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.

I’ve Been Out of Circulation

I’ve been out of circulation.

Last week, I woke up one day with a fever and a sore throat. I recognized the feeling…it felt like strep throat. When I was growing up, my mother would say I would catch strep throat “if someone who had it walked within 500 feet of me.” I’m beginning to think that might have been true. The last time I had it, I was in my 30s. I’m 53 now, so it’s been a good run, but I still know what strep throat feels like…and looks like. So when I woke up with a sore throat and fever, I felt sure I had strep throat, but I knew I needed to get a COVID test too.

I went to my local Urgent Care and got a COVID test first. I did not get the rapid test, because I don’t trust it. I know too many people who have gotten false results, and I wanted to know for sure, so I got the PCR test. I knew I would have to wait a little while for the results…and isolate…but that was OK. I also told them I wanted a strep test. The doc did a rapid strep that came back negative, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I literally said, “It looks like strep and feels like strep. I still think it’s strep. I need you to send it off for a culture.” The next day, my PCR results said I did not have COVID. And after waiting three miserable days with 102+ fever and a horribly sore throat, the strep culture results came back positive, and the doc prescribed an antibiotic.

The moral of the story? Don’t trust those rapid tests. I don’t care if you’re a doctor and you argue with me here…I don’t trust those, and this experience was a prime example of why you absolutely must get throat swabs cultured when you think you have strep throat. If you don’t learn anything else from me, learn that. I can’t guarantee I can teach anything else, but I can teach you that.

Soon after I started the antibiotics, I started feeling better. What a relief! When I say I was miserable, it is an understatement. I don’t think I have felt that badly since I had mononucleosis when I was 17. No joke. It was horrible…and I lost six days of my life!

And of course, the next day, my husband said to me, “My throat is sore and I have fever.” He called his doctor’s office and explained the Hell I had just been through with strep, and they immediately ordered an antibiotic for him…sight unseen, because strep is that contagious.

I’m not sharing all this just to complain. I want to share a few things that made us both feel better while we waited for antibiotics to do their job…just in case you find yourself waiting for some antibiotics or suffering from cold or flu:

  • Icees and Slurpees. When our daughter was a little girl (she’s now 17), anytime she was sick, one of us would run get her an Icee at Target or a Slurpee at our local 7-11 store. She thought Icees/Slurpees cured all ills, and truly, we may have been on to something. When I was so miserable last weekend, my husband got me a Slurpee, and it made me feel so much better. The cold on my throat was a Godsend! In fact, while I was drinking it, my daughter walked to the bedroom door (no closer, because she didn’t want to catch it) and said, “That Slurpee will make you feel a lot better.” Therefore, I highly recommend Icees and Slurpees, if you can get them. You have to stay hydrated when you’re sick…why not with a frozen drink?
  • Cool Mist Humidifier. Lots of illnesses make your throat dry or cause you to have nighttime cough. Strep made my throat dry, and that made me have a hacking, dry cough at night. I read online that a cool mist humidifier might help, so I ordered one online at Walgreen’s, and my husband picked it up same day. When he got it home, I set it up and added a little DoTerra Breathe essential oil. What a difference! The humidifier kept my throat from drying out, and the essential oil made my room feel like a spa!
  • Hall’s Cough Drops. I’ve tried them all, and nothing worked as well as Hall’s Cherry Cough Drops. They taste good and soothe your throat.
  • Chloraseptic Spray. Chloraseptic makes lozenges too, but I prefer the spray, because I can target it right to my throat when I need it. If I felt my throat starting to tickle as I was getting ready to fall asleep, I’d spray a few sprays, and that did the trick. We keep it on hand all the time. Always follow directions when using…might not be advisable for children.
  • Cool, damp washcloth. Never underestimate the power of a cool, damp washcloth. My husband has finally learned that from me. When you’re sick, a cool, damp washcloth can help in lots of ways. Since this time, I had fever, I placed a cool, damp washcloth on my neck when I was trying to sleep or anytime I was feeling worse. Something about it is soothing. If you have a stomach bug, it helps then too…wipe your face, cool your skin…whatever.
  • Starbucks Medicine Ball Tea. Wow! This stuff might not work miracles, but it might make you feel like it’s working miracles for a short time, anyway! It’s actually called a Honey Citrus Mint Tea, and it contains all the perfect ingredients. A friend brought me one (thanks, Dawn), and I love it! I had no idea it existed! It’s even good on a cold morning when you’re not sick!
  • Soup. We’ve always been told to have soup when we’re sick. It helps. I don’t know why, but it does. I have a friend who sent over some yummy, homemade, vegetable-beef soup, and it made me feel so much better. (Thanks, Linda.)

I certainly don’t claim to know everything about strep throat and recovery, but I do know what helped me feel better with this most recent bout. Obviously, you want to have plenty of analgesics and pain reducers (Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen) on hand, but all the things listed above brought me some relief. The first thing I recommend? Don’t get sick.

The New BC

The new BC.

We all know BC, in historic terms, means before Christ, right? In modern terms, though, it means before COVID.

Now that we are approaching the one year mark on the COVID shutdowns, I look at my daily Facebook memories from 2020 and think, “Wow. How little we knew then.” I look at pictures of myself laughing with friends or my daughter playing sports, and I think, “We had no idea how our lives were about to change.” In fact, on this day one year ago, my post was about a friend telling me that when she was a kid, her school bus driver would stop at railroad tracks and let acid off the bus to run across the tracks…to wave the bus across. That was my big concern of this day in 2020. I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently, it was happening in lots of places. What I didn’t know was that life as I knew it was about to stop, and I wouldn’t be worried about how people waved buses across railroad tracks back in the day.

This morning, my daughter’s school lacrosse team had a game, and it was the first time students have been allowed to attend sporting events as spectators since this time last year. March 12 was the last day our kids went to school last year, and that anniversary is rapidly approaching. There were no spring sports after that date. Our little independent school opened in August, with a hybrid plan of alternating days for students, so at least they are in school half the time, and we had fall sports, but we had them without spectators. Same with winter sports…our school found a way for parents to attend (only two adults per player), but students were still not allowed to attend as spectators…till today.

Last night, my daughter and her friends were reminding friends that they should come watch the game and cheer them on this morning. And not surprisingly, lots of them showed up…even for a Saturday morning game! Girls sports, for whatever reason, don’t usually have a whole lot of spectators besides parents, but today? The turnout was fantastic! Maybe since they haven’t been able to gather in stadiums and sports arenas for so long, these students will support all their teams. I think they will be thrilled to have an excuse to commune…even while social distancing. At least, after a whole year of shutdowns and disappointments, these kids are getting an opportunity to have a little bit of normalcy.

Heck, our school has even announced the juniors and seniors will have a prom! That was quite a shocker, but it truly gave the students something to look forward to!

Hopefully, things will continue to move in a positive direction. Last year, we canceled our spring break trip at the last minute, but this year, we are going. In fact, we are going on the trip we paid for last year, so this year it seems like a free trip!

The past year has been tough on all of us…some more so than others. It was tough mentally for me and lots of my friends. It was tough financially for lots of people. Physically…lots of people got COVID and recovered, but lots of people died or lost loved ones. Our kids lost the experiences they are supposed to have as kids and teenagers. College students stayed home and learned online or sat in dorms and learned. They lost a year of “college experience.” People lost jobs and livelihoods…some of them lost everything they had. It was a tough year. We were told that we could “flatten the curve” of COVID by staying home for two weeks back in March 2020. Then that two weeks stretched to four weeks…six weeks…six months…and here we are at a year. I was about to lose my mind every time a vacation canceled last summer, but I knew missing vacations was minor compared to what some folks were experiencing. It didn’t make it any easier for me, and when I’d had enough (September), I got on a plane anyway. I needed it.

One thing I know is that starting on March 12, my Facebook memories are going to get more interesting. They will move from BC (before COVID) to photos and posts from the first year of the COVID era. While I have hated the shutdowns, and I have hated watching people get sick and some die, I think the posts that start popping up in my memories will be interesting. They will tell a story of the first year of COVID. I will see posts from last spring, when we were stuck home, and I was spending as much time as possible outdoors, because I couldn’t look at the four walls of my house anymore. They will also tell the story of a year unlike any other. Before it happened, staying home all the time sounded like Hell to me. And for the first few weeks and even months, it was especially tough. Then I found ways to make it more tolerable…gardening, taking road trips, mailing postcards, mailing letters, sitting by the pool, talking on the phone…anything to make it better.

My daddy used to tell me that once you start staying home all the time it becomes too easy to stay home all the time. If you stop driving on the interstate highway, you forget how to drive on the interstate highway. Stop going to the grocery store? You forget how. You have to take on the “use it or lose it” mentality, and thankfully, I remembered that throughout the last year. I would get into my car and just drive sometimes. But yes, I did notice as stores started opening that I was a little awkward when shopping. How does one forget how to shop? I even went into a new sandwich shop one time early in the shutdowns, and wearing a mask made it seem almost unnavigable to me. I couldn’t learn a new system while wearing a mask! So I left and went to my old trusted sandwich shop, where the ordering system was familiar.

Since then, I’ve traveled more and moved around more…sometimes by car and sometimes by plane…all while wearing a mask. I’m wondering if life will ever be what it was BC, or will we always wear masks? Will we always be afraid to hug or shake hands? That’s the part I really hate. I like hugging. I like shaking hands.

But right now, I’m just thankful. I’m thankful to have survived the first year of the COVID era relatively intact. I’m grateful to have great friends and family I love. I hope we move into the post-COVID era sooner rather than later.

As we start to move beyond the first year of COVID, I hope we will all remember how fortunate we are to have “normal” again. I hope we will all be grateful for “normal.” I hope those who have experienced hardship or loss can find a way to move forward. I hope we find ways to be joyful. I hope…I just hope we have hope.

Old School Fundraisers (You’ll Recognize a Few)

Old school fundraisers.

Back in the day, public schools, like the ones I attended, were all about fundraisers. PTOs, PTAs, marching bands, sports teams, and cheerleaders all raised money for one thing or another. And back then, there were lots of different things you could sell to raise funds.

The earliest fundraisers I remember were in Brewton, Alabama, where I lived till I was seven. I remember two different fundraisers, mostly because I remember the items my mother purchased from band members or athletes who lived in our neighborhood. One of my favorites was a birthday calendar. I hope someone else will remember these, because over the years, I’ve asked people if they remember them, and no one else can recall them. Back in the early 1970s, some part of our local school…I’m guessing the band or an athletic team…sold birthday calendars. They were wall calendars, but I don’t even remember what the pictures were. I just remember that on each date, it listed local people’s birthdays. I don’t know how it worked, but I guess you got to submit your family birthdays if you purchased a calendar. I loved it. As a kid, I was obsessed with little facts like birthdays, addresses, and phone numbers…weird, I know, but these fundraiser calendars made me very happy…especially when I saw my own name on my birthday. In fact, to this day, I still remember the birthdays of some of my childhood friends, simply because I flipped through that calendar all the time. I could also tell you some of their phone numbers, but that might be weird.

Something else my mother purchased through a fundraiser at TR Miller High School in Brewton? Red and white pleather (plastic leather) duffel bags. They were emblazoned with “TR Miller Tigers” and a graphic of the tiger mascot on one side, and it seems there were ads for local businesses on the other side. If I remember correctly, the bags were red with white lettering and white piping and a white plastic handle. I could be a little off with some of the details, but that’s how I remember it. Unfortunately, my family moved several times when I was growing up, and that duffel bag (or gym bag) got lost in the shuffle somewhere along the line. I sure wish I had it now. Apparently, they were popular at the time, because you can look on eBay for “high school duffel bag” and see quite a few of them (like the ones below)…from lots of different high schools across the country. Heck, I might purchase one from a different school just for the nostalgia!

Later, when we lived in Spanish Fort, Alabama, we sold chocolate bars to raise funds for the PTA at Spanish Fort School…our local elementary school. I think the brand was World’s Finest. I was probably in third grade, and I was all excited to sell some candy bars out of a cardboard box with a handle on it, but my mother was not keen on it. What I remember most? Each candy bar wrapper had a “buy one get, get one free” Whopper at Burger King. That sounded awesome to me! Nevermind that the nearest Burger King was across the bay in Mobile. In fact, the only one I remember at the time was way out toward the airport, but there might have been one closer to town. Either way, it was at least 30 minutes from our house, and we never went to Burger King. Also, I’d never had a Burger King Whopper at the time, so I had no idea that there was no way I would eat a burger with all those veggies at the time.

We moved another time, and my new elementary school, Wetumpka Elementary (or Bobby’s Brain Factory, as my parents called it, because the principal’s name was Bobby, and we all loved him) which I attended in fifth and sixth grades, was on a perpetual quest for air conditioning. I’m sure I participated in fundraisers for that…or maybe I should say my parents just bought all the candy bars I brought home…only to move on to middle school before the air conditioners were installed. I then went to a middle school that didn’t have air conditioning…in Alabama. In fact, I never went to a school that had any kind of air conditioning till I was in ninth grade…in Alabama. And then, it was just window units…in Alabama. Do I need to mention how hot it is in Alabama? We were tough, though. Seriously, I know I sound like an old person, but can you imagine today’s wimpy kids going to school without air conditioning? In Alabama?!?! Folks make fun of southerners for not being able to handle a little snow, but I remember reading about some schools in New Hampshire canceling classes a couple of years ago because of a “heat wave.” I think the temps were in the 90s. Haha! It was in the 90s from April or May through September (and maybe even into October sometimes) in Alabama, and we didn’t miss a day of school because of it!

In high school, in the 1980s, we had more fundraisers, and I have some fond memories of them. When I was a cheerleader, we sold lots of things…ice cream from a freezer in our advisor’s classroom, suntan lotion (because we called it suntan lotion instead of sunscreen then), spirit towels, and my all-time favorite: booster badges! I don’t know if other high schools had booster badges, but they were all the rage at mine. As cheerleaders, we were given a stack of booster badges on Thursday afternoon to sell every Friday during football season. I think they were fifty cents each, and we each had to sell $50 worth each week. I would get to school early Friday morning with a shoe box full of booster badges to work the parking lot. It worked out that each cheerleader ended up having loyal customers. In fact, I remember who my loyal customers were to this day! If you’re not familiar with booster badges, they looked like the photos below. But ours weren’t all positive like the signs kids are expected to make today. Our said things like “Mutilate the Mustangs,” “Pulverize the Panthers,” and “Butcher the Bulldogs.” As soon as we had sold all our allotted booster badges for the week, we would take our boxes to our advisor who would take the money, and we stored our shoe boxes in her room till the next week, when we picked up more booster badges.

I remember our marching band selling Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (I think they were $2.50 a dozen), candy bars, and boxes of M&Ms. One reason I remember is that I often had those M&Ms for lunch. If I arrived in the school cafeteria and found they were serving something I didn’t want to eat, I would search out a friend who was selling M&Ms and have Peanut M&Ms for lunch. I probably washed them down with a Coke or Dr. Pepper from one of the school vending machines, but that’s a story for another day. I also remember one person in the band who had a car accident and woke up to find herself at the bottom of a ravine, alone. One thing she remembered about waking up? She had M&Ms in her hair from the fundraiser. She was fine…no injuries.

Things are a lot different now. My child has never come home from school with stuff to sell for a fundraiser, and her school doesn’t have vending machines with sodas or snacks for students. The food in her “dining hall” is prepared from scratch by a chef and skilled staff, and the food is fantastic…and there are lots of choices! While I know my parents thought some of those fundraisers were just a scam to get them to send in money, I feel like my daughter has missed out on some special memories. I’m going to eBay now to order a duffel bag.

A Dog’s Snow Day

A dog’s snow day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3

Two friends on the road, part 3.

My friend, Mary Ann, and I took a road trip from Charlotte to Miami and back last week. I’ve written parts 1 and 2, and part 2 ended with our driving out of the Tequesta/Jupiter area of Florida after attempting to visit Joe Namath’s soon-to-open restaurant…and getting caught accidentally trespassing in the process. Eek!

Our next destination? West Palm Beach, where we needed to try a Cuban restaurant my friend, Linda, raved about. We left Jupiter, and in less than half hour, we were standing in front of Havana Restaurant, right on the corner of Dixie Highway (Hwy 1) and Forest Hill Blvd.

Imagine our surprise when we found the dining room closed. The takeout window facing Dixie Highway was open, so we talked with the ladies there, who told us the takeout window is open 24 hours, but the dining room was open 5pm to 11pm. It was 4pm, so we decided to order an early dinner and dine at one of the outdoor tables on the side of the building. We knew that by the time we finished our early dinner, the dining room would be open, and we could go inside for dessert. We had Tostones Milanesa, Ropa Vieja, and Arroz con Pollo. Wow! The flavors were perfect, and the portions were huge, but we still saved room for dessert…because, well, Cuban desserts.

A little after 5:00, we entered the dining room and were seated immediately. I’ve never been to Cuba, but it certainly gave me vibes I thought were Cuban. The walls featured posters and photos of Cuban singers and stars, many from a bygone era. We loved the atmosphere! Mary Ann had never had Flan, so she ordered that, and I ordered Tres Leches Cake, which I always love, and we both ordered Cafe con Leche. The coffee came first; if you enjoy a good cup of coffee, I recommend you try the coffee at Havana. But when the desserts arrived, we were absolutely overwhelmed! Mary Ann decided she loved Flan. I knew I loved Tres Leches Cake, but this one bowled me over. I can hardly wait to get back to West Palm Beach just so I can get that cake. For more information about Havana Restaurant, click here. We loved it. The servers were absolutely delightful, and the food was fantastic. Highly recommend!

Havana Restaurant’s Tres Leches Cake

We waddled back out to the car after eating too much, and decided we’d stop in Delray Beach for the night. We took the beach road, and as I drove, Mary Ann was searching online for a small, locally-owned place to stay the night. We found Atlantic Hideaway on 6th Avenue. Unfortunately, they had no rooms left for the night. Even though we didn’t get to stay there, we recommend it and will likely try it another time. To see info about Atlantic Hideaway, click here. After driving around looking for other small inns, we finally opted to book at the Courtyard…yes, I know…not a small, locally-owned place, but it was in a great location…and at that point, it was just easy. We booked on the Marriott app, where we also checked in and got a digital key. Parking was in a covered garage. We were thrilled with how large the room was…two king beds…and the whole hotel was remarkably clean and beautiful. I never thought I would call a Courtyard beautiful, but this one definitely was.

After getting our bags to the room, we went out to explore on foot. Delray Beach is a lovely town with lots of cute restaurants and shops. We didn’t need more food after Havana, but we enjoyed walking. We crossed over the drawbridge and visited the beach. Of course, we took lots of photos along the way.

We slept well, and when we got up the next morning, we spent a couple of hours checking out Delray Beach, resolving to return soon. It’s the kind of place I could live out my retirement…seriously, it could happen.

In the afternoon, we got back on A1A, driving south through Highland Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Pompano Beach. We knew Miami Beach was our southernmost destination, so we made a hotel reservation and dinner reservations while we drove…more on that later. We didn’t make any stops till we got to Pompano, and we were past due for some lunch, since we hadn’t eaten breakfast. We had just said we were feeling “lunchy” when we saw a sign for Great Indian Grill. We both love Indian food, so we took a chance and were so glad we did! The place was small…just three tables…but with only two employees, it had a friendly, personal vibe. The chef, Jay, took our orders, and offered suggestions. He suggested Chicken Tikka Masala as an appetizer and Lamb Biryani and Shrimp Curry for lunch. Yum! Everything he prepared was perfect, and we felt like he was our personal chef! In some Indian restaurants, the flavors can be overwhelming, but Jay prepared them in such a way that the flavors melded perfectly. Everything was delicious. For info on Great Indian Grill, click here. We thanked our new friend, Jay, profusely before getting on the road to Miami.

As we drove away, we remembered reading that a Goodyear Blimp Airbase is in Pompano Beach, so Mary Ann checked her phone, and we decided to make a quick drive past the hangar, in hopes a blimp would be parked outside. As we approached, we realized we were getting more than that! A blimp was outside, indeed…getting prepared for takeoff! We had no idea where it was going, but when it took off, it flew low directly above us! As it started to circle low around the base, I realized it was doing a fly by and was going to land again! What a treat to watch it take off and land! I’ve seen the Goodyear blimp countless times, but I had never seen it take off and land, so this was fun! Once we knew it wouldn’t be taking off again, we got on the road. For info on the Goodyear Blimp Airbase, click here.

The blimp landing in the background, and a man biking through my selfie!

We rolled into Miami with Will Smith singing Miami on the car speakers, and eventually switched over to Pit Bull…just to get the vibe for the 305.

As I mentioned earlier, we had made a hotel reservation. We opted to stay at Eden Roc, because it’s in mid-beach (not South Beach!), and because they have valet parking. There were other factors too…Nobu restaurant and Malibu Farm restaurant are both at Eden Roc.

Upon arrival at Eden Roc, we were greeted warmly by the valet and bell staff. Check-in was quick and easy, and our room on the seventh floor gave us a pool view and partial ocean view. We got cleaned up and went downstairs to Malibu Farm for our cocktail reservation before moving to Nobu for our dinner. Mary Ann had never dined at Nobu, but I have dined at several, so I knew it would be a fabulous experience. It most definitely was. Nobu never disappoints. In fact, Mary Ann has called me several times since, still talking about that Nobu meal. I’d love to list everything we ordered, but we let the server decide for us, so we didn’t know the names of everything…but it was fantastic! For info on Malibu Farm, click here…and Nobu info, click here.

We went to bed happy, dreaming of the Nobu meal we’d just had!

We knew we had one day in Miami, so the next morning we picked a couple of things we wanted to do. I have no love for South Beach, so that was off the table. We knew we wanted to visit Calle Ocho…you can’t go to Miami without visiting Little Havana/Calle Ocho. We also wanted to visit the Wynwood Walls.

So after a quick drive around the Art Deco and South Beach area, we drove west, across MacArthur Causeway to Calle Ocho, where we had another great Cuban meal at Versailles. It’s a a tourist trap, but there were locals there too, and frankly, the easy parking was a factor in our decision. To see more about Versailles, click here. We left there and took a few pictures in Little Havana before going to the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum of murals by American and international artists. It’s actually blocks of murals on building and walls, but now there is a part of the area that charges for entry. It’s $10 per person, and it’s money well spent. We spent about an hour there, admiring the murals and taking photos. We loved it. And of course, at the end, I had to go into the gift shop to purchase some postcards…it’s what I do. For more about The Wynwood Walls, click here.

We left there, driving north with no idea where we would stop. More next time…in part 4 of the series.

Two Friends on the Road, Part 1

Two friends on the road, Part 1.

I’ve recovered now. Wow. About 11 days ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann. We were long overdue for some fun, and frankly, we had discussed the possibility of a road trip without kids for years. It was high time we just got into the car and went. So we did. My husband stayed home with our 17-yr-old daughter, and my friend left her three kids with her mom…and off we went. We didn’t plan anything in advance. We didn’t have hotel reservations. However, because of COVID, we decided we needed to travel to places that were actually open, so we headed south…toward Florida.

We had used an app called Roadside America before, so we decided to use it on this trip too…and using the app, we decided our first stop would be at the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, South Carolina. Crazy, right? It’s not an official welcome center; a gentleman built it in his yard, but it’s rather impressive. We knew when we had arrived, for sure. It’s shaped like a flying saucer and it casts a rather large shadow on the road as we approached from the east. Wow! Someone had spent a lot of time building this! I have to admit it was pretty amazing…an unusual photo op, to say the least. For a $20 “tip” you can go inside the massive structure, but since the sun was setting, and we weren’t sure the structure was “up to code,” we opted out of the grand tour. And soon, we were back on the road.

It wasn’t long before we were on I-95 south, and we stayed the course for several hours, till we decided it was time to stop…in St. Augustine, Florida. We got off the interstate and headed toward town, looking for a restaurant where we could grab dinner. We found a lovely place called Green Papaya, which offered Asian Fusion, but it was nearing closing time. We quickly ordered online and opted to eat it in the car, because we didn’t want to cause the staff to stay late. (My husband would be upset that we ate in my car…but he wasn’t there!) We were impressed with our ability to find a great restaurant, as the food from Green Papaya was just what the doctor ordered! If we find ourselves in St. Augustine again, we will return!

After dinner (in the car!), it was time to look for a place to stay. As I mentioned, we hadn’t made reservations ahead of time, and we wanted a small, locally-owned inn for the night. After checking ratings online, we headed toward a place called Magic Beach Motel in Vilano Beach…just outside St. Augustine. When we rolled into Vilano Beach, it was easy to spot Magic Beach Motel, because it was aglow in neon! It was exactly what we were looking for…a charming little beach motel from days gone by. (See feature photo!) For more info on the Magic Beach Motel, click here. Here’s where I should mention we purchased lottery tickets (it was at $950 million!) and scratch-offs every time we stopped for a bathroom break or to gas up the car. Scratch-offs added some mindless entertainment when we checked into the motel (and every hotel thereafter), and won more than we spent! We got a good night’s sleep, and the next morning, we decided to check out the area. We walked around the village, a tourist/beach area that boomed in the 1940s and 50s, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Tomalato River. For more information on Vilano Beach, click here. I read there was once a drawbridge that directed traffic to the area, but when a new bridge was constructed in 1995, traffic was diverted away from the area, having a negative impact on the area’s businesses. It’s still a charming area, and it appears to be having a bit of a comeback, as a couple of hotel chains are building there. We strolled from the beach park on one end to the pier overlooking the Tomalato River on the other end. It was at the pier that we found the Bluebird of Happiness statue…another great photo op.

We had fun exploring. Lots of the old motels/restaurants are closed and falling into disrepair, and Mary Ann and I mused about what could be done to revitalize them…if we won the lottery! We also learned there is a Saturday flea market and a cute little Airstream shopping village on weekends. Too bad we were there on a Tuesday/Wednesday. We would have enjoyed it. Good info for next time, though!

We also learned the sign for Haley’s Court, an old beach motel, is an icon of the “beach tourism boom of the 1940s and 50s,”and it has its own historical marker, according to hmdb.org. When we drove into town, the sign was not illuminated, but the next morning, we were able to see it clearly. The sign is a great example of mid-century modern design.

After spending the morning exploring Vilano Beach, we loaded up and drove to The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine…a tourist trap, for sure, but a fun one. We had lunch at a barbecue spot there, and it was surprisingly good! The park itself is interesting and informative, having begun as a tribute to Ponce de Leon’s landing in the New World. It has since become an archeological park, after several Christian relics were unearthed, positively identifying the area as the location of the settlement of St. Augustine in the 1500s. In the park, we found lots of information about the history of the area and even a planetarium! To learn more about The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, click here. We didn’t feel any younger when we left, unfortunately.

From there, we revisited downtown St. Augustine in the daylight…and it was just as stunning by day as it was when it was illuminated at night! The town square! The marinas! The fort! The beautiful, historical architecture! It’s definitely worth a visit! To learn more about St. Augustine, click here.

On our way out of town, we visited the lighthouse for a quick photo op, and we drove past the Alligator Farm, a place I visited as a child and loved. We needed to get a little farther south quickly, so we didn’t visit this time, but it’s also worth your time. I love a good alligator farm. Having lived on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama, I’ve seen lots of gators…fascinating creatures. You can see lots of other animals at the Alligator Farm too. To learn more about the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, click here.

As we drove out of St. Augustine, we made a quick stop at a food truck park and grabbed some macróns before getting on A1A to head south on the beach road. We opened the windows and the sunroof, cranked up the 80s tunes and cruised the beach road through Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and Ormond-by-the-Sea. This stretch of A1A felt like old school beach road…we enjoyed it and put our toes in the sand at several beaches along the way, searching for Right Whales every time we stopped. Right Whales can be spotted off the Florida coast between the months of December and March…something I didn’t know before this trip… so we hoped we might be able to spot one. We didn’t, but it was fun looking for them…and we got to enjoy the beaches in the process! We spoke with some local folks along the way…asking if any of them had ever seen Right Whales off shore…none of them had, but they knew people who had.

At Daytona, we hopped off A1A to take advantage of a photo op at Daytona Motor Speedway…a landmark, for sure. We then followed Highway 1 south to Merritt Island. I’ll pick up with that stop next time. At this point, we were having a great time, and the fun continued!

Outside Daytona Motor Speedway

Retro Road Trip

Retro road trip!

I’m 53. I don’t hesitate to tell people my age, because I don’t really care how old I am. I’m just happy to be here. At 53, though, I have accumulated a lot of life experience, and I have a lot of memories.

I don’t remember my parents ever being big on staying in little roadside motels, but I do remember a few occasions when we stayed in them in small towns. I remembering seeing lots of little locally-owned inns and motels in the late 1960s and 70s. There were lots of them lining the beach roads in the Florida Panhandle, a place we frequented. Panama City Beach was full of them, and a few are still there. When I was a little girl living in Spanish Fort, Alabama, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, there was a cute little locally-owned motel near the entrance to our neighborhood. Anyone who lived in Spanish Fort in the 70s (and probably the 50s and 60s) remembers the Spanish Fort Motel, and they likely remember the Malbis Hotel Courts too, which had a swimming pool shaped like the state of Alabama. I know, because when I was a little girl, locals would purchase “memberships” to pools at both places. We spent lots of hot summer days swimming there. Both places had great restaurants for breakfast, and they both were on old Highway 90, which was the coastal east-west highway before the interstate, I-10, opened. After I-10 opened, of course, lots of those little places closed. Hotel chains built hotels near the interstates, and travelers opted for those instead.

Lots of those little roadside motels are gone now. But in some parts of the country, you can still find them.

This week, I am going on a retro road trip with a friend. We are leaving the kids behind and hitting the road…in search of every cute, little, retro, roadside motel we can find. We aren’t looking for luxury. We are looking for cute, quaint, old-fashioned fun. We haven’t put a lot of thought into where we will go, but we know we have to go somewhere that’s actually open during the COVID pandemic. We know we don’t need to drive into snow. And we know we need to go somewhere that there are still roadside motels. So, we are headed to Florida.

Originally, we had booked a five-night stay at a nice resort in south Florida, but then we decided to make this more of a retro adventure…a step back in time…and that’s what it will be. Plus, we felt like we would likely be more exposed to COVID at a large resort. Trust me when I say we are going to be careful. My travel buddy has already had COVID and still has antibodies. I don’t want to catch it, so I will be extra careful. But we want to have some fun and make new, silly memories.

Now don’t get me wrong. We don’t want to stay at any roach motels, and we don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to drug deals going down around us, so we have done a little research. And we will check reviews and ratings before we stop anywhere.

While we are on the road, we also will check out every cheesy roadside attraction we can find. All those roadside attractions the kids would grumble about? We are stopping! And we are going to take lots of photos! So stay tuned…the fun starts Tuesday.

I’m wondering if we should wear clothes from the 60s and 70s…maybe we will find some thrift stores along the way!

We are stepping back in time! Retro road trip!

***The feature photo is from a postcard from the Spanish Fort Motel. It features a photo of the entrance/check-in area.

***The photo below is a postcard featuring the Malbis Hotel Courts…and that pool shaped like the great state of Alabama.***

I Can See Clearly Now

***I wrote this in September 2020 but never published it. I was afraid of the backlash, but it makes me a little happier to read it now. It’s a reminder that one reason we are having so much infighting right now is that we have lost our normal “outlets” for stress.***

I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day!

-I Can See Clearly Now, Song by Jimmy Cliff

This is how I feel today. I feel like the clouds have been lifted, and I can see the world more clearly than I did before. No, I didn’t have a cataract removed. No, I didn’t get new glasses. I’ve been feelin’ the pandemic blues for quite some time, and it was skewing my view of the world. I think other people are feeling the same thing. I talked to someone today who said he was happy to get to go to a funeral in another city, because it gave him an excuse to get on a plane! I didn’t go to a funeral, but I did get on a plane.

Go ahead. Scold me. Call me selfish. I don’t really care. Yes, I got on a plane, and while some would say it was “unnecessary travel,” I beg to differ. I’m guessing my husband would too, since I came home so much happier. We all make choices. I chose to get on a plane…and go on vacation…during the pandemic. One person on my personal Facebook page said I was “brave” to get on a plane right now. Well, I don’t see it that way. The way I see it…for the past few weeks, people have been brave to approach me, because I’ve been angry. Now, that’s brave. Usually, I’m pretty happy-go-lucky and don’t take myself too seriously, but this whole pandemic thing? Well, it had me downright depressed…and did I mention angry??? You name it, I’ve been angry about it. I knew I needed to get away. I knew what I needed to do to change my mindset, so I did it.

And when I arrived at my hotel, I cried. I promise you, I cried. I was that happy to be there. Make fun. I don’t care. In fact, I told the gentleman at the front desk of the hotel that I could guarantee one thing: no one in that hotel was happier to be there than I was. And I wasn’t kidding. I was on a high for five solid days.

Jennifer met me there. I’ve mentioned her before. Miss Merry Sunshine. Who better to have with you on your vacation during a pandemic than a person who is perpetually happy? She was there for two days, and I was there for five, but we enjoyed the two days we had together. We acted like teenagers…having lunch at a cafe on the beach. When I say it was a cafe on the beach, I mean our toes were in the sand while we ate fish tacos! We took the top off our rented Jeep and drove all through the canyons and took selfies with canyons and selfies with every beautiful vista we could find! We shopped! We laughed. We talked. We ate at a couple of “fancy” restaurants (outdoors, of course)…till we just couldn’t eat more. We drank a lot of champagne. And did I mention we laughed?

After Jennifer left, I dined at a few more “fancy” restaurants…yep, by myself…because I’m cool like that, and because I was just so damn happy to be there, and I was going to take advantage of every moment I had. I ate. I drank. I shopped more. I checked out sights I’d never seen. I met a friend and her new baby for lunch at an outdoor rooftop restaurant. I relished every moment.

When I got home, my husband said he felt like his “old” wife is back. That’s a good thing. That means the “depressed” wife is gone. No joke…staying home all the time was about to make me insane. I was struggling.

I’m putting this out there, because I think we all need to do what we can to become a little happier right now. If you love binge-watching cheesy TV shows, do it. If you like to hike, do it…find somewhere you can hike. If, like me, you need to get on an airplane, well, that’s up to you. I needed to do it. And I can survive on the joy from that trip for a couple of months…till the next time I get on a plane…at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving travel counts as “necessary” travel, right? To me, it does. And I’m taking my daughter with me too. The hubs doesn’t want to travel, and that’s OK. But when we get home, if the school tells my daughter she has to quarantine for two weeks, because they decided to change the “rules” after telling us they wouldn’t police us outside of school…well, so be it. Damn it. She will just go remote for a couple weeks. And frankly, I won’t give a damn…because we need a Thanksgiving break.

If you see me in the airport around Thanksgiving, that means you’re there too. Give me a wave or a thumbs up, and I can promise I will smile at you, because I’ll just be so damn happy to be traveling again.

As for now, I’m still on a “high” from this last trip. I’m smiling again. I’m laughing. I’m making fun of myself. I’m not taking everyone so seriously. I’m back to my old self. And it feels good.

Whew! We Made It!

Whew! We made it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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