Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

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True Friends Are Like Warm Blankets

True friends are like warm blankets.

This weekend, I spent three days in central Florida with a dear friend from college. We have kept in touch since we were 19 years old and students at the University of Alabama. We’re both 52 now…do the math.

We have shared a lot over the years…secrets, tears, laughs, good times, sadness, hard times…heck, we even have the same wedding anniversary, but she married five years before I did. We are true friends…through thick and thin. Oh, the stories we could tell! Stories of fun nights, bad dates, good parties, bad boyfriends, great experiences, terrible breakups, exciting jobs, sad losses, new babies, teenagers, and some stories of things that could only happen to us…or at least it feels that way. And we have shared some of those stories with our kids. They didn’t really seem to care at the time, though. In fact, they likely rolled their eyes, but one day, they will remember the stories we have told them…and they’ll laugh about some of them, and likely cry about others.

As for this weekend, we didn’t talk about old times a lot. We have covered that many times over the years. Of course, we laughed about some of the funnier things that happened when we were together, but we didn’t rehash it all. We talked about life as we see it now…33 years after becoming friends. We’re middle-aged moms now. We have a different vantage point now than we did at 19. We talked about things we have been through…things we have survived…and we talked about happiness. We talked about how, at 52, we know happiness doesn’t come from having material things. We are very aware that not worrying about how the bills will be paid can contribute to a peaceful, happy existence, but all the extra stuff...not so much. You can have lots of jewelry and fancy cars, but do those material things make you happy? We discussed that what makes us happy is experiencing life with people we love.

We know that for a lot of reasons, but mostly, we know it, because we didn’t sit around talking about material things at all. We didn’t talk about cars, jewelry, handbags, or clothes. We enjoyed talking about interactions with people. We shared stories about life experiences. It wasn’t about bragging rights. It was about sharing life events and how we handled them. We discussed painful experiences and what we learned from them. I’ve lost both parents, and she has lost her dad…we talked and cried about that a lot. And we talked about joyful experiences…things we did together; things our kids have enjoyed; stories of our children’s childhoods and our own childhoods…and more.

Did I mention we laughed a lot?

And while no one can “relive” their youth, we found ourselves absolutely slack-jawed while we watched Endless Love (rent it on Amazon here), a movie we were too young to see when it was a released with an R rating in 1981, but we both watched later on HBO. In fact, it had been so long since either of us had seen it that we forgot Tom Cruise and Jami Gertz had bit parts in the movie. And we had never realized before that a then-unknown Ian Ziering (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) was in the movie. We also watched Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink (you can rent both on Amazon.com) and reminisced about seeing those movies as teenagers. And before you even think it…I know Sixteen Candles could never be made today with its sexism, underage/nonconsensual sex, underage drinking, and more…but it’s comedy, people! It’s supposed to be funny. I thought it was funny in 1984, and I still think it’s funny now.

During the day, we drove around the lovely town where she lives. We looked at historic homes, parks, flowers, and trees, and one day, we went tubing with her teenage son at Ichetucknee Springs State Park…quite the adventure! The water was refreshingly cold as we floated down the river…laughing and talking. She laughed at me when I would float off into the grasses on the edge of the river, and I laughed at her when she missed the entrance to the disembarkation ramp. We made new memories we will laugh about for years to come.

But what I enjoyed most was simply being with my friend. She knows who I really am and loves me anyway. Spending time with my friend was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. She’s comforting. She has been around for a long time. And she makes me feel secure. I came home feeling rejuvenated. I came home feeling content.

Sure, we are middle-aged moms now, and we have had a lot more life experience than when we became friends. We are, in fact, older than our parents were when we became friends. Wow…we really are middle aged.

She’s a keeper.

Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

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Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

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Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

UFO Houses

Driving through Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach last week (lovely beaches on the Gulf Coast), I saw three houses that reminded me of spaceships, so I took pictures of the “UFO houses.” OK, I know…it’s not actually an Unidentified Flying Object if it’s a house, but it just doesn’t sound as intriguing to call it a “spaceship house.” So I choose to call them UFO houses. With all the attention Area 51 is getting these days, it seems fitting to talk about UFOs again anyway. No…I’m not planning to storm Area 51.

I’ve written before about how I love automobiles shaped like food. Well, I love houses shaped like spaceships too. And who knew I’d see more than one on one tiny little island on Florida’s Gulf Coast?!?

Last week, I visited the Alabama Gulf Coast with my husband, our teenage daughter, and one of her friends. After a few days, my husband stayed behind while the three of us went for a little road trip. Our destination on the first day was Panama City Beach, but I opted to take the scenic route. If you’re a teenager, you’d likely call it the “slow route.” My daughter moaned and groaned a little about it, but she perked up when we saw some things she’d never seen!

We were on the main road through Pensacola Beach, about three miles east of Three Mile Bridge on Santa Rosa Island, when I spied something I’d seen before but forgotten! If you are even remotely close to my age (52), you know our country was crazy for UFOs in the 60s and 70s. I was born in 1967, so I don’t remember a lot about the 60s, but I remember the 70s pretty well, and I remember all the chatter about UFOs. When I was a kid and saw the UFO house, it frightened me. My child brain couldn’t differentiate between the real thing and something that looked like the real thing.

Now, though, I’m fascinated by the house that looks like a UFO. According to Roadside America (an app you must have anytime you take a road trip), the “portable, prefabricated home design from 1968 is by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen.” It has survived numerous hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside, as it is a private home, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Doing a little research online, I found that these Futuro prefab homes were first sold for about $14000, but with the 70s oil crisis, the price of plastic went up, tripling the cost of the prefab UFO houses, and soon thereafter, no more were made. I also found there are at least 15 still in the United States and more in other countries. I found them in Idyllwild, California; Royse City, Texas; Milton, Delaware; Central Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; New Jersey; and even one in Frisco, North Carolina. Apparently, there are more of them than I ever imagined. I guess I’ll be planning a Futuro home road trip in my future. I hope my friend, Mary Ann, is up for that.

On youtube, I even found a video clip from a news station of the interior of a Futuro home! You can see it here.

So now, I’m obsessed with the Futuro homes and wondering if I could possibly talk my husband into retiring in one after our daughter goes off to college?! If not, there are some others on Santa Rosa Island that are not Futuro homes but still look a little like spaceships to me. See photos below.

If you’re as fascinated by UFO houses as I am, you can check out different ones on Instagram. I looked them up under #futurohouse, and I found several Instagram sites dedicated to them as well.

Of course, I know there’s not a chance my husband would even consider a Futuro house. If I could find one for my very own tiny vacation home, I’d be just as happy with that. If you hear of anyone who is listing one for sale, send me their number.

February Celebrations

February. Yes, Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day both fall in February, but for me, some very important anniversaries fall in February.

My parents were married on February 18, 1961, so today is their  58th anniversary. Of course, we lost Daddy 12 years ago, and we lost Mother in December of 2017. But every year, on this day, I think of my parents. All their wedding photos are in Alabama, so I don’t have access to them right now to share.

Every year on their anniversary, they would do something together…even if they just ordered in and had some wine. Sometimes they went out to dinner, and sometimes they went out of town, but every year, my mother would tell me about their wedding day.

In 1961, Mother was a nurse and finished her shift at Baptist Hospital in Birmingham the night before they married. As soon as they were married, she would be moving to Florida, where Daddy lived. The head nurse, who was an older unmarried lady (referred to as a spinster back then), asked her as she was leaving, “Do you feel like you can’t live without him?” Mother replied, “Oh, I can live without him. I just don’t want to live without him.” Who knew that was foreshadowing for her life 45 years later? After Daddy died, Mother lost a lot of her get-up-and-go. She seemed as if she didn’t want to go on. I never would have believed it if someone had told me that would happen, but it happened. She just didn’t enjoy life without him as much as she had enjoyed it with him.

So the day after finishing that hospital shift, she and Daddy married at my maternal grandparents’ home. Mother was quite practical…no big shindig for her. Her Aunt Ola helped her with the arrangements, including a beautiful cake, and Mother and Daddy left for New Orleans right away…their honeymoon. Mother got a job at a hospital in Florida, and the rest is history.

Two years ago, just two days before my parents’ anniversary, my brother married the girl he took to his high school prom. They celebrated their second anniversary two days ago.

Their wedding was nothing fancy…a civil ceremony. I could hear the joy in my mother’s voice when she called me to tell me my brother had gotten married. She was thrilled.

Both of them had been married before. He was 48, and she was 47 when they married. My brother had been divorced for two years. They didn’t rush into anything. They didn’t live together before they were married. In fact, they live together part-time now, and it works.

Our family has known his “bride” since the mid-80s. Her granddaddy was our family doctor and put stitches in my knee when I was 11 and diagnosed me with mono when I was 17. My daddy adored her back in the day, and he would laugh and laugh if he could spend time with them now. The bride has a quirky sense of humor, making her perfect for dealing with my brother’s crazy sense of humor. They laugh with each other…a lot. They take care of each other, and they help each other. They enjoy traveling together, and lucky for me, they’ll travel with us too.

My brother has two grown boys, twins who turned 21 in December. His bride has three boys, ranging in age from 15 to 22. They all get along, and my daughter is thrilled that she is the only girl in the bunch! She loves telling people all five of her first cousins are boys, and that she is the youngest. She adores them all.

So, February is a big month for us. I had a glass of champagne Saturday to celebrate my brother and sis-in-law’s anniversary, and I’ll have a glass tonight to celebrate my parents’ anniversary.

If my mother hadn’t decided in 1961 that she didn’t want to live without Daddy, my brother and I wouldn’t be here.

 

***Next entry: Squash…***

My Favorite Rescue Story (2 years later)

****I first wrote this story on February 10, 2018, but today, January 30, 2020, is the second anniversary of “the homecoming,” so I’m sharing it again. It makes me happy.****

Eight years ago, when my mother lost her Jack Russell Terrier, Sissy, to heart failure, she needed rescuing. I mean my mother needed rescuing. Daddy had died three years earlier, and Mother missed him terribly. So now, she was missing Sissy too. She needed company, so after a few months, she went to the local animal shelter.

FullSizeRender-28On that fateful day, it happened there was a young female Jack Russell Terrier who had been picked up and brought in by animal control. There was a hitch: she had only been there a couple days, so they had to hold her for two weeks to see if anyone claimed her. Mother waited. She called me and told me about the cute, little, white terrier with brown spots. Mother said she was a muscular little dog with lots of energy. She told the people at the shelter she would take the little terrier if no one claimed her. She was excited, and secretly, she was praying no one would claim that cute little terrier. She waited two weeks.

September 14th rolled around, and Mother went back to the shelter. The cute little terrier was still there, and since no one had claimed her, she was available for adoption. It seemed fitting that the cute little terrier, which Mother would name Sam, went home with Mother on Daddy’s birthday. Mother gave Sam a home, but really, Sam rescued Mother.

The two of them were together almost every single day for eight years. As long as she was able, Mother would throw the ball in the backyard for Sam. They “talked” to each other. They sat out on the back porch together. When company came over, sometimes Sam would run and hide under the bed, but she didn’t realize only her head was under the bed, and the rest of her wasn’t…just like  a two-year-old, “I can’t see you, so you can’t see me.” She made Mother laugh. She rescued Mother.

Mother died December 30. She fell on Christmas Eve. I’m sure Sam saw her fall. I’m sure Sam saw the EMTs carry her out. I’m sure she was confused. Heck, I’m still confused; I wish Sam could talk and tell me exactly what happened. For a few days, Mother’s friend/caretaker, Lois, would go feed Sam and visit with her some. When we realized Mother wasn’t going to make it, my aunt and cousin were with me at the hospital, and they offered to take Sam from Alabama to Florida to another aunt. (I would have loved to keep her, but we have three non-shedding dogs at my house, and my husband’s allergies can’t handle shedding.)

Sam is ornery, doesn’t adapt well to change, and she must have been scared and confused. She couldn’t get along with the aunt’s dog. My cousin, Patti, found her another home…and another. She was loved at the last home, but because of her shedding and her running into the road (a lot of acreage but no fenced yard), after a month, the lady couldn’t keep her.

Patti called me and told me she was looking for another home for Sam. I immediately texted my brother, whom I affectionally call “Brother,” and said, “We need to bring Sam back to Mother’s house.”   Because he lives near Mother’s house and would be responsible for her, I held my breath, thinking he might text back a firm “no.’

To my surprise, his first response was, “Maybe.” I knew, if Sam went back to Mother’s, she would have lots of company and be loved, because my brother stays there sometimes, my nephew was planning to move into the house, and friends visit all the time. Most of all, Sam would be comfortable. I typed back, “We can pay someone to come clean the house once a week.” Brother typed back, “Yes.”

Next, I texted, “I think Sam would be so happy.” He immediately responded, “OK.” Yippee! I promptly called Patti to start arranging Sam’s homecoming. I relayed messages between Patti and Brother, and they made it happen.

Patti called me after picking up Sam from her most recent temporary home, and said, “Sam went absolutely wild when she saw me!” Patti used to visit Mother and Sam a lot, and Sam is crazy about her. I could hardly wait for Sam to see Brother. A week ago, Brother met Patti at the halfway point between their cities and picked up Sam.IMG_8703.JPG

Sam was as excited to see Brother as she had been to see Patti. She and Brother’s dog, Amos, don’t always see eye to eye, but when she saw Amos in the car, she was even excited to see him! The three of them drove back to Mother’s house.

Brother called me after he got Sam home and said, “She was so excited. She ran into the house, and then she ran and ran and ran around the backyard.” He said, after a little while in the house, things got too quiet. He thought Sam had escaped. (She loves to slip out the door and go for a run if she can.) He looked in the bedroom, and there was Sam, piled up on the bed, sound asleep. It was probably the best sleep she’d had since December.

Mother would be happy to know, this time, we rescued Sam. She’s home. She’s comfortable, and she’s happy. I haven’t even seen her since her return(I live 400 miles away), but every time I think about her homecoming, I cry. I’m crying now.

We rescued Sam. I engineered it, and Brother and Patti made it happen. My nephews love her dearly, and she loves them.

Give your dog an extra treat today.

***Two years later, Sam is living a happy life with my nephews in my mother’s old home, and she is enjoying lots of love and exercise. She gets lots of attention and lots of visitors. My nephews take great care of her, and my mother would be thrilled to know Sam is living a happy life in her home.***

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2019 Bucket List

Lots of people have bucket lists for life. I’ve decided I’m going to have one for the year. I’m going to have one for every year. All the things might happen, and maybe they won’t, but at least I’ll have bucket list goals. These aren’t like resolutions. They don’t fall in the same category as “lose weight,” or “learn to knit.” They are one-time things…maybe places to visit, things to do, or dares…yes, dares.

Here are a few things on my bucket list for 2019:

  • Indoor Skydiving. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve done the skydiving over an outdoor wind tunnel, and it was great fun. I laughed and laughed, and my daughter and her friend laughed at how the skin on my face flapped in the wind. They did it too, but their skin didn’t flap…ahhh, youth. According to their website, IFly Charlotte is scheduled to open this spring in Concord. I’m looking forward to it! See their website here.
  • Sleep in a treehouse. A few years ago, my friend, Mary Ann, and I took our kids to Kentucky to sleep in wigwams at Wigwam Village in Cave City (see website here). In fact, Mary Ann turned 40 while we were there. Not many folks can say they turned 40 in a wigwam! This year, it would be fun to sleep in a treehouse, but the kids don’t have to go. They’re teenagers now, so they don’t want to be with us anyway. Maybe I can get Mary Ann to come up one weekend and go with me to Cherry Treesort in China Grove to stay in a treehouse. See their website here.
  • Swim with the manatees. Mary Ann has done this. In fact, there’s a manatee in Crystal River, Florida, that fell in love with her at first sight. Don’t ask me how we know he loved her…just trust me when I say he did. Hopefully, he won’t be there when I go, but just in case, I’ll take Mary Ann with me, so he will ignore me altogether. Of course, I haven’t spoken with Mary Ann about this, but I guess she knows it now. There are a few different companies that offer the opportunity to swim with the manatees. One is here.
  • Mother/daughter vacation with friends. We do this every year, but I’m keeping it on my bucket list, because I hope my friend, Jennifer, and her daughter will join us for a trip this summer. We started the new year together in LA, but I’m counting that as last year’s mother/daughter trip. We’ve been talking about what we can do, but we haven’t locked in reservations anywhere yet. Coming soon…
  • Big vacation somewhere new. I have a destination in mind, but since I’m not sure we will find the time to do it this year, I’m not going to name the place. It will take a lot of planning, and since a lot of summer is already planned, we might have to wait till summer 2020 for the trip I have in mind. If we can’t do that one, I’ll plan something else for a new destination this summer, but we are definitely doing something different. Fingers crossed. I’m looking at lots of websites for possible destinations, in case my first choice doesn’t play out. Some websites are Conde Nast Traveler for worldwide destinations and Forbes for US destinations.
  • Take a day off. I used to be really good at this. Every school year, I would designate a weekday that would be my day…no volunteering, no obligations, no doctor appointments, no hair appointments…just a day to do what I want to do. And it was awesome. I’m re-instating that plan right now, and my day off for the rest of this school year is Thursday. People used to think I was crazy when I first started telling them I took a day off, but then they realized it was genius. In fact, I was talking with a friend recently who said she is doing the same thing in 2019. Because I plan a day off in advance, it makes it easy to plan lunches or coffees with friends…something else I plan to do more of in 2019…time with good friends.

And that’s it. Nothing earth shattering. Just a few fun things I want to do in 2019…and maybe some ideas for you. They’re not resolutions. They are simply things I want to do. Well, maybe that last one about a “day off” is more of a resolution. Either way, these are things that will make 2019 more fun, and sometimes, I just want to have fun!

 

 

 

 

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What Is Home?

The world is continuously changing, and people are more mobile than ever before. People move halfway around the world, all over the country, and within states. But with all that moving, what is home?

When I was growing up, my family moved several times…from Florida to Alabama and then a few times within the state of Alabama. Every time we moved, our parents sat us down and said, “THIS is home now. MAKE it home.” And we did. Wherever we were, it became home. We didn’t refer to our old city as “home.” Our parents made efforts to help us join the community, and we hit the ground running.

Charlotte is a growing city, so naturally, there are lots of people always moving into the city. They come from all over the world, and most people I talk to love it. We were on an American Airlines flight the other day, and the pilot came on before we left Miami to go to Charlotte and said, “We are about to go to Charlotte. If you don’t want to go to Charlotte, you’ve probably never been there.” And I immediately thought, “He’s right!” Charlotte is a lovely city.

But if you move to Charlotte or any other city/town, it’s never going to feel like home till you start acting like it’s home. It’s a lesson I learned as a little girl, but lots of adults haven’t learned it. The first way to make it feel like home is to start CALLING it home. I can always tell when newcomers are going to be slow to get acclimated, because they keep referring to their old city as “home.” To me, that might be “where I’m from” or “where I used to live,” but my new city is home. My new house is home.

I have a friend who once told me she was homesick the entire four years of college. In talking about it, she told me her family lived about an hour from her college, and she would pack up and go “home” every single weekend. When she said that, I realized that was likely the problem. She hadn’t fully committed to being a part of the community at her school. Without that commitment, she was homesick. And the continuous going “home” just reinforced it. We talked about it, and she said she probably should have gone somewhere farther away. Maybe she would have become a part of her college community if she hadn’t been able to go back to her parents’ home all the time. College should start to feel like “home,” even if it is a musty old dorm room.

School age children who move often seem to assimilate into a community much faster than adults. Because they go to school, they are grouped with new people immediately, and more often than not, they find a friend group.

At most schools, I think new parents have more difficulty than new students. The first thing I always tell new parents I meet is to become a part of the school community. It’s an easy place to make friends, but you must put in some effort. If you’re an introvert, you may have to step out of your comfort zone for a little while to get started. All you need is one familiar face to start feeling comfortable. Find a face. You can do that by attending parent events and sporting events. But if the opportunities are there: volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! If you are giving your time to the community, it becomes your community.

I’ve known friends who moved as empty nesters, and the ones who started volunteering or attending events were the ones who started feeling like their new home was “home” soonest.

However, if you’ve moved to a new city and are still calling your old city “home,” well, you likely aren’t fully committed, and in my experience, you could have a long row to hoe.

I’ve always felt our parents did us a big favor whenever we moved by reminding us that we had a new “home.” My own daughter has always lived in Charlotte. She will be going off to college in four years, and I hope I will be able to instill that in her. I hope she will understand that her college is her home. Frankly, I hope she will be at least a few hours away so she has to become a part of things on campus, wherever that might be. On most campuses, Parents Weekend is usually about six weeks into the year, and that is done by design, so the students will make the effort to assimilate before seeing their families again.

Then there’s the old saying, “Home is where the heart is.” I don’t know who came up with that, but for me, “Home is where I decide it will be.” Bloom where you’re planted.

Cousins

Cousins.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen the posts about cousins. Most of them say something along the lines of “cousins are our first friends.” Or “no one will understand your crazy family like your cousins do.” There’s some truth to that.

Thanks to Facebook, in recent years, my cousins and I have started keeping in touch better than we did before. All my first cousins are on social media, and even some aunts and other family members. Interestingly, with cousins, we often have similar physical traits, but I think personality traits are familial too. I never lived near any of my aunts/uncles/cousins growing up, but every time my Aunt Katie and I are together, people around us talk about how we have similar mannerisms.

All my first cousins live in Florida. My part of the family was the part of the family that moved away, so we didn’t see them as often as they saw each other, but I adored my cousins. In fact, it was my cousin, Cindy, who took me to Padgett’s Jewelry, in Chattahoochee, Florida, to get my ears pierced when I was eight years old. I can still remember sitting up on the jewelry counter in the middle of the store. Cindy held my hand while the lady used the piercing gun to put those first gold studs in my earlobes. I’ve said before that emotions lock events into long term memory, so I must have been really nervous or really excited…or both…that day.

While I have fond memories of each of my first cousins, I think it’s only natural I have more memories of the ones who are closest in age to me. Patti and Tara used to come spend a week in the summer with us when we were kids, and any time the whole family got together, they were the ones I was usually with. But we lived several hours away, and as an adult, I live even farther away, but thanks to Facebook, I think we are all closer than ever now.

In fact, because of Facebook (and some intervention from my Aunt Katie), I am now friends with my only North Carolina cousin, Ardrue. She is my daddy’s first cousin…their mothers were sisters. While I had met her mother when I was a little girl, I had never met Ardrue. I remember hearing her name my whole life from my daddy and from my Aunt Katie. Daddy was crazy about her, and Katie still is. She fell between them in age. I also remember asking Daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I’m sure I asked it many times, but I don’t remember ever getting an answer.

A couple years ago, Ardrue and I became Facebook friends, and she very graciously reached out. As it turns out, she lives in a town that’s just about an hour away from Charlotte. We made plans to meet for lunch in Gastonia, North Carolina, which is about the halfway point between us.

As soon as I saw her, I knew she was my cousin. She has a very familiar look…like my grandmother’s side of the family. I’m not sure how long we visited at that first lunch, but we were there a while. We got acquainted. She told me stories about my daddy as a young person, and I told her stories about him as an adult. She told me some family history, and we laughed and cried. I also found out the answer to that question. You know…”what kind of name is Ardrue?” Well, it seems her mother had met a young girl named Ardrue at a revival service in Florida once and decided she would name her first daughter the same name. So that’s what kind of name Ardrue is.

Since then, Ardrue and I have become great friends in addition to being first cousins, once removed. We try to meet occasionally for lunch, but of course, real life gets in the way sometimes.

Once, her sister came down from up north for a visit, and I was fortunate to get to meet her too…another cousin! Ardrue set it up, and we met in a park in downtown Belmont, North Carolina. I arrived a little early and sat down at a picnic table to wait. I noticed people were setting up lawn chairs along side of the railroad track. Ardrue and Lu walked up behind me just as I was wondering aloud, “What are they doing?” We had a good laugh about the fact that I was talking to myself, and then we figured out that the good people of Belmont set up their lawn chairs to watch the trains go by. Pretty cool, actually.

Most recently, when I saw Ardrue, she mentioned the fact that I’m her cousin who lives the closest…and vice versa. We’ve met a couple of times at Spindle City Cafe in downtown Gastonia, and that’s where we met that day. We usually have lunch and laugh…a lot. We talk about serious stuff too, but we laugh a lot. She has a great sense of humor. To see the menu at Spindle City Cafe in Gastonia, click here. It’s worth the drive.

On that day, she brought me a gift. Ardrue has been a loyal reader of my blog (and she does some beautiful writing herself), and she remembered my post about the Bluebird of Happiness (see post here). After her husband passed away, she started taking art classes, and she had devoted a recent class to drawing a bluebird for me…something to remember my mother’s and grandfather’s fondness for bluebirds…but now, I also think of Ardrue when I look at the beautiful drawing. I have it displayed in my kitchen, so I can see it every morning. She’s quite talented, and she’s a great example of how we can all continue to learn throughout our lives. I was grateful for the time she put into it and for the gift itself.

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But the best gift I’ve received from my newfound cousin is the gift of her friendship. She wasn’t my “first friend,” as they say cousins are, but she is a dear friend, and I’m grateful to finally know her. I wish Daddy could get together with us too, because he would be thrilled to know we get together. He would have loved to sit with us over lunch, and I’m sure he would have been able to remind her of some stories from their shared childhood.  Since he’s not here, I’m urging his sister, Aunt Katie, to get up here to NC for a visit. Or maybe we all need to meet in Florida. All cousins welcome.

Whatever we do, we will laugh and cry a lot, and I’m guaranteed to hear some good family stories I’ve never heard before.

Thank God for cousins.

Remembering Daddy

With Father’s Day approaching, I’m thinking about Daddy. His grandchildren called him Big Ken. He has been gone now for 12 years. Pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

We will order new flowers for my parents’ gravesite. I’m not big on visiting cemeteries. Never have been. Daddy was a good cemetery visitor. I don’t know if it made him feel closer to his parents, or if he did it as a sense of duty, but he was good about visiting cemeteries. My brother is good about it too.

It’s not that our family ever made a big deal about Father’s Day. My parents always said they should give us (children) gifts at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They didn’t give us gifts, but it was their way of saying they were happy to be our parents.

If Daddy were here now, he’d say the same thing again.

But he’s not here. I’ve said before Daddy was funny and charming. He could also read people very well. When we were in a group somewhere, he knew if someone looked uncomfortable, and he would try to bring them into the fold. He was good like that.

I got my love of sports from my parents. My daddy liked all kinds of competition, and he always believed second place was just the first loser. We spent a lot of time watching sports on television, and it wasn’t unusual for us to attend sporting events whether we knew participants or not. When I was a little girl, we would go to minor league baseball games, high school indoor track meets, football games…any sporting events. There were even times we would be driving down the road, and he would see information about a sporting event…and of course, we went. I sat outside at a lot of hot baseball games in Alabama.

I really think basketball was his favorite, though. He was tall, and he had played basketball in high school. He understood the game, and he loved watching college basketball. I don’t remember watching a lot of professional basketball, but we watched a lot of college games on television. In a state devoted to football, my daddy loved NCAA Tournament time.

We also watched a lot of Atlanta Braves games and Chicago Cubs games. WTBS, also known as Superstation TBS, at the time was owned by Ted Turner, who also owned the Braves, so they broadcast their games. In fact, we knew a lot about the players, coaches, the announcer, and the team, because they were on television all the time.  While I enjoy baseball, as a teen, I mostly enjoyed looking at some of the cute players. When the Braves played the Dodgers, I tuned in to watch Steve Sax, who was quite the looker, but Daddy thought he was a terrible second baseman. He might even be the player about whom Daddy once said, “He has messed up second base so badly that no one will ever be able to play it.” Cubs games were broadcast on WGN, so we knew all the Cubs too. This was before Wrigley Field had lights, so all their games were day games. Often, there would be a Cubs game on our TV in the afternoon, followed by a Braves game in the evening.Good times. Daddy loved it. Our summer is all planned out, but next year, I’m taking my daughter to a Braves or Cubs game.

Daddy also loved wordplay and trivia. He was a walking wealth of useless knowledge like me and my brother. We know all kinds of stuff that doesn’t matter one bit, till someone asks a question like, “On The Andy Griffith Show, who took care of Opie before Aunt Bee moved in?” The answer there is Rose. All that trivial knowledge comes in handy sometimes, though…I’ve bonded with lots of good folks over trivial information.

In the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, when Regis Philbin hosted it, Daddy and I loved watching it when I visited. We were watching together when the first big winner answered the winning question: Which of these US Presidents appeared on the television series “Laugh-In”? The answer, of course, was Nixon, and Daddy and I both knew it…because, well…useless trivial knowledge.

There was always a dictionary around, because we loved talking about words. I remember quizzing each other on the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and root words when I was growing up. We were weird, but honestly, that silly game we played probably helped me on standardized tests.

Daddy was a good storyteller too. We loved hearing stories of his childhood, because he was born in the 1930s, and the world made some huge leaps in technology and everyday life between the 1930s and the 2000s. He grew up in the Florida panhandle, a rural area, so his childhood had been very different from ours. He told stories of telephone numbers that started with community names…like “Greenwood 368,” and having to ask the operator to connect them instad of dialing the number.

And there were always stories of “ice cream on a stick,” Eskimo Pie to you and me. When he was a little boy, you could buy “ice cream on a stick” for a nickel at the local store. Often, Daddy didn’t have a nickel, so he was out of luck. As an adult, any time he found a nickel on the ground, he would comment on how that would have bought an ice cream on a stick when he was a child. He remembered where he came from. Therefore, when his grandchildren visited, he always shared ice cream on a stick or popsicles with them. It would have brought him great joy as a child to have it, and as an adult, it brought him great joy to watch his grandchildren enjoy it.

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At some point in his youth…I’m not sure of the age…maybe in high school…he worked at a full-service gas station, so he made sure I knew to tip the attendants when I stopped at one. He also made sure I knew about cars…how to check the oil, tire pressure, water levels, and how to correct all that if needed.

When I lived near my parents, I tried to visit them every Sunday evening. We would have dinner, and before I would go back to Mobile, Daddy would have to check my car. Interestingly, he seemed to always wait till I was walking out the door to leave. He would grab his tire gauge and a paper towel and walk out to my car. He had to check the tire pressure, and he always had to check the oil and water levels. Back then, I would get aggravated that he was slowing down my departure. I would wonder aloud to Mother, “Why does he always wait till I’m ready to go?” Now, though, I look at it differently. He was in no hurry to see me drive away. I smile thinking about it now.

And before I drove away, he always made sure to take my hand and press some money into it. Sometimes it was a $20 bill…sometimes more, but he always wanted to make sure I had “WAM”…walking around money. He continued that tradition with my nephews as well, and when they were really little, they knew he always had toys in the trunk of his car. Of course, Mother had helped him pick them out, but Big Ken got all the credit. He found so much joy in seeing them run to the trunk of the car, and then watching their little faces light up.

I also smile thinking about how he would love that I am growing tomatoes this year. He loved a tomato sandwich as much as anybody does. There are quite a few on my tomato plants now…they should ripen next month, “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And if I get the opportunity to cut a giant red tomato off the vine, when I cut into it, I will think of my daddy and smile.

My daughter would have enjoyed being around my daddy. He died just before her third birthday, so she doesn’t really remember him. She was crazy about him, and he was crazy about her. He always had a way with kids. My nephews were eight years old when we lost Daddy, and they were heartbroken when he passed. In his retirement, he had loved spending time with them…scavenger hunts, dinners, playing baseball in the yard…good times.img_7188

If he were here now, he’d be proud of all of them…and he’d be proud my brother and I look out for each other.

We miss him, and we will honor his memory this Father’s Day. I’m going out to buy a box of Eskimo Pies, and we will all sit out on the patio Sunday afternoon and enjoy our “ice cream on a stick” in memory of Big Ken.