Getting Even

It was morning on Christmas Eve. I had my act fairly together. Bob and I had everything wrapped and under the tree. This was a luxury we didn’t have when we were raising our children. We would always wait until they went to bed to bring out the presents, which was more and more challenging the older our children got.

As is our “tradition,” Bob and I reminisced about former Christmas Eves. Sometimes we were wrapping gifts late into the night. Bob might have been found assembling a bicycle or one time pouring cement at the side of our driveway to install a new basketball hoop. These are things you can do when you live in Florida!

I also reminded Bob that our daughter and her family would be arriving late that night, probably around 10 pm, so he may want to consider a nap. Bob, who 364 days of the year has more energy than I could hope for, almost always hits the wall early on Christmas Eve night. The only thing that kept him going was assembling something, so if that wasn’t needed, he was ready to start dreaming of sugarplums dancing in his head. It usually would happen right after the children had hung the stockings by the chimney with care and shuffled off to bed. This was my time to take them all down, lay them across our bed and stuff them (the stockings, not the children). I always tried to get things evened out, which I don’t recommend because it can make you crazy. Often, before I could even get started, Bob was half asleep on the bed. It always has baffled me. Why, this one night, couldn’t he stay awake? It remains a a perplexing role reversal for us.

But on this particular Christmas Eve morning, all those thoughts about getting things even were stopped in their tracks. We received a text that a dear friend of ours had passed away unexpectedly that very morning. I gasped so loudly that my mom came in from the other room to see if I was okay. It was a shock made worse by the fact that it was Christmas Eve. I looked down on my bed. The stockings were laid out with their loot above them. I was in the process of counting and evening things out. And then it didn’t matter.

As tears flowed down my cheeks, all I could think about was my friends. We’ve known this family for decades. Christmas wouldn’t be the same for them. And with a flash I realized that my children never compared what they had in their stockings. Nobody cared if someone got a little more or less than their siblings. It was a blinding moment of clarity of what mattered.

What mattered was the people. What mattered was that our friend was now with Jesus. We know that with total assurance. What mattered was grieving with our friends, but not without hope. What mattered was sharing Christmas with our family – hugging them and being together. I hope I never try to make things even again and that every Christmas Eve I will think about Andy and Emily and the lessons that God taught me on that day when he went to meet Jesus.

Four of our grand blessings on Christmas Day

Breaking News!

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house

Things were breaking.

I know, that doesn’t rhyme, but there was nothing poetic about it! It all started with the dishwasher, just two days before our daughter and her family were to arrive. I told Bob that it wasn’t working. It’s a very quiet dishwasher – so quiet that you have to incline your ear to hear it. Bob said he thought he heard it. He did not.

He tried to assure me that it wasn’t broken, but somehow, I knew that this was wishful thinking. He thought I must have forgotten to start it, or it was some other operator error. That could have been the case, but washing dishes is my life. I’m kind of fanatical about keeping my kitchen clean. You might say that I’m simpatico with my kitchen appliances. I know when something is wrong.

Bob came up to me with great understanding in his eyes. He took my hand, squeezed it, and said, “Does that hurt?”

“No,” I replied. Then he took the other hand and repeated the gesture. When I replied “no” again, he said, “Then the dishwasher isn’t broken.”

I suggested that he leave the funny to me and see if it was still under warranty.

Wonder of wonders, it was just three weeks shy of being out of warranty. Thank you, Jesus! This was Wednesday, and Lowe’s said they’d have a repairman out on Thursday between 8 and 12. Hooray!

Except my hooray was misplaced. He was a no-show. After a long time on hold, Bob secured another repairman for Monday, sadly we’d have the busy Christmas weekend without my number one kitchen appliance. Still, we decided to let nothing us dismay.

On Monday, a repairman breezed in an out of our house faster than Santa can consume milk and cookies. Bob ran his own diagnostic along with him, and it looked like a communication board problem. He told Lowe’s, who managed to keep it a secret from the future repairman. He said we’d need a certified GE repairman since it appeared to be an electrical issue. So here we are, nine days later, and I get to meet a new repairman. He has no knowledge of any of the above, but eventually he made the same diagnosis. We should have a new control board by the 21st – a month after our first call.

It could be worse. Bob was right. My hands can still wash dishes. Plus, we had an inordinately large supply of plastic spoons, which I thought we would have until Jesus returns. I guess that could still be true, but unless Jesus is coming back in the next two weeks, probably not.

At first realization that we were a man down, so to speak, in the kitchen. I stocked paper and plastic stuff in the cabinets to encourage everyone not to use the real stuff, which must be washed. I think the entire household is now afraid of my wrath if they circumvent that plan. And rightly so.

Also, that first night, Bob said he’d fix dinner on the grill so as not to mess up the kitchen. (He really is a good guy.) He went to start the grill and one side would not work. He managed to fix it, so that’s a point for Bob.

My baking day was the next day, and I managed to make a huge pile of dishes, but the family was coming over, and I love baking cookies for them. I did make a mess of crumbs on the floor, so I got out the vacuum cleaner to suck them up.

The noise that came out when I turned the thing on was deafening. It sounded like a plane was crashing in the kitchen. The one thing in your house that you really want to suck, did not.

Bob took it apart and got it to suck dirt, but the noise makes it unusable for me. It didn’t bother him, but then again, he thought the dishwasher was running, so you can draw your own conclusions.

That pretty much sums up our last two weeks, except for the part where we had a wonderful Christmas with our family. We are blessed and we know it. Here’s to a Happy New Year to you all!

Trimming Trees and Checking Lists

Christmastime is here. Our halls are decked. The shopping is almost done. The baking will happen next week. (Any sooner and I would just have to do it again.)

We have four Christmas trees. Last year we added a tree just for the White House ornaments. This year we added 2 four-foot trees – one with a bird theme in my mom’s family room, and one with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys in the dining room. It might just be a one-of-a-kind!

You may remember the Pursuit of Happy Meals post. I decided with Disney World’s 50th anniversary, I should decorate a tree with my hard-sought-after toys, complete with Lumiere on top. I can’t wait to see what nine-year-old Layna thinks of it.

Speaking of grandchildren, mine are getting older, which is the natural progression. This year we will have the six oldest grandchildren around for Christmas. Only Layna has not yet entered her teens, and we will sorely miss our youngest two.

Getting Christmas lists out of the kids is interesting. Some of the things on their lists I’ve never heard of. Some of the things are way too expensive. Some are just plain dangerous, which brings me to my 13-year-old grandson, Jett.

Jett is well on his way to being some kind of an engineer or maybe a mad scientist. I’m not sure there is a big difference between the two. When I watch Jett, I think that is what my husband must have been like when he was a kid. That mind is always going, and creativity is often on overdrive. Bob turned out great, so I’m hopeful for Jett’s future.

Following are some of the highlights from Jett’s Christmas List. (Don’t worry, he has parental supervision, so he likely won’t blow anything up. I would make sure to take regular inventory of what is in that shed he wants to build.)

  1. K.A.T. – Per google, this is a knife ability test – a player-vs-player death Roblox game. No need to research what Roblox is; we won’t be getting him anything that has to do with knife ability.
  2. Nerf guns
  3. A thin metal plate (makes me wonder)
  4. Clay
  5. 100’ x 100’ tarp
  6. Super Mario Odyssey
  7. Tons of Jello mix
  8. Wood, nails, hammers, screws, and tools to build a shed
  9. A brother (adopted is okay)
  10. Bagpipes
  11. Five ounces of gunpower and four ounces of sand

Our 16-year-old granddaughter, Ella, has my favorite list – mainly because she has the collecting gene that I have worked so hard to suppress. She loves Sherlock Holmes, Funko Pops, and all things Marvel. Since I have stopped collecting, I now support my grandchildren in their pursuit of entire collections of things, which you can imagine makes me popular with my kids. It’s fun, and I know I need to seize the moment while I have it; because it won’t be long, and these precious items will seem like kid stuff. Although, I still like these things, I have Groot and Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy on my Christmas tree. Maybe when this phase is past for her, she can save these treasures for her own grandchildren. They’ll be vintage!

I do wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope your holiday season is full of love and happiness.

Ode to Black Friday

As I wandered the Altamonte Mall on the day before Thanksgiving, I wondered if Black Friday was coming off life support. There were definite signs that customers were being wooed back to the brick-and-mortar shops. I even spotted this team stocking the stores with goodies to sustain the merchants through the “big day.”

When my children were young, I looked forward to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. I didn’t even mind getting up pre-dawn to do so. I have wonderful memories of picking up my mom and heading out for the Black Friday Shopping Expedition. We would use the newspaper to map out our path. (By the way, that is my favorite type of mapping.) You would need two hands to hold that massive issue with its dozens of Black Friday ads.

There were always bargains to be found. JC Penney would give away ornaments like this one from 1996. There would be scratch-offs for prizes and discounts. The jewelry shops often gave away goodie bags with little “gold” charms inside them. Target and Home Depot gave great incentives for stopping in early. Early meant around 5 am. That was doable.

Eventually my mom lost interest in the adventure and my daughter was only too interested in stepping into this grown-up outing. We always hit the mall, especially Penney’s, and Target and Bealls. I do admit to going to Walmart a time or two, but for me, it just wasn’t worth the crazy.

Confession: Over the past five years I have been losing interest in Black Friday. Probably because as I have gotten older, and I’d rather not exhaust myself in the pursuit of bargains. My daughter, however, has not reached that point. I dedicate this post to her. She is in mourning over Black Friday, which by all accounts from the last two years has gone from life-support to flatlining.

She loved going out at midnight on Thanksgiving and staying out for 12 hours was not uncommon for her. I drew the line on that one, but I have joined her for a few hours during a more civilized time on that Friday. Mainly, I’d do this out of guilt. You know the power your adult children can wield – especially if they throw in the word tradition. It was a tradition, but like so many traditions, it changes through the years and generations.

Even though I was fairly certain of my Black Friday plans, I picked up the local Orlando Sentinel. It was so skinny! I also had sticker shock as it cost $5.35!

Bob and I have one all-important stop on Black Friday, and we don’t have to be there until 9 am. If you read me at all regularly, you can probably guess it’s Costco. Who can resist $8 off a pork loin or $10 off a Butterball turkey? Not me. And as of this year, not my daughter either. She sadly admitted to me over the phone that Costco had the best Black Friday deals. I couldn’t see her face, but I think there was a little catch in her voice. At least her family of six will be eating pork and turkey for the next few months.

We will tell our grandchildren of those days of old. The days when Black Friday meant something. The days of people being trampled in hot pursuit of a bargain. The days of people camping out in front of Best Buy to snag that new mega-TV or gaming system. The days before Black Friday became a joke that lasted all the way through November. Sigh. Those were the days. How did we get here? I’m putting a lot of the blame on COVID. I’m reminiscing about the song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” by Peter Seeger.

Here’s my rendition.

Ode to Black Friday

(Where Have all the Sales Gone)

Where have all the sale ads gone

Long time passing

Where have all the sale ads gone

Long time ago

Where have all the sale ads gone

COVID took them one by one

When will they please return?

Oh when will they, return?

Where have all the papers gone

Long time passing

Where have all the papers gone

Long time ago

Where have all the papers gone?

Gone to online every one.

Oh when will they return?

When will they ever return?

Where have all the shoppers gone

Long time passing

Where have all the shoppers gone

Long time ago

Where have all the shoppers gone

Buying on Amazon every one

They never leave their home

They never leave their home.

A classic for you – Joan Baez singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”

Bonus weird Thanksgiving product

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!

The Old Family Recipe

The year was 1975, I was a newlywed and would be spending my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws and away from my family. What would the holiday be like without my mom’s stuffing, not to mention without my mom and dad? I’m not one to be dramatic, but it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving.

Bob never really cared about stuffing. This was one of the many ways we differed. To me, the stuffing was of more importance than the turkey, which simply served as an elaborate, weird, stuffing cooking device. I never thought about how disgusting it was for people to prepare food to be inserted into a turkey cavity, only to be scooped out of said cavity and served in a fancy china bowl to their loved ones. Pretty gross, but I digress

By mid-October 1975, I was contemplating making my own stuffing, but alas that was among the many, many things that I was clueless as to how to cook. I waited until a Sunday afternoon to call my mom for help. (This was way before cell phones, and long-distance calls were cheaper on Sundays.) In those days, we corresponded via letter through the Post Office, so she said she’d send me the recipe.

Mom’s letter outlined the intricacies of her prized stuffing. I wish I could tell you that I made it and it turned out great, but I chickened (or maybe turkeyed) out. In hindsight it was probably a good thing that I didn’t try to compete with my Home Economics mom-in-law’s cornbread stuffing. What woman wants her cocky new daughter-in-law to bring in a superior stuffing as a holiday icebreaker? And in my hands, who was to say it would have been superior, or even edible? But when I tasted hers that Thanksgiving afternoon, I understood why Bob wasn’t wild about it, and shed a little tear as I thought about what used to be.

Forty-five years later, I still have that letter. It is precious to me. Every year I get it out and read it. I love hearing how my nephew, their first grandchild, walked for the first time. It’s a sweet walk down memory lane. I have often thought I should frame it and hang it on my wall.

Since that time, I have made this stuffing dozens of times, and Bob loves it. I’ve tweaked the recipe a little, but it’s basically the same. My sister, Chris, and my daughter Dena both continue with this same recipe. It’s a cherished family tradition.

This Thanksgiving my mom sat at our kitchen table and watched me chopping celery and onions and making bread cubes. We chatted and I read her the letter. “This recipe is from Aunt Audrey, isn’t it?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Mom replied. “I think I got it out of the Betty Crocker Cookbook.”

“No, no, no. It’s from Aunt Audrey – not Betty Crocker. It’s a family recipe! I think I remember you telling me that,” I pleaded.

“I’m pretty sure it’s from Betty Crocker,” she said.

I was crestfallen. Betty Crocker! I’d been living a lie my entire married life! I spiraled into an identity crisis wondering if this woman sitting here was really my mom. Could Betty Crocker be my mother? Did she abandon me at birth and present me to my “parents” along with a recipe for turkey stuffing?

I pulled my own Betty Crocker Cookbook from the shelf. It was a wedding present and taught me a lot, but I didn’t want to give Betty credit for the family recipe. I wanted that to be from Mom or at least Aunt Audrey. But there it was on page 281 of my tattered cookbook.

I read from the book and then read from Mom’s letter. I had to admit they were the same. “…Turn into deep bowl. Add remaining ingredients…”

I looked at my mother, who was unphased by the unearthing of the largest plagiarism plot I had ever been exposed to, and said, “Why didn’t you just tell me it was on page 281?”

I guess we’ll never know. Please, don’t tell my sister and Dena. Sometimes it’s better to live with a wonderful illusion.

A Thankful Thanksgiving to You All!

I’ve come up with a new Thanksgiving greet this year. “Have a thankful Thanksgiving.” I have loved ones who are going through great trials and loss. Many are missing family and friends this year, so wishing someone a happy Thanksgiving is not the same and those words may be more than some can bear to hear.

Reminders to be grateful are always in order, for we truly do have much to be grateful for. The common graces of God are around us, and they alone are quite a lot. I’m thankful for sunshine and rain, for electricity and water, for food in our pantry, for family and friends, for our church and our God. Yes, amid suffering and loss, let’s not forget to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God and a greeting of thankfulness and grace to each other.

Life is not in the trash; well, this one is, but it’s only a game anyway.

Get excited about what’s ahead.

Enjoy some turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie.

Thank you for visiting my blog and for your encouragement to me.

Veterans Day 2020

On this Veterans Day 2020, a fitting commentary to this year was provided by our American flag. It typically flies proudly from the roof in our front yard, but yesterday I found it on the sidewalk, slightly worn and tattered. It looks like it was pulled off its bracket by winds no doubt related to Tropical Storm/Hurricane Eta, which is traveling up the west coast of Florida. (I should add that it is late in this busiest-on-record hurricane season. We’ve used up the alphabet and moved into Greek. I’m not even surprised, 2020, but I digress.)

It’s been a rough year for our flag, which sadly will no longer see the light of day. But I still love it and all for which it stands. Flags can be replaced – they are just symbols, after all. But today I am thinking about people whom I love who fought for what that flag represents. Specifically, I’m reminiscing about my dad, Arthur L. Manning, Jr., and my uncle, Luther C. Cox.

My dad was a gunner in a B-29 in the Pacific campaign. During part of his tour, a war correspondent, Richard Tregaskis from the Saturday Evening Post, flew with his crew. My dad’s face is one of the young men surrounding Tregaskis in a featured picture in the series of articles entitled Road to Tokyo.

I don’t remember hearing much about the war when I was a kid. Perhaps it was because memories can be painful, or more likely it was because I was a kid and didn’t ask. In Dad’s golden years, though, he’d talk freely. He kept up with his crew or their widows until he was the only one left. So much so that their names were familiar to me. I am sure he was the last of them because he was the one who kept them together in each other’s hearts and minds all those decades after the war. Dad died three years ago at the age of 94. In the last years of my memories of him, he’s always wearing his hat. He was a proud veteran and loved his country fiercely.

Uncle Luther was a navigator of a B-24 bomber in World War II. He survived the crash of the “Double Trouble” when he was shot down over the Mediterranean Sea on a cold January day in 1943. For the next two years and three months, he would be a guest of the Fuhrer; but he survived that, too. He retired an Air Force lieutenant-colonel and went on to teach ROTC at Orlando’s Oak Ridge High School. Also surviving his internment was his journal, which was featured in the Florida magazine of The Orlando Sentinel on June 24, 1984. He published a book, Always Fighting the Enemy, a World War II Chronicle, which includes writings and drawings from his journal along with stories he kept in his heart.

Uncle Luther in Italy

I spent a lot more time with my uncle after I was married because we lived in the same state. He was ten years to the day older than my mom, and we celebrated their birthdays together. He was kind of a legend to me. I was and still am in awe of his surviving being shot down and all that time in POW camps. There is so much about him to admire. He and his wife adopted two children from Europe and brought them home to the states. I have many fond memories with Mark and Dee, and even though we live in opposite corners of the country, we visit with Dee and her husband about once a year. Thanks, Uncle Luther!

On October 31, Bob and I went to the Lockheed Martin Space and Air Show here in Sanford with our son and his family. I was pumped to see the Thunderbirds, but I had no idea that the entire program was going to thrill my heart and stir up so many patriotic juices. At the beginning of the show, several new Air Force recruits were sworn in, which moved me to tears.

Following is a little glimpse of the air show. Enjoy; and God, bless America!

It was a little loud for our grandsons.