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.

Things That Go Crash at 6:59 in the Morning

My hubby retired on July 2. He continues to do contract work for his former company but only every other Tuesday. What are the odds that today, the other Tuesday, would be the day when he goes happily off to the office and is out of the house when there is a loud crash signaling trouble right here in River City? I’d ask him to compute them, but he’s at work; so I’ll give it a try. If higher math is not your thing, skip the italicized portion and you can keep on reading the story.

(He goes into the office two days out of four weeks. That is 2 out of 28. (Here’s the point where I wonder how in the world to write that problem.) I think I just divide 2 by 28 and get my answer, which is 0.07142857. That doesn’t look right to me. How about 28 divided by 2. I can practically do that in my head! But I do seem to remember that odds are written as ratios and ratios have two numbers in them so I’m fairly certain the odds are that I have not figured this out at all. But wait, I can reduce 2 and 28 down to 1 and 14, so I think the odds are 1 out of 14 (1:14) that a crash would be heard or anything in the house would break one of the days he goes to the office.)

At this point I should remind you that Bob is the morning person in our marriage. He wakes up ready for the day. I get up typically around 8:00, and after an hour or two and a couple cups of coffee I am ready for the day. I should also insert that I have not been sleeping super duper lately due to a new medicine that I’m taking, or I should say just quit taking, so last night I took a melatonin. Melatonin helps me sleep but makes waking up more challenging for me.

This morning I vaguely remember Bob saying goodbye to me as I succumbed to my melatonin-addled sleep hangover. I do remember hearing a crash, though. At least I was pretty sure I heard it. It seemed like something I should even get out of bed and investigate. I looked at the clock – 6:59. It was probably nothing.

Surprisingly, some responsible adult part of me would not let me go back to sleep, so at 7:13 I rolled over, picked up my phone, and called Bob. He hadn’t heard a thing and by that time he was halfway to the office, but he offered that it may have been a passing truck. I didn’t think so, but I was tired, and whatever I heard had not affected our air conditioning, so what was my hurry! If someone was knocking our doors down to get in, I’d have known that by then. Still, it felt like I wasn’t being a good adult, so at 7:52, I finally stumbled out to the garage and sure enough, the door was open just enough for racoons, snakes, alligators, stray cats and children to get in.

I didn’t see this big fellow in my yard, but thought you’d like this picture I recently took on the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.

I reported back to Bob that I was in my right mind and not hearing things. He seemed to believe that at least one of those things was true.

We live in Florida. It isn’t a good idea to give wildlife a way inside. I found a snake skin on top of a ladder in my garage one time. Once is enough.

I applied all my button pressing skills to the garage door opener and sure enough, it was not going to close. It would go up all the way and then come crashing down and reopen like the above photo. That seemed like a good excuse to stay home all day until my friend from Tulsa called me and asked me to run an errand for her. Yes, we have that kind of friendship. Once again, what are the odds that the very day she would call, I could not leave my home? Before she got too far into her story, I stopped her and told her I was being held captive by a broken garage door. This did not surprise her.

What is the moral of this story? What the lessons can be learned here? I’d say none, but I may still be under the influence of melatonin.

I Will Trust Him

I spent a couple hours standing in the Gulf of Mexico today. It was cathartic. I turn my back on the shore and just take in the beauty, all the while hoping to see a dolphin. Sometimes I do but not today.

Today I looked upon the emerald green waters through a different lens. It was the lens of sorrow. I’m not sure why God always seems more present to me when I’m at the beach, but he does. Today we spent a lot of time together. A lot of people I love are suffering and I kept bringing their names to my Heavenly Father. I was acutely aware of how little we control and how much we need him.

In the midst of all that, I glance back at my husband sitting in his beach chair reading. We’re away celebrating our anniversary. He comes out with me for a while. I tell him about the family from Iowa that I just met and how they’ve never seen a live sand dollar, only broken pieces on the shore. He swims out to the sandbar where we often find a bed of them. Once he’s there, I join him.

The sandbar is huge. It’s really not that far to swim to it. The water is over my head for a while, but the gulf is gentler than the Atlantic, so I can do it. I just don’t do it alone. I’m more cautious than I used to be. And I keep thinking about our friends. It’s a weird day.

We search and search but don’t find a single sand dollar. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I’ll see dolphins, too. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get a good report about some of the friends we’re praying for.

For now, though, I’m taking in the life around me. A family of three generations is playing monkey in the middle. They’re having a blast. Their laughter warms my heart. Two teenagers from Chicago ask me about the sandbar and I tell them about our search for sand dollars. They’ve never heard of them. Have you ever tried to describe a sand dollar to someone? It’s tough to do, but even from our poor effort, they’re fascinated by the fact that there is so much life right by them in the water.

I’m fascinated too. That’s one of the strange things about suffering or standing with someone who is suffering. There is so much life that keeps on going. It’s like you’re in two worlds at the same time. One normal like the tides coming in and going out. And one beyond description where nothing is right and the water is stagnant and you’re wondering if a wave is going to knock you down.

Then I look out into the sea once again. It’s vast and glorious. The clouds are magnificent. A cormorant flies by and perches on a pole. Laughter rises above the gentle sound of the waves. I paraphrase Psalm 121:1,2:

I lift my eyes to the sea (hills). From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

I am thankful that I know Jesus. I know the maker of heaven and earth. That’s how I can get through the sadness and still have joy. I hope you know him, too. If not, call on him. He is always there.

Touché, Olympics

The sounds of the Olympics have been background music in our house since the opening ceremony. The chant, “Go, USA,” is heard every night. We love our athletes. We also love learning about the athletes, some of whom have overcome so much to compete. Being a certified non-athlete, I don’t truly understand what goes on in a person’s brain that has them putting it all on the line for a personal best or a medal. I mean, I’m very competitive, but I’ve never pushed through playing Scrabble while nursing a splinter in my eye or a broken finger or even a mild headache.

I also have never had a personal coach invest time and energy in my pursuit of excellence at pinochle or our latest board game craze, Azul Summer Pavilion. If I did have a coach and by some miracle I actually won a competition on any level, I hope he would go crazy with enthusiasm like Dean Boxall did when Ariarne Titmus won the women’s 400m freestyle, dethroning USA star and one of my personal favorites of this Olympics, Katie Ledecky. Even though he nearly scared this unfortunately placed young woman out of her mind with his near psychotic celebration, I have to say, this is one of my very favorite Olympic moments, which is something that this young woman and I likely do not have in common. My hat is off to her – I don’t know if I would have been able to keep my composure like she did. She deserves a medal.

Have you noticed that these sports are really a slice of summer life, albeit on a different scale? A lot of these same events take place in our own yards or communities. Of course, we never had cameras broadcasting pick-up basketball games in the driveway, badminton or volleyball in the backyard, bike riding, swimming and diving in the pool, boxing matches among our kids, a canoe ride down the Wekiva River, or the church softball league, but I do have some treasured photos of all of these activities. I even practiced archery in my backyard as a kid.

Just another boxing match between a couple of my kids many years ago.

My granddaughter rides horses, my grandsons play football. There are several golfers in the family. My sister practiced gymnastics in our living room constantly when we were kids. Bob wrestled in high school. My daughter-in-law went to college on a volleyball scholarship. Another daughter-in-law is an excellent tennis player. Table tennis – bring it on.

All of these sports make up our life in some fashion. They all make sense to me. Except for fencing. Even Taekwondo, Judo, and Karate have their place for fitness and self-defense. They could come in handy. Shooting – I get that. But fencing simply doesn’t play into everyday life. For instance, someone approaches you when you make the poor choice of walking alone in a dark alley. A judo chop or karate throw would deter them. But where am I going to hide my sword? Can I get that through TSA when traveling? Are there retractable ones available? Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi!

I see tennis courts all over the place, but where can I go to have a bout of fencing? I don’t think I could retally stab somebody. I’d more likely pull a hammy in the process and leave myself even more vulnerable. I don’t want to be touched, that’s for sure; but I would love to say, “foiled again,” while holding a sword. With my athletic prowess, I think I should stick with Wii Sports Resort. I’d say the only part of me that could be injured there would be my pride, but in a recent bowling game with my six-year-old grandson, I think I pulled a muscle. (Please don’t tell him.)

Youngest grandson sticks the landing in the toddler climbing event.