Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to All and To All a Good Night......


 When it snows after dark in a community that doesn't often get snow, kids will go to great extremes to have fun.  As the giant snowflakes fell on Christmas night, my kids raced out into the cold in an effort not to miss a good time.  It's a sure sign they are having way too much fun when your teenage daughter is towed home in her golf cart by "the cute boy" down the street, dragging a tiny wheel and more friends behind her.   

  My kitchen was turned into a staging area for wet boots, dry towels, frozen children and hot chocolate.  The kids beat a path back and forth to the hot tub until about two a.m.  With the steam coming up into the night air and nothing but the kid's heads above water, it looked like they were basking in a big vat of soup.  Leaving them to simmer, I made my way to bed around midnight.  I could still hear the sounds of giggling kids echoing through the house.   

  About 2:30 a.m., my son woke me and said, "You know how you've always told me to wake you if something cool is happening and you don't want to miss it."  While I was referring to events such as  an alien take-over, a re-run of The Walton's Family Christmas special, or some child crafted crisis quickly spinning out of their control, I had no idea what "cool" thing was occurring in the middle of the night and had to get up to see.   With great detail, my son explained how the street lights were reflecting on the snow and everything outside was reflecting light making it appear to be daylight in the middle of the night.  At 2:30 a.m. I donned by still wet snow boots and a jacket and wandered out into the cold with my son expecting to see this great light beaming through the night.

  We walked outside and all appeared normal to me.  My son was in awe of the orange sky and the glistening trees all reflecting light across the neighborhood.  We stood there together in the middle of the night just looking out into the world.  I have seen the snow light up the night many times and it is beautiful.  I suppose my children have not seen this as much as I have and I am glad that they noticed.  As I stood outside with my son under the orange sky, by a steaming hot tub, looking out into the semi-dark street,  I wished that I could take him back to 1972 to the small bedroom window that I once peered out of, to watch in awe how the snowy night glowed and the streets lit up like Christmas. It is a beautiful sight to behold whether you are eight years old with your nose pressed against a window or you are 48 standing there in a robe and snow boots.  I'm glad my son noticed the magic.  I'm even happier that he woke me to join him.   

  So, it was a White Christmas in our southern town and that doesn't occur but about once a century.  We grabbed as much life from it as we could, and sometime before the sun rose, we all collapsed in our beds from our dreams of a white Christmas. 




Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End of the World as We Know It

npr.org photo
    According to my husband, the Discovery Channel and a Mayan Calendar, long since given up for iCal or the Outlook calendar, the end of the world is scheduled to occur tomorrow, December 21, 2012. As luck would have it, a mighty storm blew in on the morning of Dec 20th.  We woke to total darkness and a primordial wind certain to be the messenger of prophetic things to come.  Had it only been Dec 21, a lot of people might have been asking a few more important questions….  “Why didn’t I believe my husband?”  “Is this really the end?”  “If I’m leaving, should I turn the iron off?”   

    With the world shrouded in darkness, I headed out into the unknown and knew this could be the beginning of the end as I got stuck in the early morning double drive-thru lane of McDonald’s, unable to move forward and unable to let those behind me place their breakfast orders.  I had become a place holder in a line of coffee crazed people, all watching the skies and waiting for the cash register to reset as the power grid faded.   As I sat there, I wondered what would happen if I had only one day left to affect great change in my life and assure the wellness of my soul.  Could purgatory possibly be a never ending drive-thru lane with 70’s music blaring for eternity and the smell of coffee just out of reach.   What if the entrance to heaven was blocked by a giant SUV that I simply could not get around, no matter which path I choose?  This was not a place I wanted to be.  What if I had missed the opportunity to do good for others and the end was now here?  Was my grand finale going to be simply me with my head on my steering wheel waiting for a cup of joe?  A new realization hit me that there was still a lot of work to be done and this could not be the beginning of the end.


    As the skies of gloom swirled overhead, and the smell of breakfast treats filled my car, I drove on mapping out a new plan for the end of the world that had nothing to do with December 21st.  My emergency preparedness stockpile of peanut butter and silver nuggets weren’t enough to survive a cataclysmic change in life as we know it.   It would require more than a package of non-hybrid survival seeds and fleece lined mittens. What is needed in the end of times is not a hoarding of food product and weaponry, but a change in culture where the goodness of one becomes contagious and spreads like a virus.   A stranger sitting in a diner, anonymously paying for dinner for others, or a retired lady giving an extra tip to the car hop could affect small change that they may carry forward.  Countries are not going to lay down their weapons and I don’t expect them too, but the goodness of man still holds great power and great promise and we can’t forget that we have the power to help one another even in the smallest and most anonymous of ways.   Kindness is more powerful than the greatest destructive force.  It is a tool we can all claim without a permit, a license, or a real understanding of it's long lasting affect.
    So, the world didn’t end today and I don’t expect it to end tomorrow, either.  Those are things we have no control over and they aren’t worth the time we take to worry about them.  I’ve checked my soul, checked my lists and checked out of the double drive-thru.  It is time to move out and do something good for someone else before the end of days actually does arrive or I am blocked from doing good things by another roadblock or giant SUV in my path.
 
Note:  It is already Dec 21 in Japan and the world is still kicking!  wooohooo

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hanging Santa

 


  Christmas tradition is important in our household and each year we attempt to drive around town to see the holiday lights.  I often fail at doing this in a timely manner and on New Year's Eve, the last night of the local park's "Tour of Lights", my children and I are known to fly into the park, right at closing time, in one final attempt to capture a look at the elaborate light displays. As we are driving past, in a last minute holiday panic, the lights are going out and stakes are being pulled up as it is long past time to go home.  I feel successful if I can stay just two or three lights ahead of the crew breaking down the holiday display.  In my rush, I always forget about the volunteer at the end of the tunnel of lights who is waiting with a festive bucket, in hand, to collect donations to support this attraction.  It never fails that there are no one dollar bills in my purse and I'm forced to decide between a twenty dollar bill, a box of Altoids, or a prescription for some pain killer that I never filled.   While I personally would prefer the latter, I reluctantly hand over my twenty dollar bill and drive out of the impending darkness that is quickly closing in on us.  

  The Christmas display, however, that my children and I love the best is the Hanging Santa in a very upscale neighborhood.  It is a marker of the holiday and Christmas would not be complete without it.  In a beautiful two story home, the owners have proudly displayed a life-size Santa Claus in their upstairs window.  The problem is the fact that Santa's head is cocked over to the side and if you are positioned just right on the street below, a light fixture behind Santa creates the illusion of something rising up from his head, or possibly neck, creating a disturbing image of a hanging icon.  But because we have a twisted sense of humor and we know this is not intentional, we love the Hanging Santa and look forward to his arrival every year.  I do hope they don't ever forget to display him at Christmas.  It's better than the "Tour of Lights" and brings smiles to everyone in my vehicle and those hanging out of the sunroof, trying to capture photos of this jolly elf.  

  The grand prize for holiday decorations, however, goes to a small tattered home off the main highway.  It sits in the middle of a row of forgotten houses, some condemned and some simply still trying to provide refuge to any family that lands on its doorstep.  A strand of garland has been draped over a chain link fence and a string of lights lays across the front steps.  A cardboard nativity scene has been placed in the back yard clearly telling all that this family still believes in a higher power when material goods are few and far between here and blessings may be harder to understand.   It just goes to show you that joy can be found in the most unlikely of places.  Sometimes, you have to simply open your eyes and look for it.   While the path to happiness is not always marked with a string of lights or flashing arrows, the path is there and some times we all need to set down our burdens for a minute and enjoy the view.  




  

  


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Peace, Love and What???


  There is nothing more precious than child innocence.  While it appears that this message may, indeed, be upside down, it seems that an upended pink ribbon is a call for better testing for earlier detection of breast cancer.  Who better to deliver such a message than a group of young girls with bright futures ahead of them?  While my daughter actually has no idea that she is holding the poster upside down, her mistake quietly sends a much more powerful message across this field. Who knows, but any one of these young ladies, excited about their part in participating in a campaign of hope, could go on to be the one to discover just such a test or cure.   So even if the symbols are upside down, or even fall to the ground, our youth are learning to be a part of something bigger than themselves and might just one day deliver this message exactly as they innocently displayed this Fall day in their youth.  

Picture by Kathi Kolb
www.accidentalamazon.com









Sunday, November 25, 2012

Don't Open Till Christmas



   While it was important to me to teach my children the joy found in tradition, I may have inadvertently taught them that change is not a good thing.  As my kids are now in their teens, they have certain expectations of how things are done and will not deviate from the accepted practices of their youth.  Christmas traditions are now set in stone at my house and are under full management of my children.

   Each year, my kids and I put up our family Christmas tree.  My daughter will have already erected a hot pink or glitter covered tree in her room complete with the traditional tree topper tiara because nothing says Christmas like a crown of jewels.  Her tree is decorated with tiny ornaments shaped like shoes and ornaments with pictures of loved family pets.  After her room is all aglow with Christmas lights and glitter we will focus our efforts on the family tree in our living room.  

   There is a very specific method in which we follow to put up this tree.  I will start by climbing into the attic screaming at those below to please catch the giant box or their mother, either of which will be falling from the ceiling at any moment.  I drag the age old box full of branches, which is not only larger than I, but heavier, as well, to the edge of the folding staircase and hope that someone is below to play catch.  The three of us begin sorting branches by length, matching coordinating letters of the alphabet with slots "C"  through "M" in the center pole.  I should have known I was setting myself up for future failure when, years ago, I threw out all of the bottom branches labeled "M".  They were too close to the ground and left no room for gifts or a mother and two children to crawl under the tree and stare up through the branches at all the lights and ornaments, each with their own story.  It is usually about the time we have finished most of the tree that we realize we put all the branches in the wrong slots because we weren't suppose to fill the bottom row.  My children will quickly disappear, leaving me to rework the entire tree, raising each limb one level.  

   After the tree is complete, we tackle lighting.  My son is in charge of untangling all the lights and stretching them out to ensure they work.  While I meticulously place each light so that wires don't show, the kids start crafting their own lighting plans that usually involve decorating my daughter with miniature lights.  Before too long, I have to unwind not only the lights, but the kids, the dog and anyone else who moved too slowly across my living room. 

   After the limbs are in the right place and we have achieved the perfect degree of twinkling, it is time to place the ornaments on the tree.  This is an age old tradition that my children will not share with anyone.  The three of us sit on the living room floor and "oohh" and "aahhhh" as we unpack Hallmark ornaments collected through the years.  The kids remember where each of their ornaments were placed the year before and seek out coveted places on the tree.  The first ornaments to be sought out are two turtles with hinged shells holding signs that say "Don't Open Until Christmas."  Inside is a sleeping turtle waiting for Christmas day. The original turtle belonged to my son.  My daughter had terrible turtle envy as she watched her brother open and close the turtle's shell through the years, regardless of a sign that clearly prohibited such.  Being a good mom, I found an identical ornament on EBay and now we have two turtles, one with a letter A permanently inscribed on the belly for my daughter.  

  


   Somewhere in our box or ornaments, is a "Hunchback of Notre Dame" ornament.  It has always frightened my daughter, so my son makes sure to hang it as close as possible to her favorite ornament. She will look up with pride to see if her turtle's shell is properly closed and will gasp in horror when she sees the hunched over man suspended from the branch next to her turtle.  It's not long until we have a missing turtle, the scary man is hidden in the back of the tree, someone is in tears and I'm decorating by myself.  


   



I will stop to remind the kids how much we love decorating the tree and soon we are hanging tiny angels, hand made ornaments and miniature record players that play Christmas Carols.  My son has more ornaments than my daughter because he is older and it doesn't take long before she is on the edge of tears as she believes that he has more special ornaments than she. This is usually another opportune moment for the Hunchback to reappear, this time sitting on a turtle. Tears ensue and I'm hanging ornaments alone again. 

   
I'll begin a serious hunt to unpack all of my daughter's "special" ornaments so that she will clearly see that she has an equal amount of love hanging from the tree.  After the last of the Hot Wheels ornaments and tiny mice on sleds are hung, we begin hanging all of the ornaments the kids have made through the years.  We have strands of Cheerios and Fruit loops preserved in lacquer and love and paper angels made out of coffee filters.  My daughter has painted a series of wonderful ornaments and my son has many that look like he may have contracted out a team of artists to create. I believe his teachers may have helped him with his ornament making, but the love is still there.    
   




Before long, we have a tree full of memories that has been born out of years of love and tradition. I suppose my children are right that some things simply cannot be changed. 





Allie's Tree







Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Last of The Slip and Slides

Photo Property of www.TimSackett.com

   There are two things in this world that draw me in like a siren’s call and stop me in my tracks.  One is the stand of last minute goodies strategically placed near a cash register in case you forgot something.  Who doesn’t need a miniature bottle of wiper fluid or a deck of magic cards?  My attention is captured by these products that call my name and I’m often found placing them in my basket and looking over my shoulder in embarrassment to see who observed my impulsive buy.  The other attention grabber is the headline menu on Yahoo news.  Who can resist those teaser headlines such as “What is That Thing Over Denver” or “Ten Most Beloved Banned Products”?  The latter was discovered this morning and I instantly went to see what these beloved products were. 

    I was horrified to learn that I own every single one of these wonderful yet dangerous items that have delivered so much joy to my family.  The first lethal item on the list was Lawn Darts.  I suppose I can understand how chucking a metal spear at your friends might be considered unsafe, especially after a few margaritas and game changing rules such as wearing a blindfold.  I can accept that one without too much argument.  The next item to soon be removed from shelves is the Slip 'n Slide.  Who hasn’t enjoyed the summer fun of diving head first into the lawn that has baked into a nice metamorphic rock under the heat of a southern sun.  With bloody knees and bruised elbows, we have tackled the Slip 'n Slide as kids and adults, demonstrating our skill at sliding down a 30 ft long piece of wet vinyl like Olympians.  I was once able to perform this feat with a perfectly chilled bottle of Sam Adams in my hand and neither the bottle, nor my bones broke.  I vote that Slip 'n Slide remain on the shelves.
    Next on the list came Bucky Balls.  I have a collection of these sitting on my dining room table that we play with every morning.  It is a grouping of small magnetic spheres that you can sculpt into fun shapes like the Eiffel Tower or DNA.  It seems that if one is crazy enough to eat a set of Bucky Balls, these little magnetic wonders can reconnect in your intestine and pinch off vital organs.  If someone is going to eat Bucky Balls, they are just as likely to eat the muffler on my car or a handful of safety pins, all which could pose equally dangerous internal threats.   Bucky Balls should be removed from the list and common sense should be given more credit. 
   
The list included other items, all found in my house…. electric blankets, fondue sets, hammocks, beanie bag chairs and bunk beds.  I’m not sure, but I believe I have witnessed my children asleep on a beanie chair on the top bunk of their bed, wrapped in an electric blanket.  Had they known what a fondue set was, they would have been dipping bread into a cheesy sauce with the extending forks I had procured from the check-out stand at Wal-Mart.   We are evidently the epitome of safety violations and yet, I’ve never lost a kid, pinched off an organ or taken out an eye with a lawn dart.    
   

    Before these products disappear from our lives, I plan to host a party using each of these soon to be extinct items.  My friend Jenny can whip up some fondue while Kelly and Chris cover the drive with vinyl sheeting.   The kids can gather all the hammocks, beanie chairs, portable pocket chairs and five gallon buckets for seating.  If we aren’t tossing lawn darts at each other, we can bring out the practice arrows and sling shots.  I do hope nobody confuses the Bucky balls on my dining room table with hors d’oeuvres.  In the event of a pinched intestine, I do have a plan involving a giant industrial magnet attached to my washing machine that I use to disrupt spin cycles (a whole other story).  It may be possible to retrieve the Bucky Balls if needed.   
    While the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is concerned about our safety, they should truly spend one day in the Brodnax household and they would understand why these products are vital to the happiness of a generation.  If we swallow a Beanie Bag Chair, or upset the polarity of our inner magnetic field with our electric blankets, I take full responsibility and will not blame the CPSC. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sleeping With One Eye Open

 
    My son is a Disk Jockey and he works later than most kids his age because of the nature of his business.  Of course, he only has to to work twice a month to make the same money I once made at seventeen flipping hamburgers and wearing that horrible "Wendy's" blue cotton uniform that looked much like a French maid with its puffy sleeves and low cut neckline.  I try hard to stay awake to make sure my son returns home safely, but at those late hours I am known to cat nap while he is out.  I have mulitple alarms set on my phone to go off every hour on the hour so I can stalk him properly and make sure he isn't late and lying in a ravine somewhere.   I lie on the couch and doze in and out with one eye open and one hand on my phone.  My son knows the rule that he must wake me upon return so I can turn off the alarms and then move into a regular sleep pattern.   The problem with this is that my cognitive reasoning is dulled after going in and out of sleep several times and I tend to agree with most anything said to me as my body aches to return to sleep.  My children have discovered this flaw in my plan and have used it to their benefit. 

    I recently discovered my children's brilliant scheming when my daughter was going to be out later than normal and I made the same deal with her.  "Make sure you wake me up when you get home so I won't worry."  My children don't understand how I could be worrying if I'm asleep, but real sleep is far from what I go through while waiting for them to return.  My son shook his head and continued on with his dinner.  I overheard him tell my daughter that all she had to do was tell me the next morning that she did wake me and I would never know the difference! Gads!   Had I failed as a parent!   

    Truth be told,  I suppose I've done something right because I do have good kids and I don't worry too terribly much.  I know they have been placed in safe situations and pray they will return at the correct time.  But this new piece of information left me concerned. As the clock nears midnight, I simply can't keep my eyes open and I begin setting alarm clocks.  Recently, my son came in around midnight smelling of a perfectly baked triple tiered sweet 16 cake.  Knowing he was home safely, I rolled over, turned off the alarm clocks and returned to REM sleep.  About twenty minutes later, he woke me again to inform me he was going to the movies.  "Movies are fun.  What a great idea!" I thought, in my half awake haze located somewhere between reality and dreamland.  As my son and friends were headed out of the door, my mind kicked in and I remembered that the theater was fifty miles away and it was already after midnight.  Those kids just think I sleep through all of this.  Needless to say, nobody went to the movies and I returned to my bed with a house full of children trying to figure out what to do next. 

    I now realize that they were up the rest of the night, based on the evidence strewn from my kitchen to the pool house and the teenage boy asleep on my couch whose name I don't know.  I think you have to look for blessings and I should be glad that it wasn't a teenage couple on my couch.  It can always be worse, you know.   Deciding coffee would make a wonderful addition to my morning,  I headed to the kitchen, but it appears that one of my children was the self appointed coffee barista last night as the bag of grounds was empty and the frappe machine was still humming a low sound of overuse.    When I was my kid's age, we had the hand-crank Snoopy Snow Cone machine with off-brand Kool Aid mixes. Nowadays, these kids are downloading instant coffee beverage recipes and blending up mixtures of caffeine and confections surely to keep them wired long enough to cook all the frozen pizzas in the house.  Is this the entrance ramp to the path of destruction, I ask!   I suppose it could be much worse.

    As my children sleep uninterrupted, I'm left with the following morning beverage choices, none of which I find appealing...   the bottom of a bottle of Mountain Dew Black (I think you can boost your car's mpg rating with that stuff), the last of a gallon of room temperature milk left on my counter from last night, or some lemongrass black tea obviously purchased by me when I thought I would try this healthy vegan eating thing that lasted about three days.   My mother lives down the street and I could grab the dogs, walk over with them, dig out my old Snoopy Snow Cone machine and make some double raspberry snow cone drink.  Or.... there is the McDonald's drive thru!  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

So, The Tin Man Needed A Heart



   At a recent benefit, I heard a speaker take the Wizard of Oz story and parlay it into a magnificent tale of giving, caring and courage.  A tin man, who was empty on the inside, needed a heart.  A lost man made of fluff needed a brain and a lion simply needed his courage back. Everyone knows how the story ends as we discover that we all fit these roles from time to time and that Toto still remains an irritating dog to this day. There were other lessons learned from this great story, however, and I think they are often overlooked. 

   If you are mean person or even a wicked witch, a giant house can and should fall on top of you, leaving nothing but a great pair of shoes for the taking.  A good heart could have served that witch well. I have known a few people that I wished had larger hearts, or any heart or even a house on top of them, although I realize that makes my heart a little smaller for wanting a giant dwelling to land on these people. But, perhaps it would knock some kindness into them.     

   This great story also taught us that those without hearts gather friends like flying monkeys. This alone, should be a red flag that one should change their ways and seek better company. I'm always on the lookout for flying monkeys as I want to make sure my heart is well and I've not fallen prey to bitterness and any loss of joy. Once you start running with this crowd, it's hard to break away unless you melt your hardened heart.  

   I realize that heart health is very important and that we should fill our hearts with joy and kindness. We should seek out higher standards of giving and have the courage and knowledge to do the right thing, even when attacked by flying monkeys.    

   So, whether it is my children who have been affected by heartless people, myself who has taken a blow, or a tin man who stands alone in the forest, it is my hope that heart health kicks in and all of these good people will move forward with light in their hearts and courage to lead with kindness even when there are witches on the perimeter and falling houses looming overhead. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reach Out and Touch the World



    It was around 11:00 at night when I discovered my daughter still awake in her bed with string cheese hanging from her mouth as she "Face-Timed" her friend who lives four hours away.  While she was having fun streaming video of the stringy dairy product hanging from her mouth, she informed me that she had forgotten to do her Science homework on DNA and that she needed me to wash a pair of jeans. This instantly told me I would be up early in the morning washing clothes and googling up things such as how many chromosones a cat has.  I had forgotten about the small dog living in my laundry room who had just been neutered and the fact that he would need my attention too.   My morning schedule was already being stretched to the hilt and I hadn't even gone to bed yet.  Oddly, I happen to have a representation of the building blocks of life made out of Starburst and Licorice and I hoped we could work it into her Science homework to save us a little time in the morning.  

    While mornings are stressful, I am thankful that my son operates on autopilot and needs little assistance getting off to school.  He is wonderfully independent yet still allows me to drop a pop-tart crust and a Zrytec in his mouth as he hurries out the door. He'll take a big swig from the milk jug, squirt a jet of Hershy's syrup in his mouth and shake his head to stir.  This is far from the healthy breakfast I wish he was having, but it does get him off to school with something in his stomach and all histamine-induced wheal responses temporarily held at bay.  I am next out the door and some time after, my daughter and husband will make their way out.  

    On my ride to work this morning, I played with my new phone that allows me to do hands free texting.  I've discovered a whole new world of communication that has shaved minutes off of my schedule once occupied with useless small motor movement for texting with two thumbs. I sent messages to everyone I know even if I had nothing to say.  My son finally sent me a message that said, "I'm at school - stop texting me."  I was truly a kid with a new toy.

    Realizing that everyone was just as busy as I, I gave up on my unsolicited messaging and began asking random questions to my personal phone assistant who just happened to  know the chromosomal count of a cat. Still asking useless questions, I discovered there are two other people with my name and realized about that time that I probably needed real people to talk to.  I could text the other two Melissa Bs without lifting a finger, but they might find that odd.  I believe I would.   

    I do wonder what we did before we traveled with Smart Phones and small computers in our pockets that allow us to reach out and touch the world.   Oh yes - we reached out and touched the world.  We talked to people eye to eye. We read golf magazines in doctor's waiting rooms and we walked around ignorant of the number of chromosones a cat has. Our phone bills were $42 instead of $342.  We used pay phones in bad parts of town and the germs on the handset didn't kill us.  We talked to strangers in gas stations as we asked for directions and we had real conversations over dinner.  We went to bed after prayers and a story and we didn't stream images of food products in our mouths. Don't get me wrong, I love modern technology, but while it is intended to make the world smaller, I believe it just may be separating us from one another as we operate behind a world of text, screens and unnecessary messages.   My children will text each other from one room away instead of getting up and walking into the other room to speak.  After completing this week's Science review on DNA, I can see where we are headed for genetic adaptations that will result in a society full of footless, big eyed, thumbless people that know nothing about golf, prayers or being lost in the middle of nowhere.  I only pray that our body types won't change so that we are as tall as we are wide just so we will always fit properly in 12" x 12" photos as Instagram is now the standard for a generation of people who take and post perfectly square pictures of everything they see, do or eat.  


    As I write this, I realize that I should just put all the phones away at bedtime and everyone could get some sleep.  Our bodies could relax and no genetic adaptations would be required.  No images of half eaten food products would be sent from my house and mornings would welcome a family full of rested individuals prepared for the day. 




    

  


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Highway Maker

Photo property of Erik Johansson 

    The road to the city was once a four lane interstate that deteriorated over the years under the weight of big trucks.  While I was not invited to the Highway Department planning meeting, I learned late that the road would be replaced.  One day the highway was there and then suddenly it wasn't.  Giant equipment moved in like something out of a Dr. Seuss book and broke concrete, stirred dust, ripped out the highway and carried it away.  It seemed to happen overnight.  I still question where one carries off an entire interstate to, but I'm certain there is a mountain of concrete around here somewhere. 

   The southbound lanes are now shared for traffic coming and going and all of us can watch as the other side of the highway is carried away and is now being rebuilt.  It is a strange sight to see miles of dirt where once a highway stood.  But the most amazing thing is the giant machine they brought in, that we have named The Highway Maker.  It appears that as this monster machine slowly moves forward, it spits out a freshly poured thick slab of interstate.  Much like the EZ Bake oven, there is nothing on one side and yet magically, a perfect product rolls out the opposite side of the machine.   It's nothing short of magical. Insistent that we capture a photo of this giant wonder, I pressured my children to hang out of the car windows with cell phones in hand as I drove precariously close to a concrete retainer wall that separated us from oncoming death, screaming, "Did you get it? Did you get it?" My son gave it his best, but we were unable to capture a decent photo of this machine in its full glory as we drove by at reduced speeds in single file.  Had we taken the picture below, it would be proof that we had made a wrong turn and were currently driving in Portugal. 

Picture by www.GOMACO.com
    I am incredibly intrigued with the idea of being able to drive a machine that spits out a new road to anywhere.  The power of such a tool is endless. I picture Dr. Seuss's Sneeches with stars on their bellies driving The Highway Maker over mountains and through deserts and possibly across oceans at very high rates of speed. Before long, we would have a spaghetti bowl of highways and byways and exits and more.   People would be coming and going and crossing each other's path until it was a giant maze of confusion. The road making would never cease because the Highway Maker, properly known as the Slipform Paver, is wider than the road itself, so it obviously would have to keep making road to continue forward to anywhere. It's mind boggling when you think about it.  


    With half the highway gone, we now drive on the left and share lanes with oncoming traffic.  I have always been happy knowing that we drive on the right.  I find comfort in that simple rule.  Upset that constant and things begin to get strange.  My daughter is most concerned about this as she has always had some internal formula for determining if traffic is coming or going and while we've found no logic in her assessment of travel patterns, she is undoubtedly certain which side is coming and which side is going. On our way to the city, on the wrong side of the highway, she declared that we were "going."  The people on the other side of the concrete wall were "coming."  I asked if we would be coming or going when we were on the other side and she was quick to let me know that we would obviously be going. It leaves me bumfuzzled.  

    The Highway Maker is definitely going and will be in a perpetual state of "going" as it lays down an endless road of concrete to new and wondrous places.  Trapped by the nature of it's own existence, it will never be coming or returning, as a road once traveled is all the Highway Maker will ever know. 

   I wish for just an hour or two that my kids and I could jump aboard this fantastic machine, sit under the cool umbrella, shift the gears, raise the flag, mold some concrete, sip on a cool drink and lay down a new path at 105 feet per minute.  It would be empowering! 

 ------------------------------

Thank you Eric for letting me use your very cool photo! -m



Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dog Days of Summer


   As a hurricane nears ours shores and a faint, cool breeze blows the remnants of summer away, the Fall football season is upon us and with that comes football games, cheerleaders, and a strong need for a professional organizer and a personal dry cleaner armed with a "Tide To Go" stick.  Let me explain...
 
   My daughter is one of those cheerleaders and great effort has gone into preparations for our Fall kick off event known as "Dog Days" where kids are given their first opportunity to take to the football field and show the world their skills.   After selling hundreds of dollars worth of ads and bulldog magnets, securing just the right outfits with matching bows, t-shirts and rain gear, and paying for private lessons with Cirque du Soleil to perfect a tumbling pass on the sidelines, we were ready for Dog Days and all the joy that comes with it.    

   The afternoon of the event, my child was missing in action as she and her father were tooling around town running errands, sipping on snow cones and enjoying their afternoon without a care in the world.  They are much alike and operate in their own timezone, not shared with any other people that I know. Like a crazy woman, I tracked them down and redirected them back to our house so we could get ready and go.  In minutes, she was dressed, packed and out the door.

   As we arrived at the field, my daughter hopped out of the car with great excitement.  Before I could exit the vehicle, she had rounded the hood and was coming at me like a freight train with that look on her face of complete panic.  I've seen this look many times before and knew that it meant we had either forgotten something vitally important, I had just run over a kitten, or that I was about to be introduced to    some type of problem that would require precision time management skills and a race to some store twenty miles away. 

   This time, it was simply a bow we had forgotten, and I raced home to retrieve the black and silver hair accessory that went with her crisp, white uniform.  I had five minutes to drive ten miles and decided it would be wise to entertain moving closer to the school and save myself a nervous breakdown sure to be drawn out slowly over the next five years of school.     

   Back at the stadium again, the girls in white, ran off to practice and we took our places in the stands armed with a variety of cameras, zoom lenses and mobile upload devices.   It was sweltering hot as it had been all summer and the occasional hint of a breeze was a welcome relief. We had been in drought conditions for the past three months and I would like to state that the odds of locating a puddle of mud were a million to one, unless you were my child and you were dressed in a bright white, shiny uniform with matching bow.  It didn't take long before I spied her coming at me, once again, like a steaming freight train, seeking me out in the midst of a crowd, wearing that same look of panic.  I took a deep breath and waited to see what impossible task was about to be thrown at me in hopes of a quick resolution.  I heard the panic in her voice and sensed a tear in her eye as she called out "Mom!"    She looked perfectly fine, so I couldn't imagine what could be wrong, until she turned around and it was clear to all that she was covered in mud from the bottom of her skirt to her neckline.  "How?" is all I could muster up.  It had been over a hundred degrees for months.  There was no water anywhere around.  And yet, somehow, she had managed to tumble right into the only mud puddle within 500 miles.  With a precision landing, her feet stuck firmly in the small body of watery goo that instantly shot mud splatters straight up the backside of her crisp, clean uniform.   

   With no time to race home, I pulled her into the nearest restroom, stripped her of her muddy white uniform, hand-washed it in the sink, beat it against my own jeans to try to dry it as much as I could and sent her back out on the field.  No one would know that her uniform was soaking wet. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for me, as I took my place back in the stands looking like I had been hosed down from my waist to my knees.   Eventually, Dog Days began and as the band marched around the field and the teams took their places, I looked out and saw both of my children, all of their friends and a sea of proud parents, none of whom would be focused on my child's wet uniform.  I settled back and settled down and enjoyed the show!


   Before the first game is upon us, I know that we must come up with a better plan that places both of us in the same timezone with a pre-flight checklist we should review before leaving the house.  I cannot continue to race against traffic or take over public restrooms without prematurely aging and knocking off years of my life.  It's time to truly get in the game.


   






Sunday, August 19, 2012

Moose Cleaners Doesn't Clean Moose




   There is a small business in town which goes by the name Moose Cleaners.  The name, alone, brings me happiness and while I have never actually taken any clothing to Moose Cleaners, I enjoy knowing such a place exists.  We have passed by Moose Cleaners a million times as it serves as a landmark that sits on our path from the bookstore to Olive Garden.  

    Just this weekend, we turned that familiar corner on our way to get tasty Italian food and discovered, much to our chagrin, that Moose Cleaners was no more.  It had been replaced by Asian Nails and a Liquor Store.  We all stared in silence as we grasped the fact that change had come and our favorite cleaners, that we never used, was now gone. My daughter spoke up from the back seat and said, "Where will people get their moose cleaned now?"  This question begged more questions like, "Really?"  and "How many people do you know that have a moose... a moose that needs to be cleaned?"  She smiled and said, "Yeah, but wasn't it nice to know you could clean your moose if you wanted to."  I realized that my child did not truly think one could clean their moose there, but had grasped the fact that change had taken something away, even if it was just her belief in the possibility of something very cool.  Perhaps we should have supported Moose Cleaners and dropped off some dirty laundry there.  I could always do with less laundry.   Of course, an interesting thought crossed my mind.... what if I toted in a basket full of wrinkled shirts and pants only to discover that they only cleaned Moose.   That would have made my day! 



7Q8GH4AK5FUQ





Friday, August 3, 2012

In Search of Downy Goodness




If ever an intervention was needed, it would be led by a group of concerned friends and family as they tackled my large appliance issues.  I am currently on my third washing machine in a year as I cannot find one that actually cleans clothes and leaves them smelling Downy fresh.   

My first choice for cleaning laundry was a matching set of front loading appliances that were energy efficient and saved on water.  It only took a few wash cycles to realize that a tablespoon of water, spritzed on dirty laundry and spun at high rates of speed, would not clean one's clothes. I sat in front of the tiny oval window of the washer and watched as my clothes were spun around for almost an hour and wondered when the water would actually fill the unit and begin washing away dirt and grime.  After 57 minutes of gaping through the window, waiting to see bubbly suds, I had a better understanding of energy efficiency and water savings.  It wasn't long before the Lowe's truck arrived to haul away my high tech washer and replace it with a Whirlpool Cabrio, top loading unit, that appeared to be built to fill with sudsy water. I suspected I had violated some unspoken appliance code by breaking a set as the delivery man looked at me in disapproval. 

  Satisfied with my new purchase, I loaded the new unit with shirts and shorts and all kinds of dirty laundry and waited for my clean clothes.  A locking mechanism in the lid prevented me from looking in to see if the unit was full of water.  It was the first red flag that I had no control over this washer.  If I stopped the unit in mid wash, it would drain the water before it would unlock and allow me to peer inside as if it was hiding some great energy efficiency secret.   No matter how I tried, I was never able peel back the layers of locks and drain cycles to see if my clothes were swimming in glorious suds.   After 57 minutes of trying to outsmart my washer, the lock finally opened and my clothes were ready.  As I pulled them out, I noticed that they felt almost dry and were so wrinkled that no fabric softener or dryer sheet could ever get them smooth again.  

  A little internet search led me to groups of angry people who detest the Cabrio washer and it's wrinkled clothes.  I was not alone in my despair. Over the course of several months, I attempted to jimmy the lock and gain a better understanding of the ridiculously high rate of speed in which my washer spins my laundry. It became a madness of mine to resolve an issue that Whirlpool would not acknowledge and to figure out how to wash clothes in a tub of soapy water and have them finish in a semi-dry state without wrinkles.  It's not a big thing to ask for, but it's been completely out of my reach for almost a year. I studied this washer and learned about the Coriolis effect and the centripetal acceleration that spins my clothes into a giant wad of wrinkles. Without a physics teacher living in my laundry room to solve this problem, and no help from Whirlpool, I accepted defeat and ordered yet another washer.  

  I went to the store, with a crazed look in my eye, and my clothes not quite Downy fresh, and asked for the most energy inefficient, non-locking, environmentally unfriendly tub of a washer that they had.   My requirements were simple:  Fill with water, don't lock me out, and clean my clothes.  My very basic, super size washer arrived this week.  The same delivery man was sent to my home and unfortunately, he remembered me.  As he hauled away the perfectly fine $800 washer and replaced it with a simpler, kinder washer, he gave me that same look of disapproval.   As he stood in my all too familiar laundry room of mis-matched appliances, he looked me in the eye and asked, "Why?" All I could say is that I have washing machine issues.  As he drove off, he said he would see me again in a few weeks.  Sadly, I knew he was probably right. 

  I was instantly thrilled with my new unit that washed an entire load of clothes in 22 minutes and left them smooth and looking good.  It's been almost a week of laundry satisfaction and then, just this morning, I pulled my son's clean shirt out of the washer and noticed the faint smell of his cologne still lingering on the shirt.  Instant panic sat in as I suspected that this unit, while full of water, doesn't actually agitate properly, leaving the washing process completely ineffective. I'm back at square one and afraid to tell anyone of my new realization, as they may think I'm crazy.  I'll sit in front of this washer today and watch to see if an acceptable level of shaking and stirring is occurring.   I do hope it was my imagination and that nothing is wrong with my washer, because my next and only choice is a river rock and rapidly flowing water.   It is with high hopes that I will wait to see if my agitator agitates, my washer washes and my dryer dries. 





Friday, July 27, 2012

Who Forgot to Bring the Pack Mule



    I've discovered, recently, that people get to the beach in a variety of ways.  Some take shuttles, some walk foot-trails through the mangrove and others step right out their door to the sandy shores. Our path to the beach, this summer, included a double digit number of stairs that led us to the water's edge.  Navigating this staircase would take some pre-planning and possibly some beta blockers to ensure I made it back from the beach alive.


    At ten years of age, I would dart out that door to the beach with nothing but a bathing suit and a child-like excitement about what the day held in store.  In my 20's, I would grab some sunscreen and a cool beverage as I began my trek to the beach.  At 47, it's just not that simple anymore. I came to this great realization when I discovered that I had wedged myself between the front door and the staircase with a six foot raft and a foam boogie board.  One hand held an ipod dock, a bottle of sunscreen and the raft.  The other hand held a freshly made pina colada, a fluffy towel straight out of the dryer and my cell phone. A large bag full of snorkels, masks, chips, water shoes and enough medical supplies to perform surgery on the beach, hung from one shoulder.  One wrong move and it would all come tumbling down.  If I turned to open the door, the front of the raft blocked my exit. If I turned the opposite direction, the staircase caught the back of the raft and once again, my path of egress was blocked.  It was a vicious circle I had found myself in and there was no getting out until one of my kids flew through the door, breaking the raft free of its bonds, allowing me to leave without pouring a perfectly chilled coconut beverage all over myself.   It didn't help that I held my car keys in my mouth and was unable to yell for help. 


    Eventually, I did break free and made my way down the 57 wooden steps to the sea.  I'm certain I looked like some kind of peddler toting enough goods to set up a small convenience store on the beach.   Families rolled in with tents and coolers and wagons full of children all ready for a full day on the shore.  I sensed them eyeing my clever drink with frosty goodness and a tiny umbrella, knowing that the closest pool bar was twenty miles away.   Jimmy Buffett sang to me from my i-dock, the kids were slathered in SPF 30 titanium dioxide, and I settled back on my April Fresh fluffy towel to sip my drink and watch the kids.  I looked around at the small villages that we, as parents, had established on the beach to properly care for all the needs of our families and had to wonder who forgot to bring the pack mule.  Getting back up those steps of death would require assistance from a pack animal or a team of cardiologists.  I took comfort in my drink and left that worry for the day's end.  I was on the beach where worries disappear.   




Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Magical Lure of The Emerald Coast

 


 

   There are some places in this world that are so wonderful that it's worth driving fourteen hours for, even if three of those hours are in bumper to bumper traffic moving at five miles an hour or less. This year's travel challenge is the Emerald Coast on the Fourth of July Holiday.  Families from all over the southeast made their pilgrimage to the Florida beaches for that traditional four o'clock check-in at one of the thousands of condos on the water.  Ours is situated between Destin and Panama City Beach somewhere east of pricey Seaside and west of Barrett Square, with it's cobblestone streets and picture perfect families on bikes. 

   On one of our many summer trips to Florida, I longed to be that family of happy cyclists and we loaded up five bicycles in the back of a truck that followed my car all the way to the beach.  As we took to the streets with no helmets on, I was quick to interpret the looks from fellow cyclists that let me know I was endangering my children who wore no protective gear, other than sunscreen.  We were from the country where kids drove all terrain vehicles before they could walk.  I think their heads were in much more danger then.  We made it about 200 feet from the condo when I began to hear the first complaint that it was much too hot for this.  I clung to that image of us rolling down the sidewalk with the breeze in our hair and happiness in our hearts.  We pushed on a few blocks more and stopped for t-shirts and water.  It was fast approaching a hundred degrees and nobody wanted to be peddling a bike around.  As we dripped sweat and gasped for air, I realized it was not happiness in our hearts, but possibly a blockage and lack of oxygen. I led us home, before one of us, most likely me, had a stroke.  We arrived safely back to the condo and never touched a bicycle again.  We now play a game called, "What's the cyclist really thinking?" as we drive past them in our air-conditioned vehicle headed somewhere in the cool.
    
   After coming to terms with who we really are, our condo selection fits us perfectly, now.  We are a few steps from the beach and a few steps from the pool, giving us immediate access to water activities all day long. In between the two, we have a balcony where we can sip tropical drinks and watch the waves roll in, my favorite vacation activity of all.  My bicycle is 600 miles away and I could not be happier. 

    The first day here, I sat on the beach and looked to my right where I could see Seaside and I looked to my left where I could see the towers of Panama City Beach.   I thought back to the many trips I have made to these beaches and one of the most pleasant ones was to the Sandpiper Beacon Hotel in Panama City Beach when I was ten years old.




    I remember leaving my grandparents home, just after midnight, to make that long journey to the coast in a station wagon with my mother, father, brother and cousins.  There was a special place in the back of the vehicle where two tiny seats faced sideways. If you were small enough and could squeeze your feet between the suitcases and the Coleman cooler, you could make this a comfy spot for most of the ride, as long as you weren't prone to car sickness, vertigo, seizures, or simply bothered by seeing the country fly past you at 70 miles an hour.  You saw nothing coming and nothing going for ten hours, simply a blur of farmland and rice fields flying past in a continuous sweep of color that the eyes could not follow for too long.    

    While parts of the trip have faded from memory, I have snapshots in my mind of my family standing on the balcony of our hotel, happy and complete for the time being.   I remember our friend Bennie Hughes arriving in his brand new corvette, looking like Burt Reynolds. He was much like the favorite uncle who made everything wonderful and fun. Sandwiches and Kool-Aid were the menu choices for lunch and it didn't get any better. We learned that a non-sailing family should learn the difference in a shark and a dolphin before renting a catamaran and taking to the open water.  We moved as a large group and got air-brush t-shirts, went deep sea fishing, rode the rides at the Miracle Strip and went to Spinnakers nightclub, where I saw my first glimpse of a bar. The people in those memories are important to me and most have gone their separate ways now.   As I sit on the beach today and think back to the fun that has been found here, I wonder where these people from my past have all gone and hope that they still love the beach as much as I do.  It was magical then and still holds that same gift for those who are brave enough to face the traffic and the masses and make their way here, whether it's in a corvette, an air-conditioned SUV, or a truck full of bikes. 

    My children have the same love of the water as I do and our trips to the beach are just as great as a 1970's trip to the Sandpiper Beacon. Instead of grape Kool-aid, it is a pink-lemonade snow cone from Frost Bites that we crave. We still haven't learned to correctly identify dark objects in the water and confuse dolphins with sharks and seaweed with sting rays.  We continue to venture out into the open water, paddling our foam boards, knowing we look like seals and hoping the sharks fed early.  The beach and the water call to us, often from 600 miles away. I hope that one day my children take their place on the sand, early in the morning, with a cup of coffee in hand, nobody around, look east and then look west and smile as those snapshots in their mind come back one after another. I'm certain some of the faces in their photos will be gone, just as they are in mine, but I hope they understand the treasure that is held in those memories and know that it is greater than any loss can ever take away from them.   



 Panama City Beach
1970's
Not my family... but certainly could have been.
Someone, smarter than I, thought to catch it on film.