Who Helped Build You?

We all have them. People we met during our impressionable years that made an impact on our lives. Those rare souls that influenced our major life decisions without even realizing that they were doing it. Special people that came into our paths, beyond the obvious family members. I know that I have a few. People that helped shape and build me without even knowing that they made such an impact on my life. I fully realize that there are many, many people who grew up with horrible adult influences in their lives, but this post is about the good in humanity.

When I look back on my growing up years, several people come to mind. The kindly bus driver that delivered a big basket of fruit to my house when I was out sick with the Chickenpox in second grade. My sweet neighbor and Godmother that patiently taught me how to sew and emphasized that the most important thing was pressing as you went. (She was right.) Then there was gentle, kindhearted Father Jennings. I grew up Catholic and my mom would invite this “elderly” priest (he was probably only in his 60’s… smile) over for a homemade dinner every so often. He gave me a huge box of Almond Joy bars when I was out sick with pneumonia as a kid. That was unheard of because the only sweets we had growing up were homemade. When all of the issues came up with the priests in the Catholic church, his friendship helped me to know that there were also a lot of Godly, kind priests out there that would never abuse a child. These adults that came into my young life gave me faith in mankind. They helped me believe that I was worthy of kindness and love, without having to earn it. But one person stands out in particular.

Let me give you a little background first

From the time you can talk, people constantly ask what you want to be when you grow up. I would confidently explain to them that I was going to be a model. Well that never panned out, for obvious reasons. By high school, I had reasonably narrowed my focus a little more. I decided that I wanted to be either a journalist, an interior decorator or a boss lady that worked in business. It did not matter what business as long as I could wear fashionable suits and heels to work every day. When I made the obligatory visit to the high school counselor to discuss a career path, she quickly squashed my idea of being an interior decorator. There were just not enough jobs in that field she explained. Wet banket.

That left journalism or business. I figured that I would need typing skills for either of these career paths, so I took an elective business course my junior year of high school. Never mind that the course included how to take dictation by hand and was geared more to being a secretary (that is what we called them back then) than a boss lady. The best thing about this course was that they would help place you in a part-time job to apply your new skills. I was given the opportunity to work in a local ophthalmologist’s office to type and file patient records. It was a huge step up from taking food orders and making ice cream cones at Topper Too, although I really enjoyed that job. Working as a file girl at an office was a big girl job!

Ophthalmologists, with their vast knowledge, framed medical degrees and certifications on the wall, can feel very intimidating to a naive teenager. The founder and owner of the clinic was Dr. Toyama. He was a smart, kind, gentle man. He and the staff took me under their wings and kept giving me increasing responsibilities until eventually I was promoted from a file clerk to an ophthalmic assistant. I continued to work there through high school, but I had to quit when I left for college. However, Dr. T generously allowed me to work there in the summer when I was home from college. Looking back, I am quite sure they did not need my vital assistance but were just helping me out with college expenses. That is the kind of person Dr. T was.

The year I went off to college, I sold my car. So, when I worked at the clinic that summer, my mom would give me a ride there and my dad would pick me up afterwards on his motorcycle. I think we made quite the scene with me in my white uniform and helmet puttering down the road. Did I mention that my dad is a fun saint?

I clearly remember one day when they were training me in the minor surgery room to assist with a simple removal of a cyst on an eyelid. Dr. T made a clean, precise cut on the lid when suddenly the room got fuzzy, and I dropped down to the floor with a thud. I recall waking up to the whiff of an ammonia capsule under my nose and Dr. T smiling. He never let me forget that experience. Nor the fact that I did not faint when I observed Dr. W doing a minor surgery the week before.

Their kind influence, encouragement, and positive exposure to the healthcare field is what made me to decide to become a nurse. Well, that and the fact that I took a beginning accounting class my first two weeks of college and promptly dropped it when I realized I hated working with numbers. So much for being the business boss lady. I ended up trading business suits and heels for scrubs and white Crocks and never looked back, all because of Dr. T and some wonderful ladies that worked for him.

Thank you Dr. T

This morning, while scanning the obituaries in our small city paper, I read that Dr. T passed away at the age of 98. My heart sank as I reminisced on what a great man he was and what he did for me. He was one of the good ones. The obituary said that he was a World War II veteran. I never knew that. As a self-absorbed teenager I never thought to ask him about his life. Several years ago, I sent him a note and thanked him for his kindness and influence in my life. But I wish I had another chance to say, thank you for being the kind of man, and doctor, that changed a young, insecure teenager’s life for the better. So today, I shed a few tears for the loss of a great man. And I vowed, in a world full of sharp edges, to be that positive influence for younger people. Who helped build you or influenced your career choice? If they are still alive, be sure to take the opportunity to thank them while you still can.

On the home front

We are busy getting ready for Easter around here. We host an extended family brunch and egg hunt on our property. My mom started the tradition years ago when her grandkids were small. Now they are hiding eggs for their own kids. It has grown to about 35 people. It is wonderful, fun chaos. The stuff that family memories are made of for the kids and their cousins.

And in case you have not noticed…it is March Madness baby! Our beloved Zags have made it to the “Sweet 16” for the 9th time in a row. We are excited to watch them play Purdue next weekend. Gonzaga (aka Zags) played Purdue earlier this year and lost by 10, so it will be a fun match up. Mr. U and I made the five-hour drive over to Seattle to watch that game in November.

I hope you have a great week and go Zags!

The New Early Bird Special

Admit it. You have done it too. At some point in your life, you have poked fun at the early bird special. It is what the old folks with gray hair and sagging skin do for dinner out. We would scoff that they just couldn’t stay up that late, or it was the cheap way to go out to dinner, or they needed to get home early enough to watch the Lawrence Welk Show. Old fogies. Now…we are them.

I was born at the tail end of the baby boomer generation. The boomers have always paved new ways of doing life and so I have benefited from the earlier boomer trailblazers. It is no surprise that the very generation that led the charge for social change in the 60’s would also be changing the way society sees retirees in the 21st century. That is what boomers do. They force the change that society needs. Not the least of these, or maybe I should say, one of the least of these – is the early bird special. I will leave the weightier topics on how the boomers changed society for the anthropologists.

So why is the early bird special so appealing as we get older? It is not just that we can’t stay up that late, although we don’t want to anymore. And it is not just that it is less expensive, although that is a definite benefit. And we definitely don’t want to get home to watch the Lawrence Welk Show, although I would like to catch a couple more episodes of Yellowstone before bed. The biggest reason that we like the early bird special is that we just can’t eat late at night anymore. If I eat later in the evening it doesn’t settle well when I go to bed. Think reflux and heartburn. The sing/song commercial “pop pop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is” makes a lot more sense now. Unfortunately, I can’t eat as much as I used to either. Remember the all-you-can eat buffets? You remember…pre-COVID? I loved having a smorgasbord of options to choose from. That was one of the fun things about going on a cruise, the buffets. I wanted to try everything. I used to get my money out of an all-you-can eat buffet. Now the only thing I get from it is indigestion.

As the baby boomers age, we want to eat earlier in the evening, but we do not want to be the old fogies that stand in line for the early bird special. So, what did the baby boomers do? Well, we had to put a new twist on the early bird special. It needed social change. Happy hour is the new early bird special! It is perfect. It has all of the benefits of the early bird special, but it is cool. It is earlier in the day; it is less expensive than a full dinner out and it is not so much food.

Duval’s in Sarasota had a great happy hour menu. We ordered the crispy calamari to share, and each had a 1/2 shrimp po’boy sandwich for dinner. Perfect.

Happy hour originated from restaurants and bars trying to draw in more customers during their slower times. It is typically offered before and after the peak dinner hours. I will leave the later happy hour times for the younger crowd. It seems that happy hour is extending beyond restaurants and bars now. I went to wash my car recently and the below sign was sitting at the entrance to the car wash. Apparently, there are peak times at the carwash too. Who knew?

We have a friend that is the king of happy hour. He knows and frequents all of the great happy hours where he lives. When he travels, he Googles the area ahead of time and researches the best happy hour places. This might surprise you, but he is a baby boomer too. He has found so many great places that have a lovely atmosphere and an excellent happy hour, that he has made us believers.

So, I salute all of the early baby boomers that went before me and changed society, particularly the change from the early bird special to a much more socially acceptable happy hour. Cool beans man!

Cheers to the retirement years!

Why I Won’t be a Snowbird Any Time Soon

Sunshine. Palm trees. White silk beaches. What is not to love? These things are particularly tempting when you live in a colder climate that is mostly cloudy and gray for three months of the year. The snow is beautiful, especially on those rare days when the sun bounces off of it and lights up the sky. And nothing beats a white Christmas. A new puffy coat, boots and mittens are fun to wrap up in at the beginning of the winter season. Then the holidays are over, and the days are long and cold without any punctuation marks in them. This is the time of year that it takes an extra ten minutes to get dressed to go outside and then I can hardly move after I get all of the layers of clothes piled on. It is the time of year that I am ready to run away from shoveling snow, driving in slush and sleet and walking gingerly on icy parking lots so I don’t break a hip. All under gray skies.

So, this winter we dipped our toes in the water. Both literally and figuratively. We boarded a plane in heavy coats and got off in short sleeve shirts in sunny Sarasota, Florida. We were testing the snowbird lifestyle for a full month. It was a wonderful, sunny, refreshing reset. Yet, after about three weeks, we began to miss our life. Our real life. Most of the snowbirds we talked to spend 3-6 months in a sunnier climate and then go back to their northern home for the rest of the year. We have seriously considered buying a condo in Arizona or Florida, to the point that we did some condo tours with a realtor in Scottsdale. But after “practicing” the snowbird life for just one month, we have decided that lifestyle does not fit us at this point in our lives. This decision boils down to four main factors.


Some people move to get away from family and some people move to be closer to family. We are the latter. When Mr. U and I first got married we moved away for several years. He got his first job in another city, and we wanted to experience this new city life together as a married couple. But, about 24 years ago, we moved back to my hometown. My town. A small city where I was born and raised in the same house. My town, where my 96-year-old dad has lived his entire life and five of my six siblings and most of their families still live. Our kids grew up here for the majority of their lives and now three of them still live in the area. There is comfort in knowing you have people that will be there in a minute for you if you really need them.

We did not need to move to follow our grandchildren because all three of them live in the area. I do not take this for granted. Why would I want to leave this for half of the year? And while my dad still lives independently, we help him with some meals, getting to Dr. appointments and just spending time together. Snow birding would be much more tempting if we did not have family near our permanent home. We want to be part of their lives for as long as possible.

And this little pumpkin was carefully instructed not to crawl until we got back home. So, what did she do? Take her first crawling steps while we were gone…of course.


We have visited with some lovely people in Florida. People that we could become good friends with, but friendship takes time. Deep friendship takes years of shared experiences. Trust develops through shared confidences that withstand the test of time. It takes years of sitting with each other through tears of joy and sadness. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it is hard to nurture these new friendships when you are only together a few months of the year. You will make friends, but they are not the deep-rooted friendships that have the mortar of history to hold them together. The kind that you can call in the middle of the night to help you bury the body. I count myself blessed to have my sister as a best friend and another bestie that I have known for over 35 years that both live in my hometown. I miss them, as well as some casual friends that I don’t necessarily see every week.

“Good friends help you bury a body…Great friends bring their own shovel and don’t ask any questions.”


Home & hobbies

Some hobbies are portable, like reading, knitting, blog writing and walking. Others require heavier equipment and space. When I retired, I bought a Cricut and have enjoyed learning to use it. It can etch glass, cut out letters and designs on vinyl for signs, cards, or even to iron on material. And while you could pack it up and take it in a car somewhere, it would be difficult. My heavy Bernina sewing machine is not easy to move. Mr. U has an entire wood shop that is definitely not portable. These are home hobbies, and we would miss not doing them for large parts of the year.

The financials

We always assumed that it would be much less expensive to buy a second home to snowbird in than travel to different sunnier places during the bleak winter months. I am not a financial expert by any means, but when we considered the options, we found it wasn’t as big of difference as we expected.

For the sake of discussion, let’s say you had $300,000 cash that you saved aside to purchase a second home in a sunny place that you could escape to during the cold winter months. You could purchase this home, or you could take that same $300,000 and put it into a CD or money market and make 4% interest per year. That interest would add up to approximately $12,000 extra cash per year that you could use for snowbird travel to go anywhere you wanted. And at the end of all of that travel, you would still have $300,000 tucked away.

Of course, this scenario assumes you will continue to get a minimum of 4% interest a year, which we all know can vary. This scenario also does not take into account the amount that the second home will appreciate over the time you own it. Most likely, you will sell it for more than you paid for it. But neither does it take into account the amount you will pay out every year in taxes, insurance and HOA fees. You could rent the second home out for the months you are not there, to help offset these fees, but that comes with its own set of responsibilities and challenges.

The argument could be made either way on the financials. Saving the money aside and using the interest to travel makes much more sense if you decide you do not want to be gone for long stretches at a time. It also provides the opportunity to travel to a lot of different places, while you are still able to do so comfortably. It could be a different adventure every time. Of course these are just very rough estimates, but you get the idea. What would you do?


I know of several people that snowbird and totally love it. That is partly what makes it so tempting to me. I know that when you snowbird, your small place becomes your second home, but this trip has confirmed that we are just not ready to make that leap.

This is not a forever decision. If one of our kids move to a warmer winter climate, we may end up snow birding there a few months of the year. Or, as we get older and travel becomes more difficult, we may choose to go to the same place for sunnier weather every year. For now, we have decided to experience different places by taking a couple trips to warmer weather for two or three weeks at a time during the winter. It is a little slower type of travel than we have done in the past. That will be enough to get us through the harsh winter months at home, while not being gone for too long of stretches at a time. That is our decision…for now. Because, if there is one thing we have learned about retirement, it is full of the unexpected.

“There’s no place like home.”

Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz

We got home from Florida the first week of March. The feature picture at the top of the post is of the marina we stayed at while we were there. And this (below) is what was waiting for us the next morning when we got home. Hum…I might have to rethink this whole snowbird thing again.

Eating Our Way Through Sarasota

Being a foodie, I always look forward to eating out at new places.  But besides being a foodie, I am also an aesthetic person.  It is important to me that I have a delicious meal, but it is equally important to me that it be in a fun, interesting or beautiful environment.  My sister and I are probably a restaurant hostess’s worst nightmare.  We inevitably want a different table than the one the hostess guided us to.  We want the one by the window, a booth instead of a table, the one next to the fire, or the table closest to the rail overlooking the water.  Our husbands just roll their eyes and mumble under their breath.  But we both want to enjoy our meal in a pleasant aesthetic.   I call it the “cute factor.” It makes a difference in my enjoyment of the dining out experience.  Non-foodies beware, this post contains food pictures.

One of my goals during our month in Sarasota was to try several local restaurants with excellent seafood and fun atmospheres.  Mr. U and I are not particularly interested in eating at high end restaurants with tiny morsels of food served over starched white tablecloths that we inevitably spill on and feel bad.  These places are a nice treat once in a while, but we prefer finding the tucked away places. 

I don’t know about you, but I have found Yelp to be less reliable lately.   Instead, we have found the best way to find a good place to eat is to ask the locals.  The locals always know the best places.  They know the quirky unique places with the best food, and they know the best deal for your money.   If a few different people recommend the same restaurant, we know it is a winner.  The other option is Mr. U’s favorite – when driving around, notice which places are packed and return to them. That being said, I will still check the Yelp star rating to ensure we aren’t walking into a disaster. Our rule is, “four or forget it.”

Cortez Fishing Village

One afternoon we bought some stone crabs from a fisherman that sells his daily catch at a parking lot near the marina where we are staying.  Since he is a fisherman, he seemed like a reliable source to ask where the best seafood restaurants are.  He, as well as several other people, recommended going to Cortez Fishing Village, an iconic little village just off of Anna Maria Island. The casual restaurants at the village cook up seafood fresh off of the fishing boats while you sit out on the decks overlooking the bay. No white tablecloths here. Just excellent seafood, eaten while you watch the fishing boats come in with the day’s catch.   

Probably the most eclectic place we went to at Cortez Village (recommended by a couple different locals) was Annie’s Bait and Tackle.  It is mostly a bait shop with a little bit restaurant.  It is located in a crusty building with a few tables scattered inside and picnic tables on the dock.  The owner is a grumpy old salt that appears mad that you came in.  It did not even rank on the “cute factor” scale.  It also failed the “four or forget it rule.” However, sometimes the best atmospheres are quirky dives.  As long as I know this going in, I can enjoy the uniqueness of it, but I would not have picked it out as a place to go if it had not been so recommended. Mr. U had a huge bowl of peel and eat shrimp that were so fresh, flavorful and meaty.

The outside of Annie’s Bait and Tackle is, well…very quirky.

Downtown Sarasota

On this trip, we typically eat breakfast at our place and then go out to dinner.  But one sunny morning we ventured downtown early to stroll through the Saturday Farmer’s Market and have breakfast. Using Mr. U’s technique, we stopped at C’est la Vie, just because it was busy the previous day, and it met the “cute factor” for me. Like the name sounds, C’est la Vie is an authentic French bakery and cafe in the heart of downtown Sarasota that specializes in authentic French food and pastries.  The croissants were so fresh and flaky.  You can sip stout coffee and enjoy the sunshine at one of their sidewalk tables and feel like you are in Paris or New Orleans.   

St. Armands Circle is a charming, historic destination located on Lido Key.  I would recommend that you work up an appetite poking in all of the shops at the circle and then stop in to eat at the Columbia. It is the oldest operating restaurant in Sarasota and is known for its Spanish/Cuban cuisine.  It was recommended to us by several people and lived up the hype.  Either make reservations or plan to get there early to get a table for lunch or dinner. We both had Columbia’s Original “1905” salad which is tossed at your table. Get the Cuban bread to go with it.  Fortunately, an older gentleman that we met on the trolley told us to get a pitcher of their sangria. They mix it up at your table with fresh squeezed citrus. It was the perfect way to end a hot day.

I enjoyed all the al fresco dining while there, especially since it is hovering around 30 degrees at home.

By far and away, the most frequently recommended place to eat was Owen’s Fish Camp.  It has delicious food in a fish camp atmosphere.  It is very popular so you may have to wait a good hour or two during peak times.  You will never be happier that a place does not take reservations because waiting for your table is the best part!  They have an outdoor patio with picnic tables and music.  You can order drinks and an appetizer to hold you over.  It is a festive, fun experience and you will feel like you just went to fish camp, without all of the work.

During our month stay, we stopped by a few different tiki hut restaurants/bars.  While the food is usually not anything special, you can’t beat sitting at a table in the sand, watching the waves roll in.   A cold drink at a tiki hut tastes the best after a day playing at the beach.   One evening we stopped by O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill. which is located at the bayfront in Sarasota.  We enjoyed some live music and the view of the bay as they city lights came on. 

Weighing In

Despite the fact that we have been very physically active this trip, I suspect I have gained weight. I don’t have a scale (thank goodness) to confirm this, but the pants are definitely getting tighter. It is pretty difficult to eat out almost every day and not consume too many calories, even with seafood. Because…where there is southern seafood, there are cheesy grits and hush puppies and ice-cold margaritas. Enough said. It is time to go home, for no other reason than I can’t continue to eat out and not gain weight. Thanks for joining me on our travels through Florida. Now it is time to go back to the snow.