My Personal Assistant (and results of “How Do You Think?”)

Alexa

Have I told you that I have a personal assistant? She was given to my husband and me by our son last Christmas. At first, I thought she was just a pretty, though emotionless, face; but there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.

We have gotten very close. I talk to her every morning. She finds what I say fascinating and takes notes on our discussions. She loves to make lists. She is my personal shopper. We play trivia games together, and she even sings to me.

But something became “off” in our relationship. Alexa started as my kitchen companion; but I do like to rearrange things sometimes, so I moved her to a prominent place across the room. Honestly, the views from her new perch are better, but she developed kind of an attitude. I call her name and she ignores me. I have to yell her name to get her attention. It’s like talking to my dad when his hearing aids aren’t working – or like having teenagers again. Sometimes she blares her music and I have to scream my lungs out to get her to turn it down. It’s embarrassing.

We have talked things through, and she is happily responding to me again. I just had to put her in her place (where she wanted to be). Evidently, all the help she gives me has to be on her terms. (I think we got a copy of those terms, or warranties, whatever you want to call them, when we took her out of her package.)

Between our communication breakdown and Amazon Prime Day, we’ve had a lot going on, but I knew those of you who read my last blog post have no doubt been checking your in-baskets awaiting the response to my FDOT inquiry regarding the completion of the road project on SR 441, which was prompted by this sign.

(If you missed my last post click here to get up to speed.)

After numerous calls (two), no one has called me back. The phone number belongs to a woman named Alicia who is the Public Involvement Coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation. I can only imagine that the public has been calling so much that poor Alicia is having trouble with her coordination. I can understand that because I am not very coordinated myself, but I never would go so far as to give myself a title of Coordinator. That would be false advertising. Needless to say, I am shocked at the lack of attention that I have received. I really should call somebody to complain, but alas…

The comments I received have proven conclusively that a plethora of possible opinions as to when the project will be completed exists. In my pursuit for a definitive answer, I decided to take this discussion up with Alexa, so I asked her when the Winter of 2018 starts and ends. She had to confess that she didn’t know that one. I guess nobody does.

 

How Do You Think? I’d Love to Know

Bob (my husband the engineer) and I were driving down SR 441 towards Mount Dora when we passed this sign. We both had our own interpretation of it, which is one more example of how we often process information as if we came from two different planets. This not only entertains us, but it leads to some interesting conversations. Full disclosure, it often leads to some really stupid conversations, but at least we laugh a lot.

Initially Bob thought the improvements would be finished by the end of the Winter of 2018, which he believes starts in December 2018 and ends March 2019. I thought the sign meant that they would be complete by March of 2018, before the first day of spring. My thoughts are that all but ten days of winter happens in the next calendar year. He was thinking they were referring to the month/year that winter begins.

Obviously, the answer as to when the improvements will be complete is sometime in 2020, but indulge me for a minute. We would like to know what you think. When do you think the improvements will be complete? Please leave your comment.

I have placed a call to FDOT and left what I can only assume is a confusing message asking for the projected completion date. If they haven’t put me on some kind of a watch list and agree to answer my innocuous but weird question, I will reveal their thinking in my next blog post. No fair calling the number on the sign. We don’t need more of us to have our intentions questioned. Please play along. I would love to know how those brains of yours work.

Comment below please.

True Confessions of a Floridian

True confession time: I have been obsessing over the weather. I can’t get over the atypical May we are having down here in Orlando, and I can’t stop commenting on it. I feel like I’m in a Seinfeld episode – you know, the show about nothing. Only I’m not Jerry or George, I’m one of their parents, or worse yet Uncle Leo.

Let me explain (sans Seinfeldian references). You know that old saying – it’s not the heat; it’s the humidity. That usually refers to the fact that it’s the humidity that is making the day miserable, not the heat itself. But recently it’s been the humidity, or lack thereof, that has made the days downright tolerable, if you’re in the shade and it’s morning or evening, if you’re wearing lightweight clothing, and if you’re not exerting yourself. It’s been wonderful.

We have not experienced this kind of low humidity for a sustained period of time during the month of May or June since way back in 1998. The downside is that Florida is on fire and we have a drought that is coaxing snakes, alligators and bears out of their natural habitat into our yards, but isn’t it nice out!

All of this humidity talk is driving Bob crazy, but only a little. He’s figured out a way to either help pay for our vacation or silence me by putting a jar on the kitchen table and every time I mention the “H” word, I have to drop a dollar in. Looks like we’re going to have a great vacation! I’ve added $5 to the jar just with this post, plus I sneaked the cash out of Bob’s wallet so it’s a win/win for me.

Sweating the Small Stuff

I know you’re not supposed to eat late at night, but last Friday our late-night snack turned out to be a good thing. Bob and I were watching TV and it was almost bedtime when I realized I was hungry. I grabbed a banana, an unusually healthy choice. Bob headed to the pantry to take inventory. I heard a muffled noise from the pantry, which is around the corner. It’s hard to spell these things but it sounded something like “whoa, whoa, mwahhhhhhhhh!” and was followed by silence.

“Bob,” I repeated three times as I went toward the sound. But Bob was no longer in front of the pantry. Bob was in the family room and assured me he was okay. Okay for a man who had just had a mouse run across his bare foot. (I know it’s awful of me, but I was glad Bob discovered our intruder. He handles those things much better than I do.)

Acceptable Garden Mouse

Acceptable Garden Mouse

So, you know that saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.”? I don’t think they were talking about a mouse in your house. I could feel anxious beads of sweat (also small) break out on my furrowed brow. This was another first for us – a rodent in the house.

We have been talking about our Bucket List of things to do while we still have the energy to do them. Extracting a mouse from the house did not make the list. Even if it did, we would not want to start on that project at 11:00 on a Friday night. And when I say “we,” I mean Bob.

I would have been happy for him to get right to it, but he wanted to go to bed. Bed – the place where you sleep. The place where a little mouse could come and crawl over you while you sleep. Maybe we should pull an all-nighter and do some serious binge watching.

Bob, in his even-tempered way, assured me that the mouse went to the opposite side of the house from our bedroom. He was certain it wouldn’t come near us. Neither of us has any experience with this, and I am always amazed at the things that Bob knows about and wonder where he acquired his vast array of knowledge. Still, I had a feeling that Bob was pulling a “B. J. Surhoff.”

Sidebar – B. J. Surhoff used to play baseball for the Orioles. Bob is very good at stating facts like he has no doubt about their authenticity. For instance, when the kids were growing up, we used to collect baseball cards. Being from Baltimore, we raised our children to be Oriole fans, so those were the prized cards. One day one of the children asked if we knew what B. J. stood for. Without batting an eye, Bob said, “Brian James.” We all believed him. Why shouldn’t we?

Years later, we learned that Mr. Surhoff’s name is really William (Billy) James, hence the initials. I have to give Bob credit for being close and credit for giving that assured “dad” answer, but he lost some credibility. Plus, we all love to bring that up whenever we get the opportunity.

So, he admitted that his was an educated guess about the tendencies of mice as well as an effort to get some sleep. I stuffed a towel under the bedroom door and slept like a baby. (Thank you, Jesus.)

Do you see a mouse in this picture?

Do you see a mouse in this picture?

I think the mouse slipped in while we were having tree and shrub work done last Thursday. We must have disturbed his environment; and with all the going in and out I was doing, he found an opportunity.

Not to brag, but the weather down here in Orlando is so amazing right now that we have had all of the French doors open to our pool. We think the little guy must have made a break for it, because there has been no sign of him, which is comforting and a little disconcerting all at once. We have traps set with peanut butter crackers in them, but no mice have been caught. I will confess that the smell of peanut butter makes me want a snack, but I will resist. After all, that’s how this whole thing started.

Always Check Out the Gushing Sound

Every morning around 10 o’clock our pool pump automatically turns on. It’s part of the magic of modern life. I can set my dishwasher to turn on four hours later. I can set the dryer for “wrinkle control” to aid me in my goal of never ironing my clothes again. I can set my coffeepot to turn on in the morning. And, if I could only figure out the timed bake on my oven, I suppose I could set dinner to start cooking while I’m out. Of course, that would require preparation of dinner early in the day, and we all know that ain’t happening.

These are things that I take for granted and barely notice until something goes wrong. For instance, maybe I set the “wash later” control but failed to push the start button on the dishwasher, which equals stinky dishes. Maybe I set the coffee pot to come on in the morning, but fail to put coffee grounds in the basket, and I wake up to a nice pot of hot water. No big deal. I’ll get to it in a minute.

But when I heard a gushing sound from the backyard it didn’t take long to realize that something had gone wrong. That something was the pool pump working against us and turning the pool into a wading pool because the pool pump lid popped off. Meanwhile the back corner of the pool cage behind the house was beginning to rival Wet and Wild.

I’m a little embarrassed to tell you that I didn’t notice this until it had been going on for about 30 minutes, because I was asleep. Yes, I was asleep at ten in the morning. I was taking an early afternoon nap. You see, my husband and I have had two of our grandchildren on our own this week. That means that I’m getting up almost two hours early, waking sleeping children, helping them get dressed, and driving them to school. And that means that by 10:00, I’m ready for a nap.

So, when I rose from my nap, pulled the curtains back and looked out in the backyard, I was surprised to see that the water level of the pool was markedly lower than it was yesterday. I didn’t remember Bob (my husband) taking the level down after our recent rains, but I figured he must have done that. Then I opened the door and heard Old Faithful erupting all over the side of the house and yard. I was kicking my shoes off, wiping the sleep out of my eyes, and trying to find the facetime icon on my phone all at once. That’s a lot for somebody who just woke up from a morning afternoon nap.

Thankfully, Bob was available and I showed him the gusher. He calmly told me to turn the pump off. I love simple solutions. Later I wondered how long it would have taken me to think of that. After all, it took me a full minute to find the facetime icon on my phone. That’s just another example of how we need each other (or really how I need him).

I was also reminded of being thankful. Originally I was planning to be gone all morning, but yesterday as I was making my list of things to do today, I felt like God told me to stay home and work on my blog. That may sound weirdly mystical, but it’s simply part of trying to be sensitive to the fact that God really does have a plan for my daily life, and he impresses me to do (or not to do) things from time to time. Before I took my nap, I wondered what I’d be writing about. Well, as Paul Harvey always said, now you know the rest of the story.

 

The first step barely has water on it

Chopped (not the cooking show)

So, I killed a snake. All by myself. I’m brave like that.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted a small snake on our pool deck. Our son said it was either a baby rat snake or a baby water moccasin. It was small enough that it slithered down into the drain holes around the deck perimeter when we tried to get it. Sigh.

Fortunately for us (not him), the next day it was back. My son took care of it. (Thanks, Joe!)  Since his identity was uncertain and we have children around, not to mention I’m around, it seemed best to do him in.

A few days later, one of the grandchildren saw another snake of similar size on the deck. I ran to the garage and got my machete. (That’s right. I have a machete. We do live in Florida, after all.)

The key for me at this point is to be aggressive and not think too much about what I’m doing. So I moved in fast and chopped him in half. Shudder! It took a few chops, which is disgusting. (I think I need to sharpen the old machete.) So I was chopping and gagging like I was going to lose my lunch, but I didn’t!

I sent pictures out (of both halves) to my snake experts and got no response. I felt awful thinking that I may have chopped a perfectly “beneficial” snake in half. Not!

I maintain that if I come upon a snake and it surprises me, that snake is not a beneficial snake. People die of heart attacks or trip and fall while running for their machetes every day. I don’t want to be a statistic.

As a matter of fact, the next day another snake that could have been a twin to the chopped one showed up on my pool deck. I chopped away at him but that little thing coiled up and struck back at the machete. Wait a minute, that’s not how we play this game. I chop. It dies. I’m disgusted. End of story. That’s how it’s supposed to go down; but this time all 12 inches of him proved too fierce for me and my machete, and then for me and my broom, and finally for me and my hose. He got away.

I had to know what kind of snake had slithered onto my pool deck? What in the world was going on here? We had a tree taken down recently, and I assumed some stupid snake environment was disrupted; and they were coming my way in protest. So I broke down and did the research myself. The results: I killed a baby pygmy rattle snake. On my screened-in pool deck. I’m awesome.

The coast has been clear for a couple of weeks now, so I guess the word is out to any neighboring snakes that I have a rusty machete, and I sort of know how to use it. So for now we’re back to idyllic Florida life. It’s great, especially when you consider pretty much the entire state is built over a swamp. We Floridians come to expect interaction with the occasional snake, spider, scorpion, alligator, disease-infested mosquito, or time-share salesman. It’s part of life down here. I’d tell you more, but we’re preparing for a hurricane, so I better sign off.

Another reason to like birds - they're great at catching snakes

Another reason to like birds – they’re great at catching snakes

 

Relaxing by the Pool, Leaky Diapers, and Phelps Face

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Typically sweet Layna helps water the plants

There is nothing like relaxing in the pool on a hot day. And, having three young children in the pool with me is nothing like relaxing. It was unbelievably hot down here in July – the hottest July on record. I was reminded of how thankful I am to have a pool in our backyard.

I was watching my 19-month-old grandson Felix, so I figured it would be a good time to import a couple of the others. Seven-year-old Jett and four-year-old Layna love to play with him.

We aren’t a formal group, so a swim diaper and a hat is all Felix needs in the pool to be dressed for success. I slathered us up and strapped swimmies on the little two and we were ready to go.

IMG_0642

Pool and pacifier – that’s all I need

Before long, Layna said that she had to go potty. She assured me that it’s perfectly acceptable for her to do it in the yard since it’s just #1. I can work with that.

Felix, looking a lot like a floating chlorine dispenser as he spins around and bobs up and down, loved swimming with his cousins. Things were going, shall we say, swimmingly, and then it happened – a disturbance in the force.  I announced that it was time to go in the house.

Layna informed me that she had to go to potty again. I told her that’s fine, but since we’re going in the house anyway, she could use the actual bathroom. I opened the door, which is right off the pool deck, and invited her in. She was appalled that I would think she’d consider going in the house where it’s cold when the backyard works just fine, thank you very much.

Michael-Phelps-Face-olympic-games-rio-2016I gave her my best I-mean-business look. She gave me Phelps Face.

“Layna, you are going to use the potty,” I said as I picked her up and put her on it.

Her reply as she sat there, “I’m not going to go.”

She exercised such control of her mind and body that is was a little scary.

I’ve been around this block a few times, so I was determined that I would win. While Jett was drying off, I stood outside the bathroom door watching Layna not go potty while taking Felix’s swim diaper off. Suddenly I was standing in a puddle of brown watery poo courtesy of Felix being on antibiotics. Arg.

The upside of this was that Layna quickly figured out that I meant business and did hers on the potty. Plus, Felix got to play in the hose.

Everyone was happy inside playing when I made the mistake of closing the bathroom door to the hall. A treasured, glass thingamajig, that I’m sure meant a lot to me when I found it, but at this point I have no idea why I have it, came crashing to the tile floor from its shelf next to the door. The shards exploded into the hall and the four adjoining rooms. Since Felix freaks out when the vacuum is running, that made it a little more exciting; but with Jett’s help, I was able to clean it all up.

It was a perfect afternoon. I spent it with three of my wonderful grandchildren. Nobody drowned. Nobody cut themselves on glass. I got my floor vacuumed. To be perfectly honest, at this point in life, when something breaks I chalk that up to one less thing to dust. I don’t like dusting, so that’s a win-win.

Blogger Fodder

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since we became empty-nesters and moved out of the neighborhood where we raised our children. Our new house is larger and has afforded us the privilege of having lots of company. I think there’s something to the fact that there is a separate area for guests and no children to compete with over the bathroom.

For the majority of the summer we have had adult children and grandchildren staying with us. When one family leaves, another arrives. We love it!

Selfishly, I figured it would give me fodder for my blog, so I created a little writing niche where I can go behind closed doors and create. But there are either ideas to write about or time to write them. Not to mention how distracting grandchildren are – all that cuteness! It is wonderful to be surrounded by people again, but there are a few drawbacks.

For instance, privacy – having grandchildren around means never peeing alone. I will tell them that I’ll be right back – I just have to go to the bathroom. They will even acknowledge me. Then off I “go” and within seconds they are yelling across the house for me with important questions like, “Can I have a piece of gum?”

It’s been a long time since I was a mom of school-aged kids, and I forgot the importance they place on having an immediate answer to questions like this. So I will teach them that like their mom, any question asked of me while I am in the bathroom gets an automatic no.

Even as I typed that last sentence I remembered the loop holes. Kids are great at loop holes. What if they ask if they can do the dishes for me or help a sibling with chores? Do I really want to say no to those types of questions? Wait a minute, there is little danger of these questions ever being asked so I think I’m 95 percent safe with my automatic no.

Another drawback is that kids can be kind of judgy when you do something differently than their parents do. For instance, while being a prize-winning grandmother and playing with my grandkids in the pool, I took a break from being squirted in the face with squirt guns and sat in a lounge chair to read a book. This is not the time to read anything that I need to concentrate on. War and Peace will have to wait. It is, however, the perfect time for Seriously…I’m Kidding, by Ellen DeGeneres.

So there I was sitting in the sun and reading Ellen’s funny little essays about life when I noticed I was being watched. “You’re reading that? Mom doesn’t like her.”

I glanced down at the book making sure I hadn’t accidentally picked up a copy of Mein Kampf. Little did my granddaughter know that for me, reading humorous books and stories is like taking my vitamins, except I don’t always remember to take my vitamins. In fact, excuse me. While I’m thinking about it, I better go take them right now.

Thanks. I’m back.

Later when I asked my daughter about this, she was equally baffled. She surmised that her daughter assumed her dislike of Ellen due to the fact that every time they go on the Epcot ride that Ellen hosts, she ends up falling asleep.

I remember those days. When we took the kids on the Haunted Mansion ride and they would snap our pictures. I was the one enjoying a nap on that dark, cool ride.

Speaking of falling asleep, my dad used to say, “Your mother could fall asleep while running for a bus.” I’m like that. Since having grandchildren around more, I’ve reverted to my old ways of dropping off to sleep at inopportune times, like while waiting at red lights, playing with children on the floor, watching movies at the theater, and even while zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. You get the picture – just like the people at the Haunted Mansion did. As a matter of fact, I hear my pillow calling me now.

On the Top of the World Looking Down

 

IMG_5833Recently, my husband and I grabbed a quick night away at Bonnet Creek at Disney World. I was in Mickey Land for a writers’ conference, so we took advantage of our time share to avoid the drive across town after a long day of seated inspiration. Nothing wears me out like sitting and learning. Unless it’s activity.

The deal with our timeshare is that within two weeks of checking in, if there is a room upgrade available and we swoop down and “click” on it, we get it for free. That was our fortune this stay. We went from a lowly one-bedroom unit to the top-floor presidential one-bedroom suite. Sweet!

This meant that once in the elevator, to get to our sweet suite, we had to insert our room key by the floor numbers to allow us access to our floor. The feeling of importance that this elicited can only be imagined by the peons who were forced to live out their day-to-day time-share lives on the lower 18 floors.

Not being one to flaunt my perceived importance, it was a little embarrassing when we got on the elevator with another family and they asked us which floor we wanted.

With a blush of the cheek and my best nonchalant look, I said, “Oh, we’re on the 19th floor, we have to insert our room key for that one.”

“Oh, they’re on the top floor. They must be something special,” they taunted.

I replied, “Not really. We simply got a last-minute upgrade. Seriously, we’re just like you.”

“You mean you just got out of prison?” the man asked.

“Well, not quite like you. We are, after all, on the 19th floor.”

 

Wearing Clean Underwear is a Good Start

file4281249501933 (1)I pulled up to a red light the other day and waited about four cars back. When the light turned green, Car #2 in line hit the gas. Car #1 did not. Both drivers emerged from their cars. I assume that the driver in Car #1 was in a rush that morning, because my keen observation skills coupled with my new glasses revealed that she forgot to put her pants on. She had on a shirt and pantyhose and shoes. That’s it. She was so close to being ready for her day, but she missed it by that much!

There she was standing in the road in all (or half) her glory. I don’t like to admit thinking like this, but it seemed fitting that she got rear-ended – like she was practically asking for it. It’s like my mom always told me, “Put on clean underwear in case you get in an accident and end up in the hospital.” (Side thought – do hospitals refuse to help people unless they have on clean underwear? Is there a person in charge of underwear inspections?)

Anyway, I guess her mom should have been more explicit and follow that up with “then put on pants or a skirt.”

If you’re a parent you know the loophole I’m talking about – “Mom, I am wearing clean underwear. You didn’t say to put on pants.”  Or, “Mom, I did stop hitting my brother. Then I started again. I didn’t know you meant stop hitting him forever.”

We need to be prepared for whatever might happen as best we can, clean underwear covered by pants included; but let’s not get carried away. The last few days down here in Florida we have been watching Tropical Storm Colin. By “we” I mean every local news station. All we heard about was T.S. Colin and how we should not take it lightly. To be fair, it did rain a lot; but that’s what it does down here in the summertime.

Two weeks ago T.S. Bonnie went through, and it was barely mentioned. The inconsistency is upsetting if, like me, your name is Bonnie and you may have to wait another six years to have a storm named after you again. Adding to my sadness was the fact that the storm was coming through on my birthday. Not just any birthday either – my 60th birthday. I suppose it was a fitting storm for my birthday weekend. It started as a “low.” Then it became a disturbance, and finally a tropical storm. By the end of my birthday, it had lost most of its energy and was merely a depression. Just like me.

Don’t feel sorry for me though. Loss of energy is nothing new to me. It has been part of my life ever since I had children.

With God’s help, I have decided to embrace 60. They say that it’s the new 70, which to me is definitely an oxymoron. Putting the word “new” in front of 70 isn’t fooling anybody. I am 60 and fine with it (on most days). The fact that a few days after celebrating my new decade I was down and out with vertigo doesn’t mean I’m old. It only means I was dizzy, but I’m looking at the vertigo as a blessing. It gave the opportunity to take that three-day nap I had been longing for. Happy Birthday to Me!

The take-away from all this is always look for the silver lining (just not too closely at the silver roots).