The Long Winter of 2019

Have you ever considered the uniqueness of the seasons? Do you have a favorite? Mine used to be fall with its lush array of colors – burnt orange, vibrant yellow, ruby red. It’s the crescendo before the leaves drop and winter enters.

The bleakness of winter has a unique beauty all its own and it doesn’t just include snow. There is a silent beauty reflected in the bare limbs of trees and gray skies, but for me, that beauty can drag on and lose its appeal.

I think we have an inherent desire for sunshine. I know I prefer brightness over darkness. While I love a beautiful night sky, I want to live in the bright sunny light of day.

Currently, my favorite season is spring. By the time the winter holidays are over and the Christmas decorations are packed away, I am ready for renewal both spiritually and in creation. I rejoice in the emergence of fresh green shoots from tulips or hyacinths even if I can only find them in the grocery store due to Central Florida’s subtropical climate. When they are in full bloom, well that’s something to stop and appreciate.

Spring comes early here, but our short, Florida winter does its best to hold on or sneak back on the heels of a cold front as it did a few days ago. I’ve been contemplating winter. It’s the only season that has a presence twice in one calendar year. It’s the bookends season. The winter of 2019 began on December 21, 2019, but the bulk of it fell in 2020.

In many ways, 2020 was a year full of dreariness. A winter of sorts was present even during spring, summer, and fall. There were threatening clouds hovering over us. I had to remind myself to look up. To look away from my circumstances and the circumstances of the world. To not just pray for needs but find something to rejoice about. There is more to life than waiting for the sky to open up. So much more.

It may be because it’s been chillier than normal here, but I am full-on longing for spring, that renewal I referred to. I don’t want to be cold anymore. I found a glimpse of that in a book that my mom gave me. Images of Faith by Miriam Huffman Rockness is a simple but profound devotional that encourages the reader to notice God everywhere. He is seen in the beauty of creation and in the lives of people around us. These are beholdings, something you’ll learn about and appreciate more as you read this inspirational book.

In case you never read the book for yourself, it was the following passage that made me think about the beauty of spring after a long winter. I was raised in Maryland, so I am familiar with the changing seasons, but that was a long time ago.

“The long hard winter had broken at last – not as yet in much sign on the earthward side but in the late afternoon yesterday the great cumulus clouds sank away, and in their place lay long horizontal bars, one above the other, dove-grey touched with pale apricot, upon the tender eggshell blue of the eastern sky. They are a harbinger of spring out here, that I have never known to fail.” From Lilias Trotter’s Diary, January 24, 1927, as included in Images of Faith, page 55.

I’m keeping an eye out for a harbinger of spring, and I know I’ll find one. Through the year I need to remind myself to look up and not let 2021 be another long, weird winter, no matter what it holds.

Right now, I want to enjoy the variety of migrating of birds that call Florida home in winter. They show off God’s creativity so well. When it’s April, I want to celebrate Easter and remember the resurrection of Christ that paid my ransom.  When it’s August, I want to look for God in the sky, in the heat, in the sound of children playing in the water.

I am determined not to allow winter to overshadow this year. I want to learn from last year. I can only do that by looking up to God and remembering that I’m his daughter and he loves me. I put all my trust and hope in him.

Isaiah 40:26 – Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Psalm 65:8 – The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, and evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.

Happy to Take out the Garbage

Every Tuesday and Friday morning you can find me taking the garbage to the curb. It is a mundane kind of task, but I like doing it. (Don’t tell my husband. When he retires later this year, he might try to take this away from me.)

There is something satisfying about getting the trash out. But more than that, it gets me outside in the early part of the day. I’m far from a morning person, but God often shows me stuff on my way back from the curb. Sometimes I stop and cut a rose to bring into the house. Mornings are best for that.

On Tuesday I stopped and noticed how beautifully blue the sky was. It was perfectly blue. Not a cloud to be seen. How does that happen? It was breathtaking. The green trees popped off that blue canvas with a symphony of birds chirping lending a score to all that beauty. So many shades of green anchored to tree trunks of so many shades of brown. So much to take in.

Tuesday was chilly; and when I went inside, I poured myself a cup of coffee and opened my Bible to Psalm 19 which fit my morning to a tee.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” Psalm 19: 1-2

It’s always good to look up from the garbage of life and see the glory of God’s handiwork.

Have a wonderful day looking up.

January is Mean

January may be the first month of the year, the month when fresh starts typically are at least contemplated, and the month of new gym memberships and linen sales, but to me it’s the month that reminds me why I live in Florida.

It doesn’t bother me in the least that you or anybody else knows that I’m pretty much a wimp. Truth be told, people knowing that makes my life simpler.

My preference, though, is not to use the word wimp. I do have some adventure in me, and I don’t really want people to think of me as a namby-pamby, milquetoast, yellow belly sissy.

That’s why I love reminding my sweet husband that I am a delicate flower. It sums things up so much more in my favor. Here’s a look into a recent conversation of ours where I am once again compelled to remind Bob exactly who he is married to.

delicate Hydrangea flower

Scene: We are in the bathroom, getting ready for bed. I am brushing my teeth while hovering around the space heater.

Me: It’s so cold.

Bob: It’s not that bad.

Me: I hate January. January is the worst. We live in Florida, after all. It’s not supposed to be below 45 outside.

Bob: But we’re inside.

Me (as I look at the bathroom thermometer which I keep in there just to make a point when necessary): It sure doesn’t feel like we’re inside! Have you forgotten that I’m a delicate flower?

Bob: I haven’t forgotten. It’s just not that cold to me.

Me: That’s because you’re not a delicate flower. You’re a tumbleweed.

Bob shot me a look of pain revealing that I had wounded him deeply. Words cannot express how bad I felt at that moment, even though I did chuckle a little.

Bob: I’m not a tumbleweed. I’m more like a… a bush. Yes. I want to be a bush. They’re sturdy, dependable.

Me: I didn’t mean tumbleweed as a bad thing. They roll with the punches, go with the wind, keep on going no matter what.

Bob: No. I want to be a bush.

Me: Okay. Okay. But you gotta admit, you do roll with the punches, my sweet, crazy tumbleweed – I mean bush.

Bob gave his famous eyeroll and we went to bed. Him under a sheet. Me under the same sheet with two blankets on top. Both of us muttering how we can never move any farther north than Orlando. That’s how we roll, and it’s all January’s fault.

Photo by Luismi Sánchez on Unsplash

Joy in the Little Things

There was joy in Target this week as I ventured there to make a quick purchase, which of course I could not find. No big deal though as I strolled down the cereal aisle and found this!

It takes me back to raising my kids when anything Star Wars was an extra treat. I believe the force was with me, guiding me to find the only remaining Mandalorian Cereal in Central Florida!

I had to go through an asteroid field to get to the cash register, but I assure you that no people were injured during the purchase of this cereal. To me, that was a little Christmas present.

I was also super excited earlier this month when I found Elf Cereal. I snatched up two boxes – one for each set of grandkids that I’d see in December. I’m not sure who gets more excited about it, them or me. Honestly, it’s probably me, and that’s just fine. It truly is the little things.

With that in mind, I present:

An Ode to Cereal

Twas the week of Christmas; I was in my car

Shopping for presents, both close-by and far;

I stopped in a Target and there on the shelf –

Mandalorian Cereal – so proud of myself.

The grandkids are coming much to my delight;

But only one box might just trigger a fight.

No worries, they’ll share. It’ll all be just fine,

With Santa Claus coming they wouldn’t dare whine.

Besides there are other breakfast treats, it’s true.

Like this pretty green box of Elf Cereal. Whew!

These are two of the small things that bring me great joy.

To me they’re better than a fancy big toy.

The grandkids may protest and might make a face,

So we bought them other presents, just in case.

Target wasn’t the only joy filled store for me this week. I waited at the check-out in Publix as the store manager bagged my groceries. One of the employees came up to him:

“There’s no soap in the ladies room. I mean no soap. Like somebody took the soap dispenser.”

“That’s a new one,” he replied. “I think we have a spare. Who does that kind of thing?”

I replied, “I’m not sure who did it, but one thing’s for sure. You’ll never find them because they got away clean.”

Merry Christmas!

The Old Family Recipe

The year was 1975, I was a newlywed and would be spending my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws and away from my family. What would the holiday be like without my mom’s stuffing, not to mention without my mom and dad? I’m not one to be dramatic, but it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving.

Bob never really cared about stuffing. This was one of the many ways we differed. To me, the stuffing was of more importance than the turkey, which simply served as an elaborate, weird, stuffing cooking device. I never thought about how disgusting it was for people to prepare food to be inserted into a turkey cavity, only to be scooped out of said cavity and served in a fancy china bowl to their loved ones. Pretty gross, but I digress

By mid-October 1975, I was contemplating making my own stuffing, but alas that was among the many, many things that I was clueless as to how to cook. I waited until a Sunday afternoon to call my mom for help. (This was way before cell phones, and long-distance calls were cheaper on Sundays.) In those days, we corresponded via letter through the Post Office, so she said she’d send me the recipe.

Mom’s letter outlined the intricacies of her prized stuffing. I wish I could tell you that I made it and it turned out great, but I chickened (or maybe turkeyed) out. In hindsight it was probably a good thing that I didn’t try to compete with my Home Economics mom-in-law’s cornbread stuffing. What woman wants her cocky new daughter-in-law to bring in a superior stuffing as a holiday icebreaker? And in my hands, who was to say it would have been superior, or even edible? But when I tasted hers that Thanksgiving afternoon, I understood why Bob wasn’t wild about it, and shed a little tear as I thought about what used to be.

Forty-five years later, I still have that letter. It is precious to me. Every year I get it out and read it. I love hearing how my nephew, their first grandchild, walked for the first time. It’s a sweet walk down memory lane. I have often thought I should frame it and hang it on my wall.

Since that time, I have made this stuffing dozens of times, and Bob loves it. I’ve tweaked the recipe a little, but it’s basically the same. My sister, Chris, and my daughter Dena both continue with this same recipe. It’s a cherished family tradition.

This Thanksgiving my mom sat at our kitchen table and watched me chopping celery and onions and making bread cubes. We chatted and I read her the letter. “This recipe is from Aunt Audrey, isn’t it?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Mom replied. “I think I got it out of the Betty Crocker Cookbook.”

“No, no, no. It’s from Aunt Audrey – not Betty Crocker. It’s a family recipe! I think I remember you telling me that,” I pleaded.

“I’m pretty sure it’s from Betty Crocker,” she said.

I was crestfallen. Betty Crocker! I’d been living a lie my entire married life! I spiraled into an identity crisis wondering if this woman sitting here was really my mom. Could Betty Crocker be my mother? Did she abandon me at birth and present me to my “parents” along with a recipe for turkey stuffing?

I pulled my own Betty Crocker Cookbook from the shelf. It was a wedding present and taught me a lot, but I didn’t want to give Betty credit for the family recipe. I wanted that to be from Mom or at least Aunt Audrey. But there it was on page 281 of my tattered cookbook.

I read from the book and then read from Mom’s letter. I had to admit they were the same. “…Turn into deep bowl. Add remaining ingredients…”

I looked at my mother, who was unphased by the unearthing of the largest plagiarism plot I had ever been exposed to, and said, “Why didn’t you just tell me it was on page 281?”

I guess we’ll never know. Please, don’t tell my sister and Dena. Sometimes it’s better to live with a wonderful illusion.

A Thankful Thanksgiving to You All!

I’ve come up with a new Thanksgiving greet this year. “Have a thankful Thanksgiving.” I have loved ones who are going through great trials and loss. Many are missing family and friends this year, so wishing someone a happy Thanksgiving is not the same and those words may be more than some can bear to hear.

Reminders to be grateful are always in order, for we truly do have much to be grateful for. The common graces of God are around us, and they alone are quite a lot. I’m thankful for sunshine and rain, for electricity and water, for food in our pantry, for family and friends, for our church and our God. Yes, amid suffering and loss, let’s not forget to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God and a greeting of thankfulness and grace to each other.

Life is not in the trash; well, this one is, but it’s only a game anyway.

Get excited about what’s ahead.

Enjoy some turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie.

Thank you for visiting my blog and for your encouragement to me.

Veterans Day 2020

On this Veterans Day 2020, a fitting commentary to this year was provided by our American flag. It typically flies proudly from the roof in our front yard, but yesterday I found it on the sidewalk, slightly worn and tattered. It looks like it was pulled off its bracket by winds no doubt related to Tropical Storm/Hurricane Eta, which is traveling up the west coast of Florida. (I should add that it is late in this busiest-on-record hurricane season. We’ve used up the alphabet and moved into Greek. I’m not even surprised, 2020, but I digress.)

It’s been a rough year for our flag, which sadly will no longer see the light of day. But I still love it and all for which it stands. Flags can be replaced – they are just symbols, after all. But today I am thinking about people whom I love who fought for what that flag represents. Specifically, I’m reminiscing about my dad, Arthur L. Manning, Jr., and my uncle, Luther C. Cox.

My dad was a gunner in a B-29 in the Pacific campaign. During part of his tour, a war correspondent, Richard Tregaskis from the Saturday Evening Post, flew with his crew. My dad’s face is one of the young men surrounding Tregaskis in a featured picture in the series of articles entitled Road to Tokyo.

I don’t remember hearing much about the war when I was a kid. Perhaps it was because memories can be painful, or more likely it was because I was a kid and didn’t ask. In Dad’s golden years, though, he’d talk freely. He kept up with his crew or their widows until he was the only one left. So much so that their names were familiar to me. I am sure he was the last of them because he was the one who kept them together in each other’s hearts and minds all those decades after the war. Dad died three years ago at the age of 94. In the last years of my memories of him, he’s always wearing his hat. He was a proud veteran and loved his country fiercely.

Uncle Luther was a navigator of a B-24 bomber in World War II. He survived the crash of the “Double Trouble” when he was shot down over the Mediterranean Sea on a cold January day in 1943. For the next two years and three months, he would be a guest of the Fuhrer; but he survived that, too. He retired an Air Force lieutenant-colonel and went on to teach ROTC at Orlando’s Oak Ridge High School. Also surviving his internment was his journal, which was featured in the Florida magazine of The Orlando Sentinel on June 24, 1984. He published a book, Always Fighting the Enemy, a World War II Chronicle, which includes writings and drawings from his journal along with stories he kept in his heart.

Uncle Luther in Italy

I spent a lot more time with my uncle after I was married because we lived in the same state. He was ten years to the day older than my mom, and we celebrated their birthdays together. He was kind of a legend to me. I was and still am in awe of his surviving being shot down and all that time in POW camps. There is so much about him to admire. He and his wife adopted two children from Europe and brought them home to the states. I have many fond memories with Mark and Dee, and even though we live in opposite corners of the country, we visit with Dee and her husband about once a year. Thanks, Uncle Luther!

On October 31, Bob and I went to the Lockheed Martin Space and Air Show here in Sanford with our son and his family. I was pumped to see the Thunderbirds, but I had no idea that the entire program was going to thrill my heart and stir up so many patriotic juices. At the beginning of the show, several new Air Force recruits were sworn in, which moved me to tears.

Following is a little glimpse of the air show. Enjoy; and God, bless America!

It was a little loud for our grandsons.

Ants on Crack and Other Random Curiosities

Because my world is smaller than it used to be due to that which shall not be named, I am noticing little things. Like ants. Ants are crazy busy, and there are actual crazy ants, which are from the Caribbean and can be found in Florida. As you may be aware, Florida is famous for bugs.

Typically we see fire ants or carpenter ants or even Pharoah ants, which are known to have a superiority complex. Fire ants love to bite people while the more industrious carpenter ant just wants to make improvements to your house; i.e. make it his house.

Whatever type of ant, if it’s making mounds, it is my job to get Bob to destroy them.

Over the summer I discovered ants boring a hole in our driveway. I can’t imagine what possesses them to do that, but it was interesting until I remembered I don’t want my driveway to look like Swiss cheese.

This is how deep they had gotten before we stepped in. These ants are aptly named Pavement Ants.

About 1.5 inches deep

Last week at a quick glance I noticed they were at it again. I pondered the ability of ant jaws to chisel through concrete with their tiny teeth. Bob handled it but assured me that they weren’t indiscriminately chewing through our driveway. These ants were on crack.

That made perfect sense to me until Bob explained they were on a crack in the concrete.

Something else to ponder down here is the I-4 Ultimate Project which began in 2015 and has no sign of being completed during the remaining 15 months of 2020. I’m not good with maps, but it appears to me that any delays are probably due to the Scarlet King Snake (or is that a Coral Snake) resting in the middle of the project.

Red Touch Yellow – Kills a Fellow
Red Touch Black – Venom Lack
Yellow Touches Red – Soon You’ll Be Dead
Red Touches Black – Friend of Jack

I early voted and it was a breeze, much simpler than remembering the coral snake rhyme. The old Party City in our area is now serving two parties and third parties as well. It was an easy in-and-out experience except the woman who checked me in was sort of blind. She was excited to work the polls for her first time – so excited that she forgot her contact lenses and had to use a magnifying glass to check my picture and signature. That was a first for me, too.

And, finally, a consumer alert. Available at Walmart, of course, for a limited time: It’s time to buy your KFC fried chicken-scented firelogs. I hope they don’t cause a grease fire.

I’d Like to Weigh in on Something

Every morning, without fail, my husband dutifully weights himself. Several years ago he lost about 35 pounds and watches that scale to make sure it doesn’t creep back on. Most mornings I, too, weigh myself. But not in front of him. When you’ve been on a diet for 45 years, you get a little sensitive about certain details. Yes, he can know how much I’ve lost. No, he cannot know what my current weight is.

Eventually, I tell him, but only after I get to my goal. He is a genius with numbers, so I know he can remember my weight loss and figure out from whence I came, but I don’t think about that. And he’s smart enough not to mention it.

Last Saturday was like every other day, only I was awake to see Bob weigh himself. He got on. He got off. He got on again. “Hey,” he exclaimed, “this scale is like the wheel of fortune gone crazy. It stops on a number and then rolls to another, over and over.”

Bob’s weight went from 170 to 214 to 68 in no time at all. Well, folks, that is 2020 for you. Nothing is what it should be. I stepped on and was delighted to see that I was in a weird bathroom/carnival game, not knowing where the scale would land. I decided I would choose a number I like and go on with my day.

By Monday, Bob was going through scale withdrawal and stopped at Costco to buy a new one. Alas, they had none. I know they’ll reappear in January, but for now, Bob had to find another source. If you follow me or know us, you will marvel at how we think everything can be found at Costco and if it isn’t there, then it’s either the end of the world or the year 2020. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s pretty much how we operate.

Bob got on Costco.com and found some options and listed them as I fixed dinner. Did we want bamboo finish, clear glass, black finish? Would we like our weight to the nearest tenth of a pound? Hey, these have Bluetooth. They will track our weight for us. That’s when I put down the spatula.

A great big NO to tracking! I turned the contact tracing off on my phone. Why would I want our scale to keep my numbers for public display to anyone who was passing through our bathroom? And who needs Bluetooth for their scale? Really, is that what this crazy world has come to?

Bob added that some scales can track up to four people. “Fine,” I said maturely, “but if you get that scale, I’ll never weight myself again.” And with that, I sliced myself a piece of pie to make sure he knew I meant business.

Amazon (Costco’s alternative universe) gave us more sensible and lower cost choices. When I saw a scale that came with a tape measure, I knew order had returned to my universe. So if you are feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, remember you can discover what your weight is for $14.38 on Amazon.com. Let’s just hope this scale can keep a secret!

The Importance of Play

My North Carolina grandchildren popped in for a few days in September. Before they arrived we had had an abundance of rain and the pool water was spilling over the edge. They fixed that for us in a matter of moments without us having to do a thing. I love to watch them and my local grandkids (their cousins) playing together. No one is safe from getting wet when they’re around.

Getting rained on is a nice break from the pool.

One of their favorite pool games is categories. One person is “it” and everyone else waits on the opposite side of the pool for a category to be called. Each person secretly chooses something from that category and when that name is called, they try to swim to touch the opposite side without being detected and tagged. Categories range from colors to Disney princesses to Marvel Superheroes.

As we watched, my daughter Dena commented that there should be an adult form of the game. Perhaps the person who is it would yell out, types of wine or places you’d like to travel or part of your body that is currently hurting. I’d love to have my neighbors hear the words, merlot or cabernet sauvignon being shouted from my backyard. It might be even more fun to have them hear sciatica or lower back.

We are a big game playing family, but you don’t have to like games to enjoy some play time. Doing a jigsaw puzzle might be more your cup of tea. Or maybe a tea tasting is your cup of tea. Perhaps you’d enjoy viewing sports together if you’d rather watch something than physically play. You could try Bob’s and my favorite game. That’s the one where I change something insignificant in the house and see if he can figure out what I did. You can imagine how much he loves that!

Board games and puzzles have had quite the resurgence during COVID. They provide great times of interaction and don’t involve a screen. Of course, video games can be fun, too. Bob and I have enjoyed video games for as long as I can remember. I was first introduced to PacMan back around 1981. Our good friend and pastor innocently introduced us to it and our lives have never been the same. (Thankfully, this is not the only influence he has had and still has on us. Thanks, Danny!)

Prior to that, there was Pong or Space Invaders. Child’s play! PacMan had a catchy tune and I immediately was hooked. One day soon after Danny introduced this to us, I ventured to the mall with our two kids – a toddler and a six-month oldish baby. There was a game room there. How had I never noticed that! I blew through a bunch of quarters with a baby on my hip and a toddler mesmerized by the sights and sounds. It was amazing.

Soon we discovered that we could have a gaming console in our very own home. Then, if I wanted, I could practice while the kids were taking a nap! I could beat Bob! Well, I wasn’t that obsessed. Close though. When Nintendo introduced Tetris, we were hooked. Then came Dr. Mario, which was a lot like Tetris only with cute Mario characters. When we would put our children to bed at night, Bob and I would play. I think even now when they hear the music they drift off to sleep. 

We took a decade or so off when our Nintendo died. We would blow on the cartridge or smack the top of the console, but alas, game over. Then one day our son said he was taking his Wii to the game store to trade for an xBox. He told us Wii had Dr. Mario. Our hearts leapt for joy and we traded him right then and there for car insurance money. Score.

Fast forward to now – 2020. Bob and I have that same Wii and we regularly play Dr. Mario. I tell myself it is good for my hand-eye coordination. Don’t spoil that for me!