May 26, 2016

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and the tourist season is officially open for business. While many of us are native to the Gulf Coast, visitors to our beach town that relies heavily on tourism often express a desire to move here, imagining a lifestyle where they get to be on vacation all the time, instead of just for a few precious days or weeks. Some of them realize that goal in retirement or through making a major life shift that allows them to relocate to the place they always dreamed of.
What they find often isn’t what they experienced on vacation, because living somewhere is different from visiting, and people who have relocated to a community or established second homes there are going to be viewed as outsiders by locals. So, how do you live in our beach community, whether full or part time, without antagonizing the locals?
Start by recognizing that your new home is not just a tourist town. It’s also a place where people live and work, and have done so for years. Driving down the road looking from side to side at every sight while doing 25 mph at 8 am on a Tuesday morning isn’t going to gain you any fans. Whether you are retired or just haven’t found a job in the area yet, remember….we’re not all beach bums who wake to the surf report and worship the sun seven days a week. We have jobs too.
Next, learn about all the cool things our awesome city has to offer that might be off the “tourist” path. Find out where locals shop, and start establishing yourself as a regular customer. Try being friendly with clerks and store personnel, because they’re the ones who’ll be providing you with valuable advice once you’ve become a regular and well-liked customer. A friendly relationship with the guy behind the meat counter, for example, can make the difference between getting the recommendation for the best cut, and being given exactly what you ordered with no additional commentary, even if it’s not the best choice.
Hit a Blue Wahoos game, attend some local charity events, join a Mardi Gras Krewe, or hit up some of our favorite spots like McGuire’s, The Fish House, Five Sisters, etc. You’ll meet some awesome locals who can show you the ropes and help you to start blending in as an honorary “Pensacolian”.
Finally, before you jump into local political conversations with your new friends and neighbors, learn about the rich history of our beautiful city. Pensacola is actually pretty amazing. There is a reason they call us the City of Five Flags, so check out Fiesta Days going on now to learn more about the amazing past that has made the city, its people, and its industry what it is today.
Locals often resent what they see as intrusion by uninformed outsiders, and if you can be seen but not heard at city council or county commissioners meetings while you learn about what’s going on and the history behind it, you’ll impress locals with your dedication to getting to know the community before offering your opinion.
Above all, remember to be kind and humble and the more you put into your community, the more you’ll get out. Pensacolians are a friendly and welcoming people ready to accept those who want to be a part of our city. While you may think you know all there is to know after visiting here all those years, just remember that it may take a little longer to fit in on the long-term scale. Stick with it, and learn that a little southern hospitality mixed with your own special flair may just earn you the title of local in no time.

May 19, 2016

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For those of us who are lucky, there are friendships that last a lifetime. They last through life changes, children, distance, and time. This week, I got to see some of the greatest long term friendships in action as my parents had a reunion with six of their friends they’ve known for over 40 years, and let’s just say….some things never change.
I had known these people since birth, but hadn’t seen them in what seemed like a million years. In their absence, I had heard story after story of shenanigans that took place when I was too young to hear such things. I can remember hearing the story about the time they were all on vacation and discovered complimentary shower caps in the hotel rooms, which subsequently turned into my Dad and his friend Terry donning them with water guns that looked like real weapons in a restaurant. Think “Steve Martin meets Scarface”.
After shooting the hostess and several patrons with water, they were quickly asked to leave. Keep in mind this was the 80’s and people didn’t freak out over guns like they do today. Nevertheless, I’m surprised they didn’t end up in jail.
The last time I saw Terry, he was dressed like a complete weirdo on the golf course. When his round was finished, he jumped into the pool, fully dressed, shoes, golf clubs and all. He was always the wild one. The one that had no shame, boundaries, or limits. The fun one. I always liked Terry. I’m pretty sure he’s my spirit animal.
Then there’s Buddy. He and my dad seemed like a classic oil and water case. Buddy was so quiet and laid back that you sometimes had to check his pulse to make sure he was still with us. He didn’t say a whole lot, but when he did it was always funny. My dad on the other hand is the guy who is always up to something. A perpetual eight year old boy trying to get a laugh from his pals. Buddy always knew how to keep him in check.
Or so I thought.
We took the whole gang out on our boat for a cruise on a beautiful sunny day. The water was crystal clear, the dolphins were playing, and my parents and their friends were having a great time. Someone mentioned that you haven’t lived until you’ve had a Bushwacker at the Flora-Bama, so we tied up and headed towards the beach.
Buddy, who never goes anywhere without his dog in tow, said, “I don’t want to go to the Yacht Club. I want to see the real deal.” He didn’t care if the Flora-Bama was dog friendly or not. He wanted to see it, and “Nate” the dog wasn’t going to stop him. “I’m pretty sure they don’t let dogs in there,” I told him. “He’s a service dog,” he replied. I laughed and knew this was going to be something to see.
When we stepped through the doors of the Flora-Bama, Buddy was immediately confronted by the ladies in the gift shop. “Sir, we don’t allow animals in here,” she said. Without missing a beat, Buddy replied, “He’s a service dog.” “Oh, go right ahead in, sir,” she said sweetly.
A few minutes later, we were sipping on Bushwackers and enjoying the music on the outdoor patio by the water. The rest of the crew wanted the full tour of the “Last American Roadhouse”, so we took a few minutes to walk to each room listening to music along the way.
Ten minutes or so later, my brother caught up with us and had some interesting news. My dad, Buddy, and “Nate” the dog had been bounced from the joint.
“What happened,” I asked. Apparently, security approached the threesome and told them they would need to take the dog out of the building. My dad replied, “But he’s a service dog.” Security asked to see his official service dog papers, and my dad added, “We left them on the boat. We’ll have to go get them.”
My dad proceeded to pretend to be blind, holding on to the leash and Buddy’s shoulder. Security wasn’t buying it. They were out.
When we all emerged from the bar, we found Buddy and my dad still carrying on with their charade on the bench out front. “Come on you morons. We can’t leave you alone for two seconds,” I said laughing. “Let’s get out of here before they put your pictures on the wall.” When they stood up, my dad put his hand back on Buddy’s shoulder and the two of them, led by the dog, headed back across the street towards the boat.
I laughed and shook my head. I’m still not sure who the bad influence is in this group. I guess they’re all crazy. Even the dog.
When the weekend was over, their friends once again all went their separate ways. But that’s the thing about truly great friendships. No matter where you live or how much time has passed, when you get together, not a thing has changed. Although I’m not sure that’s a good thing with these crazy people. 40 years later, and still breaking the rules…but having a good time doing it. That’s the best kind of friendship around.
At least now they have a new story to tell. Thank goodness.

May 12, 2016

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This week we celebrated Mother’s Day with my favorite lady, my Mom. While she’s still perturbed at me for writing about her couponing and cheese obsession, I knew forgiveness would come quickly in the form of a delicious homemade meal and a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
Observation can leave a powerful impression on a child. I believe that her interests in music, art, and animals likely were passed on by genes. It is hard to explain my inward drive any other way. What I know of her music ability is that she loved good music. We used to drive in the car and listen to everything from Michael Jackson to Elvis to Dolly Parton.
My favorite memory of her musical preferences was a blue cassette tape with “Staying Alive” on it that played on repeat more often than not. In fact, I became such a fan of this disco classic at the age of three, if it wasn’t playing on the way to pre-school, one of two things was about to happen…1) we were turning around to get that tape or 2) we weren’t going. I made sure of that.
This is reason #892 why I don’t have my own kids. I know I was a brat and revenge comes around tenfold when you have your own.
Growing up, she always took the time to read to me. I can remember her reading books of all kinds, and encouraging me to start writing my own stories down as soon as I learned to read and write. I would write terrible short stories about aliens, horses, and rainbows that made no sense whatsoever, but my mom always raved about what a “good little writer” I was becoming.
As I grew older and started to think about my future, my mom was always encouraging me to express myself the way she thought I did best, through my written words. In college, I doubted her direction many times as I struggled through James Joyce and T.S. Elliot to name a few, but I pushed through and got to what I call “the good stuff” where I was able to create my own work. Although my teachers always seemed to find it sarcastic and too humorous to be considered serious literary pieces. Go figure.
When I wanted to quit, she pushed me. When I wanted to run away and become a stand-up comedian and actress, she stopped me. She allowed me to have the soul of an artist, which traditionally implies living in a dream world and forgetting about the nitty-gritty of life, but she made sure to instill in me that sometimes you have to do what needs to be done.
She claims that she lived her life by this concept, but I know there’s a bit of a gypsy soul in her as well. I never noticed great concern that everything in the house had to be spotless or exactly coordinated. Life was busy enough and complex enough without such perfectionist. Instead, she used her spare time being creative and making things from scratch with her hands. I still love sitting at the table making things with her.
But most of all, my mom exudes what it means to be a lady. She is always in control of how she relates to and responds to her circumstances. Never is she crude or off-handed. I definitely didn’t inherit that gene.
There is both a gentleness and strength in her spirit, something I admire very much and strive for each day as I grow older. While she may come across as shy or quiet at times, she is the perfect example of “still waters run deep”. She’s also the perfect example of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”…..Seriously, you do not want to cross her.
In my humble attempt to describe the complex and wonderful woman I am thankful enough to call my mom, what I owe her is incalculable. I know about some of her faults and weaknesses, but they seem minuscule to me because her positive influence on my life and direction for my life overshadows any of those. Knowing that she isn’t perfect has allowed me forgive myself for my own shortcomings, and knowing that she tries her best is all I need to know how deep her love is for her children.
We share similarities in some aspects…in others we couldn’t be more different. But no matter what, I know my mom has my back, and that’s the greatest gift a mother could ever give her child. Thanks, Mom, for everything. You are the greatest.

May 5, 2016

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This week as my parents continued to dig their way out of a sea of boxes from their recent move, I got the call I had been dreading. “You need to come over here and get all this crap from your wedding out of our garage.” I had put it out of my mind for nearly six years, but the time had come to figure out what to do with eight metal manzanita trees complete with tea light candles and endless bolsters of tulle and lace.
My brother offered to bring them to me, which I thought was a nice gesture until I realized this was my mother’s ploy to make sure they indeed made it to my house and out of her way. When he arrived, I must have been making a face that resembled that of someone smelling something stinky because he asked, “What is that face for?” I answered, “What the heck is that,” while staring at the metal trees adorned with hot glued fake flowers and crystals. “How am I supposed to know? Looks like a heap of ugly to me,” he replied.
He was right. As I stood there looking at this pile of twinkling garbage, I wondered what I could’ve been thinking back then. It sparked a feeling in me that suddenly made me very aware that I had lost not just days, but weeks of sanity and clarity during that stressful time of wedding planning.
At the time of my wedding planning, there wasn’t much inspiration to draw from when looking for ideas, especially if you are on a strict budget. Those were the days of tearing through page after page of Wedding magazines hoping to come up with a cheap alternative to all the beautiful weddings sprawled on the pages that we couldn’t afford.
Seriously…..what did women do before Pinterest?
I knew I had picked these ugly trees for some reason, and I felt horrible about just throwing them away after all the money I spent on them, so I did what any girl worth her salt in crafting would do….revamp.
I spent the next three hours stripping each metal branch of the dripping crystals and strange greenery, which even though now looked awful, somehow looked beautiful in my wedding photos. When I was done, I was left with something somewhat remarkable. The trees complete with the little candle holders were actually pretty. Why hadn’t I just left well enough alone and let them be simple? Then I remembered that at the time of my wedding I was going through a My Little Pony meets princess meets Liberace phase. Enough said. Glad I grew out of that…for the most part. This girl is still a sucker for some bling.
I plan on using the trees as centerpieces for dinner parties and holiday gatherings, but I’ve found that there really is no limit to what you can repurpose with a little imagination and a lot of help from a lady’s best friend…..that’s right. Pinterest again.
These kids today have it so easy. (Man, I sound old) They’ll never know what it’s like to spend hours upon hours cutting out pictures in magazines to make an “inspiration” board, or what it’s like to tackle fellow future brides at ten different dollar stores all over town because you need those square vases that only one place in the universe carries. Now, they just pull up the Pinterest app, click a button and buy it. And if you can’t buy it, those step by step instructions are right there in the blink of an eye.
I think on our 10 year anniversary, I want a re-do. Who knows what kind of crazy stuff they’ll have to make life easier for the do-it-yourselfer bride by then. I do know one thing that will probably still be around….those dang trees. I can’t seem to shake them. Better yet, I think on my 10 year re-do, I’ll just sit back, relax, and hire a wedding planner. There’s just some lessons in life you only have to learn once.

April 28, 2016

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Every family has moments that leave you with that puzzled look on your face wondering how in the world you ended up somewhat normal. This week, I had one of those moments with mine.
My parents, who have more crap than Sanford and Son, decided a few months back that moving, yet again, was a good idea. (After all, it has been a whole three years since the last move.) They sold their waterfront condo in a matter of days and found the perfect house vacant and ripe for the picking. Only one problem….as a foreclosure, it was a disaster.
I listened to the plans as they added up and thought to myself, “Man, I hope they are planning to hire people to do this work,” knowing that at some point I was going to be lassoed in like a calf at a rodeo. I was right. With a bid on painting the entire inside of the house coming in at $4,000, my mom said, “To hell with that. Grab yourself a paintbrush and get to work.”
I thought, “How bad can it be,” and went to work on day one with a smile on my face. It quickly faded as my back spasm and I splashed my eyes with paint.
Day three of painting arrived, and I wasn’t going to be able to join the crew to stand around talking in the kitchen about all the things we needed to get done while merely holding the paintbrushes until later that afternoon. Around noon, my phone rang. It was my brother, and I could tell by the tone of his voice that this was going to be good.
“I don’t have much time to talk, but you’re not going to believe what “your” parents are doing,” he said. I was on the line like a tuna on a herring. I asked what was going on. “So we were headed to Burger King to grab something quick for lunch. Of course Mom busted out her coupons, and Dad said he needed cheese for his Whopper,” he said. I replied, “So? What’s the big deal about that?” “He said he wouldn’t pay $.20 extra for cheese at Burger King, so we stopped at Winn-Dixie and they are inside now buying their own block of cheese,” he answered.
I sat there with a bewildered look on my face like this had to be a joke and finally I said, “You are kidding me, right?” My brother answered back with a chuckle, “Nope. They would rather spend $5.00 to get the “good” cheese.” We both cracked up laughing at the fact that we have parents who didn’t mind spending tens of thousands of dollars renovating a home, but $.20 for cheese is just cray. I shook my head.
Personally, I’m all about convenience. Instead of driving to the grocery store, getting out of the car, encountering idiots galore while perusing the aisles all to pay 500 times more for the “good” cheese…..I’ll just pay the $.20. Life’s too short for all that stress.
Today, I went over to see if they needed my help with any last minute packing as the moving trucks are scheduled to be there in the morning. With the past four weeks to pack, I expected there to be some loose odds and ends. Instead, I walked into an episode of Hoarders: Moving Edition. I packed boxes with hundreds of pens and thousands of pieces of useless papers. I packed 17 boxes of pictures spanning my entire life. I packed things from the pantry that I’m pretty sure they don’t make anymore.
When it was all said and done, (at least for me), I realized that I need to say a special prayer for that poor unsuspecting moving crew that has no idea what tomorrow is going to bring. A hundred boxes, 25 side tables, and an endless array of remnants lie waiting.
As I looked around before I walked out the door to rest my aching back after a day of hard work, nothing was recognizable in the home the once had here. Nothing except the cheese slicer on the counter. I couldn’t help but smile. At least they’ve got the essentials.
Here’s to my parents, their new home, and the best dang block of cheese they’ve ever put on a Whopper.