Real Life Can Be Stressful

Real life can be stressful. The transition from high school to college can be tricky.

I haven’t posted anything since May 9. Why? Because my brain has been scrambled…that’s why.

If you have never had a child graduate from high school, but you have kids who eventually will graduate, hold onto your hat. What I thought should not be stressful or a big deal of any kind has turned my world upside down.

OK, maybe that’s being extreme. But during the weeks leading up to our daughter’s high school graduation on May 21, there were so many events and activities. I don’t consider myself low energy, but man! They wore me out! Parent meetings, Baccalaureate, Senior Supper, sports awards…and so much more! And those are just the things parents attended…the seniors did all that and more! I know the school was trying to cram lots of “memories” into a few weeks, but I’m not kidding when I say it was overwhelming. Back in 1985, when I graduated from a public high school, we had graduation rehearsal and graduation. I don’t remember any extra things we had to do, and I was cool with that, because honestly…graduating from high school is something we are supposed to do.

Soon after our daughter’s graduation at the end of May, she and I flew down to attend her college orientation. The event itself wasn’t stressful, but it was a lot of information at one time. Y’all know I didn’t even know want to go. I don’t think parents should have to go to orientation. In this case, nothing ever said it was mandatory, but as I talked to other parents leading up to it, I was afraid my daughter would look like an orphan if I didn’t go with her. So I went. But again, I don’t think there should even be sessions for parents. Back in the 1980s, my parents didn’t go. I drove myself there without GPS or a cellphone, and everything was just fine. I think they started doing parent sessions to give the parents something to do. You know, in 2022, we can’t just let our kids do things on their own. {Insert eye roll here.} So that one day I spent in the parent session is one day of my life I will never get back. Nope, I didn’t attend the second day. The second day, I just dropped her off with her roommate for the sessions, and I went back to the hotel for a leisurely cup of coffee…just as it should be.

But things went awry in our household after that. It actually started at orientation. Without getting into too much detail, I will say it has been a tough couple of weeks emotionally. Graduation actually hits these kids harder than we realize. Internally, they know they are feeling something stressful, but they don’t know why! Here’s why: they are leaving their family and friends to go to college soon. Everything they have ever known is about to change, and I don’t care how “ready” your kid is, it’s a scary time for them. I honestly believe it’s why we see so many friendships change in the summer after graduation. We see romances end. And seriously…I have seen my daughter trying to disconnect from me. It’s OK. I knew it would happen. I know she will need to disconnect emotionally for the college transition. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but I know it’s part of the process. She is moving 450 miles away to experience a new life. She won’t be coming back to Charlotte on the regular. It doesn’t make it any less sad, though. But that’s what stress does…we react to it in weird ways…and our daughter has certainly reacted. Wow.

We were fortunate to be able to slip away last week for some mother/daughter time at our favorite hotel in California. No, we didn’t just stay in the hotel the whole time, but frankly, I would have been OK with that. It’s a place of great comfort for me. It’s a place we feel at home. It’s a place we see friends. There is a reason it’s our favorite. We were able to relax, shop, eat great food, and relax some more in a beautiful environment. Did it help? Yes, it did. It helped us feel better, but it also forced us to have a conversation about the pressure we are feeling. She and I had a few heart-to-heart conversations. I told her everything she is feeling is normal. It’s OK to feel stress. It’s OK to feel pressure. It’s even OK to feel the need to disconnect. But it’s also important to try to handle things respectfully and compassionately. She is a sweet girl who is simply experiencing something new. And I’m a mom experiencing something new. As we barrel toward becoming empty-nesters, I’m feeling weird emotions too. I’ll likely sleep with one of her dirty sweatshirts after she leaves, just so I can have her scent nearby.

So, she moves into her dorm in six weeks. Of those six weeks, we will be on vacation again for two of them. I will have gallbladder surgery in July (ugh), so that will be two weeks of nothing. And then, we will move her in. Of course, I won’t be able to carry anything heavy for six weeks after the surgery, so it will be up to my husband to do all the heavy lifting. I’m not sure he knows that yet. We will move her in, and when we drive away, I feel sure I will shed a tear or a thousand. They will be sad tears for me, but they will be happy tears for her, because I know college is going to be a great experience.

And once she gets all moved in and starts classes, there will be more stress. College life is an adjustment, but she will figure it all out.

College is a good way to learn to deal with the stress of life, because real life can be stressful.

Happy Mom

Happy Mom.

Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first). When our daughter was a toddler, a local amusement park made me a happy mom during the spring, summer, and early fall months.

Carowinds is a Cedar Fair amusement park in Charlotte known for its gigantic rollercoasters. Most moms roll their eyes at the thought of going to Carowinds, but not me. Carowinds saved me.

My husband and I first took our then 2-yr-old daughter to Carowinds on his 40th birthday. I had driven past the park many times and seen the rollercoasters. I will readily admit that I love rollercoasters, so Carowinds looked like a fun way to turn 40. I love a song by David Wilcox called Top of the Rollercoaster that was a metaphor for turning 30. Personally, I think it can be a metaphor for any of the big birthdays. You can hear it on Apple Music or listen to it here. My husband didn’t think Carowinds sounded like fun, but I talked him into it, and afterward, he was glad I did. No, we didn’t get to ride any rollercoasters that day…we had a toddler with us…but we had a great time! He rode the little boats with our daughter. I rode the little cars with her and the helicopter ride. We rode the Dora Train and yelled “Swiper, no swiping!” at the appropriate time. And our daughter laughed and laughed. And we all went to what we referred to as the “Dora Show.” It was a live show in the kiddie section of the park…based on the Dora the Explorer cartoon show. At the end, we all did the chicken dance with the rest of the crowd, and we laughed! It was a great day, and even though my husband thought he didn’t want to turn 40 there, he has great memories from that day.

My husband’s birthday is in May, and after we went on his birthday, I realized Carowinds would be a fun place to visit regularly. I just didn’t realize how regularly we would go.

We got season passes for all of us, and one morning in June, I got up and took our 2 1/2 year old daughter to Carowinds by myself. After we entered the front gate, I rented a stroller. The park’s strollers had steering wheels, and even though the steering wheels controlled absolutely nothing, our daughter enjoyed thinking she was in charge while I was pushing her around the park. And after that visit, I realized we were both happy there. No, I didn’t get to ride rollercoasters, but back then, the park was owned by Paramount, so some of our daughter’s favorite cartoon characters were roaming the park. She loved seeing Dora the Explorer, the Fairly Oddparents, Little Bill, and the characters from Spongebob Squarepants! Oh, we have so many pictures of her with them! She also loved riding the little rides in what we referred to as the “kiddie” section of the park…swings, a little rollercoaster, the boats, the cars, and the Dora Train. And she loved seeing the Dora the Explorer show at least once on every visit.

As for me, I loved being outside with a happy child for a few hours every day. Yes, I said every day, because after that, we visited every day that we were in town and weather permitted. With the season pass, it was a cheap way to spend a day. Sure, the food was pretty expensive, but we often had lunch right there in the park…always having French fries. She had at least one Icee on every visit, and sometimes, she enjoyed a frozen lemonade. I walked miles on every visit, pushing the stroller and chasing a toddler.

We went so often that Mr. Bob, the usher for the Dora the Explorer show, knew us. Seriously, we would walk in, and he would greet us like old friends. In fact, after we had seen the show 20 or 30 times, Mr. Bob would tell her, “If anyone doesn’t show up for the show today, we can let you stand in for them, because you know the whole show.”

Sometimes, our friends from our toddler playgroup would go with us, adding another element of fun.

We were, quite possibly, the best customers at Carowinds for several summers (yes, several summers, because we were regulars for several years), and I was a happy mom. I got out in the sunshine without worrying about my child in a pool! I got exercise with my happy toddler accompanying me! We played games (one summer, sometime between age four and six, she climbed the wiggly rope ladder to win a gigantic, stuffed purple dog!).

As she got taller, she could ride bigger rides…eventually the giant rollercoasters…new adventures for us to enjoy together!

And we made great memories. Seriously, I would not trade those summers for anything. They were some of my happiest times. I love being a stay-at-home-mom, but I didn’t enjoy being stuck at home all the time. I loved getting out with her on a regular basis, and Carowinds was an easy way to keep both of us happy.

Yes, Carowinds made me a happy mom.

To see more about Carowinds, click here.

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle.

I just returned from running some errands, and as I approached the back entrance of our neighborhood, I saw the perfectly ripened yellow and white blooms! Honeysuckle! Big bushes of it!

Back when our daughter was a little girl, she and I would watch that area every year, waiting for the honeysuckle to appear. But we didn’t dare approach it too early. From my childhood, I knew we needed to wait until it was just right…wait until it’s bursting with nectar and the fragrance is overwhelming. A few years ago, though, someone mowed down all the honeysuckle, and I haven’t seen it since…until recently. A few weeks ago, I noticed the first sign of it…the yellow buds…and I thought, “Is the honeysuckle really coming back? Just before our daughter goes off to college?” Since then, every time I drive past, I open the car window to look and sniff…and today, after an afternoon shower, it smelled perfect.

I had never really thought to investigate the honeysuckle habitat before today. For some reason, I always thought it was a southern thing, but after a little research, I learned it is definitely not just a southern thing. People all over the world use it for its medicinal purpose, and lots of people make simple syrup from it. I have never done that, but I’m up for the challenge!

When I was growing up in Alabama in the 1970s, we watched for three things as summer approached: lightning bugs (fireflies), backyard or roadside blackberries, and honeysuckle.

We knew summer was almost here when we saw our first lightning bug of the season. To this day, at the ripe age of 54, I still look out into the trees around our house as summer is approaching…watching for the first flash of a lightning bug. I haven’t seen one yet this year, but I’m watching. When I was a little girl, we would catch them and put them in Mason jars…poking holes in the top of the jar so they could get oxygen. We never kept them for longer than an hour or so, and we always released them. It was just fun to see how much they would glow in a jar.

As for the blackberries, at one of our houses, we had a big blackberry bush in the back corner of the yard. We would watch for the blooms and then wait for them to ripen before picking, but I only picked right on the leading edge of the bush. They were full of “stickers” (briars), and there was no way I was inviting that pain…not even for blackberries. I was also under the impression that snakes liked blackberries, so I was afraid of that too. I guess I thought the snakes wouldn’t hang out on the leading edge of the bush. If there were more ripened blackberries on the interior limbs of the bush, they went untouched by me…they likely rotted if no one else picked them, because I wasn’t sticking my arm in there to get them.

And then there was the honeysuckle…a sweet little treat that packed a lot of happiness and sunshine. We would go to the honeysuckle bushes/vines in our neighborhood and search for the ripest blooms. We knew the really ripe ones had the sweetest nectar. We would find the perfect flower and pick it whole…making sure to get the calyx (the little green bud that connects it to the stem). With the flower in one hand, we would pinch just above the calyx…not all the way through…just enough to break the edges. We’d then slowly slide the “style” (female part of the plant) out of the flower by gently pulling. As the end of the style approached, we could see the glorious nectar, or “honey.” Once we saw that little drop, we’d stick it to our tongues and taste the sweetness of summer! And that is the glory of honeysuckle! It’s a childhood treat.

As I mentioned before, when our daughter was a little girl…probably about four years old…I showed her how to get the honey from the honeysuckle, just as I had learned as a little girl. After that, she and I would invite neighborhood friends to walk up to the back entrance with us, sharing the glory of the honeysuckle with those who had never had it before. Hopefully, some of them remember how to do it.

Our daughter is not home tonight, but you can bet tomorrow, after brunch, we will be walking up to the honeysuckle at the back entrance of our neighborhood. It’s Mother’s Day, after all, and I can’t think of a better gift than spending time harvesting honeysuckle with my 18-year-old daughter who is headed off to college 450 miles away in August. I think Mother’s Day is the perfect day to revisit the honeysuckle. For a little while, we will relive some precious moments from her childhood.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Senior Prom

Senior Prom.

It’s a tradition that has been popular in the United States since the 1930s. For those who didn’t know, “prom” is short for “promenade,” which is defined as “the formal, introductory parading of guests at a party,” according to mentalfloss.com. I know proms were definitely popular by the 1950s, because my own mother, whose nickname was “Doll” because she was so tiny, was a prom queen at her high school in Alabama. I remember my own high school proms in the 1980s with fond memories. And now, it’s time for our daughter to go to her senior prom.

Our daughter was lucky to even have a prom last year. The previous two years, prom was cancelled because of…you guessed it, COVID. But last year, when our daughter was a junior, our school made a real effort, even in the middle of a mask mandate, to make sure our kids had a prom. (If I ever complain about our school, I need to also remember how hard they tried to make things better for the kids during COVID.) It was outdoors. I didn’t get to see it in person, of course, because here in Charlotte, parents don’t go to the “lead out” like they do in some areas. I am actually glad about that…no offense to those who do…but I don’t feel like I have any business at my daughter’s prom. We go take photos at a club or someone’s house beforehand with a group, and groups of couples go to dinner before going to the actual prom. That’s the norm here, and that’s what they did last year. The kids were so excited to feel somewhat “normal” again last year, and our daughter and her beau had a great time and made lovely photos and lasting memories.

This year, things are much more normal. They are gathering for photos and dinner beforehand and going to an actual indoor prom! So exciting! I’m just thankful she is having a “normal” senior prom. She’ll make memories just like we did back in the 1980s…except there won’t be as much hairspray as there was in the 80s. They will take lots more photos than we did, because they have smartphones. They might even take some silly videos or make some TikToks. In fact, in 2022, the girls won’t have big hair, but the boys will. The dresses will be more revealing now than they were in the 80s…back when we covered our bodies in as much fabric as possible. I still don’t know how we got dates wearing all the baggy clothes we wore. Wow…it has been a long time since my senior prom. They will have fun, I’m sure, but really…the prom itself is just the excuse to get dressed up, get photos, and go to a party afterward, I think. They just enjoy being together…just like we did back in the 80s…so that’s still the same.

I hope they will remember to stop and take mental notes throughout the evening…just enjoy the moment. It’s a memorable occasion. Everyone who goes to prom remembers it. They might not remember lots of details, but everyone will remember who they went to prom with. They will remember what they wore. They might remember where they had dinner. They will even remember some funny things that happen. Because it’s an emotionally-charged night, it’s a memory that gets imbedded in their long-term memories. I’ve written before that I learned a lot about long-term and short-term memory when my husband had brain surgery. Big emotional events land in our long-term memory, because of the emotions attached to them. It’s why we remember where we were when someone dies. It’s why we remember where we were when we fell in love.

It’s not just a big night for the students, though. The senior prom marks the end of an era for parents too. Since my husband and I have just one child, this is the end of the high school line for us. And it’s the first time our daughter has ever trusted me to pick a dress for her. That’s a memory in itself!

I hope they all have a great time. I hope they all have a safe night and make good decisions. I hope they make some great memories to look back on when they’re my age. I hope they’ll enjoy this big event together, because these seniors will be going in different directions soon. Many of them have been in school together since they were four or five years old. Life is changing! Those little kindergarten students I remember from 2009 are finishing their stint at their independent school and moving on to college…many in different states!

Good times…senior prom.

Late Night Grilled Cheese

Late night grilled cheese.

Last night, my daughter and one of her friends came back to our house to sleep after going to a party. They got home around midnight. My daughter poured herself a bowl of Reese’s Puffs cereal, but her friend requested a grilled cheese sandwich. I was flattered that she asked and happy to make it. All my daughter’s friends know I make a “special” grilled cheese. I know you’re thinking “it’s just grilled cheese,” but if you’re thinking that, you have never had my grilled cheese.

The girls went upstairs, taking their food with them (they remembered to bring their plates and cups down), and a little while later, my daughter texted me asking if some friends could come over for a little while. She asked, very nicely, if I would prepare grilled cheese sandwiches for her friends. I was secretly thrilled she had asked, so I responded, “Tell them to come on over, and tell them to come in through the garage. I will get the grilled cheese ready. Y’all will need to stay in the kitchen and keep it down to a low roar, so we don’t wake your daddy.”

Y’all might think I’m crazy. (Trust me when I say it wouldn’t be the first time someone called me that.) My husband certainly does. He thinks midnight is too late to be awake, so when I tell him we are having visitors after midnight…well, he just can’t process that concept. Who in their right mind would let teenagers come over in the middle of the night for grilled cheese sandwiches? I can tell you who…me! I love when they want to come to our house! I’m a total night owl who loves her daughter’s friends! I love that they request my “special” grilled cheese! I’m always happy to see them. So when I closed the door behind me on the way to the kitchen, I told my husband to go on to sleep. He said, “Make sure the door is locked and the alarm is on before you come back to bed.” He then rolled his eyes at me, and I closed the door.

I was pulling one of my favorite hoodies on over my pajamas as I walked into the kitchen and started getting out all the ingredients. Just as I had gotten started, I heard my daughter and her friend come downstairs and meet the guests as they came in through the garage. They came into the kitchen and started laughing and talking…music to my ears. Now I understand why my mother loved to have my friends over. Even after I became a full-fledged adult (in my forties), she loved when I had my friend, Angela, meet me at her house for a visit. I guess Angela and I revert back to college-age, because Mother always said, “I feel like I have college students in my house again!” She loved it.

There are lots of reasons I like to see my daughter’s friends walking into my kitchen. I’m glad they feel comfortable showing up here whenever they like. I’m flattered they like my “special” grilled cheese. (Yes, it really is special, and I won’t give away my secrets.) I love hearing them laugh and talk. But most of all, I am especially happy that they know I am a friendly face for them, and our house is a safe space. During the late night visits, I always take the opportunity to remind them they can call me to pick them up anytime they need a ride. And I hope they will remember these nights fondly years from now. I have mentioned before that my next-door neighbor once told me the friends of her grown children tell her some of their best high school memories were made at her house. I want these kids to say the same thing. I want them to have good memories of coming to our house to hang out. I want them to feel comfortable rehashing their evening fun while I “cook.” And yes, I want them to laugh about my willingness to make grilled cheese sandwiches for them at any hour.

Juniors and seniors show up on a regular basis. The seniors that come for visits are going off to college soon.But I’m not just making memories for them. I’m getting to know them all better, and I’m making memories for myself too! What I’m really hoping is that they will come visit me when they come home from college over the next few years. I’m hoping they’ll ring my phone and ask if they can come over for a late night grilled cheese.

And while they’re here, I hope they’ll say, “Some of my best high school memories were made at your house, Mrs. Mattei!”

Down to the College Wire

Down to the college wire.

It’s April 1. College admissions decisions are out there for most schools, and now it’s time for lots of high school seniors to make their final choice. My daughter decided long ago, so we were happy to step off that hamster wheel, but she has friends who are still deciding. God bless them. Some of them are having a difficult time for lots of different reasons. Some didn’t get into their top choice. Some got into none of their top choices. Some got into every school they applied to and can’t decide which one is best. It’s just not easy. It’s an adult decision…the first adult decision lots of them have ever made. They feel alone. They know they are embarking on a new experience, but it can be scary, and they are afraid of making the wrong choice. You see that guy in the feature photo for this piece? He’s sitting there alone…that’s how lots of them feel right now… like they are alone. They need support from the folks who love them.

I’m no college counselor. I’m simply a parent of a high school senior, but there is one thing I wish all kids would consider: they need to find the best choice for themselves.

I hear lots of seniors saying their parents want them to go to one college, but they want to go somewhere else. I hear lots of them say they don’t want to disappoint their teachers/college counselors. I hear lots of them say they want to pick a school by how it’s ranked in US News and World Report. Who am I to say they’re wrong with their methods of decision-making? So no, I’m not going to say they are “wrong.”

I do, however, want to remind them they are the ones going to the school. Their parents won’t be attending. (If their parents are paying, affordability might come into play.) Their college counselors and classmates won’t be sitting in their desks in the classrooms, living in the dorm, or going to athletic events. Each senior needs to make his/her decision based on his/her preferences, because guess what? US News and World Report isn’t going to college either. What US News and World Report thinks is most important might not be what you think is most important. Different people like different things!

And as these kids (yes, they are still kids) make their final decisions, we need to offer them support instead of shaming them for their choices. I know lots of kids who get into “highly ranked institutions,” but they choose a school with a “lower ranking” because it offers other things they want. My own daughter would never get into an Ivy League school, but that’s OK, because that’s not where she wants to be anyway. And there are other kids who do get into Ivy League schools but opt for something else where they will have a different experience. Big sports are important to our daughter, and she would laugh at Ivy League football games. No offense to the Ivy League people of the world, of course, but she likes to watch more competitive football. I have lots of Ivy League friends I love, but even they admit SEC football is awesome.

Some kids want to go to schools that are more outdoorsy. In North Carolina, one school that is “outdoorsy” is Appalachian State University. I know lots of very successful people who went to school there and loved it. Is it a Top 50 school, according to US News and World Report? No. But it’s number one to those people who love it. All kinds of people go there, though…not just the “outdoorsy” people. I went to the University of Alabama. Again, not a Top 50 school by US News and World Report’s rankings, but I think it’s number one! It’s fun! It’s absolutely gorgeous…looks like a movie set. It has a wide array of majors and lots of opportunities in different areas. And it’s geographically diverse. I made some of my best life memories there and certainly made lifelong friends from all over the country. Over 65% of the student body is from out of state. The weather during tornado season is iffy, but most winters are pretty mild, and the sun shines a lot. Some people (like me and my daughter!) don’t want cold climates. And come on…football season is crazy fun there. Also, BarstoolU just ranked it as the number one party school in the country. Lots of people likely think that’s shallow. I think it’s important to have lots of options for fun, and so does my daughter.

Some of these kids might get into “highly ranked” big colleges/universities, but some of those same kids might think a smaller, liberal arts college would be a better fit for their personality. Don’t look down on them for choosing what is best for them. Applaud them for knowing themselves! You can’t put a square peg into a round hole. Or maybe you can, but the square peg likely won’t be happy there. And ultimately, don’t we want our kids to be happy in college? We want them to be happy there so they will stay there. We want them to be successful in college and beyond.

On the flip side, I was talking with a woman a few days ago who was in distress that her daughter wanted to go to a college far away. She wants her daughter to be happy, but said they don’t have any idea how they will pay for transportation costs. Yes, these kids are still kids, but they are pretty reasonable too, and they often understand that affordability counts too. Guess who is not paying your child’s college tuition? The college counselors at your school aren’t paying it. Their friends’ parents aren’t paying it. And their friends are not paying it. Some of them truly need to go to the “highest bidder,” meaning they need to go to the school that offers them the most money/financial aid.

And I recently spoke with another parent of a high school senior who was trying to make the decision for her daughter, saying, “She wants to go to XXXX University, but I just think she would love XXXXX University. I wanted to go there, but my parents wouldn’t pay the out of state tuition.” She’s trying to push her daughter into going where she wanted to go. Ick. We can’t live vicariously. We, the parents, aren’t going to college. We need to remember that too.

Here’s the skinny: each kid who is deciding on a college right now has different factors to consider. They have different priorities and different interests. Let’s applaud them for their decisions; this is one of the first tough decisions they will make in life.

We’re getting down to the college wire. Again, I’m not a college counselor, but I know it’s a tough time for lots of teens. Celebrate their decisions.

Love’s Baby Soft

Love’s Baby Soft.

Anyone who was a little girl or preteen in the 70s and 80s remembers Love’s Baby Soft…a brand of cologne, body powder, body mist that smelled “like a baby” and was marketed toward girls and preteens through Teen Magazine and even on commercials. I don’t know if the commercials ran in the afternoons, evenings, or Saturday mornings, but I can still hear the jingle, “You can try hard. Or you can try soft. Soft will get ’em every time…Love’s Baby Soft!”

I’ve gone to YouTube and watched some of the old commercials. It appears one commercial from 1975 was marketed toward an older audience. It’s a little creepy, saying, “Innocence is sexier than you think.” Yuck. You can see that commercial herenot my favorite. But the one I remember most was clearly marketing to the younger generation. You can see the ad I remember most here.

What made me think of Love’s Baby Soft?

I try to walk several miles a day, and when I do, nothing passes the time better than talking on the phone with friends. Sometimes I listen to books on Audible, but usually, I talk on the phone. I was talking with a friend last night, and somehow, we started talking about riding the school bus. We both went to public school growing up, so we exchanged some school bus stories. I told her stories about the older guys on our bus singing Queen’s We Will Rock You while the rest of us pounded the well-known beat on the bus seats. We had a pretty patient, understanding bus driver named Mr. Maynard who I think might have actually been entertained by the shenanigans.

The friend I was talking with asked if, when I was growing up in Alabama, high school kids were allowed to take jobs as bus drivers. I don’t remember that being the case, but she said teenagers could be bus drivers in North Carolina back then, adding, “We had a cute bus driver named Chuck. He was probably 17, and I was 11. Anytime I knew Chuck would be driving, I’d spritz myself with some Love’s Baby Soft before running to the bus.” I died. I could just see it…a preteen girl with a crush on the 17-yr-old…trying to get his attention with some Love’s Baby Soft! “You can try hard…or you can try soft…” After I recovered from the laughter, I asked her if she put on her Kissing Potion too. We both laughed and laughed, because we had dug up some old memories.

In the 1970s, I was a big fan of both products. I wasn’t romancing anyone, and I certainly wasn’t kissing anyone, but I was one of the best customers for both. I remember hearing at school when new scents of Kissing Potion had been released, so I would get Mother to take me to the local TG&Y in Spanish Fort Shopping Center, so I could use my allowance to buy the latest Kissing Potion roll-on lip gloss. All the girls in my fourth grade class had our favorite flavors. Bubble Gum was quite popular, and I liked the minty flavored one.

And guess what! You can get both products today! I don’t know if they are the same as they were then, but I’m going to find out. I’ll be ordering them for myself and for future surprises for friends who need a pick-me-up. Nostalgia makes for great gifts. If I had the blues and someone gave me either of those products, I think I would instantly feel better. You can find Love’s Baby Soft on Amazon here. And get the original formula Kissing Potion from Tinte Cosmetics here.

I should probably add that the Love’s Baby Soft didn’t catch the attention of the 17-yr-old bus driver, Chuck. My friend might have dodged a bullet on that one. If the 17-yr-old had liked the 11-yr-old, there would have been bigger issues!

Y’all Have a Great Night!

Y’all have a great night!

This morning, while I was drinking my morning coffee (brought to me in bed by my husband, as always), I opened my Facebook app. I always go straight to “memories” first, because it’s fun to see posts from previous years “on this day.” After that, I always scroll through my news feed.

Today as I scrolled through my news feed, I came across a post from a high school friend . He had shared a piece written by Sean Dietrich, whose column, Sean of the South, is followed by lots of good southerners, because we understand him, and he understands us. He has also written some well-received books about life in the south. He writes about covered dish lunches in church fellowship halls, southern childhoods, old ladies from the neighborhood, and other southern things. If you haven’t read him, you should. If you have read him but don’t “get it,” you likely didn’t grow up in the south. Sometimes, he writes about towns I’m familiar with…like Brewton, Alabama, where I lived as a child. He lived there too, and has some fond memories, just like I do.

His piece today was about Alabama, in fact. Apparently, he received a letter from a reader…someone in Brooklyn telling him how “backwards” Alabama is. FYI, Mr. Brooklyn, the word is “backward,” without the “s” in standard American English, but I digress. Mr. Dietrich’s response is a piece called In Defense of Alabama, and it’s good. You can read it here. He lists lots of great people from Alabama. He left out a few of my favorites like Harper Lee, Fannie Flag, Evander Holyfield, Channing Tatum, Condoleezza Rice, Jim Nabors, Nell Carter, Jimmy Buffett, and a host of other great entertainers, business people, leaders, coaches, and athletes, but in the piece, he makes some valid points about the great state of Alabama, but he forgot something…something very important.

Several years ago, my daughter and I flew down to Montgomery to visit my mother, and during that same weekend, we drove up to Tuscaloosa from Mother’s house to attend the Alabama/LSU football game. It was a night game (think great football under bright lights with an electric atmosphere)…the best kind of game in Bryant-Denny Stadium…and it ended late. We had to drive back to Mother’s house about two hours away, and it took us over an hour to get out of Tuscaloosa in the game traffic. No biggie, except about one hour into the drive, I was fading fast. We were on I-65 south of Birmingham, and I needed caffeine. With nowhere to stop in sight, I prayed the Whataburger at the Clanton exit was open 24 hours. Yes, I literally prayed Whataburger would be open. (If you’re familiar with Whataburger, you have probably prayed it was open on occasion too…it’s that good. To see their website, click here.) My daughter was praying too. We are late-nighters, but it had been a long day.

As we neared the exit, I could see that great orange oasis looming ahead. All the lights were on. Was it open? We took the exit, and as we neared Whataburger, we could see it was, indeed, open. We placed our order at the drive-thru speaker, and my daughter remarked at how sweet the voice was on the other end. She went on to say, “People in Alabama are so nice.” I said, “Yes, generally speaking, they are. How much do you want to bet she tells us to have a good night before we drive away?” She laughed. We pulled forward to the window and paid, and as the girl handed us our order, she said, “Have a great night!” My daughter and I looked at each other knowingly as we pulled away from the window, and my daughter said to me, “Not only did she say it, but she sounded like she meant it!”

I’ve written before about the “social experiment” we conducted a few years ago in Beverly Hills. We love Beverly Hills. In fact, we try to visit two or three times a year. But Beverly Hills and Alabama are very different in lots of obvious ways. We decided one morning as we walked down the sidewalk, to wish everyone a “good morning.” Most of the time, we got weird looks back. A few people managed to murmur “good morning” back as they tucked their handbags closer to their bodies. But several people reacted gleefully…hugging us and thanking us for the kindness, because they never hear “good morning” on the street there!

The next time we visited Beverly Hills, we were with friends from Boston. As we enjoyed our breakfast in a Beverly Hills restaurant one morning, a gentleman walked past our table on his way to the deli case and smiled. I smiled and kept talking to my friend. When he passed again, he smiled again. I smiled and gave a little wave…it’s what I do. Apparently, he walked past two more times, and I smiled without even realizing it. As we were leaving, he ran up to the door and stopped me, saying he and his wife were dining in the back of the restaurant and decided to see how many people smiled back when he walked to the deli case. He said, “I smiled at every person at every table I passed, and you were the only one who smiled back. Not only did you smile every time, you waved!” I told him about our previous social experiment, and we all had a good laugh. He asked where I was from, and when I told him I’ve lived in North Carolina for years but grew up in Alabama, he said, “I should have guessed! Southern hospitality!”

One thing you can know for sure: if you wish someone in Alabama “good morning” on the sidewalk or smile at them as you walk past in a restaurant, you’re likely to get a hearty “good morning” back…with a smile! And they won’t think you’re trying to steal your handbag! That’s what Sean Dietrich forgot to mention in his piece defending Alabama…the people. Visit, and you’re likely to be greeted warmly at every turn.

The people are the greatest thing about Alabama, where southern hospitality is alive and well.

***Here’s my disclaimer: I’m not saying people in Beverly Hills aren’t good. There are good people everywhere. Obviously, we love Beverly Hills…we keep going back for more!***

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day.

Something about Groundhog Day makes me a little introspective every year. I know…weird. Most people don’t even notice Groundhog Day, and they haven’t even thought about it since they were kids. Well, I’m not “most people.”For a variety of reasons, Groundhog Day has meaning to me.

My godmother was born on Groundhog Day. She passed away in April 2020, during the first round of pandemic shutdowns. On the day she died, a bluebird “harassed” me as I walked through our neighborhood. OK, “harassed” is a strong word. Maybe I should just say a bluebird followed me. It flew around me, and it landed on a mailbox in front of me, as if it were waiting for me to approach. As I got closer, it dropped down to the ground and just watched me…from really close. I thought it was odd at the time, but a couple of days later, I learned that my godmother had passed that day. She loved “bluebirds of happiness.” She had given my mother some glass bluebirds of happiness that I sent back to her after Mother died. Was the bluebird’s visit really a visit from her? I’ll never know, but Happy Heavenly Birthday to Cynthia!

Also on Groundhog Day, I started my blog in 2018, a little over a month after my mother passed away. I was nervous about putting myself out there, but I shouldn’t have been. Everyone I know has always been so supportive and gracious. And I’d like to think some of my own experiences have helped others. Plus, I have quite the record of crazy stories from my life for my daughter to read later…long after I’m gone.

When I was a little girl, I fell in love with the whole idea of Groundhog Day when my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Peavy, told us about it. I was five, and I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of a groundhog (which I had never seen in south Alabama) coming out to look for its shadow! And the idea that it would predict how much winter was left was incredible to me! I took it at face value. I truly believed that groundhog knew something the rest of us didn’t. Oh, to be five years old again! My five-year-old self was full of wonder and soaking it all in! And Groundhog Day gives me a day to remember what it felt like to be five years old. For the record, I did check on ol’ Punxsutawney Phil today. He saw his shadow, which means he predicts six more weeks of winter for us. I’m OK with that. Winter is short in the Carolinas. I need opportunities to wear my winter clothes and shoes!

And then, there’s the movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. It’s a silly movie, of course. The whole idea of reliving the same day over and over and over is preposterous! But there are days I would love to live over and over…especially if I could alter the course they take on each subsequent day till I got it perfect. Remember how Murray’s character starts each day with his alarm clock playing Sonny and Cher’s I Got You, Babe? That song is, of course, a favorite from my childhood, when I would spend one night a week watching The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in front of our big, Zenith console TV in the family den. The duo ended every episode with that song, and sometimes, they would bring out their cute little girl, Chastity, to sing with them. But it’s not the song that makes the movie special. It’s just a way of letting the viewer know the same day is being replayed. It’s the whole concept that I love…keep doing it over and over till you get it right. I would have a hard time picking what day I would want to live over and over, if I could pick.

But for all the joy and good memories Groundhog Day brings me, I know there are people who have lost loved ones on this day…one family, in particular, who lost their 16-year-old daughter/sister eight years ago. I know it’s a heartbreaking day for them and many others out there. So every Groundhog Day, I say a little prayer for them. As much as these types of anniversaries can be difficult, sometimes they bring us peace, as they force us to remember the loved one.

Whatever Groundhog Day means to you, I hope you see some bluebirds of happiness instead of your shadow.

A Conversation

A conversation.

I checked my Facebook memories this morning, and found a memory from this day in 2015. It started with my post that said, “Hoping all my friends in the northeast are staying warm and are ready for the big storm! Wendy, what say you? Are you wishing you lived in Charlotte right now?” (My friend, Wendy, lived in Boston at the time.) And then, Wendy, to my surprise, responded! (She wasn’t always the best about responding, but I didn’t hold it against her!)

  • Wendy: Um, that would be a hell yes!
  • Me: Ahhh…you thawed out enough to comment, Wendy! As soon as I saw how bad it was going to be, I immediately thought of how much you would like to be here [Charlotte] right now! We miss you!
  • Wendy: And actually, I’ve been thinking about how much you would love to be here too! I keep telling our Charlotte snow stories and laughing in comparison. Thinking about how much our kids would’ve loved to enjoy the blizzard together…who would’ve thought I’d see a blizzard again in my lifetime…Miss you too Laverne!

Seeing that exchange made me so happy. I can’t wipe the smile off my face! Sadly, Wendy passed away 3 1/2 years ago after a 30-year battle with various cancers. I miss her, but that little Facebook exchange brought me some joy! I could almost hear her talking. I feel like it’s a transcript of a conversation! It’s different than finding a card from someone, which is one-sided. This is an actual exchange! And it’s a gift. I think of Wendy all the time, but she has really been on my mind for the past few days for some reason. I dreamed of her two nights ago. I wish I had written the dream down, because I can’t remember details of it. I just know that we were going somewhere together in the dream…and it went on and on. I even woke up wishing I’d stayed asleep, so I could keep visiting with her.

I’m sure we were calling each other Laverne and Shirley in my dream. I became Laverne after we took our kids to bike the Virginia Creeper Trail years ago. If you’re not familiar with it, the Virginia Creeper Trail is a 17-mile bike trail down a mountain. (For info on the Virginia Creeper Trail, click here.) The whole trip was a comedy of errors…to the point that we were convinced we were being featured on some sort of secret survival TV show. Early in the bike ride, Wendy had declared herself as Laverne. But after a mile or two on the trail, the chain came off her bike, and she didn’t know what to do. I stopped and said, “Get off the bike. I got this.” I put the chain back on the bike, and then I stood up, and while I wiped my hands, I looked at Wendy and asked, “Now…who’s Laverne?” She laughed and said, “You are!” I said, “Of course I am. Thanks, Shirley!” (Neither of us wanted to be the prudish Shirley from Laverne and Shirley. Everyone knows Laverne was the cool one.)

We both proved to be pretty tough that day, though. We had made a bad decision when we decided to ride the trail in February. It was still too early in the year; in fact, the bike shop owner said it was the first time he had taken anyone up the mountain that year. (There are bike rental shops at the bottom of the mountain that take you to the top with the bikes.) We should have known then. The chain coming off the bike was minor compared to what we endured later. Once we got a few miles down the mountain, out of cell phone coverage, we encountered snow…probably a mile of it. We weren’t dressed for snow. We had three kids with us… and bikes! We would carry the kids a few hundred yards ahead, and then one of us would go back and get the bikes while one of us stayed with the kids. We repeated that till we got to the end of the snow, but our clothes were soaked through and cold! Our kids’ were freezing, so Wendy and I took off our socks and put them on our kids. In fact, I feel pretty sure we gave them our jackets, hats, and gloves too….doubling their coverage…and leaving us with one layer of clothing. Fortunately, through the misery, we were able to laugh about it a few times, asking each other, “Where are the cameras?!?! There must be cameras filming this fiasco! Are we being Punk’d?!?!” (Punk’d was a TV show featuring Ashton Kutcher playing pranks on celebrities.) But there were no cameras. We did make it to the end of the trail safely, and we enjoyed some hot coffee and hot cocoa and some lunch at a restaurant nearby before making our way home to Charlotte.

I sure wish she were here to laugh over a hot cup of coffee now. I’d even be willing to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail in the snow again if she could come back to go with me.