5 Things I Learned About Applying To College and Getting Financial Aid

It was late at night, around 10 p.m., when I hit “send” and filed my very last FAFSA form. It’s a stressful time of year. I have to complete my tax return first and it seems like everyone I’ve ever worked for is a procrastinator. They mail the W-2s and the 1099s on January 31st, even the large corporation where I worked in a cubicle. The corporation that stressed time management and efficiency, but wasted so much time on employee meetings about time management and efficiency, no one got the W-2s out until the deadline.

I have filled out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for 15 years now. First, I helped my sister with her boys returns. They were born five years apart, so that spanned nine years, with a one year break. Then, it was my turn. My brother-in-law and my husband are self-employed, a landscaper and a house painter. So there’s a lot of bookkeeping to do before filing a Schedule C. My brother-in-law was a lot better at record keeping than my husband. One of my chores is a year-end trip to my husband’s truck to search for receipts that have fallen between the seats or are buried under drop cloths or stuffed into the bottom of a box of paint cans.

I’ve seen financial aid go through a lot of changes over the years. Gone are the days when I attended college and a middle class family with a stay-at-home mom could send four kids to college without refinancing the house.These are the years when the middle class is getting squeezed. Aid gets cut and tuition continues to rise. The median household income in 2014 was $53,891. The cost of attending a state university, including room and board, is around $32,000. Private colleges can be as high as $56,000. Daunting, isn’t it?

So, here’s some advice. Keep in mind that it’s anecdotal. I am sharing my experience in the hopes it might help you too.

1. Keep an open mind. I’m talking about your student here. For families that need financial aid to help pay for college, there are no dream schools. There is no early acceptance application. Your child can certainly apply to their dream school, but they need to understand that the Rolling Stones got it right: “You don’t always get what you want, but if you keep an open mind, you might just get what you need.” In today’s world, you need a college degree.

Explain the importance of earning a degree, but also talk realistically about the expense. Make it clear they may have to go to the school that makes the best offer. I made an Excel spreadsheet detailing tuition/scholarships/grants/loans, with the bottom line of DEBT YOU WILL OWE AFTER GRADUATING highlighted in yellow. It was anywhere from $24,000 to $180,000. Trust me, most 18-year-olds will understand these numbers.

2. Choose your schools wisely. Visit them. Make sure your child will be comfortable at each of the schools he or she applies to, because any one of them could be The One. My oldest applied to nine schools and my youngest applied to six. Sounds expensive, right? Not really, when you consider the potential package you might get. Some applications cost as little as $35. A lot of private universities have programs with high schools to waive the application fee. I spent from $450 to $600 and received combined packages of University grants, scholarships, and Stafford loans in the thousands. It is well worth the up front expenditure.

3. Your student does not need to be an A+ student to earn a scholarship. Neither one of my daughters were, and they both received scholarships and grants. Look for up-and-coming schools. Do your research. There are plenty of websites that can help you get the best bang for your buck.

4. Private schools are not necessarily going to cost you more. State universities have been hit hard with state budget cuts. They are also courting out-of-state students because they pay higher tuition. When applying to college, have a good mix of state and private schools. When all was said and done, my kids ended up at private colleges whose bottom line, DEBT YOU WILL OWE AFTER GRADUATING, was less than both the University of New Hampshire and Plymouth State, where they received only Stafford loans. And oh, of course there was that rather large loan they offer to parents. Make it clear to your student you will not be accepting that. An 18-year-old has a lot more years to pay off a reasonable debt than you do. You need to be saving for retirement.

5. Make sure you have a well rounded application. Decent grades, sports, theater or music activities, and a good essay. The essay really matters. Schools want to hear the student’s voice. Lots of kids nowadays are attending expensive camps and workshops, taking SAT prep classes and playing elite sports. The college essay is your student’s chance to stand out as an individual.

College is the beginning of the real world. It’s a time to learn how to live on your own, compromise,and make the most of the roadblocks and opportunities life sends your way. Most families can’t provide their kids with the expensive school of their dreams. But with a little work and an open mind, they can give their kids an education that will get them off to a great start without a mountain of debt.

***This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Day Dream Believer: From Wisconsin to Nashville

*** This is the 2nd blog in a series of interviews with baby boomers who are pursuing their dreams. 

Anette headshot

I met Annette Stellick at my first apartment complex in Florida. She was working in the property management office and as these things so often go when two kindred spirits meet, we started talking about our plans to pursue the things we really wanted to do. The last time we met was at a Panera near my new apartment where we promised to keep in touch and help each other along our path to finding professional fulfillment.

So Annette, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Where do I begin to tell a story of a girl from Wisconsin? I distinctly remember a time in grade school when my third grade teacher asked me to come up to the chalk board to answer some problems. The only problem with this was I wasn’t sure what subject we were on. I was literally up amongst the clouds. I turned to my school mate and asked her what subject we were on. She looked at me strangely and replied, “We are on Math, geez.  Where have you been?” After some similar incidents, I was told I was slow and had to go to a “special class” for part of the day.

It’s a terrible thing to be young and have your confidence shattered, isn’t it?

Yes it is, but there was a nun that we worked with who started to notice that I had been catching on very quickly and didn’t seem to need the help that the others needed. She had a theory that maybe I just liked the one on one attention I was receiving.  Since I would finish early with the school work, she began asking me to go ahead and spend the rest of the class time writing short stories. I am thankful to that kind teacher to this day, and I am also thankful that I was placed in the “dumb class” as this gave me a gift, a confirmation that I could write something that someone thought was worth reading.

Let’s talk about your music. When I last saw you, just before you left for Nashville, you mentioned you had a music publishing deal. How did you become interested in music?

I started to play percussion in my senior year. After I was in band for a few months I was asked to go to the advanced band with a teacher called Mr. Vavor. A teacher with a disposition such as his might as well have been named Darth! He had a reputation as being one of the most eccentric and temperamental teachers in school. I passed on being moved to the “upper band” but I still had a great experience with my classmates as we went on to win the state medal for a percussion ensemble that year.

More naysayers. How did you overcome that?

I met my husband, Rodney “Drac” Gibson in Minneapolis. What a character he was! His total unique “strangeness” soon had me falling in love with him. We were from two completely different worlds yet our minds and goals were much alike. My parents were not too thrilled with their youngest daughter being with a musician, and someone who was not the same race as me. They didn’t look at who he was, they only looked at the fear of what they thought my life would be. I was taking a path that was risky and not at all what they imagined or wanted for their daughter.

Yes, my parents were a bit like that. Instead of encouraging me to follow my dreams, they focused on job security. They wanted me and my siblings to take the safe, well travelled path. How did you overcome that?

During that time, my fear would cripple me, until one evening when Rodney heard me sing as we were driving in the car and asked, “Why in the world don’t you sing in front of people and what are you so afraid of?”

It was that moment in the car when I realized he was right and decided that I should not try to stay away from opportunities presented to me just because of fear. Do it afraid!  And when I did, the fear went away.

Do it afraid! I like that. And you did do it, right?

Yes, and as we pursued music together, we received a Grammy nomination and Dove nominations for a band called “DOC”. I helped with writing and ideas, and sang. My husband did all this as well as rapping on the tracks and developing/producing the band. Also producing on this project was our friend Tedd Tjornhom,  who we have now joined forces with once again. They are both brilliant producers. The songs that they collaborate on are dynamic and unique.

I also worked in sales with various companies in property leasing and management. I went into the more conventional fields after I became pregnant with our first child. I was not sure how to handle raising children and going to auditions. I just was not that organized! I wanted as much time with my children as I could get. I figured they grow up too fast, and then it’s too late. During this time, my husband and I formed a band called the “Funky Vadican”. We played in various clubs such as First Avenue in Minneapolis. We started to build a good reputation. The newspaper reviews and audiences compared us to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Eyed Peas.

So what happened next? How did you end up in the property management office in South Florida where I met you?

In 2001 the music industry took a big hit after the destruction of the twin towers. The independent labels were no longer able to survive and production projects were hard to come by. We had decided to diversify and start a business with production in video and web marketing. Later, after having produced several TV commercials, we made the big move to sunny Florida.
Florida was not exactly the promised land, we were hit with many hardships. But with much effort we did cultivate relationships with video industry professionals. During this six year time frame, I worked for another property management company. It was not what I wanted to do, it actually felt like a jail sentence. But we all have a bottom line. I had to keep telling myself it was temporary.

And now here you are, back in Nashville pursuing your dreams once again.

In October 2014, we moved to Nashville with a publishing deal that also included writing deals for our aspiring children who had impressed the publishers with songs they had submitted throughout the previous year. I am very excited that at this moment I am able, along with my family, to write songs for artists and major labels while cultivating my own career as an artist. With the great writing styles and musicianship of our family, along with the production of Tedd T and my husband, Rodney Drac, we expect the songs to be released in 2015 which should start us back on track to the Grammys once again.

Despite my parents’ decision to give into their fears, twenty three years later we have three amazing kids and they have now decided to follow in the risky business of their parents. I didn’t plan on this, I thought someone in our family would have chosen a normal career, but I didn’t put those desires or talents there, God did.

I don’t care what age one might feel is appropriate for dream catching. If the dream is still inside you, what’s stopping you from attaining it? Fear, discouragement, lack of a 401K? Maybe, just maybe, if you keep doing what you love and listen to that little, nagging voice inside, you just might make more money doing what you love than you would ever see staying at your “safe” job. It’s OK to still dream. Dreams do not have an age requirement.

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Annette. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
Annette is currently working on a website, but in the meantime you can connect with her through her music publisher R1Way Publishing 

Annette is also planning to publish her first children’s novel in the very near future, return to acting, and and she and her husband are currently working on a sitcom. She is one busy lady, proving it is never too late to pursue your dreams.

Turn The Page

Life kicks you around once in awhile. People don’t always understand what you’re trying to do.

There are days when everything goes wrong. A client lays you off due to lack of work. A virtual stranger sends a not so nice email. Your husband is laid up with a back injury.

You wonder what you’re doing. Will I ever get this thing called a lifetime right?

Losing confidence in yourself can really set you back. Your doubts and fears keep you awake at night. Will I succeed? How do we pay the bills? Am I dreaming an unrealistic dream? Does anyone care? Will the doors ever open?

In the end, there are only so many minutes and hours and days in a lifetime. We are all responsible for our own happiness. Are you going to wallow in self-pity or pick yourself up and keep going?

These are the times when I turn up the volume, block out the noise, and through the magic of music, I calm my weary soul and start a new story.  Every day there’s a story to write. A new chapter. A fresh start. It’s true what they say. Yesterday is over. Tomorrow may never come. All we have is today. This minute, this hour, this day. How do you want to spend it?

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”   ~Ernest Hemingway


A Pompous Ass: My Brush with New York Literati

The world is full of nasty people. Pompous, self-absorbed types with hidden agendas and strange ulterior motives.

I met one of these people yesterday. Well, actually it began the night before. I found a website that is akin to a modern day Reader’s Digest. A compilation of the best of everything from books to music to magazine and newspaper articles. The author’s opinion of the best of what’s around.

I found this man on a Facebook friend’s page. He made a comment on a post and I recognized his name but I couldn’t remember how I knew him. I clicked on his picture, it brought me to his homepage. Ah yes, I’d read his articles in various magazines. He’s a well-connected New York writer.

I sent him a friend request because isn’t that the way Facebook is supposed to work? You make friends with your friends’ friends. It’s a way to meet people who share your interests. It is also a tool for expanding your network if you happen to be selling something like books.

It was on his page that I discovered his newsletter, so I signed up. There was an option to send an email, so I did. I introduced myself and told him I was a busy author and bookkeeper who didn’t have a lot of time to surf the Web and was happy to be receiving his newsletter.

He replied “and what am I supposed to do for you?” My first reaction was, “What a prick.” I was put off by his tone. Here I was a fan, following his website, and this is how he replied? I should have trusted my instincts.

Instead I sent a reply. “I signed up for your newsletter. I believe you will be sending it? Unless I misread your pitch. You got me with Astral Weeks. I’ve loved the album for a very long time. Just wanted to say thanks. Nothing more.”

“Ah. Delightful. Tell me about your new book,” he answered.

So I did, because he asked. I told him I don’t have a book blurb yet but I gave him my pitch. This is all taking place at around eleven p.m. I had to work the next morning so I hit send and went to bed.

The next day, while sitting at a red light, I checked my email. There was the somewhat well-known writer. “Suggestion. Why don’t you send me your first chapter or 1000 pages.”

Now you tell me who wouldn’t jump at that offer? I was flabbergasted. I wasn’t looking for this in the least when I signed up for his newsletter. I never expected anything like that, but he was offering, and I’d be crazy not to take him up on it. He’s connected, he’s a published author, he writes for well respected magazines. He can open doors that are impossible to get through.

I told him I was working at the accounting desk all day but I’d send the chapter later that evening. And I did. As soon as I got home, because I admit it, I was excited and flattered.

Ten minutes later he ripped me apart. Tore me to shreds. Sucker punched me. Deflated my ego.

He opened the email with:

S –

No salutation. He couldn’t even type the five other letters in my name.

He told me we were complete opposites. He compared me to Tom Robbins. Remember Still Life With Woodpecker? I read it years ago, in high school or college, I think. I enjoyed it back then. I don’t think my writing is anything like Robbins but I’m not taking the comparison as an insult, although I gather he meant it as one because he added this: “It’s a tough sell.”

“What I TOTALLY push is what George Orwell called “prose as a windowpane” – everything you avoid,” he said.

He went on to say, “Here is the start of my novel, just to make it clear.”

Then he included about a 1000 words from the start of HIS new novel.

So I guess what he’s saying is, I need to write like him. I need a voice like his.

At the end of the excerpt from his novel he started dripping sarcasm.

“I wish I could help you. But more, I wish you made it easier for the reader. In Paragraph one he’s in Winslow. In Paragraph three he’s in Houston.”

And here’s where he really laid it on. “Dull me asks How? When?”

Well to be honest, three other people read this book and weren’t confused. But then again, they aren’t famous writers for famous New York magazines. But I will take this piece of criticism under advisement and possibly add some extra guidance for the dull readers.

He continued on with the oh woe is me, silly dull me thing. “I’m just too…limited for this kind of fiction. If I read you wrong, correct me.”

Then he signs XX with his initials.

Talk about a window into someone’s soul. I felt like a peeping Tom peering into a very bitter, angry man’s bedroom. What was his point in attacking me? Constructive criticism is always welcome. This was another story.

I realize the well connected, privileged folks who know the right people who open the doors to the hallowed halls of publishing think they are smarter than mere middlebrow Americans, but I didn’t ask him to read my book. I didn’t ask him for any favors. I signed up for his newsletter and dropped him a line saying I was glad I found him. His email was right there, he welcomed comments.

For about ten minutes my heart was pounding and I had a lump in my throat. Then I said, fuck that prick. He’s not going to deter me. I unfriended him on Facebook. I Unsubscribed to his newsletter. I sent an email reply.

“Oh no, I hear you loud and clear. Thank you again for taking the time to read my first chapter.”

Then I sat down and wrote this blog.

“I have written before and I will write again.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

It Could Be Worse

When my children were young one of our favorite storybooks was a tale by James Stevenson titled Could Be Worse! It’s the story of a grandfather whose grandchildren think he’s boring because every day he has the same marmalade and toast for breakfast while reading the newspaper. Whatever daily mishaps occur, from splinters to flat tires, he always says the same thing. Could Be Worse!

Until one day when he invents a tall tale of an incredible adventure that includes an abominable snowman, a giant blob of marmalade, an adventure at sea in a teacup, and other far-fetched mishaps. The story ends with the grandfather asking, “What do you think of that?” and on the very last page, his grandkids shout, “Could Be Worse!

I have taken on a lot of work during the tax season. As always with accounting, most of it is boring and tedious. Scanning paperwork, paying bills, data entry on Excel spreadsheets. There is never that sense of accomplishment when you finish writing a book or painting a house or teach a child how to read. I have never heard an accountant say, “Look at this tax return I finished. What a beautiful refund.” Or “How about this report? Do you see the balance and symmetry, how the debits equal the credits. Amazing.”

But it’s always paid the bills, provided the health insurance, and it could be worse. One day this past week, I actually had a pretty good day creating a travel log for a truck driver who had brought in a large stack of of reports detailing his travels. The papers were curling at the edges and covered with coffee stains. My boss wanted them on Ye Old Excel Spreadsheet.

Date. Miles Driven. Destination. Flip the paper. Date. Miles Driven. Destination. An entire year of entries.

There is no listening to music in this office but I found a way to do this tedious task while escaping to a place I love. I was lost in my mind. For you see, I am happiest when I am on the road, the highway stretching before me. This is how the last hour of my day went:

We loaded the truck and left South Florida early in the morning. Rolling past scrub palmetto, a flock of flamingos flew overhead, and the tales I shared with the trucker took us all the way to New Orleans. I told him about the Mardi Gras party I crashed at Al Hirt’s house when I was twenty five. A late night at Tippitina’s, 3 a.m. and who walks onto the stage but none other than the legendary Etta James. The boy outside the bar who looked like Jackson Browne.

The road west out of New Orleans brings us across miles of long straight bridges bisecting the bayou. Crossing the border into Texas and heading south to San Antonio we pass ranches with windmills and cacti. Eagles fly overhead and an escaped bull slows us down as he crosses the empty highway.

I tell the trucker about the last time I passed through this part of the country. My girlfriend and I pulled into a gas station and noticed something leaking beneath the car. We went into the small office where the owner was watching a soap opera with two female friends. We told him what was happening and he said, “I’ll take a look in ten minutes, this show’s almost over.” They were watching All My Children, which they referred to as All My Kids. He gave us each an ice cold Coca-Cola from the classic red cooler with the bottle opener on the side, and because we were familiar with the series we sat down and watched too.

Outside in the brilliant Texas sunshine, he checked under the hood, started my car, drove it forward, and took a look at the puddle of liquid on the hot pavement. He dipped his finger in, sniffed, and then licked the tip. “You girls been using the A.C?” he asked.

“Yes,” we admitted.

“It’s water.” He laughed. He checked our license plate. “You two from New York?”

“No, Rhode Island.”

“Yeah, that’s in New York, right?”

“Umm, no.” We didn’t want to insult the nice guy so we politely explained Rhode Island was a state. You know, the smallest state in the union.

“Wow. So what brings you folks to God’s country?” he asked.

Very few cars are on the road to Laredo as the trucker and I discuss Larry McMurtry books. Lonesome Dove. Robert Duvall. I tell him I once took a bus from Laredo into Mexico, to visit the cathedrals in Monterey and Saltillo, places you wouldn’t visit nowadays because of the drug lords and the murders. The bus played Mexican music, a few chickens were traveling with us, and the scenery was beautiful, all mountains and cacti.

A man at the Hotel Rio bar told us Monterrey was the Pittsburgh of Mexico. He spoke with his hand at the side of his mouth as if everything he told us was a secret and he was whispering it to us, but he wasn’t. He spoke rather loudly when he told us he had a bachelor apartment with a serape on the bed and the Hotel Rio didn’t allow single women in the rooms of men, and “vice-a-versa”. We were happy to hear this. The bartender hand squeezed the lemons and limes for our margaritas and I think of those delicious drinks every time I have a fresh squeezed ‘rita on the rocks, no salt.

The city was crowded and dirty with lots of gypsy children begging for pesos, their mothers sleeping on the sidewalk. In Saltillo, no one spoke English. The city had narrow streets and mountain vistas.

We travel many more miles before my Excel spreadsheet is finished. In Tucumcari I really feel like a trucker as I hum the song Still Willin’, thinking about weed, whites and wine. In Flagstaff, I recall a day when I took a nap with my husband, back then my boyfriend, in a park under a tree snuggled in our double sleeping bag with the wind howling through the trees.

I am calling the trucker Bobby McGee now because I know he’s about to slip away and I read passages from my second novel as we pass through the towns that Josie Wolcott visited. Idaho Falls where she met the Indian hotel owners who served her dal with lentils and naan, and Bozeman, Montana where she spent a rainy day with Dr. Andy Radcliffe.

On our way back to Florida for the tenth time in the tax year 2014, we pass through Ogallala, Nebraska which brings us back to Gus in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. I traveled through here with a friend of my husband’s on a trip back to Vail and we took a two hour break from the road to nap, falling asleep to the mooing of cattle in a truck parked beside us.

Finally, we pass through Georgia, not far from Dahlonaga where I attended a pulled pork festival and hiked to the Dahlonaga Falls.

Back in South Florida, I finish the Excel spreadsheet and the work day is done. I save it in the trucker’s file and tell my boss it’s all set. “How’d it go?” she asks.

“It was a lot of fun,” I said.

She laughs. She has no idea where I have been for the last hour of my day. It could have been worse.

Lottery Lunancy

“My wife said to me, “If you won the lottery, would you still love me?’ I said, “Of course I would. I’d miss you, but I’d still love you.'”~Frank Carson

I almost forgot to buy the ticket. I planned to buy it on my way home from work, driving through the neighborhoods of Lake Worth along Dixie highway. I’ve always thought it was the odd little store in the poorer neighborhoods that sells the winning ticket. I’m sure this isn’t true, but I like to believe that’s the way the universe works.

Victoria Latin Market

I’m listening to music, sitting at red lights, and looking for photo opportunities when I see there is only one car in front of the Victoria Latin Supermarket. I’ve been wanting a photo of this store for awhile now, but there’s always a line of cars blocking the mural. I grab my camera and get the shot  before the light turns green.

I should have gone in and bought some veggies and lottery tickets, but I forgot, because I rarely buy lottery tickets, maybe once a year, when the jackpot is huge and the odds are astronomical.

Charlie Rose told me about the Powerball jackpot this morning. “I have to get one on my way home,” I told my husband. Eight hours later, I arrive home to find him laying on the floor, moaning.  His back is killing him. Really killing him. He’s resting on an Ice Pak, a pot of boiling water with a towel is sitting on the stove. He’s also taken a muscle relaxer and a Motrim. They aren’t helping. Three weeks after he hurt his back golfing, he tells me he has finally made an appointment with the doctor for tomorrow morning.

“How are you going to make it through the night?” I ask. He knows I’m aggravated because he always waits until things get really bad before seeking help.

He starts crabbing. He is not the best of patients. He is actually one of the worst patients I’ve ever met. I helped him up from the floor. He complained about the  the way I  held his hands. “Why are you only holding my fingertips?” I was trying to be gentle. Silly me. I yanked him up and got him on the couch.

It dawned on me that I’d forgotten to buy the lottery tickets. Things were looking bad. He’d probably be out of work for weeks. “I’m going out,” I said. “I forgot to buy a lottery ticket.”

He asked me to get ice cream while I was out.

At the Publix down the road, there were a dozen people waiting at the courtesy booth to play Powerball. I decided to shop first, hoping the line would be shorter after I checked out.

I’d come for ice cream and a bottle of wine, and of course the winning lottery ticket. I bought 2 for 1 Thomas’ English muffins, four boxes of cereal because they were also 2 for 1, bananas, cookies to go with the ice cream, and a package of foccacia mix that looked fairly easy to make, if  I plan ahead and let the dough rise for forty five minutes, which isn’t likely to happen most nights.

I chose the register line where the one guy in front of me had already emptied his basket. I emptied mine. Of course, there’s a problem. I always pick the line with the problem. He doesn’t have enough money to pay the $44.68 cents he owes. He returns the bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups, apologizing profusely to me and the cashier. “No problem,” I tell him.

He counts the money in his wallet. He’s still not close. He decides to sacrifice the yogurt. 10 for $10. He has 20, all different flavors, all needing to be entered separately. The cashier waves the front end manager over. The guy who really needs to buy a lottery ticket even more than me apologizes again. “I’m bailing,” I tell him as I start to re-load my carriage, aggravated but smiling.


The customer booth now has a line almost out the door. I am not going home without lottery tickets so I decide to drive to the Valero gas station at the end of the plaza.


Parking across from three guys who appear to have been drinking beers all afternoon, I hear them debating whether they should buy more lottery tickets.

The convenience store is empty. I ask the Indian man at the register, “Today’s big ticket is Powerball, right?”

“Yes, it tis,” he says, with that lilting accent I love. I was going to buy two but now with my husband all cranky and injured and possibly out of work for quite sometime, I splurge and buy four. “Two dollars, right?” I ask. It is one of those rare days when I have cash in my wallet. A five and three ones.

“Yes, two dollars each,” he says.

On my way back to the car, I notice the three drunks are pooling their money for more tickets. The lights come on at the pumps.

This is the third blog I’ve written about a gas station. Third time’s the lucky charm, right?


Tomorrow morning when you hear the winning ticket was purchased at a Valero gas station in South Florida, don’t try to contact me. I’ll be on a plane to Tahiti. I’ll post my next blog from there.


Marriage American-Style: Year 24

Yet another blog that begins at a gas station.


This weekend was my wedding anniversary. February 7th. Twenty four years ago my husband and I eloped to Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. How did we choose this destination? After dating for nine years and living together for three of those years, I was thirty four and finally ready to get married, and he was thirty three and liked to ski.

I tried to find our wedding photos but after selling our house and moving to Florida, I can’t seem to locate them.

I did find this:

wedding dinner

February 7, 1991 The Post Hotel Lake Louise


The picture was taken at the restaurant in The Post Hotel after we had exchanged vows beneath the head of a moose above a fireplace in the cozy, rustic lounge.  After dinner,  my new husband and I got up to leave and accidentally went through the door to the kitchen where a man in a very tall chef’s hat escorted us back to the dining room with a stern reprimand. “You went through the wrong door.”

We originally planned to spend our 24th anniversary at a beautiful lakeside hotel in Mount Dora, a quaint little town north of Orlando, but my husband aggravated his two herniated discs while golfing and lost a week of work. Like most independent contractors, he has no workmen’s comp or disability insurance, so we canceled the trip. I am not sure either one of those plans would cover a golf injury as he is not Tiger Woods.

I often say I married fun. Years later, I would sometimes add the caveat, fun doesn’t pay the bills. However, your best friend will help you through the bad times. And there will be bad times. Marriage is a long and winding road.

We were home for the anniversary weekend. We share a common wanderlust, a constant need for adventure and new things. So we chose to start the weekend at a gas station a friend had told us about. He said they have the best tacos he’s ever eaten. This is the kind of thing my husband and I love. We are on it, like ten year olds planning a trip to Disney World.

It’s way out west, close to where civilization ends and the Everglades begin. The land opens up out here. The concrete gives way to tree farms, acres and acres of palm trees in neat, uniform rows that flash before your eyes as you drive by, like one of those flip books you’d get in a gum ball machine when you were a kid.

Hanging out by the Ice Machine

The place is frequented by masons, stone layers, and landscapers. Lots of landscapers. You see them everywhere in South Florida.


It takes a lot of manpower to tame the relentless jungle. They come from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and other Spanish speaking countries. I see them working on the 4th of July, Sundays, Father’s Day, rain or shine, on ninety eight degree days in the summer. And this is where they come on Friday for tacos and beer. Pay Day.

Landscaping hats

They also might pick up a few of those hats they always wear to protect themselves from the relentless sun. I am always amazed at them toiling in the summer heat, wearing long sleeves and pants while I am soaked halfway through my walk, wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts, slathered in sunscreen that is dripping into my eyes and making them sting.

There aren’t many tables at the gas station. Everyone tailgates off the back of their trucks. The parking lot is full of trucks but we arrived in my old Hyundai. We get the beach chairs out of the trunk and head into the gas station.


I am the only female on the property. The tacos have already sold out. We order taquitos, fried chicken, beans and rice, along with a six pack of Modelo to wash it all down, and join the festivities in the parking lot. The hard packed dirt is a mosaic of discarded beer bottle caps.

Beer bottle caps

We are disappointed about the taco shortage and vow to return earlier next time, around 4:30. The patrons at Peanuts Country Store and Gas Station start their days early, around six or seven in the morning. They drive from as far away as Lake Worth, Hialeah, and Dania Beach to the mansions along the shore or the gated communities not far from here. On the drive home, my husband pointed out the neighborhood where he is painting ceilings in a nine million dollar home. Yes, I said nine million. That is not a typo. And he was back at work this week, but his back is killing him.

We finished our meal and it was only seven o’clock. One mile from the gas station is a beautiful new outdoor mall where restaurants line a lovely promenade and high end stores cater to the wealthy communities that continue to multiply like rabbits. Where is all this money coming from and how can I get some?

The Mall

A dance troupe is putting on a show in front of  an enormous multi-plex; a combo movie theater/bowling alley/grill. They are women in their forties and fifties and they really know how to move. Their husbands watch the performance, smiling and recording the show on their cell phones. I find this little vignette very romantic.


My husband is circling the parking lot looking for a space. He doesn’t succeed and complains that he’d rather not walk, his back is now killing him, so we continue on through the Florida night, passing through the ever-changing diaspora. Traveling just one mile brings you to a different world. Different languages, religions, bank accounts.

Somehow we end up at Friendly’s because my husband asked “Ice Cream?” and I replied, “Yes.” I never say no to ice cream. Friendly’s is a bit of nostalgia from our homeland. The Northeast, where people eat more ice cream than anywhere else in the country despite the four feet of snow and the impending snowstorm on the way. The place is full of older retirees, snowbirds wearing Red Sox caps and Patriots T-shirts.

Twenty four years of marriage and this is what it comes down to.

wedding Ice Palace

Chateau Lake Louise Alberta, Canada February 7, 1991