For the Love of Tres Leches Cake

For the love of Tres Leches cake.

I wish I could remember my first very bite of Tres Leches cake. I can’t. But I remember my last bite of Tres Leches cake, and I look forward to the next one! If you’re not familiar with Tres Leches cake, you should be. It’s also referred to by some people as “milk cake,” because as the Spanish name suggests, it is made with three milks. It’s a sponge cake that is soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. It’s popular in Latin America, and I have seen lots of different versions of it. I don’t know if it varies geographically, but I have seen it with cinnamon added to the top, with caramel added to the top, and sometimes, with fruit added. My favorite? Plain old Tres Leches…and give me a good cup of coffee to go with it.

Tres Leches cake is very popular in Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico. If you can find authentic Cuban or Mexican restaurants in your area, you might be able to find Tres Leches cake there. I just got back from a trip to Miami for spring break, and while I was there, I had Tres Leches a couple of times at a couple of different restaurants. I definitely miss that part of Miami! Surprisingly, I have just discovered I can get Tres Leches cake in my local Publix grocery store here in Charlotte! Wanna know the real surprise? It is actually good…really, really good! OK, if you live near a Publix, you know they do almost everything well. I have never been disappointed when I have ordered from their deli or bakery. Why would I be surprised their Tres Leches cake is good?

Publix sells it in a little plastic clamshell container. I could hardly wait to get home with it. When I did, I I had to serve it to myself the way it has been served to me in in Cuban restaurants…I poured the milk mixture around it on the serving plate, just so it could soak up a little more milk.

The first time I ever had Tres Leches served with the milk actually puddled around it was at a Cuban restaurant in West Palm Beach earlier this year. My friend, Linda, has a place in Vero Beach, and when I told her I’d be driving through the West Palm area, she told me I absolutely had to stop at a restaurant on Old Dixie Highway called Havana. She said, “When you step inside, you’ll expect Ricky Ricardo to come walking from around the corner.” (If you’re offended by that, please stop following me. She meant it felt like an authentic Cuban experience.) I loved Desi Arnaz (apparently, a lot of women did), and I appreciate everything about Latin culture, so I was excited. I’ve written before about this restaurant, and I think I said then that the Tres Leches cake there is what dreams are made of. No joke. I might need to go back to West Palm just for that cake…puddled in sweetened condensed milk…and accompanied by a cup of cafe Cubano…that’s Cuban coffee. If you’ve never had that…it’s another experience…frothy azucar and crema (sugar and cream). It was the perfect accompaniment to the best Tres Leches cake I have ever had.

So with my Publix cake, I truly think I improved it by pouring the condensed milk around it. It made it feel more authentic to me, and it was delicious. I should also mention here that I don’t like cinnamon and caramel on my Tres Leches cake. When we were in Miami last week, I asked a Cuban gentleman about that, and he turned up his nose at it too. Apparently, he thinks cinnamon and caramel have no place in the Tres Leches world. We are on the same page. I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one who doesn’t like that added touch.

I’m sure there are places in Charlotte to find better Tres Leches cake. I just need to get out and search for them. (I’ve included the top five from Yelp in a list below at the bottom of this page.) Till then, I’ll stick with the Publix Tres Leches, and I’ll keep soaking it in sweetened condensed milk on my own. Give me a call, and you can come over and have some too! I’ll get some coffee ready too, but it won’t be Cubano. I don’t know how to make it.

***If you’d like to visit Havana Restaurant in West Palm Beach, it’s located at 6801 S. Dixie Highway. The takeout window is open 24 hours! Yes, 24 hours! But the dining room opens at 5pm daily. You can check out the menu on their website here.***

Yelp’s Top Five Tres Leches Cakes in Charlotte:

  1. Manolo’s Bakery, 4405 Central Avenue, Suite O
  2. Suarez Bakery, 4245 Park Road
  3. Suarez Bakery and Barra, 1115 N Brevard St in Optimist Hall
  4. La Poblanita Mexican Restaurant and Candy Store, 1925 Westinghouse Blvd
  5. Odalys Bakery, 6407 South Blvd

Garage Coffee

Garage coffee.

No, it’s not a brand of coffee. Although, I think it could be a cool name for a brand of coffee.

Over the past couple of weeks, since Thanksgiving, I’ve become much more paranoid about COVID. My behavior reminds me of my junior year in college. Up till my junior year at The University of Alabama, I was willing to go out to bars with a fake ID. Back then, in Alabama, if you were caught by the Alcohol Beverage Control officers (ABC) underage in a bar, you were arrested and taken to jail. When I was a freshman and a sophomore, it was a risk I was willing to take. But when I became a junior, and I was so close to my 21st birthday, it wasn’t worth the risk. I stopped going out to bars. My thinking? “I’m so close to my 21st birthday…I can wait till then, because I’m afraid of getting in trouble…when I can just wait a little longer.” So I waited.

Here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and we are being told the vaccine is just around the corner. I know there are lots of people who are not willing to get the vaccine, but I am. I’m ready to start living again, and the vaccine is the only way I know to do that. And we are being told it will be available relatively soon. Just like my junior year and my 21st birthday, I’m afraid to risk getting COVID (I’m over 50) when the vaccine is in sight. Actually, I don’t want to risk getting COVID at all, but especially now. Call me a “sheep” if you want. I don’t care. I’m not staying home because the government is telling me to. I don’t think our government should be telling us what to do. I think it should be our own choice, so I’m not a sheep…I’m making my own decision.

In November, I was not as afraid, and I went on vacation. Yes, I did. I will admit it, but I was as careful as one could possibly be, and frankly, COVID was out there, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now. I made my child (who went with me) quarantine for two weeks prior, and I quarantined for two weeks prior as well…no lunches with friends, no coffee with friends in my kitchen…nothing. I didn’t want to get to our destination and get sick while we were there. I don’t want to be hospitalized anywhere…especially in another city. When we went to the airport, we found seats to wait in a secluded area of the American Airlines Admirals Club. We threw up a prayer and wore our masks for the entire flight. We stayed the first few days in a bungalow on the beach and the next few days in a bungalow at a hotel…very little close contact with anyone…and never in a crowd the whole time we were there. We had a rental car, so we never had to use Uber. We went to restaurants, but we always dined outside…never near anyone else. And on the way home, we found seats in a secluded part of the Admirals Club again. We have TSA precheck, so we never stood in a crowded line.

Even with all those precautions, if I had a slight headache or coughed at all during the trip or over the week after we got home, I thought I had COVID, and I was scared. Do I think I would die with it? No. I like to think I’m healthy enough to survive it, but one never knows. I feel sure my teenage daughter would be fine, and I feel like my husband (also over 50) is healthy enough to survive, but do we want to push our luck? That’s a resounding NO.

And right after that Thanksgiving trip, COVID exploded. The number of daily cases is climbing rapidly. I have talked to several doctor friends who tell me it’s “foolish” to gather. So I’m not gathering. I’m barely leaving my house. In fact, last week, I left my house a total of five times. Three times to pick up lunch, once to the grocery store, and once to run in Michael’s Arts and Crafts to quickly grab some yarn to knit Christmas gifts.

I like to be out and about, so that tells you I’m taking this seriously. I’m not staying home because of Governor Roy Cooper’s latest stay-at-home order. I’m staying home, because it’s just not worth it to me to catch COVID now, knowing I will be able to get the vaccine soon. I do not want COVID…it’s as simple as that. Well, that plus the fact that both my grandmothers died on December 26 (different years), and my mother died on December 30, 2017. I don’t want to push my luck.

That brings me back to “garage coffee.” Because I like seeing my friends…and I love laughing with them…I’m now hosting “garage coffee” at my house. I move the cars out of the garage and invite a friend or two (no more than that) over for coffee, which I prepare indoors and bring out to the garage for them. I set up rocking lawn chairs and heaters at our feet (it’s really cold in Charlotte right now), and we chat while social-distancing. It’s not as much fun as going out to lunch, but it’s better than nothing. I’m expecting a friend to come over tomorrow for “garage coffee,” and I’ve decided to add some Christmas music for our visit. I’ll just use my phone and my daughter’s bluetooth speaker to create a Christmas mood. Maybe I’ll set up my lamp from A Christmas Story and some of my light-up Christmas lawn decor in the garage just to make it feel more festive. My husband will think I’m crazy, but that’s nothing new.

If you’d like to have garage coffee with friends at your house and need a good, inexpensive space heater to put at your feet but don’t want to fork out a lot of cash, I purchased two Comfort Zone Energy Save Personal Heater Fans for $24.99 each plus tax and shipping from Target. Shop it here.

That’s how I’m surviving mentally right now…garage coffee. And I thank the Lord that I have friends who are willing to participate. Otherwise, I’d be losing my mind right now.

Come on over for garage coffee!

Fluffernutter Sandwiches

Fluffernutter sandwiches…the glorious blend of peanut butter and Fluff brand marshmallow creme on white bread.

My friends in New England have known about Fluffernutter sandwiches their whole lives, so they might be surprised to know people in other parts of the country have never heard of them. Well, I can’t speak for people in the midwest or west, but I know lots of people in the south are unaware of the Fluffernutter.

How do I know that? Well, after I posted about Fluff and Fluffernutters on my personal Facebook page this week, I got lots of comments from friends, saying they had never heard of the Fluff/peanut butter combination. One friend emailed me, saying, “I had no idea marshmallow fluff was such a thing! I’ve bought it for a recipe. But never just to eat!” Yet another friend asked me if Jet-Puffed brand marshmallow creme works the same. Short answer? No…it doesn’t spread the same way. Only Fluff will do.

Want the recipe? It’s simple. Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread (I always use white bread for Fluffernutters). Spread Fluff on another slice of bread. Put them together for a Fluffernutter! FYI: I don’t use as much peanut butter or Fluff as shown in the top photo, but maybe I should!

I learned about Fluff and Fluffernutters years ago, because I had the good fortune of meeting a friend who had grown up in the Boston area. She became one of my closest friends ever for lots of reasons, and yes, maybe the fact that she introduced me to Fluff made me love her even more! She loved Fluff and had been eating it since she was a little girl. In fact, she said that when she was a child, her grandmother would often make her Fluff sandwiches…sans peanut butter…because that’s what she liked! We would laugh when we talked about it, because she was basically eating a sugar sandwich. My daughter loves a Fluffernutter…even now that she’s in high school, I put them in her lunch every now and then.

If you’ve never tried a Fluffernutter sandwich, it’s high time you did. You will wonder how you managed to live so long without knowing about this glorious treat! I was probably close to 40 when my friend told me about it. In fact, I included it in a list of simple sandwiches in a post a couple of years ago. You can see that here. Peanut butter is good with lots of things…bananas, chocolate, apples…the list goes on and on. So should it be any surprise that combining it with marshmallow Fluff makes a great combo too? Trust me. Once you’ve learned this hack, you’ll never go back. I have a friend in Alabama who says she gained 20 pounds after I introduced her to Fluffernutters.

My Boston friend also introduced me to the deliciousness that is Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, because that’s something else New Englanders have known about since the beginning of time. Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee is hard to beat. When our kids were little, we would vacation with my Boston friend in Maine every summer, and every day, we would get iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s a sweet memory. And try Dunkin Donuts iced coffee with your Fluffernutter…one sweet, joyful experience!

And recently I learned that some people toast their Fluffernutters! I had no idea that was a thing, but I’ll be trying that today too! How did I never think of that? Does anything sound more like comfort food than a toasted Fluffernutter?!?

So if you are a parent or grandparent who has never tried a Fluffernutter or served one up to your child or grandchild, now is the time. You can be a hero at home if you make them this treat! *Disclaimer: Of course, if they are allergic to any of the ingredients, do not serve it.* Kids gobble up this treat! I have a friend in Alabama who is a grandmother, and she questioned me about it after my Facebook post. I told her the grandkids will love it!

If you have trouble finding Fluff in your grocery store, you can order it from Amazon here. I recently ordered it after I couldn’t find it in grocery stores in Charlotte. I used to get it in Target, but I haven’t seen it there in a while. (There’s nothing wrong with Jet-Puffed, but it just doesn’t spread the same way.)

When you try it and love it, say a little prayer of thanks and tell God to give a thumbs up to my friend, Wendy, in Heaven. She passed away in June of 2018 after battling cancer for years. But I think of her every time I have a Fluffernutter or Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee.

Bring on the Fluffernutter!

Please Drop In

Please drop in.

Maybe I should phrase that differently. Maybe I should say “please drop out.” What I mean is that we would love to have friends and family visit anytime, but only in the backyard. With the COVID pandemic, things have changed, and I don’t just let lots of folks in my house. But outside? All bets are off. If you’re in the area…or bored…or just looking for some company…come on over!

When I was growing up in different places in Alabama, folks used to drop in all the time. This was well before the era of the cellphone. Back in the 70s and 80s, if we were driving down the road and decided to drop in on some friends, we couldn’t just pick up a cell phone and call. I guess we could have gone to a payphone, but often that would have taken us out of our way. Drop-ins were common. Wanna stop in and see your friend? Turn into the driveway, and walk right up and ring the doorbell!

I remember, when I was a little girl living in Brewton, Alabama, my mother had a good friend named Martha. We lived on the outskirts of town, but Martha lived right in the middle of town…on the main drag…in a big, beautiful, historic home. We visited often, because she had kids our age. One day, when I was probably five or six, I had a baby tooth that was ready to fall out. It was even starting to hurt…it needed to come out. We were driving down Belleville Avenue, the road where Martha’s house was, and Mother said, “Let’s stop and let Martha pull it. She’s really good at pulling teeth.” And without calling ahead, we drove into the driveway, right up to the porte-corchere on the side of the house, like we owned the place. Mama knocked on the door, and Martha let us into her kitchen, which I thought was beautiful, because it had yellow gingham wallpaper. Martha stood me on a chair in her kitchen and pulled that tooth right out. I can still see in my mind exactly where I was standing.

Another time, Mother was going to drop in on Martha, but when she approached the driveway in her car, she didn’t see Martha’s car in the driveway. Instead of stopping, she kept driving. Later, when they were talking on the phone, Mother told her, “I was going to drop in to your house today, but when I got there, your car wasn’t there.” Martha replied, “Well, did you come to see me or my damn car?!? I was home! You should have stopped.” Mother laughed. In fact, that was a story Mother told for years afterward.

When we lived in Spanish Fort, Alabama, all the neighborhood kids dropped in all the time, and Mother’s friends would often show up on the doorstep. They would sit in the kitchen and drink coffee. And sometimes they talked for hours…solving all the world’s problems, I’m sure. Or maybe just talking about soap operas.

I vividly remember neighborhood moms standing around talking in the driveway. Back then, everybody didn’t have a garage with a garage door opener. We didn’t drive right into our garages when we got home from somewhere. We got out in the driveway, and if our neighbors were outside, everybody stood around and talked for a while. I think our garages/garage door openers put an end to that for a lot of people. Fortunately, in my neighborhood, we’ll see our neighbors out walking and pull our car over to chat. But that doesn’t happen everywhere.

When we were teenagers in the 80s, it was like we had a revolving door…neighborhood kids and teenagers in and out all the time.

Drop-ins used to be part of life. But no more. Now, everybody calls ahead, so we don’t have any pleasant surprises when friends show up unexpectedly.

I’m ready to change that. I’m telling my friends, “Drop in!”  Ring the doorbell when you get here, and if we’re home, I’ll motion for you to walk around the side of the house to the backyard, where we can sit by the pool and have a cocktail. If you want to bring lunch, that’s OK too! Chances are, I’ll be here, since I’ve become accustomed to spending more time at home with this pandemic happening. Of course, it’s hit or miss on whether I’ll still be in my pajamas, but if you don’t mind, I don’t mind! Maybe I’ll even share some cucumbers or tomatoes from my garden!

 

My Birthday

My birthday.

Today is my birthday. Everyone who knows me knows I love my birthday in a crazy way. I can’t help it. It’s my day, and I love it.

My daughter is fully aware of how much I love my birthday. She woke up this morning and texted me before I was even awake. Apparently my husband took coffee up to her before bringing me coffee this morning…to give me a few extra minutes of sleep. His bringing me coffee is not a birthday thing; I’m fortunate that he brings me coffee in bed every day, which makes every day feel like a birthday, I guess. But today really is my birthday.

When my daughter texted me from upstairs this morning, she said, “Happy Birthday to the best mom ever!” I replied, “Thank you! I love you!” She replied, “Love you more!” I responded with “You have no idea how much I love you. One day, when you have a child of your own, you will understand.” And that’s the absolute truth. I always knew my mother and daddy loved me, but once I had my own child, I fully understood the depth of their love for me. So when she says “love you more,” I always think, “Just you wait till you have your own child.” Always.

Birthdays are funny like that. I love celebrating, but I also love reflecting on previous birthdays.

Last year on this day, I was in Los Angeles with my friend, Meg. My “birthday twin,” Chiko, was getting married on our shared birthday. Chiko and I call ourselves “birthday twins,” because we share a birthday. No, we aren’t the same age. In fact, she is far younger than I am. She is also far taller, and she is drop-dead gorgeous. Add in the fact that I’m from Alabama, and she is from Nigeria, and we are some interesting “twins.” She is, quite possibly, one of the kindest people…and funniest people… I’ve ever known. I was fortunate to be invited to her wedding, and I took my friend, Meg, as my “plus one.” My teenage daughter had final exams, and my husband stayed home with her. It was a glorious wedding/reception, and Chiko was the most beautiful bride! I’ve written about it before, because a Nigerian wedding is a real event! Wow! And the food! We made new friends and tried new foods…a most memorable wedding and memorable birthday.

This year is a much quieter birthday, partly because of the pandemic, and partly because it’s raining all day in Charlotte. I’m perfectly happy with a quiet birthday. My daughter eventually came downstairs this morning and snuggled in bed with me, and I told her, “This right here is the perfect birthday gift…just getting to be with you.” And it made me think of my mother. It sounded like something she would have said. I’ve been a mother for 16 years, so now I fully understand why my mother felt that way…because she loved me more than I ever could have imagined.

So I’ll enjoy a quiet birthday with my little family. It’s also National Sunscreen Day, but we definitely don’t need sunscreen in Charlotte today, since there’s not a chance the clouds are going to lift. We’ll stay in and be quiet today, but that doesn’t mean I can’t keep celebrating for at least a week (or a month)! I’ll need that sunscreen soon!

Happy Birthday to me!

 

Portion-Controlled Desserts? Yes, Please!

Portion-controlled desserts? Yes, please!

If you’re anything like me, you have difficulty knowing what a real “serving” of cake is. Big slice? Little slice? What is the perfect slice? And then…how do I keep myself from eating more than I should?

Hungry Girl to the rescue!

Everybody knows I love Hungry Girl. Not familiar with Hungry Girl? I’m happy to introduce you! When you get to the website, sign up for daily emails, click that you heard about them from a Hungry Girl Ambassador (me!), and enter my name (Kelly Mattei). I’ve loved Hungry Girl for years, and I’ve promoted Hungry Girl for years, but now they know I’m promoting them! I don’t promote anything I don’t believe in, so you can bet your sweet bippy I believe in Hungry Girl.

On to the good stuff…

One of my favorite finds on the Hungry Girl website? Portion-controlled desserts…specifically, single serving desserts in mugs and cups. Sounds awesome, right?!? That’s because they are awesome!

I’ve made a couple of them, and my teenage daughter loves them as much as I do! They are all super simple and fast!

Here are some of my favorites!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug. My mother used to make Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes all the time when I was growing up. There was always at least one at every family gathering, and they disappeared fast! This Hungry Girl version is simple and easy, and the recipe makes two portions, each containing 201 calories. Not bad for a yummy and beautiful dessert! It’s a favorite at our house. I’ve made it when friends have come over for coffee, and it’s always a hit! Did I mention it’s beautiful too?! Get the recipe here.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup. Another “easy as pie” recipe from Hungry Girl, this one is fun for kids too! (Do not let children make this unaccompanied. The pie is HOT when it comes out of the microwave!) It has candy and graham crackers in it! ‘Nuff said! And fruit! It has fruit! At only 140 calories per serving, it makes for a great dessert the whole family will love! I think it even sounds good for a snow day. My daughter loves to have friends over for snow days, and I love to feed them! Get the recipe here.

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two. Who doesn’t love chocolate cake?! This one comes in at 199 calories per serving, and the serving size is not in question, because it’s cooked in the perfect portion! This is another one that sounds good for a snow day or for friends who come over for coffee. The ingredient list is short, and most of the ingredients are likely on hand all the time. Make yourself happy with a little chocolate cake! Hungry Girl tells you how this age-old treat without overdoing it! Get the recipe here.

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two

This is just a sampling of what Hungry Girl offers in portion-controlled dessert recipes. Seriously, try them. Anyone can make them…even those “kitchen challenged” friends of mine. You can see more portion-controlled desserts from Hungry Girl here.

We are hoping for a little snow in Charlotte over the next couple of days, so I’m going to the store and stocking up on ingredients for these gems tonight! All kids who love to sled are welcome to join in the fun…and eat some yummy desserts too! Moms…come on over for coffee, and I will share desserts with you too!

*Please let me know when you try these recipes! I love to get feedback!*

***All photos courtesy of hungry-girl.com***

 

 

 

I Won’t Get Jewelry for Valentine’s Day

I won’t get jewelry for Valentine’s Day.

That’s one thing I know for sure. My husband and I agreed a long time ago that Valentine’s Day isn’t a time for us to exchange big gifts. It’s a little celebration that means little gifts. In fact, if my husband got me jewelry for Valentine’s Day, I’d be a little upset with him. Long ago, my husband learned that I’d rather have a vacation than jewelry, so he just lets me plan my own vacations, and frankly, I think he loves that the pressure is off.

Every year, we also pretend “Cupid” came by our house on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Cupid always leaves a few little gifts for our daughter, who is now 16 and thinks the whole Cupid thing is ridiculous, but she likes the little treats anyway. Remember how I mentioned my teenage daughter’s eye rolls in my piece about work pants? Well, when we tell her Cupid visited (or the leprechaun visited on St. Patrick’s Day), we get one of those eye rolls.

Cupid is bringing bite-sized cupcakes from Baked by Melissa this year for the whole family! You might still have time to order if you do it quickly! Order here.

Since it’s getting a little late for ordering things for Valentine’s Day, here are some things you can get locally at the last minute:

  • Valentine card. I know, it sounds obvious, but lots of us forget to get or make an old-fashioned Valentine card. In fact, maybe I’ll make a card for my husband this year. I love a good craft. That doesn’t mean I’m always good at crafts, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Country Living has some great DIY card ideas here.
  • Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Krispy Kreme has some heart shaped doughnuts with icing for Valentine’s Day this year, and my mouth waters just thinking about them. I was talking with a single friend yesterday and told her to go buy some Krispy Kreme Valentine doughnuts to celebrate her love for herself. In fact, I  might have to pick up a dozen for me too!
  • Dunkin’ Donuts. Dunkin’ Donuts also offers heart-shaped donuts for the special day. I love Dunkin’ Donuts too…and I’d love to get Medium Iced Coffee with cream and four Splendas with those Donuts!
  • Chick-Fil-A heart-shaped trays. Chicken is the new chocolate! ChickFilA got in on the Valentine’s Day game a couple of years ago, and this year, they are continuing the tradition. You can get ChickFilA Chicken Minis, nuggets, or their chocolate chunk cookies in a heart-shaped tray. I’d love for my husband to surprise me with breakfast in bed this weekend! What says “I love you” more than some Chick-Fil-A Chicken Minis served in a heart-shaped tray?! Hint hint, honey! You can read Chick-fil-A’s blog post about them here.
  • Papa John’s Pizza. Papa John’s will deliver a heart-shaped pizza right to your house! Right now, they have a special…a heart-shaped pizza plus a brownie for $16! That’s delicious and inexpensive! Order on the website here.
  • Olive Garden. I don’t even know the last time I stepped foot into an Olive Garden, but I do remember some yummy bread and salad from there. Well, they have a Valentine’s Day Dinner to Go for Two that starts at $35.99. For that price, you get breadsticks with a choice of soup or salad, a choice of dipping sauce, an entree for two (Chicken Alfredo or Five Cheese Ziti al forno), and a dessert to share. It’s actually a good deal and a good idea! You can order here.
  • Flowers. Sure, you can order from your local florist, which is always a great way to surprise your Valentine and a great way to support the local economy. But if you find yourself in a bind on Valentine’s Day, you might be able to find some beautiful fresh flowers in your local grocery store.
  • Any Favorite Bakery item. My husband has surprised me with some of my favorite bakery items for Valentine’s Day, and I’m always thrilled by that. One year, he brought me a patty cake sized chocolate cake with buttercream icing, and very little makes me happier than that.
  • Gift card/certificate. I have lots of friends who would love to receive a gift card or certificate for a mani/pedi or for a massage at a local spa. Or maybe your loved one would rather have a night out? You can give a restaurant gift card, and instead of going out on a very crowded Valentine’s Day that falls on a Friday this year, promise to go on another night!
  • Coffee in bed. Lots of people would love nothing more than a good cup of coffee served in bed first thing in the morning.
  • Bottle of Champagne. What’s more romantic than a bottle of Champagne? You can run into your local grocery store or wine store and grab it on the way home on Valentine’s Day!
  • Cheap Valentine’s Candy. Last year I wrote how one of my favorite Valentine’s gifts was a box of conversation hearts from someone I’d only gone out with once. It was perfectly simple and sweet. You can run into any local Target, Walmart, or grocery store and grab some different Valentine’s candies for you Valentine. I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Hearts myself.

It’s just two days away, so we’re down to the wire for Valentine’s Day gifts. Hopefully, you got a few ideas here. Personally, I’d love to wake up with coffee and Chick-Fil-A Chicken Minis in bed, followed by the special Valentine lunch from Olive Garden with a bottle of Champagne, and maybe order a heart-shaped pizza from Papa John’s before having every possible heart-shaped doughnut in town for dessert! Oh, and I’d need some iced coffee somewhere in there too.

Hoping you have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

You’re Wearing Work Pants?!?

***Before reading, please know I’m not complaining about my teenage daughter. I do not feel like she is taking advantage of me. I feel like she is a normal, healthy teenager who is trying to find her independence. It’s what teenagers do. It’s funny. Teenagers are hilarious to those of us who remember what it was like to be a teenager, and even though I’m 52, I remember it well! Teenage girls are funny creatures who think they know everything…right up until they figure out they don’t know everything. We all parent differently, and I choose to parent with laughter. I have rules, and generally speaking, she follows them.***

“You’re wearing work pants?!?!” Yes, my teenage daughter asked me this in her school cafeteria yesterday, because what do teenagers do when they’re not critiquing their mothers’ fashion choices? Isn’t that why we put in so much time feeding them, sleep training them, kissing their booboos, and helping them figure out life…so they can find fault with our wardrobes?!

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for years, but I have volunteered at her school since 2008. She is used to seeing me there in jeans or slightly more fashionable clothing, but yesterday, she saw me in the school cafeteria in what she referred to as “work pants.” And there’s a reason I was wearing those “work pants”: I was working.

Recently, I started doing a little substitute work in the library at her school, which means I am actually on the payroll. Dressing for the payroll is a little different than dressing when you’re working for free. You can’t wear jeans. You have to look somewhat professional.  Most adults would not have looked at me and thought “work pants.” I was wearing black wide-leg pants (or slacks) and a blouse I thought was really cute…collared with stripes and a tie-waist. And heels. I wore heeled booties. I didn’t look like an old-fashioned “school marm.” And I didn’t look like I was going to repair her car. I didn’t look like I was going out to take someone’s temperature or represent someone in court. But apparently, I looked like I was at work, and she felt the need to call me out on it. It’s something she’s not accustomed to…and it surprised her!

I have written before about how my daughter is definitely a teenager now. Seriously, I’ve told y’all how she rolls her eyes when I sneeze…or talk…or breathe. And now…she doesn’t like my “work pants.” Or maybe she thought I was cooler than that. Y’all, having a teenager definitely keeps you humble. If you have children…especially girls…under age 12, enjoy it. Hug them. Feel free to sneeze, talk, breathe…because soon they will be critiquing your wardrobe.

A friend came over for coffee this morning, and we compared notes on our teenagers. Thank God we have each other, or we could really start to feel bad about ourselves! We could actually start to believe we always wear the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, and even walk “wrong.” And maybe we do, but we went 50 years without people feeling the need to tell us that…and then we had teenagers. My friend didn’t seem to mind that when she arrived at my house for coffee this morning, I was wearing blue pajama pants with pink flamingos all over them and a gigantic black hoodie with “Rollin’ with the homies” emblazoned across the front. She didn’t even care that I hadn’t brushed my hair yet! My friend saw me dressed like that and with bed head, no less, and she still loves me! But my daughter? She doesn’t approve of the “work pants.”

So at the end of the day, I took a few minutes to explain to my teenage daughter that I can’t go to work in the library wearing yoga pants or jeans. I can’t go in wearing a hoodie with “Rollin’ with the homies” across the front of it…and a picture of a pug smoking a cigarette on the back of the hoodie…I should mention that. It’s my favorite hoodie, and honestly, it’s the article of clothing that should really embarrass her!

Most of the time, though, she is kind and funny, and I love spending time with her. She loves getting my insight and feedback, and most of the time, she listens. She even thanks me for things I do on a regular basis. She’s a keeper.

It’s hard to believe in just 2 1/2 short years, that teenager will be going off to college…”good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And then, one day, she will likely graduate from college and have her first “real” job. I hope I’m visiting her on the first day she goes to work, so I can make fun of her “work pants.” She will have long forgotten poking fun at my clothing choice, so I will catch her off guard just before she walks out the door. I’ll stroll over to her, wearing my very comfy PJs and bathrobe and drinking my morning coffee, and I’ll say, “You’re wearing work pants?” I will then bid her “good day” and remind her that I’ll be sitting around in my PJs drinking coffee, watching The Price is Right, while she’s out working in her “work pants.”

 

The Sad Season

The holidays are winding down. Lots of folks get depressed after the holidays…Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or just plain old sadness that the holidays are over. And then there are people like me who have experienced loss…and the unfortunate few of us who have actually experienced loss during the holidays.

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of my mother’s passing…two years without my mother. She fell ill on Christmas Eve 2017, and I received a phone call at 8:30 that night…she was in the hospital in Alabama. My little family rushed through opening gifts in Charlotte that night, and before the crack of dawn on Christmas Day, I left to go be with my mother. As I drove to Alabama, I was thinking of how I was going to tell my mother that she was coming back to Charlotte with me. I was thinking of how angry she would be that I wanted her to leave her house. But I never got to tell her she was coming home with me. The doctor made it clear to me on December 26 that she would not recover, and since both my grandmothers had died on December 26 in different years (eerie, right?) I needed Mother to make it past that day. I asked the doctor if she was likely to make it to the 27th, explaining why I was asking, and he assured me she would…but not much longer. I didn’t want her to die at all, but if she had died on the 26th, every year after that, I would have been waiting for something to happen to me on the 26th. We needed to break the cycle. She made it to the 30th.

Last year, the first anniversary, was a terrible day…terrible. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and it was just a terrible day. But this year, I am bound and determined to make it a happier day. Of course, I’m still sad my mother isn’t here, but instead of crying all day, I hope to be celebrating her life…drinking a toast to her memory.

In fact, as I type, I’m on a plane to Los Angeles…a vacation with my daughter, her friend, and my nephew and his friend. Mother would have loved knowing my nephew is vacationing with us. We have a lunch reservation tomorrow at a fabulous restaurant, where we will remember Mother. We might even order a Bailey’s and coffee, her favorite, after lunch.

And as hard as I will try to be happy, positive, and upbeat, I know a little sadness will creep in. I know that, because I just tried to read a piece by Sean Dietrich (see Sean of the South on Facebook here), and I couldn’t get past the first couple paragraphs about his dad, who he lost years ago.

So right now, for this second anniversary, I’ll take “mostly happy with a little sadness creeping in.”

All this is my way of reminding everyone that some people are sad right now. Some are suffering. Some are just trying to push through the season. And then some will be even more sad at the thought of starting a new year without a loved one. I hope I will show mercy and offer courteous goodwill to those who need it. I hope I will try to help my friends and family into 2020…with some love, patience, hope, and clarity. And I hope they will do the same for me.

Let’s make 2020 a good year.

 

My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2019: Teens/Young Adults

Ahhh….youth. Remember trying to have a private phone call when you were a teenager? Stretching the cord connecting the handset to the wall phone as faaaaaaaar as it would stretch out of earshot of your parents? And then, I had to hope my brother didn’t pick up on the extension. When I was in college, we were excited to get call waiting! And we had to answer the phone without knowing who was calling, because, well…no Caller ID. Now, everyone plans their lives on their smart phones, including me, but I’m not as technologically advanced as my 16-yr-old. Heck, I knew that when she was two or three and could operate a DVD player way better than I could! But sometimes, those very same technologically advanced teenagers and young adults still like good, old-fashioned comfort in the form of warm blankets and slippers. Sometimes, they actually want to interact over an old-fashioned game. Below, I’ve shared what I think could be some big hits with the teen and college set this holiday season! But be forewarned…I’m listing a lot of items, so settle in and make your list now!

Cornhole Game. Teens and young adults love to play cornhole. And I’m just glad they want to do something besides stare at their phones or play video games. Cornhole games come in a wide range of prices, starting at about $30 on Amazon, but the highest rated ones are between $100 and $130. Search for them here. And Uncommon Goods offers a tabletop version for $48. Could be a lot of fun in a dorm room! See it here.27131_1_640px

Bluetooth speakers. Whether they’re waterproof or decorative, bluetooth speakers are here to stay. And for good reason. Teens and young adults love music and want to share their playlists with the world! If they’re looking for a great, quality speaker to use out by the pool, the JBL Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker could be the perfect gift. Get it for $119 from Amazon here. If it’s more important to have a speaker that’s cute, the Flower Pot speaker from dormify might be the best option. Get it for $19 here.

Lighting. And since we are talking about dormify.com, they have lots of special lighting (and other products) for teen rooms and dorm rooms. Some favorites I have actually seen in some friends’ kids rooms are the Clip String Lights ($14) and lots of different versions of fun neon lighting. Check them all out at dormify.com here.

Big O Clear Bag. I listed this in my Women’s Accessories gifts last week, but it’s worth sharing again, because I think it will be a big hit with teens and young adults. Most sports arenas/stadiums don’t allow big handbags anymore. In fact, spectators need clear bags, and this Big O Clear Bag is perfect…it’s small…it’s clear…and it can hang from a wrist, so it’s virtually hands free! It’s great for concerts and sporting events…or just for going out to the local hotspot. Get it for $79.95 at Swoozie’s here.258340-500

Air Candy Inflatable Chair. There are lots of different versions of this chair, but my favorite is the faux fur version. Priced at $49.99, it’s a great gift for a young person’s bedroom. Get it at Tilly’s here. OrAmazon offers other versions of the Air Candy Inflatable Chair. See them here.  Or get a similar inflatable chair called the Illuminated BloChair from Poolcandy.com for the same price…and it lights up! Get it here.

 

RSVLTS shirts. I know lots of teens/young adults who like to be a little different. Don’t get me wrong…RSVLTS offers some “normal” flannel shirts/hoodies/tshirts, but their line of “cult” shirts is especially fun and will appeal to those teen boys and college students. They pay homage to The Sandlot, Saved By The Bell, and Ghostbusters...among other television shows, teams, personalities, and movies. Their t-shirts start at $27, and their cult shirts are around $60. See the website here.

 

Jackery Bolt 6000 iPhone Charger. If your teen or college student has an iPhone, I’ve read lots of places that this is the best portable charger on the market for the iPhone. According to some websites, it charges twice as fast as Apple accessories. Priced at $32.99 on Amazon, it’s good. One friend tells me she will never use another portable charger for her iPhone. Get it at Amazon here.51w3zK98wTL._SL1250_

Urban Decay Naked Honey Eyeshadow Palette. I don’t know what it is about Urban Decay Naked palettes, but teens and young adults love them. The latest sensation is the Naked Honey Eyeshadow Palette. Priced at $49, it will be a hit with any fashion-forward young person on your shopping list. In fact, there’s an entire Naked Honey line. Purchase it all at Ulta here.

Away luggage. This is something I discovered last year, and it should be on everyone’s list. Heck, if you wanted to give everyone in your family a piece of Away luggage, they would all be thrilled. Lots of these pieces are outfitted with ejectable batteries, so you always have a charger handy. And they’re ejectable, because if you decide to check your bag, you can’t leave the lithium battery attached…per FAA regulations. They’re durable. They are lightweight. And they’re attractive! The bags come in lots of colors, but I prefer to go with less popular color…less change of confusion at the luggage carousel. Prices for the suitcases start at $225, but there are other great accessories for less. Color shown below is limited edition color starting at $275 on the carry-on bag. Get yours here.IMG_5299

Comfortable Loungewear. Loungewear has come a long way since the sweatpants and Jamz shorts (remember those?) of the 1980s. These days, it’s a staple in the wardrobes of anyone under 30. And there are lots of options out there. Because there are so many options, it can be hard to decide. Well, here are a few I recommend: Ugg Scuff slipper for Men, $90 here. Ugg Scuffette slipper for women, $84.95 at Nordstrom here. MeUndies Lounge Pant for Women, $68 direct from MeUndies here. MeUndies Lounge Pant for Men, $68 direct from MeUndies here. Pajama Pants for men and women at Old Navy, starting at $15…I love getting PJ pants there, because they have so many options (flannel, cotton, etc) at such great prices…click here. The Original Comfy, a giant, sweatshirt/blanket all in one…I have one, and it’s glorious… $39.99, here.

 

Coma Inducer Duvet Cover. Several of my friends have told me about this duvet cover after buying it for their own teens. My daughter doesn’t even know about it yet, but she will come Christmas morning…and she will thank Santa! My friends tell me it is the softest, coziest, plushest duvet cover ever! I’m afraid my daughter might not ever want to get out of bed after she receives this cozy gift. About $85. You can purchase on Amazon here.14b7fbdf-37fe-42c7-b922-0cc3c59b9172_1.b58e929358fada28da5d488ac86cfc53

Polaroid Originals. Truly, my new favorite thing is something I totally stumbled upon in a store recently. I was browsing through gifts in Nordstrom and came across the Polaroid Originals Holiday Everything Set, which includes a OneStep 2 viewfinder camera and two packs of film, for $129. Purchase here. Anytime I see Polaroid anything, I get nostalgic, so I fell in love with the set. Then, as often happens, I started seeing ads on Facebook for different vintage Polaroid cameras. Sold! A little nostalgia goes a long way with me. And who doesn’t love a Polaroid picture?!?! And vintage?!?! Give it to me, baby! See the vintage and new Polaroid cameras here. Yes, I totally want the MTV Polaroid camera, because “I Want My MTV!” And I think teens and college students are fascinated by vintage items (and new too!). You have to check them out.Polaroid-600-Camera_MTV-Stereo-004982_angle_600x600

 

Mini Refrigerator. Last year, I was excited to encourage folks to purchase the small refrigerators for their teens/college students’ rooms, and those are great. We got one for our daughter, and it’s great for holding a bunch of small water bottles. But some students need a larger version. Frigidaire offers a larger version with a freezer and built-in bottle opener for $125. You can get it here.

 

 

Concert/plays/sporting event experience. Teens and college students love concerts, plays,  and sporting events. I’m a big proponent of gifting “experiences.” Sure, it’s fun to give them things they like or need, but lots of them get really excited about experience gifts. For example, my daughter loves music festivals, so she will get tickets to one of her favorites for Christmas this year. She’ll be thrilled. She would also love tickets to sporting events…this is always a no-brainer at our house.

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Card Games. Just like when I was in college in the 1980s, college students still love silly distractions from their studies…and they need them! When I was in college, my friend, Angela, and I played Yahtzee relentlessly. Now, they love games like Never Have I Ever (which we played without cards when I was in school) and Cards Against Humanity. You can find both games at Amazon and Target. Priced at $32.95 and $25.00 respectively, they’re great gifts with a low price tag.

Mason Jar Garden. This is a fun gift for just about anybody. Teens and students can add a little sunshine to their dorm rooms or bedrooms with this indoor garden that’s simple to set up. And it won’t break the budget at $20. Get it at Uncommon Goods here.42998_1_640px

Ridge Wallet. I know, men are funny about their wallets, but this one is different. It’s metal, and while it’s slimmer than most wallets, the company claims it holds the same stuff. Starting at $75 for the aluminum wallet, it’s a cool, different gift, and the wallet fits well into front pockets. Get the Ridge Wallet here.

Apple Airpods. If they don’t have AirPods yet, this is a pretty safe bet, but they’re pricey. My own daughter realized she would lose them, so she didn’t even ask me for them, but all her friends seem to have them. They’re cordless bluetooth earbuds, and this phone-dependent generation loves them for music while they study. There are different versions, and the latest AirPods Pro claims to have noise-cancelling technology, which one of my friends says actually works…for $249. Not in the market to spend that much? The regular AirPods with charging case starts at $159, and the AirPods with wireless charging case is $199. Get them all direct from Apple here.MWP22

Subscriptions. There are lots of different subscriptions you can give, and they will be appreciated, for sure. Here are a few that I know would be great for teens and young adults: Amazon Prime, because Amazon has almost everything…the subscription is $119, and they can order goods (extra charge) and watch various original series…at Amazon. FabFitFun for the young ladies on your list…a quarterly box of full-size beauty products, and its arrival is always highly anticipated…$200/yr. here. DripDrop…yes, a subscription for an Oral Rehydration System, because lots of college students need to rehydrate the morning after a night of fun, and high school students need to rehydrate after sports…am I right? Get it at Dripdrop.com for the amount you choose. And while you’re there, order the Drip Drop Camelback, which works perfectly with the product. I have one of my own. Cravebox, a regular shipment of lots of snacks to your hungry college student…Amazon offers subscriptions. Check it out here.fall-2019@2x

Eno Hammock. A great gift for almost anyone, a hammock is always welcomed by teens and young adults. It’s a great way to relax or even study outdoors. Eno has been on everyone’s radar for a long time. The single “nests” start at about $30 at REI, but you also need to get the suspension system, which can run an extra $20. See it all at REI here.507da8cf-24fe-4106-8e4d-698598e96b2a

Gift Cards. Teenagers and young adults love to dine out or grab a quick bit with friends. Gift cards might seem impersonal to you, but they love them. Here are some favorites: Chick-Fil-a, Taco Bell, Cheesecake Factory, Panera, California Pizza Kitchen, PF Chang’s, Dunkin Donuts…and the almighty Starbucks. You can purchase them in different dollar amounts at your local Target or on Amazon.41g1u7SJubL

Cash is king. And when in doubt, you can always rest assured that cash is king. Teenagers and young adults love cash, because it gives them the opportunity to purchase or do something they might otherwise feel guilty splurging on.photo-1515606378517-3451a4fa2e12

 

Most of all, enjoy the shopping experience! They will appreciate whatever you do, but if you get them something they love, they will appreciate it that much more. And for more ideas, see last year’s recommendations here.