Morally Degenerate, Ambiguous Meatballs

Whoever came up with happy hour $5 appetizers is a genius. Bob and I visited our local Seasons 52 recently and totally enjoyed picking out a few of these along with a glass of wine. It’s a quick, relaxing date. An opportunity to reconnect over a light meal. Plus if I choose the wrong thing, which equates to anything I don’t like, it was only five bucks.

I am not a culinary guru. I can’t taste something and dissect the flavors on my palate, but I know what I like and even more what I don’t like. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I might really like what I claim not to like. Perhaps I’ve just not given it enough of a chance. Maybe my tastes have changed. Maybe I’m evolving into a foodie. Maybe, but probably not.

So after enjoying our flatbread and grilled chicken yakitori skewers and finding ourselves not quite there yet in the contented department, we decided to order one more appetizer. I really wanted another grilled chicken yakitori skewer. I still had the taste of the caramelized pineapple, slivered scallions, and toasted sesame bathed chicken on my lips. (Of course, I would have had no idea exactly what those flavors were except they were printed on the menu.)

But Bob loves variety, so we ordered the wood grilled meatballs with roasted tomatoes and Parmesan. One bite was more than enough for me to know that I didn’t like these, so I took another bite and then one more. With each bite I tried to figure out what was in with these funky tasting meatballs that Bob was enjoying. I struggled to discern the weird taste. Finally I came up with it – metal. Possibly iron. Or maybe some of the burnt wood which they grilled them on. In an effort to get that terrible taste out of my mouth, I finished off Bob’s glass of wine, which he offered in payment for me hating his food choice. He made the exchange happily as he polished off the meatballs.

Finally, when the server came by, I mentioned the meatballs reminded me of some of the heavy metal bands of the 80s, and I didn’t care much for them either. “Oh,” he replied. “It’s the shiitake mushrooms. They are rather earthy.”

Earthy was putting it mildly. That ingredient should have been listed on the menu. Please!

But, that explained a lot. I hate mushrooms, so this was good news. I had begun to doubt my mushroom hatred. I wondered if I had given them a fair shake or maybe I was just used to saying I hate them. Nope. I hate them. You can hide that fleshy fungus deep inside of an otherwise pleasant-looking meatball, and I still will turn my nose up at it.

I guess it’s true what they say – it’s what’s inside that counts. Evidently that goes for people and meatballs.

On the bright side, they were only five bucks. Plus, Bob did let me finish his wine. Most of all, I felt justified in my long-held mushroom disdain. That was worth $5 all by itself.

Honest, Abe, I love $5 appetizers (most of the time).

Artie and Tommy are Together Again

Writing my book, Always Look for the Magic, started out as an exercise to keep memories alive, to keep those stories that my dad told from disappearing. It turned out to be much more than that for me as I wrote and edited. It became a connection with my parents and their families before me. Especially Tommy (my Uncle Tom).

Uncle Tom passed into Heaven last month. My dad, Arthur, the big brother, has been there since last October. It is a comfort to know they are together again.

I grew up in Maryland and lived close to tons of relatives on both sides of the family. My parents grew up across the street from each other, so everyone knew everyone else. When I was six, we moved from the Baltimore area an hour away to near Andrews Air Force Base where my dad worked. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point, Uncle Tom, Aunt Audrey, and their three kids moved our way. We saw them a lot.

I know that as a kid I didn’t appreciate what was being built by those times together. It may have looked like eating dinner, playing badminton in the backyard, an epic game of Monopoly, or listening to the more musically inclined jamming in the basement; but it was family building blocks. Blocks of time that knitted us together.

Now we are all over the country. My three siblings and I and those three cousins all live in different states. Different regions, too. We don’t see each other often – in some cases it’s been over a decade.

Arthur and Tom, 1930

My cousin, Mark, and I have kept in contact more due to the fact that we both had our dads living with us and both had the privilege of being with them during those last days and weeks. We understood each other. It was comforting.

How does it work when you haven’t lived near each other in over forty years, that you can talk like best of friends? It works really well. For us, it’s aided by the fact that our dads both were Christians and we are, too. But I also know that somewhere deep in the foundations that were built when we were young, there was always a bridge to family. It’s like a draw bridge that you can lower and reach out to each other across the miles whenever you need to make the connections. It’s amazing.

I had a texting conversation with my cousins that lasted nearly two hours. We sent each other pictures and reconnected where necessary. We joked around and made fun of each other. I laughed and I cried. What a gift!

As a tribute to my Uncle Tom, I want you to know that he was a truly wonderful uncle. When Bob and I moved my parents into our house last September, he was on the phone to me with unsolicited (but good) counsel. “Bonnie, it’s not easy living with old people,” he told me.

I’m not sure if that was a quote that he picked up from my cousin when they moved under the same roof or if down in his basement he kept an even older person than his 88-year-old self, but I appreciated his call.

“Remember,” he warned, “it’s your house. You don’t need to change everything for them.”

Hum, I wondered, what had it been like for my poor cousin and uncle during their transition? I’ll be sure to never ask!

“Also, my brother can be difficult,” he added.

Can’t we all!

After my dad died, Uncle Tom called my mom about three times a week to check on her. They had been like best friends/siblings growing up together. They shared their love for the Baltimore Orioles and music and, of course, my dad.

As my father’s hearing reached the point that made telephone calls difficult, Uncle Tom and Mom did most of the communicating, especially during baseball season. Uncle Tom would call and complain about the Orioles or they’d relive the highlights of a victory.

Two of my own sons are Oriole fans like their grandmother and uncle. Eleven years ago, our son Jesse was growing concerned that his grandmother had not been to Camden Yards since its opening in 1992, so we made it happen.

Of course, we took Uncle Tom with us to the ballgame. This was the first up-close-and-personal experience that Jesse had with his great-uncle. It was love at first sight as Uncle Tom let Miguel Tejada have it for messing up at shortstop – standing up and booing him and telling anyone who would listen that the Orioles should get rid of him (in so many words). Since my dad was more of a fan-by-marriage, Jesse had never experienced a rabid Oriole fan of the male persuasion. It made his day.

What a fond memory that is for me – four generations at the iconic ballpark bonding over the Baltimore Orioles.

More important than his love for the Orioles, he was a prayer warrior and vocal about his walk with Jesus. I liked the way he referred to my dad as his big brother. I also can’t forget hearing him call his two sons “the beauties.” He was always part of my life whether near or far. I will miss him.

Where Did My Funny Go?

“I lost a little of my funny over the past year, but that’s okay.” This is a quote from someone very dear to me. I can also relate to it as I’ve had the very same experience. Life is not all roses and cat videos. It’s not all amazing trips and book releases. In between all of those things is the hard stuff. Suffering. Death. Unemployment. Injustice. Frogs that jump and make you scream. (I had to lighten things up a little!)

If you happen to write a humor blog like I do, that can add to the challenge. What do I do when the lighter side of things is hidden behind dark clouds? When I just want to go to bed and sleep until the funny comes back? When I’m tempted to retreat?

One thing I’ve learned. I’m not alone. There are always people who can relate and understand. There are always those who can’t yet.

So today I thought I’d remind you to be on the lookout for opportunities to look up. Personally I know where my help comes from. I know where the light comes from – or I should say I know who the light is. My help comes from The Lord. I hope you’ll see him as your help, too.

I have experienced something that I want to share with you. It’s joy. Joy through tears. Joy through sorrow. Joy when I don’t know where I’m going but I know who is guiding me. Over the past month as I’ve taken some walks with Jesus (literal walks), I’ve found my smile in the most unusual times. I’ve always had laughter come easily, but sometimes, along with my funny, I’ve found my smiles have faded. But I have experienced joy welling up in the form of smiles when I’m all alone. When I think of someone I love. When I witness life in front of my eyes. When I am grateful. That’s amazing to me.

So if you are finding your funny a little elusive, don’t give up. Look up. I hope you have a joyous day.

I always get a kick out of this picture. Even monkeys need to keep hydrated.

Things You’ll Never Hear Me Say

I kind of talk a lot. I admit it. I have opinions. If you’re around me, you just might hear them. I have things I am passionate about. You’d probably hear about those, too. But there are some things you’ll never hear me say, words I’ll never use even to make a point.

  1. Never and always. I’m always careful never to use those words; they get you in trouble.
  2. Tonight I’m cooking a new recipe with 15 ingredients. (There are easily three things wrong with this statement.)
  3. I’d rather not go out to dinner.
  4. I’ll skip my coffee this morning.
  5. There’s no room for my grandchildren to come stay.
  6. I’m canceling my Costco membership.
  7. The word “at” at the end of a question. (Where are you at?) I practically break out in a sweat when I hear this.
  8. We’re getting a pet. (This is outlawed according to Bob’s and my No More Pet Pact of 2011.)
  9. I can’t wait to go camping.
  10. These political ads have totally influenced my voting decision.

How about you? Is there anything you would never say?

Traveling with My Engineer

Travel. Bob and I are known for traveling a lot. Sometimes family or friends have traveled with us. That has resulted in a reputation that leaves some scared to do so. We are what you would say… aggressive. We make a plan that is so detailed that we have to write in time for rest. Seriously. This is what happens when you are married to an engineer, or at least it’s what happens with my engineer. We figure that there will likely be time for trips that are heavy on relaxing in our future (God willing). So, for now, let’s see how much we can cram into a vacation.

This last trip began because Bob became concerned about my state of mind. Excessive sighing, staring at the wall (of pictures), wandering through the toy aisle at Target. These were tell-tale signs that I was missing my grandkids and kids. I had not seen the Michigan group since Christmas. So, before I was reduced to weeping and gnashing of teeth, Bob scheduled time off from work and the plan began. Read the full post »

Hope

Ella two years ago at the Lake Apopka North Shore Wildlife Drive. She’s a serious birder.

There is a birding bond between my granddaughter, Ella, and me that helps us keep in touch even though we are now long distance. Ella will turn 13 next month, and ever since she was a toddler she has been fascinated by birds. At an early age she could identify all the backyard birds that visited our feeder. None of this red bird or blue bird stuff for her. She wanted to know their proper breed names.

We have taken her and her older sister, Mia, birding a couple of times. Ella loves it. She is an excellent spotter as well, picking out birds hiding in bushes and trees far better than I.

I’m never surprised when she or her mom, my daughter Dena, sends me a picture to try to identify a newbie. I was surprised to get this picture.

This poor little guy flew into their sliding glass door. Ella was crushed and quickly scooped it up and laid it in their vacant bird-cage. Since her mom wasn’t home, Ella texted this picture to her. Dena sent it to me as she was not in a position to help. Ella and I began to facetime each other. She was convinced that the cardinal was still alive, so I had her wrap it in a cloth to keep it warm in case it was in shock. Ella held it and tried to will it to live. She named it Hope.

While facetiming I also was interacting with the rest of the kids. For hygiene’s sake, I asked did anyone else touch the bird. Mia, who was holding the cat way too close for comfort to our little patient, scrunched up her face like I had suggested the unthinkable and said, “No!”

Layna, who is six, showed her concern by reiterating that the cardinal is the state bird of North Carolina. I’d say what a poor little thing it was, and she would say, “I know and it’s our state bird.” Such concern over the potential loss of so proud a symbol of their state mixed with pride over knowing this important fact was impressive.

But Jett’s mind presented the most interesting prospect and potential problem with helping this beautiful, red cardinal. “What if it explodes?” he asked. I think he’s played one too many games of Angry Birds.

Meanwhile, I told Dena that she could give it a couple of drops of whisky from an eye dropper when she got home. If there was any life left in it, that might help. Unfortunately, they only had Vodka. I’m not sure that made a difference.

Finally, it was decided that Ella should put Hope in an open shoe box and tuck it under some bushes to see if it would revive. Alas, Hope died.

If love alone could have brought Hope back, he would have flown away to live on. He left behind a sad Ella, but I believe he taught her a few things, too. This was not the first bird that she has rescued, but it was the first one that didn’t make it. Life is full of learning from things like this. On the other hand, at least it didn’t blow up. I don’t think she could have handled that.

 

Must “That” Show Go On?

Cirque du Soleil – Crystal, according to its own billing, is a breakthrough ice experience. That’s right. They billed an ice-skating show as breakthrough. Bob and I enjoyed it as part of our 43rd anniversary celebration last week. Well, we enjoyed most of it. There was a little show in the audience that was a bit much for us. I was ready for somebody to fall through the ice. But I’ll get to that in a minute after I deliver some fascinating facts for your entertainment and education.

This is a traveling show, unlike La Nouba, which in December ended its long run in Disney Springs. As a side note, if you haven’t been to Orlando in the last couple of years, you may be asking yourself – What is Disney Springs? Quite honestly, I live here and I often ask myself that same question.

Disney Springs is the shopping/entertainment complex formerly known as Downtown Disney, which was formerly known as Disney Village Marketplace, which was formerly known as Walt Disney World Village, which was originally known as Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. I still tend to call the area Lake Buena Vista, much to the confusion of anyone under 30.

Anyway, family-friendly Crystal was performed at the Amway Center in Downtown Orlando, so we didn’t have to try to remember what to call Downtown Disney, I mean Disney Springs.

For those of you who have seen La Nouba, Crystal is similar, but not as much of a sensory overload of amazement as the permanent La Nouba (which of course wasn’t so permanent since it closed). I guess that makes sense, but Crystal does deliver. It is more like Ice Capades meets Cirque du Soleil meets Alice in Wonderland.

But the show has moved on and so must I, but not before telling you about the couple who was sitting directly in front of Bob and me.  Now when I say directly in front, I mean really close. The seats in the Amway Center allow you to reach out and touch the person in front of you without even having to lean forward.

Bob and I arrived first so we witnessed their arrival. From all appearances they were free-spirited hippies, probably around fifty years old. Long hair for the pair of them, though his was a tad bit longer. We know this because they flipped their hair – a lot. Enough that I was wondering if we should check our jeans for lice. Not that they appeared to be dirty, but it’s strange to have someone’s hair dance across your knees.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was their inability to keep their hands off of each other, which was displayed by frequent make-out sessions throughout the night. You may think that since we were celebrating our anniversary, we would welcome viewing romance and simply channel that into our own celebration. Well, you’d be wrong.

This was not romantic. It was gross. I see nothing wrong with a little kiss between couples, but these two were going at it like the plane was going down. When they weren’t making my stomach turn, they were often talking. So much so that the people in front of them moved. That emboldened me.

Me: Do you want to move back a row?

Bob: Why?

Me: Seriously? You haven’t noticed these two going at it?

Bob: You mean them tossing their hair to and fro?

Me: No! I mean the sloppy make-out session going on an arm’s length away. I could put up with a little hair toing and froing, but this is ridiculous. How could you not notice?

Bob: I’m watching the show.

Of course he was watching the show. But I opened his eyes to another, more disgusting show, so we moved.

From our new seats we looked over their heads of tossing hair, and my evening was no longer hampered by their seriously inappropriate PDAs. The only thing we noticed from them from our new point of view was their finger snapping as opposed to applauding. I felt like I was in a poetry reading.

Cheers!

So, there you have it. Another anniversary with my wonderful husband. Another example of how we look at the world differently. Another story to laugh about. Another couple to avoid. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Life Has Its Ups and Downs

One minute I’m up and the next minute I’m down. That’s life in the Costco aisle. I can’t tell you how excited I was when Costco surprised me with Charmin toilet paper with scalloped perforations between the sheets. It was a stroke of brilliance that brought about this long-needed update to a very mundane (yet essential) product. Not since we were told “not to squeeze the Charmin” have I been so excited to sit next to this Grade A paper. Mr. Whipple would be proud. But he probably would be OCD about that, too. I can just hear him say, “Don’t rip between the perforations!”

This does solve a lot of problems. For years when our grandchildren were over we would go through toilet paper at a rate of about 1.5 rolls per day. We helped them learn to count with toilet paper, for goodness’ sakes. Now, though, it will be all the easier for them to count and tear. Genius! Plus, no more having to make that cute little triangle on the end of the roll to make it extra fancy. Perforations – that’s what it’s all about.

But then Costco threw me for a loop. They changed out my favorite yogurt. Dannon Activia has always come in three flavors – peach, strawberry, and blueberry. Always. But not yesterday. They claim to have updated the flavors and blueberry got the axe. I made an audible gasp when I saw the box promoting black cherry. I practically climbed into the refrigerator in search of any blueberry hidden back there. Alas, I am forced to try something new. Bob says it’s good for me and reminds me that I love cherries. I know what you’re thinking – how can he really not know me after all of these years!

Oh, blueberry! We had a good run!

This is my last blueberry yogurt. I will savor it and bid it farewell. I am reminded that you can purchase this at the grocery store, but that’s not how I roll. Oh, Costco! You drive me crazy sometimes, but this blueberry debacle will not be the end of our relationship. I forgive you.

Furthermore, I will not concentrate on the negative. Who knows – maybe I’ll love black cherry yogurt. Either way, whenever I visit the bathroom (which really goes hand-in-hand with Activia yogurt), I have a pleasant roll of perforated tissues there waiting to cheer me up.

 

First Father’s Day

After someone important to you dies, you go through a series of firsts. Firsts that they were always a part of. Firsts that leave a little hole in the day. I know that this is completely normal.

In my case, because my dad died at 94 after suffering with limitations that strived to define him, which he fought bravely to conquer mentally if not physically, it has been easier than I thought that it would be to go through this series of firsts.

Father’s Day was a BIG first that I wondered about, but I made it through. And it wasn’t too hard. Watching someone age and get ready for Heaven changed my perspective on my dad’s death. Truthfully, the dad that I knew the last few years was a representation of the dad who I had for most of his life. The thought of Dad in Heaven is a happy place in my heart. No limitations! Yes!

Dad retire at 50 years old, so he spent almost as much time on this side of retirement as the other side. Bob, my husband, has never worked close to home. His commute has varied from 45 minutes to 2 hours. So, when the plumbing was gushing up through the toilet or a tire had flattened, I’d call Dad. (These things happened more often while Bob was at work. I think that’s part of the mechanical-things-fear-Bob deal.)

That is the Dad that makes me smile. I hold both versions in my mind, but one has a bigger place in my heart. One has the bigger file of memories.

As I type this today, I’m smack in the middle of the second BIG first that I have wondered about. Today is the 70th anniversary of my parents’ wedding. I wondered how Mom would get through that. How would I get through watching Mom? The floodgate of memories was sure to break.

But you know what? Those memories washing over you can be pretty refreshing and special. That’s what I’m experiencing today (and she is, too), and since you’ve been so kind to listen to me in the past, I thought you should know. There are more BIG firsts down the road, but why borrow trouble? God really does supply the grace needed for all of life’s moments – big and small. Some will be harder than others. That’s okay.

I do miss my dad. He’s come up a few times in my blog, and my book ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE MAGIC, is based on his life. He got to read it before he lost his eyesight, before the final edit. I’m thankful, even though I know he struggled with the fact that I fictionalized his life. I guess that would be weird for anybody, but he was proud of me and happy to have stories of his life preserved. That, too, makes me happy. In a lot of ways, you never stop being your dad’s little girl.

Here are a couple of pictures I’d like to share with you. Hope you enjoy them.

Dad the magician, the early years

Dad always liked animals, but he was happy to have this friendly guy out of their Florida lake.

Dad with my first son, Jesse. He loved his grandkids.

Oh, The Humidity!

So lovely – Moved to tears (almost)

I missed humidity something terrible while we were away in Utah. My eyes couldn’t even tear up in response to the beauty we were hiking through. I was unable to blow my nose and my skin with its alligator look reminded me of home. I could put up with that because my hair looked great, so who cares that I couldn’t cry and that my nose would bleed when I tried to blow it. That was a small price to pay for soft, silky hair.

Now that I have traveled extensively in the desert of Utah and Arizona (two weeks), I can tell you from firsthand experience that Florida doesn’t really understand the words “dry heat.” We understand heat from the dryer, but that’s the extent of it. We also know what dry heaves are, but I don’t even want to go there.

There are dangers in dry heat that we are unaccustomed to. It’s so extreme that one must be warned of the danger by signs like this:

We don’t see signs like this in Florida.

Floridians understand sweat. Furthermore, we are known for it. Yes, we are big sweaters.

As a kid, I never learned that you don’t talk to strangers. Talking to people, especially while we’re traveling, is interesting. We met a lot of people in Utah.  Nine times out of ten, when someone found out I was from Florida they would say, “Oh, the humidity!!!” It was like they thought we lived under a curse or something.

I gave up trying to defend our state. Yes. It’s humid. I work up a sweat on the way to the mailbox, but I can blow my nose. That should count for something! And my skin no longer has that alligator look. My hair – that’s another story. I’m back to frizzy, but at least I have tears again if I want to cry about it.