No more resolutions

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

— Oprah Winfrey

I have been consumed this past month with so many projects in addition to my usual work, once the madness of NaNoWriMo wrapped up: the Captain’s adventures on the road to mental health, covering my office while my secretary trained for her new part-time job elsewhere, the business of being a grandmother and sewing all those little doll clothes. And a Chicago Cubs blanket.

Even as I drag myself along into 2010, weary from the events, I am not displeased with my holidays. M and her family are here from Florida (What? you ask. In December?? Shouldn’t that go the other direction?! But then she always was contrary.) and we’ve had a nice week-long visit–perhaps the last for some time, as she expects their Navy brood will be transferred overseas in the coming year. The American Girl style doll clothes were a hit, enough for five girls and their dolls. We’ve had family, fun, food, and I’ve earned the exhaustion. All the same, I wouldn’t change it.

I know it’s the season for resolutions, but I think I’ve moved past those. After 50-odd years, you should know yourself pretty well. If you’re going to change, you will; swearing to an extreme on the first day of the year doesn’t necessarily make it happen.

And, for all intents and purposes, I’m not terribly unhappy with the sort of person I am. Sure, I should exercise more. I should lose some weight. I should be a better parent and grandmother. I pray I can do all those things, as well as really apply myself to writing, which I truly enjoy. I also hope I can do all those things in my own time and with joy, not setting myself to fail and then beating myself up when I don’t succeed.

So I wish for all of you the same: a year when you can become exactly what you want to become, to be with those you want to be with, to do the things you enjoy, and the opportunity, indeed, to get it right.

V-a-c-a-t-i-o-n….

C’mon, you know that chorus! Everyone sing along!

Okay, so some of you aren’t old enough to remember that song. As vacations go, this wasn’t bad at all. No visits to the emergency room, state patrol pull-overs (Yes, B, your Arizona adventure remains alone in the annals of family history!), hardly even a sunburn. Little Miss did go through three pairs of sunglasses, leaving each along the way. There’s a Mickey hoodie left behind at Pensacola, but that will come in the mail. Everything happened on the day it was supposed to happen and no unexpected surprises.

While this is the stuff of parental satisfaction, it does leave something wanting on the Family Story scale. The afore-mentioned traffic stop, where mother saved the day when the Arizona Highway Patrol discovered our darkened headlight, for example (see comment 4). We still talk about that. Or the night in some muddled single-parent state, I let M, at 17, drop me and her young sister at Phantom of the Opera in Toronto while she took B, maybe 14, to find some concert in the eastern suburbs of the city with my car. By themselves. What was I thinking? I was just grateful not to be driving in downtown Toronto, surpassed in crazy driving by maybe only Chicago.

Or the time we picked S up after a custodial visit and her mother sent along a huge purple Barney cake half-wrapped in Saran. I was one of the few in our crowded van of seven who didn’t end up sitting in it at some point. Maybe that was the same year M lost her retainer in a Days Inn pool in Charlotte and while all the girls were diving to the bottom of the pool to help her find it, only poor S came back to the surface with a handful of…poop. (She insists she has yet to stay in a Days Inn again, even some 20 years later.)

But this will be the vacation when Little Miss learned how words on car license plates told you where they came from, or how she learned her way around the Disney resort so she became our navigator, telling us where we got on and off the buses. This was the magic time when the Cabana Boy and Ditto Boy became the roller coaster Mountaineers, traveling together on Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and scariest of all, Expedition Everest (click video if you dare!).

This was also my first visit to M at her house since she grew up. It is odd visiting your grown children, seeing how they do things–differently than you, even. And like I always said when they were kids, “When you have your own house, you can play your music as loud as you want.” Sure, after everything I said, THAT’s what she remembers.

But the one axiom that always applies, is that we need the vacation AFTER the vacation, to get caught up on everything that we missed! I’ll be posting more later in the week, when I can see my desk again. Till then, think warm thoughts!

A wandering mind

One point of wonder for me about the United States is that our country has such a variety of climates and geography, all available inside our borders. Whether you prefer living by the seaside, at the foot of mile-high mountains, among the prairie dogs or amid a skyscraper jungle, most people eventually gravitate to the area of country where they will be comfortable.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve lived in many of these areas. We spent the better part of a year in Missoula, Montana, with the Rockies and Glacier National Park as our backyard. We had more than a decade in south Florida, with the Keys and the Everglades to explore. Pennsylvania has many points of interest as well, being a few hours from Niagara Falls and several big cities with diverse populations.

We’ve visited so many more, and I’ve always had a hankering to return to the Taos, New Mexico area. Oregon and northern California were also appealing. New Orleans was fascinating (we visited pre-Katrina), but even then I’m not sure we would have wanted to relocate there. The saying about those living in Florida getting “sand in their shoes”–i.e., always needing to return– is one that rings true for me also.

How do you decide?

Work obviously necessitates making sure you can be employed in your particular field, at least if you have a family to take care of. I must confess,  as we approach 20 years here in the same place, I’m envious of those with no real estate, no ties, who can pack all they own in their car and head out for new adventures with just their hopeful attitude in their pockets!

Health concerns are next on the list. The Cabana Boy reminds me often that fibromyalgia sufferers would do better out of the cold and snow. On the other hand, Pennsylvania has outstanding coverage for kids on the spectrum, and that’s not something to drop lightly.

With economics at the forefront of everyone’s outlook, that’s something else to factor in. My work is more likely to grow here; the Cabana Boy could easily find work in a hundred other places. But we’re both working here. Sadly, that’s more than a lot of folks can say. B tells us that in a recent class of her environmental ed students, 40 percent of those kids’ parents got laid off in the same week. It’s not something we can take for granted any more.

Neither are basic necessities like fresh, clean water. I’ve become sensitized to this subject lately, and I find we are living in one of the few areas in the country–maybe the world–where we are pretty much guaranteed fresh water year-round. (Probably because of all this stupid SNOW. But it serves a purpose besides making us miserable.)

So we’re here now. And we’re doing okay. We’ve got our eyes open for possibilities, though. What other kinds of fascinating places are out there yet for us to explore?  Let us know!

***

And here’s a shout-out to Janie over at the Carnival of Family Life–thanks for featuring my post!

Stormy weather

I have a confession to make:  I jones for bad weather.

Not just your average cloudy day, cold rain or pretty snow flurry, mind you. Bad weather. Severe weather. Wrath of God kind of thing. A day full of crackly skies and swift wind tingles me all the way to my toes.

Tornadoes have haunted my dreams since I was a child.  One day I will see one in person. This is a promise I’ve made to myself. (Meanwhile, the Cabana Boy, who grew up in Oklahoma, assures me that a close-up tornado experience is really less than gratifying. He should know.)

This proclivity was what drove me to be the reporter who covered the tropical weather season while I lived in South Florida. I wrote the hurricane preparedness tab almost single-handedly every year. I was on a first- name basis with the National Hurricane Center staff. We hunkered down for a dozen storms during our time there, including Hurricane Dennis, Hurricane Barry, Tropical Storm Isidore, Hurricane Bob, Hurricane Floyd, and Tropical Storm Marco.  (Notice those were all male names?  So much for THAT theory…)

We were welcomed to the state in 1979 by Hurricane David, which was set dead on for Miami as it approached the state. Tearfully, I bundled up our little bundle of joy M, barely a year old, left my Air Force husband with his fellow airmen to man the base and drove several hours up the coast to my mother’s house in Vero Beach. Wouldn’t you know, the little devil took a dogleg and came ashore just south of Vero?  We spent a couple of days picking up branches and trying to find anywhere that had electricity before giving up and driving home–to find everything sunny and beautiful.

I’ve always been thankful to have left the Homestead area before Andrew came through in 1992. Most of the houses where we had lived were wiped from the land, as we saw later when we came back to visit friends who had stayed. The oddest thing was looking out toward the Redlands west of the highway and realizing how far we could see; the storm had literally stripped the leaves from the trees so they no longer blocked the view. Two of our kids came north then to stay, left homeless by the storm as well. But we were all safe.

Every year since, I’ve perked up as June 1 comes, awaiting the drama that is the Season. Friends who remained in the South have suffered though seasons like 2005 when Florida was devastated by repeat storms, not the least of which was Katrina. This one always had a bit of humor in that it crossed south Florida where my reporter friend Jim remained, then swung across the Gulf to catch our mutual reporter friend Hank in New Orleans, then took a northeast turn and ended up here. (Other than that, I know to this day, there was very little humor in that storm.)

This year, I’ve watched again, perhaps with heightened scrutiny because my daughter and her family have just moved to Pensacola.  This weekend, I studied all the maps I could find, waiting to see where Gustav would fall. I think they’ll take a hit, there on the northeast side of expected landfall, but at least it’s not a direct one.

Here in Pennsylvania it’s been a rather lackluster summer for bad weather, no major storm outbreaks, clouds rolling in, turning just that shade of green that let you know something’s about to happen. I’ll have to get my fix from a distance, watching on the weather channels on television. And you know, it’s probably safer that way.

Shootout at the Mango Corral, Part I

Extreme south Florida is a tropical paradise. Ocean breezes whisper through dried palm branches, the sun sizzles tourists and fruit trees alike, and even a bad weather day still beats much of what we have here in the frozen Northland. Yet we packed the kids and left there, and this is why.

I have told this countless times, this beginning of the end of our life in Florida City, the last city before the Florida Keys. The tale is always met with an expression of disbelief. But it is absolutely true. This is how it happened:

My then-husband Paul (now ex) was a deputy police officer in Florida City, a small town of about 7,500. Through a friend, he was invited to move into a house in the middle of a ten-acre fruit grove just west of town because he was a cop. Guess that should have been our first clue. For $500 a month, we were offered a five bedroom, two bath house with a huge screened-in pool, surrounded by mango, avocado, banana, orange and grapefruit trees, from which we were welcome to choose for our family of five. But that wasn’t all.

This grove also cultivated the essential tropical fruits, like black sapote, key lime, papaya, breadfruit, starfruit, eggfruit (which tastes just like eggnog when ripe), mamey, kumquats and more. It was heaven of a sort we’d never experienced. We couldn’t wait to get settled.

We began moving boxes, particularly to the upstairs where it wouldn’t be easily noticed from outside. Not because the landlord was worried, but because theft was a problem. Paul explained that the owner wanted someone like him in there because druggies anxious for easy cash had been sneaking into the grove to steal aluminum girders from the pool enclosure. With a cop on premises, the theft would theoretically stop. We had plenty of guns; he’d taught me to use them. I thought we could handle things.

We’d gone to take a second load of boxes and small furnishings after work one late afternoon, when the girls yelled down that someone had broken in. We confirmed someone had been in the house; the girls’ boxes had been rifled, and the ceiling fan and other items we’d purchased new to install were missing. Paul immediately put the kids back in the car and we patrolled the area, finding the missing items stashed in a clump of vegetation on the far side of the grove, waiting to be retrieved.

We made a police report and Paul called his partner, Tom. They decided they’d better install some security lights, so after dinner we came back to do that. We left the children, ages 8, 9 and 12, back at Tom’s house, and drove there in our van. Tom and his wife followed in theirs. Paul parked our van in the huge three-car carport and both of them climbed on its roof to screw lightbulbs in the ceiling ports. Tom’s wife and I waited, talking, watching a little nervously into the dark shadows around the house.

As the three lights came on, the carport was ablaze. Lights were on inside, too. It was starting to look like home. As Tom’s wife and I took the steps, shots came from the north side of the house, aimed at the carport. She ran inside, but more shots followed–through the house–and she screamed, came running back out and jumped in her car. Tom and Paul scrambled down from the van and ran around the house in the direction of the shots, returning fire. I remembered Paul’s .38 was on the counter inside so I ducked in and grabbed it, then hunkered down along the concrete steps, praying. A lot.

Stay tuned for part two, tomorrow.