My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2019, Part 6: Stocking Stuffers!

This is the first of two posts on stocking stuffers!

I love looking for stocking stuffers. Truly, it’s the highlight of my holiday shopping. It’s the really fun part of the shopping, because it can be funny gifts, small gifts, silly gifts…anything goes for stocking stuffers. 

This year, I’ve done my research, and with the help of several great friends, I’ve compiled a list of some great stocking stuffers, so you don’t have to do the research. I’m featuring stocking stuffers in lots of different price ranges. Without a doubt, you’ve thought of some of these yourself, but I’m guessing some of them will be new to you! So read all the way through! And keep in mind that there will be a second post on stocking stuffers coming soon…and it will be full of things I love too!

Let’s get started…

Minute Mimosa Sugar Cube Trio. I love these! For $30, you get 18 sugar cubes infused with different flavors that, when dropped in a glass of champagne or prosecco, will turn it into a Bellini, Mimosa, or other fruit flavored drink! The company offers two different trios…a peaches and berries trio, and a citrus trio. I love a good glass of bubbly…and these sugar cubes are a lot of fun! I’ll be finding some of these in my Christmas stocking this year…no doubt! Get them here.49534_1_640px

Kylie Lip Sets. Say what you want about the Kardashians. Love ’em or hate ’em…they’ve marketed themselves really well. Kylie is actually a Jenner, but she’s a half sister to the Kardashian girls. She ventured out and created/marketed a line of lipsticks/glosses/liners that were successful as soon as they hit the market. She recently sold her stake in the company for a cool $600 million. I’m sure I’m not their target consumer, but I have several of the Kylie Lip Kits/Sets, and I love them. I also use the Kylie bronzer and face powder…love it all! There are lots of Kylie cosmetic palettes out there…even some new holiday palettes/sets, so check them out. See the whole collection at Kyliecosmetics.com kj_holiday2019_pdp_holidaycollection

 

Slingshot with felt ammo balls. Fun for the whole family! Maybe Santa could bring one of these for every member of the family. Let’s face it…it wouldn’t be any fun to send fuzzy cotton ammo flying through the air at your sibling/parent/child if they couldn’t take aim back at you! It’s safe. It’s fun. I hope my husband and daughter are ready to lose this fuzzy ball war! Priced at $12.99, get it from Amazon here.61x03RzjoyL._AC_SL1000_

Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane. You read it right…a paper airplane you can control with your smartphone! Priced at $45, it’s not cheap, but it’s different! What you get is paper to fold the plane and a bluetooth device to attach to it. Once you have it set up, you download the app to your smartphone, and you can control the plane with the app. Could be great entertainment indoors or outdoors. But please note this is recommended for ages 14+…it contains small parts that could be choking hazards. Get it here.48243_1_640px

 

Lifestraw Water Filter. If you’re not familiar with a cute lady named Kristen Hampton, you should be. She runs a Facebook page called Kristen Hampton Good News, and on Tuesdays, she does live feeds she calls PTT…Product Testing Tuesday. The first place I saw the Lifestraw Water Filter was on one of her PTT videos. She waded into murky water in Arizona and put this personal water filter to the test. The product removes almost 100% of all waterborne bacteria and contaminants from water. It surpasses EPA standards, and it’s a great gift for outdoorsmen, campers, and hikers. Priced at $14.96 on Amazon right now, it’s a great stocking stuffer. Get it here.81IB16t6VML._AC_SL1500_

Poo Pourri. One of the greatest inventions ever, Poo Pourri is the “spray before you go” toilet spray that eliminates odors by trapping them. I have loved it for years and keep them in every bathroom in our house. They also offer smaller bottles that will fit in your handbag, so you can “spray before you go” when you’re on the go! Poo Pourri has a four-minute commercial on YouTube that you can see here, but remember the subject matter…it’s not a sweet, little, pretty commercial, but it is hilarious. Go to the Poo Pourri website here to see all the products they offer….lots of fun, hilarious holiday offerings, including some ugly Christmas sweaters. One of my favorites is the Pink Citron glitter Poo Pourri, but I love all their products and their fun names.  And check out their shoe odor eliminator while you’re there too! See the website here.

Lumilux Toilet Light. Since we’re already talking about the bathroom, I might as well go ahead and put this one out there too. Sounds silly I know, but some folks just need a toilet light, and this one has a motion sensor and 16 different color possibilities! It is one of the toilet lights marked “Amazon Choice,” and it’s priced at just $14.95 for one or $24.95 for a two pack. Get it here, because who wouldn’t want an automatic light when they approach the toilet at night?81wnUH8UrDL._AC_SL1500_

Serendipity 3 Frozen Hot Chocolate. This stuff is the best, and it’s super easy to make the Frozen Hot Chocolate like they have at the world-famous Serendipity 3 in New York. The mix is in packets or buy it by the can, and directions are easy to follow. Have some whipped cream on hand for topping! My daughter insists on this every year, and I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. Get the can of mix at Amazon here. Or purchase it by the packets here.

Incognito Flask. For the over 21 set, this is a great gift. Sometimes, we like to take some alcohol to the beach or a football game, and there’s nothing worse than trying to sneak a bottle past security…hiding it in your bra or down your pants. Yep, it happens. Flasks that look like something else are the answer to those woes! And there are lots of options. Fake sunscreen flask? Check. Fake binoculars flask? Got it! Fake umbrella? Yep. Fake tampons? Uh-huh. Fake camera? You bet. Even fake shampoo and conditioner bottles for smuggling alcohol onto cruises! Who knew? Amazon has a whole page of them, but my favorites are the hairbrush, binoculars, and sunscreen. See them all here. The binoculars are pretty far down the page, so click here for the direct link. In fact, there was a picture on dailymail.com that went viral…a girl drinking from her binoculars at a race. See it here.

Silk Pillowcase. These days, everyone is extolling the virtues of the silk pillowcase…something I’ve known about my whole life. I remember my mother telling me as a little girl that silk pillowcases are better for your skin and hair. She used them, and she swore they helped keep her hair in place. Well, they’re back! Now, a company called Slip makes a sustainably sourced silk pillowcase, and it is becoming famous fast. Sit down, though…it sells for $85. Get them on Amazon here. I’ve also found a brand of silk pillowcase called Fisher’s Finery that was called a winner by the Good Housekeeping Institute. It sells for just under $50 on Amazon here.

 

Gift cards. It’s not impersonal. It’s practical…especially for teens and college students. They have places they love to go, but everything costs money. Giving them a gift card to Starbucks, ChickFilA, or anywhere else they frequent is a fabulous gift! Get them at Target or possibly in your local grocery store.

 

Therapy Dough. Yes, it’s a thing. Some people like to have something to do with their hands to help them relax, and Therapy Dough could be the answer! Roll it. Stretch it. Shape it. The brand I’ve found at The Grommet, called Pinch Me Therapy Dough, is lightly scented for even more relaxation! For $25, it’s a great addition to a stocking! Get it here.2251-BND-100_BST_1

Light up Gloves. What kid wouldn’t love some light up gloves?!? Kids love flashlights and glow sticks…these are lights that fit on your hands! The YoStyle kids’ gloves get a five star rating on Amazon, and they look like lots of fun for camping, parties, and more! At just $10.99/pair, they won’t break the bank, and they could be good for hours of fun. Get them here.6118hrwj9pL._AC_SL1280_

 

NEBO Larry Flashlight. And since I mentioned flashlights, we should just add those to the list too. My personal favorite brand of flashlight is Larry. I first discovered them at a camping store, and they’re they only brand I ever buy now. The Big Larry comes with a bright LED flashlight, a strong magnet built into the base, and a flashing emergency light, in case you need it. Prices start at $24.95 on Amazon here. Or maybe a smaller light is what you need. The Lil Larry starts at $16.89 at Amazon here.

Quality candies. Nobody loves a good maple sugar candy like I do. I’ve been addicted to them since we started visiting Maine ten years ago. My favorites are shaped like little maple leaves. One brand I’ve tried is Butternut Mountain Maple Farm. It’s pure maple sugar candy, and it’s good. You can order it here. I’ve heard Trader Joe’s sometimes carries their own brand of Maple Candy, but I haven’t seen it in the store yet. Another great candy I’ve mentioned before is Louis Sherry Chocolates. They come in beautiful tins of different sizes. Twelve-piece tins start at $35, but for the lovely holiday Nutcracker tin, it’s $40. Did I mention the chocolates are delicious? Get them here.

 

1818 Farms products. A friend who lives in Alabama told me about 1818 Farms a few years ago. Located in North Alabama, this farm produces lots of organic products. I love their Shea Creme starting at $10. Wedding Cake would be my favorite scent. They also have lovely handcrafted soaps starting at $7 and beard oils starting at $12. You can see them all at their website here. They also offer holiday bundles!

Tabletopics Conversation Starter Cards. These are great for people of all ages, and Tabletopics has made it easy for you to choose the right set! They offer the Original Tabletopics, but there are also sets geared toward families, teens, couples, date night, dinner parties, and more! Each box contains 135 thought-provoking questions for $25. Get them on Amazon here.71LDjWb0O1L._SL1500_

Dry Divas Shower Caps. Every girl needs a good shower cap. Who wants to wash their hair every day? And it’s a pain to get a shower without getting your hair wet! Lots of shower caps don’t do the job, but Dry Divas Shower Caps are the best! I should know…I’ve been using them for a while now. Priced at $25, they aren’t flimsy. They’re well made, pretty, and they stay in place. See the various designs at Amazon here.61V8MUwNZhL._SL1116_

Mer Sea & Co. Faux Fur Hot Water Bottle Cover. Go ahead. Tell me I’ve lost my mind. Who uses hot water bottles anymore? But come on…think about it…there’s something comforting about a hot water bottle. Sure, you can use a heating pad, but there’s no chance a hot water bottle in a beautiful faux fur cover is going to start an electrical fire. OK, so maybe that’s extreme, but there’s just something about a hot water bottle when you’re cold and tired…or have back pain…or just want to warm your feet. At $38, this is beautiful and practical! I want one. Get it at Anthropologie here.

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Vintage Toys. Toys were different when I was a kid. Most of them weren’t electronic. I love vintage toys. Remember Stretch Armstrong? How about Viewmaster? Etch-a-sketch? How about the rail twirler? Slinky? Wooly Willy? Don’t forget paddleball! They’re all available on Amazon. Wooly Willy starts at about $5. See various vintage toys here. Kids and adults might like them!

 

Dermalogica Facial Cleanse. This is the best stuff I’ve ever used to clean my face. It’s a two step cleansing process. First, I use the Dermologica PreCleanse, which is priced at $45, and while that sounds crazy, the bottle lasts for months. It gets all the makeup off my face the first time. I’ve always struggled to find a good makeup remover. This is the bomb! Get it here. Follow it up with the Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel ($39) for super clean skin. Find it here.

 

Smartphone Lanyard. It’s always a dilemma…I need my phone, but I can’t carry a handbag, and I don’t have pockets. I found the Smartphone Lanyard at The Grommet, and now, I can hardly wait for it to arrive in the mail! Of course, it will have to be a stocking stuffer, so I won’t be able to use it till Christmas. My teenage daughter wouldn’t use it, but I bet there are a lot of moms out there who would. It will come in really handy at sports tournaments…when I need to be able to find my phone easily, but I don’t want to hold it in my hand. Priced at $9.99, it’s a bargain. Get it here.2887-CON-100_BST

Personalized Stationery. Every member of the family needs personalized stationery…for sympathy notes, thank you notes, and just regular notes. Don’t we all love to receive handwritten notes in the mail? I do. There are lots of places to get personalized stationery for everyone in your family, and it makes a great stocking stuffer. One place to get it is The Stationery Studio. For $35, you can get 25 beautiful, personalized, hand bordered note cards with envelopes like the ones shown below. See them here.3EA218D7-9D9C-2316-657B2EEA13536D7C

Wireless Express Sing-A-Long Bling Karaoke Microphone. Folks of all ages love karaoke. I’ve seen videos on Facebook of my cousins’ children and grandchildren singing karaoke, and I have lots of adult friends who love singing along. This karaoke microphone, with its bluetooth capabilities, is a lot of fun for just $55. Get it at Neiman Marcus here. It comes in Pink Bling and Iridescent Bling.

Waiter’s Corkscrew. Call me old-fashioned, but I find waiter’s corkscrews are the easiest to use. The wing style corkscrew just doesn’t work for me. And there’s something that looks more skilled when someone uses one of these. Priced at just $10.95, the Hicoup Waiter’s Corkscrew is a great stocking stuffer for anyone who enjoys a nice bottle of wine. Get it here. 71pJGms-rgL._SL1500_

 

Urban Decay Naked Honey Palette. Just looking at the Urban Decay website is a lot of fun. So much color! So much glitter! Every year, they have a “hot” eyeshadow palette, and this year, the hottest thing going is the Naked Honey Palette, priced at $49. Or get the Honey Drop Vault, which includes the palette plus other Honey items for $115. It’s golden! It’s sparkly! And it is popular. See the Naked Honey collection here.

I hope you found a few things that look like they could work for your loved ones! If not, there will be a second list of stocking stuffers coming soon! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

I Visited A Cult

Oh, yes, I did.

I visited the international training center of a cult, and on the surface, everything looked great.

But I’m going to try to refer to it as a “community” instead of a “cult.” I won’t say which “community” it was, but my 21-year-old nephew came into town with a friend over the weekend, and on Friday night, he announced to me that they wanted to visit a cult (he used the word “cult”) on Saturday…and he wanted me to go with them. I had questions, of course. “You don’t want to join the cult, right?” “Why do you want to go?” “How far away is it?” “Is it scary?”

He showed me the group’s website. It looked pretty benign, And it said they welcome visitors, so I agreed to go, and we made plans to leave the next day. I should mention my husband thinks we are all nuts.

Early Saturday afternoon, we got into the SUV and drove over an hour to the address listed on the website. We were excited to see what we would find! Upon arrival, we drove into the parking lot at the front of the group of houses and got out. We walked around looking for people, but all we saw were sheep out front eating hay. One of the sheep had a penchant for magnolia leaves, so we watched them for a while and discussed what we should do.

Ultimately, we decided to go to another road and approach from the back. When we drove into a back parking lot, we saw a woman stick her head around a fence. I asked my nephew’s friend to put down her passenger-side window, and in my best sweet southern voice, I said, “Hey! We read on your website that y’all welcome visitors! We’re just curious and would like to find out what y’all are all about!” Once she decided we were friendly, she offered to show us around. She explained we weren’t seeing many people because Saturday is the Sabbath, and most people were resting.

We followed her into the dining hall/meeting room, which was lovely…clean and nicely decorated. We ran into a couple more friendly people inside who readily introduced themselves. From there, she showed us the barn area, where they had goats and cows. And after that, we walked over to one of the community’s houses, where members of the “community” had gathered outside for music. We were offered tea, and we all took a cup. I thought it was delicious, and my nephew did too, but I noticed his friend was holding hers…not drinking it. I knew she was thinking about Jonestown, so I took the tea off her hands and drank it myself.

We were welcomed with open arms by everyone gathered outside, and we asked any questions we could think of. Are people free to come and go as they please? Yes. If someone leaves the community, are they shunned? No. Do y’all drink alcohol? No. What are your beliefs? How do you support yourselves? I wanted my nephew to ask if they used cannabis, but none of us had the nerve to ask that. I thought I smelled it wafting out of a house at one point, but I couldn’t be sure. And this group believes everyone should work together for the greater good of the community. Every person contributes by working…like bees in a hive. Children are educated onsite. We weren’t bashful…we asked questions. We didn’t ask in a threatening way…we asked in a curious way, which is exactly what we were…curious.

We left after a couple of hours thinking, “This isn’t a cult at all! They’re just a religious commune!” Everyone was so friendly. They were very reserved, but they were friendly. We had no reason to believe they were anything but good folks.

And then, after we got home, we googled the name of their “community,” and that’s when things got weird!

Unbeknownst to us, just last week, the FBI had released from their vault information from a 2013 investigation into this particular group. At the top of the report, it says, “Open investigation based on allegations that children are being sexually exploited.” And somehow, we decided to visit right after the report was released from the vault? We had no idea! In the report, there is testimony from former members of the community with allegations of child labor, sexual abuse, sexual orgies, and drug use. That led us to look at other websites, where we found allegations of community members being held against their will…and more. And honestly, it frightened us. Is any of the “testimony” true? I don’t know, but it was enough to make my hair stand on end.

And it made me a little sad. I thought of the sweet people we had met. Most of them were friendly, but some of them were looking at us wide-eyed, and one of them appeared a little unstable, but we chalked it up to dementia. But after reading everything, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the wide-eyed ones were desperate to leave. Were they unhappy? Were they being abused? Did they want us to take them with us? Did they want to pass us notes asking us to send help? Of course, that’s all my imagination. No one, at any time, indicated they were unhappy. In fact, most of them appeared very happy.

In hindsight, I’m glad we didn’t google the community before we went, because we never would have gone. I believe there are some good people in that group. Are there bad folks? I don’t know. But I’m guessing that will be my only visit to their commune. We went unannounced, but didn’t see anything suspicious. Of course, my nephew’s friend pointed out that we were really only shown the animals and the interior of one building, which was almost unoccupied at the time, so there wasn’t much opportunity for us to see anything nefarious.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they seemed like nice people. Of course, someone else pointed out to me that “of course they were nice! They wanted y’all to join!” Yeah…they probably didn’t want me. I’m way beyond child-bearing years, and I’m sure they could take one look at me and tell I’m way too high maintenance. My nephew, on the other hand, is low maintenance, strong, hardworking, good-looking, musically talented, and artistic. Any cult would love to have him. His friend is pretty and outgoing…they’d love to have a young lady join up, I’m sure. But I would have been a total drain on their system.

And in their defense, the FBI closed the 2013 investigation. Since I never read anything about any arrests, and they didn’t invade the place like they did with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, I’m guessing they didn’t uncover enough evidence to support the allegations.

Either way, we got out unscathed. If anyone ever tries to hold me at a commune, they will run me off as soon as they figure out I don’t even know how to mop very well!

On our way home, I thought of how happy my parents would be that my nephew was hanging out with me in North Carolina. And I wished I could call them to tell them about the experience…they would have loved hearing about it.

 

Gardening…again

Last year, I tried my hand at a very small garden and had lots of success, so this year, I’ve decided to do it again. Before, I had tomatoes, sweet corn, and sunflowers, so I’m going to see if lightning will strike twice. As I said last year, I’m no gardener. I have no idea what I’m doing. But dang it…it’s fun!

We are planting corn this year on the side of the house, and it will be visible (a little) from the street once it gets tall. I’m not sure how much grain growing is allowed in the neighborhood, but I guess we will find out! I will let everyone know if we receive some sort of written notice. My husband is lucky, because I really wanted to plant it out front. I think corn stalks are beautiful, but he put his foot down on that. I learned last year that I had planted my corn plants too far apart, so I had to pollinate them by hand. We still had corn to eat, but it was a chore making sure they were all pollinated. Therefore, this year, I’m planting them in clusters, so they can pollinate each other. Nature’s way is best, so planting them closer together is the way to go. I learned from the past. I was actually surprised the corn grew last year, and I was doubly surprised when it actually produced ears of corn!

The tomato plants are going into the ground near where they were last year, because our knockout roses are in the same area. I believe our tomatoes survived last year, simply because of the knockout roses. The roses attracted braconid wasps, which in turn, killed the tomato grubs that tried to invade the garden. I had no idea about that when we planted the tomatoes, but I noticed a tomato grub with little eggs all over his back and looked it up. They were the eggs of the wasp, and they killed the tomato grubs. Thank you, braconids! Therefore, we are going to put our tomatoes near some roses again.

If you’ve never had a garden of any type, you might find it therapeutic. Last summer, when I woke up every day, I would walk outside and water our garden. And sometimes, I would water them in the evening too. We had tomatoes galore! But it was also a way for me to relax. Sure, I can sit by the pool during the summer and relax. And I can spend time with friends and family, but there was something about the quiet solitude of tending the plants that was good for my psyche. My mother had died the December before, and I truly believe gardening helped me with that. My parents both loved tomatoes and sunflowers. I knew they would have been pleased with what I was doing. Nobody loved a tomato sandwich more than my daddy, and I was able to enjoy them all summer long last year. Store-bought tomatoes just don’t cut it, so I grew my own! We hope to have the same this year…good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!

So today, instead of doing all the things I should be doing, I will be doing what I want to do. I will have my hands in the dirt. OK, mostly it will be a trowel in the dirt. But I will have it in the dirt, transferring my seedling plants from the little clear cups into the ground. I discovered last year that birds and moles ate most of the seeds I planted, so I had more luck when I transplanted seedlings for corn and sunflowers. Tomato plants will go into the ground near the roses, and we will see if lightning strikes twice.

I’ve had terrible laryngitis for the better part of the week, so having something quiet to do will be perfect for me today. I haven’t felt much like doing anything, but today, it is on!

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Things About Fall

This Sunday, September 23, is the first day of Fall! While I’d love to spend more days by the pool (and I will when it’s sunny and warm), I love Fall for lots of reasons. I know what you’re thinking, and no…pumpkin spice latte did not make the list. Some of my favorites are obvious, but maybe some…not so obvious:

  • Football season. No surprise. I love high school football. I love college football, especially SEC, and I love professional football. Football is my family’s bonding experience. In fact, Dish TV made a commercial based on my life. You can see it here. OK, so it’s not really based on my life, but it could be…and frankly, I should be the star of that commercial. They totally missed an opportunity. I could totally pull it off…southern accent and all! Feel free to contact DirecTV here and tell them to offer me a spot in their football package commercial, which could compete with the Dish one.IMG_6142
  • Fall wardrobe. Oh, I love boots, sweaters, jackets, camouflage (yes, camo), and everything else in a fall wardrobe. In the south, September is a little warm for the full-on Fall wardrobe, but we can wear pieces here and there. I can hardly wait till it’s cold enough for my favorite pieces. Fall clothes hide a multitude of sins. Am I still wearing my white jeans right now? Yes…totally disobeying all the rules…living on the edge. Being over 50 presents some fashion challenges, but one place to get some fall wardrobe ideas is Hello Fashion blog…see it here.
  • Fewer pedicures. I know most people love pedicures. I don’t. I don’t love to sit around with someone touching my feet. Nope. Not for me. I do it out of necessity. I simply can’t have the ugliest feet in town. Come October, though, it becomes more infrequent once it’s too cold for sandals. I know…the shame! I have spring/summer feet, and then I have fall/winter feet. For early fall, though, when I’m definitely still wearing open-toed shoes, I pick a nail polish color that works with my football team…Essie’s Forever Yummy is my favorite.
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    Forever Yummy

     

 

  • Bourbon. Football season means it’s Bourbon season. As soon as football season starts, I think of Bourbon. When I was in college, I would sneak Bourbon into football games to drink from those giant stadium souvenir cups. Back then, all the girls wore dresses and pantyhose to the games, so sometimes, to sneak Bourbon into the game, I could tape the bottle or flask to my inner thigh (inside the pantyhose) where no gate person would see it or find it. My mother would not have been proud. It stayed till I got into the game and went to the bathroom to move it to my handbag. (It’s possible I sounded a little like the little old lady church organist from Sixteen Candles when I walked…you remember…you could hear her liquor sloshing in her handbag when she walked out of the wedding. Listen at 1:33 in the clip here.) No, I don’t ever plan to run for public office. That being said…I don’t like to mess up a good Bourbon with a mixer either…give it to me on the rocks. For those of you who like cocktail recipes, Maker’s Mark has some good ones on their website…Snow Cap, Bourbon Butter Pecan Milkshake, Kentucky Mulled Cider, and a whole array of Highball cocktails. You can see them here Knob Creek Bourbon has great cocktails on their site too…click here.

Yes, there are lots more reasons to be happy about Fall, and these are just a few of my favorites. My very favorite thing about fall is celebrating our daughter’s birthday. This year she will be 15! It’s hard to believe. Her birthday in October is, indeed, a celebration. First, I was happy to get her out of my body. I was induced on a Friday, and she didn’t arrive till 10pm Sunday…it seemed like forever. (And then I sent my husband to the hospital cafeteria to get me some fried chicken and mac & cheese.) Her arrival into the world changed our lives. We discovered true joy! Don’t get me wrong…that first year was hard. I wasn’t sure I would survive it. I had the baby who wasn’t a sleeper (still isn’t), and once she could move around at all, she never sat still. She was a bundle of energy…still is. I love that she’s energetic and strong-willed. I love that she’s social and athletic. I love re-living all the fun of youth with her…and sharing life with her.

Happy Fall!

**Coming soon: my favorite skincare/healthcare products to help me get through Fall.**

 

 

 

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Rookie Gardener

I’ve said before that I am no gardener. A few years ago, I had some pretty good luck with gardening in my backyard, but then I developed a fear of snakes and became afraid. Every time I thought about sticking my hands into or near the dirt, I was terrified I would pick up a copperhead.

In Mecklenburg County, the only venomous snake species we have is the copperhead, but it seems there are lots of them. Growing up in Alabama, we had six species of venomous snakes, including three different types of rattlesnakes, which are highly dangerous to humans. I’ve seen more than my fair share of rattlesnakes and copperheads. In fact, I came dangerously close to stepping on a big diamondback rattlesnake when I was 18. To learn more about the venomous snakes of Alabama, including the copperhead, click here. Be forewarned: just like Jaws made us all afraid to go back into the water, seeing the pictures of these snakes may make you afraid to go back outside altogether.

Back to gardening. For years, I did nothing, till this year, and I’m not doing a lot, but I am doing a little. I have more than one inspiration. I want to have some sunflowers in memory of my parents this summer, and posts by my friend, Michelle, owner of Corner Copia Gardens and Gifts in Fairhope, Alabama, would make anyone want to try their hand at gardening. To see her Facebook page for inspiration, click here.

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Photo from Corner Copia Gardens in Fairhope, Alabama

While I want sunflowers in my backyard, I’m not planting any other types of flowers. We have some beautiful knockout roses that continue to bloom, so I don’t feel like I need to add much to those. I’m adding a few vegetables.

One thing I’ve always loved is a good homegrown vine-ripened tomato. When my friend, Wendy, lived here in Charlotte, she had a neighbor who grew some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life. And I’ve had a lot of tomatoes. Growing up, I didn’t care for tomatoes. I think a lot of kids are turned off by the slightly acidic taste of tomatoes. When I was in college, I went to the lake with a friend, and her mother had some homegrown tomatoes for us. Not wanting to be rude, I ate the slices she gave me, and I never looked back.

If you are a tomato person, you know store-bought tomatoes are deceiving. Every year, I make the mistake of picking up some beautiful tomatoes in the grocery store with hopes they are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Then, I get home and slice into them, only to find they are hard and ugly on the inside. A good, homegrown tomato is just as red on the inside as it is on the outside.

Throughout my life, I had seen my daddy eat tomato sandwiches. He loved a good tomato sandwich, and apparently, my mother knew the perfect way to make them. It’s not difficult, but if you don’t make them just right, you can mess them up. My daddy liked his tomatoes peeled. Weird, I know, but that’s what he liked. Sometimes, I peel mine too. But the main thing is to use white bread…not whole wheat, not whole grain, not pumpernickel or rye…white bread. On the white bread slices, slather your favorite mayonnaise. Daddy preferred Hellman’s, but I prefer Duke’s. Yes, you can use the reduced fat versions, but because good tomatoes are hard to find, I don’t want to mess them up with the reduced fat stuff. Add tomato slices to the mayo-slathered bread and top it with a little salt and pepper to taste. I can almost taste it now. ***It’s difficult to find Duke’s Mayonnaise in some parts of the country. If you’ve never had it, you should try it. You can order it from Amazon here.***

Obviously, I’m trying to grow my own tomatoes this summer. My husband and I picked up a few small plants, and he put them in the ground. We purchased Bonnie Plants brand Big Boy tomato plants and Better Boy tomato plants at a local store. To see the Bonnie Plants website for tomato information, click here. It’s not too late to do your own. I’ve been tending ours. That means I’ve been calling my brother to get tips on growing good tomatoes. I’ve also been checking online for information. So far, I haven’t killed them yet, and we even have a few small tomatoes showing up on our plants. I looked online to see how long it takes tomatoes to ripen on the vine, and on average, for the types we are growing, it takes about 75 days after germination. That seems like a long time. I’m counting down the days and hoping I don’t kill them before then.

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I’ve also planted a few other vegetables. We’ll see how that works out before I go into any detail.

My friend, Leah, in memory of my parents, gave me a Sunflower Grow Kit earlier this year, and I was so excited to get that started, and so far, they’re growing! The kit included potting soil, seeds, plant food, and a bag in which to grow them. You can see various grow kits here. I also planted some Burpee brand sunflower seeds, which you can find at your local home stores. I purchased mine at Home Depot, but they have them in Lowe’s too. If you live in or near Wetumpka, Alabama, you can visit the Lowe’s there and see my handsome nephew, Brennen.

My sunflowers have been a little slow-growing, but in the past few days they seem to be getting some traction. I have hope. Sunflowers aren’t difficult to grow, and I had huge success with them 16 years ago, growing some of the biggest, most beautiful sunflowers I’ve ever seen. I planted mine a little later than before, but with sunflowers, I think that’s OK.

For planting this year, since I still haven’t overcome my fear of snakes, I wore gardening gloves and used a gardening trowel. I don’t know how much protection that offers from snakes, but it made me feel better. I found myself scanning all around me while I dug, though. I won’t even walk out onto the patio without checking out the steps before opening the back door.

As the summer progresses, I’ll keep you posted on my gardening. Hoping for tall sunflowers with big heads and some juicy tomatoes soon.

Go play in the dirt!

***If you enjoy Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things, please invite friends to like the facebook page.***

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Gifts Your Valentine (and you) Will Love

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When I was a little girl, I thought Valentine’s Day was one of the best days of the year! We decorated boxes at school, and it was fun to fill out all those little Valentines for classmates. Occasionally, I’d get one that said, “To a special girl”…a big deal in third grade in Spanish Fort, Alabama!

FullSizeRender-25One of the best Valentine’s Days I had before meeting my husband was in the early 90s. I was living in Atlanta. I had gone out once with a guy who seemed nice, and he asked me out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. After dinner, he gave me a box of conversation hearts (with our names in the to/from spaces on the back!) he purchased at Disco Kroger (near the old Rupert’s and former Limelight, two now-closed Atlanta hotspots)! I thought it was a funny, sweet gesture, since we weren’t really dating. We went out for a couple months after that before parting ways. Years later, I married my  husband, but those conversation hearts are a sweet memory.

Of course, if you’ve been together longer than two weeks, those conversation hearts won’t cut it. The pressure is on, so here are a few favorite things for Valentine’s Day. Find something for your significant other, or if there isn’t one right now, purchase a treat for yourself! I’ve picked places/websites and am suggesting something from each. Listed in alphabetical order, these offer something for everyone. Each is worthy of an entire post, so I will revisit some later.

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1818 Farms specializes in natural bath/beauty products for men and women, all of which are “handmade, hand-packaged, and include all-natural ingredients.” It’s a real farm with chickens, goats, and more, and they grow herbs for use in their wide range of products, from soaps to coffee…the list goes IMG_8612on and on. Their shea creme comes highly recommended; some favorite scents are Lavender and Wedding Cake. They come in 4 oz. jars for $10, 8 oz for $20, and a gift set is $28 (see photo right). Specially for men, they offer several products, one of which is the Man of the Farm Grooming Can for $32, a great gift (see photo above). This place is something special! You’ll hear more from me about 1818 Farms. In fact, I’d love to visit (road trip!). Follow their Instagram page to see farm pics/videos here. To see their products, click here: 1818farms.com. Order now with code 1818Love and get 20% off your purchase!

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Fatboy Hair  Developed by a hairdresser who “became frustrated with the lack of styling products that really did the business,” according to their website.  I use the Fatboy Daily Hydrating Shampoo ($26 for 10 oz) and Daily Hydrating Conditioner ($26), and they definitely “do the business,” even on curly/frizzy hair! The scents are invigorating and fresh, not feminine, so anyone can enjoy them. I use their soap ($10.50), which has a mild scent and lathers nicely. They also offer hair putty, styling creme, water wax, and pomade. I love every product I’ve tried! The Fatboy Essential Collection ($55 for several products) makes a great gift, or purchase a la carte and bundle items you want. To view the entire line, visit their website: fatboyhair.com. Enter your email address for 10% off your first purchase. Subscribe to repeat purchases, and get 10% off. See their Instagram here: instagram.com/fatboyhair/

FullSizeRender-24Goldbely Time Magazine calls Goldbely “one of the 50 best websites in America.” A marketplace, they offer access to food from restaurants all over the country. You know how certain foods or restaurants can trigger memories? College days at Alabama meant road trips with friends to New Orleans…oh, the memories. Late nights…nothing some Cafe du Monde beignets couldn’t cure, but we didn’t wear black, because powdered sugar gets everywhere! Order from Goldbely. You click on any state and order from popular restaurants. The list of offerings is fascinating and nostalgic.  Check Goldbely by clicking here: goldbely.com.

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Sweet Girl Cookies Made in Charlotte, they are perfect for anyone. Someone recently gave me the Mixed Bag (see photo), containing one of each of their cookies: Chocolate Chip, Lemon Blueberry White Chocolate Chip, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, White Chocolate Cherry, and Oatmeal Raisin…all giant and delicious! (I hid them from the rest of my family!) My favorite is the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, but I loved them all. Purchase here, starting at $12.50.

 

FullSizeRender-20Topgolf  Its website says it’s a “premier golf entertainment complex where the competition of sport meets your favorite local hangout.” My friends have been and give glowing reviews! It’s great for all ages and very popular. With locations all over the country, they have quite a following, so I’m including Topgolf on my list of favorite things for Valentine’s Day.  Go to their website and purchase a gift card almost anyone would love. Receive it via email, so you know you’ll have it on time! Click here to get started.

henry-fournier-68573Vinebox “The wine by the glass club”, their website says, “You won’t find anything mass produced here.” My favorite is their Personalized Wine Flight, priced at $81 for three months.  Answer a series of questions about the recipient, and Vinebox personalizes the selections. It’s perfect for anyone who enjoys wine. You can check it out here.

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So there you have it. Not your average Valentines…little something for everyone: natural bath/beauty products from a working farm, hair care products that actually work, a food site with all your favorites from around the country, cookies made by a Charlotte family, a popular experience, and wine flights! ORDER NOW!

And if it’s just your second date with someone, those conversation hearts are still a sweet gesture.

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Hugs and Kisses,

Kelly