Friday, June 26, 2015

Mercy Hunting: Summer Edition

Ah, summer.  Are you loving it?  The very word used to make me go weak in the knees.  Makes me think of checking out books in the chilled library, riding bikes until way after dusk, languishing days under the trees at the city park, cruising up and down Main Street for hours, laying out in the sun, floating away afternoons at the lake, escaping the adults to run with the cousins at family reunions, and the ultimate summer nirvana - spending a week with my sisters in the big city.  Summer is magic.  

Summer started off with a momentous event for our twenty-year old - he bought his first car.  Out of the factory, it's a four door Ford, but the original owner had this ride fully tricked out with pipes that are so loud you can hear it coming from two counties away.  This is a great thing, for Nate - it's not likely I'll be asking to borrow his car.  His pleasure takes me back to the heady and free feeling of youthful summers.  

I always tell myself I will do the required flower bed cleaning and preparation in earliest spring, yet June arrives and I'm still lollygagging around and my morning glories on the porch set off without me.  Thank goodness for flowers that come back on their own and give the weeds a run for their money!

Every morning I walk 45 minutes or so and come back completely liquefied and aerated but refreshed and rejuvenated.  This week it occurred to me to be thankful that I can walk out here all by myself in the country - no makeup, old sweats, Army t-shirt, mud boots, and a sweatband equals high fashion.  Fashion statement notwithstanding, there's some new delight to see every day, and a reminder that God's mercies are new, every morning.

The morning glory vines from the seeds I tossed into a log in the woods look anemic, but  the day after I'd given up hope that they'd bloom, what did I find, but blooms!  Much thanks to all the rain - I'm not sure these will stand up to the July heat, but I will rejoice in them while they last!

NOT on my list of delightful things would be a snake encounter.  I've talked before about my lack of love for snakes, and my chief prayer continues to be that if God doesn't remove them all from this little piece of Texas, just don't let me see any of them.  Below, in order of appearance, we have the gentle progression from freakishly large worm, to grass snake, to wholly intact shedded snake skin suspended six feet high in the trees.  Isn't it enough that snakes could be lurking on the ground ... must they also be in the trees???

Later, I was taking a picture of the honeysuckle on the creek bank (the smell is heavenly!) and out of the corner of my eye I saw a swish of a snaketail down in the creek.  Thus the second picture: only treetop and sky :o)

Turtles, on the other hand, I can handle.  Give me a turtle any day over a snake.  One day I met a turtle on the creek bank but it didn't move at all, and was there still when I made my trek back around half an hour later.  I was thinking it was a  v e r y  slow moving turtle, but the next day, it was obvious she'd been busy laying eggs.  

All the rain presents ample opportunity to see lots of wildlife tracks in the mud.  Here are tracks of a (very large) turkey vulture and a mystery animal.  The mystery animal tracks were odd in that they were side by side.  LtDan saw a beaver on the trail in the same spot the day before, so I assumed that's what it was, but after a little Google research I know beaver's tracks are very different.  I need an expert opinion on this one.

The summer heat brings cicadas, wildberries, grass growing taller every day and beautiful skies.  I hope your summer is stacking up to be a magical one, too!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Stars and Stripes Forever

After 9/11, it seemed like every car on the road had an American flag sticker on it.  It was a great reminder that we're all united under the stars and stripes, and I loved that show of solidarity and American pride.  

LtDan has always wanted to have a flag pole here at the JustB, and my brother just happens to have the skills and the equipment to build (and deliver!) such a pole.  When he came to visit and and deliver it a few weeks ago, we weren't able to raise the pole because of all the rain we were getting, but last weekend the ground was dry enough and the weather cooperated, and we had the chance to put it up.

I knew Stan was making the pole for us, but I didn't expect any of his thoughtful customizations:  "JustB" and the date welded on the base, and of course his initials.

And - this is so awesome! - I love the top:

LtDan painted it, and then we called the posse together to raise the pole.  

It takes coordination and muscle to get a 25 foot pole into the air.  

We saluted the flag with fireworks, and after some amazing barbecue ribs and a buffet of all kinds of good things to eat, we spent the rest of the evening on the porch.  

I'm completely surprised at how proud I am to fly the flag.
I keep finding new views from which to appreciate it.  
It makes me all the more mindful of how grateful I am to live in America.

"Let us never forget that in honoring our flag, we honor the American men and women who have courageously fought and died for it over the last 200 years - patriots who set an ideal above any consideration of self and who suffered for it the greatest hardships.  Our flag flies free today because of their sacrifice."  - Ronald Reagan

Many many thanks to my brother Stan for building and delivering our flagpole 
and to our fantastic friends who helped us stand it up!

Friday, June 12, 2015

When The World shows up in your backyard: teaching kids how to behave in a crowd

I learned an important lesson in second grade.  It was one of those rare moments when the teacher was called out of the classroom - I think it was a substitute teacher, surely not my beloved Mrs. Baldree.  She was called to the office, and told the class to be quiet and stay seated until she returned.  The class, of course, erupted into second grade shenanigans and boisterous talking as soon as she closed the door.

Being the Good Girl that I was, I stayed in my seat and mourned the bad behavior of my fellow students until I got a righteous and mature idea: we should play the Quiet Game!  Since  the room was so noisy and chaotic I couldn't get anyone's attention from my seat, so I went to the front of the classroom and tried to make my suggestion over the rising din.  That's when the teacher returned to the room, to see a class in disarray, deliberately disobeying her instructions, and me out of my seat at the front of the room shouting about the Quiet Game (oh, the irony!).  I was sent to the hall to reflect upon my misbehavior.

It was clearly a misunderstanding ... I was only trying to lead my fellow classmates into better behavior by deliberately disregarding the teacher's instructions.  I stood in the hall thinking about my good intentions and the fact that in a situation where one authority figure was faced with 30 misbehaving kids, my Good Girl aura did not outshine the fact that I was just another kid doing the wrong thing.  Here's what I learned:  if the authority figure tells you to do something and you do not do it, you're  wrong.  Even if you have a good idea.  Even if your good idea supports her authority.  Even if your good idea that supports her authority would lead the rest of the class to do the right thing - if you have to be disobedient ... you're wrong.

One of my most humbling life experiences has been my children's response to me on days when I am out of control.  Frustrated.  Tired.  Overwhelmed.  Not two consecutive moments of peace, and undone housekeeping and schoolwork and business rising like a chaotic tidal wave.  Much to my shame, there have been days when I've taken my frustration out on my children in short tempered and unkind verbal tirades that were out of control and inexcusable.  But my children taught me that kindness, grace, and believing the best in the face of out of control anger and frustration have a positive affect.  My children taught me that when the person in authority is out of control, you have the power to affect the situation for peace - even if you are a mischievous five year old who dared your brother to drink soy sauce until he throws up all over the couch.  When you respond to out of control authority with composure, dignity and respect, you help restore equilibrium to the situation.  You call the person in authority back to calm.  Even when you are a little person with very little power, if things are out of control, your response can help the situation right itself.

Recently, the city we refer to when it's time to go into town became the nation's focal point over a situation at a pool party that spun badly out of control.  My heart breaks for every person involved and for the terrible ugly swirling around screens as the scene replays in America's living rooms.  I thought this kind of thing couldn't happen in my world, and lo and behold, it's right there in my backyard.

We know families who live in the neighborhood where the pool party debacle happened.  My kids are around the age of the kids involved in the appalling situation.  I'm sure no one arriving at the event dreamed it would end up headlining the national news for days on end. The now infamous pool party has been a frequent topic of conversation in our family.  Maybe it has also been in yours.

As our kids were growing up, I found preparation to be one of the best things I could do for my children when we were entering an unfamiliar situation or a situation where expectations on their behavior were high.  Discussing with my toddlers what was going to happen, who would be there, how to respond to various questions and how I expected them to behave was nearly always a guarantee for great behavior.

I think as we process the broader social topics regarding the pool party in the news, it's also important to coach our young people through what to do if they find themselves in a crowd that's out of control.  We'd not had that conversation in our family before.  Here are seven talking points to start a conversation with your kids about what to do if they're in a public setting and things go wrong:

Have a great time, but monitor what's going on around you

As more and more people are added to a gathering, the crowd itself develops a personality and mood, and the bigger the crowd, the greater the influence it has over unthinking individuals.  Your situational awareness becomes increasingly important as the crowd builds; you need to know if things start to go bad.  While you're having fun, keep part of your brain in constant monitor mode.

Do the right thing when everyone else is doing the wrong thing

In my second grade class, everyone else was talking loudly and out of their seats and I thought my good intentions justified disobedience, but all I did was become part of the problem.  Even if you are trying to lead other to people do the right thing, disobedience is still disobedience.  Take your stand as a leader by doing the right thing, even if others don't follow.

LEAVE when a group situation tips out of control

A bad situation starts small but it builds, and then there's a moment when the situation tips.  In a crowd, this is often marked by people trying to be badass, talking loud, and showing blatant disregard for propriety and the property and personal space of others.  When the behavior of the crowd becomes more of a force than the behavior of the individual, it's time to pack it up and leave.  Leave, and do not come back.

Know how far your influence extends

If you're attending an event where things are going wrong and you need to extricate yourself, you need to know that the people you're with are going to be in sync with you.  If a situation is decomposing and you can't convince your friend it's time to go, you may still be on scene when things turn really bad.  Make sure you know how far your influence extends with those around you, because if you don't have influence over the people you're with, you may need to get yourself out of there and leave them behind.

Stand down when a person of authority arrives

If you haven't already extricated yourself from a bad situation when a person of authority arrives at the scene, whether it's a parent, security guard, and especially if it's a policeman, be still, be quiet, and wait for your instructions.  Under no circumstances should you be part of the milling chaos.

Exude respect to those in authority

When a person of authority confronts you - even if they are out of control - exude respect.  From every pore of your body, with every facial expression, every blink of the eye, every spoken word and the very tone of your voice, convey respect.  If they rudely tell you to sit down and be quiet, sit down and be quiet.  Do not be part of the problem.  Just as the sweetness of the child calms a frustrated mother, your calm respect can affect a stressed out peace officer, and any positive affect applied to a bad situation is a worthy contribution.

Distance yourself when it feels like The Group needs to right a wrong

Provided you haven't already left the scene, which is highly preferable, if the collective seems to be trying to right a wrong through disobedience and disrespect, distance yourself as far as you possibly can (again, provided you haven't already left).  The solution isn't going to be found inside the disobedient and disrespectful group.  The solution is in the individual.  YOU be the calm one.  YOU be the respectful one.  Because if every single YOU does the right thing, the situation rights itself.

In the pool party situation, if every person had gone home, if every person had maintained calm, if every person had exuded respect, if every person had maintained their individuality and taken personal responsibility for their influence over the situation, the video now cast into internet perpetuity would not be on a constant loop pulling more and more people into the poisoned ugly.  As parents, we have an obligation both to our children and our society to teach our children how to handle themselves if they find themselves in a public situation and things go wrong.  Because as it turns out, The World hangs out in our backyard.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Twenty-Seventh Anniversary at Sanibel and Captiva Islands

Twenty-seven years ago, these children walked down the aisle together.  After the sweetest wedding and a lovely reception, they dodged birdseed (not rice), smiled for the camera one more time, and then they were off to the Florida Keys.

Twenty-seven years.

 This calls for a celebration, don't you think?
Oh yes, I think so!
We headed back to Florida, this time to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island.  We had a double celebration with LtDan's brother and sister-in-law, whose anniversary is a year and a week after ours.  
We remember being kids together :o)

We stayed at the Sanibel Harbor Marriott Resort.  This resort sprawls over 85 acres and the grounds are beautiful.  It's one of those places that makes it difficult to decide just where you want to sit and take it all in.  There are two huge pools, long and lovely porches, hammocks, beach chairs in the sand, and if that's not enough there's access to the water and boat docks.  Best of all, though, the property sits right on the harbor and faces west, to catch glorious sunsets over the water.

Pick a great spot ... it's all about the sunset!

After a fun evening settling in at the Marriott, we explored Sanibel and Captiva Islands.  

Beach is my love language :o)

Just a quick drive from Fort Myers across the harbor bridge, and you're on Sanibel Island and with another very quick hop across the water, you'll reach Captiva.  These two islands are 18 miles of tropical lovely tip to tip.  Periwinkle Way is a main thoroughfare, and you can rent a bike and ride the bike trail from end to end.

There are no high rise condos on Sanibel Island or Captiva Island, and although they're separated by a narrow causeway, each island has a distinct feel.  Sanibel has a small beach town vibe, and Captiva feels more laid-back tropical.  

Our concierge suggested stopping in at The Mucky Duck on Captiva, a delightful English Pub right on the beach.  The decor is eclectic with a fabulous collection of buttons and patches.  The view across the outdoor seating is right out onto the sand of Captiva Beach.  And the food is great!

Captiva Beach is as-far-as-you-can-see white sand and warm waters that will make you forget snowflakes, hot chocolate and fires in the fireplace.

We didn't stay too long on this day because we had a dinner cruise date on the Marriott's Sanibel Harbor Princess.  During our three hour harbor cruise, we enjoyed a fantastic buffet (for some reason I had low expectations - I was wrong!), we swooned over beautiful water properties, and watched a storm build in the east.  But the best thing?  The sunset.

Next it was a day on the beach at Sanibel Island.  We wanted to go back to Captiva, but parking can be a challenge there, so we opted for Bowman's Beach on Sanibel.  We're accustomed to walking out of the condo right into the sand, so this was a new way to do the beach. After parking the car in the public parking lot, we walked across a causeway bridge, down a sandy path to the beach.

In case kids get tired of the beach (!) they can play at the playground.  There are also public bathroom facilities at Bowman's Beach, which isn't the case with all Sanibel beaches.

After one final warning ... ha! ... you're at the beach!

Bowman's Beach is a family friendly beach. The water here (in late May) is the perfect temperature, and you can walk a LONG way into the gulf in water up to your shoulders.  The waves were small and easy.

As we walked in the water, way out from the shore, we could feel thin, flat things just beneath the surface of the sand - different sizes but some as large as six inches or so across.  My sister-in-law and I couldn't work up the nerve to pick them up with our hands, so we decided to drag one to shore with our feet.  Why this is not as scary as picking something up with your hands I do not know :o)  Our plan was working until a boat went by, the waves got choppy and we lost our mystery items.  But brother-in-law to the rescue, he went out and wasn't afraid to dive down to pick the things up ... they were live sand dollars!  Lots of them!  

Since we flew to Fort Morgan and rented a car, we didn't have the benefit of bringing along all our beach gear, so we bought a couple umbrellas and beach chairs at a souvenir shop.  When it was time to go, LtDan picked a group of young people who looked like they could use some beach equipment and asked if they'd like our stuff.  They said yes and were very appreciative - that was fun! 

After a wonderful day on the beach, we ate at Courtney's Continental Cuisine in Fort Myers.  This is an unassuming restaurant next to the Publix grocery store, but you'll forget that once you step into the elegant dining room.  The food is superb!

We were very happy with our accommodations at the Marriott Resort and Spa.  We booked through Priceline and we got a waterfront room with a balcony, overlooking the pool.  I didn't know to ask for a waterfront room and was so glad that's how it worked out!  We stayed at the Marriott specifically to get Marriott Points, but if we went back, we'd opt to stay on Captiva.  

If Beach is your love language and gorgeous sunsets are your thing, Sanibel/Captiva should go on your list ... 
twenty-seven years of marriage isn't required to enjoy it, but I highly recommend it.