Taking the Back Roads

This past weekend, I met some friends in Atlanta for a concert. Of course, we had a fabulous time, because concerts make us feel young, but the drive from Charlotte to Atlanta and back can be less than pleasant. I love driving, and I especially love driving alone! I can listen to the music I want to hear. I can open the sunroof. I can think. But there is nothing relaxing about driving on I-85 between Charlotte and Atlanta. The trucks! The speed! The stupid slow drivers in the left lane! Note to all: if I’m having to pass you on the right, you’re doing it wrong. The left lane is the passing lane and should be moving faster than the right lane. I don’t care what the speed limit is. If folks are passing you on the right, get your butt over into the right lane.

So this time, I tried something different. I opted to drive on back roads instead of the interstate till I got south of Greenville, South Carolina…and it was downright relaxing! No jockeying for position. No crazy speeds. No idiots driving too slow in the left lane. No trucks. It was glorious! I enjoyed it!

Along the way, I passed through towns like Rock Hill, SC, Clinton, SC, Saluda, SC, Pelzer, SC, and more. There were actually things to see along the way: beautiful, historic homes and churches; the historic downtowns of small towns; old train depots; a funeral home with folks gathered outside; a large horse on top of a pole…maybe the symbol of someone’s farm? I saw folks riding horses along dirt roads that ran parallel to the road I was driving. There were big signs advertising upcoming championship rodeos, and another sign for the I-77 Speedway in Chester, SC. I saw old high schools and their football stadiums…probably home to their own version of Friday Night Lights. Big, round hay bales were rolled tightly on farms. Cows grazed. Local restaurants…some of which had long been shuttered and some that appeared properous…dotted the roadside. Teenagers sat on tailgates outside convenience stores. I could smell the fresh air…instead of diesel fuel.

Did it take me a little longer to get to and from Atlanta? Sure it did. Was it worth it? You bet. A drive that should have taken me about three hours and 45 minutes took about 4 1/2 hours. I opened the sunroof and cranked up the tunes, and I enjoyed the ride…passing over rivers and lakes I had never seen. I didn’t even know most of them existed!

And as I drove, I thought about how the folks who live out there on those roads can actually see the stars at night, and I was a little jealous. I love sitting outside in the dark and relaxing while watching satellites and rockets pass overhead. I love seeing planets, constellations, and stars, but it’s difficult to enjoy stargazing when there’s light pollution around a city.

Next time I go to Atlanta, I will take the same route. Yeah…it will take me a little longer, but I will be going through towns where life doesn’t seem so “dog eat dog.” I’ll go through places where it doesn’t seem every man is out for himself. And I might just stop at one of the mom and pop restaurants for lunch.

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The Chick-Fil-A One App…Winning!

Anybody who knows me knows I love to win. I don’t care about winning an argument. I don’t care about getting my way. But if there’s a competition of some kind, I like to win. A friend of mine has a dog in an online photo competition? I vote as many times as I can. Another friend has a child trying to get votes for soccer player of the year? I’m sharing it and voting every chance I get…even when I wake up in the middle of the night. And I do it, because I want to win…or at the very least, I want someone I know to win.

I have always loved Chick-Fil-A. The first one I ever visited one was in Eastdale Mall in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1977. The mall had just opened, and I was 10 years old. One of the employees was outside the store, in the mall corridor, holding a tray full of tiny bite size pieces of a Chick-Fil-A chicken, so I took one…and I never looked back. I ate there every time I went to the mall, and that was pretty often. But back then, they didn’t have waffle fries. They had shoestring fries, and really…I liked those better, but when they changed them, it was OK…i got used to them. I think they changed them at about the same time I visited my first free-standing Chick-Fil-A on Windy Hill Road, in Marietta, Georgia, in 1990, but I could be wrong on the timing. That was the first place I had their waffle fries, and I didn’t love them, but I have developed a taste for them. They had yummy cole slaw then too. It has since been removed from their menu, but I tried their new mac and cheese last week, and it was pretty darn good. I’ll always miss the cole slaw, though.

And a couple of years ago, we got the Chick-Fil-A One app. Oh, it’s a total game changer. Download it to your phone and have it scanned every time you purchase food there…or better yet, load money into the app from your debit card, and you can even purchase food using the app. That’s where my winning comes in.

My goal is to have more Chick-Fil-A points than anybody else. OK, so I know I’m not really going to ever have the most Chick-Fil-A points. I have one child. We can only eat so much, and even if her friends are with us, there’s only so much they can all eat. But I’m giving it the old college try. I am the mom who refuses to part with any of my Chick-Fil-A points. I’m just letting them add up. My favorite Chick-Fil-A location was closed for a few months last year, because of a remodel, and that really cut into my points accumulation, but I have red status, meaning that I have accumulated enough points to get 12 points per purchase on the app…two points more than just a regular member.

And I really love sports season or parties, because if someone needs a volunteer to bring in a nugget tray, I’m your gal! Yes, I know…I’m spending lots of money to get those points, but it’s not like no one eats it. Every single time I’ve ever delivered a nugget tray to a team or group, no nugget has been left unturned. With a sports team, every nugget is usually gone within five to ten minutes…so it’s money well spent. Teens love Chick-Fil-A.

So without telling you how many points I have right now, I can tell you this: my plan is to accumulate enough points that our daughter can get free sandwiches all the way through college when she goes in three years. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how many that will be, and I have nowhere near enough points, but I’m on my way!

An added bonus? I don’t have to get out my credit or debit card every time I go through the drive thru! Before I had the app, I would hand them my card to pay, and then when they handed me back my card, I would get in a rush and just put it in the wrong pocket of my handbag or wallet, and the next time I wanted to use it, I would panic, thinking I had lost it. With the app, I just hold up my phone to pay, and they scan it right from there…no more fumbling for my debit or credit card, and no more panic later when I can’t find it.

But here’s more motivation for you to get enough points to become a red member on the Chick-Fil-A One app: when you reach red status, you get even more special stuff! Once you reach red status, you and five guests can get a “backstage tour” of the Chick-Fil-A home office in Atlanta…just give 30 days notice. And as if that’s not enough gratitude, you also get two free tickets to the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta! If you are a football fan who has never visited, it’s a must-see. I took my daughter a few years ago, even before I had the Chick-Fil-A One app, and we both loved it!

So yes, I have a problem…I like to win. And even though I know it’s costing me money every time I get those points, I know I am accumulating points in the process…and I’m on my way to free sandwiches for our daughter when she will need them most. She won’t have to feel guilty one bit about going to Chick-Fil-A when she’s in college, because it will be FREE!

Winning!

Thanks, Chick-Fil-A!

 

 

 

 

We Finally Made It

Has there ever been somewhere you wanted to go but just never made it happen? I don’t mean a big trip. I mean a little place somewhere you wanted to visit when you were in the area, but circumstances kept you from going?

A few years ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, along with her three kids and my daughter. We started in Charlotte and drove al through Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania…and straight home from there. We saw most of the things we wanted to see, but we missed a couple.

The first one we missed was Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin. You can see the website here. It’s a giant cheese store about 45 minutes from Chicago. It’s actually more than a cheese store…it’s a gift shop, an ice cream parlor, a restaurant, and a big photo op! Of course, it’s shaped like a castle, but it’s not made of cheese. We found out about it when we were looking at information about something that might be fun to visit just over the Wisconsin border from Chicago…it would be a way to make a quick visit to Wisconsin so our kids could add it to their lists of states they had visited.

Alas, we didn’t get to go while we were on that trip. There was so much fun to be had in Chicago on that trip that we never made it to Mars Cheese Castle…never even crossed the border into Wisconsin. And I’ve always regretted it. I used to go to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, all the time, and I loved it. The people were always so nice, and well…the cheese! So I especially hated my daughter didn’t get to go. She, of course, didn’t care. She was 11 years old when we took that road trip, and Mars Cheese Castle just didn’t sound that interesting to her.

Yesterday, we flew into Chicago…me, my daughter, and her friend. The girls are going to a small concert early today, and then we are going to Lollapalooza in downtown Chicago. We are staying in Schaumburg, because the early event is near here. We will Uber into downtown later.

But when we landed yesterday and got our rental car, I told the girls I wanted to make a quick trip up to Mars Cheese Castle. They grimaced. They moaned. They complained. Actually, only my daughter complained, grimaced, and moaned. Her friend was very polite about it. My daughter asked if I could drop them at the hotel and go by myself? I almost agreed to it, but then I said, “Come on. You’ve never been to Wisconsin, and it won’t take long.” She rolled her eyes but gave in, asking only if I would stop and get them food on the way.

After a quick stop for food and a 45-minute drive north, we found Mars Cheese Castle! It was everything I had hoped and more! Seriously, I had wondered if we would get there and just see shelves of cheese curds, but whoever built it knew what they were doing. Of course, it looks like a castle on the exterior, and there is a big electric sign out front. I made the girls take pictures of me in front of the sign and the building when we got out of the car, and to my surprise, they wanted pics too! Winning!

We walked in with a family who had visited many times before. They were practically giddy! They had lived nearby at one time but had moved away, so they were there for a visit…and they were stocking up on the cheese curds! Of course, I grabbed some cheese curds and put them in my cart too. The girls disappeared as soon as we walked in, but in a few minutes, they came back to me, eating ice cream cones and wearing paper crowns with the Mars Cheese Castle logo on the front. We shopped a little; I grabbed a hoodie for me and some t-shirts for all of us, and we took some photos inside the store. I also got myself a cup of Superman ice cream and a paper crown.

As we walked to the car, we were laughing and taking more pictures. As soon as we started to drive away, my daughter said, “That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be!” Whew! One day, they will learn that I do my research ahead of time.

So I was able to mark Mars Cheese Castle off my list of places to visit, and my daughter has now been to Wisconsin! She has the paper crown to prove it! But don’t get me wrong…given the opportunity to visit again, I will be going back to Mars Cheese Castle!

The other place we didn’t get to visit on that road trip in 2015 with Mary Ann? Oram’s Donuts in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. See their website here. We made it to Beaver Falls, but we didn’t go to Oram’s because we had a car full of cranky kids that day…well, mine was cranky. It was the last leg of our big road trip of 2015, and we were all tired. But one thing I know for sure is that Mary Ann and I will get to Oram’s Donuts…without our kids.

So if you find yourself in Chicagoland or southern Wisconsin, visit Mars Cheese Castle. Think of me as you walk around eating your ice cream cone and squeaky cheese (cheese curds) while wearing your paper crown (they’re free at the ice cream counter).

Lollapalooza With Teens

It’s the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. My husband and I watched a documentary about it recently and loved it. When naked people were swimming and bathing in the lake, I turned to my husband and said, “Just think…those people are someone’s grandparents now. Imagine watching this and seeing your grandparents!”

I was far too young to go to Woodstock, but I remember seeing lots of “hippies” around when I was a kid in the 70s. When I was around five, every time we saw a “hippie,” we would flash them the peace sign. It seemed like the thing to do.

Now there are lots more music festivals around the country. I’ve been to Jazz Fest in New Orleans…way back when, but I don’t think I’ve been to any other music festivals…till this weekend.

I just got back from Chicago with my daughter. She and a friend wanted to go to a YouTuber concert just outside the city, in Palatine. The concert was scheduled for 11am Saturday, and it was scheduled to end at about 4pm. When she first asked, I said, “No.” But as it got closer to August, I started thinking about it again. My daughter started field hockey tryouts today, so if I took her to the YouTube concert, it could be our last hurrah of the summer. And I bought the tickets, booked the airline tickets, and made hotel and rental car reservations. She was thrilled.

We arrived in Chicago late Friday afternoon, and at the rental car counter, I heard lots of chatter about Lollapalooza, a huge music festival that was going on in Chicago while we were there. I hadn’t even realized it was happening. The girls didn’t dare ask me to take them for any number of reasons…we were staying outside the city; they didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth; and I’m sure they thought I would say “no.” We got our car and made a few stops on the way to the hotel. I had booked two rooms; sharing a hotel room with two teenage girls is no fun. But when I got to my room, I quickly got online and looked for tickets. I purchased three one-day tickets for Saturday from StubHuba trusted resale company, and I got a surprisingly good price. You only live once, right?Then I picked up my phone and called my daughter in their room, saying, “Tomorrow, after you get out of your YouTube thing, we’re going to Lollapalooza. I just got us tickets.” She gasped. “What?!?! Really?!?!” She told her friend, and they squealed with delight!

So Saturday, while they were at their first event, I drove around looking at sights and  had lunch with a friend who had moved from Charlotte to Chicago years ago. We met at a place called Mother Clucker’s Kitchen(who knew people in Chicagoland could cook good collard greens?!?), and we laughed and talked, and she told me how to take the train from Palatine into the city…and back. And as soon as the girls were finished with their event, we did just that…took the train into the city.

When we arrived at Grant Park, I thought it was a little overwhelming…the sights, the sounds, the people! But the girls were completely unfazed. They hit the ground running, telling me they were going to see Lil Skies at the Lakeshore Stage. What?! Huh?!? But they were gone! I looked on the directory and found the Lakeshore Stage and headed that way. To get to it, I had to walk over a slight hill, and when I did I was amazed. There was a sea of people standing in front of me! I couldn’t believe my eyes! At first, I thought I’d never seen so may people in one place, but then I realized I had…in football stadiums, but never just out on a flat surface. It was incredible that so many people were standing together, singing the same song, waving their arms at the same time as Lil Skies.img_6119

After Lil Skies played, I found the girls (thank God for cellphones), and we went to a merchandise stand together, where we shopped, regrouped, and setting up a meeting point and meeting times. They told me which stages they were going to and which artists they wanted to hear, and I sent them on their way. But first, I made sure their phones were charged, and if they weren’t they had to take a portable charger (I always carry one).

I wandered between stages. I listened to different artists. I talked with folks around me…from Deerfield, Illinois; from New York; from South Carolina; from Alabama (the Tua Tagliavaloa jersey was a conversation starter); and a family from California. I watched people dance. I checked out the food vendors but didn’t get anything. I enjoyed the crazy wardrobes and the funny t-shirts. One favorite t-shirt was “Done Adulting For Today.” Indeed!

Did I feel safe? You bet! At no time did I feel threatened or see anyone else who appeared to feel threatened or looked threatening. People were happy. Folks were polite. There was no pushing or shoving…lots of folks offering to take pictures of others, giving each other directions to stages, etc. I did see two or three folks jump the fence to get in near the Lakeshore stage, and I read in a newspaper article there were a few arrests for possession of controlled substances…and one for assault…but I didn’t witness it. And honestly…there were thousands of people there; one assault arrest? Do the math…that’s pretty good.

After the girls had heard the artists they wanted to hear, we were on our way back to our hotel. They talked and talked about how much fun they had and how they couldn’t believe they got to go to Lollapalooza! We then made plans to return next year. I will definitely take friends with me, because it would be so much more fun with friends. And next year, I’ll feel better knowing the girls know their way around.

I feel like this is only the beginning of the music festivals for us now. We’ve already been talking about Coachella. That’s one I definitely want to do, so I hope we can make it happen before she’s off to college. Going to a music festival might sound like a crazy thing for a middle-aged mom, but I wasn’t even the oldest person there…and there were lots of people about my age. I was also a “safe person” for teens to approach; several walked over and talked to me while they waited for friends or tried to regroup. Moms have that affect on teens.

So now I’m already booking our hotel rooms for next year. We’ll purchase tickets for the full weekend next year, and several friends have already “volunteered” to go with us! And next year, I will be prepared with the correct wardrobe. The only shoes I had taken this year were wedges, and I didn’t take any really casual clothes. But next year...it is on!

 

 

 

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A Little Fever Won’t Keep Me Down

What is it about vacation that brings on sickness? I don’t mean getting sick on vacation; I mean getting sick right before vacation. It always happens to me. Always happens to me.

Tomorrow morning at 10:00, I’m getting on a flight to Los Angeles. Come Hell or high water, I’m getting on that plane. But for the past few days, I’ve noticed I’ve been “trying” to get sick. A few nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t breathe through my nose. A little tissue and some Afrin helped that night. Same for the next night. Then yesterday, I woke up with a slight sore throat, and as the day progressed, my ears started to hurt. Ugh.

Today, I woke up feeling about the same, but after having an early birthday lunch with friends and a quick trip to Target, I realized I was feeling a little worse. I found a thermometer in my house, which is not an easy thing to do, because my daughter and husband tend to misplace them, but this time, it was exactly where it should have been…in the kitchen drawer. Doesn’t everyone have one of those kitchen drawers? It has paper clips, safety pins, tape, and yes…it’s supposed to have at least one thermometer. And this time I was especially lucky…the thermometer was there, and the battery in it wasn’t even dead! So I checked my temperature, and just as I suspected, I had a low-grade fever, which I probably still have, because I haven’t taken any medication yet. I’ve been staying hydrated, but waiting to take meds.

The fact that I haven’t taken meds stresses out my husband. “Have you taken anything yet?” “When are you going to take something?” I promise, I’m not sitting around complaining. He just sees me sitting in my bathrobe and remembers I’m not feeling well. I explained to him that I wanted to keep the fever for a little while to give it the opportunity to fight the germ I have. He thinks I’m nuts. Well, he always thinks I’m nuts, but he even gave me one of those “you’re nuts” looks. So right now, I’m taking an Advil Cold & Sinus tablet, because I need to feel well enough to get packed for my trip tomorrow. I’m giving it about 45 minutes to start working, and then I will get busy packing.

Tonight, I’ll take some NyQuil, you know, the “night time, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can rest” medicine. I know it won’t cure me, but it usually does what the old commercials said it would do.

And tomorrow, I’ll get on that plane. Oh, I’m going. I’ve been looking forward to my friend’s “big, African wedding” for months (she is from Nigeria!), and there is no way I am going to miss it. Before you freak out and say I’ll be sharing germs with everyone on the flight, settle down. It’s a cold. I don’t have measles. I don’t have flu. I don’t have tuberculosis. It’s a common cold. The wedding isn’t till Monday, so by then, I should be good as new. Sure, it has me feeling pretty bad today, but I won’t let a cold keep me down. No sir…not gonna happen.

This is one of those many times I’m thankful we live in an airline hub city. Nonstop flights sure are easier than connections. I know…connecting is no big deal, but as my daughter pointed out after we cleared customs/immigration in Charlotte after a flight home from Mexico in March, “all those other people have another flight before they get home, and we get to go home now!” There’s something great about living in a hub city. Thank you, American Airlines, for being here. So tomorrow, I’ll get on that American Airlines plane and sleep as much as I can on the way to LA. We will get there, and just like always, I’ll hit the ground running.

I don’t have time to be sick. Did I mention Memorial Day is also my 52nd birthday and the bride’s birthday? Yep…she’s getting married on Monday on our birthdays. It should be a fabulous, memorable birthday. Happy Birthday to me!

And when I get home, my daughter will have three more days of final exams at school before SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER!

Accentuate The Positive

No matter where you live, people complain about where they live. Maybe they’ve spent their whole lives there, so they’re bored. Maybe they just moved there and think the place they lived before was better.

Here’s the funny thing, though: complaining doesn’t help. No matter the situation or place, pointing out the negative in life makes everything worse. Constructive criticism = yes. Complaining = no.

Recently, I was talking with a friend who moved to Charlotte from a large city in another state last summer, and I asked her how she liked it. Rarely do I hear someone say they don’t like Charlotte. In fact, a pilot on a recent flight out of Miami, before takeoff, said, “We are going to Charlotte. If you don’t want to go there, well, you’ve probably never been there.” It’s a lovely city…not too big, not too small.

When I asked my friend how she liked our fair city, she responded, “It’s fine, but I can’t believe schools close when there’s hardly any snow! What is wrong with you people?” Really? Frankly, complaining about snow days in Charlotte is not very original, so you get zero points for creativity. As always, I explained that, because we don’t get much snow, cities in the south don’t spend money on a lot of snow-clearing road equipment, so some roads can be icy for days. Plus, some people in the south have never driven in snow or ice, adding another level of danger. Blah…blah…blah…I’ve said it all before.

Different regions have different strengths. Southerners might not drive in snow, but we can drive in torrential rains! Before living in Charlotte, I lived in Mobile, Alabama, a city on the Gulf Coast where we had afternoon thunderstorms almost every day during summer. Guess who had trouble driving in it? People from other parts of the country. You won’t see someone from Mobile turning on their hazard lights and slowing to a dangerous crawl on the interstate in a rainstorm..but that’s another discussion for another day.

Sooooo…instead of pointing out the obvious to that friend who was complaining about snow days in Charlotte, I asked, “What do you LIKE about Charlotte?” After all, she chose to live here. Folks can get defensive about their cities.

action blur car daylight

Photo by nika kakalashvili on Pexels.com

I could sit around thinking of bad things to say about Charlotte, but I can immediately  give people a laundry list of great things about this city: great climate, friendly people,  an awesome amusement park, an airline hub, miles of scenic greenways for biking/walking, green spaces everywhere, plays/musicals/shows, museums, sporting events, good shopping, churches on “every corner,” a fantastic Jewish Community Center, great employment opportunities, colleges and universities in the area…the list goes on and on.

Every place has strong points. In a small town, it might be the sense of community or safety. In a bigger city, it might be great restaurants, cultural events, or sporting events…or maybe the city, like Mobile, is near the beach.

When my daughter was younger, I would pick her up from school and say, “Tell me two great things that happened today.” It forced her to find two positives. It’s easy to complain, but it’s more fun to find something good. It started the ride home on a good note.

So, if you’ve moved to a new city or town and can’t find something nice to say, well, don’t say anything at all. You probably haven’t been looking for good things. Search for good things about it. But if you’ve searched and still can’t find anything nice to say, it’s likely not the place that’s the problem.

Next time it snows in Charlotte, I’m going to pray schools are closed, so we can drink hot chocolate and eat grilled cheese sandwiches after we go sledding in two inches of snow till it melts. And next time there’s a rainstorm (with no lightning), I’m going outside and splash through some puddles.

Accentuate the positive, folks!

***This made me think of my Mother telling me one time, “If you think everybody else is crazy, chances are you’re the crazy one.” But that’s for another day…***

For information on events and things to do in Charlotte, click here. Charlotte’s got a lot!