Celebrating Retirement

And suddenly you know:  It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. – Meister Eckhart

Five years ago today, July 7, 2017, I drove into downtown Birmingham for my last day of work.  After 37 years at a large Birmingham company, I was retiring from corporate life.  During those 37 years, I had four very different careers within this company.  And I was very fortunate to be able to create a position that really gained my company recognition and praise around the state, thanks to the foresight of an executive who was such a mentor to me.  He was determined to get a multicultural markets position, that we worked to create together, established for me because during that particular time, the Hispanic population in Alabama was booming.  It was crucial to have someone in company coordinating efforts to enable employees to best serve the Hispanic population.  That position went on to define my work life as well as my personal life.  Looking back, I realize that everything that I did up to that time led me to that position and its success for over ten years.  Those were some of the best years of my career too.

I was 57 when I retired.  Honestly…I thought about finding another corporate job and continuing to work but I just never did.  Maybe because there were plenty of other things to do!  But more on that later… I’m now 63 years old and this is actually around the age that I had planned to retire.  In fact, Eddie and I had already decided what our retirement date would be.  One day we went to lunch at Brio.  Neither of us were having the best of days for some reason.  Because of this, we got onto the subject of retiring.  We talked about what we would do with our time, the trips we would take and how we would live our lives after working for so long.  So, I said, “let’s set a date!”  We both pulled out our phones, opened our calendars and looked about five years into the future and selected a date.  We considered our vacation time and holidays and there it was…our last day in the office would be April 16, 2021, then we would take our vacation and our official retirement date would be…June 2, 2021!  We decided we would ride to work together that day – our schedules were always so different we never rode together even though we worked in the same building – and we would walk out together hand-in-hand at the end of our last day.  As soon as we decided this, it felt like a weight had been lifted from us and with that goal in mind, we were ready to work out the next five years. 

Of course, one of the underlying themes of retirement that I’m discovering after talking to so many friends over these past few years is that retirement plans don’t typically go as you imagined.  I think many people have the image of setting their retirement date, getting the company party or some other fanfare and leaving on a cloud, so to speak.  But for me, it was a corporate reorganization in my department that changed it all.  My department had been going through a reorganization for over two years.  I think most of us were so weary of the reorganization talk that we just didn’t think it would ever happen.  But when it did, it happened quickly.

For me, it was just a good time to leave.  Professionally, I felt like I had accomplished all I could at the company especially in my last position.  Personally, Eddie and I felt we had planned well enough financially for me to leave at that time.  Making the decision to leave…to retire…actually became an easy one at that point.  So that Friday, July 7, 2017…after saying goodbye to my remaining co-workers (several retired along with me) and making a trip to HR for some final paperwork, I got back in my car at noon, left the parking deck for the last time and drove back home.  Once at home, I opened a bottle of wine I had been chilling, poured a glass and felt an overwhelming sense of peace come over me. 

Today, July 7, 2022, and five years later to the day, I hope to be on a plane with Eddie at 3:30 p.m. EST to Paris, France.  We planned this trip in 2019 to coincide with Eddie’s retirement in May 2020 and to celebrate both our retirements.  Of course, we had to postpone due to the pandemic to the following May 2021 and then again to the fall of 2021 and finally to this year in July 2022.  There were times when I wondered if we would ever get to take this trip but today…here we are.  As the days have drawn closer, I’ve been cautiously excited and I have also seen the same type of excitement start to build in Eddie too. 

I’ve done a lot of living these past five years.  Seriously, it has felt non-stop! I worked three United Way campaigns as a Loaned Executive Manager, helped my mother clean-out her house, get it repaired and sold and then move to a retirement village, planned my youngest daughter’s wedding, seen three granddaughters born, helped my son move back to Birmingham from Wetumpka, continued working with Fiesta to provide scholarships to Hispanic students through a Latin themed festival, worked with non-profits like Girl Scouts, HICA and Children’s Aid Society, planned multiple events for friends and non-profits, and been a food blogger with a la carte Alabama, to name a few things.  I’ve found there is never a lack of things to do or things I want to do.  I’ve also realized that since the pandemic, I’m getting better a little better at disconnecting and experiencing JOMO – you know, the “joy of missing out.” 

Sometimes I think this trip to France has been postponed so much to give me time to accomplish all the things I just mentioned and now shift gears to focus on my next chapter with Eddie – just the two of us.  We still have a lot of living to do and a lot of retirement memories to make with each other beginning with this trip.  Meanwhile, I already have ideas on where we can go and what we can do next.  And no matter what that ends up being, I’m just so happy to have Eddie by my side so we can do all of this together. 

Birth Stories – Teresa Lynn 1959

Caption on the back of this photo: Flying on Air Cambodge from Bangkok to Phnom Penh – 4 weeks – March 16, 1959 / photo taken by my dad, Praxedis S. Zuniga using a Leica camera

Do you know the story about the day you were born?  I always thought I knew mine but the older I get the more I realize I don’t have the complete story…just bits and pieces of it that my mother has shared with me and that I’ve been able to piece together including photos my father took.  We probably always think we will have time to get the complete story too.  But I am realizing more and more that I need to capture these stories and many other stories soon and get them down on paper, as they say.

Recently, my mother and I went to lunch and she shared a little more with me about the weeks before and after I was born in Bangkok, Thailand in 1959.  Over lunch, she began with the usual story about how the nurses at the hospital in Bangkok were extremely curious about the woman who gave birth to a baby that weighed almost 9 pounds!  Obviously, this wasn’t normal for a Thai woman so they were naturally curious about what my American mother looked like!  Mom figured they were expecting to see an elephant! That part of the story always gave me a laugh.  This has also been the main story that I’ve always heard until this particular day.

Mom began her story by mentioning a place called The American Club in Bangkok, Thailand.  Over the years I’ve heard about this place and I’ve even seen notations about The American Club on the backs of numerous photos that my father took during this time.  Mom was always great about noting the date and location, who was in the photo and sometimes even a cute caption on dad’s photos.  My recollection was that The American Club was an extended stay hotel in Bangkok where they stayed on occasion.  But I found out that it was so much more. 

Mom and dad were living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the time where dad worked.  Dad, a civil engineer, was working on a government project called The Friendship Highway during the late 1950s.  The story I remember is the Cambodian government built an American compound to house all the Americans that came overseas to work on this project.  (My parents met and married in Cambodia in 1958 but that’s a story I’ll save for another time!)  Once my mother was pregnant with me, she planned to deliver in Bangkok so she had to travel by plane from Phnom Penh with her mother during her 8th month of pregnancy and checked into The American Club to await my arrival.  Dad remained in Cambodia until closer to my birth date.

When mom told me this part of the story, it gave me the opportunity to ask her about The American Club.  I mean, what exactly was this place?  I wanted to know more.  The story goes that a man named Silas owned the Club.  He apparently saved the King of Thailand from being assassinated.  To repay Silas, the King gave him a house that had belonged to the Queen of Thailand.  At some point in time, the Queen had the house in addition to cottages on the grounds where her ladies in waiting resided.  I don’t know if the house was still in use by the Queen when all of this happened.  But Silas took the house and converted it into a hotel where he lived full time.  The house/hotel became an extended stay type of place for Americans in transit due to work in Thailand during this time.  I’ve done some online searches to see if I can find out more about this story and The American Club but to date nothing has popped up.  I’m determined to find something though and will update this story when I do!

So, my mother and grandmother set up residence at The American Club awaiting my birth.  Mom said she had everything she needed at the hotel.  The meals were family style so everyone got to know one another although if a resident preferred to go to their room they could.  I joked with mom that it sounded kind of like a commune!  She laughed and said it was a very comfortable place to be during this time.

Eventually, my dad joined mom as my due date grew closer.  I was born February 17, 1959 and after I was released from the hospital, my first home was The American Club!  There are so many photos of me with my parents during this time with the caption, “The American Club.”  I began piecing this part of my birth story together in Bangkok together through these photos.  Finally, at four weeks old, mom and dad were finally able to take me back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  I couldn’t fly sooner because planes were not pressurized during this time period so newborns were not allowed to fly.

Then there’s the icing on mom’s story that day.  It happened a few years later while I was looking through some old black and white photos that I have from this time period.  There was one photo that captivated me.  It was a photo my dad took of my mother feeding me a bottle on a Royal Air Cambodge plane as we returned to Bangkok.  The date was March 16, 1959 when I was 4 weeks old.  I could never quite figure out what this photo was about even though mom wrote on the back, “flying on Air Cambodge from Bangkok to Phnom Penh.”  Maybe it was the angle of the photo – dad took it from overhead so he was obviously standing over us at the time.  But I needed my mother to put the story in context for it to finally made sense.  It’s such a sweet photo…

I have a few observations from this story and these photos…

  • I love that my dad was with my mom and me for a month after I was born in Bangkok.  I’m sure that wasn’t normal for a father to be around for this length of time in 1959! 
  • I also love that The American Club was such a great refuge for my mom and dad during this time.  They developed friendships with many of these people according to mom. 
  • I want to find out more about this place and the story of Silas and the King.  The story has to be out there! 
  • The photos of me as an infant make more sense now…mom and dad weren’t at their own home during this time…I always thought they were!  Instead, they were at The American Club. 
  • Finally…I can’t get over the fact that my mother was all of 21 years old through all of this! 

I’m so happy to have more details about the time surrounding my birth and it makes me more aware that my own children might want more details about their birth stories at some point.  So, I’ve already begun writing those for future blog posts.  I can’t wait to share them.

Life is Just a Box of Whitman’s Chocolates

Have you bought your heavily discounted Valentine’s candy yet?  It’s always so tempting to stock up right after a major holiday, isn’t it? 

The week after Christmas, I was at Walgreens picking up some cold meds when I walked down their Christmas aisle.  Of course, all of the seasonal items were half off or more.  A bargain hunters dream!  I glanced at everything as I walked down the aisle but didn’t really see anything I couldn’t live without until my eyes landed on a box of candy.  Not just any candy, mind you…but a Whitman’s Sampler box!

So, what’s so special about a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates?  I mean, I this girl loves Fannie Mae chocolate candies – I was seriously addicted to this candy when I lived in Chicago – and I won’t turn down Godiva chocolates either.  But I’ve always had a special place in my heart for a Whitman’s Sampler.  It was the first box of candy I ever received at the age of five… and it came from my father.  As a little girl, that’s something you never forget.

I was in kindergarten in Beltsville, Maryland.  The kindergarten classes were putting on a performance for the school and parents and I got picked to sing a solo!  The song was “All Night, All Day (Angels Watching Over Me),” and my class would also sing along during certain parts of the song.  I was so excited about getting to sing this song.  Once I got this solo, I would sing it at the top of my lungs at home and every other chance I got.  My teacher, Mrs. Flannagan, practiced with me in our classroom too.  I remember she had an old-fashioned upright piano in our classroom.  It reminded me of a player piano.  In fact, it might have been!  I loved that song and I was so ready to sing it on the day of our show.

The morning of our show, my dad told me he might not be able to make it to my performance.  He said he would try but he wasn’t sure it would be possible.  I was disappointed, of course.  It’s not easy for a five-year-old to understand that her father has to work and a kindergarten performance isn’t a priority.  I hoped he would be there but of course, as they say, “the show must go on.”  So, when it was time for my solo, I walked up to the front of the stage and hesitated for a few moments.  I looked across the auditorium to see if I could see my dad.  It was as if I was delaying the start of the song to make sure he had time to get there.  But of course, I had to start singing, so I did, never really knowing if he heard me or not.  But I sang like he did…

After our show, I found out that my dad wasn’t there.  Of course, I was terribly disappointed.  Once I got home and my dad arrived from work, he apologized for missing my singing debut.  I was still a little upset but then, he handed me a box of Whitman’s chocolates.  Needless to say, dad got a huge hug and was quickly forgiven.  A whole box of candy to a five-year-old was simply the best!  And while Whitman’s has a description of what type of chocolates you are getting on the inside of the box lid….as a five-year-old I chose a different way of identifying them.  I smashed each candy right in the middle to see if it was something that looked appealing to me!  Honestly, they were all pretty appealing to me!

So, after Christmas, I bought that box of candy and I’ve enjoyed sampling these wonderful chocolates since then.  Each bite is a memory.   My favorite flavor?  The orange cream dark chocolate, followed by the vanilla cream.  And naturally I get to enjoy them twice since this box has two layers!  But the best part?  Reliving the memory of why I love a box of Whitman’s candy so much and maybe even smashing a piece or two like I did when I was five. 

Blog Like Crazy 2020 – Lessons Learned

Well…. I did it!  I blogged every single day of November 2020 and I lived to write about it! 

This yearly writing challenge was created by Javacia Harris Bowser of See Jane Write, a networking group for women bloggers, writers and entrepreneurs.  I’ve been a member of this group since I got started blogging six years ago and I’ve loved the information and camaraderie it provides. 

This is my fourth year to #bloglikecrazy.  I skipped last year but wanted to do the challenge this year to get my head back into writing.  It’s a definitely a head game for me.  Each time, after a few days of the challenge, I start to look at everything as a possible story. 

This year, I also did a lot of pre-planning.  I started writing my story ideas in my trusty notebook and the list grew rather long during the month of October.  I also went through my photos to pre-select the ones to accompany each post.  For me, my posts are about the photography as much as the writing.  I always want to be able to include the perfect photos to help me tell the stories I’m sharing.  I love being able to combine my photography with my writing.

For the first week and a half of #bloglikecrazy, I had posts pre-written and my pre-selected photographs all set to go along with them.  I scheduled the posts and was so proud of myself for planning ahead.  But before I knew it, I was out of prescheduled posts and I was struggling a bit to think of meaningful things to write about.  The ideas I had come up with in October either didn’t resonate with me for the challenge or I just wasn’t ready to write about them just yet.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll write about these topics eventually but several require a little more research and time so they are on the back burner for now. 

Then I realized something…sometimes ideas can come to you in the craziest places.  It was a Friday night and I was heading home from work when my husband texted me to ask if I would stop and get him a burger.  He had just had a chainsaw accident and couldn’t drive so of course, I said I would.  While in the drive thru, I was thinking about Eddie and his accident and looking through our text messages when the incident occurred.  Reading through the messages, they struck me as rather amusing.  Yes, the accident was serious, but both of our responses were typical “us.”  As I read through them, I thought – this is what I’m going to write about tonight!  When I got home, I poured myself a tall glass of wine, opened up my laptop and in a matter of twenty minutes I had the story written.  Then I added few photos added from my iPhone (nothing graphic!) and the post was done! 

That Friday night I felt like I turned a corner and writing became easier for me for the rest of the month.  It was a great feeling and over that weekend, I once again was able to write and finish posts for the upcoming week and get them scheduled.  I think the biggest lesson for me this time was to actually schedule time to write and stick to it.  In previous years, I was easily distracted and let other things get in my way and then I would be scrambling at the last minute.  I didn’t let that happen this year. I realized that nothing in my life was as urgent as I was making it out to be and I could take time for myself to write. 

I’m always grateful for the #bloglikecrazy challenge when I complete it and this year is no exception.  It has given me the push I’ve needed to do more, try more and accomplish more.  Thank you for issuing this challenge, Javacia!  I’m so grateful!

Postponing My Annual Cookie Swap Party

Cookies from my 19th Annual Cookie Swap Party in 2019.

This is not something I thought I would have to do this year.  But I had to cancel my annual cookie swap party on December 7th.  This would have been my 20th year and is something I really look forward to each year.  I always spend the weekend after Thanksgiving getting my home decorated and adding just the right touches for my friends to descend upon my house with their 12 dozen cookies fabulous to swap.  I also have a theme each year – I always work best with a theme, which is always so much fun and engaging for my guests. 

To be honest, when I knew the pandemic showed no signs of leaving any time soon, I decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to cancel.  I mean, I wanted to spread Christmas spirit with my party, not Covid!  Because of this, I didn’t really come up with a 20th anniversary theme.  Sometimes one will come to me while I’m out window shopping or looking through Pinterest.  Sometimes, a friend or my kids will say something that triggers a theme.  Maybe as I go through this holiday season, something will ring true to me and that will become my theme for next year.  (Maybe one of my readers has a suggestion??!!  Throw it my way, pretty please!!!)

My theme last year was Naughty or Nice and it was inspired by a few things.  One day I went to Swoozies at The Summit to look around and I saw cocktail napkins that said “Naughty” and “Nice.”  When I saw these, I remembered a Naughty or Nice Designs by Lolita wine glass I had my eye on and it all just clicked!  Other things fell into place too.  I found Naughty and Nice stir sticks on Amazon for the margaritas I always serve and even Naughty/Nice toilet paper at Target in their dollar section! 

The “piece de resistance” was the Naughty/Nice necklace I saw on the Instagram page of my friend and artist, Kerry Leasure of Here a Chick There a Chick.  She posted a photo an incredible vintage looking necklace she had created.  It was perfect for my party!  First of all, if you don’t know about Kerry, you need to.  She creates the most incredible and quirky jewelry that is one of a kind in addition to being serious conversation pieces!  I was so excited to see the necklace and I snapped it up immediately!  It went great with my Santa “Someone’s Been Naughty” t-shirt!

Then one night, I was sitting at my laptop and thinking I needed just one more thing for the party – besides the cookies, of course.  Granted I was focusing on the “naughty” more than the “nice” side of the party and started searching Amazon for a mugshot backdrop banner.  You know, the ones you stand in front of for the mugshot before they book you at the police station?  I ended up finding one that had large cards to fill out that said “Santa Saw You…”  This was the perfect touch for the party!  And I found a few Naughty/Nice Santa hats too.  They were reversible so guests could choose.  Not surprisingly, all my guests chose Naughty…what can I say? 

Of course, the cookie swap part was as wonderful as ever.  Everyone left with Christmas boxes filled with assorted cookies.  The smell of sugar was prevalent all over my house!  Several friends stayed and cleaned up my kitchen and helped me put my house back together.  This party kicks off the Christmas holidays for me and I will miss not being able to have that this year.  Planning this party is part of the fun of it every year.  But it gives me time to dream up the perfect theme for next year’s 20th anniversary.  I already have the date set on my calendar – December 6, 2021.

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Conversations with Lucy

Lucy’s first photo as an Odom

Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen. – Orphan Pamuk

Have you ever just looked at your dog and knew she understood what you were saying to her?  Does she sit and listen to you talk to her as long as it takes for you to get whatever it is out of your system?  Does she jump up on you and paw at you when she sees you crying and try to comfort you?  Is she at your ankles the minute your feet hit the floor in the mornings?  My Lucy does all this and more…

About 12 years ago, I went to get my hair cut and my hair stylist Jan was trying to find homes for the puppies her dog had just had.  She said to me, “Teresa, you have to take one of these puppies!”  I wasn’t so sure if this was such a great idea.  I knew the kids wanted a dog and they were old enough to help with one, but I wasn’t so sure about my husband Eddie.  Jan had a polaroid photo of the puppies and gave it to me.  I took it reluctantly and placed it on the console of my car.  Then I left the salon and headed over to the high school to pick up my youngest, Emily.  She got in the car and immediately saw the photo and exclaimed, “Are we getting a dog??!!!”  I said I wasn’t sure and she started getting excited and began begging, “please, please, please!!!!” 

When we got home, we showed the photo to Eddie and he just looked at me and said “no,” but the idea of a puppy was growing on me.  Charlie and Anna Marie saw the photo and began getting excited about a puppy.  I slept on it and then the next day I contacted Jan and I said I would take the black and white female.  I didn’t run it by Eddie…I just went to the salon and got her!  We named her Lucy after the Sandra Bullock character in “While You Were Sleeping.”  My kids love that movie and for the longest time thought Sandra Bullock was my sister, their Aunt Kanista!

The kids were great…at first.  Homework and sports and choir and band activities eventually got in the way and before you knew it, I was the one taking care of Lucy.  Eddie refused because the kids were supposed to walk her and feed her but when they wouldn’t, it fell to me.  Before we knew it, she became MY dog.  When they would try to take her for a walk, she would run to me so “we” could go.  She would sleep on top of the couch cushion to be near me.  And she began her habit of staying at my ankles. 

Of course, as the kids left home, she only gotten closer to me.  She knows which garage door is mine and when she hears it open, she waits for me by the kitchen door.  She positions herself in the house so she can see where I am at all times.  No way can I get away from her unless she is sound asleep.  She loves making Starbucks runs with me and getting her puppuchino.  In turn, she knows when we are headed to the vet and shivers with anxiety when she realizes we aren’t going to Starbucks! 

And now with Eddie retired, we have our new routines…the three of us.  Lucy gets upset when Eddie is in the family room and I’m in the kitchen.  She wants me in there and she wants Eddie gone!  She pesters him until he gets up and heads to the basement which is hysterical to me.  We realized that one night and just laughed so hard about it.  But when I went back to work briefly this fall, Eddie took over walking her every morning and she loved that.  He kept the door to the basement open so she could join him if she got scared, especially during a thunderstorm.  She gets scrambled eggs and cheese in the mornings when Eddie cooks breakfast and she sulks when we eat cereal or something else.  She still gets cheese on those days.

Several years ago, I started posting photos of Lucy on social media with captions and using the hashtag “conversations with Lucy.”  I received so many comments from friends and family saying it sounded just like something Lucy would be saying to me.  These days, she knows when she sees me coming at her with my phone that this means a bit of photography torture for her.  She goes all Greta Garbo on me and wants to be left alone.  But I persist until she poses and lets me get the shot.  Believe me, she is amply rewarded for this minor inconvenience! 

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These days, she is slowing down a bit.  We know she was born sometime around Thanksgiving and she will be 12 years old this year.  Somedays she is like the little puppy we brought home, especially when we are chasing each other around the house.  I don’t know who gets worn out quicker, Lucy or me!  And last year she had a few health problems that worried me and made me think about what life would be like without her.  Her eyesight is getting a little iffy and Eddie says she can’t hear that well anymore.  But then I open a bag of chips and she’s right there ready to share!  

Lucy may have started out as our family pet but she became mine and has been mine for a long time.  I think back to that day I went to get my haircut and I really believe me saying yes to this puppy was because God knew I needed this comfort in my life for the things to come ahead.  Some may say that I rescued her but in reality, she rescued me that day. 

God gave us dogs because he knew we’d need guardian angels we could hug.

Dang it, Hallmark!

Some of my Hallmark 2020 Christmas ornament collection.

As I get ready to decorate my Christmas tree this coming weekend, I’m getting my decorations lined up including all my new Hallmark ornaments.  Back in 2016, I posted about my love of these Christmas ornaments and that I’ve been a collector since they were first introduced in the early 1970s.  My collection continues to grow even though this year I thought I could trim it back a bit.  That is, until the 2020 Hallmark Wish Book came out and… dang it, Hallmark!!!

I remember I spent an entire afternoon looking over the wish book online and making my list.  At first, I thought I would just add to the collections I already had, like Puppy Love or Mary’s Angels but yeah, that didn’t happen.  I ended up adding a total of 16 ornaments to my wish list that day plus adding a few to a reserve list.  What I’ve always discovered is that you have to see these ornaments in person sometimes because photos don’t do them justice.  So, when I picked my ornaments up at the Hallmark Premiere in July, I fell in love with several more.  (Uh-oh)

A couple of my additions this year, had to so with some events that happened (or didn’t) in 2020.  The birth of our first granddaughter means I got to buy several Baby’s First Christmas ornaments.  Sometimes its hard to pick just one so I went for two.  Then again, there’s a third one I have my eye on so hold me back!  I also found a beautiful Eiffel Tower ornament and a Compass that’s inscribed “Life’s Next Journey is the Scenic Route.”  This was to commemorate our cancelled Paris/France trip and also the fact that Eddie and I are now retired and ready to hit the road and travel. 

Hallmark is great at keeping up with movies and tv shows that we all love and creating ornaments.  I added another National Lampoon Christmas Vacation ornament – Clark with the chainsaw.  Little did I know how appropriate this one would be with my husband having a run in with a chainsaw last month!  There’s also another Elf ornament and new this year is the couch from the Friends tv show.  I can’t wait for more of those!  They also premiered a Golden Girls Rose Nylund ornament.  I’ve been getting back into that show lately on Hallmark channel so this was timely. 

But wait!  There’s more!  (Dang it again, Hallmark!) Like I said, I went back by my local Hallmark store for another holiday event and ended up buying a few of those ornaments on my reserve list.  I’ve done a lot of birdwatching and photographing this year so the Bluebird ornament along with the Bird Ornaments in the Box were a must have.  And the Star Wars Wookie with Princess Leia ornament, well, that one just made me smile and cry at the same time. 

My collection has grown so large that it may be time to divide everything up and share with my children.  I mean, that has always been my intent with these ornaments.  I want my children to create their own special memories with these Hallmark ornaments from their childhood and especially with the ones that bring them the most joy. 


The traditional Odom Family Thanksgiving Big Cookie

This Thanksgiving will be different.  No doubt about it.  We won’t have our usual Zuniga-Odom family gathering with too much food and the coveted big cookie.  People won’t be scattered from the kitchen to the dining room and our deck.  It will be different and I’m while I’ll miss the tradition of it all, with all our people gathered in one place, I know we are doing the right thing.  We want everyone to stay safe and covid free.  So, for me and Eddie, it will just be us, my mom and two of our grown children. 

With just the five of us, the temptation would be to just make it simple and not even make a turkey.  But I wasn’t about to let that happen!  I do love a good turkey with stuffing.  I know enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal and having enough for leftovers will make us all happy.  My dining room table has been set since early November and the Thankful Tree that I made with my girls several years ago is sitting prominently on the bench in the hallway.  I will miss seeing what everyone writes on their cut out leaves this year but I will encourage the five of us to fill them out.

In a year like this, it could be said that its hard to find things to be thankful for but I don’t feel that way.  Sure, this pandemic has dealt its share of blows to our family but thankfully nothing drastic and for that I am extremely grateful.

Our family’s Thankful Tree that we use every year. Family members will write what they are thankful for on a cut out leaf and pin it to the tree. I have collected these leaves for several years…

So, what am I thankful for in 2020?

  • Baby Girl Dunne – Our first grandbaby was born on Thursday, July 2, 2020.  Amelia Faith Dunne arrived at 4:44 p.m. on that day as her Pappy and Tisa (and Uncle Cody and Auntie Lem) were on the road traveling to Colorado to meet her.  How can a year be bad when the sweetest soul entered our lives?!  She has brought so much joy to our family in these past five months and just looking at a photo of my sweet baby Mela melts away any troubles I have.
  • Working with United Way of Central Alabama – This was my third year to serve as a Loaned Executive Manager and it was just what I needed.  I was feeling so helpless earlier this year and needed something where I felt I could at least help in some way.  I got to manage two teams this year too and we participated in a fundraising campaign like no other where 90% of the meetings were held virtually and our community said yes to making hope happen.
  • Retirement – Not mine, I retired in 2017 although some of my friends would question that…my husband’s retirement!  Although Eddie decided to stay on a little longer than he had planned with this job, it was only an extra two months.  Now he is tackling that long list of things around the house that he’s been anxious to get to.  Aside from the random chainsaw mishap, he has really gotten quite a lot done over the past 3 months.
  • Health – In this case, I mean that we have been covid free and I’m so, so thankful!  Eddie and I have our routine of hand sanitizing and Clorox wiping whenever we go out.  And we steer clear of crowded places, opting for dining al fresco vs. indoor whenever possible.  We just aren’t taking any changes…and we aren’t hoarding toilet paper either!
  • Family Health – I’m also grateful that my family has remained healthy this year.  Everyone has remained covid free and they’ve been able to continue in their respective jobs especially since all three of my children are in service professions.  My 82 year-old mother has been cautious and we have been extremely cautious with her too.  I’ve heard so many stories of family members being hospitalized with no visitors allowed, so I’ve stressed this to my mother so she will stay safe.  Eddie had to have overnight surgery last week and while the hospital permitted one person to be there, Eddie didn’t want me there and potentially exposed to covid.  So I stayed at home and waited for word and that was not easy.  My heart goes out to people who have been unable to be with their loved ones for extensive stays.  I cannot imagine…
  • Innovation – This may sound like a random word to throw out there but I’ve been so impressed with the innovation of businesses and nonprofits this year.  For my favorite event, Fiesta, we turned a one-day event into a 30-day online celebration and we were able to award $10K in scholarships to Hispanic students!  And my Women’s Network group (TWN), created a virtual event to fundraise for our annual Party with a Purpose.  We paid for a party pack (proceeds went to the YWCA) and picked them up a few days before the event and then joined by zoom for fun and trivia with a local radio host. 
  • Time to Reflect – This year has given me time to take long walks with my dog or just myself, sit on my deck drinking coffee or wine and somedays doing absolutely nothing.  For someone who generally has a packed calendar this has been a wonderful thing.  It has taught me to slow down.  It has let me reflect about all the things I was doing and decide what things were important and what I could let go of. 
  • Time to Plan – Now that Eddie is retired, I love that we are talking more about what comes next for us.  Where we will travel, what we will do to our house, even what television shows to binge watch together.  This is chapter three for us and we are embracing it with everything we have and I look so forward to enjoying the rest of our lives together.

I saw a quote this week on social media and I screenshot it because it resonated… “I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I wanted.  Now I know 2020 is the year I appreciate everything I have.”  There is always something to be thankful for, no matter what the circumstances…

Remembering Thanksgiving 2019

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy.  They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

Today I was looking through photos from last year’s Thanksgiving celebration at my house.  We sure had a houseful of family over and I couldn’t have been more pleased.  I remember having the head count finalized (or so I thought) several days before Thanksgiving and every day Eddie would tell me two more people were coming.  I think he thought I was getting irritated but I was secretly delighted.  I love a full house during the holidays, especially Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving has always been that holiday for me that was most special.  I mean, what could be better than tons of food, pie, wine and family and friends hanging out all afternoon?  It’s a carryover from my mother and how she would prepare for Thanksgiving each year when I was growing up.  Back when we lived in Chicago, it would be our immediate family, my grandparents (mom’s parents) and then mom would invite several of her friends over so they would have family to be with.  The joke was that if mom heard of someone on the street corner that didn’t have a place to eat turkey, she would invite them over!  Once my parents moved to Alabama, this became the gathering place and then when Eddie and I built our house in Hoover, our home became the place we would celebrate.  It was the one time every year when my parents and my sisters with their husbands and kids were all together.  As our families grew and the kids grew up, it was more difficult to get everyone together here in Alabama and my sisters began having their own family celebrations in their home states.  Times change and we have to change with them…

Brother-in-law Terry (TO) with daughters Kate and TJ and grandson Cooper

When I think about our Zuniga-Odom Thanksgiving last year, I can see changes coming once again.  My brother-in-law, Terry has permanently moved to Orange Beach this year.  Just recently, his daughter Kate, along with hubby David and their son, Cooper have moved near Terry.  And even more recently, daughter TJ and hubby Matt are planning a move to Pensacola.  Taking the annual “cousin” picture is getting a little more difficult.  I know we will all get together for holidays in the future but it will take a little more planning!  

Having my sister, Kanista home for Thanksgiving last year felt like old times.

Thinking back to last year…it was just so perfect.  The weather was beautiful and we all enjoyed being outside. We spread out around four rooms in the house and the adult kids ended up around the table on the deck and had a great time.  I even tried out two new recipes on the family, which is something that I don’t typically tackle!  My cranberry sauce and corn souffle were well received, much to my pleasure! In addition to the Odom/Harkins/O’Reilly families being present, I was so happy to have my baby sister, Kanista and her husband Ken with us too.  That was the icing on the cake for me personally.  My favorite memory though is of my super sweet helper, great-nephew Samuel, who made it his mission to make sure every family member filled out a leaf for the Thankful Tree.  

Change is inevitable and I see it happening more and more in our family.  Holidays are changing too and I’m trying to be flexible!  Traditions will change too but the thing that gives me hope is when I hear my children talk about wanting to maintain certain traditions that they’ve been a part of or shift them slightly to make sure they continue.  This makes my heart happy. 

But for a few moments today, I want to remember Thanksgiving 2019 and all the family that gathered together and what a special day that was.  So thankful to have these wonderful memories…especially this year.

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Crafting with Wine Corks

My wine cork collection surely tells the tale of my wine tastes over the years!

It’s no secret that I love wine.  And when you have wine, you usually get wine corks.  Granted, many winemakers are going to the screw tops, but there’s something about opening a bottle with a cork that just feels right. 

I can’t even guess how long I’ve been saving wine corks.  I had a small container in my dining room where I would toss them but eventually, I found a rather large basket at the thrift store that I designated as my wine cork basket.  This year, during the pandemic, it began to overflow.  Hummm…I know what that says about me but at the moment, I don’t care!  I mean, we all have our ways of coping, right?  But before judging, remember that my home is where all the family and friends’ gatherings generally take place, so there’s that. 

Seriously…I have a LOT of wine corks!

A few weeks ago, I decided to empty that rather large basket and placed all the wine corks in a large garbage bag.  I then asked followers on Instagram what they thought I should do with them.  Well, the overwhelming response was to make a craft and some followers even sent me photos of what to try.  The one that got my attention, because it seemed easy to make, was a pumpkin.  With a little hot glue and paint, I set out to see if this would be easy…or not.

First, I chose wine corks that all matched in size.  Well, I tried to!  Some ended up being a little fatter than others, but I did my best.  I lined them up in six rows – two rows of 6, two rows of 7 and two rows of 8.  After hot gluing each row together longways, I began hot gluing the rows together.  First the 6-cork row, then the 7-cork row and finally the 8-cork row.  Then I did the same in reverse. 

The painting step should probably be done before gluing everything together, but I wanted to see how it looked pieced together and decide which corks to paint.  Some already had the red wine stain which gave it a fall look.  I used rose gold and antique copper acrylic paint on several of the corks which complemented the red wine stain color.  Finally, I found a short cork and added it on top as a stem and added three large fall artificial leaves to finish it off. 

Making the pumpkin was relatively easy, but I will say that while the bottom three rows seemed to fit together perfectly, the top three were a little off.  And when I was gluing the middle two rows together, I forgot that they set right on top of each other so I ended up gluing the round part of the corks.  For the other rows I was gluing in between.  Live and learn!  Honestly, I’m happy with the way it turned out!  And with the number of corks I have left, I could probably make about 50 more of these! 

Finished product! Pumpkin made from wine corks!

I’m thinking I should start looking for some Christmas cork crafts to make now.  What do you think?  Any fun ideas out there?  If so, send them my way!