Palaces and Castles (England Part 4)

What makes one massive, beautiful building a castle and another a palace? I had never thought about that, but those thoughts came with being in England. A little research revealed that the castle has fortification. Castles were built for defense and palaces were more for showing off wealth. If you cross a moat to get in, you’re going to a castle. If you see cannons aiming at you, yep, that’s a castle. If you need sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sheen and sparkle of all that gilded stuff, you’re probably in a palace.

Castles, like palaces, are often among the residences of royalty, but they were built more for defense and protection. When you go to Buckingham Palace, for example, you are more likely to be shown a good time at a state dinner while you are marveling at the artwork and grand surroundings. You have your massive thrones, enormous banquet halls, and gilded everything. Very palatial!

Queen Elizabeth had six official residences. She passed at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. This was her end-of-summer home and is thought to have been her favorite. I like the thought that she passed in a place she loved so much.

I visited two of her other residences during our time in the London area. Alright, it would be an exaggeration to say that I visited Buckingham Palace, but I saw it – briefly. It happened to be my birthday, and the whole of London was preparing for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. I had to give it a go. You don’t go all the way to London and not see the Palace. We got close, but that was all we could do. The Mall, which is a tree-lined road that goes from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, was blocked off from any kind of traffic, but they left a heavily policed area to cross. I was thankful for that, so as I was shuffled quickly across The Mall, I aimed my camera down the road and there it was!

This gives a lovely view of the barricades with the Palace in the background.

St. James’ Park and Duck Island Cottage, which is a great bird-watching area, are right along the way to the Palace.

I was rather shocked that the Oxford comma was not used on this sign.

While the guys were out golfing, my daughter-in-law, Dacia, and I toured Windsor Castle. I know they love to play golf, but I think we had the better day.

Windsor Castle seemed to me more like a walled city than a castle, but that makes sense as castles are built for defense. I suppose that also speaks to my limited knowledge of castles as much as anything. I was so impressed by the sheer size of it. Touring was splendid, but we were not allowed to photograph most areas.

The mail is delivered in royal fashion. I watched to see if perhaps Her Majesty would come to the curb to see if there was anything worth keeping that day, but alas, she did not. I imagined she was resting up for the Jubilee. I also wondered if The Queen gets junk mail, but again, she probably has people for that; plus, who would dare! What a perk.

Statue of Queen Victoria outside of Windsor Castle

Also at Windsor, this is as close as I got to a changing of the guard. It’ll do.

We also toured Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, which is the birthplace of Winston Churchill (1874). This palace confused me all the more in my distinguishing between palaces and castles. Inside most of it felt more like a government office or museum. The outside looked like a palace for sure. Parts of the interior were very palatial, but it lacked the overall pizazz that I want in a palace.

Hanging on the back lawn of Blenheim Palace.

Front view of Blenheim Palace – very palatial

The British know how to make magnificent gardens.

The Marlborough Mice were tucked here and there throughout Blenheim Palace. It was like a scavenger hunt. Here they are on prominent display at this banquet table.

The Mice close-up

The main reason we visited Blenheim Palace was because Winston Churchill was born there. Our son is a huge fan and named one of his sons Winston. Our Winston had lots of pictures taken throughout the palace and, actually, our entire trip. It was like a Winston BOGO.

Winston in the room Winston was born.

Winston by Winston in the Churchill War Room

Winston and Winston.

I’ll leave you here with this pack of Winstons.

Loving it in Liverpool, and Lytham St. Annes, too (England Part 2)

While the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Course may have been the driving force (pun intended) for our stay in Lytham, there was much to see in the non-golfing world here. Visiting a pub during a soccer match was quite the experience. The pub was split into two sides with one side viewing and cheering for Liverpool in one game while the other half did the same for Manchester in a different game. Not having an allegiance either way, we went to wherever there was seating for the six of us and quickly became Liverpool fans – or was it Manchester? By the sounds of the room, it was an exciting game. Both sides of the pub rooted for winners that day, which meant that Manchester won the championship – an event that I still couldn’t explain to you. I’d have been totally lost if I hadn’t recently watched Ted Lasso.

Pub food is great and another must while in England.

Woops, I didn’t photo the food.

After the game, we walked the town. I was particularly moved by the flag of The Ukraine flying across from our hotel.

Golfing continued at Royal Liverpool the next day, so Dacia and I went on a Magical Mystery Tour. Honestly, it wasn’t that much of a mystery nor was it very magical, but it featured the Beatles, so it seemed like the thing to do. Plus, there was Beatles music – so just another “Day in the Life.” Oh, boy!

The blue suburban skies were showing off big time as we bussed around the home of the Beatles.

Penny Lane was a hit. It was in our ears and in our eyes, and I’m humming it right now as I write. There was a shelter in the middle of a roundabout, which you likely have heard of. Roundabouts are ubiquitous to England. They drive me crazy, so it’s a good thing I don’t live there.

I am a huge fan of Sir Paul McCartney. I’ve seen him in concert twice (even though he looked about the size of an action figure from our seats high above the stage floor). He brings you into the concert and makes it seem like you’re part of an enormous family reunion. So, I was especially happy to visit the modest home in which he grew up.

George Harrison’s Birthplace

Then there was Strawberry Fields, which began as a children’s home in 1936. It was originally a private home in the Victorian Era before it was bought by the Salvation Army. As of the early 2000s, the Salvation Army no longer maintains it as a home for children but continues to use it for other purposes.

This place has been here forever.

Hanging with John

Liverpool Skyline

To quote The Beatles – “There are places I remember.” Especially if I write about them.

Counting My May Blessings

When I was a kid, I thought my mom had the best job in the world. She was a stay-at-home mom. At that time, I had no idea how hard that job was. I had my first child in 1979 and my last in 1987. Four children, just like my mom. Let me tell you, it is a hard job, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Since the month of May contains Mother’s Day, I have been thinking a lot about my blessings in that regard. I had two wonderful grandmothers, both of whom I knew well. One grandmother went blind from glaucoma when I was a teenager. She had an amazing attitude towards life despite her condition. My other grandmother and her husband, my grandfather, came to live with our family when I was a teenager. They were so much fun and full of love. They are the ones who taught Bob and me how to play pinochle, a huge part of our family life to this day. That was when we were dating several decades ago.

My mom lives with us now, and that is a huge blessing and a wonderful opportunity. She loves Jesus and she loves her family and I get to talk with her every day! We also have an almost-daily game of scrabble.

Mom was born the same year as Mickey Mouse, so when I saw this sweatshirt in the store, it had to be her Christmas present last year.

I also have been reflecting on my four wonderful children and my sweet husband. Watching our children grow into adulthood has been amazing, humbling, fulfilling, and exhausting. But they made it! And they have blessed us with their spouses and eight nearly perfect grandchildren.

Last week our granddaughter, Mia, came to visit us. She is our first grandchild, and she was born on my birthday 19 years ago – the best present ever! My son, Scott, was born five days before my birthday (different year of course). Before Mia and her family moved to North Carolina, we would always celebrate our three birthdays together. We were blessed to celebrate together last week.

I encourage you to spend some time counting your blessings, too. I am thankful for each of you who take the time to read my blog posts. The next one will be coming from Jolly old England!

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

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

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!

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.

I’m So Embarrassed

As I told you in my last post, June was a big month for us. Bob retired and we did some traveling. Looking back on that post, I realized there was more to tell than our effort to have steamed crabs for dinner. In hindsight it seemed wrong that I didn’t mention how proud I was of Bob as I attended his retirement luncheon. (I was extremely proud.) The words “workhorse” and “finisher” were among the many accolades he received.

It also seemed wrong that I didn’t focus on our family being together for the first time in years. We witnessed our youngest grandson seeing the grandeur of the ocean for the first time and take those first tentative steps into the water. Our eight grandchildren totally enjoyed their cousin time, and our kids and kids-in-law were reunited over approximately 300 games. Yes, we are gamers, and yes, I tend to exaggerate. We only brought 30 games (and all but about 2 were played).

I also didn’t tell you about our trip to Stanardsville, Virginia, Williamsburg or Monticello, but there’s time for that later. By now you understand the power steamed crabs has over me. It’s a little embarrassing that they were the first thing I wrote about. In all fairness, though, they were really good, and we hadn’t polished off a table full of crabs in a coon’s age! Even now, a month after we got out the mallets and crab crackers, I can still close my eyes and smell Old Bay Seasoning. (I may need to talk to my doctor about that.)

Oops, there I go again. Back to the family – there were 18 of us gathered in Hilton Head. Our 8 grandchildren range from 2.5 to 18 years old. The power of family was on full display as these kids embraced each other. There is something special about cousins. Even with this wide range of ages, the interactions were sweet (and noisy). Watching the older cousins care for and play with the younger was a gift to me. How I wish we all lived close to each other! But how thankful I am that we can be together despite distance.

They are all pretty cute and amazing, so I’ve included a few pictures of them. Trust me, I could have really bogged down this post with pictures, but I want you to keep reading.

The Beach from crazy to serene

Being a mom to Bob’s and my four kids has been the joy of my life. When grandchildren were added, my cup literally ran over with happiness. One thing I have really missed since we all haven’t lived in the same locale, is having an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids. My mom started doing those backyard hunts when my kids were young, and I have taken up the mantle, though sporadically now. When there are only two local grandkids and they’re both teenagers, a bit of the thrill of the hunt is missing. My two youngest grandkids had never participated in the hunt! I saw my opportunity for our June gathering. As Christians, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ every day, so why not do an egg hunt in June.

Who remembers The Unknown Comic from The Gong Show? I present, the Unknown Egg Hunters.

I have kept the plastic eggs over the years and had over a hundred of them. Even with the help of our kids and their spouses, it took a little while to hide them all. But at last, we lined up the grands and the hunt began. We released them by age to even the playing field. That Anderson competitive blood flows through their veins and they were off. Eggs and children were everywhere. At the end of the hunt, prizes were chosen.

We also did a jigsaw puzzle competition. Ella (our second grandchild) is a huge fan of Marvel, as am I. When I came across 48-piece puzzles in a tin with Marvel superheroes gracing the front, I made it my business to find 6 of them. It took four different stops to realize my goal, but I did it.

Our eldest grandson, Manning, and his mom came in first place

I am relatively sure I was much more excited about these puzzles and the whole competition to complete them than anyone else. Did they not realize that each puzzle came with an infinity stone? The older six grandchildren each chose an adult to team with them and the games began. When Layna (the youngest competitor) chose Bob, I felt like they were a shoo-in. Honestly, when it comes to puzzles, he is a ringer. But I hadn’t counted on them getting The Incredible Hulk, which is mostly a mass of green. At least they didn’t get angry when they came in last.

Jett enjoys finishing before Bob (Bumpa)

Games and puzzles and walks on the beach with our tribe are tucked away in my memory. I smile when I think of this group of people whom I love more than I can describe. I’m thankful that God made families and thankful that he gave us each one of ours.

Hilton Head sunset

Graduation

There comes a time in every kid’s life when their parents embarrass them. (Many times would be more accurate.) But there are also times when that kid is ready for it, craving it, even welcoming hearing their name shouted by those who love them. Graduations are at the top of those occasions.

Mia

There was a discussion as to how our family would respond when our granddaughter Mia crossed the stage to receive her high school diploma. Would we whoop and holler? Might that embarrass her; was that our goal? Would there be instructions to save applause until after the last graduate? Would we follow those instructions? (Absolutely not!)

Mia’s was 33rd from the last name called on that sunny May morning. Having been an Anderson for over 45 years, I’ve grown accustomed to having our names called early, but our daughter Dena married a man that took her to the back of the alphabet. Talk about adjustments!

The “A” part of the alphabet was almost complete when the man in front of me jumped up and cheered. That sure looked like a proud papa! I patted him on the shoulder and congratulated him. Then I joked, “Are you going to duck out now?”

“Nope,” he replied. “That’s not my kid. I was just helping the couple in front of me.”

I didn’t even hear the couple in front of him.

Somewhere in the “J’s” he again cheered loudly. The lady and her son to our right gave a nice round of applause at the same time.

I asked, “Is that one yours?”

“Nope. Just adding support,” he said as he looked to my right.

“Who is yours?”

“Mine is Jenna in the “M” section. And I’m not her dad. I’m her uncle. I’ve been to all my nieces’ and nephews’ graduations.”

His sister looked at us and smiled. I’m not sure if she was prouder of Jenna or of her brother, who by now had a following of his own.

Jenna’s uncle

We joined them in shouting for Jenna M, and Jenna’s uncle helped us in our celebration as Mia crossed the stage. Mia heard us and there was no embarrassment, just a feeling of being loved and supported.

There was such a sense of community, mutual support, and hope as we sat on those bleachers watching the next generation. I am confident that Mia has a bright future in store for her with a lot of surprises along the way. She trusts in God, and that is the best way to walk into her future. We are so proud of her!

Bob and I with Mia – May 29, 2021