Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Christmas Gift to You . . .Books!

For several years now, I have compiled my "top ten" list of books that I read that year and would recommend to friends. This year, I couldn't come up with ten. Mostly because I read several that really disappointed. But I managed to come up with 9 that I thought I would rank somewhere between "Fantastic" and "worth mentioning." Please feel free to comment with your favorite books of 2008. I'm always looking for my next read . . .

Note: may not have actually been published in 2008, but was read by me in 2008. In order of preference . . . .

1. What is the What, Dave Eggers
2. Twilight, Stephanie Meyer
3. Sandspurs, Mark Lane
4. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
5. Are you there Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea, Chelsea Handler
6. Atonement, Ian McEwan
7. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
8. Skinny Bitch, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
9. The Double Blind, Chris Bohjalian

What is the What by Dave Eggers
I spent months telling everyone I know about this book. It truly affected me. It’s the story of a man whose family and village in Sudan were attacked by the murahaleen and rebel militias in a civil war in Africa. At the age of nine, Valentino is forced to flee after seeing his brothers, sisters, mother, father and neighbors brutally slaughtered. He along with all the other “lost boys” of Sudan travel hundreds of miles by foot pursued by militia, wild animals and threatened by hunger and exposure. It’s incredible that he and any of these young men lived. It’s astounding that he was sent to America as part of a refugee relocation effort. And it’s amazing that he told his story to Dave Eggers who then wrote the book in Valentino’s voice. This is not light reading. It is disturbing at times, but it left me feeling hopeful and inspired. A must read!

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
I haven’t read a book for teens since I was one. But I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s not so much a vampire story as a romance novel and something about it just sucks you in (no pun intended). It’s not exceptionally well written and, after spending the last 20 years reading adult fiction and non-fiction, the writing and story seemed overly simple. But what makes this a good read is the characters and the setting. Meyer does an excellent job creating full-bodied and distinct characters in an eerie setting that I found myself drawn to and thinking about long after I put the book down. And the movie, very true to the book, was delightful! I’ve already loaded the rest of the series into my Kindle for reading in 2009.

Sandspurs by Mark Lane
This collection of Florida newspaper columnist Mark Lane’s work is an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read if you live in Florida, especially if you’re a Florida native. He gets right to the heart of what makes Florida unique – love it or hate it. And he conjures up the best of what Florida used to be – a state full of small towns, scenic roads, predictable but sometimes dangerous weather and all manner of quirky people, places and things.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
I don’t often read books that become a part of Oprah’s book club, but I was intrigued by this book as soon as I heard about it. I picked it up (no small feat since it is 562 pages) before it was ordained by Oprah but after it became a critical favorite. The writing is exceptionally well done in a quiet, building sort of way. You can’t help but fall in love with Edgar, the deaf mute whom the story is about. It has everything a great American novel should – an underdog, a family secret, mystery, good guys and bad guys, tragedy and triumph. In addition, it features some amazing canine characters, probably the best written dog character I’ve experienced since reading The Dogs of Babel. It took me all summer to read this book, but it was easy to drift in and out of. If you’ve got the time, invest it in reading this book.

Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler
After reading some pretty heavy stuff this year, I needed a mind-break. This book did the trick. It’s funny in a bawdy “No she didn’t!!!” kind of way. It was a favorite among my female friends. Very funny, sarcastic, and a quick read. Chelsea Handler is one of the best female comedians of our time.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
My grandmother gave me this book because she said she couldn’t understand what was going on in it after reading the first several chapters. It was difficult to get into and I admit, I skimmed a lot of it because it was overly long and descriptive. But it had a great payoff. I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t comment on that, but I really loved the ending of this book. However, if you want a neat, happy ending, this is not the book for you.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
I admit I only read this book because I’m interested in seeing the movie that’s now out with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. It was written in 1961 and the story is about a young, idealistic, passionate couple whose lives sputter and stall after they move to the suburbs in the 1950s. Think “Mad Men” combined with “Titanic.” I think doomed love must have been a theme for me this year (Twilight, Atonement, and to some degree Edgar Sawtelle), and this book is the poster child for that particular genre. The book's themes include the death of dreams, the dangers of apathy and the pitfalls of money and success. The bright light of the book is the character of April, whom I thoroughly enjoyed. A lonely woman who wakes up one morning, takes a look around and says “This is it? This is all there is to life?” Perhaps a feeling we can identify with on a bad day . . .or maybe any day.

Skinny Bitch by Rory Friedman and Kim Barnouin
This is Chelsea Handler meets Rachel Ray. Two bawdy, colorful super skinny chicks offer up advice on losing weight and living a healthier life in stark terms. “Duh, put down the donut bitch!” Funny and thought provoking.

The Double Blind by Chris Bohjalian
The only reason this made my list is because of the surprising twist at the end. I can usually see these things coming, but this ending truly startled and perplexed me. I had to go back through the book and re-read parts to figure out how I could have missed anticipating this ending. It’s written as an homage to the Great Gatsby. If you like mysteries, you’ll like this book.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in Florida

I've enjoyed three unique experiences of Christmas in Florida in the last couple of weeks.

First, spent last evening with two very good friends sipping wine on one's front porch overlooking the salt marsh. No jacket required. Just hours of good conversation and laughter with a stunning view.

Second, getting Christmas cards from my friends here locally that show what Florida is really all about. Like this!

Wondertwin all ready for Christmas - note the red and green surfboards!

And finally, took delivery of a great big bag full of fresh picked oranges from my neighbor's tree. She gifts her favorite neighbors (that's me!) with fresh fruit when the oranges ripen every winter. Free fruit, locally grown (as in next door) and organic, too!

Porch sitting, surfing and fresh picked citrus, that's what Christmas in Florida is all about!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Random Holiday Thoughts

Today is the first day of my two plus week vacation. I won't have to go back to work until Jan. 5. It's been so long that I took this much time off all at once, I'm not quite sure what to do with myself.

Play. Play is the main reason for living for MiniMe. And at a time when so many kids are staying indoors connected to videogames, computers and tvs like umbilical cords, I'm grateful that MiniMe loves to play. She plays with the other kids in the neighborhood, she plays with our dogs, she plays independently in her room. Last night she climbed into bed with me for a mother-daughter chat. She'd had a confusing day. Seems she was playing with a girl in her class she seems to get along with best and she invited another girl to play with them. But the first girl didn't want the new girl to play. Isabel was trying to be peacemaker. She's often in this role on the playground. Why are girls so difficult about getting along with each other? Oh but to have my only daily dilemma be who to play with . . .

I was hanging the stockings over the fireplace this weekend and remembered one of my favorite childhood Christmas experiences. Each year when I get out the stockings, I think of the time that my sister and I got new stockings one holiday. Out went the old, small felt stockings, replaced with much bigger white stockings made of a fluffy white material. Mom proudly hung the stockings near the tree. She wasn't out of the room 5 minutes before my sister and I had those stockings on our feet and were sliding across the room in them. Actually we took turns, first I'd put the stockings on my feet and she'd pull me around the house (hardwoord floors) then we'd switch. A couple days later my mom exclaims "What happened to the new Christmas stockings!!" still hanging in their usual place, now with the bottoms of the stockings stained black.

In true crazy dog lady fashion, I hung a stocking for the dogs. Two dogs, one stocking. It's already stuffed with new chew toys, new leashes and there's a package of pupperoni wrapped under the tree. No stocking for the guinea pig. Guess I'm playing favorites . . .

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Perfection Doesn't Make Memories

At this busy time of year I think it is important to remember that it is not perfection that makes lasting memories, but mistakes. Some of my family's most cherished holiday memories are built on the "oops, that's not exactly how I had planned it." So if you're suffering from the pressure to get everything done right and on time, relax, kick back and stop trying to make everything perfect. No one remembers perfect!

For instance . . .

One of my family's most talked about holiday memories is the time my dad decided to surprise us and bring home a fresh cut Christmas tree. I know, sounds innocent enough. My dad had picked out what he thought was the perfect tree. Only it was planted firmly in the median of US1 between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, his daily route to and from work.

"Oh my god!" I hear my mother exclaim as a commotion ensues outside the back door one December evening after dark. There's Dad standing there, his clothes a mess, scrapes on his hands and arms, with a great big grin on his face, dragging a scraggly green tree with broken limbs covered in dirt. "What have you done!" exclaims Mom.

Dad proudly states "I got us a Christmas tree" as he pushes past mom dragging the sad little tree inside the house leaving a trail of dirt and branches in his wake. My sister and I scamper around excitedly, happily taking directions from Dad in helping him set the tree up in the living room.

For weeks Dad had his eye on this little tree as he passed it each day on his ride to work. One day he takes along his ax and some rope and, on his way home, he pulls his old blue station wagon off the side of the road. He grabs his ax and rope, sprints across two lanes of oncoming traffic on US1 in the dark and proceeds to "steal" the perfect Christmas tree. The tree comes down easily as it is not as big up close as it looked from the road when he was zooming by at 70 mph. And here's where it gets a little tricky. Now he has to drag the tree back across two lanes of oncoming traffic in the dark. Mind you, it is rush hour.

He sees a break and goes for it. Only as he runs across the road, he trips and falls on top of the tree in the middle of US1. Miraculously he makes it across and manages to wrestle the tree into the station wagon and deliver it home, proudly to his family.

"You could have been killed!" my mother says with a horrified look on her face as Dad sets up this half-crushed tree in our living room. "It's got a bird's nest in it."

"Cool! Let me see! Where is it!" My sister and I exclaim as we dance excitedly around the dirty broken tree.

It was the "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" come to life in our living room. It was pathetic. But it is the tree I remember most from all Christmases of my youth.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dear Farmer Brown

In celebration of Thanksgiving today, I thought I'd share a letter MiniMe wrote in class. She and her classmates had to write from the perspective of a turkey and pen a letter to "Farmer Brown" convincing him not to cook and eat them for Thanksgiving. Below is the letter in its original form and spelling. Take it away MiniMe:

Dear Farmer Brown

Frist of all I wipe with my feathers. Second of all I taste like shrimp (I've tried myself). And you probly need a diet! You should have a chicken insted of a turcky. I know it's a traidtion but, you should try something new! Insted of geting a gaint belly you should eat helthy. An apple a day keeps the doctor away!!! you should relly keep the barn neat, Mrs. Cow died last week from a spider, if you keped it clean she would't have died. any way you should not eat me, I mean come on, how would you like it if we ate you? So I'm not going to be eatin'!!! right?

Your turcky (not any more!)


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Crazy Dog Ladies

I attended a committee meeting this week. All the committee members are women. Half of us have kids, all of us have dogs.

We were making small talk when the subject of our pets came up. I read in the newspaper this week that although the economy is bad, it has not affected what people are spending on their pets. We're still spending like crazy on our dogs. And I do mean crazy. Consider the expenditures of the members of my committee . . .

One spent $8,000 for her German Shepherd to have a knee replacement
One spent $4,000 on chemotherapy for her Schnauzer
One paid for her bulldog to have a corneal transplant (no price divulged)
And I have been taking my Corgi to get allergy injections for the last year and a half. Cost to date approximately $1,200.00.

The youngest member of our committee is a woman in her late 20s who adopted a dog last year. Us older, crazier dog ladies encouraged her to get vet insurance for her dog. Now!

With the advent of medical treatment for pets, dog and cat owners are often faced with a decision you would never have had to make 20 years ago. On the upside, there's no longer a reason to put a dog down for a bad knee or cancer when it can be treated and the dog can have a good quality of life. On the other side, the costs can be like euthanasia to your bank account.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who are these kids and why am I holding a hot glue gun?

Before I helped serve the holiday feast in my daughter's classroom today, I was one of only two parents helping out with the holiday crafts in MiniMe's classroom. I showed up just as crafts were getting underway and with 5 different holiday craft "stations" and 26 kids, it was a little like a zoo. The teacher said "Thank goodness you're here!" and practically flung me into a room where 5 fourth grade boys were covered up to their elbows in paint. She shoved the hot glue gun into my hand and said "Can you take over this station so I can help with the other stations?"

Before I had time to answer she was gone and I was left holding a hot glue gun with 5 messy boys looking up at me expectantly. I began to examine all the wooden pieces and parts and finally figured out what craft I was now in charge of. A wooden turkey craft. See MiniMe's completed craft below.

There were several wooden pieces that had to be painted. Then the pieces would need to be glued together. Googly eyes and a foam beak would then be attached (again with hot glue) and finally they would write their names and the year on the back and move on to the next station. Here were some of my challenges:
  • If the painted pieces were not dry enough, the hot glue would slide right off and nothing would stick together.

  • The kids would come through in groups of five and I had only about 10 minutes to coordinate giving each the correct pieces, instructions and hot glue everything together.

  • I had to keep the three different colors of paint stocked, cut out foam beaks, help clean up paint spills, wipe clothes and hands and actually complete the craft in only 10 minutes.

  • The boys invariably wanted to paint their turkeys "blood red" to signify bleeding turkeys.

  • The boys wanted to use only one big giant googly eye to make "Cyclop" turkeys.

  • The girls were so meticulous and perfectionist that they couldn't get finished neatly and creatively painting in time for their projects to dry and me to get all the little parts glued.

  • The girls wanted to use the "strings" from the glue gun to make "hair" for their turkeys.

  • Both boys and girls wanted to paint themselves or their friends instead of the turkey craft.
I finally managed to get all 26 turkey crafts completed and clean up. It was only then that I realized I'd done the craft wrong. Seems I glued the head and body together backward so the turkeys wouldn't actually stand up on their own. Oh well, slap a magnet on the back and you've got a cheeky holiday refrigerator magnet for mom and dad!

Feast gets slim as kids get older

I decided at the last minute to take the day off and help out in my daughter's 4th grade classroom. Today was their Thanksgiving celebration and they were having a special lunch and doing some Thanksgiving crafts. Unlike last year, my daughter is in a classroom this year filled with kids whose moms love to help out and volunteer. Or so I thought. Boy was I wrong.

Classroom Mom Michelle had planned a great program. MiniMe and I have been fortunate enough to be in a classroom with Michelle as Classroom Mom before. Believe me, this woman is a force for good. She coordinates all the classroom volunteers and projects and does so in a way that makes every mom/dad feel welcome and appreciated no matter how much or how little they volunteer or give. Some Alpha Moms look down on those parents who don't have the time or latitude to volunteer. Thank goodness Michelle isn't like that at all. And don't even get me started on those Uber Moms who treat the classroom volunteer assignment as an opportunity to relive High School and form her own "cool click" with other moms like herself. Though thankfully, I haven't had to deal with one of those up close and personal (yet).

Back to my story. Poor Michelle was without much help today. I showed up bearing mashed potatoes for the "feast." Two other moms showed up to serve lunch, and one even brought a dish. But if it weren't for Michelle, the "feast" would have been slim pickings. She brought pumpkin pie, fruit, a turkey & ham cold cut platter, hot and cold apple cider, and cups/plates/napkins. I arrived with a vat of mashed potatoes. One other mom showed up with a cake and some rolls. That was it.

Why is that the older the kids get, the less involved the parents seem to be (until you get to high school and sports, don't get me started). I have to admit I feel a little ashamed of myself for letting almost the entire year go by without volunteering to help with anything other than the school carnival. When MiniMe was in first and second grade, I volunteered almost weekly. Last year, I helped out with all the major projects like the holiday celebrations, the school carnival, and the school fundraisers. This year, I took a look around open house and recognized a lot of the faces among the parents of my daughter's classmates. Faces of women (and men) who were regular volunteers. So I just didn't think they needed me.

I made a commitment today to help out in December for the next class holiday program. No one is going to confuse me with an Alpha Mom, but I don't want to be one of those moms who stops helping out as my child gets older and the excitement of being classroom helper wares off. Besides, how many more years do I have before MiniMe's classmates stop referring to me as "Miss Isabel's Mom?" That's so cute!

I guess MiniMe is going to be stuck with her mom around to embarass her at school more often.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'm Cool! Oops, no I'm not.

For reasons that would take too long to explain, MiniMe was out of school on Monday and I ended up having to drag her along with me for the day. I had to teach my college class and film an interview with a camera crew for a client, so off we went together.

First stop, college class where my students were presenting their final projects. The projects involved developing a public relations plan and campaign for an assigned client. The students did a good job and had some very creative ideas. MiniMe was warned to sit quietly throughout the class, which she did much to my amazement.

On the ride to my next stop, MiniMe had lots of questions about what she'd just seen in my college class.

MiniMe: "So, Mom, is that what public relations is?"

NativeMom: Yes, the students were presenting their PR plans. Public relations is what Mommy does for a living. It's not all just talking on the phone and typing on my computer.

MiniMe: "Really, that's cool. Maybe I won't be a photographer. Maybe I'll do public relations."

MiniMe decided last week that she wanted to be a photographer. I can't recall what led to this decision. Prior to last week, she had wanted to be a mountain climber, a cheerleader, and an artist.

NativeMom: Well, you know I work with photographers in my job. You could do both.

So we arrive at the next stop where I park MiniMe with the executive secretary of the businesswoman I'm there to film the interview with. I've set her up with markers, paper, a snack and a book to keep her busy and out of everyone's hair.

After the interview, I find her sitting with the executive secretary, Miss Esther, surrounded by stuffed animals and deeply engaged in conversation. Seems Miss Esther took a liking to MiniMe and has been actively entertaining her. I would be embarrassed but I quickly realize that to this kindly grandma, engaging with a very verbal and curious 9-year-old girl is much preferable to typing memos.

On the ride back, I get an earful from a very excited and obviously impressed MiniMe.

MiniMe: "Mom, Miss Esther has a pet sitting business!!!! Look, she even gave me one of her business cards (card thrust in front of my face while I'm driving) I think I'm going to be a pet sitter when I grow up Miss Esther says I can even start pet sitting in our neighborhood now Can you make me some business cards this week I'm going to pass them around the neighborhood Don't you think that's a good idea This is going to be cool!!!!"

NativeMom: Really? She has a side job pet sitting?

MiniMe: "Yea and she even got to pet sit a horse A real horse Wouldn't that be cool? And some birds She got to pet sit birds AND a horse And she pet sits people's dogs and cats Pet sitting is cool I'm going to be a pet sitter!!!"

Well, I guess public relations is now out. There go my dreams of my daughter taking over the family business. I was cool for about 20 minutes. Thanks a lot Miss Esther with your fancy business cards and horse tales.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Not So Scary Bikers

48 hours, 28 gallons of gas, 500 plus miles, 3 states, 11 people, 6 motorcycles. The weekend motorcycle trip can't necessarily be measured in miles or minutes, because there's no real way to quantify some of the experience. New friendships were made, old stories were told, fresh memories were created in the midst of lots of laughter, driving rain, freezing cold and spates of glorious and much appreciated sunshine.

It was a picturesque ride from Florida through Georgia into South Carolina as six couples and one very entertaining single rider braved I-95 and a Saturday morning under driving rain on motorcycle. Beloved and I were the only riders not on a Harley, but our Honda ST1300 held its own. We were on a mission of sorts to make it to South Carolina in time for the start of a charity poker run to benefit a fellow rider and friend of my cousin who is battling cancer. Biker folk are nothing if not generous and we love to rally around a cause, especially if it involves food, fun and some foilage-lined back country roads.

We started at the RBar just outside of Hilton Head, SC. Then we traveled en masse to a few local bars and restaurants in and around the area. Each stop gave us all a chance to get to know each other better. A typical stop would find the men sauntering around in small groups checking out each other's bikes while the ladies clustered together laughing, sipping light beer and mostly talking about the men. Although there were some jokes and even a few tap dances tossed in for good measure.

The highlight of the day was a stop at a little place called Pepper's Porch in Blufton. It was the last stop of the night and we were all ready for a good old-fashioned porch sit. The men collected their final hand in poker and my cousin Troy was awarded "Biggest Loser" status for drawing the worst hand. Good thing he donated his "loser" winnings back to our charity ride beneficiary because we were all scheming to stick him with the bill for dinner if he hadn't donated his winnings.

Pepper's Porch was a great country place with a unique back bar area under the stars and the boughs of an iconic old moss-draped oak tree. Our group grabbed a table on the porch and warmed up with some SheCrab soup, fried green tomatoes, oysters and such. Plans were made to take a ride to another part of Hilton Head to enjoy some late night entertainment. And those plans were quickly forgotten once the food had been eaten and the weather turned colder and wetter. Instead we had a good old-fashioned hotel party that was one for the books.

That's when we learned about the complicated love life of our single-rider Dave, who was a good enough sport to share his life lessons with our less than sympathetic group. He wasn't the only one telling tales. Unfortuntely Scott and Troy decided to bring up a video they had once seen of Indonesians feasting on monkey brains a la Indian Jones. An unfortunate tale for the monkey of course, but even more so for our story tellers who were then teased endlessly by our group for their bizarre story - one monkey mallet coming up.

Scott's wife Cathy impressed us with her determination to capture all the hijinks with her digital camera. She even took photos of each of the riders in our group while crusing down the highway from her perch on back of her husband's Screamin' Eagle Harley Davidson. Can't wait to see the photos.

Unlike the Hell's Angels, our group of mostly middle-aged, white, urban riders seemed to draw a friendly crowd wherever we went. Stop at the gas station and every car rider, passenger and gas station attendant had to come ask us where we were from, where we were going and wish us a safe journey. Stop at the Subway sandwich shop and the other diners happily strike up conversations. Breakfast at the local pancake house and we're the object of every child's fascination - real bikers up close! I guess that's a secret only us bikers know. Riding attracts friendly people. No matter what age, race or background, we made friends where ever we traveled this past weekend. I guess you could say we're the "not so scary" bikers. That is until we break out our monkey mallets.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ouch, that chaps!

This weekend, Beloved and I are going to be taking a long motorcycle trip with my cousin and his friends. We're heading north, out of the Sunshine State, and Beloved warned me that the weather was going to be a tad brisk so I should plan on wearing my leather chaps for the ride.

The only problem is, I've put on a few pounds and I don't think I can get in those chaps anymore. So I tell Beloved:

"If I had known I was going to have to get into those chaps, I would have signed up for a colonic and not eaten all week."

Him, confused: "What do you mean? What's a colonic?"

"Nevermind what a colonic is. What I'm saying is that I've put on a few pounds and I don't think I can squeeze into those chaps."

Him, obviously blind with love: "You haven't put on weight. Your butt is as skinny as ever."

"Cute, Hon. But I have put on weight and besides it's not my butt I'm worried about. It's my thighs."

Him, shaking his head in (feigned) bewilderment: "There's nothing wrong with your thighs. You women are crazy about your thighs. Before you go deciding your chaps won't fit, you better try them on. It's going to be cold and you're going to be wishing you were wearing your chaps this weekend."

Hurmpf! So, I get the chaps out this morning to try them on. If you've never worn chaps before, I can tell you they are not easy to get into when you haven't put on weight. So this morning, as I struggled in the 80-degree heat, wearing jeans and a tank top, to put on the chaps, I was grateful that no one else was home. I'm telling you, it was comic. I swear the dogs were laughing.

But, Voila! I got them on. So I decided I would wear them around the house for a few hours in the hopes that they would stretch. Because right now, I look as if I've got a pumpkin shoved into the back of my jeans everything has been squeezed so tight.

By the way Wondertwin, I can hear you laughing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Funny things observed at the pump

Now that gas is back down to around $2 a gallon (never thought I'd see that again in my lifetime, did you?), the pumps were swamped yesterday when I pulled in to fill up my gas hog truck. And before anyone gets all self-righteous and scolds me for driving a gas hog, I have kids, dogs and a camping trailer I regularly haul around and you can't do that with a Ford Focus.

Sorry, guess I'm a little defensive today.

Where was I? Oh yea, so after circling the gas pumps a few times, a spot finally opens up. Next to me pulls in two teenage girls in a cute little green VW bug. They both hop out and proceed to chat while filling the gas tank.

I had a flashback to 1985 when my best friend Lliba and I would cruise around in her VW bug. Only the gas gauge didn't work, so we ran out of gas more than a few times. Two blonde 16-year-old cheerleaders in a ragtag VW bug with a broken gas gauge, and each time we ran out of gas, we seemed perplexed as to why that had happened. Duh?

So I recognize these two young ladies as members of my son's high school swim team. They both did very well in competition this year and in fact, one of these young ladies is headed to the state competition this week. The driver is filling the tank when all of a sudden her friend points out that instead of filling her tank with regular, she's actually using the premium. The driver immediately stops filling her tank and much chatter ensues in alarming tones. The driver then whips out her cell phone and proceeds to call Dad to find out what to do now that she's started filling her tank "with the wrong gas."

It was all I could do not to get involved and assure these two blonde high school athletes that although they didn't mean to use the premium pump, they had done no harm to their car. But, then what kind of story would they and their parents have to tell years later about the time the girls had to call Dad from the gas station because they'd accidentally used the wrong gas.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Florida & the first Thanksgiving

September 8. Could this be the day we should be celebrating Thanksgiving? It was on this date in 1565 when an official ceremony of thanksgiving was held with an accompanying feast in St. Augustine, Florida.

The event marked the Spaniards first official claim on Florida, land originally discovered by Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 when he landed near St. Augustine. The Mass and feast of Thanksgiving was a move by Spain to ward off encroachment by the French, who were attempting to settle and claim the "New World" for themselves and country.

On September 8, 1565, more than 50 years before a little feast held by a group calling themselves Pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass., Pedro Menendez came ashore in St. Augustine for a Mass of Thanksgiving and a thanksgiving feast, attended by the real Florida natives, the Timucua.

So what makes the Sept. 8 ceremony of thanksgiving sigificant? Well, according to Florida history scholars, it was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving that also marked the first permanent settlement in North America. St. Augustine is recognized as the first permanently occupied European city in North America. Or as natives like myself call it "The oldest city in the New World."

I learned all this from Robyn Gioia when I bought her book this weekend aptly titled "America's REAL First Thanksgiving: St. Augustine, FL, September 8, 1565."

It's a book for children with easy to understand information about the native Timucua, the Spanish, the French, the fight for Florida and the first official celebration of Thanksgiving in North America. Robyn is a teacher in Jacksonville who decided to research the subject of Florida as the location of the first thanksgiving in the United States after she attended an educational workshop on Florida history in 2005. Her book is full of colorful illustrations and facts that kids will love, such as what might have been on the Thanksgiving menu in 1565.

The book is available through Pineapple Press and in all bookstores worth their (sea)salt in the Sunshine State. I plan to loan it to MiniMe's fourth grade teacher to share with her class next week as they prepare for the holiday celebration.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

History Making Florida

With the all excitement over Barack Obama playing out across the nation, here in Florida I'm reminded that our state has played a pivotal role in history as it pertains to African Americans. That's right, I'm talking about Fort Mose.

Fort Mose was the first free African American settlement in America. Today, it is a National Historical landmark on the Florida Black Heritage Trail. You can find it (if you're lucky) just north of St. Augustine. It's not very well marked.

More than a century before the Emancipation Proclamation, British slaves were granted freedom in Florida . . . if they proclaimed their allegiance to the Spanish and the Catholic church (yea, that's right, there was a catch). In 1738, the Spanish governor of Florida chartered Fort Mose as a settlement for freed Africans. The settlement, located in the Florida marshland north of the Spanish fort, the Castillo San Marcos, was home to 100 free African Americans (or would that be African-Spanish-Floridians?) who grew their own food, built homes and joined the Spanish in defending their freedom from British invasion.

And you thought we were just a battleground state!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

I don't cook breakfast. Around Casa NativeMom if you want breakfast your choices are bagels, cereal, toast, fruit and anything else you can make yourself. There are lots of parents out there who believe it is essential to cook breakfast for their kids and/or loved ones every day. I'm not one of them. And I'm ok with this. But I have to admit, I was a little hurt when my dog decided to have breakfast next door where my neighbor, whom I call "SingleSuperDad," cooks breakfast every morning.

There have been mornings when I've had a very early meeting and SingleSuperDad has been more than happy to take MiniMe to school for me. You see, he has twins (a boy and a girl) who are MiniMe's age and go to her school. So there've been a few times in the last couple of years when I've sent MiniMe next door about 7:15 a.m. so I can get to a 7:30 a.m. meeting. She doesn't mind because SingleSuperDad serves up pancakes, bacon, omelets, and all sorts of other home-cooked breakfast goodies.

MiniMe spent Friday night next door where SingleSuperDad was having not just my daughter as a guest, but a house full of neices and nephews, too. Did I mention I love this neighborhood because of all the kids and families who live here? On our street alone are two girls about MiniMe's age and they regularly run in and out of our homes giggling, playing, and angling for a sleepover. Whichever house the girls happen to end up in each evening is where they eat dinner. It's the stuff idyllic childhoods are made of.

But back to my story. Saturday morning, MiniMe and her friends can be heard giggling and playing in the backyard of SingleSuperDad. So it was no big surprise when I let the dogs out that morning for a pee, that Scout didn't come back right away. But half an hour later, Beloved and I have both been out several times calling for the mangy mutt to no avail. By about 9:30 a.m., I hear the patter of little feet and here comes MiniMe charging into the kitchen followed by neighbor girl, her cousin and my wayward dog, Scout.

"Where's he been, we've been calling and calling for him," I ask MiniMe as she whirls past me.

"Scout? He's been with us over at Mr. SingleSuperDad's house," she says, "he even had breakfast with us."

Seems Scout followed the sound of happy kids to the backyard next door then just trotted his carefree dogass inside with the children when SingleSuperDad called them in for breakfast. Not only was SingleSuperDad nonplussed at the site of my dog in his kitchen, he even made Scout an omelet and some bacon. Quite frankly, I'm surprised the dog came back at all.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Strange Christmas Present Request #1

Now that Halloween is officially over, the kids are completely focused on Christmas. Our kids can have some strange requests for Christmas. We've already gotten strange request #1. I say #1 because I fully anticipate more unusual and impossible-to-find gift items to be requested by any and all of the kids before Christmas. It's a given.

MiniMe wants a Venus Flytrap, as in the carnivorous plant. I don't know where to get one of these or how to take care of one. And if you're a regular reader of NativeMom, you know I can't keep anything but kids, dogs and an occasional guinea pig alive in this house. Plants are doomed. So I'm appealing to my fans ... er, I mean readers, to offer suggestions as to where to find a Venus Flytrap, what to feed it (gulp, don't even tell me I have to purchase crickets or flies) and how to keep one alive in Florida.

We've found some strange items on the kids' lists for "Santa" over the years. But last year was a relatively easy year with items I found after only frantically searching every store in town and shopping online for only an hour or two. It's a bad year when you can't find the requested item. But I think last year the award for unusual Christmas gift request went to Wondertwin's daughter. She wanted a unicycle. Wondertwin searched high and low . . .at bike shops, big box stores and toy stores before finally finding it online. And would you believe her 11-year-old daughter can actually ride this thing? It's amazing! And I thought I was cool at the age of 11 when I could stay atop my pogo stick for more than 15 minutes straight.
Ah, those were the days . . .

Friday, November 7, 2008

Weekend of Giving

The stars have aligned in such a way that my to-do list for this weekend is nearly taken over with good deeds. Today, Friday, I'm dropping off clothing, toys and shoes at two different locations. Adult clothing for women headed into the workforce and kids clothing and shoes at Goodwill. This evening I'll be taking MiniMe to dinner at MickeyD's where she can use her "Terrific Kid" certificate to get a free happy meal. Each week, every class at school singles out one student as "Terrific Kid" for things like hard work, kindness, friendship, good manners, etc. Last Friday, MiniMe was Terrific Kid for her class. Job well done MiniMe! Thanks MickeyD's!

Saturday Easter Seals dominates my to-do list. First we'll be dropping in on a little event called Abilities Expo. It's a day-long program with vendors, exhibits, seminars and workshops for people with disabilities. Then it's off to Barnes & Noble which is holding a book fair to benefit Easter Seals.

After lunch we'll be doing some shopping for items to fill the holiday boxes that MiniMe's girl scout troop is working on come Monday. Each year, the girl scouts gather shoe boxes and fill them with items for local migrant families. The boxes hold toiletries, small toys, school supplies, socks, and other needed items for children. The girls even giftwrap the boxes to make them more festive.

And finally, we'll be picking up some extra canned goods at the grocery store Sunday evening. The girl scouts are collecting canned goods at next weekend's bonfire event and we'll be dropping a few canned goods in the humane society's drop box to feed the dogs while they are waiting for a home.

The best part about this weekend? I get to bring MiniMe and SuperMimi along with me as we work on the to-do list. Not only is it personally important to me to give back to my community, it's even more important to model volunteerism and charity for my children. It's going to be a great weekend!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November is Shelter Dog Month

The month of November is "Shelter Dog" month, a time when I have a great excuse to extol the virtues of shelter dogs. Not that I need an excuse, as I have become such a supporter of my local shelter since adopting a little more than a year ago.

By the way, those of you who know me in my real life and who read this blog, can skip past this post. Really. It won't hurt my feelings. I know you hear enough about this from me on a regular basis.

But for the rest of you, meet Radley (as in Boo Radley). I adopted him just over a year ago. Before adopting him, I had some real misperceptions about shelter dogs. I'll list them to save time.

1. Shelter dogs had something "wrong" with them. Otherwise, they wouldn't be in a shelter.
2. Shelter dogs would be ill-behaved and hard to train. Time spent in the shelter would somehow affect their behavior negatively and permanently.
3. Unlike adopting a puppy, which you raise practically from day 1, an adult dog would come with "issues."

All of these assumptions are absolutely wrong. There's nothing wrong with shelter dogs, but maybe there was something wrong with the people he/she previously lived with. Some people just don't take the responsiblity of owning a pet seriously and will simply discard a pet when it becomes inconvenient.

Shelter dogs, especially adult dogs, are some of the most loving, well-behaved and grateful - yes grateful- dogs you'll ever encounter. I raised my pedigree dog Scout from puppyhood and Radley is much better behaved than Scout (and what does that say about my dog training skills?!?).

Puppies are only puppies for a short time. Why go through potty training, obedience training, long nights of puppy crying, and the dreaded teething/chewing phase? Adult dogs are already past all that and just as cute, charming, funny, and loving as a puppy.

I know that I am the third home for Radley, a Welsh Corgi-Australian Shepherd mix. For the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would ever give him up. He's sweet, loyal, friendly, well-behaved, great with the kids, wonderful with my other dog, and a great companion.

Adopt a shelter dog and you'll be adopting a lifelong friend!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Early Release Wednesdays

There has developed a routine for my stepson and I this year. I decided to write about it today because when I went through the routine this afternoon, it was very comforting. So many things are changing . . . change for good, scary change . . .change, change, change. So I enjoyed this simple routine Wednesday afternoon and just knowing that some things remain the same.

Our school district here decided a few years back to let the kids out of school early most Wednesdays throughout the year to give teachers more time for planning. They call it "early release."

So just about every Wednesday, around 1:30 p.m., I hear the door open and the familiar shuffle of my 17-year-old stepson.

"Hey," he shouts out as he walks through the door, his voice carrying over the sound of the dog's feet skittering across the tile floor as they rush to greet him. The dogs love him and are always beyond thrilled when he comes home.

"Hey, how's your day?" I yell back automatically from behind my desk in my home office.

That's when his head pokes through the door, goofy smile on his face, his mop of thick blonde hair sticking up in all directions. "Ok" he says as anxious dogs circle at his feet. "I'm gonna get something to eat."

I hear the cabinet doors opening and closing in the kitchen, the rustle of boxes and bags, the clink of bowls and silverware. The sound of Spongebob Squarepants as he switches on the TV in the kitchen floats through the house along with a steady murmur of enthusiasm as he chats to his furry friends. It's not unusual for him to eat two peanut butter-honey sandwiches, a bowl of cereal and some chocolate chip cookies. The dogs get a couple of milkbones. I keep a bowl of fresh fruit in the kitchen and my stepson will definitely do some damage to it, especially if there are apples. The stomach of a 6-foot tall, 165 pound teenage boy is never full.

Around 3:00 he pokes his head back in my office and says "I'm heading to practice," and off he goes to swim team practice, where he'll burn off everything he just ate in only a matter of minutes. The dogs whine as his truck pulls out of the drive, but eventually they settle down and fall back to sleep.

I go back to typing away at my computer . . .

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mimi to the Rescue!

I found myself in a bit of a predicament today. MiniMe had a slight fever this morning, and while it was only slight, the nurse at school would have sent her back home faster than I could say "contagious." Only, like that commercial currently running on TV, I looked at my planner and realized I just couldn't fit in a sick kid today. That's when it hit me. This looks like a job for SuperMimi!!

I placed a call to my mom to see if there was anyway she could drive an hour to my house and spend the afternoon and evening with my only slightly sick daughter. At first glance, she seemed to think her schedule was going to be a bit too full (what with work, taking care of my grandmother and her own life and all). So I assured her I would think of something.

Wait for it.

Fifteen minutes later and SuperMimi had cleared her schedule and was packing up the Smart car. Because, let's face it, nothing's more important to a grandma than her granddaughter.

She arrived a short time later with her trusty Tupperware bowl full of homemade chicken and dumplings (which is sure to cure anything that ails you!). Not only did she take over the care and keeping of MiniMe so that I could teach my college course and work, she did my laundry, cleaned my kitchen, and helped MiniMe clean her room to the point where I almost don't recognize it (who knew there was carpet in there?). She even managed to work in some quality time drawing with and reading to MiniMe. In addition, she fed my husband and stepson and took care of my dogs.

Tomorrow, MiniMe will go back to school and my mom will probably spend the day doing something slightly less amazing than she did today . . . like walk on water.

Thanks Mimi! You're a lifesaver!

Friday, October 31, 2008

The new scent

Celebrity fragrances, where will it end? At the mall last weekend, I encountered this new perfume launched just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Now I know what crack whore smells like.

Pineapple Stalker

I got caught stalking the neighbor's pineapple this morning. I have a neighbor that has a green thumb the size of Texas and this week I noticed that she has a pineapple growing in her yard. Believe it or not, I've never seen a pineapple grow "in the wild" before. So this morning, I grabbed my camera and walked down to her yard and proceeded to take pictures of it. That's when she walked out of the garage and spotted me, a quizzical look on her face.

"I hope it is ok if I take a picture of your pineapple," I asked meekly (and a little too late I might add) with my face burning red in embarrassment. "I've never seen one growing on the stalk before."

Luckily, she was more than happy to tell me all about her pineapples, how long they take to grow (this one about 6 months), how to tell when it is ripe enough to pick (it turns a more golden yellow color), and how to plant my own (just cut the top off a ripe pineapple and plant it in the ground).

I won't be growing my own anytime soon because I can't grow anything but kids and dogs in my house. Any plantlike creature that is unlucky enough to wind up here is just doomed.

Things heard in the early voting line

I voted yesterday. Stood in line for half an hour then waited inside in the seated line for another 40 minutes. And along the way, I saw and heard some interesting things.

A mother and her son, who was in his early 20s. She had already voted, but she was waiting in line with him, reviewing the sample ballot and discussing the issues. I figured it must be his first time to vote. Why he needed Mommy along was beyond me.

The couple in line in front of me seemed like a nice enough couple, in their early 60s. They were reading through the sample ballot as they waited and it became clear to me that it might have been the first time they had even glanced at what was on the ballot. There were quite a few charter amendments on our ballot (an unfortunate growing trend), and as usual the language of the amendments had them stumped. I finally had to jump in and explain a few of them to this obviously intelligent couple. This was tricky because I did not want to give explanations that seemed to favor a particular decision on the ballot item. Apparently I did an OK job because they thanked me with sincerity. But I had to wonder, if intelligent mature adults had not taken the time to discover what was on their ballot this year and inform themselves, how many others would be voting on issues they didn't understand one bit?

A few feet back in line were two old-timers, the kind of guys you find huddled in coffee shops on a weekday morning loudly solving the world's problems. They were very loudly discussing their choice of presidential candidate in a way that had to be offensive to more than just a few people in line. It made me wonder why we had not yet seen reports of fistfights breaking out in early voting lines.

A "Bless her heart" moment. A very chatty senior lady was sitting behind me in the line. She talked to everyone and anyone non-stop. At one point a woman sat down next to her and the chatty senior asked this woman if she knew what the abbreviations meant. What abbreviations was the reply. Then chatty senior lady plucked the woman's sample ballot right out of the hand of this woman and proceeded to try and find the abbreviations on the ballot, much to the innocent woman's horror. "Oh no" she said as she snatched the sample ballot away from chatty senior, not wanting the chatty senior to see her ballot choices. Chatty senior didn't even realize her social faux pas, she just kept talking undeterred. Bless her heart, this must have been chatty senior's biggest opportunity for conversation in months.

One thing is for certain, this is going to be an election for the record books.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Great Pumpkin

Apparently, MiniMe is not interested in re-living great moments of my childhood with me. I tried to get her to watch "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" last night when it was broadcast. I really looked forward to watching this every year when I was growing up. So I was excited to find it on last night and even told MiniMe she could stay up a little late to watch it with me. I've been experiencing a lot of "mom guilt" lately for being so busy and not spending much time with her. And now here, finally, was a perfect opportunity for some meaningful mommy-daughter bonding.


MiniMe: "Why do I have to watch this? It's so boring."

Boring? It's not boring. It's a great classic halloween cartoon. I used to look forward to watching it every year when I was your age.

MiniMe: "But Mom, the characters don't even talk."

(Now, to be fair, quite a bit of this cartoon does have the characters roaming around while that silly Charlie Brown theme plays in the background, something I had never really noticed before.)

They talk. Just wait a minute and you'll see. You know, when I was growing up, the Charlie Brown specials were the only time you'd see cartoons on in the evening. Usually you only got to see cartoons on Saturday morning.

(Big eyeroll from MiniMe. Sigh!)

MiniMe: "I think I'm going to go to bed Mom."

But don't you want to see the end and find out if the Great Pumpkin shows up?

MiniMe: "No, you can tell me what happens in the morning."

So my only option is to share my love of all things "Great Pumpkin" with readers of NativeMom. Here goes . . .

"It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" was the third Peanuts animated special and the first halloween special to be produced. It originally aired Oct. 27, 1966, and has aired every year since. In the film, the Peanuts gang all wear costumes and go trick-or-treating except for Linus and Sally who decide to forgo trick-or-treating and stake out the pumpkin patch waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. An interesting note of trivia, when Charles Schulz drew the "Great Pumpkin" in the daily comic strip, Charlie Brown, not Sally, was with Linus when Snoopy appears as the "Great Pumpkin".

Can you remember what costume Charlie Brown wears? And what did he get in his bag at each house as the gang went trick-or-treating?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Happy soon-to-be Halloween! I have a treat for you. My friend Florida Cracker got some great shots and video of a pure white squirrel. He calls it a ghost squirrel - spooky! Check it out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rooftop buffet

We have a Red-Tailed Hawk that lives in our neighborhood. He's a big guy and because he's such a fixture here, I make sure my daughter doesn't take her guinea pig outside. It doesn't take much to imagine what kind of disaster that might bring.

Anyway, this morning as I was walking the dogs, the hawk swooped down into my neighbor's yard and snatched up something. Then he perched on the same neighbor's rooftop where he proceeded to eat his morning meal. It reminded me of a situation that befell VOR last year.

She had just put a new roof on her house, a major undertaking. The day after the new roof was complete, she returned home to find a bloody mess smack in the middle of her shiny new roof. Seems the remains of a Hawk's squirrel lunch had been left on her house.

Around Florida, our abundant wildlife can leave quite a mess, but hey, that's just part of life in the Sunshine State. Like the time my friend Glyn decided to spend a sunny Saturday on his boat only to find that the Osprey who lived nearby had left the remains of a big, yummy crab lunch on his boat's roof. The crab remains stank to high heaven and he spent an hour or more scrubbing the crustacean off his roof before he could get underway.

Beloved and I once took a motorcycle ride out to a local outdoor cafe. I use the term "cafe" loosely, as it was really more like a fish camp with a few tables set up outside. It was a beautiful day and we were sitting at the outdoor picnic table, watching the manatees swim in the canal, and enjoying our friend green tomatoes when all of a sudden, INCOMING!!! A group of pelicans came swooping over us and let loose. Anyone who's ever been the victim of a pelican bombing can attest that these big, prehistoric looking birds can do some damage. Luckily we got away with just a little splatter and our food escaped untainted.
Ah, the joys of Florida living!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Scary but Good

The only thing scarier than a fully heterosexual man in a dress is one in a bathing suit.

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless to protect, well, you know, agreed to completely embarrass himself for charity this week by taking part in an event called the Womanless Beauty Pageant. The guys involved all took turns doing the runway walk in evening gown and bathing suit to raise money for children and adults with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities. My friend, dressed as Marilyn Monroe in the black bikini above, came in first runner up. I'm so proud!! Although he wasn't crowned "queen," I think it's safe to say he - and all the other er, "lovelies," were winners!

Go Boy Go!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Haunted Florida Month - Fort Clinch

One of my favorite Florida small towns is Fernandina Beach. Located just north of Jacksonville, this quaint seaside town is a stone's throw away from the tony resort community of Amelia Island. Fernandina Beach claims to be the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry. The main attraction is a 50-block downtown district on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Nearby is Fort Clinch, a state park. The fort was built in 1847 and was home to Confederate forces when the Civil War began in 1861. It was taken by federal troops when a withdrawal was ordered by Gen. Robert E. Lee the following year.

So you gotta figure that a Civil War fort in Florida is haunted, right? Oh yeah.

Each month, historians recreate life at Fort Clinch during the War Between the States. Activities include artillery demonstrations, medical demonstrations and soldier drills. Soldiers and civilians also take up duty in the laundry, infirmary, kitchen, barracks, quartermaster and carpenter shop. Candlelight viewings are held on Saturday evenings every first full weekend of the month.

It is during these living history weekends that most of the haunting reports surface. Volunteers have reported seeing a woman dressed in white, like a nurse, carrying a lantern. Several members during one weekend's encampment reported seeing four spectral soldiers in Confederate uniform marching across the parade grounds under a July full moon. The same volunteers returned the following July under a full moon and say they saw the spectral soldiers in uniform again, only this time there were only three. One of the onlookers called out and asked where the fourth soldier was. "He's sick tonight, couldn't come," was the answer.

Which reminds me, what do you give a ghost with a sore throat?

Coffin drops.

40 is the new 20

I got a call from my sister this week. She was calling me from the aisle of her local party store where she was purchasing supplies for the birthday party she was throwing for her husband this weekend. He's turning 40.

"Is 40 'Over the Hill'? I'm at the party store and they've got all this great 'Over the Hill' stuff. 40 is 'Over the Hill', right?"

Hmmmm. You know you're asking the wrong person. You do remember that I'm 40 right?

"Yeah, I know. That's why I'm asking you. You were 'Over the Hill' for your party last year right?"

Ummmm. I wouldn't exactly agree with that. I think 50 is closer to being 'Over the Hill' than 40. I'm not 'Over the Hill.'

"Yeah, but they've got all this great, funny 'Over the Hill' stuff. Didn't you have some of that at your birthday last year?"

Well, considering that my husband is still alive, the answer would be no. You know, you're only a couple of years from 40 yourself.

"No, it's a while away for me. But I guess when I turn 40 I'll be 'Over the Hill.' I'm gonna get some of this stuff, it will be great!"

Ummmm. You know, everyone you've invited to this party, with the exception of my kids, will be over age 40. You'll be the only one who's not. So, I'm thinking you might want to wait until he's 50 to proclaim him 'Over the Hill.'

"But 40 is old."

No 40 is the new 20. Just wait for your birthday . . .

Friday, October 17, 2008

Where have we landed?

It's Biketoberfest this weekend where I live. An annual fall event that brings motorcycle enthusiasts to town in droves. As residents, we're all fairly used to the event. But I was reminded of just how strange it must seem to a visitor yesterday in a most amusing way.

Standing in line at Walgreens. The cashier there is very chatty, but in a good way. The line is several people deep and I'm not paying much attention. Finally I find myself second in line. This is the exchange between Chatty Cashier and Nice Lady in Her 40s in line in front of me.

Cashier: "How'd you like that outfit?" referring to a customer who just left.

NLH40: "I know. Couldn't she have put some clothes on?"

Cashier: "Well you see a lot of that this week."

NLH40: "Yea, I've noticed. What is this event all about? I keep asking people and they just keep saying it's Biketoberfest. But what is Biketoberfest? Is there a reason for it?"

Cashier: "Yea, there's a reason. They all come to town to ride around and get drunk."

NLH40: "We've just moved to the area and I didn't know anything about it. In fact, we move into our house this weekend, so for now we're staying in a hotel on the beach. I think everyone else at our hotel this week is a biker. We weren't sure what was going on when we checked in."

Now, here's where I had to butt in, nosy NativeMom that I am.

NativeMom: "Actually, Biketoberfest is an event created by the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau to try and give the local hoteliers and hospitality industry a boost during a typically slow time of year for them."

NLH40: "Well, we're from Tampa and they have Gasparilla there. So I was wondering if Biketoberfest was like Gasparilla?"

Gasparilla is a celebration of the pirate invasion of the TampaBay area. There's a parade and lots of parties, kind of like Mardi Gras.

NativeMom: "Well, Biketoberfest really doesn't have a theme to it or a folklore behind it. But it is more than just a bike party. There's motorcycle races at the speedway and a lot of vendors in town along with local businesses that get into the action. I guess it's just a mini version of the spring event."

NLH40: "There's a spring event?"

Oh Honey, you have nooooo idea!

NativeMom: "Uh . . . yea. This is just a preview of what happens here in March, when Bike Week is two weeks long and brings twice as many people to town. I guess you might as well know now, you've landed in motorcycle mecca."

NLH40: "Oh."

As I left the store, I had to laugh imagining what this poor woman and her husband must have thought when they checked into their hotel and began making preparations for their new home. Gee, everyone here rides a motorcycle? What's that all about?

I hope someone clues her in on a little thing called Speedweeks, not to mention Spring Break. I didn't have the heart to tell her. Welcome home!

Where's she going?

I've come across an advertisement for American Girl dolls several times this week. It says "Soon we'll say farewell to Samantha" with a picture of a little brown haired doll with period clothing. Where's she going? Is this supposed to be some kind of threat? Who uses the word "farewell" anymore?

I guess the wording of the advertisement sounds better than the alternative that sprang to mind when I saw it.

"Buy now or the doll gets it!"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Window Weather Stings

On the way home from dropping MiniMe off at school this morning, I had the windows down in the truck to enjoy the fall weather. Fall weather in Florida is the best! Clear, sunny, no rain, low humidity and pleasant temperatures.

I've been reading the book by Mark Lane, Sandspurs: Notes from a Coastal Columnist, and he had a chapter expounding on the pleasures of riding with the windows down in Florida, a lost art.

So I was reviving the lost art of driving with the windows down, enjoying the morning, when it happened. Something stung me right in the middle of the back. Damn, that hurt! I almost ran off the road. I don't know what it was, but suffice to say it was some sort of evil stinging flying creature. I guess it serves me right trying to take a few moments to "stop and smell the flowers" metaphorically speaking. Getting stung between the shoulder blades, a place I can't even reach, is just how my life is going right now. I haven't even been able to post on this blog in a week because I've been so busy and nothing's been going right for me.

When I finally made it home, wincing in pain all the way, I had a moment to examine the bite and it was definitely a sting. Not an ant bite. I needed to get some medicine on it to stop the pain and disinfect, but dammit, I couldn't reach it. I started mentally going through the list of any friends or neighbors I could ask to medicate my back for me and came up with nothing. I mean what am I supposed to do, knock on my neighbor's door with a bottle of bactine in hand, pull my shirt up and ask for help with the ugly red welt in the middle of my back?!? A visit like that would make someone long for the good old days when the doorbell would ring and it would just be a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

This one is for my Mom

Something just to make you smile. Hope you have a better week, Mom!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Florida Moms Gone Wild!

This is what happens when you mix three life-long friends, who happen to be busy professional moms, with a day-full of kid-free fun, fueled by wine and other fizzy libations brought to them by their devoted husbands who stood in line so they didn't have to.

The Epcot Food & Wine Fest was mucho, mucho fun. We ate, we drank, we talked, we walked, we drank some more. We stood in the shade and giggled while our devoted hubbies stood in line to buy us more yummy International food samples and cool sips of wine. We shopped, we drank, we ate, we took the free shuttle home at the end of the night and slept the peaceful sleep of no-kids-in-the-next-room-because-we're-on-an-adult-weekend, sleep.
It was heaven! Hey, who's up for doing it all over again this weekend?!?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Scary Tales for October - Dentist Fright

Just got back from the dentist with MiniMe. She needs braces. They cost a lot. Aaaaahhhhhh! Now that's really scary!

Haunted Florida Month - Spooky Hill

Is it real or are your eyes playing tricks on you. The town of Lake Wales is famous for its popular, and free, tourist attraction – Spook Hill.
Spook Hill is located on North Lake Wales Drive, adjacent to Spook Hill Elementary School (mascot is Casper the Ghost).

Park your car on the white line painted at the bottom of the hill. Put your car in neutral, and hold on as your car rolls slowly backward, uphill.

Is it a ghost at the wheel or is it an optical illusion? Legend suggests that the ghost of Spook Hill is the spirit of a giant alligator that terrorized an Indian village before the Chief finally killed the beast in an epic battle.

Scientists say Spook Hill is a gravity hill and an optical illusion.

You decide. Watch the amateur video of Spook Hill at work.

Haunted Florida Month - Creepy Inns

What better time to spin a few ghost tales than the month of October. Throughout the month, I'll be sharing a few ghost stories on Florida's haunted places. It's been said that Florida is the most haunted state in the nation, perhaps because of its long and war-torn history.

I'll start off with a tale of a Haunted bed-and-breakfast inn (coffee please with a side of ectoplasm!)

Seven Sisters Inn, Ocala, FL

If you’re the owner of a bed-and-breakfast inn built on grounds where hundreds of soldiers gasped their dying breaths in battle in the 1800s, you should probably expect a few ghosts to be in residence. The Seven Sisters Inn is actually two Victorian-style mansions – the Pink House and the Purple House- in the historic district in Ocala. Legend and some historical records suggest that the Inn is built on the grounds where the Florida Osceola Indian tribe ambushed and killed soldiers from Fort King during the Florida Indian wars.

And if that’s not enough, the Purple House is also the site of several terrible fires. The ghost that is believed to haunt this part of the Inn is known for her dislike of fire, always blowing out candles as they are lit.

There have been sightings of men and women in period clothing, sounds of a small child, furniture moved or knocked over, and the sounds of mysterious guests who enter in the middle of the night. These ghosts pull their own weight, though. A workman at the house finishing a remodel on the second floor came downstairs to ask the owners if they had seen the other workman who had asked to borrow his hammer. He couldn’t find the hammer or the workman who he had spoken to. The owners told him he was the only workman on the property that day. The hammer was never found.

The highly entertaining Sci Fi series Ghost Hunters actually featured Florida in its episode this week (Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. on the Sci Fi Channel). They visited the Seven Sisters Inn and encountered the spirits that haunt the place. In fact, one mischievious ghost even made off with one of the Ghost Hunter’s flip flops.

Click here to see the Ghost Hunters take.

Click here for video interviews with owners of the Seven Sisters Inn, Bonnie & Ken.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Paul Newman's Florida Connection

The world lost a generous man this weekend when Paul Newman died. There is a shining example of his generosity right here in Florida, in the little town of Eustis. It's Camp Boggy Creek, Florida's camp for seriously ill children and one of the Hole in the Wall Gang camps that Newman founded.

I'm a volunteer for the camp and have had the privilege of seeing just how much of an impact Newman made when he founded Camp Boggy Creek. Children whose entire lives have been a series of hospital stays, who've never been able to attend a slumber party because they require too many medications to sleep away from home for the night. Children who've never been able to swim because they have limited mobility or because they have Sickle Cell and can't tolerate changes in body temperature. Children who've always been the one kid in the room who's "different." Mothers and fathers who haven't had a "date night" since their child was born because of the medical needs of their child. They all get to kick back, have fun and forget about the stresses of everyday life.

I've seen kids swim for the first time ever. I've seen kids get in a canoe and go fishing who've never held a fishing pole. I've seen kids make instant, lifelong friendships with other kids who truly get them, who understand what they go through because they go through it, too. And from a distance, they all look like your average everyday kid, riding a horse, singing camp songs, performing skits, and just being silly.

Camp Boggy Creek makes all these things happen because they have an on-site medical center, round-the-clock doctor and nurse care, and facilities designed to meet the special needs of kids with cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, sickle cell, asthma, spina bifida and heart/lung disease. And families never pay a dime for their kids to attend this magical summer camp for a week or the weekend camps throughout the year. It's all covered by donors.

Camp Boggy Creek doesn't just change the lives of the children and families who attend the camp sessions. It changes the lives of the people who volunteer and support it through their time, talents and resources. I know. I'm one of those people. And a very lucky mom to have four healthy, happy kids.

Thank you Paul Newman!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My favorite Florida event

I can't wait! This coming weekend, Beloved and I will be going to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival with Lliba, Mis, and their husbands. Lliba, Mis and I all went to grade school, middle school and high school together. So this will be a reunion of sorts. It is also my fifth wedding anniversary. So there's a lot to celebrate.

If you've never attended the Epcot Food and Wine Fest, plan to go. It started this past weekend and runs through the middle of November. My favorite part is working my way "around the world" and sampling all the different foods, wines, and beers from the kiosks set up in each country. There are also wine tasting events, seminars, celebrity chef appearances, and grande tasting events. Maybe one day we'll attend one of those but for now, we're just happy to taste our way around the world.

I've already mapped out some of the items I'm looking forward to trying. Africa's bobotie with mango chutney, Shanghai's ginger ice cream, Louisiana's crawfish etouffee, New England lobster roll, Irish cheese selection, and the French champagne selections. The first year we attended, Florida had a special booth set up featuring Florida shrimp. It was excellent. Which reminds me of another reason I love this event.

The Epcot Food and Wine fest attracts mostly Floridians. Usually, as we work our way around the world, we end up getting to know the other visitors as we're all traveling in the same direction and stopping to sample along the way. We've met people from all over Florida and most of the people we've met are attending the event for the sixth, seventh, or twelfth consecutive year.

A word of caution, this is not an event for kids even though it takes place at a Disney theme park. You can certainly take the kids, but it's not a lot of fun for them. Standing in line, tasting strange foods and mingling with lots of adults is just not so entertaining for the under 16 age group. And who can blame them. But for adults, this is heaven!

Another tip, pace yourself. Otherwise, you can find yourself a little overbeveraged after only a few countries. I pace myself by shopping in each of the individual countries' gift shops. It's a great place to find unusual stocking stuffers, gift items, etc with the holiday season approaching. I usually buy my kids candies from all the different countries. They love receiving these in their Christmas stockings.

So, my recommendation, take some time to attend the Epcot Food and Wine fest. It's a great big Florida party!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Partners in Crime

Our first hint of fall is in the air. Yesterday I turned off the air conditioning and threw open the windows and sliding glass doors to the pool deck to let the cooler air inside. I love this time of year in Florida. And thankfully, I still live in a place where it is relatively safe to sleep with the windows open, which we did last night. It's great to fall asleep to the sounds of the wind rustling through the trees. But at 3:30 a.m. this morning I awoke to a sound that no one wants to hear, especially at 3:30 a.m. The dog threw up.

There it was, proof that MiniMe had not eaten her dinner. She gave it to the dog instead. And he gave it back in the middle of the night.

I don't know what I'm going to do with this kid. She's only interested in eating "snacks" and junk food. Dinnertime has been a struggle with her since she began eating solid food. In fact, when she began eating solid foods, anytime I gave her a vegetable, she would take a bite then shove a handful under her leg to hide it.

Nowadays, I make her eat her dinner in order to get dessert. She brought me her plate last night to show me she'd eaten her dinner and asked for dessert. I agreed.
She tricked me. And the dog was her partner in crime.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Generation Gap

Dropped in on my 89-years-young Mammaw this week. You might think the older generation is a little out of touch when it comes to today’s technology and the use of it in our daily lives. Well, would you believe she found a new way to share information on the Internet? Let me explain.

My Mammaw reads my blog every week (Which is why it’s so PG). She reads it from my mom’s computer (mom lives next door, has a computer, and Internet access. Well if you can call dial-up having Internet access). So she and my mother are checking in on a regular basis, reading NativeMom (did I mention that I keep things PG), and Mammaw is really enjoying it. So much so, that she wants to share it with her sisters in Texas. Only her sisters don’t have Internet access. Or computers for that matter.

So she and my mom print out all of my blog posts, using up an entire ink cartridge and possibly killing a tree in the process. She then mails the printed copies to her sisters. That’s right, by snail mail.

Now at the start of this blog post I said that Mammaw had found a new way to share information ON the Internet, not WITH the Internet.

Generation Gap be damned! Ooops, I mean darned!

Cleanliness is next to . . .

The Voice of Reason has finally cut loose! I was fortunate enough to share dinner with her this weekend, just the two of us. She was grateful for a night away from her spawn – both teens. Seems that the night before she’d finally had enough. Enough of the kids using her “stuff.” Wearing her socks, her t-shirts, using her shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Apparently when her kids run out of their own clean laundry, toiletries, etc., they abscond with hers.

Now I can see how that would be annoying to jump in the shower and realize your shampoo is empty or missing altogether. There’s toothpaste squeezed from the tube and now glued to the counter of the sink. You have no more clean socks left and the likelihood of ever getting them back – both socks in the pair – is now slim and none.

I, myself have the opposite problem. I’m not sure which is worse.

I rarely make the climb upstairs at my house to the kids’ rooms and bathroom. Maybe once or twice a week I pop in their room, but I hardly ever use their bathroom. A couple of weeks ago I was putting clean towels away in their bathroom when I noticed the toothpaste tube had been squeezed dry. A quick look around and I find several more things: no shampoo, no soap, no toilet paper on the roll.

Hmmmm. So I ask.

MiniMe, how long have you been out of soap up here?

“Ummm. I don’t know. I use the bathgel or the shampoo.”

Well, how long have you been out of shampoo?

“Ummm. I don’t know.”

Well, let me ask you this, when was the last time you used shampoo on your hair when you took a bath?

“Ummm. Maybe a couple of days ago?”

So apparently, for at least a few days, but I suspect longer, there’s been no soap or shampoo in the kids’ bathroom. I don’t know how long they’ve been out of toilet paper (and maybe I don’t want to know). I suspect that the toothpaste tube has been squeezed dry for a while.


It’s not as if I don’t keep extra toilet paper (I buy in bulk), shampoo, soap, toothpaste, even new toothbrushes stockpiled in the house. All they have to do is get it or ask me for it. What’s wrong with these stinky, halitosis-ridden kids!!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Shopping. For Charity. Really.

“What are your plans for this weekend?” Beloved asked as he packed up his motorcycle for a weekend trip with the boys.

Wondertwin and I are going shopping for charity.

“Shopping for charity? How in the hell do you shop for charity? You're making this up.”

Actually, Wondertwin sits on the board of a local charity and bought passes that get you a special discount at a certain department store in town on Saturday. She purchased the passes from the charity. The charity keeps the proceeds from selling the special discount pass. Wondertwin and I get to shop and get a tax deduction at the same time. Bonus!

“Now I’ve heard everything. You sure are getting more creative in finding an excuse to go shopping.What’s next, Spa Day for Charity?”

Great idea!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Florida Art on Display

I came across two Florida art exhibits that I wanted to mention today since this is Florida artist week on NativeMom.

First, a well-known Florida photographer whose award-winning works capture the true Florida landscape (a shout out to Florida Cracker, also a great photographer of natural Florida, you'll appreciate this exhibit). Clyde Butcher has been documenting the natural beauty of Florida for more than 30 years (that's Clyde's work in this post). His large-format black and white images capture the rapidly disappearing beauty of Florida, especially the Everglades and Big Cypress region. He uses 8 X 10 and 12 X 20 view cameras, which give him the ability to capture elaborate detail. Butcher says the goal of his work is to encourage conservation of Florida's natural places. His home and gallery, Big Cypress Gallery, are located on 13 acres in the middle of the million-acre Big Cypress National Preserve. See his works on exhibit through October at Fort Myers’ Southwest Florida Museum of History.

Now, for something completely, er, different. Art by Florida inmates. Really.

Florida’s correctional facilities inmates and former inmates get a platform for their creative side in Art from the Inside. The exhibition runs through November 13 in the Division of Cultural Affairs’ Gallery for Innovation & the Arts in Tallahassee (R.A. Gray Building, 3rd Floor, 500 South Bronough Street). The gallery is dedicated to showcasing Florida artwork that is educational and demonstrates inventive ways of using visual media to convey new ideas and highlight often unheard voices.

Fall is art show month in Florida. There's a great art show just about every weekend now through Thanksgiving somewhere in the Sunshine State. A few I'd recommend you check out include:
  • Hyde Park Village Art Festival, Sept. 27, 28, Hyde Park Village, Tampa
  • Melbourne Main Street Masters of Art Festival, Oct. 4-6, Historic Downtown Melbourne
  • Autumn Art Festival, Downtown Winter Park, Oct. 11-12
  • Halifax Art Festival, Nov. 1-2, Historic Downtown Daytona Beach
  • DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts, Nov. 22-23, Historic Downtown DeLand
  • St. Augustine Fall Arts Festival, Nov. 29-30, St. Augustine event grounds

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tooth Fairy Sucks

Dear Tooth Fairy,

You fell down on your duties last night and should be ashamed of yourself! What were you doing last night that was so important that you couldn’t swing by to reward MiniMe for losing not just one tooth, but two teeth in one day? Beauty Sleep? All night rave party? Blind date?

There’s really no excuse. The one and only job you have to do each night is sneak into sleeping children’s rooms and replace their little baby teeth, safe and secure under their little pillows, with some spare change (or a dollar or two). MiniMe was counting on you and you let her down.

C'mon, the life of a fairy can’t be that difficult, especially in comparison to the life of us working moms. For instance, yesterday, I got up, made breakfast for MiniMe, myself and fed all the pets in our house. I walked her to the bus stop while taking the dogs for their morning walk. I then drove for an hour to meetings with two different clients. Lunch in the car on the way to another city with another client. Then rush back home in time to pick up MiniMe and attend the Open House at the elementary school. Home by 7 p.m. and time to feed everyone (including the pets again). Clean up kitchen, check homework, and finally at 9:30 p.m. I’m done. I collapse into an exhausted heap and fall asleep immediately, all the while counting on you to do your job as MiniMe sleeps soundly with two little teeth under her pillow.

This morning she comes into the kitchen for breakfast in tears, holding the little bag with her teeth, her face red, tears streaming down her little cheeks and says “Mommy, the tooth fair didn’t come!”

Lucky for you, Mommy had five dollars, a lot of hugs and a unique way of making everything right again in her little world.

Shame on you tooth fairy! Shame, Shame, Shame!

Artist Karlene McConnell

Continuing the celebration of Florida artists this week on NativeMom, I attended the first of a six-week drawing class this week taught by Florida artist Karlene McConnell. I can't remember the last time I signed up for a class or workshop or group activity purely for fun. I guess it's proof that there is life after kids!

This was an adult class of 10 people. A few retired gentlemen whose wives had suggested they get out of the house. A local veterinarian who had always wanted to learn to draw. A couple of retired ladies who dabbled in painting and other forms of art and were looking to improve their skills. And then a few people like me who had an interest in art and liked the idea of taking a class with other like adults.

Karlene is a very patient teacher. She suggested that each of us get a sketch book and carry it with us everywhere for the next 6 weeks so that we can sketch anytime we have a moment or opportunity. I've done this for years with a notebook and writing. I jot down ideas that come to me or journal about something on my mind. It's a great way to get the creative juices flowing.

I happen to be friends with Karlene as her daughter and my stepdaughter are friends. A couple of years ago, she gifted my stepdaughter with an original portrait she'd done of my stepdaughter playing soccer. It was simply the most incredible gift a young girl could ever get.