5 reasons for joy amid the madness

This pandemic, with its undefined end and the constant worries about health, is a constant drain in many ways.

Kat Bouska asked us to share five things that are bringing us joy right now, and that’s a good idea. Here are mine:

Wedding planning with my daughter

Tenley is getting married next May, so we have a lot to do! Even though the to-do list is long and I don’t have the ability to write the blank check I’d like to write, it’s still fun … and positive … and uplifting.

The day we went wedding-dress shopping at The White Magnolia – Jacksonville was so much fun. I enjoyed the time with Tenley and her friends. I enjoyed the experience of watching her evaluate her choices and pick her dress. Even with the dresses she eliminated as options, the craftsmanship on all of them was just so beautiful. I enjoyed the reminder that people still take pride in their work and believe in intricate detail.

5 reasons for joy amid the madness

The Hamilcast

I finally got to see “Hamilton” a few months ago when it premiered on Disney+. Of course that only made me want to see it in person even more. And of course there are no live performances to see right now due to the pandemic.

Therefore, I’m doing something that is helping scratch that itch a bit. I started listening to “The Hamilcast: A Hamilton Podcast” when I walk. I started from the very first episode, recorded in January 2016. I’ve worked my way up to September 2016 (episode #35) and have 204 more to go (and that’s if they stopped recording new episodes today).

I love this podcast so much. I feel like I’m watching an infant grow up (I guess maybe it’s at the “elementary-school age” stage right now?) as the hosts evolve and gain more technical skills (along with VERY FAMOUS GUESTS such as Lin-Manuel Miranda himself). Honestly, though, as much as I’m looking forward to that, I’m enjoying all of the guests (most recently, the hosts interviewed Amber Fang, the creator of the Twitter account @hamiltonasdogs. The account doesn’t seem to be active anymore, but it’s all new to me, so I can enjoy the posts from a few years ago, such as this!

5 reasons for joy amid the madness

My job

I still love my job. That’s a life gift I never take for granted.

Speaking of my job, I get to do one of the more fun parts this Thursday, when I’ll be helping to moderate our annual STEM Pathways Summit (yes of course it’s virtual this year — sigh). If you’re a teacher, have a general interest in STEM topics or want to find some ideas to motivate a student in your life, sign up! Signing up will help you access the sessions on-demand afterward if you can’t come on Thursday afternoon.

5 reasons for joy amid the madness


I miss my old fitness life. Most of that is something I can do take action to resolve (except that I can’t return to running) — but I have not made much progress. I have been much more consistent about walking, though, and that small habit change has made a big difference.

Now to add more activity!

Halloween Decorations

I usually walk at night (because that’s when I finally get around to it). This is our first year in our neighborhood, which has quite the reputation for being a trick-or-treat mecca. I’m not sure how the pandemic will affect the number of kids we have, but my neighbors are KILLING IT with the incredible decorations!

So far, we’ve only got one metal pumpkin decoration out in our yard, but I bought lights yesterday, so here’s hoping it’ll be much more ghoulishly festive by October 31.

5 reasons for joy amid the madness

What about you?

I’d love to hear what’s been bringing you joy. Drop me a note in the comments and let me know!

Dear high school student … 3 things I should have learned

Kat Bouska asks, “What advice would you give today’s high schoolers?”

These are the top three things that immediately come to mind:

Take care of your mental health

I think about this topic often, and it’s a bit delicate to address. I know — now that I have been a parent for 24 years — that we do the best we can as parents. And I know my parents did their best, something I certainly didn’t appreciate when I was a teenager. I’m 55 now, so I’m fully responsible for my state of mind and the perspective I take on the world.

By the same token, being exposed to a fair share of dysfunction when I was a teenager shaped the rest of my life, in ways good and bad. But having a mental health professional to talk to, especially after I was sexually assaulted by a trusted adult, would have been a good thing.

It was easy as a teenager to think some of the experiences I was having were unique to me and therefore mine to carry emotionally/figure out. Maybe that wasn’t the case (OK — I have a master’s in counseling and human systems, perhaps because of those experiences — and I know they weren’t unique to me).

I wonder if it’s different for teenagers today because they can anonymously look things up on the internet, like depression or other mental health conditions. Maybe so, and maybe despite all the bad that exists on the internet, it’s on balance a good thing that there are mental health support resources there too.

Dear high school student ... 3 things I should have learned
She had a lot to learn (still does)

Learn how to communicate face-to-face, nondigitally

Despite the fact that I think internet access may have been good for my mental health (see above), I think I benefited from being a high school student at a time when I didn’t have constant screen access or social media.

I don’t want — by writing this — to lump all “kids these days” into one particular communication bucket. But I do see a tendency to prefer texting over phone calls (me too, but I’m not saying it’s a good thing!). I see less snail mail letters, meaning people are deprived of the joy they bring. I see people who don’t coincidentally discover a song they love because they’re forced to listen to the radio station and can’t pick a curated playlist that ONLY plays their favorites.

Face-to-face communication and the occasional handwritten letter matter. They matter in job interviews; they matter when you have to solve a problem with a friend or while conducting business; they bring more emotional depth to most every interaction. They still matter, and high school students should go out of their way to learn them these days.

Learn about personal finance

Maybe high school isn’t the optimal time to learn all the things about personal finance. I do remember watching a film in home economics (of all things) in 10 or 11th grade featuring a young couple who bought furniture on credit when they couldn’t afford to pay upfront. It ended up leading to distress and unhappiness.

Maybe if I had taken that one lesson to heart, that would have been enough. But I didn’t, and I did a really poor job managing credit. It has taken years to work myself (and my spouse) back up to a modicum of financial health.

I don’t know what could have been done differently. I also know I didn’t necessarily teach my kids well about personal finance. Here again, high schoolers, the internet is your friend. Read about money, prepare to say “no” when offered a credit card you’re not ready for and don’t need. Save even $100 that can just sit there earning interest until you retire.

It’s difficult to see ahead to your 55-year-old self clawing out of a few decades of financial stress, I know, but trust me — learn about money now, apply the lessons well, and you’ll give yourself so many more options to travel, invest, spend your time the way you want to — if you’ll be careful with your money now.

Dear high school student ... 3 things I should have learned

What advice would you give today’s high schoolers?

Dear high school student ... 3 things I should have learned

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I bought a new (to me) car yesterday.

I’m so excited about the new car, partially because I’ve been enduring a car without air conditioning through three long Tallahassee summers. That’s not the only problem with the car, but arriving at events with melted makeup and clothes stuck to my skin had grown old and uncomfortable.

Before celebrating that car, though, the car it’s replacing deserves a proper sendoff.

My 2005 Honda CR-V, which I got in 2008, had 45,768 miles on it at the time and is now 300 miles away from having 200,000.

Our Odyssey died unceremoniously one day in 2008 when I was driving down I-10. Wayne had just gotten approved for financing to get a vehicle of his own, but once our family workhorse had been declared terminal, we ended up needing two vehicles for the financing that was intended to cover one.

We got both of them from our credit union’s buying service. He got a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado. I got the CR-V. I don’t remember much discussion at all about the cosmetics. I did know in advance that it was blue. All that mattered (pretty much) was that it would run.

And run it did.

There are so many memories in that car:

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle
A Monster energy drink sticker can only mean “Wayne Kevin was here” (years ago)

Multiple trips taking kids to school.

A trip the kids and I took to Kennedy Space Center and Cypress Springs.

The kids using it as *their* first car when they began driving.

Me backing into a pole at the Subway on Tennessee Street after taking Tenley to a college visit at FSU.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

One child (won’t single them out) having their first accident in the car.

Me thinking the Idiots Running Club seriously meant we had to use our last names when we got our IRC decals made.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

Many trips taking my father-in-law to doctor’s appointments, to his beloved afternoons at the bar, to radiation treatments. I never figured out how to get this visor to stay in the “up” position once the spring broke, which was frustrating. At the time, there was some kind of “as seen on TV” product that WAS a car visor. He would say, “you ought to get that.” And I would kind of blow it off, but he was actually right. This problem was probably easily fixed, but we were pretty deep into the challenge of dealing with debt at the time, and I just couldn’t muster the energy (or finances) to pursue fixing something that seemed like a relatively minor issue.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

The paint slowly getting so degraded that the paint job looked just as resigned as I did about the car’s appearance.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I was always relieved that I ended up loving this car, which I didn’t test drive and didn’t have much to do with choosing, so much. I’m pretty sure I treasured this car more than Wayne loved the truck he bought in the same transaction.

I never gave it a name, but maybe “True Blue” would be a fit. It got me through 12 years safely and mostly reliably. The air conditioning pooped out the last few years, but it was always a cool car.

Thank you, True Blue. You served me well.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I’m linking up with Kat Bouska’s blog for the prompt “Tell us about the last thing you purchased.”

Becoming more human, a tribute to a friend

My lifelong friend, Duane Archer-Buffum, passed away on November 23, 2019. This tribute is written to him.

I’ve asked myself a thousand times over the past few decades what would have happened if I had handled the conversation differently when you told me you were gay when we were teenagers (and had been seeing each other)*.

What if I had said, “I’m so glad you could trust me to tell me that. Other people in our world may not immediately be accepting, but I’ll be here for you.”

Instead, I fell apart. In my myopic teenage view of how the world would work, I saw this as something that made me a victim somehow.

Quite the opposite. It made me — eventually — an ally for the victimized.

I can’t remember how or when we found our way back to each other, to a place of friendship instead of anger, but I think it was quicker in reality than it seems in my mind.

It was quick enough that you visited me in Tallahassee. We went to dinner at Flamingo’s (RIP Flamingo’s). You talked to me about your courtship of Pam. It was quick enough (and healing enough) that I could talk with you honestly about my concerns about that relationship (as if I had any say ha ha). And eventually, Wayne and I ended up as guests at your wedding.

There were long stretches after your wedding where we didn’t talk at all. I moved to New York. You and Pam started your family. Your teaching career got underway.

Maybe it was Pam’s invitation to your 40th birthday that resulted in the first real time we spent together again. Of course I thought one of her sisters was her (thanks, faceblindness!) but she clarified that, fortunately.

And it was probably Facebook that made it easier for us to talk regularly again.

Events unfolded pretty rapidly once you decided to come out and once you started dating men. I remember reading in the Union County Times about some school board meeting where they brought up their concerns — in a decidedly critical Bible Belt way.

Whatever those concerns were that came before the school board, that’s not the vibe I got when the high school auditorium at capacity with people honoring you after your death on November 23 of last year. Facebook filled with tributes from people saying how you had changed their lives and their children’s lives (as a teacher).

I loved how much you loved acting. And God I loved how good you were at it. As much as you could have succeeded on bigger stages (regional? national?), I think your talents made a bigger difference for all the students you taught over 30 years, both the high school students you taught for so long and the elementary school students you had started teaching shortly before you died.

The parents of the elementary school students were bereft. They talked about how you had brought insecure children out of their shells, and about how much everyone was looking forward to the production of “Annie” that you were working on when you passed away.

I’m glad those elementary school kids had you, but I suspect the biggest impact you had was on the high school students who finally had an “out” teacher. Union County High School wasn’t the easiest place to be a gay kid (I suspect) and you told me how many students were relieved to have you to talk to. I’m so glad you were there for them.

I remember when I caught up to you after seeing you in “Beauty and the Beast” at Gateway Community College, how you were crying as you hugged me because it was so hard to leave that experience behind.

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute
After “Beauty and the Beast,” 2017

Cliches are stupid BUT I have to say I think the conversations we had in the few days after my mom’s death were graced by some weird serendipity. If the timing had been different, you probably wouldn’t be living with your dad when I was back in town for a few days to arrange her services and support my dad. I came to your house “to stop by” after I had been in Gainesville shopping for a dress to wear and of course it wasn’t a quick “stop.” It was an in-depth conversation that we extended to text after I got back to my parents’ house that lasted into the later hours.

“For Good” was sung at your memorial. There’s a reason this song is sung at so many goodbye occasions. It says exactly how we feel at the most difficult goodbyes. “…because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

There’s also a reason we came into each others’ lives. Even though it took me a long time to process that conversation we had where you told me you were gay and to realize that it wasn’t about me, maybe I’m being too hard on myself to think I should have had more insight more rapidly.

In looking back at our Facebook conversations, we talked in 2013 about how the Mormon church was changing its thinking about homosexuality (because you married a Mormon woman, she and many of your kids were still involved, so it mattered).

I said, “I think hearts change before policies and theology do.”

And you said, “So, you see how it would have been for me to come out in high school way back then.”

Meaning — even though in my replaying of that long-ago conversation in my mind I said “go forth and be who you were meant to be,” that wouldn’t have been right either.

I do regret how it still took years for me to really embrace what it means to be an ally, to finally retire treating our history as a punchline “I dated a guy but he turned out to be gay and then married a sweet Mormon girl, had six kids with her and then married his husband” and give it the respect it was due. It was two human beings growing up together and getting more in touch with the people they were meant to be.

I think the biggest change our relationship made for me (besides turning me into an ally — eventually) was that it made me a much more practical person about romantic love. And it made me realize that much of “romance” is a creation in our own heads shaped by the world we think we want. I had my own hefty set of insecurities as a teenager, and I was much more focused on what being your girlfriend and being part of your family would look like than on what kind of relationship I needed to grow into (and contribute to). Seriously, the body language in almost every photo of our teenage life says “clingy.”

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute

There’s a second thing our relationship did for me, and probably one of the reasons we complemented each other so well, and that was to push me to break the rules — a tiny bit — occasionally. I still can’t believe my parents let me go to senior skip day, but they did. I remember the hilarity (to us) of going through the McDonalds drive-through repeatedly, with you changing your accent every time to try to trick the employee(s). I remember “stealing baby Jesus” (again, thankfully this was pre-social media). I remember how we were supposed to play music (piano, you and flute, me) at Christine Prokop’s wedding reception after you played piano at the ceremony and you just didn’t feel like it so we blew it off (very sorry, Christine — I would apologize if I knew how to find you now!). And I hunted high and low for this picture, which to me is just a fun memory but that someone pointed out says “keep off the grass” … the grass we are most certainly standing on!

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute

Fortunately, our friendship only got better and better over the past seven or so years, particularly.

It wasn’t an easy period, as we both lost our moms (you in 2015 and me in 2018). You had some serious health problems and a few other issues you trusted me enough to share. However, it was a period that was capped off by you marrying Shane, who you called your soulmate.

I didn’t expect to see on a Friday night when I was scrolling through Facebook Shane’s announcement that you were gone.

I think the thing I grieve the most is knowing that, even though our communication was sporadic and mostly consisted of Facebook messages, I always knew the conversation would be so good. I also always knew that we would end it by saying we loved each other.

“For Good” was sung at your memorial. There’s a reason this song is sung at so many goodbye occasions. It says exactly how we feel at the most difficult goodbyes. “…because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

I was talking to your sister at the visitation period prior to your funeral. We were touching on some of the ups and downs of the past decade. Not to get into it here (heck, it was YOUR life so you know what happened and my readers don’t need to at this point), but the conversation veered briefly into various choices that had been made.

My response: “We’re all so very human.”

I truly believe that. I believe that no matter what faith tradition a person has (or if they have no faith tradition), the most courageous thing we can do is to be as true to ourselves as possible, and to support others in doing the same.

In one of our Facebook message exchanges, you said, “There were things … that I had to go through to be where I am now. I knew if I didn’t do it right now I would die before I was 60.”

I’m sure I scrolled right past the “die before I was 60” part. I mean, how likely would THAT be?

It turns out it was prescient.

You fit so much joy, drama and spirit into your life that I’m pretty sure you covered more than 55 years.

You’ll always be in my ear when someone tells me something about themselves that scares them, reminding me to hear what they’re saying (and feeling), even if it surprises me.

Although “For Good” is such an incredible song and so fitting as a goodbye, there’s another lyric from “Wicked” (from “As Long as You’re Mine”) that pertains to how I feel about the difference you made in my life.

“…you’ve got me seeing
Through different eyes”

Knowing you made me more human, taught me that breaking the rules can be a little bit exciting sometimes, and led me to see the world as a kaleidoscope when tunnel vision was the default.

I’ll be grateful, always.

Becoming more human, a tribute to a friend

*I didn’t know until decades later that I had been the first person you told. The conversation: “You know you were the first person that I ever told that I was gay to? And it was very hard because I knew I would break your heart and it broke mine just having to tell you. But look where you are now.” <3

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news

How long have you been under a stay-at-home order? Ours officially began in Tallahassee/Leon County on March 25, but Wayne and I cut our outings down before that (I lose track!).

No matter how long you’ve been out of the social circuit, I’m guessing it’s grating on you in one way or another. (Let me also take this moment to thank all of the health care professionals and essential workers who are still on that front lines every day. I admire and appreciate you so very much.)

Social distancing will save lives

For the rest of us, we still must hunker down to flatten the curve. Social distancing doesn’t just protect us; it protects other people from whatever we may be unknowingly carrying. Everyone needs to take responsibility for putting distance between themselves and others while the coronavirus is still spreading.

But I’m bored!

Wayne and I are fortunate. I’m working from home as usual (and a bit busier than ever), and Wayne is still working, albeit at home. Even so, it’s easy for the days and hours to run together without some of our usual out-of-home excursions.


I have known for a long time, as has anyone who even slightly follows the industry, that newspapers are struggling. The struggles were brought home in a deeply local way this week when staff members (and friends) at my hometown paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, were put on rolling furlough. Staff members will be on furlough for five days per month.

I love local newspapers (even though I have been disappointed to see the decline in the quality of the print versions over the past few years — along with the loss of editorial rigor in the digital versions that comes with the territory when turnaround times are so tight).

To that end, five ways your socially distanced life can be improved upon by the newspaper:

Read it by yourself

Let’s start with the most obvious. Reading the newspaper is a great way to pass the time, while also being entertained and informed.

Besides information about coronavirus, today’s Tallahassee Democrat entertained by sharing how a group of local siblings entertained their elderly neighbors with a socially distant concert. It informed by updating readers regarding the status of Killearn Country Club, a course that has been around since 1967 and has experienced significant decline over the past few years.

Read it with others

Here’s an idea. Join an online readalong. Every Sunday morning, hundreds of people “read” the New York Times together through the New York Times Readalong, which is broadcast on Facebook Live, LinkedIn, Periscope and YouTube.

This morning, for example, we had as our guest Prof. Andrew Hacker, who recently wrote “Downfall: The Demise of a President and His Party,” discussed New York Times articles and we also spoke with Dr. Lisa Ganghu, who gave her perspective of dealing with coronavirus in New York City. It’s not just reading the paper, it’s joining a community that loves print and wants it to survive.

Here’s today’s readalong:

NOTE: Although I am partial to the New York Times Readalong because I’m a producer, I’m sure there are lots of other options. For example, here’s a link to authors that are reading children’s books online.

Read a newspaper from somewhere else

I read multiple newspaper stories every week due to my work, and some of my favorites are publications from places I’m not likely to ever have an opportunity to visit. Doing so gives me perspective and helps me understand a new part of the world.

Many international newspapers have free online versions. Here are a few finds that caught my eye:

A BBC photo essay about discarded gloves.

An opinion piece in The National (United Arab Emirates) urging people to document this time in the world’s history, to aid in “future studies of our economic and social development.”

A China Daily piece about how to make Pu’er tea (a fermented tea originating from the Yunnan province).

Write for it

Have you ever read a Letter to the Editor or other opinion submission to a newspaper and thought, “I could do better than that” or “But I want my voice to be heard”? This is your chance.

Channel this extra time and those thoughts bouncing around in your head through your fingers and turn them into something that’s a candidate to be published!

My lovely friend and fellow advocate, Cynthia Changyit Levin, wrote a great primer on how to craft an effective letter to the editor.

Here’s an example of one of my letters to the editor.

You can also write about something you know. Even though our local theater scene is dark (at least for traditional in-person performances), there is likely still fertile ground for writing about theater. There’s history of local theater, thoughts about how theater will get started back up again once we can all go out, interviews with interesting actors, directors and theater fans. Check with your local newspaper to pitch them (if you can find someone who isn’t furloughed).


I can’t say I’ve tried this myself, but give me a few weeks and maybe I will!

(We still get a paper version of the Democrat, thanks to the previous owner of our home, who I suppose hasn’t canceled his subscription. I would try, but one of the things that has suffered from all the downsizings in the newspaper world is, in my opinion, customer service. I figure it’ll be harder to get a human being who understands I need to stop it than to just keep enjoying it until it goes away(?). I also kind of like the feel of the paper paper in my hands and having a reason to go outside every morning, however briefly.

Newspaper rose anyone?

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news
Credit: Instructables Craft

Newspapers matter

There’s not going to be one strategy that can singlehandedly get us through this time of being #AloneTogether.

I hope these ideas give you some inspiration for making the time pass more quickly.

I hope you’ll consider subscribing and supporting local journalism, which is so critical.

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news

Whatever you choose to do, please stay safe and stay a minimum of 6 feet — or two arms-length — away from others.

Once we can all meet up again, I look forward to hearing about how the newspaper played a part in keeping your mind active while we’ve been #AloneTogether.

Disclosure: I did this post in conjunction with The Ad Council. I was not compensated, and all opinions are my own.

Switching to a new Publix? Horrors!

OK. Cue the tiny violin because this is truly one of the most “first-world problem” types of things you’ll ever see me write about.

However, if you are a Floridian, you probably get it.

At the end of January, we moved out of the home we had lived in for 15 years. The “cardboard kids” in this picture are now 23 and 20, respectively, and they’re living their own lives in other places.

Switching to a new Publix? Horrors!

The move was necessary for so many reasons. Short version: This was way too much house (space-wise, money-wise, lawn-wise) once we were down to the two of us.

Although the new house is such a better fit (smaller home, less lawn, lower mortgage payment every month), there’s just this one thing.


We had to switch to a different Publix after 15 years of shopping at the same one.

For starters, let’s look at why so many Floridians are so loyal to Publix. This article is a good place to begin.

When Floridians make the unenviable decision to move away from the Sunshine State, it’s often the loss of Publix that they seem to lament the most—at least if all the Facebook posts are to be believed.

Now that we’ve established that Floridians (many of them, at least) are loyal to Publix, let’s scrape off another layer and talk about allegiance to specific locations, such as the Vineyard Center location (Store #857) that I was at for so long.

I’ve often heard that Publix puts its stores where its demographers say the people are going to be, and I’d bet that’s true for the Vineyard store. This article references that a bit (“Another key element in the company’s strategy is placing new stores in growing or underserved markets …”). Vineyard Center was so empty when it first opened, with a line of associates anxious to check customers out. Not so in January 2020. The place was consistently busy by then.

Here are some memories that will always stick with me about Vineyard Center Publix:

My meltdown

I had one of my worst public meltdowns ever at Publix. Maybe this was inevitable. Maybe since I was there so often, the odds were in favor of Publix being the place where I totally lost it. I was at Publix after work, tired and hungry with kids in tow, annoyed that I was at Publix after work, tired and hungry with kids in tow while Wayne was “decompressing” at the bar after work.

Wayne Kevin, who was in first grade at the time, was looking at the Lunchables. The one he wanted to look at was kind of high up, so I picked him up and propped him on the metal rim of the case. Then he started walking along the rim (I know — in retrospect not a good idea). I was thinking how cute his light-up shoes were and how good his balance was but a fellow shopper decided to give me a lecture about how unsanitary the practice was.


Of course we never think of the good comebacks in the moment. I essentially said the same thing I always say when I can’t think of anything logical … “I’m doing the best I can.” And then I proceeded to cry hysterically right there in the cold cuts aisle. A woman with her own kids jumped in to calm me down. She was a darn angel. She told me about being a single mom, and how we all have these moments. Somehow I managed to grab the chicken we needed for dinner and get out of Publix. (And yes the cashier asked me how my day was going. I blubbered through some nonsensical answer.)

Would I be litigious?

Tenley was probably around 8 or 9 when this happened. We were leaving Publix, and she slipped awkwardly on the floor and fell awkwardly on her wrist as we were leaving (I think there was a small puddle on the floor). Within moments, it was clear she was fine, but a manager had seen it happen and was very solicitous. I realize this makes me sound opportunist, but my immediate answer to her inquiry about Tenley’s wrist was, “I don’t know — there may be a problem,” as in “If I sue Publix about this, I don’t want to have said ‘nah it’s all fine’ right afterward.

What was wrong with me? Did I seriously think I was going to sue Publix and get a monetary settlement over a tiny slip that could have happened to anyone? Fortunately, it all passed over but for some reason I still think about that situation all these years later.

Knowing the Associates

Publix is generally accepted as a good employer, and the high retention rate backs that up. Over all those years, I could count on seeing the same associates consistently, especially my friend Connie. I also saw kids who I had first known as preschoolers grow up to be bagging my groceries and checking them out.

Parking was simple

I’m sure there’s a science to parking lot design, but here’s my layperson’s observation: Parking lots are becoming more compact as developers try to squeeze more money-making space into shopping complexes. Vineyard is still more of a traditional parking lot. No crazy lane arrangements, plenty of space. I can’t say the Southwood Publix parking lot (my new store) is especially bad, but Vineyard was a breeze.

The Cake Book

This section doesn’t apply solely to Vineyard Publix, but it’s such a big memory in general. As a child, Tenley *loved* flipping through the book of decorated cakes at Publix. It didn’t matter what time of year it was … or if it was a whole 364 days until her next birthday … it was just a joy to her to dream about cakes for herself and, sometimes, for her imaginary friends.

She was close to growing out of this by the time we moved to Hawk’s Landing and were shopping at Vineyard Publix, but Publix gave her (and I imagine other children too) some free entertainment (along with the free cookies — which were HUGE with my kids all throughout their childhoods) with those cake books. We also bought plenty of cakes from Publix too. Looking back on it, I sort of regret trying to lure her away so often — I was usually in a hurry … or keeping up with my son … or in some other way not fully present. Still, it’s a happy memory for the most part.

Vineyard Publix sure showed up often in my blog

This is not the first time Vineyard Publix (or Publix in general) has appeared in my blog. Not the first time at all.

A search yields 22 times I’ve referred to Publix in my blog. Granted, some of the posts just mention being at Publix in passing, but still — that’s almost 2% of all my posts!

Somehow, my time at Vineyard Publix spanned my parental breakdown moment described above through the expansion of my writing into topics such as white privilege and microaggressions. (When I started blogging in 2009, I thought I was only going to be writing about running. That didn’t last long!)

When I say microaggressions, I mean the question of whether it’s a microaggression to put the divider down too fast. This piece of fine blog photography came from Vineyard Publix.

Switching to a new Publix? Horrors!

I knew where everything was

Is there anything better than knowing exactly where your routine items are at the store? I mean … for FIFTEEN YEARS? Here’s the answer: No there isn’t!

Vineyard Publix did a reset shortly before I moved. It was frustrating. People were walking around acting as if the sky had fallen. If you want to see a few eastside Tallahassee residents get discombobulated, put the pinto beans where the chocolate pudding used to be (and don’t switch the signs to match the move right away).

Maybe the reset was a sign that it was time to move on. I was going to have to get to know a new Publix anyway, so what better time?

I could show up as I was

I would usually run to Publix around 5:30 p.m. to grab ingredients for dinner, which Wayne would make when he got home. Most days I was … to put it mildly … barely put together (I work from home). I did throw on a bra and usually a baseball cap so I could slink in and out. Because of the nature of the east side and the Vineyard location, I knew that if I ran into someone, it would generally be an understanding neighbor or someone I could laugh my bedraggled appearance off with.

Now, however, Southwood Publix is a whole new ballgame! These people are from all over, and mostly still dressed for work. I think I’m going to have to step up my appearance strategy in order to avoid embarrassment.

Am I disappointed?

I’m writing this blog in response to the Kat Bouska prompt “Share the last thing that disappointed you.” I am disappointed to have to leave Vineyard Publix.

More than disappointed, though, I’m grateful to the people who always greeted me so professionally, were so kind to my kids, and who truly made shopping a pleasure.

Switching to a new Publix? Horrors!

Share Four Somethings

Here are four things I loved/read/treasured/looked ahead to in February.

Something Loved

My nieces, Jessica and Elizabeth, threw a shower for their sister, Olivia, on Feb. 8. I love spending time with my family in general. Specifically, I love the fact that I’ve gotten to hold my new great-nephew, Paul (Jessica’s son), both times I’ve seen him in the last few months. I don’t get to hang out with young babies very often, so it’s such a special treat when I do. I didn’t take a picture of him, but this was one of the decorations — his grandfather’s bronzed baby shoes and vintage children’s books. I already love Olivia’s baby and can’t wait to hold him or her too!

February 2020 Share Four Somethings

Something Read

It is so hard to pick just one! Here’s what I have read/am reading in February:

On Audio:

Running Against the Devil” by Rick Wilson

Smacked” by Eilene Zimmerman

How Dare the Sun Rise” by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta

Know My Name” by Chanel Miller

On Paper:

School Choice: A Legacy to Keep” by Virginia Walden Ford

Before I comment further, a note that Abigail Pesta and Virginia Walden Ford were both guests on the New York Times readalong, which I co-produce. Find Abigail’s recording here and Virginia’s here.

Each one of these books is good. It is interesting that the top of the list (chronologically) features a book by an author who spent many years deep in the Republican party who has spot-on (in my opinion) advice for Democrats as the 2020 election approaches.

The bottom of the list (Virginia Walden Ford’s book) challenged many of my assumptions about what Democrats and Republicans would/should believe about school choice. In general, I’m an avid public schools proponent. That hasn’t changed, but Virginia’s story is an excellent example of how extremely complicated politics can get. Many Democratic lawmakers, who I would have assumed would have supported the need for deserving children of color to get help when the school system in D.C. was failing them, were downright hostile.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate to Congress who represented D.C., displayed an animosity that surprised and mystified me. Virginia Walden Ford wrote, “What opponents like Norton feared, I believe, had nothing to do with funding and everything to do with optics. The sight of children and their parents lined up to apply for scholarships would serve as visual reminders to the entire world that families sought to escape the public education system in the District of Columbia.”

And I so admire Virginia’s candor: “Did my parents quit their fight for integration after the KKK burned a cross on their lawn? No, they didn’t. And if that didn’t stop my parents, an angry woman sitting behind a dais wasn’t going to stop me.”

I’ve interacted enough with Virginia by now to know that there isn’t much that stops her. I’m so glad I gave this book a chance; it showed me that very few issues are easily defined, especially when it comes to children’s welfare.

(I also encourage you to watch the movie, “Miss Virginia.” Follow this link for the ways to watch it.)

February 2020 Share Four Somethings

Something Treasured

Because we have moved three times since January 29 (out of our Hawk’s Landing house, into a rental duplex, then into our new house), Wayne and I have had conversations about what we should keep vs. what we should donate/discard more times than I can count.

Here’s something that made the cut and always will.

February 2020 Share Four Somethings

When Tenley was in kindergarten (back in 2001), the students had a “holiday village” where they could go and buy gifts for their families. I can still almost see the joy in her eyes when she presented me with this “bluebird of happiness.” It’s actually been packed away since I left Healthy Kids in 2014 and I’m so happy it has resurfaced again! It has a companion (this pink bird I gave my mom in honor of her surviving breast cancer). I treasure them both.

February 2020 Share Four Somethings

Something Ahead

I’ll be speaking Saturday to the Alumnae Panhellenic group in Tallahassee, at their scholarship luncheon. I’m equal parts thrilled and apprehensive, as I wrote here. Send good thoughts!

I’m linking up with Heather Gerwing.

February 2020 Share Four Somethings

Heart-melting talent lights up A Night to Shine

When I volunteered at Night to Shine Tallahassee two years ago, I didn’t really know how things worked. (Night to Shine is an event through the Tim Tebow Foundation to give people with special needs ages 14 and up a “prom night” experience.) I signed up to volunteer wherever I was needed. As a result, I ended up volunteering at the “Parent Prom,” which is an opportunity for the parents of the guests to have their own relaxing dinner.

Serving the Parent Prom was fun, and I know it filled a need, but I knew that the next time I volunteered, I wanted to do so as a “buddy” (a volunteer paired with a guest to help them enjoy all the festivities).

I knew the box to check this time, submitted to the background check, went to the required training, and became a buddy!

Night to Shine Tallahassee 2020
My Buddy badge

When the guests arrive, they are paired up with their buddies and enter the Night to Shine event through a lighted archway, traversing a red carpet, as “paparazzi” cheer them on (and do silent cheers for guests who have autism or other reasons to prefer a more quiet tribute).

My new friend, Stephanie

I was paired with Stephanie, who definitely wanted applause! With her beautiful dress and infectious smile, she definitely deserved the enthusiastic welcome she got.

Night to Shine Tallahassee 2020
(Her beautiful dress is a bit covered up here because she has a cape on during the hair and makeup phase, but trust me it was gorgeous!)

The surprise of the night

The list of activities at Night to Shine is lengthy. We went to hair and makeup, petted a bunny, saw a “zebra” and a llama, enjoyed a meal, and went dancing.

At one point, other attendees told us to re-line up at the red carpet for a “surprise.” (I knew it had to be a big surprise, because by then it had gotten pretty cold outside!)

I had an idea of what the surprise may be, partially because I heard similar rumors the last time I served at NTS. The founder, Tim Tebow, doesn’t live all that far away (Jacksonville). Would *he* be the surprise?

Before I reveal the surprise, let me say this. As a Florida State fan, it’s possible I have been involved in a few snarky conversations over the years involving Tebow because he was the quarterback for our big rival, the University of Florida.

There’s no debating his athletic talent.

But I’ve learned about a different talent of Tim’s. I’ve seen him grant the wish of my sweet young friend, Lauren, a cancer survivor. I heard him speak to the NTS attendees (his speech is broadcast simultaneously to the 721 participating locations) the last time I volunteered. He is using his talents to lift others up and to inspire the 215,000 volunteers who serve the roughly 115,000 guests.

And (drum roll please and also please disregard the fact that I took this video vertically!), he showed up in person to the Tallahassee Night to Shine 2020!

But there was talent all around

I was excited that Tim Tebow showed up, mainly because I know how much it meant to the guests, who were *enthralled*!

It was the less famous talents, though, that really made the night magical to me. The people with logistical talent who put the whole event together. The artists who performed (cheerleaders, baton twirlers, bands), the hair and makeup artists, the animal therapy facilitators, whoever had the creativity to bring the “Greatest Show” theme to life.

A more personal moment toward the end of the night melted my heart. Stephanie wanted to do something else besides dance and participate in the “longest conga line” so although the evening was winding down, we headed to the music therapy activity.

The music therapist knew Stephanie, and was not surprised when her request was “Tears in Heaven.” Stephanie had told me earlier in the evening that her grandmother had taken care of her; I gathered that it was after her grandmother died that she ended up living in her current group home facility. She said the song was for her grandparents.

And God bless this music therapist; she anticipated the request, had been practicing it and somehow in the midst of a loud and fairly hectic room, made a “moment” and played “Tears in Heaven” just for Stephanie. It brought back so many memories of the music therapists who used to come to our house when my father-in-law was with us, and how something deep in his brain was awakened by the music in a way nothing else could.

It was a memorable night, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. Here’s a wrapup video shot by someone with a bit more video expertise than I have!

I am linking up with Five Minute Friday for the prompt “talent” (even though this took longer than five minutes to put together!).

I am also linking up with Kat Bouska’s blog for the prompt, “The last time my heart melted was because…”

Night to Shine Tallahassee 2020

At loose ends about my hairstylist

Apps make appointment-setting easier. Take StyleSeat, for example. My last two stylists have used StyleSeat, which allows you to schedule hair appointments at any time of the night or day without having to say a word or interact with another human being.

Unfortunately, although there may be an app for discontinuing your relationship with your stylist, that isn’t the way to go, in my opinion.

A brief history of the past 25 years

Regarding my hair history, the past 25 years is very uneventful for 22 of those years. Once I started going to Bonnie, I stayed. I was with her through both of my children being born, and through her being at three different buildings.

Then she moved to Nashville. Sigh.

At loose ends about my hairstylist

I went to one person right after Bonnie moved to Nashville. She was really nice (we are Facebook friends to this day based on one haircut), but from a hair perspective, it just wasn’t a great fit.

The next person I went to, I stayed with. I don’t recall how we got connected exactly, except that my daughter had used her.

We’ve been together roughly 2.5 years. We have had so many good conversations. We had enough people in common that we never ran out of things to discuss. She was with me through the death of my father-in-law and the death of my mom, through the years of freelancing until I got my full-time job. She recently showed extreme patience while trying to cut my hair as I juggled a small work issue that required an immediate response. Yes, I was that obnoxious person moving my head to exactly the wrong angle (for her) as I tried to deal with the work issue (for me).

Yet, I never got to the point that I walked out loving my haircut.

In December, I had an appointment with my usual stylist, but I had to cancel it because a work meeting came up.

By the time I tried to reschedule, she couldn’t fit me in. I desperately needed a haircut before leaving for D.C. to spend a couple of days at my work HQ and attend its holiday party. Going with shaggy hair was not an option.

I posted my dilemma to Facebook, and got several great recommendations. My friend, Mike (check out his pedicab business if you’re local to Tallahassee!), tagged Chop Barbershops as one of the options.

Chop Barbershop wasn’t high on my list as an alternative. However, I had been to one of their three locations last summer when I reviewed “Musicals on the Move.” Chop Barbershop was the location of the “Sweeney Todd” component of the event, so I got a glimpse of their environment and figured out that these people must be pretty open to fun (although “Sweeney Todd” probably deserves other adjectives than “fun”!).

At loose ends about my hairstylist
Photo credit: Erich D. Martin

I decided to check out Chop’s Eastside location, which was closest to my house. I discovered that I could book via their website and still not have to pick up a phone, so I persevered. I figured out who had availability that day. Then I looked at Instagram to explore the work of various stylists.

That’s how I ended up being Sean‘s client.

When I arrived for my appointment, I explained my situation — that I had a business trip coming up and needed a cut, but had been unable to use my regular stylists. I also explained the things I hadn’t been entirely happy with about my cuts in the couple of years I had been with her and showed him a picture of a time when my hair looked great.

People, he got it on the first try! There are a few small things that I want him to modify as we continue to work together, but I walked out of there truly happy with my hair for the first time since Bonnie moved to Music City.

(We also had a great talk, always a plus.)

Breaking up is hard to do

Now that I’ve found someone who does for my hair what I want, I needed to figure out what to do about the person I’ve used the last few years.

I don’t feel right ghosting her. There are several reasons for this. One of them is the fact that I love her story. She got a business degree. She may have even gotten a graduate business degree (I don’t recall). But after all that, she said, “I couldn’t turn away from the fact that hair is my passion.” I get that, and I think there’s a lot to be said for finding your professional groove (trust me — it took me until I was 54 to really get there, which doesn’t mean all the years before that were a waste…).

I chatted with a few people on Twitter about this dilemma.

My ever-resourceful friend Rachel shared this “Ask a Stylist” about how to change hairdressers in the least awkward way possible. It’s a good read, with plenty of thoughtful advice. Ultimately, celebrity stylist Mark Townsend recommended honesty.

And that’s what I’ve decided to do.

I just composed a note to her thanking her for the years we spent together and expressing my appreciation for all we’ve shared. As far as the hair, I just said I’ve decided to “go a new direction.”

I know how it has felt at points throughout my career when someone stopped using me with no notice or explanation. Sometimes, the notice and explanation don’t feel good, but they at least eliminate the mystery of not knowing whether my work was inferior or they just truly decided to do something different.

Even though there may be apps for breaking up with your stylist, this situation calls for a more old-school approach. Hence the handwritten note.

It’s a note that may not technically be necessary in this situation, but it’s the right thing to do to avoid leaving loose ends.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

You can write more than 1,000 blog posts spanning a decade and still be surprised at which posts perform well and which don’t.

I’m sharing my top 12 posts of 2019 here, but two posts I wrote in earlier years, 10 Lessons from Lumosity and 6 Ways Our Marriage Resembles a Tree, still performed best. (They finally knocked out Get Groovy with Hippie Juice: Cocktail Recipes for Spring, which held the top spot for a long time!)

Remembering Mia

I am so thrilled that this post got the most views in 2019. I wish I hadn’t had to write it at all, but I love how so many people who loved Mia and her parents gathered around, in real life and here in the cyberworld, to support this family and help more hospitals get Cuddle Cots.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Ration Challenge 2019: How Eating Less Taught Me More

Not only did participating in the Ration Challenge help me raise $634.14 for Church World Service and its efforts to help refugees, but it also helped me kick the caffeine and artificially-sweetened soda habit. I’m still waiting for flavored sparkling water to still taste like — something — but I’m healthier for the effort.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

3 Commercials That Don’t Make Sense

I guess writing about causes is *really* my favorite, but this type of writing is the most fun to me. I like trying to make sense of the world, and my blog is a main way I do that. If you didn’t watch the “Failing” video before, I highly recommend it. It’s so much better than the nonsensical commercial starring the same actress.

Guest Post: Being Your Own Medical Advocate

I’m so excited that this guest post by Hannah of Feeding Tube Fitness, who I met through a friend, was my fourth most viewed post of the year. Learning to advocate for yourself in a medical setting is challenging, and Hannah gives great advice. She’s also exceptionally fun and motivating on Instagram, so follow her!

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

The Surprise of Early Menopause

I really enjoyed participating in this AARP Disrupt Aging campaign to help dispel myths about menopause. I’m sure one of the reasons it did well is because those of us participating in the campaign supported each other by sharing. It’s one of the reasons I love doing blog campaigns!

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Should Office Plants be Banned?

If we didn’t have cats who like to nibble on (and knock over/vomit up) plants, I could have whatever “office” plants I want since I work from home. As this blog explored, a proposed ban on office plants by the State of Florida branched out into an uproar (of sorts). It was also yet another example of how there is often more to the story with questions like this.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Aging is Not a Hammer

I’m glad I started out the year advocating for people to see aging as a positive thing. I feel young at heart almost every day, and hope I’ll never devalue the importance of the wisdom the years have brought me.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

June News Developments That Made Me Say “WOW”

I’m so excited that this post made the top 12. When I first became an editor at SmartBrief, I wanted a way to share our open positions with people who might be good candidates. The first month, introduced the open positions by talking about my favorite stories that month. I thought I might switch to quarterly at some point, but so far I’ve stayed with monthly and it has been 16 months and I don’t want to change. It’s a good exercise for me every month to think back on what stories meant the most, and I like giving my partners a little extra social media boost by linking to them.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

“Be Pretty” and Other Lessons from Mom

This may not have been the post with the most views, but it was a tribute to my mom, so it deserves number one status as far as I’m concerned! Maybe my mom is hanging out with Mia in Heaven, and I can only imagine how happy it would make her to love on a baby girl.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019
This look on her face captures who she was.

3 Tips for Better iPhone Food Photography

I had so much fun and learned so many great tips for taking better food photos from this evening (and tried to summarize them in the blog). Yet — I still take quick pix of my food so I can get to the enjoyment rather than applying most of what I learned. Anyway, any time I hang out with “the other Paula” is a win.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Safety is the Deepest Gift of All

I enjoyed writing this post and I’m glad it did well. But dang it now I’ll have a “Shallow” earworm all night!

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

3 Fabulous Women to Follow on Twitter

This was my response to the #WomenToFollow project developed by Rose Horowitz. Rose is a true champion of women, and I’m glad this post did well.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

I’m linking up this week with Kat Bouska for the prompt “Share your top 12 blog posts from 2019.” And thank you to Vivid Image for their helpful post How to Find Your Most Popular Content Using Google Analytics.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019