Cars, Cars Everywhere

Cars, cars everywhere.

Just over a year ago, we were told to hunker down at home because of a pandemic. We couldn’t believe it then, and sometimes, I still can’t believe it now. What do I remember most about that first month of the pandemic? I remember I had to cancel a March vacation. I remember being afraid. I remember fretting over the fact that we had no Clorox wipes in our house. I remember spraying packages with Lysol when they arrived at our front door. I remember being afraid. And I remember no traffic on the roads…absolutely no traffic. In Charlotte, where we can have some pretty heavy traffic, there was virtually none. It felt a bit like a ghost town.

One year ago yesterday, my daughter and I hopped in my car at about 10pm and drove to Indian Land, South Carolina, for some Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We were the only car on the road, and we wondered if we would get stopped by the police for breaking the stay-at-home order. Charlotte sits just north of the South Carolina/North Carolina line, and Indian Land is just south of the line. We had been told to only leave our homes for essential things. Well, that night Krispy Kreme was essential…so we went. If we had been stopped by the police, we wouldn’t have been lying when we said we were out to get food. The doughnuts we brought home and inhaled that night were, quite possibly, the best doughnuts ever…and worth the risk of getting stopped by the police. That Krispy Kreme location has since closed, but lucky me…one opened even closer to our house! I can be there in seven minutes flat…well, depending on traffic.

Last year, we could zip around town with no interference from anyone else. Yesterday, I almost got t-boned at an intersection in Southpark, when a truck almost ran a red-light. I got cut off on Colony Road when the slowest driver in Charlotte decided to change lanes right in front of me. And I was so far back in line at a traffic light in town that I had to wait through three light cycles to get to make a left turn. Unlike last year, in the early days of the pandemic, cars are everywhere now.

Sadly, I think about 70% of them forgot how to drive during the stay-at-home orders. And I’m not really exaggerating. My daddy used to say that people who stop driving on the interstate forget how to drive on the interstate. People who stop driving at night forget how to drive at night. I don’t know if he had ever experienced a pandemic, but if he had lived long enough to experience the pandemic in 2020, he would have said, “People who stop driving during a pandemic forget how to drive…period.”

The pandemic certainly had an effect on the way I do things. I can’t speak for everyone else in the world, but I have noticed some things are different for me. I used to shop in person all the time, but now…not so much. In fact, when I had to dash to the mall this week for some Easter gifts, I found I had forgotten how to check out! When the sales associate told me my total, I just stood there, holding my credit card. She said, “You can put your card into the card reader now.” Duh. I had forgotten I actually had to do that. I guess I need to do some more in-person shopping, so I don’t lose that skill!

I’m also getting better at hearing people while we’re all wearing masks. I don’t think my hearing has gotten any better, but I think I’ve gotten better at listening. Or maybe I’m just better at thinking I’ve heard something or pretending I’ve heard something. I find I’m a little like Mr. Magoo when I’m wearing a mask, and at first, that annoyed me. Now, I feel like I’ve just embraced my Mr. Magoo qualities.

Monday, I get the second dose of the vaccine. I’m anticipating feeling badly for a little while, but I can hardly wait to know I’m fully vaccinated. In fact, I plan to meet some friends at Krispy Kreme to celebrate! Yes, I’m going to get that free doughnut and purchase a dozen to bring home too! I’ll be glad when we can put this pandemic in our rearview mirrors…even if it means we are fighting tons of traffic again. Heavy traffic in Charlotte feels normal again.

Two Friends on the Road, Part 1

Two friends on the road, Part 1.

I’ve recovered now. Wow. About 11 days ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann. We were long overdue for some fun, and frankly, we had discussed the possibility of a road trip without kids for years. It was high time we just got into the car and went. So we did. My husband stayed home with our 17-yr-old daughter, and my friend left her three kids with her mom…and off we went. We didn’t plan anything in advance. We didn’t have hotel reservations. However, because of COVID, we decided we needed to travel to places that were actually open, so we headed south…toward Florida.

We had used an app called Roadside America before, so we decided to use it on this trip too…and using the app, we decided our first stop would be at the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, South Carolina. Crazy, right? It’s not an official welcome center; a gentleman built it in his yard, but it’s rather impressive. We knew when we had arrived, for sure. It’s shaped like a flying saucer and it casts a rather large shadow on the road as we approached from the east. Wow! Someone had spent a lot of time building this! I have to admit it was pretty amazing…an unusual photo op, to say the least. For a $20 “tip” you can go inside the massive structure, but since the sun was setting, and we weren’t sure the structure was “up to code,” we opted out of the grand tour. And soon, we were back on the road.

It wasn’t long before we were on I-95 south, and we stayed the course for several hours, till we decided it was time to stop…in St. Augustine, Florida. We got off the interstate and headed toward town, looking for a restaurant where we could grab dinner. We found a lovely place called Green Papaya, which offered Asian Fusion, but it was nearing closing time. We quickly ordered online and opted to eat it in the car, because we didn’t want to cause the staff to stay late. (My husband would be upset that we ate in my car…but he wasn’t there!) We were impressed with our ability to find a great restaurant, as the food from Green Papaya was just what the doctor ordered! If we find ourselves in St. Augustine again, we will return!

After dinner (in the car!), it was time to look for a place to stay. As I mentioned, we hadn’t made reservations ahead of time, and we wanted a small, locally-owned inn for the night. After checking ratings online, we headed toward a place called Magic Beach Motel in Vilano Beach…just outside St. Augustine. When we rolled into Vilano Beach, it was easy to spot Magic Beach Motel, because it was aglow in neon! It was exactly what we were looking for…a charming little beach motel from days gone by. (See feature photo!) For more info on the Magic Beach Motel, click here. Here’s where I should mention we purchased lottery tickets (it was at $950 million!) and scratch-offs every time we stopped for a bathroom break or to gas up the car. Scratch-offs added some mindless entertainment when we checked into the motel (and every hotel thereafter), and won more than we spent! We got a good night’s sleep, and the next morning, we decided to check out the area. We walked around the village, a tourist/beach area that boomed in the 1940s and 50s, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Tomalato River. For more information on Vilano Beach, click here. I read there was once a drawbridge that directed traffic to the area, but when a new bridge was constructed in 1995, traffic was diverted away from the area, having a negative impact on the area’s businesses. It’s still a charming area, and it appears to be having a bit of a comeback, as a couple of hotel chains are building there. We strolled from the beach park on one end to the pier overlooking the Tomalato River on the other end. It was at the pier that we found the Bluebird of Happiness statue…another great photo op.

We had fun exploring. Lots of the old motels/restaurants are closed and falling into disrepair, and Mary Ann and I mused about what could be done to revitalize them…if we won the lottery! We also learned there is a Saturday flea market and a cute little Airstream shopping village on weekends. Too bad we were there on a Tuesday/Wednesday. We would have enjoyed it. Good info for next time, though!

We also learned the sign for Haley’s Court, an old beach motel, is an icon of the “beach tourism boom of the 1940s and 50s,”and it has its own historical marker, according to hmdb.org. When we drove into town, the sign was not illuminated, but the next morning, we were able to see it clearly. The sign is a great example of mid-century modern design.

After spending the morning exploring Vilano Beach, we loaded up and drove to The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine…a tourist trap, for sure, but a fun one. We had lunch at a barbecue spot there, and it was surprisingly good! The park itself is interesting and informative, having begun as a tribute to Ponce de Leon’s landing in the New World. It has since become an archeological park, after several Christian relics were unearthed, positively identifying the area as the location of the settlement of St. Augustine in the 1500s. In the park, we found lots of information about the history of the area and even a planetarium! To learn more about The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, click here. We didn’t feel any younger when we left, unfortunately.

From there, we revisited downtown St. Augustine in the daylight…and it was just as stunning by day as it was when it was illuminated at night! The town square! The marinas! The fort! The beautiful, historical architecture! It’s definitely worth a visit! To learn more about St. Augustine, click here.

On our way out of town, we visited the lighthouse for a quick photo op, and we drove past the Alligator Farm, a place I visited as a child and loved. We needed to get a little farther south quickly, so we didn’t visit this time, but it’s also worth your time. I love a good alligator farm. Having lived on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama, I’ve seen lots of gators…fascinating creatures. You can see lots of other animals at the Alligator Farm too. To learn more about the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, click here.

As we drove out of St. Augustine, we made a quick stop at a food truck park and grabbed some macróns before getting on A1A to head south on the beach road. We opened the windows and the sunroof, cranked up the 80s tunes and cruised the beach road through Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and Ormond-by-the-Sea. This stretch of A1A felt like old school beach road…we enjoyed it and put our toes in the sand at several beaches along the way, searching for Right Whales every time we stopped. Right Whales can be spotted off the Florida coast between the months of December and March…something I didn’t know before this trip… so we hoped we might be able to spot one. We didn’t, but it was fun looking for them…and we got to enjoy the beaches in the process! We spoke with some local folks along the way…asking if any of them had ever seen Right Whales off shore…none of them had, but they knew people who had.

At Daytona, we hopped off A1A to take advantage of a photo op at Daytona Motor Speedway…a landmark, for sure. We then followed Highway 1 south to Merritt Island. I’ll pick up with that stop next time. At this point, we were having a great time, and the fun continued!

Outside Daytona Motor Speedway

Posts of 2019 (Joe Namath is a Winner)

Now that 2019 is over, I’ve taken a few minutes to go back and look at some old pieces I wrote during 2019. I can see how many people viewed each one, and the numbers are interesting.

All the “favorite gifts” pieces were read by lots of people…just as they were in 2018. I wasn’t surprised by that at all. Even the most-read piece didn’t surprise me. It was a piece I wrote about teens and much-needed life skills. I wrote it back in the summer, and it got lots of clicks immediately. What I loved most about it was the feedback! So many people had more suggestions to add after they read it! And I’d like to add one more thing to the list: make sure your teen driver knows not to put diesel fuel in his/her car unless it actually has a diesel engine. Trust me…they need to know this information.

But what surprised me most was the second most-read piece of 2019. For one, it wasn’t even written in 2019. It was written in May of 2018, but it gets lots of new readers every week! I use WordPress to write my blog, and through my account, I can see how many people read posts, how many like them, comments, and feedback; and I can see when someone has used a search engine to get to the page instead of clicking through Facebook or Instagram. Don’t worry…I can’t tell who does it…I can simply see that someone does. And frequently, I’ve noticed one Google search that leads people to my website more than any other search. If you guessed “Joe Namath,” you are correct.

Back in May of 2018, I wrote a piece about how my friend, Mary Ann, and I did a little detour during one of our road trips, so we could visit Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, the town where Joe Namath grew up. And because of that, some Google searches will take readers to that piece on my page. You can see the piece here. That little piece from 2018 had the second highest number of readers in 2019. Apparently, I’m not the only person in America who loves Joe Namath. Much like Bobby Brady on The Brady Bunch, I would love to know Joe personally…like in the photo above. I wrote another piece titled Happy Birthday, Joe Willie about his book, All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters, in May of this year, and it didn’t get even a fraction of the “hits” as the old piece. The search terms tend to be “Joe Namath, home” or “Joe Namath, Pennsylvania,” so I guess folks don’t care too much about his birthday. They just want to know about his childhood. I hope his book had a lot more readers than the piece I wrote about his book!

Other pieces that were at the top of the “clicks” list were about misery. One about all the trials and tribulations my 19-year marriage has survived. Another one, called Poking the Bear, was about grief, something we will all experience, if we live long enough. And falling right in with those was a piece about summer reading for our school-aged children, titled I Bought the Summer Reading Book Today. That one is just one big gripe-fest about how I hate that my teenager has required summer reading for school. You can see it here. Apparently, it’s true that “misery loves company,” because lots of folks read those pieces, and a lot of them read them more than once. I don’t think we like knowing other folks are miserable…we just like knowing we’re not alone in misery. I truly believe we like to know other people have experienced some of the things we experience, and we like to know they got through it.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were pieces that hardly anyone read. They were mostly happy pieces, reflecting on something I enjoyed. But I refuse to believe people don’t like reading about happiness. I think it’s just that trials and tribulations bring us together. When the weather is great in your neighborhood, the neighbors are friendly enough, but when a big storm comes through, everyone works together to help each other. I guess it’s the same with writing. When things are going well, it’s not noticed, but write about a life altering event that lots of people can relate to, and you get their attention.

Recently I watched a movie I had never seen, and I watched it because a friend recommended it. Or maybe I should say she insisted I had to see it. So I sat down and watched Love, Actually. Since I cried during the opening, I knew I would like it. The basic premise is that love isn’t dead. The world isn’t just full of hatred…it’s full of love too, but you have to look around to see it. The narrator (Hugh Grant, I believe) said he enjoys going to the airport arrivals area, where he sees lots of love as people greet their loved ones. And yes, being the sap that I am, I loved the movie.

It reminded me that there’s a lot of love out there, and it reminded me that while disaster and misery bring people together, people really do like to hear about positive things too.

I’ve said before that I don’t write this blog to see how popular it will become. I write it for me. I write it, because it calms me. And frankly, I like saving my memories right here. When I’m long gone, hopefully, my daughter will sit down and read all of them…maybe printing them off…before the subscription for the website expires and everything is lost! Maybe I should print them off myself and bind them. It might be that she doesn’t even care, but lots of times, I wish I could ask my parents about things that happened to them. Just today, in fact, I texted my aunt (my daddy’s sister) to find out the story behind a Facebook post.

So in 2020, if I’m feeling like I need to share some misery, I will do just that. And if I want to share happy story, I’ll do that too. And if I ever get to meet Joe Namath, well…you’ll know it. I’ve met lots of celebrities…had lots of “brushes with fame.” But Joe Namath is one I haven’t met…yet. If you know anything about me, you should know I fully believe in the “power of yet.” That means I truly believe I haven’t met him YET.

 

My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2019, Part 5: Gifts for Men/Boys

Honestly, “gifts for men” is a tough category. We got married 19 years ago, and every year, I have trouble deciding what to get my husband. But when I find something that I know will truly surprise him in a happy way, I get all giddy on Christmas morning. It’s difficult, but usually, I find something he loves…and he is always in awe.

Solo Stove Bonfire Steel Firepit. This is not your average woodturning firepit. And don’t tell him, but my husband will find one of these under the tree this year. We’ve had propane burning fire tables, but we never liked them. He hates wood-burning fire pits, because he can’t stand the smoke, and he especially hates the way his clothes smell after standing around one. This one, though, solves that problem. He’s going to be surprised! I don’t know how it works, but the design is patent-pending, and I’ve heard it’s amazing. As much as we enjoy having cocktails on our patio, this will be a big hit. The smallest Bonfire Steel Firepit is 19.5″, which is priced at $295.96 on Amazon. Of course, prices go up for bigger versions. Get it here. 510eipIfE6L._AC_

Games. Sounds silly, I know, but stay with me. Lots of men love the thrill of competition…even if it’s just a backyard game. We have lots of friends who love a good game (or tournament) of corn hole. I’ve sung the praises of the corn hole game before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Get corn hole boards at Amazon here. Another favorite through the years is the Hook and Ring Toss Game. Found in pubs everywhere, who doesn’t love the challenge? I remember playing it at the World Famous FloraBama Lounge and Package Store in Orange Beach, Alabama, when I was in college. (If you’re not familiar with the FloraBama, you should be…it’s a dive bar on the beach…home of the Annual Mullet Toss. Good times! See info here.) As for the hook and ring toss game, you can find different versions. I found some good ones on Amazon here. Have a basketball goal at home? We do, and my husband still gets out there and shoots hoops with his friends. He might like a Dribble Up Smart Basketball to improve his game. It’s also a great gift for kids. Order here. Another fun game is a tabletop football game. All men remember playing football with paper footballs as kids, and I think boys still play it. Now, they don’t have to hold up their hands for goal posts anymore! See the game here. Or how about an indoor putting green for the man in your life who loves golf? There’s a great one here for $37.61.

 

 

Barbour Quilted Jacket. This one is a little more pricey, but your man will be fashion-forward. Teen boys love these jackets too. Starting at $200 at Nordstrom, these are good-looking, well-made, and they can wear them for years to come. The newly re-issued Icons editions, starting at $250, have been re-engineered, and they’re very popular.  See them here.

 

Tailgating stuff. Need to buy a gift for someone who loves tailgating? There are lots of great things he might not have yet, and he’d be thrilled to get any of these. First, there’s the much-heralded Yeti Cooler. There are lots of versions of Yeti Coolers, starting at about $200 and going all the way up to $800 for the gargantuan versions, but that might be a little big for a tailgate. See them all here. Or maybe he likes to mix some drinks while he tailgates. I saw this on Chrisley Knows Best, one of my favorite shows. Nanny Faye, my favorite family member on the show, had her own travel bar, and I thought, “What a great gift!” So if your man likes to mix drinks at tailgates, he might like a travel bar! There are various sizes, but my favorite is the Concession Express Portable Two Bottle, Leather Travel Bar that includes a jigger and a bottle opener. Priced at $82.66 on Amazon. See it here. If he likes to keep his liquor close to the vest, the Shinola Men’s Leather Wrapped Hip Flask could be perfect for him. Priced at $125 at Neiman Marcus, you can see it here.

 

 

Drones. Men love flying toys. It starts when they start throwing balls as kids. Drones are the ultimate flying toy for men who can’t fly planes. There are lots of them on the market, but I found some that are rated high by consumers. For an inexpensive drone made by a reputable company, there’s the Holy Stone Wi-Fi FPV Drone with 720P Wide-Angle HD Camera. Priced at $89.99. BestReviews.com says it is feature-rich, adding, “while it’s a good choice for novices, it also appeals to seasoned drone enthusiasts, thanks to the ample features and affordable price.” See it here. For top-notch quality, BestReviews.com recommends the DJI Phantom 4 Professional Quadcopter, priced at $999 at Amazon. It’s pricey, but apparently, it’s the best. If you have an experienced drone enthusiast on your list, this could be the primo gift. Get it at Amazon here.

 

 

Tommy Bahama Apparel. My husband loves this brand for its comfort, and I don’t blame him, as everything they make seems super soft. He loves their lounge pants, their tshirts, and their sweaters. He loves their French Terry Lounge Pants and wears them year-round at home. Heck, he has been known to wear them out of the house too! They look good. They’re comfortable, and they’re well-made. Priced at $56 here. TB81818_809_main

Camping stuff. If the man on your list enjoys camping, then he will love receiving camping supplies. I recently came across a Tiki Tunes Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker that creates ambient light while playing your favorite tunes. For $69.99, you get a set of two speakers, which you can find it at Amazon here. Or maybe he’d like a power station for camping? The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240 is highly-rated and picked as an “Amazon’s Choice.” Priced at $249.99 at Amazon right now, it’s a gift any camper would love to get. And it’s not just for camping. It’s great in an emergency when you lose electrical power at home too. See it here. A camping buff might also like the travel bar listed above under tailgating stuff.

 

Mancave stuff. Men who don’t like decorating suddenly become more interested in aesthetics when they have a mancave (or as we call it at my house, a game room). They might not have any idea what the rest of the house looks like, but a man wants to decorate his own mancave. Amazon has lots of cute neon signs for mancaves starting at $24.99. You can see them here. The Grommet has some fabulous stadium art your sports fan might love. My two favorites are pieces of wall art made by Stadium Views. One is a Wooden Five Layer Stadium Wall Art, priced at $59.99, and my very favorite is a 3D Stadium Wall Art priced at $249.99. Just pick your favorite team’s home stadium or field…and place the order. The detail is amazing. See them here. Or maybe they’re more into license plate signs. My husband has one, and he loves it. Get CMR Custom License Plate Designs at Amazon here. Favorite NFL team? Check out NFLshop.com for lots of home/office items. MLB team? Shop MLB.com. And for NBA, shop store.nba.com.

 

Duluth Trading Company. You’ve seen their kitschy cartoon ads on television. Those commercials are what initially caused me to check out the website…and I’m so glad I did! I’ve given my husband and my brother some of their jackets, and while I’m sure they weren’t excited when they opened the gifts, I’m proud to say they both actually wear them. That’s tells me I did a good job picking those jackets for those hard-to-please gents. I gave them both Shoremen’s Fleece Jackets, and they are super durable and warm. But I think next time, I’ll get them one of the Firehose Jackets for added warmth. See them at Duluth Trading here.

92322_VOL

Men’s Fire Hose Flannel Lined Lumber Jac $79

RSVLTS Shirts. I’ve written about RSVLTS Shirts cult shirts before. They have lots of printed button-downs that pay homage to various movies, personalities, and tv shows…Saved By the Bell, Ghostbusters, The Sandlot…and if your man loves any of the featured movies and likes to wear fun stuff, this could be for him. They also have tshirts. Prices start under $30…go check them out here.

 

 

Ugg Slippers. For those who love a good, old-fashioned, comfort gift, my husband loves Ugg Slippers. It sounds corny, but we get him a new pair every year for Christmas. And he wears them regularly. Starting at $90 on the Ugg.com website, take a look and pic which style you think will work best for your man. The Dex style is pretty universally liked, I think. See the website here. 1103901-CHE_1

Experiences. And last, but certainly not least, consider giving the men in your life gifts of experience. In Charlotte, where I live, we are fortunate to have the NASCAR Racing Experience. Starting at $99 for a ride along experience, folks claim it’s the best gift ever! See the website here. We also have the US National Whitewater Center, where lots of experiences are available: canopy tours, whitewater rafting, zip lining…see the website here. And don’t forget about IFly Charlotte…an indoor skydiving experience! See the website here. But if you don’t live in Charlotte, there must be experiences near you. Think about concerts, sporting events, and more. I know my husband would love concert tickets.

***To see last year’s selections for men, click here.***

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you have the best luck ever with your gifting this season!

***COMING SOON: STOCKING STUFFERS!***

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

Make Time

Busy, busy, busy…we all lead busy lives. Sometimes, we’re busy sitting on our butts watching TV, but we all claim to be busy all the time.

This morning, I took a break from busy. About a week ago, a friend I haven’t seen in a long time sent me a message asking me to meet for coffee. We checked our calendars and decided today would be the day. So at 9:15 this morning, I met a friend at Cafe Moka, a cute little coffee shop in the Waverly shopping center in South Charlotte. Apparently, I was the only person in Charlotte who didn’t know about it, because it was hoppin’! You can see the website here.

This particular friend is sweet and funny, so I was looking forward to seeing her. When I arrived and saw her smiling face waiting in a little nook of the coffee shop, I smiled. At that moment, I knew this was something I needed…to catch up with a friend I haven’t seen in a long time…really catch up without distractions, and it was great.

A few days ago, my husband was going through some old photos on his phone, and he came across some from summer of 2008. They were pictures of our daughter with her preschool friend…and there, in the third picture was the daughter of the friend I was meeting for coffee today! My husband texted the pics to me, so as soon as I arrived, I showed them to my friend. She enjoyed looking through them and then said, “I have no recollection of this!” The pictures were made at Carowinds, a local amusement park (see the website here). We ran into my friend and her daughter near an attraction that is no longer at Carowinds…small convertibles on rails that the kids believed they were really driving. Even though they weren’t really driving them, they were a vision of the future.

And now we are officially in the future. My friend’s daughter is now a senior in high school, driving a real car and preparing for college. My own daughter just got her driver’s license two weeks ago…driving herself to high school in a real car instead of waving as she drives past me in the cars on rails at Carowinds. Time flies. And that’s exactly why we need to stop and “smell the roses.”

Time passes so quickly that we often forget to stop and spend some time with the people we care about. Sometimes, I look at my calendar and see the things I need to do instead of the things I want to do. In reality, we need to put forth the effort to do some of the things we want to do and spend time with some of the people we want to see.

But today, I put forth the effort. Today, I enjoyed a little time over coffee with a friend. And it put a smile on my face for the rest of the day…just what the doctor ordered!

 

 

 

***

 

 

Sweet Sixteen!

Our daughter is a high school sophomore, and she and lots of her friends are turning 16. No one is more excited than she is. In fact, if I asked her right now how long till her birthday, she could likely tell me how many days and how many hours. More importantly, if I asked her how many days till she can test for her drivers license (a few days after her birthday), she might know down to the minute.

Lots of friends have told me stories about watching their kids drive away on their own for the first time. For some, it’s scary and nerve-wracking. Others say it’s exciting, knowing their children are gaining more independence. One friend has told me how upset she was when her son drove to school by himself for the first time, because it hadn’t occurred to her that the last time she drove him was the last time.

While we are excited for our daughter, there is a little apprehension. She’s 16, and her brain still works like a 16-yr-old. Driving is a big responsibility. We have done everything we can to prepare her for this moment. While North Carolina requires young drivers to log 60 driving hours while they have their learner’s permits, we have required her to log 120 hours. It gives me a little peace of mind to know she has logged double the required number of hours. We have reviewed different situations in driving:

  • Always STOP before turning right on red when clear.
  • When the light turns green, look to make sure cars aren’t coming before driving into the intersection.
  • Plan your route before you leave home.
  • Avoid difficult left turns.
  • At a certain shopping center in Charlotte, never use a particular entrance/exit.
  • When coming around a bus in said shopping center, be aware that cars might not see you and will turn in front of you.
  • Slower traffic keep right.
  • When brake lights come on in front of you, immediately put your foot on the brake…and watch for brake lights two or three cars in front of you.
  • Don’t follow closely.
  • Avoid high traffic areas when possible…and high traffic times too.
  • Don’t play loud music; you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you.
  • Pay extra close attention in roundabouts. You might know what you’re doing, but it’s difficult for lots of people.
  • If you’re not sure you can fit into a parking space easily, just drive farther out in the parking lot. You’re healthy. You can walk.
  • No cell phone usage or other distracted driving.
  • Be smart/use good judgment.
  • Pay attention to road signs!

There are so many things to know/learn when driving. I remember when she was younger, she once asked me if driving is difficult. I explained to her that no, the act of driving is not difficult; it’s the other drivers/cars on the road that make it difficult. Anyone who can drive will know that is true. You never know when someone will follow you too closely or stop unexpectedly in front of you. You never know when a car will turn in front of you or change lanes on top of you. And we all make mistakes while drivingwe just have to hope we don’t make big mistakes. And if you’re wondering…yes, I’ve taught her all about the courtesy wave…when someone lets you into traffic…when you make a mistake that affects another car…courtesy wave.

So here we go…in a few days, if she passes the test, she will be driving by herself. Several of her friends have failed the driving test the first go-round, so we aren’t counting on it being a sure thing. My husband will take her to the DMV, and they will call me afterward. He navigates government offices better than I do. He also navigates cell phone stores better, but I’ll save that for another day.

The bad news is that I won’t have that car time to chat with her. Now, when I bring her home from school or sports practice, that drive time is a little decompression time. We catch up. She likely won’t be a passenger in my car very often for the rest of her life.

The good news? I won’t have to drop everything to pick her up somewhere. She can drive herself to and from school and sports practices. She is excited. She is gaining some independence, and I can have a cocktail on the patio in the afternoon!

Don’t we all remember when we got our driver’s licenses? Don’t we all remember how it felt like forever till we had them? It’s a milestone. It’s a big deal. It’s what makes the sixteenth birthday a special one. And I’m excited for her to spread her wings!

Now, she just has to pass the test.

Taking the Back Roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Not Always Wrong…

Sometimes, our teenagers surprise us with rare compliments. They might not even realize they’re doing it, but we, as parents, hear it loud and clear!

With a Target just two miles from my house, I shop there frequently. I’ve lived in the same house for 19 years, so I’ve been through that Target parking lot countless times…sometimes three times in one day.

Recently, as I was driving to Target on a Saturday with my teenage daughter in the car, I entered the parking lot from the entrance that has a four-way stop at the top. At this particular four-way stop, I could choose the left-turn only lane or the right turn/straight ahead lane. It’s only marked on the pavement; there are no signs. But I’m very familiar with it, so I know the right lane is for right turns or going straight ahead, and the left lane is left turn only.

On this particular morning, I pulled up to the stop sign in the right lane, and another car was in the left lane. We reached the stop sign almost simultaneously, so it was our turn at the same time. I moved forward to go straight, and I thought he was turning left, since he was in the left-turn lane. To my surprise, just as we were clearing the intersection, the car from the left lane came speeding past me, clipping the front of my car as he scooted in front of me. And he didn’t stop! My teenage daughter was surprised too, saying, “Wow! Imagine a guy in a [luxury car] doing a hit and run!” I followed him, and when he stopped by the Target sidewalk, I put down my window. He put his window down and yelled, “I had the right of way!” I replied, “You hit my car! AND you didn’t have the right of way!” He argued with me for a second, but I suggested we both park our cars and offered to walk back down to the intersection and take a photo for him. He said he would walk down too. And he walked with me.

When we arrived at the intersection, he could see he was wrong. It is clearly marked on the pavement. He turned to me and said, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” I could tell he was embarrassed, but honestly, it was all I could do to keep from smiling. Heck…maybe I did smile. He had another state’s plates on his car, so I asked him how long he has lived in Charlotte. He told me less than a year, “but I come through that intersection all the time!” I said, “I understand, but I’ve lived here almost 20 years, and I’ve driven through this parking lot almost every day.” We ended up being very civil with each other, and frankly, the damage to my car was virtually nonexistent….a little brush mark that my husband was able to wipe away with some car wax when I got home. His bumper, however, was cracked.

The most amazing part of this episode? My teenage daughter, afterward, said to me as we walked into Target, “Imagine, Mom…you’re always right.” That was a compliment, but I’m not sure she realized she was throwing it out there. I wish I had recorded her saying that, but it was a missed opportunity. I then, of course, had to tell her I’m not always right. In fact, I might be wrong more than I’m right, but when I know I’m right, I know I’m right.

Of course, later that same day, we were shopping in a local boutique, and I held up a shirt that I thought was perfect for her. She looked at me like I had fourteen eyes and said, “Ewww!” I guess she knows I’m not always right.

***And just for the record, a lesson was learned…I should not have followed the driver of the other car, and I made sure my daughter understood that. I should have let him drive away after getting his license plate number.*** AND a friend who is a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer later told me that if I had called the police, the offender, at the very least, would have received tickets for living in Charlotte for nine months and still carrying a driver’s license from another state…and not registering his car in NC. You need to do that within 30 days of moving here.

 

 

 

We Finally Made It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Distance Friends

For Easter weekend, my daughter had a friend fly in from Ohio to spend a few days with us. The friend is the daughter of one of my friends.

The girls have been friends since they were about two. Their birthdays are one month apart. They are both only children. My friend, her husband, and her daughter moved to Ohio from Charlotte when our girls were four. We were brokenhearted when they moved, but we’ve made a point to vacation together every year since.

A few weeks before Easter, I texted my friend, Jennifer, and asked if her daughter might be able to come spend Easter with us. She promptly booked the flights, and on Good Friday, my daughter and I drove in the pouring rain to the airport to pick up her friend. We opted to park in short-term parking, so we could walk in and meet her. When we got inside the baggage claim area, we discovered the flight was more delayed than we thought. We waited. And we waited. And finally, we saw it had arrived.

We all hugged in the airport and headed home.

Here’s the point of this story: the two 15-yr-old girls acted like they had never been apart. They haven’t seen each other since January, but they picked up exactly where they had left off. When we got home, they went up to my daughter’s room and chatted and laughed. They made cookies. They ate late-night snacks. And they laughed.

The next night, another childhood friend slept over at our house. She is also a beloved friend…the daughter of another friend who lives local. The three of them laughed till their stomachs hurt…it was like music to my ears.

They woke up on Easter morning and came down to see if the Easter Bunny had visited, and indeed, he had. They rummaged through their baskets to find candy, soaps, lotions, a garden gnome, bunny slippers…and Kooky Klickers, a childhood toy they all hung on their book bags in elementary school. Everybody loves nostalgia. And after we had taken some photos, I was their short-order cook: pancakes, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese grits…anything they wanted. I had all those “little girls” together again. Sure, they’re fifteen, but every time I looked at them, I saw the giggling four-year-olds. Happiness. Comfort. Love. That’s what I saw.

Fifteen is a tough age for girls. If you ever were a 15-yr-old girl, you remember it. They can’t drive, but they want to have social lives. They try to make plans, but their plans have to coincide with their parents’ plans. They are in high school and still figuring out who they are. We have to let them make decisions, and sometimes they make bad decisions, but they learn from them. As freshmen, they are the low people on the totem pole in high school…and they are very aware of it.

Last year, I went to hear a well-known psychologist (and author!)speak about teenagers. Her name is Lisa Damour, and she is full of all kinds of wisdom. She’s not bossy or judgy…she’s real. You can see her Facebook page here. (She writes a monthly column for The New York Times.)What I remember most is that she compared the world to a big swimming pool. Basically, she said we have to let our teenagers swim out into that pool (the world). Sometimes, they get too far from the side or they feel like they are going to drown, so they hurry back to the side. We, as parents, are the side of the pool.  After they hang on for a minute, they swim back to the center of the pool. And that’s how it goes with teenagers…they swim out and come back to us for a moment of support, and then they swim back out there.

Over Easter weekend, I think my daughter felt like she was back in the kiddie pool with her childhood friends. She didn’t feel like she had to be out in the big pool. She was happy to be right there with them, and she never needed to swim to the side.

Her friends had to go home after a fun weekend, but my daughter had gained comfort and new confidence from swimming in the kiddie pool for a few days. She was ready to go back to school and tackle the rest of the school year.

And now, she just has to make it through five more weeks of school to make it to the freedom of summer. We will vacation with our Ohio friends this summer. We don’t know what we’ll do, but we will definitely spend some time with them, because the best friends to have are those who want nothing from you but your company…and they are those, indeed.