The town I grew up in has grown up itself over the years, but when I was young, it wasn’t much more than a small retirement community. A boring existence for a kid, to be sure. I mean really, pity the poor people who lived in a place that didn’t even have a shopping mall to call their own! The nearest mall was far enough away that going there (at least with my family) often became a day-long event.

Naturally, my sister and I would get bored and fidgety during these excursions. Unless the shopping was for us, a day at the mall was a mind-numbing fate. We invariably entertained ourselves by playing hide and seek in the clothing racks of the department stores. There was something wonderfully appealing about slipping between those freshly hung clothes into spaces where I was sure no person had ever been. As long as we were reasonably quiet and stayed out of people’s way, my mother would let us carry on in this fashion for a while, but when she couldn’t tolerate our restless antics any more, out would pop one of her classic “mom-isms.” She’d point out an invisible spot on the floor and say, “See that spot? Sit on it.” I, ever the obedient child, always complied. I don’t think my sister ever did.

On at least one of those shopping trips, a beloved family friend, known to me as Aunt Marge, was visiting from out of town and witnessed just such an exchange. She was delighted that I would sit on the invisible spot. So she tried it too, and lo and behold, it worked! Even Aunt Marge had the power to make me sit on a spot that only she could see. It became something of a running joke between us. From then on, every time she visited, she would tell me to sit on the spot, and I would. Even into my college years and beyond.

I haven’t seen Aunt Marge since my wedding in 1994, which, not surprisingly, is the last time I sat on a spot for her. She’s still going strong, but she hasn’t been back here and I haven’t been there to visit since then. Smart money says the next time I see her, though, I’ll sit on that spot once more!

Mike had a great post on his blog this weekend that really resonated with me, about taking control and making your own good day vs. relying on others to do it for you. So for the second time in a week, I am stealing words I wrote elsewhere to reproduce here because I think they speak a truth about the person I want to be. This is the comment I left for Mike in response to his post:

I love this post! I always try to have this attitude but alas, sometimes fail despite my best intentions. You are absolutely right, though… we can choose to focus on either the positive around us or the negative, and that choice makes such an impact on what we believe about ourselves, and correspondingly on our quality of life. I’m happy because I choose to be happy. I could just as easily dwell on hurts and slights and disappointments, and be miserable. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel all those things, I just try not to let them consume my life.

Somewhat related but maybe not, I’ve been having a bit of “blogger’s block” for the past week or so, and I think it’s because I haven’t been writing about what’s really been on my mind. I normally don’t write, or even talk much, about my personal religious beliefs, out of consideration for those who don’t share them, but also because I’m just not comfortable doing it. It feels too personal and I’m usually afraid of exposing my lack of knowledge. But then I remembered—it’s my blog and I can write about whatever I want. I don’t think I’ll get over the writer’s block unless I get this out first.

What I want to say is that I have been experiencing something of a renewal of my faith this year. My husband led me to God before we were married, and for some reason this year I have begun remembering why. So I guess the timing was right when I read, on the recommendation of a friend, a Christian fiction trilogy that hit home for me in a way I never expected. Perhaps because I had an open mind and an open heart, but I really latched onto the spiritual symbolism in a, for me, unprecedented way. I’ve come away truly inspired, with a deeper personal commitment and more security and certainty in my faith than I’ve probably ever felt before. While reading some scenes in these books, I wanted to curl up and wrap myself in God’s love. This may be the most candid and vulnerable thing I’ve written yet in this blog. There probably won’t be much like it here, but at the moment I wanted to share my joy.

The books are called The Circle Trilogy (Black, Red, and White), by Ted Dekker, for anyone who is interested. They are a clever, entertaining, and fast-paced read. I was so hooked that I devoured the last two books in the series in a single long weekend.

Treacherous walking

Today I used up the better part of my Columbus Day holiday getting new brakes. After putting Maia on the school bus, the grinding noise emanating from the front of my car sent me straight to Midas. Since Columbus Day isn’t a work holiday for most, I was left stuck without a ride. I decided to mosey on over to the mall to kill time while I waited.

I don’t think I ever really appreciated the fact that Orlando is not a walking city until now. Nobody walks; everybody drives. I felt a bit like a pariah on my solo trek to the mall, a mere three blocks away. I had to cross some busy intersections, and I don’t think the cars knew what to do with me. Drivers in Florida are not used to pedestrians. I know, because I’m one of those drivers most of the time. Here, you enter the crosswalk at your own peril, even when the sign says WALK. Pedestrian vs. car never ends well for the pedestrian. I didn’t have any close encounters, but I was nervous the whole time.

My adventure today made me really miss Boston…

I’m not a fan of tuna. Since I don’t prepare foods I don’t eat, my family is deprived of lots of things. One of them being tuna. I’m not sure Noah has ever had it, until last night.

We were tired after a long day of playing hooky at Disney (we had a good excuse; it was Maia’s birthday!) and wanted to grab a quick bite for dinner on the way out. We settled on sandwiches, and Kent chose tuna since he never gets it at home. The plan was to share it with Noah, but Noah wasn’t having any of that. So Kent did the logical thing. He spread a little of that tuna on some bread and told him it was butter. Noah wolfed down every bite!

Did I ever mention that my husband is a genius? I would never have thought of that.

Autumn

A friend wrote to me yesterday about it being fall in his part of the country, which got me musing about my own perspective of the season. My impromptu reply stuck with me, so I’m “stealing” what I already wrote to refine and expand on here.

My whole life, I’ve always thought fall was the season that most fit my personality, if such things can be linked. It just feels like the season I “belong” in. That’s corny, I know. Especially since growing up in Florida, I never experienced an actual fall until I left for college. I mean not a REAL fall the way I always envisioned them, with foliage and apple orchards and such. But still, the idea of fall always appealed to me, and the reality turned out to be pretty much as I had imagined it. I’ll never forget the gorgeous New England autumns I spent in Boston on a picturesque campus, which only further solidified my belief that fall somehow fits my mood and general state of mind.

Maybe it’s just because I’m a fall birthday that makes it feel like “my” season, but I think it’s more than that. Probably some crazy romanticized notion about endings and beginnings and change all mixed in with cider and cinnamon and fireplaces and hot chocolate and warm colors. And the crisp temperatures that make your cheeks rosy so you can’t help but smile and be happy. Everything just seems fresher and cleaner and cozier after a muggy summer. And just a bit melancholy too, perhaps because of shortening days and earlier dusk, and trees shedding their leaves, and people beginning to spend more time indoors as the temperature drops; more of a family time, and a time for deeper conversations with friends and loved ones. The thought of fall, or at least the idealized version of fall that exists in my head, always makes me feel invigorated and introspective at the same time.

Now here is the really crazy part, and this is how I know it’s all just romance and idealism—I hate the cold weather. I’m a thin-blooded Florida girl through and through. I mean the kind of freakishly thin-blooded girl who runs a space heater in my office in the dead of summer (that A/C gets cold!), never watches TV or reads a book on the couch without curling under a blanket, pleads constantly with my husband to turn off the ceiling fans in the house, and has been known to (gasp!) turn off the A/C in the car.

So give me spring and summer over winter any day, with enough autumn thrown in to satisfy my romantic vision. I’ll bundle up, I promise. That’s part of the fun. And for the record, those same brisk autumn temperatures in Florida (which don’t happen until winter here) are just COLD, when they don’t come with all the usual fall trappings. It’s not
at all the same.

Faulty memory

Hoo boy. It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor and know how to laugh at myself about these things. Kent and I had a hearty laugh today at my expense. And he was most definitely laughing at me, not with me.

As we were driving home from church this morning, Kent brought up a story that was on CBS Sunday Morning about privacy, surveillance, and how every move you make online and in person is being tracked somewhere, by someone. My reply was that it doesn’t bother me. I’m not doing anything illegal or immoral and I have nothing to hide. You might even say I’m boringly squeaky clean (well, except for that one speeding ticket…). So I just don’t really care if I’m captured on an ATM or traffic camera or if some database somewhere knows what websites I visit or any of a million other details about my family, finances, spending habits, medical history, or anything else in my life. As long as the information isn’t being hacked into and used to steal my identity, the fact that some anonymous person out there might know these things doesn’t change anything for me. I do take the necessary shredding precautions with my personal data at home, but otherwise I don’t worry about this stuff too much. There’s not much I can do about it anyway and I have bigger fish to fry.

But this morning I was feeling impish so just for sport, I decided to shock my dear husband with the fact that somewhere out there, I might have an FBI record. It’s true. On a family vacation to Spain some number of years ago, we were on a flight that was diverted back to New York in the dead of night due to a “security incident,” which turned out to be a bomb threat from an unknown passenger aboard the aircraft. An army of fire trucks and ambulances lined the runway with their flashing lights in preparation for the worst, but we landed safely and taxied to a remote location very far from the terminal, with those flashing lights fanned out behind us reminiscent of O. J. Simpson’s slow speed chase. The FBI was brought in. Everyone on the plane was required to personally identify their luggage on the tarmac in the presence of bomb-sniffing dogs, then herded to a holding location and asked to complete a written statement about anything suspicious they may have seen. My best educated guess is that the FBI now has a dossier on me with at least that one piece of paper. For a few brief hours I, along with all my fellow passengers, was a suspect. We weren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom without an FBI escort.

The rest of the conversation went something like this.

Kent: When did this trip happen?

Me: I don’t remember. I think maybe sometime in high school?

Kent: (Hysterical laughter)

Me: What? What’s so funny?

Kent (hurt): I was there! It was May 1997. I was with you the whole time and you don’t even remember!!!

Oops.

No wonder I had never thought to tell him this story before. Let me state right now for the record that he is absolutely right. He was with me through the whole traumatic experience. This was an oops of gigantic proportions. It was a family vacation, but one taken after Kent and I were married, so he was of course there too. Much apologizing and soothing his hurt feelings ensued, along with quite a bit of laughter and teasing about my early onset Alzheimer’s. Plus the suggestion from Kent that I start taking vitamins because maybe I have not been eating right on my diet, and it might have addled my brain. I’ll be making up for this one for a very long time.

In my admittedly shaky defense, I’ve been to Spain several times growing up because it is my father’s homeland and part of my heritage, and most of his family is there. After a while the trips all kind of blend together. Obviously I would never forget that Kent and I had been to Spain together with my family; I just forgot it was THAT trip. But I do now remember hitting all the newsstands in Madrid with him, looking in the English language papers for mention of the incident, and finally finding it in USA Today.

And the sad proof that I have become addicted to blogging? The laughter had not yet subsided ringing in our ears when I said the first thing that popped into my head, “I think I just got my blog story for today.”

The hugs of a child

What is it about a well timed hug that can do wonders for your mood?

My kids give the best hugs. Noah squeezes me tight around my neck, then pulls his head away, looks me in the eyes, and plays gently with my hair. He loves to play with my hair and there is no better feeling in the world. Maia curls up next to me on the couch in a perfect fit and rests her head on my shoulder, or sometimes leans her face against mine, while we quietly watch TV together. Very different, but both very special in their own way. I got both kinds of hugs tonight. They are always there for the giving, just when I need them. But then again, is there ever a time when you don’t need a hug from your kids? I don’t take nearly the time that I should to appreciate those bonding moments.

I’m always amazed at how my kids are so quick to forgive all the times I play the part of the drill sergeant parent and get cranky and short with them out of frustration. Those freely given hugs make me feel good, but a little guilty too because I’m not always sure I’ve earned them. Regardless, I’m sure going to enjoy them, and work a little harder to deserve those sweet embraces from my children.

Finito

My article is done and as of now sent off to the editor, after quite a few late nights of spit and polish. 4500 words of pure technical mumbo jumbo. I might actually even sound like I know what I’m talking about. With time to spare too, since my submission deadline was September 30. I have no idea how the process goes from here, what kind of revisions I might have to make, or when it will be published, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

I’m exhausted. I shouldn’t be blogging at this late hour; I should be going to bed and resting my weary writing head. But this is an accomplishment worth documenting for posterity. I did it. And I’ll be back with an even bigger “I did it” when it sees the light of day.

I have a few readers of my blog who don’t usually leave comments on my posts (mostly family and friends I personally invited but who do not blog themselves). However, they never fail to let me know their thoughts on what I write. Here’s just a sampling of some of that recent feedback:

My darling husband expressed disbelief that he was only #7 on my list of celebrity crushes (I saved the best for last, I swear!), and he quibbled with one or two of my selections. He also wants to know if because I published it on the Internet, is that the same as laminating it a la Ross in Friends? (Confidential to Kent: It’s not THAT kind of list!!)

A college friend reminded me that the time we bought smutty magazines, we lost them on the campus safety shuttle. It was a frantic and embarrassing few moments as we searched for them. Fortunately we found them again before we had to explain exactly what we were looking for. She was also impressed with my memory of our trip, but the truth is I wouldn’t have remembered half of it had it not been for my scrapbook and the video.

The navigationally challenged friend who got lost in Washington, D.C.
wrote to reminisce about the hilarity of seeing the “Welcome to Maryland” sign when they had already exited that fine state some time earlier and were supposed to be safely on the OTHER side of our nation’s capital. He also laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the passenger dubbed “mapmaster.” I personally think they were all too busy reading the smutty magazines.

Another friend told me the other day that reading my posts reminded her how alike we are. Especially when it comes to shopping at Target. She said she could have written that post herself. It’s so nice to have friends who feel my pain!

My dad complained once that my references to him here involve him either lecturing me or grounding me. Hey, I can’t help it if that is the stuff that makes good stories. Besides, if the shoe fits…. Oops, now I’m going to hear it for writing about him complaining! He also really enjoys my blog and hopes I’m saving all this stuff in case I decide to write a book one day.

And now in reading this post and looking at the topics that inspire feedback from those who know me personally, it sure makes my blog sound frivolous! Celebrity crushes? Smutty magazines? Shopping? That’s not what my blog is about at all! How did that stuff sneak in here? But the stories and observations that spawned the references are funny. At least I hope so, or I wouldn’t have written about them. (Except the celebrity crushes, which came from a dreaded meme.)

Spring Break 1990

I did resolve to begin telling some college stories here, so I’ll start with a fun one. Spring Break 1990. Ah, what an adventure! I and six of my closest friends made the trip from Boston to Florida for a fabulous week of fun at my house. Three of us flew; the rest road-tripped. None of us were really into the partying spring break scene, but a quiet week near the beaches was still a goal and Port Charlotte was as good a location as any for that. Mostly because it was a free place to stay. My parents made excellent and, dare I say it, fun hosts. It was probably the first time in my life that I ever considered a week in Port Charlotte to actually be interesting!

The good times began before the trip even started, in the planning. The three of us who flew put together a travel kit for those who were driving. Our totally cool kit included emergency snack rations, reading material (including, if I remember correctly, some magazines of questionably smutty nature), a mix tape of driving and travel-themed songs, and probably a few other things to help pass the time.

But the best addition to the kit was the “Official Guide to Wasting the Next 26-28 Hours,” authored by me and one of my flying friends for those who were making the long drive. It was 10 pages chock full of trivia for the weary travelers to answer about themselves, each other, and the journey, along with some other deep and absurd questions, just to give them interesting things to talk about along the way. I still have this guide in one of my college scrapbooks—both a blank version and the one completed by that crazy group. I’m not sure how I ended up as the keeper of the completed document, but I’m glad I was. This morning I pulled it out and read the entire thing. And laughed out loud many, many times at the memories. I could share some of the responses here, but much of it relates to personal information and inside jokes, so it’s probably only funny to me and those who knew us then. Those guys were jokesters! But I also know tidbits like who caused the group to be late leaving, who took up the most space in the car, who asked “how much longer” first, who fell asleep first, who were the fastest and slowest drivers, who talked the most, and who was the crankiest traveler.

We gave them some record-keeping assignments too, so among other things they tried to keep track of the number of McDonald’s they passed (lost count after 15), the number of accidents they almost had (2), and the number of times they got lost (2). I recall that they unintentionally drove around Washington D.C. twice, and the unlucky driver who missed that turn did not live it down for the rest of our college years. We later made up a song about it to the tune of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” I still remember some of the words to it:

“______, you get so lost, sometimes. Take us around D.C. again. When I want to go to Florida, I’d rather not, in your car. Take us, around again, take us back to the place we started. All your instincts, they were wrong…”

All these years later I still think of it every time I hear that song.

The rest of the week was lots of fun (so much fun that we did it again the following year with even more people). We had several days at the beach, a couple of theme park trips, lots of singing and dancing to my mom’s jukebox and playing pinball, and a birthday celebration for one among us whose birthday fell during the week. And just generally driving around in my convertible and hanging out piled on my waterbed. Most of which is heavily documented with photographic evidence.

The stuffed purple cow of a friend factored heavily into our amusements. That cow was always under attack, and not just during spring break. We were on a mission to exterminate the ghastly bovine. At one point, it was “skewered” by my dad’s Spanish swords that hung crossed over our staircase. Another time it was set adrift on a raft in the swimming pool. I don’t recall how he got into either of those situations. I of course had nothing to do with it. There is also video footage of the cow getting stomped on and assaulted with a coat hanger, and a foiled attempt to nuke him in the microwave. One evening we came home from the day’s excursions to find that even my parents had gotten into the act. They had laid out the cow in a wooden “coffin” surrounded by candles in a makeshift memorial. I always did have cool parents—I know my friends thought so. But maybe not the friend who was the owner of the cow!

And the things we ate that week! We kept a list, which is also now part of the permanent record in my scrapbook. Let’s just say that it inspired my roommate and me to host a “Pig Out Party” in our dorm room upon our return, recreating the same junk that constituted our diet during that spring break week. It must have recently been Girl Scout cookie time in Florida, because they were a daily staple in our vacation menu. My mom always bought boxes and boxes of those cookies and froze them so we’d have them throughout the year. That year, I’m sure we cleaned her out.

These are just a few of the memories that came to mind when I dragged out my college scrapbooks this morning for the first time in ages. There are oh so many more. I’m still in touch with many of the friends who were on this trip—three of whom I saw last weekend, and one or two of them even read this blog!

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