It’s Easter. Choose Love.

It's Easter y'all.  And that means Choose Love. Every day we are faced with hundreds and hundreds of choices.  Some choices are trivial, seemingly meaningless, and others are life-changing.  In all of these, no matter how mundane or significant, we ultimately make a choice based in love or fear. Think about it. Fear of failing.  Fear of losing. Fear of being last.  Fear of being alone.  Fear of being less than.  Fear of not being enough.  We make choices based on our fears of what other people will think, or how they will treat us, or what they will do.  We choose things based on our fears of the unknown, the uncertain, the unpleasant, the unwanted. Choices that we make in fear manifest in anger, manipulation, discrimination, neglect, gossip, envy, hurt, lies, revenge, back-stabbing, meanness, and self-centeredness.  All of these take us away from God.  Away from our Higher Power.  Away from our Highest Self. Choices made in love manifest in kindness, compassion, forgiveness, understanding, patience, empathy, tenderness, respect, gentleness, and concern for others.  Love is always the choice that takes us closer to God.  Closer to Godliness.  Love is always the Higher Choice.  Love is always the God-choice. In the Christian faith, we celebrate Easter to commemorate and remember the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He chose love.  Without fail.  Without exception.  Above the law, he chose love.  Above society's norms, he chose love.  Above his own safety and suffering, he chose love.  Above the loss of friends and family, he chose love.  Above his own will and his own fears, he chose love.  Even above death.  He chose love in the ultimate sacrifice any human being can offer, giving his life for others. He was our example, our teacher, our way-shower.  And he taught us to choose love.  In fact, it was his greatest commandment for us to fulfill. "Love one another.  In the same way I loved you, you love one another.  This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples--when they see the love you have for each other." John 13:34-35 MSG So on Easter, I am reminded to Choose Love. When I am in heavy traffic, or the lines at Publix are unbelievably long, I am to choose love.  When I am at work, and others annoy the crap out of me or take credit for something they didn't do, I am to choose love.  When I disagree with someone--their decisions, their actions, their life--I am still to choose love.  When I have been hurt, when I have been wronged, I am to choose love.  When I am tired, or hungry, or short on funds or time, I am still to choose love. In all things, choose love. In the way you treat family and friends, choose love.  In the way you treat strangers, choose love.  In the way you treat those different from you, choose love. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, choose love in your words and approach.  If you need to set boundaries or distance yourself from someone, choose love in your method and your actions. In each decision you make throughout your day, ask yourself: Which is the love choice?  Which is the higher choice?  Which is the God-choice?  And choose love.  Whether that is as small as letting in the idiot driver that waited til the very last minute to cut in, or not groaning when the British family doesn't see the "10 items or less" sign at Publix, or whether it is as big as offering forgiveness for a blatant wrong or extending kindness to someone who  may not deserve it in your eyes.  In all things, Choose Love. It may be hard to fathom, but we must also choose love for ourselves.  When we pick what foods to eat, how much sleep to get, or whether or not we have time to exercise.  Choose love when it comes to learning when to say no, or protecting yourself from people who suck the life out of you.  Choose love when it comes to relationships and people who make it hard for you to be healthy.  You have to choose love in how you treat them, but you also have to choose it for yourself.  You are best able to help others when you are healthy first. I cannot really fathom how difficult it must have been to live His life.  I have no way to measure the pain of being whipped, crowned with thorns, beaten, and crucified.  I really have nothing in my life, even at my worst of times, to relate to what all Jesus encountered, endured, and witnessed.  And there is definitely nothing I have ever had to sacrifice or give up that would come anywhere close to what He willingly did.  After all, He was the Son of God.  The most powerful human being to ever walk the Earth.  Angels and heavens and universe at His command.  And yet, He chose love. Others around us will recognize Him when they see the love. So it must be my daily mantra, my inner dialogue, my driving motivation, and my ever-renewing goal. CHOOSE LOVE.

Food Quirks: What Weirds You Out?

Okay, I know you've got one---what's your weirdest food quirk?  Like something you can't eat or won't eat for some freaky reason? I have several, and last week I found out that a long-time friend whom I respect and admire greatly shares one of my food quirks, which made me feel strangely validated and understood!  Our little secret--We cannot eat meat on the bone! Deep-Fried Turkey Thanksgiving DayNo gnawing on a chicken leg for me! Totally disgusting, and I just can't do it.  I am all about the boneless, skinless breast, and even then if one of those awful little veins pops or protrudes from the meat, I am D-O-N-E eating. I love the nice, white slices of turkey on Thanksgiving, but please don't ever ask me to help or watch while you're carving the meat away from the big ole carcass.  Blech. Going to the Magic Kingdom and watching people walking around gnashing their teeth on a huge turkey leg is barbaric!  And to see a huge leg of beef sticking up in the air on a carving board at a restaurant or catered event grosses me out completely. Once we went to a dinner show where they served Cornish hens.  Oh My Lord.  It looked like a dead baby chicken laid out on its back in the middle of my plate.  I panicked for a moment, but luckily I am married to a bonafide Knight in Shining Armor, so that wonderful man quickly took the plate, turned his back to me, and picked off the best meat and gave it back to me.  (I never asked where he hid the bones, but I'm pretty sure they were on a bread and butter plate under the table.) I'm actual pretty freaky about meat all the way around, which probably explains why I lean more and more toward Honey-Baked HamThanksgiving Daypescatarian the older I get.  Quite often I cannot eat meat if I have handled it raw and watched (and smelled) it cooking. The smell is a big thing.  If meat has a certain pungent smell or taste that is really, well, MEATY, I can't eat it.  Especially pork.  Sometimes it has what I call a "pigginess".  And I can't eat "piggy" meat. I hated fish when I was younger, but as I get older, I find more and more ways that fish is prepared that I really like.  However, if it smells "fishy" or tastes "fishy", I lose my appetite.  (I don't think I'll ever be able to do tuna in a can.) So when I start to eat a fish dish, I am very careful and tentative at first, waiting apprehensively for any hint of overbearing fish odor or taste. I'm also freaky about eggs.  I don't particularly care for the taste of eggs.  So I'll eat eggs that are scrambled in cheese or wrapped around plenty of omelet ingredients, but if I can TASTE the actual eggs involved, I'm out.  My poor Knight makes French toast for breakfast, but if there's too much egg on the bread, he has to eat my slices because I'm done once I taste the egg. Milk has to be consumed before the date on the jug.  Not a day after.  And if milk "crusties" have dried up around the rim or outside of the jug, count me out.   No "crusties" in my milk.  And the milk has to be really, really cold. Lukewarm or room temperature milk reminds me too much of drinking fresh cow's milk that got brought in the house straight from the animal's belly when I was a kid.  Gag. Sometimes it's something that I actually like the taste of, but I can't get past a mental quirk.  For instance, I tried frog legs once, and they're right--it tastes like chicken!  But no matter how much I liked the taste of it, with every bite my mind was picturing a frog and seeing a humongous frog jumping through the air, legs extended all muscular and chewy and yep! Right there, I was done. It can even be a food I really like.  I love shrimp! Shrimp po'boys, shrimp creole, shrimp alfredo, fried shrimp, broiled shrimp, garlic shrimp, coconut shrimp, shrimp etoufee  (sorry--was channeling Bubba for a moment).  But sometimes the act of peeling the shell of the shrimp and deveining it reminds me that I am basically eating a bug, and suddenly it's much less appetizing.  And if you bring me the big king prawns with the eyeballs still on their little antennae, it's all-she-wrote and I'm through with dinner. Sometimes our food quirks are more rituals or habits.  Many people, including Dr. Smooth, do not allow their foods to mix or touch on the plate.  And I tend to taste everything on the plate, but then eat my least favorite item first, saving my favorite to savor last. My Knight does not sprinkle the salt directly on his food but instead sprinkles it in and around the general vicinity of his hand (mostly on the table) and then tosses a portion of what made it in his hand in the general direction of his food, almost like he's casting a spell or incantation with it. What about portions?  If you have milk left over after the cereal, do you pour more cereal to make it even out?  If you run out of bread and there's pasta left, do you have to just leave it on the plate?  Or are you like My Knight who has to carefully ration out his fries so that every bite of burger has an adequate fry-count to accompany it? Textures anyone?  I have friends who can't do pudding or yogurt because it's too slimy. Some say no coconut because it's too grainy or they forego grits and oatmeal-- too lumpy.  People who like raw vegetables may hate the changes veggies undergo when cooked.  Limp spinach?  Droopy asparagus? Some say no. I generally love mushrooms in all shapes, sizes, and forms.  But a truffle dish in Italy with 'shrooms the consistency of thick snot almost signed me off these mellow fellows for life.  I love coconut, but tried coconut water and couldn't stomach the "chunks" in it. I'm very thankful to have plenty to eat and beyond that plenty of choices, really I am.  I am extremely thankful to live in a country where my daily meal plan doesn't consist of bugs or intestines or monkey brains.  But I do have my quirks.  And I know I am not alone.....so come on.  Cough it up---what's your food quirk?  (Speaking of which, does anyone feel a little nauseous when someone vigorously coughs at the table while you're trying to eat?)  Spill the beans, folks. What freaks you out and ruins your appetite?

Harvey at the Beach and My Butt on a Bike

SSShhhhhhh! Don’t tell My Knight, but I actually had a great time camping in Harvey this weekend! No, really, I did!
flying a kite, Jetty Park Campground, Cocoa Beach
Flying a kite with Harvey
We went over to Cocoa Beach to camp at Jetty Park for My Knight’s birthday weekend.  I am always a bit apprehensive about a Harvey weekend and the amount of work that entails.  I still (even after this weekend) maintain that camping is too much work to be called a vacation, but it is getting a bit easier the more we do it. One of my beefs with camping is that you have to pack up everything you will possibly need, load it into the camper, take it to the campground, unpack it and organize it for access, and then at the end of the trip, you get to pack it all back up again, and bring it home to unpack it. I prefer a hotel or a cruise, where I just pack my suitcase and someone else worries about all the other details. Luckily, we are getting to a point with Harvey where the packing is not as much of a hassle as before.  We have a “camper set” of towels, sheets, dishes, silverware, pots, skillets, etc., that lives in the camper so it doesn’t have to be packed every time. The meal planning and food packing stresses me to the hilt.  I mean, if I can’t stand to figure out what’s for dinner in my own kitchen with a full pantry, how am I supposed to figure it out ahead of time and bring every single thing needed to prepare it? But my incredible Knight offered for us to walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner Friday night and then bike to a pizza place for lunch on Saturday.  Can this man get any more wonderful?  So I only had to come up with breakfast (cereal anyone?) and dinner for Saturday night (how about leftover pizza?) and I was all set. Jetty Park campground was really nice--horseshoe pits, shuffleboard courts, a concession stand, and clean bathhouses (always a plus!).  My Knight had booked a site that was right by the bathhouse since he knows I am not a fan of walking over the river and through the woods to take a shower at night! Love that man!
Jetty Park Beach and Campground
Jetty Park Beach
The best part about Jetty Park is the beach.  A quick walk across the campground or a quick bike ride down a meandering path leads straight to the Atlantic Ocean.  Can I just tell you how awesome it is to head out to the beach in the morning, lounge around in the sand soaking up rays for a couple of hours, and then just leave the towels and blankie to save your spot and head back to the camper for some A/C, lunch, and a nap?  Late afternoon/early evening, it’s back out to the beach for relaxing as the sun goes down and the breeze grows cooler. The weather this weekend was incredible.  Beautiful blue skies, highs in the 70s/low 80s, and a constant tropical breeze!  It was the kind of weekend that gives you August amnesia and makes you think it’s always this nice to live in Florida. We took a long walk along the edge of the surf and saw a crowd gathered around an immobile sea turtle.  His huge black eyes looked so sad, and my heart hurt to think of how confused and scared he must be, stranded on the beach with some unknown ailment, surrounded by strange-looking humans and uncertain of their intent.  A few kind strangers kept drizzling water on him to keep him hydrated, and a sheriff’s deputy stood guard over him until an animal rescue team could get there to help.
Sea Turtle at Jetty Park Beach
Poor Sea Turtle
With the A/C and nap calling our name in the early afternoon, we made the BRILLIANT decision to have a sandwich in the camper for lunch and then take a bike ride for pizza later for dinner.  Oh Boy. I have to make an embarrassing confession here.  I hate riding a bicycle.  It’s not that I don’t know how.  It’s not that I’ve never done it.  It’s not that it’s hard to do, or particularly taxing.  I don’t know how to explain it, but I just do not feel comfortable and confident on a bike.  I’m always a little unsure of what it’s doing, or what I’m doing, or what’s going to happen next. I’m fine if we are on an open trail, or the campground loops, or one of those paved-over railroad track projects.  But to ride on city streets or on sidewalks with traffic and pedestrians and such FREAKS ME OUT.  My Knight had conveyed to me when he was selling, um, planning, the weekend that the pizza place was just a few blocks away and we could easily ride there by bicycle.  So, okay, I’m game.  After all, there’s pizza involved.
Bikes at Cocoa Beach in Jetty Park
Bikes at the Beach
But once we arrived at Jetty Park, he further explained that we would be riding DOWN THE BEACH to get to the pizza place.  Like, in the sand.  And remember that due to our itinerary alteration, we’d be riding back DOWN THE BEACH after DARK! Um, no.  I have trouble maintaining a bicycle in an upright position on hard pavement.  And this man thinks I can balance riding in the sand?  Really?  It’s not even a beach cruiser.  It’s just a plain old bike.  I protested mucheth. Surely there was a way to get there on solid ground.  And without being in heavy traffic.  Surely there were residential streets or back roads.   There had to be.  So I snagged a “tourist map” from the gift shop at the campground.  You know, the ones that show all the fun places to eat and shop and play, but aren’t really drawn to scale or physically accurate?  The ones that don’t show ALL the streets in the town?  Only the ones with businesses who paid to advertise around the edges of this silly map? Well, according to my handy-dandy tourist map, there was indeed a series of back roads that would take us to the pizza place with only a few blocks minimum on the busy main thoroughfare.  In fact, it showed this route as a path for those renting scooters, and the little cartoon scooter riders drawn on the map looked like they were really enjoying the ride.  I wasn’t thrilled with the part of the journey that would include crowded sidewalks and traffic lights, but it beat falling on my face in the sand. We set out for pizza around dusk, and I was reminded after a few blocks that I have not been on a bicycle at all since December, and that was only from the camper to the bath house and a few trips around the camping loop at Alafia State Park.  No heavy riding and no long rides. One would think that the combination of a soft bike seat and the ample padding of my derriere would be sufficient cushion for road riding, but after several city blocks, I had started noticing some pain in my rear-end-region.  It was nothing unbearable, but it was a bit foreboding considering we were not even to the “residential” portion of our trip, and we still had the whole ride back to sit through. So I kept adjusting my rumpus on the seat, putting the left cheek more on, then the right cheek.  Leaning forward, leaning back.  Standing a little when we came off and on the ramps for side streets so the bumps on the pavement didn’t jar too much. I had started to question my love of pizza and my need for dinner in general when we finally reached “Ridgewood”, the side street that was to lead us out of city traffic and into residential bliss.  After a brief discussion between me and My Knight regarding the proper observation of traffic intersection laws for bicycles on sidewalks (I’d just like to point out that the cop agreed with me!), we turned out of the nerve-wracking main street and off into beautifully manicured lawns and gorgeous pastel houses of the beach-livers. The pizza place was clearly marked on my tourist map between Harding Street and McKinley Street.  So once we passed McKinley, we would simply go to Harding and take it back to the main thoroughfare and come back along the right side of the road ready to dine! It seemed to be only a couple of blocks away based on the cheerful scooter riders on my tourist map, but we were already nearing twenty minutes of biking and McKinley  wasn’t anywhere in sight.  My butt was burning, and there seemed to be bones in my butt that I never knew I had now protruding through the skin at the bottom and rubbing against the bike seat in an incredibly uncomfortable dance. Where was Harding? Where was McKinley?  Maybe one of the beach residents would just let us come in their house and eat to get me off this damned bike? It was then that it dawned on me that we had passed Washington Street, Adams Street, Jefferson and then Madison.  I realized with great disappointment that the street names were our country’s leaders in chronological order.  My tourist map only showed a couple of names before Harding and McKinley.  It definitely was not accurate and to scale, and it mentioned nothing about a full-on Tour of Presidents. I scrambled to remember how many presidents I had before McKinley, but the pain in my butt must have overridden the US History files in my brain.  Where was Patti Frier when I needed her?  I began to say the full names of each president out loud as we crossed their street, trying to jar my memory…Jackson Street---Andrew Jackson, Old Hickory.  Oh, Martin Van Buren.  Harrison--William Henry Harrison. My Knight in the WaterMy Knight seemed without a care. He of the triathlons and daily/weekly cycling jaunts of miles upon miles cruised along effortlessly behind me, unaware of my aching buns and building annoyance.  Well, not exactly UNAWARE, since I was pretty vocal in my complaining, but still. By the time Lincoln was shot, I had become convinced that maybe we would be in Jacksonville before we found Harding or McKinley. But then, on the horizon, in the dim light of the setting sun, I thought I saw a capital M with a little c on the street sign.  I got so excited that I forgot to stand up over the raised bumps to cross his street. Ow. The tourist map showed Harding as the next street!  Pizza was close and I could get off this torturous method of transportation! My excitement faded when Cocoa Beach’s city planners reminded me that Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson all served after McKinley.  Isn’t there some stupid little song you can learn to remember the names of the presidents?   Or is that just state names? Finally, out of the darkness, in the pale orange glow of a street light, I saw the name of what will now be my favorite president for all time.  Warren G. Harding. We turned and pedaled with feverish efforts back toward the main road. Only to find that the pizza place had been back at the intersection of McKinley, three presidents ago.  I will definitely buy an accurate street map the next time we are at Jetty Park. I wish I could tell you the pizza was worth every rotation of the tires and every term served by the leaders of our country on the grid of Cocoa Beach’s map.  It wasn’t.  It was really crappy pizza. It poured rain for a bit while we ate, but it had cleared by the time we left, leaving behind a beautiful moon. My Knight tried to convince me to try the beach.  It will be much quicker, he said.  It’s a straight shot down the beachCocoa Beach to Jetty, he said.  It won’t be crowded at night, he said. And who can resist the siren call of a handsome man asking you to cruise along a moonlit beach in the mist of the crashing surf? Evidently, I can when my butt cheeks have bones protruding through them and I can barely walk.  Okay, so maybe barely walk is a bit dramatic, but it did hurt.  And as much as I dreaded traveling back through history in the dark with no light on my bike, I was a little more apprehensive of trying to balance in the sand in the dark with unknown critters crawling into our path (either from the sea, the sand, or the two-legged upright variety).  I protested again.  Mucheth. But he’s a pretty persuasive guy, and it was his birthday weekend, and I hate saying no to a challenge.  So we walked our bikes through the sand and out to the surf to reach the wet, hard-packed sand.  (Let me interrupt my bitching and complaining long enough to say that the moon on the water was absolutely breathtaking, and the eerie calm of the beach deserted at night was entrancing.) I have to admit that being able to see the lights of Jetty Park on the horizon at the end of the beach was a powerful motivator, and it did seem for a moment that this would be much quicker and easier.  However, not even my well-seasoned cyclist Knight could pedal in the wet sand at high tide, so he admitted we needed to go back to the Presidents. It was a long, hard, dark ride back.  I have never been so glad to see Harvey as I was that night.  My butt ached, and I laughed in pain as I tried to lift it in all its glory off the bike seat and up into the camper as My Knight laughed with (at) me. Needless to say, we didn’t bike anywhere Sunday.  But we had a splendid day.  We played shuffleboard, flew a kite in the breeze, and reclined in our camping chairs underneath Harvey’s awning, relishing in the wonder of a gorgeous spring day.  It was very relaxing, and I enjoyed having our little camper and our own little spot in paradise. We took the dogs for a walk, and then we took a stroll to the campground office to book another weekend at Jetty Park in June.  And I am actually looking forward to it! But does anyone know of any butt-cheek exercises I could do to toughen up before then?