4 Reasons Why Our Planet Desperately Needs Women Leaders

8 03 2018

It’s International Women’s Day, and a perfect time to declare women as the solution to our planet’s woes!

When I wake up in the morning, I am driven by one thing, and one thing only. I want a better future. Not just for myself, but for my community, my country, and our planet. I am passionate about Sustainability, which is the delicate balance of improving People, Planet, and Profit: The Triple Bottom Line.

 

KellyWeger-FINAL-1As a sustainability specialist, I am all too familiar with the historical state of imbalance of these three critical aspects of the equation. We focus far too heavily on Profit, at the expense of People and Planet. The scales are starting to tip, but there is still much work to do in order to achieve a truly sustainable future.

The Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, and Profit 

 

Assuming that our economy has a pretty good handle on how to make a profit, I choose to focus my efforts on the remaining two-thirds: Planet and People. Together, finding a balanced way to improve and promote these aspects, will also naturally yield greater profits. I’ve seen this time and time again in my consulting work, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for dozens of companies, and it can work for you too.

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Here’s the thing. We have so many different uniquely narrow passions, with extremely taxing battles to fight, that we tend to become myopic in our approach. A Social Worker is mired in emotionally draining efforts to literally save lives on a daily basis. An Architect is neck deep in detailed technological advances and complex interactions that can make or break a good building design. A Trans Equality Advocate is swimming against the tide of public opinion to simply dispel myths that plague and endanger hundreds of thousands of Americans. An Atmospheric Scientist is struggling to share decades of verified changes to our planet to fuel positive policy and personal behavioral changes.

map1_Tagxedo_comEach fight is absolutely critical to our community’s future success, yet they lack a sense of interconnectedness that is inherent to their separate paths. Each one of these individuals is fighting for the same thing. Sustainability. They are failing to unite in this common goal.

 

The term sustainability is broad, intentionally so. It is often defined “as the ability to meet our society’s current needs, while still allowing future generations to meet their own needs.”

Basically, let’s provide a positive future for our grandchildren by being aware of the long term ramifications of our choices today.

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We have already seen cycles of unsustainable living, and their devastating impacts on People, Planet and Profit:

  • _90804563_d3e69c4d-f914-4ce4-9aac-1242b91af58dExcessive water use leads to decreased water tables, which leads to droughts, which leads to wildfires, which pollutes clean air, destroys homes and habitats, which negatively impacts humans and animals. Leaving people homeless, with expensive and lengthy cleanup.
  • Unchecked development with impermeable surfaces means there is less open land for rainwater to soak into, which increases stormwater runoff, which rapidly transfers oils and contaminants into the gutters, which overwhelms and floods systems, streets, and our basements. New infrastructure investments cost us millions.
  • Rapid consumerism leads to a throw-away society, where people purchase cheap items, use them once, then discard them, which means they go to a large garbage pile and get buried for the foreseeable future. Then they purchase the same item again, which consumes an enormous amount of raw materials and creates greenhouse gases in the production and transportation of that item every single time you buy it. Air pollution leads to atmospheric warming and increased  instability.

What if I told you that the solution to solving our sustainability dilemma lies in one particular focus?

The answer is women.

 

101445447-160002665It is no secret that women are still working in inequitable positions compared to their male equals. They get paid less. They are expected to be the one to leave the workforce when a couple chooses to start a family. They are increasingly starting small businesses, but fail to grow enough to hire employees. They are far less likely to be in leadership positions. Women make up just 4.5% of CEOs in Fortune 500. Women are TWICE as likely to live in poverty by age 75, because they aren’t able to put as much money into retirement. Women are at far greater risk of becoming homeless. So… what?

 

Why should we all care about empowering and advancing women in careers? If you care about our sustainable future, then you are deeply invested in women- or you should be, starting now.

 

DollarsCompanies make more money. By having at least 30% of leadership positions held by women, or the “C-suite,” companies add an average of 6% to net profit margin. Getting more women on boards also means that you end up with more women in leadership, known as the “pipeline effect.” 

 

So where does that magical 6% profit boost come from? Much as in nature, where mono-cultured crops develop major problems with devastating infestations of pests, diversity in the workforce also yields better resiliency and better products. Men and women have different values, and women tend to be more holistic, think more broadly, be more attuned to environmental and social concerns. They aren’t as likely to be focused on short term gains at the expense of long term failures. Where men take bigger risks and fail faster, women are more thoughtful and strategic about risks. The two balance each other out in a way that benefits the company overall. 

 

7398240996_bfc467485b_b1. Women care more. 

According to one study’s author, Lehigh University professor Corinne Post, “(Women) think about themselves usually in relation to others. Whereas men – either born or developed – see themselves more independently, as standing apart from others. For individuals who see themselves as more connected to others, it becomes natural to think about the implications for others.” Women have more empathy and concern for the well being of others.

 

getty_rf_photo_of_woman_reading_label2. Women dig deeper.

Women are also less likely to have a sense of stubborn arrogance that can sometimes plague successful men. With their greater sense of accurate self-awareness and humility, women also tend to ask more questions and come more prepared to make an informed decision, which, in turn, tends to increase male preparedness over time as well. So, a board room filled with women and men benefits from overall better researched decisions. 

 

rainforest-woman-NATUREWOMAN05173. Women listen internally.

At an individual level, women are far more likely to be in tune with their bodies and minds. The best cure for stress is to pause and be intentional. Those who listen internally develop a better appreciation and love for the healing power of nature. You’ve experienced the physical relieve of escaping a long week with a quiet walk in the woods, or working with plants outdoors. Those who choose to be still long enough to reconnect with nature, are far more invested in protecting and restoring our natural environment.

 

Woman Giving Money4. Women give more.

Did you know that supporting small, women-owned businesses has a much greater positive affect on those around them? Women are far more likely to spread their profits among their employees, which can improve the overall stability of employment in that area. Instead of just one family doing better, every family connected to a woman-owned business tends to see an improvement in quality of life and financial stability over time. But many small women-owned companies struggle with funding to grow, and have difficulty overcoming this hurdle to grow their business and its positive impacts.

 

Women can improve the future for People, Planet, and Profit. Women often have a natural desire to nurture and protect other people, and our environment. If more women in business are given the support they need to succeed, it will not only improve the lives of people in their community, but it will likely improve the stability of neighborhoods and cities, create new passion for cleaning up our environment, and add jobs and income to our economy. Women truly are the key to the next jump in our Triple Bottom Line.

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Where do we start? First, we need more women on boards. Second, we need more women CEOs. Third, we need more equal opportunities for women in the workplace, and to enforce zero tolerance for sexual harassment and discrimination. Fourth, girls need to be educated and empowered. According to Worldbank, “Better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labor market, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their children, should they choose to become mothers. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty.”

 

On a personal note: This is why I felt driven to co-found WomIN’s Fest. Our mission is to support, empower, and inspire women and girls for a better future. Through the next generation of women, we can achieve a more sustainable future for everyone. white-1342988_960_720

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Turkey: The Architecture of Terror

17 04 2018

I’m getting ready to fly back through Istanbul for the second time in just over a year. This time, however, I have no plans to step foot outside the airport.

 

I wasn’t looking to visit Turkey again, but after chasing a ‘cheap airfare rabbit’ down a dead-end hole with Norwegian Air, I decided to look elsewhere for a cheap flight to Sweden. To my surprise, Turkish Airline was comparably cheap- around $500 round-trip! Bonus points because I actually accrued miles with them last year, and was able to buy my flight for free using other credit card points. So… Turkey is is then!

 

Last year, we flew through Istanbul en route to Sri Lanka, with a hefty 8 hour layover in both directions. Better yet, Turkish Airline offered a free tour bus for anyone with a layover of more than 6 hours! We could safely explore a few highlights in a group, with a tour guide and even two meals provided. I was excited about the opportunity to explore Turkey for the first time. As a young Architect student, I had studied Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and was thrilled to finally experience these ancient architectural marvels in real life!

On the day of our departure from Chicago, a massive snowstorm was rolling in. While we were incredibly lucky not to be cancelled, it did leave us stranded on the tarmac for 3 hours until we could be deiced. We couldn’t watch any of the in-air entertainment yet, so I decided to catch up on email and social media. When I powered my phone back up, Facebook started exploding with concerned messages. “Are you two okay??” friends asked. Geez, it’s just a snowstorm, I thought. As I read on, however, I learned that this was not their concern. Apparently there had been a bombing in Istanbul at the stadium. It was chaos as the news was breaking, and friends and family knew only that we were supposed to be there, but were unsure of the exact timing. I spent the next hour assuring everyone that we were safely delayed. We were not counted among the 44 dead and 155 injured.

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This near miss certainly did not go unappreciated. Timing is everything, and clearly we were grateful for our 6 inches of snow and counting. Our flight delay did, however, carve into our layover, making the planned excursion impossible. I had mixed feelings, as a renewed sense of security concern washed over our plans to experience this famous city. After all, it was just 6 months earlier that the airport itself had suffered a terrorist attack. Is it wise to still consider exploring the city, after all that has happened there? We knew we at least had one more chance on the way home, and we would call it then.

 

After enjoying a successful conference and a couple weeks of vacation in Sri Lanka, we were renewed in our excitement to see Istanbul. Our flight arrived early, around 6am, so we headed to the VIP lounge (thank you, credit card perks!) to get breakfast and relax until the tour departure. We knew that we would have to get a visa, which supposedly was a quick and easy process. They lied. It was a nightmare! We spent 3 hours running all over, getting conflicting information, and watching the same visa guy treat everyone like wanted criminals. We missed our tour bus. Eventually, after spending way more money than we expected, we escaped the airport and took the metro into the city. This was my only chance, and I refused to let it slip through my fingers!

 

It was just above freezing, dreary, and drizzling. Bethany had lost her winter coat on the trip, so I gave her mine. We wrapped our heads in silk scarves to draw less attention to ourselves, and tried to blend in, knowing that being American was one thing, but being two American women- and lesbians, no less- was a whole separate level of risk.

 

Hagia Sophia WAS amazing, though not as mind-blowing without sunshine streaming in the windows to make the dome appear to float. There is no heat (it was built in 537 AD), and I was frozen to my bones after an hour. The rain had turned to sleet, and the inches-deep puddles were starting to ice over in shallower spots. We couldn’t bear the thought of taking off our rain-soaked shoes to step inside the cold, stone floors of the Blue Mosque, so that was the end of it.

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Just days after our return back home, Istanbul suffered yet another horrific attack, book-ending our trip in the most terrible manner. This pretty much settled it. No matter how much I desired to immerse myself in this ancient city, to go back and enjoy summer evenings strolling through sidewalk cafes, spending days-on-end losing myself in its architecture… Istanbul has lost all appeal to me… for now. So, next time I’m there, I won’t wonder what I’m missing, or expend energy calculating the mental stress of taking a risk being a tourist in dangerous times, or feel like a boring traveler for not getting outside of the airport. Instead, I will enjoy my free drinks in the airport lounge, and spend my layover hours practicing pronunciation with my new Swedish language app.

 

 





Hitting the Road Instead of the Books (p2)

9 04 2018

“If you could go anywhere in this great big world now, where’d ya like ta go ta?”

“… I want to see the BIGGEST ball of TWINE in Minnesota!!!”

 

My best friend and high school sweetheart, Jamie, decided to join me on this epic journey. When I asked him if it was okay to include him in this writing, he whole-heartedly agreed, with the caveat that I refer to him as “the type of beauty that you don’t even notice until you look away and find that everything else is grey and lacks luster because your eyes have forever been ruined by perfection.” (Happy, Jeremiah?) In truth, I loved his heart more than anything else. As a young man, he was fiercely loyal, compassionate, and caring. His long hair, spiky Doc Martens, and handmade chain mail bracelet were a nice touch too.

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As a modern day renaissance man, Jamie was a perfect companion for a road trip. While I had taken a few semesters of high school shop classes, and learned basic auto repair, he did it for a living, and was a whiz at diagnosing unexpected mechanical failures (which, with a VW Bus, was inevitable on a cross-country road trip). I do blame Jamie for getting me hooked on Weird Al’s music, however.

 

maxresdefaultI partly blame Mr. Yankovic for my near-obsession with seeing all the World’s Largest things. The fateful book, “Roadside America” didn’t help things any, either. I poured over the pages, my eyes filled with awe at the low-resolution, black and white photos of things so bizarre, I simply couldn’t NOT go see them! I never even knew there was a Spam Museum, nor did I eat spam, in fact, I’d been vegetarian since the age of eleven, but… c’mon, aren’t you curious???

 

Knowing that this would be the theme for my big adventure out West, I fully embraced this new life of kitschy oddities. That’s when I had the brilliant idea… to kidnap Ms. Gwendolyn and take her with me.

 

I didn’t know who Gwen actually would be, but I knew that she would have the time of her life! Her ceramic life, that is. You see, Gwen was a 2 foot tall ceramic goose that I stole from the lawn of a stranger in Lake Orion, Michigan. Honestly, she wasn’t my first choice. (Shhh.. don’t tell her). You see, in 1998, in this particular midwest suburban town, it was shockingly difficult to find people with lawn ornaments! I thought it would be so easy to find a cute, plastic garden gnome (by the way, my idea existed waaaaay before the movie Amelie was ever filmed). But after driving around in search of a victim, I was left with extremely sparse options. Then I saw Gwendolyn. She was standing there, next to another ceramic goose, and the setting sun glistened off her dewy concrete eyes. I knew she was ‘the one’ instantly, but I wish I had known how heavy she was going to be before I ran out of the car to snatch her.

 

Gwendolyn was a plain looking goose. She was mostly white, with some grey. Her feathered body was molded with little divots, not unlike a golf ball. She was hollow inside, which helped to reduce the load capacity of my under-powered, over-packed VW. I named her Gwendolyn, because she wanted to start fresh, with a whole new life. I wrote down the address of the house from whence she fled, and off we went.

Gwen was gleeful about her new adventure! The first night, we stopped at a campground listed in our thick book of campgrounds across America. It was a trailer park/ campground, and it was late when we pulled up. The gate to the campground was closed, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was dark, I was nowhere near any other towns, and I didn’t have the energy to stare at the atlas with a flashlight trying to reroute to someplace another hour down the road. Thankfully, a local living in the trailer park rolled up, opened up the gate before us, and said, “Just be outta here by 6am and you won’t have to pay!” “Uh… okay. Thanks!” I replied, nervous that I was going to get myself in trouble by sneaking in there after hours.

 

I found an empty site, got myself all situated, and started a small campfire. Gwen wanted to celebrate her freedom with a fire-roasted marshmallow, so I found her a stick with a Y-shape at one end, and whittled it down so she could roast her own, while balancing the stick atop her chest. She was a natural!

 

The next morning, we packed up our things under the darkness of cheap flashlights, and headed out. First night on the road? $0. What a great start to this adventure!!

 

 





Hitting the Road Instead of the Books (p1)

24 03 2018

Nobody thought I would actually do it. I was 15 when I decided that this was my plan. I’d just bought my very first car- a 1969 Volkswagen Bus for $2,800- and was saving up every dollar I earned to fix him up. The interior seats were a mustard yellow vinyl that reminded me of baby puke, but stickier in the summer heat with no A/C. The flooring was tattered and torn from 26 years of good times. The interior cabinetry- an original Westfalia conversion- was in surprisingly good shape, save for a few peeled back corners of the vinyl corner trim that had aged from white to creme-colored.

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I knew that this vehicle was the key to my escape, and I cherished every rusted inch of it. I borrowed some money from my parents to get the body sanded and repainted right away. The patchy, multiple shades of white paint that were on it were okay, but this bus had only moved to Michigan 2 years earlier, and I knew it needed a fresh coat of protection from the harsh, salty roads. I knew exactly what I wanted: brilliant, cobalt blue, with glittery heavy metal flake on the bottom, with snow white on top. (As it turns out, I couldn’t afford heavy metal flake, but I think he turned out gorgeous nevertheless).

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Over that first year we were together, I painstakingly removed all the wood paneling that graced the ceiling and walls of this camper. I salvaged the pieces I could, cut new ones where I couldn’t, and then stained them all a warm cherry color, replete with 7 coats of clear varnish. (My driveway and I saw a lot of each other that summer.) I bought a rusted out parts bus to scab materials from. An older woman helped me to sew all new curtains, which I then tie-dyed shades of cerulean blue, lime green, and a hint of purple. My own mother helped me to rip out all that nasty yellow vinyl and sew brand new upholstery for the rear seats and fold-out bed cushions. I picked a dark blue fabric with a black chevron pattern, to match the new paint job and help hide stains.

 

Before I knew it, I tossed my graduation cap into the air, starting dog-earring my brand new copy of “Roadside America,” and spent hours every week pouring over the atlas, thinking about the best routes to take. I had no cell phone. There was no such thing as wifi. It was just me and those books, calculating approximate travel time between towns. I made mixed tapes of my favorite road songs, and learned every word to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” by heart.

Finally, the time had come. My friends were all packing up to head off to college or ‘real’ full-time adult jobs. My own summer job was winding down, and my wallet was growing thick. I had no credit cards, and had to carefully plan exactly how much money I would need to take this trip. There was no ‘Plan B’ if I ran out too soon. There were only intermittent payphones and an ashtray full of quarters.

 

I didn’t yet know if I wanted to go to college for Art or Architecture, so I picked a school with excellent programs for both. The only thing I knew for certain, was that this trip was absolutely going to happen, and was part of my destiny. With my admission to the University of Michigan officially deferred, I packed up my things in my beloved VW Bus, and prepared to hit the road. College would just have to wait until the next semester.

(To be continued…)

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Berlin Spazieren Gehen

6 03 2018

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While living  in Prague for the summer, for the first time in my life, I had foreign culture at my fingertips. On weekends, studio mates would plan quick excursions to neighboring countries. I had never been to any of them. With feverish abandon, I gobbled up every opportunity. Although our true purpose was to study the Architecture and develop our design skills, I was deeply afflicted by the travel bug that could not be denied.

 

Anywhere I was invited, I went. Some weekends we just went to the train station and found the cheapest ticket to anywhere.

 

An overnight train to Poland, switching trains in Warsaw to go to Krakow? Absolutely! My modest attempts at learning Czech actually paid dividends there, as I discovered that Polish language overlaps significantly with Czech, and I could still communicate the most basic needs. Krakow was a dull, dirty town, when we arrived at 4:30 in the morning to an empty station lit with orange lights. It felt appropriately depressing as a transition to go pay our respects and weep at the horrors of the Birkenau-Auschwitz holocaust death camp.

How about Hungary? Why not? Another weekend a fellow travel grrrl and I went together to Budapest. I studied the language book feverishly during our trip, struggling to make heads or tails of this unusually difficult language. The city, however, felt instantly familiar. I began to notice that most old European cities follow the same basic pattern of settling along a major river, infilling the river basin on one side with the old town, while across the river an elevated cliff was dominated by an old castle surveying the kingdom. We actually stayed inside the Citadel, overlooking the Danube as it gently embraced  the town square.

Berlin? Our studio professors organized an optional group trip to Berlin, where I had just explored intensely for 10 days a couple months prior. I loved Berlin, and was thrilled to go back to practice more of the only foreign language in which I actually could converse fluidly. Since most of my studio mates had never been before, they set off on a whirlwind tour of highlights, all of which I had not only seen, but studied immensely for a semester before traveling there.

 

Berlin_Eiermann_Memorial_ChurchAfter I revisited the few highlights that I enjoyed the most, I departed from the group to explore a bit more off the beaten path. It was thrilling and a bit scary to be completely on my own in a big city in another country! I walked the streets, already feeling fairly oriented in Berlin, and familiar with the major metro lines to traverse the city easily.

 

I wound up at a large open green space, a lovely respite from a long day of flanuering on foot. I found a park bench, and sat down to absorb the sounds of birds dsc03240chirping from the trees, and to watch the steady stream of locals moving thoughtlessly through their daily routines. An elderly man slowly walked towards my park bench and asked, in German, if he could sit next to me. I politely agreed with a smile, secretly thrilled to get to use my German.

 

We sat side by side, gazing contently, the only two people breathing in the moment. He started making some small talk, and quickly noticed my accent. “Wo kommen Sie her?” he inquired about my origins. I smiled, and he quickly followed up with “Russisch?” I couldn’t help but chuckle… “No,” I told him in German, “I am not Russian.” “Really? But you sound so Russian!” he exclaimed in disbelief. I had never heard that one before!

 

We had a lovely conversation, and after a few more minutes he said, “Wir sollen spazieren gehen,” which is a German phrase meaning we should take a stroll together, and talk while we walk. I loved the idea, but then I remembered that, however sweet this old man seemed to be, I was a single foreign woman, in an unknown location, talking to a stranger, and perhaps changing destinations would be ill advised. He continued to suggest this, and I felt bad declining. It felt like such a German thing to do, but, alas, I elected to be safe.

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I often wonder what wondrous things this elderly man might have shown me on our walk, what stories he might have shared from his younger days. If he would have talked about the war, or the wall, and what life was like back then. He’s probably passed away by now, and I wonder if he ever thought twice about that Russian-sounding American young lady that he met at the park that day.





“Summer Days”

1 03 2018

i’m dreamin of those summer days,

dissolved in peace under your gaze,

dipping toes in unknown lakes,

sunshine melting fresh cupcakes.

rollin down those country roads,

with chirps of marshland loving toads,

windows down and playlist beating

past rural farms and white lambs bleating.

hours filled with sleepy smiles;

we won’t be home for miles and miles,

but the warmth of your gentle hand

reminds me of the lakeshore sand.

 

in those dark and dreary days

when winter grips me with its haze,

i still feel your grip against my glove,

and it’s always summer with your love.

 

~KRW

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My ‘Test Road Trip’ from Hell

27 02 2018

Ever since the day we met, I knew I had a new road tripping buddy. Even though it was just the beginning of a long, cold winter in Michigan, and we had only just met, we began daydreaming about where we would go together the next summer. Bethany was equally adventurous, and we were elated by how many things we both enjoyed, and wanted to experience together. So, we decided to plan a “Test Road Trip.” Ya know, in case we got sick of each other after so many days…

 

My new best friend and I could hardly wait to begin our adventures, so when her friend, Kristin, invited her up to northern Michigan for her 40th birthday celebration, Bethany immediately squealed, “You should come with me!” Beulah is not exactly a short trip, but if we made it a long weekend, it would be a fun mini-adventure. Except, Kristin’s birthday falls on February 29th. May I now remind you that northern Michigan is prone to some pretty significant snowstorms in February? Yes, clearly this was a brilliant plan from the get go.

 

Lo and behold, as our trip grew closer, the weather forecast grew more ominous. Bethany wasn’t too worried, because she knew that her Swedish tank (aka “Volvo”) would have no problem in a few inches of snow. What she didn’t plan on, however, was that she was taking this road trip with a sustainability freak, who would insist on driving her own Honda insight Hybrid. For the unenthusiast, let me tell you briefly about this car. My “Silver Bullet” is a sporty looking 2-seater, with aerodynamic covers over the rear wheel wells, manual transmission, 2” clearance from the ground, weighs about as much as two women, battery-powered with a gas backup, and averages 65 mpg. So, yeah, obviously I couldn’t be seen in a 20-year-old, gas-guzzling Volvo, tank or otherwise.

 

Bethany (who I was learning is decidedly NOT a morning person), had not yet had any coffee when I convinced her of my sound logic for switching vehicles. We threw our luggage into the back hatch, and got ready to go. Just one small problem. Bethany had decided to buy an unassembled IKEA bookshelf and deliver it to Kristin for her birthday. It was in a long, thick box, and weighed as much as my car. We tried sliding it between the seats vertically, and it fit! But it came right up to the dashboard, completely blocking my view of everything right of the middle of my car, including my mirror, and my passenger. This would NOT do for a 6 hour road trip.

 

Being the problem solvers that we are, we pulled out some straps to tie the box to the top of my car, where I had installed a rack for mounting my bike carrier. The IKEA box sat snugly atop my car, functioning perfectly as a giant sail for catching wind! It was not ideal, but by this point we were well over an hour behind schedule, so I decided to roll with it. (Literally). Off we went on our first adventure!

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Bethany had prepared some freshly juiced “Love Potion” for our journey, had consumed some caffeine, created a stellar music mix on CD, and was happily navigating. She had made this journey before on her motorcycle and had a favorite halfway spot where she liked to gas up, so that was out first destination. I was glad I was driving, because the weather was not cooperating, and the fierce gusts of wind were blowing my sail hard, tensing my arm muscles as I kept it between the lines on the road. As we got further out into the country, open fields of shimmering white crystals drifted over the highway, gusting and swirling into sudden walls of blinding whiteness before they disappeared into thin air. Fun!!!

 

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I couldn’t wait to get to the halfway point.

The driving was too stressful for me to do anything but focus on the road, and I was growing hungry, and needed to pee. Our route looked quite different in the snow-covered terrain, Bethany noticed as she squinted at signs to try to remember which one was her exit. She knew it by sight only. I silently watched as my gas gauge dropped, which was especially alarming because our IKEA sail was depleting my battery as well. I began to worry as the distance between each exit grew further and further. “I think it must be this one,” she guessed, as we finally exited the freeway. “No… this isn’t it. Let’s turn around.”

“Are you SURE?” I asked.

“Yeah, this is too soon, it’s coming up next.”

“Should we just stop and find a gas station here, since we’re already off?” I prodded.

“No, my gas station is way nicer. Let’s keep going,” she insisted.

Against my better judgment, I complied. After all, I didn’t want to argue on our Test Road Trip. I turned around, only to discover that the exit we had taken was one of those where there’s an off ramp, but no on ramp. Only a road to the previous exit, with no way to abort. So, there we were, driving 9 miles the wrong direction, only to then get back on the freeway and try again. We passed two more exits with nothing but an intersection in sight, and I was seriously starting to freak out. Here we were, my new best friend and I, preparing to become that story you hear on the news. That tragic one about two ladies found frozen in a snow drift, after they ran out of gas in the middle of a blizzard in northern Michigan with nothing but an IKEA bookshelf to burn for warmth. So sad.

I started thinking about all the warm layers I could put on, and mentally preparing myself for the long, cold walk from our abandoned car in search of help, when finally, like a beacon of hope, the gracious orange glow of a Shell appeared on the horizon. WE WERE SAVED!! I breathed an audible sigh of relief, trying not to pee my pants, and coasted into the gas station on fumes and prayers to the universe.

 

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I looked over at Bethany, our eyes both wide with amazement, and we smiled at our success! As a peace offering, she offered me a sip of her Love Potion, reaching down at her feet to grab the sealed bottle. As she twisted off the cap, a superheated explosion of beet orange juice splattered all over the inside of my car with shocking thoroughness. Bethany gasped in utter horror as her brain processed the phenomenal fermentation that we had just witnessed. You could not have engineered a better volcano had you tried.

 

Unable to speak, we both opened our car doors to go find something to clean up the mess. That’s when I heard the soft THUD of my passenger door hitting the concrete bollard next to Bethany. “You have GOT to be kidding me,” I muttered, but I could no longer deal with this insane series of unfortunate events. I HAD to go pee.

 

When I returned to the scene of the crime, Bethany was still feverishly dabbing at the upholstery with water and paper towel. Thankfully, the seats were pretty dry, since we were still sitting in them when it happened. I could see in her eyes that she was terrified that she had just killed our friendship. That was it. The Test Road Trip served its purpose and all future adventures were no officially cancelled. But I walked over to her, smiled, and said, “I can’t even believe our luck,” as I reached down to give her a hug. What else could I do?

 

downtown-beulah-in-winterBethany offered to drive the second half, and I decided to take her up on it. My shoulders ached from the tension of fighting with the wind gusts and snow drifts. She drove us the rest of the way, and it grew dark as we approached Kristin’s house. There were two ways to get to her place, nestled high up on a hilltop surrounded by trees. We now had a good 6 inches of snow on the ground, and were strategically coasting through stop signs to keep enough momentum to not get stuck. We turned onto the less steep approach, and I gulped. “There’s no way we’re going to make this,” I thought.

 

To my joy and awe, we fishtailed our way all the way to the top, and could see her driveway! That’s where we finally got stuck. I didn’t care at that point, we were close enough to walk. I grabbed my bag, tromped through the snow to her front door, and waited for instructions from B. “She said she’s not home yet, but the door’s unlocked,” Bethany read from her phone. She reached for the door and a booming series of barks ensued. “Oh, uh, hi Chopper. Do you remember me?” her voice quavered. “Great,” I thought, “we made it all the way here to be eaten by a dog.”

 

“Is he friendly?” I asked, having grown up with large dogs that cans sometimes sound meaner than they really are. B thought so, but clearly had a fear of dogs, so I decided to attempt to enter. I asserted myself and commanded the dog to sit to get a treat, and shockingly, he listened. After befriending him enough to get in the door, we walked inside, threw down our bags, and collapsed on the couch.

 

B’s reunion with her friends was lovely, though I (the introvert) was meeting everyone for the first time. We had some tapas and wine and caught up with Kristin and Kate. We were so exhausted, we didn’t stay up too late before asking where we were sleeping. Kristin’s two little boys had twin beds downstairs, one decorated with Batman, one with Superman. Bethany chose Batman, leaving me with the latter, and we passed out from our crazy long day.

 

In the morning, I awoke with a cold nose, and burrowed my face beneath the comic sheets. “Was yesterday for real?” I wondered. “That was EPIC.”  I began making some grand analogies to the journey of Odysseus, and then the cold found me. It penetrated the rest of my skin, as I shivered myself awake. I’m all for energy efficiency, but this was a little ridiculous. Moments later, my loud thinking woke Bethany and she agreed, so we toddled upstairs to make some coffee and tea. When Kate and Kristin awoke, it was to the realization that they had run out of propane, which is how they heat their house. After some frantic calls, we learned that it would be a couple days before they could get refilled, what with the snowstorm and all. So we prepped the house for the cold snap, and bundled up. Later that afternoon, B & I curled up together on the Batman bed for a nap, sharing our body heat for warmth. This was probably the highlight of the test road trip at that point.

The party was held next door, at Kristin’s parents’ home, which was empty because they were gone on vacation, and had heat. B & I moved over to their garage apartment for the night, grateful for a backup option. The party was amazing! I met so many new people, and had so much fun hearing all their old stories about B. And at the end of the late night, I got to lay in bed and stare up at the stars through a skylight, and make a wish on a falling star.

 

And, yes, my wish came true.

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