An Album of the Unknowns

I’ve gotten into another cleaning mood where I attempt to get rid of some things and usually end up reminiscing and reorganizing more than anything. I grabbed a shoebox full of pictures and letters and other items of Mom’s memories. Below are some family photos that I’m guessing are from Elaine Baker, my maternal grandmother’s side and a few of the Clark sisters when Mom was about four years old. As she was the baby of the five, the others would be Lois 5, Gerri 8, Janet 9, and Anita 10.

 

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Twelve Days of December

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First:
I woke up to Sparky and his four cold feet. He danced in the hall and asked, “walk me?” We walked three times down the same ol street.

I went to the gym where I did not swim, but I jumped and I stretched my muscles thin. Persimmons I don’t like but cinnamon I will bite.

No trees in a cup (juniper latte) for me, I’m saving myself for the civic symphony.
The nutcracker calls and the swan sings, these are the things that fill my dreams.

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Second:
Shopping around and through the stores for Christmas countdown gifts — eggnog to drink, lotion for my toes, and some candles to cast shadows on my hose.

There’ll be bread, books, and breakfast in bed. I’ll eat the chocolates that near my head.

I can’t give all my secrets away so I’ll wrap them up and hide them today. When Caleb gets home the games we will play.

The paper is crooked and the tape uneven but that doesn’t stop this joyous feeling.

 

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Third:
I decided to only get one degree from City College. For those of you thinking that getting a degree will make transferring easier, it has not for me. I came from Florida, with honors, and California told me to just take three classes, and then three more, and when I thought I was done it was another three more.

There’s a six-month registration process to get into a university, so I got a certificate in the interim. I thought about pursuing that degree, but already eight classes have turned into 11. I should have my second business degree by the end of March.

I mailed the $100 that the school took six weeks to raise for the American Heart Association. I checked the “not participating” box for next year and will move away from working for free and find something that pads my pocket, just a bit, as it does my heart.

Caleb’s Uncle Ed and I walked around downtown Coronado and took in the view along the water’s edge of San Diego Bay.

 

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Fourth:
I walked around lots of corners but not to any stores. I walked to the backyard and to the front porch, both places too windy to study my ACE book, so I walked Sparky again.

I walked to pick up the neighbor’s kid from school and then to the hotel elevator to eat olives, mushrooms, and a fortune cookie with Uncle Ed. We learned about the history of the Vikings and what it’s like living within 200 miles of the arctic circle in Alaska.

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Fifth:
The rain came pouring down. Ed and I watched some behind-the-scenes footage of Blue Man Group with the Dodo Japanese guys. We went to the house to play three games of cribbage and had dinner at Big Kahuna’s.

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Sixth:
Sparky had his third seizure while I was on the phone with Caleb. I went to work three hours later in my cute sweatpants and did the exercises with the kids and let them play in the rain a bit before going inside for an anatomy vocabulary game of Hangman.

I watch some I Love Lucy next door and compare the size 12 of a woman in the 50s to today’s standards before going home to make dinner. I’m doing some writing, about TV, when Fallon asks if I want to go for ice cream later.

We make it ten minutes before the shop closes because of the storm; get strawberry and orange while we wait by the door. A fresh batch of donuts has been made on the corner so we might as well grab one of those too.

Treats on the couch while we look at science — menopause, cancer, steroids, and nature.

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Seventh:
Breakfast at The Broken Yolk Cafe with Uncle Ed. Then gasoline and groceries before a game of cribbage. He’s off to work and I pick up my paycheck.

Fallon invited me to Tender Greens to eat the Brussels sprouts that come with her seasonal veggies. We decided to clean out our cars. I sucked up all the food crumbs (with a vacuum) and wiped down all the weird smudges and spots.

We took her youngest down to the farmer’s market for kitchen-sink and garlic-honey dips and shared a cookie-base birthday cake cheesecake dessert.

I got a letter in the mail today letting me know that our rent won’t go up next year but the company is introducing fees for anything they can think of — website use, change of pet, and lease renewal. Does that mean I have to pay more if I have one less dog now?

 

Eighth:
I picked Caleb up from the airport and took him to lunch at Burger Lounge with his uncle before we walked along Coronado Beach and enjoyed the lovely shorts-wearing weather before returning to Ed’s room for conversation, and a phone call from Dad for me.

We went home so I could change into pants and shoes for Balboa Park’s December Nights. We made it past the food stalls and museums, past the Organ Pavilion and the international houses, to another lane of food with short lines for lentils, spinach, garlic naan, and samosas to eat while sitting on a curb.

There’s still a line of cars waiting to find parking while we walked back to the car.

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Ninth:
Brunch is had at Lazy Dog with Caleb and Ed who we ventured into Trader Joe’s and Costco with for meat and spices. I dropped Ed back to his room while Caleb baked cookies wearing an apron.

Went next door to move the dining table and lay a tarp down and heat my leftovers before Fallon showed up with all of Ryan’s soaking wet items from his car that flooded and laid his important papers out individually.

I always look for Sparky when I walk in the door because he no longer gets up to greet me. I circled around the house and began to panic and Caleb found him in the bathroom, which is why I leave the door shut because otherwise, he’ll lock himself in.

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Tenth:
I took a nap on the couch and walked Sparky while Caleb went next door to heat up butter for 30 minutes. We stopped by Vons for salad ingredients and picked up Ed before I ate breakfast at noon. The guys have steak and shrimp; I have salad and kombucha.

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Eleventh:
Caleb went to work, came home, and we went shopping for my 12 Days of Christmas at Ocean Enterprises — my own BCD (buoyancy control device) and a regulator (reduces pressurized breathing gas). We got home to another gift in the mailbox — a pair of fingerless gloves, complete with USB hand warmers.

Ed got off work around 6 pm and got called back into work at 8 pm for another hour. I thought we’d stay till midnight but it was five minutes to 1 am before we said our goodnights and goodbyes. He leaves in the morning.

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Twelfth:
Went paddle boarding with Caleb, Fallon, and Zeus.

I was going to ride my bike to my dentist appointment but both tires were flat.

Caleb bought bread and foil while I was gone and then we watched Mowgli (thinking it was Jungle Book from 2016). This movie was released in 2018 with more twists than the 1967 original.

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When Things Don’t Go As Planned

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It makes for an interesting story to tell later. These instances are usually caused by hazardous weather, a mistake in booking or needing a reservation, or the event is closed or the building demolished — all things that can be blamed on chance or someone else. These moments can be used to bring couples closer together as they learn how to deal with new situations and communicate what they want and how to fix it (the problem now and how to remedy it in the future if possible — airlines, in-laws, restaurants).

 

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My years of being young, reckless, and emotional seemed to fly by (probably because I’m still in them) but as a person grows and changes (as is healthy to do) along with their partner a lot can go unnoticed or just unsaid. It’s not due to neglect or other forms of abuse, but just a lack of not knowing what questions to ask as you both pursue your goals without focusing on the details of what it will take to stay on this path together as your likes and motivations adapt to the ever-evolving individual.

 

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Being 3.5 months away from my 11-year anniversary, and having known Caleb for three years prior, I should have more experience in this field and be able to cope with a little glitch like a canceled dive trip — something we’ve been dealing with since we started in March 2016. The ocean is a wild and unpredictable place and we should always have a backup plan ready just in case — and be ready to voice our reasoning behind our ideas that pop up in the absence of swimming with fish (or whatever the plan was).

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In our case, Caleb got us free tickets to Busch Gardens, compliments of their Waves of Honor program, after the divemaster let him know that we wouldn’t be diving today. I was more concerned with the $25 parking than I was in knowing why Caleb would want to spend the morning watching me ride roller coasters while he stands in a crowded theme park playing Christmas music in November. It’s this simple question that can set the tone for the day.

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Getting to the park and focusing on the naughty children, unopened food stalls, and roller coasters that are closed for maintenance while smiling on ride after ride because Caleb knows that I enjoy the thrill of their speed along with their history and technology was the post I was going to write, but I’m lucky to have a little birdy remind me otherwise. I realized I would rather spend the day in the hotel or on a trail holding Caleb’s hand and appreciating each other and animals in the wild than roaming around looking for the negative because I didn’t communicate that to him.

 

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I still enjoy all the rides and getting to skip in line for being a single rider, but I’d rather be laughing with Caleb while we wait and sharing in this experience together. It’s not often that couples can afford to fly a spouse across the country, where the other one works all the time, to see each other and I wanted us to make the most of it. Memories were made and I don’t want to belittle them, but I think of the joy that could’ve been had doing something we could both take part in.

 

Speaking of, the train is a great place to sit next to each other and watch the park go by. I learn that the conductor is in charge of collecting fares and selling tickets and is not the driver. The engineer informs us that Grant’s zebras, a subspecies of the Plains zebra, has stripes around their bodies while the mountain zebras have a white belly. Cool fact: a group of zebras can be referred to as a dazzle.

 

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After the park, we take a step back into 1880’s history and admire the architecture of the Spanish, Moorish, and French Renaissance styles that were popular in Ybor City at the time. The thing that stood out from the Cigar Capital of the World, as it would remain until the Great Depression, besides the hand-rolling still taking place, was reading about Molly Ferrara as the city’s first alcaldesa (mayor) and adding another word to my Spanish vocabulary.

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We drive downtown to visit the Tampa Museum of Art and take in the two-minute interactive exhibit by Yayoi Kusama “Love is Calling” that has inflatables surrounded by mirrors while the artist recites a Japanese poem. A translation of Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears is available to be read on the wall upon exit. The artwalk event I thought was taking place (where restaurants and businesses display local artists and offer discounts on food and drinks) turns out to be alcohol specials at nearby bars so we will have to find food elsewhere.

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Why we settled on dinner at a chain restaurant while on vacation is beyond me and not our typical behavior, but it does the job, as does getting key lime pie cheesecake as a sugar vehicle to my bloodstream but doesn’t deliver the same feeling I got going into the Everglades with two slices made in the Keys and coming out with one because the other melted; both were still delicious. Life doesn’t go as planned, but it’s up to you to choose the extraordinary over the mundane every chance you get.

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Over the Hills and Through the Flames

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morning hotel view

Our plan was to meet in Tampa and go diving in Clearwater for three days, the first of which will have diving canceled at 8:30 am (after the fishermen go out for an update and to catch lunch) due to high seas. We take this opportunity to drive to Hillsborough River State Park and walk from parking lot 2 to the River Rapids Nature trail, across the suspension bridge to the Baynard loop, before catching the second half of the RRN trail to get back to the car.

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looking up at Spanish moss

We will spend the 2.3 miles looking at all the details — from spiders and ferns to mushrooms and moss to tree roots that look like legs — and reminiscing about our time in the forests of Florida. Each geographic region has its own qualities and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to experience so many. A common question in the US is, “What’s your favorite state?”, but for those that have been to them all, we have a special place (beach, restaurant, park, museum, etc.)  in one or more of them that stands out as a great place to live or to avoid — such as the Everglades, which is why we camped there twice.

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Caleb begins to wonder what is going on in the bathroom as I’m taking an ample amount of time to switch from a toilet that is too tall to the big stall with a view. There’s something spectacular and ancestral about peeing while looking at trees. I didn’t get a good photo though as the screen was in the way. I think about putting a picture on the wall in front of the commode when I get home and then remember that my husband is standing outside the door waiting.

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Under the pavilion nearby is a woman sat in front of her travel-size (29”) flat screen TV while her partner is busy setting up the food and the rest of their planned picnic party. I get the appeal of having a cell phone within reach for emergency situations, but when did America feel the need to fill every bedroom and waiting room with a TV or screen — when cheap, non-scripted reality television with digital recording became a thing so that people can binge watch on airplanes, in bathrooms, and on their daily commutes.

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beautiful reflection

I’m not saying TVs are terrible as there is a time and place for classic films, the Discovery Channel, and finding awkward shows to watch while on vacation or doing handy crafts but I don’t like being bombarded with someone else’s idea of important media or having company distracted by a moving picture while we are out; phones are bad enough. Anyway, we leave the lovely couple to enjoy their day in the park and drive along the 301 in search of the Fort Foster State Historic Site.

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along the Tampa Riverwalk

The gate to Ranch Rd was closed so we assumed the site was too (because it’s only open weekends and for Rendezvous). It’s a reproduction of the fort rebuilt there in December 1836 during the Second Seminole War to defend the river and the soldiers’ supplies. The property was given to the state in 1972 and opened to the public in 1980. With no history to walk through here, we drove south to the Lettuce Lake Regional Park but only the state park is open every day — not even national parks do that.

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a sand igloo selling hot cocoa on Tampa Riverwalk

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siblings serenading

Those were the two items on my list in this area so Caleb chose the Tampa Riverwalk next so we could experience 2.5 miles of museums, art, and manatees. We park near MacDill Park and go left first. I spend most of the time looking up at the buildings but stop to read about the accomplishments of Moses White before taking notice of the beautiful building across the water (later research will tell us it’s the University of Tampa we are so enamored with).

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Old Steel Railroad Bridge

Walking the other way we pass a penguin’s sand igloo, a closed skating rink, and two kids “playing” on the public piano. We continue over the railroad track towards the Straz Center to read about Eleanor McWilliams Chamberlain and her 37 years of advocating for women’s right to vote before it was finally ratified. There are some large paintings on a lawn, a seat turned metallophone, and three bench swings to keep us entertained before we return past the dog park to see children using it too.

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There’s still time on the meter when we return to the car so we cross the street to appreciate the architecture of metal, glass, and bricks among trees (while looking for a restaurant that might be open) and learn about the Great 1909 Auto Race that inspired the bonds to get highways built between Tampa and Jacksonville. We return to the hotel for 20 minutes while we look at menus of places such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House and decide on Flames Indian Cuisine for half the price.

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on the W Cass St drawbridge

Sitting down I notice they serve us ice water while the rest of the room is given theirs at room temperature. When I ask for a refill with no ice I’m brought another glass. I’m hoping the food doesn’t come out bland and we’re given more time to wonder while the family that came in after us is served first because there was an issue with the printer.

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vintage wall lamp

A guy walks in, while Caleb is going to the car to get my jacket, who reminds me of a scene from Monty Python (which is much more graphic than I remember). Our food arrives at a decent spicy level but Caleb thinks that our garlic naan is just regular — and he is right, so we’re gifted some to-go and I give up the chance to try a chocolate filled samosa, though maybe I could’ve used the sauce for a second purpose.

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shiny buildings

Back at the room, we learn about the time that goes into crafting the art of sushi through generations and the simplicity of preparing sukiyaki in Japan, and the significance of prepping pork overnight in South Carolina for BBQ from Anthony Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown”, his last series he would produce as a traveling chef of 16 years. He got his start at 44 years old after writing a book, which would be the first of many, about the behind-the-scenes in a restaurant kitchen.

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trees, bricks, and glass

I have a mix of the Thai curry and Indian lentil leftovers for dinner while we watch the men on TV sample different meats and Caleb makes a comment about spicy in – spicy out and we have a laugh about the future smell of my food combination. This is our foreplay conversation before we get out the tingle cream for round two, which is how I will discover that it’s mentholated and provides an icy hot sensation that makes me debate whether I would try it again — we both like the results.

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To Tampa for Thai Donuts

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I had trouble relaxing last night and finally going to bed as I always get excited before a trip. I had cleaned the house, packed my bag, bathed my body, and talked to Caleb but didn’t get to bed until after 9:30, which is early for my regular routine but I needed to be at the San Diego Airport before my usual alarm. Sparky woke me at midnight, nails clicking on the wooden floor. I grabbed him and he stayed under the covers till after 2:30 when I woke before my phone went off.

I washed my hair and ruffled his to get Sparky out of the pocket of warmth he created so we could go on a walk at three in the morning. The houses on my street already have Christmas lights up and inflatable decorations that are going all night. I would have them on a timer, but we don’t have any decorations these days, though Caleb misses the ambiance of the soft light they provided inside. I sneak into Fallon’s house and wait with her while she finishes her oatmeal so she can give us both a ride to the airport.

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in Houston Airport: The Sentinels by Elizabeth DeLyria

I eat the grapes that I stuffed into my water bottle last night before I have to worry about what security will think because I went to bed hungry after having dinner at 4 pm. Not only is there holiday traffic today but the Navy decided to transfer a bunch of guys who are crowding the American Airlines counter. Good thing I’m flying Spirit and am sixth in line to go through the checkpoint. The agent opening the gate is friendly and full of jokes and though Fallon isn’t clocked in yet she’s there to hand me a piece of gum.

I’m the only one in the lounge for about an hour and it’s fantastic while I read and tune into the TV when it talks about rain on the west coast. A guy opens a sandwich next to me and it tells me that I’m hungry, but I forgot my other snacks. I debate getting up and check the airline website that sells muffins and BuzzBallz and I’m not about that party lifestyle so early so I slowly decide to put away my book and venture one gate away.

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reflections and lights landing in Tampa

I’m getting cold as we start to board with a 15-minute delay and I’m given the window seat and eventually the exit row too, but there seems to be some confusion as to the guy’s ability to handle the door. I thought it was an age thing, but apparently, he’s a litigation attorney and not willing to give his seat up for discrimination without an exchange of words as he attempts to get moved to the first row or be given a full refund. Turns out the attendant had to make a judgment call with the FAA on her side, but I feel bad for sitting here.

I tried to read and napped instead and woke up to a passenger in need of air with half the plane looking towards the back and a crew member carrying a portable emergency oxygen system that looked like a mini dive tank. There’s also a line for the water closet and it starts to smell like nacho farts. I’m feeling grateful I didn’t buy a drink so that I don’t have to wait in the aisle, especially as the seatbelt light comes on and the pilot asks people to return to their seats so we can land in Houston at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

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Tampa toilet technology

I wait in line for another delayed departure, but it’s no big deal considering 30 million people are traveling today and it’s only a few minutes. The flight is an hour and a half and Caleb has an hour to himself at the hotel to think about dinner and “dessert.” I sat next to another reader on the flight, title of his book One Minute Millionaire, and now we’re both napping. My neck fell asleep; a sensation I’ve not felt before and the clouds are all white and smooth as I look out my window to the water below.

The plane making contact with the ground felt like landing a soda can full of rocks and the attendant comes over the speaker to tell us to “let social media know you were 11 minutes early because you’d let them know if you were late.” We stopped at Jack and Jill Adult Superstore to find something new to play with, on the way to dinner at Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen where I got the curry and Caleb the noodles, and we ordered their donuts for a new experience.

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steamy start to an evening

We’ve never had Thai donuts, which are like loukoumades (Greek donuts), but the nuts and sauce combo come served on the side which would come in handy when we got back to the room (I spit the nut part out so it wouldn’t scratch) and got to try some Nipple Nibblers tingle balm, Belgian waffle, after watching the second half of Inglorious Basterds.

 

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