Angry Irma

Roger and I had planned this vacation/honeymoon for weeks. We planned to leave on Friday, 9/15 to head to the Smoky Mountains. While we started preparing our trip, the news was dominated by a strong, angry Hurricane named Irma.

Over a week before the hurricane hit FL, the warnings began. The governor declared a state of emergency in advance. We ventured out the day after Labor Day to stock up on water, batteries and charcoal. The local Home Depot was already wiped out — every generator had been sold, no charcoal, no D batteries, no water. As we drove home, I called two Publix grocery stores and Family Dollar – no water.

The next day I went out to find gas, water and batteries while Roger mowed grass and readied the property. The very large, very busy Shell station was completely out of gas. I stopped at a small Citgo station (yes, I was desperate) and managed to find enough to fill up the Jeep and gas can. While filling up, I tried 5 more stores and still couldn’t find water, so I drove home.

Once at home, I told Roger what was going on. We decided then that we needed to leave because evacuation orders were mandated in south FL. I started making phone calls. Jim at Sleeping Dog Cabins had no tenants in the cabin we were renting and allowed us to arrive a week early. I called 6 hotels in south GA only to hear “we’re totally sold out”. I moved north on I-75 until I found a vacant room in Tifton. They weren’t pet-friendly but due to the mass exodus from FL, they waived the pet policy.

morning, I packed while Roger battened down the porch, patio and deck. We planned to leave around 1:00 which would give us plenty of time to drive to Tifton in daylight. We took all of the meat and veggies from the refrigerator and freezer in case we lost power. We packed the Jeep, loaded Frankie and Teddy and headed north.

made great time on U.S. 98 and kept saying we’d probably pick up some traffic when I-75 and the FL Turnpike merged. WRONG!!!!! As soon as we approached I-75, we saw the slow-moving cars and trucks. For the next 200+ miles, Roger used the brake more than the gas pedal! Multiple gas stations were out of gas or had cars snaked around for blocks as far north as Gainesville. Rest areas had signs “at capacity” with cars parked along the rest area entrance and interstate as families tried to stretch their legs and relieve their full bladders.

Nine hours later, we arrived at our hotel normally a five hour drive. We were frazzled to say the least putting up with stop and go traffic for 297 miles, a sick Teddy throwing up and accidentally pooping on his pillow. (It’s in a trash can somewhere along I-75.)

We got dinner to go and decided to leave early in the morning to get ahead of the rest of FL’s evacuees. Thankfully, no gas shortage in Tifton, so we filled up and hit I-75. For the first 10 miles or so, I actually drove the speed limit. Unfortunately, it was very short-lived and we saw the sea of red tail lights ahead of us. We experienced stop and go traffic all the way through north Atlanta. AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

After another nine hour day, we finally arrived to The Wildflower. We unpacked the car and let Frankie and Teddy run around the yard. As we enjoyed the outside bar, Roger said “listen”. It was perfectly tranquil, birds chirping, no honking horns, no sirens, no 18-wheelers and no interstate hum below our seats. Let vacation begin . . .

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Bea-Day

My birthday is in mid-April and for many years coincides with Easter. This year was one of those. The past few years have been emotional and full of change. Why is it that years that end in 9 are the hardest? This year I turned 59, and it was a tough transition. It’s just a number, right?

For many years, we lived close enough to my parents to spend my birthday with them. Over the past 3-4 years, so many things happened personally that it wasn’t feasible to meet. However, this year was an exception, and we made plans to spend my birthday/Easter weekend with my parents.

We met halfway between FL and AL in Valdosta, GA in a pet-friendly hotel. My parents traveled with Princess, and we had Frankie. Conveniently we had adjoining rooms which turned out to be a blessing. Princess has serious separation anxiety, so Frankie was the perfect companion to keep her quiet and settled so we could enjoy dinner together.

The restaurant we chose was a short walk across the parking lot. We had a very pleasant waiter who looked like Wesley Snipes! He was so nice and took pictures of mama, daddy, me and Roger for special photo memories of our time together. We “messaged” the pictures to my sister, Beth. Her response was hilarious – “you must be at Olive Garden because the breadsticks gave it away!”

As we ordered our entrees, my father told “Wesley” that it was my birthday. After we finished our dinner, “Wesley” and two other waiters showed up at our table with two ice cream desserts. Well, to my embarrassment, they couldn’t just set the desserts on the table, they sang Happy Birthday to me!

We spent one more day together enjoying lunch and dinner as a family. On Tuesday morning we departed and went to our respective homes. Reflecting on the time we spent together, I realized how fortunate I was to spend my birthday once again with my parents and with my new husband. We all know we have fewer years ahead of us than behind us. Bea Positive that when you have the opportunity to spend time with your family – don’t let it slip away.

“My Friend A Part Of Me”

Growing up in a military family, you move around every few years. While it’s exciting to experience new cities, states and even another country, it takes a toll on your relationships, especially friends. As young girls, my sister and I did our best to make new friends and adjust to our new location throughout our school years. As we grew older, it became more difficult emotionally when we had to move again and leave friends behind.

For four years, our family lived in a little town in central Illinois where my sister and I attended high school. I think from the first time I met Lori, we were friends. We took the same classes, even got sent to the principal’s office together. We spent countless hours together on weekends and during summer breaks. We played the piano together, baked chocolate chip cookies together, listened to “Dark Side Of The Moon” trying to figure out the meaning behind every song. We even got our driver’s licenses together.

Not long after high school graduation, our family moved once again. Even knowing that graduation sends you and your classmates in different directions, you hope to stay close enough to see each other every now and them. Some go off to college, some start careers, some start families. . . Despite your good intentions, it becomes harder to stay in touch. You become absorbed in climbing the corporate ladder, raising children, maybe raising grandchildren, and chasing your dreams. And yet, there are some people who stay with you throughout all of life’s changes and challenges.

Today, I found a book that Lori sent to me many, many years ago called “Flowers of Friendship”. There is a poem on page 67; she addressed it to me and signed it, “Your friend, Lori”. Despite all of my travels and life’s twists and turns, she has remained my friend, never judging me nor abandoning me. What a blessing for me to say that I have a life-long friend . . .

“I am a part of all whom I have met,”

So, friend of mine, you are a wholesome part;

Our precious visits, lingering with me yet,

Are flowers in the garden of my heart.

Your smiles like violets, sweet beyond compare,

Your words, carnations, cheering me on my way,

Your deeds like roses, rich with perfume rare,

Bring faith and hope and love every day.

So, friend of mine, thou’ you are far away,

Between us may stretch mountain, plain, or sea,

Yet by my side you walk and talk each day,

Because you are a precious part of me.

~Charles Elmer Chapler

The Dance

Enjoying nature was one of many activities that John and I enjoyed sharing. We visited many botanical gardens, beaches and parks wherever we lived. On one of our first vacations together, we travelled to Fort Myers and stayed in a resort right on the beach. One of our days was spent on Sanibel Island, home of several wildlife refuges. We devoted an entire day at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

There is a four-mile scenic drive around Sanibel Island which is home to hundreds species of birds, reptiles, palms, seagrapes, myrtles and other native vegetation. John loved watching me enjoy my passion – photography. He drove along the dike so that I could snap away. Whenever we saw something that caught our attention, especially a flock of wading birds, we stopped to get a closer look.

As we drove slowly along the dike, I saw a lone Little Blue Heron off in the distance in the bay. He caught my eye, and I asked John to stop. We got out of the car and walked up to the edge of the water. The heron was the only bird in sight, but he put on what we later called a “happy dance” through the shallow water. We were thrilled to watch and I captured the show in several still, sequential photos.

The Little Blue Heron stood in the “knee-deep” bay, and my first photo was one where he appeared to be looking at himself in the water like it was a mirror. We imagined to ourselves that he wanted to make sure his feathers were all in place, and he looked handsome and presentable.

Gazing Into The Water

After a few seconds, all of a sudden he spread out his wings and stood on one leg. And then he started running through the water towards us. As he ran, he held his head high and held his wings out like angel wings.

Dancing Dancing

He glided across the shallow water flapping his wings up and then down and turned making a semi-circle wake in the water. Then, as suddenly as he had started his “dance”, he stopped. I caught him in this beautiful, graceful stance. His wings were held out as he stood on one leg, as if in a “Karate Kid” pose gazing into the water again.

Karate Kid Pose

He stood there staring into the water for several seconds, and we were sure he was pleased with what he saw. He stood up once more, raised his wings and continued sprinting and splashing back towards where he started.

Look At Me

All the while, he danced solo as if he was wooing a mate to join him in his tango, “look at me, look at me, I’m here waiting for you!” It was a lovely sight to behold; while we stood there, he never enticed a lady bird to join him.

We decided to return to the car and continue along the dike. Before John started the car, he grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes. He told me how much he loved me, and I said the same back to him.  As we drove away, I told John, “that heron’s soul mate is just sitting back waiting for us to leave.  They just want some privacy.”  And we smiled . . .

John and I lived Richard Bach’s quote everyday: “Our soul mate is the one who makes life come to life.” We made each other’s life come to life; we were blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime bond.  He didn’t have to dance to woo me; he had me at “hello”.

“Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side”

“Spreading sunshine” are random acts of kindness, increased community involvement, starting or growing your tithes, spending more time in your Christian Walk, being a loving person. “Stormy experiences” are financial set-backs, physical manifestations, emotional upsets, and worst-case, soul-destroying experiences.  I’ve realized “spreading sunshine” and blessings in other people’s lives, “storms” come fast and furious.

We have recently increased our volunteering and assistance to several organizations which is very fulfilling to us. Last week, for vacation, we planned to spend time with good friends and attend an inspirational seminar.  Well, Thankfully, what we experienced on vacation are manageable “storms” and not “full blown disasters”.  I thought I would share a few:

  • Highly sensitive to soaps, cleaners, etc. I travel with my own soap, towel, pillowcase. Day 2, my face started to break out. Day 3, the hives spread to my chest, abdomen and back! Despite the lavender, baking soda and lotions, I wanted to crawl out of my skin from the itching!
  • We travel with our 3 “fur babies”. Less than an hour from the hotel, Matthew started whining which means “I need outside — NOW!! An exit was 1 mile away and seemed like an eternity! Matthew tried really hard to hold it but spit up on his blanket, so it was a short stop.
  • Back in the car, headed to the hotel . . . realizing too late, I missed I-85 and ended up on I-285. Within a couple of miles, the interstate became a parking lot! I maneuvered off the interstate, used back routes adding an extra hour to our trip.
  • Finally at the hotel, we settled in and tried to “chill” for a while. John realized that his glasses weren’t on his face, and they weren’t in the car. Well, we only made 1 stop.  Apparently during the mayhem of Matthew’s emergency stop, John lost his pricy prescription glasses.
  • Friday night at dinner, my throat was scratchy. By Saturday morning, it spread to sinus congestion and nagging cough on top of the hives. Between the nose-blowing, croupy cough and itchy hives I wore myself out and missed the seminar.
  • Sunday, after driving 7 hours, we arrived home to a flooded pool, dead pine tree limbs that filled 2 garbage bags, grass a foot high – a result of real thunderstorms in Tampa.
  • Today was trash day and yard waste day. While the tree limbs were collected, the new energy-efficient “claw” trash truck managed to only pick up half the trash bags.
  • And to top it all off, my beautiful bracelet with the Christian cross from my very dear friend snapped and broke. I gathered all of the beads and placed it in my wallet. If I can’t wear it, I’ll carry it!
and to top it all off, my beautiful bracelet snapped and broke!

and to top it all off, my beautiful bracelet snapped and broke!

So the “fur babies” are back to their routine, we drained the pool, John’s eye appointment is next week to get new glasses, we’ll have to smell the stinky trash for another few days, my hives are finally calming down, and I will fix the bracelet and wear again soon!

Moral of this story:  “Bea Positive”! There will always be storms, but God will send a rainbow and sunshine afterwards, so “keep on the sunny side of life”!

Beauty from Ashes

Orlando was the lucky driver who got to cart two ladies around Jersey City and New York City. Our original plan was to ride the ferry to Ellis Island and see the Statue of Liberty. Orlando took every side street in Jersey City to get us to Liberty State Park. As he drove us closer to the ferry station, he made a really astute observation. We were the only car there! Just then, a Jersey police car drove by and Orlando asked about the ferry. “The last ferry runs at 3:30 p.m. and starts back up at 8:00 a.m.”  So Debbie and I got some nice pictures of the back-side of Miss Liberty from the park.
So now what? We didn’t want to go back to the hotel early, so Orlando suggested Ground Zero and Freedom Tower. About 20 minutes later, we arrived at Ground Zero. Standing 2 blocks from the Freedom Tower, it is so massive the spire looks like it disappears into the clouds. Did you know that the spire allows the building to reach a symbolic 1776 feet – a fitting reference to the year of our Declaration of Independence.
Orlando drove slowly and around all four sides of the area known as Ground Zero. I always like to ask people I meet in NY where they were on September 11, 2001. I haven’t been surprised to hear that every person I ask knows exactly what he/she was doing and where they were when the planes hit the towers. Orlando was working as an EMT at the time and was one of the first responders. As he worked desperately to help during the pandemonium, he watched people throwing themselves out of the top floors of the buildings.
It’s hard to describe in words the expanse that was affected by two 110-story buildings and surroundings. It was a sobering experience, and I’m so glad I got to experience Ground Zero in person. Even after 13 years, there is still a lot of work to be done. However, the Freedom Tower is literally and figuratively “Beauty from Ashes”.

Memorial post at Ground Zero

Memorial post at Ground Zero

Sharing a Paximadia (Greek cookie)

lenthangIn Greek culture, Paximadia is a toasted Lenten cookie made with almonds and citrus. They have a hard texture and are a bit crumbly, and ideally dunked with your favorite cup of coffee. Or in my case, with a small bottled water.  I find it fitting that Paximadia was shared with me during this Lenten season.

My driver was in the hotel lobby at 12:15 p.m., right on time. He asked me how my day was going and helped me with my luggage. As I got settled in the back seat, I noticed a foil-covered pan in the passenger front seat.

I detected a heavy European accent when he spoke to me, so I asked my driver where he was from. He proudly told me he was from Greece and had been in the U.S. 40 years. I told him about the Greek community north of Tampa in Tarpon Springs that my husband and I visited. It’s a cute little town on the bay with Greek restaurants and shops. I told him about the annual “Epiphany Dive for the Cross” in Tarpon Springs. (FYI, this is the largest observance in the U.S. outside of Greece!).

He came to the U.S. 40 years ago to make money and send back to his family in Greece. He originally planned to be here a couple of years.  Two years soon became five. He was so excited to share that he made close to $25,000 after 5 years; “that was a lot of money back then”.  So he kept working and told his family he would stay a few more years and then never left.  He tries to go back to Greece each year to see his family.

He and his wife raised 4 children, 3 girls and 1 boy ranging from 22 years to 13 years old. He has 3 grandchildren, too. His wife cooks dinner every night for the entire family. The 3 married girls and their families live in the same neighborhood. Every night the entire family eats a home-cooked dinner together. I told him how rare it was for me to hear that a family spends quality time together every night and eats dinner together.

So I was too curious and had to asked “is that your lunch in the foil-covered pan?”  He said, “no, my wife loves to bake, too. Here you must try these cookies.” He opened the foil and handed the pan to me. I took a cookie, and he insisted that I take another. Since I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, I was grateful for the cookie. Then he handed me one of his water bottles he had in the front seat along with some tissues for a napkin. I wrapped the second cookie in the tissue to share with my husband once I landed in Tampa.

He chatted some more about his family, and we turned into the airport. As he pulled over to park, I asked how much I owed him. I couldn’t believe when he told me the flat rate because I had paid double the day before from the airport to the hotel!

I paid him cash and told him no need for change. He got out of the car and got my luggage out for me. As I reached out my hand to shake and thank him for the ride, he kissed both my cheeks – the European way, you know. He thanked me and said “God has blessed you to be a beautiful person.”

As I walked through the airport to my gate, I held back tears. It never dawned on me that he would thank me. I was just another passenger in his day . . . Maybe it was because I spoke to him. Maybe because I cared enough to ask about his life and family. Maybe because I shared a home-baked cookie from his wife.  Maybe it is because I was Positive!

 

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