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.

 

Stepping-Stones, Light Switches, and a Few Other Surprises

We have lived in our new home for a year and eight months now. I am still discovering new things about our house. For instance, the backyard must have been a dumping place for surplus building material. We have unearthed chunks of concrete, bricks, nails, glass, and stepping-stones. When I say stepping-stones, I mean enough to make a small path in our garden. Literally, buried treasure!

All of these stones were buried in our yard

I’m getting used to entertaining here. After more than three decades in our old place, I now have to think about what was so automatic. Where is the best place for coffee service? Should I use the bar or the dining room table for a buffet? How can I keep people from falling into our sunken living room? Obviously, some of these questions carry more weight than others. You don’t want to make it difficult for people to find coffee, that’s for sure!

And then there is the random placement of light switches – behind doors, in the middle of the master bedroom wall, in the pantry (still haven’t figured that one out). And why is there no switch when you enter the dining room from the bedroom or the family room from the hall?

The view to the left

But the most unusual finding happened today. I moved my writing place to the family room. It gives me a new view and a new use for a room that doesn’t get much activity. I can still look to my left and gaze out the window to the pool deck and see plants and flowers, and if I lean a little, the bird feeder. But I had never sat here and taken in the view to my right. How long has that wad of gum been stuck under the fireplace mantel?

 

A most unusual and kind of gross discovery

Of course, I took a picture and texted it to Dena (my daughter who along with her husband and four children stayed with us for five months). I wondered if she knew who the guilty party was. To my surprise, she was fairly confident that it was not her family, especially since she had noticed the gum before and forgotten to point it out to me. (Not to mention, neglected to remove it, but that’s for a different conversation. I will assume the best and figure she wanted to give me something to write about.)

We had a lot of people stay with us in 2016, so if you are reading this and you parked your gum in our family room, please contact me to get it back. I will gladly save it for you, though I am a little intimidated about prying it from its home. It may be hiding another treasure.

Happy Trails, Bertha!

How does one get claustrophobia while outside? I never thought it was possible, but I can tell you from experience – it is. While the most common definition talks about closed or small spaces, discomfort by being in a situation that restricts you also applies.

With that in mind, let me tell you about a recent afternoon spent with my daughter and her family in Colorado.

Always the semi-adventurous (if it’s doesn’t put me out of my comfort zone too far) grandmother, I thought an hour-long horseback ride seemed quite doable. After all, I had done this before. Once. In 1995.

Obviously 39-year-old Bonnie and 60-year-old Bonnie still have some things in common – but stamina is not on that list. Still, I was confident that I could sit on the back of a horse for an hour. I mean, seriously. It was just going to be sixty minutes. And I didn’t even have to move my feet.

I moseyed up to the ranch hand and whispered that my entire horseback riding experience consisted of a ride like this one, and that was ‘pert near twenty years ago. He said that Bertha would be perfect for me.

I should have asked perfect in what way, because we weren’t far down the trail when I realized that Bertha had a mind of her own. So perhaps he meant perfect to help me get those arms in shape. Or perfect to keep my attention on the trail since Bertha didn’t seem to want to. Or maybe he meant perfect to give me something to blog about. I don’t know; but I do know that this horse who was supposed to be trained to stay nose to tail with the horse ahead of her, follow a well-worn trail (more like a ditch), and to be so well-behaved that I would barely have to hold on to the reins, obviously had other plans.

The ranch hand placed Bertha and me behind my son-in-law in the line-up. The reason being that his horse liked to kick, which well-behaved Bertha would never prompt him to do. Wrong. Bertha did not get that memo and periodically would try to pass him or in one instance gave him a little nibble on the rump. He did not like that, but Bertha was undaunted and even seemed pleased.

The pungent smell of horse flatulence could not detract from the beautiful views near Estes Park, Colorado.

As the feeling was leaving my legs and the rest of my body was (I don’t want to exaggerate here) racked with pain, it dawned on me that our hour must be almost up. A smile came across my face at the thought of walking again. I could do this. I was almost there!

My hope was quickly dashed, because at that exact point in time, our trail guide announced that we were at the halfway point. That’s when a claustrophobic feeling took over and I wanted to jump off of the horse. I didn’t, of course, mainly because it was not in my power to do so. It’s a long way down off of a horse, and riding along the mountainside had taken all of my energy and most of my will to live. I remember feeling panicky and wondering how I could feel so boxed in while looking at such grand vistas. I wanted to run but knew my legs wouldn’t work properly, so I toughed it out.

My daughter snapped this picture at the moment the trail guide announced we were (only) halfway through our ride.

Also at that point in time, my daughter snapped a picture of me. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I guess I could end this right here. I won’t though, because you are probably dying to know how this story ends.

When at last we were nearing the stables, the trail guide told us to pull up to the raised board walk, hold on to the saddle’s horn, and swing our leg over the horse’s head and dismount.

Excuse me? Assuming I was able to swing my leg over the horse’s head, there was a 100 percent change I would kick her in the head and then she would ride off with me dangling from her side, laughing all the way (the horse, that is). I had to enlist the aid of my son-in-law to make sure that Bertha and I could go our separate ways amicably.

It was a strange sensation being on solid ground again. My body was so mad at me that it just wanted to sit, but I had to tell it no. We would not be sitting again any time soon. First, we had to learn to walk again. There would be plenty of time to sit later.

As a side note, I have decided that this will be the last of my every-twenty-year horseback riding trips. I don’t think 80-year-old Bonnie could handle it.

Leftover Pi

I was lamenting not having something sweet to serve to my family who was coming into town. It seemed wrong. I guess that’s how I was raised, and I also guess that explains why I have been on a diet for the last 45 years.

I had other food to offer them, but I couldn’t get rid of that nagging feeling that I was failing at my hostess duties. I almost had myself talked into being okay with it, and then I made a critical mistake. While I was out running a quick errand, I called Bob (my husband).

Bob: You know, it’s pi day.

Me: You just want pie.

Bob: I do like pie. You could swing by Costco and buy one. Easy.

Me (as I turn the car towards Costco): I’ve been doing so well without eating sweets, I don’t want to buy a huge pie. Not to mention the fact that I just made a birthday cake for my mom for tomorrow and I plan on having a piece.

Bob: Do whatever you want. We don’t need pie.

I tell myself that I’m not going to do it. I’ll just fill up my tank. No need to go inside. I lie a lot.

Inside they are sampling apple pie. Arg! I look at it and decide to be mad at Bob. I buy the pie.

Before our company arrives, I check in with Bob to tell him that he is a terrible influence on me, I mean to tell him that I bought a pie. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hi, honey. Just thought I’d check in. Do you have a minute to talk?

Bob: No, not really. The entire staff is heading to the break room for pie, you know, since it’s Pi Day. I don’t want to miss out.

Me: What! You knew you were having pie at work and yet you managed to get me to buy pie! Stupid Pi Day. I hate math!

Later that night…

During dinner, my cousin tells me that he is now borderline diabetic, so he passes on the bread that I fixed, which I don’t usually fix but did because we have company and you must have bread. And, of course, he turns down the pie as well.

Oh, the irony! All this to say, you really don’t have to have dessert just because you are having company. And, you really don’t have to have bread either, but you do have to have wine. That helps you not to be angry at your husband or yourself when you and he are the only ones eating pie that you didn’t really want to have in the first place.

What are we going to do with all of this leftover pie?

 

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.

CVS, Where You Can Get a Prescription, Pick Up Some Milk, Be Stalked by Zombies (a vintage post)

Enjoy this  post from four years ago. It was included in the Erma Bombeck Humor Blog in 2012.

CVS just might stand for Customers are Very Scary.  I offer you proof with this frightening but true story that happened at my local CVS.  (Note:  I have changed the name of the girl in this story, at least I think I changed it.  This was not to protect her privacy, but because I couldn’t remember her name by the time I got home.)

Once upon a time there was a little girl of seven.  She was a happy, friendly child who roamed the aisles of the store alone without a care.  Or so it seemed.

She approached me and asked me my name.  “Bonnie,” I said.  “What’s your name?”

“Melissa.”

“Hi, Melissa.  How are you?”

“I’m fine except a scary thing is following me around the store,” she replied.

I saw a boy walking towards us.  He resembled her so strongly that he had to be her brother.  “Do you mean him?  He does look a little scary.”

“No, he’s my brother.  He’s eight,” she replied and pointed to a zombie Halloween decoration, which was in fact scarier looking than her brother.  “That.  That’s following me.”

I quickly learned a lot about seven-year-old Melissa.  She loves Halloween and is going to be a fairy when she goes trick or treating. Her brother joined us.  She tried to convince him that a spooky creature was following her, but he was uninterested.  Soon they were totally absorbed in the many choices of candy on display.

I then became a ghost to Melissa, who diverted her attention fully to the candy.  At this point I seized the moment and sneaked one of the zombies from where it was perched on a shelf, placed it behind Melissa and her brother and ran down the aisle to hide.  She turned around and jumped and said to her brother, “See, it’s following me.”

They headed farther down the aisle and I was able to use my powers of stealth and move Mr. Zombie right down to the spot where they were about to round a corner.  She gave a little scream and again insisted to her brother that she was being followed.  At that point I walked up and she recounted the entire story to me.

I got into the story with her and asked lots of questions.  She was obviously having a great time.  I was able to add zombies to her path about four times before I had to make my purchase and return to the land of the living.  At the check-out I came across the kids again, this time with their mother.  Melissa was going on and on to the cashier about how zombies had been following her around the store.  Then she looked at me and said, “You wouldn’t have moved them around, would you?”

“Now why would I do that?” I replied with a wink.

Hands down, this was the best time I ever had in CVS.  The Very Scary part does concern me, though.  I was a harmless stranger who really enjoys playing with kids on their level.  I’m glad I’m the one she befriended as it scares me to death to think about this little girl and her brother unsupervised for so long in the store.  I hope this serves as a gentle reminder to people to keep an eye on their kids and grandkids.

It also reminds me of the story of my daughter trying to impress on her kids not to be taken in by a stranger.  You want your kids to be friendly, but they need to keep their distance.  Every time she asked her three-year old if he would go with a stranger who offered him candy, his answer was the same.  “Yes!  I like candy.”  It’s a hard lesson.  Even at my age if you offer me peanut M&Ms, I still will be tempted to go with you.  I probably won’t, but I’ll be tempted.

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

 

A Scream in the Night

After a long day of caring for three of my grandsons and helping my ailing daughter-in-law, I spent some time reading before going to bed last night. I was reading “A Single Shard” by Linda Sue Park. It is set in twelfth-century Korea and is about an orphan boy who finds himself working for a master potter. I am to the part of the story where the boy is taking his master’s pottery to the King’s Court for a possible commission. The boy has the delicate pottery carefully packed and placed into his backpack when the unthinkable happens.

Meanwhile, this morning I’m piecing together the nightmare I had last night to see if there could be any deeply hidden meaning. I woke up screaming at 5:00 this morning. Bob put his hand on my arm and chased the frightening images away.

In my dream I was walking home from my parents’ house in Zellwood, Florida. I was walking along Hwy 441, which is a busy highway that meanders through rural and small town areas here in Central Florida. I realized it was getting late and I needed to start jogging or I wouldn’t get home before dark. As I jogged along, I passed by three small children. One of them asked me what was in the backpack that I was wearing. I replied that there wasn’t much in it and as I was stopped talking to him, the two other children started attacking me and trying to take my things. That’s where Bob rescued me.

IMG_4968As I sit here typing this morning, I’m sure there is no collection between that dream and my life this week. No connection to having two of my grandsons stay with us for a week while my daughter-in-law and her 18-month-old son are staying here. No connection to the youngest taking my shoes all day long and running away with them while waiting for me to chase him. And certainly no connection to the older boys constantly taking my favorite float while we play in the pool.

Just another one of those dreams that has more to do with eating ice-cream late at night than real life I suppose. Now, if you’ll excuse me I am heading to my parents’ house to take my dad to the doctor. I’m taking the car though. See, it’s totally unrelated.

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).