My House, is a Very Very Fine House

Five years ago is a summer I will never forget and am glad that I can now look back on it with laughter instead of tears. In July of 2010 my life as a single mom and sole provider for my youngest son began. The first and most important priority at that time was to find a house to rent.

Finding a house to rent sounds like it should be pretty easy, but as it turns out it wasn’t.

I signed up to receive email notifications for rental properties that were within my budget, in our school district and accepted pets. Days and days passed with nothing showing up in my inbox. I was beginning to think something was wrong when, ding, ding ding – I had mail!

There was a house that met all of the criteria, so my realtor scrambled to make an appointment the very same day. Christian and I wandered through the house. The carpet was worn, there was a very damp smell to the basement, and the yard was seriously in need of some attention. Sizing things up, we kept repeating to each other, “it’s not great, but it’s better than the apartment.”

We convinced each other that it was going to be great and we could make it work, so I filled out the paperwork, dropped it off, and held my breath. One day passed, another day passed, and on the third day our application was rejected – or rather we learned that the house had been leased to another family.

In between sobs I explained to my parents how horrible it was that we wouldn’t be moving into a house we didn’t love, in a neighborhood that wasn’t great. Wow, now it even sounds ridiculous to me. 🙂

It seemed like forever until I finally received another promising email, so long in fact that I had ordered and received new shower curtains, towels, and comforters for the apartment. I’d also hung new pictures and put flowers in the window of the apartment to try and lift our spirits and soften the memories.

As with the first opportunity, I was on top of the situation. Within hours of receiving the email I’d arranged a visit with the home owner. The references in the lease to specific types of nails and cleaning supplies should have been a clue that it wasn’t going to be a great fit, but it wasn’t….

I sent the homeowner pictures of my kids and of my home in Omaha as a way to convince her that I’d take good care of her property. After the she called and grilled my close friends (character references) about my ability to take care of a home, she extended the offer to rent to the house to me. Not only that, she agreed to let me paint the walls and I agreed to use the cleaning supplies listed in the lease.

Although the agreement was only verbal, I turned in my notice at the apartment complex with a smile.

The morning I was scheduled to meet the painter an email arrived,

Good Morning Beth,
 
Thank you for sharing the photos of your family and your home with me. You have beautiful children and a lovely home.
 
At this point, it is with sadness that I must tell you that I cannot enter into a rental agreement with you. After serious soul searching, tossing and turning through the night, I have decided that it is time for me to move forward in my life.
 
I have held on to that house for many years because I have a hard time letting go of things I love. I am starting a new job in a couple of weeks and it is time for me to lessen the load and stress I have been carrying for too long.
 
My days of being a Landlord are behind me. As I told you, I really want to sell the house. I’m sure you and your son are wonderful people and we would have had a great relationship. Nonetheless, the season in my life has changed.
 
I spoke to my Agent about this. She told me she just listed a beautiful house for rent which is available for immediate occupancy in the same school district which might be perfect for you. She will be happy to show it to you without delay. I believe these unfolding events will work out for the long term best for each of us. I pray your initial disappointment will become joyful just as quickly.
 
Sincerely and with very best wishes,
The woman who said she’d rent  to you

The house she recommended was so far out of my reach it wasn’t even funny. I honestly didn’t think the tears would ever stop after receiving this email. Thank goodness the management at the apartment complex accepted my un-notice and we still had a place to live.

I’d all but given up hope.

Then, serendipity made her presence known in my life.

My realtor texted me and, the next day I found “my house.”

The front walk was uneven and I made a mental note to be careful if I ever decided to wear heels again.  One misstep and I’d be sure to leave the whole shoe behind. My new landlord (lady) greeted with a warm smile and a hug after a single ding announced my arrival; I’d already begun to think of her as a friend.

“Let’s start the tour here in the kitchen, I’ll go over the appliances in here and Tim will be ‘round directly to show you how to use the fireplace and furnace. They can be a bit tricky, but you’ll be fine.  The neighbors are great and we’re only a phone call away,” she said.  

I took notes about everything from how low I could let the oil tank go, to which key went with which door, and how to prevent a moat from forming when it rains too hard.  I squeezed as many questions as possible in between her excited explanations.

The final stop on the tour was my bedroom.  “Now about your room, I’ve already decided this color is all wrong for you, its way too dull. But I want to wait a bit to paint so I can think of just the right color to fill it with sunshine for you.”

My room is now the color of sunshine.

I don’t have two cats in the yard and sometimes life is still hard, but I am grateful every day for my very, very fine house.

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Weekend Shenanigans and Celebrating Friendship

Seven years ago, I stumbled across an online community for wannabe triathletes as well as triathlon veterans, not a place I’d ever  have imagined myself fitting in. Much to my surprise, through online fitness challenges, mentoring forums, and individual training blogs I’ve “met” and formed friendships with people across the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Over the past seven years, many of us have also become friends on Facebook, but the connection on BT (beginnertriathlete.com) remains a special one. People check in on each other weekly, if not daily.

We’ve “watched” each other’s children grow up, celebrated personal victories, and mourned together over the loss of friends and parents. We’ve sent virtual hugs and cried real tears during times of personal hardship and have kicked up our heels with joy for the good and happy times. We’re cheerleaders and confidants.

On more than one occasion I’ve taken a train, plane, or automobile to travel hundreds of miles meet one of my virtual friends in real life. What may shock some, will seem cool to others – not only did I travel to meet them, they welcomed me with open arms, amazing hospitality, and a place to rest my head for a night or two, even longer if needed.

The majority of my trips have been related to participating in a race. There’s nothing better than having a safe and welcoming place to stay the night before an event. It’s also awesome to share the early morning pre-race ritual and jitters with someone who is experiencing the same feelings.

Being connected on more than one social platform has its advantages. You always know when one of your friends is planning a party and can casually take them up on their “open invitation” to come visit. It’s simply a matter of keeping an eye open for pictures of large shipments of Mardi Gras beads to posted on Facebook and inviting oneself in a comment.

inviting myself to the party on facebook mardi gras beads

The response was almost immediate and I was DARED to attend.

the dare to attend

I made some noise about accepting the DARE, asked for some details and started to seriously consider making the trip from Philadelphia to Lake Lure, North Carolina to attend the party.

the details

The party was scheduled for February 28th, so the weather forecast played a role in the final decision. As it turns out, I threaded the needle and made the 12 hour drive (each way) in between winter storms.

The weekend shenanigans kicked off on Friday night in Roanoke, VA. I made it to my halfway point just in time to see the lights in the hotel restaurant go dark. Fortunately the Holiday Inn that Hotwire selected for me offered complimentary shuttle service to and from any of the local eating establishments.

I chose TGI Fridays because it was close, I had a coupon, and figured it would be laid back and quiet since it was fairly late. My expectations were more than a little off; there was only one seat left at the bar and a ten minute wait for a table. I opted for the bar.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a place where everyone gets carded, the females are on the prowl, and the males are primed for the hunt. I also don’t know that I’ve ever seen so much bling, leather, and leopard print in a single room. Too bad the fashion police weren’t there to call out the woman in the skin tight body suit –  embellished with tiny imprints of the “hang loose”surfer hand symbol (can’t even describe how bad it was).

Who knew that I’d picked one of the local hot spots for singles to hang out? So much more I could write about the evening, but it’s time to move on to the main event.

I arrived in Lake Lure on time and not in the least bit frazzled. Between Google Maps and my friend’s most excellent directions there was no way I could make a wrong turn or miss my destination.

We had just enough time for a hug, a walk around the property, a glass of wine, and a bit of gabbing before the co-hosts and guests began to arrive. The house looked spectacular, every inch of the main floor was covered in beads and sparkles.

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Of course, no Mardi Gras party would be complete without costumes and masks. After much laughter and exchanging of hats, we concluded that Robin’s outfit called for the Jester’s hat and the 1920’s circa feathers worked best for me.

mardi gras party

We looked cute, but I’m fairly certain the cape won the prize for best costume.

the cape

The food was incredible.

Amazing food

Once the party started, the dining room was the most popular room at the party, well maybe with the exception the other side of the house where the Tarot card reader was burning incense and tapping into the future.

Each guest picked a number when they arrived and when their “number was up” it was time for their reading. Somehow or another, my number was 3, not saying it was rigged in any way – just saying I’m lucky. 🙂

The night was filled with toasts to newly wedded couples, explanations of why I was there, wine bottle opening demonstrations, roulette for high stakes prizes, and most likely some neighborhood gossip which went over my head. It was a wonderful evening, but there seemed to be too few hours between putting my head on the pillow and the knock on my door in the morning.

A sinfully delicious breakfast was followed by a long, long nap, and a delightful dinner. What could be a better way to spend a day?

Sadly the party is over (for this year). The beads and masks have been gathered, the dog and kitty cats are once again free to roam the house, and I am safely back in PA.

the party is over

The story is far from over though. I look forward to future shenanigans and an ongoing friendship.

Meeting Mr. Train Station

“We’re here, last stop,” he said.

I blinked my eyes open, “Where’s here?”

The man in the Septa uniform replied, “West Trenton, we’re in West Trenton Ma’am.”

“That’s not here, that’s there…I’m supposed to be in Yardley.”

The assistant conductor took one look at my giant purple suitcase, carry on duffel bag, and lap-top case and said, “Let me see what I can do for you, these bags are going to be a lot of work for you to get off and on the train.  Maybe the conductor will let you just move to the front car and stay on the train while we turn around.”

No such luck, as it turned out the conductor was new and a ‘by the rules’ kind of guy, so they very nicely helped me and my bags out of the train and onto the platform.  The assistant conductor let me know that they’d be back in about twenty-five minutes and there were two ways to get to the other side of the platform.

He pointed toward a staircase and said, “The ‘safe’ route is to go down the stairs, through the tunnel and back up the stairs.  The other way is to wait until the freight train is gone and cross over the tracks.  I suggest the safe way.”

I managed to get my bags down two flights of stairs with the help of a young woman who grabbed my duffel bag and stayed out of the way while I manhandled my suitcase down the stairs. (It seemed like a great idea to buy a suitcase that is half as tall as I am at the time I bought it.  What can I say, it has wheels!)

I let myself take a breath as soon as we reached the fresh air; relieved that the tunnel wasn’t as long as some of the more frequented tunnels in the L train stations in Chicago or the subway in NYC.

One of the things I find interesting is the variety of train stations, there are no two alike.  The one in Yardley is more like a bus stop and provides little shelter from the weather.  Others have vending machines, restrooms, and heat.  The West Trenton station is somewhere in the middle.  I didn’t know what to make of the man sitting on the bench propped against a large duffel bag.  He was larger than most men, his clothes were clearly tattered, and his face wasn’t completely visible under his hood.

Being a woman traveling alone, I opted for the unlit bench outside the station rather than going inside where it had to be warmer.

“Miss, it’s cold out here.  You got at least 20 minutes before the next train comes.  Come inside where it’s safe and warm.”

Over the course of the next twenty minutes I learned about the best place in the station to sit when it’s cold as well as when it’s hot.  The free spirit who sat across from me was retired from the military and had plenty of stories to spare; including the one about the charger he built for the batteries for his Walkman.

“Yep, I built this here charger for my battries, they’re for my Walkman.  Last week some crazy fool thought I was building a bomb.  Why people got to be so crazy?”

I didn’t know what to do other than smile.

At 6:02 he said “Your train is here miss, now don’t you go falling back asleep.  It’s only a three minute train ride to Yardley.”

He held the door open for me, the conductor and assistant conductor met me on the platform and put my bags on the train.

“You just met Mr. Train Station. He knows every train schedule, every train stop, and every nuance between here and the end of the line,” said the assistant conductor.

“Huh…  Is he homeless or does he just like to ride the train?” I asked.

“We’re not sure what his story  is, but he’s there every day.  Some days he rides the train and some days he just stays in the station.  He always has his fare, is a true gentleman, and seems happier than most of us do.”

His comments gave me some interesting food for thought.

I’ve come a long way from being so nervous I could barely stand to read a page of a book for fear of missing my stop to falling asleep, missing it, and not panicking.  I’d have to say I’m glad I met Mr. Train Station, but I don’t think I’ll miss my stop again.

And…I Fix Computers Too

I am one of ‘those people’ who can strike up a conversation with anyone and usually does.  Today however, I was standing in line at Best Buy for the third trip related to my out of commission laptop and I wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

The same could not be said for the gentleman in front of me in line.  First he told me all about his camera.  That’s why he was there.

“I spent one hundred thirty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents on it, and I took out this here plan that if the camera breaks, they replace it…cost me two hundred dollars.”

Who does that?

He went on to tell me that this was his third camera and he was in between vacations to Alaska and Disney World, both vacations were settlements,  resulting from accidents on the property of the Theme Park and a cruise ship. At Disney World he slipped in the parking lot and now has a lifetime pass as well as a part-time job as Tigger a few times a year. 

On the cruise ship, his fate was much worse.  He slipped on the deck and became ‘road kill’ for a 475 pound man in a wheel chair, not once but twice.  He is now headed for a complimentary fifteen day tour of British Columbia and surrounding sights.

He spent six years in the army, three working for the post office and more than twenty in the IRS, each occupation backed up by an ID card pulled out of his wallet, and has been ‘happily retired’ since 2006.  Apparently he’s only two broken bones away from owning the world record of number of casts worn by a single person – only 2 more to go and he ‘wins.’  I tried to verify his claim, but could not.

Finally I was rescued by one of the geeks (never thought I’d hear myself say that).

After dropping off the second recovery disk, I attempted to exit the store with no further eye contact or conversation.  Much to my dismay I was unsuccessful.

“I noticed you dropped off a disk.” He said.

“Oh… yeah… it’s a recovery disk. My computer crashed and they have to restore the whole system, the first disk was bad.” I responded (mentally kicking myself for re-engaging).

“Well, I coulda fixed that for you for next to nothing.  I fix computers too…”

Paul Bunyan Meets Cirque Du Soleil

It was like Paul Bunyan meets Cirque Du Soleil and it all happened right in my front yard.

It was Saturday morning. I saw him before he reached the house, he dropped a pile of orange rope on the ground and rang the bell. I hoped it was the tree guy and not just a random stranger brandishing a chainsaw as though it were a tinker toy.

Above the high-pitched commotion of two yapping dachshunds, he introduced himself.

“Hi, I’m Bobby, the tree guy,” he said.

A tiny wave of relief rolled through me.

He wore faded jeans and a grey muscle man t-shirt, and the slight swagger in his stance contradicted the modesty in his eyes.

“Sorry I didn’t get here sooner, I had to take the chipper in. It kept overheating, smoke was coming out everywhere. I told the guys at the shop what I thought was wrong, but instead of doing what mechanics should do, and figure it out, they took my word for it.

“What were they thinking? I’m a tree guy, they’re the mechanics. Sheesh!” Bobby ranted.

I laughed and said, “You should have sent it into the shop with a woman, because the mechanics never would have taken her word for it.”

He cinched the harness belt and strapped the tree spikes on over his boots.

One step at a time he secured his foothold and walked up the tree. His powerful hands grasped the rope and he pulled himself higher and higher.

I held my breath as I watched him maneuver. Suspended in air, held only by a rope, he swung through the tree and cut off one branch after another. He worked with his ground crew to drop each one to the ground with precision and a surprising grace.

He said, “One tree down, and one to go. I’ll be back on Monday.”

Bobby returned. It was Friday, not Monday, but nonetheless true to his word he was back.

The surface of my driveway was barely visible under the tangled mass of branches and leaves.

As I approached, the ground crew of two shouted out in unison, “Customer! …… Customer!”

“Is that a warning so everyone knows not to talk bad about the customer?” I asked.

“No ma’am, it’s so we know there’s a lady present,” was the reply.

I smiled and my eyes followed the direction of their tilted heads.

Bobby was more than 30 feet in the sky, framed by the two limbs he straddled, his dark grey t-shirt blended into the backdrop of darkening clouds.

I watched through a window of two fingers as he planted one foot into the branch and stretched his body along the length of it. Bobby swung the rope repeatedly until he secured a safe position to slay the next member of the tree.

Thunder cracked and the sky exploded, announcing the end of the day but not the end of the job.

The following morning was sunny, Bobby’s mood was not. There was no swagger in his stance and his entire body drooped with defeat.

He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, “I underbid this job by a longshot, it happens, but you still gotta finish the job and finish it right,” he said.

I watched him scale the mountainous locust one last time, there was only a glimpse of his red t-shirt visible between the leaves until he emerged at the top. Outlined against a sky of white and blue he balanced on the uneven branch and began to claim the tree.

For the next seven hours the chain saw whined and whirred through limb after limb, tree parts thudded to the ground and sawdust swirled through the air like a winter flurry.

At 6:42 p.m. the work to cut the remaining twenty feet of the locust tree into manageable pieces was still underway.

Unable to stay away, I watched the day come to a close.  The trunk stretched across the neighbor’s yard and my view from the patio was partly blocked by the four feet that remained standing.

The buzz of the saw whirred and puttered into silence, “Damn it!” Bobby shouted.

It was the first time he had raised his voice since he started the job. Dusk fell around us, the saw had died, the job was not complete.

I’m surprised “damn it” was all he said.

In the days that followed I tried not to lose faith that Bobby would return.  I wanted to believe that he would “finish the job and finish it right.”

One month and three days after the work was scheduled to start my doorbell rang.

It was Bobby, a man of his word.

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The Felling Finale…or is it?

The morning was sunny, Bobby’s mood was not.

Bobby looked nothing short of defeated, his entire body drooped with exhaustion.

“I underbid this job by a longshot, but it happens, and you still gotta finish the job and finish it right,”  were his final words before he took on the tree.

As I once again watched him scale a tree, this one even taller than the last, I held my breath.  I couldn’t imagine being so high above the ground, held by nothing other than a rope and spurs attached to my boots to secure a foothold.

I’ve tried to find a way to create the image as he climbed to the top of the tree  with poetic words and not by giving a blow-by-blow description, but I can’t.  It was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

In my mind, it was no longer a tree, it had become a mountain.

There aren’t words to describe what it was like to catch a glimpse of his red t-shirt between the leaves and see him finally emerge at the top of a sawed off limb. Outlined against a sky of white and blue he balanced on the uneven branch and began to claim the tree.

He took down limb after limb, and with the help of his crew they brought each one to the ground with skill and precision. Sawdust swirled through the air like a quick winter flurry.

I wish I had been there for the final fall.

Outside my kitchen window, Bobby climbed the neighbor’s tree in a matter of minutes. He took down the small pine tree down in less than 2 hours. The mighty locust in my yard took two days to bring to the ground.

At 6:42 p.m. the pine tree was complete while the work to cut the remaining 20 feet of the locust tree into manageable pieces was still underway.

Unable to stay away, I sat on my patio and watched the day come to a close.

“Damn it!” Bobby shouted. The buzz of the saw whirred and puttered into silence.

It was the first time Bobby had raised his voice since he started the job.  Dusk was starting to settle, the saw had just died and the job was still not complete.

I’m surprised “damn it” was all he said.

Bobby the tree guy through the leaves

Operation Tree Removal (aka Bobby the Tree Guy):

Part one:  I didn’t realize you thought I meant ‘this’ week…   Read post

Part two: Oh Me of Little Faith…. Read post

Part three: the text: idk if i’ll be able to mow the lawn today…Read post

 

the text: idk if i’ll be able to mow the lawn today…

I’ll get in the tree guy’s way

me:  Tree guy is there?

15 yr old son: Many tree guys

me:  How many tree guys?

15 yr old son: They’re in the backyard too, which is where I would be mowing.  Like 3 or 4

me: Gotcha

Bobby the tree guy had returned.  It was Friday, not Monday, but nonetheless true to his word he was back. Lucky for my son, he also provided the perfect reason to get out of mowing the lawn.

The surface of my driveway was barely visible under the tangled mass of branches and leaves.

As I approached, the ground crew of two shouted out in unison, “Customer! …… Customer!”.

“Is that a warning so everyone knows not to talk bad about the customer?” I asked.

“No ma’am, it’s so we know there’s a lady present.” was the reply.

I had to smile at that.

“Where’s Bobby?” I asked.

My eyes followed as they tilted their heads back.

Higher, higher, and higher…. He was more than 30 feet in the sky, framed by the two limbs he straddled, his dark grey t-shirt blended into the backdrop of darkening clouds.

I watched through a window of two fingers as he planted one foot into the branch and stretched his body along the length of it.  Bobby swung the rope around the branch again and again in order to secure his next anchor for climbing.  I didn’t need to be in his shoes to realize that this job was much harder than he thought it would be.

As one of the dirt covered young men on the ground bowed against the base of the tree, his face buried against his arm, I knew I had received my silent cue to exit stage right.

Thunder cracked and the sky exploded, announcing the end of the day but not the end of the job.

Operation Tree Removal (aka Bobby the Tree Guy):

Part one:  I didn’t realize you thought I meant ‘this’ week…   Read post

Part two: Oh Me of Little Faith…. Read post

Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!

I was sad to read today that one of my all time favorite actors passed away.  Peter Falk, best known for his rumpled raincoat, stinky cigar, and that famous question, “just one more thing…”.

“Just one more thing…” meant he was hot on the trail and would soon solve the latest whodunit.

I can picture his bushy eyebrows, messy hair and the signature hand to the forehead as he pondered a situation.  His fans and ardent followers always knew that the question meant the end was near for the unsuspecting and not so clever criminal.

While perusing a few bios about Peter today, I was surprised that while they all refered to the hit television series and several movies, I didn’t see any mention of two of my favorites.

For all of the Princess Bride fans, myself included, I loved him as the grandfather in the movie where ‘as you wish’ means ‘i love you’.  His patience with the young Fred Savage as his grandson is touching.

His character guides his grandson from bored about the thought of a book to clutching his covers as he hears the tale of fencing, escapes, true love, and miracles.  Not unlike his character Columbo, he duped his unsuspecting grandson, into a confession when he admitted to enjoying the book.

I’ve seen the movie at least a hundred times, and every time, I  get a lump in my throat when he responds to the request to read the book again with the three words “as you wish”.

My favorite of all time though has to be his role as Vince Ricardo, a CIA agent in the hysterical comedy “The In-Laws”.  The version from 1979, the funny one in my opinion.

I can’t even begin to bring justice to the description of the zany characters, bumbling mishaps, or its brilliant comedic pace.  I think it’s best summed up with my favorite quote from the movie.

Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!

Ok, so a question for everyone…

“If my fiancé used the words honeymoon and R.V. in the same sentence, should I be concerned?”

This could quite possibly be one of the funniest questions I’ve ever heard someone ask a group of co-workers. The answer from the group was a resounding, Yes!

Not that vacationing in a Recreational Vehicle in and of itself is a bad thing, clearly it’s not. There are lots of people who tour the country and enjoy life through the window of said transportation.

But for this woman, whose home is in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the answer seemed clear to all in the room.

The Ritz maybe, an R.V., definitely not.

Oddly enough the conversation took me back in time, to when I was in 6th grade and my best friend’s family had an R.V. Her dad owned a John Deere dealership and judging by the size of their house he did quite well. His name was Harley and her mom’s name was Adele.

“Harley….Harley…HARLEY….

“Oh there you are,” she’d say, once she finally found him.

Her voice was shrill and I always wondered if he hid just far enough away, that he wouldn’t hear how her voice rose to a pitch as it approached the R and slid back down to normal on the Y.  But I digress.

The R.V. was visible to all who drove by their house, another sign of wealth based on my limited exposure to the world.

I’ll never forget going ‘camping’ with them. Camping is a word I’d have to use loosely as it related to camping with the Taylors. The Recreational Vehicle was a home on wheels, equipped with every convenience conceivable all packed within something that from the outside looked like a very large toaster.

It was luxury in the wilderness at its finest. We had running water, electricity, a shower, a toilet that flushed and sheets that smelled like hot summer air.

Lynn’s mom could prepare a feast inside or her dad could grill and we’d go ‘out’ to eat, either way the food and the company was a treat.

Lynn and I teased her older sisters mercilessly about their boyfriends, all the while curious and maybe a bit jealous, wondering if we’d ever have one of our own. Harley and Adele sat side by side in a comfortable silence watching and smiling as we all shrieked and giggled.

After a trip down memory lane, I circle back around to the original question.

“If my fiancé used the words ‘honeymoon’ and ‘R.V.’ in the same sentence, should I be concerned?”

I have no idea, the only thing I know, is that we all had a good laugh today