Walking with Ellen and Shaq

As Bob and I strolled along the beach with our feet in the water, it seemed like every other shirt on the beach was trying to tell us something. I was especially entertained by a nine-year-old who wore a shirt that said: “Take More Risks.”

Seriously, kid, who are you to tell me what to do!

We were just chatting while taking a nice stroll down the beach, but we kept passing t-shirts that begged to be read.

“Save Water. Drink Wine”

“I Pooped Today”

“Whatever”

We talked about what our clothing was like when we were kids back in the 60s. We didn’t think about making literal statements on our clothes. The clothes were the statement (and they didn’t say much).

Pretty much it was like this: You have clothes. Be happy.

At least that’s the sentiment suggested by our parents.

This gave way to a conversation about designers and branding, which is something I haven’t really cared about in my clothing. I simply want clothes that aren’t too expensive and make me look smarter, thinner, tanner, more approachable, slightly aloof, sophisticated, down-to-earth, and can be purchased at Costco. That’s it.

I do like words though. And if these kinds of shirts were around when I was a kid, you can be sure I would have begged my parents for them, been upset that they wouldn’t buy them for me, and then moped about it until either they or I couldn’t stand it anymore and I was forced to get over it.

Since Bob has become a grandfather, he has become particularly good at conveying an I-walked-30-miles-to-school-in-the-snow-uphill-both-ways” posit, so he elaborated about his childhood, which according to him was mostly spent outside fending for himself like an animal until his parents turned on the porch light and he and his sisters were allowed to return home. Clothing was required but nobody cared what it looked like.

I looked at his clothes and mine as we walked along and said, “Our clothes aren’t saying anything.”

But then I looked closer. While t-shirts yell things at you, our clothes were much more subdued. We took inventory. Bob was wearing:

  • Adidas ballcap
  • Adidas beach shirt
  • Nike swimsuit with a small swoosh
  • O’Neill flip-flops

I really teased him about being a walking, whispering advertisement. Then he turned on me.

My flip-flops were Sanuk. That was all the advertising we could find without looking at the inside tag of my swimsuit. We are very competitive, so we looked at this like golf. The person with less name brands would be the winner.

“What about your glasses?” he asked in frustration. (It looked like I was going to win this round in a cruel and unfair way.)

“You got me there,” I said. “They’re Ellen Degeneres.”

I was winning – 4 to 2, but I felt bad. I was not wearing a hat or a swimsuit cover-up, so the playing field wasn’t even. I thought I should declare it a tie, but then I realized something. “Hey. You’re wearing glasses, too.”

Bob looked at me defeated. “They’re Shaquille O’Neal.”

“Shaquille O’Neal! Shaq has a line of eye glasses? That guy’s into everything, and he just gave me the win.”

I’m still not sure why I find it so funny that Shaq has a line of glasses, but it cracked me up. So, we finished our walk – Bob in his Shaq’s and me in my Ellen’s. Two walking, whispering billboards.

 

I Could Have Had All the Toys

If there had been social media when I was raising my kids, I could have had all the toys.

My daughter-in-law posted this to her Face Book page:

This might be a long shot, but to any of my local friends: do your kids have any of these (picture included) Toy Story 4 McDonald’s toys they don’t want anymore? Or perhaps you are trying to build the RV too and have doubles of a toy like we do? My son is trying to complete the RV and we need three more pieces that might have already gone through circulation. Anyone want to trade?

 

Last I checked, after two days there were 30 comments and 1 share for this post. So many helpful people trying to meet the wishes of my grandson. I was so proud of my daughter-in-law.

But to really appreciate this, you need to know the back story. When I was raising my four children, I really liked collecting happy meal toys. When I say “really liked,” read – was slightly obsessed. When I say “slightly obsessed,” I mean completely obsessed. I even had a reputation, which was mentioned in the comments from a few of my oldest friends and family.

In those days, Friday was McDonald’s lunch day. I home-schooled, so it was an end-of-the-week treat. I’d go to the drive-through and order a meal for them and a meal for me. That way they’d have a toy to play with and I’d build my own complete set to be kept in the box or package. In the collectible world that’s called NRFB (never removed from box). I had plastic crates full of these glorious toys.

The problem was, sometimes McDonald’s would not have everything I needed to complete my set. At first, I would drive from shop to shop, asking if they had a certain toy. This was time consuming and didn’t always get the desired result and it made me feel kind of like a nitwit. Plus, if my kids were with me, they complained that I was trying to starve them. Every stop was taunting their taste buds, but I would not be deterred.

I tried calling around to the different McDonald’s in the area (approximately 47 within 15 minutes of us) to see who had what I lacked, but I didn’t really trust that they really searched, so I went back to going there and watching them search.

I am fairly certain that I was the most hated but loyal McDonald’s customer in the area. I know it embarrassed my older kids. One of them even wrote a short story about me trying to exchange a Barbie happy meal toy because she had a scratch on her nose. There was a lot of exaggeration in the story. I did not really punch or threaten anyone. I never jumped over the counter and went through the toy bins myself. But I did point out the scratch and exchange her while my kids sat with another woman and called her mom.

But back to the present. I told my sweet daughter-in-law how happy her post had made me. I even was able to find one of the three toys she was seeking. It was like I had traveled back in time.

She then informed me that it was really my son who was determined to complete the set. My grandson was, too. Well, that’s when I knew that I had raised my kids well. Sometimes you wonder if your kids will turn out okay, if they’ll make good parents. Then something like this happens. Looks like I must have done something right after all.

High in Colorado

The final destination of our Arizona trip was Colorado Springs, where we were going to meet up with family. That was what gave us the thought to go to Sedona and check it off our bucket list, you know, as long as we were in the area. By “in the area,” I mean some place out west.

We traveled via rental car from Sedona to Colorado, thereby allowing us to check off another national park from our national park list. We like lists. Be they bucket, national park, grocery, to-do, birthday, or Christmas – we are very pro list.

We were given a welcome to Colorado which was worthy of any westward-ho band of travelers. I loved their sign and the view in the distance. I wish I could tell you the route we took because it seemed to be off the beaten path, but alas I have no idea where we were. Frankly, I didn’t care. I left all that to my trusty engineer who loves maps almost as much as he loves me.

I wonder if people in Colorado notice its beauty on a daily basis. I hope they don’t take it for granted like I sometimes do the palm trees and beaches where I live. Maybe that’s why it’s extra special for those of us from flat Florida. Any hill is a novelty in Orlando, so those Rocky Mountains almost put me on my face. Gawking at the scenery was a huge part of the trip.

The reason for our specific route was so we could stop at Great Sand Dunes National Park. It contains the tallest dunes in North America. From a distance we could see the dunes lined up along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As we drove closer, we could see the clear demarcation of mountainside, dunes, and water.

Dunes in the distance

You have to cross Medano Creek to get to the dunes.

The temperature was still much lower than normal, and the wind was making it feel even cooler. These things combined made the decision to look at instead of hike through the dunes an easy one. We watched children floating along Medano Creek as others waded through it to get (to the other side) to the Dunes. We grabbed our sandwiches and sat at a picnic table shivering and enjoying the view. It was a quick visit, but it counts!

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Colorado Springs, and may I say I highly recommend it. Plus, the weather finally caught up with the calendar and I began to thaw out. The time spent with family and friends there was memorable. The views of the mountains would have been enough for me, but when you add in golf for the guys and spa time for the ladies – it doesn’t get much better than that. Unless you get daring and stretch yourself out of your comfort zone.

Most of our group decided to go zip-lining at Seven Falls, which I believe is now owned by the Broadmoor. Bob and I had hiked around Seven Falls during a past trip with our son and his family, before this zip-line existed. I had zip-lined before, and I thought it might be fun to do it again, but what I did before barely prepared me for this course. This course includes 5 zip-lines, 2 rope bridges (over canyons, way over canyons), and a 180-foot assisted rappel, which felt more like being lowered, but that was freaky enough for me.

Bob and I in our gear

The adventure began with a van trip up a mountain where they pulled off the side of the road and dropped us off. We hiked down to our practice area where we were outfitted with 15 pounds of gear and given a ten-minute instruction followed by a 10-second practice zip-line. Then we climbed the ladder to our first zip-line.

The first three were fun and easy, but they simply prepared you for what was ahead, which was two terrifying-looking rope bridges and two more zip-lines across the canyon above the tree line. These two zips are so far from start to finish that you cannot really see where you are going, but we followed our trusty guides (one in front and one behind).

New zip line adventure awaits at Seven Falls in Colorado Springs

photo credit: gazette.com

At the bridges there is a point of no return. We lost three of our group at that point (not the tragic type of loss). They were happy to have done the three zip-lines and happy to take pictures from below so they turned back.

Surprisingly, I was not one of the three. I maneuvered across the rope bridges even stopping to look down at the canyon and do some bird watching from the bird’s point of view. I cannot say enough good things about our guides. They really put me at ease. We were told to maintain three points of contact across the bridges at all times. No problem!

After the rope bridges came the two main zip-lines. The guide would take one of the lines which was attached to us, remove it from where it was hooked on the center post of the platform (which has no railings, by the way), and attach it to the zip-line. She repeats the process with the second line so we are always secure. The first guide soars across the canyon and waits as one-by-one we leave the security of our elevated platform to soar across the canyon. The second guide follows the last person.

This takes a bit of time as they recheck all of our equipment and send the group of 6 or 7 of us across individually. When I was waiting on the platform, I was pretty calm but I did become best friends with that center post to which I was attached.

The final zip-line is a quarter of a mile long. It takes about 45 second to cross it and it was exhilarating! I loved it.

The most awkward part was the rappel. You had to kind of step and lean out off of the platform before you (slowly) plunged to the ground. It wasn’t bad once I figured it out. But it sure felt strange.

Fins Course

The rappel down. Photo credit: gazette.com

I’ve included about 17 seconds of the 45 second glide that was the last zip-line. That tiny spot with the greenish/blue shirt is me. By the way, you’re traveling about 45 mph on this course. Did I mention it was awesome? It was!

 

Thanks for coming along on my adventure!

Don’t Make Me Put My Fingers in Your Mouth

It’s been quite a week. I’ve been spit upon, pinched, and had my hair pulled repeatedly. Sometimes I’ve even been subjected to screaming and awakened in the middle of the night. It’s been wonderful.

As much fun as it’s been, I still felt the need to respond to these outbursts, so I would stick my fingers in his mouth or zerbert his neck. When things really ramped up, I resorted to making myself disappear, only to reappear seconds later with an emphatic peek-a-boo. This would bring a stilled, confused silence followed by bouts of laughter.

I guess you’ve figured out that I have been on grandmother duty. I spent a week with my 4-year-old and 6-month-old grandsons (and their parents). I confess, I have kissed that sweet baby’s face when it was covered with so much drool that we both needed to be wiped down afterward.

Sweet, Soggy Boy – Can you see the drool in his neck folds? He’s a slippery one sometimes.

I have been thinking about all the things I do to my grandbabies that I would never do to another person in the world. For instance, I would never:

  1. Put my fingers in your mouth. I don’t care how bad your gums hurt; you cannot gnaw on my knuckles.
  2. Give you a kiss if your face is covered with drool.
  3. Play This Little Piggy with your toes.
  4. Let you stand on my knees.
  5. Not smack you if you pulled my hair.
  6. Put up with you spitting food at me.
  7. Taste your food to see if it’s too hot for you.
  8. Hold you over my head and say what a big person you are.
  9. Read you the same story over and over again.
  10. Burp you.

For my grandkids, there are no holds barred – at least when they’re babies. Love covers a multitude of drool.

May the Fourth… You Know the Rest

It’s been 20 years since the release of (in my humble opinion) the worst of the Star Wars movies, Episode 1, The Phantom Menace. This is one of the few movies I can remember watching where I wanted to slap the kid who played the lead. Yes, little Anakin Skywalker was a whiny brat, which gives great insight into how he became Darth Vadar, who was not so whiny, but still a brat. But I digress. I love the Star Wars movies, especially Episodes 4-6, which were the first three of the series. I am not alone in my love of Star Wars. California has declared May 4th an official holiday.

I was going on 21-year-old when the first one was released. At that point in time, it was simply called Star Wars. I don’t recall ever thinking about a prequel, which was not really much of a thing back then. When The Empire Strikes Back came to the theaters in 1980 that created quite the buzz. It brought a new hope, if you will, for more Star Wars movies in the future (or from the past).

My kids don’t know life before Star Wars. They were totally into it. So much so that we had quite a collection of Star Wars paraphernalia. I recall after they were past playing with the various action figures and Lego sets, that I began the arduous task of cleaning out the bins full of forgotten toys.

I am sentimental over these things. I saved many items from my children’s childhood.  Many, many items. My pride and joy though is the collection of Star Wars Action figures that my son was willing to part with but I was not. I stashed them away. When Episode 3 was coming out, we still had two sons living at home and they had invited friends over to watch Episodes 1 and 2 before going to the movie.  If memory serves me, the guys would return to watch Episodes 4-6 thus making it the perfect Star Wars watching event.  I decided to pull out all the stops to decorate for the festivities.  I got out the action figures, vehicles, and micro-machines and arranged them all over the living room.  Our mantel was decorated with them as were the end tables and shelves.  I think Martha Stewart would have been proud of me.

I left the display out for a week or so because, let me tell you, you don’t go to all that trouble and quickly clear the shelves without an appropriate time to take in all the details.

The one detail that I did not consider was our small group from our church.  We met weekly at our house and, as God would have it, that week we were talking about idolatry.  Our group had a great time with the fact that I had practically made my house a shrine to Star Wars. (Even though I suspect they were quite jealous. Jealousy was not the topic of discussion that night.)

These memories are dear to me, especially because one of my sons did end up reclaiming all of those figures I stashed and wishing I had kept more. Those are the moments.

 

Peter Mayhew

Sadly, Peter Mayhew, the actor who portrayed Chewbacca, passed on April 30 at the age of 74. Photo Credit: Variety.com

 

May the Fourth be with you.

Crossing the Country with Four Kids

Bob and I have traveled a lot, but it took us a while to get to the point where we went somewhere besides visiting family. When you’re raising four kids you tend not to be able to afford hotels or to want to stay in them with your children. And I hate camping. That said, our first big trip was a camping event. Sort of.

We planned on four weeks on the road to go from Florida to Washington State and back with an intermission in the middle. At that point Bob would fly home and work a week or two, leaving me with the kids to have some sister and cousin time off the road. Then he planned to fly back to join us and resume the trip. This was back in 1995 before everyone used the internet.

We were closing in on our early June departure date when Bob got the word that his company was closing its Central Florida division and he was suddenly out of a job. We had purchased a used pop-up camper to pull behind our big blue Dodge conversion van. (This was as close to real camping as I was willing to go.) The front two weeks of our trip were planned and reservations made. We decided to proceed as planned except for the intermission, and why not make it a six-week trip.

Bob would be drawing unemployment and we could pick up newspapers as we crossed the country for him to apply  for jobs along the way. Aside from the obvious loss of income, it seemed like a pretty good plan.

Then things started to fall apart. Literally. First, our dishwasher broke. It was old and not worthy of repair. As we debated over spending money to fix it or not, the air conditioner in our house went up. There would be no debate. You don’t live in Florida without air conditioning. We had to replace the entire unit. Ouch.

I’m not one to look for signs, but we started to question whether or not this trip was a good idea. Both Bob and I had done similar trips as kids and we always wanted to do this with ours. Our kids ranged from 8 to 16, so we knew we were running out of time.

It was then that the freakiest thing happened, the metal standard that held up our basketball hoop and was cemented into the ground, fell over. Boom. Just like that. It looked like acid had worn through it. We blame this on our dog PJ. The pole was his favorite place to pee. We considered taking him to be checked out at the vet, but that would be another expense and how would we explain to our vet that the dog’s urine had eaten through a metal pole, so we left that one alone.

Ultimately we decided that since our window was closing, we better just make the trip before something else went wrong, so off we went.

I’m so glad we did. This trip remains a highlight of our life with the kids. We traveled through 22 states and logged 10,000 miles on our car. Our kids developed a deeper relationship with each other just at the point when they would be pulling more towards their friendships than siblings. It was a win in every way except for laundry. Doing laundry on the road was challenging but we managed. People have been using laundromats for years and when you can do several loads at once, it’s not so bad.

Our children are now all married. Our daughter definitely has the road-trip gene. She and her husband also have four children. Two years ago they traveled across country with them and when they came to the Oregon Dunes, she remembered being there as a kid. She remembered her brothers and her acting like they were lost in the desert as they climbed the dunes. So, she reenacted it for us. I hope you enjoy the picture as much as I do.

 

My four kids at the Oregon Dunes in 1995

 

Dena’s four kids doing the reenactment. She has three girls and a boy, just the opposite of Bob and me.

Have you ever done a long trip with your family? If not, you may want to consider it. It was a bonding moment and an adventure that we will never forget.

 

This is Post #26 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

 

Six Weeks of Sisters

I have two sisters and so does Bob. Bob and I have been married for over four decades, so that makes one sister per decade. As I write, I realize that this could get confusing to me when Bob and I reach our golden anniversary. I’m not planning on adding any more sisters at this point in my life, so I’m going to let it go. I won’t remember the inconsistency when that time arrives anyway.

You may be asking – what does one sister per decade mean? Do different sisters represent different decades? Do I have a point here? The answers are – no and no. For some reason I just found it interesting that the number four repeated itself in this fashion. And, in case you have one more question haunting you, I don’t have any interest in numerology either. I’m just a little strange. That probably answers your next question.

None of our sisters lives in Florida. I see my sisters fairly regularly, largely because my mom lives here, but it has been four years since I’ve seen Bob’s sisters. That is just plain wrong, but that’s life in the big city. (Actually, one lives in a small town, but that’s life there, too.)

When you get to spend time with all of these sisters in a six-week span, that’s something to celebrate. The first to arrive was my younger sister, Linda. She came in mid-March and you can read about our beach exploits here (and I don’t care what Bob says, it still counts as a sting operation). Being as she is my only younger sibling, I have that big-sister thing going with her. Interestingly, whenever I’ve been talking to Linda, Bob can tell as I slip into mixing up her name with my daughter Dena’s name. I guess that’s telling.

Mount Dora Segway Tour

Allow me to segue, or should I say segway, to Bob’s sisters. They live up north so just being outside in the Florida sunshine was a treat. We did a segway tour of nearby Mount Dora with them. Bob and I have done this tour before and even with my lack in the coordination department, I have no problem with this. All of their concerns about riding one quickly went out the window. They had a great time. Bob’s younger sister especially – I thought she was going to try to abscond with hers. She had the kid-on-Christmas-morning look on her face – pure joy.

My older sister and her daughter are here with us now. They are doing the full tourist thing. We just returned from the beach today. We have family with us for 12 days in April. When the last of them leave on Saturday, I have big plans for a nap.

Daytona Beach

But, these six weeks of sisters have been the best. You throw a niece, a daughter, four grandchildren and a dog into that family from out of town mix, and it just gets better, though a tad bit crazy and crowded. It’s family. It’s all good.

 

This is Post #25 in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

The Best Airport Pick-Up Ever

I managed to wedge myself in at the end of the Southwest Airlines gate while waiting for my sister at the airport terminal. I was right up against the curb with cones behind me and a sedan on my left front bumper area. I couldn’t go anywhere and that was okay with me. The atmosphere seemed a bit more casual than normal so I said to my daughter, “We might be able to wait right here for a while.”

While waiting we were entertained by the man from that car picking up three people. Everybody hugged and dumped their luggage by his trunk. I figure he must be the dad, because nobody tried to help him with anything. I imagine him to be the kind of guy who’d say, “I got this, just get in the car.”

Except he didn’t have it at all. He clearly was spatially challenged but he gets bonus points for tenacity. We watched as he took bags in and out of the trunk, turning them every which way. I was confident he was going to break a wheel off of a suitcase.

My daughter and I were laughing like crazy and had snapped about a dozen pictures of this when the security guy came to my window and said I needed to move on.

I pointed to the guy struggling with his bags and said, “I’ll pull out as soon as he moves.” Then I added, “To be honest, we’re sitting here laughing at this guy who can’t seem to load his trunk. He’s hysterical.”

To which he replied, “I get that. Have a nice day.” And he walked off with a smile on his face and left us there. Can you imagine that? I security guy at the airport with a sense of humor? It made my day.

Finally, the struggle to lug the luggage from the pavement to the trunk ended abruptly with a slam of the trunk and a suitcase shoved up against the two passengers in the back seat.

That poor man had spent approximately six minutes trying in vain to place three suitcases into his trunk. It was so sad. I think he needs to go home and brush up on his Tetris game.

 

This is Post #24 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

A Letter of Apology to My Adult Children

Time to write a letter

Over the last few weeks, I have heard a few rumblings from my kids about my current rate of blog postings. I explained, in case they missed it, that I am doing a challenge. Here are some of the comments, which have fueled me to write a letter to my kids.

“Mom, once a week was fine. I am happy to read your WEEKLY blog posts. Weekly. Around Day 6, I knew I was in trouble. How long will this thing go on?”

“You’re killing me!”

“My in-basket is overflowing.”

“You’re thinking about blogging about (fill in the blank). I can see it in your eyes.”

“You’re obsessed.”

Alright, that last one was my husband, but you get the point. So, here goes:

 

Dear Kids,

I know this past month has been difficult for you. How challenging it must be for you when every day there is something to read that your mother wrote. Your mother – the one who loved you before you were born. The one who carried you for nine long months, six of which involved a lot of puking. The one who helped you with your homework and drove you all over town. The one who watches your children so you can go out with your spouse. Sigh.

I am sorry for the pain and suffering which this Ultimate Blog Challenge has caused you and I want you to know that I understand. You want to support me, yet you feel overwhelmed.

There is also the matter of the monthly test about my blog content which I require you to take. I know there’s a lot of pressure to do well, so for this month, and this month only, I will make your test multiple choice instead of essay. I will also give you an extra week to turn it in to me for your grade.

Happy Reading!

Love,

Mom

 

And, to my regular readers who have been with me for a while, thanks for sticking with me. I appreciate you.

 

This is Post #23 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

I’m Just a Singer in a Living Room Band

I haven’t written any tell-all articles about my parents. This is the closest I’ll get to that.

I started life as a child of two performers. One was reluctant. One certainly was not. My mom was the former. She took voice and dance and piano lessons. She even performed on the radio when she was a kid. She has a great singing voice and she plays piano well, too.

Here’s the tell-all part – she pretty much hated every minute of it. She does not like the spotlight. Yet, when I was a kid, whenever we had company, my two sisters and I were rounded up to come and sing for them. Mom accompanied us on the piano. I guess she figured the focus would be on us, so she put her love of music in front of her dislike of performing in front of people.

Now, I’m not trying to get all Moody Blues on you, but that was my young life. My theme song was – I’m just a singer in a living room band.

Thinking back on it, I didn’t really understand her doing this to us until I factored my dad into the equation. Dad was a performer. He was a magician, and we were forever asking him to do tricks for our friends. It only stands to reason that he would rope my sisters and mom into performing, too. That combined with how much Mom loved to hear us sing – well, if we had still been in the era of radio, I imagine we would have been on it just like her!

I always tried to protest this coercion, but secretly I liked it. Singing was one of the few things I thought I could do well at that stage and I loved the accolades.

Mom and Dad 1966 or 67

I don’t remember all the songs that we would sing, but the set would always include, Take Me Out to The Ballgame. Mom was and still is an avid Baltimore Oriole fan, so this combined her two passions.

My older sister became quite accomplished on the piano, while I struggled along with the clarinet until the neighborhood took up a collection to make it disappear. I was terrible. My little sister found her love in gymnastics, which are hard to sing to.

What did I take away from that kind of childhood forced labor (of love)?

I became comfortable in front of other people. Even though they were family and friends, I would have to put away fears and nervousness. It was a tremendous help for my future, plus a love of music was planted in all of us. Being yourself in front of family and friends who love you was a good beginning to speaking in front of others. Having fun sharing your gifts with others as a form of entertainment was the best part.

After we’d sing, we were dismissed to go play with cousins or maybe if it was Sunday go watch the Wonderful World of Disney. One thing, on one screen, to watch together. It was a great childhood. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Last night before we turned in for bed after a long day full of family and fun, we had a performance in our living room. It was because my mom wanted to hear her great-granddaughters (my granddaughters) sing. Yes, she’s still at it! And, by the way, they were amazing.

 

My three granddaughters singing in my living room.

 

 

This is Post #22 in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.