Monday, October 30, 2017

Happy Halloween!

I’m writing today from 30,000 feet, in the dark at 6:30 AM EST. Dave, Mason, and I are on our way home from another awesome family vacation. This adventure was one more for the Partak Book of Epic Vacations. We traveled to Orlando and spent four days playing in the Universal Studios parks; Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, and their newest park, Volcano Bay, an amazing water park. October seems to be the month we typically travel as we also celebrate Mason’s birthday. Mason is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan and it just so happened that on Sunday, the Bucs were playing the Carolina Panthers, who happen to be Dave’s team. It all worked out so nicely, after our time in Orlando, we headed to Tampa Bay where Rod and Cat live, so we stayed with them for a few days. Mason, Rod and Dave went to the game on Sunday, and it made for the perfect family vacation. 

Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando
If you haven’t been to the Universal parks, they are worth your time and money. Keeping in mind, none of the big theme parks are cheap, there are ways to make your dollar stretch. We were able to get 4 day park hopper tickets for $218 each through the military. We typically take advantage of free breakfasts, we pick up snacks at a local grocery store to keep from paying the higher prices at the hotel, and refilling water bottles at drinking fountains saves dollars, not pennies over the course of a week. In the park, we invest in the refillable cup that later serves as a souvenir. The cup at Universal was $15 the first day and it was good for unlimited Icee’s and the very cool fountain Coke machines that have a gazillion drink combinations to choose from. We only bought one cup and we took turns choosing what to fill it with and we shared. The following days, it cost $8.50 to reactivate the cup, but understanding that drinks were $6-7 each, you can easily see the value of that initial $15 and then the $8.50. We spent $40.50 total but Mason alone refilled that cup more than 12 times alone over the course of the four days, at the lower price of $6, that would have been $72, each in a smaller serving size, and without Dave and I having had anything at all to drink. We didn’t worry too much about eating in the park, the fact of the matter is we planned to be on vacation so we budgeted to be able to get what we wanted even though the prices are stupid high. We also tend to have a day or two that we eat a little lighter in our room after a trip the grocery store. Cheese, crackers, salami, and some fruit will often be a nice break from all the go, go, go that a theme park vacation brings. We are a family of only three so it’s not as difficult to make these kinds of vacations happen, if we were a bigger brood, I’m sure they would be a little more challenging. My tips for saving money while still feeling like we are getting all the perks and fun out of our vacation are:
  • Reuse your water bottles, refill them at drinking fountains. 
  • Pick up snacks at a local grocery store.
  • Eat at least one smaller meal from the grocery trip in your room. 
  • Buy the refillable cup at the park and share one or two depending on the size of your family. 
  • If you can, make that grocery shopping trip to a WalMart as they typically carry licensed apparel for the theme parks. In our case in Orlando, they had a very extensive selection of Disney, Harry Potter, and Star Wars apparel and gifts at a fraction of the cost of the items in the parks.
  • The shopping trip to WalMart was equally fruitful in Tampa Bay as well, we were able to get Buccaneers, NFL licensed apparel and hats for more than half the cost at the stadium. Mason purchased a hat at the game and spent $25, there were two or three styles of official licensed Bucs ball caps at WalMart for just $9.47 each. 

Finally, I know kids get caught up in the excitement of the park and want to make a purchase, every family will handle that their own way. I’ve been able to help Mason see that so much of the stuff that is for sale is schlock that is an impulse purchase because we are all caught up and feeling stimulated by the sights and sounds of the park. The $15+ dollar thingy-mabob will very likely end up going to Goodwill or in the garbage within a few months. It simply won’t have the same appeal at home as it does in this moment at the park. The photos we take will be the souvenirs that will provide the most lasting and meaningful memories of our trip and time together. We try to have fun with our photos, getting creative, being silly, and not simply smiling for the camera. 

Today is Halloween and we will be home in time to get the rest of the decorations up, pumpkins carved, and some more candy bagged for our little ghosts and goblins who will be knocking on our door tonight. We are even more excited to see Spencer and Gunner, they really missed us, but I think we missed them more! Happy Halloween and remember, it’s not about the stuff in life, it’s about the experiences and the people we get to share them with. Now get ready, because tomorrow the holidays are officially here! 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Happy 14th Birthday Mason!

Where does the time go? This is said by moms, dads, and grandparents everywhere. October 20, 14 years ago, Julie and Dave were in Sacramento with me waiting for Mr. Mason to arrive. I'm not sure if Jules stayed until the after 2:00 AM arrival time, but of course Dave was there, and he will tell you all about the horror of me being filleted like a fish! It's funny now, but there were other complications that came with Mason's birth day. Those stories fall in with the hike on the fire trail to try to get him to come sooner, and me telling Dave, "He's coming, in the next 24 hours" and Dave freaking out because he wasn't due for another few weeks. You see, Dave had just gotten the call that he needed to complete paperwork to possibly deploy to Iraq, and, well, the next 24 hours were just not a good time for him. I've said it many times, babies come when babies are good and ready to come and 10/20/2003, "Mason Made" his grand entrance.
Dave did deploy, he was gone for the first 18 months of Mason's life, but it's all good. Mason is independent, smart, funny, compassionate, and you all know he can cook. Things work out, and I would not trade one minute of our life for something else, and I certainly don't think there could be something better.
Mason, you are incredible. You teach me how to be a better person every day, and you make me realize when I'm cutting corners or trying to justify taking the easy way. You say my words back to me when I need to hear them.
I can't wait to see what you do and where you go in life. I hope I get to tag along, just so I can smile and say, "I knew you would make it!" Go Mason! Don't listen to the haters, don't pay attention to the snide comments, the immature comments, or the old men, think to yourself...
"And I can see you years from now in a bar
Talking over a football game
With that same big loud opinion
But nobody's listening,
washed up and ranting
About the same old bitter things
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can't cook,
But all you are is mean
All you are is mean and a liar and pathetic
And alone in life and mean, and mean, and mean, and mean..."

You are better than that even at your worst, and if you can hear me now, you will hear me always remind you, "How they behave speaks to who they are, and how we behave speaks to who we are." Be better, do better, make your dreams come true. Happy 14th Birthday sweetie, you are the light of our lives! XOXO

As a post script to this post that I penned on Mason's birthday on social media, we have a handful of grown men in our community who think it is funny to pick on and say mean things about Mason. All stemming from me asking them to please keep their "big brother" like jabs and put-downs to private family gatherings. Yes, I know men pick on each other, it's how they think they are pushing each other to be better, or toughening each other up for the real world. Well, I don't particularly like it, especially when it comes in large doses, frequently. The mean lyrics are in reference to the antics that these men post on social media and clearly seem to have nothing better to do with their time and attention. Years from now, I want Mason to recall why I wrote this and that I mean what I tell him, "Mason, I will always have your back, and you are already a better man than all three of those men combined."

Monday, October 9, 2017

When Words Hurt

I've been informed that I'm a fraud and I am not who I represent myself to be. I put forth in my weekly Monday Motivator and on social media an image of a better human being than the one I really am. This from my family, my family that does not live with me, near me, or even within 2 hours of me. Family that presumes to know my relationship with my dad while growing up (again, we saw each other twice a year and NEVER at our house), and today suggested that I drop the facade and let people see the real me. Okay, here I am...bewildered, confused, and hurt. Interestingly, a similar situation cropped up many years ago when I wrote about feeling like I did not fit in with my family, I felt like I saw life through lenses that they somehow could not see through. That post led to the idea that I believed I was better than the rest of my family and putting it in writing in my weekly blog was a slap in the face to the whole family. Of course there was no mention of this to me, no conversation asking for a clarification of my post, just disconnection from a number of family members. At some point when I asked about how these people were, the truth came out, and again, here I am trying to figure out where the train went off the tracks. It gets old, trying to figure out where you stand with people all the time, are we good? Are we not good? if we're not good, can I know why? This is why 8 years ago when I lost my most favorite dog, I mourned for months, cried real, painful, uncontrollable tears for months, yet have nary shed a tear for the humans who have passed, who called themselves my family. I don't know how to be any more authentically me than I am every day - for better and for worse. Through my eyes, it seems feeling comfortable writing my truth, how I feel even when it's not the popular opinion, when I feel I'm not fitting in, etc would make me pretty darn authentic. I'm sad, but I am saying some prayers tonight for those people who feel that I am the one who is strong enough to bear their pain. 

The really unfortunate part of this whole situation, and there are many, is that the information that lead to this upset was brought about by a 14 year old girl who saw a photo on social media and made an assumption about it. She went and told her mom who believed her assumption, no questions asked, just, “Yep, if little Suzie said it’s so, it must be so.” This triggered an anger in the woman who then communicated all her anger and vitriol to another family member. Well, if woman one says it’s true, woman two believes it must be true as well. By the time I even found myself in the middle of a swarm of stinging bees, it was too late, the story they had created had taken on a life of it’s own. I behaved badly, I was rude to a woman (woman number two) I love dearly and even hung up on her. I know that hurt her deeply and I’m sorry I did that though I fear had I kept talking at that level of anger, I would have been sorrier about the things I likely would have said. I also sent a venomous communication to the woman who's daughter started all of this. I’m still mad. I know it’s not me, but I’m in it. I sincerely was trying to do something good and helpful and then this? Well, the truth is that this family feud is fueled by many years of the same kinds of assumptions and decisions coming from the same group of people that were hurtful to the rest. I feel like one part of our family collected anything there was to be had while the rest of us, even in the final hours paid the bills. Read that how you will, literally or figuratively, it just may be a bit of both.

I'm pretty sure this post is not going to sit well with the people in my family any more than anything else I have to offer, so just like any other day, I'm going to speak my truth and if anyone wants to talk about why I see things the way I do or feel the feelings I feel, I'm happy to discuss it. In the meantime, I'm going to get out in the world and try to make a difference, if only for one or two people, I want to leave a positive mark on today, tomorrow, this week, and more. 

Monday, October 2, 2017


It's amazing to me how caught up we as humans get in trivial nonsense. I've often said, "I hope it won't take a tragedy to make you all see how good we have it." Even now, in light of over 50 lives lost, over 400 injured, and everyone who was at that concert last night that will live with PTSD and the images and events of the night playing over and over in their heads, people are fighting about gun control, mental illness, and how politicians are using this horrific event to be heard and for personal gain.
Our world is fucked up, there is no doubt about that. There is a small population that divide the majority, that try to make us hate each other for our differences, when in fact, all I keep hearing is how every one came together last night, helped each other without question of race, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation - people helped other people.
If you find joy in hurting others, in making jokes that are not jokes at all, in laughing with the bullies, please unfriend me. It's not necessary for me to see Karma come full circle for you, but I will rest assured that it will.
With the awful tragedy today, I'm posting some visuals of some of the happenings of my week, things that make me smile.

This was a memory from a few years ago, but I love it even more today!