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Category Archives: Sunshine Boy

Tubin. Tubin. Tubin on the River


Yesterday I got to take my kids and their friends tubing down Rainbow River in Dunellon, FL.

We had been once before, last year, with our church high school youth group.  I was warned then that the water would be cold (I don’t do cold) because it is spring-fed.  Cold didn’t even begin to describe it.  I spent the entire 4-hour ride down the river (Yes, I said 4-hour ride.  At least the passengers on the SS Minnow only had to suffer through a 3-hour tour.) perched balanced atop a tube, never allowing my bottom or feet to enter the river.  It was probably the equivalent of a 4-hour ab and back workout.  I was exhausted.  And it was all futile effort because, as is the norm in Florida during the summer months, we had an afternoon thunderstorm.  So, we all ended up completely drenched, stranded on someone’s private property for about 30 minutes while we were waiting out the storm (lightning and water are a bad mix) so that we could continue our torturous ride down the river.  Hopefully, only 3 other people on that trip last summer knew how miserable I really was (two of them would be my kids because they know I don’t do cold).

So, you might be asking yourself, why in God’s name did I agree to go back down this cold, crystal clear, spring fed river, on purpose?  Because I’m a mom.  And that’s what you do when your kids want to do something that you know is good for them, will bring them joy, and get them outside and off of the electronics.  (To be honest, the kids didn’t ask to go.  I suggested it because of the other good-for-them reasons, and they agreed.  Then I thought, ‘Oh dang, now I have to actually take them.’)  Oh, how we moms suffer for our children (cue the hand-to-forehead-nearly-fainting-from-exhaustion pose).

Now for the good news, yesterday was a BLAST!

I was a  little worried as we drove up there, my little truck full of 6 different tubes and one raft and 5 human beings and one cooler.  Dark storm clouds were all around us.  This didn’t bode well for the day, and it wasn’t even Florida summetime yet.  But we pressed on.

We got to the launching area and the first thing I noticed was a sign that said flotation devices over 60″ diameter not allowed.  Dang!  My raft was over that limit.  That was going to be my salvation in this river….I wouldn’t have to get wet at all and could carry our “necessities” such as waters, snorkels/masks, and phones in plastic sealed baggies.  Leaving the raft in my little truck, I again, pressed on.

We all dug in to the food we had packed so we wouldn’t set out completely starved.  I inflated 5 tubes while Sunshine Boy went up to the counter to pay for park admission and transportation back to the launch point at the end of our 2-hour ride.  (Make note here.  We planned to only go down the river for 2 hours, get out at that exit, and be returned to my little truck to go get something for a late lunch).  One of the rafts was much larger than the others, and had a net bottom.  I claimed that one reasoning that I could carry supplies with a reasonable assumption that we wouldn’t lose them because this tube had a bottom.  Plus, it was the biggest.  And it had a bottom.  That would certainly help keep me out of the water, right?  Riiiiight…

So we get the tubes into the water and the sun is shining and the water really doesn’t feel too bad at this point.  I’m thinking this is going to be a piece of cake today and I’ll most certainly receive a round of applause at the end of the day.

And we headed down the river and about an hour into the lazy ride, we came to the tree swing. Someone rigged up a rope swing from way up high in a tree on the bank of the river, and nailed some 2×4 planks into the tree and a small piece of wood on a broken branch as a platform to jump off.  Perfectly safe, I’m sure.  So the boys wanted to jump and I thought it would be awesome to get some pictures.  So I dug around into the pool bag I had in my large, net-bottomed tube and found my zipper-closure baggies with my phone and keys so that I could take a few pics.  And I discovered that zipper-closure baggies aren’t waterproof, even when you put one inside of another.  My phone and keys were swimming inside of a baggie filled with water inside of a baggie filled with water.  Dead phone.  So I “paddled” over to the riverbank (careful to look out for gators) and tried to stand up out of my tube and realized I was kinda stuck.  My tube had been leaking air for the entire hour and I hadn’t noticed.  But that would explain why it was becoming increasingly harder for me to keep my bottom out of the water.  I just thought I was really, really out of shape.  So I proceeded to blow up my tube, keeping an eye out for gators (Pretty sure I spotted on on the opposite bank, but the kids tried to convince me it was turtles.  Funny how they were the ones convincing me.) and thanking God that at least I only had to deal with a leaking tube for one more hour and could get my phone out of the water in an effort to start to dry it out and save it.  Yeah, right.

So, after several jumps from the tree, I convinced the kids to keep moving on the river and we approached the 2-hour exit and got out.  I had never used this exit before, so I was unfamiliar with where to go.  Two of my adventurers took off ahead of us but made so much noise that I knew pretty well where they were.  And then we encountered another group going the opposite direction as us.  I recognized them as the group that had set out right before us at the launch site.  They stopped us and said don’t bother going all the way up to the parking lot because there’s nothing there.  It’s a ghost town.  Ummmm, what??

So, since my adventurers were so far ahead of us, we had to travel the long and winding boardwalk through the swampy hammock.  I carried my now-almost-thoroughly-deflated tube and increasingly-heavy gear to the sidewalk and walked up to the parking lot with a building with bathrooms and a little convenience store just to catch up to them.  The place was deserted.  The building was locked up and no lights were on.  The bathroom doors were locked.  There were no cars in the parking lot.  We saw signs that said the last shuttle run was at 3:30.  Without my phone, I could only guess that it was around 1:45.  We sat and we wandered and we talked and we kind of stared at each other for a good 30 minutes while we waited hopefully for a shuttle.  And the actions of the previous group were echoing in my head, knowing that they had decided to cut their time losses and get back into the river and finish the entire run….2 more hours.  If we did that, we’d be returning home way later than we had planned.  This could cause some problems since we all had someplace to be in the evening.

One of the boys decided to run up the road from the parking lot a little ways and came back to report that there was a padlock on the gate to the entrance.  Not lookin’ good.

So we made the decision to trudge…uh, I mean walk purposefully back to the river and get back in and finish the rest of the run.

On the way back to the water’s edge, one of the boys played a fun little game called, “What would you do if there was a Zombie Apocolypse RIGHT NOW?”  The kids shared their creative and stealthy ways to survive a Zombie Apocolypse.  Ahhh, the optomism and feelings of immortality of teens.

So we got back into the chilly water and I told the kids we’d actually have to paddle (vs. just floating) down the river because this stretch of the river has almost no noticeable current and the signs on the 2-hour exit said the last transport runs at 3:30.  Considering the time we spent waiting at the little convenience store/parking lot, and walking into/out of the river exit, I guessed it was nearing 2:30 now.  And we supposedly still had 2 more hours on the river until we reached the “end” of the ride.  And I had no idea what to do if we got to an empty parking lot and I had no phone and no car and no transportation was coming to get us.  I totally would have figured out something, but I just didn’t know what at the time.

I got into the river and I started paddling and I was making great strides in getting down the river muy rapido.  The kids, not so much.

After a few “encouraging words” only garnered short spurts of paddling from the kids, I decided to just let it be.  We (mostly) floated down the river (because I really just can’t let anything be….just ask Mr. Sunshine).  And it started to rain.  And I got cold.  Really cold.  And I seriously considered climbing out of the river onto one of the properties with one of the smaller “Private Property” signs (My reasoning was that the people who went out and bought really big “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs really meant it.  But the people who only put out small “Private Property” signs were just making a suggestion.) and asking, or begging, them to drive us back to the launch site and I’d pretty much just hand over my Visa.

But I didn’t.  I. STUCK. IT. OUT.

And the kids?  THEY. WERE. AWESOME.  They continued to play the entire way down the river.  And we got to the end and got out and walked to the parking lot with my now deflated tube and 4-ton bag of gear.  And we waited about 10 minutes and a van showed up and took us back to the launch site where we all felt a little refreshed and successful.

(We found out from this driver that the 2-hour exit is run by the state and they only run on the weekends, only until 3:30.  And they will not come get their customers at the 4-hour exit if they miss the 2-hour exit, EVER.  The 4-hour exit is run by the county and they run every day.  And the state does not allow them to drive onto the 2-hour exit property to pick up river adventurers.  Oh, and the country runs their transportion until something like 5:30.  So if you go on the river, you need to know who you are paying to pick you up where on what day and until what time.)

We got changed into dry clothes (bathrooms with changing rooms on site, but no showers.).  And we deflated the rest of the tubes and put all of the gear away and decided to go celebrate a great day with a gourmet meal from McDonalds.  (Which could probably be a whole other blog post because our orders were totally messed up and these kids are stinkin’ hilarious!)  And I actually got everyone where they needed to be just in the nick of time (though they all still had dirt and river muck on them where they might not have been able to wipe it off before they changed clothes).  I was even able to make my 2 meetings at church with nasty rain/river smeared hair, damp bathing suit under my sweatpants and tank top, and exhausted makeup-less face.

And later last night, after we all had showers and had our pj’s on.  My precious children said, “Thanks for taking us tubing today, Mom.  We had a great time.  It was probably one of the most fun days we’ve had in a long time.”

My standing ovation.


The Price of an R-Rated Movie

Sunshine Boy is closing in on 16 years old in a few months.  In many ways, he’s an extraordinary young man who makes Mr. Sunshine and I very proud.  And in many ways, he’s very much a normal teenage boy, who makes Mr. Sunshine and I cringe.  As such, he has increasingly been asking to see movies we don’t necessarily want him to want to see.  Specifically, R-rated movies.

The other night, as I was in his room saying goodnight (can it still be called tucking him in if he’s almost 6 inches taller than I am?), he asked me if he could see “The Dictator”.  I asked what it was rated.

“R”, he said.

“Don’t you have to be 17 to be able to see an R-rated movie?” I asked pointedly, “How old are you?”


Nice try kid.

To be honest, we have started to allow him to see R-rated movies, and have found out after the fact that he has seen R-rated movies at friends’ houses without our knowledge or permission.  We realize that we are no where near as cool or hip (is that still a word?) as his friends’ parents who all allow their kids to see any R-rated movie they want.  We’re perfectly OK with that.

But when we allow Sunshine Boy to watch an R-rated movie, there is a price to pay beyond the ridiculously priced ticket and concessions. One of us gets to go to the movie with him, and sit with him. This way, it ensures he will be sufficiently uncomfortable during the scenes where he should be uncomfortable.

When I am the tag-along parent, I totally understand that watching sex scenes with your mom is uncomfortable.  That’s pretty much why I’m there.

And there is a “discussion” after the movie.  Always.  Where we talk aboout the movie.  All of it.  Not only does he have to watch any sex scenes in the movie with his mom sitting right next to him, he has to talk aboout it with his mom afterwards.

To be up front and honest, I generally HATE R-rated movies. (I am truly a G-rated movie kind of gal.) But I am trying to allow my son to grow up and be a part of his peer group. (We are well-acquainted with his friends and love and approve of them all, so far.  If a girl enters the picture, all bets are off.)  So if I’m forced to attend one of these R-rated movies as a good parent, I make it worth my time, and I have a little fun with it. There’s no crime in watching my kid squirm a little!

And then we come to Mr. Sunshine….. I am quite certain that when he takes Sunshine Boy to an R-rated movie, he is “one of the boys”. I imagine him springing for the large popcorn and refillable sodas, laughing out loud at all the “right” places, and walking out of the theater, arm around our son’s equally-tall shoulder, both laughing at the raunchy humor.  And probably laughing at how they got away with watching an R-rated movie and both enjoying it, behind my back.  (But not really.)

So Sunshine Boy will probably get to see “The Dictator”.  And so will Mr. Sunshine.  And I will get to avoid seeing it myself (thank God!).  And we’ll all pretend that Mr. Sunshine made Sunshine Boy aware of all of the inappropriate humor while we all know that they just spent “Man Time” together.  And Sunshine Boy would never spend time with his father if anyone actually called it “Man Time” out loud.  But knowing that our time is rapidly shrinking as Sunshine Boy gets closer to a driver’s license, “Man Time” is the price we charge to see an R-rated movie.

It’s a steep price, but I think we’re OK with that.

Neighborhood Covert Operations

Maybe you’ve already picked up on the fact that we tend to be fairly patriotic in our house.  (See Land of the FreeJust American, and Raising Patriots)  Apparently Mr. Sunshine and Sunshine Boy decided to take it to a whole new level today.  But to totally understand, you will need a little more background.

Mr. Sunshine is retired from the US Army.  He takes great pride in the flag that flies in front of our house, and becomes quite perturbed when he sees an American flag in disrepair.

Approximately 3 years ago we had new neighbors move in across the street and almost immediately, they hung a beautiful new American flag on their front porch.  We were tickled pink, and complimented them.  But their flag flies on the eastern side of their house, is often in the shade of the beautiful huge oak tree in their front yard, and their flag gets more moisture than ours and doesn’t tend to dry out completely.  Because of that, it wasn’t long before it began to show wear and tear with dirt and mildew and fading.  To say that it was becoming a thorn in the side of Mr. Sunshine would be an understatement.

Now don’t misunderstand our relationship with these neighbors.  We actually have a very good relationship with them.  We talk often.  We joke around.  We politely confront each other about animal graveyards and barking dogs and roaming dogs and proper outdoor attire.  The wife and I are great supports for each other.  We’ve spent holidays together and gotten to know extended family.  But for some reason, we never felt comfortable bringing up the topic of the flag needing to be replaced and retired.  Mr. Sunshine mentioned to me the idea of replacing it for them, but I nipped that idea in the bud (or so I thought).  I explained that if we  do it for them, much like our children, they won’t learn to take care of it themselves.  (I know I could say this to their faces, and I’m sure they would respond much like my kids:  with an eye roll.)

Then, two weeks ago we went out to dinner with a couple who are like-minded when it comes to flag flying protocol.  They related a story of how the husband had gone out in the wee hours of the morning to replace their neighbor’s worn flag with a brand new one, without the neighbor knowing.  To the best of their knowledge, the neighbor still hadn’t realized they had a new flag flying on their house.  I watched Mr. Sunshine’s eyes light up, and I knew it was just a matter of time before our neighbor’s flag was replaced.

So that brings us to today.  I took our daughter out to spend some gift cards she had been accumulating.  I left Mr. Sunshine and Sunshine boy at home, content in the knowledge that they wouldn’t get into trouble with their list of to-do’s, and just enough time to lounge in the pool before I got home.  Apparently, Mr. Sunshine saw this as his chance to defy my edict.

Mr. Sunshine enlisted Sunshine Boy to go out and buy a flag and new pole for the neighbor, probably as soon as I was out of the driveway.  Then he had him go steal the old flag.

Then Sunshine Boy put the flag/pole kit together, and, according to Mr. Sunshine, paraded across the street as if leading a marching band.  So much for covert.

In the meantime, Mr. Sunshine was here at home, snapping “before”, “during”,  and “after” pictures of the neighbor’s front porch.  My guess is that he was hiding behind the Magnolia tree in case the neighbors came home and caught Sunshine Boy in the act.  Mr. Sunshine would have allowed Sunshine Boy to divert their attention as he made a beeline into the garage, no doubt.

But, they were not caught in the act.  The new flag was hung.  They were proud undercover soldiers.  I received pictures from Sunshine Boy bragging of their success and about what great neighbors we are.

When I got home from shopping, I had to admit that the new flag did look beautiful.  I wondered if and when our neighbors would notice their new flag.  Then the neighbors got home and immediately texted me, asking if we replaced their flag.  (Kind of disappointing that they immediately suspected us, but not really surprising.)  I played dumb on texts at first, until they mentioned what they were going to do with the old flag.  I asked where the old flag was.  “Folded up on the rocker.”

My undercover soldiers left evidence.  So much for covert.

All in all, it turned out great.  The neighbors laughed (they said “lol” in a text, so I know they laughed out loud) and thanked us for the flag.  And now we get to look out our front window and see our neighbor’s beautiful flag flying in the breeze!  Mission accomplished.  Good work soldiers!

Raising Patriots

It has taken me a few days to write this post because, to be honest, it’s kind of embarrassing. But because of what happened, Mr. Sunshine and I have decided to change some things around the hut and turn our surprising revelation into a positive outcome. Here’s what happened:

A few days ago we went out for our daughter’s birthday dinner (albiet, 2 weeks late because of our crazy busy schedules, but that’s probably fodder for another blogpost). We just went to Chili’s and then walked across the parking lot to Dairy Queen for dessert. While we were in Chili’s, some of us finished eating before others. I saw my teenage children break out their phones and iPods and start to disengage with “the family unit”. (No, electronic devices at the dinner table are not the topic of this post either. Again, fodder for another post.) Instead of demanding that they put away their electronics and interact with “the family unit” in a pleasant and fun manner, I decided to fight fire with fire. So I got my phone out and started texting them. (Mr. Sunshine wasn’t too happy until I showed him who and what I was texting.)

Here’s where you’ll need a little background. When my kids were very small and always curious, we used to play a game we named “The Guessing Game”. We played it everywhere. It basically consists of a parent/adult asking the children one at a time a question that they have to answer. The questions were based on their developmental level and, when applicable, what they were learning in school. So the questions might go something like this, “What is our phone number?” “What is your mother’s/father’s full name?” “What does 5+7 equal?” “How do you spell ‘squirrel’?” There are no points awarded. There’s no prize at the end. The reward is the knowledge that you know something. And my kids begged to play this game all the time!

Gradually, we played the game less and less until it faded from our consciousness. Now, back to the present-day Chili’s scene. I started to play The Guessing Game, but by text. I sent them a question by text. They answered by text. The kids were smiling. It was fun! The game migrated with us to Dairy Queen where we ate our desserts outside with other families and while an antique car show was going on.

Once we were at Dairy Queen, I got onto the topic of American Trivia. Mr. Sunshine and I would collaborate and would text each child a question that we believe every American should know the correct answer to. If they got it wrong, I texted, “No, try again.” If they got it wrong a 2nd time, I texted, “No, ask a friend.” (Our son actually called his friend! lol) If they got it wrong a 3rd time, I texted, “No, ask a stranger.” It was a fun and funny experience for the kids, with the exception of the first time they realized we were serious about them asking a stranger for the correct answer to these questions.

Here’s the sad and embarrassing part. They got several of them wrong. Several times. After 10 years of education (both public school and homeschool. I hold us more accountable at home than at public school.) And with a father who served 20+ years in the Armed Forces. To say we were surprised was an understatement.

And strangers got them wrong. Several times. And our hearts were breaking for the country that many of its citizens don’t seem to know intimately. And don’t seem to care that they don’t know intimately.

I won’t share with you which questions my kids (and the general public) got wrong, but I will share with you the questions we asked. See if you know the correct answers (we double checked when we got home to make sure we were correct). Ask your family if they know. I hope and pray that you know more than our kids and our community did a few nights ago. And I can tell you this, by the end of this summer, my kids will know, respect, love, and cherish more about their country than they did a few nights ago.


1. How many states are in the United States?

2. Name one person who signed the Declaration of Independence.

3. How many Senators are in Congress?

4. What is the name of the current Governor of the State of Florida?

5. Who is the Vice President of the United States?

6. Who is the Speaker of the House of Representatives?

7. Who wrote the National Anthem?

8. How many stripes are on the American Flag?

9. Who made the first flag of the United States?

10. How many Congressmembers are there in the House of Representatives?

11. In case of a tie vote, who is the tie breaker in the Senate?

12. How many Justices on the Supreme Court?

13. When was the Declaration of Independence signed?

14. Where was the Star Spangled Banner written?

15. Name the probable candidates for US President for this upcoming election.

I’m not giving you the answers. That’s too easy. Good luck, and if you can think of other questions that every American should know (and that we should teach our kids this sumer), please send them to me!

Just American

My son was working on a school assignment the other night.  He came out to the office where I was working on the computer (AKA:  facebooking) and we had the following conversation.

Him:  “Mom, what nationality am I?”

Me:  (without hesitation) “American”.

Him:  “No, I mean, don’t we have Italian and French and German in us?”

Me:  “If you’re asking about your heritage, yes, you do have all of those.  And Native American and English and Honduran, and probably a few others.  But that is your ancestry, not your nationality.”

Him:  “Well, what about being French-American?  Or Italian-American?  Or Spanish-American?  Aren’t we any of those?”

Me:  “No.  You’re just American.  And you should be thanking God for that privilege.”

(The above picture is actually of the flag on our house.  Wouldn’t it be beautiful if she flew on every house in this nation?)

Spring Break

This week is Spring Break week for our county schools.

Unfortunately for my kids, they had school work to do over the break.  I had encouraged them to get their projects finished early in the break so that the rest of the week can be carefree.  My daughter actually got all of her work done by Sunday night.  My son (who has two substantial-sized extra-credit projects) is still working on his.  He did finish one, but for the second one, he seems to be adopting the “take all week to finish your work so that it stresses you and your mother out for the entire Spring Break” approach.

I also had projects to do over this break.  Much needed home repairs had waited long enough, and I planned to tackle them over this week when I knew I wouldn’t have to stop in the middle of something in order to drive someone to church or golf or school or somewhere outside of walking distance.  I hit the ground running and worked on my projects all weekend.  They migrated into the beginning of the week, but I finished the last one yesterday.

So now, my daughter is free and I’m free for the rest of the week.  And hopefully my son will kick his butt into gear and get his project largely finished so he will have some free time with us.  (Technically his project isn’t due until the end of the month, but let’s be real.  Once he goes back to school and his evenings are filled with homework and church and the “mandatory” video game time, he won’t have nearly as much uniterrupted time to work on it and he should listen to the sound advice of his mother and get as much work done during this week as possible.)

So we’re going to take advantage of this free time by hanging out with friends at our local sports complex to kick around some balls and throw some frisbees.  And eat frozen yogurt.  And we’re going to go to the beach.  And we’ll probably see a movie or shop or eat at the mall.  And we’ll definitely ride our bikes and take the dogs out for walks.  And some of us will stay up late and sleep in late.  And we’ll just take a break from the daily rush.

If you’re lucky enough to be on a break, ENJOY!


A Much Needed Break

The kids standing in front of the cheetahs.

Last week was Semester Exam week here.  My kids spent the last 2 weeks working hard on exam reviews and studying for the exams.  My husband and I worked hard on quizzing them for their exams and making sure they were well-rested and well-fed.  At the end of the week, the school system kindly rewarded us with a 4-day weekend.

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday, and Tuesday was a non-student day.  So the kids and I had a 4-day weekend (Dad had to work both days, unfortunately).  I tend to use these days off from school to make appointments for the kids that would normally require taking them out of school.  This way, they don’t miss school work and there’s no make-up work to worry about.  So we had a doctor appointment on Monday and a dentist appointment on Tuesday.  I now have to make follow-up appointments for more tests and more labs and more work.  Nothing life-threatening, but just more to add to our busy lives and busy schedules.

Thankfully, this time I also made time for some rest and recreation.  We planned a visit to Busch Gardens here in Tampa Bay with some friends.  If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it.  They have some of the best roller coasters I’ve ever been on!  And I’ve been on a lot of roller coasters!  They also have some wonderful shows and animal exhibits.  And the food is excellent (but pricey).

We only got to spend about 4 hours there yesterday.  But the weather could not have been more beautiful.  And the company could not have been more pleasant and entertaining.  And the rides were fun.  And the crowds were small.  And our pace was slowed.  And the air was fresh and we breathed deep (well, except near the elephants and rhinos).  It was a very nice break from all the hectic rush/work/plan/schedule/study/quiz/drive routine we always seem to be in.  And it was much needed.