“Cheater” Charcuterie Boards

“Cheater” charcuterie boards.

Charcuterie boards have become popular over the last few years. Anyone who has not been living in a cave knows that. I became absolutely obsessed with creating them a little over a year ago, and I have made lots of different ones with lots of different ingredients.

Sometimes, I want to have people over and serve charcuterie, but I don’t have time to shop for it! What to do? I do what I call a “cheater charcuterie board.” I order from a business in Charlotte that will deliver charcuterie boxes and/or boards to my home with lots of fantastic, locally-sourced ingredients. I was having a crazy week a couple of months ago, but we had friends coming over on a Friday night. I wanted to serve charcuterie, but I didn’t have time to go to the store beforehand. So I searched online with “charcuterie boards, Charlotte,” and I found Off the Block Charcuterie. (If you live in another city, simply search online for “{your city}, charcuterie.” to find something similar in your area.) After perusing the Off the Block website, not only did it appear they offer quality ingredients, but I also discovered they would deliver to my home for no additional charge! Score! And I quickly placed an order.

I ordered their Large Signature Box, which features a selection of North Carolina sourced cheeses and meats plus house-roasted nuts, house-made crackers, and seasonal items. I have now ordered it several times, and the cheese have been plentiful…and included my personal favorites of bleu cheese, brie, and goat cheese. If you don’t like those cheeses, you can specify when you order. The meats have included prosciutto and other cured options. And the seasonal items have been olives, blackberries, orange slices, strawberries, raspberries, figs, and dried apricots…different items on different dates. I have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been absolutely delighted every time I have ordered, and the lady who has delivered to us is lovely. The Large Signature Box is $65, and it serves 5-6 people appetizers. We tend to use it for three or four of us as a meal with wine. Let me mention here that the price also includes the delivery to my home! It’s a bargain!

When the box arrives (on time, every time!) I get out one of my own beautiful charcuterie boards and arrange the items how I want them arranged, and I even add a few of my own favorite items from my own pantry: praline pecans, salted caramel chocolate pieces, and various crackers. (My favorite crackers are Blue Diamond Nut Thins…I usually get the artisan flavors and the almond thins.) Don’t worry. I don’t try to pass everything off as my own. I always own up to the fact that I created a cheater charcuterie board, but everyone enjoys it. I usually wait until I get a compliment on the fresh items on the board, and that’s when I say, “I have to admit it’s what I call a ‘cheater’ board, because I didn’t gather the ingredients myself…”

But that’s not all Off the Block Charcuterie offers. They also offer vegan and vegetarian boards, caviar boxes, crudité boxes, charcuterie cups, and more! At Easter, I ordered a special board from them that included cookies from Honeybear Bakeshop cookies that were fantastic! To see Off the Block’s website, click here. I’m definitely ordering for Easter…and I plan to have quite a few add-ons…maybe some caviar and chocolate.

Everything we have had delivered from Off the Block Charlotte has been outstanding, and every guest has given it rave reviews! Even our very picky teenage daughter loves them. If you would like to assemble your own cheater charcuterie board or would like to order a pre-arranged board full of locally-sourced, delicious, high quality ingredients, place your order now, and they will bring it to your home (in Charlotte) at a time you select! Serve it all with your choice of wine, and voila! You have delicious appetizers or a delicious dinner…however you choose to serve it. We have ordered so many times now that I told our delivery lady yesterday we need to invite her over for drinks one weekend.

Cheers!

***I mentioned my “beautiful” charcuterie boards above. When I say I have beautiful boards, I mean they are gorgeous. A family friend I have known for 45 years retired recently, and he is making charcuterie boards by hand. He makes them from different types of wood and finishes them in FDA-approved finishes, so they are food safe. Seriously, I get compliments on them every time I use one. If you’re interested in one, contact me at kellymattei@msn.com for more information. Photos below. ***

***Again, to see the website for Off the Block Charlotte, click here.***

Holiday Gifting 2021 (Part 7): Gifts for Mom

Gifts for Mom.

Yes, like the Saturday Night Live video from last year, Moms often get robes for Christmas. Personally, I love a good robe, and I always welcome one as a gift, but sometimes it’s nice to get something else. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of items that might make great gifts for the Mom on your list…at lots of different price points. Don’t be alarmed or run away when you see the first one, priced at $549.99…there are items in all price ranges.

  • Dyson Air Wrap Complete Styler. This one is a pricey gift, but Mom will definitely appreciate it…if you hurry up and get it, because this particular hair “system” is in hot demand and limited supply. Priced at $549.99 (yep, you read that right), it’s a hair dryer/styler/brush all in one. Somehow it dries hair but uses less heat than traditional hair dryers, causing less damage. Add in the fact that it dries hair while you style it, saving Mom lots of time, and it could be her very favorite gift ever! I purchased one for myself this past summer after several friends told me how much they loved theirs, and I have to say I give it five stars! There was a little learning curve, but once I got it all figured out, I love it. Right now, I see it is still available online at Ulta here. If you purchase from Ulta, make sure you sign up for Ultamate Rewards, because you can get free stuff in exchange for points later!
  • MikWright Gifts. I have been a fan of MikWright products for years. They make the funniest greeting cards and gifts using old family photos. And sometimes, the “greetings” are a little naughty…making them even funnier. I love their bar towels and would welcome them as gifts. Priced at $7.95 and $9.95, they could make great gifts for the mom who has a fun sense of humor. See MikWright’s website here. The towel show below come with the caption “#almostdrunkenough to wish you were here”
  • Brookstone Heated Shiatsu Foot Massager. If I didn’t have one of these myself, I’d likely laugh if you asked me if this would make a great gift. If I didn’t have one myself, it would sound like one of those things someone gives someone…and it never gets used. But at my house, it gets used! My husband bought this for me a few years ago when I was having aching feet after working on a project that required me to be on my feet a lot. He surprised me with it, and frankly, I thought he had lost his mind, but then I tried it. It is a great, great thing…probably one of the best gifts I’ve ever received! It heats, kneads, and massages feet. There are nights that I find myself having trouble falling asleep, so I go into the living room and put my feet into the feet massager. After 10 or 20 minutes, I’m much more relaxed and fall asleep pretty quickly. It’s a great gift. Get it for Mom if you can. She might thing you’re crazy at first, but she will find out it’s a great gift. Priced at $199.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond right now, it’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. And remember, you always have those 20% off coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond. If you don’t have one, you can get one by entering your email address at the website. Trust me…Mom will thank you. See it here.
  • St Tropez Award Winning Kit. If Mom likes to keep a little “color” year-round, she might like St.Tropez Bronzing Kit with Mousse, Gradual Tan-in-Shower Lotion and a Luxe Double-Sided Applicator Mitt. Again, this is something I have at home…I keep it on hand all the time, because I have found I feel better if I have a little “color.” When I look in the mirror and see pale face, I don’t like what I see…and my makeup doesn’t work so well when my face doesn’t have some color. If Mom likes to have a tan in winter, this would make a great gift. Priced at $49 at Ulta right now, it’s a deal and a great gift. See it here.
  • Giant Hoodies. This is not the first time I’ve recommended Giant Hoodies. There’s a reason I recommend them repeatedly: I love them! They make great gifts, because no size selection is required…they are one size fits all (most). They’re comfy. They’re cozy. They’re perfect for hanging out on the sofa watching football or Mom’s favorite TV shows. And the price is right. See the Giant Hoodies website here. OR if you prefer their bleach-dyed versions (my personal favorite), you can get them for $60 on Amazon here.
  • Cadence. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you realize you haven’t seen it all! Created by a woman who, on a camping trip, realized she and many others needed a solution for carrying all the little things one has to carry. She developed Cadence, magnetic capsules for carrying all those little things you need: skincare, haircare, makeup, meds, and more! The magnetic capsules stick together to form a larger “honeycomb” of sorts! Perfect for your carry-on bag when you travel, for going to the gym, or for camping trips, these capsules are environmentally friendly, because they’re reusable…instead of all those sandwich bags you throw away after every use, the mom on your list can use Cadence! Prices start at $14 for one capsule, or build a bundle of seven for $84! Pick Mom’s favorite color! See the website here. (Thanks to my friend, Meg, for telling me about this!)
  • Family Art. Mom love their families, and they (we) love anything that makes us think of our families or depicts our families. Uncommon Goods offers lots of options for family art…Personalized Family Fire Pit Art, Personalized Beach Family Art…all kinds of options…even family dance sculptures! And from what I can see, prices start at about $75. Remember, it’s personalized…Mom loves knowing you put some thought into the gift. See the offerings here.
Family Campfire Art from Uncommon Goods
  • Bala Bangles. I’m obsessed with the thought of these…I say “the thought,” because I haven’t purchased them yet. I’ve added them to my own personal wish list for Christmas…maybe my husband will read this. These cute bangles are wearable weights that can amp up a work out. They come in lots of colors, so they look cute while you exercise. I’ll take the Blush Pink, thank you very much. They come in one-pound or two-pound weights, priced at $45 and $65 on Amazon, respectively. See them here.
  • The Mini. I’ve sung the praises of Away luggage all over the place, but now I’m singing about the Away Mini. This little accessory is designed to stow your small travel essentials, like hand sanitizer and tiny toiletries. It’s made of the same durable polycarbonate shell as the suitcases I love, but this case is just 6.5″ x 5″ x 3″. It’s a great companion to the Away luggage or any luggage (till you decide to break down and purchase the Away brand), and at $45, it’s priced right. It comes in several colors. I could use a blush pink one to match my carry-on bag. See it here.
  • Marc Jacobs Snapshot Bag. I’ve mentioned the Marc Jacobs Snapshot Bags several times before, and those are as popular (and convenient) as ever. But now they’ve upped the game, and they’ve offering a “shaggy” version that I love! Offered at $350 for a confection pink version or a bonfire orange version, these cute bags are eye-catching and fun! I’ll take one of each, please! See them at Neiman Marcus here.
  • Ugg Scuffette II Sparkle Shearling Slippers. Y’all know I love shiny, and you know I love comfort. Put those two things together, and you get the Ugg Scuffette II Metallic Slippers that any mom would love. My daddy would have laughed at them, but my mother would have loved them. Priced at $100, they’re a great buy for a gift Mom is sure to love. I always hope to have one pair of good slippers under the tree each year, and this year, I hope it’s these. See them here.
  • Sorel Go Mail Run Multicolored Faux Fur Slipper. Or if you’d like to spend a little less on a cool slipper for Mom, this Sorel slipper is different and stylish for just $75. Highly recommend. See it here.
  • French Riviera Trinket Tray. I keep a trinket tray on my nightstand, so I can drop little things there at night that I’m going to need the next day. Maybe I’m too lazy to get up and put my earrings in the jewelry box before I doze off? Maybe I keep a pen handy at all times? Maybe I just need to put my reading glasses there before I drift off for the night? I love a good trinket tray, and who wouldn’t love to see the French Riviera before they fall asleep at night? This is a favorite, and at $40, it’s a steal. See it here.
  • Great Escapes USA Book. Mom loves seeing beautiful places and beautiful photography? If so, she will love this book of hotel photos by Angelika Taschen. Priced at just $60, it is literally a beautiful gift. Mom can appreciate the beauty as it is presented or plan a getaway to some of the glorious hotels featured. That’s what I plan to do. Purchase this lovely gift here.
  • Instant Pot. Don’t shoot me for putting a kitchen appliance on the list. I’m always hesitant to do this, but I have so many friends who love kitchen appliances…I’d be remiss if I didn’t have one on here. The Instant Pot is here to stay. I remember when people first started buying microwave ovens…and they’re still here. I also remember when folks started purchasing Instant Pots. If you don’t have one, you’re behind the curve. If mom likes to try to pressure cook things faster (that roast? that spaghetti squash?) this could be the perfect gift for her. Get it on sale at Target here.
  • Hermes Mini Jardin Collection Coffret Set. Who doesn’t love opening a gift to find a lovely Hermés gift box? Mom will be pleasantly surprised. And the fragrances inside the box reflect the scent of gardens. At $55, these bottles of eau de toilette will be one of Mom’s favorite gifts this year. Purchase it here.
  • Hermés Esperon d’or Scarf 45. Another orange-box gift option? A scarf. This lovely silk twill scarf offered by Hermés is pricey but not as pricey as one would think. It’s offered in four colors, and it’s $205. Mom will be proud to say she got it for Christmas. Purchase it here.
  • Memories. If you want a guaranteed Mom-pleasing gift, give her a memory gift. I posted about them recently, and any of the “memory” options would make Mom happy. See them here.

That’s a wide array of gifts in a broad price range…from $7.95 to $550. Happy Shopping!

****Coming next, my favorite: Stocking Stuffers!****

Holiday Gifting 2021 (Part 6): Gifts for Men

Gifts for men.

Every year, I find it difficult to decide on gifts for my husband. Generally speaking, we don’t give each other big gifts, because we get what we want throughout the year. Truly, he knows I just need a few good vacations throughout the year, and I’m happy. You know what they say, “Happy wife, happy life.” Just send me on vacation, and I’m happy…so he’s happy.

But we do like to exchange gifts at Christmas. And I aim to please, but like I said, it’s not easy.

Here are a few things I’m thinking about this year…

  • Freezable Glasses. I’ve loved Rabbit Freezable Glasses for years. I have some that I’ve used for whiskey, and I just found out Rabbit makes freezable glasses for beer! Now, that’s a game changer! And unlike the standard frosty mug, these freezable glasses come with silicone grips, so your hands don’t get cold. They’re great for indoor or outdoor use, and they come in sets of two for $35 from Amazon here. Have a beer drinker in your life? He might like finding these under the tree this year! See them at Amazon here. And don’t forget Rabbit makes whiskey glasses you can find on Amazon too…two for $30 here. Add their favorite whiskey to the package if you get them the whiskey glasses, and add a 12-pack of beer, if you get the beer glasses! Voila! The perfect gift!
  • Kanga Kase Mate. Have a beer drinker on your shopping list? The Kanga Kase Mate, an iceless, insulated cooler for beer, could be the perfect gift! Even a hard seltzer drinker would like one! The Kase Mate starts at $39.95 for the 12-pack size and goes to $49.95 for the 24-pack size. You can even get one to hold a 30-pack! They come in different colors, so you can pick the color that will be right for the man on your list. But order soon, because these are low in stock and could disappear soon! I know a couple of guys on my list who would love this! See the Kanga website here. And they have some exclusive designs available here.
  • Patio Heat. My husband loves having cocktails out on the patio in the evenings. During the cold winter months, we still want to enjoy the patio, but we need to stay warm. There are ways to fix that. I love wood-burning fire pits, but the husband? He hates the smoke. He always says, “I hate going back inside smelling like I’ve smoked a pack [of Marlboro Reds].” But I found Solo Stove, a “smokeless” wood-burning fire pit. At first, he was not a believer, but after a couple of demonstrations by me (yes, me!)…showing how easy it was to get the fire going and how little smoke it produced…he was sold! He realized he didn’t go inside smelling like he’d smoked a pack! In fact, he started enjoying the Solo Stove more than he ever thought he would. See the website here. Patio heaters are also an option. If you’d rather have heaters operated on propane gas, you can purchase the heaters at Lowe’s or Home Depot. We have two that we use when we are going to be outside for less than an hour…we don’t want to leave a fire burning in the Solo Stove unattended. The heaters are great; they’re not quite as warm as the Solo Stove, but they do keep the chill off! See them at the Lowe’s website here.
  • MasterClass Pass. If the man on your list loves to learn, a MasterClass Pass could be the perfect gift. In reality, it could be a great gift or anyone who is difficult to buy for. We all know people who have everything they need and can get anything they want when they want it. It’s hard to select gifts for those people. With the MasterClass Pass, they receive access to “classes” about lots of different things. They have a huge variety of offerings. I just took a peek at the site, and I saw classes by Anna Wintour on Creativity and Leadership; Metallica teachers Being a Band; The Power of Empathy by Pharrell Williams and others; cooking classes, dog training, and more! Starting at $15/month and billed annually, MasterClass could be a great gift! See the website here.
  • CrowdCow. I was a little confused when I first heard about CrowdCow, but after reading up on it, I think it sounds great! My brother loves to cook, and he loves a good cut of meat. CrowdCow is a company that finds best-in-class meat producers and connects the consumer to them. Their meats are available through a membership or through one-time purchases. You could send a gift box or gift a membership to the man in your life. They get great reviews. To see more about CrowdCow, click here.
  • Coat. Lots of men won’t just go out and get themselves a new winter coat…they just wear the same one for years and years. There are lots of good coats out there, but here are some I like, at different price points. Duluth Trading has good quality, rugged-looking men’s coats starting at about $150. I got my husband one of their Fire Hose Coats a few years ago, and it has held up beautifully. He doesn’t worry about getting it dirty, and it keeps him warm, which is what it’s supposed to do. See Duluth Trading coats here. For quality plus style in warm jackets, it seems Barbour brand is the ticket. They’re not heavy-duty cold weather coats, but they’re great around town. Starting at about $200, their quilted jackets offer warmth and classic style. See their offerings here. At a higher price point, Canada Goose seems to be all the rage this year. Their parkas for extreme cold weather start at about $750, and while that’s a high price point, they are quality through and through. There’s a reason people are willing to shell out the big bucks for these coats…they look good and get the job done in extreme temps…without a doubt. See Canada Goose here. And if you don’t mind the price point, Canada Goose has just come out with a line of footwear.
  • Everything Duluth Trading. I know I mentioned their coats above, but frankly, I love their website. They have so many great gifts for men; you can surely find something for any man on your list: coats, loungewear, gloves, hats, accessories, sleepwear, gadgets, travel gear, tool bags…and the website it just fun. And the Angry Beaver mascot cracks me up too. Shop Duluth Trading here.
  • Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker. If the man on your list likes to entertain or just enjoys a good margarita or other frozen concoction, the Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker, prices at about $230 on Amazon, gets great ratings. With a 36-ounce blending jar, it keeps the margaritas coming and blends them perfectly, according to everything I’ve read. This might be on my shopping list this year. See it at Amazon here.
  • Nic Tailor Underwear. Produced right here in North Carolina, Nic Tailor is, according to their website, the “first custom fit underwear for men.” I have friends whose husbands love the undershirts, boxer briefs, and trunks…saying the fabric is top notch, and their husbands/boyfriends love the fit. According to reviews on the website, the fabric is lightweight and “incredibly comfortable.” Prices start at about $34, and while underwear might seem like a boring gift, the man on your list will likely thank you for introducing him to Nic Tailor. See the website here.
  • Portable Charger. I know I’m always pushing the portable charger, but there’s a reason…my portable chargers have saved me and many others over the years. In fact, just last night on a flight, the gentleman sitting next to me asked if he might connect to my portable charger. Of course, I shared the charger, but I also suggested he tell his wife a charger would make a great Christmas gift. In fact, they make great gifts for anyone who has a phone and stays on the go. There are lots of great ones out there. I highly recommend any Anker PowerCore product. They can be found on Amazon here.
  • Man Crates. I discovered this company a few years ago, and I know several people (including me) who have gifted Man Crates to folks on their holiday lists. They “curate high-quality, unique, and unusual gifts for guys they’ll love, shipped in wooden crates, ammo cans, concrete bricks, puzzle boxes, and DIY project kits.” It’s a gift that’s different than the regular run-of -the-mill holiday gift. There are crates for whiskey lovers and pizza makers. They have bacon-themed, golf-themed, and hot sauce making kits. And of course, there are sports-themed crates. You have to check their website here.
  • Sports Stuff. If you have a man on your list who loves sports, you can likely find something to his liking at Fanatics. I’ve been shopping Fanatics for years. They have everything from every kind of team…jerseys, tshirts, hoodies, socks, hats, decor…if you know his favorite team, you can likely find something for him at Fanatics. See their website here. Also, don’t forget sports tickets are often the perfect gift for the man on your list. Check Ticketmaster for sporting events in his area.
  • Favorite Tastes. Perhaps the man on your list has some favorite foods he can’t get locally. I have a friend whose husband is from Wisconsin, and he finds it difficult to find good cheese curds in the Carolinas. I told her about my visit to Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a couple of years ago…and their incredible offerings of all things cheese. They even have a website for those who are missing their good Wisconsin cheese, and they will ship your order straight to you. Or perhaps the man on your list loves seafood gumbo from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans? Or lobster rolls from Maine? Or cannolis from Mike’s Pastry in Boston? Or Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding? Tamales from Texas Tamale? Small batch bacon from Bill-E’s in Fairhope, Alabama? Or fresh artichokes from California? You can order all those from Goldbelly. It’s not cheap, but if you’re craving it, they can make it happen. See Goldbelly website here. My mouth is watering just thinking about all those options.
  • On Running. Swiss-engineered running shoes make great gifts, and these are my favorite shoes ever! I should note that I am not a runner, but I wear them for travel and just plain running errands. I see them on other people all the time, and every time, I ask, “Are those your favorite shoes ever?!?!” Every single time, the answer has been a resounding, “Yes!” Personally, I like the original On Running Cloud model, because it’s lightweight and breathable. It almost feels like being barefoot with support. Sounds weird, I know, but that’s what I think. I wear mine with everything…shorts, leggings, even dresses. And when I have them on, I feel like I get a lot more done. Prices start at $129 for the original Cloud. Check the offerings from On Running here.

That’s a wide array of gift options for the men on your holiday list. Happy shopping!

Holiday Gifting (Part 5): Give the Gift of Fun!

Give the gift of fun!

So, we have all been hearing for weeks on end that we need to shop early this year, because the supply chain is messed up. I have seen a few signs that this might be true, so I’m looking to purchase gifts that don’t have to be shipped here from other countries. Near the top of the list? The gift of fun! Someone said to me recently that I remind them of Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Woods. At first, I didn’t understand, so I simply asked, “Tigger?!?” My friend responded with, “Yes, Tigger! You’re always looking for the next fun thing!” Well, I won’t argue with that. And I love to share fun with other people! So why not give the gift of fun?!?!

Here are some ideas:

  • Amusement Park Passes. If you happen to live near a good amusement park and have someone on your list who loves rollercoasters as much as I do, a season pass could make a great gift! We are fortunate in Charlotte to have Carowinds, an amusement park with world-class thrill rides and rollercoasters. I used to be a regular there when our daughter was growing up, but in the last few years, I haven’t even been! I’d love if my husband gifted me with a season pass…it would give me an excuse to go!
  • Movie Passes. Movie theaters are finally open again, and we need to take advantage of it! I haven’t been to a movie since the pandemic began, but I plan to change that this week when I go see High Society (it’s the 65th anniversary) on the big screen! And I hope to continue going to movies! If you have someone on your list who enjoys a good movie, movie passes or a gift card to a local theater could make a great gift! And if they happen to love older movies, you might want to check the schedule for big screen oldies here.
  • Sporting Events. If you have a college or professional team in your area and have a sports fan on your list, tickets to a game could be a fun gift! In Charlotte, we are fortunate to have the NFL Carolina Panthers, the NBA Hornets, the minor league Charlotte Knights baseball team, and even some college teams! Not in Charlotte? Look around for other sporting events: rodeos, track meets, and more! If it’s a female friend, maybe you order an inexpensive stadium-approved clear handbag from Amazon (click here) and put the tickets in that!
  • Concerts. A few years ago, someone gave us tickets to a Sade concert as a Christmas gift. My husband loves Sade, but I was never a big fan…till we went to that show! John Legend opened and put on a fabulous show, making me a big fan, and then Sade was incredible! Wow! The lady is a performer! We had a great time, and I knew then that concert tickets make great gifts. Don’t we all remember concerts we’ve attended? How many gifts of “stuff” do you actually remember?
  • Special events. Maybe a local hotel or restaurant is hosting a wine tasting? Or maybe there’s a local Yoga and Mimosa event? Tickets to any type of special event of interest to the recipient make great gifts. A hotel near us, for example, hosts afternoon tea on weekends. Tickets are not required, but I have a friend who loves the afternoon tea experience at this hotel, so I know I could give her a hotel gift card with a note about the tea, and she would love it.
  • Family experiences. If there’s a family with kids on your list, they might enjoy a night at a Great Wolf Lodge! When our daughter was younger, she absolutely loved our local Great Wolf Lodge…the water slides, the restaurants, the kids club room, the arcade…everything about it. And I loved taking her and a friend, because I could relax while they had all the fun they could stand! Top Golf is another fun family experience…give a gift card for the whole family to spend some time together there! For kids, you might give the gift of art at Small Hands, Big Art, where they have art classes for kids of all ages.
  • Classes. I have a friend who loves taking classes. She just loves trying new things! She has taken cooking classes at Sur la Table. She has taken painting classes. She has taken glass-blowing classes and pottery classes. She loves to learn, so I know I can gift her a class of some type, and she will be thrilled!
  • Thrilling experiences. Have someone on your list who is a bit of a daredevil? Maybe they would like to try skydiving? Check with local companies…they might offer gift cards. Or maybe they would just to do indoor skydiving at iFly Charlotte. That’s an experience I’d love to have myself! Or if NASCAR is their thing, give them the Richard Petty Driving Experience! Into whitewater rafting? We are fortunate to have the US National Whitewater Center right here in Charlotte. It’s worth a trip to Charlotte for all the fun there! Or maybe they just like to watch thrilling experiences…like an air show. Air shows are held all over the country; check your local listings…tickets to an air show could be fun for the thrill enthusiast. Or perhaps flying lessons?

Just consider the recipient and think of something that would be fun for him/her. A cooking class sounds dreadful to some people (me), but lots of other people would co crazy over it!

The gift of an experience is something that will be remembered forever.

So this year, instead of worrying about whether or not the gifts you ordered are on a ship in the Pacific, give the gift of fun!

Holiday Gifting (Part 4): Gifts for Teens

Gifts for teens.

Teens…those people who aren’t kids, but they’re not quite adults, either. They can be so grown up and smart…making us (the parents) question ourselves, and then they can be five years old again, making us remember just how sweet they are.

But it’s not always easy to find the perfect gifts for teens. Sure, there are some things that are guaranteed to be big hits…the gifts they ask for. At our house, our daughter gets things for Christmas and birthdays that we won’t buy on regular days. Want some expensive shoes? That’s a birthday or Christmas gift. Get it? I think a lot of people do the same thing. But then we need to have some surprises for them too. And that’s where things can get tough.

Here are a few things teens might like to see under the tree this year:

  • Vintage Tshirts and sweatshirts. Teens love vintage tshirts and sweatshirts. I always know that if I can find a cool vintage concert t-shirt or college t-shirt or sweatshirt, our daughter will likely love it. But you also have to know which groups they want. Generally speaking, there are concert t-shirts from a few groups that are sure things…The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Grateful Dead, Phish, Aerosmith, Guns n Roses, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Janis Joplin, Prince, and the Ramones are all safe. As much as I loved Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Elton John in the day, she does not want their t-shirts. And that’s OK…I’ll save those for me. But where to find vintage t-shirts? Honestly, a good, inexpensive place to find them is a local thrift store. I prefer the Salvation Army on Central Avenue in Charlotte. I have found quite a few really good t-shirts there, and our daughter wore them proudly, even though I paid a dollar or less for each one. Other places to get them? Madeworn is one of my favorite companies, but I am the first to admit their shirts are not cheap. They have an incredible selection, and two of my daughter’s favorite sweatshirts are from there. I threatened her with her life if I see them on her friends, of course. See the Madeworn website here. Another good place to get vintage Ts and sweatshirts is LF Stores. Again, the prices are pretty high, but they tend to have lots of really good sales. Just keep checking their website. My daughter has some awesome old sports sweatshirts from there…even one from the year Alabama beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl for the National Championship! See their website here. A friend recently told me about a website called Istolemyboyfriendsshirt.com, where you can find vintage designs. Check their offerings here. And yet another great place to buy online is junkfoodclothing.com. They offer some cool vintage Ts at pretty good prices. Their selection is exactly what teens want, and most of their items are priced under $50. But make sure you check their sale page, where items are as low as $17! See their website here. Everything old is new again!
Grateful Dead Tshirt at Madeworn
  • Jerseys. Teenage boys (and some girls) love jerseys for casual wear. I see hockey jerseys, basketball jerseys, baseball jersey, and football jerseys on teen boys regularly. You can purchase jerseys…even throwback jerseys…on Fanatics.com, a well-known sports website. See it here. Other places to get vintage jerseys for lower prices? I recommend thrift stores, and I recommend Etsy. Just go to the Etsy site and type “vintage jerseys” in the search bar…you’ll get lots of results, and some of them are at great prices! I just checked out a few for under $50 each. See Etsy vintage jerseys here.
Pittsburgh Penguins jersey as seen on Etsy
  • Sweats. Who’d have ever thought good old cotton sweats would ever come back in style?!? After everyone started wearing sleek leggings and yoga pants years ago, I felt sure we had seen the end of the standard, comfy, loose sweatpants. but I was wrong…and I’m so glad I was! Even I love old slouchy sweatpants! But sweatpants are completely stylish now. One brand is especially popular with girls, but it’s not cheap. It’s called Boys Lie. My daughter has a bright pink sweat set from Boys Lie that I can tell she loves. She purchased it at a boutique where she works here in Charlotte called Piper’s Closet. You can shop there by appointment only by sending a DM to them through their Insta, which is @pipersclos3t. Boys Lie is also sold at Revolve.com here. I am the first to admit these sweats are outstanding quality, and honestly, I’m probably going to ask my daughter to get me one of their hoodies for Christmas!
Boys Lie Sweatshirt
  • Mini Fridge. Teens like to spend time in their rooms. Our daughter does her homework in her room, and much like we did when we were teens, she communicates with friends from her room…whether it’s by Snap Chat, text, or Facetime. She doesn’t want a lot of interference from us, and I get it. I remember being a senior in high school. It’s a time that they are trying to become independent, even though they don’t realize it. I think it’s God’s way of helping us get accustomed to not having them around before they go off to college or work. But back to the mini fridge…my daughter has one in her room, and it was one of her favorite gifts ever. It says, “This is your own space.” You can get them at Best Buy or Lowe’s for prices starting at $79. Your teen will think you’re super cool. See the Lowe’s website here.
Mini Fridge from Lowe’s
  • Airtag. How many times has your teen lost his or her backpack? I found a boy’s backpack after a sporting event at our school, but I didn’t know whose it was. If he’d had one of these devices in it, he could have looked to see where he left it. These little devices are good to have on hand. Made by Apple, your teen can put them in their backpacks, their wallets, or attach it to their keychain to help them locate misplaced items. Purchase them on Amazon for $29 for one, or $98 for four. See them on Amazon here.
Airtag
  • Bluetooth Speaker. If you’re shopping for a teen who doesn’t have a Bluetooth speaker, you’re going to be their hero when they open this gift. Don’t you remember how much you wanted to listen to music as a teen? Well, some things never change. Our daughter loves her Bluetooth speaker, and lots of times, her friends ask her to bring it over for parties. And since it’s connected to their phones, they can use their Spotify or Apple Music playlists! I recommend JBL Bluetooth speakers, simply because we have had good luck with them, and they sound great. They even have waterproof versions! See them on Amazon here.
JBL Bluetooth Speaker
  • Moving Alarm Clock. Our daughter is a pretty sound sleeper. She doesn’t hear her phone alarm most morning, so unbeknownst to her, she will be getting a new alarm clock for Christmas this year. And it’s not just any alarm clock. It’s an alarm clock on wheels that jumps and rolls all over the room while blaring the alarm…till someone catches it and turns it off. We got hers at Sharper Image. To see the one we purchased, click here.
Sharper Image
  • Light Up Basketball. Teenagers love to spend time outdoors. My daughter and her friends have spent time shooting hoops in our driveway, and I know lots of her guy friends shoot hoops regularly as a form of exercise or relaxation. But when it gets dark outside, it can be a little more difficult. And with Daylight Saving Time, it gets dark pretty early. That’s where a light up basketball can come in handy. Check them out on Amazon here.
Glowlight Ball
  • Tickets. Always remember teens love to have somewhere to go and something to do. They love concerts and sporting events. NBA games? Yes, please! Minor league baseball? You bet! If events are sold out, you can check StubHub for resale tickets. It’s one of my very favorite sites. Teens also love concerts, and now that the things are opening up again, they’re thrilled to get to go to shows. My own daughter went to a concert recently and came home talking about how much fun it was to be able to spend time with friends there. Check Ticketmaster and StubHub for concerts coming up in your area…but make sure it’s someone the teen wants to see!
Tickets

Teens are not that much different than we were when we were teenagers. They still like spending time together. They still like hanging out in their own space. They still enjoy music and sports. Sounds like 1985, right?

Happy shopping!

Holiday Gifting 2021 (Part 3): College Students

Gifting for college students.

This is on my brain for a reason…our daughter is off to college next fall. This holiday season, we plan to start getting her prepared for dorm life. Yes, dorm life! I know all college students don’t live in dorms, so this list has lots of ideas for the college student who lives in a dorm and for the college student who doesn’t. I did a lot of research and gave it a lot of thought, and here are my gift suggestions:

  • She’s Birdie Personal Alarm. I saw this on Shark Tank, and it immediately made me think of my younger years. I remember being in college and having to park in a dark area in the parking lot at night…then jumping out of the car and running as fast as I could to my dorm. Even after college, I remember going out in Buckhead (Atlanta) with friends and walking to my car alone. It was scary. I wish I’d had a She’s Birdie Personal Alarm then. It’s a small keychain alarm that is equipped with a loud alarm and strobe lights. Walking from the library to the dorm at night? Hold the She’s Birdie alarm in your hand and simply press the button if you need the alarm. Priced at $29.99 on Amazon, it’s a bargain for some peace of mind. Our daughter will receive one of these for Christmas this year. And frankly, I will probably get one for myself too! To purchase, click here.
She’s Birdie personal alarm
  • Crunch Cup XL. I love this idea, and I think it’s perfect for the busy college student. It’s advertised as a portable cereal cup…no spoon, no bowl. “It’s cereal on the go.” Honestly, I think my daughter could use this right now, her senior year of high school. She will definitely find one of these under the tree this year. I don’t know that she will use it “on the go” in college, but I do think she will use it in her dorm room. Priced at $24.95 on Amazon, it comes in several different colors. See it here.
Crunch Cup XL
  • Games. Sure, college students need to study, but they need downtime too. When I was in college, we went out a lot at night, but on nights we stayed in, during study breaks, we enjoyed playing games. Our favorite then was Yahtzee, and we played it all the time! Now, there are lots of fun “card” games college students love to play, and they make great gifts. There’s one called Cards Against Humanity that’s especially popular. And there are others: For the Girls, We’re Not Really Strangers, Never Have I Ever, That’s What She Said…and more. You can find all of these on Amazon or in your local Target or Walmart in the games aisle. You can purchase Cards Against Humanity from Amazon for $25 here.
Cards Against Humanity
  • Giant Hoodie. This is a great gift for a college student…or anyone else on your list. I discovered the Giant Hoodie company a year or two ago, and I had to have some for myself. Now I give them as gifts all the time. My daughter loves hers. They’re big hoodies that are one size fits all, so you don’t have to worry about insulting someone by getting the wrong size. And for students living in dorms, they can just throw it on with some PJ pants or sweatpants for some cozy comfort that’s OK to wear out of the dorm too. You can purchase directly from the company or order through Amazon for $60. On Amazon, they offer the bleach dyed version, which is my favorite. The ones that aren’t bleach dyed are softer, but the bleach died ones have more body, in my opinion, so I prefer those. To purchase on Amazon, click here.
Giant Hoodie Bleach Dye Hoodie
  • Portable Charger. I know I put this on every list, but I believe everyone should have a good portable charger. Our family uses them all the time…when we’re traveling, at sporting events…any time we find ourselves running low on battery power with our cell phones. Many times, my daughter’s friends have had to borrow one. They’re handy when you don’t have access to a plug-in power cord (in class or in the library, maybe?). The Anker Power Core 10000 gets great reviews. It charges fast (full phone charge in about an hour!) and it lasts a long time. Prices start at $24.99 on Amazon for the black version, and it’s $31.99 for different colors. See it here.
Power Core 10000
  • Storage Ottoman. Don’t we all remember those tiny dorm rooms? Everyone needs more storage, and these cute ottomans serve several purposes, because they also have side pockets for your phone, tablet, or book. Even better, these are collapsible and fold away for easy storage when not in use. Priced at $24.95, they’re a bargain, and they come in two colors: purple (shown below) and khaki. See them at Amazon here.
Storage Ottoman
  • Inflatable Chair. OK, so it’s not necessarily practical for home use, but this can be great in a tiny dorm room, because they can be inflated when someone needs a chair and deflated when you don’t need it. I remember having friends visit in my dorm room, and I didn’t want them to have to sit on the floor, but I didn’t want them sitting on my bed either. This would have been perfect for me back in 1985! Priced at $41.95 on Amazon here. You might consider purchasing an electric air pump as well.
Inflatable Chair
  • Weighted Blanket. I’ve sung the praises of the weighted blanket before, and I continue…because they’re awesome. I often sleep with mine on my feet and legs, because somehow, it relaxes me. College students know a little something about stress, so why not help them with that by providing a weighted blanket? The most popular, highly rated brand (by Good Housekeeping) seems to be the Gravity Blanket. You can find them on Amazon here, priced from $79 to $199.
Gravity Blanket
  • Bedside Caddy. Lots of college students who live in dorms tend to raise their beds, so they have more room underneath. For those students, a bedside caddy can help keep frequently used items handy, so they don’t have to keep climbing (literally) in and out of bed. I spoke with a couple of current college students, and they both like the Zafit caddy from Amazon. Priced at just $7.99, it’s a steal! And students will definitely use it! See it here.
Zafit Bedside Caddy
  • Noise-Cancelling Headphones. Studying in a group-living situation can be difficult. There are distractions everywhere…lots of opportunities to abandon studying. And there is noise. Anyone who has ever lived in a dorm knows sometimes the noise is out of hand. That’s where noise-cancelling headphones can come in handy. They make a great gift. There are lots of different brands, but Anker SoundCore has them starting at $49 on Amazon…and they get great reviews! See them here.
Anker SoundCore Noise Cancelling Headphones
  • First Aid Kit. Every college student needs a good first aid kit, and according to Business Insider, the best one is the First Aid Only All-Purpose Essentials Soft-Sided First Aid Kit, which is available on Amazon right now for $20.01. It contains 298 pieces and includes Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen tablets, which are not included in many. Personally, I would add more analgesics, a Flonase, allergy meds, and some Neosporin to make it complete. Get it at Amazon here.
First Aid Only Kit
  • Nightlight and Alarm Clock. There’s nothing worse than getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and stubbing a toe, and it can happen easily in a tiny dorm room. We know students need alarm clocks, so why not get a cute one with a built-in night light and a bluetooth speaker, to boot?! The one that keeps showing up when I’m looking is made by WamGra and is available on Amazon for $38.99 here.

Nightlight Alarm Clock/Bluetooth speaker
  • Kanga Kase Mate. This is a late addition. I found this when I was researching gifts for men, and it occurred to me I needed to come back and add this to the list of gifts for college students. It’s not secret lots of students like to drink beer. Those same students need a cooler, and if they aren’t old enough to drink beer, they need a cooler for their soft drinks. This Kanga Kase Mate is iceless! It’s an insulated cooler that keeps your cold beer, well, cold. With prices starting at $39.99, it’s a deal. See the offerings at Kanga here.
  • Away Luggage and Baboon to the Moon. I’ve mentioned both of these in other holiday gift posts, but they need to be mentioned here too, since college students like to stay on the go. I see college students visiting their friends at different colleges all the time, and they need easy luggage. Away has well-built rollable luggage that carry a lifetime warranty. I have the original carry-on size, and it holds way more than I ever imagined it would. Add a mini go-bag from Baboon to the Moon (a crazy name for a really well-constructed, waterproof bag) and I can pack enough for five or even six days in just those two bags. See Away Luggage here, and Baboon to the Moon here.
  • Gift Cards. If you don’t know anything else about college students, you should know they love gift cards. They love gift cards from lots of different places, but here are the ones I recommend: Uber (for late-night rides home), Amazon (they also love Prime Memberships), ChickFilA, Starbucks, Domino’s Pizza, Best Buy, PostMates, GrubHub, Target, Walmart, Netflix, Hulu, Whole Foods, Publix, The Container Store, H&M, and any local eateries. You can buy different company gift cards in Target and probably in your local grocery store. Or purchase online from each company. Students will definitely use gift cards, and be generous if you can!
Gift cards
  • Cash. I know lots of people don’t like to give cash, but students love cold hard cash. Give a college student some cash, and watch a face light up! Or you can even send money via Venmo. I often give cash as gifts with a card that labels it as “walking around money,” or “WAM,” as my daddy used to call it. Everybody needs a little money in their pockets, and while etiquette might tell you cash is not the way to go, I can guarantee most college students are going to appreciate it.

So get busy shopping now for those current or future college students! Our daughter will be getting several of the gifts listed above. All the gifts listed above are pretty easy to get right away, but I can’t promise they’ll be available as the holidays get closer!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 2

Two friends on the road, part 2.

At the end of Part 1, we were leaving Daytona Beach, headed south on Highway 1. To see Part 1, click here.

After making a quick trip over to Daytona Motor Speedway for a photo op…just because it’s a landmark…we’re not race fans, we were moving south toward Merritt Island, where we thought we might be able to see some manatees in the wild. We were on a wild manatee mission.

Mary Ann actually swam with manatees four years ago with a friend in Crystal River, Florida. I hate I missed it, because her stories from that trip are quite amusing. Apparently, a big male manatee was partial to Mary Ann and decided he would be her boyfriend for the day. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say he almost drowned her as he held onto her leg!

I wasn’t interested in that type of encounter! I just wanted to see some manatees in person…in the wild! According to one website, there was a chance we could see some at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, so we headed in that direction. According to one website, we would likely see them from an observation deck. We drove deep into the wildlife refuge, but when we arrived at the observation deck, it was closed for COVID. What the what?!? I don’t understand the logic behind that, so I was really disappointed, but then we read that some people had seen them at a boat launch nearby. We drove down a long gravel road, all the while praying I wouldn’t get a flat tire! When we arrived at the boat launch, a few other cars were there. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any manatees, but we did see some dolphins and got some amazing pictures of the sunset, so it was worth our while! We also saw some Roseate Spoonbills, lovely pink birds in the area. To learn more about the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, click here.

Leaving the wildlife refuge, we headed south on Highway 1, stopping for gas and more lottery tickets and scratch-offs, and we also stopped at an ice cream stand called Frisbee’s…it was shaped like an actual ice cream cone! We didn’t even bother to get ice cream, because we hoped to have dinner soon…but we did get a photo!

Soon thereafter, we got back on I-95, and our next stop was Vero Beach, Florida. We were driving down the interstate trying to figure out a safe place to stop. Mary Ann was reading off the names of cities on the map, and when she said, “Vero Beach,” I knew it would be safe to stop there. I have a friend who has a home there, and I know she has high standards. As we drove into Vero Beach, it was approaching 9pm, and we were looking for a restaurant for dinner. Mary Ann found one that was open till 10…Waldo’s at The Driftwood. We called ahead to make sure we would be able to get a table, and we were thrilled when they seated us outside, overlooking the Atlantic! We both had grilled fish with roasted veggies, and I texted Linda, my friend who has a home there, and told her we were at Waldo’s. She immediately texted me back, saying, “Waldo’s is an institution in Vero!” I will say the place had character. It also has quite a history. We highly recommend a visit to Waldo’s if you find yourself in Vero. To learn more about Waldo’s, click here. I was driving, so I didn’t have a cocktail, but Mary Ann ordered something called Voodoo Juice that was served in a bucket! She drank it down quickly and then said her head was tingling! Yes, she had a little buzz, but we later discovered she was also having a slight allergic reaction to something in the drink! Nothing serious…an antihistamine took care of it.

We ended up staying in a local Hampton Inn that night. If we had realized The Driftwood was right there, we likely would have tried to get a room there, but we were tired and just took the first option we came across. Even though we didn’t stay at The Driftwood, I would recommend staying there at least one night if you’re looking for a little, local place…just because it’s legendary, and the location is fantastic. You can see info about The Driftwood here.

After a good night’s sleep, we had some coffee and called Linda to get some tips about things to see quickly in Vero Beach. We went to the beach for a little while, and we were impressed by the boardwalk! It truly is a lovely area. She also recommended we spend some time checking out the town and look at some of the beautiful homes, and most importantly, she reminded me her brother had died in Vero Beach four years ago. He was an actor and had just closed his show, Ring of Fire, a show about Johnny Cash, at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach. In fact, the theatre has one of his guitars on display as a memorial, and I was determined to get into the theatre for a photo of it. When Mary Ann and I arrived at the theatre, however, it was locked. I left Mary Ann in the car and walked around the side of the building, where I could see the guitar display through a window, and I was fortunate to see a young man working. Yes…I knocked, because well, that’s just who I am. He came to the door cautiously, and when he cracked it open, I explained to him why I was there. Lucky for me, a woman behind him heard me and said, “Absolutely. Let her in.” As it turns out, she knew Linda’s brother, Jason, and she said to me several times, “He was a lovely man.” I thanked her profusely, took the photo, and texted it to Linda. If you find yourself in Vero Beach when there is a show at the Riverside Theatre, get tickets…I hear it’s a beautiful theatre. See more about the theatre here.

From Vero Beach, we traveled south a few miles to Fort Pierce. Again using the Roadside America app as a reference, we decided to visit the Fort Pierce Manatee Observation and Education Center. We certainly didn’t expect to see any manatees there, because it appeared the center offered kayaking tours for that, but we thought we’d make a stop anyway. The center, of course, was closed. Ugh. COVID. However, it was located on a marina, and there was a very nice gentleman there who told us he had just seen a manatee mama and calf in the marina that day. We were excited! It became our mission to find those manatees! We waited and waited. And then…we got lucky! The mama and calf surfaced together for air, and we ran along the footbridge to that part of the marina for a closer look. We were able to watch them surface several times and even got videos! I couldn’t believe how big the mama was, but Mary Ann told me the male manatee that molested her in Crystal River was much larger…yikes. I definitely don’t need to swim with manatees, but I was thrilled to see them! My husband and I used to hear them in a marina near Miami, but it was always dark, and we could never see them. At 53, I finally saw manatees! I was absolutely giddy!

Mama Manatee in Ft Pierce!

Eventually, we decided we needed to move on, so we got back into the car and on Highway 1, driving toward Tequesta and Jupiter. Any self-respecting Bama fan (me) knows Joe Namath lives in that area, and I had just read an article about a new restaurant he’s opening with a partner. It’s called Charlie and Joe’s, and I knew it was scheduled to open mid-January, so of course, I had to try to find it. Maybe we would get lucky and arrive at the Grand Opening, and I could finally meet Joe Willie?!? We Googled the location and drove right to it. There were lots of cars in the surrounding parking lots, so we thought we had arrived on the right day! I even checked my hair and makeup before we got out of the car! We walked across the parking lot and came to a sidewalk that had signs on both sides saying “no trespassing.” I thought that meant we couldn’t walk on the grass beside the sidewalk…right up till the cop stepped out of his car and asked if he could help us. Eek! I asked, “Are we trespassing?!?” “Yes, ma’am.” I said, “Oh my goodness! We saw the signs, but we thought they were for that area.” He laughed…fortunately. I thanked him for being nice about it, and we walked back to the car…after I got a quick picture with the sign for Joe’s new restaurant! I’ll meet him one day! For info on Charlie and Joe’s click here.

From the Tequesta/Jupiter area, we set out for West Palm Beach, because we were hungry, and Linda had recommended a Cuban restaurant there…more on that next time!

Garage Coffee

Garage coffee.

No, it’s not a brand of coffee. Although, I think it could be a cool name for a brand of coffee.

Over the past couple of weeks, since Thanksgiving, I’ve become much more paranoid about COVID. My behavior reminds me of my junior year in college. Up till my junior year at The University of Alabama, I was willing to go out to bars with a fake ID. Back then, in Alabama, if you were caught by the Alcohol Beverage Control officers (ABC) underage in a bar, you were arrested and taken to jail. When I was a freshman and a sophomore, it was a risk I was willing to take. But when I became a junior, and I was so close to my 21st birthday, it wasn’t worth the risk. I stopped going out to bars. My thinking? “I’m so close to my 21st birthday…I can wait till then, because I’m afraid of getting in trouble…when I can just wait a little longer.” So I waited.

Here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and we are being told the vaccine is just around the corner. I know there are lots of people who are not willing to get the vaccine, but I am. I’m ready to start living again, and the vaccine is the only way I know to do that. And we are being told it will be available relatively soon. Just like my junior year and my 21st birthday, I’m afraid to risk getting COVID (I’m over 50) when the vaccine is in sight. Actually, I don’t want to risk getting COVID at all, but especially now. Call me a “sheep” if you want. I don’t care. I’m not staying home because the government is telling me to. I don’t think our government should be telling us what to do. I think it should be our own choice, so I’m not a sheep…I’m making my own decision.

In November, I was not as afraid, and I went on vacation. Yes, I did. I will admit it, but I was as careful as one could possibly be, and frankly, COVID was out there, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now. I made my child (who went with me) quarantine for two weeks prior, and I quarantined for two weeks prior as well…no lunches with friends, no coffee with friends in my kitchen…nothing. I didn’t want to get to our destination and get sick while we were there. I don’t want to be hospitalized anywhere…especially in another city. When we went to the airport, we found seats to wait in a secluded area of the American Airlines Admirals Club. We threw up a prayer and wore our masks for the entire flight. We stayed the first few days in a bungalow on the beach and the next few days in a bungalow at a hotel…very little close contact with anyone…and never in a crowd the whole time we were there. We had a rental car, so we never had to use Uber. We went to restaurants, but we always dined outside…never near anyone else. And on the way home, we found seats in a secluded part of the Admirals Club again. We have TSA precheck, so we never stood in a crowded line.

Even with all those precautions, if I had a slight headache or coughed at all during the trip or over the week after we got home, I thought I had COVID, and I was scared. Do I think I would die with it? No. I like to think I’m healthy enough to survive it, but one never knows. I feel sure my teenage daughter would be fine, and I feel like my husband (also over 50) is healthy enough to survive, but do we want to push our luck? That’s a resounding NO.

And right after that Thanksgiving trip, COVID exploded. The number of daily cases is climbing rapidly. I have talked to several doctor friends who tell me it’s “foolish” to gather. So I’m not gathering. I’m barely leaving my house. In fact, last week, I left my house a total of five times. Three times to pick up lunch, once to the grocery store, and once to run in Michael’s Arts and Crafts to quickly grab some yarn to knit Christmas gifts.

I like to be out and about, so that tells you I’m taking this seriously. I’m not staying home because of Governor Roy Cooper’s latest stay-at-home order. I’m staying home, because it’s just not worth it to me to catch COVID now, knowing I will be able to get the vaccine soon. I do not want COVID…it’s as simple as that. Well, that plus the fact that both my grandmothers died on December 26 (different years), and my mother died on December 30, 2017. I don’t want to push my luck.

That brings me back to “garage coffee.” Because I like seeing my friends…and I love laughing with them…I’m now hosting “garage coffee” at my house. I move the cars out of the garage and invite a friend or two (no more than that) over for coffee, which I prepare indoors and bring out to the garage for them. I set up rocking lawn chairs and heaters at our feet (it’s really cold in Charlotte right now), and we chat while social-distancing. It’s not as much fun as going out to lunch, but it’s better than nothing. I’m expecting a friend to come over tomorrow for “garage coffee,” and I’ve decided to add some Christmas music for our visit. I’ll just use my phone and my daughter’s bluetooth speaker to create a Christmas mood. Maybe I’ll set up my lamp from A Christmas Story and some of my light-up Christmas lawn decor in the garage just to make it feel more festive. My husband will think I’m crazy, but that’s nothing new.

If you’d like to have garage coffee with friends at your house and need a good, inexpensive space heater to put at your feet but don’t want to fork out a lot of cash, I purchased two Comfort Zone Energy Save Personal Heater Fans for $24.99 each plus tax and shipping from Target. Shop it here.

That’s how I’m surviving mentally right now…garage coffee. And I thank the Lord that I have friends who are willing to participate. Otherwise, I’d be losing my mind right now.

Come on over for garage coffee!

We Survived the Elf

We survived the elf.

Our daughter is 17. When she was a little girl…not sure how old, maybe six or seven…”the elf” appeared at our house. You know…the elf who appears the day after Thanksgiving and stays till Santa takes him/her home with him on Christmas Eve? That elf.

“It will be fun,” my friends said, and they got elves too.

And honestly, it was fun.

For those who are not familiar with The Elf on the Shelf, I will get you up to speed. Parents of small children purchase the elf and pretend it magically appears the day after Thanksgiving…sent by Santa to watch the children and report back nightly to the North Pole. The kids are not allowed to touch the elf, because he will lose his magic. He “magically” flies back to the North Pole every night while the kids are asleep to report to Santa, and when he returns, he lands in a different spot in the house…sometimes doing something mischievous or bringing a small gift. But the big deal is that every morning, he will be somewhere different when the kids wake up, so they have to look for him in the house. At first, it’s a lot of fun trying to come up with new hiding places and new fun ideas…till you forget one night.

Imagine this: kid wakes up and walks downstairs to find the elf hasn’t moved from where he was the day before. The kid is horrified that his elf hasn’t moved and questions the parents about the authenticity of the story behind the elf. Parents have to think on their feet. I came up with this: Oh, honey, it was so foggy last night! The elf couldn’t go back to the North Pole in dense fog! Too dangerous! I’m sure he will go back tonight!

Fast forward to about 2am the next day when I woke up and realized I hadn’t moved the elf again. My pulse rate quickened, and I jumped out of bed to try to hurry up and quietly move the elf…yep, 2am. Don’t even ask how long it took me to go back to sleep.

These things happened all the time at our house. I would forget to move the damn elf and have to come up with another excuse. Here’s a list in case you need it for a future elf fail:

  • There’s the first excuse: the fog was too dense. (LIE)
  • It stormed during the night, but you (kid) didn’t hear it. (LIE)
  • Air traffic had planes backed up in the Charlotte area, so it was too dangerous for him to try to get out past all those planes. (LIE)
  • He must think this hiding place is extra special. (LIE)
  • I think he fell asleep, because he was so tired from flying back and forth the last few nights. (LIE)

Seriously, even little kids will question those lame excuses, but they got me through the situation.

But having to hide one elf wasn’t enough. People gave her elves as gifts! At first, she questioned how people could just give them as gifts…she thought they magically appeared, so I had to explain…after we put him on the shelf the first night, he will get his magic during the night and fly back and forth to the North Pole. But that meant I had more than one elf to move and hide creatively.

Oh, it got more complicated. Our young child started writing notes to her various elves with questions. “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “What is your favorite food?” What is your favorite drink?” “Do you have a pet?” “Who is your best friend?” Oh, the questions went on and on, and she expected answers to every question the next morning. So, as a good mom, I had to sit down and come up with a different handwriting for each elf before I went to bed at night…and I had to remember which elf had which handwriting! Insanity…but yes, a small child would notice a discrepancy in the handwriting. Not kidding…

And to make things more complicated, she heard the elves brought gifts to some children, so of course, there had to be gifts. I went to Target and stocked up on every candy and cheap trinket I could find.

The elves had to be mischievous too. They spilled sugar or flour everywhere. They hid in candy bowls. They went ziplining between the banisters on the stair balcony. They wrote words with toothpaste. They even “came in like a wrecking ball.” I know there are some people who think I shouldn’t be proud of that one…but I’m proud of that one. One elf was sitting on an aluminum foil wrecking ball hung by yarn from our oven door…Miley Cyrus-style. And embarrassingly, our daughter knew exactly what it was. Don’t judge.

One year, at about Thanksgiving, before any elves had arrived for the season, my daughter came running into the kitchen, where I was cooking, with an elf in her hand! She had found it in my nightstand drawer and was confused. “Mommy? Look what I found in your drawer?” I’m good. I’m really good. Without batting an eye, I exclaimed, “He’s here! It’s magic! He knew you were going to look in that drawer tonight! He’s magic!” She bought it…hook, line, and sinker.

But the first year, when we had just one elf, heartbreak struck when we had our daughter’s bedroom painted. We bagged up all her “babies,” the stuffed animals she had collected over her lifetime and put them in the garage for “safe keeping” till the room was finished. No big deal…except, somehow, the bag got thrown away. The heartbreak was real when we discovered it. The tears! She was heartbroken, but I was too…so many memories. I had no idea how some of the “babies” would ever be replaced, but fortunately, I had photos of most of them. I got on eBay that night and started searching…and purchasing. I went anywhere and everywhere I could online to find replacements that night. I know…silly…but right then, it was important. And fortunately, I even had duplicates of a couple of special ones hidden away. So that night, after our daughter fell asleep, I got one of the duplicates from a trunk in the attic and propped it up with her elf for her to find the next morning.

When our daughter woke up and came downstairs the next morning…all puffy-eyed from crying so much before bed…she walked around looking for her elf. He was sitting on the sofa in the living room…with the duplicate rag doll that was identical to something that had been accidentally thrown away. When she found them, her face lit up…and she actually cried tears of joy! And so did I. Eventually, most of the babies were replaced by the elf over the course of the next couple of weeks. She really believed in her elf after that!

We were thankful we had the elf that first year, even though I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night numerous times when I realized I hadn’t moved the elf. His ability to make those “babies” reappear earned him a special place in my heart. And it earned him a special place in our daughter’s heart too.

He was so special, in fact, that after opening gifts and having family lunch on Christmas Day, our daughter just didn’t seem herself. I sat her down and asked if something was wrong. Was she disappointed with her Christmas gifts? And she broke down in tears! She explained to me that no, she wasn’t disappointed with her gifts; she was sad her elf had gone back with Santa!

And you know what I did. I broke every elf rule. I comforted her for a while, and then I went into the kitchen and had a word with my husband, explaining to him that I needed him to go get the elf out of my nightstand drawer when I gave him the cue…and he needed to place it on the dining room table. Oh, I was thinking on the fly. I went back into the living room and told our daughter…so sweet…that since it was still Christmas Day, she could make a Christmas wish, and it might come true. Maybe she should make a wish that he would come back? I got a candle and told her to close her eyes and make a wish, then blow out the candle…close her eyes again and count to 20…slowly. While she did all that, my husband was quietly retrieving the elf and placing it in the dining room. We were breaking all the rules, but who wants to have a desperately unhappy child on Christmas Day?!?! I know…it could have been a valuable teaching moment…whatever. When she opened her eyes, I told her to see if her wish had come true. When she found that elf in the dining room, you’d have thought she had found Santa himself! We had more tears…of joy. And because it was after Christmas, we let her hold that damn elf for the rest of the day. I think he might have even slept in her bed that night. But I told her he could only stay for one more month, and he would likely stay in one place the whole time.

Whew! That was long ago. Go ahead…I get 30 lashes with a wet noodle for breaking every elf rule, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And really…was she harmed psychologically by any of it? No. Does she still believe in the elf at 17? No. In fact, a couple of years ago, a neighbor/friend posted a photo of her child’s elf that had accidentally melted when it was placed too close to a lamp. She put out a desperate plea to see if someone had an elf that looked like it. Guess who did?!?! We did! I asked my daughter if I could give it to them, and she was thrilled to get to save the day! I called my friend and said, “Come get it! It’s yours!” If you have an elf and hate it, just know you’ll get some good memories out of it. One day, you’ll look back on it fondly. And if you need some elf ideas, here are a few pics of some things we did back in the day…

REPOST: Stocking Stuffers (from 2019) Part 1

This is the first of two reposts on stocking stuffers! A new post with new ideas will be posted tomorrow, December 1.

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

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

Let’s get started…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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