McDonald’s is My Kind of Place

McDonald’s is my kind of place.

I was born in the late 1960s, so most of my childhood was in the 1970s. If yours was too, you likely loved McDonald’s. From the time I was a year old until I was seven, I lived in a little town in Alabama that didn’t have McDonald’s. We had a local hamburger drive-in that was really good, but it wasn’t McDonald’s. We even had a Dairy Queen…not McDonald’s. Eventually, we got a Jack’s, a hamburger place based in Birmingham, Alabama, but we still didn’t have McDonald’s when I moved away. We often went to Pensacola or Mobile for doctor appointments or to shop, so we had McDonald’s then, and it was a treat! I’m not kidding…a treat we could hardly wait to get! Those hamburgers! Those fries! Those chocolate shakes!

When I was seven, I moved with my family to the Mobile area, and we got McDonald’s all the time, because McDonald’s was plentiful in Mobile…I mostly remember the two on Government Street, and the one near the University of South Alabama on Old Shell Road. As kids, we even went to birthday parties at McDonald’s, and those were the best birthday parties! When I was eight years old, they even opened a McDonald’s in Bel Air Mall…a big, huge deal, because that whole wing of the mall started smelling like McDonald’s. To kids back then, McDonald’s was a little slice of Heaven.

One night last week, I craved McDonald’s. It happens occasionally. McDonald’s crosses my mind, and I simply have to have it. That night, I hopped in the car and drove to the nearest McDonald’s, got in the drive-thru line, and placed my order: hamburger, large fries, and a large Diet Coke. The service was quick, and I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot before I started gobbling up the feast from the paper bag. That first bite smelled and tasted like childhood happiness. I can’t explain it, but as soon as I unwrapped that burger, I felt like I was a kid again. And the fries? Well, it doesn’t get better than hot McDonald’s fries. I have known that my whole life.

If you’re anywhere near my age, chances are you have some McDonald’s memories. Maybe you went to birthday parties there. Maybe you ate there after every high school home football game (like I did). Maybe you remember the aroma of those hamburgers and French fries. Maybe you remember the McDonaldland characters and can identify all of them! Maybe you went there with high school friends or stopped there for breakfast on the way to school in the morning.

Sadly, the latest generations don’t seem to appreciate McDonald’s like we did. However, our daughter might be one of the exceptions. She loved McDonald’s Happy Meals as a kid. I took her to McDonald’s because I liked it, so she learned to like it too. Sometimes, we met friends there, so the kids could play in the indoor play area. Sometimes, we went to the two-story McDonald’s in South Park in Charlotte. My daughter, when she was a little girl, called it the “upstairs McDonald’s.” But I think a lot of kids didn’t have the joyful McDonald’s experience because society became health conscious and frowned upon it. Too bad, because kids missed out on that little indulgence. McDonald’s is supposed to be fun, and frankly, I think it’s OK in moderation. Do I want my daughter eating there all the time? No, and she doesn’t. But if she wants some fries from there once or twice a month…enjoy!

Fortunately, my daughter has a friend who told me about the McDonald’s App. If you have any appreciation for McDonald’s and don’t have the app, you’re leaving money on the table! Through the app, you can earn points to use toward future purchases, but you have immediate access to special deals like Free Fry Fridays, BOGO offers, and more! Seriously, if all you like about McDonald’s is their perfectly fizzy sodas, get the app now!

Right now, they have a BOGO order on breakfast sandwiches. They also have percentage off offers on different sandwiches, meals, and beverages. Seriously, if you like their coffee (it’s good) you can use the app for deals on that!

So if you’d like to experience a little childhood happiness, go download the app. You’ll be glad you did, because McDonald’s is your kind of place!

A Whole Week Home From College

A whole week home from college.

In less than a week, our college student daughter is coming home…for a whole week! We haven’t seen her for seven days in a row since she left for college in August! We have seen her for a couple of days here and there…two football weekends, one day when my husband visited when he passed through town, and she has been home for two quick visits. But soon, she will be here for a whole week! In fact, she will be home for a little more than a week! And we can hardly wait.

Back in September, I booked her ticket on American Airlines to come home Saturday. But then, two days ago, she called me and said she wants to come home earlier. My first question? “Don’t you have class Friday?” She told me her Friday class has been canceled. I kept her on the phone while I looked at the American Airlines website. We discussed flight times and finally decided she could come home on an afternoon flight Thursday for only $99 more than we paid for the original ticket. Sold!

Seriously, y’all, I was so flattered that she wanted to spend more time with us. Anyone who has college-age kids will tell you it’s fun when they’re around again. I told her I was excited we are going to get to spend some extra time with her. And that’s when she said, “Oh, well, yes…but I’m going down to Columbia, South Carolina, with friends Saturday morning for the South Carolina game.”And that’s when I realized she isn’t coming home early to spend more time with us. She is coming home early to go to the University of South Carolina! I laughed out loud, because of course that’s what she wants to do!

I remember what it’s like to be 19, so I’m happy she gets to go visit friends in South Carolina with friends from home! I loved going to football games at different schools with friends when I was in college, so I get it. Will we, her parents, be offended when she wants to spend every evening with her friends? Nope, not one bit. In fact, I hope she will bring them here to gather at least once or twice. We love the energy they bring into our home, and I love preparing food for them…grilled cheese sandwiches, avocado toast, or even a late night breakfast.

But I also realize that, because she wants to go to South Carolina for a day or two, she is still coming home earlier than she originally was, and that’s a bonus for me and my husband! We are so excited! Of course, at the end of her stay, I’m sure I will be writing about how little time we actually got to spend with her! And that’s OK too, because we just want her to be happy and healthy. Spending time with her friends in Charlotte will be good for her. When she returns to Charlotte from South Carolina Saturday night, I will be here, ready to feed her (and friends) when she gets home.

Plus, I’m sure she will sleep a lot. Our daughter who has never been much of a sleeper will need to make up for lots of lost sleep while she is here. Sleeping in a twin bed in a dorm just isn’t the same as sleeping in a queen bed at home. I remember that too. There’s nothing quite like sleeping under your parents’ roof, with your dog in the bed like old times. She will sleep soundly knowing her daddy will bring her coffee in bed in the morning, and I will call her down for a hot breakfast shortly thereafter. Just like her last visit, we will have all her favorites at breakfast: scrambled eggs, grits, hashbrown casserole, bacon, biscuits, and Conecuh Sausage (again, if you’re not familiar with this, you want to try it. It’s from Alabama, but they carry the original sausage at most Publix stores. See the Conecuh Sausage website here). Some mornings, she might want avocado toast too. And she will get it if she wants it.

We are excited for her to arrive Thursday. My husband can hardly wait to go pick her up at the airport…a job he has already volunteered to do. I will ask her what she wants as her “welcome home” meal, and I will have that ready when she arrives. Of course, she’s likely to eat and run…or as my late friend, Wendy, would say, “chew and screw,” which means the same as eat and run. She was from Boston, and I don’t know if that’s what other people say there, but I think it sounds funny, so I say it occasionally.

Now, we just play the waiting game. My husband started his countdown today, telling me she will be home in just five days!

We are excited!

***Feature photo from Charlotte Business Journal***

College Homecoming

College Homecoming.

Lawn decorations on sorority row. Tailgate tents on the quad. Grills smoking. Families and friends gathering. A parade through campus. Band playing.

All these things contributed to a festive atmosphere when I went to the University of Alabama this past weekend for Homecoming. It had been a long time…10 or 11 years…since I had traveled there for Homecoming, but I was so happy I went this year!

When I was in college, we got dates to every football game, so it was always fun, but the Homecoming game every year was more exciting…more festivities, more excitement, more parties. It never occurred to me then that “Homecoming” was actually a time to welcome back alumni. I just thought of it as the football team was coming back for a home game after an away game. Thinking of “alumni” was just not on my radar. And with good reason…I was young and self-centered, just like most young people.

The fact that Homecoming is really for alumni hit me after I had a child. Taking her to the Homecoming football game in 2011 was the perfect opportunity to showcase my alma mater to her. And as anyone who has ever visited the University of Alabama knows, it is a beautiful place…worthy of showing off. My daughter was just seven years old at the time, but she loved football…not much choice in my family…you either love football, or you’ll be miserable during football season, because watching football is what we do. So when she was seven, my daughter and I went with my friend, Angela, and her daughter, who was nine years old at the time.

I remember we made our way around sorority row soon after arriving. The lawn decorations are impressive every year, and little girls love them, so we made sure ours got to see all of them that day. The lawn decorations are a lot different than when I was in college. Back when I was in school, the lawn decorations were as tall as the house! We had to climb on scaffolding to “pomp” tissue paper into giant chicken wire structures to show our spirit for Homecoming week…outside with music blasting till wee hours of the morning…boys helping us till wee hours of the morning. It was great fun in the 1980s, but now, it seems they do most of the “pomping” indoors, and the much smaller structures are placed on the lawn afterward. No more scaffolding…kind of a shame, because it sure was fun!

That Homecoming in 2011, we walked over to the quad and visited friends who were tailgating. We ate lunch in the alumni tent, and we ran into lots of people we knew from our college days. That is what Homecoming is about…visiting your alma mater to see people and visit with college friends you don’t see on a regular basis.

And this year, we did exactly that…spent time with friends we haven’t spent much time with over the last few years. I even managed to spend a little time with a friend I had not seen in 20+ years…one of the sweetest souls I have ever known. In fact, she is the very friend who told me after a bad breakup in my late 20s, “Just think! You get to fall in love again!” I reminded her of that when I saw her, and I told her how much hope it gave me after that breakup. Now, it’s what I have told my 19-yr-old daughter to say to her friends after they go through bad breakups. Because really…there’s nothing like that “falling in love” feeling.

We ended our Homecoming visit with a little tailgate time with a friend who had folding chairs that rock in her tailgate area. Not gonna lie…it was fun catching up with her, and it was hard to get up from those rocking chairs when it was time to leave! There’s something extra relaxing about a rocking chair…and I could have drifted off to sleep right there. But we needed to get moving, so I had to get up.

We didn’t stay for the game. We were spending the night at Angela’s house in Montgomery, and because we had a 90 minute drive ahead of us, we opted out of the game. We drove home on the winding road from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery, reliving the moments of the day…doing what we call “Post Game Wrapup” of our day. And while we talked about the fun of the day, we reminisced about college too. We had lots of good times at the University of Alabama back in the 1980s. That’s when Angela and I became friends, and we each remember different funny things that happened, so we laughed a lot on the drive.

We barely got to spend any time with our daughters, both of whom are students there. We saw her daughter for about an hour, and literally saw mine for a total of about five minutes! But I was happy…if she’s not clinging to me, she’s happy. I drove back up the next day to spend Sunday night in a hotel, so we had more time to visit. Then o came home Monday night.

It was a successful Homecoming. Yes, the team won the football game, and that’s definitely necessary for a successful Homecoming, but it was mostly successful because we got to see people we care about…people with whom we shared fun experiences in college.

And that’s what Homecoming is about.

When My Husband Leaves Town

When my husband leaves town.

My husband has been out of town for the past five nights. He is coming home today, and I am looking forward to his return. He will arrive in a couple of hours, and we will catch up on his trip. He will empty his suitcases (yes, plural…he’s a little high maintenance, but that’s a story for another day), and I will start more laundry. He will play with the dogs for a little while, because they will be thrilled that he is home. And then, I’m guessing he will turn on the television to catch up on what’s going on with the stockmarket today.

Yes, he will turn on the TV, because it’s not on. I turned on the TV in the livingroom two times while he was gone, because the dogs were confused at how quiet the house was. The first day I turned it on, I had it on Nickelodeon…yep, Henry Danger reruns all day long! Yesterday, I turned it on to an 80s music station, and I turned it up a little loud, because I was tired of hearing our Doberman whine. She whines, and it drives me insane. She was definitely missing her daddy. When my husband is home, the TVs in the bedroom and livingroom are on for background noise all day. It drives me insane, but it’s what he enjoys. He is definitely a creature of habit, and for a man who claims to like it “quiet” around him, he sure doesn’t mind listening to talking heads on TV all day.

But that’s just one thing that’s different when he’s not home. Another biggie? I leave the curtains closed in our bedroom 24/7, something that would drive him insane. Like I said, he is a creature of habit, and first thing every morning, he gets out of bed and opens all the curtains and shutters throughout the house…starting in our bedroom. In fact, on my side of the bed, there is a small window that faces east, and I have asked him a million times not to open those curtains, because that morning sun heats up the room. It’s like he’s deaf. He simply can’t leave them closed. Or maybe it’s just part of his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and his brain just won’t let him leave them closed. Many mornings, I follow behind him and close the curtains on that window. He even goes upstairs and opens the shutters in the rooms up there…and into the garage to open the shutters there. Whenever he is out of town, in fact, all the drapes and shutters, except the ones in the kitchen and keeping room, remain closed the entire time. It probably confuses the dogs too, now that I think about it, but at least I don’t have to deal with them standing in the bedroom window barking at everything they see outdoors. Plus, when the pool guy comes, I don’t feel like he’s looking in at me. He’s definitely not looking in at me, but I’d prefer to have the world not looking into my bedroom.

Another difference? I stay up as late as I want. My night owl tendencies drive him absolutely insane. I’ve told him many times, “I do my best work after 10pm!” I can clean a closet after 10pm like nobody’s business, but don’t ask me to do it during the day. I’m part vampire, I guess. But when he’s not home? I get to stay up as late as I want…and I do! Every night he was on this trip, I was up well past 1:00am, and several times, I was up past 3:00am. I still got up around 8:00am to feed the dogs and get the day started (with the curtains closed), but I enjoyed staying up late, and I enjoyed watching the movies I wanted to watch! I’m a weirdo (in lots of ways, I’m sure), because I like to watch certain movies on my laptop. I think I pay attention better, because there is nothing between me and the screen to distract my squirrel-chasing brain. He would never watch the movies I watched while he was gone: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park. (All these movies are based on Jane Austen novels and can be watched free with commercials on Amazon Prime or rented without commercials.) It’s a battle that’s simply not worth having. I wouldn’t even enjoy the movies if he were here…in my ear…telling me how boring they were. So I save those movies for when he’s not here.

Also, when he’s not home, I catch up on my phone calls. I was able to sit and talk with my friend, Kristi, in Florida, for hours Saturday. It was awesome! She and I have been friends since college. We have been through a lot together, so it’s always fun to catch up with her, but I can’t stay on the phone for hours when my husband is home! You and I both know husbands are like kids…if we get on the phone, they immediately need our attention!

So now he’s on his way home. He will be here in about an hour. I just finished the laundry, and as soon as he empties his suitcase, I will do his laundry from the trip. He will open all the curtains and shutters. We will sit down and talk. He will play with the dogs and turn on the TV. Life will be “normal” again. And tonight, we will start a fire in the firepit on the back patio and have cocktails while we look for satellites, planets, and constellations in the night sky like the nerds we are. As my friend, Richard, likes to say, “Nerd alert! Nerd alert!”

We will go to bed at a “reasonable” hour, and tomorrow, he will bring me coffee in bed. I’ve missed him.

I’m Such a Smart Empty-Nester

I’m such a smart empty-nester!

Want me to tell you how much I know about empty nesting? Here’s how smart I am: I know absolutely nothing…nada…diddly. But the fact that I realize I know nothing about it makes me absolutely brilliant.

Remember when your kids were toddlers? You had survived the whole newborn and infancy thing, and so you felt pretty confident going into toddlerhood? And then, BAM…your kid knocked you right back into reality with a tantrum…or climbing up the stairs on the outside of the rail (it happened)…or pushed another kid down…or hurled a plate of food across the room.

Well, empty-nesting is a lot like that. Just when you move your kid into his/her new dorm or apartment, you think, “Wow! I got this! I am a pro! My kid is officially launched into adulthood, and my life is my own!”

Wrong…wrong…wrong.

What they forgot to tell you when you brought that child into the world is that your life will never be your own…never, ever again.

My husband and I were stupid enough to think we would get our daughter moved into college, and everything would be rainbows and confetti afterward. Nope. We could not have been more wrong. Soon after we dropped her off, she developed an infection where she had a heel blister, and because the doctor was afraid it would move into her Achilles’ tendon, she had to get an antibiotic injection, take oral antibiotics, and use a topical gel. Crisis averted. That was our first gut punch letting us know how stupid we are.

Soon thereafter, we went on vacation to the Bahamas thinking everything was great. We came home, and I had gallbladder surgery. I took a week to recover, and then, I went on a cruise with a friend from my college days. We had a great time. And then…the last night of the cruise, I received a call that our daughter had been in a car accident. Everything ended up being fine, but wow! Things were not going as expected.

That was just last weekend.

My husband and I had planned to leave this Tuesday to go to the Bahamas again but canceled the trip when we received a call that the resort restaurants were closed till November 1. At first, I was annoyed, but then it looked like Hurricane Fiona was going to move through the Bahamas this upcoming week, and I was glad we had canceled.

Here is the thing: we thought empty-nesting would be a walk in the park, but every plan we have made has been changed somewhere along the way. So I finally realized something: the only constant is change.

If you want to have a good empty-nesting experience, prepare to be flexible.

If you want to have a good empty-nesting experience, prepare to be flexible. That vacation you have planned? It might not happen, and if it does, you might have to come home early to help your newly launched child with a problem. Sleeping well at night? Don’t expect it to last. You’re likely to get at least one jarring late night call. Think you know where your college-age kid is all the time? Bahahahahaha…think again.

Here is how you will know you are a smart empty nester…

You will know you are a smart empty-nester when you realize and can admit to all your friends that you have no idea what you are doing and you likely won’t ever know. If we could have just admitted this freely when our kids were toddlers, we would be a lot better off. If I could have just said all along that I am learning on the job (as a parent), and I am an absolute novice, I would have looked like the smartest parent in the history of the world.

As it is, I had to learn that I don’t know a damn thing.

If you’re going to be an empty-nester soon, hold onto your hat. Enjoy the ride, because you will never know what is around the corner…just like when your kids were infants, toddlers, elementary school age, middle schoolers, and high school students. Admit it. You were and still are as clueless as I am.

The sooner you can admit it, the smarter you are.

Facebook Memories: A Gift to Ourselves

Facebook Memories: A Gift to Ourselves.

I joined Facebook in 2009, because a friend from high school “invited” me to join. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I friended a few people, and then I realized I needed to get my mother to join, because it was an easy way for me to share photos of my then-five-yr-old daughter. I had no idea what an effect it would have on life, in general.

Here is where I am the first to admit that Facebook can be a giant “time suck,” as one friend calls it. I choose to call it a “time bandit,” because it steals my time, and when I look up, I’ve lost minutes or even hours of my life…to Facebook.

At the same time, it’s a good thing. We get to communicate with friends from lots of different stages of our lives. I’ve mentioned before that Facebook connected me with a friend who lived across the street from me when I was a toddler. It connected me with kindergarten friends I never dreamed remembered me after I moved away in second grade. It connected me with friends from the school I started attending in second grade and left after fourth grade. And it connected me with friends from high school and college, jobs I had over the years, and new friends I’ve made along the way. It’s a gift.

But there’s one part of Facebook that I truly consider a gift: Facebook Memories. I love Facebook Memories. I love that, every day, I can open my Facebook account, click on “memories,” and I can see things I’ve posted from years past. Today, for example, when I opened my account, the first memory I came across from one year ago was a photo of a space heater. I had posted it, telling my friend I had purchased new heaters to put at our feet while we visited in the garage. Yep, it was a sign of the times…the pandemic forced me to visit with friends in the open garage. The next memory, also from 2020, was a photo of a Christmas gumdrop tree, something nostalgic from my childhood that was clearly nostalgic for other people too, judging by the comments. The next post? One of my favorites of all time: a video from my daughter’s eighth grade basketball season…a girl on the team hit a buzzer beater to win the game 33-31 (yes, 33-31, because it was middle school girls’ basketball, after all) and a celebration ensued! As I continued to scroll, I came across a photo of me with a group of friends at the Good Friends Luncheon in Charlotte in 2016…a great cause that raises funds to help kids and adults in need. From 2013, there is a photo of me and my cousin before the ACC Championship game here in Charlotte. His team, the Florida State Seminoles won that year…great memory! Below that are a few pics from church basketball league in 2012…our daughter was nine. And then there are photos from 2010, when I took our daughter and some of her friends to a Christmas party at the country club. Lots of great memories! And every one of them made me smile. A gift.

Later this month, I will get to “re-live” Christmas memories…pictures of the Christmas tree after “Santa has left the building,” photos of the joy on our daughter’s face on Christmas morning, pictures of vacations during the holidays, photos of gatherings with friends, and so much more.

Every day, after I scroll through my Facebook memories, I want more! But I always have to wait for the next day…and often, another gift…another great memory…another smile.

For all its faults, Facebook, used correctly, is a gift. I will keep adding memories to it for as long as I can! And hopefully, along the way, I will have at least one smile a day.

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3.5…Tales from the Trip

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3.5.

In re-reading Part 3 (see it here) about my road trip through Florida with Mary Ann, I realized I left out some of the best parts…the stories. I gave the facts, but left out the stories!

I’ve mentioned that when we arrived at Eden Roc, our Miami hotel, we were greeted warmly by the valet and bellstaff. What I didn’t mention is that I, somehow, managed to lose my valet ticket before we even got checked in. I realized it at the check-in desk. Thankfully, I had remembered the name of the young gentleman who helped us, and I went back out to find him. He was so sweet about it. First, he said, “Mrs. Mattei, I saw you put it in your handbag. It’s in there somewhere, but take a picture of my copy.” And I did. Wow. What a great guy. And wow…I’m becoming an old woman. I started to wonder if I have dementia. Seriously. We went up to our room, and there was the ticket…in my handbag. At least I had done that without paying attention! If I had dementia, I would have tried to use it as cash to tip someone, right?

What I also didn’t mention is what we observed during our dinner at Nobu that night. We had a lovely server named Jeanette, but wow…she must have pulled the short straw that night. We were a good table, because we are happy and trusted her suggestions. We decided, however, that the table next to us was the bad table of the night…

The first people who occupied the “bad” table were two ladies. They weren’t a couple. They weren’t mother and daughter, even though there was an age difference. We decided they were friends somehow. But they were not happy. When their cocktails arrived, they complained. When their food…the very scant amount they ordered…arrived, they complained. Ugh. Poor Jeanette. Seriously, we felt so sorry for our sweet server that we jointly decided to up the happiness factor, to make up for the “bad” table.

But then it got worse! Those “ladies” left, and a couple was seated there. They were in their 20s. The young lady was peppy and happy to be there, while her date clearly was not. It was very clear they were not a new couple. You know how new couples try to make each other happy? He…we will call him Bob… had no interest in making her happy. Bob promptly announced to the server (Jeanette) that he didn’t like Asian food. Hmmm…he was in an Asian restaurant. But then it became clear that his girlfriend…we’ll call her June…had forced him to go to Nobu. Really? Who has to be forced to go to Nobu? Bob, apparently.

Jeanette tried to make Bob happy by telling him all about the menu items that didn’t have an Asian flair. Wagyu beef tacos? He grunted. June tried to be perky and happy. Bob threatened to leave. June said, “OK, I want you to be happy.” Ugh. We wondered aloud, “What about June? Shouldn’t she be happy too?” Bob didn’t hear us…thankfully. We decided Bob was an asshole. Sorry…there’s not a better word…well, there actually is, but “asshole” is better than the other word.

I’m a mom, and Mary Ann is a mom. We both have daughters. Mine is 17. If she had been with me, I would have used Bob and June as an example of “what not to do.” I would have told her June could do better.

Seriously, I may be 53, but I remember being young. I remember dating. And I remember assholes like Bob. Mary Ann and I wanted to follow June when she went to the bathroom and tell her not to go back to the table. We wanted to tell her Bob is not her person. We wanted to tell her to walk straight out of there and don’t take his calls. We wanted to say, “Run for it, June! Run straight home, and don’t stop till you get there!” (That’s a line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the movie. It’s what a man in the crowd outside the store says to Charlie after he finds the golden ticket.) But we couldn’t do that, because June is not our daughter. Hopefully, June will figure out Bob sooner rather than later. Hopefully, she won’t waste five years of her life with him, expecting him to be something he’s not.

We finished dinner before they did, but we said a little prayer for June that night.

After dinner, we took a walk on the boardwalk and down Collins Avenue. One thing we noticed? Lots of those horrendous Target dresses! You know…the prairie dresses. Oh my! They are terrible! Before we had mentioned it to each other, I turned to Mary Ann and asked if there was an Amish convention in town. No offense to the Amish, of course. I admire them for following their beliefs, but the fashion? Not so much. Everywhere we turned, prairie dresses! In Miami! It was bizarre! It’s definitely not a trend I will follow.

To read what I really think about those Target prairie dresses, click here.

Tomorrow…Part 4…heading north…

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 cast 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

Holiday Gift for Someone Who Needs Sleep

Holiday gift for someone who needs sleep.

Last week, I was watching Shark Tank. I rarely sit down and actually watch it. Usually, my husband is watching, and it’s just background noise for me. But this time, a product got my attention…the Sleep Pod from Hug Sleep.

I’m forever looking for the next product to help me sleep. In my whole adult life, I can likely count on one hand the number of times I’ve slept through the night. Therefore, I always have my ears and eyes open for new products or ideas to help my sleep. And I’ve tried them all…some work better than others. Some things that have helped: MyPillow brand pillow, low-dose melatonin, and a little lavender spray on my pillow. I’ve mentioned a weighted blanket before. While my husband loves his weighted blanket on his legs while he sleeps, I don’t. I just get hot, and it’s just too much for me. It’s great when I’m just sitting watching TV, but not so great for sleeping. But from what I understand about the Sleep Pod, the fabric from which it is made is very breathable and not hot...important.

So when I saw the makers of the Sleep Pod on Shark Tank, it got my attention. I know, “sleep pod” sounds weird, and at first glance, it is weird. You step into it like you’re putting on pants and pull the stretchy fabric up over your shoulders, creating a sort of cocoon. According to the website, it’s “designed around the science of Deep Touch Pressure Therapy that can help you fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.” As soon as I read that, I was sold.

The site also says the pod applies a “gentle, calming pressure to your entire body, much like a hug.” Don’t we all know hugs help reduce anxiety? In fact, I think hugs can even help lower blood pressure and pulse rate. And haven’t we all been missing out on some hugs during the whole pandemic isolation? I know I have. I like to hug my friends and family, and even when I’m able to meet friends for lunch at outdoor dining areas these days, I can’t hug them.

I’ve ordered Sleep Pods from Hug Sleep for my whole family for Christmas. But there is a catch. Right now, their demand is through the roof, so you can get on the waitlist by placing an order through their website here. You don’t even have to pay right now. They’ll get payment information from you when your order is ready. The regular price for the Sleep Pod is $110, but if you place your order now, you can get it for $79.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t know when they plan to have these things ready. I’m hoping they are ready for the holidays, but if they’re not, I will make cards for my husband and daughter, letting them know their Sleep Pods have been ordered. My husband thought they looked awesome on Shark Tank too, so I’m hoping he will be excited. Yes, I ordered one for me for Christmas too.

So yes, I’m making this recommendation based solely on what I saw on Shark Tank. I never do that, but this product really got my attention. And if you’re like me and will do almost anything for a good night’s sleep, you’re ready to sign up for your Sleep Pod too! Order now at the link above, so you don’t fall farther down the wait list!

70s Saturdays and Hostess Cupcakes

70s Saturdays and Hostess Cupcakes.

Earlier, I had to run to Walgreens to pick up one thing…some bottled water. Of course, like so many other people, I can’t walk out of Walgreen’s with just one thing. I have to “browse” the aisles. By the time I checked out, my cart contained hand sanitizer, cheap lipstick, Halloween candy I promptly hid when I got home, and Hostess Cupcakes. Yes, Hostess Cupcakes…the ones that come two to a pack. The creme-filled chocolate ones that have the white swirls across the top. The ones that I loved as a kid in the 1970s.

When I was a little girl, Daddy took us to Murphy’s store on Highway 31 in Brewton on Saturday mornings after he gave us our $5 allowance. It was our opportunity to get whatever we wanted, and back then, $5 would buy a lot of treats. Murphy’s was a little locally-owned convenience store. We always referred to it as “Murphy’s,” except Saturdays, when we referred to it as “the candy store.” Mr. and Mrs. Murphy actually ran it themselves. I’m sure they laughed when they saw us coming, because they knew we were going straight for the candy. By the time I left the store, I usually had an Icee or a Grape Fanta and a little brown bag full of different treats. My personal favorites? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I remember when the price increased from 15 cents to 20 cents), Pixy Stix, Marathon Bar, Grape Now & Laters, Spree Candy, M&Ms, Candy Cigarettes (it was the 70s, after all), and yes, those glorious Hostess Cupcakes. I thought those swirls across the top were beautiful. I guess I always had homemade birthday cakes, so those Hostess swirls looked like some special handiwork. Here’s a secret, though: I rarely ate the cupcakes. I usually just ate the frosting off the top…and that swirl? I saved that till the end.

So, after I got home from Walgreen’s and ate those Hostess cupcakes, I posted on my personal Facebook page about them, and the reaction was great! So many of my friends remembered those cupcakes from childhood. But the great thing was the memories they shared about their own experiences. One friend commented that her dad would take her to the deli on Saturdays, and while he picked out lunch stuff, the kids could get treats…including Tastykakes…a Mid-Atlantic treat. Others could remember the mom-and-pop shops where they got their weekend treats, and one friend frequented the 7-11 with her dad, buying comic books and candy.

One of my favorite comments was simply, “Nyolator.” It was a comment from a kindergarten friend in Brewton. I’m guessing not just anyone would understand it, but I knew exactly what it meant immediately. In South Alabama, when I was a kid, I didn’t call Now&Later candies by their real name. I called them “Nyolators,” and I now know I wasn’t the only one! We weren’t being funny. Since I never bothered to read the package, I just pronounced them the way I heard it,”Nyolator.” I guess that’s the way my kindergarten friend heard it too! So if someone had asked me what candy I liked at the time, I likely would have answered, “Grape Nyolators.” Later, when I bothered to read the package, I was amused to learn I had been calling them by the wrong name my whole life…I was probably a preteen by the time I realized it, but dang!

So now, I’m thinking those Hostess Cupcakes aren’t just cupcakes. They’re symbols of my childhood…memories of going to Murphy’s store with my daddy. Pixy Stix can have the same effect for me. I loved Pixy Stix then, and I still love them now. Again, grape Pixy Stix are my preferred flavor. I don’t know why I love artificial grape flavoring, but I do.

Grape sodas, which taste nothing like real grapes, also make me think of visiting my Granddaddy. I’ve talked with my cousin, Patti, in recent years about how Granddaddy would give us a quarter, and we would walk down to the little store down the street from his house. I don’t know what the store was called, but I know I could always get a grape soda or an RC Cola there.

And you know why all those items…the candy, the cupcakes, the sodas…remind us of our childhood? Because they represent happy times. We tend to lock things into our longterm memory if they are attached to an emotion, and I guess that emotion, for me, on a Saturday morning, with $5 to spend at a mom-and-pop convenience store…well, that emotion was pure joy! No doubt!

I was big on making my little brown bag candy stash last a while. I could drag out eating some M&Ms by peeling them. I never got Peanut M&Ms. Back then, I only got original milk chocolate ones. And I actually peeled them. Sounds crazy right? I would bite each one just lightly enough to crack the outer shell, and then I would carefully peel off the shell, eating it little bit by little bit. And that’s when there were still red M&Ms with cancer-causing coloring, and there were two different brown colors of M&M…one was tan. Remember that? Long before blue M&Ms. I remember hearing the slogan for M&Ms many times, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”

And while I was peeling my M&Ms and hoarding my candy/cupcake stash, I was likely playing records on my record player…maybe Ricky Nelson singing Garden Party, which takes me back every time. That and Otis Redding singing Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay. But I’m not even going to get into how music takes me back…that’s for another day.

For now, I’m going to sneak back into the kitchen and eat some of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from the bag of Halloween candy I purchased at Walgreen’s. I hid it from everyone else in my family, but I know exactly where it is!