Your Attitude Makes or Breaks the Vacation.


While on the cruise recently, I was amazed at the number of children on board. Over seven hundred in all. They came in ages from tiny babies (Why anyone would do that is beyond me) to teenagers. The thing I found interesting, is that with all those kids, there were very few meltdown tantrums among them. Generally, when kids get over tired, over stimulated, out of their normal routine, or in a strange place, tantrums, tears, meltdowns, and stubborn acting out ensues among them. We didn’t see that in the smallest kids, nor in the kids between five and twelve. However, teenagers of all ages and adults were absolutely invested in tantrums and meltdowns from the first moment we were at sea.

Couples were arguing with each other, parents were telling off children for no apparent reason, and teenagers, well, you know teenagers, everything that wasn’t on their phone or tablet was a reason for meltdowns and irritation. Shocking. Annoying. Hilarious. Immature. Generally undeserved by the person whom the tantrum was directed at and embarrassing to watch an adult act like a tired two year old on too much sugar. I don’t get it, really, I thought a family vacation was supposed to be relaxing and fun. Apparently not for anyone between thirteen and fifty, according to the melt down count down.

I expected frowny faces and bad attitudes in children, but it was the parents who had the, “I hate the world” faces. Unless, of course, they were eating, drinking alcohol, or hanging out in the smoking areas. It was easy to tell that most of the parents couldn’t wait for the Kid’s Clubs to open so they could park their progeny there until meal times and escape to do adult stuff. Teenagers clumped together in pools of dissatisfied texting groups as long as they had access to the ship’s texting program, and when they didn’t they sat in glum silence playing games on their phones, ignoring the swimming pools, mini golf, and other activities available for them from dawn to dusk. It was as if they wanted to be bored and dissatisfied with everything. I don’t get that either.

We had a great time from playing with Addie in the pools to mini golf, to talking to the server in the buffet room who chatted with us about Philippine food for a good half hour. Addie loved the Kid’s Club, and while she was making friends there, we had a good time relaxing and wandering around the ship. We laughed a lot, held hands, teased each other, chatted with other passengers, and simply allowed ourselves to enjoy the moment. When the three of us were together, it was clear that I was the odd one out since Addie is in the “I Adore My Papa” stage of her life, so I read a book and let them rush about doing things like water slides and such. And the bonus was that Addie didn’t have one single moment dedicated to being in a rotten mood. She was dog tired by bedtime, but there were no complaints. She would climb into her top bunk, roll over and go to sleep in moments. She did get up one night to go have pizza and ice cream in the “middle of the night” around ten p.m. She got a huge kick out of that. Even after pizza and ice cream, she climbed right back into bed and went to sleep in five minutes.

Meanwhile, every time we took her to the Kid’s Club, there would be a parent there ranting about something, embarrassing their child who couldn’t wait to escape mom or dad and go play somewhere stress free. The last time we picked Addie up, the ladies who worked in the Club gave us a note telling us how much they enjoyed time with Addie. She was polite, kind, sharing, and friendly to everyone and she was very respectful to the adults working in the Club. Everywhere we engaged with crew, they always complimented us on Addie’s behavior. Our server in the restaurant made her origami dinosaurs and the steward for our room went out of his way to make her adorable towel animals on the bed everyday. I know they must miss their children terribly since they are at sea for nine months at a time. Addie was unfailingly polite to all the adults with whom she interacted. We raised her to be polite and kind, and to always use her manners. The rest is all her doing.

I am not saying she was the best kid, there were lots of kids who were good. There were also rude and mouthy kids who talked back to adults, didn’t listen to the crew when they were told not to do something or to do something, and who ran wild because their parents didn’t care what they did as long as they didn’t bother them or get into trouble with the crew who would then bother them. That I really don’t get. As a parent, grandparent or guardian, I want to know what my kid is up to every second of the day. They don’t have to be under my feet, and I don’t hover, but I keep an eye on them. It is very easy to injure themselves on a ship filled with stairs, heavy doors, and over three thousand people on board.

I suppose people brought their daily issues to the ship with them. We try to leave all that on the shore and have a new and exciting experience. This was Addie’s first cruse, we wanted it to be positive, fun, and something she would want to do again. I guess we did it right. She can’t wait to go on another one as soon as possible. As for the grumpy folks who turned their holiday into a whine fest, I’m sorry they were such a miserable group. They missed an opportunity to have a great time. Especially the teenagers who were determined to hate everything from not having internet connections to having to be around their parents and siblings for more than five minutes a day. Oh well, what goes around comes around. Next time they want to have a good holiday, Mom and Dad have an excuse to make it as miserable as they possibly can just because they want to.

Meanwhile, the Combs Family will be the three people trying to catch the wind while walking on the deck or eating ice cream and pizza at ten at night just because we can.

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Ornaments and Traditions


Every year since we got married in 1971, the day after Thanksgiving is when we start decorating for Christmas. No matter how broke, despondent, worried, angry, or disappointed our life is at that moment, we begin to build our home into a happy place designed to celebrate the traditions of our families and the birth of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, we have collected many decorations, some made by our children and grandchildren, some bought in the far off places we have lived and traveled to, some handed down from friends and family. Each one is a treasure, carefully packed away every year to be brought out and rediscovered the following year. As time goes by, some of them get a bit worn and tattered, but they still go on the best place for them on the tree. As I see them being hung by my family and myself, memories flow through my mind about how and when they came to be part of our tradition.

I have twelve cloisonne bells that were given to me as a gift when we lived in Hong Kong, each one has a slightly different sound when it rings. I have a set of lovely hand carved Angel ornaments that I bought when we were visiting Bruge, Belgium. And the lace ornaments that I bought in different countries to make a special collection is beautiful. But the ornaments that I love the most are the ones made by my children and grandchildren, and now, great grandchildren. Some were made at school, others were made in scouts or as projects we did together as a family. They aren’t fancy, and they aren’t perfect, but they are unique, one of a kind, filled with love and memories. I have hand prints in paint on plastic bobbles, I have ornaments made of Popsicle sticks, glue, and glitter. I have drawings on paper, hung carefully next to the crystal angel that I bought for my first grandchild’s first Christmas. It doesn’t matter what they are made of, they are more treasured than the most expensive ornament on the tree. Because my babies made them, I would rather have them than any other treasure on my trees.

Now I have two trees, one for my fancy store bought and gifted ornaments. It is lovely to behold. Sparkling and glittering with lights and special stones. I put it up in my home office, where it can be seen from the front of the house. It is an addition to all the sparkling lights outside. The other tree is for all my special treasures from my family. It is in my living room, and it glitters and sparkles unlike any other tree in the world. Each ornament is a memory or a story to pass down to our progeny. Each one is a part of our traditions, sacred, and delightful. Usually, the youngest in the family puts the star on the tree, but the one on the tree is built in now. This year, the youngest will be eight hours away, he is two, the perfect age to start telling the stories about each ornament. Instead, our five year old will do the honors when she comes to visit this weekend. She gets a kick out of decorating the tree her way. Meaning most of the purple ornaments are at her eye level, in one place on the tree. She has a thing for organizing colors that way. If she can’t reach a place she wants an ornament, either her Papa or I patiently position it until she is satisfied. Then we have hot chocolate and play until bedtime.

As the days lead up to Christmas, our entire house is decorated inside and out. While I do the baking creating goodies to share with friends and family, the Mr. hangs lights and swears under his breath every time he has to repair another string of lights. When we are done, our home looks like a place of joy, it smells delightfully of chocolate and fresh baked goods, and the music of Christmas fills the air with both sacred and fun sounds of happiness and celebration.

Traditions bring us together as a family. The stories bring us laughter and teaches us through example. The decorations remind us of the past, the people, and the love we all share one generation to the next. I love Christmas, it completes my life, just as the month of December completes the year. Merry Christmas One and All. God Bless Each and Every One of You.

Feeding the Multitude


The Mr. and I went on a cruise to Mexico, out of New Orleans. We took our five year old great granddaughter with us to see how she would cope on a ship. She had a blast. Loved every minute of it, especially the kid’s club (power name for baby sitting so parents could have some down time). We have gone on a lot of cruises over the years, and one thing is constant on every cruise except for the adventure cruises, people eat all day long. They don’t just have three meals and a snack, they belly up to the trough twenty-four hours a day, every single day of the cruise. When they aren’t eating, they are at the bar knocking back drinks or in the casino gambling, smoking, and drinking like they are going to be executed the next day. And the majority of them are gargantuan in girth. I am overweight, but some of those people put the word to shame.

I watched with shock to see a woman in her forties fill two platters, yes platters, to overflowing, stacked six inches high and carry them back to a table with a single setting. She put her food down and got up to get four glasses of lemonade to go with it. I sat and watched her eat every single scrap of food, drink all her drinks, and go back for dessert and more drinks. It was a buffet, passengers could go back as many times as they wanted, it wasn’t going to escape, nor would they go without. She wasn’t the only one. There was an entire table full of people – a family of twelve – who ate that way. I swear that they ate an entire ham between them. On the cruise ship, there is always something available to eat. You can get pizza and ice cream twenty four hours a day, room service is the same, and chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven are always available. All of the food is free of charge, lemonade, water, and ice tea is free, but all other drinks cost money. Some of the passengers were non stop eating machines. Just because it is available, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Really. It doesn’t.

Then they would put on swim suits designed for people who are fashion model thin and strut about with all their extra skin hanging out of all sorts of places it shouldn’t. I won’t even wear a swim suit in public for any reason because I am overweight by about 25 pounds. With them, not an iota of modesty existed. I was constantly drawing Addie’s eyes away from an X rated sight so she wouldn’t start asking questions at the top of her lungs. (Like most five year old kids, she has trouble modulating her volume of speech when she is surprised by something she doesn’t understand.) It was embarrassing to me to see huge women wearing bikinis with the top barely, and I mean barely covering their nipples. The Mr. ended up looking at the floor or out to sea when we had to be near the pool areas.

I have nothing against obese people, most are simply fat due to diet, medications, or their inherent DNA. Losing weight, even ten pounds, is hard for everyone. But acting as if they are starving to death and they have to eat constantly isn’t going to do their health any good. Hello heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. Good bye long life.

It wasn’t just a gender thing, race thing, or age thing, the uncontrolled eating covered all of those areas and then some. The Mr. and I ate normal meals, no extras or constant eating. Addie was the same. I weighed as soon as we got home, fully clothed and I weighted exactly the same as when I left home. Tomorrow I will find out if I lost weight when I weigh without my jeans and sweater on.

Despite the shocking display of over eating, we had a wonderful time as a family. Mexico fascinated Addie, and all three of us really enjoyed the Myan Museum and learning about their culture. Their art is deeply moving. More on the holiday later. Right now I want to go lie down. I need a day off from my week off. We all do.

The Seasons of Mississippi


We live in Mississippi right at the top of the state. We get four seasons, only not as distinctly divided as folks up north. We have spring, sort of. Meaning it will warm up to the mid 70’s, trees and flowers will bloom, then it will rain and rain and rain making the world a mud pit, followed by heat. Lots and lots and lots of heat, which, with the rain, makes everything humid, sticky, and the mosquitoes are very happy.

The summer has arrived. So spring lasted all of four weeks between the middle of March until the middle of April, and sometimes a bonus week just to confuse things even more. With summer, nature is a bit more accommodating. It stays hot, from mid April right on through until the end of October. Sometimes we even get a bonus week or two into November. Because, well, it is Mississippi and she does what she wants to do.

Along comes fall. It is still hot, cooling down to all of 80 degrees or so, at night. This last for about two weeks. The leaves turn yellowish, then brown, then they all fall down (rumor has it that is why it is called fall). This happens within a week of cooler weather, sometimes it all happens within a day, if the wind blows. The leaves around here are not used to wind, it scares them right off the trees. Within two weeks, the trees are bare, the grass is brown, and all the flowers, except for the vastly confused azalea in the corner of yards, die. The wind blows harder, and it rains and rains and rains until the cold gets here from up north or back west. Then it is winter.

It stays cold, it keeps raining leaving everything floating in a pit of mud until a miracle happens. It ices over and it snows. For one day, maybe two or three on a bad winter. All the natives freak out, rush around buying out the grocery stores and filling all their extra fuel cans while driving like completely out of control children. By the time they get home and put everything away, the snow is melting and it starts to rain again. If the sun comes out, people act like they have no clue what the big yellow ball floating in the sky is supposed to do or why it is there. Everyone becomes hermits except between six and nine AM. and four and six PM. when they rush between home and work or work and home. It is winter, and it might, gasp, get down to freezing by dark.

Then we are back to spring and rain. The whole process starts all over again. This is in Mississippi, where everything but summer is pretty mild compared to most of the country. Summer is our own special version of hell on earth. I don’t know why we get punished, but we do. Every. Single. Year. I can only imagine how folks from here would cope in places like Minnesota where there are two seasons, winter and June. Or how they would cope with some place like Florida where the climate is pretty much the same all year long – only with bugs the size of Volkswagen Beatles, and mosquitoes the size of B52 bombers. I say we are spoiled, and some folks have lived here so long they actually love the summer heat.

If you must come to Mississippi, do it in the two weeks of spring before the rain and after the winter mud. It is a beautiful place for those few days. Really. Just watch out for the tornadoes.

Bon Appetite!


I am cooking today. Real cooking, from scratch, no boxes, cans, or frozen stuff. Just fresh ingredients and spices. Every now and then I get the urge to do this sort of cooking. It is always an all day thing, and I make a huge mess for the Mr. to clean up after. He is the official dishwasher in our home. I cook, he cleans. He says its worth it because he gets to eat delicious food in return. Not sure how delicious it is, but he likes it.

I started cooking simple things when I was around ten years old. By the time I was fourteen, I could make a descent cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I got married at sixteen, and I had to learn to cook even better, so I started collecting cookbooks and recipes. Eventually, I took a year of cooking school to fill time while my boys were in school. I learned to love to cook. I will never be a real chef, but I am a good cook.

Women in my family have always been good cooks. Sometimes in the most difficult situations. My maternal grandmother used to work at a laundry in town. In the evening, she would come home and do her farm chores and then cook on a wood burning stove. She cooked simple things, but we always had biscuits. I don’t know how she did it, but she made the best biscuits ever. (Scones to the British out there.) They were warm, with melted butter and homemade jam, or sometimes served with sausage gravy. Either way, or plain, they were good. My fraternal great grandmother made the best vanilla cookies. She used to let us “help” her bake them, and we got to eat them fresh out of the oven with cold milk. Grownups got coffee instead. Grannie always smelled like vanilla cookies and coffee, two of my favorite aromas to this day.

My mother had to feed a family of six on a shoestring budget. She makes the best goulash, a recipe she got from another Army wife when we lived in Germany. Her potato salad and deviled eggs are beyond merely good, they are in a class all their own. Her biscuits are top of the line too. My husband nearly drools when he knows she is making breakfast because he know biscuits and gravy will be on the table along with sausage and eggs. I grew up on plain food, nothing fancy with odd named ingredients. We ate a lot of vegetables, very little meat (that’s probably why I love it so much), and pasta.

Interestingly enough, none of the women in my family who taught me to cook baked all that much. Dessert wasn’t on the table daily, dessert was a special treat – except for Grannie’s cookies. Learning to bake from scratch was a hit and miss thing for me for years. After cooking school, I got better at it, but we still don’t have dessert on a daily basis. Part of that is because when I bake it barely makes it from the oven to the plate before the Mr. or one of the kids finds it and spreads the word. When our youngest was a teenager, he and his friends would turn up out of nowhere every time I baked brownies. I always made a double batch because I knew that somehow, somewhere, the whole bunch would turn up at the farm in the middle of nowhere within half an hour and power through the brownies and two gallons of milk. I had to hide some for my husband or there would be nothing for him by the time he got home from work. That is one of my happiest memories, all those boys (ten or more) filling my house with laughter and loud noise as they wrestled over “Mom’s Brownies.”

Food is a common denominator in every culture. Feeding guests is a time honored tradition everywhere. We have lived all over the world, and no matter the culture the first thing we are offered is something to drink, followed by an offer for food. In some places refusing is rude, in some it is expected until your host convinces you to eat. The food, no matter where we were, was always amazing. I could eat my weight, and it is considerable, in the rice Florence Kaulu used to bring to our church pot luck meals. I could eat jerked chicken until I couldn’t move. I could eat any traditional Chinese food that Winnie Mak made, and I am downright addicted to Adobo from the Philippines. I love English scones, and Yorkshire pudding – which isn’t a dessert, but a roast beef meal. And bread from Bird’s Bakery on the high street in Debden, England is to die for. Okay, I have an issue with Carbs, so sue me. Food is something we all need, why not enjoy it?

As I age, I cook less, and we tend to eat out more. Lately, however, it has become boring to eat out. The majority of restaurants are chain restaurants, and the food is always the same. I would love to find a mom and pop greasy spoon old fashioned diner, with good food from old recipes. Or a new twist on traditional food, or an honest to goodness old fashioned Southern restaurant that serves fried chicken like we could get back when. And I don’t mean KFC or Popeye’s, I mean pan fried chicken like Grannie used to make on Sunday afternoon. Real food, not the la-di-da meals served in fancy places where you leave as hungry as you were when you walked in. I want something different, or traditional, like they always have on that TV show Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. Not bar-b-Que, heaven knows I can get that anywhere in Mississippi or Tennessee, but real food.

One of my soap box issues is how so many younger people simply haven’t a clue how to cook, unless they nuke something in a microwave. Most folks under 30 are clueless when it comes to making a meal from scratch. Teaching a child to cook is a great bonding moment, it is also beneficial to the child because some day they will live alone, or with a partner, and someone needs to know how to feed the family. I regret that I didn’t do more of that with my children and grandchildren. My boys learned enough not to starve or to have to eat cereal every day. My oldest granddaughter is learning how to cook on her own, she too, is collecting cookbooks. I really need to start teaching my great granddaughter more. She loves to “help” me bake now that she is five.

I better go give things a stir, get the bread in the oven, and figure out dessert. No, it isn’t a special occasion, but if one makes a full dinner from scratch, dessert is a must. Bon Appetite!