Life on the Lighter Side: Swimsuit Edition

Once again, and in a mind-boggling way, I can truly say, “I’m no Martha Stewart!”

I just watched her remarking about her Sports Illustrated photo shoot. She’s on the cover of the swimsuit edition, for crying out loud. She’s 81 years old, or young, or mature, however you want to put it.  She is amazing and articulate and brave. I love that she wants to make women feel better about themselves at whatever age.

Even though I personally have qualms with these SI issues, I do share her sentiment of wanting to make women feel good about themselves, but my platform is a tiny bit smaller than Martha’s. The only thing that Martha and I really have in common are X chromosomes.

But along that vein and pushing all vanity aside, I am posting a recent photo of my husband and me in our swimsuits as we walked along a secluded beach in Fort Pierce, Florida. It is a good reminder that the paparazzi are everywhere, and my sister acted as one of them when she took this from our oceanfront balcony. This is the only picture of us from that trip. I don’t sit for a lot of swimsuit pictures. Actually, standing is always a more favorable pose, and the further away the better, but I digress.

To sum up: I’ll never keep a house or calendar that looks anything like Martha’s. I’ll never have a dinner party that could hold a candle to hers. I’ll never be on the cover of SI or any magazine, especially in a swimsuit. I’m okay with that.

The flip side: I’m very satisfied with my abilities as a housekeeper and my calendar works for me, too. I will host the occasional game night or dinner party, and sometimes I may use paper plates. It only took me five or six decades, but I’ve reconciled myself with my feelings about my body. It suits me just fine. I still will decline any and all offers from Sports Illustrated – in case anyone asks.

In conclusion and to make this truly a swimsuit edition, I offer two pictures of some bathing suit clad relatives of mine hamming it up in front of the camera. The close-up is my mom and her mother with her cousin Dotty in the background offering a serious pose at the now defunct Oakwood Inn in St. Michael’s, Maryland – Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The sliding board picture was likely taken in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Both pics are circa 1945.

Have a happy summer!

I Am Groot

True Confession: I love the Marvel movies. Unless you think me immature, no, I wouldn’t marry them. I’ve been married to my favorite engineer for going on 48 years, so clearly, he ranks above Marvel.

My grandchildren like the franchise, and I love anything that brings me on to the same plane as them. I have one grandchild who stands head and shoulders over the rest in her love for Marvel – Ella, it’s her picture from 12 years ago that is on my blog header. She is my go-to for all questions Marvel, and I must admit she is more than a little obsessed. I love that about her! As a former collector of various useless things, I get her obsession and try to live vicariously through it whenever possible.

Marvel mixes action, adventure, and sci-fi with enough humor to lighten the load of explosions and annihilations. As you may have guessed, they had me at humor. At the top of my list of humor-adding characters is Thor, Antman, Drax, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, Rocket, and Groot. The last four star in Guardians of the Galaxy 3, which was released to theaters last week.

I perused the internet to see if there would be any promotions going on at the theaters during opening week. The best I could come up with was a commemorative ticket available only on Sunday, May 7. We made on-line purchases for our tickets for that day, showed up at the theater, showed them our digital ticket, and they gave us a paper one. How is that for a weird turn of events?

I never would have expected to see any of the actors from the movie at our local Altamonte Springs theater, but there he was, poking out of a brick pillar – Groot! This is the first celebrity with whom I’ve ever had my picture taken. I’m glad I was dressed appropriately. I must say I blushed a little when he said, “I am Groot!” He’s quite the charmer.

I’ll give the movie 5 stars. Plus, I love the music from Guardians. My toe is constantly tapping out the tunes from Peter’s awesome mixes. You can’t sit still in your seat – it’s that good. I was sad to see the end of the franchise, but one never knows when the Guardians will show up in a universe as crazy as Marvel.

Meanwhile, Groot continues to make me smile. He graces my Christmas tree every year and hangs around my house with little plants popping out of his head. Sometimes when I don’t know what to say to Bob about a subject, I just say, “I am Groot.” That seems to cover it.

Thank you, Klaus Teuber

The Settlers of Catan opened a new era of game play for my family. This completely addictive game hit the market in 1995. My family discovered it in the early 2000s. It is a strategy board game, but it does involve dice, so the luck of the roll is a factor. Part of the genius of the game is that you are involved not only during your turn but in everyone’s turn. Placement of initial settlements at the beginning of the game is strategic. That’s where probability comes in as you make placements on numbers 2-12 and receive resource cards when your numbers roll.

Klaus Teuber is the dental technician, turned brilliant game creator, who gave the world Catan. Thank you, Klaus, for teaching us to build roads, make settlements, and upgrade them to cities, all in the name of becoming the Lord of Catan (winner, the person who first acquires ten points). You have given us hours and hours of fun and frustration, but mostly fun.

On April 1, Klaus Teuber passed away at the age of 70. This post is dedicated to him.

When Catan first came out, it was hard to find. I remember ordering it from a game store. Since that time, Amazon has taken over the shopping world, and Catan is even available at Target.

I’m not saying I was ever fanatical about the game – I’ll leave that to my kids. I will tell you that we played so much we wore out the cards more than once. One year for my birthday, my kids gave me a special edition of the game, which I dubbed the precious. We have all the expansions and different editions, but the original is my favorite.

The Precious

I could never have imagined that I wouldn’t take every opportunity where three to six gamers were gathered to play this game, but something strange has happened in the last five years. We hardly ever play Catan anymore. Could it be that we simply played it too much? Did we wear out the fun?

Years earlier, our son, Scott, told us we killed it for him when we took it on a family vacation. Evidently playing 20 games over a long weekend is too much for some people. Scott and his next older brother Joe oversee introducing new games to our family. I’m not sure this is a position that they sought after, but they have their fingers on the pulse of whatever is new in the boardgame world.

Three or four years ago, Joe introduced us to Azul. Azul is a 3–4-person, abstract strategy board game. When I read those words from their website, I find it hard to believe how much I love this game. I had no idea it would become the new Catan for us. We have all but the first of the four versions of Azul. My favorites are Stained Glass of Sintra and Summer Pavilion. The latest edition, Queen’s Garden, has more twists in it and requires a lot more thought than Bob and I typically like to put into a board game. We only play it when the kids come to visit. That’s how we show them love.

If our entire family gathers, we have ten adults and eight grandchildren, most of whom are teenagers, so games for groups have become more important. Even though I hate sushi (yes, my feelings are that strong), I love Sushi Go Party. It’s a pick and pass card game and is great for anyone eight and up. Two to eight players can play, and it has relatively short rounds; plus it’s easy to learn.

Codenames is a go-to if we want to get everyone involved. Although it says it’s for 2-8+ players, I would never play with less than six. It’s for ages 14 and up, but our younger grandchildren (8 and 11) can hold their own because you divide into two teams. A round takes about 15 minutes. We usually play several rounds to give more people a chance to be spymasters, aka clue-givers, who try to get their teammates to figure the secret identities of 25 agents. That’s what the box says, but it’s really about guessing the word on the picture of the agent from the clues given by the spymasters without guessing the one word that is the kill word, which makes your team automatically lose the round. It’s fun and fast and involves a lot of discussion by those on the teams receiving the clues.

More recently, Scott introduced us to Cards Christians Like. As the box states, “It’s a party game but with convictions.” Four or more players ages eight and up is recommended, but we’ve played easily with ten or twelve. It takes about 45 minutes to play. Be prepared to laugh a lot. You can find it at It reminds me of Apples to Apples.

We were at our daughter’s house for Easter, and we needed a good six-player game. We pulled out Catan. It was like sitting by a cozy fire reading a good book. It has staying power – as long as you don’t play 20 times in a short period.

I’ll leave you with this picture from our 2021 Family Vacation. All 18 of us were together and this is what our gaming corner looked like. I think Joe and Scott were responsible for bringing most of these. We learned a few new games and played our favorites, too. Good times.

Lava, Oh Boy! (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)

When Bob and I set foot in Volcanoes National Park last October, it was as if we had never been there. Our prior visit was for our 25th anniversary, back in 2000. Kilauea had a devastating eruption in 2018, which changed the geography drastically. I did recognize a building that formerly was a gift shop and information area, but it is now deemed unsafe and is barricaded off to the public.

I’m no scientist, which I’m sure you have figured out by now, but I have learned a thing or maybe even two about volcanoes. First, they can hang around a long time without doing really much of anything except looking majestic and/or foreboding. Second, when they have a major eruption, everything changes.

Top row of pictures is before 2018 eruption; bottom row is after.

In 2018, a new eruption of Kīlauea volcano changed the island of Hawai‘i forever. From May through August, large lava flows covered land southeast of the park destroying over 700 homes and devastating residential areas in the Puna District. At the same time, the summit area of the park was dramatically changed by tens of thousands of earthquakes, towering ash plumes, and a massive collapse of Kīlauea caldera.”

On May 3rd 2018, the first fissure of the eruption opened up in a residential subdivision, Leilani Estates. The following day, on May 4th, the island was struck by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake as magma continued its move to the Lower East Rift Zone. Over the next two months, lava covered 13.7 square miles of land, several dozens of feet deep in places. The flows in the Lower East Rift Zone destroyed 700 homes, displaced over 2,000 people, covered 30 miles of road, and added an astounding 875 acres of new land to the island.”

I confess, I didn’t really think about the “You Are Here” sign until I looked back at the pictures. I was too busy taking in everything to realize the here where I was seemed very close to the slope to Kilauea’s caldera. Maybe this isn’t to scale. Either way, I made it out without falling, slipping, or sliding into anything. That kept in step with our goal of not injuring ourselves.

Since I have practically no sense of direction, I rely on signs like this to get me around. Bob loves maps and likes to impress people with his ability to say things like, “Go east at the crossroad.” That kind of talk just makes me angry. I only know where east is if it’s sunrise or sunset, like a normal person.

On the way to view the eruption viewing area, we passed several young trees which were making their way through the volcanic soil, lifting their arms to the sky. I’m not sure who put the rocks around them for protection, but this was a perfect example of new life being protected while it emerges after destruction and devastation.

And there it was. Eruption is not always like you see in the movies. Eruptions go on constantly through fissures in the mountain. When we arrived at this place, there was a large crowd gathered. I did my best to avoid them and grab a quiet volcano caldera moment. I used binoculars to see the lava flow, which was hard to spot and looked tiny from my vantage point.

Meanwhile, Bob was circulating among the crowd, none of whom had binoculars. He was sharing his and pointing out the lava flow. And, as it turned out, he was schmoozing with the Governor of Hawaii, David Ige, who also borrowed Bob’s binoculars as he surveyed the lava flow while touring the national park. (You would think that somebody would have remembered to bring binoculars!) Most of the crowd were not tourists but part of the entourage of the Governor.

In keeping with my love of signs, soon we were faced with the decision of heading to devastation or not. We did not, but I loved the fact that a sign would lead you to devastation. Maybe the National Park Department does have a sense of humor.

This is one of my favorite signs and I photographed it in honor of our friend, Cliff, who is anything but unstable. We have no need to beware of him.

This area reminded me of Yellowstone National Park with its steam vents, which Yellowstone calls fumaroles. Here they were just referred to as steam vents and they lined the hiking trail.

On our way back to our resort, we passed the most dangerous place of all, Mauna Loa, the macadamia nut factory, not the mountain. The sign said “free samples,” so we veered off the road to get a macadamia nut fix. We managed to buy what became an extra suitcase full of chocolate-covered macadamias, onion flavored macadamias, and Hawaiian sea salt macadamias, most of which we could have picked up at Costco. We went nuts and were totally unable to resist the lure of the macadamia. I’d say anyplace that is offering yummy chocolate covered macadamias and is technically on a volcano qualifies as dangerous.

Mauna Loa, the mountain/volcano which is part of Volcanoes National Park, not the candy factory, erupted in 1843. This is the earliest, well-documented eruption. It has erupted dozens of times since, sometimes with months or even decades between eruptions. We were in Hawaii in October. Just weeks later, Mauna Loa erupted again. Click here to see the grandeur and destructiveness of that eruption.

We were thankful to have gone to this unique national park on the beautiful island of Hawaii. Also, in our pursuit of checking off as many national parks as possible, this is a good one. It and Haleakala are the two farthest from our home in Florida and we feel privileged to have visited them twice.


There’s nothing like a good massage, and this was nothing like a good massage. Okay, that may be a little harsh. It actually had all the elements of a massage, so there’s that. This was my first time at this particular spa, and I was looking forward to redeeming my Christmas present – an entire hour of stress reducing, muscle loosening relaxation just for me.

She asked the usual questions – problem areas, physical limitations, etc. Did I want essential oils? I said no to that. When I told her that I broke my shoulder a year ago and though it is fully recovered, if she should move my arm a certain way, I might wince, but no worries. I do that myself once in a while. I just didn’t want her to freak out if it happened.

That appeared to alarm her despite my insistence that I was fine. I thought about arm wrestling her to prove my point, but that seemed a bit much, and I didn’t want to cut into my hour.

Then I added, “You should know that I am at times prone to vertigo and a trigger for me is lying flat on my back. Elevating my head slightly helps. I’ve been asymptomatic lately, so that probably won’t happen either.”

She seemed to take this in stride, so much so that she asked if I wanted to start out on my back. Of course I said no, for what I thought was an obvious reason. Finally she left me alone to get situated on the table.

I climbed on and put my face in the cushion which allows you to breathe and not turn your neck, thus requiring additional massage to get the kinks out of that. I was immediately greeted with a musty odor. This was not going to do.

When she came in and I was lying there with my head sticking up like a turtle from its shell, I told her the issue. It turns out they keep their linens in a cabinet with essential oils. Now I had to explain to her in more detail that certain oils and fragrances dry out my eyes and give me headaches. She left in search of an unscented pillowcase and maybe a couple of Advil for herself.

When at last she returned and I settled in for my massage, I commented that by the time she finished with me perhaps she, too, would need a massage. She chuckled politely and got to work on me.

She started on my shoulders, which is my favorite place to hold tension. Every time she would rub them and move her hands up my neck, I heard a crinkle sound, kind of like somebody opening a bag of chips. It didn’t take long to realize that she was wearing gloves. Since she didn’t have a mask on, this was even more of an unwelcome surprise. It’s like getting a massage through a plastic bag. I had been asked if I wanted a male or female masseuse, but there were no questions regarding gloves or not.

My mind wandered to Sandy. Sandy is the woman who I would usually go to if I wanted a massage. She is half German matron and half physical therapist. She helped me so much when I was recovering from my shoulder injury. I missed Sandy. I kind of felt like I was cheating on her, and this was my punishment – being massaged through plastic-covered hands like a butcher would use to hand out deli meat, with just a hint of essential oils.

When I checked out and was asked how everything was, I told them about the crinkle. You might say I took the gloves off, but with kindness. They seemed to have no idea that there were gloved masseuses behind the lobby doors and rewarded me with a gift card for a discount off my next massage, which was very kind. I’m conflicted about using it though. I don’t think I can do that to Sandy. I’d just feel too guilty.

Maybe I’ll take a tip from Winnie the Pooh and try something altogether new to unwind.

Bear With Me

I have an unhealthy fascination with bears. We live in Central Florida, practically spitting distance from the dreaded Interstate 4, so you wouldn’t think we’d get much interaction with them; but we do.

Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) sightings have ramped up in the last 12 or 15 years. The cuddly-looking creatures are being squeezed out of their habitat. I understand how that works, but I don’t understand what is so great about my backyard. For some reason they like to stop by here and destroy my bird feeding station. It wouldn’t be so bad if they did it when I could observe them and maybe even give them a wink as they tear things up, but they wait until I’m asleep and then – BAM! Birdseed and feeders go flying all over the place. Sometimes they knock over the birdbath. They are none too careful.

We have replaced the station several times and it is now outfitted with a stand which they can simply knock over instead of breaking the metal pole in two like a toothpick. They’ve knocked it over twice in the last few months, so I think we’ve got that angle figured out. Knock on wood.

Even with all the expense and clean-up they have caused us to undertake, I really want to see the bears. I have a high-powered flashlight to aid in my pursuit of even a glimpse. We have dubbed it the bear flashlight and it has been used to spot raccoons and opossums, but so far, no luck in the bear department. I have seen bears in our former neighborhood and in my son’s neighborhood, but here on the home front, I just see their path of destruction.

All that to say, when David Martin of our local Fox 35 news reported on Bearadise Ranch in Myakka City, which is just east of Sarasota, I knew I had to check it out. Here was a family who had dedicated their lives to bears and transformed the property which their home sits on into a bear preserve – truly a bear paradise.

Can you say day trip? Bob and I headed over there with visions of bear cuddling dancing through our heads. Alright, Bob had no such vision, but a girl can dream!

Monica runs Bearadise Ranch and gives close-up tours – not so close that you can get a bear hug or even touch one, but a good tour, nonetheless. The bears live on her property in several habitats, and they are clearly in love with her – and not like one loves apple pie. I can tell the feeling is mutual. She is so good with them and cool as a cucumber while interacting with these big fellows. She married into this job. Her husband’s family has been caring for bears since 1926. His grandfather was with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1940s.

These bears are famous. They have been in movies and on TV shows as well as commercials. They aren’t just ordinary black bears either, there are also brown bears, aka, grizzlies. It surprised me to see Monica interact with them in their own habitats. She has no fear. They clearly have a rapport with each other.

During our tour, she told us how the bears grieved when her husband died unexpectedly in 2017. It took months for them to get past that grief. She stayed right with them through her own grief, wearing her husband’s shirts as a means of comfort. They had to be cared for and she did just that. When she told her stories, I couldn’t help but feel admiration at what she does day in and day out. Monica is one amazing, hard-working lady, and she is dedicated to the wellbeing of each of her bears. It is worth the trip to Myakka to see her interact with her grizzly and brown bears. I highly recommend it but make a reservation first.

We’ve all had those time when we’ve taken a bath and the towel was just out of reach.

One potato, two potato. If you don’t eat it fast, you get no potato.

If you want to take a tour, contact Monica on her Facebook page, Bearadise Bear Ranch Preserve, or her website. You can also book lunch on the ranch. She has a cute gift shop as well as a pictorial history of their bears since their early days.

Monica is a wonderful hostess/tour guide/educator.

Just Dive In – A Hawaiian Adventure

Nearly eight years ago, we moved into our current house. I was most excited about having a pool in our yard. We’ve lived in Florida since 1976, so this was a big deal for me.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I remembered diving into a pool. It was better than easing your way in as you got used to the water all at once. I recall looking at that water and thinking – I don’t want to. The stairs are fine. The stairs are good. I didn’t need to plunge headfirst or plunge at all to get into the pool.

I wanted to try to dive, and eventually I talked myself into it. I was pretty proud of myself. It felt good to know that I could do it. I’ll always cherish that memory, especially because that was the last time I dived in or will ever dive in. And, cherish may be a strong word. Perhaps remember would suffice.

Now I ease on in like an old(er) lady, and I’m okay with that. I choose to act like an old(er) lady when it serves me, like getting a discount at the movies or a seat on a bus. Mostly, I try not to, but I’m in my sixties so sometimes it sneaks out.

One such time was last year during our Hawaii trip. We were staying along the Kona Coast of The Big Island, which is the perfect place to go night snorkeling to see manta rays. Manta rays can have a wingspan of 12-14 feet. Bob was all about seeing them, and I figured, why not? When would I ever have the opportunity again? I was excited and only a little apprehensive.

It had been awhile since I’d snorkeled from a boat and I knew I’d have to gracefully get in the water. I also knew that I’d have on fins and a mask, so graceful might not be an option. I did it, though. One of the great things about being older is that you realize that people pay a lot less attention to you than you think they do. That seemed to be the case that night as I jumped, or rather slid off the side of the boat, into the water.

Once in the water the six of us positioned ourselves around a sort of customized surfboard that was outfitted with lights that pointed into the water. We hung onto the sides by rope handles. Bob and I had on our ninja snorkel masks, which were perfect and give a panoramic view. There is nothing to hold in your mouth – you just breathe normally via the snorkel that is at the top of the full-face mask. I highly recommend them.

We were instructed to get in a Superman position – hands holding the rope, arms extended, with a pool noodle under our thighs to keep us afloat and out of the way of the feeding manta rays. They wouldn’t bite people, but they are big and could bump you.

It took no time at all before the lights attracted plankton, which, therefore, attracted the manta rays. From our viewpoint, we were looking into the mouth of the ray while it came from the depths to feed. They would filter out a mouthful of plankton and then do barrel rolls right below us. It was incredible for about 15 minutes until the rays moved on to another feeding area. No worries, though, we would move, too.

We were instructed to hold onto the handles while the boat dragged us several yards to another location. Picture this: The boat moves forward. People who were once perpendicular to the surfboard when it was relatively stationary tend to lose their perpendicularity and move closer to the surfboard. Of course, this is temporary, a mere few minutes, and if you do not have vertigo issues, it likely would not bother you.

I am not one of those people, so when we found the rays again, I was feeling a little unwell (to use a current term). I was able to hold it together and enjoy the antics of the rays, all the while reminding myself that it was only a 40 minute tour.

They were amazing to watch – so acrobatic, especially given their size. They had no fear of us and more than once one swam so close to me as to nearly brush my mask. Bob did have one touch his leg, but he was on the end of the row while I was in the middle. All in all, I’m so glad I did this. It’s worth doing once, if you’re me, or over and over again, if you’re Bob.

When our in-water guide told us it was time to get back on the boat, I was happy and relieved. Not only was I feeling a tad queasy, but this was the biggest workout I had given my shoulder since breaking it eight months earlier. Basically, I was weak and tired and ready to get on shore.

The captain had Bob get on the boat first. “Yea,” I thought, “I’ll be next.”

Not so. He went the other direction so that meant I got to hold on the longest. Isn’t that special?

Well, no, it was not. If you have read prior posts about this Hawaii trip, you’ll remember that Hawaii was wearing me out. This might have been the pinnacle of my exhaustion, but it was almost over. Everyone had gotten on the boat except me. Finally I put my hands on the ladder to climb in, but the rest of my body would not cooperate. I had no strength in my weak little arms to pull me in.

That’s when the captain said, “We have gotten too close to another group, everyone hold in place while I move the boat.”

What he meant was, “Hey, you slowing me down on the ladder, hang on while I move the boat.” I couldn’t believe my good fortune to have this extra little adventure tagged onto our trip! Thankfully the in-water guide was with me in case my strength gave out completely.

When at last he stopped the boat and said I could climb in, he was wrong, and very wrong. There was no way that I could climb in. I was on empty. The sweet young lady who was our in-water guide had to heave ho on my rear end to boost me up the ladder. This time, unlike my entry into the water, I’m certain everyone noticed; and I didn’t care.

These were the nicest people. Clearly Bob and I were decades older than all of them, but they didn’t make me feel old or injured or weak, just cared for. And a little embarrassed. But that’s okay.

Bob rented a GoPro for our adventure. When the trip was over they gave him a thumb drive that had our 40 minute excursion compressed down to about a minute and a half. He was able to capture a few stills for me. They are a poor representation of what we saw, but I hope you enjoy them.


One of my favorite scripture verses is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

My thoughts on that verse have changed from when I was a young Christian. My emphasis initially was on him giving me the desires of my heart. That sounded like a great deal, but truthfully, I had no idea what it meant to delight in him or what I should desire, and I was often guided by my emotions or felt needs.

In later years I realized that as I got to know Jesus, he changed my heart’s desires and gave me new ones that would bring me closer to him and actually be good for me – unlike some of the weird things I had asked for in the past, most of which I cannot even remember.

Today is my blogging anniversary. When I started this blog 12 years ago, my desire was to highlight the lighter side of life, which of course includes at the top of the list – Jesus. He is the light of the world. I also wanted to make people smile or laugh – lighten their load for a moment. I wanted to offer something fun, humorous, or interesting and definitely non-sad. (Is that a word?)

Not long before I launched my blog, I went to Honolulu to visit my daughter and her family who were working there for several months. (My sweet husband was moved to send me there when he saw how much I missed them all. As grandparents, you do what you have to do!)

The kids took me to beautiful Hanauma Bay for a day of sunshine and snorkeling. I was captivated. I took lots of pictures that day, but one stood out to me as the embodiment of pure delight. That was my five-year-old granddaughter Ella enjoying the day while floating in her pink inflatable ring. I needed a picture for my blog header and this one filled the bill for me.

Now Ella is 17 and getting ready to graduate from high school. She is no longer that carefree girl but a lovely young woman. Among her senior pictures was a shot of her in her happy place – on the horse that she loves. It took me back to that little girl over a decade earlier because the face was the same – pure delight. It brightened my day and I am sharing it with you as I mark 12 years of blogging.

Thanks for reading. My blog has changed over the years, but so has my life. When I began, I had no idea Bob and I would travel so much, so it has come to include my travel diary. (There will be more of that in the future, too.) We’ve increased from 5 to 8 grandchildren. We’ve moved from the house where we raised our family for over 30 years, and now my mom and sister live with us. We’ve been through happy times and sad times, but Jesus has been faithful through it all. I appreciate each of you and hope you’ll keep following my journey and even have a chuckle or two.

Have a Magical Day

In 1982 things around Orlando got a lot more magical and for sure more futuristic. That is the year the EPCOT opened.

I unearthed the proof of the best Disney deal I ever heard of when I went through my dad’s filing cabinets after he passed away in 2017. An unused pair of Keepsake Tickets to the EPCOT Center Adventure was tucked away safely and in mint condition. This ticket entitled the bearer to three-days in either EPCOT or the Magic Kingdom. They were the only two Disney parks back then. I remembered my dad buying them and I also remembered encouraging him to use them. Dad liked memorabilia, and he liked it much more than waiting in lines.

Their value was approximately the current price of a 3-day park-hopper. I tucked them away for safe keeping. Also in Dad’s files was a stack of unused A-D tickets. If you know what I’m talking about, then you will not be surprised that no E tickets were in the stack. Way back in the olden days of Disney, your ticket consisted of an entry ticket and tickets ranging from A to E. The A tickets were for a ride like It’s a Small World, while an example of an E ticket would be Space Mountain. These tickets were phased out in 1982.

Bob and I had planned on getting annual passes to Disney after he retired. We already had one, which Bob had won in a work raffle back in 2000 – it was made of paper and was more like a voucher. At that point, we still had four kids at home, all teenagers, so one free ticket was not going to get us far. We put it in a safe place, and quite remarkably remembered where that place was when we decided last November that it was time to cash in.

Since we’re locals, we went to Disney Springs Customer Service with our stacks of paper consisting of:

  • Two 40-year-old Keepsake Tickets to the EPCOT Center Adventure
  • One 22-year-old voucher for an annual pass
  • A small stack of A – D tickets from the 1970s, which we assumed would have no value

The perky, pleasant young lady who got us at customers had her work cut out for her. Disney doesn’t see a lot of paper tickets in our digital world. She remained undaunted for the hour and a half that it took to go through several binders to look up each thing we brought her.

The keepsake tickets were easy. Three days is three days – no matter that Disney has added two more parks since EPCOT opened. They did garner some attention though. Every employee wanted to see the artwork on the 40-year-old tickets, which were older than most of said employees. These tickets were transformed into three-day, no restriction park hoppers, which are no longer available to be bought.

The voucher for the annual pass was a little more challenging. I’ll spare you the many details of converting that to my Disney World Annual Pass – no blackout dates and parking included. They no longer sell this ticket either.

As for the small stack of A-D tickets, thank you, Dad, that you never threw anything away. These were worth $61. Amazing. Paper does keep value.

Thank you, Walt, for making good on old, unused tickets. Bob and I came away with an annual pass for me and a Florida Resident Pixie Dust pass for him, which can be used only on weekdays and has some blackout dates when we wouldn’t want to go there anyway. Our out-of-pocket was way lower than it could have been!

So, bring on the magic. We have been enjoying EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and the Studios. I am a Star Wars fan, so the Studios is my favorite.

I especially wanted to see the Magic Kingdom at night before the 50th anniversary celebration ends, so last Thursday night, Bob and I went out to dinner and headed to Disney. We would enjoy the magic more accompanied by grandchildren, but for one night we just wanted to see the 8:15 Disney Enchantment, a 50th anniversary nighttime spectacular with fireworks and projection effects on Cinderella’s castle.

We had plenty of time. We boarded the monorail at 6:45. There was a glitch with the train ahead of us, so we sat and waited for a few minutes. We would be in place by 7:30.

Finally, we were on our way. The monorail stops in the Contemporary Resort before reaching the official entrance to the park. That is where we sat on the train for almost an hour before being forced to reverse and go back to where we started. As we left the train, the youthful Disney cast members said, “Have a magical day!”

Everyone on that train wanted to see those fireworks. We were told to take the ferry or a bus. I asked a cast member (employee) about the bus. He replied, “There are no buses available. You’ll have to use the ferry. Have a magical day!”

Bob and I were near the front of this mass of people heading to board a ferry. We could see that one had just left minutes before we got there. We could also hear screaming – blood-curdling screaming which cut through the night air like a knife. It was horrible. I thought maybe a child was throwing a tantrum, but when we got to the boarding point, an unfortunate woman was shrieking at the top of her lungs. Then she went quiet and passed out. Several cast members appeared and got the reluctant and now revived woman into a wheelchair and whooshed her away. I don’t think she was having a magical day.

As we boarded the ferry, we were told to, “Have a magical day!” I hope the traumatized little girl who watched all of this would have just that. Maybe the fireworks would take her mind off that poor woman who was so distraught.

It took several minutes to load the ferry. By now we knew we wouldn’t make it for the 8:15 start time, but we were able to lean over the railing of the boat and see some of the fireworks as we crossed the lagoon. We disembarked at 8:25 to wishes for us to “Have a magical day.”

If you’ve been to the Magic Kingdom before, you know that when you get to this point, you have not yet gone through the entry to the park. We got in line as fireworks continued to burst through the air just out of our sight. Trouble again, we did not have a reservation. We were under the impression that we did not need one after 2 PM, but that perk doesn’t start until next month. A helpful cast member waved her wand and got us through. She also said, “Have a magical day!”

We finally got to the main street looking up at the castle at 8:35, just in time for the finale. For us it wasn’t a big deal as we live here, but I felt bad for the folks who had one shot at seeing it. It looked fantastic and we will go see it soon when our grandchildren are down. We will arrive hours ahead of time and we’ll take the ferry.

Our magic wasn’t over. We weren’t going through all of this for two-minutes of fireworks. It had been ages since we were in the Kingdom so we headed upstream to Tomorrowland like salmon fighting the current of people exiting the park.

Monsters Inc. is a great show – very funny. I highly recommend it. Next we went on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover for an overhead view of the land. The moveable inclined sidewalk (think escalator with no steps) was not working, so we had to walk up this squishy walkway to get on the ride that was also delayed a little because of a technical issue. It wasn’t too bad though, and we were wished a magical day.

We figured we had one more ride in us, so why not check out the Carousel of Progress and see how they’ve updated it. We got inside and the first stage greeted us. At that point a song is supposed to come on and the audience becomes a carousel ride to the next (stage) point of progress. We just sat there in the dark as a cast member told us in a muffled voice that there was a problem. I’m not sure she said for us to have a magical day, but I’ll bet she did.

Finally the lights came on and the floor abruptly shifted left and right, then the lights went off and the ride began again. This time there were no problems, but I have to say, it didn’t feel very magical.

By then the crowds were thinned and we could stroll through the castle and enjoy some of the 50th anniversary decorations. It was approaching 11:00 as we left and one more time, were told to “Have a magical day.”

It struck me so funny that we heard this time after time on a day when everything was more malfunctional than magical. That’s when the magic began for me. Finding humor always does it.

The Great Backyard Bird Count and My Hubby’s New Hobby

Each February, for four specific days, people from around the globe take time to go outside and count birds – hence the name, The Great Backyard Bird Count. GBBC helps scientists better understand and protect birds around the world. I have to say, it’s pretty cool to be part of an online citizen project.

This type of thing is referred to as community science. For me, it’s just a lot of fun doing what I love to do on a higher level.

The GBBC is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. This project began nationally in the USA in 1998 and went global in 2013. I participated several years ago, before it was so techy. The counting, of course, is the same. It’s the reporting that is different. And, the best part, the tools for counting are amazing.

If you have any interest at all in birds, you need to download The Cornell Lab Merlin app, but be warned that it will turn you into a birding nerd. It’s free and will look like this on your phone:

This magnificent app is the perfect tool for identifying birds. I’m not too shabby at it as far as our local birds go, but the sound ID is a game changer. It listens for the birds and creates a wave file. As soon as it hears a bird, it comes up on a list. My list grew and grew on Monday morning as I did my bird count. My backyard is a cacophony of beautiful bird music anyway, so I wondered how it would track so many at once.

No problem! It highlights the ones singing, sometimes more than one at a time. It’s so addictive that even Bob has put it on his phone. This morning he turned on the sound ID when he was taking the recycling to the curb and reported his findings of a red-bellied woodpecker, northern cardinal, and brown-headed cowbirds. It’s a beautiful combination of technology and nature!

Speaking of Bob. He’s been retired for a year now and has a new hobby that involves nature. Since we feed the birds, we also feed the squirrels, but not by choice. We have invested in a feeding station that won’t allow our huge squirrel population to climb the pole and empty the feeders. There is plenty for them on the ground and they feast and bury nuts constantly. Plus, right now during winter migration, we are going through 40 pounds of seed a week. Thank goodness for Costco’s reasonably priced seed!

The squirrels are plenty entertaining as they chase each other around and try to climb our birdfeeder pole. I can tell when there’s a new one in town as the regulars know this is futile. I do love watching them experience the frustration of trying to jump from the tree that is just out of reach. But, in my humble opinion, they are rats with a fluffy tale – though not as disgusting. They’re destructive and occasionally like to chew our screen or the corner of the house. They also love to eat the blossoms of my camellia bushes. They make me crazy when they do that!

Our friend, Al, told Bob he had been trapping squirrels and relocating them. Thus began Bob’s Great Squirrel Relocation Program (GSRP). So far, after 24 hours, he has captured two and released them by the neighborhood lake. That only leaves about 50 more, though I’m not into counting them like I do birds.

Meanwhile, regarding the GBBC, I came to the counting game on the last day and almost missed it. Thanks to my sis-in-law, Beta, who made sure I was informed, or I would have missed out. That was a close one!

At 8:30 on Monday morning, I sat outside on my pool deck and started my count. The GBBC folks ask that you commit to at least a 15-minute period. I had to tear myself away after an hour. You count what you see and what you hear, just like on The Big Year (a favorite birder movie starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson).

Here’s a list of my morning findings in case you are into that sort of thing:

Birds seen:

21 brown-headed cowbirds

4 red-winged blackbirds

5 northern cardinals

2 common grackles

3 tufted titmouse

1 mourning dove

1 palm warbler

1 mockingbird

Birds heard:

Carolina wren

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

European starling

American robin

Carolina chickadee

Cedar waxwing

One time counting was not enough for me, so I went back out at 5:30 pm for half an hour.

Birds seen:

4 tufted titmouse

1 red-shouldered hawk

4 northern cardinals

2 mourning doves

2 red-winged black birds

3 common grackles

2 American crows

1 mockingbird

48 brown-headed cowbirds – Yes, it’s tough to count so I gave a conservative estimate, but that lets you know why I’m going through so much seed. These guys are not the prettiest in the group, but they have a lovely song which fills the air.

Birds Heard:

Downy woodpecker

European starling

Cedar waxwing

Carolina wren

Red-bellied woodpecker

So there were 14 species in the morning and 14, slightly varied, in the pre-evening.

It’s definitely spring in Florida, and we still have lots of migrating birds here who are avoiding winter up north. It’s a wonder I can get anything done with all of these beautiful distractions!