Dinner with Friends

We had dinner with Dave and Shelly tonight. They’re Andi’s parents – one of Kacey’s roommates and her friend since, what? Kindergarten?

Whenever we get together, I think about how we started out. Our girls were “just” classmates at first. Two little girls in a small sea of Catholic grade school kids. Those first years in school, the classmates all sort of tested each other out. There were lots of play dates. Eventually some real bonds took hold. I remember seeing Andi with her parents and brothers at school functions. As we all got to know each other, we’d see each other in church and choose to sit close, chatting and saying hello before mass began. Kacey and Andi were a couple of  tomboys. It’s no surprise that they played on many sports teams together as they grew up. There were some sleepovers, a few years in Girl Scouts and many days spent at one house or the other. In high school, they made other friends, but always hung on to each other. All these years later, they attend the same college and share an apartment.

And Mark and I gained some great friends because of it. Just goes to show that you’re never too old to make new friends. Now we’re old friends!

Dinner this time was planned like it usually is. A few rushed Facebook messages in the days before to figure out when we were all free. Shelly told me to pick the place and time. When I asked Mark, he said, “I don’t care.”

So I picked our usual spot, a favorite local place, at our usual time.

It rained today for hours. Then it began to snow, just in time for the rush-hour drive home. It was coming down in flakes so big they made me think of cotton candy. I left work late and the drive was slow. The weatherman had predicted this and I was thinking if I were smart, I would have suggested we meet just a half an hour later, but I know Shelly likes to get to bed early. She gets up even earlier than I do!

I made it home just in time to hop in the truck with Mark and go to the restaurant. It was packed! Bingo was going on in the bar. The diners were all squeezed into the restaurant and banquet room. We managed to get a booth with a view of the door so we could watch for our friends. Shelly arrived not long after we did, saying Dave was making his way out of downtown and would be there soon. And just a few minutes later, he was!

We ordered our food; pasta, a burger, a taco salad, and one order of chicken and ribs. We talked while we ate and kept talking long after we were done. I felt like Mark and I did too much talking. We told Dave and Shelly about our vacation in Florida. We chatted about Brad and Heather’s upcoming wedding. We talked about Jake’s job and how much he likes it and how in spite of his tendency for laziness at home, he apparently has a good work ethic on the job.

We heard about Dave and Shelly’s son, Brian and his wife, Katelyn. We heard about their move to a new house. We talked about their younger son, Eric, who is Brad’s age. He’s finishing grad school soon and graduating. He’s interviewing for jobs and seems like he’ll have his choice of opportunities. I always feel such pride for Eric when I hear how successful he is, how much he’s blossomed. Shelly and I used to share our concerns and struggles over our “A.D.D.” kids, Jake and Eric. I remember how much we worried about them making their way through school. Now here Eric is, graduating from grad school, interviewing for positions at several colleges, finding his calling and loving life! I wish I’d had such a clear vision at that age!

We talked about our dogs, family, work … you name it. We talked!

The time went by too quickly. The snow had stopped by the time we were done eating and talking. We paid our tab and walked through the parking lot together, making our way through rows and rows of cars back to the far reaches where we’d had to park.

I told Shelly that we always say we’ll plan one day a month to meet for dinner, but it never works out that way. It seems like the days and weeks slip by and before we know it, we’re on an every three-month schedule. We’ll keep trying to make it a monthly date, but if we don’t, that’s probably okay. At least we know we’ll never run out of things to talk about!

The Big Bowling Event of the Year

It’s state tournament time and I was invited to go along for the second year with nine other “girls.”

We had a good time and skill isn’t a requirement, just to give some perspective. Each player has to enter the tournament using last year’s average, unless this year’s average is ten or more points above last year’s. Mine wasn’t, (just barely wasn’t,) soI was registered with a 143 average.

This year’s tournament is based out of a local casino/hotel/bowling alley. (NICE bowling alley, I have to say!) Our ringleader got us registered and booked three hotel rooms to be shared among the ten of us. We weren’t scheduled to bowl until Saturday, but in order to make a girls weekend out of it, we stayed Friday night too. Some of the girls were looking forward to gambling. Others, including me, planned to see a country music band that was playing in the casino’s lounge on Friday night before bowling began the next day.

I don’t do casinos. I’ve only been to one a handful of times in my life. So I either didn’t know or failed to remember that smoking is allowed in them. As we checked out a few slot machines and later hung out listening to the band, I realized that the vast majority of casino guests were in fact smoking. Cigarettes, cigars, you name it. There was a lot of smoke. And I’m not judging anyone for the habit, it’s just that it’s really overwhelming to be exposed to that much smoke in an enclosed place for an extended period of time. To top it off, our room reservations weren’t submitted in time for us to get non-smoking rooms. Plenty of sneezing, and red, watery eyes ensued.

We hung out near the band until 1:30 in the morning. For a non-night owl like me, that was a really late night! But thanks, I thought, to all that smoke, I woke up Saturday morning feeling slightly sick.

We were scheduled to bowl the team event on Saturday afternoon. By the time we were starting, I had a full-blown headache. I popped as many Tylenol as I dared just before we began to play. As the three games went on, the headache grew worse. I couldn’t even think about how I was bowling or what I needed to do to bowl well. All I could do was think how much I wanted to be done so I could go back to our room and try to sleep off the headache. Ironically, I bowled out of my mind and even earned a pin for bowling a 200 game!

200 Pin

After the team event was finished, I was beyond miserable. While some of the other girls headed back to the casino, I crawled under the covers and buried my head between two pillows to drown out the noise being made by some of our team mates in the adjoining room. (Ours was a wild, slap-happy, LOUD group of ladies.) And I was having one of the worst headaches I could ever remember! I managed to fall asleep for a while and escape the throbbing in my temples.

A few hours later, around 10:30, a bunch of girls returned to the room, bringing along some friends of ours from our Monday bowling league that they’d run into in the casino. As I extracted myself from under pillows and blankets, I tried to breathe, but couldn’t. I tried to talk but could barely. The headache was a little better, but still hanging on. Michelle insisted I had a caffeine headache because I hadn’t had my usual one cup of coffee that morning. I told her I didn’t typically drink enough caffeine to be suffering a withdrawal headache, but she kept insisting I needed some. More to appease her than anything, because she was feeling pretty good and maybe couldn’t remember that she’d already insisted several times that I have some caffeine, I opened a Diet Coke and sipped on it while my team mates were sipping on stronger beverages and whooping it up. And dang if my headache didn’t improve significantly over the next hour! I could have kissed Michelle! (But I didn’t!)

Thanks to my headache, the nap, and the avoidance of alcoholic beverages practiced in fear of making the headache worse, I was one of the few who woke up on Sunday morning without at least a mild hangover. In fact, I felt like a million bucks! Feeling that good, I was sure I could pull off another impressive performance for the singles and doubles events that day.

But it wasn’t to be. Oh, I didn’t embarrass myself or anything. I just bowled about average. And besides, I had fun, which is the most important thing. Thankfully, some of the other girls pulled off some impressive games, so we should come out of this thing alright. As long as we earn enough to pay for our hotel rooms next year, we’ll be happy!

Car Shopping

Mark, Jake, Kacey and I went to the Auto Show this week.

I’m in need of another car and Mark and I have been contemplating buying one for a while now. We were actually considering buying something more than a year ago, but for various reasons, have yet to take the leap. I’ve been paying particular attention to the cars I see on the road every day, trying to figure out what is most visually appealing to me. I’ve done tons of online shopping, comparing features, options, fuel economy and prices. And still, nothing stands out as the one. So the Auto Show seemed like a logical adventure. We could see many makes and models all in one place.

Jake and Kacey had a vested interest in going to the Auto Show too. Kacey’s been home on spring break this week, so after the rest of us finished work for the day on Thursday, we all piled in my car and headed to the Minneapolis Convention Center to go and ogle some new cars.

Kacey, at nearly 21 years old, has been managing life without a car so far. But she would really benefit from having one. Being at college and living away from home, she’s  often had to rely on others for transportation for various reasons. She’s applying for summer jobs and can consider so many more options if she has a car to get herself to work and back. Since most of  her own money goes toward putting herself through school, we want to help her out in any way we can so she can stay in school and get her degree. She stands to inherit my 2004 Impala, so the sooner I get something else, the sooner the Impala is hers. It’s getting older, but it’s a good car and I’ve absolutely loved it. We replaced the transmission a year ago, so I feel confident that we’ll be handing off a reliable vehicle to her.

Jake, on the other hand, has been diligently saving his money to buy a truck. Living at home, his monthly expenses are few, so he’s really been socking it away. He started his job a year ago and it was supposed to be seasonal. He expected to be laid off for a few months this winter, but his company managed to keep him busy and so he’s been able to stay on. But not knowing for sure if he can expect to continue working without interruption, we told him he needed to save a major portion of the cost of a vehicle before we’d consider cosigning a loan for him if it becomes necessary. He took our words to heart and I have no doubt he’ll be able to replace his unreliable car very soon.

The Auto Show had it all! I had a list of potential vehicles in mind and so those were my focus. Since test driving wasn’t an option there, all I could really do was check out body styles, sit behind the wheel and see how each one felt. I know I don’t want anything all that big. So many of the new vehicles are gigantic! But I don’t want to feel cramped while I’m driving either. And since we’re a family of tall people, I wanted to be sure that there was leg room in the passenger seats for those times when others are along for the ride. There are a few perks I’d love to have if they fit within our budget, but they aren’t make or break things.

One thing that struck me at the Auto Show was the cost of cars these days. We Americans place a lot of importance on what we drive, don’t we? As I looked around at the broad range of styles and prices, it struck me as ridiculous how much money some people actually spend on a car. And I felt guilty too. For the past year, I’ve been complaining about “needing” a new car. The reality is, I don’t need a new car, but it’s a luxury that I’m fortunate enough to be able to consider. This thought kept me in check.  I can look around my company parking lot on any given day and see that some of my coworkers are driving vehicles that are rusting and falling apart. Others rely on public transportation to get there. It was these thoughts that made me look first at price and fuel economy. Only after we’d narrowed down our choices based on those things, I could think about what my new car should look like.

There were some really cool cars to see, though, and even though I knew what we could realistically consider, it was fun to check out how the other half lives. It’s amazing how many features can be considered. Depending on what you have to spend, you can choose an elaborate stereo and sound system. You can add options to assist with backing up, parallel parking, or a warning that alerts you when trying to change lanes and another vehicle is in the way. You can select a built-in GPS, heated seats, a remote starter, and a sun or moon roof. (I’m not even sure I know the difference between the two.) The list goes on and on.

Personally, I’m torn between something pretty and something functional. This car drew my eye – because the price was very reasonable and when I got behind the wheel, it felt roomier than it looked. I made 6-foot tall Jake get in the back seat and he confirmed he had plenty of leg room. It has good fuel economy, a roomy trunk, nice interior features, and I like how it looks.

Car Show 2014

The Chevy Malibu – Kacey liked it too!

But as much as I like this car, I feel a stronger pull toward something a little more rugged. Minnesota winters can be long and brutal, and although I’ve been very lucky not to have experienced any major road emergencies, I’ve often wished for a car with  optional four-wheel drive or standard all-wheel drive, one that would make me feel safer when I’m driving in one of  our many winter storms. (Have I written a single post this winter without making reference to the weather? I don’t think so!)

2014 GMC Terrain

The GMC Terrain

Another perk of the Auto Show is that many of the auto manufacturers hand out cards to encourage potential buyers to visit a local dealer and take a test drive. Once you test drive a vehicle, you can redeem the card for something like a fifty-dollar gift card. We picked up two of these cards. In the coming weeks, I plan to go test drive a few cars, see how they fit me, and look for a price that’s right. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a new car before summer arrives!

Turning the Corner

I had to pull myself out of vacation mode this week and get back into the swing of the usual routine. It wasn’t too painful, except for that first day back to work. My email inbox was overwhelming!

Kacey is home from school this week on spring break. She’s happy for the reprieve from homework and studying. Lucy is happy for the company and for having someone to play with and snuggle her during the day. And I’m happy to see Kacey’s smiling face when I come home from work. She’s kept me entertained with her stories and great sense of humor.

The weather is finally breaking and we can all actually tolerate being outside for more than a few minutes. Our walking paths are clear of snow once again and we can take Lucy for walks. The other night, she was so enthusiastic to be outside the confines of the yard, that she yanked on her leash, pulling Kacey along in her hurry to keep exploring ever further. We had to dodge some pretty large puddles, but it was worth it. The neighborhood seems to be coming back to life.

Spring 2014

Reflections on Florida

Florida was wonderful! I’m so grateful that we had the chance to get away for a while and enjoy sunshine, warm temperatures and a much-needed break from our daily routines. It was amazing being able to wear shorts and flip-flops. It felt wonderful to shake the chill from my bones for a little while. I hardly gave work or the office a passing thought.

The house we rented was more than we could have hoped for. It was spacious and comfortable. Our bedroom was huge, with a door that led right out to the patio and pool. We could have held a party in our bathroom; the shower alone was as big as one of my entire bathrooms at home. The back of the house was full of big, glass doors, with a beautiful view looking out over one of the many canals. And the pool and spa were gorgeous. We spent every possible free moment in the water.

Pool

There is so much I will remember about this trip, like the utter luxury of not having to abide by time. We went to bed whenever we were tired and didn’t feel rushed to get up in the morning. We ate breakfast if and when we felt like it and sipped on coffee by the pool while listening to the calls of the birds swimming in the canal. Lunches and dinners were so completely off-schedule that on any given day, we typically only had one or the other. And the food! The food we ate was so good! We enjoyed it all and without worrying about calories, fat or portion sizes. We just ate with abandon and it was wonderful.

There were the humorous aspects of our days – like how Mark became Ramone the Pool Boy after learning how to maintain the pool and spa temperatures. And how every time we passed a BB&T Bank, Paul required one of us to quickly come up with a string of words to fit the acronym, the naughtier and more nonsensical, the better. And how for some reason, it was hysterical to us, the number of Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacies that populated the area.

The people in Florida were so much friendlier than I’m used to. Grocery store employees were welcoming and helpful, and not in the forced kind of way that tells you it’s store policy for employees to offer assistance to customers. The owner of the pool supplies store where we bought floaties for our pool not only introduced himself by name, but asked our names, whether we lived in the area or were just visiting, and then proceeded to introduce us to another customer. Maybe this kind of friendliness is just the way it is in places where tourism is such a major part of life. Maybe the sun and warmth really do make people generally happier. But it was refreshing to interact with strangers in a way that left me smiling.

We had fun in Florida. We spent relaxing days floating in the pool and evenings soaking in the hot tub.

We watched the Minnesota Twins lose a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles. The game was pretty uneventful, but the people-watching was fun.

We spent time on the beaches, first on Captiva Island, then later in the week, on Fort Myers beach. I loved the laid-back atmosphere and the idea that anyone can wear a bathing suit, no matter their shape or size. Sure made me lose any sense of self-consciousness about parading around in my swim suit!

I found time to take quiet walks in the morning around the neighborhood. My fellow early-rising exercisers were all quick with a smile and a good morning! I’d work up a good sweat, then go back to the house, slip into my swimsuit and go for a morning swim. I read most of a good book. Mark, Paul, Megan and I played cards and cribbage. Paul and Megan were so fun and easy to be with. We started talking about next year and whether we’d come back to Florida or go somewhere new and different.

It was an amazing week. This was the first time Mark and I have taken a vacation to a warmer climate since our honeymoon 26 years ago. I loved it, but have to admit that I felt a little bit guilty for leaving the kids behind. About halfway through the week, I was missing them as well as Lucy Pie. Still, it was hard to say goodbye to Florida when it was time to go. And maybe somewhere down the road, we’ll figure out how to get away again, all of us together.

As our plane traveled back north toward home, I realized how lucky we were to be able to take this break. Having a real vacation taught me how important it is to get off the merry-go-round now and then, and just celebrate life, even if we can’t go far or even leave home to do it. I tried new foods, saw new scenery, met new people and remembered how to let go. I don’t think I’ve really relaxed in a long, long time. Florida was good to us and good for us and I brought a little bit of it home with me. Which is good because even though we came home to a relative heat wave…

snowbank

 

I’ll need a little Florida to help me get through the weeks (or months?) until this snow is all gone!

Captiva Island and Manatee Park

Monday was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in Cape Coral, Florida. We decided to head to the beach. We thought maybe we’d try Sanibel Island, but instead, we drove on through and on to Captiva Island. There were only two parking areas for public beach access and both were full. We stopped in to a resort and asked if there was any other public beach access. The bell man told us that the beaches on Captiva were mainly private, owned by the resorts and inns. But we could buy a pass and park at this resort. Perfect! That’s what we did. We then only had to walk across the street to get to a spacious, beautiful beach spot that wasn’t crowded by any means.

016We watched others stroll the beach and play in the water. We saw people parasailing which looked amazing from down below, but I don’t think I could handle being up that high. I snapped a couple of pictures of a pretty sail boat. Paul remarked that the people on it were naked. I insisted they weren’t and besides, he couldn’t possibly tell from that distance. Later, when I downloaded the pictures, I suspected maybe he was right!

005bMegan and I took a walk up the beach, through the water, about waist deep. We startled a school of fish, realizing this only when they all leapt out of the water in unison and dove back in. They were about the size of my hand and I caught a glimpse of silver and blue. We squealed, then laughed at ourselves, then watch in awe as the pretty little fish moved away from where we were standing. Another amazing thing we saw was a group of dolphins! They swam right in front of us and put on a little show as they moved up the beach. I didn’t manage to catch one mid-air, but you can see how close they were to us.

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We swam, played catch with a frisbee ring, and lounged under an umbrella all day long. I was careful to cover up with sunscreen, but I forgot how quickly the effects of water, reflection of the sun and a slight breeze can take effect. By the end of the day, we all felt crispy, sticky and dirty. But we were happy! It took us forever to get off the island, (almost two hours!) It seems everyone else wanted to go at the same time. Afterwards, we discovered a fantastic little bar and grille near our rental. I ate what was probably the best pasta dish I’ve ever tasted – a seafood and asparagus dish in a creamy marinara sauce. Delicious!

Tuesday, with all of us feeling much cleaner, but still crispy, we decided to avoid the beaches for the day. Instead, we headed to Manatee Park in hopes of seeing some manatees. Unfortunately, this was the only one we saw. A park employee explained that it was too warm in the park waters and the manatees were probably out where it was cooler and they could find food to eat.

Manatee Park 1But we did see some other interesting things, such as these cute little crabs.

005cAnd some colorful lizards.

016bThere were lots of little fish to watch.

013bAnd there was an impressive old tree!

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It was after three o’clock before we realized we were hungry for lunch. We have no sense of schedule, and I love it! I love the way food is such an adventure when we’re on vacation. I’m trying new things and seem to love it all. After leaving Manatee Park, we stopped at a restaurant called Iguana Mia’s. The margarita’s were amazing and my shrimp tacos were incredible!

Iguana Mia 1

Iguana Mia 2Today we’re having a pool party! Two of my coworkers are vacationing in the area and are coming over with their daughters this afternoon. Later on, we’re going to catch a Twin’s baseball game. Baseball, outdoors, where it’s warm! I can’t wait!

Beautiful First Day in Florida

I love it here. I am warm and the sun is plentiful. I was up before everyone this morning and took a hike around the neighborhoods and even worked up a sweat. There’s been no schedule to speak of for the day and it felt so good to be free of the restrictions of time and obligations. A high school friend who lives in the area commented, through Faceb00k, that the day was starting off a bit chilly here. It’s all a matter of perspective. It was 61 degrees F when I woke up and didn’t think it was chilly by any stretch of the imagination. We had our coffee out by the pool.  The day warmed into the 80s. Being outside feels so good. It smells good here – the smell of warmth and grass and flowers.

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Coffee by the pool

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Plants and flowers everywhere

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One of our friends who hangs out by the pool and spa

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Enjoying the water