“Did You Lose a Tooth?”

IMG_3649I and a group of classmates from Lakeland High School – Suki Westra Janisch, Scott Schiltz, Shawn Eady Wilson, Nancy Calabro Stone, Tracy Snyder, and Greg Stevens recently attended the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Our small group traveled from throughout the state to attend the half-day, outdoor concert that featured a lineup of bands culminating with The Doobie Brothers band as the headlining act. Afterwards, the majority of us ended up spending the night at Scott’s home in Clearwater, Fla.44522685_10217543396243951_827223079305347072_o (2)

I’ve known Scott since he transferred to Crystal Lake Junior High School from a school in Miami. He arrived on the scene with his Donny Osmond-like, day-glow white teeth, flashy clothes, and fun and outgoing personality. Scott and I quickly became friends that now treat each other like a brother and sister. We ended up going through high school together and both graduated from the University of Florida. He went on to become a successful attorney and currently owns a beautiful two-story home right on Tampa Bay.

To say, Scott’s abode is clean and nice is an understatement. He never has clutter anywhere when we visit and is always a gracious host serving guests the most delicious artisanal cheeses and gourmet meals that he cooks himself. Scott converted an entire room in his home into a bar he named “Cross-eyed Mary’s” where friends gather and much drinking and laughter takes place. His latest addition to the bar is a “Shotski” – an old wooden ski from Cypress Gardens that he skillfully converted into a vehicle that allows four people to drink a shot at the same time. He was excited to have us try it out and I, being a light drinker, even got in on the action taking shots from the Shotski with the others.

IMG_2015Having the bar in his home for many years, Scott has been gifted and purchased what seems like every brand and type of alcohol and all the bar accessories to go along with it. When you enter Cross-eyed Mary’s, it’s a step down from his living quarters and you get the impression you’re entering a bar in some small Mexican town. The bar’s décor is mainly Mexican themed with the walls painted yellow, red, and green and decorated with Mexican throws on chairs, a cactus plant, clusters of hanging dried peppers, shelves overflowing with bottles of hot sauce, a Mexican wrestling mask, and red chili pepper lights hanging over the bar.

But Cross-eyed Mary’s décor doesn’t stop there and also includes an eclectic assortment of objects you’d possibly find in a bar from Key West as well including a peeing cherub statue, a candelabra with years of melted wax built up on the bar underneath it, a bra for a three-boobed person, dollar bills stapled to the ceiling, a “dancing pole,” and a blow-up doll that gets a new outfit from time-to-time. There’s also a variety of hats, wigs, and masks that everyone dons to add to the spirit of the bar’s patrons and possibly to reflect how much they’ve had to drink. While the hats are too numerous to name they include everything from a Bobby hat, a leopard-print cowboy hat, and Mexican sombrero to a pirate hat, leather biker hat, and a beaded Pope’s hat that has seen better days. And seriously, you are invited to fill in the blanks between those extremes with every type of hat imaginable. The wigs also vary from a sexy blonde bob and a selection of mullets to gold- and pink-tinsel wigs. It’s always fun to hang out in the bar, drink, and catch up with friends and to get silly as everyone tries on the hats, masks, and wigs and takes fun photos. The nights spent in Cross-eyed Mary’s bar always run very late, get quite crazy, and are often the highlight competing with the main event and reason we gathered in Clearwater in the first place. This particular night was no exception.

On this visit, Nancy was the first to awake and head downstairs and onto the porch to enjoy the view of Tampa Bay, smoke her cigarettes, and spend some quiet time reading a book. When I arrived downstairs she came in from the porch and casually said, “I just had something really weird happen to me.

“I was putting on my shoes and I heard this noise and looked down and there was this tooth lying on the floor.” She admitted in her slightly hungover state that she had actually run her tongue around her mouth to see if she had lost any teeth.

Nancy then inquired if I had lost a tooth and, of course, thank God, I had not as it’s a strange fear of mine. But being blessed to have a dentist – Andreina Alarcon, DDS – as my goddaughter, I knew I didn’t have that worry. But still, there’s that split second when you, too, run your tongue around in your mouth to take inventory of your teeth. Shawn, who was still dozing on a couch, heard our discussion and joined in the laughter and I am thinking that she too, instinctively, might have also run her tongue around her teeth to check for any gaping hole where a tooth might have fallen out.


Photo downloaded from Internet and not actual tooth found.

Nancy had placed the back molar upon the counter and it actually had signs of a small, unfilled cavity on its side. We three proceeded to laugh about it and to wonder who had a crazy enough night in Cross Eyed Mary’s to have lost a tooth. The tooth was left on the counter as we all departed to the porch. Nancy continued the discussion wondering if perhaps it had become lodged in the grooves in the bottom of her shoe the night before. I seriously questioned that idea as I am convinced that with a tooth of that size and with its overall hardness that she surely would have felt it when she was walking along.

Next to rise and come down the circular staircase were Tracy and Greg. And Nancy again questioned if either of them were missing a tooth, relayed the story of its discovery, and everyone laughed at the absurdity of it all once again. Tracy is the quintessential mom to everyone. She is always cleaning and straightening up behind us all and she instinctively wiped down the already cleaned counter when she came downstairs. She confessed that she thought the tooth was a piece of old popcorn and had thrown it into the trash.

By the time the news of the found tooth had spread amongst the early risers, our host Scott, typically and always the last to awake (even sometimes after we’ve all departed for home), came downstairs. And I asked the big question of the morning – “Did you lose a tooth?” His expression was priceless as we relayed the story about the lost tooth. And while he laughed about it, he didn’t think we should retrieve it from the trash as he was overly grossed out and didn’t see the value of its humor being located someplace in Cross-eyed Mary’s.

IMG_2037 (2)And while we may never know the owner of the found tooth, we all knew we had yet another great story from a visit to Scott’s to laugh about and share with others for years to come. And I know, somewhere in a little bar in Mexico, after a heavy night of drinking, someone got into a fight and lost a tooth. And that someone just might be happy that it was the tooth with the cavity and that they would no longer have to visit a dentist to get it filled. But there’s also that patron that found that tooth and took inventory of his own teeth before asking, “¿Perdiste un diente?”

#HangingWithHighSchoolFriends #LostTooth #TooMuchToDrink #MexicanBar #CrazyNight #BestFriendsEver #CrazyStory



It’s a Zip!

I'm ready to zip off.

It’s heart pounding…it’s exhilarating…and it’s adventurous fun like you can’t imagine. After a visit to Zip Orlando Canopy Tours, I can now cross another item off my Bucket List…you know the list of things you’d like to do or goals you’d like to achieve before you die.

We're all harnessed and ready to go.
(L-R: Mary, Don, Dane, and Julia)

I, along with my boyfriend Don Welch, his son Dane, and his daughter Julia Presler (visiting from Hawaii) arrived at the nondescript building of Zip Orlando Canopy Tours and signed the typical liability releases indicating we wouldn’t sue if anything went wrong.

Zip Orlando’s  zip  lines are strung in the tree canopy out on an actual working cattle ranch in Kissimmee, Fla. The entire zip experience includes eight different cables averaging 65’ in height and varying in lengths from 225’ to 950’ long. There is no age limit, however they do have weight limitations from a minimum of 70 pounds to a maximum of 270 pounds. All tours are completely guided and there are no motorized machines for propulsion. The individual slant of the lines and your body weight and movements zip you along.

Julia excited to start the climb.

The tour’s numerous platforms, zip lines, and suspension bridges are intimately surrounded by an assortment of native trees and Florida wetlands. Overall the course includes eight lines,  totaling a mile of zipping cables suspended in the woods at the tree tops, along with three suspension bridges for a total of more than 300 feet of bridges. Zip Orlando offers daily and nightly tours with night groups receiving glow sticks for use on the glide underneath the stars and/or the moon. Due to its popularity, Zip Orlando requires advance reservations. They also require everyone to wear closed-toed shoes and pants or long shorts for safety and personal comfort in the harness straps.

Climbing to the top.

For those of you wondering if it’s safe…don’t worry. Safety is paramount to Zip Orlando and its staff. According to their Web site, Zip Orlando is part of a larger network of canopy tours owned, operated, or licensed by parent company Experience Based Learning, Inc. (EBL).  EBL is  recognized as the largest installer and operator of tours within the United States.  Zip Orlando is EBL’s only licensed tour in Florida as the requirements for training, operation, and safety are more stringent than other tours.  Zip Orlando operates to meet or surpass the Professional Ropes Course Association’s safety standards for Canopy Zip Line Tours. Prior to opening, the Zip Orlando course received a third-party certified Professional Engineer inspection and also passed inspection by the Florida Bureau of Rides. In other words, it’s a safe experience.

Don exuded confidence and fun.

We scheduled our zip experience for 4 p.m., however, due to nerve delays in the group ahead; we didn’t actually start out until closer to 4:30 p.m. We paired with six additional customers and our group of 10 climbed into Zip Orlando’s van and headed two miles down the road to a ranch owned and operated by the driver Erica’s family. Erica indicated her husband’s family have owned the land for many years with her son representing the ninth generation to actually live and work on the ranch. Along the way, she reviewed safety instructions and amiably chatted and answered various questions. Erica was great at calming our nerves.

Julia zips away.

Erica dropped our group off at an outbuilding on the ranch where we met additional Zip Orlando staff who helped everyone gear up in helmets, harnesses, and straps that included heavy-duty clips. Once more, a Zip Orlando staff member delivered  almost verbatim the same safety instructions imparted by Erica:  “Under no circumstances are you to grab the overhead zip line. If you grab it in front of yourself, you risk the possibility of having your fingers amputated. If you grab it behind yourself, you receive a free x-ray as it will slice your fingers down to the bones.” He also imparted that when we got out on the lines, that we should listen carefully to the instructions from our Zip Guides and “just have a lot of  fun.” Fortunately, once we got started, we quickly discovered there was never a sensation of actually wanting to grab the zip lines overhead.

Don and I stylin' in our safety helmets.

Once geared up, we walked a short distance to a set of open-grated stairs leading up to an open-grated platform high off the ground. Don stepped up to the plate and volunteered to go first and began climbing the 50 stairs to the first platform behind our Zip Guide named Dave. Dave instructed everyone to wait until the individual ahead had cleared two sets of  stair landings before we each started our own ascents. Looking upwards, I thought the platform at the top looked really high up; especially from my viewpoint standing on the ground.

Beautiful and fearless Julia.

I won’t lie…I was a bit nervous once I completed climbing the stairs and stood on the open platform with its bird’s eye view of the ground. Aligned with the tree tops, we could look down at our feet straight to the ground below. My senses were definitely awake and heightened at this point. I don’t know if my heart was pounding from the workout walking up the six flights of stairs or from the nervous realization at exactly how high up we were and that the platform had absolutely no rails. I think most people have a natural fear of heights to varying degrees and I am no exception.

Dane excited and nervous about the heights.

Friendly and trusty Dave greeted everyone at the top and efficiently clipped us to safety lines as we each ascended  the platform. The last on to the platform was Laura, our second Zip Guide. She is  small in stature, but makes up for it with a huge personality and joie de vivre. Both were young, exuberant, and promoted confidence in each of us as we individually approached zip lining with a combination of excitement and nervousness. A quick poll indicated everyone in our group were “Zip Virgins.” Dave and Laura reviewed the safety instructions once again and Dave provided a first-hand demonstration as he zipped over to the next platform to await our arrivals. He yelled out, “Clear to zip” indicating it was now was our turn to go.

Don shows off his newly acquired zip skills.

Don was first in our group to take off. Laura unhooked his clip from the safety line and attached it to the zip line trailing off to the next platform. I reached over and gave him a reassuring hug as he quickly and confidently stepped off the platform, let go of the hold line, and took off.  Anyone witnessing Don’s departure would have sworn he wasn’t a newbie as he made it look amazingly easy to step off a platform approximately 70’ in the air suspended on a wire by a clip and a few straps and glide off over the tree tops. At that point, it was obvious that the reassuring hug was more for me than for him.

I'm excited for the next line.

Next off was Dane. Even at 19, he isn’t embarrassed or shy to admit he has a genuine and major fear of heights. Earlier standing next to Dane on the first platform while waiting for the others to climb up, I noted his nervousness and white face. Neither had faded as he tentatively stepped forward to get hooked to the zip line. I even  thought to myself, “Oh God, this is not helping to calm me down.” I noticed he briefly hesitated to collect himself and took off without any problems. Next up, was his beautiful and fearless sister Julia. Excited and animated, she was ready to get the show on the road. Julia took off with a big smile on her face with absolutely no hesitation.

(L-R) Julia, Dane, and Don share their excitement.

I was next in line to go. For some reason, watching Don’s, Dane’s, and Julia’s departures provided me with an inner confidence as I witnessed no one died..no one had any sort of incident or accident…and no one had even let out a fearful scream. They actually looked like they all really enjoyed the experience. Laura expertly hooked me to the zip line and called out “Ready to zip!”  and Dave responded with “Clear to zip!” That was my cue. I took a deep breath to calm myself, leaned back into my  harness, let go of the hold line, and sailed off.

Father and daughter ready to race on a dual line.

I immediately became calm as I truly felt safe and secure. I let the exhilaration of being up high, zipping fast, and the feel of the wind whipping on my body and face take over. I did it! I conquered a fear and I had won. I had a huge smile on my face, my body pumped with adrenaline, and I remember thinking, “Damn, this is fun…REALLY, REALLY FUN!” I also remember mentally singing, “ZIP-a-dee-doo-dah, ZIP-a-dee-ay, my, oh my what a wonderful day!” with quite a bit of emphasis on the “Zip.” The experience truly makes you feel kid-like and leaves you wanting to giggle and spontaneously scream “Whoo-hoo!”

As we each came to the end of the zip line, Dave expertly steered and guided us safely on to the next platform. He unhooked us from the zip line and connected our clips to safety lines. As we waited for the rest of our group to zip on over, Don, Dane, Julia, and I animatedly shared our excitement and celebrated that we had all faced our fears and seized the moment. We couldn’t wait to get on the next line and to experience it once again.

Laura safely hooks Don on to the next line.

We watched from afar as each person in our group gathered the confidence to step off the initial platform and let go on to the zip line. An Indian couple in our group seemed the most hesitant and I believe the woman truly never got over her nerves at initially stepping off each platform. But, she never quit and always had a big smile at the end of the line as she arrived to the next platform.

The slant of the individual zip lines and the weight of each rider creates varying speeds as you glide along. After getting over initial fears, everyone gained confidence and learned various tricks of tucking, twisting, turning, and bouncing to zip across the lines even faster. We learned individual speeds on the zip lines can reach 30 mph and we were all determined to hit that mark. We soon began cheering and encouraging everyone in our group and even yelling “Go Uncle Kenny!” along with his niece. There are several platforms with dual lines that allowed us to race against each other which added to the overall excitement and fun.

Dane and I ready to race on a dual line.

About halfway through the experience, we zipped down to the ground for a water break. After the short break, we all climbed another set of stairs with 70 steps and continued our zip tour. To add to the fun, Laura and Dave encouraged everyone to tell jokes on one platform and to loudly sing a song or make animal noises as we zipped off on another line. We also coordinated screaming out to the another group several lines behind us.

Sprinkled amidst the zip lines are two suspension bridges that require running or walking across. The first bridge sort of undulated up and down and the second sways back and forth. At the first bridge, Dane, determined to race as fast as possible to the next platform, departed before Julia. Julia quickly foiled his plan by encouraging Laura to join her in jumping up and down when he reached the halfway mark. The undulating bridge made it next to impossible for him to race off to the safety of the platform.

The first bridge to conquer.

Dane zips off to the next platform.

On the second bridge, Julia and Dane were behind me on the bridge swinging back and forth,   determined to make sure we all had a highly swaying and wild ride. And did we ever! I was thankful we were all clipped to safety lines and really had nothing to worry about. I also have to confess that the bridges were my least favorite part of the overall experience; however, they challenged each of us to step out of our comfort zones and experience something new and confidence building.

Dane exits the landing platform for our break.

The views on the zip lines and its platforms were spectacular and you truly feel as if you are one with nature. You can see for miles up in the tree tops and out to the distant horizon as you take in the natural beauty and splendor of the Florida landscape. At one point, we encountered an owl that flew in and sat on a tree limb right underneath the zip line. A group member riding the line actually lifted his feet to clear the bird by what appeared as a mere four feet. The bird spread its wings and majestically took off for its nest with two babies in the tree top about 20’ away from our landing platform. It was an amazing sight…especially for a bird-lover such as myself.

"Whoo hoo!"

By  now the sun had gloriously set and the daylight was fading fast. The zip experience is a bit different in the dusk as the trees and their shadows take on muted colors and differing shapes. At this point, we were more focused on the sensation of zipping as opposed to the views. As we reached the last platform, complete darkness arrived as we raced on our last line, a dual line,  down to the ground with two guides wearing red helmet lights and carrying flashlights to safely guide our way.

We were now all confident in our abilities, unaware of, or ignoring, the heights  and totally dreading the end of such an amazing and fun experience. It truly was an experience of a lifetime and a memory that will last with me forever.

I can’t honestly say that I have taken the time to actually write out a formal Bucket List, but I do know zip lining has been on my mental list for some time. I’d definitely encourage everyone to add it to your Bucket List and to visit Orlando Zip Canopy Tours or a local zip line tour in your area. I’d also recommend that you check out their Web site prior to making reservations as they seem to regularly offer various specials and discounts. I’d also like to advise you to learn the words to “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” as you just might want to sing those during your zip adventure too!

Our happy group on the last platform.
(L-R) Don, Mary, Julia, and Dane.

A Chocolate Birthday Party? Oh Yes!

Don proudly displays his chocolate creations.

Chocolate. That simple word evokes pleasant thoughts, desires, and cravings for most people. But there are individuals who are truly addicted to chocolate and my boyfriend Don Welch is definitely one of those people.


Don’t get me wrong, Don is definitely a man’s man, but I truly believe I have seen him actually go weak in the knees for chocolate. He can consume an entire bag of chocolate without blinking an eye. So for every special occasion (and some not so special), I’ve gifted him with chocolates. Walking earlier this year with Don to the Starbucks in Dr. Phillip’s Marketplace, I discovered Farris and Foster Chocolates. On that particular day, we headed out to get Don his coffee fix – but that’s another addiction story altogether.

Shelbi funneling chocolate into a mold.

I remarked, “Don, look…a chocolate store!”  And Don commented that he had on a previous occasion witnessed a group of women carrying presents entering that store. I walked over and peered in through the front window and saw a child’s birthday party in progress along with signage advertising Chocolate Parties. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I already knew a Chocolate Party at Farris and Foster Chocolates would be in my future.

A Chocolate Party allows you and your friends to become chocolatiers. You get the opportunity to play with dark, milk, and white chocolate making your own creations including molded chocolates, truffles, chocolate cups, and chocolate-dipped items. Farris and Foster Chocolates offer different types of parties including Family Night, Girls’ Night Out, Date Night, Kids’ Birthday Parties, and even Corporate Team Building.

With Don’s birthday fast approaching, I broached the idea of having a chocolate party with his daughter Jocelyn Limerick who at the time was visiting sunny Florida from her winter-seized home in Mountain Home, Idaho.

I was searching for something new and different to do for his birthday…something that we could all enjoy and that would make him feel special. And I couldn’t imagine a better way to abate a chocolate addiction than to experience a Chocolate Party at Farris and Foster Chocolates. So Jocelyn and I visited the store to get the details and explore if it was something that we thought Don might be interested in.

Don thanks Jocelyn for his birthday surprise.

The store clerk was friendly and gave us a flyer outlining the costs and provided us with a sample of the chocolate. What a great advertising ploy…one bite of the yummy chocolate and we both knew we wanted to schedule a party. However, we still needed to convince Don’s 18-year-old son Dane that it was a good idea. He was already heavily campaigning to either go bowling or paint-balling for his dad’s birthday.

I was pleasantly surprised when Dane got on board with the chocolate party idea without much convincing. Not surprisingly, Don’s children inherited the same chocolate addiction and Dane is no exception.

Don’s birthday arrived and we cooked a special meal at home and headed out to Farris and Foster Chocolates. We didn’t tell Don in advance where we were going and he was genuinely surprised when we pulled into the Dr. Phillip’s Marketplace and headed for the chocolate store.

Jon Foster Lanenga and his wife Teri are big stars of the Chocolate Party. Foster presents the official Dog and Pony Show demonstrating how to make the different types of chocolates, how the conveyor belt works, and how to become expert “drizzlers.” “You just fling it and don’t worry about making a mess.” Teri serves as a sort of Vanna White assisting during his introduction by holding up different items as well as encouraging and helping everyone throughout the party.

Jocelyn is all smiles making chocolate.

We all donned aprons, hats, and gloves, and dove right in. Our first chore had us creating fun names to write on both sides of our hats. Minutes later, we sported names, many with pirate overtones, that included: “Donny Two Swords” and “Bill Clinton” for Don; “Lieutenant Dan”  and “Dane-o-matic” for Dane; “I Am The Shelbinator” for Shelbi Sellers (Dane’s girlfriend at the time), ” Captain Jocelyn” and “Arg…Matey” for Jocelyn; and “Mary Sugar Pistols” and “I’m With the Birthday Boy!!” for myself.

To make our chocolate creations even more appetizing, Farris and Foster Chocolates offer four towers packed with a wide variety of goodies to fill, mix in with, or decorate the chocolate. The offerings are extremely numerous and include: macadamias, pistachios, almonds, gummy worms, cherries, Rice Krispy squares, toffee, marshmallows, Twinkies, Oreos, Nutter Butters, pretzels, graham crackers, coconut, raspberries, blueberries, various sprinkles, cookie crumbs, assorted dried fruits, and caramels. There are also trays of truffle filling (heavy cream and chocolate mixed with other flavorings) including cinnamon, Tabasco (yes, Tabasco!), passion fruit, pumpkin, raspberry, and Amaretto. The towers are loaded to the brim and you are limited only by your imagination.

Dane intricately decorating his chocolates.

We all had a surprising amount of fun. Dane jumped right into creating chocolates and shocked us by quickly making up an entire tray of chocolate peanut butter cups. He then spent quite a bit of time intricately decorating each chocolate cup with different toppings and drizzles. Shelbi and Jocelyn selected cat molds (from the more than 1500 molds available) and mixed the white and milk chocolate together to create “chocolate calicos.” Don and I both made a wide variety of chocolates including our own personal versions of Almond Joys, Heath Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Turtles. All ours lacked were the printed wrappers.

"Look...we made chocolate cats!"

Fun jazz music filled the air and there were plenty of samples to eat throughout the evening. For Date Night, they dim the over head lights and turn on twinkle lights to add to the romance. You’re invited to bring in your own drinks and food and the party at the table next to ours sipped wine and even danced with each other throughout the evening.

Don and I proudly display our creations.

At the end of the night, Foster weighs your chocolate and charges by the pound with a discount provided for each pound past the first one. Looking around the room, everyone was happy and smiling and appeared thrilled at walking out with handmade chocolate creations.

All told, we spent approximately an hour-and-a-half at the store, but the eating of our chocolates went on for days. Everyone admitted they had a fun time and we all bragged about our chocolate-making skills.

Foster, The Master Chocolatier.

Farris and Foster Chocolates has two locations in Orlando. The larger, original store on New Broad Street in Baldwin Park, and the store we visited in the Dr. Phillip’s Marketplace off of Sand Lake Road. If you are looking for something new, different, fun, and yummy, make reservations for a Chocolate Party. If you’re not that adventurous, you can also stop by their stores and purchase pre-made chocolates. You won’t have as much fun, but your chocolate will certainly be just as delicious.

(L-R) Don, myself, Jocelyn, Shelbi, and Dane are all now proud chocolatiers.

The two best things about our Farris and Foster Chocolate Party included: 1) The smile on Don’s face as we fed his chocolate addiction and made him feel special on his birthday; and 2) Foster informed us at the beginning of the party that our chocolate creations had absolutely no calories.

Ozzie – Whose Cat is He Really?

Ozzie is a short-haired tiger cat with a personality to fit a Rock Star. He’s now only a few months away from his first birthday and, quite frankly, has quite a few of us wrapped around his little toes with their extremely sharp nails.

My boyfriend Don Welch’s son Dane and his then girlfriend Shelbi Sellers acquired Ozzie from the SPCA of Central Florida. Upon his arrival, Ozzie was a precocious kitten bravely exploring his new surroundings and getting to know his new “family.”

From Day One, Dane and Shelbi rough-housed with Ozzie to the point that sometimes I cautioned them about being too rough with such a small kitty. However, Ozzie never complained and seemingly enjoyed the wrestling and relentless chasing, and he always came back for more.

Ozzie sleeps with Dane at night and Don and I developed the habit of letting let him out of Dane’s bedroom to visit with us in the mornings. He is quite attached to Don and loves to lick his morning beard and offer occasional love bites. I think Ozzie likes the feel of Don’s whiskers against his rough tongue. At night, he also likes to snuggle with Don in their favorite chair as he watches TV. He even allows Don to trim his nails without too much struggling which has become a blessing in saving his leather furniture from scratches.

In the mornings, Ozzie also makes time to snuggle with me as I drink my hot tea. It’s our special time prior to his going out  on to the back porch to explore the outside world and stalk squirrels through the pool screening. Out of everyone, I am the chief cat player and spend countless amounts of time on the floor tempting Ozzie with his many cat toys. I also pose my hand like a cat claw in the air in front of his face and taunt him to choose just the right moment for an aggressively friendly attack.

Shelbi had a habit of greeting Ozzie by capturing him and flipping him upside down. I think he actually likes that view of the world as he generally tolerated her affectionate back flips.

As he grew and matured into a teenaged cat, Ozzie demonstrated a desire to expand his world outside of the house by escaping at every opportunity. He’d sit by the door and race out through our legs and climb up the nearest tree. Invariably, he’d select the most inconvenient times to escape as it usually occurred when we are all rushed to get somewhere. Many times, he delayed departures while we coaxed him down from trees or tracked him down to lure him back into the house.

One particular night, Ozzie ventured out and we all worried when no one could find him. The next morning, he popped out from underneath Dane’s car in the driveway. Another night, he escaped without anyone’s knowledge and could not be found. The next morning, I heard mysterious meowing and he sauntered in the opened front door like it was normal being out all night.

On probably the coldest night of the year, he escaped through a hole he’d punched in the pool screening. When Don and I arrived home, Dane frustratingly informed us that Ozzie was out and that he had given up on his search for him.

Don and I bundled up and braved the cold as we valiantly went out to search for the little escape artist. We both worried about him spending the night out in the freezing temperatures. Fortunately, we located Ozzie casually walking along the top of the fence in the back yard as if he didn’t have a care in the world. We’ve since progressed to allowing Ozzie to venture out of the house into the outside world on his own which makes for easier departures.

Look closely...there's Ossie under the tree.

During the holidays, we put up the Christmas tree and Ozzie immediately thought it was his personal, indoor play tree. He climbed up it every chance he got and repeatedly knocked it over and into the wall. Don purchased a new string of LED lights for the tree and Ozzie immediately chewed through the strand leaving the bottom half of the tree dark for the remainder of the holidays.

We left the tree up and undecorated with the hopes that its novelty would soon wear off. After more than a week, I eventually braved what I thought would be an impending disaster and decorated the Christmas tree. Ozzie immediately took up residence underneath it and became fascinated and amused not so much now with climbing the tree, but playing with the ornaments and batting them off every chance he got. Throughout the holidays, I constantly picked up the scattered ornaments and redecorated the tree.

Ozzie’s rare gift is his innate ability to make all of us feel extremely special. The minute we walk through the door we all call out “Kitty! Kitty!” or “Ozzie!” to gain his attention and to let him know we are home. We each talk about him as “my cat” and really enjoy our individual interactions with him. He is truly loved by all and we playfully argue over who he actually belongs to.

On paper, Ozzie officially belongs to Dane and I believe that he truly thinks he is Dane’s cat. But I know in my heart that he also believes he is Don’s cat, and Shelbi’s cat, and my cat too!

Magical Moments in Time

Jocelyn & Travis Limerick head off to their new life together.

We’ve all experienced them…moments in time that are truly magical that we will remember for the rest of our lives. I recently shared one such moment with my boyfriend Don Welch and it’s one that I will never forget.

BeckenRidge Vineyard in Dallas, Ore.

The air was crisp and cool and lacking of the typical Florida humidity that I am used to at home. The sun had just set and the sky filled with a soft light lacking the brilliance of the shining sun.

The day had been hectic and filled with lots of activity and a range of emotions. Don dressed in his best suit adorned with a boutonnière  along with a very tasteful and expensive yellow- and blue-striped tie. He combed his amazingly thick and enviable hair to perfection and his smell was familiar, sexy, and inviting.

All members of his warm and loving family gathered around as earlier he had emotionally walked his stunningly beautiful daughter Jocelyn down the aisle to the man of her dreams – Travis Limerick.

Following the wedding ceremony and picture-taking, we sat down to a beautiful reception and shared a wonderful meal, pleasant conversation, and much laughter. At one point, I remember sipping my wine and glancing over at Don as he surveyed the room unaware that I was watching him do so. There was a look on his face of contentment at reuniting with his girls and family and yet, I knew it was somehow already overshadowed knowing his departure home to Florida was only a day away. Even so, the love Don has for his children and family shone through.

The reception room filled with enticing music, non-stop conversation, sporadic laughter, and happy people. After dinner, I departed Don’s side to help distribute the wedding cake. Upon my return to our table, I noted Don was standing on the edges of the dance floor amiably chatting with friends and family members.

The DJ then began asking for all married couples to join the bride and groom for a special dance during which he would determine the couple with the longest marriage. The beginnings of one of my favorite songs – When I Fall in Love – suddenly filled the air as the dance floor began to fill. I grabbed Don’s hand and steered him out the open French doors and on to the patio.

The majesty and beauty of Oregon was visible in the distant mountains; in the undulating vines filled with ripening grapes; and in the brilliant green scenery composed of “Christmas” and local trees surrounding the BeckenRidge Vineyard. The patio was softly lit and there were flickering candles on each of the tables. There were very few people sitting at the outside tables and only one or two individuals wandering in and out; but basically, I felt we were all alone. I think my actions at steering him outside at first confused Don, but he went with the moment and soon understood my desire to privately dance with him.

I remember the warmth of his hand in mine and the feel of his other hand as it naturally came to rest on the small of my back. He pulled me close and surprisingly and confidently led me as we silently danced and soaked in not only the atmosphere, but each other as well. All too quickly the song ended. I hugged him tight and gave Don a kiss as I told him “I love you” and he responded, “I love you too.”

Don and I at his daughter Jocelyn's wedding.

For me, it was akin to the aligning of the stars, the moon, and the sun. We were in a beautiful setting, the song was one of my romantic favorites, and I was dancing with a man I truly love.

Yes, it was a magical night for the newlyweds Jocelyn and Travis. But I believe it was magical for Don and me as well, and it’s a moment in time that will live with me forever.

What’s Up with a “Trick” When You “Treat?”

Sadly, Mr. Pumpkin won’t be making an appearance in 2012.

Halloween was last night and it’s one of my favorite holidays. It’s the night where many hear the familiar call of “Trick or Treat” at our front doors. Advance preparation for most includes running to a store (a lot of times actually on Halloween) to purchase candy or “treats.” Of course, we all buy our favorite candy with the hopes that there will be a few leftovers once all the trick-or-treaters have visited. The “trick” is a usually an idle threat to perform mischief on homeowners or their property if no “treat” is given.

I recall years’ ago explaining Halloween to a friend from another country where Trick-or-Treating is not widely practiced. I explained: “Kids show up at your door dressed in costumes, and yell ‘Trick-or-Treat,’ you answer the door, and give them candy.” To this, he replied, “Do you know these kids?” I replied, “No, not really, the majority are strangers.” “But why do you give them candy?” he asked. “It’s just a custom here in the United States,” I stated. “How strange,” he replied. And in actuality, it really is. But who cares? It’s a fun tradition that’s here to stay as Halloween is the second highest-grossing holiday for the retail industry following the all-time leader of Christmas.

Yesterday, I spoke with a guy from my Neighborhood Patrol as they mapped out the homes participating in Halloween in order to steer trick-or-treaters – usually numbering more than 100 – throughout our neighborhood. He indicated many homeowners were either attending functions elsewhere, taking their own children trick-or-treating, or, due to unemployment, planned not to participate. He indicated the vast majority of homeowners on my block and adjacent cul-de-sac were not participating in Halloween this year.

When I heard this, I was heartbroken for the kids and told him that I would participate. I climbed up into my attic for my Halloween decorations and pulled down a string of pumpkin lights and two yard decorations – a large pumpkin, about 3’ tall, and another with ghosts rising up from a tombstone. I then raced to a store and purchased several bags of Laffy Taffy. Yes, the banana-flavored Laffy Taffy is my favorite.

Although some popular histories of Halloween have characterized trick-or-treating as an adult invention to re-channel Halloween activities away from vandalism, there are very little records supporting it. According to Wikipedia, Des Moines, Iowa is the only area known to have record of trick-or-treating being used to deter crime.

For many years, I hosted huge Halloween parties where I supplied each attending child with a goody bag of Halloween favors. I had various leftovers including vampire teeth, tattoos, glow-in-the-dark snakes, skull and spider rings, stickers, bracelets, and so forth. I mixed those together with several bags of candy and created a large bowl full of “treats” to pass out.

I had lots of trick-or-treaters with the most popular costumes being princesses, witches, zombies, and super heroes. At 8:50 p.m., my bowl of “treats” was getting low and I had just decided to cut it off at 9 p.m. I then answered the door to a group of five teenage boys. I’m guessing their ages ranged from 13- to 15-years old. One had on a Miami Dolphins jersey and another wore a scary mask but, for the most part, they were plain clothed. The boys were loud and aggressive, crowding close to me at the door wanting to know what I was giving out and why I wasn’t in a costume. Only two carried bags to collect candy.

Three of the boys were excited to receive the Laffy Taffy and specifically requested the strawberry flavored ones (yay…I still had banana-flavored ones left!) and two grabbed skull rings and vampire teeth along with the candy. Two of the older-looking, non-costume-wearing kids rejected the Laffy Taffy and Halloween favors and one stated, “We only want good candy” and they walked off. Or so I thought!

About five minutes later the doorbell rang and I answered to my neighbor standing there with one of my decorations in her hands. It was my large plastic pumpkin with a huge hole in it. She also had another neighbor’s pumpkin and asked if it belonged to me as well. She indicated she witnessed these boys kicking my pumpkin around and that they had grabbed and destroyed her scarecrow decorations and smashed several real pumpkins as well.

I told her of my exchange with them and she related she was giving out Hershey’s chocolate bars and Snickers and that these kids were aggressive with her as well. After closing her door following their visit, she heard odd noises and went out to discover the boys destroying our decorations. She indicated she called the Neighborhood Patrol to watch out for these kids as they ran off when she came outside to investigate.

We were “tricked” and we’re not sure why. We did our part by decorating and providing what we both thought were good “treats.” It was our understanding that if you give a “treat” that you do not get “tricked.” When did it start that the “treats” had to be of a certain type or value?

After my neighbor departed, I immediately took down my pumpkin lights and brought in my ghost decoration and shut off all the outside lights. Halloween 2011 was over for me at 9 p.m. I had thoroughly enjoyed all the kids (and a few dressed up dogs) prior to this group of boys that came to my door. I had kids of all ages visiting my door last night with most of the teenagers being overly polite. Several of the kids even commented how much they liked my Halloween favors and decorations, especially my cute pumpkin lights.

My “trick” on these kids is that I plan not to let a few vandals destroy my Halloween and “treat” giving. Next year, I plan to put out my pumpkin lights and ghost decorations and yes, I hope to give out Laffy Taffy again in hopes that I’ll have some banana ones left over for me.

Forget About the Red Light…We’re Proud and We’re Cheering

Dane with his proud father Don.

Many families recently experienced graduation season. It’s that time of year when people travel from far and wide to gather and witness their graduate receive his or her school diploma. My boyfriend Don Welch’s family was no exception when his youngest child, Dane, recently graduated from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla.

Proud sisters Julia (L) and Jocelyn (R) hug their baby brother Dane.

Dane checks out his new diploma with sister Julia.

Over the span of a week, we made a total of five trips to Orlando International Airport to pick up Don’s family all flying in from either Oregon or Idaho. The family includes, including in order of arrival: Travis Limerick, set to wed his oldest daughter; Jocelyn Welch, his oldest daughter; his mom, Nora Sonne, and her husband, “Papa” Don, along with Don’s identical twin brother, Dan Welch; Julia Presler, his youngest daughter; and the last to arrive, Josh Presler, his son-in-law.

Dane's Grammy gives him a special hug while dad proudly looks on.

In“really hot” and “unbelievably humid” Florida for a span of about 10 days, Don’s family excitedly stayed in his new home, swam in our pools, visited area sites and attractions, and, of course, looked forward to the upcoming main events being Dane’s graduation ceremony and the planned After Party.

Finally, The Big Day arrived and we haggled as we figured out how to get everyone a shower time and assigned seat in a car to get to the downtown Orlando Arena in time for the big event.

Dane posing with his Uncle Dan.

Upon arrival, we received programs that included a separate listing of Honors Diploma recipients. Don nearly busted with pride as we scanned the Honors Diploma listing and saw on page two, column four, 17 names down “Dane Welch.” I immediately ran back to the door and grabbed extras to share with family and friends that could not attend the actual event.

Dane Welch listed among the Honors Diploma Recipients.

At the beginning of the ceremony, the school’s principal announced that alternating lights would flash on stage with a green light indicating it was time for the audience to cheer for the graduates and the red light indicating we were to remain quiet and respectful following the announcing of each graduate’s name to walk on stage and receive his or her diploma. This gentleman truly gave a nice pep talk about how they had devised this system last year and were using it again to allow everyone the opportunity to actually hear their graduate’s name announced. Seriously…did this guy really think his little speech along with the Red Light/Green Light system would work?

(L-R) Jocelyn, Travis, Julia, and Josh excitedly await the announcing of "Dane Welch."

I actually first noticed the red light coming on at the presentation of the valedictorians. Nope, the light system didn’t quite work as cheers erupted throughout the arena. Perhaps the audience had momentarily forgotten their instructions and once again the gentleman patiently reviewed the Red Light/Green Light system before the lengthy reading of the graduates began.

Following the announcement of the first name, “Meera Aggarwal,” a small group of cheers went up in a targeted area of the arena. Oops, maybe her family had slipped up and momentarily forgotten the rules. On to the reading of second name: “Musa Ahmed.” Oh my goodness…once again cheers were heard. As the reading of the names continued, so did the cheering and its noise level. At various times, he admonished the audience’s cheering asking that we please observe the red light. Let’s all be honest. This system certainly didn’t work last year and would never work this year. Why? This audience consisted of family and friends who had traveled great distances to attend this ceremony and, over the years, had supported these students from small children through to the pinnacle of their public school careers. In my opinion, obviously supported by everyone else in the arena, THIS was the time for everyone to cheer and openly display pride in their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, brothers and sisters, cousins, best friends, or whatever relationship their graduate represented to them.

Papa Don all smiles with grandson Dane.


(L-R) Josh, Dane, and Travis pose following the ceremony.

We had quite a long wait until the reading of the “W”  names. We commented and laughed at the loudness of some of the families gathered and admired how many had quite sizable groups on hand to cheer for their graduate. Some groups blasted loud air horns that emphasized their cheering and increased their noise levels. I chatted with the couple seated directly to my right and discovered they had only two on hand in their “cheer  group.” So, I promised to cheer along with them following the reading of their child’s name. And I did.

It’s coming up…only three more…get ready…”

Jocelyn loudly cheers for her brother.

And then finally, “Dane Welch” was announced. Don’s family and I all cheered at the appropriate moment and at the top of our lungs. We wanted Dane and everyone within ear shot to know how proud we were of him. His father’s eyes teared a bit as he came to the realization this was the last of his brood to reach this milestone. He had come to the end of a long road and had successfully raised three children proudly witnessing the last to receive a high school diploma; and it was an Honors Diploma at that.

We cheered. And we cheered at the top of our lungs. Dane did his family proud and deserved the recognition. Be damned the red light. We cheered.

Don (far right) proudly poses with his three children (L-R) Dane, Julia, and Jocelyn.