Time to move forward

The onset of 2017 coupled with life marching by has finally gotten me back to blogging. Not that I am counting or anything, but more than two entire months have passed since I plopped down at my computer to share my random thoughts, words and views with you.

I always believed up until now I was the kind of writer who was emotionally inspired. One who wrote to understand, grapple with, contemplate life and the world around me. Yet, it seems when it comes to very strong emotions, I am rendered wordless. This misdiagnosis should not come as a surprise to me as it is not a new thing. Not many years ago I was so certain I was lactose intolerant I went without dairy for years. As it turns out, the reason I was feeling sick after each bowl of cereal was not due to milk, but an apparent sensitivity to wheat. Who knew? Maybe it’s time I leave the diagnosing to the professionals?

My heightened emotions of the last few months stem from the loss of our family dog, Cornell, to Cancer. Even writing this makes me fight back tears. He was so intricately woven into our family fabric that the empty hole was overwhelming to stitch up. Our family was broken, sad and apparently not very good at hiding our emotions. Even the people at my husband’s office were aware. You may recall my husband is a coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, which makes us a football family. A family whose lives revolve around a football schedule and the win-loss column. A family who struggles to place everything on hold until the season comes to an end, including the death of a family pup. So our plan was to get through the football season and then figure out life.

Apparently, others had a different plan, and by others I mean my husband’s entire stable of offensive linemen. After a position meeting a few weeks ago they placed a crate on his desk and said, “Hope this helps put your family back together, Coach. Merry Christmas!” Inside that cage was a 3.5-month-old Shi-poo puppy. Yes, you read that right, a dog! Not only did they all chip in and buy us a dog, but a dog that modestly resembled our beloved Cornell. They researched for weeks, located a breeder, picked him out and cared for him until our children were home from college. And with that kind-hearted and sentimental gift we became a family of five again.

 picture thanks to "Aunkie"

picture thanks to "Aunkie"

I know what you are thinking, as we had those exact thoughts. “How could you give us a dog?” “Who does that?” “Is this some kind of a White Elephant gift exchange?” However that was quickly followed with the overwhelming awareness of how much these linemen must love Jeff and our family to give us this puppy. We knew saying, “Thanks, but no thanks!” would never cross our lips.

Our family was not only unprepared, but stunned. I was not ready to love again. I was still looking in my rear-view mirror. I was embracing the sadness, succumbing to tears and reliving all the memories. The idea of caring for a new dog made me feel like a traitor. The struggle for our family was not going to be potty training but embracing this adorable puppy and therefore becoming vulnerable again. But once we agreed upon the name OL-iver, a nod to the big OL guys who gave him to us, our home began to fill back up with happiness. Now our home has gates, pee-stained rugs, toys scattered about and a little four-legged friend who is trying his darndest to help us ‘look” forward.

 Where's OL-iver? A black furry friend is very challenging to take proper pictures of!

Where's OL-iver? A black furry friend is very challenging to take proper pictures of!

Moral: “Time heals nothing unless you move along with it.” Rachel Wochin

Your forward-focused friend,


A little thing you should know: College football season has ended. NFL season has less than one month left so the transitional season continues. Every team is comprised of the obvious players and coaches. But lest not forget the administration, front office, travel, press, social media, equipment, nutrition, trainers and medical personnel. Each one of those people have a family of some kind. Those families experience food, home, clothes, education and a comfortable life in part due to working for that team. They all carefully watch the win-loss column, as that is the line in the sand for most football families. I send congratulations and or empathy to those who find themselves too close to that line.

Dear Cornell...

Where are you? I walk in circles aimlessly around our house, searching for you. I spot signs of you everywhere. Your unfinished Dingo bones are scattered about the house. I see your water glass on the coaster beside the couch. Your endless supply of blankets to snuggle up in are at all your happy spots. Your medicine is lined up on the counter. Your treat jar is full. Your leash waits by the front door along with your red plaid lumber jacket. But you, my sweet boy, are nowhere to be found.

 Yup, he really drank ice water from a glass.

Yup, he really drank ice water from a glass.

I drink my morning coffee alone now. I sit here blogging without you nestled up beside me. I’ve been going to sleep much too late since you’re not here begging me to go upstairs. I leave the house with no one to say, “I promise I’ll be right back.” I can stay out for hours now because there is no you for me to take care of.

Remember the Empty Nest fiasco? How you listened to me, followed me around the house while I struggled to keep myself busy? And when I finally sat down you saddled up beside me and placed your head on my lap? Well I owe you an apology buddy. Our home was not empty. Not even close. You were home with me.  Now our home is empty—or at least feels that way. No one to care for, comfort, feed, look after on a day-to-day basis. My goodness Cornell, please tell me you did not get sick to fill my void? That couldn't be, right?

It’s just I feel so lost without you. This house we both loved so is now filled with a deafening silence way too much of the time. My heavy heart feels it could just free fall to the ground. I cry everywhere and at the most unexpected times and you know firsthand what an ugly crier I am. For a quiet little guy often mistaken for a stuffed animal with a pulse, your passing has left an immense empty hole in our lives.

cornell in kitchen.JPG

But don’t worry, Cornell. Everyone knows time does in fact heal. I really don’t want to hear that right now, but I know it is true. It’s just that right now time is a tricky deal. When you were diagnosed we prayed for time. Multiple times a day we took medicine to manage your illness and comfort. Two to three hours of time was about your max before we needed to get outside. Morning was your neediest time so we stopped going to the gym. This last year you and I have been pretty much inseparable. You traveled like a champ to Florida, Maine, your sister’s college, NY City, Upstate New York and weekends at the Jersey Shore. You enjoyed our outings to BJ’s, Lowes, JoAnn Fabrics and Michaels too. And if circumstances were such that I had to leave you at home there were ALWAYS people who loved you and eagerly stepped in to spend time taking care of you. You lived life—and we lived it with you.

 Our last trip to BJ's together!

Our last trip to BJ's together!

You were the most loving and gentle dog, Cornell, which makes it so fitting that kindnesses keep pouring in. Calls, texts, gifts, flowers, Relay for Life donations in your memory, visits, hugs and homemade cookies have not stopped for days from all our friends; near and far. Even the man at the car place delivered our fixed car to our home so I did not have to face the world just yet. It’s so clear you are loved due to the long list of endearing nicknames people gave you. And I don’t know of many dogs who have their own Instagram account @cornellthedog!

 Cornell's many pet names!

Cornell's many pet names!

Sometimes when I cry I think myself so foolish that I have been reduced to rubble because you were after all, “just our dog.” I think of friends who have lost children, husbands and parents and I feel at times like I’m overreacting. I am aware there is deeper sadness than this in our world, but in our world you were family, and in many ways, the best kind of family. You were our unconditional love. Both giving and receiving. You were a therapist, best friend, confidant and companion. You never judged our crazy, but instead just sat quietly by and supported us. Let’s not forget every single move our football family made. You were always there to soften the transition by making our new home feel instantly normal by your presence. And you were a big reason why we were always able to quickly make new friends on the other side.

The other side—that is where you are now. A side that is much too far away from us. You will forever be missed, eternally loved and respectfully treasured.

Moral: Although sick, Cornell lived life to the fullest every day. There is a quote that says, “Live for today, because tomorrow is promised to no one.” The last few months included a lot of “living for today” for which we are grateful.

With a broken heart,

A little thing you should know Cornell: Remember when dad came home late from work you always ran out to greet him and peed on the lawn right beside his parked car? Well a few nights ago for the first time ever, Dad pulled into the driveway and a deer was waiting for him in that very same spot just looking into the window of our home. So grateful for the sign buddy...

 Thanks Julie for the perfect pillow for our perfect guy!

Thanks Julie for the perfect pillow for our perfect guy!

"Leave" your mark

Fall is my most absolute favorite season hands down. The time of year when the temperature starts to dip and boots, sweaters and scarves break out of the closet. The days get shorter. The smell of fireplaces is in the air. Front porches fill with pumpkins as store shelves fill with candy. And of course, football is in full swing.

I spend hours digging holes for bulbs and mums. Our front porch urns get “Autumned” with mums, grasses, pumpkins and Halloween twinkle lights. Scarecrow takes his rightful place beside the red wagon that hauled our kids and candy loot many Halloweens ago. Now that retired wagon full of pumpkins and mums parked in our garden reminds me how times have changed!

Admiring leaves is another one of my very favorite fall pastimes. Yup, I am the one who pulls off the road to take yet another photo of an amazing sugar maple tree. I am oddly fascinated by trees and their leaves. Long gray winters come to an end the moment tiny bright green leaves show themselves. Soon those leaves are the supporting cast for a multitude of flowers, petals and aromas. As the summer gets into full swing, full grown leaves offer us shade protection so we can picnic, nap and read under their canopy. As fall arrives leaf peepers jump in cars across the USA to witness the leaves grand finale of breathtakingly beautiful colors.

 The gorgeous tree just around the corner from my house! Compliments of my neighbor friends Alison and Bill!

The gorgeous tree just around the corner from my house! Compliments of my neighbor friends Alison and Bill!

But raking those beauties is not a job for the faint of heart, especially a person like myself who feels they might struggle with a slight case of OCD. I remember the moment well, as it was a Monday. Not just any Monday—it was a winning Monday. In the football world that translates to the Monday after your team wins their game. Everything is easier on a winning Monday. With my free winning cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee in my hand I began the task of collecting the leaves. I was whistling, singing tunes, filling bags and making headway. Before I knew it the sun was beginning to set and a chill was filling the air. As I turned to collect my tools I noticed the front yard I just spent five hours clearing was already freshly coated with a new layer of leaves.

As I caught myself frantically picking up the freshly fallen leaves one by one it dawned on me. I’ve been here before, sort of. This was so reminiscent of so many other times in my life. I was transported back to those days when my children were young and I attempted to keep our home clean. Or how there was always one more load of laundry, a room to clean or homework assignment to help complete. I stood up in my driveway, stepped away from the leaves and determined there are always going to be days when there will be more leaves to place in your bucket.

It’s those times you need to find perspective and unfortunately I did not need to look too far. Just a couple of weeks ago my neighborhood friend passed away from Brain Cancer. As I sat at his beautiful service amongst his family and friends it was very clear he left this life too soon. He was a kind-hearted, unselfish and happy person. His story was a woeful reminder that any minute our lives can change and we should do our very best to live each day to it’s fullest potential.

So, I am taking a page from my friend and a leaf. I will brighten this world by showing up and being present. I shall support and protect those who live amongst me. I will attempt each day to grow to be my best self.

Moral: When it’s my time to “leave,” may there be a few memories of myself worthy of collecting.

your friend,

 

A little thing I got my daughter to do for me: If you know anything about me, it’s my love of words. They don every wall, room and mantle in our home. Heck, even our driveway at times has chalked words all over it. This time of year the pumpkins get in on the action too!  

 Thanks Madi for your mad calligraphy skills!

Thanks Madi for your mad calligraphy skills!

Sometimes Life Just Sucks

“Mom, you sugar-coat things a lot!”

“Well yes, I’m a baker and that’s what we do!”

“No, I mean you really never get down and dirty about the honest ugly truth sometimes.”

“OH…”

As you can imagine I simmered that comment over and over like apples in a crockpot. Just when I had decided is was neither a bad or good thing, I heard our most recent houseguests say, “There’s a lot of pressure in Allison’s house to be nice!” Now this one had me stewing. What did this all mean? I walked around my home and found so many little signs, quotes, notes, chalkboards about being kind, appreciating the day, loving your life, respecting yourself, believing in yourself, make it a great day… yeah I see it now. So maybe it is a “thing” after all?

 Alright, so I like positive words around my home....

Alright, so I like positive words around my home....

Maybe it’s my kindergarten teacher background. As far back as I can remember positive thinking has always been my default attitude. So what if I prefer my glass half full. Yes I rocked a pair of rose colored glasses back in my younger days! And I’ve always thought being called Pollyanna was a compliment too. Well, the world may be shocked to hear this but NEWS FLASH PEOPLE: I am well aware of bad things. I have a young neighbor friend who is in Hospice with brain cancer. I’ve had a miscarriage. My dad has Parkinson’s and is about to move into an assisted living home. Another very dear family member has been struggling with illness for way too many months. My dog has inoperable bladder cancer. Most of my time is spent alone. Yeah, I know life can suck. I get it. 

 Getting snuggles in with my sweet boy...

Getting snuggles in with my sweet boy...

But it doesn't help me if I wallow in my sorrow, pity and sadness. I prefer to paint my life in a positive hue. Negativity has never helped me get through my muck. I’m not oblivious, but yeah, I sugar-coat. I sprinkle my world with positivity and kindheartedness. I look to help others. I volunteer my time. I smile at people who pass me on the street. I feed the birds. I let people merge in front of me on the crowded highway. I bring Ring Pops for all the football family children on game days. I mail handwritten notes. I leave cold water bottles for the garbage and recycling people. I search high and low for a silver lining. I do all this so my heart fills with happiness and drowns out the sadness.

 Brooke and I volunteered at MANNA of Philadelphia decorating birthday cakes for people who are homebound.

Brooke and I volunteered at MANNA of Philadelphia decorating birthday cakes for people who are homebound.

A professional psychiatrist might refer to it as a coping mechanism or denial. Regardless, I have adapted a technique that allows me the ability to deal with sad thoughts. This practice keeps the gray out of my day and allows me to reach out and embrace things like sunrises, freshly fallen acorns and rainbows. Call it the science of Allison. Call it whatever you like but I’m going to keep it up. It keeps me moving forward and getting out of bed. It places sadness on my back burner, leaving room for happiness to warm on the front ones.

Moral: Do what you must to make it through your day, it’s your day after all!

your sugar-coated friend,

A little thing about Rosh Hashanah: It’s the Jewish New Year holiday celebration. It is tradition to dip apples in honey to ensure a sweet New Year. With every apple slice dipped in honey I have either a request, prayer or conversation with God. This year I sliced my apples really thin because my list is really, really long. As I nibbled and dipped I both cried and smiled. After I was done I placed the apple core, a few orange rinds and one stick of cinnamon on the front burner to simmer. Just like that my home slowly filled with the smell of fall happiness. Wishing a Happy New Year to my friends who celebrate!

 A sincere thank you for this gorgeous bottle of delicious home-crafted honey from my FIPP friends!

A sincere thank you for this gorgeous bottle of delicious home-crafted honey from my FIPP friends!

 

 

Growing up things

Just the other day I found out my father is moving again. Not out of the norm for a man who never stayed put for too long. Every time Dad moved he was always eager to show his new home off to us and us off to his new friends. Each summer my sister and I would spend a week or two enjoying his new world which included lots of fun trips and food of course. So yes, you guessed it, my parents are divorced. Thanks to his propensity for movement my family tree includes a few extra branches; an “Ex-stepmom”, current step-mom, two half-brothers and a half sister-in-law. It may sound unbelievable to you, but I consider my life happier and richer with these five extra people in it! 

 A picture taken of us during our Annual Sibling Weekend!

A picture taken of us during our Annual Sibling Weekend!

What I recall most about those Dad visits were my feelings. I was filled with anticipation, excitement, happiness and that damned dread. Before our trip began I would think ahead to when our trip would be over and our father would drive us to the airport. I can recall pretending to be carefree and lighthearted while dread set my throat and eyes on fire. These are the memories and reasons why I still to this day despise goodbyes. 

This latest move of Dads is quite different though. You can call it assisted living or a senior citizen’s home but I grew up calling it an Old Folks home. A place you go when you are of a certain age/health and need help getting through your day. My Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease many years ago. We have watched the disease very slowly but methodically deplete his mobility and cognitive skills. He and his wife have determined that his time living in their home is soon coming to an end.  As my dad always has, he described his new world with excitement. He seems happy to have found a room with a few trees outside his window for his bird feeders. “When you visit I will show you around.”And I expect he will also show us off to his new friends and maybe we’ll even have a bite to eat. (So as much as things change, deep down they are very much the same.) 

This latest change had me wondering what my take-away was? What constructive action will emerge from this? Well for one, I booked a trip. Not just to visit my dad, but my mom as well. Why? It’s really simple… because every time my mom and I speak about a trip there are always a bunch of reasonable reasons why it just can’t fit in right now. It’s either a football game, kids coming home from college, friends visiting from out of town or my sick dog…. but then I got the call about Dad and I booked a maiden voyage flight for me and Cornell. 

 Cornell misunderstood the concept of packing.

Cornell misunderstood the concept of packing.

Once again a trip filled me with anticipation, excitement, happiness and that damned dread. This time I dreaded the flight, TSA security and if he would have to go to the bathroom while in flight. We tried on pet carriers like outfits! For goodness sake I packed like he was a baby; wipes, poop bags, toys, snacks and his favorite blankie. But in the end, no one weighed him nor looked at the vet certificate. Heck, Im not even sure I was charged for his ticket. Yeah he peeded just outside of TSA security gate, but I wiped, disinfected and disposed of it before anyone saw. 

So I bid you adieu directly from my mom’s home in sunny Florida. Cornell and I are having a wonderful time here and as our trip comes to an end I can see dread peeking around the corner.

Moral: Things change; good things, bad things, old things and new things. No matter, if handled properly they are all growing up things.

with love from my growing up heart, 

 

 

Winning Matters

As much as I hear people say, “Winning doesn’t matter!”- it does. As a matter of fact it matters a whole bunch in our home. We are a football coach's home. Any home with a coach living in it will agree- when your family’s livelihood depends upon it- winning matters!

It is not so much about that winning glow- you know that haze of happiness that envelops everything as the last seconds tick off the clock. Immediately the stadium just seems friendlier. The drive home can be bumper to bumper traffic and nobody cares. There may be just a bag of stale chips for dinner and everyone is all smiles. The dog gets to be walked out front as opposed to being quietly let out back. My kids can attend their classes and not have to listen to the teacher and fellow students rant on and on!  As for me, well I have a pep in my step and a smile on my face. I can be assured that when I make eye contact with people I pass they will not shake their head in disgust and turn away. My car drives smoother. The sun shines brighter. The people living under my roof are happier. Oh my--even doing laundry is enjoyable. Like I said, a happy haze.

 Basking in that happy haze!

Basking in that happy haze!

Explaining this phenomenon to “non-coaching family” humans can be a challenge--how the outcome of each game taints our lives. Sometimes I am comfortable enough to share true family facts with these folks that they would normally not be privy to. Like how hard it is to see my husband, who puts in seventeen hour days, lose a game. How difficult it is for our children to hear their father and team be verbally bashed on a playground or school bus. Or how much it hurts to listen to the guy at the gas station who notices my bumper sticker proceed to tell me how disgusted he is with the team’s performance and how “clearly” those coaches are not working hard enough.

 After a wonderful victory!

After a wonderful victory!

Sure we coaches families can fake a smile as we pass you in the school pick up line. We have been known to even encourage a disgruntled fan while standing in line at the grocery store. So often everyone in our family makes the choice to take the high road when we “hear” things we would rather not. Just a few weeks ago my daughter called me from college “Mom, I almost got a nose bleed in class this morning. Not from sitting in the last row of my lecture hall but because I took such a high road!” 

But truth be told, the most exhausting part of losing for me is responding to people. Of course I avoid all news reporters and the like. We never get the local paper and my radio stays tuned to 70’s on 7. From the post office to the bank, people are everywhere! They are kind hearted people who find themselves in a pretty uncomfortable place. Just knowing they care enough to say they are sorry about the outcome of the game, means the world. They do their best, and it’s so appreciated- but you try having that conversation ten times a day. So, I chose to hunker down for all of us… and venture out a little bit at a time.

Ah but there are those others and here is what I wish I could just once be able to say to them:

Dopey #1: Hope the game plan this weekend is better than last weeks?

Allison: “Oh my bad, please give me your address and I’ll be sure to have my husband send a copy for your approval!”***

 

Doofus #2: Who will your starting quarterback be?

Allison: Hmm, that’s a good question. Let me ask my husband that question with the five minutes I see him each week and I’ll call you with the answer, sound good jack#%*?

 

Brainless #3: Why didn’t they run the ball more?

Allison: “Because they threw it! Oh, I had no idea you are blind-- I'm so sorry!”

 

Super fan 101: Tell your husband that he ruined my week.

Allison: Here is his number, I double dog dare you to call him directly!

 

So of course just as I would not say any of those things, nor would I turn around and tell those incredibly rude, loud outspoken "fans" sitting around me to kindly keep their mouths closed. Instead, I say nothing and begin my ascent…

Moral: If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all!

your “glowing” friend, 

A little story I love: There once was an over-served fan sitting just rows from the coaching families using inappropriately vulgar language about the coaches. After a bit, six-year-old Julianna somewhat forcefully turned towards the man and said, “Hey, that is my Daddy, Mr. Sassypants!” * Out of the mouths of babes.


*excerpt Cervino, BeeBee. Married to the Game. The American Football Coaches Wives Association, 2005.

Back to School and Blogging

It’s safe to say during our time apart I have been pretty busy. Not busy "like a one-armed paper hanger" or anything like that, just busy living life. I have honestly missed “us.” I didn't feel the loneliness in the beginning, kind of enjoyed the writing hiatus. It was becoming a bit of a struggle finding something to write about each week. But, when I caught myself writing inspirational messages on my hard boiled eggs, I knew it was time to blog again. So here we are!

My angel coin story is the perfect way to ease back into our blogging routine. Many years ago I purchased an angel coin for my sweet friend battling breast cancer who lived far from me. I told her that since I couldn't be with her she should keep this angel coin with her and know she was never alone. That coin was always, always with her.  Many years later when she accepted her time here was coming to an end, she gave me back the coin and said “I’ve loved having this angel coin Allison, but now it’s your turn to keep her.”  I too never went anywhere without her angel coin.

Hence began my mission to always have an angel coin handy when my path crossed someone in need. I was careful when doling out my dwindling stash of coins because I could not find a place to buy them anymore. Eventually I was just down to one give away and my special coin. About this same time I went into a local jewelry store as a customer and came out a part-time employee! They were friendly, wonderful, trustworthy, kind-hearted and in desperate need of help.

Early on in my employment one of their regular customers came into the store and it was clear she was struggling with cancer. I quickly ran back to my desk to retrieve my last give away angel and placed it in her hand. That night while closing up the shop, they asked me about the significance of the angel coin. That’s when they offered to make angel coins for me! Now not only are angel coins just a call away, but so are my dear jewelry store friends!

A week ago I found a friend in need, so I handed her my coin. I said, “A special angel is watching over you so you should never feel alone.” The look on the face of someone who receives an angel is worth triple the coin’s weight in gold.

A few days later I ran into my friend at our gym and she said she saw a woman in the locker room who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She wanted to give her angel coin to her but was afraid, since the coin had given her such strength and comfort. But in the end, she handed her coin over to the woman and said to me, “It felt so empowering, and so right giving my angel to her.” And so it continues…

Moral: Giving someone support is a gift that keeps giving!

A little thing you should know: My plan is to share my blog with you when I have something worthy to write about, so until then…

your friend always,

 

 

 

Miss me?

Hello my blog friends, I’ve missed you. It feels like months since I sat down with you. Part of me missed the brainstorming, writing, editing, publishing and connecting thing. Another part of me fully enjoyed the time off. I had no idea how much of my time I spent blogging. Now, before you think I’ve been sitting on a beach somewhere sipping some fruity drink ….

Remember a few weeks ago I told you how that magical Prid Drawing Salve helped remove a splinter of dried grass (yes grass) in my thumb? Well apparently that was only a little portion of it. Two weeks later the rest of it finally came to the surface. It may not look like a big deal to you, but it packed a powerful and painful punch!

You’ll also recall I was struggling to gather and turn in all our tax documents before the looming deadline. Pretty sure you’ll be proud to know I met the deadline with a few days to spare! As sometimes happens—the dread was worse than the actual activity. Afterwards I decided the only way to avoid this mess next tax season was to organize the heck out of it! It’s a proven fact that things color-coded, labeled and tidy will no longer be a problem, right?

Still, with some leftover free time I had blocked out for taxes I convinced myself that painting my wood paneled office would be a great time filler. For a couple of months I have felt my office was dark, dreary and sort of a difficult place for me to write. As always, my sister was eager to help me and so began endless days and nights of office transformation. Four 15-hour days to be exact. I guess I should have dreaded this painting job more than the tax return.

I will not bore you with details of an entire day of sanding and filling holes. Nor will you hear about the two full days we spent priming and painting miles of trim, baseboard, crown moulding, SIX doors and THREE windows ... or the last day spent painting three coats on the paneled walls!!! I chose Sherwin Williams Dover White with a semi-gloss white trim, because I always felt cream and white looked cozy yet crisp side by side. The change was so drastic from all the dark wood I worried it did not feel warm. I could probably hatch eggs in my office with all the brightness now. But as pictures are hung, furniture placed and that beautiful fern plant sits beside my couch, I can feel my office filling with “happy.”

So I am writing this blog at my old desk in my old office, but it all feels brand new to me. Best of all—I feel inspired. This space feels more like who I am, and a place I can start to focus on another dream I’ve had for a very long time. I am going back to story writing. Can’t promise a finished book or anything, but I intend to be working hard at it. I am very excited for this new challenge. So ... my blogs will post up when I have something worthy to write about and the time to share them with you. For those of you that have come to count on my Tuesday morning posts, don’t worry. If you need me, I am always just an email away: astoutland@aol.com!

Always your Tuesday friend,

Moral: Be like a fresh coat of paint-brighten a room when you enter it.

A little thing I’m obsessed with: My office not only had all wood paneling but twelve brass doorknobs. Not being a big fan of brass, I decided I would try to spray them with Rust-oleum Metallic Flat Burnished Amber since replacing them would be over $250.00! Spray painting was not only so easy, but so much fun it was difficult for me to stop! I was like an animal hunting its prey, and my next victims were my ten year old generic black stapler and tape dispenser. Seriously, if it wasn’t nailed down I contemplated spraying it! Once you try it, I know you’ll be thanking me!

tape dispenser.jpg

My March Madness

March started out like most; a couple of school author visits, filling out a college basketball bracket and searching for my flower bulbs to pop up in my garden. This seemingly typical Spring month quickly twirled into a hot mess. Instead of going on and on about all my troubles and shortcomings I have decided to share little random funny snippets and what I learned from my own March Madness.

My month began with a terrible case of the flu, and no I did not get a flu shot. Honestly every time I heard someone complain about the flu I thought to myself, “Grow up. How bad can it really be?” Well, that thinking might be why I fainted face first at the Admissions desk at Urgent Care. Some may call that karma!

With the tax deadline looming my list of banned activities were long, but weeding while my sweet dog went out to potty was thankfully not one of them! So while he did his business, I did mine. I grabbed a big old handful of dried grass from my front garden and got SPLINTERS! The grass was so dry and sharp it pierced my thumb in two places. So deep and almost invisible was this grass that I could not see it to dig it out! The thought of ending up at Urgent Care twice in one month was unacceptable, so I went to the local pharmacy. There they told me about this little pot of drawing salve that might help. Skeptical but desperate, I took it in my hand. The name alone would have sealed our love affair, but then it actually worked! Madness!

The other night my husband was making dinner while I finished up our taxes. I walked into the kitchen to find him cutting the lobster shell with my “only paper cutting scissors!” I explained to him why that was “madness!" It was clear to me he thought I was the mad one so I said …”Jeff, so then it would be cool if I used your 5-iron to plant my perennials?”

As a football family person often times I plant 100’s of bulbs only to move before they show themselves. For years I swore off planting bulbs, thinking it was a jinx. What madness for me when I got to see all the places I chose to plant crocuses, daffodils, tulips and allium back in the fall! So glad I took that risk and can’t wait to do it all over again this fall!

Madness continued with everything taking precedence over my beloved Barre and Pilates classes … breaking my personal record for "worst ever gym attendance." Good news is that since I lost weight thanks to that flu, I sort of seem to have broken even in that department.

One of the few times I was at the gym I ran into a friend who was wondering about my absence. I began my rehearsed response, “So I worked a whole bunch, had the flu, my dog isn’t feeling well and …” she cut me off and said, “Sounds like you’ve been busy writing a country song!” Yes I guess it did. Hmm, maybe I should? Madness!

So March has passed, basketball brackets can be recycled and hopefully the madness is over.

Moral: Madness can teach some pretty great life lessons too.

Your mad friend,

Two little Spring things I started to do: I’m all about buying reduced Spring baskets with fading flowers and planting those bulbs all around my garden! But, now I am also sprouting veggies on my kitchen counter in preparation for my edible garden. Seriously it’s madness after I make a salad. I place the romaine and celery ends in a 1/2 inch of water. About four days later and it is sprouting!!!

A last second update: Congratulations to Villanova University on becoming the 2016 College Basketball National Champions and securing my basketball bracket win too! MADNESS continues...

'Tis the season

I am not a gambling gal--but if I were, this is exactly the kind of bet I should have put all my marbles on. Not only would I have not lost a single bet, but may easily have tripled my lot. Thanks to the last 27 years of practice I have under my belt this type of bet is what Vegas refers to as a “lock."  Here we are closely edging towards the end of March and I am right where I always am--panicking.

Don’t worry friends--I am not exactly requesting you to “talk me off the ledge,” for this is a job that must be done on my own. I had approximately 365 days to prepare for this looming deadline. Twelve months to keep things organized, so this task would be easy-peasey. Instead--the deadline is closing in, my throat is filling with bile, my chest with doom and I am feeling a bit more paralyzed with each passing day.

This task is not even physically taxing. There is no need to train or even qualify for that matter. I will not break a sweat, pull a hammy or tear my meniscus. No weather to endure--as a matter of fact this task will eventually be accomplished in the comfort of my own home where I have indoor plumbing, running water, stocked fridge and endless coffee at my fingertips.

You must be wondering what the actual task is that I dread so?  It’s so distasteful to me that it seems all things are more worthy of my time than this particular task. Yes, I can hear my mind say, “Live your life Allison, this task can wait! You have months until the deadline, what are you so worried about? It’ll get done!”  So in just these past few weeks I’ve done exactly that. I have raked out three rather large garden beds, scrubbed our algae covered water feature and replanted all window boxes and planters. I cleaned the entire basement including our daughter’s bedroom. With just 18 days until this deadline still today you could find me on the roof blowing leaves from the eaves and gutters!

 The Von Trapp family singing in The Sound of Music

The Von Trapp family singing in The Sound of Music

But just as the Von Trapp family knew when it was the right time to leave Austria … I too recognize it is now time for me too.

So long, farewell

Auf Wiedersehen, adieu

Adieu, adieu

To you and you and you.”

The above photo represents the very reason why I must say goodbye to you for the next few weeks. This is my tax cabinet. For the last 365 days I have tossed every single paper I felt was somehow related to our 2015 taxes. Also amongst all those financial papers are other papers I hid when people came to visit or just stopped by. This cabinet represents my disdain for numbers, math and calculations. It harkens back to every math problem I never understood.

So until I finish this job I will not allow myself to blog, bake, craft, garden or paint!!!  Just maybe this will be the incentive I need to help me stay focused as I unload, sort, highlight, tally, organize and finally ship off my return to our taxman. Yes, all this fuss and angst and I don’t even do our taxes … I am just responsible for gathering up all the numbers and documents to mail to our dear tax accountant who has the patience of a saint.

165815132

Off in the distance I hear someone saying, “Allison, put your big girl panties on!” Maybe that is just what I need, but first I’m going to give Olivia Pope a ring. Maybe she will “handle this” for me?

Moral: Postponing any unpleasant task seems to only make the misery last longer.

Your challenged friend,


A little thing I do: I know enough about me to know I need many dangling carrots for this task to be accomplished. Not the edible kinds, the kinds that will keep me focused and on task. I’ve decided my carrot will be a massage. Once April 15th comes and goes … I will hopefully be cleansing my body and mind of all toxins--I mean numbers!

Facing Little Fears (which to me aren’t so little)

This past weekend I grew up just a little bit more. I took on a personal fear that usually renders me sick to my stomach and has on occasion changed my plans entirely. I drove into New York City all by myself. Well, okay … I wasn’t exactly alone, our sweet dog Cornell was my traveling companion, but he wasn’t about to help read the map in a pinch! If I am being totally honest, those that know me also know I’ve been driving into the city alone for some time now. Every single time I have driven into NYC I travel the exact same way so there is somewhat of a comfort level in it for me. This means that I have learned to brave the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan Island. I breathe slowly and deeply while I under water white-knuckle drive looking for any signs of leaks … like that does any good in calming me down?  

 Pop Artist Ed Heck's art was on display while picking up a bagel and cream cheese for the ride home... win-win!

Pop Artist Ed Heck's art was on display while picking up a bagel and cream cheese for the ride home... win-win!

With the annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade this past week, luck of the Irish was not on my side. It was highly recommended I should avoid the midtown area completely. The advice made complete sense but meant I had to go A DIFFERENT WAY! I don’t know about you, but I don’t like change much at all. It automatically places me in some kind of a slow boiling sort of semi-panic state. I handle situations best when I remember physically doing them. The moment my scaredy cat brain caught wind of this change it began campaigning for canceling my trip. A battle between my brain and heart was beginning to take shape. Fear was starting to paralyze me, but this trip was our Annual Sibling Reunion. A rare chance for Philadelphia me, my New York City sister and our two Chicago brothers to hang out together and yes--we really do love each other!

 The siblings: Tommy, Karen, Michael, Allison and Cornell!

The siblings: Tommy, Karen, Michael, Allison and Cornell!

There was still plenty of time to win this war since my heart was determined not to lose. So I pulled out my old fashioned atlas and started mapping out my new route. The success of this plan entailed traveling over the double decker George Washington Bridge, another one of my fears. UGH! Do I drive on the upper level so if the bridge should collapse then I am on top of the heap? Or do I drive on the lower level so I won’t go flying right off the top of the bridge if someone sideswipes me?

Long blog short, I did it--and it wasn’t nearly as bad as my mind made it out to be. I traveled with the visual picture etched in my mind and knew my plan. I opted for the lower level, since I can’t swim anyway so what’s really the difference? Not only did the drive go off without a hitch, but I even found a parking spot on my sister’s street!!!  So the reward for my bravery was a weekend filled with wonderful sibling time, seeing an “old” friend, meeting a few new friends and sneaking in a quick visit with my cousin to boot. We ate delicious food, reminisced and laughed a whole bunch. But if you know anything about a trip to see my sister, it is never complete without painting a room for her.

 Thanks for always having my back my "old" NYC friend and Blog Editor; Mike Johnson! 

Thanks for always having my back my "old" NYC friend and Blog Editor; Mike Johnson! 

So if you happened to catch a glimpse of me and Cornell driving home holding our breath through the LIncoln Tunnel, those few strands of gray you saw were actually wisps of Valspar Meteor Dust paint in my hair.  Who cares though, we were the happy, proud and the cocky winners!

 A peak at Karen's freshly painted NYC kitchen!

A peak at Karen's freshly painted NYC kitchen!

Moral: Arm yourself with techniques and thoughts that help you win your personal battles.

Your brave friend,

A little craft I like to do: As a proud 36-year AAA member I alway pick up complimentary Triptiks and maps for every new road trip. My neurotic mind likes to know what is coming up ahead while the teacher in me appreciates the facts and history of the towns we will be passing by. Instead of recycling them, I reuse and craft the most perfectly personalized gifts for weddings, showers or housewarming gifts. Choose 4 cities for the receiver(s) ... birthplace, college town, honeymoon or first home. Go to hardware/tile store to pick out tiles of your choice; I use  4 X 4 tumbled marble tiles that cost about .75 each. Cut each city so it fits on top of the tile. Careful tearing gives a cool finished edge too. Next adhere map cuttings with four coats of Mod Podge, drying in between each coat. Back each tile with either a thin cork self-adhesive backing or place one little rubber foot in each corner. Tie with a ribbon and gift away!

 Personalized Map Coasters: Step by Step

Personalized Map Coasters: Step by Step

On the road again....

In elementary schools across our country, March’s Reading Month kicked off with a birthday celebration to honor one of the finest children’s authors of all time, Dr. Seuss. I have loved the silliness, repetition and illustrations of his books since I was a young girl. However, it was not until I was an adult that I fully comprehended the magnitude of his deep and powerful messages.

As a kindergarten teacher I spent weeks reading his books. The Butter Battle Book gave me the perfect opportunity to discuss how a silly disagreement can turn into an enormous, foolish fight. The Sneetches encouraged a discussion about accepting others that are different than yourself. My all time favorite still is Horton Hears a Who illustrating perfectly how every single person matters, no matter how small!!!!  If only Dr. Seuss were here to make sense of this unbelievably mystifying—and often comical—Presidential election.

After the birthday festivities some schools continue the celebration by inviting an author to speak to their students about the writing process. That’s where I come in. Among other things I am a children’s author … and I love nothing more than speaking to a group of wide-eyed budding writers. I talk about my life and all the life experiences I have had that brought me to where I am today. On occasion I get the good fortune to share the adult version of my life with teachers, and remind them of the importance of their job and it’s life-altering affect on their students.

Lucky me—I have had a few school engagements this month. Just the thought of packing for a school visit trip makes me giddy. My husbands career and it’s constant moving potential made it a challenge for me to continue my career as a teacher. Plus, once we had a family we decided I should stay home and take care of our two children. So, 20 years ago traveling alone and sleeping in hotels was a perfect fit for my heart and life. I would fill my suitcase with all the magazines I never had time to read and treat myself to a brand new sleeping mask that I would leave on all night without a care. These days escaping a home filled with children is no longer a thing. Neither is sleeping in a hotel alone since “empty-nest” has me home alone most of the time. Thankfully unread magazines no longer fill my bag as there are far more important items I cannot travel without. First being my personal portable fan just in case the daily pills I take to ease my hot flashes are not working. My makeup bag is chock full of anti-wrinkle creams, eye brightening concealer stick and my faithful teaser comb to add volume to my drooping hair! These times may be a changing, but the happiness and satisfaction from these trips remains, and in many ways, is heightened.

All the packing aside, as a new dear friend was dropping me off at the train station, she said, “ Try to take it easy, two schools in just two full days sounds draining!” I smiled back and replied, ”No worries, I’m like a car with no gas pulling into a gas station to fill up!” Of course, truth be told, I am absolutely drained after spending two entire school days sharing stories about my life, my struggles, my accomplishments … but mostly I am inevitably revitalized, rejuvenated and “happied” too.

Moral: Find what fills up your tank and get yourself to your local “gas station!”

your lucky author friend,

A little person I met: At the end of the school day a sweet little fourth grade girl walked up to me and told me that meeting me was the best day of her life so far. She said, “ I understand how you felt being bullied in second grade.” After we hugged she looked into my eyes and said, “I’m not scared anymore after your words, I feel brave now.” ….and just like that my tank runneth over!

One of the little thank you letters I received from another sweet child I met.


What exactly is a Friendship Brunch anyway?

I get this question a lot. The conversation pretty much goes something like this:

Invited Friend: “So, what are you selling at this party?”

Me: “Nothing!”

IF: “Then why are you having it? I mean, what is the occasion?”

Me: “No occasion, just my way of thanking people who have been a friend to me.”

IF: “Why have I never heard of anything like this before? Where did you learn about this? Where were you living in at the time? Probably down South, right?”

Thank you Theresa for this beautiful picture!

It’s a fair question- how did this tradition begin? Best I can figure is it was born in Michigan out of a desire and need. As a football family we tend to move quite a bit and every single time we must make new friends and navigate a new world. With my husband embedded in the football world/office from the moment we arrive, I am left to “handle” everything else. The Friendship Brunch gave me that perfect chance to thank the gals who befriended me; said a simple “hello” to the “new girl;” let me borrow sugar or an egg in a pinch; shared the names of the best babysitters, hairstylists and doctors in town or guided me as to which teachers to request and included me in the longstanding neighborhood playgroup. These are just a few of the kind-hearted women that make up a guest list chock full of amazing people from all parts of my daily life.

 Thanks Lisa for this picture!

Thanks Lisa for this picture!

This tradition has ebbed and flowed over time. Some years I abandoned the Brunch. Not because I didn’t meet wonderful friends that year, but because I was simply too busy keeping my own head above water. One year I decided each guest could bring a friend, because some friends just felt more comfortable that way—the more the merrier. Those that bring a friend along may walk in as a stranger but always leave as my new friend! I’ve also added an optional grab bag gift. Guests may bring a $5.00 gift and take one as they leave. Oh, and there is now “The Guest Chalkboard” signed by each attendee. It hangs on my bathroom wall, sort of like happy graffiti that I get to take with me when I move.

Thank you Annie for the perfect heart gift! And Lisa for the picture!

The sole purpose of the Friendship Brunch is to show how thankful I am to the people who helped make my family's transition to a new world smoother. Everything I do is so they fully comprehend just how much their kindness is appreciated and matters. When they leave my home there should be not a single doubt how grateful I am they stepped out of their very own comfortable world to comfort me.

Since I was raised to show people I care by feeding them, I make all the food myself. So, yes I prepare for days. My dear home even gets a deep cleaning because, afterall, it is only fair that she looks her personal best, too. All the while I am prepping and cleaning, I reminisce. I harken back to past Brunches in other football lands. I think of the wonderful ladies who I had the utmost pleasure of meeting and then calling my friend. These friends may not walk through my front door but always have a place in my heart-always!

 One gym, one football and one "new" friend! Picture courtesy of Lisa, again!

One gym, one football and one "new" friend! Picture courtesy of Lisa, again!

My reward for all this fuss is watching my home literally fill with the best of the best. I spend my time hugging each old and new friend as they arrive. I mingle and “matchmake.” I love watching my worlds collide. Seeing a neighbor chatting with a football friend thrills me. I’m not surprised anymore when a gym friend realizes she was in kindergarten with my sweet next-door neighbor! For me it’s just like watching really good quality ingredients I’ve picked up at many different shoppes come together and make a delicious pot of soup. I highly suggest you give a Friendship Brunch a go, it will not disappoint!

Moral: Choose your friends carefully for they determine the flavor and richness of your life.

your brunch friend,

A little thing I do: The recipes I use are often from friends who cannot be present. So when I label the food I place their name on it—and now they are kind of present too! And as promised, here are this year’s two of the top requested recipes.
 

I don’t belong in this generation

I’m not big into plastic water bottles or even those reusable Earth conscience bottles either. If I am going to drink water at all then please give me a regular glass with ice and tap water. Not only do I think it tastes better that way but it just makes more sense to me.

 Mug from new neighbor friend Susie and Happy glass from my "old" neighbor friend Sharon!

Mug from new neighbor friend Susie and Happy glass from my "old" neighbor friend Sharon!

I like writing letters on real paper with a blue Bic pen. I like folding the paper, sliding it into an envelope and placing a stamp on the corner. I like the way my handwriting changes depending on my mood. Now, this doesn’t mean that you won't catch me sending an email or a text, but nothing can replace an old-fashioned letter for me.

I like when there were just two kinds of orange juice to choose from; pulp or without. I don’t have an hour to determine if the carton of oj i’m holding has calcium, is non-acidic, no sugar added or organic. And that goes for you too, toothpaste. All these options are confusing and inevitably lead to me bringing home the wrong one.

And while we are at it I like real butter, milk and sugar. All these non-fat, low-fat, artificial sweetened products are reduced from what was genuine. If I’m going to eat a cookie, I want one real cookie as opposed to 5 altered ones. I’ve learned to drink coffee with milk rather than with Splenda and fat-free creamer. I’m not preaching--just sharing what feels right for my heart and head.

I kind of miss the days when there was one family phone on the kitchen wall. I should have seen this love affair/obsession with a phone coming by my very own reaction to getting a pink princess phone on my 13th birthday. I laid on my green shag rug talking endlessly to my best friend about nothing and everything until someone else in my home needed the phone. Wait for it … then I had to hang up!!! Nowadays everyone under our roof has their very own phone, well except for our dog, Cornell, that is.

Seems as if our family is not alone. As I walk through daily life everyone seems to be talking, texting or snapchatting to someone who is not present. Rare is the person you make eye contact with, throw them a friendly smile or share idle chit-chat. Or maybe it is me on my phone looking down and missing it all. It’s really sad that the person standing right in front of you gets ignored while a person far away gets rewarded. Quite the irony of technology that was supposed to keep us better connected. In my mind, it often has had just the opposite effect.

Now, I would be a big fat liar if I did not share a few of the new fangled things I feel are pretty darn spectacular. Like facetime. which allows me to see my family members who live far away. Or the ultrasound that reassured us all was good inside my pregnant belly just a few 21 years ago. I love that I can send a "thinking about you" text or email to someone in another state or country and they miraculously receive it within seconds! I love how my Sunpass let’s me glide through toll booths without stopping. Playing a game of Word Chums with my bestie who lives in another state to pass the time while I wait at an appointment is delightful. So is reading a restaurant review before making a reservation. I can even listen to any song at anytime with the swipe of my finger on my smartphone. Just the other day I learned how to add a video snippet to my blog with youtube … another super cool advancement in technology that I embrace.

So as you can see, it is a real struggle for me to balance the temptation of this generation with my old-fashioned self. I try to BE in the moment, silence my phone to minimize disruptions from those in my presence. Instead of trolling through facebook with free time, I sit and color in one of my many adult coloring books. I bake cakes from scratch with  buttercream frosting and hope to just eat a teensy-tiny sliver slice. Maybe what I really need is an app to help me balance my life?

Moral: Being in the present, after all, is a present in itself. Let’s not miss it!

your balancing friend,


A little, but big thing I do: Pardon the tardiness of my blog this week but I hosted my first Philadelphia Friendship Brunch yesterday and I am pooped both physically and emotionally. I have so much to share...blog, recipes and photos to follow next week!

Oh I wonder

At 52 years of age I am still trying to figure me out. I remember thinking by the time I hit my fifties there would be almost nothing I did not comprehend. I mean afterall, I’ve had 50 years to figure it out. Isn’t this the time in my life Oprah referred to as the “I finally get it” age? Yet, here I am still baffled by my own self--still.

Why is it when I am lost, I inevitably drive faster? Is it because I think the faster I drive the quicker I will no longer be lost?

Why do I get so incredibly angry at myself when I get sick? I might as well be walking around with a big “FAILURE” sign taped to my forehead!

Why do I spend months researching a project, weeks locating just the right materials at the perfect cost and then cannot find a few hours to tie up all the loose ends to finish the job?

Why do I eat like a bird all day long, but then eat like an animal at night? Is it because I think it is dark and so no one can see me? Or that I am rewarding myself? WHAT?!

Why must I travel miles out of my way to spend 2 cents less for a gallon for gas? Anyone can see I spend far more on the extra distance than on savings!

Why can’t I yet successfully food shop for an entire week without always needing to swing by the supermarket for a forgotten item or two or three?

How is it I have a jam-packed gift closet, but never seem to have the right gift for the right person?

Why do I treat myself so poorly, but wouldn’t consider treating others close to that same way?

Why do I love to be alone, but am such a people person?

Why am I so disgruntled when the car in front of me let’s a waiting car merge in when I was planning on being that person?

Why must I always wait until the last possible minute to finish a task and then with a few minutes left just throw caution to the wind and altogether stop trying? Is it because if I give up then I think I won’t feel like I’ve failed?

Why do I carefully select and purchase eye creams to diminish puffiness and wrinkles, but then fail to put them on every single night? That’s sure to help the issue!

Why do I still believe I can drink a cup of coffee after 3 p.m. and not be affected by it … every single time?

But the biggest mystery about me is my tendency to inevitably clam up when something sad occurs in my life. The moment my heart feels sadness it sounds off an ALARM! The severity of the sadness determines the number of barriers I put in place. I liken this shutting down process to a weekly TV detective show I enjoyed as a young child called “Get Smart.” Each week the show began with the bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart proceeding through a secret passage to get to his office. It’s a series of … oh hell, cue the clip since the visual is far better than any word description I might come up with!

Anyway, that’s just what I do--literally close my doors. I let most of my calls go to voicemail. I prefer responding to requests via text or email. My goal is to avoid the inevitable questions heading my way regarding said sadness from people who care. Good, bad or ugly it’s both me and baffling!

Moral: Acceptance is the first step towards change.

Your struggling 52-year-old friend,

Another little thing about me: Why is it for the second room renovation in two years the items that actually inspired me in the first place are not part of either finished project? Ironically, the inspiration for both my kitchen and half bathroom were a pair of antique metal door hinges. I guess I’ll just hold onto them and see what they inspire me to do next!

 I finally managed to tie up almost every single loose end and could not love it any more!

I finally managed to tie up almost every single loose end and could not love it any more!

Will the real meaning of Valentine's Day please stand up?

In case you live in a hole, Valentine’s Day is just a few days away. All these reminders only make me long for my teaching days. Oh how I loved when my students transformed old shoe boxes into beautiful valentine card mailboxes. Printed class lists were sent home as homework, yes homework. Each child was responsible for writing each and every classmate's name on their cards. Yes, the rule was either you gave a card to everyone or to no one. My goal was simple. Everyone would leave feeling loved, which if I’m being honest was my goal everyday!

My job as an inner-city teacher was often filled with sadness. Yet it provided me with a daily reminder that my “tough” life paled in comparison to the little children who spent their weekdays with me. At five years of age some of these children faced challenges I had never even thought of until they entered my life. Some came to school hungry, unkempt and exhausted but no matter always found it in them to love me. So I did all I could to make sure they knew I loved them right back. I kept donated clothing in my teacher closet at the ready, the school district provided breakfast and lunch, and when desperately needed I called a family friend who was a dentist. That is why at least on Valentine’s Day there would never be tears in my classroom, just a day of everyone feeling loved.

Plus I never really appreciated all the fuss and pressure this holiday created and still don’t some 20 years later. I always wondered why just one day? Why the focus on romantic love? Why not for all your friends, just like in kindergarten? And so I began my Friendship Brunch tradition. A day I invite all my friends to my home for a chance to take care of them. An opportunity to say thank you. A snippet of time carved out of our busy lives to let them know how much I appreciate their kindness and just how important they are to my daily life.

 This chalkboard is signed by all the friends who attended my Friendship Brunch In Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Roll Tide Friends!

This chalkboard is signed by all the friends who attended my Friendship Brunch In Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Roll Tide Friends!

You wonder how I accomplish this monstrous task? Well first and foremost, all my friends do not live even remotely close by, so sadly most are not able to make the trip. This football life I live has given me the very best of friends, but they are scattered across the USA. So the number of attending friends is quite manageable. As such, I spoil those in attendance with food, drink and as much laughter as we can stand. I create an invitation, clean my home, create a menu, shop, cook, create, bake and voila--DONE! But don’t get all mushy on me now. After all, it’s not all sweet intentions—there is a whole vein of selfishness going on here.

See, I consider myself a collector and like all collectors we like to show off our collections. The Friendship Brunch is the perfect opportunity for me to showcase a collection I have been working on since I was 2 1/2 years old. This invaluable collection is not stamps, rocks or Beanie Babies ... it’s friends! I have found these treasures everywhere I go and I mean everywhere. And yet, sometimes treasures actually find me instead. No matter how a treasure becomes part of my collection, I am compelled to care for them, keep them safe from harm and appreciate their beauty, value and worth. Some of my treasures are relatively new acquisitions while others I have loved for almost my entire life. With each of our moves I carefully pack them up and mark the box HANDLE WITH CARE. Sadly, but realistically, some treasures do not survive the move. For whatever reason you are just not always meant to keep a particular treasure for your entire lifetime, but can only appreciate their presence for the time you are given.

So yup, I collect friends. And undoubtedly have the most amazing collection. And I don’t even need a greeting-card holiday for it.

Moral: Treasures are in the eye of the collector!

your collecting friend,

A little invitation of your own: Since my blog is an extension of me, and your comments, shares and likes make me happy then you are friends of mine too and deserve an invite. All I ask in return is that you please make certain to RSVP so I can have a bowl of soup and a scone waiting for you!  

The politics of politics

Please, can someone explain to me what the heck is going on? My goodness, when did running for President become reality television? TV coverage can be found all day, any day and at any time. From the moment candidates throw their name into the ring, nothing is off limits and anyone remotely associated with them becomes fair game. Any morsel, the more controversial the better, is repeated 100,000,000 different ways by 100,000,000 different people. I understand and appreciate our right to freedom of speech in the United States of America, but I think it’s high time it be renamed Respectful Freedom of Speech.

Who in their right mind would even think of wanting to be the President of the United States in these times? Hmm, now that’s something to ponder. As a young child I believed and was taught the President of the United States was a big deal, the biggest job in all the land and for certain the one that mattered most to our country. It seemed all candidates had morals, ideals, intelligence and were level-headed. Elections happened every four years and TV advertisements aired just a few months prior. The elected President was sworn in, moved into the White House, served the American people and were treated with respect. It was their job to keep us safe as a nation, a people and a country. Or so I remembered.

 I am always happy to be in our nations capital!

I am always happy to be in our nations capital!

I wondered if maybe I’ve gotten the presidential past all wrong. So, I googled it and was reminded of a few things. For instance, that fateful day in November when our 35th President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a car. President Richard Nixon's impeachment during the Watergate Scandal. We elected movie star Ronald Reagan as our 40th President. Then there were the incredibly disrespectful and immoral “actions” of our 42nd President, Bill Clinton.

Today’s media are not lacking material to “report” on. There is “The Donald”, at least that’s what we called him when I was growing up. He's a successful real estate mogul with the misfortune of really bad hair. He owns fancy hotels across the world and starred in a very successful reality show, “The Apprentice.” To top things off he was recently endorsed by fellow reality star and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. I mean seriously, you just can’t make this stuff up. There is Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of aforementioned 42nd president. This coupled with questions about how she handled emails along with the horror at Benghazi has the press in a feeding frenzy. Another candidate is a retired neurosurgeon with zero experience in politics. So the media has its hands full as do the late-night talk show hosts.

These days I can’t believe my eyes and ears. As Donald Trump makes derogatory remarks about disabled people, women and his fellow candidates, other candidates are said to be blatantly lying to the American people. As a teacher and parent, I am sick to my stomach. When did it become okay in our country to be so mean and disrespectful to others in a public forum? How can we be expected to teach our little ones to speak with respect when a few of the people running for President spew such ugliness? How do we expect a child not to interrupt someone while they are speaking when grown adults who should know better continually do so. Every child knows it’s wrong to bully someone, yet when a candidate bullies another it makes national headlines. Sure the debates may have been more entertaining than in the past, but at what cost?

So maybe I should throw my name in the ring. As strange as it may be I’ve been thinking up my presidential platform for a long time now. Welfare checks would only be issued if their children attend school regularly. Animal testing would be performed on the humans who abuse animals, not the innocent animals. Hours of community service ordered for people who leave their garage sale signs up on trees and poles long after the sale has ended. Oh, and for those who throw their trash out of their cars, they’ll be held responsible for cleaning up all the highways and byways in our great land until they are spic and span! 

 All our signs picked up after our Multi-Family Yard Sale!

All our signs picked up after our Multi-Family Yard Sale!

But then again, I’d be part of all that unwanted media coverage. Perhaps the reason we have the “choices” we do this time around is that the really smart people are being, well, really smart.

Moral: Be careful what you wish for because it might actually come true.

respectfully yours,

No snowmen for me this snowstorm

Nor will there be piles of soggy clothing to dry and wash and dry and wash. No boots strewn at the front and back doors. The sleds won’t leave the garage. Not one birthday party canceled or sports events postponed. I will not make endless cups of hot cocoa with those tiny marshmallows floating on top. Carrots will be used for soup and not noses! The kids are not home.

 "Where are my brother and sister? "

"Where are my brother and sister? "

No worries though folks, my hot cocoa cup is half full. There will still be a pot of homemade soup or stew on the stove. Our backyard birds can eat suet and seed all day long without being interrupted by kids. Steaming coffee will be at the ready. The fireplace will be roaring all day long. Our backyard will have that untouched snow covering that I always loved so much before it got trampled upon by our children! In the past it was usually just the outside of our home that was quiet, now it’s the inside as well.

 This cardinal was sitting right outside my office window while I was blogging!

This cardinal was sitting right outside my office window while I was blogging!

As I sit, ponder and write I am reminded of my snow childhood. We grew up in the Northeast where snowstorms were a regular occurrence. Maybe it was because I was a child, but we did not spend hours watching Special News Reports for days leading up to the potential threat of a snowstorm. It was mentioned the last five minutes of our nightly news broadcast during the weather segment. Snow was just part of our everyday winter life—it snowed and we went about our business. I don’t know, but it seems people get so caught up in the drama news shows create and #Blizzard2016 is the perfect example.

Why must everyone be encouraged to run to the store and stock up on bread, milk and eggs? Has no one ever lived without these three items for 24 hours before? In all my lifetime I have never seen reports of people dying during a snowstorm because they had no eggs! While I’m at it, why do they report endless news segments on people shopping for salt and shovels? It just befuddles me. It’s just frozen H2O.

As a kid, the best part of a big snowstorm was always the potential for school being canceled. When I tell my kids I walked two miles to school in a blizzard I was not kidding! I remember turning on my radio and listening while some man read every local school name and whether it was delayed or canceled. I tell you those thirty-some minutes were very educational. I learned alphabetizing thanks to the order they rattled them off. I knew the geography of my hometown since districts close by that were read earlier than ours were indicators of whether I should start getting out of my warm bed! Most especially I learned how to wait for information. Today’s children, and it is not their fault, get tweets about school closings directly from their school … no waiting! Everything seems so immediate these days.

But some snow days pack enough punch to slow folks down. People can’t jump in their cars to run endless errands. Kids extra-curricular activities are canceled. People hunker down and just be. Families have time to play outside, watch favorite movies inside and relax together. Neighbors gather at the end of their driveways and chat. I remember when my sister and I were younger we were expected to help shovel. Don’t tell my mom but even though I secretly loved to shovel fresh snow, once we were done shoveling, we would take our sled (with metal blades mind you) down to the store parking lot. We sled until we could no longer feel our toes. Ahh, to be young again.

 Yup...as you can tell by the quality--this is a real deal picture of me and my sister a few years back!

Yup...as you can tell by the quality--this is a real deal picture of me and my sister a few years back!

So even though nowadays when I shovel my back is breaking and my arms cramp up I still get that Peaceful Easy Feeling! (A respectful nod to Glenn Frey!) Something about being in the cold air and fresh snow still makes me really happy. A deep breath of cold clean air as snowflakes fall on my nose still mystifies me. So hey--just maybe I’ll put down the shovel for a bit and build a tiny snowgirl for my bird friends out back!

Moral: Sometimes being forced to slow down can be a really enjoyable thing.

Your friend,

A little gift for y’all: For many years now I have been making and sometimes shipping my special homemade hot cocoa mix to people I love and appreciate. So thanks to the snowstorm, I am gifting my recipe to each one of you. This recipe fills about six pint sized mason jars. The perfect amount to keep a few and share a few!

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

With 2016 in full swing, it’s now time for another favorite thing of mine. Ladies and Gentlemen … it’s Calendar Time. Time to sit with a warm cup of coffee and reminisce. I thumb through my tattered 2015 calendar and take a close look at everything. I notice doctors appointments, lunch dates, planned treasured trips as well as the last-minute getaways. I take into account all the babies born and the people who are gone. Even though I know the outcomes all too well, I can’t help but recall how our football season played out from week to week. I see the weekends “The Stoutland Inn” was booked with friends and family and remember the day our daughter graduated high school as well as the date we became Empty-Nesters.

As my hands run over each date I recall one of my most favorite songs, titled  Seasons of Love. The song asks us how we measure our 525,600 minutes, which is equivalent to one year. “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee? In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?” These words are imprinted on my heart because I use them as a guide for grading how I lived my last year. Did I reach out to everyone I love for their birthday? Did I make time for those I truly love or was I so busy doing “important” stuff? Did I take the time to appreciate a sunset or sit under a blanket of stars? Did I really make the most out of each one of those 525,600 minutes?

So I started calculating … yes, Allison Jo Stoutland did some math! Since it’s not exactly my strong suit I should forewarn that all the numbers that follow should be taken with several grains of salt. As it turns out there are just 1,440 minutes in a day of which I sleep away approximately 420. Oh, and let’s subtract 15 minutes for getting up to use the bathroom throughout the night. In the perfect world I use another 120 minutes commuting to the gym and exercising. I blog an average of 60 minutes a day. Minus 60 for a shower and another 40 walking sweet Cornell. Meal prep and eating only gobble up 75 minutes now that the kids are at college. I imagine I spend about 75 minutes on errands and another 90 minutes trying to figure out what I forgot I was doing or looking for! If my math is right, that means each day I live here on Earth there are approximately 500 minutes left to make matter. Precious minutes I can purposefully choose for good and not whittle away. Wow!

So … while actually crafting this blog it has become super apparent to me that this year I will fill up my 2016 calendar with not just birthdays, appointments and football games, but with the things I choose to do with my extra 500 minutes each day. I see this plan has all the makings of a resolution, which hardly ever bodes well for me, but I’m going to give it a go anyway. The worst that can happen is I don’t fill in every single day. Not so terrible, right?

Moral: Life may be more meaningful if we choose carefully how we spend those precious extra minutes.

A little thing I love: You might have gathered I take my calendar quite seriously. This harmless obsession began when I taught kindergarten. We started and finished each day gathered in a circle in front of our monthly calendar! We learned so much about life, weather, current events and important holidays. We celebrated our classmates birthdays and honored the birthdays of those who came so very long before us. Hence why my calendar is such a dear possession of mine. I use every writing utensil in our home to fill in each day. I color coordinate and highlight when necessary. And above all else--everyone in my home knows it is heavily frowned upon for anyone other than me to write on it.  Yes I know I have an issue--but it's not hurting anyone!