Fruit Pebbles at Midnight

It’s been a long day and it’s still not over.

As much as I would love to be swimming in the ocean of my dreams right now, I’m wide awake in front of a bowl of cereal with an Icy Hot patch on my shoulder and a hundred things on my mind.

Try fresh air and exercise they say.

I spent an hour outside today in 90+ degree heat pushing a no longer self-propelling lawn mower around the yard. I put up solar lights around the pool, sprayed the yard for bugs and tended to several plants in need of TLC.

Try finishing mundane chores for a sense of accomplishment and to keep you from feeling like there’s something still to be done they say.

I cleaned the house: dusted, vacuumed, swept, mopped, ran the dishwasher, emptied the dishwasher, did 3 loads of laundry (to include folding and putting them away), cleaned out the fridge, wiped down the kitchen counters, scrubbed the stove/oven, cleaned both bathrooms, washed all the bathroom and kitchen rugs, went to the grocery store , watered all the plants inside and out and gave four very smelly little dogs a bath.

Try a sleep aid they say.

Melatonin, valerian root, Benadryl, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Ambien, Lunesta, shots of Fireball. Been there, done those, have every one of the t-shirts.

Try a snack in case you’re hungry they say.

Hello!! Fruity Pebbles anyone?

Try writing down your thoughts they say.

And here we are, blogging as we munch on crispy, rainbow colors of sweetened rice cereal.

I have this problem every night. I’ve tried all of the tricks in the book including reading the book.

Thanks to insomia, I am currently on level one hundred and ninety of Cookie Jam Blast, I have completely planned out my granddaughter’s third birthday party, made and wrapped gifts for the remainder of this year’s birthdays & baby showers and fed my online shopping habit enough that I had to put myself on restriction.

My bills are paid, I have food in the fridge, a roof over my head and a car to drive. My family is healthy and happy.

Why can’t I sleep?

It’s like putting a toddler to bed , but instead of a miniature version of me saying I need water or I have to potty, it’s my brain saying psst, whatcha doing? why are the lights off? why are your eyes closed? why is the sky blue? why does the fish tank turn green? why won’t the riding mower work? when is the electrician coming? who is gonna fix the gate? who is my soulmate? where is my soulmate? where can I get some good schnitzel? who DOESN’T want to be a millionaire? where exactly is Waldo? and most importantly, who let the dogs out?

I’ve finished my cereal, cleaned the bowl and spoon, and brushed my teeth again.

My room is cool (a/c and ceiling fan going) and dark. My white noise machine is on thunderstorm mode. My sheets are clean and cozy.

I will finish this post, turn off the last light and lay very still, hoping the Force or the sleep fairy or aliens will come and take me me to dream land.

In other words, I’ll be playing Cookie Jam Blast and scrolling Facebook again in about 20 minutes.

Goodnight everyone.

Sweet Dreams.

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Camp Helen

When I first visited Camp Helen State Park near Panama City Beach, Florida, it was my birthday weekend. The agenda was all mine to do as I pleased. I love to go online when I travel and look up nearby attractions. Although I’ve been going to PCB for over 30 years, I knew there were still hidden gems to be discovered. I was rewarded with Camp Helen on this trip.

Admission was $4 for the day and although it was mid January, I was ready to explore and swim. Armed with a small backpack, I stepped out of the car and began to explore.

Camp Helen used to be a company resort for a mill in Alabama from 1945-1987. Several tiny pastel colored cabins sit atop the hill beside a modern visitor center. The old stable, kitchen and staff quarters are across the way with informative markers and audio clips describing how they were used in days past.

Just beyond the modern bathhouse is a gravel road that dips down the hill and joins a small bridge crossing over into the sand.

The round trip walk to the beach beach and back is only .6 miles and easy going, unless you are dragging a loaded beach cart with obstinate wheels, but that’s another story.

A sign warns of alligators in the coastal dune lake that is within the park. Sadly, I have not been lucky enough to have seen a gator here despite many visits, but I remain hopeful.

Once in the sand, the path is dotted with several well crafted benches made by a local Boy Scout for his Eagle project. As the mom of an Eagle Scout, I love coming across the projects of other Scouts.

The short walk is rewarded with one of the cleanest and prettiest beaches I’ve been to. The legendary white sand of the gulf is kissed by the waves on three sides and the tea colored waters of the lake on the fourth.

On my first visit, the lake and ocean melted into one another and swirled around the remains of a pier that had been damaged in a hurricane.

The waves were mild and the water was cold but that didn’t stop me from sinking my toes into the icy gulf. The temperature that day was near 60 but the water was a good bit colder. I had brought a plastic bag in case I found any shells scattered in the sand. Imagine my delight when I realized that there were indeed hundreds of shells along the beach and even more in the water. A sandbar made it possible to walk at least 40 feet out and soon I was up to my waist in the water and squealing like a kid at the treasures I was finding.

There were scalloped shells everywhere! Whole conch shells were less in number but I found several. I don’t know the names of all of them so I called them by their descriptions. There were cinnamon rolls, tiny cigars, little shelves and twisty shells.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed what looked like a sand dollar floating in the waves. It was!! I leapt and grabbed it in my hand. It was perfectly whole and about the size of a quarter. I was able to get it back home still in one piece. It now has a place of honor on a sliver of driftwood decorating my bedroom dresser.

An older couple, snowbirds, walked down the beach and seemed to enjoy seeing someone else get so excited about the shells. They had a contraption the man was using to scoop up sand and shells which he dumped on the shore for her to sift through. Other than this couple on their daily walk through the park and a lone woman doing yoga, the beach was mine.

There are walking trails at Camp Helen; some paved, some more natural. Kayaks and canoes are available for rental. There is no overnight camping other than the small staff that maintain the park.

I’ve returned to Camp Helen several times over the last two years and even came across the same snowbird couple again. I’ve visited during many different seasons and despite the waterline along the shore changing with each trip, it remains one of my favorite spots in the Florida panhandle.

Toys R Us

I don’t remember the first time I went to a Toys R Us store. I do know our town’s original Toys R Us was on Macon Road before it moved to the north side of town.

My most vivid memory of shopping at Toys R Us came on Christmas Eve. The kids were young (mid 1990’s) and were still impressionable enough that with a few prompts and making big show of the Toys R Us ad, their Dad and I convinced them that they wanted a 7 in 1 game table for Christmas. Yes, it was the adults who really wanted this but we made up for it in later years with game systems, cell phones and new bicycles.

I drew the short straw and headed out after the boys finally went to sleep to get the table. I arrived at the store just before midnight which at the time was when they were going to close. I remember being amazed that so many parents had waited until the last minute to shop. Technically I had done the same, but I was just after one item. There were parents running around pushing carts full of toys making it appear that they had been hiding under a huge rock for the last few months and had just emerged to realize that it was Christmas Eve.

I quickly grabbed one of the few remaining game tables and headed to the cash register swearing to never again be out shopping on Christmas Eve.

I know I must have been to Toys R Us many many times over the years but honestly, the only other big memory I have is the feeling of overwhelming relief at Thanksgiving a few years ago when we realized that our Black Friday shopping would not include standing in the line wrapped around the entire Toys R Us store. My sister, sister in-law and I did participate in that insane ritual when the kids were smaller but once my niece , who was the youngest grandchild, got her Fur Real pet, we were officially done.

The last time I really recall being in Toys R Us was in 2015 before my granddaughter was born. The baby shower registry was there so like the dutiful Gigi to be I went in and loaded up on the overpriced merchandise that my little princess could not do without.

It’s sad to see well established stores close down. Kmart and Sears are two others that come to mind. Like Toys R Us, their merchandise was priced higher than so many other stores for essentially the same merchandise. We have so many options these days for shopping, unlike years ago when we had one toy store, one discount store and Kmart still had a cafe and an Icee machine. It’s a shame that competition drove the prices down at my favorite stores and pushed the old giants out of business. Yes, that was sarcasm you read in my voice!

So long Toys R Us and don’t worry, I won’t ever grow up to the point that that I forget you.

95 and Winslow

Ever lived the words of a song at the exact moment that the song is playing?

I’ve done it twice and both times it was a surreal experience.

The first time, it was 2010 and I was riding north on Interstate 95 with my then fiancee. We were headed to my son’s graduation from boot camp at Parris Island, SC (Semper Fi). My fiancee always kept a pistol in the truck for protection. The radio was on a country station and Travis Tritt began to sing:

“Well it’s a long way to Richmond

Rolling north on 95

With a redhead riding shotgun

And a pistol by my side ”

Suddenly, I realized I was living the words to that song (Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde) at that moment as it played on the radio!! We weren’t going to Richmond, but everything else fit. It was one of those moments that you think back on in wonder at such a cool coincidence.

Fast forward to 2018 and my bucket list road trip across the country. A planned stop was Winslow, Arizona to stand on the famous corner. I didn’t expect the local gift shops to be playing non-stop Eagles hits but looking back, what else would they have been playing? I was looking at t-shirts trying to decide which one I couldn’t live without when “Take It Easy” began playing. I remember getting very still and then singing along until it got to the famous part about standing on the corner. I stopped singing and almost began to cry. It was amazing to be there in that moment. I think part of the emotion was the sadness that I would not ever see Glenn Frey perform with the Eagles and another part was because I was living out a dream stop from my bucket list. The ladies working in the store nodded and shared a smile. I would imagine they have seen similar reactions from a lot of visitors.

Suddenly, the choice of t-shirt was clear. I became the proud owner of an I Stood on the Corner in Winslow, AZ shirt. Outside I snapped several pictures of the corner and the girl in the flat bed Ford. Down the street seemingly out of nowhere there were four men on horseback. They rode up to the corner and onto the sidewalk. A photographer stepped out and began a photo shoot. I couldn’t resist the chance to get such a magnificent photo in this famous spot and I’m sharing it below. I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve been to Winslow and had that moment or if you have lived in the moment of another song as it played.

Take it Easy friends!

Tombstone

You’ve may have seen the 1993 movie Tombstone.

Kurt Russell, Bill Paxton and Sam Elliott as the Earp brothers.

Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

Cowboy boots and gunfights.

Did I mention Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday?!

I always wanted to visit Tombstone and got the opportunity a few months ago. The hotel I stayed in had saloon style doors in the bathroom and murals of both the good guys as well as Johnny Ringo on the outside walls.

The old part of Tombstone had stagecoach rides, costumed performers and historical buildings mixed in with a Harley Davidson store and other modern shops . Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure Harley’s came along way after the gunfight at the OK Corral.

I met a very friendly lady who was dressed up and standing in the street to advertise the evening’s ghost tour. She and her sister had a shop nearby.

I had a drink in the Crystal Palace Saloon where Wyatt, Doc, Virgil and Morgan once did the same. I doubt they had pineapple juice and grenadine in their whiskey like I did but I also wasn’t prone to challenge anyone to a gunfight at high noon either.

I bought a Tombstone Harley Davidson sticker and poker chip because I could.

I took pictures and went to a reenactment of the shootout at the OK Corral. It all happened in a much smaller area than you can imagine. The actors involved that day were talented and funny and stuck around afterwards for pictures and questions.

The ghost tour was promising so I signed up to ride around town after dark past the town’s most haunted locations. While we didn’t see any spirits or orbs on our tour, it was informative and interesting, especially the drive up to the infamous Boot Hill Cemetary where at one time, thousands of graves dotted the landscape. A tidbit shared with us was that the cemetary used to be a lot bigger but as the town grew buildings were placed over some of the grave sites. This fact made me more scared to enter the Family Dollar than the cemetary!

I was able to see the world’s largest rose tree and even bring home some cuttings which are so far thriving on my front porch. The tree was something to behold with it’s trunk being several feet around and it’s branches raised on trellis that stretched out over about a quarter acre of backyard.

The town itself was interesting and I learned a lot on my visit but the highlights of that trip were not in the old town itself.

The first highlight was sitting outside by the hotel fire pit around 11pm each night, listening to the wind blowing ( it was February). I liked to imagine that townspeople, mine workers, banditos and lawmen alike had spent time in the area sitting by a fire and enjoying the quiet of the night just as I was doing.

The second and most amazing highlight was driving out into the desert away from all artificial light and looking up at the sky. I had heard that the view of the stars in the dark was practically indescribable and it was so true. You could see so many more stars than anywhere else I have ever been. They seemed to be almost close enough to reach up and touch them. I could’ve sat there for hours just gazing at them.

Shooting stars blazed by too, prompting me to make several wishes. Of course I can’t say what I wished for, but I assure you I’m doing everything I can to make them all come true! This blog is a small part of that and I appreciate every one of you that takes the time to read and respond.

Azaleas

I mentioned before that my father had a strong negative impact on me. I have a lot of memories of different things he did or did not do. This one is what should have been a typical childhood chore but became something so much more.

My mother had a green thumb and our yard always had a huge garden and tons of flowers. As kids, we had to help out with planting, weeding, watering and picking everything.

We had what seemed like dozens of azaleas planted all over the yard. We had water hoses long enough to reach every corner, but when it came to the azaleas our father made me and my sister use a five gallon bucket to water each one. Every plant had to have the full five gallons every single day.

We hated this chore more than any other, so much in fact that neither my sister or I have ever planted azaleas in our yards as adults. It has been a running joke for years in our family.

Today while shopping I saw a beautiful pink azalea bush and had a moment of clarity.

I bought the azalea and planted it in my back yard. It’s going to be a symbol that I survived my childhood. It will get watered by the rain and if needed, by the water hose. If I thought it would live and grow in a five gallon bucket, I would have planted it in one to further emphasize my realization that it’s just a plant and I am becoming free from the emotional stress of years ago.

Galveston

My very first completely solo overnight trip at age 49.

Having driven 15 hours from Alabama to Texas and expecting things to go differently, I found myself thinking about what I wanted to do next. I looked at the map of Texas on my phone as I simultaneously wished to be at the beach. Then I saw it, Galveston. Just over a four hour drive from where I was AND on my lifelong bucket list mostly thanks to Glen Campbell. I grew up listening to him tell stories through his songs and Galveston was one that really resonated with me. It was settled, I was headed to Galveston.

I arrived later in the day, shortly before dark. I was tired and just wanted to relax so I sat at the hotel pool and ordered Italian from a place nearby that delivered.

The food was delicious and I nibbled on zeppole for dessert as I soaked in the tub back in the room. I finished my bath and crawled into bed hopeful that I might sleep but insomia once again had me up until early morning. I drifted off sometime after 4 am.

I had set an alarm for 8am, another for 9 am and a third for 10am. Not knowing when I would fall asleep, I figured I could “pick and snooze” in the morning based on how much sleep I’d had when each alarm rang.

10 am was the winner which is actually 2 hours more than I typically can sleep. I downed a Dr Pepper, applied sunscreen and was ready to explore.

I walked across the street from the hotel and down a short sandy road to the beach.

There were already a lot of people out enjoying the day; swimming, sunbathing, building sand castles. I decided to walk down the beach , snapping pictures of whatever caught my eye. A hermit crab curled up in his shell. A single rose that I imagine had been tossed into the waves and returned with the tide. The rocks of one of the jetties. A fisherman in a hat. Before I knew it, I was two and a half miles down the beach and near the Pleasure Pier amusement park which is seen the black and white photo below.

I looked up towards the seawall to see the gift shops and restaurants that pepper every beachside town. A giant sign above two surfboards caught my eye. BAR with an arrow pointing to the entrance below.

I trekked up the stairs of the seawall, crossed the street, and found an open air bar with an array of options including frozen drinks. I settled on an orange dreamsicle and a glass of water. It was amazing! Tasted just like the popsicles I liked as a kid. After drinking most of it while enjoying the banter of the bartenders and their manager who would randomly burst into song, I decided I would have another drink and order lunch. I sat for over an hour listening to music, looking out at the beach and enjoying the day. After lunch I visited a gift shop where the friendliest local worked. I bought a wooden and shell mermaid and a few smaller items.

I put the wrapped mermaid into my backpack with her exposed tail sticking out and started my walk back down the beach to the hotel, taking more pictures along the way. Seabirds perched on what looked like an old fence. A log covered in barnacles that had washed up while I was at lunch.

I stopped for a few minutes and tested out the water. It was a soft brown color along the shore but a beautiful blue/green about 100 feet out. I ventured in up to my waist and then thoughts of unseen sea creatures sent me back to my beach towel. The Texas sun quickly dried me off as I sat listening to the waves.

I grabbed my pack , reapplied sunscreen, and off I went again, looking for life guard stand #5 where I had entered the beach. Once there, I climbed the stairs to a large gift shop/restaurant/shower/restroom complex. I still needed a couple of Galveston magnets for my collection.

This gift shop was busier than the first but another friendly local yelled out as I passed him, “Looks like you caught yourself a fish there!” I turned around with a puzzled look then remembered the mermaid tail peeking out of my backpack. He rang up my magnets a few minutes later, asking where I was from. He was impressed that I was from so far away and asked what brought me to Galveston. I said “Glen Campbell” to which he nodded and smiled even wider.

He asked if I’d seen the sights and told me I needed to visit Moody Gardens and ride the Bolivar Ferry to see the dolphins. I decided to take his advice and after a quick shower I headed to Moody Gardens where I toured the Rainforest and the Aquarium. Both were fill of beautiful and interesting creatures and plants. I took about 200 more pictures between the two. I asked about good places to eat that had live music and ended up at The Spot which was actually 5 restaurants in one, all serving the same menu but with different settings. There was a standard sit down restaurant, an adult only bar with just appetizers , a counter to order food and seat yourself, a bar with live music and a smaller bar that looked out towards the beach and Pier. I chose the ocean view over the live music and found a tiny table. I ordered fried pickles, wings and a pina colada. Not just any pina colada. This one was the best I have ever had, narrowly knocking out the one I’d had at PF Chang’s years ago with an amaretto floater in top.

This pina colada at The Spot was served in an actual coconut that had just been cut open at the bar. It had pretty fruit garnish and a little paper umbrella that embodied that “you’re at the beach” vibe. Just as I was taking the first sip, Amarillo by Morning started playing. Ocean view, best drink ever and my favorite song of all time. This was a sign if I ever saw one. I was right where I needed to be. The food was great, the people were friendly and the music continued to impress with a mix of country, rock and easy listening. The sun went down and the rides on the Pier lit up in neon colors , prompting another picture.

I finished my meal and headed back to the hotel to end the night sitting by the pool until it closed for the night.

The following morning , I loaded the car, checked out of the hotel and set out for the Bolivar Ferry. The line wasn’t long but it was still about a 45 minute wait to drive onto the massive boat that would take us over across the bay ,promising a view of dolphins , a lighthouse and a grounded shipwreck along the way. Once on the ferry everyone got out of their cars to look for dolphins and the other sights. We were not disappointed as dolphins joined us to play in front of the boat as we passed the old shipwrecked boat and the lighthouse appeared ahead of us. Once reaching the other side, the road stretched out along the beach for miles before it slowly gave way to farmland and carried me down the road towards home. I was sad to be leaving the beach but feeling refreshed and proud that I’d spent two days on my first completely solo overnight trip. For someone who strongly dislikes being alone, I had not had a single moment of anxiety or loneliness.

Thank you Galveston!