Something to SEA: “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt”

Last year, I started a tradition with my niece and nephew that turned out to be much more fun than I had ever hoped for.

I noticed just how many Christmas Trees were on display in business windows and in other public places around town, and I thought that it would be pretty neat to take a picture of every tree I saw.

Thus this new holiday tradition of “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt” was born.

My nephew is Agent 101 (he is now 11), with my niece as Agent 202 (is now 13). I am Agent 303, boss of the mission. I recycled our Agent names from a game we played several years ago when my nephew devised these names for each of us. Sidebar: Agent 101 didn’t give my husband (his uncle) an Agent name; rather, he named him Dr. Coconut.

Anyway, I kept a running list of the trees I saw, then added to it every day as my husband and I would make our daily rounds and beach runs.

slide7I then began to “tease” my two co-agents with cryptic messages after I set a date with my sister-in-law as to when our “Operation” could take place. I would leave messages like the one to the left in their mailbox (I know the images are a bit blurry-if you click on them, you will be able to read them better).

Agent 101 and Agent 202 accepted the mission, even though they had no idea what I was up to! All they knew is that they were going to spend the afternoon with their crazy aunt, and it had nothing to do with Six Flags or Artie Farty (yeah, my sister-in-law loves me for teaching the kiddos all sorts of inappropriate ditties like that).

On the mission date, each agent was dressed in black and all ready to go at the designated pick up time of 2:30 pm. I handed over their “Operation Christmas Tree Hunt” Classified Folders, which contained the mission instructions, a pen, a map of all of the trees I knew of, and a list in “route order,” so to speak, of the places we would be stopping.slide3

As they read the instructions, they were laughing and loving it:

Today’s Mission:

  1. Rapidly enter the buildings on the Map.
  2. Say NOTHING.
  3. Stand in front of the formal Christmas tree. 
  4. Smile for a photo. 
  5. Rapidly exit the building.

Agent 101 and Agent 202 had a lot of fun sneaking around and became more stealthy with each mission location. I was glad that none of the businesses gave us a hard time about going into their stores just for a picture with their tree. In fact, many of the people working at each spot laughed and loved the idea.

We ended up with photographs of 49 different Christmas Trees, most of them from my map, but we found others along our journey too. When they would find a new one, they would scream, “There’s one! Can we use that one too?” My answer was slide1always “Of course!” Both agents were silent for each business visit and neither uttered a word inside any of the stops along the way. Their poses in each picture are a crack-up, too (I didn’t include any so as to protect their privacy), and as I am looking at the pictures now, I am literally laughing out loud.

Photo 22 is actually a picture of the agents with Dr. Coconut posing as a tree; they wanted to stop by and say hi to their uncle to include him in our mission.

When Operation Christmas Tree Hunt 2015 was completed, I took them out to dinner to celebrate our successful mission.

I made a photo book for each Agent with the pictures I took. Even though the books didn’t arrive until January, they didn’t care. Agent 101 and Agent 202 loved their books just the same.

I’m already keeping a list of the trees I spot for this year’s Operation Christmas Tree Hunt, but I’m going to make a few changes to the mission parameters. This year, I am going to add riddles to some of the stops, where Agent 101 and Agent 202 will have to figure out the next stop along the way instead of plotting every location on the map. I’m also going to make “Thank You” cards for the Agents to hand to each business. Agent 303 (me) will keep some singles in my pocket, and if a business has a charity collection bucket, I’ll have Agent 101 or Agent 202 give a dollar towards the cause.  Maybe next season we can call up Agent 404 (my 5-year-old nephew) to the ranks of big kid Agent and have him join us for our adventures.

slide5Agents 101 and 202 might not remember the present I gave them last year or the year before. However, I know Agent 101 and Agent 202 will always remember Operation Christmas Tree Hunt and the many laughs they shared with mission boss Agent 303 along the journey.

I know Agent 303 will.



Day 11 of 31 Days of Summer Lovin’ 2016: Fun

IMG_7800The best kind of fun is summer fun, and for me, the best summer fun is made with these four young people. Whether it’s going to the boardwalk/aquarium/Six Flags, telling jokes, or beeping at random people and waving as we drive on by, I laugh the most when I am with E, N, H, and I. They are my four heartstrings, my four blessings. Each one makes Auntie’s heart smile.

Sea Something Today!

When I stop and look around, I see a lot of beauty and history right in my own area.  I bet it’s the same for you, too.  “Busy” and the “to-do lists” gobble up our time like a ravenous hawk, eating our precious minutes away.  At the end of the day, all we have is our memories and experiences.  One of my goals this year is to make those memories and experiences less stress-filled and more smile-filled.

I know I’ve mentioned my list of things I want to do while I am 44 before…I keep another blog documenting my year and my progress towards reaching my goals here.

Number 2 on my list was to see the Statue of Liberty.  I was only there twice before, first as a camp counselor in the early 1990’s, and again with my cousins and family in 1994.  It is only 70 minutes away, and you’d think that I’d see it more than just twice in 44 years.  But I let a calendar and list of things I have to do dictate my life for far too long.  As a result, I made it a priority to see it this year.

I took my niece, who did not know where we were going (which made it even more meaningful and fun).  First of all, it was surprisingly inexpensive:  $7 for parking, and $27 total for ferry tickets/admission to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  I didn’t realize that people buy tickets for the crown and pedestal online months in advance, so they were sold out; however, to add on those benefits is only a few dollars more.

As we rode the ferry over to the landmarks, I looked at the skyline of Manhattan, and took in all of the changes.  I also thought of my cousins from Sacramento…was it really 21 years ago already that we did this together?

20150817 Liberty Photo 5

I wasn’t heartbroken about not being able to go inside the Statue, because my niece and I would have had to waste time standing in more lines in the heat.  Just walking around the Statue’s grounds was enough for us.  We also took in Ellis Island, ate lunch, bought some trinkets (including postcards and pins for my collection), laughed a lot, and learned some photography tips along the way.  For a diary-type reflection of the day, please read my blog post from my Living 44 blog here.

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Looking back, what made the biggest impact was the reason I went in the first place:  the Statue of Liberty is right here, 70 minutes away, and here we were, among so many people who traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles just to see this historic landmark, and more people who traced their ancestors’ journey through Ellis Island.

20150817 Liberty Photo 1

My point is not to go on and on about the Statue of Liberty.  Rather, what I learned is to appreciate the history and the special places that are close by, and to share them with my family members and friends.  I now have a lot of memories and photographs from a wonderful day spent with my niece that we can both cherish forever.  Instead of sitting in the air conditioning on the couch, I got out there and did something wonderful.  All it cost me was a few bucks, a quarter of a tank of gas, and 500 minutes.

This week, spend some of your minutes on YOU:  find a place close to you and just go there, whether it is a park, a beach, a nature center, a historical home, or a museum.  Laugh and learn, either by yourself or with someone you care about  The minutes you spend will return priceless dividends of memories.

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Please feel free to share a similar experience you made time for this week in the comments below.

Until next time,


“Sea” Why Summer Is So….

Summer.  I’ve always loved summer and everything that comes along with it.  Living at the Jersey Shore for 44 years and counting, summer has a role all of its own every year.

Summer moves to its own rhythm and is its own entity.

Summer has its own magic.

The mid-afternoon lull of the crickets and the angle of the sun has changed ever so gradually over the past few days, signs that summer is now on the downslide.

I am not going to think about it though.  Instead, I intend to enjoy each and every moment and relish each day.  I am going to bask in summer’s shine, and let its grasp take hold of me.  I am going to just be.

What do I love most about summer?  Let’s see…

nectarines * cherries * flowers * butterflies * gardening * mowing the lawn * bicycle rides * walks * birds * ice pops * the ice cream man * watermelon * baseball * beach runs * corn on the cob * fishing * the boardwalk * rides * games * breakfast * ice cream * summer music & playlists * salt water * seashells * sea glass * sunburn * sunscreen * potato salad * crabbing * fireworks * finding 4 leaf clovers * fireflies * crickets * blueberries * day lillies * writing * sitting at my favorite places and just being * sandy feet * surf shops * the smell of the ocean * shrimp * tomatoes * sunrises * sunsets * swimming * the beach * ocean waves * laughing with family and friends * the warmth * sunshine * the park * seafood * burgers and dogs * pluots * peach pie * caterpillars * sea stars * horseshoe crabs * sitting at the Inlet and watching the boats *

My friend, Cortland Coleman, summed it up best in one of his recent posts:  “Beach days, patio nights, blue skies and salt water. You just can’t beat summer.”

20150803 Photo 2 Beach Cort

No, sir.  You can’t beat summer.

What are some of your summer favorites?  I’d love to hear!  Please share in the comments.

Until next time,



Something to Sea: Rainy Day Clicks for 7/11/2015

One of the weekly posts I intend to write will be a roundup of interesting pages and web finds from the week.  Save them for a rainy day, a weekend, or when you just feel like tooling around the Internet.

When in NYC, eat here


100 Words for Now

This is 40

Color These

From Local to National

Have the Courage

The Importance of Responsibility

and finally

I feel exactly the same way!

Did you find a meaningful site or post this week?  If so, please leave the link in a comment.  I wish you a relaxing and wonderful weekend (or rainy day, whenever you may read this entry.)

Until next time,