What in the __ are you doing here?

This was the universal response last week when I showed up unexpectedly in my hometown.

You see, it was my mom’s birthday. And this woman is difficult to shop for. She doesn’t want much, and rarely splurges on herself. And so I decided she needed flowers, and that I should personally deliver them.

So while she was working away, I walked in holding an orchid (it will last longer than a bouquet). It took her a moment to realize it was me! And then she giggled all afternoon thinking about it. I proceeded to also surprise my sister-in-law at her office, then both nieces, then my brother.

She was surprised alright!

Each time, the look I received was akin to that of someone seeing a ghost. Are my eyes playing tricks? Is my daughter – sister – aunt from Florida really standing in front of me on a random Tuesday afternoon?

My nephews read a message not intended for them, ruining their surprise, but not their excitement. And while I was there, I got to hold baby Emerson and whisper how much his Great Auntie Sherri from Florida loves him.

Yep. Sometimes I miss all these wonderful people whose blood I share. Sometimes I miss seeing red barns and silos. Old tractors and green cornfields. Sometimes I simply miss fresh, delicious sweet corn and tomatoes.

Perhaps a future art subject?

The Midwest maintains its predictable and peaceful charm. There was a quiet tempo which I can now appreciate. The famous Mark Twain Overlook, named in honor of Samuel Clemens, a one-time resident there, provided a moment of reflection along with the fabulous view.

The Mighty Mississippi which flows West in Muscatine, making this a great spot for sunset.

It was good to drive around and reminisce. I spent a few minutes driving through Weed Park (yes, we sometimes took this literally). I drove by the house my grandmother lived in, and out to the original family farm.

I ate Happy Joe’s Special Pizza – Sauerkraut and Canadian Bacon, my personal food highlight. You can’t get it anywhere else, and eating there is non-negotiable. I also indulged in a grilled steak dinner with fresh eggplant, tomatoes and yes, sweet corn. I can’t tell you how many ears I ate, because I did not bother counting. I just kept eating until I was full.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

It was the first time I’ve ever been really sad to leave. Also, did I mention it was 75 degrees and sunny with low humidity? My people, the food and perfect summer weather were all just amazing, and my heart is full again.

What makes your hometown visits memorable? Is it a restaurant and a park? What are the things you must do when you end up there? I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading, until next time,


Ode to Paul

There was a funeral today for a sweet family member at my church. And since the bulk of my heartfelt writing energies were invested in preparing a short message for the service, I share it with you as well.

What in the world can I even say,
As we gather to honor Paul on this Saturday.

Paul was around at almost the beginning,
Even then he knew when he saw a good thing.

“I was the original drummer!”, he would say,
When drumsticks were lost often, back in that day.

Paul was messy, but Paul was sweet,
Even though he was no longer on his feet.

He served with a smile and sometimes a snore,
Yes, there were a few Sundays he fell asleep at the door.

He had lots of ideas for us, the church staff,
And a few practical jokes, the man loved to laugh.

Paul would have grand schemes for all to carry out,
Though sometimes his plans were not well thought out.

But Paul was positive regarding anything new,
Especially when it gave him something to do.

He would embrace the latest changes with a smile,
Not only would he help, but then go the extra mile.

This little round man signed up for everything,
What he lacked in skill, he made up for in attempting.

His heart was always in the right place,
But a mess he tended to make, no matter the space.

Cooking, parking, greeting, and softball, too.
There was not a task anywhere he would not do

Almost daily, the church office received a call
He was caring about people, his church crowd, after all.

He was always on Team Suncoast, a most loyal fan,
Paul was faithfully a servant among his fellow man.

He loved everything about his family the most.
He will be surely missed by them, and by all of us at Suncoast.

Paul McDaniel, one of our most loyal volunteers. Rest in peace.

Ten things to be sure of when doing hot yoga.

For those unacquainted, you pay perfectly good money to enter a sauna-like heated room to practice yoga. As opposed to turning off the air conditioning, or simply going outside. It’s a dry heat (100 – 105 degrees), and this allows for deeper stretches and more calories burned. It’s challenging for sure, and these tips may help you to not die.

  1. Be sure to hydrate the day before. What did I do the day before? I sipped lime-flavored White Claws all afternoon at the pool, and then in the evening enjoyed a couple of glasses of sangria with dinner. So yes, hydrate before hand, or be very sorry during the workout.
  2. Be sure to have a full bottle or two of water at hand during the class. What did I have? A measly 12 oz. tumbler, which was nearly dry halfway through the class.
  3. Be sure to have a full towel for your mat, and another towel for your face, and another towel to sit on when you leave. What did I have? Just a small hand towel for my face. The upholstery in my car needs a good shampoo for sure, and my mat needs a solid wipe down to counter the sweat it absorbed. Gross.
  4. Be sure to place your mat carefully upon arriving at class. I prefer to be near near the air conditioner vents. This will save your soaking-wet-self during the last 10 minutes of class. At this juncture it feels slightly less hot because they bring the temperature of the room closer to that of Earth instead of Venus. You might begin breathing normally sometime soon after.
  5. Be sure to have the most handsome instructor to ever walk the planet leading the practice. Bonus if he has a sexy accent, say, from somewhere south of the Equator. This will keep you from walking out or giving up without at least trying to hold the poses. And you don’t want to embarrass yourself. You don’t want to leave his very presence. It was definitely hot yoga…
  6. Be sure to remember your form, and watch your alignment in the mirror. If you have the most handsome instructor leading your class, feel free to modify. Perhaps it’s okay to hit a pose IMproperly so that he has to come by and correct your posture, with his hands right on your body.
  7. Be sure to have your friends come with you. I went to the first class solo, but will definitely be sharing this with my crew. I’m not selfish.
  8. Be sure to have plenty of time afterwards to go home. You will be drenched and disgusting and in desperate need of a cold shower and more water. Do not plan to be seen by others right away, especially if you get a tomato-face like I do when I am overheated.
  9. Be sure to say prayers of gratitude for your body, and that you did not actually die during the class, though you were convinced of this likely outcome about 7 minutes into the 60 total you just endured.
  10. Be sure to be kind to yourself the rest of the day. And go ahead and sign up for the next class while the image of the most handsome instructor is still fresh. Delaying your registration could coincide with the soreness of your body, keeping you away forever more.

Maybe I’ll review the other studios in town, write about them, and eventually become a secret shopper who writes amazing reviews. I’d need to remove my photo in case people recognize me and start giving me extra goodies in exchange for my writing talents. This could spill over to restaurants too, where I could enjoy free food. Maybe I’m onto something…

Stay tuned for more – there are a few other classes I’m taking while my 10-day pass is good. If you’re in SRQ and you’re curious about this particular studio, send a message and I’ll gladly share.

Thanks for reading, until next time,

Now what?

If you know me even a little bit, you know I have recently finished school. This accomplishment has been properly acknowledged – or as others may say – outrageously observed – with multiple parties and the ridiculously great trip to Italy.

So, now what?

I knew that I would want something to work on post-graduation. So when I returned (sadly) from Italy, I was fresh out of excuses, and decided to dig in. I had toyed with The Artist’s Way a few years back. That copy was long lost, so I picked one up at the Goodwill Bookstore and it’s been staring at me for weeks (duh, I plan ahead).

That’s a wordy way of confessing that once again, I have homework.

Wait, didn’t I just swear off that stuff?

If you’re not familiar with this incredible work by Julia Cameron, let me give you the view from ten thousand feet. It’s “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity”; a twelve-week guide to help get your flow flowing when you feel stuck.

It’s not necessarily difficult homework, but it’s work for sure. There are daily and weekly assignments in addition to chapter specific tasks as you go. Somewhere between seven and ten hours each week is what I’m expected to invest. The variety of proven exercises re-energize your slow-moving (or downright stuck) creative energy.

I am happy to report that it’s working already, so I cannot wait to see where this takes me in ten more weeks. I have already experienced closure in areas where I have been stuck for years.

Homework > being stuck like Pooh.

First, there is a daily exercise is called Morning Pages which is different than my usual journaling. First thing, I empty three pages worth of clutter and nonsense that spins around in my head onto a page. It does not have to make sense (whew!). It is just a release of any and all swirly-twirly thoughts. I’ve managed this task easily (okay, maybe not so much on Turtle Patrol* mornings when I’m on the beach twenty minutes before sunrise).

Thursday morning, Siesta Key. Good morning Moon!

Next, there is a weekly assignment of taking my inner child, the artist within, on a play-date for two hours. This time is not to be shared with anyone else, and it can be anything that I consider fun. So the list of fun things has been curated, and my goal is to do a different fun thing each week.

Week One was the Sarasota Farmers’ Market, which is chock full of soaps and candles to smell, puppies to pet, tons of artsy-fartsy things to admire, and best of all, fresh empanadas to consume. And Week Two was taking my kayak out to the mangrove tunnels, which is one of my all time favorite things to do.

So good for my soul

The point is to refuel. To absorb. Change up the environment. Engage as many senses as possible. Also, the idea of it something that makes me smile when I think of doing it. What things made me smile when I was a kid?

The swing set. Playing with the animals. Taking a walk. Riding my bike. Visiting my Grandma. Swimming. Fishing. Drawing. Reading. Dancing. And, now that I think about it, I still love these things.

It seems easy, right? Go have fun for two hours! What would ever be hard about that?

You go Molly

Interestingly each time, at about the halfway mark, I was ready to be done with my play date. Talk about inner child! I wanted to whine, like, can we go now? I don’t want to have fun anymore, I’d rather go home and do nothing.

Well, maybe not quite like that, but my lack of capacity for fun was startling, and a little bit sad. I know how to work hard, but to take playtime this seriously was foreign. I managed to complete the assignment, but it wasn’t as easy as I expected.

The introduction of the book says this, “Art is a spiritual transaction”.

Jesus and his favorites. Matthew 19:14.

Maybe children hold the answers to everything. Maybe playing is the secret to being creative?!

I need to watch this movie again!

What I am realizing, is that I am the one blocking my own inner child. The great news is that I can fix that, and I’m going to trust the process. Week Three, let’s do this!

Thanks for reading, until next time,

*I volunteer as a Sea Turtle Patrol as needed with Mote Marine Laboratory. You can read about last year’s great turtle rescue here.

People far away

One thing that is so wonderful about visiting other countries is the people. There is something magical when you connect with others, especially those who seem so different. Here are the top ten ways we observed (while in Italy) that we have far more in common than we may realize:

  1. Babies on Airplanes. While this could be its own post, it was fun to watch the one in the seat ahead of me continually throw his stuff on the ground, and then to watch his grown-up pick it up repeatedly. I began counting this, kinda like sheep, but only got to twenty-seven before I drifted off.
  2. Young Lovers. When you’re young and in love, you are a lot less picky about where you’ll have a full blown make-out session. While Italy is quite romantic, sitting on a curb in the middle of town, in the middle of the day is not. Unless you’re young and in love, and it won’t matter in the slightest.
  3. Politically Averse Young Adults. We chatted with 2 friends from the UK (age 21) who were as irritated by their own government as we are with ours. We concluded that the best way to affect change is for their generation to step up and vote.
  4. Swimming In Cold Water. This may not apply everywhere (I’m talking to you, Canada). But it was fun watching kids enter the 72 degree water without flinching, and totally commiserating with the other sensible adults who could barely get in past our ankles.
  5. People Yelling at Seagulls. It’s not the least bit effective, but when a seagull snatches your wallet and flies off with it, the response is universal. This particular woman (not me, thanks be to God) chose to run after it screaming hysterically. When it landed in the harbor with its new treasure in its beak, the performance included the victim stripping off her clothes at the water’s edge and getting in after it. This may have worked if she had only stopped screaming first.
  6. Puppy Love. No, this is not the same as point number two. Penelope was a four month old, roly-poly Golden Retriever who belonged to one of the waiters. During dinner, the puppy-sitter decided to lounge on a stoop two feet from our table. Each and every person who saw this pup broke out in a smile and petted her cute little puppy head. Puppies for the win every time.
  7. Street Artists and Musicians. I have a rule that if someone is performing, I put money in their cup or guitar case or whatever it is. We heard an incredibly talented jazz band and saw chalk artists replicating fine works of art. We witnessed a man dressed like Michelangelo freaking people out when he actually moved. Art has a way of dissolving differences.
  8. Say Cheese. Okay, so everyone may not say this exactly, but taking photos is such a THING. Selfie sticks and timers have their place, but whenever my daughter offered to capture the entire group, people were thankful and reciprocated. Smile everyone – for real.
  9. Respect For Our Elders. No matter how rushed we are, the frailty of those a generation (or two) ahead of us, catches our attention. Whether it was boarding a train, plane or automobile, we consistently saw others express patience and assistance to the elderly travelers. This alone gives me so much hope for the future.
  10. Good Manners. In every language, there is something sweet to be found in a few basic phrases: Hello/Goodbye, Please /Thank You, You’re Welcome, Excuse Me, Good Morning, and Good Evening. It’s like the WD40 of humanity, it just keeps things moving and easy. Travelers Bonus: know these in the native tongue of the country in which you are visiting.
This was gigantic!
It was in the 90’s and humid. I’m not sure how he didn’t melt.

What are the things you observe about people when you travel? Does the amount of similarity cause you to feel connected? What is the thing you are most surprised about when you find yourself in a different space?


This concludes the Italy trip as it’s time for other topics now… Next week I’ll be posting about my experience (so far) with the Artist Way.

Thanks for reading, until next time,

Everybody loves Raimondo

Let me take a moment to introduce you. Raimondo and his family own Torcibrencoli, a family vineyard and winery estate about 30 minutes outside Florence.

They take turns hosting the AirBnB Experience that we enjoyed on our last day in Italy. Once we found the bus station, we paid the fare and hopped on a very nice bus which took us to Greve, and from there we were driven to their estate.

The views were, well, see for yourself…

Olive trees in the background
Taking a stroll around the vineyard.
Tasting the Chianti Classico
Inside peek at the processing and storage facilities
Enjoying a moment of air conditioning
These lemons… you cannot understand
These are fun lawn ornaments, aren’t they?

As you can understand from these photos, the temptation to stay was real. I could have totally hidden in one of these barrels. When they found me a day or two later, I would have had the story all rehearsed.

“Oh hi! I must have gotten lost. Maybe I could stay and work in the vineyards in exchange for food and wine. I would be no trouble. I could just sleep on a stone floor somewhere. Or in a hammock outside, whatever, I am not that picky.”

Surely Raimondo would have been okay with that, right?

We definitely had a connection.

After all, I am a farm girl at heart, and I am no stranger to working in fields. Okay, vineyards, fields, same same. I’d be willing to learn about grapes and olives and lemons. I am quite teachable.

The only reason this didn’t happen is because there’s a grand baby coming, and I cannot be THAT far away from the little nugget. On my return visit to Italy, in a year or two, we can further discuss the details of my indentured servitude. Is it indentured servitude if it’s voluntary? No matter, I’m sure we could work something out.

There is a staggering amount of tradition and family pride in this beautiful country. It is astonishing that outsiders would be invited to their property, to eat their food, drink their wine and limoncello, and tour their facilities. Hospitality is a huge part of their culture, and we were the gracious recipients. Okay, yes, we paid for the tour. And maybe as a smaller producer, this has become a necessity for them, but still! It was absolutely the most wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Our tour group. All 5 of these cuties were 21 and college students. They all hit it off, leaving Raimondo and I in each other’s company.
Pottery made by his grandmother, of course.
The REALLY good stuff. It was so delicious!

Another thing I learned is that having the name of Chianti Classico is a big deal. There are strict guidelines for production, as well as fees associated with this designation. I used to think that all wines were the same, but I have a greater respect and understanding now. They are not all the same, and I’m a little bit spoiled. Sorry, two buck chuck, I think I have to upgrade now.

Yes, you can purchase wine and olive oil directly from them. Yes, you can book your own tour with them should you be heading that way. Yes, you too can fantasize about running away to a vineyard in Tuscany with Raimondo…. Sorry, I digress.

Let’s just say I’m mentally preparing for my next trip, and savoring the memories of my first visit. Stay tuned for more musings about Italy.

Thanks for reading, until next time,

Dolce, per favore, molte grazie!

Of course, a primary interest one has when traveling in Italy is the FOOD. I don’t know why, but it’s magical and delightful and didn’t cause a single pound of weight gain.

We knew we were in for a fabulous culinary experience when our meal at the airport was delicious. For real.

Spaghetti pomodoro

Our first meal in Italy – 2 glasses of wine, 2 glasses of still water, 2 pasta dishes, total of €38 or about $43. Not bad at all. I’ve paid over $30 for nachos and a beer at US Airports. Also, did I mention this was FABULOUS?

Each venue had its own flair, but overall I observed the following themes while feeding my face in Italy:

  1. No one is in a hurry around meal time. If you think you’ll go to Italy and squeeze in a quick lunch between this tour and that site, think again. Dining is ceremonious.
  2. When you ask for water, be ready with your preference of sparkling or still, as both are available. Kind of like sweet or unsweet tea in the South.
  3. Trust your instincts. I have a friend who visits regularly and gave us a personal recommendation for dinner. When the staff greeted us with annoyance and stress, we decided to go elsewhere. Your experience is important, and reviews are subjective.
  4. The food is so delicious, you are actually glad about #1. You don’t want to gulp it down, trust me. You’ll want to slowly savor every single bite.
  5. Save a piece of bread to absorb the remaining sauce. The actual name for this is Fare la Scarpetta, and it made us feel less touristy. It’s just wrong to leave it on the plate, and I wasn’t sure if licking it clean was acceptable (though I was tempted more than once).
  6. Dessert is necessary. We enjoyed a caramel panna cotta at La Lampara in Riomaggiore that was basically a sexual experience (“I feel like I should be naked while I’m eating this”).
Giada knows what’s up

Our favorite pasta was at Casa del Vin Santo in Florence. The Penne Gamberi was quite possibly the best food I’ve ever put in my mouth. Sadly, there are no actual photos of this, but the memory will live forever.

The most memorable meal and hospitality we received was at the Torcibrencoli Vineyard (it deserves its very own post – stay tuned). Raimondo, the owner of the vineyard, shared his favorite pizza place with us, and he was absolutely right. After walking past 37 other pizzerias, dinner at Berbere on San Frediano was incredible! Their menu was impressive, as they are fanatical about locally and organically sourcing all of their ingredients. It’s quite likely that most of the Italian establishments share this practice, but someone at Berbere knows a thing or two about marketing.

Confession: this was a daily occurrence.

My suspicion? All of the air and soil is infused with such love, that pure divinity is the obvious result. The vegetables and herbs and olive oil and grapes and all things landing on a plate and in a glass were produced with love. Not stress, not rushing, just an enjoyable satisfaction that was clearly ordained from above by the angels themselves.

Thanks for reading, until next time,

How not to spend an hour in Florence.

You know how to make God laugh? Tell her/him your plans. This is one of the best scenes in Evan Almighty. Plus Morgan Freeman plays a very dapper God, don’t you agree?

Photo courtesy of https://www.imdb.com.

I love making and executing a well thought plan. It’s a little neurotic, but not quite to the point where I’m seeking meds (ask me next week though). When the trip I had been dreaming of for years changed with take-off in less than 2 weeks, I scrambled. Luckily, the major components fell into place, such as, where to sleep for example. But the rest? Ah, the rest was figured out on the fly.

Not my favorite way to operate.

I was completely out of my comfort zone. Not only was I in a foreign country, I didn’t speak the language, and I didn’t really have a plan. And the ones I kind of had, did not exactly work out.

There are so many stories of adventures, left turns, missed trains and the like. I’m not sure what value it would hold for you, my sweet reader, but I know what it holds for me.

Lots and lots of lessons about letting go.

Control is just an illusion anyway, like holding onto running water.

Some of the most beautiful moments of this trip were totally unplanned. Some of the most frustrating moments of this trip taught me the biggest lessons.

Missing the Uffizi Gallery was not something I planned at all. In fact I spent money so that I would NOT miss this. But here’s the story, which now is funny, but at the time was most assuredly not.

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

We left Riomaggiore a little later than expected. I naively thought that we could get to Florence in just a couple of hours. We had pre-purchased tickets to the Uffize online for a 3:45pm entrance. By the time we made our 4th transfer of the day, we knew it would be close.

If we could just get to Florence, check in to our hotel, dump our luggage, we might just make it. Also, it was unbelievably hot and we had our share of cars lacking air conditioning. A shower was calling, but would risk doing without one if necessary.

Lesson #1. Pay attention to the train schedules, stops and maps.

The train came to a stop, but we did not see any signs. So we waited patiently for the train to resume. People got off, and more got on. The cleaning crew actually passed through with a cute little vacuum. After 30 minutes of sitting still, we came to accept that we were going to miss the museum.

Then much to our horror, the train began moving. Backwards.

We were going back – away from the city center. You know, the stop where we were supposed to have gotten off. And could have, like 30 minutes ago.

We ended up traveling back, getting off, going back around on the next train, and kicking ourselves the entire way. Had we realized where we were, we probably could have made it.

Lesson #2. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive.

The entrance lines for these major attractions are excruciatingly long, and there were no other available times to purchase online. Uffizi, you’ll have to wait until next time.

Um, no. Just no.

There were several times where Lesson #2 came into play. We learned as we went along. And isn’t that the hope? Not to avoid failure entirely, but to learn, and then perhaps we won’t have to repeat it.

Stay tuned for more lessons from Italy. Thanks for reading!

Italy or bust

MANY years ago, I recognized how much I love all things Italian. Food, wine and shoes. I mean, what’s not to love?

So I set a goal and decided I would go to Italy for my 50th birthday (which was exactly one year ago today)!

Last year, as I was approaching the big day, I realized I would not have the time nor the funds to make that trip. I also realized that turning 50 was really not that much of an accomplishment. Okay, so I didn’t step in front of a moving bus, or take a tumble out of a giant tree, but otherwise, I managed to keep myself alive.

Graduating college after grinding it out for over six years of classes? Now there’s an accomplishment. So I began dreaming and planning, and in March, I booked the tickets. Prince Charming and I would celebrate this momentous milestone in Florence.

Then, there was a little snag two weeks prior to boarding. Prince Charming and I parted ways, and rather than sobbing my way through my dream trip, we worked it out for my daughter to be my traveling companion.

This required some rearranging, but we did it. It’s no longer a romantic bed and breakfast in the Chianti hill country. It is now 2 nights in Riomaggiore after hiking Cinque Terre and then 3 nights in Florence visiting museums and taking in the sights.

I am sad that the Italian man (remember my earlier mention of loving all things Italian?) and I weren’t able to do this together, but I am so very grateful that this trip is still happening. If there are melancholy moments, my girl is sure to pull me right out of them. (Her sister is 21 weeks along in her first pregnancy or she would have figured out a way to join us. Both daughters are bringing such joy to their momma this year!)

What happens when life totally throws us a curve ball? How do we proceed when we feel like we’ve been punched in the gut? Of course I can use the lemons and lemonade analogy, but that’s so overused.

We must find this!

Maybe when life hands you sour grapes, you let them ferment while you go on a wine tour in Italy. Stay tuned for the post-trip blogs that are sure to come.

Thanks for reading, until next time!

Fair well, Prince Charming

This is the story of how fairy tales don’t always end the way you think they will.

Once upon a time, the lovely lady was enchanted with the man Prince Charming. Her life was rich and full and she was very happy before they connected. He only brought more joy and delight. The lovely lady had a big goal in front of her, and she worked very hard. He was very patient and understanding, and she was glad for that.

And then after many months, the lovely lady reached her goal! She suddenly had a lot more time to spend with Prince Charming. This was so wonderful as she dreamed of how they might live happily ever after.

And then the Prince gave the lovely lady some sad news. He no longer wanted to spend time with the lovely lady. There were logical reasons of course.

But love is not always logical.

The lovely lady was sad, because she loved the Prince so much. And yet she saw that he was unhappy, and tearfully accepted his farewell.

Her sadness faded a bit more each day, as did his. They agreed to remain friendly which was important because of their work together.

Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps not a moral for others, but certainly there is a lesson there for the Prince and the lovely lady.

Each experience, each season brings new things and new understandings. As we grow, we learn. And as we learn, we grow. Sometimes a couple grows together, and sometimes each grows their own way.

And either way, when their paths are intentional, they will both live happily ever after.

The End