Dreaming of Christmas

I should be planning our Thanksgiving dinner right now but all I can do is think about Christmas.  It doesn’t help that several houses in my neighborhood already have their Christmas lights and trees up.  One even left their pumpkins outside mixed into the Christmas decor!  I mean, do we call that Christgiving?  Or Thanksmas? 

My Christmas dreaming started earlier than normal this year.  Some of that has to do with the fact that this will be my baby grands first Christmas and I’m picturing all the photos I want to take of her already.  But these days, I also think we are all looking for something to bring a glimmer of hope into our lives with the current pandemic.  When the local radio station started their Christmas music rotation at the beginning of November, I tuned in.  Usually I hold off until after Thanksgiving but there were a few days in early November where I just needed to hear those songs while driving in my car and I also needed to sing along.

A few of the Hallmark items I’ve already bought for Christmas 2020!

Then there’s my love of Hallmark.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…I blame my mother for this!  When we lived in Westmont, Illinois, she started to work at a little Hallmark shop called Sentiments and Sweets.  That was my introduction to Hallmark.  I remember getting off the school bus from high school near her shop to walk to my afternoon part-time job at the nearby White Hen Pantry convenience store.  I would always stop by so she knew I had gotten off the bus.  Then I would reach around the front counter display of Fannie May candies, and grab a chocolate mint meltaway before heading to my job. That little shop was always so cute and I loved going there to visit my mother and see the displays she had created, especially at Christmas.

It also doesn’t help that I’m constantly drawn to the Hallmark channel and their non-stop Christmas movies.  We all know the storyline of those movies, right?  Woman goes from the big city back to her little home town for some family emergency, bumps into the guy she used to love, they reconnect in an unusual way – like they have to save Christmas or something, they drink tons of hot cocoa, have a snowball fight and THEN…there’s THE misunderstanding.  And 6 minutes before the end of the movie, it all gets resolved and they live happily ever after.  We know all the formula and yet we still watch. 

 

The perfect book for someone hooked on Hallmark!

Hallmark’s Home and Family show is also high on my list of guilty pleasures making me think about Christmas.  I find myself taking photos of the tv screen to remember décor or crafts I want to try, or a recipe I want to make.  Then yesterday I found their Countdown to Christmas book at Target and naturally, I had to buy it!  My Sunday afternoon plans are to start reading that book on my deck.  I should probably make some hot cocoa in keeping with the Hallmark theme, shouldn’t I?

Meanwhile, our Thanksgiving this year will be small and social distanced…just me, my hubby, my son and daughter (who live here) and my mother.  We will have the traditional foods as always, just not as much.  Although my mother has already informed me that I should make enough for left-overs!  Of course, I will comply with her request because Thanksgiving leftovers are my favorite too!  Then on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I will begin my Christmas decorating while I will watch Hallmark Christmas movies, listen to Christmas music and sing along. 

Transformation

The butterfly said to the sun, “They can’t stop talking about my transformation.  I can only do it once in my lifetime.  If only they knew, they could do it at any time and in countless ways.”  Dodinsky

Butterflies…a symbol of transformation…

The word “transformation” has been on my mind since last year’s United Way of Central Alabama’s annual campaign.  It was my second year to serve as a Loaned Executive Manager (or SLEM).  This position required me to work with a team of Loaned Executives (LE’s), meet with each team member on a weekly basis, answer questions about United Way and the campaign, check in with them personally and professionally, review their accounts and help them troubleshoot any problems they were experiencing.  When you work that closely with people over the course of 13 weeks, you really get to know them.  You witness a lot about their work habits, the way they think and how they process adversity and success.  You build trust.  You build friendships.  You watch them transform. 

When a local company loans one of their employees to the UWCA campaign for 13 weeks, they are made a promise,” send us your best and we will send them back better.”  This because the training offered before the campaign begins is very high quality and professionally done.  I always say that I’ve been through this training four times now and every single time, I learn something new.  LEs are given training in public speaking, organizational skills, sales training, Meyers Briggs assessment, and marketing skills.  This is all valuable training no matter where you are in your career.  Some LEs are just getting started in their careers and are fresh out of college.  Others are more established and come to the program with a little more experience.  But when it comes to being a Loaned Executive, they are all on the same page once the campaign begins.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching four teams (I managed two teams this year) transform over these past three years.  Once the LEs get their account books – this is the book of all the companies they will be contacting to encourage participation in the campaign – the process begins.  I can usually tell with our first one-on-one meeting to review accounts where each team member’s head is in the process as they prepare to make their calls.  Some are a little scared and some are extremely organized but all are anxious to start.  They will ask me and other UWCA staff many questions – sometimes they ask the same questions over and over and will apologize for it – but to me, that shows they want to get it right and they want to learn. 

During the UWCA campaign each year, there’s the process of getting a campaign ready for a company and then there’s the actual knowledge of United Way that you share.  Each LE is coached on how to develop their United Way story to share.  This can sometimes be difficult because some LEs think that since they haven’t experienced a disaster or traumatic event in their lives that United Way really doesn’t apply to them…that it’s for other people.  I remember telling my first-year team that even though they may not realize it, they all have a United Way story somewhere inside of them.  I said, “If you aren’t aware of it now, it will come to you and sometimes in unexpected ways.”

24K Magic teammates – Chip Hoover and Rachel Simpson – 2018 team

For instance, in 2018 one of my teammates was standing in front of her desk one day early in the campaign and I noticed she seemed a little upset.  I asked if she was all right and she began to cry saying she had just lost her childcare and didn’t know what she was going to do.  That’s when I told her about Childcare Resources (CCR), a partner agency of UWCA.  She was still learning about all the partner agencies and direct services so didn’t really know much about CCR.  I suggested she call them to see if they could recommend daycares for her daughter.  Later I learned that this became part of the story she shared when she made presentations. 

As each LE discovers their story and practices their presentation, they learn to tie in the messaging of the campaign.  A new theme each year helps build on the story.  The past few have been great to build upon too – Be the Change, Be an Everyday Hero and this year, Hope Happens.  As each LE goes out into the community to make their presentations, they begin hearing other people’s stories and how United Way helped them.  They get questions from people and help them understand the collective impact of United Way in our community.  They get excited when company campaigns go well and they are disappointed when they are told “no.”  In the case of a “no,” they have the courage to go back and ask again and sometimes that no turns into a yes.  This year, during the Covid-19 pandemic, further questioning by LEs sometimes told a story of its own.  Several heard about people losing their jobs due to the pandemic.  LEs were able to provide information that would be helpful to the business owners to share with these employees.  In many cases, these business owners didn’t know about the services offered and they were genuinely grateful to have this information to pass it along. 

Teammate Shelley explaining the benefits of United Way at a Pelham event in 2019.

During the last few weeks of a campaign, there is a confidence visible in the Loaned Executives that just shines.  As part of a team of people working towards the same goal of raising money to help our community, there is a sense that everyone should understand the importance of what they are doing!  This is the part that I love seeing because there is a realization that the work they are doing is about advocacy too.   They have become ambassadors for United Way and they begin to see opportunity to do more, do good and keep this momentum going long after they leave this Loaned Executive position.

As I said to my teammates this year on our last day together, “Your experience with UWCA has been one of those ways that the butterfly is referring to in the quote.  After 13 weeks your transformation is now complete!  You have made Hope Happen in many wonderful ways this year and it’s safe to say that you will forever be changed by this experience.” 

These Loaned Executives mean the world to me…and they mean hope to me. They are now my forever friends and I look forward to seeing them go on to do great things with love and compassion. 

I’ve taken so many photos of my United Teams over the years…here are a few in a slideshow.

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The Ripple Effect and Fiesta Scholarship

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples. – Mother Teresa

When I think of the Fiesta Scholarship Fund, I’ve always thought of ripples.  How many scholarship awards have we made and how many lives have we possibly impacted?  It’s hard to know the ripple effect of these past 18 years but sometimes we get a glimpse into this and that makes me so grateful that Fiesta got started 18 years ago. 

This year, Fiesta was able to award $10,000 in scholarships to 8 Hispanic students.  And this was during a global pandemic!  It was great to be able to make these awards and to meet these students this past weekend at a special dinner.  For me, this is the best part of why we have Fiesta every year.  My friend and fellow Fiesta board member, Lui Fernandez, also gets so excited about these awards.  I love that he is on the scholarship committee and shares his passion at these events. 

After we had our #30 Days of Fiesta celebration in September and October, in lieu of a live event in Linn Park in Birmingham, we ended with the announcement of the Fiesta scholarship recipients.  Our committee chairs, Lui and Phil Sandoval were to make that announcement on October 15th during a Facebook Live event.  We were scheduled to go live at 6 p.m. but Phil had a last-minute conflict and couldn’t make it so it ended up being me and Lui making the announcement.  We also had a problem getting the Fiesta logo to pop up on a large television screen where we had planned to make the announcement.  What a struggle!  We ended up moving from a conference room at GoPro Events to one of their offices.  I watched as Lui, our event Manager Denise Koch, and board members, Silvia Espinosa Laxson and Vanessa Vargas pulled together a backdrop for me and Lui to present in front of in a matter of minutes! 

We ended up going live at 6:30 that night and alternated announcing the scholarship recipients along with their major, school and a quote from their applications.  It was so exciting to be a part of that and I loved watching Lui during this presentation.  He was clearly on cloud 9!  Later we looked at the comments from the Facebook live and it was so sweet and exciting to see how many people tuned in and how many parents commented saying things like “that’s my daughter.”  It makes all the work and effort we put into Fiesta worth every minute of it. 

On Sunday, November 15th, the Fiesta board was able to meet the students and make the check presentations to each of them.  Once again, Lui and I worked together and made the awards presentation and reveled in meeting the students and hearing their stories.  In fact, we asked each of the students to share a little bit about themselves as we waited for our dinner to arrive.  Their stories had me on the brink of tears.  So much gratitude to parents who had worked so hard to get them to this place and so much gratitude to Fiesta for making the awards.  One of the students had been encouraged by her teacher to apply and she was adamant about her filling out the application.  This teacher turned out to be Charity Jackson, former Carver High School Spanish teacher who also served as the Fiesta volunteer coordinator for two years!  I honestly did not know that so it was such a full circle moment for me.  Two of the students have a HICA connection.  One volunteered there and another is currently employed there and was encourage by a staff member to apply. When I sat down to speak to her she said to me – “you look familiar to me.”  That’s when I found out more about her story and told her she probably saw me at some point during last year’s tamale sale!  Another recipient spoke of the sacrifices of his father who came to this country from Venezuela and learned English at the University of Alabama.  He paved the way for his son to have a better life in the US and this young man recognized that, announced it to everyone gathered at the dinner and said, “I’m going to go you one better.”  Loved so much how he recognized his father’s sacrifices for him. 

The final full circle moment came from one of the scholarship recipients that I know.  A young lady who has volunteered for Fiesta over the years and volunteers in the Latino community.  She was the one who made the comment that “I believe in the ripple effect…to be kind and helpful, especially in my Latino community.”  To hear one of the scholarship winners talk about the ripple effect brought everything full circle for me this year.  It was the best way to end our Fiesta celebration until we can do this all over again next year.  I so look forward to adding more ripples to our scholarship story.

The Power of a Photograph

Photo taken of Abe and Frank Francisco at a Linn Park rally for immigrants in July 2010.

Facebook memories can provide wonderful surprises some days.  It’s a wonderful way for me to check in and see how far things have come, and in some cases, it’s a new discovery.  Like this past Monday…I quickly looked through Facebook memories when I saw a photo I took 7 years ago (2013).  I was tagged in it by my friend and community activist, Helen Rivas.  The photo was of a gentleman by the name of Abe Francisco who had been the victim of a home invasion and was severely injured.  Helen tagged me in her post because I had taken the photo at a Celebration of the Immigrant Community rally in July 2010 in Linn Park and she was sharing Abe’s story of resilience.

And then, as I looked closer at this photo, I realized I knew the other young man in the photo…it was Abe’s brother Frank!  Frank Francisco had been a Fiesta Scholarship recipient in 2008 when he was attending University of Alabama at Birmingham and studying optometry.  I remember him to well because he had the best smile and was always so humble.  In the photo, Frank is holding a small American flag and looking at his brother Abe, who is holding a sign that said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

This photo just made me smile.  I especially remembered Frank from a 2008 scholarship reception we had at the Birmingham Public Library with Storyteller Antonio Sacre.  It was such a wonderful event and I got to introduce him to those gathered, give him a little hug and then he went on to speak about the scholarship and what it meant to receive it.  Frank is the youngest of five children of Indigenous Mayan Guatemalan immigrants who moved to Albertville, Alabama in 1994.  He speaks both Spanish and Qanjobal and he volunteered at HICA – the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – an organization that I have been involved with since 2001.  Everyone at the reception loved talking to him.

The following year, Fiesta made posters of all the recipients to display at the festival.  We also got quotes from each of the scholarship recipients and Frank’s quote was “My dream of becoming a Doctor of Optometry has been made possible by the financial support of the Fiesta Scholarship.”  The Fiesta board loved being able to show the faces of the Hispanic students receiving scholarship awards and sharing their stories.  I mean, this is why we have Fiesta…so we can award scholarships to deserving Hispanic students!

Frank’s photo and bio at Albertville High School in 2019

In January 2019, I was at Albertville High School to photograph a show choir competition.  My daughter is the show choir director for Boaz middle school and high school and her students were performing that particular weekend.  As we walked to the classroom where the kids had changed into their costumes, we passed photographs all along the hallway.  The photos were honorees of Albertville High School’s Hall of Fame featuring graduates from the school who had gone on to wonderful achievements.  I was surprised to recognize several people and then I spotted Frank.  I had no idea he was a graduate of Albertville High School!  I had only known that he attended UAB in Birmingham.  It was also exciting to see what he had accomplished since his 2008 Fiesta scholarship award.  I excitedly showed my daughter and some of her students Frank’s photo and when I went to my next Fiesta board meeting, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone!

One of the other photos I took of Frank and his brother Abe in 2010.

Now, back to that photo that my friend Helen posted seven years ago…  I clicked on to Abe’s Facebook page on Monday and scrolled a bit.  That’s when I saw the video of his brother Frank’s induction into the Albertville High School Hall of Fame.  I watched the video and listened to his story up to 2018.  He graduated in 2014 and in addition to his work, he mentors other Hispanic students to help them reach their scholastic goals.  I heard that and said to myself…” of course he does!”  Then I saw it…the photo that I took in 2013 as part of the slide show about Frank’s life and achievements.  It literally stopped me in my tracks.  It’s amazing how far a single photo can take you with its story, isn’t it?

NOTE:  November is National Scholarship Month, established in 1998 by Scholarship America.  It was created to build awareness of scholarships.  This month, Fiesta, Alabama’s largest Hispanic cultural festival awarded $10,000 in scholarships to eight Hispanic students in Alabama. 

French Dining in Hoover, Alabama

Chicken Fricasee – our end of France trip dinner!

Or Chicken Fricassee a la Julia Child…

When my food and wine trip to France was cancelled early this year, it was disappointing to me and my husband, to say the least.  Creating the #31 Days of France Project was a nice diversion but I felt like I needed something really big to end on.  So, on the day we would have returned from France, I decided to make a French meal for us to enjoy.  (Related Reading: 31 Days of France – Part 1 and 31 Days of France – Part Deux)

This may not seem like that big of a deal, but I’ve never been that into cooking.  When my kids were little, they used to ask me that inevitable question, “Mom…what’s for supper?”  And I would say, “why are you asking me?  You know your dad is the one who cooks!”  I mean, I do have certain things that I like to make but for the most part, Eddie is the one thinking ahead about what to make for meals.  But for our French dinner, I wanted to be the one to tackle this one!

After reading a book about Julia Child, and watching the movie Julie and Julia, I got inspired to try one of her recipes.  I thought about her beef bourguignon, but honestly, I was a little intimidated.  So, after a trip to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients, I was ready to prepare our French inspired dinner on Friday, May 29th

Some of the Chicken Fricassee ingredients

The ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lb. skin-on-bone-in chicken thighs
  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 9 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp. thyme leaves

The directions called for heating the olive oil in a skillet.  Then I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper and put all four pieces into the skillet to cook until “golden” – five minutes per side.  This is when things started to get a bit smoky.  I had the fan on over the stove, opened the back and front doors to get the smoke moving!  I was worried the smoke alarm would go off!  Luckily that didn’t happen.

Once the chicken was browned, I put it aside to pull the other ingredients together.  In the same skillet, I added butter, onion, carrots, celery and mushrooms to cooked until soft.  This took about 5 minutes.  Then I added flour and cooked it all another minute or two before adding the wine and scraping the skillet to get anything on the bottom of the pan mixed in.  I let this concoction cook for about 6 minutes. 

Next came the broth and cream and then the parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.  Once combined, it was time to add the chicken and simmer all together for about 15 minutes while the chicken continued to cook and the sauce thickened.  I have to admit…it looked fantastic and I told my husband I hoped it tasted as good as it looked! 

Before we enjoyed this meal together, I made us each a French themed cocktail with Lillet, a French aperitif wine.  Very refreshing!  That’s when we facetimed with our friends, The Pruitt’s, who were supposed to be on the trip with us.  They were having their own French themed dinner that night too.  We shared cocktails and then said our goodbyes to enjoy our meals.  I had found a 60s French Pop Radio station on Pandora earlier in the month and really enjoyed listening, so for our meal I had it playing softly in the background. 

After a lovely fresh salad, we were ready for the main course.  And BOY!!!!  It did NOT disappoint!  We topped it off with a Chateauneuf duPape red wine that I had found on a recent trip to the Clairmont Piggly Wiggly.  They have an amazing French wine selection there.  On our trip, we would have been sampling this particular wine at a special event so this made up for it just a tad bit.  For dessert, I went simple with chocolate eclairs and macarons.  Magnifique!

My chicken fricassee dinner was a delicious end to my #31 Days of France project and I have to say, it got me interested in cooking too!  Well…maybe just a bit. 

Of All the Gin Drinks in all the World…She Made a French 75

All set to make French 75 cocktails!

When I thought I was going to France this year, I began researching food and drink to prepare for this adventure.  One of the drinks I had always heard about and yet never tried was the French 75, or in French, a Soixante Quinze.  When I knew we wouldn’t be going to France, I figured I would find the drink recipes and make them myself!

Naturally, I was curious about how the French 75 got its name and just how popular of a drink it really was.  A quick google search revealed that it is considered a classic cocktail and it is also considered a celebratory cocktail – probably because of the champagne.  In fact, many people refer to it as a champagne martini.  The French 75 was even featured in the 1942 film classic – Casablanca!  Remember the Humphrey Bogart infamous line,” of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

This drink is thought to have been created by the owner of Harry’s American Bar in Paris with the inspiration coming from the 75mm Howitzer field gun used by the French and the Americans in World War 1.  This gun was known for its accuracy and speed, and the French 75 drink apparently packed a kick equivalent to being hit by this weapon. 

I had all the ingredients at home and I was trying to find the perfect time to make one of these cocktails.  Then my friend Katy dropped by to bring me some beautiful French postcards that she had found at home while doing some reorganizing and wanted me to have them since I didn’t get to take my trip.  The day she dropped them by, we ended up talking in my front yard for over an hour!  I told her she needed to come back and we could socially distance on my deck and enjoy French 75 cocktails and snacks!  This was my perfect opportunity to make these cocktails! 

So, on Memorial Day weekend, Katy and I made plans to get together for cocktails and I prepared individual charcuterie (a French word) boards for us to enjoy.  Now mind you, I’m not a cocktail type of person.  I’m that person looking for the perfect bottle of wine and all I generally need is a wine glass and a cork screw.  Luckily, I found an entire stainless-steel cocktail set at the thrift store last fall and was excited about putting it to use that day. 

The recipe calls for:

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • ½ ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 3 ounces of champagne (or sparkling wine)
  • Garnish with spiral lemon twist

To Prepare:  Combine the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker.  Fill shaker with ice, cover, and shake vigorously until outside of shaker is cold – this takes about 30 seconds.  Strain the cocktail through a strainer or a slotted spoon into a large flute.  Top with champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

I was surprised at how easy this was to make and enjoy!  In fact, Katy and I enjoyed not one, but two of these delicious cocktails that day.  Granted it was a rather warm day sitting outside on my deck under the gazebo even with the fan blowing.  But it was such a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the company of  a friend and have a few cocktails and appetizers while social distancing.  My French cocktail experience was complete!

31 Days of France – Part Deux

This is part two of a two-part story of my cancelled trip to France this year due to the pandemic and how my husband and I celebrated from home.

As May approached, I decided to get my #31daysoffrance posts organized.  It really got me pretty excited too!  I mean, what else did I have to do while sheltering in place, am I right? 

My first post on Instagram on May 1st was a photo of four French wines that I had recently purchased.  My post stated: “Two weeks from today, Eddie and I were supposed to be on our way to France for our dream retirement vacation – a food and wine river cruise.  We knew in early March this wouldn’t happen for us this year.  Luckily, we have been able to rebook for next year and I’ve optimistically said that maybe that will give me time to learn some French!  (NOTE:  I did take French in 3rd grade when I lived in Puerto Rico, but most of that is long gone!)  So, for the month of May, I plan to pull as many French items into our lives as I can from the comfort of our home.”   I went on to ask for French wine suggestions and I actually got a few!

It became a great daily activity for me as I searched my home for French related items to post about.  I started with a can of Café du Monde coffee which I had just started drinking at home along with a coffee mug I found at the thrift store earlier in the year.  It contained the famous Audrey Hepburn quote – “Paris is always a good idea.”  When I saw it, I felt like it was meant to be!  I think it was the universe telling me that I was going to be using it quite a bit for this #31daysoffrance project! 

Other posts featured books I was planning to read, including “My Good Life in France” written by Janine Marsh.  This was a book recommended to me by my friend Lisa Pruitt who was also mourning the loss of our trip this year.  I signed up for Janine’s newsletter and started following her on social media and was thrilled when she acknowledged my photo of her book and the fact that we had to cancel our trip.  I soon became one of her Facebook page’s Top Fans. 

Some other posts included a wonderful Taste of France magazine, an Eiffel tower necklace made from an old watch (found at the thrift store), an Eiffel tower figurine – again, something I found at the thrift store leading up to my trip, – an Eiffel Tower tray that I used next to my recliner in the family room.  There were so many little things that I didn’t even realize I had collected in anticipation of our trip.

On my weekly grocery shopping outings, I looked for French related foods from Brioche bread, French butter, yogurt (Oui), of course French cheeses (I got into a lengthy conversation with the guy at the Whole Foods cheese counter one day), French toast, croissants and naturally French wines!  These posts were fun and I loved staging them just right and then enjoying the food and drink afterward.  I also loved listening to 60s French music on Pandora as I went about my day.  Really great listening!

When May 15th arrived, the day we were supposed to be flying to Paris, I started posting about our trip and what we would have been doing.  I had the itinerary provided by Tauck so I knew exactly where we would each day.  This made me want to do more research into what we would be experiencing.  I began sharing screenshots of places, wines, food and other things we would have been doing.  I learned a lot about France from the safety of my home for the next few weeks.  Or at least the places we would have been visiting.

I mean, we would have been making dessert at the Cordon Blue, visiting museums like Musee Rodin, and Musee D’Orsey, enjoying a chef demonstration by Chef Anne Sophie, sampling French cognacs at a dinner at the restored chateau and ground of the medieval Duchy of Uzes.  The list goes on and the experiences would have been breathtaking and unforgettable, I’m certain! 

Chicken Fricasee – our end of France trip dinner!

We were due to return from France on Friday, May 29th.  So, in honor of this, I prepared a French dinner for Eddie and myself along with a lovely French cocktail.  We facetimed with our friends, the Pruitt’s, during cocktails to toast to the trip that didn’t happen.  Then Eddie and I enjoyed a wonderful meal in our dining room with French music playing in the distance and toasted to an inspired #31daysoffrance experience this May 2020, during the pandemic of 2020.

NOTE: Look for my post about the French dinner I prepared for me and my husband in celebration of the end of my #31daysoffrance project.

#31 Days of France – Part 1

The Paris coffee mug I found at the thrift store in January set against some fragrant lavender on my dining room table.

This is part one of a two-part story of my cancelled trip to France this year due to the pandemic and how my husband and I celebrated from home.

Going to France has always been on my list of places to visit and explore.  Our friends, Lisa and Johnny Pruitt went two years ago for a long trip and really enjoyed it.  Lisa is such a Francophile and was even taking French lessons.  I loved seeing their photos and hearing their stories of that trip and it just made me want to visit all the more.

Then they decided they would go again this year and put out the word to close friends to see if anyone was interested in joining them.  Well, I was all in!  The timing of the trip hit perfectly with my husband, Eddie’s plans for retirement this year.  I mean, why not?  I had retired in July 2017 and we really didn’t do anything special since it happened rather quickly .  This would be a celebration of both of our retirements!  I was pumped!

Paris themed tray I found at the thrift store earlier this year.

Lisa and I started making plans.  This trip was a food and wine river cruise and we would begin our journey in Paris – the city of lights!  We would spend a few days there with various exciting events planned by our tour planner and then be transported to Lyon for the river cruise.  We chose a Tauck trip because Lisa and Johnny had used them when they went the previous year and were really impressed with what they offered.  Lisa said they were planning to add a few days on the front end and back end of the trip because they wanted to do a little more exploring and hoped we would too.  I figured, what the heck!  Eddie and I had traveled to Namibia, Africa several years prior and I was still disappointed that we didn’t do a little more while we were there so this seemed like a chance to make that right!

Lisa selected several side tours for us and I was all for them.  She kept asking me what we wanted to do but in all honestly, I had no idea.  I mean, I was ready to do whatever they wanted to because they had been there and knew what was worth visiting.  My only requests were the Eiffel Tower, the chance to see the Moulin Rouge and maybe visit a French flea market.  Other than that, … I was wide open for suggestions. We made our final payments for the trip including airfare and all we had left to do was wait for May 15th.

But in February we began to get a little concerned.  There was talk of a global pandemic and we weren’t sure what all of that meant for us.  In all honesty, I didn’t pay much attention to it thinking it was something that would quickly pass.  I’m sure many of us felt that way…and how wrong were we?!  I was in Colorado visiting my daughter and son -in-law when Eddie, Lisa, Johnnie and I began texting and Eddie was the one being pessimistic that we wouldn’t get to go.  I really thought he was overreacting.  Surely by May things would settle down, right?  I got back to Alabama and a few weeks later I was headed to Torreon, Mexico for a friend’s wedding.  At this point though, I was a little concerned.  I had heard talk that the president might close the borders because of the pandemic that seemed to be hitting Europe pretty badly.  For a bit, I wasn’t sure I should go to Mexico but went ahead.  While there, none of us were really paying much attention to what was going on in the world with all the festivities going on until a few days into the trip when one of our group said, “what the heck is going on with toilet paper back in the states?!”  Our final day at the hotel, notices went up about using hand sanitizer and a few other precautions.  No one was talking about masks yet.

When I got back to Alabama it was pretty clear the trip to France wouldn’t happen.  In fact, I returned on March 10 and by March 16, my husband was officially working from home and my daughter who is a teacher said her school had closed and teaching had begun virtually.  It was so disappointing but we were able to rebook the trip to May 2021.  Now we just have our fingers crossed that the pandemic will be gone by then so we can make the trip.

So, when it got close to May, I was really starting to mourn the loss of this trip.  I mean, we had been planning for a year and it was to be a celebration trip.  I started thinking about ways to experience France in the safety of my home when it occurred to me that I could find ways to celebrate France for the entire month of May!  I called this celebration #31DaysofFrance and I began posting about it on social media – mainly insta-story – as a way to celebrate the trip that didn’t happen.

In part two of 31 Days of France, I’ll share some of the things that I did to celebrate our France trip from home. 

 

 

Santa’s Snack Set

The Santa Snack Set I bought in 1994 for my three children

In 1994, I found the cutest little Santa Snack Set.  It was perfect.  The set included a mug and little plate for Santa so my kids could leave him cookies and milk on Christmas Eve.  It also contained a pencil that had “For Santa with Love” written on it along with a cute little note pad with an etching of Santa feeding one of his reindeer. 

At the time I bought the set, Charlie was 5, Anna Marie was 3 and Emily was seven months old.  In fact, it was Emily’s first Christmas that year.  I couldn’t wait for the kids to use the cup and plate that year.  We got home early that evening after Christmas Eve mass at Prince of Peace where Charlie was a shepherd along with many other little boys during the Children’s Christmas Eve Mass, or, as we always affectionately called it, “Screaming Baby Mass!”  Seriously though, it was always so sweet to see all the babies there and of course every 10 minutes or so, you’d see a dad carrying one of the screaming babies out to the lobby! 

After dinner that night, the kids got into their Christmas pjs.  One of our family traditions was (still is) wearing new Christmas pajamas.  Then, right before heading upstairs to go to sleep, Anna Marie and Charlie picked out the perfect rice Krispy squares with sprinkles and put them on the Santa plate and I poured a little bit of milk into the mug.  They were so excited about giving Santa something to eat and they both loved rice Krispy treats so that was their choice that night.  Then like children all over the world, they went to bed dreaming of what Santa would bring them that night.

The next morning, they awoke to wonderful surprises but what they weren’t expecting was a response from Santa!  They noticed some crumbs on the plate so they just knew Santa had eaten the rice Krispy squares they left and the milk was all gone too!  Then they saw a letter next to the plate.  Santa had written them a letter!  Mama had to read it to them and it said:

Dear Charlie, Anna Marie and Emily – Thank you for the rice krispie squares with sprinkles.  They were delicious!  Rudolph liked them too!  I hope you will make them for me again next year!  Charlie – enjoy your Sega with Sonic the Hedgehog.  Anna Marie – have fun playing with your new doll house, and Emily – have a ball with your bumble ball!  Merry Christmas, Love, Santa Claus

Santa’s first letter to my kids in 1994.

The kids were so excited that Santa wrote to them.  And this is how a tradition started.  The next year, the kids left Santa a snack and he wrote them a letter and addressed each of them individually in it.  Then in 1997, the kids decided to write their own letters to Santa.  They were so cute – of course for Emily I wrote what she wanted to say in a Christmas card for Santa.

Charlie’s card (the exact way he wrote it) – Dear Santa – I hope I down’t get a lump of coel.  I hopw it dusnt rain.  I hope you have a good chrismas.  Love, Charlie

Anna Marie’s card – Dear Santa, I know about giving but there is something that is special.  Jesus’ birthday.

Emily’s card (as dictated to me) – Dear Santa, I love Santa and you love me and my sister and brother.  Thank you for the presents Santa!  You can eat the cookies after when we go to sleep.  Love, Emily

From that year through 2004, I don’t know who was more excited about the letters… me and Eddie, or the kids!  Sometimes the kids would ask some pretty tough questions in their letters too.  In 1998, Charlie had been involved in a classroom project for kids at Gateway City.  It really impacted him and in his letter to Santa he said, “I have a question for you.  Why can’t you go to the gate way city and give them a good Christmas.”  Of course, I read that around 1 in the morning after Eddie and I finished putting gifts around the tree and making sure everything had batteries and was put together!  Those were the good ole days…  I was pretty exhausted when I read their letters and got ready to reply, but I had to work on a reply that would be meaningful to Charlie.  So, in Santa’s response “he” said, “Your question about the kids at Gateway City is interesting.  It is important to remember that giving someone a good Christmas doesn’t always mean giving presents.  Some gifts don’t come in packages – some gifts are acts of kindness.  Like the kind things you and your classmates did for the Gateway families.  I hope that what I give to children is the “spirit of giving” so they will want to share with the less fortunate.  That is the true spirit of Christmas.  I hope that answers your question, Charlie.”  These types of questions from the kids always made my heart swell.  It was through these letters that felt they were really understanding the meaning of Christmas.

The letters stopped after 2004.  Emily was 10 years old and of course, Anna Marie (13) and Charlie (15) would write their letters to keep the tradition going for Emily’s sake.  It was such a sweet thing for them to do.  And “Santa” would always respond to each of them.  It was actually an opportunity for their mother to interject a few things as though they were coming from Santa!  But Santa’s last letter was to all three of my children together where he ended it by saying, “You Odom kids be good this coming year.  This means helping more around the house, making good grades and always doing your best.  I know you won’t let me down!  Now…have a wonderful Christmas vacation!  And don’t forget that I’ll be watching! 

Love, Santa… 

What Not to Do with a Chainsaw

Eddie, the night of November 3rd, after returning from the emergency room after a chainsaw accident.

It was Tuesday, November 3rd and I left work at 3:30 p.m. to head to Hoover to vote.  I was on Highway 280, about to get on to I-459 when I got a text from my husband, Eddie.  It was 3:43 p.m.

Eddie:  Where are you?

Me:  About to get on I-459 to go vote

Eddie:  Ok, where is the First aid kit. 

Me: (thinking to myself) Uh-oh……

Eddie:  I cut myself with a chainsaw at the ankle

Me:  I don’t know if it’s in the hallway closet.  Good Lord…how bad is it?

Just a little side note here…the hallway closet is where I store my collection of Designs by Lolita wine glasses.  I mean, they are all over that closet and all I could see was Eddie opening up that closet door and riffling through for the first aid kit and breaking various glasses in the process!  I know that’s not exactly the thought a loving wife should have at a moment like that but I know my husband, and I know he can be a bull in a china shop!  Later he told me he opened that door, looked in and said to himself, “no way.”  You have to find the humor in situations like this and we both had a laugh talking about this later. 

Eddie:  I need to go to the medical center but I got to get it wrapped first.

Me:  Just grab a towel if you can.  Do I need to come home?  You can probably get to the medical center before I get there.  There’s a lot of traffic on 459 right now and I’m about to stop.

Me:  If Steve home?  Can he take you?  (Steve is our across the street neighbor.)

Eddie:  I can go.

Me:  OK, keep me posted please…and you are no longer allowed to use a chainsaw unless I am there.

Meanwhile, I was finally moving in traffic and was close to the John Hawkins Road exit thinking I could get to Eddie but he texted that he found a large bandage and got the bleeding under control.  He also said he could drive himself to the emergency center near our house.  So, I headed to the Finley Center to vote thinking I would be there for a bit.  You know…record turnout voting this year and I had already heard there were lines hours long in the morning.  Much to my surprise, I was in and out and in my car in exactly 11 minutes.  Eddie had made it to the emergency room by this time so now I was just waiting to hear from him. 

The scene of the accident and that’s the tree limb that got this whole adventure started.

When I got home, I immediately surveyed the scene of the accident.  Eddie had been trimming back large tree limbs between our house and our neighbors house.  The chainsaw was down the hill from where the tree limb was cut.  There was blood on a number of brown leaves on the ground.  There was a bit of trail to the basement and on the way up the stairs to the kitchen.  But bless him, I could see that he tried his best to clean up any blood that he trailed into the house so our puppy wouldn’t get into it.  I opened the garbage can to find he had thrown the pants he was wearing away.  I was able to see the enormous rip where the chainsaw hit.  That’s when I poured myself a rather large glass of wine, in a Lolita wine glass, and began the long wait to hear from Eddie.  At about 4:54 I was anxious so I texted him and we had this exchange:

Me:  How are things going?

Eddie:  Getting ready to sew it up.

Me.  How bad is it?

Eddie:  Good gash

Me:  How many stiches

Eddie:  Don’t know yet.  They are cleaning and numbing it right now. 

Me:  Well I saw where it happened.  Followed the trail of red. (insert OMG emoji here)

That’s when he sent me the photo of the gnarly gash inside his left ankle.  Don’t worry…I’m not going to show you the photo but trust me, it looked like something out of The Walking Dead show and I told him that.  It took 9 stiches to get it closed.  He then sent me the photo of the stiches. 

Eddie:  Going to be a cool scar.

Me:  You’re nuts.  Am I going to need to drive you to your CT Scan tomorrow?  (This was an already scheduled appointment unrelated to the chainsaw accident.)

Eddie:  Don’t think so.

Then, at 6 p.m. he sent the last photo.  In it, his leg was wrapped in a splint up to his knee.

Eddie:  I’m on crutches.  There is a slight fracture on my ankle.  I have to see an orthopedist.

Me:  Oh geez.  What the heck.

Eddie:  You may need to take me tomorrow.

Me:  Well, that leg is ready for Christmas.

Eddie:  Looks like I’m going to be binge watching Netflix.

Me:  Better than wielding a chain saw.

Thank goodness for pain meds and my ability to work from home that week.  I was needed to keep him from trying to do too much on his ankle.  He was told to stay put and keep it elevated but I know he was mad at himself for letting this happen and he also didn’t want to inconvenience me too much since things were rather hectic that week. 

Today is has been 10 days since his accident and he’s moving around a lot better.  Two days after the incident he went back to the medical center to see the orthopedist and he was told he did not have a fractured ankle after all.  That was great news!  He was given a boot to wear which was better than crutches.  Those things hurt!  And he did wear the boot this past Tuesday when we went out to dinner.  I told him it was the safest way to go because God forbid if someone bumped into him or stepped on his foot!  Stiches come out on Monday and I know Eddie will be eager to show off his scar.  Meanwhile, we are both so grateful this accident only required 9 stiches. 

The pants Eddie was wearing when the chainsaw hit his left ankle.