I Missed My Garden

I missed my garden.

For the past few summers, I had a “garden.” Maybe I should say I planted flowers and vegetables in every available space in my backyard, because there was not really much organization to it. I had sunflowers, corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Early this year, though, I decided I would take the summer off. I decided to let the soil rest for a year.

And oh, how I missed spending time in the garden.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would enjoy gardening, I might have laughed in your face. Before that, I had grown some sunflowers and loved it, but it wasn’t terribly time consuming. A few years ago, though, I opted to plant lots of things, and it became time consuming. Sure, I loved it most of the time, but it was real work. I couldn’t just walk out there in the morning like Snow White and pluck a vegetable here and there, whistling while I worked. It’s hot in Charlotte in the summer. No, it’s not as hot as some places, but it’s hot. I would get up in the morning, put on some shorts and tshirt, and go outside to start the morning work…watering, weeding (which I’m not real good at), checking for pests, doing things to prevent/get rid of pests (insects, rabbits, deer), and when the time came, harvesting. And I would repeat the process in the evening. And I was always…always…on the lookout for snakes. I had a fear of sticking my hand between cucumber vines and pulling out a snake, but fortunately, it never happened.

This year, because I didn’t have a garden, I spent less time outdoors. I relaxed more. I was flat out lazy. I had too much time on my hands. Sure, I was able to catch up on some reading, and while I loved that, I realized in July that I should have planted a garden in spring. Before, when I had a garden, after working the garden, I would get in the pool to read, but between pages, I could check out the flowers and vegetables from a distance, deciding what I needed to work on next.

I thought it was work, but now I realize it was fun. OK, so it was fun work. I learned a lot from gardening. I learned that corn needs to be planted close together, so it can pollinate. I learned more about corn smut (and huitlacoche tacos!) than I ever dreamed I would. I learned about different varieties of sunflowers and cucumbers. Before last summer, I had no idea there was something called a lemon cucumber! I learned about hornworms and the braconid wasps that lay eggs on the backs of said worms. I learned.

And this year, without a garden, what I really learned is that I need a summer garden. I need that sweaty work. I need to learn about vegetables and flowers. I simply need it.

I truly feel like I’ve been less active this summer, because I didn’t have a garden. You can bet your sweet bippy that I will plant next spring. I won’t forget this valuable lesson. In fact, I’ve decided to plant a fall garden…something I have never done. I’ve checked, and it appears there are lots of vegetables and flowers I can plant in late August/early September. I’m thinking carrots, peas, and spinach? All those are new to me, but it’s worth a try.

I guess I’ll be visiting my local gardening store tomorrow. Someone might want to warn my husband in advance. The bad news for him is that I might need a little help getting started. The good news for him? I’ll likely be in a better mood!

Cars, Cars Everywhere

Cars, cars everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REPOST: Stocking Stuffers from 2019, Part 2

***This is the second of two reposts about stocking stuffers from 2019. We will be posting even more stocking stuffers (a new 2020 version) tomorrow, December 1.***

MORE Stocking Stuffers! As I said before, this is the fun category for holiday shopping! So here is my list of MORE…something for every member of the family. Without further ado…

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Lipstick. If you have a family member who loves Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, he/she needs this lipstick! Don’t we all want to look like Midge Maisel?!? Revlon is offering this lipstick based on the lipstick choices of the character. I hope I find this in my stocking! Heck…I know I’ll find it in my stocking, because I’m ordering it now and wrapping it as soon as it get here! Thanks, Honey! Get them at Revlon.com here for $19.99 per tube. ***And continue reading for more Mrs. Maisel items later in the post.***

Nostalgia Candy Boxes. Maybe you want your child to see what candy you loved as a kid, or maybe you’d like to bring back some memories for someone else on your list. Amazon carries Nancy Adams Nostalgia Candy Boxes full of all the favorites of the decades. Get one for the 1960s here. Get one for the 1970s here. And you can find the 1980s here.

Concert/Sporting Event Tickets. Never underestimate how excited a person will get over receiving tickets to an experience! I love concert and sporting event tickets as gifts…and I’d love to pull some great tickets from my Christmas stocking, as would my husband, my daughter, and my nephews. Of course, the concerts would be different for each of us. And we all love sports, so that would be a sure bet too. Ticket-Icon

Lottery Scratch Off Tickets. I love finding these in my stocking! I’ve never won a lot, but I have won a little, and I know someone who won five figures on a scratch-off ticket. No joke. I’m not encouraging gambling, but scratch off tickets are something we have in our stockings every year.nc698

Kiehl’s Products. My husband has loved Kiehl’s skincare products for years and introduced me to their Creme de Corps body lotion years ago. It does wonders for dry skin and makes my skin look smoother. We also love their Ultra Facial Moisturizer. In addition to these staples, Kiehl’s offers lots of great skincare products for men and women. See them all here.

Holiday Crackers. No, not the kinds of crackers you eat…the kind you POP! We loved these at our house when I was a kid. Sure, you can place them at each person’s place setting for lunch or dinner, but they’re fun to find in your stocking on Christmas morning. Some of my favorites:

  • L’Occitane’s Crackers Quatour, $34 for a set of four. The set of four can be broken up and one placed in each family member’s stocking. They contain petite sized products from L’Occitane’s fabulous collections.NAOCVKI002490
  • Molton Brown Cracker Gift Set, $25 per cracker. Contains four scented bath/shower gels. Get it at Saks Fifth Avenue here.MBC906_uk_Floral-Fruity-Christmas-Cracker_image_01
  • Racing Reindeer Crackers, $45.99 for a set of six. Putting a fun spin on the traditional cracker, each of these contains a windup reindeer, hat, joke, and a racetrack. Fun for all! Get them from pbs.org here.images-2
  • Robin Reed Hand Bells Musical Crackers, $85 for a box of eight. Adding a musical element to your family’s holiday, each of these crackers contains hand bells. Great for caroling with cocktails after dinner! Get them at Neiman Marcus here.NMHCBFB_mz-2
  • Godiva Luxury Poppers, $24.95 for a set of six. Who doesn’t love Godiva Chocolates? These will be a sure hit! Each popper contains three chocolate truffles. Get them here.13983-1

Bath and Body Works Products. These products are less “high brow” but great products for all ages, nonetheless. Their hand sanitizers, fine fragrance mists, and body lotions are great stocking stuffers, and you can find the perfect scent for each recipient. For example, their “Into the Night” scent is a little heavier, while their “Champagne Toast” is a little crisper and lighter. If anyone’s purchasing for me, I’d prefer the Champagne Toast, thank you very much. I should mention the prices on their products are always great, but there is almost always a special of some kind. Kids love their hand sanitizers. My own daughter had quite the collection when she was younger. See everything here.

Fun toys. When we were growing up, we loved a good Nerf gun or squirt gun, and our parents knew we would be occupied for hours with them, developing games with complete sets of rules for each one. Nerf, as it turns out, makes their traditional Nerf guns, but they also make squirt guns. See my pick for a Nerf gun stocking stuffer here, and my pick for a Nerf squirt gun here.

Liquor Miniatures. Adults need great stocking stuffers too! I have lots of friends who have a family tradition of putting miniatures in the stockings of adults. You can get them at your local liquor store. My personal favorites? Maker’s Mark Bourbon and Tito’s Vodka…in case my husband is reading this.

Perfumes/colognes. Every time I walk through Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus in SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, I check out the fragrances. Since I was a little girl, I’ve always found the fragrance department in department stores beautiful. Shopping fragrances makes me feel “fancy.” It’s one of the places in a department store that feels like days of yesteryear…the makeup counter! (Think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.)There aren’t fragrances many I love, but when I find something I like, I really like it. Right now, I like Gucci Bloom. Recently, I discovered their Gucci Bloom Hair Mist! Game Changer! For $49, it’s a lighter version of the scent, and I love it! Get it at Nordstrom here.a700bee8-eaed-48aa-922b-8fa39b5a7721

Fun socks. They’re everywhere I look. Every time I look at Facebook or Instagram, I see an ad for those socks that start with “If you can read this…” on the bottom of the foot. See some at Amazon here. Or maybe you know a Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fan. See some Mr. Rogers socks at Joy of Socks here. And while you’re at Joy of Socks, take a look around at everything they offer. Alien abduction socks? Check. Dog socks? Check.

Personalized Pocket Tokens. These are great little reminders people can carry with them in their pockets or handbags. Sometimes, we just need a little reassurance or pick-me-up, and these could do the trick. Get them on Etsy here.il_fullxfull.945896910_shp1

Balsa Wood Airplanes. Remember these from childhood? You can get a “squadron” of 12 of these for $28.95 at Duluth Trading. I remember playing with these with my brother when I was a kid. I would think lots of kids would love to have contests for flying these things. Get your squadron here.91032_alt_01

Drugstore colognes and aftershaves. Seriously. Call me crazy, but don’t we all remember how good Old Spice smelled when we were kids? How about Brut, English Leather, and Aqua Velva? Well, I must admit, I didn’t come up with this idea myself. Brett from artofmanliness.com wrote a piece on these old favorites after giving them a test run himself. You can see the awesome piece here. It will make you want to run to your local drugstore and pick up a few of these as stocking stuffers for the men in your lives. It also makes me want to find Joe Namath and find out if he still wears Brut!

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Photo from artofmanliness.com

Block Letter Monogram Necklace. These have been popular, in one style or another, for as long as I can remember. It’s a personalized gift without being “over the top.” And it makes a great stocking stuffer. Anthropologie has a great one for $38 here.37659125_901_b

MikWright Products. I found this brand of greeting cards and gifts at Paper Skyscraper when I first moved to Charlotte years ago, and I’ve loved them since! They use old photographs with hilarious captions on greeting cards, napkins, flasks, and more. Any of their items would make great stocking stuffers. Shop the MikWright website here.

Evel Knievel Stuff. Lots of little boys in the 1970s thought Evel Knievel was the greatest stunt person ever! I know he was famous at our house! My brother had all kinds of Evil Knievel toys…and frankly, I wish we still had them! But any Evel Knievel item would be a great trip down memory lane for some grown men. Take a look at all the items offered on Amazon.com here. There are dolls, action figures, tshirts, socks…and lots more!

Golden Girls Shady Pines Key Ring. The Golden Girls series ended its original run a long time ago, but there are lots of us who still remember it and love it. This cute little key ring is just a small nod to the show we all loved, and any fan would love to have it. It’s a guaranteed smile on Christmas morning for just $8.99 at Amazon here.

Ugg Earmuffs. Expecting cold temperatures and/or big snow this winter? Everybody has to keep their ears warm! These classic earmuffs from Ugg will do the job while making your friends and family look good at the same time! Priced at just under $60 at dsw.com here.348340_202_ss_01

Zippo Handwarmer. This is an unusual gift…it might be new to you, in fact! I had never heard of the Zippo Handwarmer till recently, but now that I know about it, you can bet your sweet bippy we will all find them in our Christmas stockings this year! They’re offered in several different colors and finishes, and they are refillable. For $19.99, they’re great stocking stuffers for anyone on your list who might spend some time in the cold this winter! Personally, I like the dayglo yellow one, because I think I’ll be less likely to lose it. Get it at Amazon here.

Other Marvelous Mrs. Maisel merch. Just as promised at the beginning of the post, here are some more items based on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel:

  • Marvis Tour with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Limited Edition Set. Toothpaste! It’s toothpaste! Amazon says, “Go on tour with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (and her fresh mouth), with this limited edition set, made exclusively in partnership with the show. $15 for the set at Amazon here.81kqkk44cxl._sl1500_.jpg
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Illustration Travel Mug. Offered by Society6.com, this travel mug will make any fan of the show laugh. Fans will immediately recognize the characters and the quote. (I had to mark out a word, because my mama wouldn’t approve of that word!) Get it here.IMG_6498
  • We Got The Rabbi T-shirt. Trust me, any fan would love this shirt. If anyone on your list is a fan of the show, get this t-shirt for him or her! Priced at $32, this will roll up and fit right into a stocking…and guaranteed smiles when the recipient finds it! It’s offered in lots of different colors! Get it here.mockup-49fd6357_1000x
  • More show merchandise at Amazon. Seriously, I can’t believe Amazon isn’t cashing in with tons of merchandise from the Amazon Prime show, but they do have a few items. Click here to see a few items they offer.

So there are some ideas for folks on your list…different ages…different interests…just different altogether! Happy shopping!

Choose Joy

Choose joy.

In my collection of hoodies, I now have a tie-dye one that says “choose joy” across the front. I bought it for myself recently, because sometimes I need a reminder to choose joy.

I like to be happy, and most of the time, I choose to be happy. I’ve had sad things happen and my own struggles in life, just like everyone else, but I try to process that sadness and find joy again. Sometimes it take a while, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I do believe we can all make a conscious decision to be joyful. If we try to see a silver lining, we can usually find one.

And in my experience, choosing joy for yourself makes other people joyful. I find that, if I am happy, the people around me tend to become happier…joy is contagious. No doubt. Just like anger and bitterness are contagious. I know that, because sometimes I’m downright angry and bitter. Occasionally, something will get under my skin and stay there. I get angry or upset about something, and it seems I will never shake it. When that happens, I tend to spread that bad mood…till I realize what I’m doing…and then I try to turn it around. I choose joy.

There have been times in my life that I’ve stepped back and realized I’ve been “spitting venom,” and that’s not good. When I’ve realized it, whether someone pointed it out or I realized it myself, I’ve tried to walk it back and change my attitude. When I was a little girl, if I had a bad attitude, my parents would tell me, “You need to put a smile on your face…now.” Sounds silly, right? But here’s what usually happens when you put a smile on your face: you start feeling a little happier. It goes with the old “fake it till you make it” theory…start acting happier, and you will become happier. I learned that valuable lesson in my 20s, and it’s a lesson I’ve always remembered…and one I’ve tried to teach my teenage daughter. I’ve had to force myself to “fake it till I make it” a lot more through the COVID pandemic, because honestly, it’s downright depressing. But if we look around and find joy somewhere, it makes it a little easier.

About a month into the pandemic isolation, I was looking out the window onto my patio when I realized the trees behind our patio were becoming greener…sprouting tiny green leaves. Because we were all searching for things to do during that lockdown, I spent some of my time taking photos of the trees as we moved into spring. Sounds boring, right? I agree, but somehow it was fun at the time…and it brought me joy! I also got my garden started way earlier than usual…finding joy where I could…watching seedlings grow into flowers and vegetables. I chose joy that way.

Did I still have times of sadness? You bet. The pandemic shutdowns and isolation have been hard on me. But I refused to give in. Sure, occasionally, I had a breakdown here or there…or I made a big deal out of something that wasn’t a big deal. But when I realized it, I adjusted my attitude and chose joy.

That “choose joy” hoodie I mentioned earlier? Well, I found it on a website called Elly and Grace. I got one of those Facebook notifications that a college friend “liked” the Facebook page for the company, so I checked it out, and I was glad I did. Elly and Grace is a small company in Missouri whose mission is “to provide the softest, highest quality Christian apparel, designed to uplift, inspire and point others to Jesus.” Indeed, they do! The hoodie I purchased is the softest ever, and it certainly promotes an inspirational message! They have other items that feature other great messages and Bible verses. You can see what they offer here. I will definitely be shopping with them again very soon, and I know I will purchase some Christmas gifts from them too. I love to support small businesses…and this one seems special.

So thank you, Facebook, for leading me to Elly and Grace, and thank you to Elly and Grace for reminding me to “choose joy.” I am trying to make that conscious choice every single day.

Choose joy.

College for Your Teen

College for your teen…

Where do you want your teen to go to college?

Someone asked me that question recently. It didn’t take me long to answer, because I know exactly where I want her to go.

I have always thought she would love a big state university. I went to a big state university and loved every minute, so I have always thought she might like the “full college experience,” just like I did.

And then sometimes, she will tell me about some smaller schools that interest her…different ones all over the country. It’s then that I think, “Maybe one of those will be best for her.” Maybe she would like being on a small campus in a cute little town somewhere.

There are so many colleges and universities all over the country to choose from. Almost anyone who wants to go to college can likely find a place that work for them. Interested in big time sports? Check out state universities. Interested in the arts? Check out liberal arts schools near you. Interested in a smaller school setting? Looking for a school that has a high commuter population? You want a school that doesn’t have a high commuter population? You can likely find something that works.

But with so many options, the decision can be difficult. I peruse brochures that come in the mail. I take virtual tours online of different campuses. I talk to friends about where they went to college and listen to their college stories. And honestly, if you talk to the right person, almost every college experience sounds great. I always encourage my daughter to talk to people about their experiences.

It can be difficult to choose.

But here’s the thing: the decision isn’t mine to make. It’s my daughter’s.

My husband and I decided a long time ago that we want her to go to the college of her choice. We want her to find her people. We want her to go into the college experience knowing she picked exactly what she wanted. We want her to be excited. When she has tough days adjusting to college life, we don’t want her to think, “If my parents had let me go where I wanted to go, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Sure, I can listen to her and help her make the decision, but she will make the decision. This is a teenager who, as a toddler, wanted to make her own decisions. She’s got this.

We have made “unofficial” visits to colleges all over the country, just so she could get a feel for the campuses. She has narrowed it down to five or six that she likes. But she’s just entering her junior year of high school. She could find new places of interest over the next two years. She will likely learn about colleges she doesn’t even know exist, and it’s possible some of them could look interesting to her.

So when someone asks me where I want her to go to college, I will give them the same answer I gave my friend a few days ago:

I want her to go where she wants to go.

For the next two years, I will be an innocent bystander in the college search process…simply a facilitator. I will make sure she has access to information about lots of different types of schools. If there is a college she wants to visit, we will do it. If there’s a college she wants to mark off the list…by all means, mark it off the list. Because, when it comes right down to it, it’s her life. She gets to live it. She is quickly approaching adulthood, and she needs to know how to make decisions. I firmly believe a child/teen who isn’t ever allowed to make decisions will become an adult who doesn’t know how to make decisions. I’m going to trust that my daughter will make the right decision for herself, and I’m excited for her to do it.

She has two years to decide.

Let’s get this party started!

Blame It On the Limoncello

Blame it on the limoncello.

After I posted my piece titled Please Drop In, I received a text from a friend telling me she was on the way to my house. This particular friend is funny…hilariously funny…and smart…put those two qualities together, and it makes for an awesome person. In fact, she’s so awesome that, years ago, when she told me she had “people” (that’s Southern for family) in Clanton, Alabama, I told her we absolutely must be related. I have family all over Alabama, so anything’s possible, right? Rather than digging through genealogy, I just went ahead and declared her my cousin. So, now we’re cousins. I’ve written about my “fake cousins” before. I don’t have a lot of them, but when I feel a particular kinship with someone…well, they become my fake cousin. So…when she said she was on her way to my house, I was thrilled!

A few minutes later, she drove up my driveway in her beautiful white convertible, and when she hopped out, she had a bag in her hand. Here’s what it contained: two cups of ice, a bottle of vodka, a bottle of Limoncello, a bottle of Diet Sprite, and some lemon juice. That’s a party in a bag! And yes! As you see…she even brought cups of ice! This cousin was prepared!

I have to admit that when I saw the bottle of limoncello, I got a little scared. I had an unforgettable experience with limoncello several months ago. You’d think at 53, I’d know what not to do where alcohol is concerned, but apparently, I’m not the fastest learner. A friend invited me to go with her to see Kathleen Turner perform in her one-woman show in Greenville, South Carolina. Because I’m a control freak, I offered to drive us there. We made an early dinner reservation for 5:30 or 6:00 at a restaurant near the theater, and we hit the road, arriving at the restaurant at about 5pm. The bar was open, but the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so we bellied up to the bar. My friend ordered an Old-Fashioned, and I ordered a glass of Prosecco. Well, one glass turned into two…never a big deal, because we wouldn’t be getting into the car for hours. But then, the bartender offered us some homemade Limoncello.

Has anyone ever told you how dangerous Limoncello can be? Well, I drank what he poured me, and when I stood up to go to the ladies room, I knew immediately that I was a little drunk. Yes, at 53, I was accidentally drunk before dinner. Fortunately, when I returned from the ladies’ room, our table was ready, so we could go straight to our table and order dinner. After dinner, I was feeling better, and we walked in the cool, brisk air to the theater. The show was great, and we joined some friends of my friend for “drinks” afterward…I just had coffee, thank you very much. By the time we left, it had been six hours since we moved from the bar to our table, and I was sobered up. I had a terrible headache, but I was sober.

The day after that little jaunt to Greenville, I was talking with another friend who said she’d had a limoncello experience too, and she reminded me of a time Danny Devito appeared drunk on The View. Later, he blamed his slurred speech and unsteady gate on the limoncello he’d been drinking, saying, “I knew it was the last seven limoncellos that was going to get me.” Since then, whenever something goes awry in my world, I say, “Blame it on the limoncello.”

But last week, my cousin who dropped in assured me no bad behavior was on the horizon. She assured me we were going to have one very light afternoon cocktail. And I watched intently as she mixed a lovely, summery-tasting concoction using all the ingredients she brought with her. And it was delicious! It tasted like sunshine!

All this was my long way of saying a great big “thank you” to my cousin for dropping in with the perfect treat in hand. Even better, she brought her infectious sense of humor and optimism…just when I needed it most! This whole pandemic has cancelled some of my vacations, and she knew I had the blues. But she cured that! I hope she’ll drop in again soon…or maybe I’ll drop in on her!

Blame it on the limoncello!

 

It’s Official…I’m Not Tech Savvy

It’s official. I’m not tech savvy.

I went to college at a time when it was OK to not be tech savvy. I knew how to type. I knew how to use a Mac for journalism, since that was my major. I didn’t take a programming class, because I took Spanish…I loved learning a new language. I didn’t learn how to make a spreadsheet or how to use Microsoft Word. I don’t even know if all that existed then. I knew how to do what I knew how to do, and that was fine. It was the 1980s.

Right out of college, I took a job as a flight attendant. All I needed to know how to do on the computer was sign in for trips and sign out when I was done. Easy peasy! I didn’t need to know more! I later worked in the travel industry, planning trips and meetings, but there was a certain computer system we used for that. I knew what I knew, and it worked for me. I was a pen and ink girl for a lot of things, because I found that I remembered things when I wrote them down. I still take constant notes when I’m in a meeting or on the phone, because that’s how my memory works…write it down, and I’ll remember it. My memory rarely fails me. Four hundred people attending a meeting? I have immediate recall if I write the names down before typing them into the computer. When they arrived and told me their names, I knew if they were registered or not…immediate recall. If someone couldn’t find someone’s name in registration, they would come to me, and when I heard the name, I would know if they had actually registered or not…immediate recall.

And then, technology moved a lot faster than I did. I can use a computer. I can launch a simple website using WordPress. I have always been able to do most of the things I needed to do, or I knew who to ask.  I have a dear friend who is a librarian, and she has taught me a lot. Sometimes, when I knew it would take time for her to teach me how to do things, I simply asked her to do them for me, and being the awesome friend she is, she did them. But I should do better.

One thing I learned during this pandemic is that I need to get up to speed on technology.

With the pandemic, everything has become “virtual.” That means I had to learn how to join Zoom meetings and Google Meet. Seriously, I had never done that before, but now I get it! I haven’t set one up yet, but I’m going to figure that out too. I might even try that today, just so I know how when I need it.

This year, I became a member of the board of a club at our daughter’s school that produces and presents a big awards show at the end of the year, and I signed on to chair that event. Fortunately, the people who have chaired it for the past six years were still on board, and I would treat this year as an apprenticeship, because I learned that I have a lot to learn…about the event, the process, and about technology.

I like to think I “learned on the job” this year. I can usually open an app and figure it out. I’m not completely inept. And I’ve worked with the Word app before, but this year, I was given a Word template to use for the awards show, and it threw me for a loop! It was something that was to be top secret, and only my eyes could see the finished product, so I had to figure it out. Word is a pretty simple app, right? Well, I sat down to work with the template, which I had been warned was a little tricky, but I thought, “I’ve got this!” No, I didn’t. Every time I would try to replace script within the template, it became skewed, or it wouldn’t do anything at all! I would click where I wanted to type…nothing.

After struggling with the template, I called my librarian friend to ask her what I’m doing wrong. After telling her what was happening, she said, “I think you have a different version of Word on your laptop, and maybe you need the latest one.” I couldn’t get my computer to download the latest version of Word, because well, my laptop is on my husband’s ID, and I don’t know the password. He was out of town, so I called him…he doesn’t know it either. I think it’s time for me to get my own laptop. That was the first thing I learned.

I struggled. I stressed. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I refused to admit defeat. I refused to admit to the other committee members that I didn’t have a clue. I had a few days to figure it out at that point, so I put it aside and went to bed.

At about 1:30am, I woke up and had a thought, “Maybe I can download the latest version on my phone and make it work?” I downloaded the latest version of Word to my phone, and lo and behold…within two minutes, I had everything on the template changed. I slept peacefully after that. I had found a solution to my problem, and I even felt a little…dare I say… savvy!

In reality, I know I’m not savvy. When other people send me documents to peruse or edit, it still scares me. I’m terrified I will mess it up beyond repair. I tend to think of the old Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman, Steve Sax, in the 1983 season. I remember hearing someone say about him, because he was the error king, “He has messed up second base so badly, nobody will  ever be able to play it!”  (In all fairness, I should tell you Sax eventually overcame his case of the “yips” and had a full career in Major League Baseball…and he was easy on the eyes. You can see an old picture of him on TMZ here.)  I suppose I need to take my own advice that I often give our daughter. She enjoys sports, and I always tell her that if she believes she can do something…if she can visualize herself doing something in a game…she can do it. Sometimes, confidence will pull us through. My brother goes into things knowing he can do them. He’s not cocky. He’s just confident. I need to approach technology with the same confidence.

So if I’ve learned anything during this pandemic, it’s that I have a lot to learn. I have set a goal to learn as much as I can over the summer about different useful apps…so I won’t be afraid of them anymore. I’m going to learn how to create slides and videos and fancy, complicated spreadsheets. Sure, I might have to ask my teenage daughter to tutor me along the way, but that’s OK.

I also know I owe my librarian friend dinner and a cocktail for all the whining she has listened to!

Bring on the technology!

Vote Me Off the Island…Please!

Vote me off the island…please!

Last night, I accidentally woke my husband up about 15 minutes after he had fallen asleep. He was fast asleep, and I was scrolling Facebook, waiting for my restless leg syndrome meds to kick in…pun intended. As I passed pictures of different people around the country in various stages of “shelter in place” or “economy is open,” I came across something from the Today.com Facebook page titled Married? Quarantined? These hilarious parents get the struggle. And that got my attention. So I clicked.

Do you remember middle school health class? Remember when the teacher told the whole class they were going to learn about sex, but if you laughed, you were just showing your own immaturity? Remember how just knowing you weren’t supposed to laugh caused a giggle to start welling up inside you, even before anyone said the word “penis”? That’s how I felt while I was reading this piece on Today.com…I felt like that kid in health class who was trying to stifle a laugh, but because she was trying not to laugh, everything was funnier.

Well, I started reading the piece on Today.com, and everything it said was so familiar! Those other people writing the posts could have been me! You can see the whole post by clicking here. But just so you get the idea, one post, from “Lurkin’ Mom,” said, “My husband came home from the store with red delicious apples like he thinks I won’t divorce him just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”  Aren’t we all tired of listening to our family members chew?!?! I started to giggle…even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to, because my husband would be angry if I woke him up….and knowing I wasn’t supposed to laugh just made it worse. My silent giggles were causing me to shake, which in turn, was causing the bed to shake. I kept reading, because there was no turning back once I got the giggles, and then I read this post by Maryfairyboberry:

Quarantine Day 2, Hour 689- I’ve become very aware of my husband’s toenails and I’d like to be voted off the island now.

And that was it…I lost it. All those giggles I had been trying to suppress came out in repeated snorts! Yes, I was snort-laughing, because I was trying so hard not to laugh! It wasn’t just one snort…and they were loud snort-laughs! I knew I was in trouble when my husband sat straight up and said, “Are you OK?!?!?!”

That’s when I could just let the laughter go…tears of laughter were rolling down my face as I tried to explain to him while gasping for air, “I’m…fine…I’m…just…laughing…at…this…post!” He was not amused. He wasn’t terribly angry, but he did say, “Why don’t you just go to sleep like a normal person?!?”

Hmmm…because I’m not a normal person?

Here’s the thing…I was laughing so hard at all those posts, because they ring so true! I don’t mean the toenail thing is true. My husband’s toenails are just fine, but when you’re cooped up together for so long, something is going to bother you! I love my husband, but we just aren’t meant to be together 24/7 for weeks/months on end! Is any couple really supposed to be together 24/7 for weeks/months on end?!?! I feel pretty sure that if someone asked my husband right now, “If you were stranded on a deserted island and could pick one person to have with you, who would it be?”…he would not pick me. I’d probably pick Bear Grylls, for his survival skills alone, but he’d make fun of my lack of survival skills…so I’m going with Jason Momoa or The Rock…or maybe Mike Rowe! Yes, Mike Rowe would be my choice. My husband would for sure pick Heidi Klum or Giselle Bundchen. He would not pick me.

Trust me when I say he wants to be voted off this island too! It’s not just me! We enjoy each other’s company, and we have had a lot of fun together during the shelter-in-place order. We’ve spent time in the sun. He has helped me with my gardening. We’ve watched a lot of bad TV. We’ve had cocktails under the stars….and laughed till our stomachs hurt. But it’s time to leave Isolation Island, and if one of us doesn’t leave soon, well, don’t blame us for what happens.

Lucky for him (and me), he is going to the beach this weekend. I guess here is where I need to put another disclaimer: I love my husband. I do not want him to be gone permanently, but his going to the beach for the weekend will be good for both of us! When he comes home, I will welcome him with open arms. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

But back to that Today.com piece…do you want to know which post resonated the most with me? My friend, Mary Ann, called me after I reposted the whole piece from Today.com. She said, “I know exactly which post made you laugh the hardest.” And she was right. If you read my piece back on February 26 titled Karma Bit Me (you can see it here), then you’ll understand. In the Today.com piece, jackwax04 posted this exchange:

(my husband has the man flu. After 3 days):

M: will you please just take the medicine?

H: “pouts” fine, what flavor is it?

M: what flav…it’s ADULT FLAVORED!

 

Holy moly…welcome to my world! And yes, please vote me off the island now!

We Save $$$ Traveling with Friends

We save money traveling with friends…and make some great memories at the same time!

I’m always thinking about the next vacation. My husband just rolls his eyes every time I say, “You know where I want to go next?” He rolls his eyes because he does not have wanderlust, and I do. He loves being home, and he loves visiting the beach where he grew up. That’s fine, but I like to go to different places. That doesn’t mean I don’t repeat places, but the places I like are different than what he likes. No, it’s not a problem, because he doesn’t care when I vacation without him, and I don’t mind when he vacations without me. We’re married, but that doesn’t mean we have to be together 24/7.

My daughter and I travel with friends quite often, and we love it for so many reasons!

Our 16-yr-old daughter is an only child, and I have a cousin and several friends who also have “only children,” so it’s fun to travel with them. I get to catch up with my friends or my cousin, and my daughter has fun with their daughters.

Aside from the fun factor, it saves money for all of us, and we get to do more! How does it save money? Well, we always travel with friends we love…people we enjoy sharing space with. For example, this summer, we are going to a Caribbean destination with a friend from Alabama and her daughter. When we both had daughters, we joked that they would have to be best friends whether they wanted to or not…and fortunately, they love each other! As for the money savings, we share a hotel room or suite. Because we are sharing, we are splitting the cost, making it much more affordable for both of us. It doesn’t save us anything on airfare, but we manage to save a lot anyway.

In fact, this summer, we will do trips with three different friends and a cousin, and it’s all possible, because we aren’t spending a fortune on the rooms/suites, even though we will have beautiful, top-of-the-line accommodations! But we don’t just save on the room. We also save on rental cars, taxi rides, Uber rides, and gas costs. Seriously, it all adds up, and at the end of a five day trip, we are usually amazed at how much we saved by sharing the costs with friends.

Another way to save on travel? Consult a travel agent. I used to work at a travel agency, so I know they often are aware of specials the general public might not know about. Planning a trip to the Caribbean? Let an agent help you. Planning a cruise? Let an agent help you find the perfect one!

Maybe you want to book your own hotel reservation? One quick thing about hotels: when you are making a reservation, always check the special offers. Sometimes, they offer a fifth night free. Sometimes, they offer suites at a discount, but if you don’t check into it, you might be paying the same thing for a room that you could be paying for a much larger space. And always…always…always…continue to check the rates even after you book your reservation. Last year, after I booked our hotel for spring break, I kept checking, and the rates kept going down. I ended up with a rate that was $500 less (total) than the original rate I booked.

Other good ways to save when traveling? Some credit cards offer extra points for dollars spent while traveling, and you can get cash back. I have a credit card that gives me cash back for every dollar we spend, and we get a greater percentage if we apply it to travel. In fact, we try to pay for everything we can on that credit card, and the savings add up fast! I pay for two vacations a year with the points from that card! And don’t forget your frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards programs. If you haven’t signed up for the rewards programs of hotels where you stay, you are just throwing money away. Registration is always free for the programs, and you get points that can add up to free hotel rooms. Seriously, last year, we had 12 free nights in hotels. That’s real money.

And anyone can check out The Points Guy’s website here. The website has a plethora of information about travel savings, but one of the first points he makes is one of the points I’ve already made: get a credit card that will maximize your cash back or points for travel. He says, “By using your debit card [instead of a credit card with rewards], you are spending money and getting nothing in return.”

Travel doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, and it’s a lot more fun when you make memories with people you love! So if you want a surefire way to save on travel, grab a friend and split some costs! That’s my favorite way to save on vacation costs!

 

Healthier Options for Your Super Bowl Party

Hosting a Super Bowl Party?

It’s that time of year! College football (my favorite) is over, and there are just a couple more weeks of NFL games…division championships and the Super Bowl on February 2, Groundhog Day. This year, it’s Super Bowl LIV…that’s 54 for those of you who can’t read Roman numerals. Plus, it looks kind of cool that it’s LIV…makes me think of LIVE! I’m probably the only one thinking that, so I’ll move on.

Once the Super Bowl is over, we have to wait months for football to start up again, so let’s have a party!

I remember lots of past Super Bowls. The earliest one I remember is Super Bowl XII, between the Dallas Cowboys with Roger Staubach playing quarterback and Tom Landry coaching, and the Denver Broncos and their “Orange Crush” defense. I had likely watched other Super Bowls, because my parents were big sports fans, but that’s the first one I remember…maybe because it was the first one played in prime time? And boy, was it hyped! It was also the first one played in a domed stadium, the Louisiana Superdome, and the Cowboys won 27-12. I remember others too, and I wish I remembered Super Bowl X, in which Kenny Stabler, at quarterback, led the Oakland Raiders to victory over the Minnesota Vikings, but I don’t remember it. I remember Super Bowl XXXVIII for the wrong reason: Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. I remember it, because we were at a friend’s house who had previously played for the Carolina Panthers, and the Panthers were playing the Patriots. I had a 3-month-old baby, and I was tired, but I wanted to go, so I took the baby with me. I took the baby home right after the wardrobe malfunction, but that night lives on in my brain.

So this year, we don’t know yet who will be playing, but we can at least start planning our menus for parties! Since it’s just two weeks ago, I need to wrap my brain around a few recipes for the big day. I don’t go all crazy with a gigantic spread, but I want to have a few tasty snacks. Using Hungry Girl as my guide, here are a few I plan to use:

Buffalo Chicken Chili. Sure, I could make regular old chili, and I’m sure most folks would think it’s great, but why not change it up a bit? You can make Buffalo Chicken Chili in your slow cooker, and will be gobbled up by all your guests. It takes two things sports fans love, chili and Buffalo chicken, and mixes them together for a unique flavored chili that’s super easy to make. You can see the recipe here.BuffChili1_web

Cheeseburger Meatloaf. Not gonna lie…anything with “cheeseburger” in the title sounds good to me, and this is no exception. Cheeseburger Meatloaf? Yes, please! And have no fear…just because these are better for you than a normal fatty cheeseburger, they’re still delicious! I’ve made these several times, and the flavor is incredible. Plus, they are made in muffin pans, so the portion sizes are perfect. In fact, you can eat two of these and still stay under 200 calories! Mmm mmm good! Every man at the party will thank you for these hearty, flavorful treats. See the recipe for Cheeseburger Meatloaf here. Hungry Girl has other great cheeseburger-y recipes too. Maybe you’d like to make the Layered Cheeseburger Dip (recipe here)? Or serve the Air Fryer Cheeseburger Egg Rolls (recipe here)?retina_hungry-girl-cheeseburger-mini-meatloaves-20170220-1619-32204-3223-2

Veggie Chips. Nope, not the packaged ones you buy in the store. Hungry Girl has some great recipes for veggie chips made in your air fryer! I love the Air Fried Ranch Zucchini Chips (recipe here), and even my daughter liked them. Trust me, she’s a picky 16-yr-old; if she likes them, they are really good. Or maybe you love fried pickles at your favorite sports bar. Make a healthier version of them, Faux Fried Pickle Chips, in your air fryer with this great recipe from Hungry Girl (click here)! If you don’t have an air fryer, you need one. I just moved into the 21st century myself and purchased one…greatest invention ever!

retina_hungry-girl-healthy-faux-fried-pickle-chips-recipe-20170731-1228-23188-5698

Faux Fried Pickle Chips

Healthier Super Bowl Spreads. Everybody knows that for a Super Bowl Party, you need to have dips, and Hungry Girl doesn’t disappoint in this category. I’ve made several of the recipes on the site, and one of my personal favorites is in her book, Hungry Girl Clean & Hungry Obsessed. It’s called the For the Win Spinach Artichoke Dip, and the flavors are fabulous. You can purchase the book at Amazon here. In the same book, she has the Ultimate Ate-Layer Dip, a healthier version of the seven layer dip we all know and love. I highly recommend the book, and you can still order it in time to make the recipes for Super Bowl. On the website, though, she has Turkey-rific Taco Dip, a great mixture of flavors (see here), and Buff Chick Hot Wing Dip, which has been a big hit when I’ve served it. See the recipe here.

 

 

Pitcher Cocktails. I find it’s easier to make cocktails by the pitcher to save myself running back and forth to the bar. Hungry Girl has some great options for that too! The Sassy n Spiked Pink Lemonade Pitcher is a great choice…who doesn’t like spiked lemonade? See the recipe here. And I also love the Sparkling Sangria…also made in a pitcher. See the recipe here.

 

And don’t forget, to keep it fun but healthier, you can always serve veggies for dipping instead of chips. See in photos above that Hungry Girl has carrots, celery, and bell peppers for dipping.

Happy Super Bowl! And as Hungry Girl would say, “Chew the right thing!”

***All photos courtesy of Hungry-Girl.com. To sign up for daily emails from Hungry Girl, click hereOn the pull-down menu asking where you heard about Hungry Girl, click HG Ambassador, and enter my name (Kelly Mattei). Thank you!***