Florida Welcomes You—with Free OJ and a Whole Lot More!

The last time we were in Orlando it was for a Disney World Extravaganza, complete with Park Hopper Passes and meal plans. We covered all four theme parks, one waterpark, and spent time at the hotel pool. It was an eight day fun-filled, fantastic, frenzy. Parents, kids, and grandparents all had a blast, but I’d be lying if I said it was relaxing.

This time we only spent one day with Mickey and Company and thanks to our friends and fellow Toastmasters, Jerry and Brenda, we got to spend several days enjoying the some of the less commercial fun that Florida has to offer.

Free OJ from the FLA Welcome Center!
Free OJ from the FLA Welcome Center!

We drove from Atlanta to Orlando on Monday and arrived just in time for a delicious dinner of Chili Verde, courtesy of Aunt Brenda, and the kids made themselves right at home in the spare room, enjoying Jessie on their own small screen TV. I’d say that having a television in their bedroom may have been the highlight of the trip, but I’m sure that it paled in comparison to Tuesday’s breakfast. That morning we sampled Uncle Jerry’s chocolate chip pancakes, which we topped with syrup, berries, and copious amounts of spray whipped cream. That was the day that the new “Five Second Rule” was born, five being the number of seconds that one must spray said whipped cream when topping one’s pancakes… or cookies… or ice cream… or coffee… You get the idea. (This rule may be modified to three seconds if needed for those who are faint of heart or in danger of a Diabetic emergency.)

Uncle Jerry's Famous Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Uncle Jerry’s Famous Chocolate Chip Pancakes

After our gourmet breakfast, we ventured to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. We spent the day strolling through the beautiful tree-lined paths and seeing all sorts of new creatures that can’t survive in cruel Ohio temps. The kids were so impressed by the zoo’s super splash pad and the camel rides, that they didn’t even miss the gift shop. And we even got to feed the giraffes!

Is your name Alice?
Is your name Alice?





The next day was spent at Cape Canaveral National Seashore. We had fun in the sun, a picnic on the beach, and took pictures that made all of our friends back home just a little jealous. But the best part of that day was hearing my son yell at his sister as they dashed across the sand, “Audrey that’s the ocean!” She squealed and yelled back, “I can’t believe I’m at a real beach!” We lathered them up with sunscreen and off they went. They played on the shore for hours, building sandcastles, collecting shells, and letting the waves wash up to their waists. The water was freezing, but they couldn’t have cared less.

Cape Canaveral National Seashore
Cape Canaveral National Seashore


Thursday marked our return to Disney World and the Magic Kingdom. This time, the day didn’t seem nearly as hectic. In fact, from 9:30 am to 11:00 pm, Disney World really did feel like the happiest place on Earth. We had minimal waits, beautiful weather, and we were named Honorary Patriots at the Liberty Tree Tavern when we helped open the restaurant for dinner. I think getting to ring the dinner bell almost helped to heal the scars left after we forced the children to ride Space Mountain!

We finished out the week with one more round of chocolate chip pancakes, packed up the car, and headed for Savannah. We spent Friday night at the Hilton DeSoto, in Historic Savannah. The impressive chandeliers in the lobby were original to the hotel, built in 1890. The room was well decorated with walls painted in a calming powder blue. The pizza from room service was affordable and delicious. Fortunately, the hotel security team was also remarkably efficient when they removed the guests across the hall at two am for unsportsmanlike conduct and/or excessive celebration in the hotel pool!

We arrived home on Saturday night after an eleven hour drive, safe, sound, and happy to be home. It was a wonderful trip filled with great family memories, but there is nothing like the feel of your own bed on that first night back. I’m just thankful we had Sunday to recover before returning to work. I don’t know about the rest of them, but all that fun and family togetherness in the Ford Fiesta took a lot out of me!

Sunday—There’s Something Fishy Going On!

Colorful Fish Photo #9,852

After a quick bite at the coffee shop, we bid adieu to the gardens at the Hotel Gaylord and headed out of Nashville bound for Atlanta. We checked into the Hilton Garden Inn a few hours later and made a beeline for the Georgia Aquarium. I pleased to say that the drive was not nearly as eventful as the day before. In fact it was a great visit with hardly any drama at all….

Unless you count the food court feast of chicken fingers and nachos that cost fifty big ones and almost caused hubby to have “the big one”! Come to think of it, we only narrowly avoided a fit from the five year old when her arms weren’t long enough to reach the sting rays skimming along the bottom of the touch pool. We tried three different pools and all of them were just as deep. So, we distracted her with a slide at the indoor play yard just before she was able to launch a full blown tantrum. And of course, my son, in classic form, began to whine the moment he found out that we were seated in the “splash zone” for the Dolphin Tales presentation for fear he might melt. This is the same kid who stands directly under the dump buckets every time he visits a splash pad. It is also the same kid who conveniently forgot about his aversion to water the moment another boy his age sat down two seats away. He immediately asked to swap spots with his dad and the two boys began to pray for wild dolphin attacks so that they could get soaked and save themselves a shower before bedtime.

White Alligator
White Alligator

Aside from a few minor disturbances, it was an exciting day for the whole family, with rare white alligators and the Ocean Voyager Exhibit—the largest indoor aquatic habitat in the world. I’d highly recommend this stop to anyone with little ones. They’ll love all of the underwater adventures. Just a one thing…. Make sure you have plenty of storage space on your phone because your daughter may need you to take pictures of EVERY colorful fish you find. Oh! And you may be hard-pressed to get your son out of there at the end of the day. So, take my advice. Save the gift shop for last!

Spring Break 2014 134
Whale Shark (in a 60×30 ft window)

Saturday—The Grand Ole Family Vacay Begins!

We left home in the Ford Fiesta before 8:30 am, two parents, two kids, and several suitcases, ready for our first big family road trip. The gas tank was full and the excitement was high. It didn’t last long. By 8:53, we’d already had one episode of carsickness and one coffee spill in the new car. As the Starbucks soaked into the interior and the scent of used Asiago bagel wafted into the front seat, I shook my head and thought, “I can’t have nice things!” We hadn’t even made it off of the outer belt yet and we’d already had multiple mishaps. Needless to say, I was skeptical about the day—and the trip—to come.

Fortunately, things did improve from that point forward. Seven hours and one Cracker Barrel Stop later, we rolled into the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, rolled being the operative word. We actually rolled to a stop behind a very long line of other travelers eager to begin their own Opry Land Experience. After nearly another hour of starting and stopping, we reached the entrance and unloaded for the night. Children and parents alike were thrilled with the hotel accommodations, particularly the beautiful Cascade Conservatory filled with blooms and waterfalls of all kinds to explore.

Cascade Conservatory at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel

We grabbed a slice of pizza from Paisano’s and we were off to the main attraction: A Night at the Grand Ole Opry! To be honest, this was not something that my husband and kids were all that thrilled about, but they indulged me, as I insisted that like it or not, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that everyone should take advantage of. Hubby made jokes throughout the show to amuse himself, claiming that John Conlee was actually our own Bud Watkins, former District 40 Governor for Toastmasters International. Child number one repeatedly threatened to doze off, while child number two interrupted frequently to point out that the entire event would be much more exciting, if only there were snacks to be had. I, while never truly a country music fan either, was enthralled, lapping up every note and at times, getting just a little misty.

Grand Ole Opry House

At some point, I questioned what exactly it was about the whole thing that could evoke such emotion. I think it’s this. Every star that appeared on stage that night, whether old or young, seemed to show a genuine concern and respect for each other that often seems lacking in pop culture. They truly appeared to be one big family. When Little Jimmy Dickens, who was easily 90 years old, ambled out on stage and sang, admiration filled the air. Somehow, I have a hard time imagining the same type of reception for Britney Spears performing at age 100. Not only that, but the stories told by the music were incredible and there was no use of auto-tune or synthesized music. There was something simple, very raw, and very real about all of the performances that you just don’t get from most pop music these days. I was touched. I don’t know if I’d call myself a country fan just yet, but my appreciation for the genre might run just a little deeper.

We walked back to the hotel, enjoying the night air, happy to be away from the Ohio weather. We fell into bed, ready for some much needed rest. And as I lie there in the darkness listening to my son urging his sister to keep her feet off of him, I thought, “Day one is done. Only seven more to go!”


Just Because I’m Not Twenty Anymore…

I am not laboring under the illusion that I’m still a teenager. I am a teacher, wife, and mother of two. I am not as firm as I used to be, I could stand to lose a few pounds, and I’m not the most physically fit woman on the planet. I know I’m not as young as I used to be. What I don’t know is when exactly I became old.

Admittedly, I have been getting several emails a day from Assisted Living, AARP, 50 Plus Dating, and the Scooter Store for quite some time. I just chalked those messages up to spam, deleted them, and moved on. Today, however, I got a letter in the mail from Ohio Health with a list of free seminars from the Council for Older Adults. Topics included menopause and dealing with a mid-life crisis, developed for the “mature woman.”

I was briefly offended by their assumptions, or more suitably, their accusations. “How dare they!” I thought. “I am only thirty-eight. I stay up past ten p.m., get up after four a.m., and I never eat dinner before five in the afternoon.” I was so irritated that I went running into the living room to show the letter to my husband.

He looked up at me from his recliner and said, “Don’t worry, sweetie. They obviously sent it to you by mistake. You’re the least mature woman I know.”

Thanks honey!

Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss those people from 50 Plus Dating. If he keeps it up, I may be single again soon!

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”

The following is an adaptation of a speech I gave several years ago in my Toastmasters club. I found it in an old folder, and it still amused me. I thought I would share.

What’s the Matter with Kids Today? It was a question raised in song in the musical Bye-Bye Birdie. It’s a question that has been raised by older generations for decades. We find ourselves looking at our youth and wondering why they seem to lack common sense. We ask how they have become so entitled, with no sense of responsibility. If you ask me, the problem doesn’t originate with the children. They have not evolved into senseless creatures all by themselves. Today’s children are victims of society. As a society, we no longer appear to value this asset. We have made it too simple to do something stupid and either blame someone else or claim that we didn’t know any better. Law makers vindicate people who spill scalding hot coffee themselves then sue, and the only thing that doesn’t come with a warning label is your crazy Aunt Earlene.

The aforementioned McDonald’s lawsuit was so outrageous that it made the news all over the U.S. You might think that something so ridiculous would cause us to take a long hard look at ourselves, but I’m not sure that discouraged others from filing silly lawsuits. In fact, it may have encouraged it. The Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch listed several similar cases.

One homeowner sued the owners of a local business saying that their dust was trespassing on her property.  Of course, once it was established that dust had no legs and could not intentionally trespass, the case was dismissed.

Another woman, a housekeeper, stole what she thought was a decorative candle from a house that she was cleaning. During dinner with friends, she lit the “candle.” It turned out to be a firecracker and caused a small explosion. She later sued her client for leaving the firecracker laying around the house without a warning on it.

A woman leaving the hospital in a wheel chair was pushed into a parking gate. She sustained minor head injuries and sued, not the person who pushed her into the gate, but the manufacturer of the gate.  If you’re going to sue in a situation like that, at least get your priorities straight! The jury rightfully found that the gate maker was not at fault.

Even those convicted of crimes themselves continue to blame others for their problems. In Michigan, a prisoner sued the state because prison food was causing a flatulence problem. The Attorney General’s office estimated that frivolous prisoner lawsuits like that one waste several million dollars in state tax dollars every year.

Maybe they need more warning signs posted in those prison cafeterias. After all, nearly everything else in the US comes with some kind warning. Vacuum cleaners include such directions as: “Do not pick up anything smoking or burning” and “Do not immerse in water.”  Did someone wake up one day and decide to use their Hoover to clean out the pool? Why does the little packet of silicon in your new shoe box read “Do not eat?” Some brilliant individual one day mistook it for a snack. Now, steps must be taken to warn others and avoid prosecution. Once upon a time, there was a site called Wackywarnigns.com which gave several other examples like these. A Laundromat washer bore this sign: “High Speed Spins – Do not put a person in this washer.”  It’s a good thing that label is posted. That way the multi-taskers would know better than to wash their laundry and their children in the same machine. A warning on a flushable toilet brush cautioned, “Do not use for personal hygiene.” Apparently Swiffer brand wet wipes should also include this warning, because my principal’s kid did exactly that when he accidentally left the box on the back of the toilet. Kudos to him. Rather than sue, he suggested his son pay more attention to the “home care” label the next time.

Here are a two more serious warnings:  A fuel Tank Cap warns, “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.”  A&W soda labels state: Warning: Contents under pressure. Cap may blow off causing eye or other serious injury. As a middle school teacher, I can see that happening as a result of a “double dog dare” in the lunch room. “Dude, I bet you can’t open that bottle with your eye!” Still, I ask you, is it really the root beer’s fault that middle school kids are crazy?

Why should children think for themselves or try to solve a problem by using common sense when we don’t expect adults to? If you have a youngster in your life, talk to them about what they watch on TV so they don’t turn play time into an episode of Myth Busters gone wrong.  Help them learn about safety and making smart choices.  Teach them to be responsible for there own mistakes. Don’t help your toddler dial a lawyer when he burns his tongue on his Hamburger Happy Meal.  Teach him to think first and blow on it next time.

Insanity Now

For those of you who were alarmed by the title – no, it is not a counterattack on Susan Powter, the 90’s fitness guru, who encouraged us to “Stop the insanity!” It is, in fact, a tip sheet with advice on what to do and what not to do to win a Humorous Speech contest. Some of you may be thinking, “Don’t compete in the first place!” But that is not my advice. Speech contests, while scary and nerve-wracking, are also entertaining and exciting. Going to a Toastmasters Area contest is always a great networking and educational experience. If you want the additional satisfaction of taking home a trophy, there are a few things you should remember.

  1. Do practice. Practice frequently. Practice out loud. Practice in front of a mirror. Stomp around in your living room to practice staging. Talk to yourself, no matter who’s watching, and no matter how ridiculous it makes you feel.
  2. Do not forget to put the time and place on your calendar and then proceed to forget about the contest entirely until the day before.
  3. Do get a good night’s sleep on the eve of the contest.
  4. Do not assume that six hours of sleep will be sufficient. If you go out with friends and dance until after midnight, chances are, even your new Mary Kay makeup will not be enough to hide the dark circles, and you will not have the energy needed to put on your best show. (Especially if you are old enough to remember Susan Powter in the first place.)
  5. Do everything you can to prepare for the contest in advance, so you can feel confident the day of, and remain unshaken when the competition appears funnier than you.
  6. Do not sweat it. If the contestant before you gives a speech titled “Insanity Now” about suffering at the hands of his wife on a torturous trip to the grocery store, in an amusing accent, with great gestures and expressions… chances are, you’re going to lose anyway. Sit back, relax, and enjoy it!

Jesus, Drugs, and Whitney Houston

Everyone knows that as a parent you will eventually have to tackle difficult topics with your kids. You assume that as they grow you will have to teach them about smoking, drugs, sex, and other big issues. What no one tells you is that there are no rules as to when these topics come up. No one told me that I would be driving home from a Toastmasters meeting on a Tuesday night with my four and six year olds in the backseat giving the longest, most important table topic of my life.

It all started on our way out of the meeting. Someone had given a speech or a table topic about the dangers of smoking or something. I don’t even recall the specifics anymore. My son began before we even got in the car. I should have known I was in for it. The conversation went something like this:

“Mom, smoking is bad for you, right?”

“Yes it is.”

“But, people in our family smoke.”

“Yes they do.”

“Why? Don’t they know it’s bad for you?”

“Yes. I’m sure they do.”

“Then why do they do it?”

“Because cigarettes are addictive.”

He got in the car and was quiet for a moment. Then it began again.

“What’s addictive?”

I sighed as I eased out of the parking space. I didn’t really want to get into it while driving, because- you should know- I’m a bad driver as it is. I don’t really need distractions. But, you never know how many opportunities you will have to discuss these things with your kids while they are actually listening. At the moment, the kids were strapped into the backseat, a captive audience, so I chose my words carefully, trying to be simple, but effective.

“Addictive is when you have something and you just want more of it, like when you eat chocolate and it’s so good that you just want more of it.”

“Why are cigarettes addictive?”

“Because they have a drug called nicotine in them.”

That satisfied him for a moment, as the sun began to set, the situation worsened. It started to rain and my ever-inquisitive boy continued.

“Drugs are bad for you too, right?”


“Then why do people do drugs?”

I sighed again as I turned the wipers on.

“Well, because drugs can make you feel good at first and people don’t know how bad they really are. By the time they realize it, it’s too late to stop.”

“Whitney Houston did drugs and she died.”


Then my daughter got in on it.

“I miss Whitney Houston.”

“It is sad, isn’t it?” (She’s four! Does she even know a Whitney Houston song?)

“Why did Whitney Houston die?” she wanted to know.

The windows were starting to steam up, probably from all of our hot air.  I turned on the defogger.

“Ah… they say she took too many prescription drugs, so you see, even drugs from your doctor can be dangerous if you’re not careful about following directions.” I was feeling pretty good about working that in. But it wasn’t over.

We were traveling down Riverside Drive, a dark and windy road when my daughter hit me with another curve ball. Whitney died. She missed Whitney. So naturally, another death occurred to her, and she cried, “I miss Jesus!”

“Yeah,” her brother said. “Jesus died.” (Thank you vacation bible schoo!)

“Why did Jesus die?” she asked. (I take it back… thanks for nothing VBS!)

I turned up the wipers and tried to focus. Everything seemed to be happening so fast. Rain, headlights, questions. “Well, it is said that Jesus died to save us from our sins.”

“He sacrificed himself for us, right mom?”

“Yes.”  (My wise little boy!)

“You would sacrifice yourself for us, right mom?” (Holy cow! Where did that come from?)

“Yes, honey, of course I would.” (Dear, God, would this drive never end?)

It was pouring by that time and I hit a puddle. They were relentless. We hydroplaned. As I struggled to keep control, my daughter said, “What about dad?  Would he sacrifice himself for us?”

I couldn’t take anymore. “You’ll have to ask your father!” I shouted.

Two minutes later, we pulled on to our street. The kids clamored out of the car and ran into the house as I lay back exhausted in the driver’s seat. And you know, they didn’t ask their father! Part of me wondered why I had been blessed with the tough questions and not him. But I’m thankful that they felt they could ask, and happy that we could be so open with each other. I’m also thankful that I’m a Toastmaster, so that I wasn’t completely panic stricken and was able to formulate somewhat coherent answers. I’m actually hopeful that we will have more of these types of conversations, even if they are at night, in the dark, in the car, in the middle of a monsoon! Oh, who am I kidding? Next time they’re riding home with dad!


A year ago I was on a quest. It was a quest to look good. I had visions of looking like a Hollywood movie star. Of course, as my mother affectionately pointed out when I was a mere sprout of a girl, “You’re built like a bison.” So, I knew I would never be petite, but thin and relatively toned seemed attainable. Then Thanksgiving came… and Christmas… and New Year’s…. several birthday parties… Saint Patty’s Day… End of the year school parties…. And well… you get the idea. Around every corner I found another excuse to give myself a free pass on points. But now that my “skinny pants” are more than a tad snug, I think it’s time that I jumped back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon and renew my commitment to “The Quest”.  If any one of the following has ever happened to you, it might be time you joined me in my quest.

  1. Your five year-old poked your stomach and said, “Mommy, when you look like that it means you have a baby in your belly.”
  2. While shopping with your husband, you held up a pair of pants in your size and your husband said, “Wow, those look huge!”
  3. You were folding laundry, when your son walked in and asked, “Are those pants yours or Dad’s?”
  4. You noticed the server in the school cafeteria giving you a funny look as you went through the line. Moments later, she stopped a fellow teacher and asked, “Hey, is she pregnant again?”
  5. Even after pointing out that it wasn’t polite, the five year-old repeated, “I’m sorry, Mommy, but it really looks like there’s a baby in there!”

They’ve all happened to me. Sad but true. By the looks of things, either I have made some incredibly poor wardrobe choices lately, or I need to lay off the Dairy Queen and Doritos. If I keep going at this rate, by the time I have to go back to work in the fall, I’ll have blown all my money on Peanut Buster Parfaits. There won’t be any room in the budget for new “fat pants”. So, that’s it.  I have no choice! I’m renewing my commitment to “The Quest”. If Lynn Redgrave, Fergie (the duchess, not the pop star) and Jennifer Hudson can do it, so can I. Rice cakes and carrot sticks, here I come… tomorrow!

Not Just a GH Thing

Last Sunday I saw Boyz II Men, 98⁰, and NKOTB on tour in Cleveland, Ohio and came to an important realization – I am old. How did I figure that out? There were several clues. First, every woman in the audience, though most of us were pre-pubescent when the New Kids were at the height of stardom, was able to drink. No ID required. Second, when I put my glasses on so that I could see the stage, I noticed there were quite a few highlight and dye jobs which were likely covering up the white and gray hairs in the crowd. Third, and perhaps the most obvious, Boyz II Men were actually men, 98⁰ worked up such a sweat they were more like 110⁰ and New Kids on the Block were anything but kids. In fact, Joey “The Kid” McIntyre is now pushing forty.

Don’t get me wrong. They put on a pretty great show for a bunch of middle-aged men who were still trying to prove they were cool and the women still swooned over them like teenagers. But, the New Kids, no longer able to produce the high-pitched sounds of young boys, were forced to resort to singing covers of The Jackson Five, George Michael, Queen and… are you ready… Prince! A fair amount of crotch-grabbing and gyrating went on during their renditions of “Kiss” and “Faith”.  Strangely, I was more amused than disturbed by that part. I was less impressed by the songs from their more recent albums. (Yes, they do have more albums than you would think, mot just Hangin’ Tough.) I remained relatively calm until they dusted off my personal favorite: “Cover Girl”. During that number, Donny literally tore his shirt in half and threw it on the floor. That brought me to my feet. As I watched him dance around shirtless and heard the thousands of woman around me screaming like school girls, it hit me.  It’s not just a GH thing.

For weeks now, the gals on my Twitter timeline have been wondering why exactly Carlivati and company think they can use a few veteran actors to lure in the viewers with the promise of quality and then make up for the absence of a good story by putting your actors on camera shirtless. Sunday night the NKOTB did the same thing. They used Prince and the other classic acts as the tease, and then used flesh to get the crowd going, in the hopes that we wouldn’t notice they could no longer do their own material justice. And much like many GH viewers, the crowd of crazy women in the arena, were pacified. 98⁰ Degrees didn’t go topless, but they stripped down to their T-shirts. Boyz II Men were fully clothed but they did hug and kiss on several fans in the front row and the crowd loved every second of it. Are we, as a society, really so lascivious that we are willing to accept sex over substance?

Maybe I’m just old and cranky, but I’m only momentarily mollified by these types of tricks. After that I want quality. I’ll take Bublé in a tuxedo over Donny half-naked and Robert and Anna over Morgan and Kiki any day of the week and twice on Sundays. (GH fans know what I mean!) And as for the Fifty Shades obsession that swept the nation…  Don’t get me started on that again. If you really want to know what I think about that, go back and read my post: 31 Flavors.

The Telltale Grocery List

I stood in the checkout line at Meijer in my Ohio State Buckeye flannel pants. I was mildly embarrassed. Being a self-respecting, professional woman who’s watched a lot of What Not To Wear and How Do I Look, I usually avoid leaving my house in my pajamas. Today was different. I was exhausted and desperate. The sad part – it was only 5:30pm. I tried to shake off my shame, but as I scanned the items on the belt in front of me, I only felt more pathetic.

I had been sent to the store for another jar of Arborio rice and Parmesan cheese to top off the risotto my husband was making for dinner. That was it. On the five minute run through the store with my two kids, we managed to accumulate the following: Miracle Whip, a package of trail mix, Nutella, pretzels rods, two packs of gum, two bags of Doritos (Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese), a Monsters Inc. Pez dispenser, and a bottle of Sutter Home Moscato.

I was certain that the clerk and the woman in front of me must be judging me based on the conglomeration of items in front of me. What must my pile of impulse purchases say about me? I began to construct a list of explanations.

1.I teach middle school. It was testing week.
2. I haven’t slept much recently. I have two small children and a full-time job, and I’m writing a novel.
3. I’ve lost track of time, but I think I may have PMS.
4. Did I mention I teach middle school?
5. There is one day left before Spring Break.

The woman in front of me glanced back at me as she put her credit card back in her purse. I smiled nervously and said, “This is quite the bunch of groceries, huh? I guess I’ve been a little stressed lately.”
She smiled back and said, “You have Nutella and a bottle of wine. Looks like a good night. I’m jealous!”