Happy Birthday Dear Friend!

Last Saturday I attended a gathering of about 40 folks who were invited to a surprise 60th birthday party for my longtime friend, Margie.  Her husband had pulled off the nearly impossible feat of actually surprising her with this lovely dinner, where her immediate family and her closest friends with their significant others, lied in wait for her arrival.

I met Margie on the first day of 5th grade when I moved to a new neighborhood and was attending a new school.  She was that angel who welcomed me and we became best friends.  For the next two years we rode bikes or walked to school together, had sleep overs, cheered peewee football, and had the carefree childhood you could have back then.

When we went to Junior High (the Baby Boomers equivalent of Middle School) we merged with the other elementary schools in our area and I learned to “share” Margie with the new girls.  We became this great group of friends who stayed close through high school, college, and were in each other’s wedding.  Almost 50 years later, here we are.

Quite a few of us, including Margie, went out-of-state to college and worked elsewhere for a time, but eventually returned to Florida and this same community. The husbands are mostly from other towns and states, and were brought into this circle through marriages and children, many who have grown up together.  These special guys have formed long-time friendships as well.

The dinner party was pretty boisterous and then the toasts began.  Her sister, children, and their spouses all were charming with their expressions of true love and appreciation for this gift of a “Gigi” they were blessed to have.  Her husband choked up recounting how they met and when she agreed to “have him”  (set up by a friend and her husband who was this ex-football player’s roommate at Florida). Her “newer” friends told of how she had nurtured and inspired them. Then it was our turn.  There was our gifted one-woman of a show, who was her college roommate.  Wearing one of their sorority jerseys (a little tight she proclaimed but she could still get it on!), she read a hilarious poem depicting their escapades in high school and college at Clemson University.  I got to toast her and claim the “official longest friendship in the room”.  Seven of us performed a song and dance tribute to Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t she lovely”  changing the words to describe our friend. Yep.  Sixty year-old women sporting wigs (brunette in her honor) and performing a show that took multiple rehearsals to get it right.  Now you see the “love” required to participate in this kind of behavior!

So who is this person that has generated such love and devotion (and she was horrified, by the way because she is usually the “giver”).  My friend, Margie, is the most unselfish, and truly genuine person I know.  She is the one we all have called on for help and advice.  She is the organizer of food and duties when we lose a loved one. She is the one you can laugh with until your sides hurt horribly or you wet your pants.  She  is the devoted daughter, wife, friend, mother and grandmother we all strive to be.  This is just second nature to her, without any hint or expectation of acknowledgment .  She is genuinely that good.

One of the husbands,  who was sitting at our table, leaned over to me with huge tears in his eyes and told me this.  He said he had watched our group’s friendship through the years with utter amazement.  He grew up in the military and moved seven times during his school years.  The fact that this group of friends has such history and loves each other to this day, still amazes him.

Thank you Margie for the gift of friendship you have given to me all these years.  I am a better person for knowing you.

image

Traditions

In the South we take our “traditions” seriously, and that comes through loud and clear in regards to our football teams.  Rivalry runs deep down here.  After Auburn won the SEC Championship in 2010 (they went on to win the National Championship), needless to say there were some folks who weren’t happy, and unfortunately an Alabama fan (no offense to actual Alabama grads, this guy was not one) decided the ultimate revenge would be to poison the “Auburn Oaks”.  These trees had become part of one of Auburn’s most cherished traditions.  After every victory, fans go to what is called “Toomer’s Corner” and TP the trees (throw rolls of toilet paper to decorate the limbs for those of you have never participated in such behavior).  This has become a beloved tradition following an Auburn victory.

Toomers2Toomers4

Toomers3ToomersArt

So this guy, Harvey Updyke, is so furious, he travels to Auburn and poisons the trees. What a guy.  But wait it gets better.  He then calls up the Paul Fienbaum show (a radio show in Birmingham that is now broadcast daily on the SEC TV Network) and proceeds to spew venom about how horrible Auburn is to have “stolen” the championship from Alabama.  He then proceeds to brag to Mr. Finebaum (on a national radio show mind you) that he has just poisoned Auburn’s precious oak trees.  The story unfolded from there and you can go online and watch an actual ESPN special about the Auburn/Alabama rivalry where you can see this guy, who went to prison for a while for this by the way.  Really, could I make this stuff up?

Auburn tried to save the trees (they have an outstanding Horticulture program) but announce that they are indeed, poisoned to the extent that they will die…and they ultimately did.

The story does have a happy ending…on February 14th Auburn replanted their beloved oaks and the tradition lives on!

Toomers Protect

I Want to “Just Look”

I follow a hysterical blogger named Victoria Elizabeth Barnes who is always on the hunt for treasures and is redoing her house.  She reminds me so much of my younger self when my husband and I were buying old houses and had a great time (ha!) doing renovations.  I look back at one particular year spent without a kitchen, with two small children, washing dishes in the bathtub and it is hard to imagine how I juggled things.  Youth and the excitement of gutting your house must have made me oblivious to things that would be not so great now.  I also made some wild purchases, like when I bought a huge mirror (and not inexpensive), from a “Rocky” in Syracuse New York on Ebay!   He had purchased an old Victorian mansion and needed cash so was selling off some of the original pieces from the home.  I had to walk him through how to pack and ship it, and eventually it arrived safely.  Whew.

Mirror0002

We still like projects,  like the new barn we just built.  These projects give me an excuse to seek out treasures to use in the design/build.  It satisfies the urge to hunt for treasures.  But honestly, that urge has died down tremendously over the last decade.  This is due largely in part to the emptying of both my mother-in-law’s and my parents’ home.  That is enough to keep you from ever wanting to buy anything. Ever. Again.

This weekend is the Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza  that happens three times a year in Mt. Dora, Florida.  There are over 1500 dealers from across the country who spread their wares under acres and acres of live oak trees.  Over the years I have found some great stuff at this event.  Eventually you have enough stuff, but that doesn’t quench the antiquing thirst.  Therefore the inspiration to open a shop.   After giving up my full-time career of 20+ years to be home more with my family, I still needed a working/creative outlet.  I had purchased a small commercial building that my husband and I renovated with build-to-suit tenants…and I just happened to have 800 empty square feet with a huge display window.  I convinced my husband that I wanted to do a great display and help entice more retail to that end of the shopping community where we were located.  My initial plans were to recycle some of my antique finds and “fill in” with trips to the Merchandise Mart in Atlanta.  I was also only going to  have select days/hours, so that I could do the kid’s carpools for sports, etc..  I think we all know here what the reality was.  I got to go shop for really cool stuff that I liked, attend The Market twice a year, and fulfill a common dream of owning your own place.  The shop kind of took off, and with that came pressure to have more normal hours and so I had help come in the afternoon to spell me for after school duties.  I soon was immersed into the retail world of holidays and weekends. One of our tenants moved out so I expanded and had even more room for really great stuff. Things were sweet for about 5 years, and then the real estate bust hit Central Florida.  People stopped buying houses and accessories for them.  When one of my other tenants needed more office space, I quickly made the decision to shut down.  So we had the going out of business sale, paid off the bills, and that was that.  People still tell me they miss my shop and ask if I miss it as well.  I miss purchasing and staging the shop, but not competing with the internet and having no control over the economy.  At this stage,  I much more enjoy being the landlord and collecting rent.

Back to Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza this weekend.  Last year I found some great stuff to use in the new barn we were building.  I found tables and an unusual sink piece for my tackroom, and some great signage.  I found a really cool horse head out of teak that was way too expensive for me, but at this January’s Extravaganza I found one just like it for 1/3 of the price!  It now lives on our property on a tree stump and looks like it was carved there.

FarmSign         Horsehead

This past year we cleared out my mother’s home when she moved to a senior housing high rise.  She was on the verge of becoming a hoarder (without the dead animals and her house was clean).  She would tell you she is a “collector”. ( I must come by this hunting gene naturally).  Anyway, after dealing with all of her “stuff” and the extensive estate sale, it made me want less stuff of my own.  So when I called my antiquing buddy to see if she wanted to go to Renninger’s with me on Friday, she informed me that after spending the last month clearing out her now deceased parent’s home, she never wants to lay eyes on another old piece of anything.   I told her I was going to get in my steps on my new FitBit, by walking all of those acres and “just looking”. Right .

Southern Football and Crazy Competitiveness

There is so much material I could go into on this topic but maybe I’d better give the skeptics (usually male) some background on my wealth of knowledge about college football in the South. My father was all SEC-tackle at the University of Florida (Gainesville…The Gators) in 1949. He also holds one of the records for most playing time on the field because he started every game and played both offensive and tackle and they stopped doing that the year after he graduated.

image

image

I grew up a huge Gator fan, but chose to go out of state to Auburn because I wanted to do something “different”. My husband graduated from Florida, my son graduated from Auburn (we attended the national championship game together when Auburn beat Oregon in 2010 and he was a sophomore) and my daughter is currently a student at Florida. I am addicted to the new SEC network, especially the Paul Fienbaum show, which I record everyday during football season. (Listening to that show would give you insight into the depths of how serious we can take our college football down here in the South!).  We still have, and pay handsomely for, the original Gator Booster season tickets/seats my dad secured as a player in the 40’s.  My uncle Ted (my Mom’s brother) was the radio color commentator with Otis Boggs for almost 40 Gator football seasons. I have read and love the book “God and Football”, which explains every SEC school’s traditions. Paul Fienbaum has a good book too. There. That, my friends, should qualify me as somewhat of an expert on Southern football, especially the SEC.image image

This love of SEC football and competition bleeds off into other areas. There is that other non-SEC powerhouse, FSU. You may have heard of them.  You may have heard of their most recent and notorious quarterback, who got away with despicable behavior. If you are an Auburn fan (FSU beat Auburn in the 2013 national championship game in the last 13 seconds) and especially a Gator fan, you most likely do not like FSU and thoroughly enjoyed their thrashing by Oregon in the first national playoffs this past season.

Auburn’s nemesis is the powerhouse, Alabama. Both are state schools, but Alabama’s fan base is largely composed of non-graduates who merely reside in Alabama. Auburn’s fanbase is largely composed of actual Auburn graduates. At this time I would like to inform you that Auburn has the largest number of astronaut alumni and the new CEO of Apple is an Auburn alum.  Just thought I’d mention this.  In the same vein I would like to mention the University of Florida has an outstanding reputation in the academic world, now commonly being referred to as “The Harvard of the South”, and is known to be extremely competitive in their admissions process.  I hope you are getting the picture I am trying to paint here….these competitions run deep and not just on the playing field.

image

This leads me to a recent little incident I am happy to share.  I may not have mentioned that my daughter’s boyfriend is graduating this spring from FSU.  This is particularly annoying because he is a great young man and we really like him.  We all civilly survived football season this fall due largely in part to the fact that none of our teams advanced to, or particpated in, the national championship game (don’t you just love college football?!).  But seriously, my story has nothing to do with football.

Here goes…early in November my daughter was visiting the FSU campus and (of course) got a $30 parking ticket.  Several days later my husband gets a bill in the mail (the car is registered in his name) for the ticket, and FSU has assigned him a student number and threatens to not let him register for classes if this ticket is not paid.  It also says you may go online to pay the bill, but when I try to do this, I discover you need a student login.  I give up and write a check and mail it.  The check is processed and clears mid-November. On December 23rd, I get a second bill with a $10 late fee.  I then make copies of said bill with a lengthy explanation of how it has already been paid, explain my husband is not a student and his car was merely visiting their campus, and then attach a copy of the cleared check made out to the FSU billing department as instructed.  Because I am annoyed, I use a University of Florida return address label, just for spite.  Mid-January the third bill arrives. Trying again, I call the number as instructed on the bill for “help”.  I timed the call.  I am placed on hold for over 32 minutes. The first 15 minutes involve listening to classical music with repeated messages of “Welcome to FSU, please hold and someone will be with you shortly”. After about 20 minutes a lovely recorded speech comes on telling me how outstanding FSU is in multiple areas…how many special scholars…how many special awards, etc.  This continues adnauseum for at least ten more minutes…and then a dailtone. Yep. They hung up on me. I was not happy.

My last ditch effort is to email them.  The help section with the phone number also gives an email address. It is literally my last option. I go over step by step what has transpired, scan and attach all previous correspondence and include a copy of the processed payment.  I explain that when trying to reach them by phone, I was kept on hold over 30 minutes and forced to listen to how outstanding their University is. I tell them “That’s just great but how about let’s start convincing me with attempting to clear up this little parking fine”.  Two days later I get a return email saying all has been forgiven, the fine has been noted as paid, and the  student hold has been lifted.  Do I need to say more?  Go Gators and War Eagle!!!

Isn’t Business Traveling a Blast?

Working toward full retirement, I am hanging on to a part-time consulting job.  I really don’t make enough income with this to justify working, but I tell myself it is something that is “mine”.  Allows me to buy things like horse stuff!   So a few times a month I get to travel to wherever the need arises for what I do.  This keeps me “connected” to the work force and gives me some “down time” from my daily routine and obligations.

Horse Quote

When my kids were little, my husband was traveling for his business at least once a week.  I would often tell him I was jealous of that “alone” time…you know, where he got to stay in a hotel room and have a bathroom and TV all to himself.  He would tell me I was nuts, that business travel was anything but relaxing and basically stunk.  I didn’t believe him and was convinced he was just feeling guilty because I KNEW he had to enjoy the “down” time from early parenting.

Last week I had a “short notice” trip, that required me flying out at 6:30 on Monday evening, to return 48 hours later.  Upon boarding, I got to my seat (I always pick isle seats for ease of escaping if necessary) and there was a women sitting in my seat.  Her large coat was happily occupying the middle seat, and her husband was at the window. I politely tried to  explain that I think she has my seat.  She gives me the death stare. Luckily a flight attendant is behind me and tells her she needs to move, and I didn’t have to sit on her.  Buckled in, she proceeds to fold her hands in her lap, with her elbows extending over the arm rests by several inches.  She literally is digging her elbows in to my arm (and I am practically leaning into the isle)  the entire trip.  They also were speaking in French and I am sure discussing what an inconvenience I was to be sharing “their” row, but who knows.   This trip to Myrtle Beach required a change of planes in Atlanta.  If you’ve connected a flight in Atlanta I really don’t need to explain further but changing flights in Atlanta usually involves racing to several concourses away.  Fun times.

The next flight was a quick 45 minutes and just before taking off an interesting looking couple joins me on my row.  Nothing wrong with a few tattoos but I am always fascinated by the total arm tattooed up thing, so I tried not to notice…too much.  Once my seatmates were buckled in, the gentlemen who is seated next to me plugs in his earphones and then proceeds to turn up his volume so loud that I can hear his entire lovely selection of rap music.  Plus he was doing some major gyrations and in-seat dancing.  Now I’m really having fun.

Having landed, after getting my baggage (yes I am one of those who pays to check their luggage and does not try to stuff everything I need in a carry-on bag that the flight attendant has to wrench out her back cramming in the already full overhead bin)  and rental car, I arrive at my hotel after 11 pm.  There is no desk clerk and the only people I see are two loud men in the lounge area watching a game.   After waiting several long minutes, I decide to call the front desk from my cell phone.  Timing it, the phone (right in front of me by the way) rings for over 15 minutes before I give up  and hang up.  I have just decided that I will need to leave and find another hotel, when  the door behind the front desk opens and a very sleepy (or something more exciting) young man appears.  He apologizes and checks me in.  Great.

In the elevator heading up to my floor there is a sign saying the carpets will soon be replaced so please excuse the mess during that process.  Upon entering my room I cannot believe the stains I am seeing all over the carpet. There has been either some major partying or illness in this room…or perhaps both. The whole room is somewhat shabby and in desperate need of renovation.  This is a name brand hotel mind you, but I guess spring breaks and the summer have taken it’s toll.  Too tired to leave, I inspect the bed for signs of bugs and all looks safe.  I keep a pair of socks on until I can get off that carpet!  The next morning I have to pack up early to find another hotel before my first meeting.   I find one close to the second day’s work location.  It is the same brand and a perfectly lovely room.  Go figure.

The work goes smoothly and I fly out  Wednesday at 6:30pm.  Flights to Orlando are always full with families traveling to Disney World, and my seat is literally on the last row and not on the isle.  Deplaning takes forever from that vantage point.  I arrive in my bed by 12:30 am.

Short business trips are not so great.  I hate when my husband is right.  The good news?  The hotel brand sent me an online survey….

Enjoy the View

Growing up in Florida, I spent a lot of time outdoors.  Like all day.  Outdoors.  Our parents didn’t worry about us back then.  We were gone all day, traveling miles on our bicycles or horses, unsupervised and without cellphones.  We were blissfully independent and oblivious to the perils of the evil world.  Our world was safe and pristine.  It gave me a love of the outdoors because that was our playground.

As an adult when I began to afford property, the most important thing was the backyard or view.  In Central Florida, my backyard is a lake.  I may be only minutes from a large metropolitan area and it’s international airport, but in my backyard I have otters, owls, bald eagles and all kinds of “tree creatures” like raccoons and possums.  When you have spent an hour battling traffic after a long day, looking out onto the lake does make it all better.

Orlando Backyard

Orlando Backyard

Ten years ago we found a small cabin on a huge lake in Maine.  I love Maine.  They have very few people, but they do have moose, bears, beavers, and lots of fish.  This summer I stumbled upon a black mink lingering along the shoreline.  The views and cries of the Loons can make me emotional.  If you want to get away from any hustle and bustle, Maine is the place to be.

Maine Backyard

Maine Backyard

Belgrade Lakes Maine Backyard

Belgrade Lakes Maine Backyard

Our latest land purchase was 200 acres in North Florida.  When you exit off I-75 onto I-10 heading west, you can feel your blood pressure lowering.  Gone are the billboards, and thousands of acres of agricultural land spreads out in either direction.  Just a few miles after crossing the Suwanee River, you exit onto our county road.  The views there are very different. Deer, fox squirrels and turkeys are in abundance.  Occasionally you see a black bear.  There is even a now rare covey of quail.   In one direction you have acres of pasture, turn and you see rows and rows of timber pines, turn again and you see the live oaks and dogwoods.  Springtime is heavenly when they bloom along with the wildflowers in the pasture.

I’m officially a “view snob” who is growing increasingly disgruntled with city life.

Pond at Farm

Pond at Farm

Trees4

Pasture

Pasture

Pines

Pines

TrailridePasture flowers