Bath and Body (didn’t) Works

I was in Bath and Body Works yesterday sniffing through their vast collection of holiday hand soaps. Currently in my house, last year’s soaps adorn the sinks. I tend to over-buy so at the end of the season, I put those soaps under the sink until the next year. With a small amount of people in our house, it takes a couple Decembers to go through one. With my current stock, it will be 2021 before I need to buy again.

This year I decided to avoid that shop like I avoid leaving Florida in the wintertime. I’m in North Carolina as I write this, so I guess both plans went south, or in the geographic case, north.

So, I’m freezing and trying not to let my comments about how cold it is be all that I say to people. “Hi, I’m Bonnie. I’m freezing.” How’s that for an ice-breaker?

Anyway, no matter what the temperature, I want to see my kids and grandkids, so I loaded up my car for a quick trip to see my daughter, who also happens to be my shopping buddy. She has four children so they can go through a container of pump soap in about 36 hours. She is the reason why Bath and Body Works is so successful.

I got to thinking. Everybody loves Vanilla Bean Noel, Twisted Peppermint, and Winter Candy Apple. They are names that grab you. Names you want to look at everyday when you wash your hands. But what names didn’t make the cut? What names were wash-outs and what did they smell like? Here’s my list:

Charred Santa – Fire in the chimney with a little bit of toasted jolly and fluff

Cranberry Reindeer Droppings – Subtle and spicy undertones of cranberry with a hint of reindeer excrement

Burnt Vanilla Cookie – Even with a truly unpleasant fragrance, this soap cannot be resisted. You’ll smell like you just burned a fresh batch.

Holly and Poison Ivy – Fresh smell of holly with a trace of Calamine Lotion

Tinsel Trauma – Slightly metallic smell that will take you back to your childhood. Use in a well-ventilated room and keep away from children.

May you have a wonderful, clean-smelling Christmas Season!

Let’s Not Lose Our Heads This Christmas

He was more than a figurehead. He was part of a village. Who would have known how weak he was – not me. He was proven. He had been part of our Christmas for over 25 years. That means he had survived my four children with nary a scratch. I never would have suspected that he would lose his head over a banana.

If there is going to be a decapitation, it is better for your grandchild to do the dastardly deed than for your child to do it. There is ample forgiveness for the grandchildren who visit and then leave, who don’t wear you out with the everyday maintenance which they require, who haven’t been told 16 million times not to play with the Christmas village.

The same act would likely have been met with frustration if one of my children had committed it. But my grandson. He can be destructive with a flair of adorableness. That face! How could I be upset with that face.

From the other room I heard the sound of porcelain clinking – never a good sign. I looked around and Winston was nowhere to be seen. When last I saw him, he was holding (according to him) a perfectly yellow banana. I liked the way he appreciated little things like a bruiseless banana of perfect color. But the innocence of the moment was soon shattered.

Little did I know that for some reason which escapes me, he was holding that banana over the unsuspecting head of the Christmas tree delivery man. Maybe he was counting people with the tip of it. Who knows, but evidently, even bananas which have not been peeled can be slippery because somehow or another, Winston knocked one figurine into another with said banana.

“Everything alright in there?” I asked.

“Not really,” he answered. “I think one of the guy’s heads is loose.”

I cautiously inspected the disturbing scene. The head was way beyond loose. It was severed! Right there, in front of the maid and two innocent children! Some in the village simply turned their backs to the gruesome sight, but I could not. Winston could not. He looked up at me with that beautiful, perfect banana in his hand, wondering what would happen.

Well, of course, I cautioned him that bananas are not meant to be held over or placed among Christmas villages. The proof of the danger of this sadly lay before us. Then I put the severed head in the wheelbarrow and wheeled it over to my husband Bob’s desk. He has repaired a lot more than porcelain severed heads in his days as a father and grandfather and neighbor and friend. He has a reputation, and I am happy to tell you that he lived up to it. Mr. Tree Deliverer is back at work. The two children are in therapy but expected to put it behind them by New Year’s Day when they are packed up for the year. The warning of NO BANANAS has been emblazoned upon Winston’s mind. I’m just glad he wasn’t holding a pineapple. That could have been a real disaster.

It Takes More Than Autumn Leaves to Get Me to Michigan in October

Hail, sleet, and snow in the midst of a thunderstorm – that was my welcome to Michigan. The date was October 20. I had left almost 90-degree weather, an atypically warm Orlando autumn. To say this was a shock to my system would be an understatement.

First stop after touching down was Costco, of course. It was as I pulled into the parking lot that the sleet began. I sat there in my rental car in awe of the sudden extremely different from Florida precipitation when it started to hail, accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning. Being a Floridian, I can drive in the worst of a rain storm, but this, I wasn’t so sure. Then, flashing through my mind, were those weird road signs that warn bridges ice before roads. I would be crossing bridges. I reminded myself that I could do this, but I didn’t wanna!

My first thought was, I needed a nap. I’d gotten up early to catch my flight and sleep on the plane, well, that doesn’t really count. But the thought of driving through this kind of weather did wake me up.

Of course, I didn’t have an umbrella, and the sleet was mixed with rain that was coming down pretty steadily. I needed to do my Costco run before making the two-hour drive to my son’s house. He and his wife were expecting their second child, and my grandmother calling was strong.

Neither snow nor rain nor cold nor gloom of Michigan autumn would stay this grandmother from the swift completion of her appointed Costco run. I decided to go for it – cold, wet weather and all. And then, it stopped.

I was so thankful! I bought my stuff and made the drive with only slight rain falling on the windshield. The temperature stayed above freezing, so the bridges were fine! The snow flurries waited until I arrived at their home.

Seeing my son, Joe, my grandson, and my very pregnant daughter-in-law was all the sunshine I needed. It was wonderful to be there. Now, the baby could come any time. He was due on the 24th. He had a plan of his own.

No grandmother I know has ever been so well rested while going to help with a new baby. After scheduling to be induced on November 1, Aubyron delivered a very healthy, 10-pound baby boy on Halloween. That was a Wednesday, and I was scheduled to come home on Saturday. We were really sweating out those final days, wondering if I’d get to see the baby at all, wondering if I’d be there to help with their three-year-old. Thankfully, I was able to push my departure back a couple of days and go home on Monday.

While we were waiting, I had the best time with my grandson. We built blocks, did puzzles, read stories, baked cookies, and played. I tried to pack in all the stuff that I don’t get to do on a regular basis with him. It was wonderful. We also saw all that their small, college town had to offer. We took walks. Many, many walks. My poor daughter-in-law was miserable and trying to do what she could to encourage the birth, and my son was getting a little anxious, too.

Let me give you a little glimpse of our tour. I was struck by the comparison of what a Michigan store stocks and what a Central Florida store stocks.

An entire section of things to keep the ice off your car. You can’t find this stuff in Orlando.

I mentioned they live in a college town. That should have given me a clue as to what this was all about.

Everything you need for beer-pong in one handy spot. I’ve never noticed that at CVS where I live.

They have a Family Video rental store, though I found no VHS tapes in there. The walls were lined with DVDs and I understand it is quite popular.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, if that weren’t enough, they have real, live Fall up there. They don’t have to fake it by purchasing colored leaves and pumpkins. Those things are there naturally. It was beautiful.

But the most beautiful thing I saw there, showed up on October 31. Yes, all else pales in comparison. Welcome to the world, Oliver!

Grandchild #8. He’s so beautiful!

Now you understand why I haven’t posted lately. Love is very distracting and consuming in the best of ways.

Artie and Tommy are Together Again

Writing my book, Always Look for the Magic, started out as an exercise to keep memories alive, to keep those stories that my dad told from disappearing. It turned out to be much more than that for me as I wrote and edited. It became a connection with my parents and their families before me. Especially Tommy (my Uncle Tom).

Uncle Tom passed into Heaven last month. My dad, Arthur, the big brother, has been there since last October. It is a comfort to know they are together again.

I grew up in Maryland and lived close to tons of relatives on both sides of the family. My parents grew up across the street from each other, so everyone knew everyone else. When I was six, we moved from the Baltimore area an hour away to near Andrews Air Force Base where my dad worked. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point, Uncle Tom, Aunt Audrey, and their three kids moved our way. We saw them a lot.

I know that as a kid I didn’t appreciate what was being built by those times together. It may have looked like eating dinner, playing badminton in the backyard, an epic game of Monopoly, or listening to the more musically inclined jamming in the basement; but it was family building blocks. Blocks of time that knitted us together.

Now we are all over the country. My three siblings and I and those three cousins all live in different states. Different regions, too. We don’t see each other often – in some cases it’s been over a decade.

Arthur and Tom, 1930

My cousin, Mark, and I have kept in contact more due to the fact that we both had our dads living with us and both had the privilege of being with them during those last days and weeks. We understood each other. It was comforting.

How does it work when you haven’t lived near each other in over forty years, that you can talk like best of friends? It works really well. For us, it’s aided by the fact that our dads both were Christians and we are, too. But I also know that somewhere deep in the foundations that were built when we were young, there was always a bridge to family. It’s like a draw bridge that you can lower and reach out to each other across the miles whenever you need to make the connections. It’s amazing.

I had a texting conversation with my cousins that lasted nearly two hours. We sent each other pictures and reconnected where necessary. We joked around and made fun of each other. I laughed and I cried. What a gift!

As a tribute to my Uncle Tom, I want you to know that he was a truly wonderful uncle. When Bob and I moved my parents into our house last September, he was on the phone to me with unsolicited (but good) counsel. “Bonnie, it’s not easy living with old people,” he told me.

I’m not sure if that was a quote that he picked up from my cousin when they moved under the same roof or if down in his basement he kept an even older person than his 88-year-old self, but I appreciated his call.

“Remember,” he warned, “it’s your house. You don’t need to change everything for them.”

Hum, I wondered, what had it been like for my poor cousin and uncle during their transition? I’ll be sure to never ask!

“Also, my brother can be difficult,” he added.

Can’t we all!

After my dad died, Uncle Tom called my mom about three times a week to check on her. They had been like best friends/siblings growing up together. They shared their love for the Baltimore Orioles and music and, of course, my dad.

As my father’s hearing reached the point that made telephone calls difficult, Uncle Tom and Mom did most of the communicating, especially during baseball season. Uncle Tom would call and complain about the Orioles or they’d relive the highlights of a victory.

Two of my own sons are Oriole fans like their grandmother and uncle. Eleven years ago, our son Jesse was growing concerned that his grandmother had not been to Camden Yards since its opening in 1992, so we made it happen.

Of course, we took Uncle Tom with us to the ballgame. This was the first up-close-and-personal experience that Jesse had with his great-uncle. It was love at first sight as Uncle Tom let Miguel Tejada have it for messing up at shortstop – standing up and booing him and telling anyone who would listen that the Orioles should get rid of him (in so many words). Since my dad was more of a fan-by-marriage, Jesse had never experienced a rabid Oriole fan of the male persuasion. It made his day.

What a fond memory that is for me – four generations at the iconic ballpark bonding over the Baltimore Orioles.

More important than his love for the Orioles, he was a prayer warrior and vocal about his walk with Jesus. I liked the way he referred to my dad as his big brother. I also can’t forget hearing him call his two sons “the beauties.” He was always part of my life whether near or far. I will miss him.

Traveling with My Engineer

Travel. Bob and I are known for traveling a lot. Sometimes family or friends have traveled with us. That has resulted in a reputation that leaves some scared to do so. We are what you would say… aggressive. We make a plan that is so detailed that we have to write in time for rest. Seriously. This is what happens when you are married to an engineer, or at least it’s what happens with my engineer. We figure that there will likely be time for trips that are heavy on relaxing in our future (God willing). So, for now, let’s see how much we can cram into a vacation.

This last trip began because Bob became concerned about my state of mind. Excessive sighing, staring at the wall (of pictures), wandering through the toy aisle at Target. These were tell-tale signs that I was missing my grandkids and kids. I had not seen the Michigan group since Christmas. So, before I was reduced to weeping and gnashing of teeth, Bob scheduled time off from work and the plan began. (more…)

Hope

Ella two years ago at the Lake Apopka North Shore Wildlife Drive. She’s a serious birder.

There is a birding bond between my granddaughter, Ella, and me that helps us keep in touch even though we are now long distance. Ella will turn 13 next month, and ever since she was a toddler she has been fascinated by birds. At an early age she could identify all the backyard birds that visited our feeder. None of this red bird or blue bird stuff for her. She wanted to know their proper breed names.

We have taken her and her older sister, Mia, birding a couple of times. Ella loves it. She is an excellent spotter as well, picking out birds hiding in bushes and trees far better than I.

I’m never surprised when she or her mom, my daughter Dena, sends me a picture to try to identify a newbie. I was surprised to get this picture.

This poor little guy flew into their sliding glass door. Ella was crushed and quickly scooped it up and laid it in their vacant bird-cage. Since her mom wasn’t home, Ella texted this picture to her. Dena sent it to me as she was not in a position to help. Ella and I began to facetime each other. She was convinced that the cardinal was still alive, so I had her wrap it in a cloth to keep it warm in case it was in shock. Ella held it and tried to will it to live. She named it Hope.

While facetiming I also was interacting with the rest of the kids. For hygiene’s sake, I asked did anyone else touch the bird. Mia, who was holding the cat way too close for comfort to our little patient, scrunched up her face like I had suggested the unthinkable and said, “No!”

Layna, who is six, showed her concern by reiterating that the cardinal is the state bird of North Carolina. I’d say what a poor little thing it was, and she would say, “I know and it’s our state bird.” Such concern over the potential loss of so proud a symbol of their state mixed with pride over knowing this important fact was impressive.

But Jett’s mind presented the most interesting prospect and potential problem with helping this beautiful, red cardinal. “What if it explodes?” he asked. I think he’s played one too many games of Angry Birds.

Meanwhile, I told Dena that she could give it a couple of drops of whisky from an eye dropper when she got home. If there was any life left in it, that might help. Unfortunately, they only had Vodka. I’m not sure that made a difference.

Finally, it was decided that Ella should put Hope in an open shoe box and tuck it under some bushes to see if it would revive. Alas, Hope died.

If love alone could have brought Hope back, he would have flown away to live on. He left behind a sad Ella, but I believe he taught her a few things, too. This was not the first bird that she has rescued, but it was the first one that didn’t make it. Life is full of learning from things like this. On the other hand, at least it didn’t blow up. I don’t think she could have handled that.

 

First Father’s Day

After someone important to you dies, you go through a series of firsts. Firsts that they were always a part of. Firsts that leave a little hole in the day. I know that this is completely normal.

In my case, because my dad died at 94 after suffering with limitations that strived to define him, which he fought bravely to conquer mentally if not physically, it has been easier than I thought that it would be to go through this series of firsts.

Father’s Day was a BIG first that I wondered about, but I made it through. And it wasn’t too hard. Watching someone age and get ready for Heaven changed my perspective on my dad’s death. Truthfully, the dad that I knew the last few years was a representation of the dad who I had for most of his life. The thought of Dad in Heaven is a happy place in my heart. No limitations! Yes!

Dad retire at 50 years old, so he spent almost as much time on this side of retirement as the other side. Bob, my husband, has never worked close to home. His commute has varied from 45 minutes to 2 hours. So, when the plumbing was gushing up through the toilet or a tire had flattened, I’d call Dad. (These things happened more often while Bob was at work. I think that’s part of the mechanical-things-fear-Bob deal.)

That is the Dad that makes me smile. I hold both versions in my mind, but one has a bigger place in my heart. One has the bigger file of memories.

As I type this today, I’m smack in the middle of the second BIG first that I have wondered about. Today is the 70th anniversary of my parents’ wedding. I wondered how Mom would get through that. How would I get through watching Mom? The floodgate of memories was sure to break.

But you know what? Those memories washing over you can be pretty refreshing and special. That’s what I’m experiencing today (and she is, too), and since you’ve been so kind to listen to me in the past, I thought you should know. There are more BIG firsts down the road, but why borrow trouble? God really does supply the grace needed for all of life’s moments – big and small. Some will be harder than others. That’s okay.

I do miss my dad. He’s come up a few times in my blog, and my book ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE MAGIC, is based on his life. He got to read it before he lost his eyesight, before the final edit. I’m thankful, even though I know he struggled with the fact that I fictionalized his life. I guess that would be weird for anybody, but he was proud of me and happy to have stories of his life preserved. That, too, makes me happy. In a lot of ways, you never stop being your dad’s little girl.

Here are a couple of pictures I’d like to share with you. Hope you enjoy them.

Dad the magician, the early years

Dad always liked animals, but he was happy to have this friendly guy out of their Florida lake.

Dad with my first son, Jesse. He loved his grandkids.

Survivor Finale – Spoiler Alert!!!

Image result for free pictures of jeff probst

Photo Source: tvseriesfinale.com

Sacred TV time. That statement is wrong on so many levels, except that is how I “view” my Survivor television watching. Survivor is my absolute favorite TV show. My kids know this. Some of them watch the show, too; so last Wednesday night when Bob and I sat down to watch the finale an hour and fifteen minutes after the scheduled time, I texted my kids to let them know we were just then starting. I couldn’t risk a kink in my plan to find out who the sole survivor would be from watching the show, not from my kids lack of knowledge that we were watching delayed. (more…)

Happy National Park Week!

Sequoia National Park

It’s National Park Week, and even though I was mildly traumatized in one as a kid, I still love the parks.

I was nine and just completed the third grade. Our family of six did the cross-country camping thing during summer vacation. Dad converted our ’65 Volkswagen Microbus into a camping wagon, replacing the middle seat with a side seat so we kids could look at each other and play games while on the road. People didn’t wear seatbelts back then. We were used to being thrown around the car whenever it swerved or if Dad had to slam on the brakes. It was part of toughening us up and another way to promote togetherness.

It happened in Sequoia National Park in California. My dad and brother always pitched the three-room tent and my two sisters and I would help Mom by getting water, brushing off the picnic tables, and the like. Our campground had a nice fire pit area to cook on and warm ourselves by in the cool night air. The woods were amazing. Those trees! Well, their majesty even awed a young girl like me.

One of the cardinal rules of camping is: use the outhouse before you turn in for the night. Another rule of camping with children is: they don’t always follow the rules.

We had barely snuggled down in our sleeping bags when I regretted my decision not to use the bathroom right before bed. I mean, I had just gone thirty minutes earlier and it was a little hike down to the outhouse. I knew I’d be fine. Except I wasn’t.

I knew my mom would already be sleeping. Dad had often commented that she could fall asleep while running for a bus. So, I whispered, “Dad, I have to go to the bathroom.”

Of course, he replied with the line every parent uses, “I told you to go before bed. Why didn’t you go then?”

“I didn’t have to.”

Dad asked me if I remembered where the outhouse was and I said I did. We obviously didn’t yet know that I was directionally challenged since I had never put that lack-of-skill set to the test.

He handed me a flashlight and turned me loose in the darkness. Now, I can only imagine that my parents had quite the argument over this after my mom woke up, but meanwhile there I was standing outside of the tent armed with a flashlight and a full bladder, all by myself. I was petrified. I walked a few feet away from the tent and stood there in the black of night. There was no way I was going alone (so to speak).

After waiting a few minutes, I went back to the tent and lied to my father. “I can’t find it. It’s too dark.”

He solved that by handing me a second flashlight. To this day I don’t know what he was thinking, but I mustered the courage to walk down the road in the direction of the outhouse. Only I never came upon the outhouse. Who knows – maybe I was close, but I couldn’t find it. I backtracked my steps and told Dad the bad news. I was sure he would come out and lead me there, but instead he forgot I was a girl and told me to go out behind the campsite.

At this point I was practically scared peeless (is that a word?), but I figured if I didn’t take care of things I’d be in big trouble, so I managed. Yuck!

No sooner had I zipped up my sleeping bag when we heard a horrible sound. It was like someone was taking a crowbar and beating our van to pieces. That woke my mom up! All six of us peered out of the tent to witness an enormous bear throwing garbage cans around our campsite like they were confetti. Needless to say, it was a good thing that I had emptied my bladder or else I would have right then.

That was my first close encounter with a bear and my last time going to bed without visiting the outhouse. I believe two things happened that night. Number One. And, my unhealthy fascination with bears was born. I guess a third thing happened too, but I never did hear the argument between my mom and dad.

So, Happy National Park Week. Get out there and explore. Bob and I are heading to Utah on Saturday to do just that. I’ll keep you posted. By the way, I will not have to worry about outhouses at night anymore. No more tent camping for us!

My eight-year-old son enjoying Sequoia National Park when Bob and I took the kids across country in 1995. I’ve camped enough now.

Family Game Time and The Streak

Game-player genes are strong in my family, especially on my mom’s side. My childhood memories are full of badminton and croquet in the backyard and epic Monopoly games complete with outlandish trades. As I grew older, Scrabble was added into the mix. My mom was always part of those games – well, maybe not Monopoly. What homemaker has time for a board game that becomes a three-day event?

There are no other people in the world that I would rather play games with than my family. We are a competitive bunch, and this month as we gathered together to celebrate my mom’s 90th birthday, she led the way to the game table. She loves to play Scrabble and she plays to win. It is from her that I get my love of words. As a matter of fact, during one game my mom received a phone call and continued playing as she talked. Without batting an eye, she managed to accumulate two triple words while we just stared in disbelief. She is amazing.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

This trip, most of those Scrabble games were played with Mom, my sister and brother-in-law, and myself. We played a lot, and everyone was victorious at least once, except for me. It was getting embarrassing. Not because I couldn’t win, but because I couldn’t stop winning. I was on fire. I hate to toot my own horn, but since none of them have a blog, I am left with no other choice. Not only that, I don’t think my brother-in-law is talking to me.

Seriously, I was one with the tiles. The letters seemed to rearrange themselves on the tray and lift themselves effortlessly onto the scrabble board. Two games in a row I used all seven of my tiles. In the next game, my mom did something I had never seen before when she got a double/double word. It was amazing and we knew she would win the game, until once again I used all seven of my tiles and chalked up another victory.

I knew I was in trouble, but I was on some kind of bizarre scrabble streak and, even though I felt a little bad about it, I was loving it. I also knew it wouldn’t last. Streaks are made to end. The real challenge was to get them to keep playing and not lock me out of the house. The last several days of our time together were spent at the beach, where I continued my reign of terror. After my last victory there, everyone got away from the table for a little while. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I’d leave them a note to let them know that my heart was heavy and that I felt bad, but I didn’t want to sound condescending. Plus, we were almost out of paper, so I improvised.

I’d like to say they graciously accepted my apology, but they just reinforced what I already knew – Scrabble is not for lightweights.