Getting Personal #140: Welcome Home, Pablo!

Greyhound Love

Image Credit: Pinterest

It’s been a minute since I posted. Mainly because we welcomed a new family member to our home on September 10th. Welcome home, Pablo!

We’ve had him for nearly a month. It’s been exciting, but also challenging.

We’re taking it day by day, but we have a good routine set now. It’s like we had a kid, but he has fur. We love him, though. And he’s super sweet!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #63: “Among The Hidden” (Shadow Children #1)

Among the Hidden

Image Credit: Amazon

If my memory serves me correctly, I bought this from Amazon last summer after reading about it on Thrice Read. It makes sense, because I think this book is one that one of them read in anticipation of teaching it to their students.

Regardless, I thought this was a good book to use in a classroom setting, or to encourage reading in general.

It’s definitely a middle-grade book, designed for younger readers. But, as I was explaining it to Al in the car over the weekend, I thought it was one of those books, and series, that could capture the interest of a boy or young man very easily. At the same time, girls could easily be interested in it, too. As an adult woman, I was definitely intrigued by the story.

Luke, the main character, is a hidden child, in a world where things are changing, and not for the better. There’s this force called the Population Police, and Luke’s family is almost living in fear, afraid that Luke will be discovered, and taken away. Luke is watching his family struggle with their farm, as gorgeous, brand-new houses are built behind them.

Why is Luke a “hidden child”? Why is his family so fearful and protective? Will their farm be shut down? What’s going on with all those brand-new houses behind them? And, who are the Population Police?

It’s a quick read – I breezed through the majority of the book within two nighttime reading sessions. I’m not sure I’m going to read the rest of the series, but I highly recommend it for younger readers. It’s a unique story, blended with several real-life themes and elements that readers can easily relate and identify.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Adventure Time: Florida Edition (Round 3 – Richard Madan’s Celebration of Life & Family Trip)

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Mom, me, and Uncle Richard, on my wedding day, November 2015. Image Credit: Stellar Exposures

It’s a funny thing sometimes, your conscience.

Saturday, April 7th, was my Uncle Richard’s 68th birthday. It was a busy Saturday, but this little voice in my head kept reminding me to call him for his birthday. Between a successful blood drive and going out to dinner with our friends Casey and Beth, that voice kept at it. I had a wonderful 20-minute conversation with my uncle that night. I could almost hear his smile in his voice.

Little did I know, that would be the last time I would hear him speak.

The following Tuesday, April 10th, my parents called after Al and I finished dinner. I could tell my dad was hesitating about something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Finally, the words that always signal bad news to me came out of his mouth: “Are you sitting down?”

My uncle had been in a car accident, near his house in Miami, Florida. Immediately after the accident, he was found unconscious in his SUV. Thankfully, medical personnel got him to the nearest hospital in time to save his life.

It was a flurry of activity that week. Mom flew down on Sunday, April 15th. My dad drove 17 hours straight from Monday night into Tuesday morning. They started organizing his house while visiting the hospital daily. Originally, there was hope of rehabilitation, and eventual discharge to some sort of assisted living facility.

But, the stroke was worse than everyone had thought. More moderate to severe. He wasn’t speaking, or eating. My mom made some of the most gut-wrenching decisions in terms of aggressive treatment and resuscitation. Thankfully, my dad was there by her side.

We knew things were near the end when he was transferred to an excellent hospice unit of another medical center. At five minutes to midnight, on Wednesday, April 25th, he passed away peacefully.

I had the opportunity to attend his Celebration of Life, and help spread his ashes. I took a full week off of work, and I’m so glad that I did.


Thursday, May 17th

I was very fortunate to find a seat on the same American Airlines flight as a friend from church. Her wonderful husband drove both of us to the airport. Aside from some unruly thunderstorms, it was an uneventful flight, direct from Norfolk to Miami. This was my first time on a plane in nearly three years!

After an adventure getting the rental car, my parents met us at Kathy’s hotel in Coconut Grove. My parents took me back to Richard’s house in Miami, where I saw first-hand the fruits of their labor. In the four weeks they had been living there, they cleaned everything out, painted everything, and deep cleaned the carpet. They hand-scrubbed half of the back deck, and were preparing to cut a big branch of the beautiful mango tree that was hanging over the deck. We picked at least 100 mangoes! I was very impressed with their work.

For dinner, we went out to Il Bambino, a wonderful Italian restaurant nearby. They spent several hours with Shirley and Bill, dear friends of my grandparents. They’ve been married for 65 years!


Friday, May 18th

The Celebration of Life was scheduled for Friday evening at Plymouth Congregational Church, and there was a lot to do before then. This is the church where my mom and uncle grew up. I have many memories of this amazing church since I was a kid.

Our friends Debbie and Lucy flew down from Virginia on Friday morning, and they stayed at one of the church guest houses. Plymouth is a sprawling church campus – 17 buildings on more than 11 acres of beautiful, lush, tropical land!

Kathy was wonderful – Between Mom, Dad, her, and me, we loaded multiple food trays from Publix into the rented Kia van and my uncle’s Durango SUV in the afternoon. We had plenty of time to get everything set up at the church before the celebration was scheduled to begin.

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The entrance table.

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I helped buy the guest book. I thought it was fitting that we had several Pan Am pens for people to use.

These photos are just some of the memorabilia from National Airlines and Pan Am. Richard was hired as a flight attendant by National Airlines in 1973. National merged with Pan Am in 1980. Richard flew with Pan Am until the company’s demise in 1991. He also worked as an instructor and trainer.

There were amazing letters from passengers, too, complimenting Richard on his professionalism, service, and more!

We had 50 people come to the celebration, which exceeded our expectations. We laughed more than we cried. Mom spoke. I spoke, telling the story of my conscience telling me to make that phone call. A dear friend from Plymouth, Dickie, echoed my words and implored everyone to “make that call.”

Richard’s best friend, Michael, an Episcopal priest, shared stories of their 45-year friendship. We could tell that Richard’s death has affected Michael greatly, since Michael called my uncle every night and they talked for an hour. Every night. For years. Now, he can’t make those calls any more.

A few flight attendant friends also spoke, but most of the evening was very much a beautiful, non-alcoholic wake. I was so happy to see so many friends, and to catch up with them and learn more about their lives. We sent everyone home with food, and by 11:00 p.m., we were beyond ready for bed!


Saturday, May 19th

Saturday started early. In preparation to sell Richard’s house, the wonderful real estate agent (who happens to be married to Plymouth’s amazing associate pastor) asked that one of the big branches of the backyard mango tree be cut down.

No problem!

I got to use power tools, and work with my dad and our good friend, Tim. Tim was a business associate of my grandfather’s and Richard for years. Tim’s kids, Timmy and Megan, grew up with me. Tim’s wife, Nancy, told me that whenever they told Timmy and Megan that we were coming to visit, they would get so excited. One of the best area restaurants is The Big Cheese Miami, and Timmy and Megan knew that when the Strickers were coming to visit, that meant a trip to The Big Cheese for everyone!

This was part of the branch that hung right over the deck. Not great appeal to potential homebuyers. It had to go!

That’s Tim, using the special mango picker. We also picked a bunch with pruners, and by hand!

We filled this crate, and two other big boxes, full of mangoes. My dad printed signs for the boxes, imploring people in the neighborhood to come and take mangoes!

The branch is gone! We set up the patio furniture, too, which I hosed down.

You can see where we cut several huge branches, in the left of the picture.

All clean!

After working in the backyard, Mom and I showered. We met Kathy, Debbie, and Lucy at Plymouth. We drove over to Terri’s gorgeous condo in Coral Gables, where she was hosting us for lunch.

The beautiful tropical plants surrounding the entrance.

Terri and Walter’s condo is on the 15th floor, and the elevator stops at their place. Such opulence! A few steps in, there are gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows that give a panoramic view of Miami, Key Biscayne, and more.

The most beautiful orchids – They were everywhere!

Lunch was delicious, and it was so nice for my mom to have some “girl time.” I think Terri was pleased to host, and we learned more about her, too. She and my mom have been friends since third grade. Terri’s mom was Richard’s 5th and 6th grade teacher, and my grandmother was the “room mom,” so naturally, their families became friends. Terri was also a flight attendant with Richard for several years.

After lunch, we went back to Plymouth to spread Richard’s ashes. Plymouth has a beautiful memorial garden, with nameplates of those who have passed on. My grandfather, Norman Madan, and grandmother, Grace Madan, have nameplates already. Richard’s will be added soon. It was overcast, but wonderful words were spoken by Michael, and Moira McGuinn, one of the church’s amazing associate pastors. Mom, Dad, Michael, Moira, and I all took turns spreading his ashes in the garden.

As we were concluding the ceremony, I heard an airplane flying overhead. Perfect symbolism, in my opinion.

After we finished, we showed Kathy, Debbie, and Lucy the church and the grounds. It’s such an impressive place. Here’s some photos.

We went back to the house, where Mom and Dad met with the real estate agent. While that was happening, the rest of us packed our rented Chevy Tahoe full of the remaining items that needed to come home to Virginia. Kathy is an expert packer, so we had the job done in just a few hours.

By then, we were famished. I called The Big Cheese for takeout, and Dad drove me to pick it up. We did family style. All I cared about were their amazing garlic knots, but the rest of the food was divine.


Sunday, May 20th

Mom, Dad, and I left Miami around 10:00 a.m. We headed toward Seminole, on the west coast of Florida, to see my Grandpa Stricker. He’s 92 and doing great! I was so happy to get to see him, since I was woefully overdue for a visit.

I was happy to help Mom and Dad with the driving. Along the way, we stopped for lunch in Port Charlotte, Florida, to visit with our dear friends Rick and Kyle Watts. Rick and Kyle were Mom and Dad’s neighbors in Virginia Beach before I came along, and we’ve kept in touch all these years. They are currently taking care of Kyle’s mom, and Kyle herself has been keeping a close eye on Rick. He got a new heart via transplant in February, and overall, he’s doing great! It was so nice to see them – It had been too long.

We got to Grandpa’s in the early evening. We had leftovers from previous meals. Mom and I both showered, and turned in early. I got almost 12 hours of sleep!

Before Mom and I went to bed, she noticed this amazing male angina bird outside the window. Unlike other birds, they don’t produce oil to help dry their wings. So, when they get wet, they perch in a tree and spread their wings to help them dry out. We stood at the windows and watched this guy for nearly 30 minutes!


Monday, May 21st

We had coffee early, but knew Grandpa wanted to take us to breakfast. There’s an awesome hole-in-the-wall place near his house called Suzie Q’s Diner. Amazing food!!

This was my delicious breakfast – Their special spinach, mushroom, and Swiss omelet. Complete with hash browns and sourdough toast. Mmmmm!

After breakfast, Dad and I cruised around, seeing how much Seminole has changed in the last few years. The old Seminole Mall that we shopped at and the Cinemas 8 we went to in the summers is long gone – Now replaced by the hip and trendy Seminole City Center. There’s everything anybody could want there – Shops, restaurants, a LA Fitness gym, an upscale movie theater, and more. Very impressive.

We had lunch at home, but went out to dinner at the local Applebee’s. After dinner, we came home and vegged. We watched Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and an episode of Antiques Roadshow before I turned in for the night.


Tuesday, May 22nd

We got up at 4:15 a.m. – My usual!

We were on the road about an hour later, preparing for the long haul drive home. I’m glad I decided to drive back with Mom and Dad. I was able to help out with driving both vehicles. Plus, I spent some quality time with both of them.

We stopped once in every state – Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. It all worked out. It was just a long marathon, 14 hours of driving.

Mom and Dad dropped me off at home around 7:00 p.m. – It was a nice end to a great trip.


I’m sad that my uncle passed away, but I’m grateful for my parents. I’m grateful that they’re both retired and were able to travel when they did. They spent 38 days together in a 940-square foot house – A true test to their 36-year marriage! They were a great team. There’s still more work to be done, but they accomplished quite a long list in the five weeks that they spent together in Miami. A true roller coaster of emotions.

I’m grateful that my work provides such generous PTO. I’m grateful that my colleagues were so understanding, and they appreciate the importance of family. I’m glad that I was able to spend the time off with my family, and seeing many wonderful friends.

Hold your family and friends close. Time is precious. Time is valuable.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #116: Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad V.!

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With Al on our wedding day, November 2015.

Image may contain: 7 people, including Savy Beng Vardaro, Nick Vardaro, Laura Beth Vardaro and Al Vardaro, people smiling, people standing and indoor

I’m pretty sure this is the most recent picture of us. This was taken at Andy Boy’s, a local pizza place, for Momma V.’s birthday, March 2018.

Happy Anniversary to Al’s parents, Mom and Dad Vardaro!

It’s easy to remember how many years they’ve been married, because my parents have been married for the exact same number of years. Crazy, right? Both sets of parents got married in 1982, just in different months!

Bruce and Debbie, I hope you both had a great day today!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #114: Happy Birthday, Dad!

Father-daughter dance. Dad and I danced to "Carolina In My Mind" by James Taylor. This was a surprise for my mom as well - Dad played this song when he proposed to Mom!

Image Credit: Stellar Exposures

Today is my Dad’s birthday!

Writing this post makes me realize we need to take more pictures.

This is one of my favorite photos. This was taken during my birthday dinner last August, when Mom and Dad surprised me with “the gift I’d always wanted” – So many laughs!

I think this is the most recent photo of us, taken in October at Nick and Savy’s wedding.

Have a wonderful day today, Dad! We can’t wait to see you on Saturday for the 18th Anniversary blood drive, and take you out to dinner to truly celebrate soon.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Adventure Time: Norfolk, VA Edition (Round 3 – American Red Cross “Celebration of Heroes” Luncheon)

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This was the luncheon program. I think the “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Acts” tagline is so fitting!

I had such a unique and special adventure today!

My dad and our church have been honored several times from the local chapter of the American Red Cross, headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia.

Today, my dad, Jim, and two co-coordinators of the church blood drives, Kathy and Michael, were honored and recognized as the American Red Cross Coastal Virginia “Blood Drive Heroes” during the “Celebration of Heroes” luncheon. It was held at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel. It was outstanding!

Shannon Revels, our blood drive Donor Recruiting Account Manager was the one who submitted the nomination. We were also introduced to Marissa Nihill, Executive Director, Coastal Virginia American Red Cross, Norfolk.

The room was full. Kathy and I had the opportunity and honor to sit with heroes Daniel “Dan” Jones and Gilbert “Smitty” Smith. Dan saved a woman from drowning in the James River in Richmond last summer, and Smitty performed the Heimlich maneuver and other lifesaving acts on a family member, thanks to his first-responder training.


Photo montage!

The tables were beautifully decorated!

The welcome slide of the PowerPoint.

Blood Drive Heroes!

The food was amazing!!

Emcee Ashley Smith, from 13 News Now, was outstanding!

Marissa Nihill, Executive Director, delivers closing remarks.

Every hero/heroes had a framed biography / back story outside the ballroom.

This is Dad’s award. Kathy and Michael’s are identical, with their names engraved.


I know I’m a little biased, focusing on Dad, Kathy, and Michael. However, every single person who was honored today has an amazing story. Everyone was so humble and appreciative!

Here’s the full list of heroes:

  • Disaster Response Hero – Keene Black
  • Coastal Chapter Humanitarian Hero – Jennifer Boykin
  • Community Impact Hero – Judy Fundak
  • First Aid Hero – Daniel Jones
  • Services to Armed Forces Hero – Jason Redman
  • Community Impact Hero – Samuel Clyde Smith
  • Emergency Responder Hero – Gilbert “Smitty” Smith
  • Lifesaving Heroes – Shane McCoy & Clifford Johnson
  • Water Rescue Heroes – Desiree Joseph, Sean Logan, Josh Turner
  • Blood Drive Heroes – Jim Stricker, Michael Strickland, Kathy Williamson
  • Corporate Humanitarian Hero – Dollar Tree

Together, these heroes provided significant relief after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, saved people from drowning and choking, served our country bravely through the military, organized countless blood drives, and much more. It was incredible. Kevin Gaydosh, Co-Chair, Board of Directors of the Coastal Chapter, gave several statistics about the chapter’s efforts in 2017. We noted that there were more than 48,329 units of blood donated!! That’s incredible.

It was such a special event. I got emotional several times. Several heroes received standing ovations. It was incredible to witness, and I’m glad that I was able to be a part of it.

It’s fitting this luncheon was held a week before our next blood drive. It’s also our 18th Anniversary blood drive! If you’re in the Hampton Roads area on Saturday, April 7th, we’d love to see you stop by and Give the Gift of Life.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Adventure Time: Scottsburg, VA Edition (Round 6 – The Bengdaro Wedding!)

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This was the bottom of their Polaroid photo-esque hanging photo booth!

This was the weekend we’d all been waiting for. For nearly two years, we eagerly cheered on Nick and Savy as they planned the wedding of their dreams!

Come along with me as I take you on this grand adventure!


Friday, October 13th

Al and I got up at 4:15 a.m., our normal weekday wake-up call. However, we quickly drank some coffee, and made sure we had everything important in my car. We left our driveway at 5:00 a.m. sharp!

Aside from one hasty bathroom break for me, we made it to the Beautiful Morning Farm (a.k.a., the Vardaro Farm) around 8:30 a.m. Al kept me awake with stories, water, and jelly beans!

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I think Savy took this on Thursday? I can’t remember. Regardless, this is our favorite niece, Mia. She was gathering greenery for the centerpieces. She turned 12 on Monday! Photo Credit: Savy Beng Vardaro


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This was the choose-your-own-adventure sign at the welcome table!


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Hand-painted by Savy! Isn’t she talented?


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The full photo booth, with the pond in the background.


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The pole barn, where the reception took place. The bounce house was awesome!


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Savy painted these epic cornhole boards for Mom and Dad V. several Christmases ago!


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Setting up the ceremony space!


Saturday, October 14th

I was impressed that I got eight hours of sleep. The farm was buzzing very early on Saturday morning – Savy’s family got up early for coffee and breakfast! Al’s mom was the perfect hostess and had plenty of coffee, plus egg casserole, donuts, and cereal on hand.

Around 10:00 a.m., everything got started. I was lucky enough to get my makeup done by an amazing make-up artist (MUA).

We had spouts of busy and crazy, but it was fairly relaxed, since the festivities didn’t truly start until 4:30 p.m.

Al took this awesome photo of Mia!


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This was Savy’s GORGEOUS bouquet. She designed it! So unique, so Savy.

Nick and Savy did a “First Look,” and Amanda had a field day with the two of them. So many amazing shots.

Then, the Red Army started off the wedding with a bang! The color red symbolizes good luck, and everyone made a ton of noise to scare off the bad juju and usher in celebration for the bride and groom. We had drummers. We shouted. We hollered. Flags were waved. There were bubble guns. Al flew his quadcopter above us!

 

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The Red Army processional! Photo Credit: Dan Harris.

The ceremony was beautiful and touching. The officiant, Christina, quoted The Princess Bride. Nick and Savy never stopped smiling. Nick wrote a special set of vows to Mia, and he gave her a beautiful necklace. I loved how they included her in the ceremony!

After the kiss and final music, the party began! We took family photos, and then Amanda whisked Nick and Savy away for more photos. The farm was the perfect setting – I can’t wait to see the official photos!

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I don’t know who took this particular photo, but it was requested that Nick and Savy, Al and I, and Crystal and Steven got photos together. Amanda was the photographer at all three weddings!


The handsome groom, Nick, and the stunningly beautiful bride, Savy!

 

My dad took this awesome photo of Al and I. It’s my new favorite.


We ate off of cafeteria trays, and head lamps were our favors. “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”


The gorgeous centerpieces. Everything was either handmade or found.


My parents!


Mia is showing the beautiful sea turtle necklace that Nick gave to her during the ceremony. All of us ugly cried.


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Photo Credit: Dan Harris.


Cornhole!


The paper cranes were beautiful!


The bounce house, with slides!


The cake table.


The cards collection was an old guitar case!


The memory table.


Two of the amazing bellydancers, Ginger and Rachel!

There was SO MUCH FOOD. The estimate was roughly three pounds of meat per person – Basically 300 pounds in all!

During the reception, we had lively music, three incredible bellydancers, Paolo the juggler and fire performer, and more food! Nick and Savy danced to “Fools Rush In,” and Nick and his mom danced to “Simple Man.”

Uncle Dan captured this incredible shot of Paolo!! Photo Credit: Dan Harris.

And then, we danced!


Sunday, October 15th

After an amazing Saturday, we wound down the weekend on Sunday. Breakfast was simple, and Al and I hung around until 2:30 p.m. We took home tons of leftovers – Pot roast, pork butt, and BBQ chicken! I won’t have to cook at all this week – Thanks, Chuck and Angie!

Al and I got home safely around 6:00 p.m., and vegged out!

Everyone came together to make this weekend absolutely spectacular for Nick and Savy. For me, personally, I gained a sister and a niece, so I’m beside myself with happiness.

Al and I were thrilled to be a small part of it!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂