Haleakala National Park

Have you ever thought about the things you have intentionally or even inadvertently done that influence people in your life, especially your children? I attribute my fascination with Hawaii and my love of national parks to my dad. When I was about nine years old, our family of six camped across the country in our modified VW microbus. We stopped at some of the biggies – Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Sequoia, and Rocky Mountain National Park. I loved being in the parks and still consider them high up on my list of happy places.

Bob and I have made this trip with our four children, so we now understand what an undertaking it was and how we probably had more fun than our parents did, though they appreciated it more.

My dad and little sister Linda posing in front of one of the iconic signs. My nine-year-old self took this with my brand new camera.

I think my love and fascination of Hawaii came about a bit more subliminally. Dad made several business trips there and took lots of pictures, which were viewed as slides. That was the choice medium of the day – I don’t know why! Believe it or not, sometimes we kids would ask our parents if we could watch home movies and slides. If you can remember a time before the internet and cable TV, that makes more sense.

The problem was, every time we’d ask him to set up the projectors so we could see how cute we all were when we were younger, the first thing he would show us was Hawaii. He loved Hawaii and communicated that well and often, but when you’re a kid you can only sit through so many landscapes and beach scenes before you mentally check out. Something must have stuck in my brain though, because as an adult, Hawaii was on the top of my list of places to visit.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Bob and I celebrated our 25th anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. My dad was very excited to help with the planning. He had saved every brochure from his trips there in the 1960s. He presented them to us, I’m sure, with joyful memories hula-dancing through his head. We stared at them in only slight disbelief that he saved these black and white relics from over three decades ago. “Thanks, Dad!”

Fast forward another 22 years and Hawaii was calling us again. We had two major things in Maul that were unfinished from the year 2000 trip – both involved the spectacular Haleakala National Park, which we visited then. It’s a big park, and it is famous for its sunrises. People make reservations to be transported to the summit for coveted glimpses of the sun rising and then a bike ride down the mountain. On our 25th anniversary trip, we opted out of this because we would have had to leave our resort at 3:00 in the morning to get to the top on time. Sunrises are not dependable, as clouds and rain can quite literally put a damper on them, so you go with that in mind as well. In that season of our lives, we had four kids at home, and there wasn’t much to entice me out of bed at that time of day – not even Haleakala. We have regretted this decision, so when we booked this trip back in January, we determined to embrace that adventure.

That was before I broke my shoulder in February. Would we embrace the biking adventure? Could I embrace the biking adventure? Could I even keep a good hold on the handlebars? Can we wake up at 2:30 in the morning? We decided to hold it loosely – kind of like I would have to hold handlebars on a bike.

My shoulder was doing pretty well, definitely well enough to ride a bike, but my stamina was another thing. Plus, we would be riding along the side of the mountain road for a few hours and my entire body, much less my shoulder, was untested in this arena. Add to that I was beginning to suspect that Hawaii was trying to kill me as everything was just so hard compared to 22 years earlier. I was beginning to lose my drive.

Could 22 years make that much difference? YES! Throw in the broken shoulder and lack of movement for so much of this calendar year, mix it with altitude and elevation changes, and that could be a recipe for a last meal. Even Bob, who continues to mock me by playing pickleball three times a week, was hesitant on this one. We talked about it for a few days and then opted out. It was the mix of getting up early and riding down the mountain all the while remembering that our main goal of this trip was not to injure ourselves. And, we were tired. We were managing to keep up the pace of this trip only by fueling with coffee and diet coke. So, unlike our anniversary trip, we have no regrets.

Where there are sunrises on a mountain top, there must also be sunsets. We’d simply have to look the opposite way. Yep, we’re sunset people, so we headed to the park late morning to do some hiking and would arrive at the summit in time to get a good spot to relax and watch the show.

Our first stop in the park was Hosmer Grove, which was advised for birdwatching.

There is something special about feeling small in the forest.

After hiking through the forest we came to a clearing looking down on a tree covered valley. The birding here is mainly small song birds so I didn’t get any good pictures, but this place was a real treat. We did see several beautiful, red I’iwi and a few yellow ‘Amakihi flitting from tree to tree. This was a most relaxing hike. Bird watching takes my mind off of what my feet are doing.

Photos are from Hawaii.gov online guide to Hawaii’s birds. These beauties were too fast and small to capture with my iPhone.

Thankfully, driving up Haleakala is relatively easy. It’s a slow drive but the landscape is fantastic. We got out periodically and did little off the road hikes and were afforded breathtaking views along the way to its 10,023 foot summit.

This cliff at Kalahaku Overlook had interesting vegetation popping up from the rugged terrain. I loved how the blue sky gave way to the clouds. Literally one minute later we saw this:

Fogbow – I had never heard of them. Fascinating!

Not only are there lots of paths up mountains, Hawaii likes to throw in stairs, too. I guess they like to mix it up.

We made it to the summit and took in the views while walking slowly as the air was a little thin. Also, this was our moment of truth. Would we stay for the sunset? We arrived here at 4:30, over five hours since this journey began, and people were setting up chairs and blankets. We got one of the last parking places.

Japanese Quail

I think this looks like something out of a science fiction movie. It’s the Haleakala Observatories on the summit.

This picture was taken from the top of Haleakala at 4:50 PM. Doesn’t it look like we’re in an airplane? There was still more than an hour until official sunset time not including the beauty that would follow until dark. But, as had become the norm for us in Hawaii, by this time of day we were very tired. Our resort restaurant was having prime rib night. Hummmmm

The trip down the mountain would be over three hours if we waited until the sunset was over. We would be driving in the dark on roads without guardrails in traffic. We would miss prime rib and probably grab fast food. What should we do?

Prime rib? Beautiful sunset? Prime rib? Sunset?

Well, the prime rib was delicious.

The drive down the mountain was lovely. There was no traffic as everyone was heading up. We stopped and took in some great views. And, like I said the prime rib was delicious.

We drove down to this area and were blessed with more beauty and fog bows.

I was enjoying some final views near the top of the mountain when Bob started heading back to our rental jeep. It’s not exactly walking into the sunset, but it’ll do!

Will She Get the T-shirt?

We’re back, Hawaii! It’s been 12 years and we have some unfinished business. This is my fourth trip (Bob’s third), and we figured it’s about time we hiked Diamond Head. How hard can it be?

The day prior to our hike I was encouraged by a t-shirt I saw that stated, “I hiked Diamond Head.” It was generic enough that one couldn’t know if the hike was completed or not, but I gave the man the benefit of the doubt.

My brother, who understands my fitness level, at least I thought he did, also had encouraged me that he thought I could do it. He said it was easy to moderate. He was wrong. Very wrong. As Senor Wences always said, “Easy for you, deefeecult for me.” If you recognize that name, you probably are around my age and have seen the Ed Sullivan Show. But I digress.

It is only 0.8 miles to the summit. That brings you to 560 feet above the crater floor. The trail is very uneven and steep, and there are stairways and semidark tunnels to add to the fun. we were told that it would take 1.5-2 hours to do the round-trip. I usually add another 25% to get to my time.

At the foot of Diamondhead it is quite lovely and serene. It is grassy and there are trees to sit under while you are being refreshed by island breezes. There are a lot of birds, too. Former trips to Hawaii introduced me to the Redcrested Cardinal, one of my very favorite birds. I probably took about 50 pictures of them.

I also got to know the small zebra dove, which is only about 8 inches in length. The dove and the common myna are everywhere in Hawaii. Also in abundance is the common waxbill. It is small, only 5 inches, and camera shy. The waxbills travel in large sporadically moving flocks.

As I am sitting here working on this post, the waxbill came right up on the balcony briefly. I told you he was camera shy!

Another new bird for me is the golden plover. They migrate to Hawaii from Alaska every year. It is a nonstop migration. Think about that!

This pre-hike area and the short time spent there taking in nature was my favorite part of the hike. As soon as we started up, I realized this was not about the journey but about the destination. At least it was for this flat-loving Florida girl.

My main goal of this trip to Hawaii was not to injure myself. That means I use a walking stick and watch my feet while hiking. Therefore, my main views of Diamondhead were of the ground. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all about looking down. There were lots of times when I was so out of breath I had to stop and enjoy the view during recovery.

This was one of those times. The man dropped his sunglasses over the edge and tried to get them with his shoe. Then he dropped his shoe. He had another friend with him and she did not video any of this. I was shocked! He did recover his shoe and his sunglasses and another pair of sunglasses as a bonus.

More recovery times to enjoy the view and the breezes:

Evidently, it would take more than three trips to the gym and a couple of times riding around the block on my bike to prepare me for a hike of any kind. Talk about disappointing! I think the main thing, though, is that I am not used to elevation or inclines of any kind. At least that’s what I tell myself to make me feel better.

And then this happened:

I took the video after an hour of hiking and then ten minutes of trying to breathe normally. It was a little concerning for Bob and me.

I ultimately decided I would keep going and reevaluate incrementally. I also decided that I had earned a T-shirt one way or the other. I was sure that Bob was not going to fight me on that!

These are the steps that did me in. you can see the tunnel at the top.

They really like stairs!

Here are pictures from the top. And they were from my phone, not Bob’s! I made it! Now I had to make it down.

I know that my readers are smart people, so you undoubtedly have figure it out by the fact that you’re reading this that I made it! My legs felt like Jell-O at the end, but it was worth it.

So if you are ever on Oahu and decide to hike Diamondhead and someone tells you it’s an easy hike, take note of who is telling you that and remember this story. I would hate to have suffered for nothing! Also, we started the hike before nine in the morning and it is hot in Hawaii. If you decide to do this hike, the earlier in the day the better. Happy hiking and aloha.

I got the t-shirt!

A Letter from a Reluctant Southpaw

To My Dear Right Arm,

Thank you for staying beside me all these years. Now I realize more than ever that YOU really are my right arm, both literally and figuratively! I know I have taken you for granted. I can only imagine the emotional pain that I have caused you by not saying thank you for the services you have provided me. For instance, you are an amazing brusher. You have taken care of my hair and my teeth like they were your very own. Thank you.

You also are a star wiper. You have wiped up many messes from the spills that my family and I have created. You are great at wiping counters. And while I am mentioning it, there is something else that I won’t mention that you excel at wiping. Blush… Oh, how I miss you! Life is full of challenges without you. Actually, it’s downright hard.

You have waved hello to people, placed your right hand over my heart as I have pledged allegiance to the American flag, and even on one desperate occasion aided me in hitchhiking down the Rock of Gibraltar. I could not have stuck my right thumb out without you.

You have allowed me to cook, which I have never held against you. You have been essential in making my bed, something I have not done in almost 10 weeks since I broke your shoulder. Have I told you I’m sorry for fancying myself an athlete, even for such a brief time? I am sorry. It hurts to think about that day when I came crashing down on your shoulder. What was I thinking!

You mean so much to me! My left hand misses coordinating with you, especially the simple tasks of typing and cutting my own food. There is a long list of things that you have championed for me, which have been suffering while you heal. Drying my hair, changing my clothes, driving, doing laundry, filling the birdfeeders, shuffling cards, signing my name, scratching my left arm, zipping zippers, working in the garden, and mostly the two-armed hug.

Hang in there though! Don’t be discouraged! God is working during this time and showing your owner the beauty of slowing down and asking for help. He has prompted friends to come along side and has increased a loving attitude of service in my husband, which has always been there, but has never had to be used to this degree.

Your doctor says you can start making yourself useful again in a couple weeks. That is something to be excited about. Plus, I am taking you to England for a holiday along with my hubby, son and his family. We will have a jolly good time. That is definitely something to look forward to. Keep being a patient and cooperative patient and before you know it you will be holding a cup of tea whilst across the pond. Not a big cup, mind you, but don’t worry, your left hand will help you.

In the meantime, I will keep a closer eye on what my left hand is doing. She tends to be careless. She thinks she’s as good as you are and she clearly is not, as evidenced by these seven heating pads that arrived from Amazon today. Maybe when you are better, you can help me return six of them.

There’s Nothing Funny About My Humerus

The irony of the story I am about to relate here is not lost on me, so, unlike the top of my humerus, I guess my sense of humor is intact. Mostly, anyway.

It was just last month that I proudly announced that I had become an athlete. You can read that story here. A lot can change in an instant.

I have not posted since my instant, which was Sunday afternoon, February 20, when I was happily playing Pickleball with Bob and a few of our friends. Bob and I were becoming regular Pickleball hosts. Several times we invited friends to learn to play and then we would enjoy some time practicing with them. February 20 put an end to that. I sustained a career ending injury. It was a very short career!

I don’t remember exactly how it all went down. All I know is that I went down. Hard! I was going for a shot close to the net and the next thing I knew I was on the ground and my shoulder was not where it was supposed to be. The pain was immediate and excruciating. Yet, the moment was kind of surreal. I looked at my right shoulder and I remember thinking – there are no shoulder pads in this shirt. I looked from my left shoulder to my right shoulder and back again and it didn’t make sense to me.

Bob and our friends immediately knew that I was hurt. It was difficult to get up because my right arm was useless. And the pain, the pain was off the charts. Somehow we managed to get me to the car and to the ER. I will spare you the details, but after five long hours they finally gave me conscious sedation, and a team of four people lined up the break in the top of my humerus and reset my dislocated shoulder.

Ouch!
Less ouch and freshly lined up.

They gave me that good news, which was even better news because there was a good chance I was going to have to have surgery. Because they could line things up well, that was not necessary. They sent me home with my arm in a sling and orders not to move it.

That was almost 6 weeks ago. My arm is still in a sling and I am still not supposed to move it. I take the sling off twice a day and do little circles for five minutes to make sure that I don’t get frozen shoulder. The pain is a weird thing. Because there was so much bruising and swelling, pain was showing up in places that surprised me. Why would I have more pain in my upper arm and then I had in my shoulder? They tell me that’s normal. It has to do with swelling. Swell!

As you can imagine, life at our house looks different than it did six weeks ago. I am right handed, so normal tasks are no longer normal. Probably because of the swelling and the tendons and nerves that were stretched, I can’t really write. I also cannot use the keyboard unless I do everything left-handed. I am thankful for voice activated typing!

Bob has been amazing. He has taken over cooking, laundry, washing my hair, opening bottles, putting my hair in a ponytail, and many other things that I will not mention here. I am very thankful that he is retired because if it weren’t for that, I would be in my pajamas all day long with half a ponytail in. Plus, I am not allowed to drive yet. And because I still have pain, I don’t really want to drive.

But, I saw the doctor last week and I am healing. Praise God! The healing is a slow process though. I still am not allowed to use my right arm. I start physical therapy on Monday. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that! OK, to be honest, I’m looking forward to the results of the physical therapy and not the actual therapy. I will probably have 8 to 12 weeks of PT. Oh boy!

So that is the sad and rather long explanation of why I have not been blogging lately and why I probably will not be for the next couple weeks. Doing everything with my nondominant arm is tedious and slow. I also did not realize how tiring it is on your body when it is healing. I have a new empathy for people who break bones!

Thank you for hanging in there with me. I appreciate you and hope to be back to blogging regularly in a few weeks.

Pickleball

I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’m an athlete now.

When Bob “retired” back in July he started playing pickleball three times a week. He’d probably play more but it might interfere with his golf game or his going back to the office as a contract employee (kind of like retirement light). Bob has a lot of energy and the heat down here in Florida doesn’t keep him from playing these outdoor games.

Then there’s me. The summer sun beating down on me can almost keep me from going to the mailbox. That may be a slight exaggeration, but after sweating that 15-yard walk (x2 since I have to return) six days a week, May through October, I’m ready to take a dip in the pool. I garden on the shady side of the house only in the late afternoon or after dinner. Once when I parked far away from a store just to park in the shade, my daughter told me she thought shade was my idol. She’s not completely wrong.

But Bob wanted me to play pickleball with him, and I love that. It was so sweet of him, especially since he knows darn well that there is not an athletic bone in my body. I am competitive, so I guess he thought that might see me through. I agreed to play but insisted I’d start in November or December after the blistering heat had subsided. That would up the chance that I might like it (from 10 percent to about 30 percent). Then we all got COVID in November, so that gave me a pickleball reprieve until December.

December arrived and I couldn’t come up with more excuses, so finally Bob got me to go with him to the neighborhood courts, which was great as I didn’t have an audience. We had a couple practice sessions and then joined the regular Wednesday night group, which he had already become a part of.

Pickleball, despite its ridiculous name, has a few things going for it. It’s played with a wiffle ball, so it doesn’t hurt too much if you get hit. The court is slightly smaller than a tennis court, so less running. To me it felt like ping pong, only with large paddles and strange scoring and rules. The part of the court close to the net is called the kitchen, and you are not supposed to go in there. That was endearing.

The most surprising part of the game was that I liked it. Right away. Even though I was just learning and wasn’t good at it yet. I’ve only been playing for about six weeks, so I’m still not “good,” but I am improving. I set the bar for enjoyment pretty low, and I have leap-frogged over it. I now even suggest playing pickleball, much to Bob’s delight. We are teaching friends to play. It’s practically a miracle!

But that was before the injury. Last week I sustained a hamstring pull. Yep, I pulled a hammie! I must be an athlete! In validation of my athleticism, I would have high-fived my friend who was with me, but I could barely walk, so that will have to wait.

The irony is that I sustained this injury while bird watching. I am still in disbelief that my hobby has so cruelly turned on me. We were walking along the shores of Lake Apopka, enjoying the beautiful, cool January day, spotting alligators and birds, and wham – I nearly did a face-plant after tripping on a partially buried rock. I guess I should have stretched before doing such rigorous exercise.

It might be a couple weeks before I’m back on the court. I sure hope this doesn’t hurt my game!

American Alligator posing at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive
Various ducks and water fowl on Lake Apopka

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!

Is That Your Final Answer?

Winter Garden. Every time I go there, I wonder why I don’t visit more often. It used to be a sleepy little burg outside of Orlando but has evolved into a destination area for shopping and dining – not unlike Mount Dora. People are moving there by the droves, too.

I get it. It’s quaint and interesting. It’s close to Disney. It has bike paths, boutique shopping, a train museum, and our favorite MoonCricket Grille, which is a lovely spot to chow down on some bam-bam shrimp al fresco and watch the people go by with their dogs. It is very dog friendly. Dogs are walked, pushed in strollers, toted in purses, and carried like babies. While that is not my idea of a fun day in Winter Garden, clearly, it’s a dog’s world there.

Moon Cricket Grille 14 W Plant St Winter Garden, FL Bars - MapQuest
Photo Credit: mapquest.com

The impetus for our outing was Christmas shopping. We are not familiar with how things work in Wintergarden on a Saturday but suffice it to say the town takes it up a notch on weekends. Frankly, we didn’t really know where we were going and figured it’s a small town and we could enjoy roaming around. How hard could it be to find our way to our shopping destination (which will remain unnamed because it would give away our gift choices)?

The answer to that question is: pretty hard! It was made more difficult by the fact that it was my first outing that involved exerting any energy since recovering from a light case of you-know-what. (Yep, all four of us got it. We are thankful to God for a light case and an uneventful recovery.)

Our quest should not have involved the farmers’ market, but it looked interesting, so why not! We had no idea that it was huge! I must say that it is a farmers’ market that does the name proud. Or a crafter proud. Or a foodie proud. But that was not where we should have been, and we didn’t figure that out until we had walked the entire thing. Since we came up empty on our main goal, we checked the internet and discovered that our true destination was several blocks away. Bob figured it was 2 to 4 blocks. It felt like 10 to 12 blocks. And then back. I suppose I should be thankful and frankly I am for the exercise. But I did not pack water and I was quite dehydrated and exhausted by the time we fell into a lunch table at the MoonCricket well over an hour later.

During this trek, we were stopped by a group of young men who were interested in getting us to sign a petition for something or another that had to do with promoting or stopping casino gambling. I couldn’t decipher what they were saying in my weakened, dehydrated state. We politely passed them with a not today. I even mentioned they should’ve caught us when we were not worn out. One of them stated that yes, we did look a little tired. He was being kind.

Several blocks down on our adventure we were again pursued by people with clipboards, and I assumed they were part of the same group. When they started to talk, I had no energy and I just muttered, “No, not today,” and kept walking.

My brain was definitely operating on a delay. Just after the words left my mouth, my foggy brain deciphered what my ears had heard. Their question was, “Would you like to help save a life?”

I suppose “not today” wasn’t the worst response. It’s not like someone was on the ground needing CPR. Frankly, I was in no condition to save anybody’s life. I was kind of needy myself – and a little bit embarrassed.

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!

Things That Go Crash at 6:59 in the Morning

My hubby retired on July 2. He continues to do contract work for his former company but only every other Tuesday. What are the odds that today, the other Tuesday, would be the day when he goes happily off to the office and is out of the house when there is a loud crash signaling trouble right here in River City? I’d ask him to compute them, but he’s at work; so I’ll give it a try. If higher math is not your thing, skip the italicized portion and you can keep on reading the story.

(He goes into the office two days out of four weeks. That is 2 out of 28. (Here’s the point where I wonder how in the world to write that problem.) I think I just divide 2 by 28 and get my answer, which is 0.07142857. That doesn’t look right to me. How about 28 divided by 2. I can practically do that in my head! But I do seem to remember that odds are written as ratios and ratios have two numbers in them so I’m fairly certain the odds are that I have not figured this out at all. But wait, I can reduce 2 and 28 down to 1 and 14, so I think the odds are 1 out of 14 (1:14) that a crash would be heard or anything in the house would break one of the days he goes to the office.)

At this point I should remind you that Bob is the morning person in our marriage. He wakes up ready for the day. I get up typically around 8:00, and after an hour or two and a couple cups of coffee I am ready for the day. I should also insert that I have not been sleeping super duper lately due to a new medicine that I’m taking, or I should say just quit taking, so last night I took a melatonin. Melatonin helps me sleep but makes waking up more challenging for me.

This morning I vaguely remember Bob saying goodbye to me as I succumbed to my melatonin-addled sleep hangover. I do remember hearing a crash, though. At least I was pretty sure I heard it. It seemed like something I should even get out of bed and investigate. I looked at the clock – 6:59. It was probably nothing.

Surprisingly, some responsible adult part of me would not let me go back to sleep, so at 7:13 I rolled over, picked up my phone, and called Bob. He hadn’t heard a thing and by that time he was halfway to the office, but he offered that it may have been a passing truck. I didn’t think so, but I was tired, and whatever I heard had not affected our air conditioning, so what was my hurry! If someone was knocking our doors down to get in, I’d have known that by then. Still, it felt like I wasn’t being a good adult, so at 7:52, I finally stumbled out to the garage and sure enough, the door was open just enough for racoons, snakes, alligators, stray cats and children to get in.

I didn’t see this big fellow in my yard, but thought you’d like this picture I recently took on the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.

I reported back to Bob that I was in my right mind and not hearing things. He seemed to believe that at least one of those things was true.

We live in Florida. It isn’t a good idea to give wildlife a way inside. I found a snake skin on top of a ladder in my garage one time. Once is enough.

I applied all my button pressing skills to the garage door opener and sure enough, it was not going to close. It would go up all the way and then come crashing down and reopen like the above photo. That seemed like a good excuse to stay home all day until my friend from Tulsa called me and asked me to run an errand for her. Yes, we have that kind of friendship. Once again, what are the odds that the very day she would call, I could not leave my home? Before she got too far into her story, I stopped her and told her I was being held captive by a broken garage door. This did not surprise her.

What is the moral of this story? What the lessons can be learned here? I’d say none, but I may still be under the influence of melatonin.

Snakes Alive!

We haven’t had rain in six weeks, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the black racer which I was trying to chase off my pool deck with a gentle spray from my hose seemed to welcome the shower. This is the second snake in a week we’ve had stop in for a visit.

I’ve been wanting to lead a more active lifestyle, but snake wrangling was not what I had in mind. More along my speed is my offer of assistance to a momma cardinal who is nesting just outside of our pool deck. I have chased snakes away from the area, and water and stocked birdfeeders are always in our yard. This is the first time in my life I have been up close and personal with a nest; and I am rather protective, which is why I propped open the rear door of the screen enclosure to usher the aforementioned black racer to an area away from the “nursery.”

I started out referring to the snake as “he” (probably because our last four pets were males), but I’m beginning to have my doubts. She seemed reluctant to leave, so I was forced to get the broom and gently offer two incentives for departure. It was ridiculous how much resistance I got from her! It was an effort to get her past each panel of screening. Several times she coiled up and did her best impression of a cobra.

I was not deterred. I was also full-on aerobic by the time the thoughts crept into my head as to why on earth wouldn’t she want to be out of the pool screen area as much as I wanted her out! I guessed she was stubborn or stupid.

Fifteen long minutes later, she finally exited. I watched her slither along the edge of the outside of the pool screen as I reached out and closed the door behind her. She stayed right up against it all the way to the corner, made a quick right turn, continued along the screen to the back of the house, and reentered the pool enclosure.

What the what! I was sweaty and tired. She just seemed to be getting started. There was no way that I was going to play this game! And that was the point when it hit me that I might be dealing with a female. Maybe even a mama. That was also the point where I decided that Bob should meet her.

The good news here is that we had discovered the entry point. Even better, it was on the opposite side of the house from my precious cardinal nest. But of concern was the fact that she had almost disappeared in our bed of river rocks. At first, I could barely see her; then she disappeared altogether. I knew she was there though, but why was she there? Why wouldn’t she want to be outside? Was she protecting something? Should I keep her in the pool deck to protect the cardinal eggs?

The answers to these questions are:

  • I don’t know.
  • I don’t know.
  • I don’t know.
  • Bob will think I lost my mind.

Of course, by the time Bob returned from work she was nowhere to be seen. There are lots of awesome hiding places for a snake on our pool deck. Bob checked them all and then he blocked the entry point that she used to get back in. Hopefully, she’s not trapped inside now. If she is just good at hiding, she has to come out sometime! Worst case scenario, I’ll know in 43-65 days if what she’s hiding is a nest of snake eggs.

Living in Florida has changed me. There was a time when I would have moved rather than defend my home against a snake or kill a palmetto bug or get close to a frog. Well, I still have to grow into that frog thing. I know it seems unlikely, but they really do act like they are out to get me.

As far as that snake goes, I don’t think she’s out there. Really, I don’t. Nope, she’s not there. I’m sure of it.