I’m just going to warn you now, in case the title of this story wasn’t enough for you, we’re about to take a trip down memory lane. If you don’t want to go, get out while you can. Consider yourself warned. This is a long story long. (Instead of a long story short.)

Recently, we found out the inn where we spent our wedding night would be closing its doors for good, after 83 years in business. We decided we had to go there one last time, because this place is just such a part of our history. Mr. Everything says we have the restaurant at this inn to thank for causing me to want to visit so many fine dining restaurants for my job. He might just have a point there.

The first time I ever heard about Chalet Suzanne was when I turned seventeen. Some sweet older people at our church told Mr. E about it. They would fly their plane there sometimes to have lunch. (Just a normal, average day in the life…) They told Mr. E he should take me there for lunch or for dinner, and he decided to do just that.

For my seventeenth birthday, Mr. Everything told me he had a surprise for me. He said he was taking me to a very nice dinner, and he wanted me to dress up. In fact, he bought me a dress for the occasion. (No, it wasn’t controlling…I promise. It really was a sweet gesture, though it sounds a little creepy and controlling in text. Trust me on this. It was sweet.)

Anywho, for my seventeenth birthday, 3 days before Christmas, Mr. Everything took me to Chalet Suzanne for dinner. We got there, and it was, by far, the cutest place I had ever seen. It was pink! And the buildings made it look like a Swiss village! And when it got dark, there were Christmas lights! It was magical, and I knew right away that I loved it, regardless of how the food was.

We entered the building that houses the 5 dining rooms, and the floor creaked underneath us. I felt like a giant as my head was only about 6 inches from the ceiling. This was an old building. We could just feel the age in the way the floor sounded and the way the walls and ceiling looked. It was old Florida at its best. The whole building slanted downward toward the back, so we walked that way. What we found was a dim, eclectic mixture of dining rooms like nothing I had ever imagined. It was awesome! The tables were set with plates and glasses that did not match each other. Everything was hodge-podge, and I loved it! We were seated in a room that had a grapevine with Christmas lights above us! It was spectacular! (I know I’m using a lot of exclamation points here, but you have to understand how amazing this place was!!!) (!!!) The host, we’ll call him Kenny Rogers, handed us menus and told us to enjoy our evening. (He really, really looked like Kenny Rogers. Really…Really.)

As we began to look at the menu, I pondered what the listings meant. There were words on there I did not even know how to pronounce, and under each menu item, there were numbers spelled out. For example, the menu said, “Chicken Suzanne. Our wonderful, succulent chicken breast cooked in blah, blah, blah. Fifty three.” I had no idea what “Fifty three” could mean, and I sat there trying to figure it out. Then, all at once, I realized what it meant. Oh. My. Gosh. That was the price!

I began to hyperventilate. (Okay, not really, but I felt like I was going to.) I thought I was going to fall out of my chair. I stammered, “We have to go.” Mr. E asked me why, and he was obviously taking great delight in this moment. “Because, those are the prices!” He told me not to worry about, and I said I was worried. I really thought he should be worried too. He insisted he knew the prices. I had tears in my eyes. He told me happy birthday, and he said to just relax and enjoy it. I told him it was too much money, and he assured me he had a discount card that would make it cost less. I accepted that answer, because I really wanted to stay in this cute little dining room all night. Later, I found out, the discount card only took off $25. I could have killed him, but I was really glad he made me stay.

The dinner was amazing! I had never experienced anything like it, and even now, with all the places I’ve been blessed to visit, I have never been anywhere else that could compare. First off, the service was impeccable. As soon as we would put our forks down after finishing the last bite of something, the server would appear, almost magically, and offer the next course. Also, the cool thing about this place was all the courses were included in the price. We had a broiled grapefruit (amazing…trust me on this), Moon Soup (What’s an adjective for amazing?), salad, an orange crepe to clear the palate, dinner (chicken for me, filet for the Mr.), lemon sorbet and finally, dessert. Oh. My. Goodness. Dessert. Mine was called Gateau Christina. It was layers of chocolate ganache and meringue. Even the iced tea was included. It was amazing. They brought me sugar water to sweeten the tea to my taste. I felt so fancy. They took our picture for our special occasion, and they brought us a can of Moon Soup. It was wrapped all pretty and had a candle on top.

That night, I knew where we would spend our wedding night. I was only 17, but I had known since I was 16 that I was marrying this man. I just had to wait until I was old enough so my parents would not freak out. After dinner, as we walked around and saw the village-like inn, I knew where I wanted to be.

Three years later, I got my wish. As crazy as it was, we drove from our wedding reception in our town to Chalet Suzanne, which was an hour east of us. We spent the night there, and then we got up and drove past our home town and then almost an hour west to catch our flight to our honeymoon destination. So, staying at Chalet Suzanne on our wedding night was not the most practical idea, but it was what I wanted, and Mr. E made sure I got it.

Our wedding night was so nice. We were both so tired from the festivities of the wedding. I had already cried for an hour straight on the way to the inn. (I explained that in this tale: CLICK HERE) We went to dinner at the cute little restaurant, and it was just as amazing as I had remembered. I ordered the exact same thing I had the first time. Why mess with perfection?

Our room was equally amazing. We stayed in the Tower. It was a room that had its own staircase with a little balcony area. The room had a Jacuzzi tub and a king sized bed. It was decorated with antiques and was so cute. I can still picture it. They provided Neutrogena toiletries. To this day, that smell takes me back to that room. We could not have picked a more magical setting for our wedding night.

We returned to Chalet Suzanne a few more times over the years for anniversaries. It was our original intent to return for every anniversary, but life, kids and finances made sure that did not happen. But, it was fun while it lasted.

PictureBehold, The Cow-Pig.
On our first anniversary, we painted a tile at the pottery shop at the inn. This was to go in the “Autograph Garden,” a magical place where celebrities and visitors could leave their marks. We decided to decorate a tile to commemorate the fact that we survived the first year. It was kind of a big deal. And of course, because our last name is a part of a pig, we had to draw a pig. Unfortunately, I had not learned to draw yet (not that I’m much better now, but I’m a little better…), and the pig turned out looking more like a cow. Now, every time I visit that Autograph Garden, I’m horrified to see how bad my drawing really was. Mr. Everything calls it the cow-pig. He’s so encouraging. I wonder why I could not have drawn a heart or a wedding ring or something else average and normal. (Oh that’s right….because I’m not.)

It was during that trip that I discovered the pottery studio and the antique chapel. There were just more and more things to love about the inn. The antique chapel was a little church (thus, the “chapel”) filled with antiques (thus, the “antique”). It was an eclectic collection of old stuff that could keep me enchanted for days. We loved to just stroll through the property and see all the antiques and alcoves. I just loved it there.

Next time, I’ll tell you about the breakfast visits to Chalet Suzanne. There are turtles involved. -Al

The other day, I went to the gym. I know, that’s unlike me to actually exercise. I've always said I’ll exercise if someone pays me to do it. Then, a mystery shopping company offered to pay me. Shoot. I should choose my words more wisely.

For this assignment, I had to attend a group exercise class. Oh, joy, my favorite. Exercise combined with talking to people in the morning. Fabulous. My choices were a class that had “combat” in the title or a water aerobics class. I decided anything named "Combat" should be avoided at all costs, so water aerobics, it was. I showed up half an hour before the class. There was another water aerobics class going on at that time, so I figured I could observe what I was about to get myself into. For posterity sake, I decided to record my thoughts. Okay. The times might be off a little, but you’ll get the idea. (And by the way, punctuation police, yes, I know, technically, there should be quotation marks on these, but I didn’t want to put them. Besides - for once - I did not say my thoughts out loud.)

9:35 AM Okay, here goes nothing. I’ll just sneak in and see what this class is like.

9:36 AM Why is the lifeguard looking at me? I’m not joining the class yet, lifeguard. Leave me alone.

9:37 AM Maybe if I go to that end of the pool and watch from a distance, I won’t be so obvious.

9:38 AM I’m the only one not swimming laps. Maybe I should swim laps so I blend in.

9:39 AM Yeah. Right.

9:40 AM How can I possibly have to go to the bathroom already? I went right before I came out here!

9:41 AM Those ladies look silly doing that. I hope I won't look like that.

9:42 AM Pardon me, little boy. No, no. Don't worry about kicking me. I love to be kicked by small children.

9:43 AM Why does the lifeguard keep looking at me? Maybe I should dance for her.

9:44 AM That would be a sight.

9:45 AM I wonder if I should dry off and go to the bathroom?

9:46 AM
Nah. I'll be fine.

9:47 AM I didn't know that dance was called the Cuban Shuffle. It looks really silly underwater.

9:48 AM Kid, if you kick me again, we're going to have a problem.

9:49 AM Does the mother not see him? Hello! Your child is kicking me.

9:50 AM I wonder if I should put on sunscreen? It’s still morning. I should be fine.

9:51 AM Maybe I should get out and go to the bathroom.

9:52 AM I wonder if there really is such a thing as dye that turns the water blue if you pee-pee in the water?

9:53 AM I guess I'd better not find out.

9:54 AM I'm pretty sure blue water would blow my cover as a mystery shopper.

9:55 AM I remember when suntan lotion was oily and actually made me burn. It’s a miracle I survived my childhood.

AM If I end up with skin cancer, I'm totally blaming my mother.

9:57 AM I'll just blame her for everything anyway. It's all my mother's fault.

9:58 AM I wonder what the Goose and the Beetle will blame on me? They have so much to work with....

9:59 AM Oh, crud. She’s ending that class. I guess I should go over there.

10:00 AM It’s all old ladies in this class. I should be fine.

10:01 AM You can do this. You're a survivor.

10:02 AM They are all talking to each other. No one is talking to me. Is it because I’m too young for this class? I wish I knew someone. Then, I'd have someone to chat with.

10:04 AM That one’s coming to talk to me. Please don’t talk to me.

10:05 AM I really should have gone to the bathroom.

10:06 AM (As the old lady talks to me) She knows I’m not her age, right? I mean, I really don’t fit in this group.

10:07 AM This isn’t so bad. Moving in the water – I can handle this.

10:08 AM I wonder if I keep doing this if my thighs will be as fit as the teacher’s thighs?

10:09 AM The teacher isn’t even in the water. How is she so skinny?

10:10 AM She probably goes to the combat class.

10:11 AM It has only been 11 minutes? I’m going to die.

10:12 AM I’m old. I do fit in with these ladies.

10:13 AM My arm flaps are making waves.

10:14 AM Everyone else has arm flaps too. I’ve found my new home.

10:15 AM This isn’t so bad. I could do this for a long time.

10:16 AM It has only been a minute?

10:17 AM The lifeguard is looking at us. He probably thinks we’re a bunch of old fat women. How embarrassing. Should I tell him I’m really not that old and that I can still wear my earrings from high school?

10:18 AM People are watching us. At least the water hides most of me. What would I look like right now if I were in the combat class?

10:19 AM I would be in an ambulance right now. At least I would be finished exercising.

10:20 AM I really should have put on sunscreen.

10:21 AM Oh good. We get to use swim noodles. This will be fun.

10:22 AM You want me to do what with the noodle?

10:23 AM These old ladies are putting me to shame.

10:24 AM I am sitting on a swim noodle in a public pool, pretending to ride a bike. This is a new low point in my life.

10:25 AM I think that little boy just pointed and laughed at me. Shut up, little boy, or I'll kick you.

10:26 AM Who cares? I’m 41 years old. Why do I care what people think? Laugh, little boy. You’ll be 41 one day.

10:27 AM 41. Ugh.

10:28 AM At age 41, you would think I would know to use sunscreen and to go to the bathroom before class.

10:29 AM I wonder if I’m really 41? Maybe my birth certificate was printed wrong. I’m really 31. That sounds better. My birth certificate probably is wrong. I'm sure it's my mother's fault.

10:30 AM I look pretty rough for 31. It’s probably because I didn’t use enough sunscreen.

10:31 AM I’ve made it through half the class! I can do this!

10:32 AM I’m not going to make it. I’ve got to go to the bathroom, and all this bouncing and water is not helping. Maybe I should test the blue dye theory. Nah. I'd better not.

10:33 AM How can pushing a swim noodle underwater hurt that much? This teacher has evil powers.

10:34 AM She may be evil, but she has nice thighs. I wish I still had nice thighs.

10:35 AM That’s why I’m here.

10:36 AM Okay, actually I’m here for the paycheck.

10:37 AM Maybe if I join this gym and keep coming back, I’ll have nice thighs.

10:38 AM (Looking around at my classmates.) Maybe not.

10:39 AM I’m too young for this class.

10:40 AM I should have gone to the combat class. I could have left to go to the bathroom.

10:41 AM Is that my skin I hear sizzling?

10:42 AM Is this class ever going to end?

10:43 AM Oh, look, the lifeguard is doing the motions to the YMCA song with us. I wonder if he would be able to see it if I used the bathroom in the pool?

10:44 AM Is he mocking us? How many of these women have used the bathroom in this pool?

10:45 AM That’s not nice, lifeguard. We’re trying, you know.

10:46 AM Old Ladies Who are Trying – that should be the name of this class. Better yet: Sunburned Old Ladies Who are Trying.

10:47 AM You want me balance on one foot in the water and do what? I’ve got to go to the bathroom! There is no way all these old ladies have gone this long without going to the bathroom.

10:48 AM I did it, and I made it look easy! I think I’m going to need a shower to wash off the pee-pee water when we are finished.

10:49 AM See? I am younger than my classmates, AND I managed to hold my bladder.

10:50 AM I hope the lifeguard saw that and realized just how young I really am.

10:51 AM I really wish I had used sunscreen. I could have put it on when I went to the bathroom before class.

10:52 AM Oh! She just said we would start the cool down!

10:53 AM How long do we actually have to cool down? We’re in the water. We aren’t hot.

10:54 AM This is never going to end. My flesh is burning, and I’ve got to go now!

10:55 AM Give myself a hug? Really? That’s weird. If I squeeze too hard, I’m going to pee-pee.

10:56 AM I guess it’s no weirder than riding a noodle bike in the water. I feel so light in the water. I'm a butterfly!

10:57 AM This was kind of fun! Now, I’ve got to go.

10:58 AM I would do this again. It's fun to float like a butterfly.

10:59 AM One minute to go! I’m going to have to run to the bathroom. I could fly since I'm a butterfly.

11:00 AM I made it! That was awesome! I want to do the next class! Which way to the bathroom? I'll flutter my wings and fly there!

11:01 AM (Getting out of the pool) I'm a hippopotamus! Do my arms and legs way 1000 pounds? Make way for the hippo! She's got to go!

11:02 AM Could someone please just carry me to my car? Better yet, can you take me to the bathroom?

11:03 AM The old ladies are moving just fine.  Rock on, old ladies! You’re my heroes, but don't any of you need to go to the bathroom?

11:04 AM Check me out with my bad self! I survived the class, and I made it all the way to the bathroom. Yay me!  

So, if ever you see me in public and wonder what's going on in my brain, you're probably better off not asking. Join me next time in water aerobics class, and you can think with me. Just be sure you go potty and put on sunscreen. You'll regret it if you don't! -Al

I’ve known for quite a while that raising a boy is very different from raising a girl. I’ve even had semi-heated discussions with other parents about which one is harder. My opinion? Typically, boys are harder when they are little because they are rough and energetic; however, they ain’t got nothin’ on the girls. Girls are an adventure all on their own, and from my experience, they make raising boys look like childs’ play. (Well, parents’ play, I guess.)

I see the difference between my boy and my girl constantly. My mother and mother-in-law see it too, as they often say, “He never talks to me,” or something similar about the Beetle. That is one thing no one has ever said about the Goose. She talks plenty.

Yesterday, though, I had a huge, huge reminder of how very different my children are in demeanor and personality. I took the Beetle shopping. This does not happen often. Since he finally finished growing at the speed of light, he actually has been able to keep his clothing for quite a while without needing new pants and shoes every three days. His shirts have fit him for years, because, while he was thicker before and required a little more width, he grew tall and thin, and the width of the shirt became length. It worked, and I didn’t have to buy him new clothes. Yay me.

We are getting ready for the kids to go to camp. As strange as it may seem, every year, camp means clothes shopping. I guess it’s because they have to pack for a week with several extra sets of clothes. Usually, about this time of year, we realize they only have enough clothes for four days. Since they don’t go to school, this isn’t usually a problem for us. We wear pajamas as school uniforms, you know. (She types, as she wears her nightgown at 12:16 PM…)

The Goose goes shopping much more than the Beetle. She is in the growth stage, where she grows two inches overnight. Her clothes seem to be shrinking in her closet, so we have to buy clothes pretty often. A shopping trip for the Goose usually means bracing myself for a day full of activity. We go from store to store, looking for the right size, the right material, the right color and the right fit. It’s a hard job. She’s pretty picky about what she wears. In her defense, the child takes after her mother – the one who gets angry if her socks choke her feet or her shirt rubs her the wrong way. Can you say, “Sensory issues?” Don’t say it so loudly. You’re hurting my ears.

A trip to the store with the Goose usually involves great discussion:

“Mama, what do you think about this one?”

“Mama, did you see this shirt?”

“Mama, doesn’t this remind you of the shirt I had 3 years ago?”

“Mama, will this fit me?” “No. You haven’t worn that size since the third grade.” “But it looks big.” “It won’t fit.” “I think it will. I’m going to try it on.” “It won’t fit.” “I’ll try it anyway, just in case.” “Whatever.” …….. (from behind dressing room door) “Mama, can you see if they have a bigger size in this?” *Sigh.*

“Mama, do they have a different color in this?”

“Mama, can you find pants to match this?”

“Mama, what about this one? What do you think?”




Last week, I asked the kids to start planning what they would pack for camp and to let me know what they were lacking. The Goose came with her list of items. The list took up a full page. We went the next day and knocked out just about everything on the list. The child now owns three times as many decent bras as I do. I’m not bitter. Really.

The Beetle shrugged and said he thought he had everything. I told him to be sure, because I did not want any last minute surprises. He came to me two days ago and said he needed jeans. “For camp?” I asked. He said yes, for camp. I asked why in the world he needed jeans for camp when it would be 150 degrees in the shade. He said he wanted to wear jeans. I asked him if he realized he would be the only weirdo wearing jeans at camp, and he shrugged and said he really didn’t care what everyone else thought. Somehow, I believed him.

So, yesterday, I decided I had enough energy to tackle Bealls and Wal-mart (Lord help me) for jeans. The Beetle said he was willing to go look, so we were leaving. I told him to let the Goose know we were leaving, and he said, “Do I have to?” I said yes, because I don’t like to leave without letting my kids know. He said she would want to go with us. I said she wouldn’t because we were just running to Wal-mart. He said she would. I said to just do what I said. The Beetle told the Goose we were running to Wal-mart, and she came running out of her room saying, “I want to go!” We should have snuck out.

So, the three of us headed to Bealls and Wal-mart. On the way, I told the Goose this was the Beetle’s shopping trip. I told her I had devoted hours, possibly days, to her shopping and that I was going to help the Beetle. I’m pretty sure I heard his eyes rattle in his head as he rolled them, but I didn’t care. I wanted to give him attention so he did not feel like I always did more for the Goose. She tends to dominate our lives, you know. The Goose said that was fine and she could shop on her own. I corrected her and said she could look on her own, because we were not shopping for her. I’m pretty sure I heard an, “Uh-huh,” under her breath.

We went in Bealls first. I was mentally prepared to allow the Beetle too look. I am not good at paying full price, especially full department store price, but I wanted him to get some good jeans. We got to the men’s department, and the jeans were on “sale” for $50. I practiced calm breathing. The Beetle said, “Okay, let’s go.” I told him to look, and he said, “I did. I don’t like anything.” I asked why, and he said he just didn’t. I asked if it was because of the price, and he said no. He just didn’t like the style. I wondered how he could know, since we had been in the department for less than 5 minutes, but I wasn’t questioning it since I was starting to hyperventilate at the idea of paying full price. The Beetle ended up getting a few shirts, and the Goose managed to sneak one in too. Then, off to Wal-mart we went.

In Wal-mart, the Beetle walked to the jeans display, picked up one pair and said, “Okay.” I asked if he wanted to try a few pair on to make the trip to the fitting room worth it. He said no. I said to humor me, and I picked out a few more pair. I asked if he liked the color. He said it was fine. I asked if he saw a shirt we passed, and he said he did. I asked if he liked the style of some shorts, and he said no. I asked if he wanted to look for swim trunks, and he said, “Sure.” He looked, literally looked, at a rack and said they did not have anything he wanted. I asked about 75 more questions that he answered with one word answers. Meanwhile, the Goose was across in the women’s department, holding up shirts and yelling to me, “Mama, do you like this shirt?” “Mama, what about this color?” “Mama…..”

I followed the Beetle to the fitting room, but he was already in the room by the time I got there. The Goose came and starting trying on all the clothes she was just looking at. The Beetle came out to show me the first pair of jeans he had picked out (only because I insisted on seeing them). He said, “These are good. Let’s go.” I asked if he had tried on the jeans I had picked up. He said no. I asked if he was going to, and he said, “Why? These fit.” And with that, he had picked his jeans.

I asked the Beetle if he was sure he had the right size. They looked a little big to me. He said they were fine. I asked what size he was wearing currently, and he said he didn’t know. I asked him what size the jeans he had worn from home were, and he said he didn’t know. I told him to look at the tag, and he said, “Well, these don’t fit.” I asked him what he meant they didn’t fit. He said he had to use a belt to hold them up because they were so big. Now, mind you, this was all in front of the Wal-mart fitting room lady who was beginning to believe I was a neglectful parent. And, by the way, the jeans were a little baggy, but not THAT big. I asked him again what size they were, and he named a size that was 6 sizes too big for him. (Please don’t call DCF, Wal-mart lady.) I asked where he got the jeans from, since I knew I had not bought them. He mumbled something about someone giving them to him. I asked why he wore them if they were that big, and he said they were the only jeans he had. (1. Not true. 2. Wash your laundry.) I asked why he had not let me know this, and he said he did. (Yeah. Two days ago. Put the phone down, Wal-mart lady.) 

With that, I told him to pick the ones he wanted and to go get more.  He went and got two more pair of the same style in the same size and the same color. I asked if he wanted to mix up the color a little, and he humored me. He ended up with two lighter wash and one darker wash. I expressed disappointment and said I preferred the dark wash and would like to see him with two pair of those. He just looked at me.

Five minutes after we had arrived at Wal-mart, the Beetle had his jeans and was ready to go. We waited thirty more minutes while the Goose tried on clothes. I walked back and forth to grant the requests of different sizes, different colors, different everything. The Beetle acted as though he was going to die if he had to stay in the store any longer.

As I stood there waiting for the Goose to finish in the fitting room, I realized how very different my children really are. I’m not sure if it’s just a boy/girl thing or if there’s more to it. I have demanding and docile, dominating and disappearing. It amazes me how very different they are. Now, my challenge is to keep one from taking over the world and to keep the other one from being forgotten and pants-less. Good luck to me. -Al


Two Buds



At some point or another, each of my kids has asked me how they can get a best friend. I have tried unsuccessfully to explain to them how to find one, but really, I have no idea. I do know, if they are lucky, really lucky, they will find one.

I met my first real best friend when I was in the 10th grade. We had gym class together. We met while running. More accurately, we met when we had rounded the back corner of the baseball field where the coach couldn’t see us, and we were walking. Willow was wearing an Wham t-shirt and had big hair. I thought she was a druggie. I don’t know what I was wearing, but I had a thick southern accent. I’m sure I had big hair too, since it was the 80’s. She thought I was a redneck. It was a match made in heaven.

I don’t really remember how our friendship progressed from there, but I know it quickly became adventures and sleepovers, usually at my house. She lived in a neighborhood close to me, and my mother and I began picking Willow up on our way to school. Willow and I laughed together, shopped together, watched movies together and analyzed everything a boy ever said to us together. We had to evaluate to see if his words really meant he liked us or he didn’t like us. We spent much time wondering what was wrong with us, since by the ripe old age of 15, neither of us had dated yet. We were convinced we were freaks.

A few times, Willow and I got to travel together. Once, when we were probably 17, we went to Daytona Beach with her family. My favorite memory of that whole trip was when we were driving back. Willow’s family was large, so we could not all fit in one vehicle. Her parents and younger siblings were in the car in front of us, and we were in Willow’s car. Traffic was terrible, and we quickly found ourselves stuck in the middle of an intersection in gridlock. An angry driver floored his car and came toward us like he was going to hit us. Willow’s dad saw this happen and quickly attempted to jump out of his car to come rescue us. Unfortunately, he forgot to unfasten his seatbelt first, so what started as a heroic act turned into a hilarious scene of him coming out and then being bounced back into his car. We laughed until we cried.

On other trips, we went by ourselves. I’m not sure what our parents were thinking, but they let us go. Somehow, we made it back alive. Remember, these were the days without GPS and cell phones. We loaded up the car and went, with paper maps in hand. Between Willow’s incredible lack of directional insight and my incredible inability to properly read a map, we were good to go!

Once, we went to Cocoa Beach. Of course, we were there during Spring Break, but we were nowhere near the typical Spring Break scene. We stayed in a quiet little motel near the water. No alcohol, no boys, no breaking the rules…we were quite the partiers. The most daring thing we did was drive across to Melbourne Beach to find a Subway. But, lest you think we were too cautious, we went at night. In the dark. With just a paper map. Woo. Rebels.

Actually, now that I’m an adult (well, sort of), I’ve wondered if my mother was aware that we did things like that when we traveled. (Now she’s aware…teehee…Hi, Mama! We were good, I promise!) Willow had a craving for a Subway sandwich, and back then, there was not a Subway on every corner. The only one we could find in the phone book (You see, kids…we used to use this thing called a phone book. It was made of paper, and we had to turn pages to find what we needed….) was across town. Little did we know it was in a seedy neighborhood, but Willow needed a sandwich. Out we went, with paper map in hand. We found it, and she got her sandwich. We made it back to the motel in the dark. We had come. We had seen. We had conquered. Luckily, we had not gotten murdered, mugged or maimed by the creepy guys hanging around the outside of the Subway.

We went to St. Augustine at least once. I know, I know. When you think of “Spring Break Party,” the country’s oldest city is the first thing that comes to mind. This time, we stayed at a roach motel right on the interstate. Classy. We weren’t even near the beach, but it didn’t matter. We created our own fun.

On this trip (and possibly some others), we decided to take promotional photos for the hotel. Of course, we knew it was just for our own fun, but it was, indeed, fun! I still have those pictures somewhere. There’s the one of Willow, sitting casually on the bed (back straight, legs crossed, not at all posed). She’s reading the Gideon Bible as though it is the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen. There’s the one of me standing in the shower, peeking out from around the curtain, with a shocked look on my face. We really were strange. It’s a good thing we’ve grown into such normal adults. (HA!)

So, this trip down memory lane was brought to you by the fact that Willow and I went on a Girls’ Trip this weekend. Let’s just call it, “Moms Gone Wild.” Okay. Maybe that’s not accurate. “Moms Talking, Laughing and Eating A Lot” is probably better.

We were remembering our past trips, and I realized, we really haven’t changed that much. Willow still has no sense of direction whatsoever. I still can’t read a map, but the GPS takes care of that, thank goodness. We are still as silly as ever, but now we don’t care whether boys like us or not. Our husbands do, and that’s all that matters. (Okay, well, we were a little giggly in front of the really cute waiter at dinner last night. However, when I realized he was probably 4 years older than my child, it sort of killed the mood.)

I will say, this time, we did not drive across town at night for a Subway sandwich. Nope. We’ve grown up. This time, we drove across town at night for a smoothie. And might I just give a big “thank you” to Smoothie King for being open until 11:00. I’m pretty sure it was going to be a long night if Willow didn’t get her smoothie.

There were no funny pictures on this trip. We’re much too mature for that. Okay. That’s a lie. This time I posed like I was reading.

Our plans were to sit by the pool and read and go to the beach and read. We did manage to go to the beach. For 30 minutes. Until it rained. We didn’t read there. We walked by the pool. I read status updates on Facebook a few times. Does that count?

When we were in high school, since Willow and I shopped together and discovered the same sales, we had many outfits that were alike. Several times, we accidentally showed up to school dressed alike. It really was by accident. We weren’t THOSE girls. Anywho, I had just thought that it was funny how different our clothing styles are now and how there was no chance we would dress alike now that we are grown. However, as I sat writing this, wearing a black shirt and brown capris pants, Willow came out of her room wearing a black shirt and brown shorts. I guess some things never change. I’m pretty sure our friendship is one of those things.

I’m blessed by a few good friends, and Willow was my first true lifelong friend. She and I are so different in so many ways, but we are also alike. Best of all, we can be goofy together without fear of judgment or ridicule. Okay, maybe there will be a little ridicule, but it’s only done in love. This is my hope for my kids that each can find a Willow. Well, not my Willow. She’s taken. They’ll have to find their own. -Al

I’ve always been fascinated by dreams. When I took high school psychology, I loved the chapter we studied on dreams. It was amazing to read about the different things dreams could symbolize. I believe dreams can have significant meaning. The Bible is full of examples of that. I’m glad, though, that my dreams have never come true. It would be a weird world we lived in if they did.

Mr. Everything says his dreams are normal. Of course they are. He says people look like who they are, and things happen logically in his dream world. Of course they do. He’s nothing if not logical. In his dreams, apparently, there are car chases and fights and other scenes that could be right out of a movie. In my dreams, no one looks like they do in real life, and weird things happen.

Once, right after we were married, Mr. E punched me in his sleep. He said he was dreaming about a fight. Uh-huh. As you can imagine, I certainly have not held the fact that he punched me over his head when I needed guilt material. Oh, no. Not me.

Of course, I can beat that. The week after we got home from our honeymoon, I wet the bed. I woke up, horrified, and went to get a towel. I was hoping he wouldn’t notice. He woke up and said, “Please tell me you did not just do what I think you did.” He stayed with me anyway. Now, that’s love.

When I was a little girl, I had the most vivid dream that I still remember to this day. I dreamt my mother, my sister and I were driving in a car. I was in the backseat, and my mother and sister were in the front. Suddenly, there was a choir of angels in the sky. I can’t remember what they were singing, but it was, well, angelic. My mother passed out. I told my sister she would have to drive. Then, she passed out, too. I had to lean from the backseat to the front so I could steer. Then, I remembered I was six and I couldn’t drive, so I woke up. I have pondered many times what that dream could possibly have meant. I still don’t know. It’s either a really good sign or a really bad sign when angels sing to you in your sleep.

When I was a teenager, I had another dream that has stuck with me all these years. (According to my kids, that’s like 100 years ago…) My mother and I decided to rob a bank. We didn’t make any plans. We just went for it. As we were climbing the wall using one of those rope thingies you throw over a wall to climb up, the sirens started going off. (You can tell I’m a real criminal…I don’t even know what those rope thingies are called.) My mother said it would be fine. She said to keep climbing. I, being the ever-obedient child, did what she said. Then we went to jail. Honestly. There was no arrest. We just popped into jail. Then, I realized I was only 15 and they wouldn’t put me in a cell with my mother, and I woke up. The next day, when my mother asked if I want to go to the store and the bank with her, I graciously declined.

I’ve had the horrible dreams where I’ve woken up crying. I hate those. Usually, they involve my kids. They are too bad to even discuss the details of. Let me just say that if any of those things actually happened to my kids, I wouldn’t cry. I would do permanent, excruciatingly painful damage to the person who hurt one of my bear cubs. Then I would cry.

I had a dream once that I had a pet baby giraffe. It was so little and cute, and I kept in my bathtub. The problem was, I couldn’t find anything to feed it. I kept asking around to see if anyone could help me feed my baby giraffe. No one would help. No one had any answers. No one would feed the giraffe. Then, I remembered my ceiling wasn’t tall enough for a giraffe, and I woke up.

When my mother and I discussed that dream, she said she was pretty sure the baby giraffe was our pottery business. It was starving to death, and no one would feed it. She said, “Oh! I’m sorry! I’ll feed your giraffe!” Thanks for trying, Mama. And just so y’all know, the giraffe died. Then it burned. Good times.

Of course, there's the recurring dream that my best friend, Willow, convinces me to go to school naked. She insists that it's Naked Day and everyone will be naked. I take her word for it and show up in my birthday suit. I quickly find out I'm the only one celebrating the day. Even Willow has on clothes, but no one seems to notice the fact that I'm naked. I'm not sure what that says about my physique. I usually look around the school hallway, realize there's no way I would be naked and wake up.

It's pretty obvious that these dreams mean I have feelings of betrayal. I'm not sure what Willow did to me (or if it's really even her). I can't recall being betrayed!  She and I have laughed about this dream, though, because there is no way either of us would have ever considered going to school naked. We barely even wore shorts above our knees!

I have one dream over and over again, and it really freaks me out. Throughout my adult years, I can’t count the number of times I have dreamt that a big freaky spider, or sometimes lots of little spiders, were falling on me in my bed. On a regular basis, I jump out of bed, fling the covers back and flip on the lights. Mr. E has gotten used to it. He doesn’t even stir anymore when it happens.

The funny thing is, I’m really not afraid of spiders. I mean, I don’t want to love one and take care of one and name it George or anything, but I’m not scared of them. As long as my shoe is bigger than the spider, I’m good. So, the fact that I am so terrorized by these big spiders in my sleep is very strange.

The other day, I decided to Google the meaning of that dream. It turns out, many people believe having that dream is a sign of being overwhelmed or stressed out. Ya think?

So, while some people wish for their dreams to come true, in my case, I can honestly say I’m glad mine haven’t. If they did, I would be a naked bank robber, covered in spiders, leading a skinny giraffe around while a band of angels sang to me. No thanks. I think my life is interesting enough without all that excitement.  -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

Here’s a confession. I love Easter candy. There, I’ve said it. Don’t judge me. While you may think you understand this statement, you might be wrong. I might not love Easter candy for the reason you think I do.

Don’t get me wrong. I love sugar. I love chocolate. I love anything sweet and ooey-gooey, but I can get that all the time. Okay, well, I can’t get Cadbury Crème Eggs or marshmallow Peeps all the time, but I can buy them and hide them for later. (Ignore that last statement, children. There is no candy hidden in our house. No need for you to go searching for it…)

I really have always loved Easter candy. When I was pregnant with the Beetle, I craved Peeps. Back then, they only sold Peeps at Easter time. There were no Valentine’s Peeps and Christmas Peeps like they have now. I wanted a marshmallow bunny so badly I could taste it, but they weren’t available in the stores yet. Then, I found out I had gestational diabetes, so I could not eat sugar. After my appointment, I went to Wal-Mart, only to find Peeps for sale. (I’m pretty sure Wal-Mart did it on purpose. Another reason I don’t heart Wal-Mart.) I pined for Peeps throughout the remainder of my pregnancy. I talked about them non-stop. After Easter, when the Beetle was born, my mother, my sister and Willow all came to my hospital room and threw boxes of Peeps onto my bed. (I’m pretty sure the phrase they said was, “Now, eat them and shut up.”) Ironically, once the Beetle was born, I no longer wanted Peeps, and they didn’t even taste good to me.

Although I love Easter candy for the flavors, I love it more for the colors. I love to walk down the Easter aisles at the store (not Wal-Mart – I don’t love anything about Wal-Mart).  I love the bright colors. I love the ducks and bunnies. I love the happy little chicks staring at me. It’s a candy wonderland.

I also love Easter in general. I love dying Easter eggs. I love new dresses (although I hate shopping for them). I love to see little girls and old ladies in hats. (Maybe I should get a hat to wear…) There is a freshness in the air, and the world is happy. It’s spring. It’s new. It’s Easter.

I think dying Easter eggs is fun to me because it reminds me of one of my favorite childhood pass-times. I’m not sure how this started, but when I was probably about 8 or 9, I started mixing colors. My mother gave me food coloring and all kinds of bottles, glasses and containers to use. I would go in the bathroom, fill the containers with water and start adding dye. I would see what new colors I could discover. This provided hours of entertainment. Now, I’m not sure if my mother was a genius or if she just got lucky and found something that kept me from saying, “I’m bored.” Either way, she gave me the key to colors, and I loved it. Little did I know, this was actually hands-on training for my future occupation as a paint-your-own-pottery store owner. The knowledge I had picked up by playing with water and dye in the bathroom came in quite handy when customers wanted to know how to mix the perfect shade of green. Brown? Red, yellow and a dot of black.

Hiding Easter eggs is fun too. Though I would not have agreed with this statement when my kids were little and wanted me to hide the eggs for the 100th time on a Tuesday afternoon, I now can say it is fun. My babies don’t want me to hide eggs for them anymore, and that makes me a little sad. However, when I’m taking a nap on Easter afternoon, I won’t feel too bad about it.

Easters when we were little were spent in the swimming pool. I didn’t grow in up in Florida where it’s summer by Easter. No way. I grew up in South Carolina where, though we didn’t have to break the ice, the swimming pool certainly wasn’t warm enough for us to go swimming. My sister and I did not care, though. If Daddy opened the pool, we were in it. Once, I literally saw my sister’s legs turn blue from the water. It didn’t matter. We swam anyway.

One Easter when we were still in South Carolina, I had a pink dress. I remember it. It was much frillier than anything I’ve ever managed to dress the Goose in. I was probably 7 or 8 at the time. I had a white frilly hat and white gloves. (It was the 80’s. Don’t judge me.) We went to the First Baptist Church in our town. It was technically our home congregation, but I certainly never felt at home there. No one was nice to me. One girl, whose name I can still remember (though I can’t remember a person I met yesterday), used to glare at me during the prayers. I never knew what I did to her, but she did not like me. Since I worried about what everyone thought of me, I let this ruin any chance I had of enjoying church or wanting to be there.

This particular Sunday, though, I had another incident that is forever burned in my brain. A boy in my Sunday school class was making fun of my gloves. (Apparently, he didn’t know it was the 80’s.) He kept trying to write on my white gloves with a pencil every time the teacher looked away. Evil little creep. Finally, he reached over and stabbed me with the pencil. The lead of the pencil went through my glove and pierced my skin. It left a black mark in my skin that I could still see until just about a year ago. I can’t say I held a grudge, but it’s kind of hard to forget being stabbed by a pencil when you’re still carrying around the mark! It’s funny, though, that I was more outraged about him messing up my white gloves than I was about being stabbed with a pencil.

I never wore gloves again after that day. That little jerk made me self-conscience of my style.

It’s funny how, even now, as I think back to Easters past, these are the things I remember. I’m sure we had traditions, and I’m sure my mother worked to make Easter special for us. I know we dyed Easter eggs. I wouldn’t have missed a chance to make a mess. However, it’s not any of those traditions I think of. It’s being stabbed with a pencil and turning blue while swimming that come to mind. Since my kids have been born, I have tried to make Easter memorable for them. I wonder, though, what they will actually remember about Easters past.

I know one thing the Beetle will always remember (and the Goose loves to tell). It happened the year the Goose was born. With both kids, part of my “nesting” rituals was to get prepared way ahead of time. When the Beetle was born in April, I had already bought gifts for birthdays through August. I guess I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to leave the house. I’m not sure.

Anywho, when the Goose was born, I went weeks ahead of time to find an Easter outfit for the Beetle. She was actually due after Easter, but she came early, so it was fortunate I had planned ahead. The Goose came home from the hospital the Saturday before Easter, so there would have been no time to shop.

The Beetle loved purple. He lived for the color purple. I suspect, though he won’t admit it in his manliness now, he still secretly loves the color purple. He was turning four soon after the Goose was born, so he was not yet ashamed of his color. I went shopping for an Easter outfit for him, and I decided to stop at a local consignment shop. There, in the boys’ department, was the most awesome pair of plaid overalls in purple! They were his size. It was meant to be. I bought the overalls and found a shirt to go with them. The Beetle looked so cute.

So, Easter morning came, and I dressed the Beetle in his new outfit. I took pictures. “Stand by the tree and smile!” “Look this way and smile!” “Quit scaring your newborn sister and smile!”

I sent Mr. E and the Beetle off to church, and I stayed home with my 3 day old baby Goose. When Mr. E and the Beetle got home, Mr. Everything was laughing. I asked him what was funny, and he said, “Since when do we dress our boy in girl’s clothing?” He said the Beetle was wearing a girl’s outfit and people at church had noticed. I insisted it was NOT a girl’s outfit. The overalls were in the boys’ section, and people needed to get enlightened to the fact that purple could be a boy’s color too. Mr. E called the Beetle over and had me look closely. The buttons had hearts on them. Oops. Well, at least my boy was manly enough he could pull it off. He still looked cute, and to this day, that is one of my favorite Easter outfits for him.

Now, the Beetle loves (as you can imagine) to hear the story of the year he went in drag for Easter. I’m sure this will be one of the great Easter memories I’ve created for my kids. At least they didn’t get stabbed with a pencil.  -Al

For a while now, I’ve wanted to introduce you to my grandmother, Kate. She was probably one of the strangest characters in my life. My grandmother was, well, crazy. Sometimes, it was in a ha-ha-crazy kind of way, and sometimes it was in a just-plain-crazy kind of way. Bless her heart. (That’s a southern thing. It’s okay to say what you want about someone as long as you say, “Bless her heart,” after it. Maybe you didn’t know that. Bless your heart.)

I called my grandmother, “Granny Meatloaf.” This wasn’t the normal name I called her. Normally, she was Grandmother. However, when I was feeling particularly frisky or brave, I called her “Granny Meatloaf.” I have no idea why. She didn’t make meatloaf. My older cousins called her “Granny,” so maybe I got that part from them.

Grandmother lived a hard life. Like everyone from her generation, she endured hard work and times of poverty. By the time I knew her, I don’t think she was poor. She lived like she was broke, but she had plenty. We would arrive at Grandmother’s house after dark, and at first, we would wonder if she was already asleep. Then, though, we would see her 10 watt light bulb burning in the window, and we would know she was awake. Wouldn’t want to waste electricity, you know.

My grandmother was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. When I was 7 years old, we left our beach house in paradise (okay, really, Isle of Palms, SC) and moved back to the town where my grandmother lived. My mother wanted to be nearby to take care of her mother. I vaguely remember moving back, and I think, at that point, we thought grandmother was dying. (I could be making that up, but hey, it’s my story…) My grandmother lived until I was 19 years old. I’m pretty sure, for a few years there, my father was convinced his mother-in-law would never leave. We joked she was going to outlive us all.

My grandmother was 69 years old when she died. I remember people at the funeral saying how young she was. I disagreed. To me, she was ancient. She had been old forever. Now, as my age increases, I realize how young she really was. In my defense, though, she had acted like an old lady for as long as I had known her, so she was old to me.

Grandmother worked at a factory. I think they made plastic bags. I’m pretty sure that’s where the rare leukemia came from. Back then, they figured “what didn’t kill you made you stronger” even applied to industrial chemicals. (You’ve got that song playing in your head now, don’t you? Sorry about that.) No need for respirators or protective gear.

Grandmother would come home from work with rubber bands on her wrist. I don’t know what the rubber bands were for, but she always had them. She would hang them from the gear shifter on the steering column of her car.

Speaking of column, my grandmother had some pretty funny words she used. Column would be one of them. She said, “Colyum.” I still can’t say column correctly because of her. Thanks, Grandmother.

Some other fun words a la Kate were candlelobster, tarco and therpy. If you wanted to set the table for a fancy dinner, you would put a candlelobster on it. You would not want to get Tarco Bell for the fancy meal. The therpy would come in handy if you had an injury to your knee. That physical therpy can be difficult, though.

Grandmother used to grow a garden. She always had strawberries growing. They were never sweet, but there was just something about picking strawberries fresh from the vine and eating them. (Now that I live near the Strawberry Capital of the World, that doesn’t sound nearly as special.) Once, my sister and I got fussed at by my mother for eating all of Grandmother’s strawberries. Grandmother had probably worked for months to get her vines to grow those berries, and then my sister and I wiped them out in one afternoon. I also got in trouble for picking grandmother’s flowers in the front yard. I thought they were weeds, but they ended up being some kind of special plant that Grandmother had gone to a lot of trouble to grow. Oops. My bad.

Grandmother would dry apple slices outside. She would put them out on the trunk of her car or on the driveway and would put a window screen over them to keep the bugs off. I’m not sure how effective that was, but they were still good, bugs and all. She would use the apples to make fried apple pies. Those little pies were amazing, as long as she remembered to add sugar. Since then, I have never found anyone who can make fried apple pies like my grandmother.

Grandmother was sometimes forgetful when she cooked. In fact, as she aged, her cooking got worse and worse. For one thing, she only used the cheapest of ingredients. Cheap store-brand margarine just doesn’t create the same baked goods as real butter, no matter how good a cook you are (and she really wasn’t all that good). Grandmother made peanut butter ice cream once that would have been really good if she had just remembered to sweeten it. She made black walnut cakes that were delicious. However, they were major dental work waiting to happen. She was not good at taking the nuts from the shells. I’d be going along, enjoying my piece of cake and then, AAUGH! Shell.

I still prefer my grits lumpy. That’s because that was how Grandmother made them – with HUGE lumps. The scrambled eggs had brown spots from being burned. I’m not so crazy about that now. One thing she made pretty well was popcorn. When I would spend the night at her house, she would pop real popcorn on the stove and put melted margarine on top. (Or, futter, as my kids call it. Fake butter.)

Grandmother was cheap. With a capital C. I’m pretty sure I have some of her genes in me. There was a local pizza shop, called the Pizza Factory. One summer when I was little, they sold glass Coca Cola pitchers and offered free refills. I’m pretty sure they meant free refills for the summer, but they did not specify that. For years, any time I would spend the night at Grandmother’s house, we would go pick up a pizza and get that pitcher filled. She would take a (used!) piece of aluminum foil to cover the pitcher with so we could get it home without spilling Coke everywhere. Then, when we would get to the car with it, she would take a rubber band from her steering colyum and put it around the rim of the pitcher. That pitcher got a crack in it after years of use. Luckily, the crack was in the top 1/3 of the pitcher. At that point, Grandmother would just have them fill it to the line. She got her money’s worth out of that $5 pitcher. Bless her heart.

We were never allowed to throw away anything in the trash can in Grandmother’s bathroom. That’s because it wasn’t really for trash. That was where she stored the partial rolls of toilet paper she had collected from various and sundry places. We weren’t allowed to talk about it, although my sister and I thought it was pretty stinkin’ funny that she stole toilet paper.

Grandmother was a crafter. I know I got some of those genes. She could do any handiwork, I’m pretty sure. She crocheted. She tatted. If you don’t know what tatting is, Google it. It’s sort of like lace made with thread. She tried to teach me that once, but all I managed to do was tie knots. Grandmother made yo-yo bedspreads. (Google!) Most of all, she quilted. She had a quilting room that had a huge quilting rack that filled it. That room was always cold because she had the air vent shut off in there. and she kept the door closed to save electricity. In the winter, when Grandmother would have her wood stove cranked up to “flames of hell” temperature, my sister and I would escape to that cold quilting room and bask in the cool air while playing under Grandmother’s current work in progress.

Speaking of the wood stove, Grandmother used to be able to look at a fire and tell if it was “packin’ snow.” I have no idea what that means, but if Grandmother said the fire was packin’ snow, it was going to snow. She was almost always right about that.

Okay, you’re probably bored with my stories of my grandmother, but I could go on all day long. I won’t, but I could. I keep remembering things as I’m writing. She just gave me so much material! I could tell you about how she and I would play Kismet (Google!) or how she would come to our house on Christmas morning or how she would say, “Dan. Stop it,” when my father joked around with her. (You have to read that in a southern accent. Dan has two syllables.) I really could go on all day long. I just have to tell you one last story. It’s my favorite, and it was hilarious, at least to me.

When I was about the same age as the Goose, my grandmother and I headed over to the small town, Union, where my grandfather’s relatives lived. We would go there sometimes to visit my Aunt Ruby, who really was not my aunt at all. I’m pretty sure she was third cousin, twice removed, or something like that.

As we drove into town, I noticed flags hanging from the light posts. They had a letter “K” on them. I asked my grandmother what they were for, and she began thinking about it. She stayed quiet, thinking for about a minute, and then she began thinking aloud. She said, “I know what it is. It’s the Que Cluck Clan. I just know it. The Que Cluck Clan. Oh, I can’t believe it. How can that be? The Que Cluck Clan in Union.” For a second, I had no idea what she was talking about. Then, I realized it, and I had to fight to hold the laughter in. She thought it was the Klu Klux Klan.

Now, Grandmother grew more and more distraught over this as we drove. She was almost in tears. She just kept repeating “Que Cluck Clan” over and over and over, and I was just about to the howling stage of laughter. I wasn’t even keeping it in at this point, but she was so busy being shocked by the Que Cluck Clan, she didn’t even notice my disrespect. I found this hilarious, and her pronunciation was awesome. Even now, I can’t say the name of the club the correct way. It just wouldn’t be right.

When we got to Aunt Ruby’s house, Grandmother went rushing in. She was so upset that the Que Cluck Clan was there. Aunt Ruby asked what in the world she was talking about, and Grandmother explained about the flags. Turns out, the Kudzu Festival was taking place the weekend after. In case you don’t know what kudzu is, bless your heart, it’s the plant that ate the south. (Google!) As Aunt Ruby explained that there would be kudzu jelly and fried kudzu flowers, I was laughing so hard, I was crying. Bless my grandmother’s heart. The Que Cluck Clan.

My grandmother was certainly not perfect, and I could probably just as easily write as much about all the negatives. However, I choose to think about the funny memories my grandmother gave me. If nothing else, she gave me writing material, and she was certainly an interesting character in my story!  -Al

When we moved to Tampa, I was angry with my parents. Actually, that’s an understatement. I was furious, beyond furious, with my parents. I won’t go into the details of why I was so angry. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t win me any points with them. I will say, though, that I was so mad about moving to Tampa that I called it “Tampax” for the first six months. I was here, but I wasn’t happy about it.

We moved to Tampa from Knoxville, TN. It wasn’t that I was upset about leaving there. We had been there for two years, and they had been the worst two years of my life. To date, those would still be two of the worst years of my life, though I must say 2012 gave them a run for their money. So, it wasn’t that I cared about leaving Knoxville. I mean, I hadn’t finished a sentence the whole time I lived there. You see, I was raised in South Carolina, where people take their time finishing their sentences. Slow and southern…that’s how we spoke. However, in Knoxville, people might have been southern, but slow was not how they rolled. They all sounded like auctioneers or like the guy on car commercials who tells all the rules at the end. Bless their hearts, those Tennesseans didn’t let me finish a thought for two whole years. That was just one of the many reasons I was angry.

When we came to Tampa, we first left my sister at college in Tennessee. We still joke that we moved away and left her twice, but she managed to find us both times. The first time was when she was in high school. She went on a school trip to Europe for a month, and when she came back, we had moved. She didn’t even know we were moving before she left. We picked her up from the airport and headed to the new house. She said, “Where are we going?” Oops…I guess we should have told her. So, when we dropped her off at college and moved out of the state two days later, I’m pretty sure it brought back bad memories for her. She still managed to find us eventually, though and came home on school breaks.

When we drove to Florida, we drove overnight, or at least that’s how I remember it. I remember every time I would get to sleep in the car, my parents would stop to get gas, go to the bathroom, etc. It was very annoying, and it only angered me more, if that was possible. I was 14, you know. That’s an angry age anyway.

Daddy got us settled in the local Ramada Inn here, and he headed back to Knoxville. He had to finish working up there, but we moved before him so I could start school at the beginning of the school year. Otherwise, I would have gone to school for only a few weeks up there and then would have started late here. There were not many hotel choices in Brandon back in the day, and the Ramada was the only one that would allow us to have our dog, Frazier. Frazier was a five pound Yorkie, so it wasn’t like he could do that much damage to a hotel room, but there was no room at the other inns for him.

Mama, Frazier and I lived in the Ramada Inn for five weeks. In a way, it was fun. We had two adjoining rooms, so I had my own hotel room and bathroom. I didn’t even have to clean it, because I had daily maid service. (Hmmm, with the way they leave their rooms, I wonder if my kids believe they are living in a hotel....)  It got to the point where the maid would take Frazier out for a walk when she came to clean our room. That was handy, because it meant we didn’t have to rush back to take care of him if we had somewhere to go. Every morning, we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant before I went to school. I actually had to leave for school before the restaurant was officially open, but the employees made an exception for us. I had chocolate chip pancakes and chocolate milk for breakfast every day for 5 weeks. One day, we tried to call them to see if I could have something different, and I placed my order. However, when we got to the restaurant, I was served, you guessed it, chocolate chip pancakes and chocolate milk. Oh well. At least there was some consistency in my life. The guy at the front desk was a native Spanish speaker, so he helped me with my Spanish homework. Come to think of it, I think he was actually just flirting with me. Ewww.  Creepy.

When we finally found our house, I hated it. I hated it because it was in Tampax and because I had to live there with my parents. (I’m telling you…I was angry.) My parents’ bathroom ended up having dry rot behind the tiles in the shower. The whole bathroom had to be remodeled. I always thought that was a shame. I wanted it to be my bathroom. My bathroom had pink fixtures. I hated that bathroom. My mother insisted on making it into a flamingo bathroom, since we were in Florida. I hated those flamingos. Stupid Tampax flamingos.

The house had a pool with fountains. My mother tried to sell me on the fountains. I wasn’t buying it. She let me decorate my own room. Since the carpet had to be changed anyway, I could pick what I wanted, and I chose a white linoleum with yellow diamonds. I had a white day bad with a red bedspread and brass and glass tables. The room was topped off with a papisan chair with a big yellow cushion. It was a cool room. I still hated it.

I hated the kitchen. I hated the family room. I hated the stupid little room upfront that served as our office. There was nothing my parents could say or do to make me like Tampax.

There were many things about Florida that I should have liked. I mean, the sun shined every single day. Stupid sun. There were palm trees. Stupid trees. There were lizards. I hated those lizards, especially when one ran up my leg. But, over time, Florida became not so bad, and now, 27 years later, Florida is home to me. There’s no place I’d rather be. (I’m a poet!)

In retrospect, I sometimes wonder what my life would have turned out to be if we had not moved to Florida. Now, I know my life did not really begin until we got here. Within the first six months of living here, I met Willow, Mr. Everything and Rose. It wasn’t too long after that when I started going to church and when I met Micah. Without Mr. E, I would have never had the Beetle or the Goose. Who knows? I might have the Spider and the Duck now. It just wouldn't be right. Without moving to Tampa, I would not have the characters of my life, and my life would not be complete.

I have long since forgiven my parents for all the reasons I was mad back then (except maybe for that ugly flamingo bathroom). Moving to Tampa was the best thing that ever happened to me, but I still refuse, yes refuse, to thank my parents for it!  Okay, okay.  Thanks, Mama and Daddy. I don’t hate you. -Al

Okay, so I’ve been stewing about a recent doctor’s visit for several weeks now. When it happened, I was so completely annoyed that it was not funny. However, now that I’ve had time to cool off and to stop thinking ugly thoughts about the doctor we saw, I want to tell you the story.

For years, the Goose has been saying she needed glasses. Now, before you get all judgey with me, realize, I’m the mother. I usually know what my kids need, and I was 99.9% sure my daughter did not need glasses. She never showed any of the signs that would tell me her eyes were not great. So, for years, I’ve been putting off going to the eye doctor. Part of the time, I was putting it off because we had no insurance and no money, and part of the time, I just got busy with life and forgot. (I know I’ve burst your bubble…now you know I’m not a perfect parent. Shocker.)

Finally, the planets all aligned correctly, and we had insurance at the same time I actually remembered to call and make an appointment with the eye doctor. The Goose had been saying for weeks, “Is that sign (book, TV, ____ you fill in the blank) blurry to you? It’s blurry to me.” I was pretty sure it was an act, but I decided I’d better have her checked, just in case.

The Goose and I went on a Friday afternoon to the eye doctor. On the way there, we talked about the “air blowy thing” that blows a puff of air into your eye. I had assured her it would not hurt, but she insisted she did not want it done. I told her not to panic and that we would talk to the doctor about it. After all, I had no idea what the purpose of it even was, so I could not say for sure whether she would need it or not. I had already also assured her she would not be getting her eyes dilated. I had that done once. That was a mistake. I was pretty sure having them do that to the Goose on her first eye doctor’s visit would ensure it would be her last eye doctor’s visit. (Keep in mind that both of my child have major anxiety about all things medical. One has it worse than the other, but neither of them is comfortable in a doctor’s office.)

We got to the office and checked in. The Goose was already busy picking out her glasses as she was sure she would be getting some. I told her not to hold her breath. We did not wait long before it was our turn. The assistant was friendly enough, and she had the Goose look into a machine. I have no idea what the machine was for, but there was no pain or air involved, so it was so far, so good. Then, the assistant asked the Goose to move over to the other machine so she could blow a puff of air into her eyes. Instantly, the Goose burst into tears. I looked at her and said, “Stop it. We already talked about this.” Then, I turned to the assistant and asked what the purpose of the air was. I never actually got an answer. I told her I would prefer to talk to the doctor first, and she said that was fine. She also said the doctor could put drops into the Goose’s eyes instead. Again, the Goose started to cry. At least we knew her tear ducts were working properly.

A few minutes later, the doctor called us back. Although I had written the Goose’s nickname on the forms along with her full name, and although the assistant had managed to call her by her nickname, the doctor did not. He called her by her full name. By the time we had reached his office, he had called her by her full name (the one she gets called when she is in trouble) three times. I nicely (Honest! I was still being nice at this point!) said, “Oh, you can call her by her nickname. That’s what we call her.” He shrugged and said, “Whatever.” Then, he called her by her full name. Strike one.

Now, allow me to interject here that, if I actually knew the doctor’s name, I would not hesitate to name him in this blog. I would not change his name to protect the innocent. He does not deserve that courtesy. Yes, it was that bad. However, he never showed the professionalism of introducing himself, so I have no idea who the man was.

Let’s just call the doctor, Dr. Dishtowel, because he had as much personality as a wet dishtowel. Dr. Dishtowel began running through the typical, “Does this look better or does that look better?” “How about this or that?” “Now this or that?” questions. By the way, I hate those questions. I’m always afraid if I don’t pass, I will end up wearing Coke bottle glasses for the rest of my life. But, this isn’t about me. I wasn’t the one answering. I was the one sitting in the corner, getting more and more angry.

Dr. Dishtowel was a jerk. There’s no nice way to say it. He just was. He moved in a rushed manner. He was brash, harsh, abrasive and just rude. My Goose kept looking at me as if to say, “Save me…” I had to chuckle to myself as I realized she probably wouldn’t insist on going to the eye doctor again for a very long time.

When Dr. Dishtowel finished his robotic examination of her eyes, he said her eyes were perfect. He told me the Goose’s eyes had probably the best vision of any he had seen all week. I resisted the urge to say, “I told you so.” I figured I’d save that little tidbit for later.

Dr. Dishtowel began writing in the Goose’s chart. As he wrote, he said, “Oh, I see we were not able to put the puff of air in her eyes. I’ll have to put drops in her eyes instead.” And with that, you guessed it, the tear ducts began working again. I calmly said, “Can you please talk to me about the purpose of the drops?” He snidely said, “The purpose is, it’s part of the exam.” Strike two.

I said I understood it was part of the exam but I wondered what purpose it served. He said he did not understand why I was questioning him or why it was a big deal. I said, through gritted teeth, “That’s the big deal,” as I indicated for him to look at the Goose. Dr. Dishtowel looked at the Goose, and then what he did next is what still makes my blood boil.

Dr. Dishtowel began a rant that went something like this: “You’re crying? Why are you crying? Why is she crying? She shouldn’t be crying. Is this normal? Does she always cry like this? Does she have some kind of anxiety disorder? Have you taken her to a psychiatrist about this? If not, you should. This isn’t normal. Crying isn’t normal. Really. Is there something wrong with her? Does she have a disorder?” Strike THREE!

I said, as calmly as I could muster, “There is nothing wrong with my child, but thank you so much for suggesting that there is, and thank you even more for saying it right in front of her. That’s definitely going to decrease her anxiety. Thank you very much. “(You idiot…Okay, I didn’t say that part, but it was implied.)

Then, Dr. Dishtowel said, “Well, I am so sorry. I did not mean to cause this. I’m just doing my job. I didn’t mean to upset anyone, but obviously I did.” (Yay think, moron??) “After all, I’m just the eye guy. What do I know? I mean, I only went to school for this, but you must know better. It’s a normal part of the exam, but it wasn’t supposed to make anyone cry. I’m just so sorry. I think you need to get out of my office now. I’m sorry I caused this. I’m just the eye guy.”

Honestly, people. I’m not making this up. You can ask the Goose. She watched the whole thing, wide eyed, waiting for Mama Bear to rip this man’s face off. I managed to get out without hurting him. Honestly, I was so shocked by the whole scene that I did not have time to respond. The only thing I managed to say was, “Well, you’re the one who said her eyes were perfect. I don’t see a reason to put drops in perfect eyes.” I don’t think he heard me though, because he was so busy saying how he was “only the eye guy.”

To say the visit was bizarre would be an understatement. The Goose and I got to the Suburban and just sat in quiet for a minute. Then, my first words were, “What. The. Heck. Was. That??” We both laughed. Then, I reminded my dear, sweet Goose that if she didn’t trust me, who could she trust? It was a little over-the-top for her to cry when Dr. Dishtowel said he was going to put drops in her eyes. If she knew me at all, she should know there was no way I was letting that man put anything in her eyes. I also reminded her that, in the future, instead of crying, she should speak up, and that it was okay for her to speak up when it involved her own body. Hopefully, she heard me. All I know is, she will never have to speak up to Dr. Dishtowel again.  -Al