Happy Halloween

Family Halloween

My sisters and me in the late 60’s

Halloween is really, almost over…two hours to go and nobody has rung the doorbell for at least 30 minutes.  So, Happy Halloween to all you spooks out in the world.  I’m not sure what it is ab…

Source: Happy Halloween

Taking to the Skies

Taking to the skies once again. This time business met with pleasure as I made my way to Kansas City for a leadership conference of The Association of Fundraising Professionals and then on to my Alma Mater, Washburn University and their 150th Anniversary.  I had only flown Southwest Airlines once prior to this trip, but oh how fun and entertaining. (More on that later). My colleagues and I arrived into Kansas City and we checked in to the the lovely Downtown Marriott. It’s Muelbach Tower awaited us with a rich history.  Manager Barney Allis took over the hotel in 1931, and during his lengthy tenure, the hotel welcomed celebrities including Helen Keller, Ernest HemingwayBabe RuthFrank SinatraBob HopeElvis Presley, and The Beatles. The hotel also hosted Presidents including Theodore RooseveltWoodrow WilsonCalvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Missouri-native Harry S. Truman stayed in the hotel’s Presidential Suite so frequently that the Muehlebach became known as White House West. Downtown Kansas City is a beautiful place and area fountains were blue in celebration of a successful Royals post season and World Series run.  Thursday and Friday offered great conference sessions where I made new friends and learned new strategies to set a course for our local AFP chapter in the New Year.  Friday afternoon, I was excited to be voted the representative to the international board of directors in the year to come. The evening would then open up to the excitement of the Kansas City Royals looking to clinch the American League pennant in their home city.  Friends from college, colleagues from AFP and I made our way to the action. We found a great table where the food and drinks satisfied our palate and it was “Game On.”  Royals struck first and while it was touch and go, the Royals would not disappoint a frothy fan base. We made our way to the “Power and Light” District where fans were crazy with winning fever!  It was incredible to be part of the action and it brought back memories of the Royals winning the World Series in 1985 over the St. Louis Cardinals. It is funny how that tied in to the next leg of my journey but not before the closing speaker, Carol Hallquist, President of the Hallmark Foundation gave a mind opening presentation cleverly using Hallmark cards to present “10 Things I’ve Learned in 30 Years.”   After her speech, it was on to Topeka, Capitol of Kansas for all you curious history buffs.

My alma mater, Washburn University” was celebrating its 150th anniversary. (No not my 150th reunion).  And wow, what fun!  Homecoming weekend would culminate in a parade, grand unveiling of the new welcome center, football game and the Bow Tie Bash!  Most people have never heard of Washburn University, home of the fighting Icabods!  What is an Icabod you ask?  Well 150 years ago, Thompson College was founded and renamed Washburn after a generous benefactor Icabod Washburn who gave a $25,000 gift in order to grow the college and open its doors to women and African Americans. Washburn was certainly a man before his time.  Home to around 8,000 students, Washburn offers a variety of majors and is home to a law school where people like newsman Bill Kurtis and politician Bob Dole graduated. The campus has seen an amazing facelift in the 30 years since I graduated. New union, housing, stadium, remodeled buildings and the crown jewel in their new Morgan Hall welcome center. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation also has a new 95,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility on campus where forensic students can engage and learn from the best of reality CSI.  The Bow Tie Bash was a well attended affair and there was music, food, and fun!  The president of Washburn, Dr. Farley, is…well an unassuming rockstar!  He mixes and mingles with everyone, from students to major donors to the college. He is engaging, fun and has done a great job to elevate Washburn both in and out of the city. His trademark is his bow tie…as seen in the picture with the man, the legend, the rockstar!  Thanks President Farley!  There are so many wonderful memories of Washburn and the years I spent there. Ask and I will tell. In addition to having a first “real” boyfriend, losing a friend in a freak accident, attending sporting events, learning the constellations in my favorite teacher’s class (thanks Dr. Parnell…I still remember them and often look to the skies and think back to your class), making my first “D” ever in school (really didn’t like economics), it was there I learned about philanthropy.  From my anthropology class and doing a project feeding the homeless to working at United Way. That would set my course on a journey filled with so much for which I am grateful. Yes and that would lead me to annual gifts and a planned gift for my beloved Washburn. Join me and remember your school and all it gave you and maybe still gives you. Go to a reunion, a celebration, buy a brick, make an annual gift, put them in your estate plan, connect with an old professor to say thank you, call a classmate you haven’t talked with in years. It is amazing how fast the years evaporate and memories flood your mind. As the memory booked closed on the weekend, I made plans to head home but not before staying with our family friend Doug. Doug, his wife and my mom were all in the PTA when their kids and my siblings and I were in school. I babysat for his son and it was Doug who made my sister Meredith and my birthday by paying for our lunch when we were teenagers. Well, he hasn’t changed. Still the funny, generous and outspoken man I’ve always known.   He took me to dinner…not just anyplace mind you. We went to the fried chicken (yes FRIED) Mecca in Leawood called “RC’s.” My mouth watered as I watched sumptuous treats pass us by. Finally our plates arrived and they were adorned with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans. Wow, what a treat. And yes, every Midwest meal should be complete with cobbler.  Not just any cobbler…blackberry cobbler with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Then, as the former Dean Foods guru says “Val, put two small coffee creamers on top to make it perfect.”  Bring on two spoons.  Thanks Doug!  The trip came to a humorous close on Southwest.  If you ever fly the KC to Dallas or Dallas to New Orleans trek, look and listen for John Booker.  He is the funniest flight attendant ever! He had us all laughing with tears rolling into the aisle. On the trek from Dallas to Orlando, I boarded the plane.  Much to my surprise there was a seat on the FRONT row between two gentlemen.  Their wives were in the seats on the other side of the aisle.  My fascination and excitement of sitting in the FRONT row was evident as I plopped myself right down…I’ve never flown first class before and Southwest doesn’t have such things…so I seized the opportunity to have a window seat on THE FRONT ROW!!!  Yipee, oh happy day.  That also meant one of the first off the plane. Sweet!  I look forward to my next Southwest flight unless Delta reinstates that Skymall Magazine!  Thanks to all my colleagues, friends and flight attendants who made this a wonderful trip which is a fabulous tapestry woven together with memories of the past and those to come.


It’s Who You Are

I grew up hearing stories about when my mom took me for my first swimming lesson and I cried.  No, it wasn’t because I hated the water, but rather all the other kids were crying and so I played along and cried too.  Maybe it is because I am a water sign that I have always gravitated to the water.  Lakes, oceans, swimming pools or a tub.  Where there is a body of water, I can find myself paddling around for hours.

On my 52nd birthday, I joined the Masters Swim Team called the Blue Dolfins (yes, that is the spelling).  It’s funny, the younger Blue Dolfins is who my daughter swam with when she was younger.  While I’m not quite the swimmer I was 35 years ago, it has taken me back to a “happy place.” Like 35 years ago, I’m making great friends but now it is more for exercise and getting my cardio going.  Coach Aaron is a cool guy who is a great motivator and teacher.  There have been many changes over the years to the strokes…no wonder kids today are breaking records!

On the way to practice, I wake up by listening to music that will carry me through the workouts.  One song that resonates while swimming is A.J. Michalka’s “It’s Who You Are.”  “It’s not how fast, it’s not how far, it’s not of cheers, it’s who you are.”   “Learning to bend and not to break.  Living to give more than you take.  Dying to live, Living to try.  Feet on the ground, dreams in the sky.”  Yeah, and then there are songs from Fall Out Boy, Avicii and classics from Boston that go through my mind.

As practice begins, it is dark outside.  Watching the sun come up is kinda cool.  One of my first mornings swimming, I was taking a breath and thought I was dying and “seeing the light.”   It was just the overhead lights in the pool area.  Nothing dramatic, no CPR needed, no drowning scene.  Since then, I’ve taken at least a half a dozen gulps of pool water and water up my nose.  Gives new meaning to the term “feel the burn.”  I’ve also found out that I don’t need to use a pull buoy as I have a natural drag on my body called extra weight.  There have been days where the pool has a wonderful fog on it and the more we swim, the more fog we make.  The fast lanes are really foggy.  There have been beautiful sunrises and on occasion it rains.  No lightning so it’s all good…we are already wet right?  When doing backstroke it is neat to watch all the planes flying over and wondering where people are going.  Swimming now isn’t so serious. It’s a judgement-free zone and everyone is there to swim, be healthier, and find their happy place.

Swimming leads me back to all those years ago when in 9th grade I tried out for the drill team.  Not really surprising, I didn’t make it.  Disappointing perhaps but it was to set a course of destiny that would forever change my life.  After my shortcomings with pom-poms, I found myself trying out for swim team.  There I was, my first day at the Boys and Girls Club pool after school where practice happened.  Coach Tom put me in the first lane, thrown in to swim with the sharks;  Martin Thoma, Firth Krueger and others.  There I was, in all my glory, complete with a polka dot bikini top and swim skirt with the design looking like the three dots on a television screen.  So, it was then and there, I set off on my first 25.  Then my second which is when I found out really quickly this was a test to separate the men from the boys and girls from the women.  I would promptly be run over.  This is the moment I found out where the term “suck my wake” came from.  I glided into the wall gasping for a breath only to accidentally grope one of the guys who ran me over.  I stood up…alive, breathing, and feeling accomplished.   I’m sure coach Tom was laughing hysterically inside.  Well, I came back the next day, and the next and so forth. Coach Tom left and Coach Dave came on board.  Crazy Coach Dave….wonder where he ever ended up?  Then, Coach Andy came into the picture.  He was awesome and made us work hard, but the reward was winning.   We wanted to work hard for him, for the team, for ourselves.   He yelled, pushed, whistled, and threw kickboards at our feet when we weren’t kicking.  There were no excuses and we were loyal to him five hours a day during the school week and on Saturday for a few hours.  In the summer, we swam in the outdoor city pool that left us freezing cold and with the taste of sucking pennies as the pool was old and had copper pipes.  Memories!  Great memories!  We won meets!  But while we were winning, we were learning life lessons that would and have carried I’m sure all of us into our adult life at some level.   We were learning perseverance, commitment, team work, individual goal setting, how to win, how to lose, how to get psyched up, how to take direction, and how to push our limits physically and mentally.  We would watch Rowdy Gaines, Mark Spitz, Shirley Babashoff and others and emulate their strokes and mannerisms.

Ready for our event!

Ready for our event!

I remember Jolie and her mom picking me up in their Beetle in the mornings at 5:00 a.m.  The winters were so damn cold in that car.  Two and a half hours in the morning and again after school.  Home to eat, do homework and go to bed…that was my life and that of my team mates.  Meets were fun, tiring, and sometimes tested our patience.  My very first swim meet, I was set up to swim the 200 freestyle.  Like it was yesterday, I remember going off the block and at the end of the pool was so sure of myself and doing my first ever flip turn.  “Yeah, I can do that” I told myself.   Well, sure I went into it the right way, but pushed off the wall all confused and ended up in someone else’s lane.  Mortified, I swam back to the end and got out thinking I was sure to be disqualified.  This little snotty nosed kid came up and in a “I’m so great” voice said “YOU CAN’T QUIT.”   I wanted to throw him in the pool.  Embarrassed I went and sat down.  Everyone rallied around me and said “it’s ok.”  Yep, that was pretty cool and shaking it off, prepared for my next race.  Over the years, it would become evident that butterfly and long distance freestyle would be my events! We never quit again. Kim Fedosky…you were my idol.  Thank you for pushing me in the fast lane, challenging me in butterfly and exposing me to awesome music.   Jill Farnsworth, I feared you!  You were an up-and-comer and chased us upper classmen like Pac-man.  Erica Bowen, Barbara Wells, Peggy Taylor, Cathy Anderson, Danine Baker, Mignonne Agee, Kat Whitehead, Amy Thoma….my sisters from other mothers.  Curtis Cumbie, Tim Brinner, John McFerrin, Strahan Massey….my brothers from other mothers.  It’s great keeping up with you on Facebook.  I remember drinking orange juice with raw eggs (nasty, what were we thinking?  Oh, teenagers, we weren’t thinking), having great times at meets.  Curtis, remember your parents driving us down the mountain to a meet in Little Rock and after eating a brown sugar pop tart I threw up in the drive thru at McDonald’s?  Yeah, I do and I’ve never had a brown sugar pop tart since!!  I could go on with the memories with all my peeps.  That might be too incriminating for some and we wouldn’t want that at our age.

Now, as practice for the day winds down, the young kids start showing up.  They are sleepy and some would rather be anyplace but the pool.  Leaving the pool area, I thank parents for bringing their kids and tell them they will have a lifetime of memories.  (both kids and their parents)   Thanks to my mom for taking me to my first lesson and being there for meets including one that coach didn’t want me to go to early so I was my own team…hehe.  Rebels!

Every practice takes me back a day or two and also makes me excited to show up next time.   I’m still learning, meeting new friends, pushing myself physically and mentally and who knows…maybe there are still some records to be broken.   Never say never!  It’s who I Am!!

A Thankful Time of Year

Osborn lights at WDW Hollywood Studios

Osborn lights at WDW Hollywood Studios

It is officially “the Holidays.”  Sure, holiday accoutrements went up in stores as Halloween approached but once Thanksgiving is over, somehow we launch into a frenzied pitch until January.  This year, more stores started Black Friday as the gravy cooled on Thanksgiving.  What would the Pilgrims think?  First they would be appalled at the amount of food consumed and then all the activities that take away from the intent of the holiday….to give thanks.

As I reflect on Thanksgiving, there are many things to which I am thankful.  A beautiful daughter, wonderful family, obedient pets (ok, obnoxious dogs), a job that allows me the freedom to be creative, daring, helpful and successful without boundaries, good health, fine friends, a roof over my head and yes, turkey in my belly but not so much that I’m like that guy on the Monty Python movie who explodes with a wafer thin mint.IMG_3619

I think about Christmas, the year behind and the year ahead.   The year behind us has brought happy memories to many and heartache to some as they have lost loved ones.  Be happy for the memories you have and remember that they are still with us in spirit through our actions and hearts.  For all of you who are mean to your friends, co-workers, family members and strangers, shame on you.  You are fortunate if they still consider you a friend.  For those of you who have been given a “second chance” at life, quit being a stooge and be thankful and happy.  You bring others down with your anger, acidic words, and frame of mind.  You infect others, so expect it in return.   Just saying, Karma is a bigger jerk than anyone!  Try a little tenderness…sure you may fall flat but at least you tried.  For those embarking on new journeys this coming year, enjoy the ride.  Nothing is guaranteed, the unknown is damn scary, but remember peace with the decisions you have made is a wonderful place and when you expect great things, somehow they happen.  It’s never been said “dream small or go home.”  NO, it’s “DREAM BIG or go home.”

Thanks to my parents who gave us wonderful holidays to remember.  The Christmas Eve parties where hundreds of people of all ages converged on our house.  Where I learned pate’ and caviar are for an “adult palate” and that the punch at one end of the table was spiked.   Where my brother and sister learned their affinity for becoming real estate moguls and development lawyers as we played Monopoly for two-weeks straight and built high-rise condos and mixed land use developments.   Thanks for my parents and grandparents for making one Christmas exceptionally magical by making original hand-made Barbie condos for my sisters and me.  They were awesome!  Oh the memories.

I suppose making Christmas happen for others is what the season is about.  From putting spare change in the Salvation Army bucket to helping others in need.  Young or old, rich or poor, you never know what circumstances people find themselves in at this time of year.  The holidays bring back so many memories good and bad.  I’ve gotten hooked on the Hallmark Christmas movies this year.  Kleenex is seeing an unusual spike in their tissues thanks to me.  My dogs look at me like “what the heck is happening to her?”   My husband rolls his eyes, as usual and makes fun of me.  Note to husband…”Santa is watching!”IMG_5032

Yes, I have plenty to be thankful for.  A special thanks to my guardian angels both known and unknown to me.  You help keep life in perspective and help me to giggle, note life’s wonder and curb my anger when I’m ready to throw darts.  Thanks, in advance, for helping me choose NICE when it comes right down to all that I do in the coming month and year.

There will be more to come in the coming weeks as I will come face-to-face with more stories to share.  In the meantime, consider giving a gift to a child in need and visit http://www.chsfl.org to give a gift that really means so much.

“Have Your “Selfie” a Merry Little Christmas”

So the good folks at the Oxford Dictionary have proclaimed “selfie” as the 2013 “word of the year.”   I much prefer that to “twerk” and you can certainly bet that there would be no holiday letter with the Mardle’s/Murray’s “twerking.”

Brianna selfie

We trust this finds you and your family doing well this holiday season.  What a year this has been.  Brianna graduated from Seminole State College in May and is furthering her education at the University of North Florida studying Psychology and Criminal Justice.  After I made her watch Silence of the Lambs, she decided the FBI is an option but lamb for dinner isn’t.  She has been involved in campus activities and has been selected into Sigma Alpha Pi which is The National Society of Leadership and Success and focuses on goal fulfillment, community involvement and leadership.  Their stated mission is “We Build Leaders Who Make a Better World.”   On her holiday trips home, she continues to work at Walt Disney World’s “Rockin’ Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror and the parade.  She just had her 3rd year anniversary of working for The Mouse.  We are proud of her beyond words.  Brianna enjoyed traveling this year to New York on spring break, Miami, Georgia and a host of places throughout Florida.  She and I participated in the “Color Run” early in the year and she continues her love of sports in Jacksonville.


handsome oneConductor Frank continues to play with his trains and has extended his talents with cameras to include teaching private lessons and classes at the local Crealde’ Art Gallery.  He is quite the camera aficionado.  He is the proud grandfather, not by me mind you, of six grandkids ranging in age from 6 months to 12 years.  Needless to say, he could open his own photography studio and stay busy 24/7.  Frank traveled to England in the spring as his brother passed away.  The silver lining was getting to see family that he hasn’t been with since childhood.  As always, Frank remains the handyman around the house and is always finding little things and big things to fix and tinker with.  He plays cabana boy in the summertime and is the techno guru that helps solve those pesky computer issues.




photo (2)I am excited to have a new career working for a tremendous organization called Devereux, a leading nonprofit behavioral health organization that supports primarily children.  Founded more than 100 years ago, we operate in 11 states.  We inspire hope, ensure well-being, and promote meaningful life choices.  It has truly changed my life as well.  To learn more, check out www.Devereux.org    In addition to a new and exciting career change, I was proud to chair Orlando’s National Philanthropy Day through the Association of Fundraising Professionals.  More than 570 guests attended the event in November which hosted the president of the International Association of Fundraising Professionals.   It was truly an honor and privilege.  This has been a transformational year for me as I continue my quest to find 5-K runs that are challenging, meet with friends at LA Fitness at 5:30 a.m., and work with a trainer a couple times a week.  I feel better all the way around.  My favorite runs were through the “Master of All Terrain” series.  From running at an abandoned airfield to the motorcross speedway in beautiful Bithlo, I was the oldest female to complete all three races.  Watch out 2014!

Our dogs Penny and Bubba continue to entertain us by being themselves.  They enjoy their car rides, trips to the park and fun near the pool in the summertime.  This year we lost our dear sweet Haley cat.  Over her 18 year life, she brought us joy and comfort.  She is missed.

Haley Selfie Bubba Penny Selfie









This year was a tremendous year for birthdays.  Brianna was able to buy ME a drink as she turned 21 in June.  I followed by turning 50 the same month and my mother June, turned 80 on November 1.  To celebrate mom’s birthday, my sister Meredith coordinated a trip for everyone to meet in Kansas City at the Plaza where we invited 20 of mom’s closest Kansas friends and had lunch at the Raphael.  It was a great time.  While it was 10 degrees and there was snow, it helped to enhance the holiday feeling and made those of us coming from Florida even more grateful for the warmer climate.

Speaking of the warmer climate, we encourage you to come down or over for a visit.  Florida has many opportunities for fun year-round.  Whether it is a theme park, boating, the beach, or just enjoying seafood, we have it close by.

Well, it’s now time to go an make my winning entry for the holiday work party tomorrow.  It’s a homemade gingerbread with pear and cognac pudding recipe.  Ok, even if I don’t win, enjoying the “drunken fruits” of my labor will be well worth the investment of time.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!  Cheers!

Biscoff, Diet Coke, and the SkyMall Magazine…what’s not to love about Delta?

I’m on vacation…three days of hanging out with my best friend from high school and college friends. It will be a slice of Americana.  Going to a high school battle of the bands, homecoming parade, homecoming football game and then going to a dinner with  the president of my college alma mater (I’m sure there will be plenty of other folks at the dinner).

 I love Delta.  First of all, I bank up my frequent flyer miles just for using my debit/credit card.  So my trip cost me all of $36 plus $50 round trip for luggage. The crews are experienced and pleasant.  After settling in on the short trip, the flight attendant came around and asked if we wanted refreshments.  Of course…and there it was…Diet Coke and the Biscoff cookies….breakfast of champions at 7:15 am.  Then, to what do my wondering eyes should appear?  It’s the Sky Mall magazine.   I always love going through this publication.  I sit and wonder what I can invent that could make it to this magazine.  From cat toilet training systems to faux tattoo tops. Do the brilliant ideas ever stop?  Oh wait, you can even get the LIFE SIZE Bigfoot aka Garden Yeti for just $2,250. Ok, how do the makers really know what “life size” is anyway?  Toward the end of the flight, we experienced turbulence that would match a good ride at Disney. There was even a lady who was screaming out of fear, much like you would hear on rockin’ roller coaster.  There were laughs and gasps and I just closed my eyes.  I figure maybe she wasn’t nervous, perhaps just sitting next to a LIFE SIZE Yeti imitating a passenger.  

 The Atlanta airport is quite a mix of people much like Orlando…ok, in Atlanta, there is a more business cosmopolitan feel where Orlando seems more touristy.  Not that touristy is bad, it’s very good for the local economy.  

 I boarded for the next leg of the journey to Kansas City and YES…nobody else on my row.  I’m now on the flight from Atlanta to Kansas City and there is a guy who looks like Samuel L. Jackson and I’m thinking to myself could it be him?  Then all I could think about was the movie snakes on a plane with Samuel L. Jackson. Now, with that said, I’m in the back of the plane next to the emergency exit. I’m thinking will the sketchy looking guy in the seat in front of me who keeps nervously looking around try to make a break for it?  Will I have to play Air Marshall and thwart an attempt to open the door at 30,000 feet?  After a fleeting thought of being sucked out of the plane with snakes mind you, I pause to catch another glimpse of the Sky Mall magazine. (Say it with me in the announcer type voice)…”Sky Mall Magazine.”  It’s like a bad car wreck, you just can’t help but look. I open it back to where I left off on the first leg of the journey and there it is…operators standing by to take my order.  It’s “Bigfoot, the bashful Yeti” tree sculpture.  It’s the bust of Bigfoot peering from around the tree. Makes me want to plant a tree just to have one.  Oh, but then the home association may condemn us like they do for an a/c unit not quite cleverly concealed enough.  Maybe I will opt for the LIFE SIZE garden Yeti just to ward off those pesky people down the street.   Maybe to “piss them off” I will opt for ordering the “Peeing Boy of Brussells” statue and fountain.  An iconic 400 year-old replica…I will plead “art history.” 

 Saved by the flight attendant passing by….”drink?” she asks.  Tempted to order a Jack Daniels like the woman across the aisle, I remain steadfast to the Diet Coke.  The Biscoff cookies are sitting there waiting for me but alas I will eat the generous portion of pretzels in a bag first.  I will save the Biscoff’s for a midnight snack when awakened from a bad dream about being sucked from a plane with snakes, garden Yeti’s and cats using toilets.  

 Here is to my adventures in rental car land next….

And the award goes to…

When my siblings and I were kids, our mother would pack us in the Vista Cruiser station wagon (it was the family vehicle with the first ever moon view skylights) and we would ohhh and ahhhh to my mom’s delight as we passed house after house decorated for the holidays.

As we became teenagers, the joy of looking at lights waned a bit and we often found other things to do.  Somehow, the “dazzle” of holiday lights took a backseat to boyfriends, swim meets, and listening to anything but boring ole Bing Crosby.

Well, what’s the saying, “the old becomes new again”  or in this case I find myself thinking, “oh jeez, I’m turning into my mother.”  Which, by the way, isn’t such a bad thing…just saying.  I’m older and wiser now and for the past couple of years have really enjoyed firing up the Camry and heading down memory lane.  The ooohhhs and ahhhhs are back.

Now, if you haven’t seen holiday lights lately, WOW, stop reading immediately and head out on a drive through your neighborhood to witness the “neighborhood spectacle of lights” your neighbors have so diligently put up for your viewing pleasure.   Our neighborhood association has a contest every year for the most creative, most beautiful, etc. in the lighting and decorating department.  Well, if I could cast my vote, it would be for the neighbors down around the corner…talk about creative, humorous holiday lights.  The first night I saw them, I laughed the whole way home.  No, not a snicker laugh, a full on Santa deep belly laugh.  So funny, I brought the family to see them….and then came down to talk with the decorating genius and take a photo of said lights.  YES, here they are….the award SHOULD go to…RUDOLPH.   Oh wait, don’t worry kids, it’s not Rudolph, no red nose.  But it is one of his relations.

In talking with our neighbors, he admits to being a country boy and he loves to hunt, fish and get close to nature.  He and his wife have both a Florida Gator AND a Georgia flag that hang at their house.  Now, if that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.  I say they both get points for being down-to-earth and extra points for their sense of humor.   Thank you for adding some holiday cheer to the neighborhood!  Kudos and if you don’t win this year’s award, see me and I’ll bring the beer and be the first to toast you on a job well done.

Ok, so if you’re not into driving around neighborhoods looking at holiday lights in fear that people will think you’re a stalker, fear not.  That’s why Walt Disney World has the “Spectacle of Lights.”   If you happen to live in Orlando or are lucky enough to visit over the holidays, this is one light display not to be missed.  We have been almost every year since they started in 1995 and my have they come a long way since the first showing with just 4 million lights.  According to www.studioscentral.com , there are now…

  • 5 million individual lights or 350 miles of lights that took 21,000 hours to install.
  • More than 40 Mickey images hidden throughout.
  • A 70-foot-tall Christmas tree glittering with 58,000 lights and a 30-foot-tall tree with 27,300 lights.
  • A whopping 800,000 watts of electricity used along the park’s 760-foot-long New York, Chicago & San Francisco Streets.
  • More than 350 miles of Christmas lights wrapped around the display with 32.2 miles of extension cables.
  • Sixty-six snow machines and 100 gallons of snow fluid used to create a flurry of snowflakes.

So back to the neighborhood lights…thank you to those of you who take the time to painstakingly string lights on your rooftops, doorways, walkways.  Thank you for checking each bulb to make sure they work and finding that one…somewhere in the strand….that keeps the others from lighting up.  Thank you for finding room in your closets, shed, attic or spare bedroom for the lights the other eleven months out of the year.  But most of all, thank you for taking time to spread your good cheer, good humor and great lights with the rest of us!  Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, Happy Hanukah, and may we all live past what the Mayan calendar says will be the end of the world in order that you can put away those lights and then get them out again for many years to come.

More lights at WDW Hollywood Studios

Osborn lights at WDW Hollywood Studios

Jellyfish Therapy

My mom grew up in Florida and I owe great gratitude to her, my dad and grandparents for giving us kids the pleasure of summer beach trips.  Little did I know then that long car rides from the mid-west to Florida would be the start of something I would later refer to as Jellyfish Therapy.   For those of you poor souls who have never been to beach, let alone just floated along like a jellyfish, I feel badly for you.  For the experience of just floating along, limp, carefree, peaceful, weightless in the salt water with the sun kissing your body is unlike anything else and I highly recommend it.  It’s just you, the sound of your breathing and the water wrapping you like a blanket of pure love.  At our house, we call it “Jellyfish Therapy.”   Highly recommended on a calm body of salt water like the Gulf of Mexico, it could be done elsewhere I suppose.

Now, this type of therapy didn’t happen by accident.  It happened because my parents spent hours teaching us to swim, how to relax and float, and to enjoy getting salty and sandy.  In addition to the sun, salt and sand throughout the years, we ate countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, consumed our weight in cheese puffs, drank grape and orange Fanta and were slathered in vats of Coppertone.  To this day whenever I taste Fanta or catch a whiff of the unmistakable fragrance of Coppertone, it takes me back to a childhood filled with riding waves, my sisters and I wearing matching bathing suits, and spending time in Noxema after a little too much sun.

My grandparents lived in a little house in Ft. Pierce…no air conditioning but an attic fan that kept us cool and sounded like a 747 ready to take off.  There was this great big banyon tree out front that we would climb and there were mounds of earthworms that we would dig through.

We made daily trips to the beach and would stay all day.  We would ride waves, build sandcastles, watch the Australian pines blow in the wind and listen to stories about the jetties being WWII training grounds for the Normandy invasion, how Florida was so close to Cuba during the missile crisis, how my mom would climb the pines when she was young and so on.  See mom, I was listening.  It was on that same beach I would get my first teenage kiss from the son of my mom’s dear friends.  Magical, wonderful memories.

Since those days, I still love to go to the beach.  Perhaps that is one reason our family moved back to Florida after years away.  Like turtles, we had that primordial urge to go back to the beach that calls to us.  And, while it has changed over the years, and more sophisticated roadways make it easier to discover new beaches, the beach calls more often than I can go to it.

This past weekend, my daughter and I went to St. Petersburg Beach where we enjoyed a couple of days of “Jellyfish Therapy” mixed with laughter, singing, cruising the beach road, watching fireworks, listening to a great guitarist Daniel Giron at the Don Cesar Resort, eating German food, witnessing a beach wedding, and so much more.  While only two hours away, it was a world apart from the day-to-day grind.  To unplug, get “off the grid,” not be accountable to anyone but oneself is refreshing.  To reconnect with my daughter is priceless and hopefully I have given her memories of the beach over the years that she too can pass along to her kids one day.

So, I hope that this summer you too can “unplug” from the grind and find your own “Jellyfish Therapy.”  It might be hiking in the mountains, running a marathon, taking a family roadtrip to grandma’s house, or just enjoying a staycation.  Whatever “it is,” know that it is yours to catalog in the annals of time.

If you cant’ make it to the beach but want to really relish in some of the meaning of it’s hosts, the shells, check out the book “Gift From the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  It is a wonderful collection of thoughts and how five types of shells can speak to us at any stage in our lives.  A treasured book my mom gave to me. Thanks Mom.  Every time I go to the beach or read the book, it makes life a little easier to understand.  Here’s my mom with her dear friends the Croghans and with “flat Caitlyn” at the beach.

One Direction after Another…

There has been quite a buzz around Orlando in the past couple of weeks around the grooviest new boy band around…One Direction.  You may have heard “What Makes You Beautiful” and my favorite “One Thing.”  Now, many from my generation will remember boy bands of the past making it big…The Beatles, Hansen, N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, Minudo and yes, The Jonas Brothers.   What makes the Jonas Brothers different is that my daughter and her friends exposed me to a whole other world where teenage girls go mad for music in a way that perhaps I only knew through a brief infatuation with David Cassidy.  The One Direction concert was last night at Amway Arena and in some ways I was sad not to be going, taking my daughter and her friends.  The girls have “grown up” and moved beyond bubble gum music.  In some ways, I haven’t.  For, it is this type of music that is cheerful, fun, “be-bop around,” and just good to clean house or workout to.  (Crazy as it may sound)  So, it is with fond memories of our Jonas Brothers adventures that I submit a few edited down entries from The JoBro Diaries.  For the first time, they make their way to the published pages.  For those of you who have never been in a sea of screaming fans, you won’t get it.  For those of you who have never had crushes on musicians, you won’t get it.  For those of you who don’t have teenage girls in your lives (daughters, nieces, step-daughters), you won’t get it.  And, that’s “ok” not to….you can just move along to your next favorite blog to read something more your style.  For those of you who “get it,” want to try, or are just curious, read on.  Laugh, cry, nod your head, or perhaps scratch your head in wonder.  Welcome to…..THE JOBRO ZONE….

A recent stop in Florida of the 2008 Jonas Brother’s “Look Me in the Eyes” tour was a refreshing insight into the world of teenage girls.  The tour started long before the awaited stops that we would embark upon March 8 and 9 in Tampa and Orlando respectively.

About a year ago, my daughter started listening to a pop boy band named “The Jonas Brothers.”  Listening to their first album, I could see why they were compared to the Hanson’s of years before.  A clean, somewhat high pitched and rather “cute” boy sound started replacing Britney Spears and others on our home stereo.  Summer brought more of the same and then the next album simply titled “The Jonas Brothers” would create the spark for a wildfire that would begin in Los Angeles and spread across the country and now the world.

In the shadows of Hannah Montana/Miley Cirus, the Jonas Brothers’ following was steady and true.  We waited and finally stood in line for what seemed to be the tickets of the century….”Best of Both Worlds.”  We found ourselves in Tampa for a show that would not disappoint. From meeting Miley’s band to having pictures with the Jonas Brothers, my daughter and friends were on cloud nine.   Having left the concert, the girls would go on to listen, wait, and imagine.

Then, it was announced that the Jonas Brothers would be going out on their own.  The time had come for them to “spread their wings and fly” as they say in one of their songs.  The ticket rush started.  We stood in line five hours to get tickets for Orlando and then got more online for Tampa.  Members of the family were brought in as reinforcements to purchase tickets.  Alas, success was ours and we would anxiously await the tour.

Now, prior to all of this, our house seemed to be a flurry of impromptu concerts, complete with store bought microphone.  The Jonas Brothers’ DVD with concert footage was played with vigor on surround sound and it felt like we were there….live and in person.  We had to run out to buy the latest Disney DVD of the Jungle Book, of course, featuring the Jonas Brothers singing “Bare Necessities” and the girls would read the weekly and monthly editions of Tiger Beat, Bop, M, and others in order to get the latest and greatest news on the Jonas Brothers.   The girls even found an article in Newsweek.  The giggles from my daughter’s room were from discussing things like what are the JoBros’ favorite ice cream flavors so, of course we can have some on hand “just in case” they show up.  Other hot topics were what type of a date the guys would like to have, what would they say if they met the guys again and more.  The talk show circuit would be “You Tubed” hundreds of times and every word memorized. Weekend sleepovers became strategy sessions for an obsession that, as a parent, became refreshing.   Each of the girls had singled out their favorite “Jo Bro” and how they would pay homage to them the next time they saw them…poems, songs, pictures, scrapbooks, and more.

In the week leading up to the concert, one-of-a-kind t-shirts were designed and made.  They were handled like priceless artifacts at the Smithsonian.  Sleep deprivation, selecting hairstyles and make-up, picky eating all came with the territory.

The level of excitement is hard to describe.  I suppose it’s the same level of passion that drive people to do crazy things, amazing things and for some, stupid things.   This is good passion however, as witnessed by the level of laughing, giggling, sense of belonging to some Jonas Brothers sisterhood.

We arrived in Tampa, the girls in their matching, designer, one-of-a-kind t-shirts complete with lyrics of self-initiated JB rap on the back.  Each shirt represented the unwavering loyalty to “their man.”

After check-in, we descended upon the arena.  Once there, we were greeted by one of the tour buses where sentiments of affection could be forever monumentalized upon the vehicle with pens, nail polish, and other tools for writing.  I thought one girl who was precariously perched on her dad’s shoulders was trying to find a way to become a masthead for the tour bus, as there was no hood to become a hood ornament.  I want to meet the marketing genius behind that crowd pleaser.

Walking around, we saw clans of fans each with their own matching trademark.  There were socks, scarves, t-shirts, posters and complete outfits.  The posters ranged from usual “We love you” to the more curious “Kevin, let me braid your chest hair.”   Creativity reigned and outbursts of song would erupt from groups in huddles to lines of strangers.   All sizes, shapes, colors and ages were there.  Dads, grandparents, proud mothers, aunts, uncles and friends all bringing their greatest Jonas Brothers’ fan and future Mrs. Jonas wannabe.

The line for merchandise was frenzied but congenial.  The typical items were for sale and all I could think about was the money vendors were making.  After some parents had to refinance their house for the first round in Hannah Montana tickets, hard earned allowance money and pennies scraped from the four corners of ones house were used to pay for posters, lanyards, necklaces, bags, t-shirts, and more.

The anticipation would build inside the arena as not one, but two warm-up bands would start off the events in Tampa.  In Orlando, there were three.  I never caught the first band’s name, but I suppose that was fine as the young woman screamed like either a cat in heat and the other band members looked like a wooly mammoth, skunk, and afghan dog all having seizures on stage.   I was waiting for paramedics to take them away in neck braces.  In Orlando, we were treated to Menudo, take two.  Ricky Martin…come back.  The band’s moves were good and the crowd seemed entertained.  At least they didn’t grab their crotches while they gyrated on stage.  The last band, Rooney, was inviting and had a good sound.  They got the crowd participation going and while they are still a little rough around the edges, they have potential.

After Rooney, the crowd grew restless and the phenomenon called the wave began.  Yes, you remember the wave…where the crowd starts by standing and waving their arms and it goes all the way around the arena.  Then, the classic song by Queen, “We Will Rock You” came on and the arena floor was begging for mercy as thousands of fans stomped to the beat.

Finally, after the last set change, The Jonas Brothers appeared through a white veil.  Hearts stopped and the screaming of teenage girls was uncontrollable.  The decibel level could be used as an anti-terrorist device if recorded and played in hot zones across the world.  The tone was set for an unforgettable performance.  The guys played through songs on their current album to which the crowd was in total sync singing along.   The guys peppered the tried and true songs with ones from their upcoming summer release album.  Wow, creative new ground being covered by this band coming into their own spotlight.  In one song, the use of a trashcan, fire extinguisher, and washboard proved that music can come from many places.  Mind you, a normal fire extinguisher should not be used at home for this effect.  The song was hot and Nick on drums created a fire in the audience that nearly set the arena sprinkler system off.   From dueling drum sets to Joe disappearing in the set like a rider on Tower of Tower, it was a show worth watching…twice.   Kevin would send the crowd into overdrive with his dizzying circles while playing guitar.  Joe could be an acrobat with all of his flips and antics on stage.  All are equally gifted and together they form a trifecta of teenage talent not seen in years and probably won’t be for years to come.   The crowd went crazy when the house lights were brought up at the end of “Hello Beautiful” and the guys looked out into the audience.  All three looked really touched and seem to know how much the fans adore them.  The evening slowed when Nick told his touching, personal story and played “Look You In The Eyes” on the white, grand piano.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Since the concert, the girls have all found themselves tapping to music from their iPods, replaying the activities from the weekend, and dreaming of the next time they can see them.  From checking websites to You Tube daily, nothing is missed.  The girls text everything that comes to mind and they seem to be a little “love sick” for each of “their men.”

The power of my daughter and her two friends’ friendship is enormous.  They have learned lessons that in time will continue to reveal themselves.  They can’t wait until the new album is released this summer and I suppose I’m looking forward to that as well.  That, coupled with the upcoming TV series on the Disney Channel will be a welcome relief to the pressures of being a teenage girl.

The Jonas Brothers have been to England and back and are on their way again soon.  They’ve been on Oprah, Ellen, and their blogs are more heavily trafficked than ever before.  Spring break started with Brianna and her friends waiting 7 laborious hours in theFloridaspring heat to wait for the Jonas Brothers to perform for the crowd after the interview with Ellen.  They were so close and of course the girls thought at various times the boys were looking right at them and of course thinking “hello, future Mrs. Jonas.”  That day ushered in a spring break full of conversations, picture review and memories of the day they first met the guys.

We are soon on our way to the Disney Channel Games and the concert that will be yet another highlight of the girls’ adventure in “groupie” land.  They have now been discussing their new syndrome….OJD or as the clinical term is called, “Obsessive Jonas Disorder.”  There is no known cure, just periodic fixes to offset localized depression.  Fixes ranges from blogging, talking at end in person, e-mailing, texting and reading magazine articles to DVD watching and full blown concert going.

September brought the Jonas Brothers to the outside stage in Tampa.  The Veronica’s and Demi Lovato would accompany the band.  It was a beautiful evening and the crowd was so into the show.  After all the opening acts, the boys made a grand entrance in a rising stage that was really impressive.  There were acrobatics, pyrotechinics, guitar solos and more.  Off stage there were crazy merchandise vendors selling every type product imaginable, the Burger King marketing staff were out promoting apple fries and there were even a few Joe Jonas look alikes with swarms of impromtu fans gathered around.

There would be more to come for the Jonas Brothers….television, new albums, their 3-D movie, Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with Dick Clark, calendars, and more books.  And yes, a birthday cake replica of Nick’s guitar.

In the years since, my daughter has outgrown all the posters that used to adorn her walls, but the memories have had a lasting impression. Seven concerts, multiple CD’s, hundreds of magazines, plenty of concert memorabilia, thousands of pictures, millions of giggles, and more.  And yes, there are times when “the boys” creep back into the picture…we have purchased Joe’s latest CD release, seen Nick on various late night and early shows and even follow them on Twitter.

My daughter, who attends college now, works part-time at Disney’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster…I know that one of these days, she will come home and say “you’ll never guess who came through my ride?”  Yes, she will still be excited and yes, I will still stop and say “Whoa, tell me all about it.”

For all those new frothing fans and their moms (dads, aunts, uncles, friends), strap yourselves in,  have fun and enjoy all the excitement and memories that come with your One Direction experience.


I recently took my husband to the airport as he was traveling to Europe to visit family.  As we drove up to the drop off area, I witnessed many different people with one thing in common…a hug.  There were spouses, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, friends, lovers and they were displaying some sort of emotion through their hugs and yes some kisses…but we’ll stick to hugs for this entry.

I love to hug but not everyone does.  In fact, when my daughter was in kindergarten her teacher called to say “you need to have Brianna not hug the other kids.”  Really? How sad.  Upon further discussion, the teacher told me that some kids are quite taken aback by hugs.  Wow, a kid that doesn’t like a hug or know how to handle it.  Those few words made me sad for the kids not getting them or sharing them.  It was then I realized how special hugs can be and how much I had taken them for granted for so many years.

Hugs translate into any language.  They can mean congratulations, happy to see you, hello, goodbye, hey dude you’re cool, I love you, I like you, and so many other things.  And, there are so many different types of hugs….bear hugs, chest bump hugs, over the shoulder hugs, around the waist hugs, and the list goes on.

When was the last time you had a hug?  What was it like?  What was the best hug you ever got?   I give and receive hugs on a daily basis.  Friends, family and sometimes new acquaintances who I feel like I’ve known forever after a conversation.

There are five people that stand out in my mind when it comes to a great hug.  My daughter (of course), her friend Victor, my dear friend Tammie, a new friend Lauren, and the woman who officiated my wedding…Rebecca.  What is it about these five hugs?  Like many hugs I receive, they are genuine, but these hugs are ones that just go to the core.  They really hug like it is the only thing in the world that matters at the time.  They make you feel like if the world ends today, you would remember them and take that hug with you.

It made me think of the guy named Juan Mann who started the Free Hugs Campaign years ago.  Check it out at  http://www.freehugscampaign.org/    Here’s a guy who stood out in a public place with a sign saying “free hugs.”  What would you do if you saw someone with that sign?   Would you be afraid, embarrassed or would you go and get a free hug?  Or do you view it as you’d have to give a hug to a total stranger?  Is it the getting or receiving part that hangs you up?  Or, perhaps it is both.

When was the last time you went to a theme park?  I’m especially partial to Walt Disney World and whenever we go, you guessed it, there are plenty of hugs to be seen.  What is it about a hug from Mickey Mouse, Snow White, or Goofy that just makes you feel good?  Even adults can be spotted giving and receiving hugs from their  favorite characters.

As you read this, think about those people who should get a hug from you and go give them one.  It might be a hug saying “thanks” or “I Love You” or “I’m happy to see you” or “I’m really irritated with you but a hug will make it better.”   You don’t even have to have a reason to hug someone special.

As Bil Keane who does Family Circus says “A hug is like a boomerang, you get it back right away.”  For more great quotes on hugs, check out…  http://www.quotegarden.com/hug.html

Now, quit reading and go hug someone!