Saturday night surprise: Love birds, paintbrushes and red wine


Love birds

Remember song, “Everybody’s working for the weekend?”

Saturday nights – the traditional time to get out of the house with friends or someone special – can be magical.

But first you sometimes have to get past your initial reluctance if you, like me, have become more of a homebody.

The key to enjoyment: Either have a plan, or unequivocally say yes when someone else comes up with one, and then go along with their idea with complete abandon.

Sometimes easier said than done.

But this year, I made a commitment to myself to get out more and try to do at least one new thing a week.

An ideal I shared with my husband, so I would hold myself accountable. He not only approved, but has been trying to join in.

So last night, my husband surprised me with a date night idea: dinner out and then a couples’ painting class at Ultimate Painter Art Gallery in Clermont, which he signed us up for online. (

After dinner at a restaurant near the art gallery, we arrived for the class a little early and found the place locked, so we sat in the parking lot listening to NPR while we waited, watching as the Chipotle restaurant next door did a brisk business.

A few minutes before 7 pm, the teacher called to say she’d be a few minutes late, as she hadn’t realized anyone had signed up for the class that night.

Turns out we were the only ones, so we got a private lesson.

When the teacher arrived, she set up easels and paints for us, put on some New Age music and gave me a glass of  delicious Southern Red wine from Lakeridge Winery, also in Clermont. (

We started out at the top of the canvas and worked our way down, learning to blend acrylics, and then layer on trees using a sea sponge.

You can see the result above: Mine on the left and his on the right, where he decided to add two love birds to represent us. (He’s so romantic!)

The teacher suggested we paint one tree that crossed both canvases, make sure our trees looked similar and have our mountains line up with each other.

It was a really fun way to spend an evening together, rather than sitting at home watching TV.

In fact, I plan to go back to take my oldest grandson, who loves art. It also got me interested in making a trip to the winery sometime in the near future. The teacher recommended we go when the winery holds a festival, which, according to its website, happens at least monthly.

What about you? Have you ever tried a couples’ painting class or visited a winery? And if so, would you do it again?


Not all about me?


Becoming a volunteer is a refreshingly humbling experience.

I decided to to so as a way to help fill some of my free time that stretches before me thanks to having a newly emptied nest.

I blame my misconception of how my first volunteer activity would go on the fact that I had gotten used to the hyper-competitive corporate group meetings.

You know, the ones where you have to go around the room to introduce yourselves, say something witty and answer questions like who would play you in the movie of your life and what book you’re reading now.

You have to think up intelligent answers so you look interesting and relevant.

But you don’t want to be “that guy” who is too cocky and full of himself. Nor do you want to be the “crispy critter” who says something so dumb that he just steered his entire career onto a rocky shore.

So as I was preparing to leave for a tutor training class for the adult literacy league where I had signed up to become a volunteer, I started running the scenarios through my mind.

How would I present my occupation?

Would I say my job title and place of employment, or just the general industry category?

Would I tell them I’m reading “Book of Ages” about Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane, even though I think it’s boring and may not finish it? Because even though it’s what I’m really reading, it sounds pretentious.

And what should I wear? Etc., etc., etc. I was focused on me, me, me.

Reality check. No one cared to know anything about me.

At all.

I signed in, took a name tag and sat down in a room of about 20 other volunteer trainees ranging in age from late 20s to probably early 70s, a mix of ethnic backgrounds and genders.

We were asked to go around the room to state our name and how we had heard about the organization.

The answers ranged from an online search for volunteer opportunities to seeing a newspaper story about it to hearing a guest speaker talk about it.

My answer: a friend from work had told me about it years ago.

The reason they asked that question?

Not because they were interested in us. It was because they wanted to know if their volunteer outreach methods were working. That’s all.

As the 3-hour training session went on, they told us about the students we would be working with: 65 percent do not speak English as their first language.

They told us about the workbooks we would be using and how to use them.

They told us how to think outside the box to make the sessions with the students interesting.

They told us how to fill out monthly progress reports online.

They thanked us every 5 minutes for coming in, as there are 80 students who have been on a waiting list for a tutor for 3-7 months.

They said they would match us up with a student next week and we could start tutoring them once a week, for roughly a year, after that. But never once again did they ask us anything about ourselves.

Because it wasn’t about us. It was about the students. And that’s as it should be.

As I drove home, it struck me how splendidly freeing that was:

To not have to think about how I might measure up next to someone else in the room.

To not have to think about the fact that someone else in the room might want to try to take my job.

To know I was appreciated by the organization simply for being there and agreeing to do a task to the best of my ability.

I think I’m going to like this.

What about you? Do you volunteer?

If so, I’d love to hear about how you got started and why, and how it has worked out for you.

Poppin’ fresh?


I adore the rare weekends my husband has days off, so I try to make the most of them.

We kicked off last weekend with dinner out on Friday. We split the bang bang shrimp appetizer, and I enjoyed a raspberry martini and a filet mignon.

We talked and laughed and talked some more, deciding to go see “Saving Mr. Banks” at the local movie theater the next afternoon.

But an hour after I awoke Saturday, I was so overcome with fatigue that I went back to bed, sleeping for 3 more hours.

When I woke up all muzzy-headed, I got up. And then immediately went back to bed.

For 2 more hours.

Clearly, I was coming down with a cold or something.

But I didn’t want to disappoint Husband by missing the movie. So we went. And I’m glad we did, because it was awesome.

Husband even stayed awake the whole time — the equivalent of a 5-star rating from him.

Afterward, we decided to rewatch “Mary Poppins.” Neither of us had seen it in many, many years.

We found a version you could watch online for free, hooked it up to run through the TV and settled back to watch.

Within 10 minutes, Husband was asleep, snoring gently on the couch. Yes, it was that boring.

"Mary Poppins" turned H into "Sleeping Beauty"

“Mary Poppins” turned H into “Sleeping Beauty”

But I decided to stick it out, thinking it surely would get better. After all, I remember enjoying it as a child. But, sadly, it doesn’t withstand the test of time.

Sure, it had pretty advanced special effects for its day.

But the plot seemed to revolve largely around giving Dick Van Dyke multiple opportunities to sing corny songs and dance, interspersed with corny jokes and cornier dialogue.

So I turned it off and went back to bed. Again.

My advice? Enjoy “Saving Mr. Banks.”

But whatever you do, don’t revisit “Mary Poppins” — leave it cozily ensconced among your fond, hazy childhood memories.

What about you? Have you ever muscled through an illness to do an activity so you don’t disappoint a loved one?

If so, what was it and how did it turn out?

Saying Yes to Pretty in Pink


Pretty in Pink

This is one of many pretty princess dresses comprised of princess dolls at Downtown Disney, which I almost didn’t get to see.

That’s because when my son invited my husband and I to join him and his girlfriend on a New Year’s Day outing there, I really wanted to say no.

After all, it was a work night. It was a holiday.

I knew it would be unbearably crowded and tough to find a parking spot.

Perhaps impossible to get a table in one of the restaurants for dinner.

I also thought maybe my son simply invited us to be polite — that he fully expected us, perhaps even wanted us, to say no thanks.

But I said yes — mainly, perversely, because I so wanted to say no.

Because, I told myself, you can’t say no if you plan to try new things. And I do want to try new things.

So we went.

And sat in traffic for 90 minutes.

And spent another 30 minutes searching for a parking spot.

Then, luck found us. We decided to eat at House of Blues. And despite the fact that another popular restaurant at Downtown Disney had a 3.5-hour wait for a table, we got seated at HOB within 5 minutes.

On top of that, the food and service were great; the decor, which included painted shoes on the ceiling, was intriguing.

The bathroom walls in House of Blues were painted with an interesting pattern.

The bathroom walls in House of Blues were painted with an interesting pattern.

Afterward, we wandered around amid the festive crowd,

My husband (in red) heading into the Downtown Disney crowd. I love the lights strung overhead.

My husband (in red) heading into the Downtown Disney crowd. I love the lights strung overhead.

finding live outdoor musical performances scattered throughout the entertainment complex.

They included:

One guy playing both a didgeridoo and a 2-necked guitar;

Another man playing a smoking-hot saxophone to the utter, unfettered delight of a free-spirited 3-year-old girl who skipped, danced and swayed to the music;

A foot-stompingly good high school show choir from Ohio performing jazzy Christmas tunes;

And a woman belting out the blues.

This guy played a hot saxophone outside. (Sorry for the blurriness...)

This guy played a hot saxophone outside. (Sorry for the blurriness…)

It was a perfect, balmy, 65-degree night, Florida-style.

Downtown Disney features a giant sea serpent made of Legos in a pond opposite the Lego store.

Downtown Disney features a giant sea serpent made of Legos in a pond opposite the Lego store.

As magical as a pretty pink princess dress comprised almost entirely of pretty pink princess dolls.

And sometimes, that’s what you get when you say yes.

What about you? What did you say yes to recently when you really wanted to say no? And how did that turn out for you?

New year, new experiences: Trading empty-nest malaise for volunteering, art, travel and more


2014 will be the year of new experiences for me.

After becoming an empty nester four years ago and no longer ferrying my 2 sons to after-school activities, I found myself becoming a homebody on my days off from work, rarely leaving the house if my husband works on those days.

And then, I started not really wanting to leave the house even when he was home with me.

I don’t suffer from any form of agoraphobia — it feels more like mild mental malaise.

So I’m determined to try new things this year.

In fact, my goal is to go somewhere/try something new every week.

That way, when people ask me what I’ve been up to, I can tell them something about me, rather than only being able to talk about my sons’ or grandkids’ latest exploits.

I’ve signed up to become a literacy tutor, and hope to take the training class in January so I can get started.

I’ve also asked my husband, who used to paint, to pick up that hobby again, only this time with me, so we have a shared hobby.

I may try to kick-start that by signing us up for one of those one-day classes where people all go and learn to paint their own version of the same thing.

And I want to get back into photography (forcing myself to go out to get interesting shots), and possibly incorporate prints of some of my photos into multimedia paintings.

Plus, we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary next summer, so I hope to plan a cool trip.

I’m thinking either a cabin in the Smokey Mountains, an island cottage in South Carolina or a jaunt to Rhode Island.

Smoky Mountains

What about you? What have you done to overcome empty-nest malaise, and how did it work out for you?

Also, what’s the coolest trip in the U.S. you’ve taken recently?