims who lived in Leiden, they were slaves.  All of them, including the women and children were forced to work long hours in the factories to earn their keep, and barely received any pay.  Their religion was persecuted and they had to gather in secret.  When enough was enough, plans started to be made about a voyage to the new world.
But these people were not rich, government officials, they were simple and poor puritans.  Several times the voyage seemed to make progress, only to have the business deal fizzle out from beneath them.  Even their first stretch of sailing was a complete disaster.  There were in fact two ships that left England, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, but the Speedwell’s captain had been sold faulty sails that were much too big for the vessel and when the Atlantic’s winds ripped through them, the support beam cracked and the boat began to leak.  Both ships headed back to shore.  Some of the Speedwell’s passengers clamored aboard the Mayflower, while others decided it a was sign not to risk their lives any further.

Joe and I outside the Mayflower II Recreation

The Mayflower suddenly held more than its capacity of people and not all of them were getting along!  Amongst the pilgrims we all know and talk about, were other Englanders who had come from the Speedwell, a few militia men, and the ship’s crew.  It was crowded and smelly and there was little privacy to the whole journey, which lasted months.  Amazingly, only two lives were lost from those on the ship, and neither occurred until after they had docked.  One of the ship’s men died, and William Bradford’s wife, Alice, was found overboard and it can be speculated suicide was the cause, as the Bradford’s had to leave their only son with family in England until the new colony was established.

Cozy sleeping quarters aboard the Mayflower II

The pilgrims had depleted their supplies and were still huddled below deck of the Mayflower while roughly 10 men went out each day to find suitable land.  Before establishing the colony in Plymouth they came across several mounds in the earth which held inside them corn, dried meat and other housewares and weapons.  They also held bodies.  The pilgrims had unearthed several Native burial mounds.
Their first encounter with the natives was a shooting match with the Narragansett Natives shooting arrows at them and they shooting their muskets.  The Natives were wary of any white travelers since those who had come before them cheated the Indians out of land, and spread disease.  But the English’s fancy form of dress and iron kettles for cooking proved useful trading supplies.  With the aid of Squanto, a native man who spoke English, a trade alliance was made between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe.
What spanned for the next 50+ years was an up and down relationship between native tribes and the English settlers.  Every chief was in battle with the other tribes for territory, and of course the English were expanding their settlements too.  The greatest alliance of the 17th century was probably that between Chief Massasoit and the pilgrims’ Governor William Bradford.  Through the assistance of Squanto, these men made an alliance against Massasoit’s enemies and assisted the natives in battle, giving them guns as weapons and other supplies.  Massasoit, in return, offered protection and additional furs/food to the pilgrims.  Without his people’s aid, the pilgrims would not have survived the first year.

English Colony in 1627, taken at Plimoth Plantation

One of the most significant acts of kindness that showed the alliance between the natives and pilgrims was Thanksgiving, more likely referred to by the attendees as a Harvest Celebration.  It lasted three days and was put together by about 6 women, two of them teenagers.  The pilgrims invited their Wampanoag friend, Massasoit who brought with him his wives and honored soldiers.  The natives taught the pilgrims games and shared some food from their hunts, but the reality is they nearly ate the pilgrims out of house and home.  Nonetheless, were it not for the stolen supplies from the burial mounds, the pilgrims wouldn’t have survived the first year.  Each owed the other greatly.

The John Howland House at Plimoth Plantation

A Kitchen Area inside the Pilgrim Houses

Hay stuffed Mattress for a Bed

Handmade Clay Watering Can

Thanksgiving and the story of the pilgrims is very dear to my heart because I am a descendant of two pilgrims who crossed over on the Mayflower.  John Howland came over as an indentured servant with the colony’s first governor, John Carver, but Carver and his wife perished that first year.  Howland became a respected member of Plymouth’s colony and helped begin a fur trade expedition further north.  After a year or so settled he married fellow Mayflower passenger, Elizabeth Tilley, who had lost both her parents that first year around the age of 14 or 15.  They raised 10 children and are the most prominent Mayflower ancestors known because they survived to old ages.  Most descendants today come from the Howland family, and John is my 15th great-Grandfather.  My family stems from the tree of his eldest child, a daughter, Desire.  Last summer, I made a trip to Boston, Massachusetts and took a day train into Plymouth and toured Plimoth Plantation, a living museum that recreates the historical houses and people of the Mayflower crossing.  It’s one of the most moving and fascinating history tours I’ve ever been on.  The plantation also includes boarding the Mayflower II, a replica ship actually sailed from England to Massachusetts in a symbolic journey.

The Navigator's Room aboard the Mayflower II

Chatting with Priscilla Mullins aboard the Mayflower II

I was also able to visit the Jabez Howland house, a home built by John Howland’s son that is one of two remaining homes built and inhabited by an original Mayflower pilgrim.  Entering the home of my ancestor was an indescribable experience.  I imagined the days he lived out with his family, the winters he survived, the memories he had of those early days, and most of all his courage.

Honestly, I barely touched the surface of the story of the pilgrims and those first 50 years after settling.  Philbrick does an exceptional job of telling a captivating story of “courage, community, and war.”  I encourage everyone to learn the real story of the people involved in creating a national holiday of thanksgiving through reading his book.  And if you’re ever out east in the Boston area, definitely take a trip into Plymouth and visit the Plimoth Plantation and Mayflower II.  It’s a totally interactive site and historically acclaimed.  They are learning new information all the time.

For more info on John Howland or the first years of the pilgrim’s settlement, check out my guest post, A Thanksgiving to Remember, at David Walker’s blog.

What questions do you have?  Are you surprised by the reality of the first Thanksgiving?  Did you know at that time that eels were the dinner delicacy, and lobster was the throw away food?  What traditions does your family celebrate this time of year?  Have you ever traced your family tree and been surprised who’s shown up there? 

Happy Thanksgiving, Readers, from my family to yours! 

Do You Have a Favorite Book?

Another magical book club meeting.  Two months ago, I joined up with a coworker of mine and attended her book club.  At the end of that meeting, hoping to insight me to return, they asked me what my favorite book was, and I said The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

First, here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

Who, you might ask, is Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) and why is she the subject of a book? On the surface, this short-lived African American Virginian seems an unlikely candidate for immortality. The most remarkable thing about her, some might argue, is that she had ten children during her thirty-one years on earth. Actually, we all owe Ms. Lacks a great debt and some of us owe her our lives. As Rebecca Skloot tells us in this riveting human story, Henrietta was the involuntary donor of cells from her cancerous tumors that have been cultured to create an immortal cell line for medical research. These so-called HeLa cells have not only generated billions of dollars for the medical industry; they have helped uncover secrets of cancers, viruses, fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping.

Now why on earth would a book about cells and science and medical advancements appeal to a girl who only walked through the science building on campus during winter when it was the shortest route to the English building?  It’s because the author, Rebecca Skloot, spent a decade researching the subject and uncovering the family that belonged to Henrietta Lacks.

Sadly, we don’t know a lot about Henrietta’s life when she was alive.  She died in her early 30’s and only one photo exists.

What makes Henrietta’s life so incredible is that she’s been living for the last 50+ years and will continue to live on!  She lives on through her cells.  Now known to have a rare enzyme that causes her cells to rebuild themselves, her cells are the ONLY cells to have survived and replenished themselves in history.  Think of a medical advancement in the last 50 years.  Polio vaccine?  Cells in space?  Chemotherapy?  They all came as a result of tests done on Henrietta Lack’s cells.  HeLa cells, as they are called after her, were taken involuntarily from a tumor in her cervix at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950’s.

Now, 50+ years later, HeLa cells are sold in vials for $500 to $10,000!  And up until Rebecca Skloot’s book came around, no one even knew who Henrietta Lacks was.

My book club is made up of women who are all 30 years my senior, and I am in complete awe of their intelligence and eloquence every time I meet them.  To read this book with a group that is made up of teachers, professors, psychiatrists, and nurses was about as rich a discussion as you can get on this book!

The story is about more than science, though ultimately that is what started the story in the first place.  A doctor taking samples and testing them.  Fifty years ago, there wasn’t even a term like “informed consent.”  And as you read the book, it becomes difficult to find fault with one party.  Who is the real exploiter, is it the doctor who took the sample, the doctor who gave the sample away freely to other research studies and labs, or the journalist who first printed her name?

And what about the family?  Their mother’s cells have saved thousands, millions?, of lives, and are being sold on the internet, yet the family can’t afford medical insurance.

As I said before, this book is not ONLY about science.  It is a story about a family.  A family deeply ignorant of education.  A family that was abused in multiple ways, and received little closure or compensation.  And the author spent a lot of time earning the trust of this family, teaching them, sharing first experiences with them, and helping them to heal.  She didn’t fix things.  In many ways, it’s a complicated issue that can’t be solved with a check or even with this book publication.  No, she didn’t fix things.  But she did tell their story, the story of their mother, Henrietta Lacks, how she changed the world and saved lives, and how through knowing their mother, their own lives could begin to grow again.

The author, Rebecca Skloot, shares her memory of taking Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, and her son, Zakariyya, to a lab to see HeLa cells for the first time.

This is my favorite book.  What’s yours?

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