February 11, 2016

editorial pic
February 14. It's the big game. The Super Bowl of love. You can be a hero if you remember. Forget it, and you could be left out in the cold. So, open your calendar and circle the date. Let's face it; some of us can be pretty "romantically challenged." When it comes to shopping for gifts? Well, most of us probably rank that right up there with a trip to the dentist.
But, there's a Romeo inside each of us, just waiting to get out. Valentine's is our chance to shine. We can melt hearts, even in freezing winter weather. All it takes is a little planning and a phone call or two.
Here are a couple of sure-fire strategies that would make even Cupid proud.
Send flowers, candy, a card, or more, for delivery on Valentine's Day. This strategy can be especially effective for gifts to the workplace, where they can be enjoyed by the recipient, and envied by others, during the workweek.
However, keep in mind that half the guys in America will have the same brilliant idea. So, play it safe, order the week before. Remember, there will be a lot of Valentine's gift deliveries that day; some in the morning and others in the afternoon. A thoughtful phone call, e-card, or romantic email message in the morning is definitely a great idea as well.
Send her a card a few days early. Treat her to a romantic dinner that night. Place candies on her pillow the second evening. Then, surprise her with flowers the day before Valentine's so they will be enjoyed more throughout Valentine's Day. The first card might say “I Couldn't Wait Till Valentine's To Say I Love You,” or “I Can't Think of Anyone I'd Rather Spend Valentine's Week With Than You.” Eat your heart out, Cupid!
Some of the most thoughtful gifts are those that will last long past the big day. A live miniature rose plant that will remind them of you long after cut roses have gone, a longed-for novel with red ribbon around it, a poem written by you, or a photo collage of the two of you can mean more than diamonds and gold.
Some say the way to the heart is through the stomach. Treat your sweetie to a fabulous meal. A recent survey by urbanspoon.com ranked the top romantic restaurants in Pensacola to book your night of love. Coming in first was the Melting Pot. Although it is a chain restaurant and most men shudder at the thought of cooking their own food right there at the table, the setting is intimate and most of the tables are semi-private, offering you and your sweetheart a private dinner of several courses.
Other front runners included Global Grille, The Grand Marlin, The Fish House, and Jackson’s Steakhouse. Some of these restaurants will be accepting reservations, but not every restaurant will. Be sure to call ahead and make a plan as Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest restaurant days of the year.
If going out into the thick of mushy romance isn’t your thing, cook at home. Show your date how dedicated you are to a memorable evening by crafting an elegant meal yourself. This way, you can customize the food and make exactly what you and your date want. Think of some heartfelt ways of presenting the food like arranging the salad in the shape of a heart or using a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out bread pieces. Nothing can be more romantic than creating a fabulous meal together.
Just remember that the real star of the day is ‘love’. Take the time to make sure that special person in your life knows how deeply you feel for them whether it be through words, a hug, or a snuggle under a blanket by the fire. Some people are romantically challenged. Just do your best to share your heart. If all else fails, you can always google “romance” for ideas. Just don’t be the guy who thinks Valentine’s Day is for the birds and comes up empty handed. Leaving a lady out in the cold on the most romantic day of the year is no way to heat things up, and nobody wants to be that guy.

January 7, 2016

editorial pic raccoon family2
This Christmas I wanted a raccoon. Not a stuffed one or figurine. A real live pet raccoon. I researched the laws, found the permits I needed through the state, but much to my dismay when Christmas day rolled around, it was a no go. I understood why, but I didn’t have to like it.
But just a week later, thanks to my husband’s lazy ways, I got just what I wanted. Only I got eight of them. Santa, we have a problem.
A couple of days before New Year’s Eve, I asked my husband to take out all of the garbage we had accumulated throughout the week off together. There were three large bags of trash after I cleaned out the refrigerator and the pantry in preparation for the New Year, and I was proud of him for not complaining as I watched him walk out the back door to the garbage cans. Or so I thought.
The next morning, I woke up and opened the door to take the dogs outside. The back porch looked like a landfill as far the eye could see. Annoyed, I woke my husband and snapped, “I thought you took the trash out?” He danced his way around the question for a minute before he answered, “Well, I put it outside the door. I was going to take it to the can this morning. It was too cold last night.”
My answer to this explanation gave me great pleasure. “Well, it’s still cold, and there is trash everywhere. You better get started.” He didn’t argue, but I was feeling generous so I helped.
Later that night, I heard some commotion outside so I peeked through the blinds to see what was out there. Much to my surprise, the little garbage bandits were back and they were adorable. Now most people would avoid a pack of wild animals at all costs, but I immediately ran to the refrigerator to choose a delicious snack for the little fellas. I was determined to make them my friends.
I slid the barrier into the doggie door so my pups would remain safely inside and I carefully cracked open the back door. The beautiful little critters stood at attention for a moment, looking me over, while I talked to them in my sweet voice I use only for babies and animals. I tossed out a few offerings of cheese and bread, and within minutes I was standing completely outside the house among their pack.
For the next three days like clockwork, my new buddies showed up at the door, waiting for a midnight snack. I placed a couple of bowls of water and scraps on the other side of the fence for them, but once they blew through its contents they were looking for the lady with the cheese. I fed them until their little bellies were swollen and headed inside with plans for tomorrow’s “dinner”.
Tucker, my Alaskan malamute who is usually sound asleep in bed by 10 pm, woke around midnight, and like the true old man he is, needed an overnight bathroom break. I was still awake, and upon hearing a growl and a crash, I flew to the door faster than I ever had before.
When I opened the door, Tucker had one of my little raccoon friends in his mouth, shaking him back and forth. I yelled for him to stop, and being the good dog that he is, he did. He dropped the raccoon, who was totally freaked out and rightfully so, and allowed it to back away and run under the porch (where I assume they have all been living).
I looked for bite wounds on Tucker, but whether it was his thick coat or the fact that he didn’t even give the raccoon a chance to bite, thankfully there weren’t any. I locked him inside the house and went on a search mission for the poor little guy who never saw this coming.
I found him hiding under the porch, terrified. I looked him over the best I could from a safe distance and saw that he wasn’t bleeding and didn’t appear to have any injuries other than trauma that he’ll be seeing a raccoon therapist for for the rest of his life.
I felt awful. I had basically baited this little dude to what could have been his death, and put the rest of his raccoon family and my pups at risk. It never really crossed my mind that they wouldn’t get along, mostly because I think of myself as a cross between Snow White and Ellie Mae Clampett who can tame any wild animal and make them all blissful friends. If only the world worked like it does on the big screen.
Although it breaks my heart, I know that the right thing to do is to stop feeding the raccoons and let them be wild animals where they belong. It isn’t fair to them to put them in a situation where they can be mauled by a prey driven dog, and it’s not fair to put my dogs in a situation where they can be attacked by a wild animal defending its family’s feeding grounds. I hate it when my husband is right.
Plus I can’t imagine the mess we would have had if the dogs had eventually made friends with them and showed them how to use the doggie door. I actually watched one of these furry bandits open a closed water bottle full of bacon grease and drink it….these things are smart….and disgusting.
In the end, the raccoon family is safe and still living under my porch, but they do their hunting in the neighbors trash cans now. Maybe someday I’ll have a pet raccoon, but I don’t think I’ll get it by leaving a trail of cheese in the woods.

December 31, 2015

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As the New Year approaches, I, like most people, have spent some time this week reflecting on the past year and all the things I hope to achieve in the coming one. For me 2015 was the best year of my life by far, and it’s going to be pretty hard to top. So this year, instead of all of the same old resolutions I usually make, I want 2016 to be my most memorable year, not because I lost weight or got a raise, but because I gave all I could to others instead of taking so much.
2015 was amazing. It was exciting, and full of adventure. It was a year of making unforgettable memories, but it was also my most selfish year.
My husband and I started the year off in party mode as Mardi Gras got into full swing. After a couple of Mardi Gras Balls complete with expensive gowns, accessories, and over-indulgence in the booze department, on a whim we decided that the season wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Mardi Gras mecca, New Orleans.
A high rise room overlooking the parade route on Canal Street and a couple of days I don’t remember later, I swore I’d never go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras ever again. Not because I didn’t have fun. Quite the contrary. I had so much fun that I ended up in an IHOP at 4 am stuffing pancakes into my face that had been painted like a unicorn by a woman named Sunshine. Not to mention I had so many beads around my neck I looked like Mr. T gone wild. I’m fairly sure the Mayor has asked us not to come back.
A few weeks later, my husband got the crazy idea that we needed a bigger boat, so I reluctantly went along to take a look. Of course I fell in love with it….what girl doesn’t like the idea of “camping” at Ft. McRae with air conditioning, TV, and a queen size bed? Inevitably, we brought it home.
Two weeks later, my birthday weekend had arrived and my husband took me to my favorite place to visit, New York City. It was his first trip to the Big Apple, and I wasn’t sure if he would enjoy it, but he fell in love. He better have. Not loving NYC to me is the same thing as saying you don’t like my dogs…..a major deal breaker.
We crammed as much as humanly possible into four days, and made memories that I know I will carry with me for the rest of my life like taking selfies with the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum while making ridiculously realistic raptor noises and gestures (we freaked the other visitors out….I don’t care), holding hands in Central Park while we took a carriage ride in the snow (it was FREEZING…totally worth it), and getting tattoos on my birthday because Tiffany & Co was already closed (He would do anything to not have to buy Tiffany. Again….totally worth it).
April brought the Mullet Toss and a 3 night stay in Phoenix X, right next door to the Flora-Bama. This is the one thing from the year I actually regret. The condo was ridiculously overpriced (like $1,000 a night, overpriced), ridiculously small, and ridiculously full of college aged idiots that couldn’t hold their liquor.
Not to mention the beaches were so packed you couldn’t even see the shoreline, young idiots fighting, and barf everywhere. I am clearly too old for this kind of event. I remember them being so fun once…..that ship has sailed and my old behind is on it. Needless to say, memories were indeed made once again that weekend with good friends and a couple who turned out to be not such good friends. You live, you learn.
July brought my husband’s 30
th birthday bash where we partied like over grown children with a superhero party complete with blow up slip and slide, flip cup competition, and costumes that made everyone look ridiculous. It was a blast, but more importantly, it made him feel special that so many people were willing to look so moronic to let loose and celebrate his special day. Lifetime memory? Check.
Blue Angel’s weekend came and we took the floating tent, full of friends, to see the show. After almost running out of gas then pumping $800 into the tanks only to find out that the credit card had expired, and nearly crashing into another boat, I’d say we nailed that day. All chaos aside, we had an amazing day with fantastic people watching the coolest show in the sky. If you haven’t done this yet and you live in Pensacola, this is a must for 2016. Just be sure your gas gauge works before you head out.
Our anniversary rolled around and it was time for our annual cruise to Mexico. Usually we travel with our friends, but this year due to scheduling conflicts they weren’t able to join us. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to spend a week in such close proximity together without a buffer or if we would even know how to vacation just the two of us, but it was the best trip yet. Not having our friends tagging along allowed us to reconnect and spend time together like we haven’t in a long time. That trip may have been a game changer in our marriage. Sorry friends, but from now on….our anniversary is just for us.
October brought my favorite time of year, Halloween, where we once again killed it in the costume contests winning two titles. And still champions, ladies and gentlemen.
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about us finding an injured Cooper’s hawk we rescued and named Ethan. Sadly, Ethan’s injuries were too great and he was humanely put down by the people at the wildlife rescue agency. It may sound crazy, but his death made me think a lot about my contribution to the world in 2015.
While we traveled several times throughout the year, bought new toys, partied with our friends, I asked myself…what had I given back? I was ashamed at the answer. While 2015 was the most “fun” year of my life, I realize that I took much more than I gave. I didn’t really make a difference when I have been blessed to have so much.
So this year, I want to leave a mark on the community, hopefully the world, and most importantly in someone or something else’s life.
I plan to spend my time volunteering for animals and children, the two most precious things on earth. I want to donate my money to help those less fortunate in our community, and I want to lend my friendship to those who may feel outcast.
I’m not saying that I plan on being Mother Teresa, but in 2016 I want to give more of myself than I ever have before. I’m not sure if it’s just growing up and becoming a mature adult or not, but I feel very strongly that God has called on me and my heart to do for others instead of myself. I hate when he does that…..I was having so much fun. (Mom, that was a joke….don’t yell at me.)
If 2015 wasn’t your year or if, like me, it was amazing, I wish you all a happy and healthy 2016. I hope that you too will feel it in your heart to give back this year because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you weigh or how much money you make. Being able to help make the world a better place for even one living thing will be the best gift you can give yourself this year.
Happy New Year everybody!

December 24, 2015

editorial pic (mashable.com)
This week, I made the horrible decision to venture out into the world of retail as the last minute shoppers hustled and bustled to check off everyone on their list. I personally was not holiday shopping, as we have decided to skip the presents and avoid the headache. Instead, I was out and about in search of a bag of dog food and a measly couple of Christmas Cards (yes, I know I’m late). Between the impatient drivers, screaming children, and overly aggressive Salvation Army bell ringers, I think it’s safe to say it’s officially “the most wonderful time of the year”.
I jumped in my car on a beautiful warm, sunny day with a smile on my face and headed into town. Traffic was heavier than usual, but it wasn’t until I reached downtown that I realized that people were short on time and even shorter on patience as I saw more than one car get cut off in a mad dash to beat the light at Palafox.
I kept my cool, while one after another, crazy drivers rode my tail and swerved in and out of traffic like mad men. It wasn’t until I saw a woman with her two young kids in the back seat give the middle finger to an elderly man that I realized…..Christmas makes people crazy!
I made a quick stop at Lowe’s and giggled as I noticed two women desperately scrambling to figure out a) where the reciprocating saws were and b) what a reciprocating saw is. You’ve got to love the differences in men and women. They want specific brands, sizes, and accessories for their gift. We just want something shiny.
My next stop was Wal-Mart to find my much needed Christmas cards and I was met by an older woman blocking the entire Holiday Card section with a combination of her cart and tiny frail body. I hung around in the wings for a moment, hoping she would make a selection and move on, but she apparently needed to read EVERY card to make sure she had the right one.
I realized how this was going to go when the woman noticed me waiting and didn’t offer to move her cart so that I too could browse the cards, so I made it a point to squeeze my arm in between her to grab a card, step back to read it, then squeeze back in to replace it for another. Nothing. She didn’t budge.
Not feeling up to arguing with a little old lady this time of year, I moved as far down the aisle away from her as I could get and browsed “I love you” cards instead. I was feeling generous and sappy….maybe I’d pick up some of those while I was there.
Much to my surprise, I felt the jab of a shopping cart in my side not once, but twice, as the little old lady attempted to ram me out of the way of the last two Christmas Cards. I was blown away. I had one of those moments where I couldn’t be held responsible for what my face was doing, and upon making eye contact with me, she scoffed, huffed, and made it clear that I was the problem.
Doing what I do best, I leaned in, grabbed the first Christmas card I could reach and said as I held it up, “Merry Christmas!” before I called her a psycho under my breath and walked away. Apparently it’s not grandma that needs to watch for getting run over by a reindeer, but me who needs to watch out for getting flattened by grandma. I needed to get out of there.
It dawned on me that dinner time was right around the corner and I had nothing to cook. I popped over to The Fresh Market and made a beeline for the meat counter. After about fifteen minutes of waiting, the pickiest woman in the world was all that stood between me and a pecan crusted pork chop.
She had the butcher go through the steaks one by one, none of them up to par for her standards. She finally snapped, “Listen, you’re going to need to go back there and find me something better. I have shopping to do. I don’t have time for this.” I had one of my Ally McBeal fantasies where I slapped her face so hard it left my handprint on her cheek, but awoke from my daydream disappointed because that kind of behavior is frowned upon in the wild.
Once I had scored my delicious “other white meat”, I decided that I had had enough of the madness. On the way home I started thinking, if Christmas is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year”, why is everyone always so grouchy? We put so much emphasis on the material things that we forget the most important message of the season; goodwill to men.
I know that our kids demand that Santa bring the perfect toy and our families drive us crazy when they all come to town, but we need to remember to stop for a minute and breathe. Yes, seeing their faces light up on Christmas morning makes it all worth it, but don’t drive yourself nuts over it. If they don’t get that Elsa doll do you really think they’ll love you any less?
And hang in there because eventually the house will once again fall silent when the extended family leaves. Just cherish the moments you have with them because life is unpredictable and you never know who might not be picking their teeth at the table next year.
As for your fellow man that you have treated like garbage because your life is stressful? Remember that they have things going on in their lives too. Be nice. It takes just one second to make someone’s day by holding a door for them, complimenting their shoes, or just flashing them a friendly smile. After all, it’s Christmas, and you don’t want to end up on the naughty list!

December 17, 2015

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This week the animal lover in me experienced triumph and tragedy when I had the chance to try to save an injured Cooper’s hawk.
It all started when my husband and I were driving down our street headed to our adult kickball game (after all, we are just overgrown children), when I saw a hawk standing on the side of the road. “That’s unusual,” I said. “I wonder if he’s hurt?”
He pulled the car over and I hopped out to see if the little guy would fly away. He didn’t. Instead, he just hobbled slowly across the street to the neighbor’s yard and plopped down. “We can’t just leave him there,” I said pleadingly. “He’s probably fine. If he’s still there when we get back, we’ll check him out,” my husband replied.
Three hours later, we returned home only to find the poor bird in the same spot. He hadn’t even moved an inch. At this point, it was rescue time.
We came home and armed ourselves with yard gloves, a blanket, and a cat carrier and headed back down the street not knowing what kind of fight we were in for. My husband shined the flashlight on the poor bird, and while he didn’t see any visible injuries, he did see talons that were over and inch long and a beak that could snap a finger clear off at the bone. We hoped this little dude knew we were friend and not foe.
We formulated a plan. He decided our best bet was to distract him from the front while I snuck up behind him and tossed the blanket over him. I was expecting a fight, but much to my surprise, he just laid there still. I opened the cat cage while my husband picked up the injured bird and slid him in. We outfitted the cage with a warm blanket and a bowl of water, and we took him home.
Back at the house, I put him high up on the table away from the dogs and let him rest for a while. I could tell he was scared, but I talked to him each time when I walked by in a soft sweet voice. It may sound crazy, but I really think it helped soothe him.
For the next few hours, he was under my watchful eye all while enjoying the pretty lights of the Christmas tree and a delightful showing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I’m pretty sure that bird was either having the scariest or coolest night of his young life.
The next morning, I woke early and took our hawk (who we lovingly name Ethan…Ethan Cooper Hawk) to the Northwest Florida Wildlife Sanctuary. The volunteers immediately went to work on him the moment we entered the door. I was reluctant to leave my new feathered friend behind, but I had done all I knew to do and I was confident that the wildlife rescue staff would do their best.
I checked on Ethan for the next two days, and he was hanging on like a real trooper. The staff told me that Cooper’s hawks are very fast flying birds that maneuver quickly through heavily wooded areas, sometimes getting themselves into trouble with those pesky trees that just won’t get out of their way. They think this is what happened to Ethan.
He was barely a year old, and had suffered a massive head injury.
On Monday, I called to check in and I received the news I feared. “I’m very sorry ma’am, but he didn’t make it. He fought through most of the weekend, but he died naturally yesterday,” the volunteer said. I felt a wave of sadness come over me, but it subsided when she went on to say, “But you did the right thing. He was on pain meds and he went peacefully in a quiet, safe, warm place. It could have been much worse for him.”
I knew she was right and that we had done all we could do. As sad as it is, sometimes nature just takes its course.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about Ethan C. Hawk since then, and I realized the best way to honor his birdie memory is to volunteer my time to help others like him. I have found two wildlife rescue agencies in the area in desperate need of volunteers and donations to rehabilitate injured wildlife in the area, and I will be sharing my time with both of them. I encourage you animal lovers out there to do the same.
While Ethan may not have made it, I sleep peacefully knowing that he was at least given the care and the chance he needed thanks to these agencies and their selfless volunteers. I encourage you to save a life and get involved!
I hope in the future I’ll have some stories about the animals I’ve helped release back into the wild….Either that or the baby raccoons I’ve fostered in my home. My husband thought he was safe with me volunteering at the wildlife rescue instead of the Humane Society. I’m afraid the joke’s on him once again.