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!

I Can’t Do a Cartwheel, But I Can Spell

When I was in junior high I tried out for cheerleading. I should have talked myself out of it. Sometimes I let me do stupid things. I asked my current self, “What in the world were you thinking?”

I was just hoping for a miracle. More likely, I probably just wanted to be “something.” Those were the years when this late-bloomer felt fairly nonexistent. I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up and couldn’t do a cartwheel. I was doomed for life.

After trying out I remember the disappointment of finding my name missing from the list and trying to hide my tears. I had talked myself into believing I could do something that I clearly was not cut out to do. One good thing came out of it – I learned that contrary to popular belief, one cannot do anything they put their mind to, and that’s okay.

I would have excelled at one aspect of cheerleading – I am a good speller. I didn’t think about that way back then, but having watched two grandsons complete their (undefeated) JV football season, with the accompanying cheerleading squad, I am convinced that spelling is more important than backflips. Those girls have S-P-I-R-I-T! And those boys were A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E!

I informed my household (husband, sister, mother) that I was going to follow the example of the cheerleader. Even though I never mastered the splits or a cartwheel, I can spell; and they should expect more of it. If I could only recapture those days as a mom, I could have responded differently to the baffled look that kids give you. Instead of saying, “Do I have to spell it out for you,” I just would have.

The next night when it was time to eat, I simply chanted:

D-I-N–N-E-R – Dinner. Yeah, it’s time for dinner. Whoo!

In the middle of the table was a piping hot dish, straight from the oven:

Red hot – the food is red hot! The food is R-E-D H-O-T, red hot!

When we finished praying, “When I say ‘A,’ you say ‘men.’ A-men. A-men.”

I think football season ended just in time.

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.

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

Stamps of Approval

Tuesday was May the 4th, which is a nostalgic day for me. I miss the days of Star Wars frenzied kids fighting it out with light sabers and building death stars out of Legos. I miss stepping on Star Wars Micro-Machines hidden in the carpet. Well, probably not that, but you know what I mean. I miss my kids and grandkids.

I loved the time of my life when watching them play and seeing the delight on their faces as they watch a story that happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” was part of my day-to-day. I longed to see them and say, “May the 4th be with you!”

As days go, this one wasn’t totally uneventful. I did go to the Post Office. Everyone knows a trip to the Post Office is right up there with seeing a Star Wars movie with your grandsons. As I waited in line in that impersonal, government building, I read the rolling advertisements on the screen at the end of the counter.

Did they just tell me to ask about the Stamp of the Day?

Charles greeted me with a warm smile. I first met Charles at the Lockhart, Florida, Post Office back in the late 80s. I was a new Tupperware Lady and back then we mailed out a lot of party invitations. Six years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see his cheerful face at, what is now, my local PO.

Charles told me that they do indeed have a stamp of the day. “Where are those May the 4th stamps,” he muttered to himself as he rifled through the drawer.

My heart skipped a beat. “May the 4th be with you, Charles! You have Star Wars stamps? You just made my day!”

The Post Office really does deliver! He plopped a fresh sheet of forever stamps on the counter and to my delight 20 droids were looking up at me. I would say the possibility of successfully finding a way to celebrate May the 4th at the Post Office is approximately three-thousand, seven-hundred and twenty to one! Thank the Maker (to borrow a quote from good-old C3PO)!

Bob Solves a Problem

There is nothing that blinds me to the empty calories in candy like the day after Easter. It’s the lure of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs on discount. Add to that the knowledge that they are going away for another year, and I always seem to find a reason to go to Walgreens.

I picked up the last two bags from the ravaged shelves and went home with my bounty. I was happy. Bob was happy. Sometimes it takes so little.

Well, it wasn’t long before our bounty turned skimpy and, wouldn’t you know it, I needed to go to the store for… something or another. Sadly, the shelves were bare.

There is a CVS in spitting distance from nearly every Walgreens, so I meandered over. I was too late. Some other desperate, I mean deal-hunting, people had confiscated everything but the jelly bird eggs. When did they stop being jellybeans? I digress.

The yellow and orange crinkly paper lining on this story is that it was date night. I knew we would be venturing a small distance to go to dinner. I could approximate at least four drugstores on our route. Bob has learned not to interfere with a woman possessed with finding chocolate and peanut butter, so we stopped and found success!

Success was one bag and I had to move some stuff to find that. I grabbed it up and headed home with a smile on my face. This time the smile was not for me. It was for my grandchildren. Most of my grandkids live out of state and I was excited to bring this special treat to our summer vacation with them. I had a little problem because the bag contained 14 eggs. Bob and I have eight grandchildren. I wanted to find another bag, but I knew that was a fool’s errand.

I could give each child one egg and give one egg to each of our children, but I’d still come up short. The simplest solution seemed to be, save eight eggs for the kids, and eat the rest. But I was hopeful, so I told Bob I’d throw the eggs in the garage freezer and figure it out later.

Two days later I opened the freezer and discovered an open bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs! I asked Bob if he remembered anything about our grandchildren, whom we love, and how I wanted to give the eggs to them. Did he remember how happy they would be to get Reese’s Eggs in the summertime? Could he picture their sweet faces and hear the surprise in their voices?

He was pretty fuzzy on that. All he remembered was – there are Reese’s Eggs in the freezer. I have to thank Bob for being the amazing problem solver that he is. He’s definitely gifted! He saved me from roaming around town looking for more Reese’s Eggs. He also knows I don’t really like dealing with numbers, so he saved me the time of dividing something that was not divisible by eight. He’s awesome.

As I peered into the freezer, staring in disbelief at that open bag, I realized something. An open bag is an eaten bag, so Happy Easter to Bob and me. Please don’t tell the grandkids.

Joy in the Little Things

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

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

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

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

With that in mind, I present:

An Ode to Cereal

Twas the week of Christmas; I was in my car

Shopping for presents, both close-by and far;

I stopped in a Target and there on the shelf –

Mandalorian Cereal – so proud of myself.

The grandkids are coming much to my delight;

But only one box might just trigger a fight.

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

With Santa Claus coming they wouldn’t dare whine.

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

Like this pretty green box of Elf Cereal. Whew!

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

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

The grandkids may protest and might make a face,

So we bought them other presents, just in case.

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

Face-to-Face and Loving It

I don’t want to dwell on the Corona, but it’s challenging not to have it affect everything in life right now. Even my faith is affected but in a good way. I am reminded that God has everything under control and my seeming control of any situation may be just that – seeming. I am constantly talking to myself about how I serve a good God and he cares for me (and you!). Recently when I had a near miss from a car t-boning me, I was reminded that there is a lot of danger out there besides Corona – a lot that I am not afraid of even though the possibility of “bad things” happening to me is (as it was that morning) just around the corner.

When my sweet husband suggested that I go see our kids and grandkids in the Carolinas before school starts, I was hesitant at first. The internal debate began, but I felt like it was a good idea to go. Bob knew how much it would mean to me and them. I married well.

I set out on a Sunday morning for a week of real live, face-to-face time and hugs. It was medicinal. From Oliver, the youngest (21 months), to Mia, the oldest (17), I received plenty of hugs to warm my soul. It had been only a few weeks since Bob and I helped our son move, so Oliver needed no adjustment time. He is active and cute and squishy. I’m so thankful they are closer to us now.

The biggest reward of the trip was surprising our daughter’s kids. She wisely didn’t tell them I was coming because no plans are set in stone nowadays. My last trip had to be canceled and we didn’t want to make 8-year-old Layna cry again. Mia is recovering from knee surgery, and when she came down the hall on her crutches and saw me standing in the foyer, she hugged me and cried. She’s been through a lot and is recovering well.

I would have been satisfied hanging around the house with the family, but Dena thought we needed some adventure. Adventure that would take face-to-face to another level. She, Layna, and I headed for The Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville, NC.

Here is where the meaning of face-to-face ratcheted up a notch or ten. I’ll admit that I wasn’t really excited about our prescribed adventure, but it sounded like the perfect thing to do with Layna while the older kids were occupied with a church outing. Plus, I can never resist hanging out with her.

The greeting committee at The Lazy 5 is well-chosen.

They do not understand the words “social distancing” and are hungry for interaction – especially interaction with someone who might have a bucket of feed.

On my initial encounter with this wild bunch, I thought to myself – this is how The Beatles must have felt when they went out in public. It felt a little dangerous. I felt slightly violated to have large heads and hard beaks invade my space. But I couldn’t stop laughing. That was the best part.

Layna was hesitant at first but she warmed right up to feeding the animals.

Dena made fast friends with a hungry, aggressive ostrich.

 

We were told not to feed the zebras. Evidently they like to bite. My window seemed to be going up in slow motion as I wondered if I was going to be additional evidence of why one doesn’t feed the zebras. This is my mildly panicking face. Dena said it went up a notch after she took this picture.

When was the last time you laughed with people? I mean that deep, belly laugh that makes you tired afterward in the most contented and happy way?

I highly recommend this adventure. I highly recommend any adventure that will reconnect you with people and allow laughter and love to flow. (I know, I know. I’m not advocating throwing caution to the wind. Being safe right now is all you hear about, and we should keep that in mind. But think outside of the box. Think outside. Outside is good.)

 

Proverbs 17:22 – A happy heart is good medicine and a joyful mind causes healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. (Amplified Bible)

 

The Lazy 5 Ranch is a drive-through safari. “The purpose of the Lazy 5 Ranch is to educate in an entertaining way, as well as provide an excellent environment for the reproduction of some of God’s most unique creatures. The Lazy 5 Ranch also seeks to help the recovery of several endangered species including the Grevy Zebra, Scimitar Horned Oryx and Ring-tailed Lemur.”

 

 

My Phone Thinks I’m an Idiot

I’m fairly certain my phone thinks I am an idiot. It didn’t come right out and say so, but it definitely implied it.

We spend a lot of time together, my phone and me. Having a phone in 2020 is a lot like having a toddler. If you don’t know where it is, you have to find it before something terrible happens like you get a text, or a notification that it’s going to be a bad weather day, or someone goes crazy on your Amazon account. Or, in the case of a toddler, they have locked themselves in the house and figured out how to turn on the stove while climbing a ladder and holding scissors. (more…)

Biblical Application or Brotherly Aggravation?

Bob and I have had our local grandsons staying with us for several days. Grand-parenting is like taking a refresher parenting course, except you don’t care what grades you get because your only job is to enjoy the kids and to return them alive and well to their parents.

I was pretty worn out by the end of each day, which may have had something to do with the fact that the days started before the sun got up, which is something I usually avoid with great vigor. But I don’t think I was as tired from slicing a couple of hours off of my nightly sleep as I was from the activity. And the chatter. And the laundry. And the food preparation, which I am not used to doing on a daily basis for multiple meals, but I found that I still am quite capable in that arena. So that’s good. I guess.

Mostly, though, I just enjoyed having them around, except for homework time. The boys are both in double digits now, so they are fairly independent in their studies. But I received a note from the teacher that said something like – have your student finish the rough draft of his research paper, format it to look like a pancake, send it to someweirdgoofyname.net to ensure he gets credit for completing the task. The words download, reload, or unload may or may not have been used.

All right, those are not the exact words, but they are close enough. I handed this over to my husband who didn’t receive it with the confidence he used to have when dealing with our own kids, lo, so many years ago. Somehow or another, between the two of them, they figured out how to crack the code and get ‘er done. Since our laptop computer was in use and not theirs, we had diddly squat to go by, but my sweet and capable husband figured it out. If he hadn’t been here, I probably would have kept the boys home from school. I know that would have been wrong, but that would have been the price that my son and his wife paid for having us watch the boys.

My favorite part of their stay was being privy to some interesting conversations between the two of them. They are very close in age, so they’re always together. I was driving them home from school when one of them yelled at the other, “Hey, get your finger out of my ear. What are you doing?”

Boy 2 – “I’m just doing what it says in the Bible.”

Me – “There is nothing in the Bible about sticking your finger in your brother’s ear.”

Boy 2 – “It’s in Matthew, Mark, or, I don’t know – one of the gospels. I was going to get the wax out of his ear, but then I remembered I had to get the wax out of my own ear first. I did that, so I stuck my finger in his ear just like the Bible says.”

Me – “I’m certain that you have that confused. First get the log out of your own eye, then you can get the speck out of your brother’s eye. There is no mention of ear wax.”

Boy 2 – “I think it means the same thing.”

Me – “Now I know you’re messing with me. Just keep your fingers out of each other’s ears.”

They were laughing away and on to the next aggravation by that time. I almost got to use my old line, “You may never touch each other again.” Almost. Or my other old line, “Just because I’m laughing doesn’t mean that what you did is appropriate.”

My husband and I have raised three sons and a daughter. Watching our grandchildren grow up is such a blessing, so much fun, and really tiring. I should be ready for them to come over again in a couple of weeks. Just, no homework please.