Getting Even

It was morning on Christmas Eve. I had my act fairly together. Bob and I had everything wrapped and under the tree. This was a luxury we didn’t have when we were raising our children. We would always wait until they went to bed to bring out the presents, which was more and more challenging the older our children got.

As is our “tradition,” Bob and I reminisced about former Christmas Eves. Sometimes we were wrapping gifts late into the night. Bob might have been found assembling a bicycle or one time pouring cement at the side of our driveway to install a new basketball hoop. These are things you can do when you live in Florida!

I also reminded Bob that our daughter and her family would be arriving late that night, probably around 10 pm, so he may want to consider a nap. Bob, who 364 days of the year has more energy than I could hope for, almost always hits the wall early on Christmas Eve night. The only thing that kept him going was assembling something, so if that wasn’t needed, he was ready to start dreaming of sugarplums dancing in his head. It usually would happen right after the children had hung the stockings by the chimney with care and shuffled off to bed. This was my time to take them all down, lay them across our bed and stuff them (the stockings, not the children). I always tried to get things evened out, which I don’t recommend because it can make you crazy. Often, before I could even get started, Bob was half asleep on the bed. It always has baffled me. Why, this one night, couldn’t he stay awake? It remains a a perplexing role reversal for us.

But on this particular Christmas Eve morning, all those thoughts about getting things even were stopped in their tracks. We received a text that a dear friend of ours had passed away unexpectedly that very morning. I gasped so loudly that my mom came in from the other room to see if I was okay. It was a shock made worse by the fact that it was Christmas Eve. I looked down on my bed. The stockings were laid out with their loot above them. I was in the process of counting and evening things out. And then it didn’t matter.

As tears flowed down my cheeks, all I could think about was my friends. We’ve known this family for decades. Christmas wouldn’t be the same for them. And with a flash I realized that my children never compared what they had in their stockings. Nobody cared if someone got a little more or less than their siblings. It was a blinding moment of clarity of what mattered.

What mattered was the people. What mattered was that our friend was now with Jesus. We know that with total assurance. What mattered was grieving with our friends, but not without hope. What mattered was sharing Christmas with our family – hugging them and being together. I hope I never try to make things even again and that every Christmas Eve I will think about Andy and Emily and the lessons that God taught me on that day when he went to meet Jesus.

Four of our grand blessings on Christmas Day

Breaking News!

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house

Things were breaking.

I know, that doesn’t rhyme, but there was nothing poetic about it! It all started with the dishwasher, just two days before our daughter and her family were to arrive. I told Bob that it wasn’t working. It’s a very quiet dishwasher – so quiet that you have to incline your ear to hear it. Bob said he thought he heard it. He did not.

He tried to assure me that it wasn’t broken, but somehow, I knew that this was wishful thinking. He thought I must have forgotten to start it, or it was some other operator error. That could have been the case, but washing dishes is my life. I’m kind of fanatical about keeping my kitchen clean. You might say that I’m simpatico with my kitchen appliances. I know when something is wrong.

Bob came up to me with great understanding in his eyes. He took my hand, squeezed it, and said, “Does that hurt?”

“No,” I replied. Then he took the other hand and repeated the gesture. When I replied “no” again, he said, “Then the dishwasher isn’t broken.”

I suggested that he leave the funny to me and see if it was still under warranty.

Wonder of wonders, it was just three weeks shy of being out of warranty. Thank you, Jesus! This was Wednesday, and Lowe’s said they’d have a repairman out on Thursday between 8 and 12. Hooray!

Except my hooray was misplaced. He was a no-show. After a long time on hold, Bob secured another repairman for Monday, sadly we’d have the busy Christmas weekend without my number one kitchen appliance. Still, we decided to let nothing us dismay.

On Monday, a repairman breezed in an out of our house faster than Santa can consume milk and cookies. Bob ran his own diagnostic along with him, and it looked like a communication board problem. He told Lowe’s, who managed to keep it a secret from the future repairman. He said we’d need a certified GE repairman since it appeared to be an electrical issue. So here we are, nine days later, and I get to meet a new repairman. He has no knowledge of any of the above, but eventually he made the same diagnosis. We should have a new control board by the 21st – a month after our first call.

It could be worse. Bob was right. My hands can still wash dishes. Plus, we had an inordinately large supply of plastic spoons, which I thought we would have until Jesus returns. I guess that could still be true, but unless Jesus is coming back in the next two weeks, probably not.

At first realization that we were a man down, so to speak, in the kitchen. I stocked paper and plastic stuff in the cabinets to encourage everyone not to use the real stuff, which must be washed. I think the entire household is now afraid of my wrath if they circumvent that plan. And rightly so.

Also, that first night, Bob said he’d fix dinner on the grill so as not to mess up the kitchen. (He really is a good guy.) He went to start the grill and one side would not work. He managed to fix it, so that’s a point for Bob.

My baking day was the next day, and I managed to make a huge pile of dishes, but the family was coming over, and I love baking cookies for them. I did make a mess of crumbs on the floor, so I got out the vacuum cleaner to suck them up.

The noise that came out when I turned the thing on was deafening. It sounded like a plane was crashing in the kitchen. The one thing in your house that you really want to suck, did not.

Bob took it apart and got it to suck dirt, but the noise makes it unusable for me. It didn’t bother him, but then again, he thought the dishwasher was running, so you can draw your own conclusions.

That pretty much sums up our last two weeks, except for the part where we had a wonderful Christmas with our family. We are blessed and we know it. Here’s to a Happy New Year to you all!

Trimming Trees and Checking Lists

Christmastime is here. Our halls are decked. The shopping is almost done. The baking will happen next week. (Any sooner and I would just have to do it again.)

We have four Christmas trees. Last year we added a tree just for the White House ornaments. This year we added 2 four-foot trees – one with a bird theme in my mom’s family room, and one with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys in the dining room. It might just be a one-of-a-kind!

You may remember the Pursuit of Happy Meals post. I decided with Disney World’s 50th anniversary, I should decorate a tree with my hard-sought-after toys, complete with Lumiere on top. I can’t wait to see what nine-year-old Layna thinks of it.

Speaking of grandchildren, mine are getting older, which is the natural progression. This year we will have the six oldest grandchildren around for Christmas. Only Layna has not yet entered her teens, and we will sorely miss our youngest two.

Getting Christmas lists out of the kids is interesting. Some of the things on their lists I’ve never heard of. Some of the things are way too expensive. Some are just plain dangerous, which brings me to my 13-year-old grandson, Jett.

Jett is well on his way to being some kind of an engineer or maybe a mad scientist. I’m not sure there is a big difference between the two. When I watch Jett, I think that is what my husband must have been like when he was a kid. That mind is always going, and creativity is often on overdrive. Bob turned out great, so I’m hopeful for Jett’s future.

Following are some of the highlights from Jett’s Christmas List. (Don’t worry, he has parental supervision, so he likely won’t blow anything up. I would make sure to take regular inventory of what is in that shed he wants to build.)

  1. K.A.T. – Per google, this is a knife ability test – a player-vs-player death Roblox game. No need to research what Roblox is; we won’t be getting him anything that has to do with knife ability.
  2. Nerf guns
  3. A thin metal plate (makes me wonder)
  4. Clay
  5. 100’ x 100’ tarp
  6. Super Mario Odyssey
  7. Tons of Jello mix
  8. Wood, nails, hammers, screws, and tools to build a shed
  9. A brother (adopted is okay)
  10. Bagpipes
  11. Five ounces of gunpower and four ounces of sand

Our 16-year-old granddaughter, Ella, has my favorite list – mainly because she has the collecting gene that I have worked so hard to suppress. She loves Sherlock Holmes, Funko Pops, and all things Marvel. Since I have stopped collecting, I now support my grandchildren in their pursuit of entire collections of things, which you can imagine makes me popular with my kids. It’s fun, and I know I need to seize the moment while I have it; because it won’t be long, and these precious items will seem like kid stuff. Although, I still like these things, I have Groot and Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy on my Christmas tree. Maybe when this phase is past for her, she can save these treasures for her own grandchildren. They’ll be vintage!

I do wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope your holiday season is full of love and happiness.

Ode to Black Friday

As I wandered the Altamonte Mall on the day before Thanksgiving, I wondered if Black Friday was coming off life support. There were definite signs that customers were being wooed back to the brick-and-mortar shops. I even spotted this team stocking the stores with goodies to sustain the merchants through the “big day.”

When my children were young, I looked forward to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. I didn’t even mind getting up pre-dawn to do so. I have wonderful memories of picking up my mom and heading out for the Black Friday Shopping Expedition. We would use the newspaper to map out our path. (By the way, that is my favorite type of mapping.) You would need two hands to hold that massive issue with its dozens of Black Friday ads.

There were always bargains to be found. JC Penney would give away ornaments like this one from 1996. There would be scratch-offs for prizes and discounts. The jewelry shops often gave away goodie bags with little “gold” charms inside them. Target and Home Depot gave great incentives for stopping in early. Early meant around 5 am. That was doable.

Eventually my mom lost interest in the adventure and my daughter was only too interested in stepping into this grown-up outing. We always hit the mall, especially Penney’s, and Target and Bealls. I do admit to going to Walmart a time or two, but for me, it just wasn’t worth the crazy.

Confession: Over the past five years I have been losing interest in Black Friday. Probably because as I have gotten older, and I’d rather not exhaust myself in the pursuit of bargains. My daughter, however, has not reached that point. I dedicate this post to her. She is in mourning over Black Friday, which by all accounts from the last two years has gone from life-support to flatlining.

She loved going out at midnight on Thanksgiving and staying out for 12 hours was not uncommon for her. I drew the line on that one, but I have joined her for a few hours during a more civilized time on that Friday. Mainly, I’d do this out of guilt. You know the power your adult children can wield – especially if they throw in the word tradition. It was a tradition, but like so many traditions, it changes through the years and generations.

Even though I was fairly certain of my Black Friday plans, I picked up the local Orlando Sentinel. It was so skinny! I also had sticker shock as it cost $5.35!

Bob and I have one all-important stop on Black Friday, and we don’t have to be there until 9 am. If you read me at all regularly, you can probably guess it’s Costco. Who can resist $8 off a pork loin or $10 off a Butterball turkey? Not me. And as of this year, not my daughter either. She sadly admitted to me over the phone that Costco had the best Black Friday deals. I couldn’t see her face, but I think there was a little catch in her voice. At least her family of six will be eating pork and turkey for the next few months.

We will tell our grandchildren of those days of old. The days when Black Friday meant something. The days of people being trampled in hot pursuit of a bargain. The days of people camping out in front of Best Buy to snag that new mega-TV or gaming system. The days before Black Friday became a joke that lasted all the way through November. Sigh. Those were the days. How did we get here? I’m putting a lot of the blame on COVID. I’m reminiscing about the song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” by Peter Seeger.

Here’s my rendition.

Ode to Black Friday

(Where Have all the Sales Gone)

Where have all the sale ads gone

Long time passing

Where have all the sale ads gone

Long time ago

Where have all the sale ads gone

COVID took them one by one

When will they please return?

Oh when will they, return?

Where have all the papers gone

Long time passing

Where have all the papers gone

Long time ago

Where have all the papers gone?

Gone to online every one.

Oh when will they return?

When will they ever return?

Where have all the shoppers gone

Long time passing

Where have all the shoppers gone

Long time ago

Where have all the shoppers gone

Buying on Amazon every one

They never leave their home

They never leave their home.

A classic for you – Joan Baez singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”

Bonus weird Thanksgiving product

Is That Your Final Answer?

Winter Garden. Every time I go there, I wonder why I don’t visit more often. It used to be a sleepy little burg outside of Orlando but has evolved into a destination area for shopping and dining – not unlike Mount Dora. People are moving there by the droves, too.

I get it. It’s quaint and interesting. It’s close to Disney. It has bike paths, boutique shopping, a train museum, and our favorite MoonCricket Grille, which is a lovely spot to chow down on some bam-bam shrimp al fresco and watch the people go by with their dogs. It is very dog friendly. Dogs are walked, pushed in strollers, toted in purses, and carried like babies. While that is not my idea of a fun day in Winter Garden, clearly, it’s a dog’s world there.

Moon Cricket Grille 14 W Plant St Winter Garden, FL Bars - MapQuest
Photo Credit: mapquest.com

The impetus for our outing was Christmas shopping. We are not familiar with how things work in Wintergarden on a Saturday but suffice it to say the town takes it up a notch on weekends. Frankly, we didn’t really know where we were going and figured it’s a small town and we could enjoy roaming around. How hard could it be to find our way to our shopping destination (which will remain unnamed because it would give away our gift choices)?

The answer to that question is: pretty hard! It was made more difficult by the fact that it was my first outing that involved exerting any energy since recovering from a light case of you-know-what. (Yep, all four of us got it. We are thankful to God for a light case and an uneventful recovery.)

Our quest should not have involved the farmers’ market, but it looked interesting, so why not! We had no idea that it was huge! I must say that it is a farmers’ market that does the name proud. Or a crafter proud. Or a foodie proud. But that was not where we should have been, and we didn’t figure that out until we had walked the entire thing. Since we came up empty on our main goal, we checked the internet and discovered that our true destination was several blocks away. Bob figured it was 2 to 4 blocks. It felt like 10 to 12 blocks. And then back. I suppose I should be thankful and frankly I am for the exercise. But I did not pack water and I was quite dehydrated and exhausted by the time we fell into a lunch table at the MoonCricket well over an hour later.

During this trek, we were stopped by a group of young men who were interested in getting us to sign a petition for something or another that had to do with promoting or stopping casino gambling. I couldn’t decipher what they were saying in my weakened, dehydrated state. We politely passed them with a not today. I even mentioned they should’ve caught us when we were not worn out. One of them stated that yes, we did look a little tired. He was being kind.

Several blocks down on our adventure we were again pursued by people with clipboards, and I assumed they were part of the same group. When they started to talk, I had no energy and I just muttered, “No, not today,” and kept walking.

My brain was definitely operating on a delay. Just after the words left my mouth, my foggy brain deciphered what my ears had heard. Their question was, “Would you like to help save a life?”

I suppose “not today” wasn’t the worst response. It’s not like someone was on the ground needing CPR. Frankly, I was in no condition to save anybody’s life. I was kind of needy myself – and a little bit embarrassed.

The Pursuit of Happy Meals

What happens when the Happiest Place on Earth intersects with McDonald’s Happy Meals? For this writer, it revives a part of me that is a little embarrassing to tell you about – a part of me that I thought was dead and buried.

It was an ordinary September morning, a week before Bob and I left for his 50th High School Reunion. The morning news anchor reported on Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. She added that McDonald’s would be joining in the celebration with their Happy Meal toys. The celebration would include 50 – yes, you read that right – 50 different toys; and the promotion would begin on September 14, the very day we set to leave on our trip.

I made a note on my calendar, not that I would forget this auspicious event. I seem to remember hearing Bob utter a sound like this:

I interpreted his groanings in two words – he knew. He knew he would have no reason not to pull through McDonald’s on our way up to the D.C. area. We typically start our trips with an egg McMuffin. That would be Opportunity #1. Of course, you can’t throw a dead squirrel without hitting a McDonald’s along I-95, so lunch would be Opportunity #2. There was also a good possibility that I would have to use the restroom whenever we passed a McDonald’s sign. Endless Opportunities! Poor Bob! He was doomed.

We arrived at our son, Joe’s, house in South Carolina on the 14th in time to pick up dinner for the four of us adults and stop at McDonald’s to get Happy Meals for our 6 and 2-year-old grandsons. I was excited to have someone be excited about happy meals with me. Sadly, when Bob and Joe returned home with the two meals for the boys, we opened them to discover Mickey Mouse on a train. It was the great switcheroo! That was a toy from last year! Oh, McDonald’s! Who do you think you’re dealing with here?

Lucky for them, it was Bob they were dealing with. Bob saw Mickey and fell right into their trap. The boys were happy enough, but I knew the truth.

Here’s a little backstory for you. When we were raising our four kids, Friday was lunch at McDonald’s day. I would get everyone, including me, a happy meal. I would strive to get complete sets and have one set that was never removed from the wrapper (MIB or NRFB, mint in box, or never removed from box). When I say strive, that’s what I mean. I would often pull up to the speaker, ask what toy was in the happy meal, and if we already had that one, it was on to the next McDonald’s. I look at this as perfectly reasonable behavior. My children, on the other hand, just wanted to eat.

This behavior got so bad, I mean interesting, that my oldest son, Jesse, wrote a completely fictional essay for a school assignment about me assaulting a cashier at McDonald’s because the Barbie happy meal toy had a scratch on her nose. Seriously – you don’t believe I’d do that, do you? I wouldn’t hurt a fly. Well, I did demand, I mean ask for, a flawless Barbie (and I got one). I mean, Barbie wouldn’t put up with that lack of perfection and neither would I. My children ate quietly in the corner. They were so well behaved!

Our next stop was at our daughter’s house in North Carolina, where I knew I would have one excited 9-year-old granddaughter who would join in this pursuit of happiness as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. Layna is always happy, and she was anxious to join in the search. After a few days, we were on the road again, and Layna had five Disney 50th Celebration Happy Meal Toys.

After returning to Florida, I kept adding to our collection. I wasn’t trying to get all 50 – honest I wasn’t. There were some I particularly wanted, and I found most of them, but it was becoming challenging to find new toys and, when we did find them, to eat yet another happy meal. Often, I would get lunch for my mom. I told her I’d buy (hey, big spender!), but the toy was mine. After about the third time, she strangely was no longer hungry at lunchtime.

My sister, Linda, also got the bug. I guess there’s no doubt we are related. She displayed her treasures in her office, and before long the entire office was on the look-out for additions to her collection. We made checklists to keep everything straight. I intend to send most of mine to Layna, but I couldn’t help but display Groot and Rocket (Guardians of the Galaxy). I’m a fan.

To fully understand how challenging collecting different toys is, I’ll share how I do it. I go inside the restaurant. Here’s how it would go down:

McDonald’s Employee: You need to order at the kiosk, please.

Me: Okay, but first could you tell me which toys you have in your happy meal?

This was met with different responses – from having a variety of toys laid out on the counter for me to see, to a curt, “We just have Daisy.” (Everybody had Daisy.)

Then I would take it from there. It’s really quite exhausting. If Bob was with me, he’d wait in the car. He loves me, but there are limits!

One night when we were having hamburgers from our grill for dinner, they looked so weird without a toy next to them. I think this was when Bob began to worry.

That’s better!

I assured him that I had found a McDonald’s that would sell the toys without the meal. While he was relieved, we both knew the truth – this search unleashed the collector that I thought was dead.

Frankenstein Its Alive GIF - Frankenstein Its Alive GIFs

Now the promotion is over. I collected over 20 toys and will be sharing most of them with Layna. She and I facetimed over the last weeks and it was so much fun! (I did hear Dena, her mom/my daughter comment about how she was reliving her childhood!) Now it’s time to stop going to McDonald’s for a while, except for coffee. When I got coffee from there yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice that the next promotion is from the new Marvel movie. My granddaughter, Ella, loves Marvel. I think I’m in trouble.

One last thing – I’m still looking for Celebration Mickey and R2D2, if you can hook me up that would be great. They don’t even have to be NRFB!

I Can’t Do a Cartwheel, But I Can Spell

When I was in junior high I tried out for cheerleading. I should have talked myself out of it. Sometimes I let me do stupid things. I asked my current self, “What in the world were you thinking?”

I was just hoping for a miracle. More likely, I probably just wanted to be “something.” Those were the years when this late-bloomer felt fairly nonexistent. I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up and couldn’t do a cartwheel. I was doomed for life.

After trying out I remember the disappointment of finding my name missing from the list and trying to hide my tears. I had talked myself into believing I could do something that I clearly was not cut out to do. One good thing came out of it – I learned that contrary to popular belief, one cannot do anything they put their mind to, and that’s okay.

I would have excelled at one aspect of cheerleading – I am a good speller. I didn’t think about that way back then, but having watched two grandsons complete their (undefeated) JV football season, with the accompanying cheerleading squad, I am convinced that spelling is more important than backflips. Those girls have S-P-I-R-I-T! And those boys were A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E!

I informed my household (husband, sister, mother) that I was going to follow the example of the cheerleader. Even though I never mastered the splits or a cartwheel, I can spell; and they should expect more of it. If I could only recapture those days as a mom, I could have responded differently to the baffled look that kids give you. Instead of saying, “Do I have to spell it out for you,” I just would have.

The next night when it was time to eat, I simply chanted:

D-I-N–N-E-R – Dinner. Yeah, it’s time for dinner. Whoo!

In the middle of the table was a piping hot dish, straight from the oven:

Red hot – the food is red hot! The food is R-E-D H-O-T, red hot!

When we finished praying, “When I say ‘A,’ you say ‘men.’ A-men. A-men.”

I think football season ended just in time.

My Life on the Rocks

I have a new obsession, I mean hobby. I stumbled upon it at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, my favorite local birding area, with over 367 species noted. In addition, it is chocked full of alligators. Otters, raccoons, and the occasional bobcat family reside in the area. And, rocks can be found there!

This may be surprising to you as by now you likely know that I live in Central Florida. We are not known for our rocks down here. Sand, rain, hurricanes, mosquitoes, construction on I-4 – yes. Rocks – not so much. Be that as it may, there is no denying that I collect rocks, and my favorite place to find them is the North Shore of Lake Apopka.

I’m not talking about your everyday, run-of-the-mill rocks. I also don’t care if they are igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic, which are the three rock classifications that I may or may not have had to verify on google. I have two classifications for my rocks. Painted and not painted. For me to collect one, it must have something pretty or fun painted on it. I will also accept the occasional chunk of concrete, seashell, or wood if it’s painted.

I’m not sure exactly when the rock hiding craze started, but I know it’s in full swing. Over a year ago, as I was scrolling the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Facebook page, I learned of a few generous painters who would leave “Easter eggs” out there for people to find. This was going to be better than my childhood collection of bottle caps. Plus, I wouldn’t have to hide it under my bed to avoid ridicule from my siblings.

I love going to the drive and looking at the birds, especially in the winter during migration times and in the spring during nesting season. I’ve also seen river otters and marsh rabbits. Bobcats are there, too; but you couldn’t prove it by me. Summer is full of alligators (my highest one-day count is 113) and what I believe should be the Florida state bird – the Common Gallinule. They are everywhere – much more common than the Northern Mockingbird.

So even though I told myself and anyone who might ask me that I was finished going to the drive until it cools down, I was compelled to go. Because there are rocks, and they are pretty. Plus, it gives me a rush to find them, which is probably because I have no talent in that arena. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

It took me a long time to find my first. I was lamenting about my lack of success to my friend, Debi. Debi is one of those people who wins contests. She offered that I could have one of hers – a magnanimous gesture which would take the fun out of it for someone as competitive as I am. And, of course, Debi had found several. Her keen eye did not surprise me, but I declined her generous offer. I must find one all by myself – like a big girl.

Last February, I found one. It was beautiful, even though it was not a depiction of nature. It was a taco. Still, I like tacos and I was thrilled to find a rock of my very own. I put my taco rock on the shelf for all to see. What an accomplishment! I was happy.

Happiness sure is fleeting. It didn’t take long for me to realize that having one lone taco rock was a lot like eating one taco, or worse yet, Chinese food; you get hungry again fast. You must have more.

Since Facebook has a page designated to the Drive, I learned about a lady named Liz who paints the coolest rocks. I marveled that people would use their talents to bless people they likely would never meet, so my fascination grew and grew. Soon rock painters/hiders were springing up on the Facebook page displaying the rocks they would be hiding. I started trying to figure out the best times to go to the drive and add to my taco rock. But my goal was to find a Liz rock.

Over the summer weeks, not every time I went but often, I found a rock or two while on the drive. (In case you’re wondering, you can get out of your car. There are pull-outs and other trails and areas to observe nature and there is signage to identify the local flora and fauna.) I have rock art by several local birding/painting enthusiasts.

I wished I could paint a rock and leave it for someone to find. My friend, Peggy, even suggested that I could. I thought Peggy knew me better! But I did want to leave something for someone – to give back a little. The only thing I have created besides my four children, who clearly wouldn’t stand for being left out on the shores of Lake Apopka, is my children’s book, ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE MAGIC. Florida is more than a little humid with chances of extreme downpours, so it was foolish to leave a book out there. I had to create a plan.

I carried a couple of my books in the car with me, but in the summer months, I barely encountered any other people much less children. Then one day I saw on Facebook that my favorite artist, Liz, was meeting another artist, Lee, at a particular time and spot on the drive. Game on!

Bob and I, along with my sister, headed out to hopefully intercept that meeting. I had three of my books with me. Everything seemed against us getting to that meeting on time. The drive-through at McDonald’s was particularly slow and I’ll admit it – I complained. I was anxious. I was ridiculous. My sweet sister mentioned that maybe the delay would work for us in God’s timing. She was right.

We pulled in just in time to find Liz and Lee. Bob slowed the car down to about 8 mph and I jumped out before Lee could leave. I was so excited to meet him and when I gave him a book, he gave me and my sister magnets that he had made from his extraordinary photographs. How fun!

Meanwhile, Bob and my sister were talking to Liz. I was so happy to meet her; and I gave her a book as well, thanking her for how giving she is and for the fun that she and others have added to an already wonderful drive. She was so sweet and then she did the unimaginable – she gave my sister and me a rock each. Well, mine was a bluebird painted on a wooden egg. I love it. My goal of having a Liz creation was met and then some!

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back.” Henry David Thoreau

Farther down the road, we met a lady named Patty, who, you guessed it, also paints rocks. I was glad I brought three books.

These two are among my favorites which were found by people who were doing the drive with me. The alligator is the rock Liz gave to my sister.

This is a sample of my collection.

I have rehidden a few and might do a few more. I hear of people re-hiding them to spread out the blessing. I told Bob that I was so happy to have a Liz rock. If I find another one, well then, I’ll have two! Sharing only goes so far!

The Problem with Passports

Bob and I gazed intently into each other’s eyes. “What color are my eyes?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, what color are mine?” I replied.

“I’m not sure either, but I’m renewing our passports and the Department of State wants to know.

We’ve been married 46 years, and looked into each other’s eyes so many times, yet I still have trouble discerning what color they are. Thankfully, he has the same problem. We have trouble distinguishing between hues.  

Surprise, surprise – the United States government has gotten pickier. The forms are longer and require more information. Things have changed since we renewed our passports ten years ago.

Uncle Sam now wants us to tell him what color our eyes and hair are. Isn’t that covered with our pictures? I wonder if someone at customs will even look that closely at our eyes. “Sorry, sir, you cannot enter our country because you claim to have green eyes and they are clearly blue with a greenish tint.”

Bob and I have that color eyes that seems to change from greenish to blueish depending on what we’re wearing. I’ve always claimed to have green eyes, but some people have commented on my blue eyes. It’s very confusing, but we knew it was our civic duty to finally lay to rest the eye color question. I wish you could have seen us getting in good light, naked, so as not to affect eye color change. On second thought, maybe not.

Next, it was time to figure out what color hair we have. Bob was easy – gray. As usual, I was more complicated. Typically I don’t think a flip about my hair color, as long as I can cover up the gray. There was not a choice of light brown or dark blonde or mostly blonde with gray roots. I decided to go with blonde – I hope they’re okay with that. (It’s quite the challenging form to fill out.)

Plus, as far as hair goes, it does. It goes for some guys, and it gets colored. Does this mean that I have to keep my appearance the same as my passport photo? If only! The last decade has resulted in some subtle changes in my appearance. I don’t think it’s going to get any better moving forward.

To further vex me, my beloved Costco no longer has a photo department where we can get inexpensive photos to send along to Uncle Sam during our weekly visits there. We were forced to use Walgreens like regular people.

The picture taking was disturbing, too. We decided to get ours done on the way to a dinner date. That way I would have fixed my hair, put on a little make-up and jewelry, and basically not look like I do every other day. Except that day I was suffering from dry eye syndrome and couldn’t wear eye make-up. That’s okay (I thought), I’ll put on some foundation, eyebrows, and lips. I’ll have jewelry on to give me some color and I wear glasses. As for Bob, he took a shower and combed his hair. Life is so much simpler for him!

At Walgreens, things took a bit of a turn. For the photos you are not allowed to wear jewelry or glasses, and you must put your hair behind your ears. Then, as before, they zoom in for a close-up that shows every open pour on your nose and all the new wrinkles you try not to think about, and there you go! Voila! A picture that haunts you because it’s going to be your identifier for the next ten years.

What have I learned through all of this? I am much more vain than I realized. I’ll do what it takes to be able to travel. None of this really matters. And Bob’s and my eyes are definitely green.

Extra credit: Can you distinguish between these Hughs?

Photo credit: depositphotos.com
Photo credit: depositphotos.com
Photo Credit: pngkey.com

Looking for a Bright Spot

This post is especially for my local (Altamonte Springs/Orlando) friends, but hopefully the rest of you will enjoy it, too.

How I wish I could go through one day, 24 little hours, without thinking about the dreaded C word. It hangs in the air like the heat of an August day in Florida – 94 degrees as I type this. And that doesn’t account for the humidity. I try not to complain about the heat, but I tell you, it’s stifling down here in the South right now. I have to take a bottle of water with me to walk to the mailbox.

I’m constantly on the lookout for a bright spot in my day – other than the blinding sun, which I am thankful for, but can’t safely look at! It’s a good habit to keep our eyes open to see something good, something beautiful, something admirable. And then think about those things. There is a lot to be thankful for – simple things especially that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Sometime last year, our favorite local Tex-Mex restaurant, Amigos, closed their doors. I’m not sure why. They were a family-owned business and a fixture in Altamonte Springs for 32 years. Whatever the reason, many in our community mourned this loss, especially in such a time as this, when nothing is quite normal. They had an outdoor eating area and take-out, too. Thursday night enchilada special for six bucks! You can’t beat that!

Amigos!

I was afraid I might have to break down and fix Mexican food at home or go to Taco Bell; but don’t worry, it didn’t get that bad. Every restaurant and their brother makes tacos nowadays. But they aren’t Tex-Mex. And they aren’t served by people you’ve come to recognize who also recognize you.

Back to the keep your eyes open for a bright spot thing. On the Nextdoor app people were chatting about a new family-owned Mexican restaurant right around the corner from our beloved Amigos (may it rest in peace). Bob and I checked it out last night.

Welcome to Cancun Fiesta! This Mexican restaurant is in a former Turkish restaurant. The outside may have a bit of a Turkish feel, but that’s where it ends.

Turkish food isn’t our thing, so we had only driven by prior to last night.

When we set foot inside – fiesta time! I was overwhelmed by color. Seriously, it made you stop in your tracks.

A bit of an eye-catching wall!

We enjoyed watching others take it all in as they entered, too. And Bob let me take this goofy picture of him. He even slid down in the booth, placing himself perfectly in front of a skeleton so that I could get this picture. And that’s without even trying one of their margaritas! (He puts up with a lot!)

As a bonus, the food was good, and I even recognized one of the servers from Amigos. Everyone was enjoying the ambience and the fajitas were great. That was a close one. I almost had to give in and cook fajitas at home! Gracias, Dios!

Guests had not been seated yet in the back dining room. The front one was fairly busy.