Posts by Kelly Mattei

I grew up in Alabama but have lived in Charlotte, NC, for almost 20 years...longer than I've ever lived anywhere. My husband and I have a teenage daughter and three dogs. We love to laugh, and fun is the name of our game.

Obsessed with Charcuterie

Obsessed with charcuterie.

A friend and her husband came over for cocktails on our patio last week. I told her beforehand that I was going to make us a special summer cocktail, and she said she would bring a charcuterie board. I told her it wasn’t necessary, but secretly, I was excited about it!

I’ll get the cocktail information out of the way first, because I know you’re wondering. Back in March, I traveled to Miami with my teenage daughter and some of her friends for Spring Break. A friend of mine met us there with her daughter, and a good time was had by all. On the last night of vacation, we dined at a restaurant called Ocean Grill at The Setai. The atmosphere was lovely at this beachside restaurant, and when I looked at the drink menu, I was thrilled to see a Frozen Bellini. Of course, I ordered it, and it was fantastic. I remembered that when I was thinking of cocktail recipes, and I looked it up. I found the recipe at orwhateveryoudo.com. You can see it here. I went exactly by the recipe, but when I served them, I added a little more ginger ale when I added the prosecco…just to sweeten it a bit more. And they were almost as good as the ones at Ocean Grill.

So my friend and her husband arrived with a giant charcuterie board in tow! I couldn’t believe it when she walked in! She had made a lovely arrangement of cheeses, meats, crackers, fruit, and chocolate. Wow! I couldn’t dig in fast enough! We sat out by the pool, enjoying our Frozen Bellinis and the charcuterie board (and watching the parade of coyotes!).

And as usual, I became obsessed.

My friend told me Crate & Barrel has a large assortment of charcuterie boards, but I didn’t have time to go there last week, so I ordered one from Amazon. To see the one I ordered, click here. While I waited for it to arrive, I went grocery shopping. My friend said she gets great ingredients at Trader Joe’s, which is just around the corner from my house, but I can’t bring myself to go, because the parking is so bad, so I went to another local grocery store that has plenty of parking. I wandered around the store looking for the perfect ingredients…cheeses, crackers, bread, nuts, meats, fruits, olives, and chocolate.

As usual, my life should be a sitcom, because here’s what happened: I got home with all the groceries and put them away. My husband and I decided to go for a walk. We often go for walks in the evenings…usually just two miles, but it’s something we enjoy. We got about a half mile from our house when one of her friends drove up. I asked, “What are you doing here?” And she told us she was on her way to our house. What?!?! Apparently, our daughter was still out with other friends but told her friend she could go on to our house. No big deal, but we cut our walk short, got into the car with her, and went back home. It was then she told us two more friends were on their way. We love having our daughter’s friends over, so that was absolutely fine with us.

The other two friends arrived and promptly announced they were hungry. One asked, “Do you have any pepperoni and cheese?” They know I usually keep that as an easy snack, so I got out some of the pepperoni and cheese I had purchased for my soon-to-be-made charcuterie board. Another one opened the pantry and grabbed the nuts and crackers. The third girl? She grabbed the prosciutto and mozzarella I had purchased. My husband, knowing I had just purchased everything for the board, just looked at me and laughed. The pepperoni supply was completely depleted, and the cheese? Well, there wasn’t enough left to work with.

I didn’t even get to make my planned charcuterie board, but I was thrilled the girls enjoyed everything I had purchased. There’s nothing I love more than having my daughter’s friends over. Young energy is a good thing. I remember when my own mother loved seeing my friends arrive at our house. Even when my friend, Angela, came over to her house when we were both 50, my mother thought the laughter we shared was the greatest sound ever. Since our daughter is a teenager, I totally get it now.

I’m still totally obsessed with making charcuterie boards. I will make another trip to the grocery store later today. I know my daughter will have friends over at some point this week, and I will be prepared with a beautiful charcuterie board. It will have all those same ingredients I know they love, and hopefully, they will devour everything.

I will stand back and smile while trying to think of new ingredients for the next charcuterie board.

The Flight Canceled (because of punks)?

The flight canceled?

This morning, I opened my news page online and saw an article about a flight from Charlotte to Nassau, Bahamas, that was canceled yesterday. According to the article, a group of high school students from Boston refused to wear masks on their flight from Charlotte to Nassau (I think they were connecting through Charlotte), so after a lengthy delay, American Airlines canceled the flight and rescheduled everyone to travel today. Sadly, all those folks have to arrive in Nassau a day late, but guess what else? All those people who were supposed to fly out of Nassau on that plane back to Charlotte? Well, their flight was canceled too, because the plane never got there (I checked the American Airlines website to see if the downline flight had canceled, and it had.) See the story on the WSOC-TV website here.

What the what?!?! I love American Airlines, but I can’t believe they punished all the travelers because of the actions of some high school punks. Yes, I called them punks, because they were being absolutely, completely selfish.

Here’s the thing: If wearing a mask is such a big problem for you, you don’t have to fly. These kids knew before they left Boston that they were going to be required (by the Federal Aviation Administration!) to wear masks in the airport and on the plane. They knew. Life is all about choices. If you don’t want to wear a mask on a plane, then you should choose an alternate form of travel. Or in this case, maybe you choose a different destination…unless you want to charter a plane or travel by boat.

My blood pressure went up just reading the article about these selfish kids. I can only imagine how livid I would have been if I had been a passenger on the flight. And if my own child had been a participant? Well, she wouldn’t be on her way to the Bahamas today. Her butt would be on the way home…and big punishment would await her…big punishment. Punishment in the form of no phone or driving for a while. Punishment in the form of researching the meaning of the word “selfish.” We would likely teach her what selfishness was all about by behaving selfishly ourselves. She asks for something for dinner? We say, “No, that’s not what we want. We’re selfish, so we don’t care what you want.” She wouldn’t be hanging out in her room alone. She would be hanging out with us all day, so she would have to do what we want to do. Oh, we could teach her what it feels like when someone is selfish and ruins your plans.

And as much as I love American Airlines, I think they were far too lenient on this group of kids. Fortunately, American gave other passengers hotel vouchers for the night (that would not be enough to make me feel better about it), but the high school students? Well, they weren’t old enough to check into hotels, so they had to sleep in the airport. That was a tiny bit of sweet revenge. But still, American was too lenient. And I hope the parents will punish them when they get home.Those selfish punks, in my opinion, should have been blocked from flying again and left to fend for themselves on how to get back home to Boston. Get on a Greyhound bus. I wouldn’t care how they got there…just get out of the airport.

Not gonna lie…if I had been a passenger on this flight, my head would have been spinning around, The Exorcist-style. I likely would have asked (begged!) the captain to just put them out and continue on, because the rest of us would like to get to our destination. I probably would have cried tears of anger, simply because no one loves a vacation more than I do. It makes me angry just to think about it. A bunch of selfish kids ruined things for everyone else.

Unfortunately, these kids made a bad choice. Life is a series of choices. If these kids want to make bad choices, they will eventually learn there are consequences to their actions, I hope. They will be the victims of their own poor choices. However, in this case, I’m afraid the other passengers were the real victims of these punks’ poor choices. I hope these kids thought about their actions while they were trying to sleep in the airport last night. I hope they were absolutely miserable in the airport (and wearing masks!). I hope they got on the plane today with their masks and apologized profusely to the other passengers and crew. I have a feeling they didn’t offer apologies or ask forgiveness, but I hope they did.

Coyotes in the City

Coyotes in the city.

We have lived in the same house for over 20 years. We love our neighborhood in Charlotte (North Carolina). We don’t live right in uptown (what Charlotteans call downtown), but we are well within city limits on the south side of town.

Because our neighborhood has two lakes, lots of trees, and borders a golf course, we have lots of wildlife. Over the years, it hasn’t been unusual to see owls, blue herons (they nest right behind my friend’s house), deer, snakes, hawks, rabbits, turtles, bullfrogs, ducks, geese, Bald Eagles, and even a lone turkey! And yes, we have seen a few coyotes…maybe three over the course of twenty years.

During the pandemic, we started having evening cocktails on the patio. Every evening, we sat outside laughing and talking…sometimes just us, and sometimes with neighbors and friends. I don’t remember hearing or seeing any coyotes last year, but this year…wow.

Earlier in the year, the people who purchased a house just over the ridge behind us decided to demolish the house and clear a lot of the trees from the three acres of land. I thought it was sad as I saw beautiful trees being mowed over by heavy equipment. One tree that went down was a favorite one I could see from the patio, but it was none of my business. Since then, all construction activity has stopped on the property. For several months, it has been quiet.

Well, construction has been quiet, but the neighborhood has been eerily noisy.

We started sitting outside for cocktails again as soon as the weather allowed in the spring. And one of the first nights we were out there, we heard something: howling, yipping, yapping…the creepy sounds of coyotes. Yep, coyotes, right here in Charlotte city limits. It happens at some point almost every night, but I don’t think it’s something I will ever get accustomed to hearing.

Recently, I was sitting outside at 10pm with my neighbor when we suddenly heard a long, lone howl. It was one of those perfect howls like in a western movie. We looked at each other in disbelief. And shortly thereafter, we heard the familiar yipping, yapping sounds of a coyote frenzy. After investigating the meanings of these different sounds, I have learned that one long howl is likely a coyote trying to locate its pack. The yipping/yapping heard afterward is the pack responding to the howl. So I guess that is the communication we were hearing that night.

A few nights later, my husband and I had some friends over for cocktails, and at about 8:30pm, just before dark, my husband pointed at something and asked, “What is that?” I responded, “That’s a coyote…and another…and another!” Three coyotes roaming just past our next door neighbor’s house. They looked very confident. I’m not sure if they saw us, but if they did, they clearly were not disturbed by our presence. Of course, the men ran out to the other side of the house to see if they could see more of them, but nothing. We had never seen three coyotes together in our neighborhood…and it was relatively early in the evening!

Not gonna lie…I find it fascinating, even if it is a bit scary. I know…coyotes generally want to stay away from people, but that knowledge isn’t much comfort when we go for a walk in the evening. I have a fear of encountering a whole pack of coyotes. My husband always tells me not to worry about it, and I jokingly tell him that if we are charged by a pack of coyotes, I’m pushing him down, and I’m running. It’s a joke, of course. I have no idea what I would do if we encountered an angry pack. Chances are, I wouldn’t have to do anything, because they would run from us, but I don’t really want to find out.

Our yard is fenced. We leave exterior lights on at night. We don’t leave pet food outdoors. Our back yard is fenced. And we have a relatively big dog, a Doberman Pinscher. All of those things are supposed to deter coyotes. Our veterinarian says that if we see any near our yard, we should make loud noises to scare them. He also said we could soak pieces of cloth in ammonia or perfume and tie them along the fenceline. Apparently, those unnatural scents deter coyotes too. I’m not going that far…yet. Right now, as long as they keep their distance, we will co-exist peacefully.

When I moved to Charlotte more than twenty years ago, I certainly didn’t think we would have coyotes in the city!

The Best Part of Weekends

The best part of weekends.

Weekends take on different meaning throughout life. I remember when I was a little girl, weekends meant going to the “candy store” on Saturday morning with Daddy after watching cartoons. As a kid, weekend nights didn’t mean much, except I might have slept over at a neighborhood friend’s house. We might have stayed up to watch Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show on a Friday night…and maybe even The Midnight Special with Wolfman Jack. When we were elementary age, my parents would drop us off at the movies on Saturday nights. They went out for date night while we watched a double feature.

As a teenager, weekend nights meant high school football games or basketball games, school dances, movie dates, or just hanging out with friends…maybe staying out till midnight at a party.

College weekends were all about the parties and sporting events…staying out till all hours. Good times.

As a parent, when my daughter was a baby, weekend nights were no different than any other night. We knew we would be up early the next morning, because our daughter woke up early. As she became a toddler, we might get a babysitter and go out to dinner with friends, but the greatest thing about weekend nights was knowing we could sleep in (a little) the next day.

As she got a little older…elementary and middle school age…she developed her own social life and had things to do on weekends. We became her own private Uber, and we were OK with that. We enjoyed taking her where she needed to go and where she wanted to go.

And then she got her driver’s license. She doesn’t need us to drive her around anymore. She goes out with friends on weekends. They go to parties. They go to sporting events. They will go to concerts now that live music is starting up again. They just go. They have a lot of fun. And when the night is over, she and her friends often have group sleepovers. Sometimes, six or eight of them will sleep at our house. And we are thrilled to have them.

The best part of Friday and Saturday nights these days is seeing all those teenage girls piling into our house after a fun night. They are always hungry when they arrive. Sometimes I order pizza, but the most fun is cooking breakfast when they come in. Last night, I had a total of six girls here, so as soon as they arrived, I asked, “Who wants breakfast?” All of them were hungry, so I scrambled a dozen eggs, cooked bacon, and made enough toast for all of them. One girl wanted grits, which was fine (I love grits too), but I told her they would have to be instant grits. I wasn’t going to cook real grits while I was trying to get everything else ready. She was fine with instant grits.

And while I cooked, they sat around the kitchen table, laughing and talking. They showed each other TikToks and talked about old times, and they laughed about things that had happened during their evening out.

I worked like a short-order cook and listened to their silly stories and their funny giggles. They asked me questions about when I was a teenager, and I told them funny things that happened. They love hearing about the 80s almost as much as I love listening to them all sit around laughing together.

I love that they are making fun teen memories, and I hope late night breakfasts at our house will be locked into their long-term memories.

Soon…in just one year…they will all be off to college. They won’t be in Charlotte on weekends anymore. My weekends won’t be filled with teenage laughter anymore. Of course, there might be weekends when some of them are in town at the same time. On those weekends, I sure hope they will have a group sleepover and let me cook them breakfast in the middle of the night while they sit around laughing.

But until then, I’m going to savor every weekend night they are here. I will continue to cook late-night breakfast for them, and I will enjoy the laughter. It’s the best part of the weekends.

Target Saved Me

Target saved me.

Almost 18 years ago, I had a baby. I was completely clueless. I had never taken care of a baby. I had never spent much time around babies. And somehow, I got the baby who didn’t require much sleep. Our pediatrician assured me I wasn’t doing anything wrong…I just got a baby who didn’t sleep. God does have a sense of humor. I love my sleep. He knows that. But He found a way to make me learn to live without sleep. The joke was on me!

Staying home all day with a baby who doesn’t sleep makes for a long day. When she was several months old, after the worst of the flu season had passed, I made a real effort to find places I could go with the baby…places I could waste lots of time. The best place I found? Target.

Yes, way back in 2004, Target saved me. I found I could put my baby in the stroller and spend hours in Target. She was happy, and I was happy. She was seeing new faces, and I wasn’t stuck at home. It was what I referred to as the “Target effect.”

The “Target effect” kept us going for a long time. I could take the baby there in the morning and spend time outdoors in the afternoon. Or if it was raining, we might put in extra time in Target. As our daughter grew older, Target entertained in different ways. We could have snacks (with Icees!) in the snack bar. We could wander through the toy aisles. So much fun in one place! It was especially awesome in winter! In fact, even after she started school, we would go to Target most afternoons after I picked her up , and we would get Icees and popcorn. It was a great opportunity to do a “post game wrap up” of her day.

As she got older, we added other places to our go-to list. Carowinds, a local amusement park, became our favorite place in summer. We got season passes, and I could push her around in the stroller for a few hours a day…with her climbing out to watch live shows or ride rides or play games. We would have lunch in the park and work up a good sweat. Good times! In fact, she would be heartbroken when the park closed at the end of the summer (and secretly, I would be heartbroken too).

Sports Connection, a local place with video games, bowling, inflatable trampolines, and a snack bar, became a favorite when she was elementary school age. I could relax in the snack bar and watch her move around the building with friends. Other places on our list were Gymboree Play and Music, Charlotte Nature Museum, and any splash park or swimming pool in summer.

We were also fortunate to have great friends in a very active “playgroup.” Originally, we met once a week, but as the kids got into toddlerhood and elementary age, we met almost every day we were in town during summer months.

I should probably write a thank you note to Target and all those other places for saving my sanity during those early years. But I owe a really big thank you to the lifelong friends I made along the way. I don’t know how we would have managed without our awesome playgroup. It was made up of moms from all over the country. We were from different backgrounds, religions, and political beliefs, but we developed incredible friendships that are still alive and well today.

Now that our daughter is entering her senior year of high school, I feel sure I will be calling on those friends to keep me sane again! Too bad our favorite Target got rid of the in-house snack bar. We could have survived our kids’ senior year together by having Icees together right there.

Quality Time with Your Teenage Daughter

Want to spend time with your teenage daughter?

Yesterday, my 17-year-old daughter texted me from a friend’s house, “Can we go to Ulta later?” I responded soon thereafter with, “Anytime today is fine with me. Just let me know.” I didn’t want my response to sound too excited, but I was.

I had been waiting for this day for quite some time. Our daughter started driving in 2019, and if you have a teenager who drives, you know that once they start driving, quality time together can be hard to come by. But I had an ace up my sleeve…my Ultamate Rewards points. I’ve been reminding her for a few months that I have lots of points, but she has to go with me to cash them in, because I have to show ID to use them. I’ve used my points before, but this time, they accumulated over a greater amount of time, and I had more points than ever.

I’m big on rewards systems. I have a credit card that gives me great points for purchases, and I love to combine that with other rewards, so I’m getting points in two places with every purchase! I signed up for Ulta Rewards a few years ago. I shop there anyway, so I might as well get points for shopping I would do anyway. If you’re not familiar with Ulta, it’s a store that sells cosmetics, skincare, and haircare products, and the stores near me also have in-house salons. When you shop and give them the information for your Rewards account at checkout, you get points. The base level is one point per dollar spent, but once you’ve spent $500 in a calendar year, you become a Platinum level member, and you start accumulating 1.25 points per dollar spent. Spend $1200 in a calendar year, and you reach Diamond level to start earning 1.5 points per dollar spent.

All these points add up to free money (100 points = $3 off, and 2000 points = $125 off)…and it happens more quickly than you would think, if you’re smart when you shop. By “smart,” I mean you should check the Ulta app for special deals…and activate them on your account…every time you shop Ulta. Often, there are brands on which you get two times points, three times points, or even five times points. And in your birthday month, shop Ulta and get 2X points, a free gift, and a $10 coupon. At the highest level, Diamond, you also get a a Diamond Gift (not diamonds, but something else), a $25 services reward, and free shipping on all online purchases over $25.

If you think you’d never reach Platinum or Diamond status, you might surprise yourself. There are lots of items you might be purchasing at other stores that you could be purchasing at Ulta and getting rewards for it. Shampoo? Get it at Ulta. Need a new hairdryer? Get it at Ulta. (I just purchased the Dyson Airwrap Complete System after several friends recommended it, and just that purchase alone would put you into Platinum Status with Ultamate Rewards. You can see the Dyson Airwrap here. It’s very pricey, but my friends assure me it’s worth it.) Need nail polish? Ulta. Need cosmetics? Ulta. (They even carry higher end brands like Laura Mercier and Lancome.) Need perfume or cologne? Ulta. Need skincare products? Ulta. Think about how much you spend on your hair, makeup, and skincare over the course of a year…you could be getting Ultamate Rewards for those purchases. For more info on Ultamate Rewards, click here.

As for the quality time with my teenage daughter, it was great. She met me at the store, where I was waiting outside so we could walk in together. We each grabbed a shopping basket and moved around the store together, separating when necessary, but coming back together to discuss purchases throughout our visit. I asked about concealers, and she asked me about bronzers. We consulted the app to see which items came with free gifts, just in case anything we needed or wanted would get us something extra. We talked. We laughed. I will admit it was more fun to shop for cosmetics when we could sample them in-store, but things still aren’t back to “normal” for that yet. We had fun anyway, and it was an easy way to spend time together. I find my daughter sometimes chats with me more during an activity, and shopping is a good distraction for free-flowing conversation.

At checkout, we got a lot of free cosmetics using my points and even had some points leftover for another visit. We walked out to our cars together and stood in the parking lot talking for a while before leaving. I know it sounds silly, but it really was quality time. If you have a teenager daughter who drives, you get it. We have family meals together, but sometimes we need mother/daughter time.

Thanks, Ulta, for the quality time with my daughter (and the free stuff too)!

You May Now Move About the Country

You may now move about the country.

Remember last summer, when we were afraid to move around much? We were terrified of getting on airplanes and afraid to go to resorts. We were scared we would get somewhere and be hospitalized away from home, right? I was. I love to travel, but last summer, I had to do it differently. My fear was that, if I did get on a plane and fly to a fun destination, I would be stricken with the virus, and as a result, I wouldn’t be able to get home. I wasn’t alone. A lot of people felt the same way. We stayed home or went on short trips. And it was downright depressing. Sure, we went on a few trips, but it just wasn’t the same. I felt like I lost a whole year of my life, including a valuable summer.

In September 2020 and November 2020, I’d had enough and got on planes anyway. Then again, in February 2021, I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I took our daughter to New Orleans with friends, where we proceeded to eat our way through the city. We made some great memories, for sure, and we appreciated every minute.

I flew again in early June on a trip to the Bahamas with my family. When we got to the airport in Charlotte to begin our journey, I could tell people were starting to emerge from their cocoons, but nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered when we flew out to California on June 13. We were on a 7:25am flight, so we got to the airport at about 6:00am. I was utterly shocked at how crowded Charlotte-Douglas Airport was on a random Sunday at 6:00 in the morning! Apparently, people have decided to take off again…and I love it! We are getting vaccinated and feeling more free! When we arrived at Los Angeles International Airport for our return flight, it wasn’t as crowded as Charlotte had been, but then, it was 4:30 in the morning. As it turns out, our return flight was full, so I know people are on the move.

If you haven’t traveled yet but plan to, here are some things to consider.

  • Remember your mask! Even though we aren’t having to wear them in most public places now, the Feds still require you to wear them the entire time you are in an airport or on a commercial flight…unless, of course, you are actively eating or drinking…and then, they ask that you just remove the mask briefly and put it back on between bites/sips.
  • If you live in a hub city (Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, etc) you might want to consider getting to the airport extra early. You also might want to look into downloading the My TSA app. Using the app, you can check wait times at TSA checkpoints in your airport. It can mean the difference between missing a flight or making it.
  • Take your own pillow/blanket, if needed. Remember those pillows and blankets airlines used to offer? Well, no more… If you want to try to sleep on a plane, bring your own travel pillow and a sweatshirt. Or do what I do: take two sweatshirts. I take them in my carry-on, because I’m the freak who still thinks we need to look presentable when we board a plane, and a sweatshirt is just not something my mother would have approved for air travel. After I’m seated, however, I wear one hoodie and roll up another hoodie into a tube to wrap around my neck, so it will support my neck while I sleep.
  • Food on planes? Almost non-existent. I always fly American Airlines (I love American). Since the whole virus thing started, they’ve served small snacks in first and business class, but no food in coach. Bring your own if you think you’re going to be hungry, but do your fellow passengers a favor…don’t bring hot food. It smells. Your fellow passengers don’t want to smell your stinky sub from the airport or that greasy pizza you picked up in the concourse. Yuck. And while you’re at it, you might even want to purchase some drinks in the airport. I’ve been on a couple of shorter flights that only offered beverages in coach “on request.”
  • Here are some things to consider, even though they have nothing to do with the virus: Please don’t go to the lavatory in bare feet or sock feet on the plane. Yuck. Just yuck. Please don’t put your feet on the armrest of the person in front of you. Please don’t talk loudly on a redeye or early morning flight. Please don’t use nail polish on a flight (some people get headaches from the fumes). DO try to stay relaxed. DO be polite to your fellow passengers and airline employees.

Whatever you do, enjoy your flight. Enjoy the freedom of being able to move about the country again. Hopefully, we will soon feel more free to move about the whole world, but I know lots of people aren’t comfortable with that, because of virus rates in different countries. There are a couple of other countries I want to visit, but I’m holding off. Right now, I’m just grateful I’m able to see new places and meet new people. We made some nice new friends in the Bahamas when we visited, and we got to spend some time with friends from another part of the country when we visited LA. Summer, this year, feels more like summer. And I’m grateful.

We Took the Bus

We took the bus.

In 2012, my then-9-yr-old daughter and I met my friend, Mary Ann, and her son in Los Angeles for a five-day vacation. We had visited the city before, but we decided we would make this particular trip a little different than other trips. We decided we would give our kids some opportunities to learn, and of course, we learned along the way too.

Mary Ann and I decided before we went that we were going to do this trip differently. One big change? We would purchase bus passes for each of us and use public transportation for most of our travels through the city. At 45-years-old, I had only taken a city bus once…the previous year in Los Angeles, and on that particular trip, I got off at the wrong stop. But this time was going to be different. We thought it would be good to expose our kids to the city bus system…see the world through a different lens instead of our locked car doors. And we were right…

We didn’t know a lot about how the whole bus thing works, so we took a cab to the city bus station, where we purchased one-week passes for each of us. I don’t remember how much they were, but I think they were around $20 each. We also picked up some pamphlets that listed information about the bus system, and we learned we could download an app that would help us navigate the city. And our adventure began.

Near the bus station was La Brea Tarpits. I didn’t really know that much about La Brea Tarpits, except I remembered hearing Johnny Carson make fun of it on The Tonight Show when I was growing up. But there it was…just down the street…so we walked down and did the full-on visit. It was well worth our time, and a good learning experience for the kids. If you visit LA with children, especially kids who have an interest in prehistoric creatures, I highly recommend La Brea Tarpits. See more info here.

Upon leaving La Brea Tarpits, we had our first bus experience. We swiped our passes when we boarded, and we were off! I don’t remember much about it; it was pretty uneventful. That particular bus wasn’t even crowded, so we had plenty of space.

Everywhere we went, we referred to the app on our smartphones for help in figuring out which bus to take where. I told Mary Ann that I didn’t know how lots of people figured it out! It really isn’t that easy to master the system, but we were getting lots of help from the app…thank God Mary Ann discovered it. Our bus experiences were pretty darn pleasant. One day, when the bus was crowded on the way to Santa Monica, a young lady offered to let me sit next to her instead of standing. I spoke to her and quickly learned she was deaf. Using the minimal sign language I had learned in my youth, I asked her name. She signed back to me that her name was Crystal, and a friendship, albeit brief, was born! My daughter couldn’t believe her eyes as I chatted with Crystal in my very limited knowledge of sign language, but she could see we were communicating. I explained to her that Crystal couldn’t hear, and she said, “I figured that out, but how do you know sign language?!?” As I’ve said before…I’m a Jill of all trades but a master of none. When we arrived in Santa Monica, we all got off the bus, and we never saw Crystal again, but she made an impression on my daughter…as did my sign language skills.

Another day, we were on a very crowded bus…not even elbow to elbow…it was body to body crowded. A young lady who was standing near me asked me which stop would be closest to her hotel. I said, “I’m flattered that you think I look like I know what I’m doing, but I have no idea.” She explained that she was an exchange student from China. I introduced myself and my fellow travelers, and then I asked a gentleman nearby, who appeared to be homeless, and he gave her directions. At the next stop, when we couldn’t get off the bus fast enough before the doors closed (it was crowded!), the same homeless gentleman came to our rescue by yelling to the driver to stop for us to disembark. Whew! Who knows where we would have ended up?!? My daughter learned there are kind people everywhere, and they don’t all look the same.

We did get off the bus at a wrong stop one day during our adventure, and we believe our kids witnessed a drug deal going down. I guess that’s educational too. We just kept walking, trying to act nonchalant, while we were in fear for our lives, but we made it. The kids were complaining that they were hungry, so we stepped into a fast food joint, but that didn’t last long either. Halfway through our meal, a fight broke out, and we totally ditched the food and got the heck out of there…another lesson, for sure.

I have written before about our “social experiment,” but here’s a quick recap: while walking to breakfast one morning, we took turns greeting everyone we passed on the sidewalk with “good morning.” Some people looked afraid. A few others murmured something back, but three different people stopped us and thanked us for wishing them a good morning. They all asked where we were from, and they were all from somewhere besides LA and said we reminded them of home! Did I mention one of them even hugged us? The lesson there is that you can’t make everyone happy, but maybe you can do something small to make one or two people happier.

I haven’t felt the need to take the bus on subsequent trips to LA. We rent a car at the airport these days and get around pretty easily. But we will always have the memories from that trip.

We took the bus.

The High School “Lasts” Have Begun

The high school “lasts” have begun.

Our daughter is finishing up her junior year in high school. As any mother knows, life with kids is full of “firsts” and “lasts.” It starts with first smiles, first teeth, first words and goes on to first time riding a bike, first day of school…on and on.

At some point, though, we start having “lasts.” Often, we don’t even realize we have had a “last” till well after the fact. There’s the last time you had to actually feed your child, the last time you tied their shoes, the last time you helped them bathe, the last time you brushed their hair, the last time you read a book aloud together…the list continues to grow. A big one for me is the last time I actually carried my child. Fortunately, when our daughter was five or six, I had a friend who told me she always picked up or carried her daughter if she asked (same age), because one day she wouldn’t want her to. Based on that, I carried our daughter or picked her up any time she asked. Eleven years old and she wants me to carry her on my back through an amusement park? You bet! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize when the last time I carried her was actually the last time, but because I had always gladly carried her, it wasn’t painful when I realized she didn’t ask anymore. Honestly, if she asked me to carry her on my back today, I would…and she is 17.

My friend, Linda, told me years ago, when her son was in high school, that she totally didn’t realize it was the last time she would drive her son to school when it was the last time. He got his driver’s license one day, and he was off to school alone the next morning. She said to her husband, “But wait! I didn’t realize that was the last time I would drive him!” It really bothered her. She is long past it now. Her son is in graduate school in Scotland, so she has had lots of “lasts” that were bigger than that.

The “lasts” add up over time: the last day of preschool/elementary/middle school, the last time I actually drove her to school, the last time I actually had to drive her anywhere, and more.

I’m thinking about this, because today, I paid tuition to her independent school for the last time…for her senior year of high school, which will start in August. I’ve been paying yearly tuition since 2008. As soon as I hit the “send” button on the bank draft, I sat back and thought, “that was the last time I’ll do that.” Sure, I will be paying tuition of a different kind, for college, soon enough, but I just paid tuition for my daughter’s 14th year at her present school (she started with transitional kindergarten before kindergarten), and it felt weird to know I will never do it again.

My husband and I talk about “lasts” often, since our daughter is entering her senior year in fall and will be off to college before we can blink. There will be last sports games, last volunteer opportunities at school, and there will even be some people we will likely never encounter again after she graduates.

We sit on the patio with cocktails some evenings talking about how different it’s going to be when she departs for college in just over a year. And we try to enjoy the moments we have with her. Often when she gets home from sporting events or hanging with friends, she will come sit outside with us…it’s valuable, meaningful time for us…and one day there will be a “last” for that too. I hope we will recognize the “lasts” as they occur, like I recognized the last tuition payment today, but I’m sure there will be some that just pass right by without my realizing it. I won’t be able to get a photo to save as a memory of every “last,” but I hope I will remember to get some. I’ll try to get a photo of her last first day of school at her present school. I’ll try to get photos of her last sports games, last time she drives to high school…anything I can think of.

She’ll be flying the coop before we know it. While we are excited for what lies ahead of her (and us), we want to make sure we remember these days. We want her to get out and spread her wings wherever she chooses to go to college (tuition payments to a different place) and live her best life. We just want to enjoy every moment she shares with us.

Now that I’m feeling sentimental, I wonder if I should get a screenshot of that last tuition payment?!

Boating PSA

Boating PSA

I read an article today about a young athlete who had drowned while on a boating expedition with some friends. According to the article, she was hanging out in the water near the boat platform when she suddenly disappeared underwater.

I don’t know yet what happened to the aforementioned young lady, but it immediately made me think of a story from several years ago. Same basic situation…a teenager slipped underwater while hanging out near the back of a boat. Her body was later found, and an autopsy showed she died of carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s something lots of people don’t think about, so with boating season upon us, I want this to be your reminder.

To see an article from the CDC that explains how carbon monoxide poisoning happens in boating situations, click here. And spread the word. I have always been very careful about it, and I’ve reminded our daughter about it at least a hundred times, but if your kids aren’t aware of it, take a moment now to explain the dangers of carbon monoxide to them.

Years ago, I saw a little girl become very ill after riding a “hay ride” in a trailer pulled behind a tractor. When she got off the hayride, she said she felt funny. Soon thereafter, I realized she had been riding at the front of the trailer, directly behind the tractor…and inhaling the fumes (carbon monoxide) from the tractor. She began vomiting. Fortunately, she didn’t require hospitalization, but what would have happened if she had continued to stay on the hayride?

And you know how kids will pull each other behind ATVs or tractors on sleds when there is a little bit of snow? That carries a carbon monoxide risk too.

So at the risk of sounding like a Mom, I’m sharing the PSA…be careful out there. And be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.