Thanksgiving 2022

Thanksgiving 2022

It’s our first Thanksgiving as empty nesters! We made it to Thanksgiving! Actually, we have thoroughly enjoyed our empty nester status, but you know we were thrilled our baby girl could come home for a whole week! We are counting down to her Christmas break (starts December 9), when she will be out of school for a whole month! I don’t dare say we will see her for a whole month, because I’m sure she will want to visit with friends…and we are cool with that!

But here we are, having survived most of the first semester. After Thanksgiving, she just goes back to school for “dead week” and finals week before returning for the next break. Here’s where I should tell you, contrary to what some some moms say on the Facebook college parent pages, “dead week” does not mean they walk around looking like “the walking dead” or “zombies.” Well, at her university that’s not what it means; I can’t speak for others. Some parents have said on the parents page, “They study so hard that they look like zombies.” For 95% of the students, I’m saying that is not true. What it actually means…and share this with your friends…is that professors cannot issue new assignments during the “dead week” before finals, and they cannot have tests during that week either. Some professors might opt to have class, and some might not. Some have review sessions, and some do not. Some give extra credit for attending that week, and others do not. The week is meant to be a study week.

I can assure you that when I was at the same university as my daughter in the 1980s, I did not walk around looking like a zombie during dead week. No way. Did I use my time wisely and study all week? I’d like to say I did. Oh, who am I kidding?!?! No way! I had lots of fun during dead week and started studying for finals at the end of the week. I was even known to go out during finals week. [Gasp!] If I looked like the walking dead during dead week, it had nothing to do with studying too hard. If I looked like a zombie that week, it was because I had too much fun the night before. Not gonna lie. Don’t get me wrong. I studied. I just studied efficiently. I kept up in my classes. I met with professors when I didn’t understand a concept. I was a good student. OK, I was a pretty good student. But I got the job done, and I had a great work/life balance. I didn’t work all the time, and I didn’t play all the time. Fortunately, I had parents who understood the importance of enjoying college life, and as long as I “took care of business,” I could play all I wanted. And I did.

Now our daughter is trying to have a work/life balance her freshman year of college, and at Thanksgiving 2022, we are thankful she seems to be thriving. It’s hard to believe just six months ago, she was feeling a little unsure about her decision. She was thinking of another school she had considered. She was thinking she had made a mistake in choosing her university. She had just graduated and was entering the summer before college. It was a painful time in our household…lots of tears. I took her to orientation in June, and she was a mess. We got through it when I promised her she could transfer at any time if she didn’t like the university. However, I had no doubt in my mind that she would like it. I think she just needed to know she had options. Soon after school started, I received numerous texts saying, “I love it here!” Transferring is never discussed. We survived the summer of ambivalence, and here we are now…almost through the first semester!

And that, my friends, is what I’m celebrating this Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for my daughter’s happiness at her college home. We relax a little knowing she is happy. Is every day perfect? No. Does she have some stress with studies? Some. But is she making memories that will last as lifetime, just like I did? You bet! This year, we will have or own little Thanksgiving celebration at home. We had considered going out but decided to stay in and enjoy the food that is stacked in our refrigerator. I’m hoping friends and neighbors will stop by later in the day, when we are enjoying cocktails on the patio by the fire!

Happy Thanksgiving! And if, like me, you’d like to relive the WKRP in Cincinnati Turkey Drop, click here. It’s an all-time favorite that I must watch at least once every Thanksgiving season. “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”

A Whole Week Home From College

A whole week home from college.

In less than a week, our college student daughter is coming home…for a whole week! We haven’t seen her for seven days in a row since she left for college in August! We have seen her for a couple of days here and there…two football weekends, one day when my husband visited when he passed through town, and she has been home for two quick visits. But soon, she will be here for a whole week! In fact, she will be home for a little more than a week! And we can hardly wait.

Back in September, I booked her ticket on American Airlines to come home Saturday. But then, two days ago, she called me and said she wants to come home earlier. My first question? “Don’t you have class Friday?” She told me her Friday class has been canceled. I kept her on the phone while I looked at the American Airlines website. We discussed flight times and finally decided she could come home on an afternoon flight Thursday for only $99 more than we paid for the original ticket. Sold!

Seriously, y’all, I was so flattered that she wanted to spend more time with us. Anyone who has college-age kids will tell you it’s fun when they’re around again. I told her I was excited we are going to get to spend some extra time with her. And that’s when she said, “Oh, well, yes…but I’m going down to Columbia, South Carolina, with friends Saturday morning for the South Carolina game.”And that’s when I realized she isn’t coming home early to spend more time with us. She is coming home early to go to the University of South Carolina! I laughed out loud, because of course that’s what she wants to do!

I remember what it’s like to be 19, so I’m happy she gets to go visit friends in South Carolina with friends from home! I loved going to football games at different schools with friends when I was in college, so I get it. Will we, her parents, be offended when she wants to spend every evening with her friends? Nope, not one bit. In fact, I hope she will bring them here to gather at least once or twice. We love the energy they bring into our home, and I love preparing food for them…grilled cheese sandwiches, avocado toast, or even a late night breakfast.

But I also realize that, because she wants to go to South Carolina for a day or two, she is still coming home earlier than she originally was, and that’s a bonus for me and my husband! We are so excited! Of course, at the end of her stay, I’m sure I will be writing about how little time we actually got to spend with her! And that’s OK too, because we just want her to be happy and healthy. Spending time with her friends in Charlotte will be good for her. When she returns to Charlotte from South Carolina Saturday night, I will be here, ready to feed her (and friends) when she gets home.

Plus, I’m sure she will sleep a lot. Our daughter who has never been much of a sleeper will need to make up for lots of lost sleep while she is here. Sleeping in a twin bed in a dorm just isn’t the same as sleeping in a queen bed at home. I remember that too. There’s nothing quite like sleeping under your parents’ roof, with your dog in the bed like old times. She will sleep soundly knowing her daddy will bring her coffee in bed in the morning, and I will call her down for a hot breakfast shortly thereafter. Just like her last visit, we will have all her favorites at breakfast: scrambled eggs, grits, hashbrown casserole, bacon, biscuits, and Conecuh Sausage (again, if you’re not familiar with this, you want to try it. It’s from Alabama, but they carry the original sausage at most Publix stores. See the Conecuh Sausage website here). Some mornings, she might want avocado toast too. And she will get it if she wants it.

We are excited for her to arrive Thursday. My husband can hardly wait to go pick her up at the airport…a job he has already volunteered to do. I will ask her what she wants as her “welcome home” meal, and I will have that ready when she arrives. Of course, she’s likely to eat and run…or as my late friend, Wendy, would say, “chew and screw,” which means the same as eat and run. She was from Boston, and I don’t know if that’s what other people say there, but I think it sounds funny, so I say it occasionally.

Now, we just play the waiting game. My husband started his countdown today, telling me she will be home in just five days!

We are excited!

***Feature photo from Charlotte Business Journal***

I’m Happy to Be 55

I’m happy to be 55.

I have been 55 since May, so no, I’m not celebrating a birthday. Well, maybe I am…I try to celebrate every day, to some extent. I’m having a glass of bubbly as I type…in the middle of the day, with lunch…that counts as a celebration, right?

And as I sit in a restaurant in Charlotte, awaiting the arrival of my friend, I eavesdrop and type. Yes, I will admit I’m eavesdropping. It was totally accidental at first, but then I realized I am likely hearing what I sounded like 16 or 17 years ago.

At the next table are three lovely women, all of whom clearly have young children at home. I know this, because they are talking about breastfeeding, playgroups, diapers, and toddlers. Seriously, listening to them, I’m thinking of what I would have sounded like at lunch or playgroup with my friends, Wendy, Jenn, Lauren, Neill, Suzanne, Kris, Myndi, and Jennifer back in the day. Same stuff, different moms. Time marches on.

And as I listen to them, I remember what fun times we had as moms of young children. Sure, we were exhausted most of the time. We dealt with various kids’ illnesses…stomach bugs, colds, flu, other viruses and bacterial infections, like strep throat on my daughter’s 4th birthday. But we, the moms, helped each other. We had great fun at each other’s homes, swimming pools, parties, playgrounds. We had lots of fun every time we gathered.

These days, our group of moms is older and fewer in number. Wendy passed away 4 1/2 years ago, breaking all our hearts. Lauren, Suzanne. Myndi, and Jennifer moved away but still stay in touch. The rest of us…me, Jenn, Kris, and Neill…well, we get together for dinner sans kids now! We always gather on Wendy’s birthday and the anniversary of her passing…we want to keep her memory alive. Sometimes, we plan a dinner for ourselves for no reason. And earlier this year, when Wendy’s kids were in town, we even managed to get a bunch of the kids together. But usually, it’s just the four moms gathering for dinner…and drinks! Because we can drink now without worrying that it will affect breast milk! We don’t have to worry that we will have to pick up kids somewhere, because most of them have gone off to college!

When we had little kids, we loved life. As I mentioned, we were exhausted. Oh, we were tired. But we were happy. We made great memories for our kids and ourselves, and we made some fantastic, lifelong friends. It was a great time of life.

But as I listen to the sweet moms at the table next to me, I am especially thankful that I am 55. I am thankful that my daughter and the children of my friends are adults…well, they’re adults living on our dime, but they can vote! I am thankful for all those years of fun with them at playgrounds, amusement parks, Wiggles shows, and more. I am thankful for the times my daughter thought I was the smartest, most beautiful mom on the planet.

Unfortunately, she no longer thinks I am the smartest, most beautiful mom on the planet. But she does think I’m reasonable. She knows I’m seasoned. She knows I give good advice. And she knows, most of all, that I love her dearly.

I’m 55, and our daughter is 19. It seems that I’ve always thought that, no matter what age we are, we think we are the perfect ages. So yes, I am smiling as I eavesdrop on the table next to me, but mostly I’m smiling that we have made it this far. I am thankful for every single day and every lesson we have learned along the way. I’m thankful for my “empty nester” status. I’m thankful to have a daughter who is happy in college. I’m happy I don’t have to wait for school holidays to go on vacation. Im thankful for all the knowledge I have acquired along the way. And I’m happy my daughter is coming home in a week for Thanksgiving break! And I hope we, meaning all the ladies like me who are 55, have lots more days, more fun, and more lessons ahead of us.

I’m thankful for those ladies at the next table, for making me realize how grateful I am for this stage of life.

Thank God I’m 55!

Everyone Isn’t Going to College

Everyone isn’t going to college.

Consider this my own little Public Service Announcement: Every kid who is graduating from high school right now is not going to college. Sure, lots of them are, but lots of them aren’t, and we need to be mindful of that.

If you encounter a high school senior in the next month or so, don’t ask them where they’re going to college. In fact, don’t ask that question, even if you know they are going to college. Some of those who are going are struggling with the decision. And the ones who aren’t going to college, I’m sure, get tired of that question. Why do we now assume everyone is going to college?!? For some of them, college is not the best option, for any number of reasons…and we need to remember that.

So next time you encounter a high school senior, I recommend you ask, “What are your plans after graduation?” If they are going to technical school, they can tell you all about that. If they are going into a branch of the military, they will be thrilled to tell you about that. If they are going to college and know which one they are attending, they can share that information with you. And if they haven’t decided on a college yet, they can say, “I’m still deciding where I want to go to college.”

But remember…everyone isn’t going to college.

Mike Rowe, one of my favorite celebrities ever, because he is real and tells it like it is, is a big proponent of technical schools for young people. Some people need to learn a trade or a skill. Many of those people who become plumbers, electricians, carpenters, welders, or HVAC repairmen will quickly start making money and socking it away in the bank while college students and their parents are still shelling out boatloads of money for a college education…sometimes, one that doesn’t make the student any more employable. Lots of those vocations are needed. Lots of people can walk right into a good-paying job if they have the necessary skills. (If you’re not familiar with Mike Rowe, he is the host of Dirty Jobs, a television show about real jobs in this country, and he is also the author of a great book called The Way I Heard It. I read the book in the early days of the pandemic, about this time two years ago, and it was worthwhile, easy reading. Pick up a copy if you like reading good stories. You can order from Amazon here.)

Ultimately, my goal as a parent is to help my daughter become an independent adult who makes a contribution to society. Does that mean I expect her to become the next gazillionaire? No. It means I want her to be able to support herself in a way that works for her, and I want her to feel like she is doing something to make life better for other people too. Is my goal for her to be “happy”? Of course, I want her to be happy, but I think we are happiest when we are independent contributors to society…so it all goes together. Do I think she will be financially independent right after college? Maybe…maybe not. What I want for her is personal independence. I want her to know she is in charge of her own life and her own destiny. I want her to know how to function in the world…and how to ask questions when she needs to ask questions. I want her to know she doesn’t know everything, but as long as she knows where and how to find out what she wants/needs to know, she’ll be good. She leaves for college in August, and I am excited for her.

But while she is going to class and enjoying college life, there will be lots of kids who graduate from high school at the same time who immediately go to work. Some of them might be entrepreneurs. Some might be inventors. Some might go into a family business. Does the fact that they don’t go to college make them “less than”? No. It simply means they are choosing a different path.

So just like we applaud these kids’ college choices, let’s applaud those who make other choices. Let’s be happy for the kid who opts to join the military. Let’s celebrate the kid who has always known he wanted to be a welder, and he is finally going to technical school to learn that skill. Let’s be excited for the girl who is on her way to cosmetology school.

Let’s be thankful we live somewhere that people can make their own choices.

Let’s Get this Garden Started!

Let’s get this garden started!

Last summer, I decided to take the summer off from gardening. After the whole pandemic thing, I thought I needed a break from my backyard garden. By July, I knew I was wrong. No matter how much work it is, I love gardening in summer. It relaxes me. It gives me more purpose. It’s important. Last August, I wrote about how much I missed it. You can see that here.

So this year, I have already gotten started. Before my daughter and I left for her senior spring break trip last week, I got 72 seeds started in a Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit (order your Burpee kit from Amazon here), and last night and today, I have started 144 more. While I was in Jamaica (with 60 kids and their parents, yikes!), I didn’t even think about the seeds I had started till the third night of my four night trip. As trashy as it sounds, I had left the grow kit in the window of our dining room, so it would get lots of light. I called my husband on that third night and asked him to walk in there and see if anything was happening, and he sent me a picture of lots of emerging seedlings! Once I see that kind of progress, I get excited and want to start more seeds, so I have been busy since we got home.

Being in North Carolina makes gardening a little tricky. It’s hard to tell when winter is officially over. It might be 80 degrees for two weeks, and then we will get snow the first week of April…trust me, it has happened. So I’m never really sure about when to transfer my seedlings to the ground. I try to wait as long as possible for the last cold snap and for the plants to get a little bigger, because I learned a long time ago that birds, rabbits, and deer love seedlings. I think I will likely do the transplant thing in two weeks and put all kinds of things around the garden to deter the pests. It looks crazy out there when I get all my flash tape, pinwheels, and fake owls out, but they do seem to help deter the “pests” a little. I can’t sit outside like Elmer Fudd with a gun hunting “wabbits” all night.

Seriously, I’m feeling better already just because I know I’m going to have a garden. I never realized how much it bolsters my mood till I didn’t garden last year. This year I will have tomatoes (tomato sandwiches, anyone?), three varieties of cucumbers (salad, anyone?), two varieties of corn, and lots and lots of different varieties of sunflowers, including the beautiful Mexican Sunflowers…a big, bushy plant full of tiny orange blooms!

Maybe now is when I should tell you that my “garden” means my whole backyard. There’s not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to my “garden.” I just plant where I can, and sometimes, it drives my husband crazy. Our next-door neighbor seems to enjoy it…she helps me with it when I’m out of town, and I share the cucumbers and tomatoes with her. Plus, she loves bees and butterflies as much as I do, and one of the great things about all those flowers and cucumber blossoms is that they attract both.

Having a garden makes me go outside every morning and every evening to tend things. I like to water everything by hand twice a day. I know, I could set up the irrigation system, but there’s something special about watering by hand…and by hand, I mean with the hose. Occasionally, I mix plant food in a watering can, but most of the time, I water things with the hose. If I’m not watering the plants, I’m pruning the plants or harvesting. And I’m always on the lookout for pests like tomato grubs or cucumber worms/beetles. A tomato grub will make short order of an entire tomato plant in no time!

I’m a self-taught gardener, which means I have learned along the way, and I’m still learning! For example, a few years ago, I planted my corn plants too far apart, so I had to learn how to pollinate them by hand! Later, I realized one corn plant had corn smut, a fungus that is considered a blight here in the US but is a culinary delicacy in Mexico! So you know what I did…I learned how to make tacos with it. In Mexico, they call it huitlacoche (pronounced weetluhkochay), and cooked right, it is delicious. I also learned that braconid wasps lay eggs in the backs of tomato grubs, so if you see a tomato grub with white, spiny-looking things (the wasp eggs) sticking out of a tomato grub’s back, leave it alone. It will die from a toxic substance in the eggs, and the eggs will hatch new wasps that will keep the cycle going! Growing flowers close to tomato plants helps attract the wasps in the first place.

Do I know everything about gardening? No way! I know very little compared to most, but I enjoy learning to new things, so it’s fun. Hopefully, I will learn even more this spring and summer!

Let’s get this garden started!

Ten-Year Challenge

Ten-year challenge.

Anyone who is on Facebook has seen the posts over the last few days with this hashtag: #tenyearchallenge. I don’t know where it started, but I’ve seen a lot of posts. If you’re not familiar with it, the “challenge” is to post a photo of yourself from 10 years ago next to a current photo. Yes, I finally gave in and did it too…posting a photo of me and my friend, Angela, from 10 years ago (at a New Orleans Saints/Detroit Lions playoff game) and a current photo of us at a Bama/New Mexico State game in November.

It was a little daunting to consider taking the “challenge.” Just recently, I was talking with some friends about how we feel like time is catching up with us in the last five or ten years. I can certainly look in the mirror and see more lines on my face and more lumps on my body. I got a good laugh out of it with my friends, but come on…we’re 54. It’s OK to start feeling some aging when we’re 54! My gosh! I’ve earned these wrinkles and lumps! I’ve especially earned every laugh line on my face…and that’s mostly what they are…laugh lines, because I spend a lot of time laughing. If I’m not laughing, I’m not doing something right.

But as we discussed our “aging,” I reminded my friends and myself of some things. First, there’s the obvious: wrinkles and lumps are better than “the alternative.” After all, we are still here, and we have some friends who are not. I know my friend, Wendy, who died before her 47th birthday and should have turned 50 this year, would love to be here laughing with me. Every time someone complains about turning 50, I remind them that my Wendy would have loved to make it to 50. And every single day, I find something we would have laughed about, or there’s something I would have liked to share with her. That puts things in perspective. She left behind two kids who were 14 and 12 at the time she passed away in 2018. They would have loved to have her for another 10 years.

And secondly: we’re supposed to age. We are not supposed to look the same at 54 as we did at 44 or 34 or 24. My daughter is 18, and she is living proof of the difference ten years can make. Just think about how much she has grown between the ages of eight and eighteen! Why do we think time should stand still for us, as adults, when we can look at what time does for the growth of kids? And why can’t we look at our “aging” as continued “growth”? At what point do we stop looking at it as growth? If I know one thing, I know I’m still growing. Yes, I’m growing a little older, but I’m also growing in wisdom…and I know that to be true. I know that, at 54, I understand some things I used to think were so important just aren’t that important in the overall scheme of things. In fact, I feel like I learn something new every day. In my opinion, if I’m still learning, I’m still growing.

Too bad the #tenyearchallenge can’t show the compilation of memories we have from the last ten years. It can’t show the skills we have picked up along the way. Those photos don’t show the experience that I can bring to different situations. And it can’t show how much more wisdom we have than we had ten years ago. Ten years ago, our daughter was in second grade, and I thought everything about second grade was important. It wasn’t. I’m here to tell you…it wasn’t. If you have a second grader, take note: lots of what you think is important just isn’t. The most important part of second grade? Social learning. If I had known what I know now, I wouldn’t have cared about her “reading record.” I wouldn’t have tortured her by forcing her to do her “required summer reading” in elementary school. Because that’s what it was…torture. I’d have sent her off to the first day of school with that brand new, unread book in her backpack, and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Instead, I let the “required summer reading” ruin the last few days of summer…time we should have been enjoying together. I also wouldn’t have made her go on field trips she didn’t want to go on…even in middle school. And you know why? Because I’m wise enough to know now that none of that really matters. At 54, I also have the wisdom to know I should be doing the things I want to do instead of what other people want me to do. I should be planning vacations to Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico City. I should be planning a road trip on Route 66. I should be visiting airplane graveyards in the desert. And I plan to take some of those trips this year, providing COVID doesn’t mess everything up. At 54, I know life is short…live it.

Sure, I likely had some of that knowledge ten years ago, but I know I didn’t have all that knowledge. I’m much wiser at 54 than I was at 44. Just ask me.

Some folks call it aging. I call it growth.

A Dog’s Snow Day

A dog’s snow day.

When I checked Facebook this morning, I knew there were lots of happy kids in Alabama. People I know who live there were posting pictures of the fun they are having. Snow is rare in Alabama, so when they get it, they enjoy it.

My brother lives in Central Alabama, and he called me earlier to tell me how much his dog loves the snow. He rescued a black Laborador Retriever mix last year when my cousin in Florida called him to tell him about a dog that needed to be adopted at a shelter near her home. He drove down and adopted the dog, and it’s another one of those “the dog rescued him” situations. “Brother,” as I call him, had a Weimaraner named Amos who passed away, and I think he had resolved not to get another dog for a while, but Brother needs a dog. It’s just who he is. So he picked up that dog in Florida, and after discussing it with his sons, named him Cash…as in Johnny Cash. Anyway, Cash is loving the snow today. Brother had taken him to a riverside park they visit regularly and let him run in the snow. While we were on the phone, Brother laughed and laughed at Cash running wildly through the snow…loving every minute of it. He didn’t send me a video, but I could picture it in my mind, because I had my own dog who loved the snow…Annie.

My husband and I had been married about 18 months when we decided to get a dog. We did our research. I had always had Labarador Retrievers, but I knew I wanted a dog that could spend time indoors without shedding everywhere. We finally decided we wanted an Airedale Terrier. I had always admired them…big, strong, beautiful terriers who are loyal and protective. We searched and found one in a neighboring county. We brought her home when she was eight weeks old and named her Annie. I’ve written about her before…best dog ever. I wanted to name her Fannie, after a college roommate, but my husband wouldn’t go for that…even though later, he wished we had named her Fannie, because it’s different.

Our Annie looked like a junkyard dog as she matured. Most people don’t know Airedale Terriers don’t look like Airedales till they mature. They go through an awkward “junkyard dog” phase, kind of like The Ugly Duckling. She was super smart and easy to train…truth be told, she was probably smarter than we were. She was loyal, always wanting to be by my side. In fact, when I was pregnant, she rarely left my side when I was home…even getting into bed with me when I had morning sickness and pressing her warm back against mine. Oh, I loved that dog.

She was also protective. She was a dog I knew would put herself between me and any threatening presence…a stray dog, a burglar, or any threatening individual. I knew it, because I saw her do it. No, not with a burglar, but she often put herself between me and strangers…and especially strange dogs.

I have wonderful memories of Annie “talking” to me, spending time in front of the TV with me, or just being with me. But my favorite memories of Annie are snow memories. We live in Charlotte, North Carolina, and it doesn’t snow a lot here, but every few years, we will get a big snow, and Annie loved it. She would run and jump and play. She would eat snow, and then she would run and jump and play some more. We had neighbors who had a Labrador retriever about the same age, and they would bring their dog out to play with our Annie in the neighborhood park.

After we had our daughter in 2003, we had a big snow in January 2004, but then we went several years without a big snow. And then, finally, in 2010, we had a better snow year, with big snows in January and February. Our Annie loved it, and our then-6-yr-old daughter loved having Annie as a snow playmate. She loved watching Annie literally run circles around her in the snow. She loved throwing snowballs for Annie to catch. She loved watching Annie jump and play. Most of all, Annie loved it. Snow would be caked on her fur, and she would keep running. She was around eight years old at the time, but she played like a puppy…just one big 80-pound bundle of energy!

We had more snow in late 2010 and again in early 2011. The neighborhood kids went sledding down the big hill on our street and in the park across the street, and Annie loved playing with them. But then, we built a big snowman in the park across the street, and Annie didn’t know what to think. She went into “protector” mode…protecting us from the killer snowman! She made a wide circle around the snowman, barking and lunging for a long time, till we showed her he was a friendly snowman. What a fun memory!

Annie died in November 2013…a big loss for our family. I can still cry today thinking of how very loyal she was and how much we loved her. But today, when Brother was telling me about Cash in the snow, I was flooded with happy memories of our Annie.

***See photos of our Annie below***

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 cast 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

My Food/Beverage Guilty Pleasures

My food/beverage guilty pleasures.

I don’t know if everyone has food and beverage guilty pleasures, but I definitely do. There are some things I simply cannot pass up…and some things I crave. I have some guilty pleasures that are labeled as guilty pleasures simply because of the calorie content. But I have other guilty food and beverage pleasures that are guilty pleasures because they are trashy and cheap.

When I was pregnant in 2003, I craved birthday cake. No, not expensive birthday cakes. I craved the, as we called them, “el cheapo” birthday cakes from the local grocery store. I don’t know if it was the cake part or the frosting, but I craved them…and I treated myself once a week. Actually, my husband would pick up a small birthday cake, labeled a “patty cake,” once a week when he went to the store. He was a regular at the grocery store, so we used to laugh and laugh at the conversations the employees likely had every time he walked out with another cake…they probably thought he had a whole house full of kids. Nope…just one pregnant wife.

These days, if I crave a quick and easy cake, it’s more likely to be one from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Holy smokes, those things are good! We joke at our house that they must put some secret addictive ingredient in them, because once you have one, you keep craving them. If you haven’t had one, you should. They have store locations in lots of places. We are fortunate to have a couple of different locations in the Charlotte area, and one is just a few miles from our house. We don’t go often, but when we do, we stock up! Our personal favorite? The chocolate/chocolate chip with cream cheese frosting. We also like the Raspberry/White Chocolate. Oh, who am I kidding?! We wouldn’t turn down any of them! To see the website for Nothing Bundt Cakes, click here.

But I am a little ashamed to say I crave some cakes that are even cheaper than the regular grocery store cakes. Cheaper than a grocery store cake? And more embarrassing? Yep. Here’s my embarrassing cake guilty pleasure: Hostess Birthday Cupcakes. You likely remember the Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes with the white swirls you’d see in stores as a kid…they came in packs of two. Well, Hostess also makes Birthday Cupcakes. They taste, to me, like Twinkies with cheap frosting on top…but I’m not gonna lie…I’m completely addicted to them. I think about them all the time, but I only buy them once every few months. Each little cupcake in the two-pack has 180 calories, so I must refrain on a regular basis. But sometimes…I give in and go buy some. I’m not going to tell you where I buy them locally, because well, I want to be able to find them when I want them, but you can look on the Hostess website here. In truth, when I browse the Hostess website, I see there are lots of Hostess brand treats I’d love to try. But since I only allow myself to have those treat every couple of months, it will likely be a while before I can try them all. Does anyone else remember having Honeybuns as breakfast or snacks as a kid? Hostess makes them!

My cookie guilty pleasure comes from Tiff’s Treats in Charlotte. I discovered this place when someone sent me a box of them a year or two ago. My daughter and I couldn’t stop eating them! These cookies are yummy! My favorite flavor? The M&M cookies…they take me back to my childhood when my aunt used to make them. What makes Tiff’s Treats even better? They deliver! If you join them as an “elite” member, you even get free delivery and monthly specials! And if you send them to someone, you can also send cold milk or ice cream! I highly recommend this guilty pleasure. Check them out online here.

I also have a fried food guilty pleasure. All my friends know what it is, because I order it any time we go to Ilios Noche. If you haven’t visited Ilios Noche on Providence Road in South Charlotte, it’s high time you did. And when you do, order this guilty pleasure: Zucchini and Eggplant Chips. You’ll thank me later. They are lightly breaded and fried and served with tzatziki. You’ll keep going back for them, no doubt. See the Ilios Noche website here.

Other food guilty pleasures? Chips and salsa from Paco’s Tacos and Tequila in Charlotte, The Bento Box from Cowfish in Charlotte, soufflés from a favorite restaurant, and the Hazelnut cookie from a favorite restaurant. I could tell you where they are, but then they’d likely disappear before I could ever get them…some guilty pleasures should remain a secret, I suppose.

Now I’m likely to really disgust some of you with my beverage guilty pleasure. No, it’s not Mountain Dew or any other super sugary soda. It’s not Kool Aid, Hawaiian Punch, or Hi-C. I will readily admit I loved Kool-Aid as a kid. Everyone did in the 70s…if your mother allowed you to have it. Ours definitely did. In fact, I drank so much grape Kool-Aid that…embarrassing as this is…my poop turned blue. It’s true. Yikes! But back to the topic at hand…my embarrassing guilty beverage pleasure is a drink called Verdi Sparkletini. You likely haven’t heard of it, and that’s because it’s not something you’d likely buy. It is sold in the wine aisle, but the label calls it a “malt beverage.” It’s usually less than $6 a bottle. Go ahead and laugh. I know it’s cheap and trashy. And I think you are supposed to chill the bottle and serve it. However, I was introduced to it last summer when someone I know (I won’t let her secret out) served it to me over ice. Now, I’m not a beverage snob, so I didn’t care, and I was happy to try it…lucky for me! That day, we had the watermelon flavor, but they also make a yummy raspberry flavor and a peach flavor. In all seriousness, served over ice, they taste like spritzers. I offered one to a friend last summer at the beach, and she turned her nose up at it, telling me, “That cheap stuff gives me headaches.” I begged her to try it, and after we finished the bottle, we were both really relaxed…and neither of us ever got a headache! In fact, my friend ended up liking it so much that she secretly purchases a bottle every couple of days! Check your local grocery stores in the sparkling wine aisle (even thought I’m not sure it’s really wine). And it won’t turn your poop blue!

Oh, how I love my guilty food and beverage pleasures! Did I mention Guthrie’s chicken fingers that I have to pick up and bring home in a cooler any time I drive through Opelika, Alabama? Yeah…that’s a little embarrassing…I run into the restaurant (it’s co-branded with a gas station) and order the big bucket of chicken fingers. Then while they’re getting those ready, I run over to the gas station section and purchase a bag of ice and a styrofoam cooler. I fill up the cooler with the ice and put them in my car before I run back into Guthrie’s to get the chicken fingers. I put them on ice and drive the rest of the way to Charlotte! My daughter meets me at the door for those Guthrie’s chicken fingers every time! See their website here.

Now I’m feeling the need to drive to Opelika…

Whew! We Made It!

Whew! We made it!

While it seems everyone is feeling like they “made it” through 2020, I’m feeling that and breathing a sigh of relief that I made it through the month of December. Sounds crazy, right?

Here’s what you don’t know: both my grandmothers died on December 26…in different years, but still, same day. Eerie, right? And then, my mother fell ill on Christmas Eve three years ago, in 2017, and was taken to the hospital. She lived a few hundred miles away from me, so I made it to her bedside the next day, Christmas Day. She wasn’t in great shape when I got there, but she was awake and communicative. My friend, Angela, brought me Christmas dinner to the hospital from her family’s gathering. I knew Mother was sick, but I didn’t realize just how sick she was till the doctor told me the next day that she was just getting worse. I understood what he was saying. I’d been through this before with my dad.

And then I realized it was December 26. I remember asking the doctor, “Is she likely to die today?” I explained to him that I was asking, because both my grandmothers had died on December 26, and if my mother died on that day, I would be curled up in the fetal position in my closet every year on that day. Call me selfish for thinking that way, but I’m just being honest. If every woman in my family died on the same day, I would be terrified every year as December 26 approached. Did I want to lose my mother? No way! I’d always known I had the best mother in the whole world, and I certainly didn’t want to lose her, but I really didn’t want to lose her that day.

Mother passed on December 30, 2017. She made it past the 26th, so now that day doesn’t scare me quite so much…but now I’m just terrified of the whole month of December. Does that mean I’m superstitious? Generally, I don’t think of myself as a superstitious person, but when I think about some of the silly things I do…maybe I am superstitious.

There are the New Year’s Day superstitions. Yes, every year, I eat black-eyed peas, greens of some kind, and pork of some kind. That comes from my parents. Every year, on New Year’s Day, we were required to eat at least one teeny tiny bite of each of those things. Black-eyed peas for prosperity. Greens are for wealth and health. Pork, from what I understand, is based on the fact that pigs root forward while foraging…by eating it we are embracing the challenges and adventures of the coming year. I’ve now learned I should also eat round cakes, pastries, or cookies…the round shape signifies that the old year has come to a close, and we have a promising new year. I’ve never done that, but I guess I’ll be making some cookies today. There are more superstitions for the new year, but those are mine…and now, of course, I’ve added the cookies. Ugh.

Other superstitions I’ve had in my life? When I’m driving and I drive under a yellow light, I “kiss the roof.” By kissing my fingers and quickly touching the ceiling inside the car, I’m supposed to make it through safely. When I was a kid, if we drove past a cemetery, we would hold our breath. We also didn’t step on cracks in the sidewalk, walk under ladders, or open an umbrella in the house…all bad luck. If a black cat crosses my path, I always say, “Damn that cat.” Supposedly, saying that will do away with the curse the cat put on you by crossing your path. Drive over railroad tracks? Lift your feet so you don’t have bad luck! I also use “knock wood” a lot…when I make a positive statement, I knock wood to avoid tempting fate or jinxing myself. I’ve been known to cross my fingers for luck, but generally speaking, I find that prayer works better. See a penny on the ground? “Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck!” Someone around me sneezes? I always say “bless you,” unless it’s a Spanish-speaking friend, to whom I say “Salud!” That’s supposed to keep their soul from escaping with the sneeze. (After a certain age, women aren’t worrying about their souls escaping when they sneeze…they’re worrying about pee escaping their bladders!) And here’s another one: don’t put your handbag on the floor…your money will go down.

So looking at that, I guess I am superstitious, even though I shouldn’t be. I’ve found several Bible verses that warn us against superstition, including 2 Kings 21:6, which says “And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”

I guess that means I shouldn’t be worried about the month of December, and I shouldn’t feel the need to eat black-eyed peas, greens, and pork on New Year’s Day. I will try not to worry in December and say lots of prayers asking for help with that. But honestly, I just like black-eyed peas, greens, and pork, so I’ll keep eating those on New Year’s Day and any other chance I get!

This year, when I finally went to the grocery store, they were out of black-eyed peas, so I had to buy a mixture of dried beans/peas for soup. It contains black-eyed peas, so we are covered. I threw in a little spinach, some fatback, and some ham, so we’re covered, but I’m also going to have collard greens. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the ingredients to make cornbread, so we’ll be missing out on that.

All this is my long way of saying, “Welcome, January!” and “Happy New Year!”