“Okay, guys. We’re going to start with an easy warm-up. I want you to run up the five flights of stairs in the parking garage. I’ll be nice and let you take the elevator back down if you want.”

These were the words I heard right before I began planning my escape route. What had I gotten myself into? Once again, I had taken a mystery shopping assignment to evaluate a gym. This one was in downtown Tampa. I figured, why not? I like getting paid, and while I don’t actually like to exercise, I enjoy it a whole lot more when I’m getting paid to do it. Plus, I needed exercise, so it was a win-win. I thought.

Just getting to the gym was a mental exercise in itself. My GPS kept sending me down a one way road, going the wrong way. Then, it tried to send me down the trolley track. Okay. I’m pretty sure that was actually my own mistake, but whose story is this? Luckily, I saw the trolley before I actually turned onto the tracks. By the time I got to the gym and found a park spot (after praying, “Oh, please, God. Don’t make me parallel park in this behemoth vehicle…”), I was already stressed to the max. Exercise would do me good. I thought.

I had chosen the class I did because it was in the middle of the day. Typically, the mid-day classes are for old people. (Note to self…that is not true in downtown Tampa where people leave work to go exercise.) I generally avoid classes that have, “Combat,” “Boot Camp” or “Extreme” in the title. This one seemed to qualify. The name of the class had the word, “Function,” in it. I was functioning just fine, so I should fit right in. I thought.

I walked in, and the front desk lady asked me if I needed a locker. I had to ask her to repeat herself three times. I couldn’t understand what she was asking me. I’m not sure if I was just fuzzy brained from parallel parking or if she was mumbling, but truly, it was like a foreign language. Finally, on the fourth attempt, she pointed to my purse and yelled slowly, “DO. YOU. NEED. A. LOCKER. FOR. YOUR. PURSE?” I yelled back, “YES. PLEASE.” I felt like an idiot, but I just went with it.

I walked into the locker room and was met first thing by three women standing there topless. They were chatting. Topless. Seriously. Do women actually do this in public? Apparently, in downtown Tampa, they do. By the way, I try not to change in the locker room, but if I ever have to, you’ll be able to easily spot me. I’ll be the one in the bathroom stall struggling to get her pants leg on without touching the toilet or putting her foot down on the dirty floor. I certainly will not be the one standing topless and talking with my friends.

I decided quickly that, though the assignment asked for photos of anything amiss, I would not be taking photos of the locker room. Luckily, it was neat and clean, so there was nothing to take a picture of. (“Woman gets arrested for taking pornographic photos in downtown Tampa. More at eleven.”)

After locking my purse in the, "LOCKER," I went to find the class. As I neared the classroom area, I quickly realized I was not looking at a gathering of grannies. Oh no. This was the twenty-something class. Tampa’s Up and Coming had gathered together to demonstrate their awesomeness through physical fitness. I considered hurrying back to the locker room but realized, for my assignment, I had to attend a fitness class. I prayed a silent prayer. At least, I hope it was silent. Sometimes when I panic, I think aloud. I really hoped this was not one of those times. However, being the giant old lady who talked to myself would not have made me feel any more out of place than I already did.

I went into the classroom where the cute little instructor was setting up circuits. I was not sure what “circuits” were, but I was about to find out. I stood there, awkwardly, as all the little people were chatting in their groups. There was an older lady who was one of the tallest in the class. She was probably 55 years old and was about 4’11”. Okay, she wasn’t really the tallest, but she actually looked very proportionate compared to everyone else who was there. There was one tall guy, but he frowned at me when I tried to stand near him. So, I stood awkwardly – the giant in the corner. The 4’11” lady came over and introduced herself to me. We’ll call her Ginger. Ginger said, “Are you new to class?” I chuckled and said, “What gave it away?” She said it was just a hunch. Then, Ginger said something that made me feel much better about class. She said, “Listen. These people are maniacs. You can’t live up to their level of exercise. I can’t either. It’s okay. We’ll stick together, and it will be okay. Just because they do something does not mean we have to. As long as we are moving, we are improving, right?” Bless her. Bless Ginger’s tiny little heart. I wanted to hug her for helping me know I was going to survive the hour. Then, Ginger said, “But I have to tell you, in case you are thinking of making a break for it - I will tackle you if I see you moving toward the door.” Crud. Maybe I didn’t like Ginger quite so much.

So, the class started, and the teacher said to start with a light warm-up of running up the stairs. Ginger looked at me and said, “I’m not running up any stairs.” I said, “Me neither,” so we took a walk around the city block instead. I had to chuckle at our reflection in the mirror glass as we passed buildings - the giant and the tiny woman. By the time we got back from our second lap, Little Miss Petite was explaining the various stations, or circuits, in the class. My favorite was the one with the aerobic step. This step was on 3 risers, so it was a good foot and a half off the floor. The object at this station was to jump with both feet at once and land on the step. When we landed, we were supposed to be in a squat. Then, we were to jump back down into a squat on the floor. Um, yeah. As Little Miss Petite demonstrated this, I stifled laughter. Ginger just looked at me and shook her head. We opted out of that circuit.

For the next 3 hours, we moved from station to station. Okay, Little Miss Petite said it was actually 21 minutes, but I think her watch was broken. Time seemed to be moving backwards. When we finished with the last rotation, I was so happy it was over! Then, the teacher said to grab a mat. I didn't think that was a good sign.

Little Miss Petite said we were going to cool down. We proceeded to do ten minutes of abdominal crunches. Ten minutes. That’s, like, a minute per fat roll on my stomach.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get up from the floor. My entire body was trembling. Everything burned. Somehow, some way, I survived the hour. Okay. It was actually a 45 minute class, but I want credit for an hour.

Before we left, Ginger told me two things. First, she said ibuprofen would work wonders. She highly recommended a good, strong dose. Second, she said there was another class tomorrow at noon. I told her to save me a spot. Let’s hope she knew I was kidding. -Al

I think I have always loved to travel. As far back as I can remember, I enjoyed it. I know we flew a few times when I was little, but we typically drove instead. I can remember several family vacations, and I remember enjoying them all.

On our first trip to Disney World, we drove from Greenville, SC to Orlando in a small Toyota truck. The truck was just a standard bench-seat truck, and it had a topper on the back. My parents put a mattress in the bed of the truck, and my sister and I rode back there. (It’s a wonder we all survived the 80s, isn’t it?) There was a window between the cab and the covered area in the back, and Daddy had a seal he would put in the window to allow the air conditioning to make it to the bed of the truck. We were comfortable, and it was great. Until the storm. At that time, we were not Floridians, and we were not used to the fast moving thunderstorms we now are so accustomed to. As we were getting closer to Disney, a storm came up very suddenly. It was pouring, and then, lightning struck near us or struck the truck. I’m not really sure which. I remember it striking the truck, but I could be making that up. Regardless, my sister and I scurried through that window and into the front cab so quickly, it was amazing. We laughed about it later, but at the time, it was not funny.

Of course, once we were in the cab of the truck, we were crowded. Two adults and two children in a small Toyota truck do not fit nicely. My sister and I, true to tradition, began bickering and fighting. I remember my father telling us he would turn the car around and go home. What’s funny is, we actually believed him.

We made several trips in that little Toyota truck. Then, Mama and Daddy watched a safety video about seatbelts. It compared children to a carton of eggs, and it showed what happened to the precious eggs in an accident. After that, the Eggs had to wear seat belts. The days of reclining on a mattress in the back were long-gone. Stupid egg video.

When I was sixteen, my family began taking trips to Man ‘O War Cay in the Abaco Bahamas. Mr. Everything always went with us, since, by that point, he was part of our family. Seeing the beautiful water and islands only ignited my love for travel. I learned quickly that I was born to live on Caribbean time. Everything moves a little slower, and no one got stressed out. (Except my sister when she went there, but that’s a whole different story. I’m pretty sure she’d be mad if I told it. Maybe I’ll press my luck another day.)

The summer after I graduated high school, when I was seventeen, my parents sent me to Europe for 21 days. This was a group trip through the county school system. Students could earn high school credit and college credit in humanities on this trip. Of course, I could not earn high school credit since I had graduated, but I earned college credit. We saw nine countries in 21 days.

Going to Europe was hard but fun. I was such a mama’s girl, and I got homesick so easily. I think I cried in all nine countries. I went the whole time without calling home, though. I knew if I called home, I would really fall apart.

Now, twenty something years later, I remember snippets from each country, but many of my memories are blurred. I think it’s because I was sleep-deprived while I was there. We did a lot of getting up early and going to bed late. My most vivid memories are of Greece, because for that part, we were on a cruise. We got plenty of sleep, so I could refresh my brain and actually remember what I saw.

My first accomplishment of the trip was facing my fear of airplane bathrooms. I had vowed not to go for the full flight, but when you are in the air for a week and a half (or at least, it felt like that long…), at some point, you’ve got to go. I went, and I survived. Now when I fly, I’m just lucky if I can make it through the flight and only go once. Middle age is the pits.

My group spent the first night of our journey in Germany. We stayed in a little city called Rothenburg. It was the most beautiful place ever. Ever. The city had brick streets and was surrounded by a wall. Our hotel had flower boxes on the windows. There were no screens on the windows, since there were no bugs. We could just open the windows and let the breeze come it. It was amazing, especially for Florida kids.

The funniest part of my visit to Germany was I learned what a duvet was. My roommate and I had never seen one. We thought they were really fancy sleeping bags. We each unbuttoned ours and slept inside. I think that was one of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had. The next day, we discovered we were supposed to sleep under the duvet and not in it. Oh, well. You live, you learn.

In Germany, the restaurant fed us chicken cordon bleu for dinner.

We went through Austria and then into Switzerland. There, we took a train up a mountain to the quaint little village where we stayed. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen - well, since Rothenburg, anyway. We took a train up a glacier and went to a ski resort for a day. There, they had caves and sculptures carved out of the ice. Many of the students went skiing. I drank hot chocolate. My mother was not happy with me when I got home and told her I had not skied. She said, someday, I would regret going to the Swiss Alps and not skiing. To this day, I don’t regret it. Maybe, the regret just hasn’t set in yet. When I’m 80, I may really mourn the fact that I didn’t ski. However, even at 17, I knew I’d rather be able to walk for the rest of the trip than to risk life and limb sliding down a mountain.

While we were in Switzerland, we had cheese fondue for dinner one night and chicken cordon bleu another. 

Next, we went to Italy for a few nights. While we were there, Italy won the world cup in soccer. We were in Rome when that happened, and the place was wild. The streets were packed with cars. People were honking their horns and waving flags. It almost looked like a riot in the streets. Our chaperons had us stay in and have food delivered that night. I think they were afraid to take us out. It really was a madhouse.

On one night there, we had chicken cordon bleu for dinner.

During our time in Italy, we went to Rome and saw the ruins there. We also went to Vatican City. I wanted to see the pope, but he did not come out to greet me. So rude.

After a few days in Italy, we boarded a cruise ship in the Aegean Sea. We were on the cruise for 7 days, I think. During those days, we discovered that European luxury and American luxury were two different things. We were not allowed to flush toilet paper at all in our room. There was a special trash can to put it in. I don’t want to talk about it. I also don’t want to talk about the fact that my two roommates and I were all having our periods at the same time. Really. Let’s not talk about it.

Our stops while on the cruise included Athens and Mikonos in Greece. We also went to Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. There, the street venders followed my roommate and me through the streets saying, “American? American? American?” We wondered how they knew. Now, thinking back, I’m pretty sure we might as well have been wearing t-shirts that said, “American.” When we did not answer, they started saying, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?”

Tugboats pulled our cruise ship through the Corinth Canal. Then, we went to Ephesus in Turkey, where we say the ancient ruins of Ephesus from Bible days. That was fascinating, and I wanted more time there.

We got back to the ship and had chicken cordon bleu for dinner.

My funniest memory from the whole trip happened during the cruise. Our curfew was 11:00 PM. One night, we crossed a time zone, so 10:00 PM suddenly became 11:00 PM. Our chaperons insisted we had to be in our rooms by 11:00 (10:00). I’m pretty sure they just needed a few minutes without us. Anyway, my roommates and I, being the straight-A student rebels that we were, attempted to refuse to go to our rooms. We were told we had to go. We insisted this was a violation of our civil liberties, since it was 10:00 somewhere. I’m pretty sure I heard one of the chaperons say, “Yeah, well, it’s 5:00 somewhere, too.” I had no idea what she meant, but I thought maybe she wanted to spend extra time with us. Anywho, we were told, no, forced, against our will, to go to our rooms. Oh, the injustice. Therefore, as a united front to show Power to the People, we stood with one foot inside our room and one foot outside the door. We stood that way for an hour, until it was, indeed, 11:00. There. That showed them.

After we left the cruise ship, we went to France. There, we saw Versailles. I did not enjoy that at the time, as it was yet another museum in a sea of museums. However, now, I would love to go back and see it again.

We went to Paris and visited museums. The highlight for us, the American teenagers in Paris, was to eat at Burger King. We were outraged to find out they charged more if we wanted to eat in the dining room, so we opted to sit on the curb outside and eat.

While in Paris, we had dinner in the Eiffel Tower. It was chicken cordon bleu. We also took a cruise down the Seine River.

Our final stop on our 21 day tour was England. We visited Canterbury and stayed in London. I can’t say I was all that impressed with London. It was just a big city that was busy and dirty and crowded. I almost got run over by a Ferrari in front of the Hard Rock Café. The boys in our group were much more excited about that than the chaperons were.

One night when we took the subway, also known as the tube, in London, I could not get my ticket to work. I stopped a man who worked there and asked for his help. He acted as though he could not understand me. Meanwhile, my group was leaving me. I said again, “My ticket won’t work.” He said he could not help me until I spoke proper English. The man actually made me use the Queen’s English before he would assist me. This was a challenge for my southern self, but I finally channeled my inner Brit and made it through. I resisted the urge to give him a good English punch in the nose.

As we were walking back to the subway station in London, we saw a large group of paparazzi and onlookers outside what looked like a theater. We walked over to see what was going on. We arrived just in time to see Princess Diana get out of a limousine and walk inside. I did not know at the time how significant and special it was that I got to see her in person, but I did. She was beautiful. And I’m pretty sure she waved at me.

On the day we saw Big Ben and Parliament, I was so tired, I could no longer hold my eyes open. I remember my friends waking me up and saying, “Look! It’s Big Ben.” I looked out the window, said, “Yep,” and fell back asleep.

That night, we had, you guessed it, chicken cordon bleu.

By the time the trip was over, I was so happy to be home. I never wanted chicken cordon bleu again. At the same time, I was sad to leave all the beauties and wonders of Europe. I saw things and experienced things there I will probably never get to see in person again. It was a magical place, and I’m thankful my parents found it important to send me there.

I definitely learned a lot about humanities while I was there. (Though I protested every time I had to take a test. I still say, who makes you take a test when you are riding in a bus, going up a mountain? Seriously! There is no amount of Dramamine strong enough for that!) I also grew my love of travel. Since then, I have looked for any opportunity possible to take a trip. Where are we going? Orlando? Tennessee? Antigua? I don’t care where…. I have a suitcase, and I’m ready to go!   -Al

I don’t know if y’all realize this or not, but I don’t sit still very well. I’m not sure when that happened. When I was little, I sat still and was obedient. I remember a time when I was in preschool that my class was told to sit still in the story circle. I obeyed. In fact, I sat very still, even after I had thrown up. I just sat there with vomit in my hands and waited until the teacher told me I could move.

That’s always the beginning of a good story, right? When vomit is involved, you know it’s only going to get better. Okay. I’ll stop saying vomit. Vomit.

Back to my point. I am just not good at sitting still anymore. I think it’s because I’m usually busy, so when I stop, my body wants to keep going. If you ever sit by me in church you will find this to be true. I scratch and fidget and scratch some more. In my defense, I’m itchy! My head, my back, my arms and my legs itch non-stop. I’ve had an itch on my foot for 8 years straight. I’m not exaggerating. I wake up in the middle of the night scratching my foot sometimes. The itch never goes away.

I’m apparently easily distracted when I am sitting still, too, because I have now gone off on 2 tangents in 3 paragraphs. It’s a new record.

Back to what I was trying to say. I am sitting on an airplane as I type this. I have been sitting still for 33 minutes, 14 seconds. I have 2 hours and 30 minutes to go. No problem. I’ve got this. By the way, while I sit on this plane, I hope there will be no more mentions of vomit.

So far, I have figured out how to read a crochet pattern. I have made one and one third crochet roses. (I told you I get distracted easily.) I have dropped my crochet hook and yarn three times. (Sorry to Mr. E, who keeps having to bend down and pick them up for me.) I’ve searched my backpack to find my ear buds. I’ve tried to watch the inflight program, but the sound system on my seat is messed up. (It’s like a cruel joke…now I have NOTHING to do for the rest of the flight.) I have fully analyzed everyone around me and made up stories for each of them. They have some pretty interesting lives, just so you know.

Now, I am writing. Why not? Maybe I can make it through a blog without getting distracted and moving on to something else.

The flight attendant just gave me a cup of coffee that I downed in about 10 seconds. Caffeine and sugar. That should help things.

So, as I am sitting here, I have a few observations about my experience thus far:

1.       I said this on Facebook the other day, and I stand behind my decree. If you are chewing gum and those around you know you are chewing gum, you should not be allowed to chew gum. Period. In fact, I may put on my angry teacher face and walk around the plane with a trash can. I’ll make each chomping passenger spit it out or sit in time out. I don’t mind gum. I really don’t. If you can behave while chewing it, you can have it. However, if you can’t, consider yourself warned. (And by the way, just be glad I’m more lenient than Mr. E. He does not approve gum. Ever.)

2.       Shoot. I just touched my face with my hands. There’s no telling where my hands have been. Well, okay. That’s not true. I know where my hands have been, but I don’t know where the hands have been that touched the areas that I touched with my hands. That was a really awkward sentence, but you know what I mean. I need to quit touching my face.

3.       The guy beside me has a nice enough butt. Really, he does. However, if he sticks it in my face one more time, I’m going to pinch it. I would take a picture of it for you if could. If I tried to bend over to get my cell phone, I would probably drop my yarn and hook again. Mr. E would not be happy.

4.       If you are going to look out the window, that’s fine. Knock yourself out. On the other hand, if you are going to go to sleep anyway, please, for the love of all the migraine sufferers in the world, close your shade! The glare from the windows around me is enough to permanently sear my brain. I’m considering climbing over people and closing their shades for them. Really, people. Listen to me. I already made Mr. E close the shade of our window. This consisted of reaching over the napping woman beside him. Now, she’s awake and is slowly inching the shade back open. I’m about to have to slap her hand.

5.       I just touched my nose. Stop it!

6.       Isn’t the seatbelt sign on? Seriously, man. Sit down and quit putting your butt in my face.

7.       I love a good laugh. Really, I do. However, if you have a really loud and annoying laugh, please try to snicker instead. Save your hilarity for after you get off the plane. You’re headed to Antigua. There will be plenty of time for games and recreation there. I wish the man behind us would heed this advice. He has the biggest, loudest, most irritating laugh ever. Apparently, he is watching something funny and has ear buds in. We can’t hear what he’s laughing about, but every time Mr. E and I start to settle in, the man laughs. Other than the irritation factor, it has actually become quite funny. I may start my big booming laugh soon. There he goes again. It’s funny. Whatever it is he’s watching.

8.       I just rubbed my eye. I’m going to die of a communicable disease.

9.       There’s the butt again. Maybe I should poke it with my crochet hook.

10.   I am definitely onboard with Breast Cancer Awareness month. I have a friend going through the battle right now, and I will wear pink every day of the year if that will encourage her to be strong. At the same time, though, I really think companies have gone overboard with the whole “Pink in October” thing. Before they started serving drinks, the flight attendant announced that pink lemonade was available for Breast Cancer Awareness month. How does this raise awareness? I’m not really sure. I found that odd. I’m pretty sure they said it was freshly squeezed lemonade, too. That was right before they cracked open the cans of Minute Maid.

11.   I just rubbed my chin. It will probably be the flu. Or Ebola. Or that other virus that everyone is freaking out about. Whatever it is, I’m going to catch it if I don’t quit touching my face!

12.   The guy behind me apparently thinks it’s funny that I’m going to die. Thanks, laughing man. I love you too.

13.   I am 41 years old. You would think, by now, I would think to take a jacket when I am flying. I should have listened to my mother.

14.   I should have listened to my mother when she told me not to touch my face, too!

15.   Oh, now the butt man’s wife is standing, too. Yoga pants really shouldn’t be sold in certain sizes. At least she wore a blue thong so there was no panty line, but really, I’d rather not look at the blue thong.

16.   We are all freaked out by Ebola. Truly. Considering the fact that we keep hearing about Ebola stricken patients getting on planes, it is in everyone’s mind. Perhaps, though, it’s not the best idea to loudly discuss the issue while sitting on a plane. Really. I don’t want to know all the symptoms. I don’t want to know how many days it will be before I die. Let’s let it be a surprise, shall we?

17.   Why does my nose keep itching? I just touched it again!

18.   Would y’all just sit down??

19.   To the man who keeps trying to stifle his cough, just let it out, man. I’d rather hear you cough a real cough than to do that weird hold-in cough thing you’ve got going on. Besides, the tickle in your throat is not going to go away until you let it out. We won’t wrap you in plastic and scream, “Ebola.” Promise. (Okay. I can’t really make that promise, but take a risk, man.)

20.   The cough is no worse than that laugh.

21.   I already have Ebola anyway, because I just touched my face. I might as well just lick the seat in front of me.

22.   My cousin licked the dash of a family car once at a funeral. He didn’t die, but I guess death isn’t really contagious. Well, I guess it sort of is.

23.   I wonder if I’m a germaphobe? Apparently not, since I keep touching my face with my germy hands!

I think that’s all my observations right now. My brain was focused on writing a story for you, but now it has moved on to something else. Maybe I should start crocheting again. I could make myself some sleeves to wear since I didn’t listen to my mother.  -Al

So, I’ve waited a few weeks to allow my brain to process this experience so I could tell to you properly. Alright. That’s a lie. I’ve been procrastinating about writing it because I haven’t had time to breathe. True story.

Anywho, guess what? Recently, Mr. Everything and I became spies. That’s right, my friends. He can add “espionage” to the long list of things he can do well. The man truly can do everything (thus the name).

This was sort-of a mystery shopping assignment, but it was more like a mystery shopping assignment on steroids. (No, we didn’t take steroids. Don’t do drugs, kids. And stay in school.) No, this was the mac-daddy of all mystery shopping assignments, and thank goodness, it was in Mr. Everything’s name and not mine. In case you don’t understand that last statement, that means he was responsible for completing the paperwork instead of me.

This assignment involved going to two places. Actually, it was two assignments, but they were for the same company. We were not to focus on customer service. In fact, it didn’t matter at all how the employees treated us. No, we had other information to get on this mission. We were going to be spies. What were we looking for? I can’t tell you. Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Let’s just say it involved photographs, videotapes, license plate numbers and an affidavit. Good times.

Now, the first step of being a mystery shopper (or spy!) is to learn how to blend in. You have to be a chameleon. I’m pretty good at that. Since I look like an average housewife, no one pays much attention to me. Little do they know how un-average I am! Mr. E and I together can typically blend in any situation. Unless there’s dancing involved. Then, we’re in trouble. One thing not on the Everything list is dancing. The man has no rhythm.

So, for our first mission, we had to go to a bar. No problem. We’ve blended in there before. I can’t say I’m completely comfortable in a bar setting, but I’ve gotten pretty good at acting natural. Sometimes, our normal mystery shopping assignments involve going to the bar of a restaurant before or after the meal. No problem. However, in this case, the bar we went to was not a bar. It was a club. The only time I’ve ever been in an actual nightclub was when I was 17 and I went to Europe. I didn’t even speak the language, so I certainly did not fit in there.

We honestly thought we were walking into a sports bar or pub-type place. We were wrong. When we arrived, we first thought the place was closed. There was no one there but a man who was working on a laptop. We opened the door and went in. I asked if they were open, and he said they were and to come on in. The man was really nice, thank goodness. However, I quickly knew “fitting in” had gone right out the door.

This was a night club. They didn’t even sell food. (What kind of place doesn’t even have nachos??) The music was blaring at a deafening volume. The words coming from the music? Well, let’s just say someone needed his mouth washed out with soap. It was bad, people. Really. Between the ‘N’ word and the ‘F’ word being thrown out on every beat, my head was spinning. My instinct was to run, but we had a job to do. Within 5 minutes of being there, the nice man who was running the place completely confessed to what it was we were there to gather evidence about. Unfortunately, he said it before Mr. E had a chance to get his video camera up and running on his phone. Too bad. It would have been a beautiful confession.

Instead, we sat there for a few minutes. It felt like we were there for at least 3 days. I tried to act natural. Um, yeah. 41 year old mother of two bouncing along to the ‘N’ word, ‘F’ word music. That’s natural, right? Mr. E ordered a drink. Every time the employee would walk away, I would say under my breath, “Drink it. Drink faster. Get me out of here.” We had expected to be able to show up, eat a burger and hang out to get the information we needed. Instead, we sat awkwardly, alone at a bar in a night club. Ah, the memories.

When Mr. E felt like he had enough video coverage of what he needed, he told me he was going to go the restroom to check it. “You’re leaving me??” I said. He pointed out there was no one there. I told him that made it easier for them to hide my body after they killed me. I offered to go to the bathroom with him, but he said that might make us a little memorable. So, I waited. Awkwardly, alone at the bar in the nightclub.

When Mr. E came out, we paid and left. We had to drive around and take some photos of the outside of the building. In that time, I’m not sure how many times I said, “NEVER AGAIN! That was the worst experience of my life!” Little did I know, we were just getting started!

Our second assignment made the first one look like child’s play. At least the guy at the first place was nice and was not creepy. At the second place, the hair on the back of my neck was standing up during our entire visit. (And for those of you who don’t know, that’s a mama thing. We KNOW when things aren’t right.)

The second location was not a bar. I was excited about that. However, by the time we finished, I was begging to go back to the bar. Oh, no, the second place was an E-cigarette store. As in, smoking. As in, those stupid looking, pen looking things people are now sucking on instead of cigarettes. We thought it was going to be sort-of a bar setting. I pictured a bar with people sitting there, trying different vapors. Not the case.

No, no, no. This was a store. Literally. It was in a grocery store strip mall. It was brightly lit and had a glass window store front. It was not a bar. At first, I thought that was a good thing. I was wrong.

As we walked up to the door, we realized the store hours said they closed at 9:00. We were there at 11:00 PM, but they were clearly open. I knew, going in, that we had to have a good reason for coming to their store on a Saturday night at 11:00 PM. I searched my mental database of reasons, but I had nothing. However, we were now standing in front of a well-lit store, and the people inside could clearly see us. It was not like I could stand there and think of a reason without being obvious, so in we went.

One employee greeted us, and the hair on my neck immediately stood at full attention. He asked if we were there for the special event. I knew what the special event was based around (since this was part of our assignment), but I did not know the details of their event. So I went with “No.” Then, by the look on the employee’s face, I knew I had just raised suspicion since we were not there for the special event but we were there. I quickly recovered by saying I had intended to stop in for weeks but hadn’t. I told him, we were driving by and saw the lights on and figured then was as good of a time as any. He seemed to buy it.

For the next 7 hours (Okay, we realized later when we watched the video that it was only 3 minutes, but it sure felt like 7 hours), I distracted the employees while Mr. E got the video he needed. I did this by acting like the dumbest potential smoker they had ever met. Actually, I didn’t say I wanted to smoke. I knew I couldn’t be believable. Instead, I said I was there to get information for my father. (When all else fails, through the parents under the bus.) I asked question after question after question, coming up with anything to keep the employee talking. While I did this, I saw another employee lurking around. (They were all lurking. They were creepy. Thus the neck hair salute.) He went to the back room, and when he returned, another bigger guy came out with him. (Uh-oh. SECURITY!) The big guy went and spoke to Mr. E, trying to figure out what we were really doing there, but Mr. E maintained the story I had created. Then, the big guy came up very close behind me, under the premise of getting food from trays beside me. However, I had no doubt he was trying to intimidate me. (Cue the Tom Petty song, “I won’t back down,” playing in my head.) I took a big step to the side and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Was I in your way?” He just looked at me. He didn’t smile and did not answer me. It was a good thing we had stopped at Taco Bell on the way for me to use the bathroom. Otherwise, I might have just embarrassed myself.

I never missed a beat in talking to the first guy about the many fascinating ways to vape. (Yes, that’s what they call it. Vaping. As if it could sound any dumber.)

When Mr. E approached and touched my arm, I knew he had what he needed on the video. I thanked the nice young man, and we left. (And the academy award for best acting role in a weird situation goes to….) I resisted the urge to run to the car. I knew they were still watching us.

The challenging part was getting the photographs we needed of the outside of the building. Then, even worse was gathering license plate numbers. As we were finishing that, the big guy came outside. He was looking right at us (or at least, in our panicked state, we thought he was). Mr. E kept his composure, backed up and left. The big guy got in his car, and at first, we thought he might follow us. Later, we laughed at ourselves for being so nervous that we thought so. He was probably just going to get a real cigarette from his car.

When looking back at the video of the vaping experience, I realized I’m a pretty good actress! As I listened to myself, I knew I was panicking, but I couldn’t even hear it in my voice. Perhaps I missed my calling. Maybe I was supposed to be a famous actress, or better yet, maybe I was supposed to be a spy!  -Al

“You know normal families don’t do this, right?’  These are the words I have said over and over again for the past 24 hours.  Of course, no one ever accused us of being normal, but still, I like to remind my kids that other families don’t do the things we do.  I’m not sure if that’s a compliment to them or to us.

It actually started on Tuesday.  We were supposed to drive back to High Springs to finish cleaning out the house we just moved out of.  Mr. Everything and I had to run a few errands, and then we would be on our way.  I told the kids we would be right back, and I’m pretty sure the Beetle’s response was, “Uh-huh.”  Five hours later, they were calling to see where we were.  I told them things had not gone quite as planned.  Neither child was surprised by this.  Things never go as planned for us.  Frankly, at this point, I’m not even sure why we make plans. 

The kids were in a tizzy because we hadn’t left yet.  I told them to chillax. (I like that word.)  Since we were now into mid- to late- afternoon, we might as well just wait until rush hour traffic was over.  There was no point in sitting in a car in traffic when we could just wait and go later.  I assured them we would be leaving as soon as rush hour was over.  Again, the Beetle answered with, “Uh-huh.”  I was beginning to not like his attitude.

Five hours later, when it was beyond dark outside and most normal families were starting bedtime routines, we considered leaving but decided just to wait until Wednesday to go.  Mr. Everything said that would mean one less night of sleeping on an air mattress, so I was good with that.  The Beetle gave me an, “I told you so,” look.  Twit.  We assured the kids we would get up early (but not too early or we would be in rush hour) and we would get going.  This time, it was the Goose who said, “Uh-huh.”  Who raised these children?

So, on Wednesday around noon, we finally left.  We made the trek toward High Springs, but we had to stop by our odd little church in Newberry, so we could pick up potatoes.  Part of our purpose of heading up when we did was to spend Thanksgiving at the church’s community dinner.  This tiny church was planning to feed about 150 people from around town.  How could we possibly resist that?  Since we had access to the camp’s commercial kitchen, complete with industrial mixer and huge oven, we volunteered to make the mashed potatoes.  We also said we would cook the pans of dressing.  No problem.  We could do it.

The plan was to pick up the potatoes (we’ll discuss just how many potatoes later) and the dressing and head to the camp so we could clean out the house and finish packing the remaining junk.  We were down to the “I don’t know what to do with this,” and, “Why do we even have this?” kind of stuff that inevitably remains at the end of any move.  When we moved last week, we ran out of boxes, and we reached a point where we just couldn’t do any more.  The plan was to get ’er done when we went back for Thanksgiving.

We left home so late and arrived at the church so late that, by the time we talked to the preacher (you KNOW how long a preacher can talk), it was too late to head to the camp.  We had church on Wednesday night, starting with dinner at 6:00.  By the time we were ready to go, it was 4:00.  With a ½ hour drive each way, that would only leave an hour to get anything done at the house, so we decided just to wait.

After church, we took the potatoes (lots of potatoes) and headed to camp.  When we walked into the house, the entire laundry room and kitchen had about 2 inches of standing water.  I had to laugh as I realized my family did not even react to this.  We just waded through the water and put our stuff down.  This was the first time of many that I said, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  Mr. E and the kids just looked at me like they didn’t know what I was talking about.  I explained that, to a normal family, standing water from an obvious leak would be a big deal.  In fact, to some, it would be a downright disaster.  We all agreed that it was, after all, just a little water and we’d been through worse.

So, we got the Homer Bucket Vac (might I add this is one of man’s most ingenuous inventions), and the Goose and I took turns sucking up water.  It wasn’t nearly as much fun as I’d envisioned.  I wanted to just hold the hose down and watch the water come up like a reverse waterfall.  Nope.  It was very anticlimactic.

Meanwhile, Mr. E began packing up all the stuff that no one else knew what to do with.  Bless his heart.  The man can pack.  In a matter of a few hours, he had corralled that junk like nobody’s business.  (What does that phrase even mean, anyway?)  While the Goose was taking her turn sucking up water, the Beetle and I began peeling the potatoes.  We sat on the loveseat and put the peels in a big pot.  We figured we were abandoning the loveseat at the house anyway, so what was a little potato starch between friends?  As we peeled, I again said, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  Well, they don’t.  Normal families would not sit on a couch to peel potatoes.  Normal families would have used potato buds.  Okay, actually, really normal families would never have offered to make the potatoes in the first place. 

Finally, at midnight thirty, the potatoes were peeled, the junk was corralled and the air mattresses were full.  We were nestled in our snug and warm beds (more accurately, we had finally gotten warm after shivering for several minutes) when I realized something.  I had to go to the bathroom.  It never fails.  I got up, teeth chattering, and did my business (maybe that’s what the “nobody’s business” phrase means!).  I was back in bed and had finally calmed my shivering and was getting warm when the Goose started coughing.  I’m pretty sure it was 50% real and 50% trying to drive me crazy.  Regardless, it was real enough for her to come stand over me, asking for cough drops.  Since I didn’t happen to have any cough drops, I told her to take a sip of water and go to sleep.  (It sounded much nicer than what I was thinking in my head.)  Ten minutes later, as she gasped for air because she was coughing so hard, Mr. Everything and I realized we had to do something.  (And let me insert here, before you call child protective services on me, the child is very dramatic.  She’s 12, and she’s a she.  I rest my case.)  We got up, put on our jackets and drove down to the nurse’s cabin at camp, hoping the entire way that we would find something to make her shut up, er, I mean feel much better.  God bless the camp nurses, because they left us just what we needed….cough syrup and cough drops.  Jackpot!  We went back, threw the medicine at the Goose and passed out.  This was 1:15 in the morning. 

At 7:00 AM, our alarm went off.  It was time to rise and shine and get all those potatoes cooking.  We headed down to the kitchen and started the burners.  It was very reminiscent of the last time Mr. E and I worked in that kitchen together.  That led to a little story I called, “Mr. Everything & The Trauma Center Part 1 and Part 2.” (You can click on the purple letters if you want to read those.)   I kept ducking as he lit the burners.  It was a little unnerving, but he assured me we would be okay.

With four commercial sized pots of potatoes cooking and 5 big pans of dressing in the oven, we were off to a good start.  Mr. E said he would have to get the industrial mixer out of storage.  We weren’t sure why it was in storage, but we would soon find out.  Mr. E was smart enough to plug in the big, heavy mixer before moving it, so he made sure it worked.

He somehow managed to get this behemoth into the Suburban by himself.  It was so heavy, it cracked the threshold of the back doors of the vehicle.  Mr. Everything got the Beetle to help him move it into the kitchen, and they finally got it situated.  I heard Mr. E say, “Uh-oh,” and I turned to look.  He showed me the problem.  The lever that was supposed to raise the bowl up to meet the mixer was jammed.  The bowl would not move up, so the mixer would only mix the top half of the ingredients in the bowl. I figured this was not a problem.  After all, the man didn’t have the name, “Mr. Everything,” for nothing.  It just meant I would have to wait a little while for him to fix it, as he does everything.

Thirty minutes, two 2”x 4”s and a crowbar later, Mr. E and the Beetle had managed to force the mixing bowl into an upright position.  They used plastic cups wedged in there to hold the bowl in place.  Part of this whole process involved Mr. E standing on the counter top pressing down with the crow bar while the Beetle pushed up with the wooden piece.  It was quite a sight.  I wanted to get a picture, but my cell phone was at the house.  Mr. E’s cell phone was in his front pocket, so I couldn’t sneak up and grab it.  I was pretty sure it was not the most appropriate time to ask him for his phone.  I did say, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  They didn’t acknowledge me.  When they put the mixer on the floor and began pushing down on it, I could resist no longer.  I managed to grab his phone and snap a shot.  The photo does not do the whole process justice.  It was very entertaining.

Not Nearly As Entertaining as the Live Show...
Mr. E washed the bowl and the mixer and got it all set up for me.  We put the potatoes in, and he flipped the switch to turn the mixer on.  Nothing.  (You did see that coming, right?)  He turned it off and turned it on again.  Still nothing.  I said something about normal families.  I’m pretty sure you know what I said.  Then, Mr. E turned the mixer on and off.  And on.  And off.  I asked him if he knew the definition of insanity.  He didn’t answer me.  (By the way, the definition of insanity is, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Pretty sure I’m insane.)  Mr. E assured me he had tested the mixer.  It had worked in the storage shed.  I said maybe the plug wasn’t working and they needed to move it to another spot in the kitchen.  The Beetle let out a whimper at the thought of having to move the thing again.  Mr. E reached over and turned on the microwave that was plugged into the same plug.  It worked, so there went that theory.

Then, I had a moment of genius.  These moments happen rarely for me, so I must cherish them when they do.  I said, “Doesn’t the safety cage have to be closed for the mixer to work?”  Mr. E closed the cage, and sho-nuff, it worked.  It was a modern day miracle! 

35 Pounds of Potatoes!
We mixed and mixed and mixed the potatoes.  We prepared 35 pounds of mashed potatoes.  We used four pounds of butter and half a gallon of milk.  The potatoes filled two commercial sized foil pans.  We had enough mashed potatoes to feed an army!

We had told the preacher at our odd little church that we would try to be there as close to 10:30 as possible.  At 10:45, we pulled out of the driveway.  I really hope punctuality is not one of the admission tests for heaven, or we are surely doomed.  We pulled up to the church building at 11:15.  The lunch started at 11:30, so we were just in time to have the dressing and potatoes hot for the masses.

The masses, which were supposed to be about 150, turned out to be 46, counting the preacher.  As we sat, surrounded by mainly strangers, eating our Thanksgiving meal, I said, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  But as I looked around, I realized I was glad we weren’t normal.  Normal is so, well, average.  This was better.  We enjoyed being with our odd little church because, frankly, we fit right in.

The number of people was a little disappointing, but the dinner was not.  Everyone seemed to have a great time, and we were glad to be there to help.  I think next year, if we go up to Newberry to help our odd little church with Thanksgiving, we’ll offer to bring the sweet tea.  Better yet, we’ll supply the plates.  

After the meal was finished and we divvied up the leftovers, we headed back to the camp.  The mission was to finish loading up the stuff and to clean the house.  Mr. E needed to repair a wall that got a hole in it from a chair rubbing against it.  He also needed to change door knobs.  Most of what needed to be moved had to be done by him because it was too heavy for me to lift.  I was okay with this, because I was wiped out from the events of the last few days.  We got back to the house, and I made the mistake of sitting down.  The next thing I knew, I woke up in the fetal position on the loveseat.  Meanwhile, Mr. E walked back and forth, carrying stuff to the car.  I felt bad, but in my defense, I never claimed to have his energy level.  The man is a work horse.  He can work harder and longer than anyone I’ve ever known.  I can’t possibly live up to his standards.  I added that to my list of things to be thankful for - he didn't even fuss at me for not helping.  He really is a good man, Charlie Brown.  

I really was pretty much useless the entire afternoon.  By 5:00, Mr. E said he could do no more.  We still had a two and a half hour drive ahead of us, and I couldn’t drive it.  We were pulling a trailer, and I don’t *do* trailers.  The Beetle could drive, but it would be difficult for him because the trailer and the Suburban were both so loaded.  This left my husband.  He said he could do it, but he had to quit working.  The hole hadn’t been fixed yet, and there were still more items to be loaded.  We decided just to go up there another day.  For posterity sake, I reminded him one last time, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  The idea of driving two and a half hours to fix a hole in a wall would be foreign to most.  Most people would say, “I guess the landlord will have to fix it,” but we’re not most people.  So, Mr. E and I will be driving to High Springs one day soon to fix a wall and get the rest of our junk.  Who knows what other adventure that will bring….     

Let me just say my husband is a genius.  Don’t tell him I said so, but it’s true.  He would say it was about time I realized this.  The truth is, I’ve always realized it.  I just don’t want him to get a big head.

The reason I think he is a genius right now is because I’m in a resort in St. Lucia.  You see, while I’m the one who managed to get this job, he’s the one who pushed me.  Twenty years ago, I saw an ad in the newspaper that said, “Become a mystery shopper,” and I responded.  Of course, when I got the information in the mail, it said to send $25 to get the real information.  With that, I was disappointed, but I planned to throw the packet away.  My parents had taught me a long time ago that you don’t pay to work.  It just doesn’t make sense.

So, when Mr. Everything got home from work, I told him how disappointed I was about the mystery shopping info.  I told him they wanted $25 so I was ditching that idea.  He said, “Do it.”  I told him that was crazy because they were just going to take our money.  He shrugged and said, “We’ve wasted $25 on dumber things.  Take the chance.”  So I did!

I sent away for the info, and I received a list of about ten mystery shopping companies.  I had to send in a handwriting sample and a sample paragraph so they could tell that I could write complete sentences and they could read what I wrote.  We’ll just call that “back in the day.”

Now, mystery shopping companies would laugh at you if you hand wrote anything.  Everything has to be submitted online and receipts have to be uploaded.  There is no faxing or mailing in forms anymore.  Boy, things have changed in 20 years.

I often think, though, if Mr. E had not convinced me to take a chance, I would have missed out on so much!  We’ve been to amazing restaurants, great hotels and even all inclusive resorts because of that $25 chance.  He really was smart to let me take the gamble.

(Now, let me just say, with the internet, you should never, ever pay for a list of mystery shopping companies.  If you want to get started, read my blogs HERE and HERE for free, and you’ll learn what you need to know.  If you just feel the need to pay someone for the information, I accept cash, check or Paypal.  You can send me any amount you want.)

Because of Mr. E’s willingness to take a $25 chance, we got to visit a resort in St. Lucia.  I’m pretty sure this is the best resort ever, or at least, it’s the best one I’ve ever visited!  I must admit, we’ve spent a good portion of our time avoiding the sun while we’ve been here.  Since Mr. E still can’t be out in the sun because he was burned in July, we can’t be on the beach in the middle of the day.  I’m okay with that.  I’m the freckle and burn queen anyway, so the sun and I don’t get along very well anyway.  I wasn’t sure how the trip would go since we are on a tropical island where there is usually sun.  However, we’ve found plenty to do while we’ve been here.

We visited the spa the other day.  There were no massages involved, so it was great.  This resort has a complimentary area of the spa.  (As the saying goes…If it’s free, it’s for me!)  This area includes a Jacuzzi and plunge pool that are both shaded by a gazebo.  There were also saunas and steam rooms, but we discovered quickly that sitting in either one was boring and hot.  The plunge pool was way too cold for our Floridian blood, but the Jacuzzi was just right.  We sat in the hot water, with the gazebo sheltering us from the sun.  There was a nice cool breeze blowing, and the palm fronds were rattling in the wind.  As we sat there, I thought, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”  I was wrong.  It does get better.

We also found a pier that was out over the water.  At night, it was so peaceful to sit out there on the comfortable couches.  There was a fire pit nearby if we got cool in the night air.  It was wonderful just to sit out there and look at the stars and listen to the waves.  As I sat there, I though, “It can’t get any better than this.”  I was wrong.  It did get better.

The resort had catamarans that could be taken out into the water.  They are easy to operate and fun to ride on.  Mr. E, of course, had no problem controlling the boat, because he’s Mr. E.  He knows how to do everything, remember?  So, we took the boat out and sailed away into the sunset.  Okay.  Really, it was in the middle of the day, but still - you get the point.  The sky was cloudy, and while the other resort guests were probably disappointed about that, we were thrilled!  It meant we could go outside without risking more damage to my husband’s pretty face.  So, as we sailed, I thought, “This is as good as it gets.”  I was wrong.  It got better.

We discovered a part of the resort that we referred to as “Old People Island.”  We fit right in.  See, at the main pool, the atmosphere was lively.  The music was pumping and people were sunbathing, swimming, etc.  It was fun, but you couldn’t hear the water.  At Old People Island, the beach was far enough from the action of the main pool that we could hear the water.  We could hear the birds chirping.  We found a tiki covering with two chairs underneath, and we lounged.  As I avoided the sun in the shade, I thought, “It just doesn’t get any better.”  I was wrong.  Boy, did it get better.

Near Old People Island, we found a pool for old people.  Well, it wasn’t really for old people, but that was who was there.  It was so serene, and there was no music playing.  It was wonderful.  As I floated in the pool, I thought, “I’m cold.”  I was right.  I was cold, not because it was cold outside, but because I’m a wimpy Floridian.  We got out of the pool to warm up.

We found another perfect hang out.  In the ocean were floats that were somehow anchored to the ground.  I called them spots, because they were round and, well, they looked like spots.  (I’m creative, aren’t I?)  On a cloudy day, we finally got a chance to swim out to a spot.  When we climbed in, we found an oasis in the sea!  In the spot, we were in the ocean and could feel the waves.  However, we were anchored down and didn’t have to worry about floating away.  It was wonderful, and I didn’t have to worry about anything biting my butt or toes.  I loved the spot, until I got cold.  I always get cold.

We went back to Old People Island and visited the Jacuzzi by the pool.  In the Jacuzzi, we could be in the hot water and see the beautiful pool and amazing beach.  As I warmed in the Jacuzzi, I thought, “Now, I’ve seen the best.  It can’t get any better.”  I was wrong.  It did.

We found a hammock that was shaded by a tiki covering.  We visited this hammock several times during our trip.  It was wonderful.  We just talked and swayed in the hammock.  We also were quiet and listened to the birds.  Our view was of a palm tree and the beautiful blue sky.  As we enjoyed the hammock, I thought, “I have found the perfect place.”  I was right.  St. Lucia was, indeed, the perfect place. -Al

I wanted to be sure and thank my mother and my friends who watched after the Beetle and the Goose while we were gone.  I was nervous about leaving the country without my little ducklings.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to Mama and all those who kept them happy, fed and safe!  I deeply appreciate it, and we had an awesome trip because I didn't have to worry!

So I realized something today.  I don’t like massages.  Hello.  I’m Al, and I’m 40, and I don’t like massages.  There.  The truth is out there.  I hope this has not ruined the world as you view it.  I know it’s life changing, so I’ll give you a minute to process this important bit of news.

You see, for years, I thought I liked massages.  In fact, I used to clean my friend’s house so she would massage me.  Yes, she is a licensed massage therapist, so it’s not as weird as it sounds.  Back then, I enjoyed the massages, and I didn’t even worry about being naked.  I always joked with her that she had seen my naked butt and I had seen her dirty house – We were even.

Last year in Antigua, I had the massage from you know where.  I’m pretty sure the therapist’s LMT after her name stood for “Licensed for Misery and Torment.”  You can read about that experience HERE if you so dare.  I’m not going back and reading it.  It’s too painful to relive.

So, when I had to schedule a massage here in St. Lucia, I put the Torturer out of my mind.  Instead, I remembered my friend who had friendly hands. (Still just doesn’t sound right, does it?)  This time would be better.  I just knew it.  We were walking by the spa the other day here at the resort, and two staff members were standing there.  They were obviously desperate for business at the spa, because they were trying to recruit their next victims, er, I mean clients.

The one lady, we’ll just call her “Creepy,” asked me if I had booked my massage yet.  Knowing I had to book one (had to…it’s a hard job), I told her I had not but was interested.  She told me about a special on Wednesdays when I could get 80 minutes of massage for the price of 50.  “Why not?” I thought, “I love massages.”  So, I booked with Creepy, knowing she was just the staff member who was recruiting suckers, oops, I mean, patrons.  I must admit that, while Creepy was booking my appointment, I really hoped she would not be the one doing the massage.  She had long, skinny fingers and was just creepy, thus the name.

Yesterday, the day before my 80 minute massage, I started having flashbacks to my experience in Antigua.  Then, I decided just to put that out of my head.  This one would be better.  I would be so relaxed.

So, today was the big day.  I headed to the spa and was led to the locker room.  The receptionist told me to disrobe to my comfort level.  I considered just putting the robe over my clothes but figured that would make me memorable.  I really don’t like being naked in front of other people, so shorts and a shirt were just about my comfort level.  I bit the bullet, though, and got naked.  Luckily, the robe was big enough to cover everything that needed covering.  Otherwise, I KNOW I would have been memorable.

Anywho, I walked out of the locker room and went to obediently wait where I had been told to wait.  I am, after all, nothing if not obedient.  Around the corner came my massage therapist, and it was, you guessed it, Creepy.  (Oh come on.  You had to see that one coming.) 

So, Creepy led me to a room and told me to take off my robe.  She said I could lie face down on the table and cover with the sheet.  Thank goodness I had a sheet this time instead of the little strip of towel I was given in Antigua.  “See?” I thought, “This time will be better.  You love massages, don’t you?”  I didn’t answer.

Creepy came in and started the massage.  I had told her she could spend the entire 80 minutes on my head and face if she wanted to.  Apparently, she thought I was kidding.  She started on my back.  So far, so good.  Then, she worked on my back some more.  And some more.  And some more.  She began massaging my back with her forearms and elbows.  I’m pretty sure her knee was involved there somewhere.  There are two spots on my lower back that are always tender and sore.  I pointed these out to her and told her I was pretty sure they were from being numbed while having babies.  (Two tender spots for the rest of my life are so completely worth the numbing during labor, by the way…in case you wondered.)  I think it was my mistake to point out these areas to Creepy, because I think at one point, she was digging her creepy fingers into the spots.  Actually, it felt like she was pushing down to the depths of my soul.  I thought I might have to come off the table, but there was the whole naked issue.

Speaking of naked, I was becoming more and more naked as the massage went along.  The sheet kept getting pushed down further and further.  It started at the middle of my lower back.  By the end, it was half past crack.  For a good 10 minutes, I begged this woman in my mind, “Please, Creepy, cover my butt crack.”

“How does that feel?” she said.  “Great,” I said (cover my butt.)

“Is the pressure good?”  “Sure. It’s fine.” (I’m dying here.  Cover my crack.)

“Is the temperature in the room comfortable?”  “Yep.”  (Lady, I’ll pay you five bucks to cover it up.)

“Are you enjoying this?”  “Oh yeah.” (NO!  Cover my butt!)

Finally, Creepy finished with my back and covered it up with the sheet.  The angels in heaven rejoiced.  Okay, maybe they didn’t, but I heard them in my mind anyway.

Next, Creepy started on my legs.  She started with the left side.  As she rubbed, I began to realize I was really in pain.  My legs are sensitive, and I came to realize the left one was more sensitive.  I was dying, yet I didn’t say anything.  Why?  You ask.  I have no idea, other than the fact that I thought it was about to be over.  I was wrong.

Finally, Creepy finished with my left leg and moved on to my right.  “Oh good,” I thought, “My right one won’t be so sensitive.”  As she worked I realized maybe it was the right side that was the sensitive one.  Holy cow!  This woman wanted me dead.  Still, I said nothing and just suffered in pain.  Call me a martyr.

When Creepy finished, she dug her creepy fingers into the bottoms of my feet, and I really thought I was going to kick her in the head.  I managed to control myself.

Creepy moved up to my head.  Finally.  It was time for my favorite part.  She spent 2 minutes there and then said it was time for me to roll over.  Now, for those of you who’ve never had massage, let me explain.  The rolling over is the worst part.  Here you are, naked on a table, and your back has locked up from being on your stomach for an extended period of time. The therapist holds the sheet up over her face and tells you to roll over.  It sounds all private and great, but usually, as was the case today, there is a mirror on the other side of you.  If the therapist decides to take a peek, she’ll get to see the full shebang.  Today, I chose to believe Creepy didn’t look.  I didn’t hear snickering or gagging, so I don’t think she did.

For the rest of the massage, I kept trying to find pleasant parts.  There really weren’t any.  It wasn’t that she was a bad massage therapist.  It was that I have, apparently, grown grouchy in my old age.  A good rule of thumb is, just don’t touch me, and I’ll be happy.

Now that I’ve admitted that I don’t like massages, I feel so free!  My other choice for my mystery shopping assignment when doing resorts is to have a facial.  I’ve always avoided this because facials make me break out.  However, I had about 80 minutes to think about it today, and I’ve decided it’s worth it.  At least with a facial, they spend a lot of time massaging your face and head.  That’s all I really wanted anyway!  So, next time I take a trip to a resort, if I come back looking like a walking zit, you’ll know why.  It was all to avoid the massage.  -Al

It all started with the invitation.  The Goose managed to get us invited to the wedding of someone we’ve never met.  “How?” you ask.  Well, she’s the Goose.  That’s how.

We were at church, and the preacher’s wife was telling us about her daughter’s upcoming wedding.  Apparently, a bridesmaid is coming and will have a baby with her.  She has no one to keep the child.  So, the Goose said, “I’ll do it.”  The next thing I knew, we were all invited.  We even got an official invitation to make it real. 

Before I sent the RSVP card back, I asked Mr. Everything and the Beetle if they would be attending the blessed event.  The Beetle answered first with a non-committed, “Why not?”  I reminded him that he would have to wear a suit or at least nice pants, a dress shirt and a tie.  He agreed.  That made three out of four of us attending the wedding, so the Mr. was in, whether he liked it or not.  I was not going to a wedding with my two children and without my husband.  I filled out the RSVP card and asked the Beetle one more time before I put it in the mail.  He said he wanted to go.  Okie dokie.

Fast forward 3 weeks.  The wedding is this Saturday.  I decided yesterday was the day to go shopping.  Mr. Everything and the Beetle did not have suits, so we had to go to the store.  The Goose and I had dresses that would work, thank goodness.  Of course, the Goose still wanted to go with us, because where there is shopping, there is the Goose.

I had to trick the Beetle to get him in the car.  It was kind of like taking a dog to the vet.  I told him we just needed to run to the store really quickly to find something he could wear.  Yeah, right.  Like any fitting article of clothing has ever been found that easily.  But, he believed it and got in the car.

What complicated this little shopping trip was the fact that we are, indeed, broke.  So, we couldn’t just go to a department store to buy suits.  Oh, no, no, no.  That would be too easy, but who wants to spend that much on something that will never be worn again?  So, we headed to the thrift shops.  Luckily (or unluckily), there are lots of thrift stores in Gainesville.  We stopped at one in our little town of High Springs and found suits that looked hopeful.  For a brief moment, I thought we were going to get off easy.  Then, I woke up.

We ended up visiting many, many thrift stores.  Two things complicated this mission.  Number one, the Goose loves to shop.  She especially loves to shop in thrift stores, because she got the cheap gene from her mother.  The child loves a bargain, bless her heart.  Starting in the first store in Gainesville, she decided she needed new dresses.  She began looking for new dresses, which involved her calling my name every two seconds. 

“Mama, where should I look?”
“Over there where the sign says, ‘Dresses.’”
“Mama, what size do I wear?”
“Probably a medium.”
“Mama, what about this one?”
“You don’t have boobs.”
“Mama, what about this one?”
“You aren’t 80.”
“Mama, what size do I wear?”
“The same size you wore at the last store.”

Continue this conversation through no less than 5 thrift stores.

Meanwhile, problem number two was that the Beetle doesn’t *do* thrift stores.  In his words, “I don’t want to wear another man’s drawers.”  I told him I was sorry about his luck.  He looked, halfheartedly, but did not want to touch anything.  He also gets this trait from me.  I feel like I have the cooties just from walking in a thrift store.

Finally, by store number three, the Beetle had given up and had started looking.  He even tried on a few pair of pants.  Every jacket “fit” according to him, even if his arms were six inches longer than the sleeves.  It was when he put on the blue jacket that I knew I was losing it.  The child tried to convince me (in a joking manner, I hope) that the blue pleather jacket with puff shoulders was a winner.  I should have let him buy it just so he had to wear it.  Sadly, it cost more than the suit we ended up getting him.

At the fourth store, the Beetle found a suit that looked nice on him and was less than $20.  It was a good brand and looked like a high quality suit.  Mr. Everything also got a suit, although he was not thrilled with his.  I thought it looked nice, and it was a good name brand too.  The pants were a little big on his waist, but with a belt, they looked just fine.  He decided to settle for it.  Meanwhile, the Goose had found a pair of shoes, a shawl, a purse, a sweater, and, and, and, and….  She ended up getting a few of the items.  We got to the register, and there was an extra 20% off!  Jackpot!

Since we were already out, Mr. E said he wanted to stop by one more thrift store that was nearby.  By store number five, I had just about lost my mind.  If the Goose had called my name once, she had called it 100 times, and that was just in the last five minutes.  I was feeling Frazzled (with a capital F). 

We went in the store, and they had no suits.  What they did have was a sale.  Oh dear.  The deal was, they would give us a paper grocery bag.  We would fill it with anything we could fit in there, and the price would just be $15.  This is where Mr. E’s amazing packing skills certainly could come in handy.

We were not going to take advantage of the sale, because I didn’t want to just buy stuff to buy it.  However, Mr. E found something he needed for the computer, and the Beetle found air-soft pellets.  By the time we bought those, we were paying $15 anyway, so we got the bag.  Then, my family fit more into a brown paper bag than I even knew was possible.  We got video games, a teacup and saucer, a doughnut maker, computer stuff and several other items.  The Goose said she felt bad because it felt like we were stealing.  I confirmed with the cashier that the sale included anything that could fit in the bag, and she assured me it did.  We paid and got out before they changed their minds.

It was at this point that I felt accomplished.  We had found suits for the guys, which was our original mission.  The Goose had gotten a few clothing items that she needed.  I had even gotten a purse to match my dress for the wedding.  Then, we had hit this other store and gotten bargains galore.  Our shopping day was done.  I was tired and glad it was over, but it had been worth it. 

Then, Mr. E said the words I didn’t want to hear.  “I really don’t like my suit.  I want to go to one more store.”  I began to whimper and rock myself gently in the front seat of the Suburban.  He bought me a Steak ‘N Shake milkshake to get me through (1/2 price, of course, ‘cause that’s how we roll).  He went in the last thrift store.  The kids and I opted to stay in the car.  I just focused on my milkshake.  I told myself it would all be okay.  When Mr. E had been in there long enough for me to finish my milkshake, I considered drinking his just to continue to soothe myself.  Instead, I was brave and went into the store.  I figured, if he was in there that long, he was probably trying on suits.  I didn’t want him to come out looking hideous, so I went in after him.  He showed me a few, and I shot them all down.  We left without a suit.  After much convincing, and a few nervous twitches on my part, Mr. Everything agreed to wear the suit we bought.  Hallelujah!

Now that the shopping is over, I'm excited about the wedding, even if I don't know the bride. When else would my family get dressed up all at one time?  We will all look so nice, and no one will even know that we bought all 4 outfits for less than $50 combined.  I do love a good bargain! -Al

My co-worker, Alice, and I have flown together before.  We have tried many strategies to keep other people from sitting beside us.  In the early days, Alice would take the window, and I would just take the middle seat.  That wasn’t too bad, since at least I knew I could touch her without getting cooties.  I don’t like to sit between two people I don’t know, because you never know.  Even though I knew she was safe, the middle seat got a little claustrophobic, especially on long flights.  Then, we began sitting with Alice at the window and me on the aisle.  Our theory was that since we both are carrying a few extra pounds, no one would want to squeeze in between our voluptuous bodies.  We were wrong, as we soon found out.  On the first flight where we attempted that, a man happily squeezed right in between us, even though there were still plenty of seats available.  He seemed really glad to be there.  Creepy.

Anywho, our next attempt was to sit apart but slide a little closer together so that middle seat looked non-existent under our butts.  Then, we would act like we were sick.  Every time someone would pass us, we would take turns coughing, sneezing, rubbing our noses with the backs of our hands, etc.  That didn’t work either.  A grandmother with a baby sat between us.  I personally nominated her for grandmother of the year.

So, on this flight, we decided to take a new approach.  We began chatting incessantly about anything we could think of.  Then, we began giggle.  Then, the full laughter began, follow by the snorts.  Who would possibly want to sit between two fluffy middle aged women who were giggling together?  It almost worked this time, because no one volunteered to sit between us.  We were pretty close to the front of the plane, and everyone had walked past us.  No one even hesitated like they were considering squeezing in.  The flight attendant closed the door, and we thought we were home free.  Then, I heard the flight attendant say, “Sir.  There’s a seat up here.”  Crud.

I’m not sure what our next attempt will be.  I’m thinking of working up a sweat so I will am bright red and dripping.  Surely to goodness, no one would want to sit by me!  (Just ask my family.  They usually stay as far away from me as possible after I’ve exercised.  I’m a sweater and not the argyle kind.)

The man who is sitting between us seems nice enough.  He is meek and mild and skinny. (Thank goodness.)  Actually, for those of you who ever watched Conan O'Brien...I'm pretty sure the impression he used to do of a nerd was based on this guy.  (But he is pretty nice...just an odd little duck.)  The one alarming thing about him is that he is reading a book about China and bombs.  I don’t want to talk about it.  I’m still on the plane.

All in all, this flight has been an adventure.  Before the flight took off, the guys 2 rows behind us made the decree that their Vegas trip had officially begun.  They asked ten minutes into drink service when last call would be.  They wanted to make sure they didn’t miss.  They are very loud but weren't bothering me.  It was when the F-bombs started flying that I had reached my limit with them.  I keep waiting for the woman who is sitting beside me with her children to launch herself over the back of her seat and rip their mouths off.  If she does, I’ll be sure to get a video so you can see it.

You know the flight is loud and bad when a trip to the lavatory is a welcomed break.  Typically, I avoid anywhere that I can play a solo game of Twister, but in this case, I might just go back.  At least it is quiet in there.  I have a few observations about the airplane lavatory that I would like to share for posterity's sake.

First, and this is directly mainly to the boys among us - if you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat.  Seriously.  Some of us have to sit there.

Second, when you flush a toilet on an airplane, be sure to close the lid first.  If not, you may very well blow your ear drums out.  On an unrelated note, the next time you see me in public and call my name, don’t be offended if I can't hear you to answer you.

Third, when you are in the lavatory and hear a loud bang, don’t panic.  This happened to me.  I came out of the restroom, half expecting the back of the plane to be missing.  I was really hoping that half would include the potty mouths.  Too bad.  They were still there.

For the sake of journalistic honesty (yeah, right), I must also reveal that it really stinks when you visit the airplane lavatory and then return to your seat only to realize that the butt of your pants is wet.  I don’t want to discuss it.

Be sure to make a note of my lavatory research results.  They may save you or a loved one some anguish (or deafness).

On a final note, I would just like to confirm that Americans are, indeed, getting fatter.  And in case you didn’t know, I am an American.  

Ironically, to finish our flight, the flight attendant just honored the veterans on board and sang "God Bless America."  I agree, "God bless us, every one."     -Al

“Let’s go to the movies.  Let’s go see the stars.  Fred and Ginger spinning madly……Anything you can imagine….Songs and romance.  Life is the dance.  Sitting in the darkness, popcorn on your knee!  Give the maid the night off!  Turn the kitchen light off!   Let's go to the movies, Annie, you and me!”  (Lyrics from the song, “Let’s Go to the Movies” from the movie, “Annie.”  Really?  You didn’t recognize it?  You don’t get out much, do you?)

This is the song that was going through my head as I considered a trip to our local theater.  It’s an old theater, built in 1910, and it is A theater.  They show one movie a week on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8:00 PM.  That’s it.  Take it or leave it.

Today, we decided to take it.  I mean, why not?  We haven’t had much time to see our sweet little town, and I decided that tonight was as good as any.   I talked it over with Mr. E, and we decided we would take the kids to see “Despicable Me 2.”  Family entertainment at its best.

Our High Springs movie-going experience started with a trip to town earlier today to get the tickets.  The Beetle went with me.  I’m pretty sure we passed Marty McFly in his DeLorean on our way into town. (If you don’t get THAT movie reference, it might be time to get out a little more.)  I had to go to a hardware store on Main Street.  I was not alive in the 1950s, but I would imagine this was what stores looked like back then.  I would also imagine this store had not been cleaned since then.

The Beetle and I walked in, and as he admired the deer heads hanging on the wall, I walked toward the register area where there were 4 people staring at me.  I asked for tickets to the movie.  The matter-of-fact woman behind the cash register said, “How many?”  I asked for 4, and she said it would be $20.  I pulled out my Visa debit card, and she raised an eyebrow.  “We don’t take credit cards.  We take cash or checks.”  Yes, indeed, 1956.  Miracle of miracles, I had just put $20 in my wallet yesterday, so I gave it to her.  It’s a good thing I had put money in there, because my checkbook has been missing in action since we moved in April.  Does anyone actually write checks anymore?  Apparently they do, and they live in High Springs, Florida.

The cashier gave me our tickets, and I almost started laughing.  I managed to hold it in until I got outside.  I don’t know what I was expecting for a movie theater ticket, but this was not it.

So, the Beetle and I headed home so I could finish working before time for the movie.  The family decided to make an evening of it, so we headed out to have supper at our favorite burger joint.  This place only has outdoor dining, and they aren’t what I would call friendly.  We made it there at 6:58, not realizing that they closed at 7:00.  We were the last in line before they started sending everyone else away with, “We’re closed.”  They didn’t even apologize.  Apparently, they have not heard the rule that everyone in High Springs is friendly.

After our burgers, we headed over to the theater to get our seats.  We got there at 7:30 for an 8:00 show.  The Beetle was laughing at me for getting us there that early, because he said there would probably be only 3 people in the whole theater.  Boy, was he wrong!  The place was already hopping, and we were at risk of not getting good seats.  We walked into the lobby and saw this:

Mr. E patiently waited to get a photo for me, but these people just wouldn't move!
I was excited.  This looked like a cool old building, and the actual theater should be just as interesting.  It turned out to be interesting, but not necessarily in a good way.

The theater had apparently not been fully restored yet.  It had 2’x 4’ frames holding up the lights and speakers.  Surround sound was definitely not an option.  Besides that, we quickly discovered that the theory about Americans getting fatter and fatter was true.  I think we are getting taller too.  The little girl in front of us moved the wrong way, and her arm rest fell onto the floor.  I’m pretty sure the website had described the theater as, “Charming.”

As we walked through the archway to enter the theater, I felt like I was going to hit my head on the ceiling.  Men taller than Mr. E had to duck to get through.  It felt like the walls were closing in on us.  We got into the theater and found seats together.  We sat down, and the Beetle immediately turned around and looked back.  “What?”  I asked.  “Where is the head rest?” he said.  “About 50 years in the future,” was my answer.

After we waited for a while, Mr. E and I went to get drinks and popcorn.  When we came back, I handed the Beetle his popcorn as I stepped over him to sit down.  He insisted on having the aisle seat, so I made sure to step on his foot as I went. (We’ll call that “learning by natural consequence.”)  As I sat down, I noticed that the Beetle was looking all around his seat and underneath.  I asked him what he was looking for.  “Where are the cup holders?”  he said.  “With the head rests.”  This movie was getting better and better by the minute.

For the hour and 40 minute movie, I sat straight up and down, unable to cross my legs, unable to stretch my legs, unable to lean my head back, unable to move.  I had my purse on my lap and my bottled water on my lap and the popcorn on my lap.  It was so comfortable.  About half way into the movie, my legs and rear end went numb, so it was a little better.  About 15 minutes into the movie, the Beetle declared that he could not feel his feet.  He is such a good sport and is not one to complain.

Very quickly as the movie started, I realized that I did not have the same sense of humor as the town of High Springs.  Kids and grown ups were laughing hysterically at things that brought possibly a small grin to my face.  They must not get out much.  I’ll bet they had never heard of Marty McFly either.

The one line in the entire movie that made me laugh was apparently lost on everyone else, because I laughed loudly, and I was the only one who did.  Mr. Everything just looked at me.  I shrugged.  

I'm not saying the movie was bad.  It was a kids' movie.  It was typical.  I knew what I was getting myself into, and I was right.  I would recommend it, if you have kids.

The lady behind us did not have kids with her, and she thought the entire movie was hilarious.  In fact, she thought it was so funny that she had apparently seen it several times.  That way, she could tell her friend what was coming next.  “Oh, look, this is the good part…” she would say, and then she would talk along with the characters.  Each line was followed with a laugh that was indescribable.  The best way  I can explain it is that it was a, “hehehehehe, HA HA!”  Over and over and over.

Now, keep in mind that, before the movie had started, the Beetle was just about done.  He had no cup holder.  He had no head rest.  He was sitting much too close to me for comfort.  The child needs his personal space, you know.  So, when the lady started with her laughing and quoting, he was ready to go.  Each time she would laugh or talk, he would jerk his head in my direction and just stare at me with a smile on his face.  From this, I got tickled, and we both would end up laughing.  Mr. E thought we were really enjoying the movie.  We were, but not for the reasons he thought.

As though this was not bad enough, there was a character in the movie who reminded the Beetle and me of a family member.  I can’t say which character or which family member, because someone would end up not speaking to us.  Each time this character would appear on screen, the Beetle and I would start laughing again.  Then the lady behind us would quote something, and we would laugh louder.  We had a good time, even if it wasn’t because of the movie.

So, all in all, our first family trip to the local theater was a success.  I’m pretty sure I could say, “First and Last,” though, because the Beetle has already vowed, “Never again!”  He started saying that as soon as he finished unfolding his legs and prying himself out of the seat.  The Goose had a great time, because she was not by the Beetle.  Maybe this theater can be a daddy and daughter date place in the future.  Meanwhile, the Beetle and I will stay home and enjoy our soft, cushy couch and the end tables to hold our cups.   -Al