After seeing “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” based on the story of the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, known forever as “Mr. Rogers,” and after reading Tom Junod’s Esquire article that inspired the story and the movie

Buttercream days

And eating a fine slice of upside down cake (it didn’t start out upside down, but it was accidentally dropped, the whole cake, whoopdedoo) with buttery cream cheese icing and a mug of hot tea, honey lavender, with pretty creamy white roses just a hair past perfect in a silver vase

But the roses and the cake had sparked hurtful words earlier and so there was sadness mixed with the sweet and loneliness because the person being celebrated wasn’t there

And the little cat with the big dark eyes kept jumping onto the table and nudging the fork and the stray rose leaf and the needy golden retriever insisted on having treats in a ball he rolled around on the floor with his nose

The giant saint named Bernard laid down under the window away from the growls of the golden and the basset just plain disappeared, probably heading for his soft bed

Misunderstandings happen when expectations clash

But the sign for friendship is interlocked index fingers, one from each hand.

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Photo by Snapwire on

“The connections we make in the course of a life — maybe that’s what heaven is, Tom. We make so many connections here on earth. Look at us — I’ve just met you, but I’m investing in who you are and who you will be, and I can’t help it.”

Mr. Rogers, to Tom Junod

Resurrecting Dad

Two years ago today, we gathered in Michigan to celebrate my dad’s life. In the days before that, the funeral director gave me a limit of 300 words to capture his life for his obituary. I couldn’t imagine summing up my dad’s whole vivid, detailed life in so few words. This post today is also exactly 300 words. Different words, for a different purpose. Not capturing the whole thing, but perhaps capturing a glimpse of the essence of Dad.

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Photo by Alexandria Baldridge on

Whenever I tried to pay for my dad’s lunch, or coffee, or gas, or anything, he refused to let me. One time, at an Alabama farm market, I tried to buy a quart of strawberries and he about ran me over like a slightly bowlegged brown-eyed bulldozer. I’m 42 years old, I told the girl at the counter, and my dad won’t let me pay for my own strawberries. We all laughed. It was one of those times that slides into the big pile of memories you think will go on and on.

Except eventually you come to the end of those times. You can resurrect the old memories, but you can’t make new ones. Maybe that’s grief, the sharp knife of realizing there will be no new memories.

Lately I’d been thinking that sometimes the enormity of a loss nearly eclipses a life. And right out of the blue, at a restaurant, a man I’d never seen before showed up, jaunty little driving cap, brown eyes shining kindly, speaking softly, asking us to help his wheelchair-bound wife, with Dad’s same apologetic half-grin and quiet mannerism. Afterward he said he owed us cheeseburgers. I remembered all the times when my dad muscled me out of the way so he could pay for whatever I was buying, and how I never really got the chance to buy him lunch, dinner, or even coffee. Until then.

I finally repaid my dad that day, conspiring with servers to buy the couple lunch. When we left, the man thanked us with warm hugs, and in his embrace I could feel my dad. I learned a truth in that moment. Sometimes, by resurrecting what we miss most about those we have loved and lost, they show up unexpectedly on the wings of a new memory.


Park and Walk

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Sunset on High Bridge, captured by Marley

There was the time where we stumped the map lady. Really. We were zipping along, following her directions, trying to be patient when she loudly interjected herself into our conversation (“Turn LEFT onto BROAD STREET in ONE CORDER MILE!”) (Have you ever noticed the map lady has trouble saying “Quarter?”) and then out of the clear blue, she informed us: “Park vehicle and walk to your destination.”

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“You have arrived!”



Beg pardon, map lady? Park and walk? We are in the middle of the Lower Alabama countryside without any kind of landmark or visible destination and you just abandon us here?

To reinforce her point, while we kept driving, she turned herself into a stubborn little blue stripe that refused to move. Anywhere. We were moving, and she was pouting. I mean really.

And THEN map lady turned herself into a STICK FIGURE! I kid you not! She took herself out of her little invisible parked vehicle and turned herself into what she must have intended to be a walking stick figure! She wasn’t speaking to us, but it was okay…by then we were laughing so hard we wouldn’t have heard her anyway. Note to self: map lady/stick lady does not respond to hoots of laughter and demands for more directions.

While we were still driving, a little more slowly because #ABANDONMENT, Jenessa spotted a sign. We headed toward it. And found this:

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But the destination that map lady stubbornly refused to get us to? So, so, so worth it.

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Waiting to be discovered…

Five buildings of architectural salvage. Big buildings. Barns full of old doors, and shutters, and ironwork, and furniture, and hardware, and all kinds of treasures from all over the world.

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No one hovering as we wandered from one building to the next, marveling like moonstruck extras from “American Pickers.” (I know. They don’t use extras on there. But still.) The best part, apart from the amazing selection? They don’t bother you.

They let you wander around forming half-words, hauling out a tape measure, squinting at various pieces jammed cozily against each other, tapping thoughtfully on drawer fronts and table tops, exploring dovetails and cubby holes and wear patterns and ingenious solutions to needs of years and cultures gone by.

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I discovered a large stack of sturdy grain bags with a beautiful purple stripe down the center – how perfect is that for fall! – and resisted the urge to buy them all. Barely. Mostly because I was reminded by a more practical family member that we don’t have grain in that kind of quantity, and they don’t all need a new home with us. Ditto on the dough bowls, cast iron bathtubs, shutters, and doors made from 1870s French lumber. I know. France, even! The thing is, old captures me in a way new never will, because, as my beloved best girlfriend says, “New doesn’t have a story.”

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Fairy tale inspiration

Everything at this place had a story. You could hear the murmurs of conversations before you ever entered a building. The whole property fairly thrummed with it.

We’d probably still be there, except some of us got hot and some got hungry and some encountered banana spiders and got discouraged and then we ended up turning the map lady off completely because we found our own way out and made tracks to a gas station where we could not, to save our lives, find one single healthy piece of food. There was no fruit, no salad, no fresh made deli sandwiches. It was a shrine to all things processed and preserved, and we were lucky to escape with cheese puffs, corn chips, a single bag of Bugles (“Corn! There’s corn in them!”), a couple king size candy bars (“They’re healthy! They have peanuts!”) and some cans of soda that I didn’t even know was made any more. (“It’s not like it goes bad, Mom.”) The girl at the counter just grinned hugely when we assured her it wasn’t dinner. “I know,” she nodded. “This here’s SNACKS.”

Will we go back? You know we will. Map lady can find her own way. We’ll stick to our own off-the-beaten-path.

The Touchstone of Courage

Asking for courage is like asking for faith, or patience – you don’t get a magical infusion of the thing. You get opportunities to develop it.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I think maybe, just maybe, courage is determination wrapped up in persistence. Courage is not knowing the outcome, or knowing the odds are not in your favor, and trying anyway. It’s facing an unknown, unsettling, hard, scary, sometimes even dreadful thing. Taking its measure. Refusing to be defined by it. Formulating a plan. Stepping out. Seeing progress, which feeds more progress. Getting that sense of having turned a corner, and feeling the euphoric rush of certainty that you will see it through.

Courage is a touchstone.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” ~ C.S. Lewis

What is a touchstone? It’s a test for determining quality, authenticity, or genuineness. Why does this matter? It means this: the source of our greatest fear can become the touchstone for our greatest courage.

A tangible reminder of my days with Cheryl.

A tangible reminder of my days with Cheryl.

I have a touchstone. It is a heart-shaped stone, polished and etched with a single word: STRENGTH. I carried it with me a few years ago when I traveled to Tallahassee on weekends to spend time with my beloved cousin Cheryl when her breast cancer, five years in remission, spread to her bones. It was a journey she did not want to take, because in going toward her future, she had to step away from the people and the life she loved wholeheartedly. Choosing to do that, to accompany her in that intimate way, as her physical health failed and her faith shuddered and groaned, was at once the hardest and easiest choice ever. How do I do this? Better to ask, how do I not? She taught us so much in her suffering: how to be graceful, eloquent, and concerned with the well-being of others, always. How to let herself be loved and reassured and cherished. And how to love and reassure and cherish those of us who gathered around to accompany her on that private, noble journey. It was a time of continually giving and receiving permission to let go and accept the reality of what was happening not just in Cheryl, but through her in us. It was an exquisitely sweet time, one in which our world became very small as we sat with her, and held her, and cried with her, and reminisced and laughed and knitted our very souls together in one comforting blanket of love and memories. The stone still represents the strength she both gave and received.

“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” ~ Alan Cohen

What are we most afraid of? I believe it is precisely that place that will be the source of our courage. And encouragement? To me, it’s sharing our courage with others who need it. Stepping into their journey with them. Sitting with them in their storm. See, when we ENCOURAGE someone, we are actually infusing them with courage they can’t generate within themselves. They are on the inside of the storm looking out and feeling overwhelmed. We are on the outside of the storm looking in, and we see its limits. We are seeing beyond their storm. What a gift.

For more on the subject of courage, and encouragement, please visit:

Veterans Memorial Park

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An overview of Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park. Photo by Allen Jones.

Located at the site of a former minor league baseball field known as Admiral Mason Park, Pensacola’s Veterans Memorial Park is a monument to military service and sacrifice. A peaceful, perfectly-manicured respite nestled against the sparkling waters of Pensacola Bay, this pedestrian-friendly park is home to monuments to those who served our country in various wars and conflicts. Lives lost in World War I and II, the Korean War, and the Global War on Terror are all honored here. There’s a Purple Heart Memorial, a monument to submarine veterans, a Marine Aviation memorial bell tower, and monuments to minutemen as well as children of service members. Larger-than-life bronze sculptures fashioned by local sculptors keep silent vigil throughout the park. It is a place to take your time, pay your respects, and remember.

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Never forget. Photo courtesy Veteran’s Memorial Park Pensacola.

One of the most striking monuments is the Wall South, the nation’s only permanent replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is 256 feet long, and built to exactly half the size of the original memorial. All 58,219 names of those killed in action or missing in action are engraved on its granite face.

The park is located at the intersection of 10th Avenue and Bayfront Parkway. Want to know more? Visit their website:


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Pensacola’s Quayside Art Gallery, with a mural of the old firehouse on the building’s east side. Photo courtesy

Ever visit a place only to realize, hey, they just had a gigantic outdoor arts festival…last weekend…and we missed it?! There’s a fix for that in downtown Pensacola. Quayside (pronounced “key-side”) Gallery, the largest artists’ cooperative in the Southeast, offers three floors of arts and crafts by more than 200 of the area’s most talented creatives. That’s three floors of clay, glass, fiber, precious metals, wood and more, in addition to oils, watercolors, photography, inks, and mixed media. I think there’s even some jewelry and batik in there.

The building itself, once the headquarters of the Germania Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company, once housed a horse-drawn fire engine. It’s a historian’s delight – built in 1873, it stood just one block north of the wooden “quays” or wharves where sailing ships from all over the world once moored. Believe it or not, the building stayed put and the waterfront actually moved – several acres of land were created by ballast offloaded from ships that came from distant countries and didn’t need the ballast once they reached Pensacola. Plaza Ferdinand, across the street from Quayside, has a low fence made of ballast.

But I digress. (Shocking, I know.) Back to Quayside. Are there other local galleries? Yes, absolutely. Is this one of the best? Again, absolutely. It’s staffed by local artists who volunteer their time and know their stuff and even offer free tours. There are workshops throughout the year for hands-on one-on-one time in a variety of artistic mediums.

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One of Quayside’s popular hands-on workshops. Photo courtesy

If you love Pensacola so much that you need to take some of it home with you and hang it on your wall or set it on your shelf or table or wear it around your neck or wrist, or you need a really nifty non-traditional gift for a special occasion, start here:


Gulf Islands National Seashore

If you prefer your Florida relatively remote, unpopulated, and wild, you might enjoy visiting a unique national park. Stretching 160 miles from Mississippi’s Cat Island to the eastern tip of Florida’s Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore is a great way to explore the Gulf Coast’s natural and historical features.

Gulf Islands National Seashore. Photo courtesy

Gulf Islands National Seashore. Photo courtesy

You can be as active as you care to be while setting your own pace: opportunities for swimming, bicycling, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, beachcombing, wildlife watching, boating, and camping abound. The seashore offers well-maintained trails and picnic areas, comfortable campgrounds, and museums and visitor centers at Naval Live Oaks, Fort Pickens, and Fort Barrancas.

The wild, windswept naval live oaks preserve near Gulf Breeze, FL. Photo courtesy

The wild, windswept naval live oaks preserve near Gulf Breeze, FL. Photo courtesy

What is Naval Live Oaks? It’s the country’s first federal tree farm in the Florida panhandle. President John Quincy Adams wanted to preserve the timber found in the stand of sturdy live oak trees for shipbuilding purposes, so he established Naval Live Oaks in 1829. Markers along the trail that meanders through the preserve identify sections of trees that were particularly valuable in the era of wooden ships. Some of the timber from the early 1800s is still preserved underwater in Commodore’s Pond, and some was used during a recent restoration of the USS Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides.”

A week-long pass to the seashore will set you back just $8. For $25, you can buy a pass good for a whole year, which is popular among the locals. For more information:, or

Fort Pickens

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Pensacola’s Fort Pickens. Photo courtesy Northwest Florida Outdoor Adventure.

The largest of a group of coastal forts built to protect Pensacola’s harbor, Fort Pickens was constructed between 1829 – 1834 on the westernmost tip of Santa Rosa Island. The fort was named for Major General Andrew Pickens of the South Carolina militia, a Revolutionary War hero known as “Wizard Owl.” Slave labor laid about 22 million bricks in the fort which was designed to be impenetrable. Fort Pickens was the only coastal fort held by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1886, it was used to house Apache prisoners, including their chief, Geronimo.


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Inside the fort. Photo courtesy

A free 45-minute daily tour by park service rangers gives insight into the fort’s features and history. You’re also free to explore the 850-acre park. If you’re intrigued by features like casemates, sally ports, dry moats, cisterns, chambers, tunnels, reverse arches, and bastions, Fort Pickens is a must-see. And even if you’re not, the cool, shadowy brick-lined passageways and dim interior rooms whisper volumes about the people who once manned the fort and lived their lives within its defenses. I’ve never seen it in person, but there is a particular view of the broken-away edge of a brick wall that is called “Geronimo’s Profile.” It’s only visible when the light is just right.

Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier


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A favorite place to catch the sun, whether rising or setting. Photo courtesy Charlotte Aguilar.

Extending 1,471 feet (that’s more than a quarter mile!) into the Gulf of Mexico, the pier is a vivid salt-water panorama of sea life, birds, fishermen reeling in a variety of local seafood, and even a pierside restaurant and gift shop. On summer Sunday nights, if you’re there at just the right time, you can spot the Navy’s Blue Angels flying in formation along Pensacola Beach back to their home base after a weekend air show.

Most days, the pier’s Facebook page captures a morning and evening view of Pensacola Beach – so if you’re needing a Pensacola Beach sunrise/sunset ‘fix,’ here you go!

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Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier. Photo courtesy

The Grand Dame of Palafox Street

Built in 1925, Pensacola’s Saenger Theater is often referred to as “the Grand Dame of Palafox Street.” Historically, Saenger theaters throughout the South as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico immersed patrons in the opulence of French Renaissance, Italian Baroque, Neoclassical Revival, Art Deco, and Spanish Baroque/Rococo styles. If the patrons couldn’t travel to Europe, the Saenger brought Europe to them.

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Pensacola’s Saenger Theater. Photo courtesy

Why so many Saengers? Brothers J.H. and A.D. Saenger of New Orleans saw a trend – palatial atmospheric theaters showing moving pictures – and jumped out in front of it in a big way. Built during the 1920s era of silent movies, pipe organs, and vaudeville shows, these “movie palaces” still add an atmosphere of European elegance to live performances and classic films.


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Inside the Saenger. Photo courtesy

A multi-million dollar renovation in 2009 restored the elegant but aging Pensacola landmark to its original luster. From symphony concerts to Stomp!, an evening at the Saenger is an occasion to savor. For a look at upcoming local shows and events: