Thank you, Krispy Kreme

Thank you, Krispy Kreme!

Oh, Krispy Kreme, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: dozens and dozens and dozens…

I grew up in Alabama. When I was a little girl living in Spanish Fort, Alabama, on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, we had to drive past a Krispy Kreme on Government Street in downtown Mobile every time we went to Bel Air Mall…and that was pretty often…usually on Saturdays. My family would shop, and my brother and I would eat French fries at the Eckerd’s lunch counter or the Woolworth’s counter in the mall. And sometimes, when we were lucky, on the drive home, Mother and Daddy would want to stop for a cup of coffee at the Krispy Kreme.

That particular Krispy Kreme franchise, I’ve been told, was an early franchise location. It served many a reveler after late nights during Mardi Gras for years. After moving away from the Mobile area as a child, I returned in my 20s, and that franchise location looked the exact same as I had remembered it…nothing had changed. In fact, I think it looked “original” till I moved away in 2000. Sadly, it closed in 2011. Repeated efforts to redesign the building for a drive-thru proved fruitless when they realized they would have to move parking to the back of the building, making it difficult for walk-in customers to gain access. I have some good memories of watching the doughnuts being made in that building…moving down the conveyor system. And I remember sitting at the counter on one of the green and silver round stools, enjoying a doughnut and laughing with my brother as a kid.

Clearly, Krispy Kreme has a positive connotation for me. So when Krispy Kreme announced they will give a free doughnut to customers who show their vaccine cards, I was thrilled. When I heard people were bashing the company for it, I was baffled. What the what? Apparently, there are people who think Krispy Kreme is “bribing” people into getting the vaccine. Really? That’s a pretty cheap “bribe.” Others posted on social media about how unhealthy the doughnuts are, and they shouldn’t be offering them.

I have four words for that: Give me a break!

Here’s how I feel. I don’t think Krispy Kreme is “bribing” anyone. I think they are rewarding people for getting vaccinated, and I truly believe this is a genius marketing campaign. They know most people won’t just come in and get that free doughnut. Most people will purchase at least one more item. And then there are the folks like me, who will purchase a couple dozen, just to share with anyone who comes to our house. Krispy Kreme will make money on the deal for sure. If you can be bribed for the price of a doughnut, you’ve got bigger problems.

As for the “health” issues…if you don’t want a doughnut, don’t go to Krispy Kreme for your free doughnut. If a vegan restaurant were offering something free as a reward, I wouldn’t go get it, because…you guessed it… I’m not vegan. But Krispy Kreme? You can bet your sweet bippy I’ll be getting my doughnut. In fact, I plan to meet friends there and have coffee too! And we will take pictures in the Krispy Kreme paper hats and post them all over social media…just wait. But if you are so worried about the health implications of eating a single doughnut, don’t sit by me. I don’t want to hear it. I just want to enjoy my doughnut and laugh with all my friends who will be enjoying theirs too.

I think Krispy Kreme is a great business. I have supported them my whole life. As an adult, I’ve been known to purchase multiple boxes at holidays and pass them out to friends and family. When we volunteered to donate cakes to the cake walk at the school carnival when my daughter was little, our “doughnut cakes” made with tiers of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and frosting/sprinkles were the most popular cakes at the events! Do I think people should eat them all day every day? No. But the occasional Krispy Kreme doughnut? Yes, please!

So if you don’t want your doughnut, please don’t go to Krispy Kreme. The line will be shorter for me and my friends, several of whom are physicians! Or better yet, go get your doughnut and pass it to me. But if you’re not going to get one…get out of my way. Don’t be a buzzkill.

Thank you, Krispy Kreme! I will get there as fast as I can with my completed vaccination card next Monday! I’ll be posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook before I even leave the store!

***Want to learn more about Krispy Kreme? Want to order one of those awesome coffee cups or some apparel? Click here!***

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.

My Favorite Martian

My Favorite Martian.

Yesterday, the NASA Mars rover, Perseverance, landed on the red planet. I was slightly intrigued, but not nearly as interested as I would have been if it had happened in the 1970s. In the 1970s, Americans were obsessed with Mars, Unidentified Flying Objects, Martians, aliens, and Skylab. Remember Skylab? Remember folks making a quick buck on Skylab repellent when we knew the orbiter was going to be falling back to earth, crash-landing somewhere?

Skylab was the first United States space station, launched in May of 1973. Six years later, in 1979, its orbit began to decay, and NASA could no longer communicate with the satellite. I was 12 at the time, and while we awaited the “crash,” I was truly concerned Skylab would cut my life short when it fell to earth. I felt sure I would die without ever having kissed a boy. Kids in the neighborhood were talking about it, and I was terrified. My parents tried to tell me the odds of that happening were very minute, but when you’re 12…it’s scary, especially when people are selling Skylab repellent, even as a joke. Skylab came “crashing” to earth in July 1979…ultimately disintegrating over Esperance, Australia, where residents saw bright lights and heard sonic booms before finding debris from the space station spread over their town.Once I heard it had fallen in Australia, I could relax, and I desperately wanted one of those t-shirts announcing “I survived Skylab.” I didn’t get one…I’m sure my parents thought it would be a ridiculous waste of money, but I sure wish I had one now…just as a silly souvenir.

Today, with the landing of Perseverance on Mars, people are talking about Martians again. “What if we hear whispers from Mars?” “What if we see alien beings on the red planet?” It’s enough to make a 12-yr-old kid worry, right?

I spent my entire childhood looking for UFOs in the sky. We heard about them from every angle, including The Brady Bunch. Remember when Greg tricked Bobby and Peter into thinking a UFO was flying past their house? Remember the chaos it created?

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a UFO, but when I was six or seven, the local high school had its annual bonfire. I don’t even really know what happened, but maybe a helicopter flew nearby? Who knows? It had to be 1973 or 1974, when UFO talk was at its peak. Someone at the bonfire made me think there was a UFO in the vicinity. To me, at that age, “UFO” meant alien spaceship ready to land, kidnap me, and probe my belly button to learn more about the human race. I was terrified. I ran to my friend’s mother’s car as fast as I could and jumped into the backseat. I don’t even know what happened after that. She took me home, but I truly believed there had been an alien spaceship at the bonfire…hovering over TR Miller High School, in Brewton, Alabama. Hmmm…why would an alien spaceship want a small child from Brewton, Alabama? Short answer: no alien spaceship wants a kid from Brewton. No offense to the kids from Brewton, but if I’m landing an alien spaceship somewhere, it’s more likely to be in the desert in Arizona or somewhere…not small town Alabama.

Adding to my personal belief in alien beings was the TV show called My Favorite Martian. I don’t even know how I watched it, since it premiered in 1963 (four years before I was born) and only ran for three seasons…in reruns, I guess…probably after school. My Favorite Martian starred Bill Bixby as Tim O’Hara and Ray Walston as “Uncle Martin,” or the Martian anthropologist who crash-landed on Earth and was rescued and taken in by O’Hara. I don’t remember a lot about the show itself, but now that I have it on my mind, I plan to watch a few episodes on Amazon Prime. Yep, if you’ve never seen it or if you liked it back in the day, you can watch it free with your Amazon Prime membership. I’ve actually watched the first episode and found it rather entertaining. Just be forewarned…it’s filmed in black and white. Also, the first episode has some racy references about “a man’s metabolism.” Who knew?

Of course, seeing Ray Walston in My Favorite Martian made me think about Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Yes, this is how my brain works…from Skylab to Fast Times at Ridgemont High…it’s why I’m good at Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. (Not familiar with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It’s a game based on the premise that we are all separated by six degrees of separation or fewer. In the “Kevin Bacon” version, participants try to find connections between Bacon and another famous person in six steps or fewer.) Walston was awesome in Fast Times. I don’t know if his character, Mr. Hand, a history teacher at Ridgemont High, would be very interested in the Perseverance landing on Mars, but surely he would recognize it as a significant historical event.

It is an historical event, indeed, even though the people of our country don’t seem nearly as excited about it as we have seemed about other NASA missions. I guess we have all been conditioned to it by now. And while I don’t find it particularly interesting, I will be listening for news of life on the red planet…life that’s bigger than an amoeba.

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***

Don’t Look, Ethel!

Don’t look, Ethel!

Earlier today, on Facebook, a friend posted one of those memes saying, “The song that was number one on your seventh birthday defines 2021 for you.” The song that was number one on my friend’s seventh birthday? Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy. What the what?!?! I was a senior in high school when that song was number one! I was sneaking into R-Rated movies, and she was just seven years old?!? I felt old, but I also felt lucky….lucky that Prince was the soundtrack of my high school years.

But then, I couldn’t resist. I’m a sucker for notalgia, so I checked to see what the number one song was on my seventh birthday. The song that was number one? The Streak by Ray Stevens. I laughed out loud. Of course it was number one on my seventh birthday! I loved that song! I played the 45 single on my record player regularly, because I thought it was hilarious…with its laugh-track and everything. I didn’t understand all the references, but I still thought it was funny.

Streaking was a thing in the 70s. For a long time, I didn’t know if Ray Stevens made it popular with his song, or if he made the song because streaking was popular. You know…the chicken or the egg? I read recently that Stevens totally capitalized on the streaking craze of the 70s…smart move. If you’re familiar with the song, you know Ethel is a “character” in it. There’s a lot of “Don’t look, Ethel!” followed by things like “It was too late…she’d already been mooned!” At seven, I had no idea what “mooning” was. But back in the 70s, spectators streaked across the field at Major League Baseball games. They streaked across college campuses. They streaked through cricket games, soccer games…and unforgettably, across the stage at the 1974 Academy Awards ceremony. Streaking was big in the 1970s.

The summer of 1974, my whole extended family on my dad’s side gathered in Mexico Beach, Florida, for a big family weekend…all of us in one house. It was great fun. We went “scalloping” in St. Joe Bay. We went to the beach every day…getting shocked by the crosswalk button only once before we knew not to do it again. We laughed. We played. And the few of us who were 10 and under plotted to “streak” down the street. We were in a back bedroom, plotting our streaking event, but none of us really had the nerve to carry it out, so we decided to streak through the house where all our parents and cousins were. Silly, I know, but hilarious to a 7-yr-old. Years later, my mother told me she heard us plotting our event in the back bedroom, and she told my aunt, “Kelly will be the first one to run through here.” She was right. In fact, I’m not sure if any of the others participated in the “event.” I wrapped up in a towel and walked into the hallway, then dropped by towel and ran through the main room, where all the adults and teenagers were. Is there anything less exciting than seeing a 7-yr-old run through a room naked? It seemed funny to me, but I don’t think anyone else even cared. It was pretty stupid…but at the time, it was fun.

Ray Stevens had other funny songs, and I guess he still sings them at his Ray Stevens CabaRay in Nashville. I have to get there one day, simply because I am cool with anything that’s completely hokey and nostalgic. Maybe I can get my friend, Mary Ann, to meet me there to hear him sing some of our silly road trip songs like The Streak, The Mississippi Squirrel Revival, Ahab the Arab, It’s Me Again, Margaret, Gitarzan…so many politically incorrect songs! I hope he still sings them, because political correctness aside, they are hilarious!

So one silly meme on Facebook now has me listening to Ray Stevens on Apple Music…and laughing a lot as I sing along while running errands all over town.

According to that Facebook meme, that song defines 2021 for me. Next thing you know, I’ll be streaking through 2021! Bahahaha!

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

Messages from Heaven

Messages from Heaven.

I lost my dad in 2006. My mother passed in December 2017. And then, a dear friend left this world in 2018. I remember lots of conversations I had with each of them when they were alive, but I also get “messages” from them now.

Unfortunately, Facebook wasn’t a thing when my daddy was living. If Facebook existed then, I didn’t know it. Daddy would not have been into social media, anyway… but if he had been around for Facebook, he likely would have checked it sometimes, just to see pictures of my growing daughter, since we lived 600 miles away.

But my mother and my friend who passed in 2018…they were into Facebook.

Today, as always, I checked my Facebook “memories,” where I get to take a look at my posts from the same day in different years past. No big deal, right? I usually laugh or smile as I scroll through them, and today was no different.

As I scrolled through my “memories,” I came across a post from this day in 2012. In the post, I asked friends to pray for a friend who was having surgery on that day. I read through the comments, and there, at the bottom of the comments…a comment from my friend who was having surgery…the same friend who passed in 2018. It was just one simple sentence, “Oh, sweet Kelly…always thinking of me.” As I read it, I could hear her saying it, and I got a little emotional. You know how we we think we have moved beyond grief? You know how lots of people don’t understand grief continues for an undefined length of time? Well, this is an example of how grief lingers. Who knew such a simple comment would make me miss her so much 2 1/2 years after her passing?

Once, when that same friend and I were walking to the car after spending the afternoon at the beach in Maine many years ago, we looked up at the sky, and we both had the same reaction. We stopped and gasped. There was a big hole in the clouds…it looked as if God might reach down through that hole and touch the earth. (It’s the feature photo, but the photo doesn’t really do it justice.) We called the scene “the hand of God.” Every time I see a similar scene now, I think of my friend and “the hand of God.”

Occasionally, I see comments from my mother on Facebook, and I have an emotional reaction to those too. It’s different than finding a note or card…maybe because it’s a reactive message? She’s reacting to something I posted on Facebook? It just seems more conversational.

And then there are different kinds of messages…

A few days before Christmas, I got a different kind of message from my mother…in the grocery store, of all places. I was shopping for all the things I would need on Christmas Day when I remembered we would also need bread to make sandwiches after Christmas, so I dashed around to the bread aisle. And that’s when I saw her…my mother…standing in front of the bread…and I stopped in my tracks. I took a deep breath and moved closer. Don’t freak out. It wasn’t a ghost. She wasn’t looking at me. She was trying to pick a loaf of bread, and I stood behind her, waiting patiently…and watching.

No, it wasn’t really my mother. It wasn’t a ghost. It was just a woman who, from behind, looked like my mother. She was short…about my mother’s height. She had her hair brushed in the same way Mother brushed her hair. Her arms looked just like Mother’s. She stood like Mother. She was wearing something Mother would have worn. I never saw her face, but I ended up behind her a couple more times before I left the store…and found myself walking out the door behind her! In fact, I took a photo of her and sent it to my brother, my cousin, and my aunt, all of whom reacted exactly as I did. They were shocked, but they were happy. No, it wasn’t my mother, but I felt like seeing this woman was a message from my mother…just a little “hello” in the grocery store.

A few weeks before that, I was in Michael’s Arts and Crafts when I rounded a corner and gasped audibly. Standing in front of me was a woman who, from behind, looked just like my friend who passed away in 2018. I saw her two more times in the store that day…and then, as I was walking out, I passed a woman who, from behind, looked just like my mother. I have decided she was the same woman who was in the grocery store a few days before Christmas.

I get visits from my daddy too. I’ve seen him walking across a parking lot, and I have seen him in the background of other people’s photos on social media. But usually, he visits in my dreams…always laughing and happy. The first time he ever visited me, I was dreaming I was with my little family at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, watching the parade. Float after float went by, and then suddenly, there was Daddy…waving big and laughing from the float. It’s something Daddy never would have done, but it made me happy that in my dream, I was in “the happiest place on earth,” and he was laughing and waving, letting me know he is happy.

Are these really messages from Heaven? I have no idea, but I choose to believe they are, because they keep my loved ones on my mind…and they make me feel connected to them.

My Food/Beverage Guilty Pleasures

My food/beverage guilty pleasures.

I don’t know if everyone has food and beverage guilty pleasures, but I definitely do. There are some things I simply cannot pass up…and some things I crave. I have some guilty pleasures that are labeled as guilty pleasures simply because of the calorie content. But I have other guilty food and beverage pleasures that are guilty pleasures because they are trashy and cheap.

When I was pregnant in 2003, I craved birthday cake. No, not expensive birthday cakes. I craved the, as we called them, “el cheapo” birthday cakes from the local grocery store. I don’t know if it was the cake part or the frosting, but I craved them…and I treated myself once a week. Actually, my husband would pick up a small birthday cake, labeled a “patty cake,” once a week when he went to the store. He was a regular at the grocery store, so we used to laugh and laugh at the conversations the employees likely had every time he walked out with another cake…they probably thought he had a whole house full of kids. Nope…just one pregnant wife.

These days, if I crave a quick and easy cake, it’s more likely to be one from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Holy smokes, those things are good! We joke at our house that they must put some secret addictive ingredient in them, because once you have one, you keep craving them. If you haven’t had one, you should. They have store locations in lots of places. We are fortunate to have a couple of different locations in the Charlotte area, and one is just a few miles from our house. We don’t go often, but when we do, we stock up! Our personal favorite? The chocolate/chocolate chip with cream cheese frosting. We also like the Raspberry/White Chocolate. Oh, who am I kidding?! We wouldn’t turn down any of them! To see the website for Nothing Bundt Cakes, click here.

But I am a little ashamed to say I crave some cakes that are even cheaper than the regular grocery store cakes. Cheaper than a grocery store cake? And more embarrassing? Yep. Here’s my embarrassing cake guilty pleasure: Hostess Birthday Cupcakes. You likely remember the Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes with the white swirls you’d see in stores as a kid…they came in packs of two. Well, Hostess also makes Birthday Cupcakes. They taste, to me, like Twinkies with cheap frosting on top…but I’m not gonna lie…I’m completely addicted to them. I think about them all the time, but I only buy them once every few months. Each little cupcake in the two-pack has 180 calories, so I must refrain on a regular basis. But sometimes…I give in and go buy some. I’m not going to tell you where I buy them locally, because well, I want to be able to find them when I want them, but you can look on the Hostess website here. In truth, when I browse the Hostess website, I see there are lots of Hostess brand treats I’d love to try. But since I only allow myself to have those treat every couple of months, it will likely be a while before I can try them all. Does anyone else remember having Honeybuns as breakfast or snacks as a kid? Hostess makes them!

My cookie guilty pleasure comes from Tiff’s Treats in Charlotte. I discovered this place when someone sent me a box of them a year or two ago. My daughter and I couldn’t stop eating them! These cookies are yummy! My favorite flavor? The M&M cookies…they take me back to my childhood when my aunt used to make them. What makes Tiff’s Treats even better? They deliver! If you join them as an “elite” member, you even get free delivery and monthly specials! And if you send them to someone, you can also send cold milk or ice cream! I highly recommend this guilty pleasure. Check them out online here.

I also have a fried food guilty pleasure. All my friends know what it is, because I order it any time we go to Ilios Noche. If you haven’t visited Ilios Noche on Providence Road in South Charlotte, it’s high time you did. And when you do, order this guilty pleasure: Zucchini and Eggplant Chips. You’ll thank me later. They are lightly breaded and fried and served with tzatziki. You’ll keep going back for them, no doubt. See the Ilios Noche website here.

Other food guilty pleasures? Chips and salsa from Paco’s Tacos and Tequila in Charlotte, The Bento Box from Cowfish in Charlotte, soufflés from a favorite restaurant, and the Hazelnut cookie from a favorite restaurant. I could tell you where they are, but then they’d likely disappear before I could ever get them…some guilty pleasures should remain a secret, I suppose.

Now I’m likely to really disgust some of you with my beverage guilty pleasure. No, it’s not Mountain Dew or any other super sugary soda. It’s not Kool Aid, Hawaiian Punch, or Hi-C. I will readily admit I loved Kool-Aid as a kid. Everyone did in the 70s…if your mother allowed you to have it. Ours definitely did. In fact, I drank so much grape Kool-Aid that…embarrassing as this is…my poop turned blue. It’s true. Yikes! But back to the topic at hand…my embarrassing guilty beverage pleasure is a drink called Verdi Sparkletini. You likely haven’t heard of it, and that’s because it’s not something you’d likely buy. It is sold in the wine aisle, but the label calls it a “malt beverage.” It’s usually less than $6 a bottle. Go ahead and laugh. I know it’s cheap and trashy. And I think you are supposed to chill the bottle and serve it. However, I was introduced to it last summer when someone I know (I won’t let her secret out) served it to me over ice. Now, I’m not a beverage snob, so I didn’t care, and I was happy to try it…lucky for me! That day, we had the watermelon flavor, but they also make a yummy raspberry flavor and a peach flavor. In all seriousness, served over ice, they taste like spritzers. I offered one to a friend last summer at the beach, and she turned her nose up at it, telling me, “That cheap stuff gives me headaches.” I begged her to try it, and after we finished the bottle, we were both really relaxed…and neither of us ever got a headache! In fact, my friend ended up liking it so much that she secretly purchases a bottle every couple of days! Check your local grocery stores in the sparkling wine aisle (even thought I’m not sure it’s really wine). And it won’t turn your poop blue!

Oh, how I love my guilty food and beverage pleasures! Did I mention Guthrie’s chicken fingers that I have to pick up and bring home in a cooler any time I drive through Opelika, Alabama? Yeah…that’s a little embarrassing…I run into the restaurant (it’s co-branded with a gas station) and order the big bucket of chicken fingers. Then while they’re getting those ready, I run over to the gas station section and purchase a bag of ice and a styrofoam cooler. I fill up the cooler with the ice and put them in my car before I run back into Guthrie’s to get the chicken fingers. I put them on ice and drive the rest of the way to Charlotte! My daughter meets me at the door for those Guthrie’s chicken fingers every time! See their website here.

Now I’m feeling the need to drive to Opelika…

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!”

Goodbye, Christmas Tree (and goodbye, 2020)

Goodbye, Christmas tree.

We took our Christmas tree down today, December 29. I know lots of people leave their trees up till the Epiphany, but we don’t. Usually, late on Christmas Day, my husband will turn to me and say, “Can’t we take down the tree now?” I always manage to get him to hold off till the 26th, but that’s usually his limit. I guess the pandemic is getting to him, because I didn’t even have to talk him into leaving it up this long this year. But today was the limit. This afternoon, while our teenage daughter was at work (she has a job!), we took the ornaments off the tree, and I wrapped them and packed them up. We worked together, and within an hour or two, our house no longer looked like Christmas.

There is one lone present left in the foyer where the tree used to be. We gave my husband a fire pit for Christmas, and we also got him a box of firewood. The firewood is still in the foyer, but I feel pretty sure he will move it to the storage room in the pool house tonight. While I know the Christmas season isn’t over, at our house, the decorations are gone. Of course, over the course of the next month, I will likely find little touches of Christmas here and there, but for the most part, the decorations are gone. I did leave my “Christmas llama” out just for a friend to find when she visits! It’s actually a little Christmas decoration that’s really an Airedale Terrier. I got it the Christmas after my Airedale, Annie, died…just to remind me of her every holiday season. But when my friend was visiting recently, she saw it and asked, “Is that a Christmas llama???” I laughed out loud…so now I’m leaving it out just for her.

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of my mother’s passing…a day I dread. We will tell stories about her tomorrow and have a Bailey’s and coffee in her memory. I think of her every single day, and honestly, I probably say something about her every day too, so she is definitely remembered. My friend, Jane, calls and texts me all the time with stories about my mother, and my brother and I talk about her too. She is remembered well, and she is still loved.

And then we roll right into New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. We will be home for New Year’s Eve…as usual. We will likely have a cocktail or two and watch a movie. This year, we probably won’t be asleep before midnight, because we have to stay up till our daughter is in for the night, but we will definitely be in our pajamas. I have already planned ahead for New Year’s Day. Today, I made some bean soup that includes black-eyed peas and pork. I’ll cook some collard greens on New Year’s Day, and hopefully, all those things will bring us good luck, good health, and lots of money in 2021!

On New Year’s Day, I will watch a lot of football, and I will go back through all the Christmas cards we received this year. I love getting Christmas cards every year. I admire the creativity of my friends and family. Thank you to everyone who sent us cards. One friend made beautiful homemade cards from leaves at her family farm. Another made a cute postcard with a photo of her sons posing with a cool truck…I love the postcard idea. My honorary niece, a new bride, sent a beautiful card with a wedding photo. Lots of friends sent pics of their kids; I love seeing them grow every year. And one friend sent a Happy New Year card that featured her dogs. That description, however, does not do it justice. I loved the front…her two dogs wearing Christmas hats, sitting on her porch…one in a red chair and one in front of what appears to be a Coca-Cola themed table…Christmas lights wrapping the banister…with the words, “well…THAT was CRAZY! Happy 2021 (finally)” Adorable. On the back? She quotes John McClane from Die Hard with, “Welcome to the party, pal.” And there’s a photo that was featured in newspapers and online news stories all over the country in the late summer and fall…a long line of people waiting to get into Gallette’s, our favorite college bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. News outlets all over the country picked up the photo while reporting about reckless college students during the coronavirus pandemic. What they didn’t know was that several of the folks in that photo were actually middle-aged alumni…including my friend (and other friends too)! She drew a big red arrow pointing to herself in the line, and to memorialize the year, she also featured a picture of a toilet-paper themed cake…definitely a sign of the times.

So as I welcome in 2021 and say goodbye (and good riddance) to 2020, I’m feeling some pressure to do a better job on my Christmas card in 2021. Ours featured a photo of our teenage daughter holding one of our dogs on the front. When I edited the photo, I had to put glasses on the dog, because in the original, she had what we refer to as “devil-dog eyes,” as they reflected the camera’s flash. It looked evil…not a good luck for a Christmas card…so I put red sunglasses on her after the fact. The glasses were not creative…just a necessity. But in 2021, I want to do better. I’m guessing I should start thinking about it now.

Of course, tonight, I’m tired from taking down the tree and carrying all that stuff upstairs. I won’t officially start thinking about next year’s card till January 2, but I’m open to suggestions! In the meantime, enjoy a safe New Year’s Eve!

Happy New Year! And bring on that vaccine!