Ready for the New Year?

Ready for the new year?

I don’t know that I’m ever actually ready for a new year, but most years, I am ready for New Year’s Day, and this year is no exception. I think different cultures have different traditions/superstitions for New Year’s Day, and growing up in the American South, I have a few of my own:

-“Rabbit! Rabbit!” I make sure to say this at some point on the first of every month, preferable first thing in the morning. But let’s face it, most mornings, when I first wake up, I don’t know what day it is! Lots of people say “Rabbit! Rabbit!” on the first day of every month for good luck. Apparently, rabbits are considered good luck. I tried to find an explanation online, and I found an NPR episode in which Martha Barnette, an etymology author, says the phrase dates back to at least the early 1900s. Some folks believe rabbits are good luck because of their fertility, which can be associated with new beginnings. Whatever. I just do it, because I’m always welcoming any good luck that comes my way! But it seems especially important on the first day of the year!

-Black-eyed Peas. A few years ago, I returned home from vacation late on New Year’s Eve, and I had not had an opportunity to go to the grocery store to prepare for New Year’s Day. Lucky for me, I had a can of black-eyed peas in my pantry. I can’t imagine what made me purchase canned black-eyed peas, because I prefer to cook dried ones, but the canned variety will do in a pinch! In my family, and across the American South, it is believed that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck and prosperity. Even when I was a little girl and didn’t care for them, my parents made me eat a spoonful of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. According to Modern Farmer, black-eyed peas came to the US on slave ships, and slaves planted them in their gardens. The same source says the Union Army took everything edible when they raided the south, but they didn’t take black-eyed peas. They were looked at then as “poor people’s food,” but after the war, they became popular all across the south. Some people in the south believe they represent coins. And some southerners cook them in Hoppin’ John, a southern rice dish. Personally, I love them…especially on New Year’s Day. I purchased them early this year…dried ones that I will start cooking early on New Year’s Day, so we can enjoy them in the afternoon. As for a recipe, I don’t make Hoppin’ John. I just soak the peas before I boil them with Goya pork seasoning and salt. I throw in the spinach, and while I normally try to keep them healthier, I’ll likely throw in some pork for New Year’s Day.

Greens. In the south, when most people say they eat “greens” on New Year’s Day, I think they mean collard greens or turnip greens. Some folks mean cabbage. I’m the outlier…I eat spinach on New Year’s Day. It’s still a green, and it’s iron-rich. I just can’t bring myself to cook turnips, cabbage, or turnips in my house, because I remember how our house smelled when I was growing up and Mother cooked greens. Collard greens, turnip greens, and cabbage taste good, but they smell rancid when they’re cooking. I can’t do that to my family, so we have spinach. Of course, I’m the only one who eats regular sauteed spinach, so I have to mix the spinach with the black-eyed peas. Greens represent money. And who doesn’t want more money in the new year? This year, I might add some extra spinach, in fact! And remember the year I had canned black-eyed peas? I was also lucky enough to find canned turnip greens in my pantry (Glory brand is seasoned really well).

-Pork. I don’t care what kind of pork it is, everyone who doesn’t have a religious exemption should eat a bite of pork on New Year’s Day. All my life, I’ve believed eating pork on New Year’s Day brings good luck, because that’s all I’ve ever heard. I looked into the reasoning, and according to thespruceeats.com, it’s considered a sign of prosperity in some cultures because “pigs root forward.” I guess that means we will continue to move forward if we eat pork. When I was growing up, my mother would cook a ham. My family won’t eat a whole ham, so I just purchased a couple of ham steaks to prepare on New Year’s Day. I’ll throw some of it in the black-eyed peas for seasoning. As for the preparation of the ham steaks, I will just cook them on the stove top in a skillet with a little butter and seasoning.

Cornbread. My parents used to make thin, fried cornbread when I was growing up. I’d never be able to do it. There was skill involved, and it was delicious. My cousin, Patti, still makes it, but I need a special brand of fine cornmeal that I can’t find in Charlotte. I’ll get Patti to bring me some next time she comes to town. Interestingly, the fried breads are round, which would be great if I could make them, because round foods are considered good luck in some countries. We used to eat it till we just couldn’t eat any more. I’ll make cornbread, but it will be regular baked, buttermilk cornbread. Why cornbread? Apparently, because of the golden color, it represents gold. I see a theme here. Southerners seem to want luck and prosperity in the new year!

-Champagne (or prosecco). Yes, I have bubbly not just on New Year’s Eve, but also on New Year’s Day, because it’s a celebration, after all. I have always believed we should start the new year on the right foot…celebrating. And bubbly goes great with all the foods listed above. And if you don’t like the foods listed above, it’s a lot easier to wash them down with bubbly!

Clearly, my traditions, except “Rabbit! Rabbit!” are all based around food! The good news for me is that these are some of my very favorite foods. For my family, though, it’s not one of their favorite meals, so they’ll choke down a few bites. We’d normally have lots of leftovers, but my nephew and a friend are coming to town this year, so I know they’ll help me eat it. I’ll have some pickled onions on hand, too, because they go so well with all of these foods! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Love, Loss, and the Holidays

Love, loss, and the holidays.

Last night, I received a call from my dear friend, Jane. When I answered the phone, I knew immediately something was wrong. She was crying, and she said through her tears that someone had died, but I didn’t understand her the first time she said it. Painfully, I had to ask her to repeat it. And when she did, I cried too. I didn’t know the gentleman who had passed away, but I knew of him, and I knew him to be a good soul…a good friend to Jane. I also know she had inadvertently made a connection between him and a lady she knows just a few months ago. She had introduced them through some work she was doing, and a great friendship formed immediately.

His new lady friend was with him when he fell ill. She called 911 immediately and called a mutual friend who was a doctor, and they got him to the hospital as quickly as they could, but he didn’t make it.

When Jane was telling me about what had happened, she said, “I just needed to call you, because I need you to say something that will make it OK.” Jane is a close family friend. She knew my mother, who passed away four years ago, and she knows that somehow, my mother always knew the right thing to say to make someone feel better. She knew what to say to bring peace to a situation. Hopefully, with age, I will develop that gift, but I certainly don’t feel like I have it now. I simply said to Jane, “This won’t make it OK, but you can thank the Lord that you introduced those two and they were able to enjoy each other’s company for the past couple of months. You can know he [the gentleman who passed] spent the last couple of months engaging in good conversation and having fun with his new friend.” It was all I knew to say. I don’t know that it helped my friend in the moment, but it really does warm my heart that he got to spend his final months with a special lady…someone who is near and dear to Jane, and therefore, near and dear to me. I can’t name names, but all of these wonderful people are oddly connected…people you wouldn’t think belong together as friends, but somehow, they do.

Jane later told me the gentleman told her a few days ago that his new friend (the one Jane introduced him to) had helped him learn how to live for the Lord. Maybe that’s why they were brought together. I told Jane that is what should make her feel better…knowing she brought them together.

December is a tough month for a lot of people…including me. I lost my mother on December 30, 2017. She had fallen ill on Christmas Eve and never recovered, but Jane was with me every day at the hospital while Mother was lingering. I miss Mother every day, and especially this time of year. Sadly, both my grandmothers died on December 26, in different years, but still…same day. My daddy didn’t die in December, but he had his first obvious symptoms of pancreatic cancer in December 2005 and died the following October.

So while December is a joyous time, it’s also tough for people who have lost loved ones during the year. It’s tough for those of us who have painful memories. Yes, I have lots of good December memories too, but I’ll never forget all the terrible phone calls I have received in various Decembers.

I will give a few extra hugs on into the new year. I will try to think of those friends and family who have experienced loss. Some of those friends are experiencing their first holiday season without a loved one. There’s not anything we can say to “make it OK,” but there are things we can do to ease the pain a little. Hugs go a long way, and they are almost always welcome and appreciated.

You Look Like You’re Going to a Disco

“You look like you’re going to a disco.”

When you’re getting ready to go to a Christmas party, the last thing you want to hear your husband say is, “You look like you’re going to a disco.” OK, so I guess it could be worse. It happened recently. I was dressed and ready to go, and my husband of 21 years made that statement.

What do you think I did? No, I didn’t get mad. I didn’t cry (as if!). I didn’t pout. I laughed till tears were rolling down my face! It was funny! I took another look in the mirror and realized he was right…I did look like I was going to a disco…and I laughed some more. I actually liked the look, but it wasn’t right for a Christmas party.

Honestly, I haven’t had the disco look many times in my life. I was a teenager and went to college in the 1980s…the heyday of Laura Ashley, Gunne Sax, and gigantic clothing. Seriously, when we should have been showing off our cute figures, we were hiding them underneath gigantic clothes. I’ve written about it before here. The era had a real influence on me, I suppose. No, I don’t wear Laura Ashley or Gunne Sax in the 21st century, but I still dress pretty conservatively. Of course, now, at 54, I don’t have the figure I had at 18, 21, or even 24. Now, people are really glad they don’t see more of my skin! So no, the disco look has never been a big part of my life.

But apparently, in 2021, when I was getting ready for a Christmas party, I dressed like I was going to a disco. Are there even discos anymore? I think the only “disco” I ever went to was in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1982. I was 14, and I was allowed in, so was it really a legit disco? The tour company we were with called it a “disco,” and it had flashing lights, music, and a dance floor, but I’m not sure it would qualify. I feel pretty sure I wore a blue dress…that’s about all I remember…that, and we watched the La Quebrada Cliff Divers from a balcony/patio on the back of the disco. The cliff divers in Acapulco were popular in the 1960s and 1970s; they were even featured regularly on sports television at the time. I was familiar with them before my trip to Acapulco, because my parents always had sports on TV at our house. Acapulco is not as safe as it was back then, but you can read more about the cliff divers here.

My disco ensemble for the Christmas party in 2021 was a cute black jumpsuit with a sparkly Christmas top underneath. Maybe it was the jumpsuit. Or maybe it was the sparkles. Whatever it was, my husband was right…I looked like I was going to a disco.

If you’re wondering, after I laughed till my stomach hurt at my husband’s assessment of my party ensemble, I changed. I decided to save my disco duds for a night out on the town…or maybe just a nice dinner out. I’ll be in California soon, so I will definitely have an opportunity to wear it there. No, not to a disco…to dinner. Anything goes in LA, so no one will care if I look like I’m going to a disco. Well, my daughter, who will be with me, might care, but she won’t have the final word.

Maybe I’ll play some Disco Duck by Rick Dees in the hotel room while I’m getting dressed. I learned last week that Rick Dees and I have a mutual friend! Who knew?! I bet he would appreciate my disco duds.

***To see a 1976 video of Rick Dees performing Disco Duck, click here.***

He’s Somebody’s Baby

He’s somebody’s baby.

Late yesterday afternoon, when my daughter got home from a Secret Santa party, she asked me to order her a pizza. I normally order from a favorite local place, but I remembered some cheesy bread another pizza place has, so I ordered from there, thinking it would be fun to try something different.

We live in a gated neighborhood, so when I placed the order, I included directions about how to get in. About an hour later, I received a phone call, and when I answered, a man on the other end of the line was rambling, saying, “I’m outside the gate and can’t get in. Do you want me to leave your pizza at the gate? I see a sign out here that says go to the light and turn left and turn left again, and I don’t understand that, so should I leave your pizza for your here? I don’t see a keypad. I’m not sure what you want me to do…leave the pizza here?” Seriously. I had to interrupt him to say, “No! Please don’t leave it at the gate! You went to the wrong gate, but I will come get it from you. Just wait there!”

It took me about sixty seconds to get into my car and to the back gate, but I was a little hesitant, because I had no idea what was going on. On my way out the door, I told my husband I would be right back, but I added, “The guy sounded weird. I have no idea what’s going on.” Was the pizza delivery guy hopped up on drugs? It sure sounded like it on the phone. What was I walking into?

As soon as I got to the gate and saw the pizza delivery guy outside his car, I knew. The pizza delivery guy was outside his car, pacing. When he saw me walk to the fence in front of my car, he said, “Oh! Let me get your pizza! I’ll get your pizza now!” He hurried to his car and got the pizza, then brought it over to me, handing it over the fence. I thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas. He thanked me and wished me a Merry Christmas too. And he started rambling again, “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I should leave the pizza at the gate. Some people want me to leave it at the gate.” He went on and on. I just said, “This was perfect! Thank you again! And Merry Christmas!” (I tipped in advance on my credit card.)

He wasn’t hopped up on drugs at all. He had special needs…likely “on the spectrum” somehow. But he was out there trying to earn a living and working hard to do it correctly! He was worried that he was doing it wrong. He wanted to make the customer happy. He simply wanted to do a good job. And he did. I was thrilled to see him working hard, and I thought his mother would be proud.

Because yes, he has a mother. Somewhere, he has a mother. And she probably has always worried he wouldn’t be able to get a job. She probably worried he wouldn’t be able to function in society or contribute to the “greater good.” She might have worried people would be afraid of him or make fun of him. He is her baby, after all.

But last night, he definitely contributed to society. He delivered a much-needed pizza for a tired, hungry, teenage girl. He did a good job. I wish I could tell his mom.

A Holiday Village

A holiday village.

Today started as a a standard Saturday morning. I got up at about 8:30 and prepared breakfast. OK, so I don’t do that every Saturday, but I should. Our daughter had a 10am lacrosse game, so I wanted to make sure she had plenty of energy…scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, and “special” toast. (I’ll post info about that later.)

After breakfast, she got dressed quickly and left for the field. After loading the dishwasher, I slapped on a little makeup and threw on some comfy yoga pants and a sweatshirt before going to the field with my husband. The girls won their game, and we all headed home.

As soon as our daughter got home at about 11:25, she told me she needed to get cleaned up before going to a Secret Santa party, but she had to stop and purchase a gift on the way. I felt my pulse quicken and my blood pressure rising, because I knew she would have to drive 20 minutes to the party. There was no way she could pull it all off.

I asked her, “Do you want me to run to a boutique and get a gift? You could stop by there on your way to the party and get it from me.” She agreed that was a good plan, and I was off to the boutique…showerless and in the same yoga pants/hoodie I had worn to the lacrosse game…clothes I shouldn’t have even worn to a Saturday morning sporting event, and I definitely shouldn’t have worn them to a boutique. But there was no time to change. I had planned to take a shower after the game, but that could wait.

I arrived at the boutique and immediately found a gift. Just as I was taking it up to pay for it and get it wrapped, a friend of my daughter’s walked in. I knew she was shopping for the same party, and she knew why I was there. She then very graciously offered to take the gift to the party so my daughter wouldn’t have to make an extra stop. Wow! Things were coming together!

When I got back to my car, I called my daughter and told her she could go straight to the party, because her friend was taking her gift.

My morning had not gone as planned, but disaster had been averted! It had taken a village, but it had all worked out. Of course, as a mom, I was the only one who still needed a shower.

I posted about it on Facebook, and one friend said, “Kinda makes you worry that she’ll be fine on her own at college next year, doesn’t it?” Indeed, it does. But I can’t get too crazy about it, because I was the same person at 18. And I went off to college, and somehow, things worked out.

I was lucky I found a supportive village in college pretty quickly. I made great lifelong friends, and I’m sure they can all tell stories of rescuing me in different situations, just like I can tell stories of rescuing them in different situations. That’s how bonds form, right? And it’s how memories are made in college. Every time I spend time with friends from colleges, we talk about shared experiences…and often the stories involve disasters we averted!

It made me realize that next year at this time, our daughter will be having Secret Santa parties at her university. And I find myself hoping she finds a good village there…a holiday village that helps her…and a village in which she will help others. When she needs that last-minute gift and can’t get it, I hope someone will jump into action for her. And when a member of her village needs help carrying lots of boxes from the parking lot to her dorm room, my daughter will help her. It’s what makes friendships.

We all need villages to help us raise our kids. I thank the Lord every day for the village that helped me get our daughter to 18. I talk often about how I don’t know how I would have survived without my friends in our toddler playgroup. They have been a part of my village for a long time. We all need villages to help us with those last-minute items. We need villages when we’re sick. And yes, we especially need villages during the holidays…like the one my daughter had today.

I hope when she gets to college hundreds of miles away from me, she finds her village.

Facebook Memories: A Gift to Ourselves

Facebook Memories: A Gift to Ourselves.

I joined Facebook in 2009, because a friend from high school “invited” me to join. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I friended a few people, and then I realized I needed to get my mother to join, because it was an easy way for me to share photos of my then-five-yr-old daughter. I had no idea what an effect it would have on life, in general.

Here is where I am the first to admit that Facebook can be a giant “time suck,” as one friend calls it. I choose to call it a “time bandit,” because it steals my time, and when I look up, I’ve lost minutes or even hours of my life…to Facebook.

At the same time, it’s a good thing. We get to communicate with friends from lots of different stages of our lives. I’ve mentioned before that Facebook connected me with a friend who lived across the street from me when I was a toddler. It connected me with kindergarten friends I never dreamed remembered me after I moved away in second grade. It connected me with friends from the school I started attending in second grade and left after fourth grade. And it connected me with friends from high school and college, jobs I had over the years, and new friends I’ve made along the way. It’s a gift.

But there’s one part of Facebook that I truly consider a gift: Facebook Memories. I love Facebook Memories. I love that, every day, I can open my Facebook account, click on “memories,” and I can see things I’ve posted from years past. Today, for example, when I opened my account, the first memory I came across from one year ago was a photo of a space heater. I had posted it, telling my friend I had purchased new heaters to put at our feet while we visited in the garage. Yep, it was a sign of the times…the pandemic forced me to visit with friends in the open garage. The next memory, also from 2020, was a photo of a Christmas gumdrop tree, something nostalgic from my childhood that was clearly nostalgic for other people too, judging by the comments. The next post? One of my favorites of all time: a video from my daughter’s eighth grade basketball season…a girl on the team hit a buzzer beater to win the game 33-31 (yes, 33-31, because it was middle school girls’ basketball, after all) and a celebration ensued! As I continued to scroll, I came across a photo of me with a group of friends at the Good Friends Luncheon in Charlotte in 2016…a great cause that raises funds to help kids and adults in need. From 2013, there is a photo of me and my cousin before the ACC Championship game here in Charlotte. His team, the Florida State Seminoles won that year…great memory! Below that are a few pics from church basketball league in 2012…our daughter was nine. And then there are photos from 2010, when I took our daughter and some of her friends to a Christmas party at the country club. Lots of great memories! And every one of them made me smile. A gift.

Later this month, I will get to “re-live” Christmas memories…pictures of the Christmas tree after “Santa has left the building,” photos of the joy on our daughter’s face on Christmas morning, pictures of vacations during the holidays, photos of gatherings with friends, and so much more.

Every day, after I scroll through my Facebook memories, I want more! But I always have to wait for the next day…and often, another gift…another great memory…another smile.

For all its faults, Facebook, used correctly, is a gift. I will keep adding memories to it for as long as I can! And hopefully, along the way, I will have at least one smile a day.

Mother/Daughter Popcorn Cakes

Mother/Daughter Popcorn Cakes.

When I was growing up in different places in Alabama, Mother made sure we had some traditions. They might not have been the same traditions that everyone else had, but we had traditions. Sure, we decorated a Christmas tree every year…well, till we became teenagers and lost interest in it…leaving Mother to do that by herself. On Christmas Eve every year, we drove around town, wherever we lived, to look at Christmas lights. And every year, as we drove around on Christmas Eve, I worried that Santa would skip our house, because we weren’t tucked safely into our beds. I remember the anxiety I felt. And every year, we made certain foods. One thing we always made was what we called Marshmallow Cakes, but other people called them Popcorn Cakes.

As an adult, after I got married, I started making the Marshmallow/Popcorn cakes at my house. And after our daughter was born and got old enough to help, she helped me make them every Christmas. We kept one every year and gave others to friends and neighbors. It was just something fun to do, and the results were delicious: an ooey, gooey, crunchy, sweet and salty, colorful, fun treat. If you’ve never had a Marshmallow/Popcorn cake and are wondering about the ingredients, here are some: popcorn, butter, marshmallows, M&Ms, nuts of your choice, pretzels…in fact, you can add almost anything you want, but those are the things we use. You can see how to make them here.

Photo from cookiesandcups.com

I’ve loved them for years, and they are relatively easy to make, but occasionally, they can be a little messy. So this morning, when I was watching TV, I was thrilled to see a lovely mother-daughter team in Florida making Popcorn Cakes at their own company called Popilicious! And theirs are really pretty, because they drizzle them with frosting and sprinkles…something I never thought to do! You know what I did after I saw them…I had to check out their website. Turns out they have cakes, popcorn pops, popcorn Christmas trees, and popcorn bites! They even take custom orders for game days, birthdays, and events.

And guess what I did next! I placed an order for a few Popcorn Cakes and Popcorn Pops…and I can hardly wait for them to arrive. They will definitely be here in time for Christmas, and I will give them away to friends and neighbors. Well, I’ll give most of them away. I plan to keep one cake for my little family to enjoy with any guests we have over the holidays. And we plan to have lots of guests…feel free to drop in for some Popilicious Popcorn Cake!

So yes, I’m recommending Popilicious without having tried them yet. I like supporting mother-daughter businesses, so there’s that, but I also like the fact that something I used to make with my mother is readily available to those of you who have never had a marshmallow/popcorn cake. See their website here.

I’m still going to get out all the ingredients to make some of my own marshmallow/popcorn cakes with my daughter. Now that she’s 18 and very independent, it is especially fun to go back to some old traditions. It brings us together, and when we are working on something together in the kitchen, we get in some good talk time. So it’s really not about what we’re making as much as it’s about doing something together.

She will be off to college next fall, so I’m cherishing all these moments we have together. Yes, I expect her to come home at the holidays next year, but I know there is a big chance she will want to visit friends in different cities for part of the holidays too. That’s OK. We’ll still make a popcorn cake or two…and chat about anything and everything.

Holiday Gifting 2021 (Part 9): Hostess Gifts

Hostess gifts…another favorite gift category!

It’s party season! That means you’ll be on the search for good hostess gifts (which can also serve as great gifts for neighbors). Let’s take a look:

  • Neiman Marcus Holiday Platter. I have been a big fan of these for years, and if you look in my kitchen cupboard, you will learn that quickly. Because I love them so much and find them useful and decorative, they are my traditional gift for some family members and friends…and they make great hostess gifts too. This year’s holiday platter is a lovely shade of green and features a nutcracker. I can hardly wait to add one to my own collection. Priced right now at $30 (down from $40), they make great hostess gifts. Order now and take one to the hostess of the next party you attend! Purchase here.
  • Appoline Measuring Spoons. A fun, little, colorful gift that’s useful in any kitchen! Who wants boring measuring spoons when you can have these little cuties? Get the colorful set of four from Anthropologie for $18 here.
  • Mexican Hot Chocolate Set. From Verve Culture, a great hostess gift…a set for making authentic Mexican hot chocolate. The set includes two clay mugs, a whisk, Villa Real hot chocolate tablets, and recipes. Priced at $45 at The Grommet, it’s a little more expensive than some hostess gifts, but it’s fabulous and memorable. Your hostess will thank you! Purchase here.
  • Frosted Cup Set. I love receiving plastic frosted cups as hostess gifts! Swoozie’s in Charlotte and online has a great selection of different ones. They come in sets of ten cups for just $12.95, and they can be holiday-themed or just about anything else! Purchase them at Swoozie’s here.
  • Ghirardelli Premium Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix. This comes in a two-pound bag that says right on the front “just add hot water for instant decadence”! Indeed! Where do I sign up?!? It’s fabulous, as most things from Ghirardelli are, and any hostess would love this gift. Priced at $22.99 on Amazon. The hostess and all her family members will love it! Package it in a gift bag with a lovely ribbon. Purchase here.
  • Wine Condoms. Yes, I just mentioned these in the stocking stuffers list, but what a fun hostess gift! The package contains six wine “condoms” you can slip over the top of the bottle to preserve the bottle for later. Priced at $14.99 on Amazon, this is a useful gift that will get some laughs! Purchase here.
  • Grecian Bust Pot. I love these planters, and I would love to find one in a gift bag after hosting a party! No, it’s not a hint. It’s just the truth. Made of hand-painted cement, they come in two sizes. The small is 6.5 inches tall, and the large is 10.75 inches tall. I think they make lovely gifts. Priced at $16.30 for the small and $30.80 for the large, the price point is perfect too! Purchase from Anthropologie here.
  • Eucalyptus blooms. Sounds crazy, but a friend told me someone gave her eucalyptus blooms recently, and she loves them! Your hostess can display them in her home for a pretty accent with a fresh scent, or she can hang them from a shower head in for a spa experience! For those of us who live in Charlotte, we can shop locally with Eucalyptus Blooms, a local company. For those who live elsewhere, you’re in luck too. They ship! See the website here.
  • Bath and Body Works. When my daughter was a little girl, she was obsessed with Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers, and that’s when I became familiar with their hand soaps. I had to kill a lot of time in our local store while she decided which hand sanitizers she wanted. They’re inexpensive ($7.50 for a single hand soap, or six hand soaps for $27.00) and come in lovely packaging. Plus, they smell really good! Someone gave me one last week as a hostess gift for a little party I hosted, and I love it! Purchase here.
  • Flour Sack Tea Towels. I love flour sack tea/kitchen towels. They’re soft. They get the job done. And they can add a little color to a kitchen! I’ve given them as hostess gifts in the past, and I’ve given them as party favors too. I found some on Amazon that are priced right at $18.99 for four towels measuring 28″ x 29″ each! You can gift all three or break up the set and just gift one. Either way, they’re nice, inexpensive gifts. Just tie a pretty Christmas ribbon around them! Or you can wrap a hand soap from Bath and Body Works in one and tie the whole thing with a pretty ribbon! Purchase here.
  • Terra Studios Art. Terra Studios is the home of the Bluebirds of Happiness I’ve written about before…small bluebird figurines that represent happiness, love, and hope. You can read what I’ve written here. But Terra doesn’t just make the Bluebirds! They have lots of different art pieces made of different media for sale on their website, and they make lovely hostess gifts! The prices are incredible, starting under $20, and I love browsing their site. Check out their offerings here.

So if you think you’ll be attending some holiday parties this year, start shopping for hostess gifts now. If you take any of the above, your hostess will love it!

Holiday Gifting (Part 8): Stocking Stuffers!

Holiday Gifting (Part 8): Stocking Stuffers!

This is my very favorite part of holiday shopping. Stocking stuffers are all about fun little surprises, and I love finding all the fun little surprises I can find! Without further ado…here are the finds of 2021:

  • Thrive Causemetics. For the teen daughters or ladies on your holiday list, Thrive Causemetics’ Brilliant Eye Brightener could be the perfect stocking stuffer. I purchased several of these when I saw them advertised on Facebook a year ago, and I love them! I’ve always been a person who had trouble with eye makeup…I’m just not a gifted makeup artist. But this Eye Brightener makes it look like I know what I’m doing! The Muna shade is my favorite for shadowing, but I love the Mieko shade for the upper part of my lid and for highlighting around my eyes. Priced at $24 each or get a set of two for $40…the lady on your list will love these! In fact, I’m ordering some for my Christmas stocking now. See them here.
  • Touchscreen Gloves. These are not a new thing, but not a lot of us have them. If it gets cold enough to wear gloves, the last thing someone wants to do is take them off to text or even answer a call. Purchase these at Amazon starting at $10.99 here. And remember, if you have a Prime membership, you get free shipping.
  • Wine Condoms. Funny name for a great product. Any wine drinkers on your list would love to find these in their stockings, and it’s almost guaranteed they will use them. Watch Mom’s face when she pulls this box of six wine “condoms” out of her stocking! They can be used to save any bottle of wine by simply tearing open the package and slipping it over the top of the bottle. Six to a pack for $14.97 at Amazon here.
  • Lifestraw Personal Water Filter. I have been a believer in the Lifestraw Personal Water Filter since I saw Kristen Hampton demonstrate it on her Kristen Hampton Good News Facebook page.
    She was standing in muddy water and actually drank it through this straw! According to their website, the straw protects against bacteria, parasites, microplastics, dirt, sand and cloudiness. I purchased one for a friend’s daughter who was traveling to Cuba on a mission trip a couple of years ago, and they would be great for outdoor adventures. Right now, you can get them for just $12.99 here. They also offer water filter bottles starting at $26! I love this brand.
  • Satin Hair Scrunchies. I can’t possibly be the only person whose hair breaks frequently from putting it in ponytails. Break no more…I now use satin hair scrunchies, which even smooth my hair while protecting it from breakage. And they look cute too! Get them here.
  • CBD roll-on. If you have someone on your list who needs a little help relaxing, CBD roll-ons can help. I did a little research and found Charlotte’s Web has one that is free of major allergens, doesn’t test on animals, and is paraben-free. It can be used on small areas like temples or wrists, and I’ve read lots of great reviews. Get it at Charlotte’s Web here.
  • No-Crack Hand Cream. My husband has used this for years. During winter, his hands get so dry they crack, but this stuff has helped immensely. Highly recommend for anyone on your list who has the same problem or for anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors during winter. It soothes and moisturizes. Get it at Duluth Trading here.
  • Lash Primer. For my birthday last year, Milani Lash Primer was included in a basket my daughter gave me. The first time I used it, I knew it was good stuff. I’ve tried other primers, but they haven’t worked as well as this one. I love it, and I tell everyone I know to get it. At 54, my lashes aren’t what they used to be, but this makes them look a lot better by making mascara go on more evenly and last longer. Get it at Ulta here.
  • Portable Charger. You’ve heard me preach about portable chargers for years, and I’m not stopping yet, because I am a believer in them. They’re great anytime you can’t plug in. Have kids going off to college? They can use these on planes to make sure their phones are always charged. I recommend the Anker PowerCore 26800, because it’s fast and recharges phones up to six times when it’s fully charged. Get it at Amazon here. I also recommend the ZeroLemon ToughJuice 2.0. It’s heavy, but I’ve had one for a long time, and it continuously gives me fast charges and lasts a long time. In fact, I used it on vacation last week for four days (off and on, but charging my phone overnight), and it never lost power. Get it at ZeroLemon for $49.99 here.
  • Phone Soap. And while you’re gifting phone appliances, think about Phone Soap for your family member who touches their phone a lot. Just think about how many germs you transfer from your hands to your phone…and then to your face every time you use it! Phone Soap is a device that sanitizes your phone while it charges. And it comes in difference colors! Get it for $79.95 at Amazon here. And don’t forget you get free shipping with Amazon Prime!
  • Anthropologie Monogram Pendant Necklace. This is a nice personal gift that fits perfectly into a stocking for the people who love pretty little necklaces. It’s delicate, and it’s personalized. Get it at Anthropologie for $38 here. It’s a bargain!
  • Poo-Pourri. Anybody who knows me knows I put Poo-Pourri in stockings at our house every year. I purchase different sizes for different needs, including purse-sizes that can travel with you. It’s a great invention. If you’re not familiar with it, you should be. To see a video commercial, click here. Yes, it’s crude, but it’s funny. I’ve purchased some of the Champagne and Rosé ones this year, and I also ordered some of their hand sanitizers, because I love the scent! To see everything Poo-Pourri has to offer, click here.
  • Keychain Tool. What’s more handy than a keychain tool? Think about all those times you needed a nail file, a pair of scissors, or even some pliers and didn’t have them handy. If you had a keychain tool from Leatherman, you’d always be prepared. Surely someone on your list would love to find this in their stocking! Get it here for under $30.
  • Breathalyzer. A breathalyzer comes in handy in lots of situations, and this one from BACtrack is professional grade. We have two of them at our house. It’s DOT and NHSAA approved. At $129.99, it’s not cheap, but it could save a life or be a good teaching tool. Maybe someone needs it to keep teenagers in check? Sometimes it’s just fun to see how fast your body has metabolized a drink or two. Get it here.
  • Adult Coloring Books. And when I say “adult,” I simply mean they are more detailed than kid coloring books. Sounds crazy I know, but coloring is very relaxing. Remember when you were a kid and could get lost in a coloring book? Well, it can happen for adults too. I’d love to find one or two in my Christmas stocking. Make sure you get some crayons or colored pencils to go with it. Get it here.
  • For girls/ladies: nail polish, fun socks, hair products, nail files, mints, toiletries.
  • For boys/men: razors, shaving cream, after shave, toiletries, nail files, fun socks.
Harry’s Razors
  • For kids: Card games like Uno, Spot it, Old Maid, Slap Jack, Go Fish… kids love finding games in their stockings. Just be prepared to play with them! Other great things for kids’ stockings: old school marbles, jacks, Legos, Polly Pocket, LOL Surprise Dolls, Barbie dolls, Barbie accessories, Little People, Matchbox cars, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, Crayola Bathtub Markers, coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, fidget toys, mittens, winter hats, even retro hand-held games like Electronic Quarterback. Remember that? You can find it on Amazon here.
  • Gift Cards. Think of the recipient and what he/she likes. Do they like fast food? Consider Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s, Firehouse Subs, Five Guys, Subway, and even pizza places. Coffee? Get Starbucks, Caribou, Dunkin’ Donuts, or a local coffee shop. Do they like dine-in restaurants? Think of a few in your area. Do they enjoy movies? Most theaters offer gift cards. Even airlines and hotel chains offer gift cards.
ChickFila gift cards
  • Scratch-off lottery tickets. These are always in the stockings at our house, partly because you never know if you’ll win, but also because it adds a little more excitement to Christmas morning. Everybody at our house loves finding scratch-offs in their stockings.
NC Education Lottery Scratch Off
  • Candy! We always have candy in our stockings! Even when I was a kid, I loved dumping out my stocking on the floor and finding lots of candy! Now, it’s fun to add some retro favorites. My personal favorites? Zotz! I loved them as a kid, and I loved sharing them with my friend, Wendy, as an adult…she passed away in 2018, and every time I see Zotz, I think of her. You can find lots of retro assortments at Amazon here. Or from Mast General Store here.

There are some ideas for stocking stuffers for 2021. Get busy shopping!

Holiday Travel 2021

Holiday Travel 2021

Travel is back!

We were some of the odd people who traveled last Thanksgiving…during the pandemic. I just couldn’t take staying home anymore. Call me reckless, but when we got home, we didn’t have the virus…all my teenage daughter’s friends did, because they had gathered with local people. Travel was pretty easy back then, because the airports simply were not crowded. Same in February, when we flew to New Orleans over Presidents’ Day weekend, and we were still unvaccinated. Again, the airports weren’t crowded, and we got lucky and avoided the virus. When Spring Break rolled around in March, I was half-vaccinated, but I was determined to try to enjoy a vacation with our daughter and some of her friends in Miami. Success…we came home illness-free.

Soon after that, the whole family got vaccinated, and we moved around all summer. Sure, we were careful to wash our hands and wear masks indoors, but we lived life again. And it seems lots of other folks are doing the same.

We just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to California, and the airports were packed again. We flew out of Charlotte the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the Charlotte airport was wall-to-wall people. Same thing when we flew back…wall-to-wall people in the Los Angeles airport. But most people were wearing their masks correctly in the airport and on the flights. I had some concerns before we traveled, because of recent airline issues. I was afraid our return flights would be canceled, so I purchased some one way refundable tickets on another airline for the return, just in case, before I realized I could stay an extra few days and enjoy more vacation for the amount of money I was spending on those tickets!

We ended up having no issues during our travels. But I planned things carefully. To avoid issues, here are some tips for Holiday Travel 2022:

  • Book Early. This advice goes for airline tickets, hotels, and even rental cars. As availability decreases in each of these areas, prices increase. You can thank supply and demand for that. So book early. I just realized today that I had not booked a rental car for our Christmas trip, and when I looked, I knew I had made a big mistake. I will likely use Uber while we are there, because I refuse to pay ridiculous prices for a rental car. If you are going to need a rental car and haven’t booked it, book it now.
  • Try to travel on off-peak days. Everything I have read says the peak days around Christmas for air travel are December 22 and December 28 this year, but I’m guessing the 26th is going to be a busy day for those who have to get back to work on Monday. Try not to book your flights for those dates. I’m guessing December 24th will be a little crazy too, since Christmas is on a Saturday this year. My family will be traveling on Christmas Eve, so if you see us in the airport, we can commiserate.
  • Arrive at the airport early. You have likely heard it for years when you were traveling during the holidays: arrive early. Well, this year, you absolutely need to arrive early. There could be personnel shortages at the airport, causing a backlog in so many different areas of the airport. While the usual recommendation is to arrive two hours before your domestic flight, I recommend arriving three hours before, especially if you’re flying out of a busy airport. Obviously, if you’re flying out of somewhere like Pensacola, Florida, you don’t need as much time, but I flew out of Birmingham recently, and even with my TSA PreCheck clearance, I was in line for a while at security…longer than I’ve ever waited in Charlotte. I know, some will call arriving that early excessive, but what is it going to hurt for you to get there and relax for a little while before your flight boards? I can’t relax till I’m through security, but once I’ve cleared TSA, I feel so much better. A long security line gives me anxiety, if I’m pushed for time. Save yourself some anxiety…arrive early.
  • Do not check bags. I say this with a little hesitation. When I say “do not check bags,” I mean pack in appropriately-sized carry-on bags. Do not carry on the kitchen sink. My daughter and I each had a carry-on bag and a backpack for our recent trip to LA. We didn’t want to risk losing our luggage, and we didn’t want to have to wait in baggage claim forever when we got there. In the past, we have waited a long time for luggage in LA and Charlotte, so we avoid it now. Again, with personnel shortages, wait times could be longer. But whatever you do, please stick to the appropriate size limits and number of bags…that means one carry-on bag and one person item. Check airline websites for size restrictions. Obviously, if you are traveling with gifts for friends and family, you will likely need to check bags, unless you consider shipping everything (keep reading).
  • Pack medications and necessities in a carry-on. If you do opt to check luggage, make sure you have all your medications and any necessities in a carry-on bag. It’s always a good idea to have a change of clothes and a toothbrush/hairbrush in your carry-on, as well. Things happen. Connecting flights cancel, and bags are not accessible. Bags get delayed or lost. Trust me on this.
  • Consider shipping luggage and gifts ahead. To cut down on the amount of “stuff” you carry with you, ship any gifts, and possibly your luggage, ahead of time. That way, if you want you can wrap them ahead of time too. Otherwise, wrapped gifts will need to go in checked bags, and if TSA decides to open them, they can. You can ship via UPS, the United States Postal Service, or FedEx, or you can use a luggage shipping service like ShipGo. See their website here.
  • Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. If you’re traveling domestically, make an appointment now to get TSA PreCheck. It will save you lots of time and stress at the airport. You don’t have to take off shoes (unless your shoes cause cause the metal detector to “beep”). You don’t have to go through the body scanner. The lines are shorter. And if you’re traveling internationally, Global Entry can save lots of time on re-entry to the US. To make an appointment for TSA PreCheck, click here. In most cases, you’ll have your Known Traveler Number within two weeks after your appointment. For international travelers, Global Entry appointments can be made here.
  • Download MyTSA App. On the MyTSA app, you can store favorite airports and see up-to-the-minute wait times at various checkpoints at different airports. The app also includes a list of things you can bring onboard aircraft in checked bags and carry-on bags. There are also ways to request passenger support for travelers with disabilities and/or medical conditions. The app is a great place to get lots of information.
  • Carry snacks. December is prime time for weather issues. Be prepared. Always have some snacks (including some with protein) to keep you going when airports are full of people and it’s difficult to get food. You don’t want to get hangry.
  • Traveling by car? If you’re traveling by car, check your tires and oil before you leave. And if you’re traveling in cold climates, have a couple of blankets in the car, just in case. I used to think my daddy was crazy when he made me keep blankets in the trunk of my car, but I have friends who have had to sleep in their cars when they got caught in ice storms and/or snow storms. One was even caught in torrential rains/floods and had to sleep in her car. Having some bottled water and a few snacks on hand would be a good idea too. You might think it can’t happen where you are, but a few years ago, my daughter and I made it back to Charlotte from Birmingham, Alabama, just ahead of an ice storm. And be patient. The roads are going to be crowded. Have some backup routes in mind too. One year, when I was coming back from Atlanta, I realized it was going to take twice as long as it should if I stayed on the interstate, so I opted to take some “back roads.” It was quite an adventure, but I got home more quickly…and on less crowded roads. I wasn’t jockeying for position the whole time.

Happy Holidays and Happy Trails!