Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

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Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

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Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018, Part 7: Teens/College Students

Everyone knows how difficult it is to find the perfect gift for a teenager or college student. After talking with a few of them, I’ve compiled some gift ideas at a lot of different price points that I hope will help. So, here we go: gifts for TEENS AND COLLEGE STUDENTS.

College Sweatshirts/Hoodies. My teenage daughter, who is a freshman in high school, and her friends love college sweatshirts, and it doesn’t really matter which college it is! Of course, most teens have favorites colleges, but the teens I know wear hoodies from schools all over the country! Sometimes, I see a college hoodie on sale somewhere, and I buy it, just because it will fit her. I regularly check Fanatics.com to see what they have, but I’m sure there are other sites too. Prices at Fanatics.com for men’s college hoodies (it’s what they prefer) start under $15. Check out their offerings here.

 

Lululemon Leggings. Teens and college-age girls love these things. Heck, moms love them too! They’re pricey, but they will be very well-received, because students can live in these things! It’s a constant request at my house. Whenever our daughter gets some extra money in her hand, she loves to spend it at Lululemon. She has learned, though, to buy them when they’re on sale. They’re shorts are popular too. And their sports bras…apparently, the best ever made. Prices for full-length leggings start at $98, but there are usually some on sale.

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Customized Starbucks Cup. We all know teens and students love their Starbucks. Mine doesn’t even drink coffee, but she loves those frappucino drinks. They also love things with their names on them. Things aren’t like they were when we were young, when almost everybody could find their names on those pre-personalized bicycle tags or stickers: Kelly, Jennifer, Mary, Joe, Michael…you get the point. Now, names are more unique. CoffeeTime Designs on Etsy offers personalized cups for hot drinks here at $7.99.  Funkytime Weddings offers cold drink personalized cups here for $11.47.

 

Keurig.For those college students or even high school students who like coffee, Keurig makes an awesome single-cup coffee maker, and it’s priced at just $49.96 at Walmart. It comes in several different colors. You can pick it up in the store or order online here. Just make sure you order some K-cups from Amazon or pick them up in your local store.

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Mini Fridge or Portable Fridge. Everyone knows teen boys and men can eat a lot. Teen boys eat all the time. They need a fresh supply of food and beverage on hand, whether they live at home or in a dorm. Girls love to keep their favorite cold beverages (and sometimes snacks) on hand. These two fridges are great for boys and girls, and both can be purchased at Walmart. One is a portable fridge that holds up to 12 cans ($49.99). Plug it into your car or home outlet. Great for tailgating! The second is a true mini fridge ($79.99)…perfect for a teen’s TV room, bedroom, or dorm room. Purchase here.

 

Long Distance Friendship Lamp. These are just awesomeness. Purchase one for yourself and one for your best friend or loved one who lives far away. Or maybe give two to your college student, so she can give one to a faraway friend. When you touch the lamp to adjust the hue in your home, it adjusts your friend’s lamp as well, letting them know you’re thinking of them! I love it, because I think it’s important for us to let folks know when we think of them. Priced from $85 to $170 at Uncommongoods.com here.

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Portable Lap Desk. You can go to Amazon and find lots of different lap desks, no doubt. And I’m not hooked on one particular one, but I do believe teens want one that’s big enough to hold a laptop computer. When I was in college, lap desks were frequent gifts between friends, and we used them…a lot. Lap desks are great for middle school, high school, and college students. Personally, I could see my teen sitting in the swivel chair mentioned below…with a lap board, doing homework in her room. Pictured below is one that starts at $17.32, purchased through Amazon Prime. You can purchase it here.

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Sports Blankets. Everybody needs a good blanket sometimes. For the young sports fans, blankets emblazoned with their team logo are great gifts. My daughter has an Atlanta Falcons blanket we use all the time…in the car, at sporting events, just hanging out at home. Whether your sports fan loves college or NFL football, baseball, or basketball, there are lots of different team blankets at Fanatics.com. With prices starting under $20 for some blankets, it makes a great gift for them at a great price for you! Check them out here.

Faux Fur Throws. For the teens/college students in your family who would rather stay warm without thinking about sports, West Elm has a wide assortment of faux fur throws starting at just $49. They’re beautiful, soft, and warm! Check them out here.

 

Weighted Blanket. A-maz-ing. While we are talking about blankets, these are good for stressed out high school and college students. Weighted blankets have been proven to help users sleep. The weight of the blanket has a calming effect. Students are known to have a little stress in their lives…exams. This could change their lives. There are lots of different ones out there, but the only one I’ve ever used is the Calming Comfort Weighted blanket, which you can purchase here. Prices start at $129. I’m getting one for my daughter for Christmas. Other brands can be purchased through Amazon.com.

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Personalized Stationery. Everybody needs it, and lots of us love it. I have a friend from college, Lori, who recently opened her own Etsy stationery shop called Proper ID Please. She has personalized notecards in 94 different designs. Each set contains 12 notecards, and they are priced at $20 per set. She can have them ready to ship in 3-5 days, but get your order in early for best selection! Order here.

LL Bean Boots. Honestly, these are classics. They never go out of style. LL Bean Boots were great when I was in high school 30+ years ago, and they’re still great. But order as soon as possible, because they make them to order, and sometimes, there’s a backlog. They’re great for men/women/boys/girls…everyone on your list. Prices start at $100, so they’re not cheap, but they are well-made and can be worn forever. See them here.175064_1914_41

Patagonia Black Hole Duffle. I discovered this awesome bag last summer when my daughter went to Iceland with a group. The most popular one is their 60L bag that sells for $129. It’s durable and roomy, and it’s water repellant. Lots of mesh pockets help keep packing organized. This is the best in the business. Great for outdoor travel, and it’s a great carryon too. Shop it here.

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Longchamp Bags. You’ve seen these in other lists, but I can’t stress enough how useful they are! Teens and college students love these, because they are lightweight, functional, and durable. They come in lots of shapes and sizes, so check think about function: shopping? overnight? weekend? And the colors! They come in so many colors! Shop them at Nordstrom here.

 

Spikeball Set. Apparently, this is a popular competitive game that was featured on Shark Tank, and students love it. I haven’t seen it in person yet, but several people have told me how much their teens love it. Activity and competition are good ways to work off stress, so if you have a stressed-out student on your hands, this could be a good distraction. When I was in college, my friend, Angela, and I played Yahtzee for stress relief. This would have been fun too. Priced at $59.99 on Amazon, it includes free shipping for Prime members. See it here.

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Magnetic Dart Board. Back in the day, we just used pointy darts. I’m sure my mother reminded us regularly, “You’ll put an eye out.” Just like Spikeball, darts are a good stress reliever. These aren’t pointy, though. These are magnetic, removing the risk of putting out an eye (for the most part). Amazon has these priced at $29.98, which is a bargain. Order here.

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Hammock (and stand). For the past few years, teens have loved ENO hammocks. Prices for them on Amazon.com start at $27.99. (Click here.)These hammocks are lightweight and easy to hang. My daughter and her friends often hang theirs in trees around the park in our neighborhood and hang out. But I you don’t have trees around your house, you can purchase a stand for the ENO, and if you purchase one made by ENO, they are priced at about $249. (Click here.)But if you’d like to get a hammock chair with stand for less, you can get it from Wayfair here for $111.99, including the stand.

 

Shower Caddy. Y’all remember living in a dorm…the small room, the roommate, the noise, the fun…and the community bathroom. Oh, the community bathroom. Remember having to carry all your shower stuff down the hall for a shower? Well, lots of college students are still doing that now, so they need shower caddies! You might be thinking, “My student already has one.” Well, yeah…but think about it: a shower caddy gets wet, so it needs to be replaced regularly. Pottery Barn Dorm has some great shower caddies, with prices starting at $14.99. Some are even eligible for personalization. Check them out here.

Crocs. I know, you thought (or maybe hoped) these had gone by the wayside. Well, for a while, they did, but they’re baaaaaack. Nobody ever claimed Crocs were attractive, but they are durable and useful, for sure. My teenage daughter and her friends started wearing Crocs again last year…to the pool…to the beach…and in the shower at camp or in dorms. Crocs come in lots of different colors, so find out the recipients favorite color first, but this is a gift that will get used. Pricing for Crocs starts at under $15 on Amazon.com. You can shop their Croc selection here.

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Privacy Pop Bed Tent. Personally, I think this is a great idea for kids or teens. It provides privacy and can provide seclusion for siblings who share rooms or or sleep better in a cozier space.They come in sizes ranging from toddler bed to king bed, and they come in a variety of colors. Easy to install, they fit right under your regular mattress, and they come in a variety of colors.  Priced from $119 to $199. Purchase here.44075242744702p__1

Charm Bracelet. High school and college are the perfect times for a girl to start a charm bracelet. It doesn’t mean they have to wear it, but it’s a great time to start collecting mementos from places they’ve traveled. After my mother died, I found a charm bracelet from her youth with lots of charms from places I knew she had visited, and it made me feel connected to her. I don’t wear it, because I’m afraid I will lose it, but I have it. Unfortunately, I never started my own charm bracelet, and I wish I had. It would be fun to have charms from special times in my life or places I’ve visited. You can get charm bracelets at lots of places, and you can get them in gold or silver. I’m listing two in sterling silver. Right now, Kay Jewelers has a heart charm bracelets on sale for about $60. At Tiffany & Co, the ever-popular Heart Tag Charm Bracelet starts at $310 in sterling silver.

 

BACtrack S80 Pro Breathalyzer OR BACtrack Mobile Pro A breathalyzer is a great gift for a college student, and honestly, some might like it for a teenager. As much as parents want their kids to make good decisions, we all know they don’t always do that. If you have a son, daughter, niece, nephew, or friend who imbibes, this might be the perfect gift to help them make good decisions. I’ve listed two, because both get excellent ratings. From what I can tell, these are the best ones out there. Just look at the two, and decide which one is best for your recipient. The BACtrack S80 Pro is priced at $129 (on sale from $149 at time of writing), and it has been tested by and meets the requirements of the DOT/NHTSA for a personal breath alcohol screening device. The BACtrack Mobile Pro, priced at $99,  has other features, working with your app and cell phone. It even estimates the time at which your BAC will return to 0.00. To learn more and/or purchase, go to the website here.

 

PBTeen Groovy Swivel Chair. Teens and college students often love a little extra seating in their rooms, but they don’t want conventional chair or don’t have room for them. These Groovy Swivel Chairs come in different colors and fabrics, and they are a fun alternative to regular chairs and bean bag chairs. My daughter likely will be getting one this Christmas…what a comfortable place to study and do homework! Prices start at $279 for the faux fur chairs (on sale right now) and go up to $399. Check them out here.

 

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Smart TV with Roku. If your college student (or teenager) doesn’t have a Smart TV, it would make a great gift this holiday season. A Smart TV with Roku doesn’t even have to be connected to any cable or satellite service. They can stream movies and shows straight through Roku with a Sling subscription. They can also watch Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and several other streaming services through the Smart TV. Of course, there are lots of different versions on the market. I found them starting at $169 at Best Buy for a 32″ TV. To check at Best Buy, click here. 

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Amazon Fire Stick and Echo Dot. I mentioned this in my favorite gifts for travelers, but they’re great for teenagers who already have televisions. The Fire Stick will enable them to stream shows and movies without cable or satellite service, but they will need Wi-Fi. In my previous post, I mentioned the $39.95 deal for the Amazon Fire Stick with 2nd Gen Echo Dot, but now they’re offering a special deal on the New Amazon Fire Stick with 3rd Gen Echo Dot for $59.95 (regular price $99.95), in stock at Amazon on November 26. Purchase now as a bundle from Amazon, and they’ll send it when it’s in stock!. Your teen or college student can plug the Amazon Fire Stick directly into the HDMI of their existing TV, and use the Echo Dot in conjunction with it. Get it here.

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Experience Gifts. I’m always telling people experiences are more memorable than things, and they make great gifts! Maybe you have a teenager or college student who has always wanted to skydive or indoor skydive. Maybe they’ve wanted a racecar experience or rafting experience. There’s a website that can sell you the experience, but if you know of an experience off the top of your head, maybe you contact the place directly. I know we have a new company coming to Charlotte called iFly which offers indoor skydiving, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. They offer gift cards in various dollar amounts. Or maybe you purchase someone a gift card from experiencedays.com, and they can choose their own experience from their offerings. See experiencedays.com here, and iflyworld.com here.

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Sled. This one is a tradition at our house. Every year of her life, our daughter has received a sled from Santa for Christmas, and as far as I’m concerned, that will continue as long as I can do it. She has quite a collection of awesome sleds now, so when it does snow once or twice a year in Charlotte, she is always prepared. In fact, sometimes we just have ice instead of snow, but that doesn’t stop us! (I say “us,” because yes, I go sledding too.) We have had a lot of luck with Hammerhead sleds, so this year, she will be getting a newer version of the same type sled. These sleds are lightweight, durable, steerable, and most importantly, fast. You know what they say, “Kid tested, Mother approved.” It’s not cheap, coming in at just over $177, but if you can spend it, it’s worth every penny when it snows. You get a lot more that $177 of fun out of this thing. There are some less expensive versions on Amazon too. If you want to see this one, click here. Amazon will ship it to you for free, if you’re a Prime member.

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Cash is king. Not gonna lie. Teens want what they want, and we don’t always get it right. I don’t even try to buy clothes and shoes for my daughter anymore. And sometimes, they just want cash so they can get exactly what they want. While it seems impersonal, teens and college students love cold hard cash. But to make it even more exciting, do what my sister-in-law does: wrap it up. And I mean wrap it up. Start with an envelope. Then wrap it in a ball of plastic wrap. Put that ball in a box. Wrap it in newspaper. Put it in another box…and so on and so on. Keep it interesting! Make that package as complicated and big as you can make it!

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Stocking Stuffers. For more ideas, please refer to my stocking stuffers post. There are lots of good ideas on there for young people too. You can see that post here.

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Teenagers and college students are tough customers, but hopefully, you’ll find some things here that will go over well with yours. We want them to have a Merry Christmas too!

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My Favorite Holiday Gifts, Part 6: Stocking Stuffers

Every year, I end up dashing around at the last minute to come up with good stocking stuffers. You can’t just have empty stockings hanging by the chimney on Christmas morning! So, this year, I’m planning ahead. I’m listing something fun for everyone here. Aren’t Christmas stocking supposed to be fun?! Without further ado, here are my favorite STOCKING STUFFERS:

Festive Cracker Set from L’Occitane. Holiday crackers have been around for a long time, but these festive crackers from L’Occitane are special, because they contain fabulous L’Occitane beauty products. Each set contains four crackers, each containing beauty products of a different scent: Sweet Cherry Blossom; Delicious Almond; Fragrant Lavender; and Nourishing Shea Butter. They can be used as stocking stuffers as a set, or break it up and put one cracker in each stocking. Priced at $34 for the set, order from L’Occitane here.

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Sports or Concert Tickets. These always go over well in my household. We tend to prefer sporting events over concerts, but we’ve given each other some great concert tickets over the years: The Eagles, Sade, and more. And when our daughter was younger, she loved getting tickets to see Big Time Rush and Taylor Swift in her stocking. There are some great concerts coming up over the next year: Pink, JoJo Siwa, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, George Strait, and more.  For sports in Charlotte, we’re fortunate to have the Hornets, the Checkers, the Panthers, and the Knights, plus some college sports too! For sporting event and concert ticket information, go to Ticketmaster.com here, or VIPNation.com here.

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Scratch Off Cards. Some of you will think I’m crazy, but Santa puts Scratch Off Cards from the North Carolina Education Lottery in our stockings every year! The most any of us has ever won on one card is $100, but hey, that’s something! One year, when I was buying them, the guy helping me told me his aunt won $40,000 on a Scratch Off on Christmas one year. I don’t sound so crazy now, do I? Prices start at $1 for NC Scratch Offs, and I usually buy about $100 worth to split among our stockings. Get them at Harris Teeter or anywhere they sell NC Lottery Tickets. If you live in another state, perhaps your state has a lottery with scratch-offs, or maybe a neighboring state. I know my friends in Baldwin and Mobile Counties in Alabama have been known to drive to the Florida line for lottery tickets…and others to the north have gone to Georgia. To see the different types of Scratch Offs, go to the North Carolina Education Lottery Page here.

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Foot Massage Roller. Anyone who spends much time on their feet can use a foot massage. This foot massage roller is perfect for do-it-yourself foot massages. Just put it on the floor, and roll it with your foot for instant relief. After walking around lacrosse or soccer fields during a weekend tournament, this will do the trick! And my daughter uses it after playing in those tournaments. Is your spouse a doctor or nurse? They’re on their feet all day…they’d love this. Have a friend or family member who travels a lot? It’s great after trekking through airports or after long flights. Weighing under 6.5 ounces, it’s light enough to carry in luggage without adding bulk. Purchase from Amazon for $18.99 here.

 

Little Stinker Bag of Reindeer Farts Cotton Candy. If you have little boys in your house, you know they love potty humor. Heck, even big boys love potty humor. What’s funnier than a bag of reindeer farts? Well, obviously, they’re not really reindeer farts, but they’ll get a lot of laughs on Christmas morning. Priced at $9.95 for three ounces (cotton candy is light) from Amazon. Purchase here.

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Firebox Head Case. Some folks will think this is absolutely crazy, but when my friend, Mary Ann, told me about it via Facebook, I was all over it! Nothing says “that’s my bag!” like your own giant face on your suitcase. I don’t have my own yet, but I will have one soon! When it comes off the luggage carousel on my first trip after Christmas, I will recognize it immediately…and everyone else will know it’s mine! I think this is a great stocking stuffer for anyone who likes a good, crazy gift. My teenager daughter would be mortified, but I know my crazy sister-in-law will love it! It’s a fabric case cover that fits over your bag. It comes in three different sizes, and the handles are still easily accessible. Purchase at firebox.com here. 

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Lypsyl Lip Balms. My daughter and her friends recently brought these fabulous lip balms to my attention. Available at Walgreen’s, Walmart, and Amazon.com, they are made of Swedish Beeswax Lip Balm. According to the teenage girls who hang out at my house, they are the best lip balms on the market. Guess what will be in the my daughter’s Christmas stocking this year? But Lypsyl’s not just for women. They are offered in the original formula and in Yummy Sticks too. Purchase at your local Walgreen’s or Walmart, or purchase on Amazon.com here.LypSyl_2018_lineshot

Kendra Scott Moody Mood Necklace. I mentioned these in the Christmas accessories post, but they are worth another mention. Doesn’t every woman love to find a little jewelry in her Christmas stocking? This is fun, because it will remind some of the old mood rings of the 70s. Aside from that, they’re just pretty! Priced at $75, the mood necklaces come in silver, gold, and rose gold. Kendra Scott also offers mood rings for the same price. Purchase here.

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Restaurant Gift Cards. This is almost too simple to mention. We all know about gift cards, and they make great stocking stuffers for just about everybody. For teenagers, there’s Starbucks, ChickFilA, Shake Shack, and more. For adults, you can go more upscale, or just something they like: Starbucks (again), Cafe Monte in Charlotte, Bricktop’s in Charlotte, or The Palm. Or maybe you know a hotel they frequent? Lots of hotels and spas offer gift cards, as well.

 

Dylan’s Candy Bar Hot Chocolate. Dylan’s Candy Bar has an assortment of hot chocolate mixes that are fun for the whole family. They offer several “mystery color” hot chocolates that turn red, pink, or green in your cup, making for an interesting hot cocoa experience. And they offer flavored hot chocolates as well: Fir Real (Double Chocolate Christmas Hot Chocolate), Just Hangin’ (Salted Caramel Christmas Hot Chocolate), and Sweet But Twisted (Peppermint Christmas Hot Chocolate). For any family member who has seen the movie or the musical, Mean Girls, they offer a hot chocolate called You Go Glen Coco pink hot chocolate mix. Purchase directly from Dylan’s Candy Bar here.

 

Claus Porto Musgo Real Soap-on-a-Rope. Soap-on-a-Rope has made a comeback in recent years. Because I love Claus Porto soaps, it’s the one I recommend for men. The Classic Scent is fantastic and fresh, but not flowery, and Claus Porto uses Shea butter in all their soaps, making them great for moisturizing too. Get this at Neiman Marcus for $28 here. OR get it in a set with cologne directly from Claus Porto for $90 here.

 

Lush Bubble Bar. Starting at $5.95, these beautifully-scented bubble bars create a relaxing bath experience. Some of them are even reusable. There are different shapes and scents, and who doesn’t love a bubble bath? Shop Lush Bubble Bars here.

 

L Erickson Grab and Go Pony Tube. Best ponytail holders ever! I discovered these several years ago when I was waiting to check out at Anthropologie in Los Angeles. You know how they have all sorts of little accessories near the checkout? Well, I grabbed one of these tubes, and I was so glad I did! My daughter and I both use them, and they hold our hair without damaging it. Anybody in your life who ever wears a ponytail will love these. Priced at $18 for the tube of 15 ponytail holders, they’re not cheap, but they are worth it. Get them at Amazon Prime here. Or from Nordstrom here.

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Bluetooth Beanie. Bluetooth Beanies are a hot item this Christmas, and they are the perfect size to shove down into the toe of a Christmas stocking. You know how you have to have something you can push in to the toe to support everything else in the stocking? Well, here it is! Bluetooth beanies are great for listening to music while attending sporting events, running, skiing, and more. Amazon offers lots of them, but here is one that gets great ratings…the Everplus beanie, starting at $14.95. Get it at Amazon here.

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Duluth Trading Larry Flashlight. I have one of these, and it comes in handy. Sure, we have flashlights on our phones, but they’re not like this. I’ve used this one at the beach while we looked for ghost crabs at night. I’ve used it while I walked the dogs at night. It gives off a lot of light, and it’s lightweight too. Makes a great stocking stuffer for any member of the family. Don’t all little kids love flashlights?!? Don’t teens and college students need flashlights? Priced at $14.95, it’s a great deal. Purchase from Duluth Trading Company here. 

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City Clues. One Christmas, we planned a trip to New York for our daughter, so we decided to fill her stocking with clues about the trip. Since she was 11 or 12 at the time, we went with clues a girl her age would associate with NYC. That meant her stocking contained a magnet from the Empire State Building, an 8″ replica of the Statue of Liberty, come candy from Dylan’s Candy Bar, some frozen hot chocolate mix from Serendipity, an Eloise doll (from Eloise at the Plaza), Yankees tickets, and tickets to see Matilda on Broadway. Oh, and an I Love NY t-shirt. She figured it out, and she was thrilled. Planning a big trip? Find some souvenirs online to put in your family member’s stocking.

 

 

And there you have it…stocking stuffers! Get busy shopping! Christmas is just over a month away, and you don’t want to miss out on the good stuff!

***Next time: TEENS AND COLLEGE STUDENTS!***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Talk…We’re the Been There Moms

My friend, Maureen, and I recently started a site called Been There Moms. I have loved spending time with Maureen for years…we chat, we laugh, we share, and now, you can join us for our chats! Been There Moms is a quick look at the things we discuss…and the humor we share. We make videos discussing topics of interest to parents and other folks, too! We share our own parenting fails, share our lessons, and sometimes we just “kvetch” about the hazards of parenting. And we laugh…a lot.

We have a great time, for sure. Maureen’s twenty-something son is very patient with us when he’s helping us with the videos. We are grateful for his patience, his directing skills and especially his mad editing skills. I know it’s hard to believe, but sometimes, we get carried away when we’re talking, and he has to reign us in. We can turn a three minute video into 15 minutes of chat, so he has to edit a lot. Lots of times, he has given us the “wrap it up” sign, and when he turns off the camera, we all laugh. Seeing our chats on video, I’ve realized some things: Maureen is especially talented with her sense of humor. She comes up with the best one-liners. I’m definitely the squirrel chaser, so Maureen has to get me back on topic. I’m the long, drawn-out storyteller. Come to think of it, I’m probably the reason our chats run long. I should apologize to her son, our director/editor.

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Maureen has four children, ranging in age from 14 to a second year law student…three boys and a girl. I have one child…a 15-yr-old girl. Together, we cover a lot of topics, and we offer different perspectives. Maureen is from the north, and I’m from the Deep South. She went to a highbrow, liberal arts college. I went to a big state university. We’ve had different experiences, but we are great friends.

So far, we have discussed some parenting parenting dilemmas: children flying alone; shopping with teenage girls; Homecoming proposals; being nice; high school sports; being the new mom at school; and summer reading. There are more videos to come, but since it’s not our day job, we have to make them when it’s convenient. We are having a great time! It’s a good excuse for us to get together!

This past weekend, my nephew visited with a friend, and the friend (she’s 22) told me she loves the Been There Moms site! Yay! We have a young fan who isn’t even a mom! According to my nephew, his friend watches our videos regularly and walks around saying, “We’re the Been There Moms!” Seriously, I was so excited, and when I saw Maureen at my daughter’s field hockey game Friday afternoon, I could hardly wait to tell her: our young fan thinks we’re funny! I guess it’s not just for moms anymore! Anyone who knows me knows I love a good audience.

So, here’s the deal: we are always looking for new topics to discuss. I have a running list, and Maureen does too, but we would love folks to send us some topics to discuss. Check out our Been There Moms Facebook page here; like the page, and then send us a message or comment with some topics! We would love to hear from you! And who knows? If you offer up a good topic, we might invite you to be a guest on our “show”!

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Our Daughter Is 15 Today

It’s difficult to believe. Our daughter is 15 today. As I type, she has about 15 more minutes to sleep before getting up for school…ninth grade, a high school freshman. How did we get here so quickly?

It has been 15 years since she changed our lives. Wow. We had no idea what we were doing as new parents, and we have no idea what we’re doing as parents of a teenager. We take it one day at a time. Even last night, she asked me if she could go to some concert in a couple of months, and I answered, “Can’t we deal with that when it gets a little closer?” Sometimes, I refuse to believe she is old enough to go to concerts.

Getting here has been a journey. Our daughter was never a sleeper. Even as an infant, she didn’t really nap. She was always wide-eyed and always moving. I’ve always said she is just like my brother. He was always on the move and still is. It serves our daughter well in athletic endeavors. She has lots of energy, and the athletic field is the perfect place to use that energy. Of course, all that energy disappears when I try to drag her through a museum…but that’s OK. Museums are usually quiet places, which is why she doesn’t enjoy them. I get it.

When she was two, our pediatrician told me, “What you have here is the classic strong-willed child. It will drive you crazy, but it will serve her well.”

I remember milestones…her first day of preschool, when she was ten months old. I needed a break one day a week, so she went for three hours to the preschool at our church. The first time she went, I cried as I walked away. And then her first day of “real school”…transitional kindergarten at an independent school. I didn’t cry that day. I was excited for her. She was four years old. She would turn five years old six weeks into the school year. But on that first day of “real school,” I drove up, and she got out of the car like a pro and walked up the sidewalk to her new classroom. I can remember what she was wearing. I wanted to watch her walk up the sidewalk and into the building, but it would have caused a logjam in the carpool line, so I drove away.

There are so many memories. I remember her crawling at breakneck speed. Her first tooth emerging when she was 10 months and 2 days old…later than most. Her first steps when she was 11 months old…she walked and then ran all in the same day. The joy on her face on Christmas mornings. She always loved Santa; she was the little girl who would sit on his lap and talk his ear off. How she was afraid of the Easter Bunny…a giant bunny coming into her house was terrifying, so he always left her basket just inside the door. I remember when she fell at preschool when she was three, popping her lip open. I remember walking on the pier with her at our condo on the bay, alligators in the water beneath, holding her hand so tightly it turned blue. I remember watching a nutria forage for food underneath the same pier. Our girl loved digging in the dirt in my parents’ yard and running back and forth across the bridge in their front yard. She would catch the giant black and yellow horse lubber grasshoppers that populate the Gulf Coast with her bare hands. 1200px-Horse_Lubber_Grasshopper_(Taeniopoda_eques)When she was little, she loved Easter Egg hunts year round. She loved playing outside with her older cousins. She has always loved being outside. We still remember the look on her face during her first trip to Disney World when she was four. We spent countless afternoons over the years with our playgroup…having fun with friends. We’ve gone on road trips with friends and other vacations with friends…New Orleans, Upstate New York, Maine, Puerto Rico, Atlanta, Chicago, Kentucky (slept in a wigwam!), San Francisco, Louisville, and more. I remember when the admissions counselor at her school told me how sweet she was during her visit (she was four years old) when they asked her, “If you break a cookie in half, how many pieces do you have?” She answered, “I would have two, but I would give one to my friend, Caroline, because she’s in the hospital.” I remember when she was taking swimming lessons as a toddler, and every week, she helped a scared little girl walk to the pool, taking her by the hand and walking her over. I vividly remember dropping her off at the airport in New York last summer for a two week trip to Iceland, and I can still remember the joy I felt when she was back in the USA. My husband and I have watched hours of soccer, field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse. We went to dance recitals when she was a little girl…cute little yellow tutu with temporary tattoos all over her arms. I can still see the look on her face the first time she went to an Alabama football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium…it took her breath away. She has always loved rollercoasters…we were regulars at Carowinds Amusement Park for years…going almost daily when she was two, three, and four.  I’ve taken her to see concerts: Miranda Cosgrove, Matty B, Selena Gomez, Big Time Rush, One Direction…even One Direction opening for Big Time Rush. She has met some of her favorite athletes: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Evander Holyfield. I should mention she also met Squishy Paws from Ricky, Nicky, Dicky, and Dawn, but only because I recognized the sweet little pooch when we were touring Paramount Studios…a proud moment. I’ve taken her to Los Angeles at least once a year since 2011, and she never gets tired of it.

On the journey to fifteen, she has lost two great-grandmothers and two grandparents…most recently, my mother this past December. She has had broken bones (wrist and shoulder) and multiple sprains. When she was ten, she came down with the flu on Christmas Eve. Yes, Christmas Eve. Since she was awake sick all night, Santa had a tough job that year. After a couple of nights at home with the flu, she and I moved to the Ballantyne Hotel for the next three nights and ordered room service till she was well. She has endured the stress of trying out for sports teams and standardized tests at school. She has watched her daddy go through brain surgery. And now she’s in high school. She is enjoying the transition from middle school to high school, and one day, I hope she will enjoy the transition to college just as much.

Before she goes off to college, I plan to make lots more memories…and afterward too. But since I know she leaves for college in less than four years, I want to make these high school years the best they can be.

One thing I know for sure is that she teaches us far more than we teach her.

I can’t believe she’s 15.

If Only I Could Call Them

When Daddy was dying, it seemed the thing he hated most about dying was thinking about what he was going to miss. He said he wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him, but he was sad he would miss his family, and he would miss some of the big moments.

I think, we, the ones left behind, often feel the same thing. There are lots of times I think, “I wish Daddy were here to see this.” And since December, I often think, “I wish I could call Mother and tell her about this.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wishing they were here more than usual. I always miss them, but situations arise that I would love to share with them, and that’s when I really wish they were here.

In May, I wrote a piece titled Behind That White Picket Fence (click here to see it) about how we never know what’s going on in someone’s private life. A friend from college commented on my post, making me think of Mother and something that happened twenty years ago.

When I was about 30, a friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her name is Susan, and I think she was 28 or 29 at the time. She was/is married (in fact, I introduced her to her husband) and while her husband was supportive, her parents jumped right in to help. Her husband needed to work and couldn’t be there all the time, so her parents took turns spending the night at the hospital with her and stayed during the day, as well. She had  complications after surgery, but they were there to advocate for her. If I remember correctly, she was in the hospital for months.

During this time, my maternal grandmother and a friend of hers were breezing through Mobile on a trip and stopped in to visit Mother. We will call the friend Gladys. Mother had never met Gladys and frankly, found her to be rather harsh. They were there for a few hours, so Mother didn’t jump to that conclusion quickly.

While they were there, insurance became the topic of conversation. Gladys, at some point, complained about her insurance agent, saying he had not been responsive over recent months. When she mentioned his name, Mother knew she had to say something. She responded, “Well, I’m sure you don’t know, but his young daughter has colon cancer. She’s had surgery and complications, and he has been spending days and nights at the hospital with her. If he hasn’t been responsive, that’s a good reason. God bless him.”

That evening, Mother called me to tell me what had happened, and she was a little hot under the collar. Of course, I reminded her Gladys probably had no idea, and while Mother realized that, she was miffed Gladys wasn’t giving Susan’s dad, her insurance agent for 30 years, the benefit of the doubt.

So, after Susan commented on Behind That Picket Fence, I sent her a message telling her about the exchange. She responded by telling me she was happy to hear my mother had interceded. She reminded me her daddy had stayed with her in the hospital and had even devised a way to wash her hair, simply because he knew it was something he could do that would make her feel a little better. He made some sort of “contraption” that made it possible for him to wash her hair while she was lying in bed. The nurses didn’t want him to do it, but he did, and Susan immediately felt better. Afterward, the nurses started started using the same contraption and method to wash the hair of other patients.

That exchange with my friend was one of those moments I wish Mother were here. I wanted to call and tell her I had shared the story with Susan, and in response, she told me what great things her daddy did for her. In fact, Susan told me her daddy was retired by the time she was diagnosed, so no wonder he wasn’t responsive! He was no longer the agent!

But I couldn’t call Mother. She would have loved that story.

There are also things I’d love to share with my daddy. Just this week, I had lunch with my cousin, Ardrue, who lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, about an hour away. Ardrue and I started getting together over the past couple of years. We had never met until early 2016, but I had heard about Ardrue my entire life. She is my daddy’s first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

When I say I’d heard about Ardrue my entire life, I mean it. I remember, as a little girl, hearing Daddy and Aunt Katie talk about Ardrue. I don’t remember the stories, but who can forget a name like Ardrue? I’ve told her this, so it’s OK…I remember asking daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I remember seeing pictures of a little girl/teenage Ardrue when I would go through old pictures. Her name appeared on the backs of several pictures.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to Alabama to go through pictures and find some to bring back to show her.

Ardrue has told me stories about my daddy as a young man, and she has shared stories about the family, as well. When we are talking, I love when she mentions a familiar name in one of her stories. Sometimes she is even surprised I recognize a name. Most of the times, I recognize the names from stories Daddy used to tell…he was a good storyteller. She is a charming lady with a great sense of humor. I’ll have to ask her if a sense of humor runs in the family. It’s hard to tell, because in all the old pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents, they all look so serious.

And this is one of those times I wish Daddy were here. He would be thrilled Ardrue and I  get together. Not only that, but we enjoy each other’s company! He would want to sit right there with us, laughing and talking. The two of them would be able to reminisce and remind each other of things that happened when they were children.

But I can’t call Daddy. He can’t join us for lunch. He would have loved spending time with Ardrue.

And recently, when our daughter was away for two weeks on a group trip to Iceland and not allowed to use her phone to call home, Mother and Daddy would have commiserated with me. They likely would have been calling me three times a day to ask if there had been any email updates from the group leaders.

While it’s painful immediately following the loss of a parent, there are other times that are difficult too. Interestingly, for me, it’s usually the happy times that I miss them. I wish they could see my daughter play lacrosse and field hockey. Daddy would have loved watching her play basketball too. I used to always call Mother from my car after I dropped off my daughter somewhere, and I would call her after any of my daughter’s games and give her the post-game wrap-up. That was a habit that was hard to break after Mother passed.  I wish I could just pick up the phone and call both of them to tell them funny stories, talk about trivial stuff, and brag about my daughter. They would love knowing my brother and I talk almost every day, and we still call each other to get answers to trivial questions. And they would be so happy to know we have been vacationing together.

But I can’t call them.

If only I could call them…

Cousins

Cousins.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen the posts about cousins. Most of them say something along the lines of “cousins are our first friends.” Or “no one will understand your crazy family like your cousins do.” There’s some truth to that.

Thanks to Facebook, in recent years, my cousins and I have started keeping in touch better than we did before. All my first cousins are on social media, and even some aunts and other family members. Interestingly, with cousins, we often have similar physical traits, but I think personality traits are familial too. I never lived near any of my aunts/uncles/cousins growing up, but every time my Aunt Katie and I are together, people around us talk about how we have similar mannerisms.

All my first cousins live in Florida. My part of the family was the part of the family that moved away, so we didn’t see them as often as they saw each other, but I adored my cousins. In fact, it was my cousin, Cindy, who took me to Padgett’s Jewelry, in Chattahoochee, Florida, to get my ears pierced when I was eight years old. I can still remember sitting up on the jewelry counter in the middle of the store. Cindy held my hand while the lady used the piercing gun to put those first gold studs in my earlobes. I’ve said before that emotions lock events into long term memory, so I must have been really nervous or really excited…or both…that day.

While I have fond memories of each of my first cousins, I think it’s only natural I have more memories of the ones who are closest in age to me. Patti and Tara used to come spend a week in the summer with us when we were kids, and any time the whole family got together, they were the ones I was usually with. But we lived several hours away, and as an adult, I live even farther away, but thanks to Facebook, I think we are all closer than ever now.

In fact, because of Facebook (and some intervention from my Aunt Katie), I am now friends with my only North Carolina cousin, Ardrue. She is my daddy’s first cousin…their mothers were sisters. While I had met her mother when I was a little girl, I had never met Ardrue. I remember hearing her name my whole life from my daddy and from my Aunt Katie. Daddy was crazy about her, and Katie still is. She fell between them in age. I also remember asking Daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I’m sure I asked it many times, but I don’t remember ever getting an answer.

A couple years ago, Ardrue and I became Facebook friends, and she very graciously reached out. As it turns out, she lives in a town that’s just about an hour away from Charlotte. We made plans to meet for lunch in Gastonia, North Carolina, which is about the halfway point between us.

As soon as I saw her, I knew she was my cousin. She has a very familiar look…like my grandmother’s side of the family. I’m not sure how long we visited at that first lunch, but we were there a while. We got acquainted. She told me stories about my daddy as a young person, and I told her stories about him as an adult. She told me some family history, and we laughed and cried. I also found out the answer to that question. You know…”what kind of name is Ardrue?” Well, it seems her mother had met a young girl named Ardrue at a revival service in Florida once and decided she would name her first daughter the same name. So that’s what kind of name Ardrue is.

Since then, Ardrue and I have become great friends in addition to being first cousins, once removed. We try to meet occasionally for lunch, but of course, real life gets in the way sometimes.

Once, her sister came down from up north for a visit, and I was fortunate to get to meet her too…another cousin! Ardrue set it up, and we met in a park in downtown Belmont, North Carolina. I arrived a little early and sat down at a picnic table to wait. I noticed people were setting up lawn chairs along side of the railroad track. Ardrue and Lu walked up behind me just as I was wondering aloud, “What are they doing?” We had a good laugh about the fact that I was talking to myself, and then we figured out that the good people of Belmont set up their lawn chairs to watch the trains go by. Pretty cool, actually.

Most recently, when I saw Ardrue, she mentioned the fact that I’m her cousin who lives the closest…and vice versa. We’ve met a couple of times at Spindle City Cafe in downtown Gastonia, and that’s where we met that day. We usually have lunch and laugh…a lot. We talk about serious stuff too, but we laugh a lot. She has a great sense of humor. To see the menu at Spindle City Cafe in Gastonia, click here. It’s worth the drive.

On that day, she brought me a gift. Ardrue has been a loyal reader of my blog (and she does some beautiful writing herself), and she remembered my post about the Bluebird of Happiness (see post here). After her husband passed away, she started taking art classes, and she had devoted a recent class to drawing a bluebird for me…something to remember my mother’s and grandfather’s fondness for bluebirds…but now, I also think of Ardrue when I look at the beautiful drawing. I have it displayed in my kitchen, so I can see it every morning. She’s quite talented, and she’s a great example of how we can all continue to learn throughout our lives. I was grateful for the time she put into it and for the gift itself.

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But the best gift I’ve received from my newfound cousin is the gift of her friendship. She wasn’t my “first friend,” as they say cousins are, but she is a dear friend, and I’m grateful to finally know her. I wish Daddy could get together with us too, because he would be thrilled to know we get together. He would have loved to sit with us over lunch, and I’m sure he would have been able to remind her of some stories from their shared childhood.  Since he’s not here, I’m urging his sister, Aunt Katie, to get up here to NC for a visit. Or maybe we all need to meet in Florida. All cousins welcome.

Whatever we do, we will laugh and cry a lot, and I’m guaranteed to hear some good family stories I’ve never heard before.

Thank God for cousins.