This morning as I sat in church, I watched a guy accidentally pick up the silver base under the communion trays at the same time that he picked up his two allotted trays.  This was the base that stays on the table for the trays to be set on.  Typically, the base gets left behind when the trays are taken to be passed out.  As the guy tried to pass the tray of juice to the first aisle, a man removed the base and handed it back to him.  At this point, the guy was stuck, standing with a base that was supposed to be up on the communion table.  Now, for some people, this would be humiliating.  This might even cause them never to want to help serve communion again.  That was not the case for this guy.  He just looked at the base, laughed, shrugged and walked back up to the front of the church to put it back on the communion table.  The problem was solved.  Most people didn’t even notice it (since they obviously are better at focusing in church than I am), and the guy was not embarrassed.

The fact that the guy is a big, tall, handsome college football player might have something to do with his reaction.  He just flashed his award-winning smile, and all was good with the world.  (Think of Gaston from “Beauty and The Beast”, and you’ll have a mental picture of this guy.)  I’m sure he’s been embarrassed with a fumble or a tackle here and there while playing football, so in the case of the communion fumble, he didn’t take himself too seriously but just remedied the situation and laughed it off.  That made my mind wander to thinking about how different people handle embarrassment in different ways.  I used to not be very good at handling embarrassment.  In fact, I’m pretty sure something like picking up the base with the communion trays would have cause me to never serve again.  That was before I had kids and before I started randomly falling down in various public venues.

As I sat in church, my mind drifted from thinking about Mr. Football’s reaction to my reactions when I am embarrassed.  I used to embarrass so easily, and I never forgave myself for stupid things I did.  If I wanted to, to this day I could tell you stupid things I did 30 years ago.  I’m not going to, but I could.  (Stop begging.  I’m not telling you.)  Now, while I still don’t forgive myself very easily, I have at least learned how to laugh and shake it off instead of taking everything so personally.  I’ve had lots of practice laughing at myself…I’m a faller, remember.

During the collection of the contribution, I had to go the restroom.  I was trying to wait until we sang again, but then the speaker said, “and now I have a few verses for you.”  I knew I couldn’t wait for a few verses, so I got up and left.  As I gracefully walked up the aisle in my cute but deadly high heeled sandals that are like flip flops on steroids, my foot slipped off the shoe and my ankle gave out.  I almost landed on a man sitting on the end of the aisle.  Talk about an embarrassing situation!  The whole congregation was sitting down, and I was standing in the aisle.  The fact that I almost took a dive had to be obvious to anyone with eyes.

Let me make a few observations about this situation.  First, that’s what I get for letting my mind wander in church.  I shouldn’t have been thinking about embarrassment and how it can be handled.  It was like wishing it upon myself.  Second, I should never put lotion on my feet when I am going to wear the deadly heels.  Third, high heels are not good when you have a broken big toe that hasn’t heeled after 3 months.  Fourth, I really should know better than to wear heels at all.

So, as I almost fell onto the man’s lap, I heard him say, “Oh.  Are you okay?”  All eyes in that part of the church were on me, because everyone else was letting their mind wander from the contribution lesson that was going on.  So, this was it: the moment of truth.  How would I respond to the embarrassment?  My response was a quiet (hopefully quiet) little chuckle.  I kept my head down and kept walking.  I heard several people snicker around me, but I’m just going to assume they were laughing with me and not at me.

I got out of the auditorium and stopped to let my ankle stop throbbing.  I was embarrassed, but I thought, “Ah.  They’ve seen worse.”  I went to the restroom and went back to my seat.  This time, I waited until the congregation was standing to sing.  That way, at least if I tripped again, it wouldn’t be so obvious.

There was a time that I would have been humiliated by falling down in church.  Gone are those days.  Now, I’m a mother, and I can’t be embarrassed.  (Okay, I can, but it doesn’t last long.)

My lack of embarrassment might have something to do with how many times my children have humiliated me.  I can think of many ways they have embarrassed me, but I won’t name them all to spare their reputations.  I’ll just say this, and any mother will feel my pain.  The Beetle was a puker.  He barfed everywhere.  He has thrown up in front of countless restaurants in the greater Tampa Bay area; some of them multiple times.

The worst time the Beetle threw up was at a quaint little 5 star restaurant at a cute little inn.  We had taken my mother-in-law there for Mother’s Day.  The Beetle had been drinking chocolate milk when he declared that he had to throw up.  Now, he had done this often enough, that if he made the declaration, we moved.  I jumped up and moved with him as quickly as I could.  Unfortunately, we were seated in the very back of a long, winding restaurant, and the restroom was at the very front.  I held a cloth napkin over his mouth as I ran with him.  He was too big for me to carry, so I was literally dragging him through the place.  He threw up from the very back of the restaurant to the very front.  And, he didn’t just throw up.  He threw up chocolate milk.  Any mothers who are reading this know that there is no smell worse than milk vomit, except for chocolate milk vomit.  It is horrific.

We left a trail of chocolate milk puke throughout the restaurant.  I ended up throwing away the cloth and throwing away the Beetle’s shirt.  Luckily, I had on a shirt with a tank top underneath, so I took off my tank top for him to wear.  That was a Mother’s Day breakfast we will never forget.  Apparently, the restaurant employees did not forget it either, because they remembered us a year later. 

So, when I do stupid things like fall into the laps of men at church, I have to laugh at myself.  Really, in the grand scheme of things, does it matter?  I’m pretty sure I’m not successfully maintaining an image of having “it” all together anyway, so what harm can a little bobble here and there do?  If anything, it proves that I am human.  Okay, so maybe I’m really human.  I am probably the most human human you will ever meet.  Being human is one of my specialties.  –Al, the human


Skins & Sales


At Rendezvous, you can see all kinds of skins.  As in animal skins.  As in dead things.  My kids love this.  I do not.

I’m the type of girl who avoids the coat department in stores.  I don’t want anything made of fur to touch me.  I don’t even like stuffed animals if they feel too real.  The idea of wearing or touching a dead thing just grosses me out.  Now, for those of you who are about to point out that my leather shoes are a dead thing, please don’t.  I know they are, but I don’t have the urge to pet my shoes.  However, if a coat is soft and furry, it shouldn’t be wrapped around me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan or anything that involves “veg.”  I eat meat.  I eat eggs and cheese and hamburgers; quite often, in fact.  I wear leather.  I can’t think too much about the meat I eat, or I might become a vegetarian; however, I’m not one.

All around the commune (Colony?  Settlement?), you can see dead things waving in the wind.  There are skins and hides.  There are skulls and bones.  There are purses made of turtle shells.  (The ultimate gross-out in my book.)  I even saw a purse made of a frog yesterday.  I’m not kidding.  You put your money in the frog’s mouth, and it drops into the belly.  I should have taken a picture, but I was too busy being disgusted.  I’m such a girl.

The Beetle has a badger face hanging on his wall at home.  The Goose bought it for him last year, because his name means “Badger.”  Talk about cursing myself with the name of my child.  Little did I know that naming a child “Badger” would mean that he would fight like a wild animal when he was cornered!  Oh, sorry.  Back to the 1840’s.

Skins drying is a pretty common sight in the field (Village?  ‘Hood?).  There is a guy who tans hides using the brains of animals.  I don’t even want to know.

Another common sight, especially on the public days, is blanket sales.  This is the 1840’s version of a yard sale.  People put their stuff out on blankets by their tents.  As you walk by, you can stop and look to see what you want to buy.  This is a great way for the historically clueless, like me, to find items to wear and use at Rendezvous. 

I must say, I love the blanket sales.  I love a good bargain.  I will shop through the clearance rack all day long, even if it means sifting through junk to find a treasure.  I love the hunt for a good deal, so the blanket sales appeal to me.  I can not walk by a blanket full of stuff without stopping to see what they have to offer.

I love the sense of community that these blanket sales create.  I love the fact that people can leave their treasures out in the open and no one steals them.  I love the fact that if you stop to look, the owner does not rush over and stand over you like you are going to take something.  That is one enchanting thing about Rendezvous.  People are honest and trusting.  It's a great feeling.

That's one part of returning to the past that I do like.  I like that I can send my kids off to play or work or hang out with friends at Rendezvous and not have to worry about where they are.  I like that the Goose can leave her shoes out in the open, and they are there when she comes back.   I like the sense of community and friendship and comradery .  I guess when you're standing around in a field wearing old clothes, you have to trust the people around you.  They are obviously as crazy as you are, so they must be good people.  As much as I can make fun of their crazy outfits and strange ways, I actually enjoy being around the Rendezvous nuts.  It's a fun time of friends, family and possibly some fungal infections.  I can say I do it for my kids, but the truth is, I enjoy it too.  All in all, it was a good week.  I enjoyed returning to the past, and I will look forward to doing it again next year.  (Just don't tell anyone.)  -Al

There’s a man at Rendezvous named “Burrito Bob.”  I’m not actually sure if that’s his name or if that’s just what my kids have named him.  Regardless, he’s Bob to me.  He sells burritos from his tent.  He has a sign that says, “World Famous Since 1989.”  I’m not sure what he is famous for, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the burritos.

Mr. E and the kids love these burritos.  In fact, they were so hooked on them that they successfully duplicated them at home.  They opened a can of Hormel chili with no beans and put some on a tortilla shell with some cheese.  Then, Mr. Everything folded them just perfectly (of course they were perfect), and he and the kids toasted them in a pan.  They loved them.  I found them disgusting.

The home version is not nearly as disgusting as the Rendezvous version.  I think that’s because of Burrito Bob’s appearance.  He runs around all week barefoot.  He has a scraggily beard, and he just looks dirty.  He typically doesn’t have a shirt on, though he does put it on for special occasions, like days when the general public will be at Rendezvous.  More than anything, he’s got a wild look in his eyes.  He might be the nicest guy you’ve ever met (I don’t know because I’ve never talked to him), but I just don’t have a good feeling about him.  I certainly don’t want to eat his burritos.  I caught a rare glimpse of Bob with a shirt.  Let me just assure you that the photo does not do him justice.

Disguise added to protect Bob
What we find interesting is to watch Burrito Bob’s prices during the week.  To start out, burritos are $1.  I’m pretty sure that’s to get the men and children hooked.  Then, the prices climb through the week and vary day to day.  He uses a chalkboard for his price sign.  Smart man.  On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when the public is allowed into Rendezvous wearing their normal 2013 attire, Burrito Bob’s prices skyrocket to $5 or $6.  Plus, he looks neatly dressed (as much as possible) that day.  It’s amazing.

I’ve noticed that all the prices go up during the public days.  I guess they figure if people want to pay money to gawk at us as we wear old clothes and stand in a field, they should pay for the privilege.

The butt-cheeks are there for the whole week, but they certainly come out for the public days.  They are just down the road from Bob and his burritos.  Those would be the Native Americans.  They are a breed all on their own.

If you look around, you can see the butt-cheeks of men old and young.  And again, the photos do not show the whole picture.  You have to see the loin cloths in person when the wind is blowing.  A still life just isn’t the same.

I’m pretty sure this boy is not Native American, unless it goes way, way back in his ancestry.  I hope he was wearing sunscreen today, or his pale skin is going to be hurting tonight!  Don’t you know, some day, when he’s married with kids, he is going to blame his mother for letting him wear this?  Somehow, it’s always the mother’s fault.

The Native Americans have their own section of camp, and they pretty much keep to themselves.  It is fascinating to me to see their tipis with smoke coming up from them.  They have a circle in the middle of their camp that has to do with their religious ceremonies.  It has poles with feathers tied to them marking the sacred circle.  At night and in the mornings, you can hear their drums playing.  They really do add an element of authenticity to the whole Rendezvous experience.  That doesn’t mean I have gotten used to seeing the men in loin cloths.  There is nothing that can make you get used to that.  It’s a shock every time I see a half-naked (more like ¾ naked) Native American walk by.

Now, my little Indian is a different story.  Isn’t she the cutest?  Of course, she had to add her own little “Goose” element to the outfit with the striped socks.  Only my child…
She wanted to be a Native American.  I couldn’t afford $300 in leather to make her a costume, so I did the next best thing.  The first year she wore this outfit, she looked like a homeless child wearing a brown bag.  Luckily, the more we have washed this outfit, the more realistic looking it has become.  Also luckily, I’m not very good at sewing, and I made the outfit way too big!  It has lasted 3 years now.  Maybe, someday, the Goose can wear this and get married at Rendezvous.  Oh, I really shouldn’t even joke about that.  With my luck, she’ll really want to. -Al

P.S. Here's a picture of the Beetle too.  I didn't mention him in the story, but he's too cute not to show.  I think he is in the witness protection program.  That's why he's hiding his identity with his tomahawk.  And, yes, apparently, I am crazy enough to trust my children with sharp objects.  Notice the Goose's knife above...

Today was full of plaid.  In fact, it was a sea of plaid.  Why?  Because today was the Parade of Tartans and Highlands Games at Alafia River Rendezvous.

The dictionary defines “highlander,” as “a native of the Highlands of Scotland.”  Rendezvous defines “highlander” as anyone who is willing to wear plaid.  The Highlands Parade is a chance for grown men to get together and wear skirts and feel good about themselves while doing so.

My daddy has always joked that our family is Scotch-Irish, mainly Scotch, because there is an alcoholic tendency in our history.  I’m pretty sure the same can be said of the people wearing kilts today.  They were mainly made up of Scotch, or more accurately, mead.  So, today was all about Scotland.

The old men wore kilts.

The middle aged men wore kilts.

The little boys wore kilts.  
There were kilts everywhere.

I must admit that I missed the parade and games this morning.  Sitting on my warm sofa in my pajamas was much more appealing to me than standing in a field wearing old clothes.  However, I got there in time to see the plaid.  They all wore it.  It was everywhere.  There will be plaid in my sleep tonight.  I don’t regret missing the parade, because the leftovers were still there.

Besides, I’ve seen the games before.  Once you’ve seen grown men wearing skirts and trying to throw big, heavy poles, you never forget it.  I can’t imagine it changes that much from year to year.

And, now for the hooters…..

The hooters are the bathrooms.  That’s what they are called.  Why?  I have absolutely no idea.  I’ve never asked.  I’m not sure I want to hear the answer.  However, it is not uncommon at all to hear someone at Rendezvous say, “I need to go to the hooter.”  Strange but true.

For a week to two weeks, depending on the level of dedication, these people live in a field wearing old clothes, and they use port-a-johns.  Picture the lady’s dress from yesterday’s photo, or better yet, go look at it.  Now, imagine trying to use a nasty, stinky port-a-john wearing all those layers.  The mission is to keep your skirt out of the hole.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  You have to be careful, though, because there is no shower if you mess up.  Ewwww…..

Some of the really prepared people have their own restroom and shower facilities.  When I first heard that, I though, “Oh, that wouldn’t be so bad!  I could camp here if I had my own bathroom and shower!”  Then, I put some thought into it.  The shower would be great, and I know there are ways to heat the water using propane or solar power.  The bathroom, however, doesn’t sound so great.  In theory, it does.  In reality, I know that I am usually the one who ends up cleaning the bathroom at home.  How would I like to have to clean a portable bathroom in the middle of a field while wearing old clothes?  No thank you.  I’ve told you before that I don’t handle bodily fluids well.  I don’t think I’m up for that job.  Come to think of it, though, Mr. Everything is good at everything.  How do you think he would be at cleaning a chamber pot?  I bet he could do it!  Something to think about…  -Al

Today was a great day at the Alafia River Rendezvous.  Mr. E and I spent half the day in the car, working.  Since laptops are not period-correct for 1840, we resorted to sitting in the parking lot.  Picture this…the two of us, in the same outfits as my photo from the last blog, sitting in the back seat of the Suburban with the doors open.  We’ve got laptops on our laps, and we are working feverishly.  I should’ve had someone take a picture.  However, that would have involved speaking to someone and risking a conversation, something I generally avoid.

So, when we finally went inside the compound (Fort?  Settlement?), we found ourselves surrounded by frybread and fruitcakes.

First, the frybread….
What you see here is a “Mountain Taco” made on frybread.  What is frybread, you ask?  Well, it’s the end of my low-carb eating plan, that’s what.  It is dough that has been deep fried.  Think elephant ears, and you’re on the right track.  Now, this frybread can be prepared as a dessert (my favorite) or as a meal, such as the taco.  Everything tastes better when it’s sitting on fried dough.  I'd even be willing to eat venison if they put it on frybread.  (I really hope that was beef I had today.)

It must be really good for me to eat it.  Just remember that these people are camping in the middle of a field, with no electricity and no running water.  Most of them, including the man who prepared my meal, did not look like they had bathed in weeks.  I don’t know how they are washing their hands or their dishes, and I’m not sure how they are managing to keep foods to a sufficient temperature.  Yet, I still ate the frybread taco.  It’s really that good.  In fact, I wish I had one right now.  Oh, well, there’s always tomorrow.

And, the fruitcakes…. Boy, oh boy, the fruitcakes.

Let me preface this by saying that I, indeed, was out there, dressed just as strangely as these people.  So, I really shouldn’t say a whole lot about them.  But don’t worry.  That won’t stop me.

Here is an example of how many women are dressed at Rendezvous.  Rumor has it that they even wear period-correct undergarments.  Really?  Why??  I’m pretty sure improvements in underwear have been made since the 1840's for a reason.  It wasn’t because someone sat around saying, “Hmmm.  This corset is really comfortable with the bones sticking into my skin, but I think I’ll change it just for the heck of it!”  No, I’m pretty sure we have gained a level of comfort since then.  So, why do we want to go back?

What kills me is how serious these people are!  They are all very, very busy.  They are walking here and there.  They are working.  They are shopping.  They are cooking.  These people are on the go, and they are living life just like their forefathers did.  I’m doing good just to walk in the long skirt, let alone work in it!  And why work?  We’re in the middle of a field.  I want to tell them, “Sit down and relax, people.  Have some frybread.  You’ll feel better.”

Meanwhile, the kids are busy playing.  They run and throw sticks and balls.  They meet and greet friends.  They climb trees.  Here’s a photo of my always-compliant child when I told him to climb the tree so I could take his picture.  Thanks, Beetle, for cooperating, as usual.

Here’s a photo of Beetle and Dillon sitting in a tree when they didn’t know I was looking.  My child and my pseudo-child touching a real-live tree instead of holding an X-Box controller….it warms a mother’s heart.

Once Mr. Everything and I went in the village (Colony?  Commune?) today, we basically spent our time joking about what everyone else was wearing.  


This guy gave us a lot of material.  I followed him to the restroom (We’ll be discussing the restrooms another day..) and waited for him to come out just so I could get his photo for you.  That’s how dedicated to you, my readers, I really am.

And what is this group of normal, average citizens doing?  Why, they are attending a wedding reception, of course!  I’m not kidding.  Someone got married there today.  They wore their 1840's garb and not even a fancy white dress or anything.  I could only tell who the bride was because she was carrying a bouquet of wild flowers.  Do you think they spent their wedding night in a canvas tent?  I’m sorry, but that’s over the top.  What a great way to start a marriage, with a little insanity!  Next week, maybe they can arrange for some counseling.

So all in all, it was a great day for people-watching.  The Goose is sleeping there in a tent tonight with a friend, the Beetle and Dillon are happily playing video games in the year 2013, Mr. E and I are still working, and all is right with the world.  -Al 

Last Year's Lovely Portrait
This is it, folks!  You may have not even realized it, but the 
official, “Wear Old Clothes and Stand in a Field” week has finally arrived!  Hurray!  Are you excited?!?  I know you are excited.

Okay, so in case you aren’t aware of this annual event, let me tell you about it.  My kids love it.  In fact, my kids live for it.  It’s that great.  For them.  Not for me.  Of course, it is (trumpets…dum, dum, dah!) the Alafia River Rendezvous.

What is it?  Well, it’s a chance for a bunch of crazy people to get together for a week.  Allow me to explain…

Alafia River Rendezvous is a pre-1840’s rendezvous reenactment.  It’s a way to make history come alive for grown ups and kids of all ages.  Basically, people come together for a week (I actually think some of them are there for 2 weeks or even more) and they camp together.  They wear period-correct clothing (some more than others) and camp in period-correct tents.  They reenact how a rendezvous (or a meeting to sell and trade) would have taken place.

Many of these people are hard-core.  They have authentic canvas tents.  They bring in furniture.  No lie!  They bring authentic old beds to sleep in and wooden tables to eat at.  Some of them even bring dressers and shelving units and all kinds of stuff.  They bring real dishes to eat from.  They sleep there and cook over an open flame.  I think in some cases, there is booze involved, and I know in most cases, there is insanity involved.

Now, those of you who are homeschoolers (or at least homeschoolers in spirit) are thinking, “Cool!  How can I get involved?”  The rest of you are thinking, “Why in the world would people do that?”  I must say, I have asked both questions.  Today.

So, how can you get involved?  Sew yourself some clothes that look old and come join the insanity!  Don’t brush your hair or wear a bra.  You’ll fit right in.

And why in the world?  Like I said, insanity.  It actually is a great chance for kids to learn history through living it.  My kids have learned more there in the two years we have been than they ever have from a history book.  That’s why we go.  As far as why there are grown ups with no children there, I have absolutely no idea!  I’m pretty sure it’s just an excuse to play dress up and not shower for a week.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  We aren’t quite THAT crazy.  We are day campers.  We just go during the daytime and then shower and sleep in warm beds at night.  We’re only borderline insane, but we haven’t crossed the line yet.  I have friends who have crossed over, and apparently, once you go Rendezvous, there’s nothing better to do.

I’m excited to see what this week holds.  Today, as Mr. E and I were walking around, looking at the set-ups of camps, I was smiling.  (Apparently, I don’t do that often.)  Mr. Everything asked why I was so happy.  (A rare occurrence?)  I told him that I was thrilled because I knew I had a week’s worth of blog stories at my fingertips.  I bet I’ll see a whole lot of crazy this week, and I will be sure to share it with you!  There's nothing I love better than a whole bunch of crazy!  I can’t wait.  It’s going to be fun!  -Al

I have a confession to make.  This confession may affect how you view me as a mother.  It might also affect how you view my occupation.  Sounds pretty dramatic, huh?  I live with an 11 year old girl.  I know how to do drama.

So, here goes….Here’s the confession….I loathe shopping.  Not “dislike.”  Not “would rather not.”  “Loathe.”  With a capital "L."  Your head is spinning now, right?  This is quite a piece of information I just gave you, I know.  I’ll give you a minute to process....





Okay.  Was that long enough?  For those of you who don’t know about my life, you’re wondering why this is a controversial announcement.  It’s scandalous because I am a mystery shopper.  I am also the mother of a teen and a tween, so the mall is supposed to be my second home.  By confessing that I loathe shopping, I am speaking out against a good portion of my life.

I loathe shopping for many reasons.  One reason is because I never have money.  It’s no fun to shop when you don’t have money.  I’ve been broke for so long that I don’t even have hope of getting money, so it’s not like I can look at things and say, “Someday I’ll get that.”  This empty bank account thing has been going on long enough that I’m pretty sure “someday” isn’t coming.  I don’t even dare to dream, so window shopping is futile.

The second and third reasons I loathe shopping are the Beetle and the Goose.  Don’t get me wrong.  My kids are good shoppers.  They both are pretty patient and will even go in the dreaded Joann Fabrics with me.  (Just the name, “Joann” was enough to reduce me to tears when I was a kid.  Joann meant three to five hours of watching my mother compare fabrics.  Normally, she would end up putting back 98% of what she had picked out, and we would leave with a yard and a half of fabric after investing half a day in looking.)

The Beetle is old enough that I can send him to shop on his own.  Sometimes, that’s not such a good thing.  Last time we were at the mall, he and his pseudo-cousin, Dillon (as always, names changed to protect the innocent), went off by themselves.  They came and found me because the Beetle wanted to buy a video game.  It was for mature audiences, so the clerk at GameStop (God bless him) would not let my 15 year old buy it for himself.  Sometimes, I will allow the Beetle to have mature games, depending on what the game is and what Mr. Everything says.  Mr. E knows about video games (of course he does), so I defer to him in that category.  We walked back to the store, and I looked at the game.  I called the Mr. and asked his opinion.  He laughed and said, “You know he can score points for hurting women in that game, right?”  Um, no.  When I told the Beetle, “Absolutely not!” he did not even question it and put the game back on the shelf.  Dillon said, “Dude!  Why’d you even try it?”  At that point, I knew they had tried to con me.

I don’t like shopping with the Goose for another reason.  She’s great at shopping.  She will try on anything, and I do mean anything.  Our conversations usually go something like this:

Goose: “This is cute!”
Me: “Yes, it is, but it’s too small.”
Goose: “I think it might fit.”
Me: “You haven’t worn a child’s size 12 since you were in third grade.”
Goose: “I’m pretty sure it will fit.”
Me: “I’m telling you, it won’t.”
Goose: “I think it will.”
(Repeat the last two lines five more times.)
Me: “Well, then, by all means, try it on.”

Inevitably, that conversation ends with me saying, “I told you so.”  Luckily, as she has gotten older, she has started to take my word for it a little more.  We don’t have to repeat the conversation too often now.  Now, she just likes everything she picks out in her own size and wants to try on all 48 items before we can leave the store.

The main thing that drives me crazy about shopping with either child is the begging.  Remember, I have no money, so nine and a half times out of ten, the answer is no.  It gets old saying no all the time.  Today at the grocery store, I had said no so many times that I couldn’t stop.  When I got to the register, the friendly clerk said, “Hi!  Did you find everything you needed?”  I abruptly blurted out, “No!”  My kids thought that was funny.  The cashier did not.

What kills me is how when I’m spending my money, the price is no object.  Goose and Beetle ask for $60 jeans and $10 lunches.  However, when they are spending their money, it’s a whole different ball game.  They act like the prices are an outrage.  When I’m buying McDonald’s, the Goose is convinced that nothing less than a double cheeseburger meal will fill her up.  However, if she is paying, the $1.99 Happy Meal will do just fine, thank you.  And if it’s not Tuesday or Thursday ($1.99 Happy Meal days), she’ll wait.

So, at this point, you are wondering how I have been a mystery shopper for 20 years, right?  I knew you were.  I’m psychic (or psychotic.  Whatever works.)  Well, that’s easy.

First, I get stuff for free.  That does away with the whole “no money” issue.  When I’m spending someone else’s money, I’m just like my kids.  I have the prettiest Pandora bracelet that, so far, has cost about $210.  I’m still adding beads, so it may be worth more than my car by the time I’m finished.  I didn’t pay for it, so I have no problem spending that much on beads.  This must be what it feels like to be one of my children.

The other thing that helps is the fact that many shops don’t allow kids along.  Shucks.  That means I have to go to the mall or the store all by myself.  It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.  If my kids do get to go, I tell them the requirements ahead of time.  For instance, the Goose did a clothing store with me the other day.  The spending limit was $40, but I was only allowed to buy one article of clothing.  I clearly spelled that out for Goose ahead of time, and she was fine with it.  There was no begging, because she knew Mama wasn’t paying full price at the mall for clothes out of her own pocket!  It was a great shopping experience.  Maybe I should just always tell them I am mystery shopping, even when I’m not.  They know to be on their best behavior during assignments.  Otherwise, they can kiss nice meals, nice clothes and nice vacations goodbye.

Mystery shopping gives me a mission when I’m shopping.  I only like to shop when I have money and when I have a mission.  I want to get in, get what I need and get out.  I don’t want to try on 98 different items.  I want to take one item off the shelf (preferably the clearance rack) and have it fit so I can buy it at 95% off.  I do not shop in a leisurely fashion, ever.  I don’t stroll, and I don’t window shop.  If you want to shop with me, you better keep up, because I’m on the move.  And by the way, don’t ask me to buy you anything.  The answer is no.  -Al

Normal kids have dolls and little cars and blocks to play with.  My kids are not normal. (I know that’s hard for you to believe.)  They have hard hats and latex gloves and gas masks.  This is how it has always been.  They’ve always had more safety supplies than the average construction worker.  That’s because their grandfather sells safety supplies, and it is against his religion to say no to the grandkids.

When my sister and I were little, we never had hard hats.  We didn’t have latex gloves.  That might be because they didn’t make them back them, but we didn’t have gloves made out of dinosaur skin either.  I never had a gas mask.  I was so deprived.  Daddy sold safety supplies back then, too, but he wasn’t as nice to us.  I’m not sure he even liked us.  He had no problem telling us no.  In fact, I think he made a sport of it.

One thing we did have was Gatorade.  I know, you’re thinking everyone has Gatorade.  However, if you can remember that far back, Gatorade was not always available.  It did not start being sold in stores until the middle to late ‘80s.  We had Gatorade at our house in the ‘70s.  It was powdery, lime-flavored Gatorade, but it was Gatorade none-the-less.  If you think that made us cool, you are wrong.  No one knew what Gatorade was, so it did not increase our popularity at all.  In fact, when we tried to give it to our friends, they would take one sip and say, “Ew.  What is this stuff?” 

Daddy sold Gatorade through his safety supply company because construction workers used it to stay hydrated.  Daddy used it too after he went jogging.  I didn’t drink it (and I didn’t jog.).  That lime flavor was disgusting.  It still is.

It is amazing how much grandparents transform between having their own kids and having grandkids.  Daddy was never mean, but he certainly did not have any problem telling us no or spanking us or punishing us when needed.  (That’s why I turned out so well.  My sister?  Well…)  Actually, that last statement is just a test to see if my sister actually reads my blog.

With the grandkids, Daddy is like a big marshmallow.  Actually, he’s not all that big, but he’s a marshmallow anyway.  “Granddaddy, will you buy me some candy?”  “Sure!”  “Granddaddy, will you buy me a toy?”  “Sure!”  “Grangraddy, can I have this hard hat?”  “Sure!  Take two!”  (“Grangraddy” is the Beetle.  That’s how he has always said Granddaddy’s name.)

The result is that my kids have safety supplies.  They’ll eye something in his garage, and it’s as good as theirs.  Gloves?  “Sure!”  Rubber boots?  “Why not?”  $150 sound-canceling ear muffs.  “You betcha!”  Since they were old enough to talk, my kids have played with hard hats, gloves, safety vests, traffic cones and safety glasses.  They even had those flags that construction workers use to wave traffic forward, until they started beating the snot out of each other with them.  Then, we had to take them away and put them in the collection of wayward toys.

The Beetle once had a birthday party where each child went home with a real hard hat.  No party store cheapies for us!  He also has a hat hard shaped like a cowboy hat.  (No kidding.)  The Goose had a hot pink hard hat until she decided that pink was an offensive color.  Now, I’m sure she has one or two blue ones in her room (somewhere, under all that stuff in the closet).

You would think at age 15 that the Beetle would no longer want safety supplies.  However, he still does.  He comes home constantly with a new flashlight or a new pair of safety glasses.  For a while, both kids had a box of latex gloves with their names marked on them.  We’ve used latex gloves as water balloons and hats.  We’ve used latex gloves as bean bags.  We’ve used latex gloves in all kinds of ways.  Once, we used one as the utter for a cow we made in science.  Then, we milked it.  That was fun.

Last night, the Beetle came home with his very own rain suit complete with suspenders.  He has quite a look going in those pants.  I might not have to worry about him dating for a while.

As long as Granddaddy is around, I know my kids are set with whatever they need.  Whether it’s candy, toys, games or gloves, he’s the man!  No matter what the request, if it’s for the grandkids, it’s as good as done.  -Al

Addendum to the story:  My sister, AKA The Wild Child, reminded me that Daddy also would bring home glowsticks back before stores sold them.  That did add to our coolness factor a little.  It didn't help much, but anything was better than nothing....

"I feel so betrayed."
Before anyone alerts PETA, let me say that it was non-toxic temporary hairspray that colored the dog.  We didn’t spray paint him.  He did not get cancer or the cooties from the products we used.  We didn’t even let other dogs see him like that, because we did not want him to be embarrassed.  So, relax.  We didn’t hurt the dog.  The dog is my favorite child (since he can’t say, “No.”), and I would never hurt him.  Okay, now on with the story.

Pepe Chihuahua is a very patient dog.  He puts up with a whole lot, mainly from the Goose.  He has had his toenails painted many a time.  He has been painted more than once. (Again, non-toxic.  Don’t call the cops.)  I’m not sure how our family ever existed without him.

I really had no intention of getting a dog.  I felt like I was doing good to keep one husband and two kids alive.  However, we learned on a homeschool field trip to a petting zoo that our children needed an animal.  Since I would stop breathing and die with a cat, horses aren’t supposed to live in the house and turtles don’t like to cuddle, a dog was the most logical choice.

It all started at the petting zoo.  The Beetle was almost 6, and the Goose was almost 2.  The other “normal” children were all holding and petting baby ducks and baby chicks.  Our kids were terrified and ran if any of the animals came toward them.  Mr. Everything grew more and more agitated as the day went on, mainly because he was embarrassed that his children were little weenies.  The final straw was when they were afraid of the baby bunnies.  We knew something had to be done.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the Mr.’s exact words were, “Something has to be done.”

I started researching dogs.  We knew we wanted to get one from the pound, partly because we wanted to help society (blah, blah, blah) and mostly because we did not want to have to housebreak a puppy.  I hadn’t quite housebroken the Goose at that point, and the Beetle was questionable.  I didn’t want to deal with the urine of anyone else.  I had looked and looked at the SPCA and animal shelter websites.  They posted photos of their prisoners, er, I mean, rescues on the sites.  Finally, I found a dog that I thought would work.  It was not a big dog, but it was big enough to survive my children.  It looked pretty hearty, and the website said it was in good health.

We prepared the kids to go to the SPCA.  We talked to them about the responsibilities of having a dog, and we discussed the dog we were going to see.  I told them all (including Mr. E, the Tenderhearted) that we were NOT coming home with just any dog.  If that particular dog was no longer available, we were leaving.  (Mr. E had been known to bring home strays now and then, and he couldn’t pass up sad eyes.  Remind me to tell you the story of Jake the Wonder Dog another time.) 

We went to the SPCA and found the dog from the photos.  He was everything I had dreamt of, except for the large red sign that said, “Not for families with small children.”  So, there went that plan!  I said we were leaving, and Mr. Everything suggested we just look in one other area of the shelter.  I was pretty sure that wasn’t a good idea, but I lost control of the situation.  We went into the other room, and I saw the cutest little white dog.  It had curly hair and looked like a poodle mix.  It was so sweet, and it wagged its tail at me.  I was hooked, until I heard the death rattle come from its chest.  The dog got so excited and was wagging its body, and it started hacking this terrible, awful cough.  I decided maybe that one wasn’t the dog for me.  Then, Mr. E said, “What about this one?”  I looked in the cage and saw nothing but ears and eyes looking back at me from the corner of the cage.  “What is it?”  I asked.  Mr. Everything, AKA The Dog Whisperer, got it to come from the back of the cage, and I saw one of the ugliest dogs I had ever seen.  He was trembling, and I knew I was in trouble.  I knew the sad eyes and a trembling body would be more than the Mr. could resist.  Of course, I was right, and we ended up with Pepe Chihuahua.

Pepe started out as the perfect dog.  He used his best manners and said, “Please,” and, “Thank you,” for the first two weeks.  Then, the bad habits began.  Day by day, he developed a new irritating trait.  The dog licked us, constantly.  Then, he began licking the couch.  Then, he began licking my sheets.  I would get in bed at night, and my feet would hit wet where the dog had been licking.  In case you haven’t had the joy of experiencing it, let me tell you that is a nasty feeling.  Then, Pepe showcased his most annoying habit of all.  The dog bit his toenails.  I’m not kidding.  I wish I were.  I really was beginning to wonder what kind of creature we had adopted.

Luckily, the bad habits settled down.  I think he was just nervous.  He still occasionally bites his nails.  He does lick the couch and the sheets if I don’t keep an eye on him.  More than anything now, he just goes to bed without us.  We’ll go to get in bed and find him under the covers sleeping.

Probably the worst thing he ever did happened one night about 4 years ago when I was brushing my teeth.  I was wearing my nightgown and my Crocs.  There’s a mental picture.  As I stood at the sink brushing and Mr. E sat on our bed in our nearby bedroom, I suddenly felt a warm sensation.  Then, all at once, I realized what it was.  The dog had pee-peed on my leg, and it was running down my calf into my Croc.  Crocs hold a lot of liquid, by the way, because of the shape of the shoes.  I instantly started gagging.  (I don’t handle bodily fluids well…especially canine bodily fluids.)  The Mr. was laughing hysterically.  I was yelling with my mouth full of toothpaste for him to help me.  He couldn’t help me because he couldn’t catch his breath from laughing.  My knight in shining armor.  I managed to get to the shower without spilling (gag) the urine (gag) anywhere (gag).  The fact that I didn’t kill the dog that night is a true testament to my love for him.  I guess it was payback for making him live with the Goose, the graffiti artist.

All in all, I’m glad we ended up with Pepe Chihuahua.  He’s as weird as the rest of us, so he fits right in.  I’m not sure if the dog shaped the family or the family shaped the dog, but however it worked, he ended up being the perfect dog for us.  -Al

I’m just going to say it.  I have a good life.  I don’t mean that in a bragging way.  It’s just a fact that I have to say out loud.  I have a good life.

Last night, Mr. E and I went to a restaurant in Orlando.  Our kids are big enough to stay home by themselves for a little while, so we didn’t even have to hire a babysitter.  (Not that we ever hired a babysitter…my parents have always provided their services at no charge.  Just another reason I have a good life.)   However, it was good to not have to worry about what we would do with the kids.  Of course, they were not happy about being left home alone and together, but they survived.  The house?  Well, that’s another story.  Let’s just say some chores will be done today.

We went to a Brazilian Steakhouse.  That’s the kind of place where the servers (or gauchos, as they are called) bring meat around on skewers.  How bad can life be when you’re eating unlimited steak that is brought to you on a stick?

Let me tell you, the Brazilians know how to eat.  This place had the whole spread.  They had a salad bar that, by itself, was amazing.  It had 4 or 5 kinds of cheeses, including balls of fresh mozzarella.  There were olives.  There were the things that I thought were olives that ended up being squishy onions.  They didn’t taste bad, but it was a disgusting texture when I thought I was putting an olive in my mouth.  They had hearts of palm, asparagus spears, grilled zucchini and apple salad.  There was chicken salad, pickled peppers (Peter Piper works there!) and more.  Oh yeah, and they had salad too.  We had to be careful not to eat too much because we didn’t want to get full on vegetables.

When we were ready, the gauchos brought around platters with all kinds of meats.  We just told them what cooking temperature we wanted, and they delivered.  If the gaucho didn’t have exactly what we wanted, we just told him, and someone was there within one minute with our request.  Talk about service!  If only I could train my kids to do that at home.  (If only I could train my kids to do anything at home!)

We had top sirloin and bottom sirloin and middle sirloin (is that even a thing?).  There was filet mignon and bacon wrapped filet mignon and prime rib.  They had Parmesan encrusted pork and chicken legs and leg of lamb.  They had lamb chops, too, and I tried them.  I’m pretty sure I don’t like lamb, because the lamb chops tasted like death to me.  The meat was never-ending.  All we had to do was flip our little paper coasters from red to green, and it just kept coming.

Now, this was Mr. Everything’s kind of place.  He could have as much meat as he wanted, and he had a lot.  I, on the other hand, couldn’t make it past the fried polenta cakes and the cheese bread to care about the meat.  I think I might have a carb addiction.  They had garlic mashed potatoes and fried bananas, too, but I stuck with the cheese bread and polenta.  They have more carbs.

After dinner, we had crème brulee.  Pudding will never be the same once you’ve had real crème brulee.  I topped mine off with cappuccino.  Coffee with foam…how can you beat that?  Then, when we were finished, we rolled ourselves to our car.

As we were driving home, we had an hour without the kids bickering.  I think that was my favorite part of the night.  (No, actually, it was the cheese bread.  It might be time for a carb intervention.)  We were talking about how lucky we were to have the job we have.  Who else do you know who lives in a single-wide trailer but goes out for $250 meals?  Have I mentioned that I love my job?  I am thankful that I was brave enough to answer that ad about mystery shopping years ago, and I am thankful that I have been given the opportunities that I have.

I think that on days when life seems hard and I start feeling sorry for myself, I’ll just focus on the cheese bread, and I’ll realize that life is good.  It really is.   –Al