It was going to be such a simple trip.  It should only 2 ½ hours to drive from High Springs to Brandon.  We were ready to go, and we should have been in Brandon in plenty of time.  And then reality set in.

Our goal was to leave home by noon.  Realistically, I knew that meant we would leave by 1:00.  At 1:27 when the car wasn’t loaded yet, I began to get worried.  We had to make it to the bank by 2:00, because the bank closed then.  We had checks to deposit, and if we didn’t make it there, we would have no money until Monday.  It would take 20 minutes to get to the bank from where we live.  That meant, at this point, we had 13 minutes for Mr. E to pack his clothes and for us to load the car and be on our way.  No problem.

By 1:43, we were in the car and headed up the 2 mile dirt road.  As long as we did 45 MPH up the dirt road and we didn’t hit any red lights along the way, we’d make it in time.  Luck was on our side, and we made it to the bank parking lot at 1:58.  Mr. Everything went running in, and we thought he had made it in time.  As he stood at the counter, speaking to the teller, she stamped the backs of the checks and got ready to deposit them.  Then, the server went down.  It was 2:00, and the main office had shut down this branch’s system.  We didn’t make it in time.  The teller told Mr. Everything to deposit the checks through the ATM, and it would automatically give us $200 in our account.  That was a great idea, except it didn’t work.  So, we left the bank with no money in hand and no money in the bank.  And this sums up the story of our lives.

On the way to the bank, the Goose had said the words that are way too familiar: “Oh no!  My phone!”  I had flashbacks of the plane trip home from Antigua when she left her phone in the pocket of the seat in front of her.  It was at this point that I began to wonder why we had given the 12 year old a phone.  I told her to suck it up and deal with it because we weren’t driving all the way back for her phone.  She said she had left it in the camp's ATV, and it would get wet and ruined if we left it for days while we were in Brandon.  So, with a sigh and a growl, we headed back to camp.

The Goose had not exactly been on her best behavior all day.  In fact, even before she said she had forgotten her phone, we all were ready to vote her off the island.  It had been a bad day so far, and she was exceptionally whiny and difficult.  We all have our moments, but the Goose is really, really good at being difficult.  To add to it, the fact that we were having to drive all the way back to camp for her phone was not setting well with the rest of us.

Meanwhile, I knew that my parents and sister, brother-in-law, nieces and nephew were all waiting for us to get to Brandon.  We were supposed to be at my parents’ house by mid-afternoon or early evening to celebrate my daddy’s birthday.  The chances of that happening were quickly diminishing.

On the drive back to camp to get the stupid cell phone, the Goose got pretty disrespectful.  I won’t even go into the details, because I would not want details of my misbehavior put on the internet for all to read.  I will say, though, that this disrespect resulted in Mr. E slamming on brakes and coming to a complete stop on the dirt road.  It also resulted in both of us being turned around in our seats, really showing great control by not knocking her teeth down her throat.  The final result was the tiny turtle’s bowl getting flipped in the back of the Suburban and all our luggage getting wet with turtle water.  Things were not looking good for the Goose.

The reason we discovered that our stuff was wet was because we unpacked the Suburban when we got home.  The Goose’s behavior was bad enough that we were just not going to go to Brandon.  The Beetle and I were going to go, but the Goose and Mr. E were going to stay home.  I did not want it to happen this way.  I didn’t want to go to Brandon without half of my family along.  I also was afraid at this point that Mr. Everything might do permanent damage to the child.  (Not really.  Don’t call DCF.  If we didn’t hurt her when she said what she said, we aren’t going to.) 

By this point, the Goose was crying, I had cried and the Beetle was lying on his floor in his room.  I convinced Mr. E to let everyone go to Brandon.  The Goose was begging for our forgiveness and saying she didn’t want to ruin granddaddy’s birthday.  We fell for it, so after drying up the turtle water, we began loading the car.  Again.  I assured Mr. E that the Goose would be on her best behavior because of the explosion we had just had.  It would be a great trip, I said.

The Goose headed to get back in to the Suburban, carrying her turtle tank.  I informed her that the turtle was not going.  She started to cry and beg.  She said the turtle would die without her.  I said we would really miss Skittles.  She would die without her turtle.  I said we would miss her too.  I was over it at this point, and I knew that turtle was not going.  In fact, I remember saying something about having to pry the turtle from my cold, dead hands to get it in the car.  You see, my children might be strong willed, but they didn’t fall far from this tree.  When I choose a battle, I win.  Period.

So, in the car we went…one father, one mother, one brother, one sister and one very large Chihuahua.  No turtle.  Then, the wailing began.  For a good 15 minutes, the Goose repeated, “I want my turtle.  I want my turtle.  I want my turtle,” over and over and over.   Mr. E and I were too exhausted for anger at this point, so we just found it hilarious.  She would say it and we would laugh.  This probably was not good parenting at its finest, but you know, we all have a breaking point.  I was laughing so hard I had tears flowing.  The Beetle video taped the Goose saying, "I want my turtle...."  Come to think of it, I really hope it’s not posted on Youtube.

The 2 ½ hour trip ended up taking about 6 hours total.  By the time we got to my parents’ house, we were fried.  My family had already eaten after waiting all afternoon and evening for us.  I did manage to pick up a cake and some ice cream, and we shoved a few presents at my father.  We didn’t even have a card for him.  Daughter of the year, that’s me.

So, our simple trip home turned into a long and drawn out journey.  I hope the trip home is not nearly as long.  If it is, I might just walk.  I think it would be less painful.    -Al

The View from My Office
Well, let me just say that I did not mean to depress everyone with yesterday's posting!  I thought it was a funny little story.  I did not know that I would move y'all to tears, and I told you upfront not to feel sorry for me!  There's nothing to feel sorry about...I live in a beautiful place where I'm surrounded by nature, and I have a front porch swing.  I can drink coffee on my front porch while I work.  Life is good!

I'm sorry for being a Debbie Downer.  Oh, wait.  Sorry, Debbie.  That's offensive, isn't it?  Okay, how about, sorry for being Afflictive Al.  (Hey.  Don't judge me.  YOU try to find a synonym for "depressing" that starts with an A.)  I did not mean to make anyone think I was unhappy or depressed or lonely.  I'm not, most of the time.  I just had a few bad hours, but I bounce back pretty easily.  Life on a roller coaster has taught me to embrace the bumps.  So, to prove to you all that I am, indeed, okay, and to prevent you from worrying about me further, I thought I'd tell you about some of the benefits of living in the woods in North Florida.

Now, you wouldn't think having to drive 2 miles down this dirt road would be a positive, and in some ways, it's not.  It's bumpy and rough, and I don't stand a chance of having a clean house with all this dirt around.  Our cars are filthy.  You should have seen the valet attendant's expression when we drove up to the fancy hotel in Atlanta.  I think the guy considered using a paper towel to touch the door handle to open it.

So, no, in a lot of ways, this is not an advantage, however, if we didn't live down the dirt road, we would have no chance of seeing this:

Not one but two topless boys on a moped.

That's funny enough to make it all worthwhile.

These have faded now, but the wildflowers were amazing!  There were yellow, white, purple and pink flowers everywhere along the sides of the roads.  They were breathtakingly beautiful.  My family is glad they are gone, because I have stopped talking about them.  (Well, I guess, really I haven't.  I'm telling you about them, aren't I?)

I picked some flowers and brought them home when my mother was visiting.  She said, "Those are pretty, but you know you get chiggers from wildflowers, right?"  Well, at least now I have something to remember them by.

I found this photo on my phone and thought I'd share it.  It has nothing to do with High Springs, but don't you feel happier just looking at it?  I know I do.

High Springs has this steeple.  It makes me happy.  Actually, more accurately, the bells that play from this church make me happy.

Just about every time I go to Winn Dixie (which doesn't make me happy...I miss Publix!), the bells are ringing.  They play church hymns, and the sound of it just gives this town such a homey feeling.  I love to hear the bells.

And aren't you impressed by my artistic photography of this steeple?  Just sayin'...

I love the deer.  Even if someone (eh-hem, you know who you are...) blocked my view of them with a big white sign, I still love the deer.

They are hard to photograph.  Can you see them?  It's a mama and two babies, and I see them just about daily.

So, don't cry for me, Argentina!  I really am loving living here.  I just have an occasional outburst, but I will tell you that I have cried less here than I did in Brandon.  I'm doing just fine.  I'm just gonna go to town and find me some of them newfangled friends, and life will be perfect!  Until then, I'll just continue to talk to the deer.  They are very good listeners.  -Al
Okay, before you read this, let me first say, I am not miserable.  I love living in my new house, and I love being involved at camp.  So, when I tell you my story of the last few days, please don’t feel sorry for me.  I am happy here, and we are doing great.  Mostly. 

If you don’t know me, here’s a quick synopsis of where I've been and where I am:

Until 11 years ago, I had a stable life.  If you looked up “stable” in the dictionary, you would find a picture there of me with my handsome husband and our two little blond children.  My husband, Mr. Everything, and I had lived in the same house since we got married.  He went to work while I stayed home with the kids, the Beetle and the Goose.  Then, one day, I said the words that would forever change our lives, “Let’s start our own business.”  It was all downhill from there.  We started the business, and my husband left his job.  And benefits.  And insurance.  And free magazines. (He worked for Time Inc.)  We struggled at that for five years.

Six years ago, we left our house.  We changed our then-struggling business from a retail pottery store to a traveling pottery business that we could run from home.  We moved in with my mother-in-law.  (As Mr. E so eloquently put it, “I had a terrible dream that I was fat, bald and 40 and living with my mother, and then I woke up and it was true!”)  We had some ups but mainly downs on our roller coaster of life.  It seemed as though the amusement park engineers had gotten a little carried away with the hills and turns.  It was quite a ride.  We lived in a mobile home (also known as the little tin box in the field) for two and a half years.  Life was quite a party.  Through it all, we kept our sense of humor, though we didn’t keep much of anything else.  Then, we were given a light at the end of the tunnel.  We braced ourselves and hoped it wasn’t a train, and so far, we haven’t been run over.  I must admit, though, we are still holding our breath.

Mr. Everything was offered a job that is perfect for him.  If we could have custom made a job just to fit him, this is what we would have designed.  It just couldn’t be any more perfect.  (Did I mention it’s perfect?)  He was given a job as the overseer (Caretaker?  Administrator?  We still don’t actually know what his title is…) of a Bible camp.  We got to move into a house, a real live house.  It is wide enough that two of us can walk through a room at the same time without bumping into each other.  It’s awesome.  I hate the kitchen cabinets and floor, but otherwise, it’s awesome.

So here’s the catch:  We are now living two and a half hours away from home.  We had lived in Brandon, Florida for twenty years together, other than a brief two and a half month move to Valdosta, Georgia (I don’t have the energy to explain that.  If you want to know about it read the “Keeper of the Crazies” stories Part 1, Part 2,
  Part 3, Part 3 1/2, Part 4 and Part 5.  It was a long 2 1/2 months.)  All of our family is in Brandon.  All of our friends are in Brandon.  I know my way around Brandon, even on the back roads.  It was rare that I went anywhere without seeing someone I knew or at least recognized.

Now, I’m in a small town in North Florida.  I love it here, but it’s very different.  The people talk differently.  They wear lots of camouflage.  They shoot things.  They aren’t afraid of ticks or snakes.  It’s just a little different than I am used to.  Besides that, we haven’t found a church where we fit, so we don’t even know anyone at church.

I go to the store and don’t see anyone I know.  However, I must say, there’s some beauty in that.  I have been out in public since we lived here without even fixing my hair more times than I care to admit.  It doesn’t matter.  No one knows me anyway! 

We’ve been so busy getting ready for summer camp and running summer camp that I had not had time to feel lonely; well, that is, until two days ago.  Then, the loneliness set in quickly.

The first week of camp, we knew everyone here, because they were all from our home congregation in Brandon.  Then, last week, I didn’t know anyone, but I didn’t really care.  I was so tired from the first week, that I just took time to recover and do laundry; lots of laundry.  This week, however, I’m in my second week of not knowing anyone at camp.  I am surrounded by strangers who all know each other and are too busy talking to each other to get to know me.  I’ve tried to make conversation with them, and they are friendly, but they don’t really care to know me.  I don’t mean that in a bad way.  It’s natural.  They are with their friends, having fun, so why do they need to talk to me?

I was coping fairly well with this until last night.  Then, as I left the dining hall (one of the perks of living at camp is that we eat for free all summer), I started crying, and I couldn’t quit.  I tried to hide it from Mr. E, but he saw me and asked what was wrong.  That just made me cry even harder.  I tried to explain it to him, but it just came out sounding stupid.  “I don’t have any friends,” I said, through labored breaths.  “Yes you do,” he said, and he began to name them.  “But.  They.  Aren’t.  Here,” I managed to get out.  “Do you want to go back to Brandon?” he sweetly said.  “NO!” I wailed.  At this point, he was confused.

I had to go to Winn Dixie to pick up some medicine before the pharmacy closed, and I cried all the way there.  The pharmacist took a really long time on the computer.  I’m pretty sure she was looking up past mental health information on me.  I then cried all the way back to camp.  By the time I got back, I was swollen and red.  I’m such an ugly crier.  I went in the house and worked for a while.  Then, I had to go back down to the dining hall to get the Goose and to find Mr. E.  I washed my face, put on a little eyeliner and hoped for the best.  Maybe no one would notice my nose glowing in the dark, lighting my path as I went.  Luckily, as I was still invisible to everyone at camp, no one noticed.

I waited around for the Goose to finish up what she was doing, and then she and I were headed out to the car to drive back to the house.  (No, my house is not that far from the dining hall, and yes, I could stand the exercise of walking, but it’s dark out here.  Like, can’t see your hand in front of your face dark.  I’m not walking in the dark!)  A lady in the kitchen stopped me as we passed through.  She asked me if I was the Goose’s mother and began telling me how wonderful my child was.  (I vividly remember that part.  I love it when I hear that my kids have done something right!)  Anyway, we got started talking and ended up talking for hours. 

Regretfully, I confessed to this kind woman and her friend who was also there, how I had felt earlier in the evening.  I ended up crying (just a little) while telling them how lonely I had been and how much they had helped me just by talking to me.  I cried.  They cried.  We hugged.  The Goose took a few steps back.

So, this sounds all sweet and good like I made two new friends, and I did.  However, here’s the punch line.  Today, these two sweet ladies have gone so far overboard trying to make me feel welcomed.  They have introduced me to their friends and their friends’ friends and their friends’ friends’ aunts and uncles.  It really has been nice, but I have to wonder what they think of me.  They probably warned their friends, “Oh, here she comes.  Be sure to speak to her, or she may cry again!”  And in their kindness, they are showing the weird lady a little mercy.

I wish I could just bottle my feelings.  I never have been good about that.  Why must I tell the world exactly what’s on my mind?  Of course, if I hadn’t told them, I may not have ended up with new friends.  Now, because of my emotional outburst, I’ll probably know the whole camp staff before this week is over!  -Al

After I earned my AA degree, I decided not to continue my education.  I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I did not want to go to classes needlessly.  Although I was a good student, I hated every minute of school and just wanted to be finished.  To this day, I still have dreams that I have a paper due and I’ve forgotten to write it.  Then, I wake up and remember that I’m a grown up.

My parents said I would regret not getting at least a bachelor’s degree.  So far, I must admit that I don’t regret it.  Maybe that day is still coming, but somehow I doubt it.  (Although, kids, don’t listen to me.  Stay in school and don’t do drugs.)

When I got out of community college, I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life, other than marry Mr. Everything.  That part I knew for sure.  I quickly found that my approach to life would be, “Fake it ‘til ya make it.”

The first job I faked was as a typesetter/proofreader at a rubber stamp company.  Talk about a stimulating and fascinating occupation.  I can’t even tell you the number of times a day I typed, “Pay to the order of Bank of America.”  I went into the job with little to no computer experience.  Back then, we didn’t really have computers in school, unless you took computer lab, and I didn’t.  I learned to type on a typewriter.  (Did you know they call it keyboarding now?  The Beetle said he wanted to sign up for a keyboarding class, and I thought he meant piano!)

In the interview, the owner of the company asked if I was familiar with computers.  My answer was yes.  It wasn’t a lie.  I knew what a computer looked like!  He trained me on the computer and quickly found that I had no idea what a window was and why I wanted to open it.  It was a good thing I was a fast learner!  I managed to fake my way through that position enough to endure a year there.  Then, I just couldn’t type, “Pay to the order of…” one more time.

The next job I had was as a preschool teacher.  I was interviewed by the entire board of directors of the Christian school where I would work.  They asked if I was familiar with working with kids.  Well, of course I was.  Why, I had actually been a kid at one point!  How hard could it be, right?  Early in the morning on the first day of school, as I made final preparations for my class to arrive, I realized something.  I was teaching four year old kindergarten, where kids learned to print, but there was a flaw in my plan.  I did not know how to print!  I went to a Montessori school when I was little, and I was taught cursive, not print.  I ran to my principal’s classroom and said, “You’ve got to teach me to print!”  She was the first grade teacher too, and her friend, the kindergarten teacher, was in there with her.  They both laughed at me and thought I was kidding.  “I’m not kidding,” I told them.  So, they got to work teaching me how to print.  I was living the old saying, “Watch one, do one, teach one.”  Luckily, the four year olds didn’t know the difference, and I survived that school year plus two more.

After teaching preschool, I moved on to selling Pampered Chef.  I couldn’t even cook.  I had never touched a whole chicken in my life.  The first time I cooked one, I had to wear rubber gloves to be able to prepare it for the oven.  Soon, people began telling me I was such a good cook.  I would tell them that I owed it all to Pampered Chef.  They had no idea how very true that was.

Several years later, Mr. Everything and I had the genius plan of buying a paint-your-own-pottery studio.  There was one in town that was struggling, and the owner was willing to sell it cheap.  We bought it (through the grace of God and my daddy) and knew right away that we had no idea what we were doing.  We inherited kilns and glazes and strange looking powdery substances.  The owner had said that he would stick around to teach us what we needed to know.  However, he gave us a ten minute crash-course on running the kiln, and he split.  We never heard from him again.

By this point, we had a week of spring break camp fully booked with kids.  We had no idea what we were doing, but we knew we had to do it.  Mr. E and I figured, if we knew any pottery terminology at all, we were doing better than the vast majority of people who walked through our door.  We began reading and studying and talking to people, and slowly, with just a few disasters, we managed to make it work.  I won’t mention the Father’s Day Fiasco of 2004.  Let’s just say it was bad.

We stayed in business from 2003 to 2007 and closed at the end of 2007, due to the declining economy.  Then, we morphed the store into a traveling company that taught sculpting to kids in day cares.  Apparently, we managed to make it work, because we didn’t starve to death in those years.  Now, Mr. Everything and I can talk about pottery with the best of them, and we actually sound like we know what we are talking about. (And of course, Mr. E does, because he, indeed, knows everything.)

After pottery, I got a job as an editor.  I can’t really say that I faked that one, because I am an English teacher’s daughter.  Grammar and punctuation have been beaten into me since birth.  (teehee… Just kidding, Mama!)  That was the first job I took that I actually felt like I somewhat knew what I was doing.  Of course, I did not know all of the technology that went with it, but I picked that up pretty quickly. 

Six months after I began editing, I was asked to be a trainer.  That put me right back into the “Fake it ‘til ya make it,” mode.  I asked my boss if she was sure she wanted me to train.  I felt like I was doing such a bad job.  She said she was sure, so I took the job.  I think I had my first trainee so confused.  She stayed with the company for quite a while, though, so I must not have messed her up too badly!

So, through the years, although I’ve had no clue what I was doing, I have managed to somewhat pull it together.  Maybe my life would have been easier with a college education, but I don’t think it would have been nearly as much fun.    -Al

You can come out now! The coast is clear.
Well, we survived our first week at Florida Bible Camp, and we have moved into the second week.  So far, so good!  We didn’t even lose any kids last week.  That’s a great record, don’t you think?

During my many years of volunteering at camp, I’ve noticed a few phenomena that I thought I would share with you.

1. The same kids who can’t manage to carry their own sleeping bag and luggage to the cabin can actually take of themselves when their parents are gone.  It’s funny to watch the parents doting over their children, carrying their luggage, making their beds and fluffing their pillows.  The parents would be surprised to see that the kids do just fine after they leave.  Kids make their own beds, clean the bathhouse and even keep up with their own belongings (although there is always a pile of leftover stuff at the end of camp).

I will admit that the standards for self-care are not usually as high as the parents would prefer.  On the girls’ side, in the younger cabins, there are typically moms as counselors.  In that case, the girls actually shower and brush their hair and teeth.  Some girls even have braided or at least brushed hair.  They don’t look too bad, since a mom, even if it’s not their mom, is there to tell them to check the mirror every once in a while.

The same can’t be said of the boys’ side.  They have dads or teenaged boys taking care of them.  I have to laugh as I see the little boys get more and more dingy looking as the week progresses.  Many times, they will wear the same clothes for several days, and sometimes, those clothes will be backwards or inside out.  I don’t even want to know about their tooth-brushing habits, and I’m pretty sure no hairbrushes were injured in the making of the camp week.  There was one little boy last week who had the same blue sticky candy spot on his face on Thursday that he had on Tuesday.  It went away on Friday since we went tubing.  (Come to think of it, maybe that’s why they saved tubing for the end of the week…to make sure the boys were somewhat clean before their mothers saw them again!)

2. Years later, the same little girls who only brushed their hair because the moms told them to become teenagers who primp even at camp.  The smell of hair straighteners burning and hair spray and perfume fills the otherwise musty cabins.  While everyone else looks like a mess, the teen girls look ready for the runway.

3. Years later, the same little boys who did not look in the mirror become big boys who don’t look in the mirror.  The one little boy may now be a big boy, still be wearing the blue sticky spot from years past.

4. Shaving cream is fun.  I don’t care who you are.  Each year, there are several adults and some kids who say they aren’t going to participate in the shaving cream war.  It is rare that I see anyone come away without at least a little bit of shaving cream on them.  The people who participate know the rules.  They know where the “safe” zone is, and they know they aren’t supposed to attack the people in that zone.  It’s too tempting, however, and those who are “safe” really aren’t.  This year, I ended up with shaving cream all over my shirt and in my hair, thanks to two grown men.  They just couldn’t help themselves.  My clean shirt was like a blank canvas.

5. Kids know exactly what they want in life until the get to the canteen.  For years now, I have run the canteen.  I love it, because I get to see everyone and they are all happy to see me.  I give them candy and ice cream.  What kills me is how they stand in line for several minutes.  They have a menu board right in front of them.  However, when it’s their turn in line, they have to stand there and look around the canteen to determine what they want.  You would think that they would decide while waiting.  You would also think that, since the menu doesn’t change from day to day, they would know by Wednesday what they want to order.  You would be wrong, though.  Just about everyone has to stand there and look around.  I used to think it was because they were enjoying the air conditioning that was blowing out from the canteen.  This year, however, the a/c was broken, and they still stood and looked.  Maybe it was my irresistible wit and charm.

6. Traditions are traditions, even if we don’t know why.  At our week of camp, there is a walking stick with a lion head on it.  Every year, at some point during a meal, the song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” is played and several men take turns dancing with the stick.  Why?  I have no idea, but camp wouldn’t be complete without it.  It’s those silly traditions that make camp fun.

7. People let their guards down when they are dirty and tired.  At church, we all talk to each other and sort-of get to know each other.  We might even go to lunch together, but we don’t truly see each other.  At camp, we can’t help but truly see each other.  There is a sense of family and togetherness when everyone is equally dirty, sweaty and tired.  All precepts go right out the window.  It’s virtually impossible to look good at camp (although some of the ladies and most of the teen girls actually manage it), so there’s no covering up our true selves.  After a week at camp, about 40 grown people that I go to church with will have seen me in my natural state, bed-head and all.  There’s a deep friendship that comes through that.  We are all in it together, and we all look equally as bad.  (Either that, or this is just my excuse to not brush my hair.)

8. The deer know when to come back.  All last week, the deer were gone.  It made me sad because I thought I wouldn’t see them all summer.  However, within an hour of the campers leaving, they were back, eating the leftover candy on the ground.  I think they had a lookout at the edge of the woods to tell them when the coast was clear.

So many strange things happen at camp.  It’s a great place to be.  I’m glad I’m here all summer.  There’s no telling what else I’ll see!  -Al

My father was raised in an orphanage in the days before laws about child abuse were in existence, but don’t think that means he gets pity from us.  My sister and mother and I like to tease him when he starts to tell his orphan stories.  I pretend to play the violin, and we all feign pity and comfort for him.  Really, though, if you think about it, my daddy has an amazing story.

Daddy and his two brothers and one sister were dropped off to live at an orphanage.  Their parents were divorced, and both had issues.  Their mother was too selfish, drunk, crazy (you fill in the synonym you want) to raise her four children.  Instead, she left them for someone else to deal with.  Many of the stories Daddy has told us about his childhood are not happy.  In one way, he was spoiled since he lived in an orphanage.  All the nearby Christians made themselves feel better by giving the little orphans gifts.  However, material things were about all he got.  He has told stories of meanness and cruelty from the house parents who raised him.  They were not all bad, but many of them did their share of damage to him and his siblings.  Some of the things that were said and done to him were horrible and would damage anyone who endured them.

To meet Daddy, you would never know the terrible circumstances he came from.  He has been married almost 44 years.  He has raised two daughters who are well balanced and terrific, if we do say so ourselves.  He has been just about the best granddaddy a kid could ask for. 

Daddy was steady in his job for all of my childhood.  After he had been there over 25 years, he left to start his own business.  He built his company from nothing to a business that was doing multi-million dollar annual sales.  This wasn’t bad for a little orphan boy from South Carolina.

Daddy and I had some rocky years way-back-when.  I won’t even get into those as it doesn’t matter.  Even during that time, I knew that he loved me, and I knew that he would take care of me.  He has provided financial support for me, sometimes even in my adult years.  When we were running our pottery business, I often said that we were only staying afloat by the grace of God and my daddy.  He and Mama helped us tremendously and without complaint.

Daddy has always had a great sense of humor.  I think I got my charming wit from him. (And my humility.)  I did get my ability to write useless poetry from him; that much I know is true.  Daddy can make up silly rhymes on command.  They may be stupid, but they will have iambic pentameter.

Daddy has always joked with my friends and made them feel at ease.  A good rule of thumb as a teenager was, if my friends couldn’t understand my father’s humor, they were probably someone I didn’t want to hang around with, because my humor and his humor were a lot alike. When Willow, my best friend, first met Daddy, I was introducing her to him.  I said I wasn’t sure what she could call him, and he said, “You can call me Sir.”  To this day, Willow calls him “Sir” and even addresses cards to “Sir.”  They have a fun relationship that made her feel like part of our family.

One thing I obviously did not get from my father is his athletic ability.  He has been a runner my whole life.  He ran triathlons, half marathons and even marathons.  Several years ago, he had to stop running so much because he developed arthritis in his hips.  However, just recently, the man has started running again.  At almost 67 years old, the man is running 14 miles.  Yeah.  I definitely didn’t get that from him.  I’ll only run if I’m being chased by a wild animal, and then, the wild animal is likely to win.

I don’t tell Daddy this nearly often enough (or ever), but I am proud of him and what he has become.  He did not let his childhood determine his destiny.  Instead, he rose from the circumstances and built his life and his family.  He is a good man, a good father and a good grandfather.  My sister and I are blessed to have him!  (And in case he reads this, as I’m pretty sure he will, Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!  I love you!)    -Al

How Did This Happen?
The excitement at our house right now is about summer camp.  That is partly because we live at a camp, and summer is our busy season.  It is also because both of my kids will be "going" to camp this coming week.  I put going in quotation marks, because they aren't actually going anywhere.  They'll be staying in cabins at our camp where we live.

Regardless of how far the commute is, they have to pack.  Since they aren't allowed to cross the boundary to come home (my rule), we have to make sure they have everything they need for the week.  As I looked at the Goose's room today, I realized that we have a lot to get done in a short amount of time.  Good thing I'm a champion at this.

I've been packing my kids for camp for many years. Well, more accurately, my kids have been packing themselves for camp for many years.  (We'll call it a homeschool lesson in problem management and life skills.)  Through the years, I've gathered packing tips from other smart moms. I can't take credit for these ideas. I've just compiled the ideas and learned from my mistakes.

The first year I sent my kids to camp, their clothes were packed in rolling suitcases. Boy, was I a newbie! Rolling suitcases don't work in dirt, so they are not the best idea. Also, if your child's cabin is anything like ours, there won't be room for a suitcase. Instead, I've found that plastic drawers are the better way to go. The Goose is willing to pack in these. The Beetle said, "No way!" He packs in a backpack.

Here are some handy tips I've learned. I hope these will make your summer camp packing easier and more efficient.  I would say that most of these tips are for girls.  They're more fun to pack for anyway, right?

The Goose packs her belongings in these plastic drawers.  We got these at a mass retailer, and they came with wheels.  We just left the wheels off, since wheels and dirt don't agree.

You can get a good deal on these at Amazon, and they'll deliver them right to your house!   Here's a link to buy them on Amazon:

We pack each day's outfit in a separate Ziplock bag.  That way, if something gets spilled or a wet towel gets left where it doesn't belong, all the clothes don't get wet and dirty.

I will say that, while the Goose thinks this is a brilliant way to pack, the Beetle is having no part of it.  He says that the other guys in his cabin will think he has potty accidents.

Plastic zipper bags like this work great too.  For those of us who are not SuperMom and don't think to save things like this, Ziplock bags will have to do!

We pack her toiletries in a basket like this.  We got this basket at a mass retailer, and it's perfect. It's large and has handles to hang it up with. It won't be ruined if it gets wet in the shower.

There's plenty of room for everything!  The Goose can carry all her toiletries, her pajamas and her towel and washcloth in here when she heads to the bath house for a shower.

Snacks need a place too!  A plastic shoebox like this works perfectly for storing snacks in. It fits right on top of the drawers, and it can hold a week's worth of goodies.  Now, you can pack a week's worth of granola bars and fruit!  

Who am I kidding?  M&M's, watermelon gum and 3 Amigos (AKA 3 Musketeers - The Goose calls them 3 Amigos) bars are going in there!

Basic Packing List for Camp

All items should be labeled with your child's initials or name.

______ Two outfits per day x _____ days

______ Underwear (2 per day x _____ days)

______ Socks (2 per day x _____ days)

______ Closed toed shoes that can get muddy

______ Water shoes

______ Flip flops for shower

______ Pajamas x ______ nights

______ Swimsuits (At least 2)

______ Cover-up for swimsuits (for girls)

______ T-shirt to swim in (Boys and girls - In case of sunburn)

______ Sweatshirt or jacket for cool nights

______ Rain jacket or umbrella

______ Laundry bag

______ 2 beach towels

______ 2 bath towels

______ 2 wash cloths

______ Fitted sheet for mattress

______ Sleeping bag

______ Pillow

______ Nightlight (Another cute idea I've seen if the child is afraid of the dark but embarrassed about it is to wrap the bunk bed with Christmas lights. They can claim it is just for decoration, but the lights will provided enough light to make them feel safe.)

______ Flashlight

______ Bug spray or an Off Clip-On

______ Sunscreen (Preferably spray-on, so kids can put it on easier)

______ Medication (bagged and labeled to give to the camp nurse)

______ Toothbrush/paste

______ Shampoo/conditioner

______ Soap or body wash (my son uses a body wash that is shampoo too, for ease)

______ Deodorant (if needed)

______ Razor and shaving cream (if needed)

______ Hairbrush

______ Bands to pull hair up in ponytail (for girls)

______ Old rug (to put by bed for wiping feet at bedtime)

______ Playing cards (for rainy days)

______ Notebook or journal and pen or markers (for writing down their thoughts and feelings)

______ Bible (for Bible camp)

______ Snacks and/or money for the canteen

______ A few surprises (toys from the dollar store, etc.) to hide in your child's belongings

I hope these tips are helpful for you and your family, so you will have happy campers this summer!  -Al

Reality Was Starting to Sink In
Let me preface this by saying that I do not mean this blog to be a judgment on anyone.  Really.  I don’t.  I have my beliefs, just like you have yours, but I am not writing this to try to change anyone’s mind or make fun of what anyone feels or believes.  Just know that, because I really don’t want to get into a political or religious debate.  What happened to us today is funny, no matter who you are or what you believe.

Part of what I like about being a mystery shopper is that I never know where I’m going to end up.  I’ve been to all kinds of hotels, good and bad, and all kinds of restaurants. I've eaten foods that I normally would not have tried.  I’ve mystery shopped retail stores that I may have never visited otherwise.  I’ve shopped for new cars and apartments even when I really wasn’t looking.  Today was no different, and boy, did I find us an adventure.

The Mr. and I have been in Atlanta for the last few days.  We’ve been attending the IMSC (Independent Mystery Shoppers Coalition) conference to learn how to be better mystery shoppers.  It was fun, and we had a good time.  For the whole trip, I had requested hotel and restaurant mystery shops.  In three days, we have paid for one lunch out of pocket so far.  The rest of the meals were covered through mystery shops.  We have not paid for a single hotel.  That’s how we roll.

We were going to have to buy lunch today, but one of the companies that I shop for had some lunch visits available.  There were a few restaurants to choose from, so we quickly glanced at the websites to see which one looked best.  We wanted something fun and casual, and I thought I had found just the place.  Mr. Everything was going to have to take the assignment and write the report because I had already exceeded my maximum number of assignments from the company for the month.  So we self-assigned the shop to him, and we were on our way.

When we arrived, the first clue for me was that the hostess had on a rainbow necklace, and the host was immaculately groomed.  Mr. E didn’t notice.  The next indicator was the picture of the rainbow flag on the menu.  Still, the Mr. was totally oblivious.  I had already summed the place up and realized that there were only a few women in the restaurant and the ones that were there were together.  I decided just to wait it out to see how long it would take Mr. Everything to notice.

While I am not a supporter of stereotypes, there are some that just seem to be true.  Think up every stereotype you have been told about gay men.  That would describe our server.  As he greeted us, I was considering whether “flamboyant” would be an appropriate descriptor on a mystery shopping report.  The server looked at us with that all knowing, “I know that you didn’t know,” kind of look.  Still, the Mr. was unsuspecting.  Come to think of it, we may need to have his gay-dar looked at.

Finally, as Mr. Everything was reading the menu and he was seeing some of the names of dishes, reality began to set in.  I must admit, as cruel as it was, I just sat back and enjoyed watching him realize it.

Again, I’m not judging, really, but seeing my very heterosexual husband realize that he was in a gay bar was just too much fun.  As he looked around and noticed all the well groomed men with fabulous hair cuts, he turned pink.  He looked at me, and I looked at him.  That was when I started laughing and could not stop.  Mr. E looked at me and in all seriousness, said, “What’s worse is I have to go to the bathroom!”  I just laughed harder.

Mr. Everything decided to be brave and go inside the packed restaurant to go to the restroom.  It wasn’t like anyone was going to attack him or anything.  I’m pretty sure the men there could take one look at him and know he was straight.  He walked quickly to the restroom, and I noticed that he did not make eye contact with anyone as he went.  He fell just short of holding his left hand up to show his wedding ring to anyone who was looking.

Mr. E was not in there long when he came back, almost running.  He was flushed and winded.  “How did it go?”  I asked.  I’m so cruel.  He looked and me and just shook his head and closed his eyes.  Finally, he worked up the energy to speak and said, “There. Was. A. Used. Blue. Condom. In. The. Urinal.”  As you can imagine, I showed him great sympathy.  My poor dear must have been traumatized.  Yeah, right.  You know I laughed.  I asked him if the rest of the restroom was clean.  He said he tried not to look around.  More laughter.

When the food arrived, Mr. Everything was trying very hard to maintain his composure.  This is the look he kept on his face while staring straight ahead to the street in front of the restaurant.  After he took a few bites of his “Big Beefy Burger,” as it was called on the menu, I asked him how it was.  He answered, “Let’s just hurry up and eat so we can get out of here.”  

Bless his heart.  It takes a lot to make Mr. E uncomfortable.  I’m usually the one who feels out of place or like I shouldn’t be somewhere.  A gay bar was enough to do it for him, though.  I’ve never seen him so awkward in all my life.

Now that we have left the location, he can laugh about it a little more.  He just told me that it really just goes to prove that we will do anything for a free meal!

What’s great is that, on the report, he was asked whether or not he would return.  Now, as a professional mystery shopper, he must answer this question based on the overall service, food and cleanliness and not on his personal preferences.  So for, “Would you return to this location?” his answer was, “Definitely.”  “Would you recommend this location to your friends?”  “Absolutely.”  Oh, yeah.  I can’t wait to hear him recommend it to his friends.  –Al