Two Friends on the Road, Part 3

Two friends on the road, part 3.

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

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

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

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

Havana Restaurant’s Tres Leches Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Friends on the Road, Part 1

Two friends on the road, Part 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside Daytona Motor Speedway

Retro Road Trip

Retro road trip!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are stepping back in time! Retro road trip!

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

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

I Can See Clearly Now

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

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

-I Can See Clearly Now, Song by Jimmy Cliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bloom is Off the Rose

The bloom is off the rose.

I will admit it. At first, since no one in my family was sick with the coronavirus, it was fun hanging out at home with my family. We were fortunate to have a warm March (and April), so we were able to use the pool and spend time in the sun together. We slept in a little every day and watched some movies and series on Netflix and Amazon. It was like we were on a staycation…for about a week.

And then we became accustomed to living the lives of shut-ins. That’s something I never thought I would say. I never thought I would become accustomed to being stuck at home all the time, but I did. I’ve done everything around my house I can do except the difficult stuff I need to do. I need to be going through boxes in the attic and getting rid of stuff. I need to be cleaning closets and other spaces, but instead, I’ve been gardening…in my dining room. OK, so I’m just keeping my seeding pots in the dining room till they’re big enough to transfer to the ground outside, but it’s a little weird to see hundreds of plants in the dining room floor. I’ve been exercising every day, and I’ve been knitting some too. I rarely knit in April, because we’re pushing toward summer, but I’m knitting in April this year. I’ve been enjoying time with my family…lots of it.

But here we are…weeks into the “stay-at-home” order…and I’m getting tired of it. What seemed like fun in the beginning is growing stale now. Yes, the bloom is off the rose, so to speak. I’m tired of getting nervous before I check the stock market every day. I want to meet friends for lunch. I want to go into non-essential businesses! I want businesses to get back to work and start making money again.

Basically, I want life to be normal again.

I know normal will look different than it has before, and that’s OK. I remember when we had to get used to a different normal after 9/11. I can get used to a different normal, but I just don’t want this isolation to be that normal. I want to stop worrying about the stupid coronavirus. I want people to get well. I want to see friends. I want to visit family. I want our economy to recover and thrive. I want to go on vacation! Yes! I remember vacations! And by golly, I want to take, at least, some of the vacations I had planned before this insanity started. In fact, I’m still holding out hope against hope that I can take some of the trips I have planned for this summer. Oh, please! Oh, please! I love Charlotte, North Carolina, but I want out of this place! Is that too much to ask?

Speaking of the bloom being off the rose…I have worn makeup one time in the weeks since this whole isolation started. I had a Zoom meeting a couple of weeks ago, and since people were going to see me, I decided I needed to actually put on makeup. Maybe I should practice over the next week or so, just so I can remember how to do it when we can actually go places again! And let’s not even talk about hair! I’m sure my husband thinks I look like a dragon lady, because it’s long and untamed right now, and I don’t even care! I have a friend who says she will head straight to the thrift store when stores are open. She wants to buy long a-line skirts and other conservative clothing to go with the new sister wife look she has adopted during the pandemic. She is joking, of course…I hope.

I want to start moving around again. I want us to be allowed to figure out what normal is going to look like after all this insanity has passed. I haven’t started a letter-writing campaign or participated in any protests against the government, but I sure will be glad when we can start moving around again. I live in a great city, but I’m tired of being here for now. We have a lovely home, but I’m tired of looking at it day in and day out.

The bloom is officially off the rose.

Finding Something to Smile About

Finding something to smile about.

OK, so there’s nothing really fun about this whole coronavirus pandemic, and with all the dismal news, we need to find something to smile about every single day. Seriously.

Nothing fun about it, but since I’m stuck at home, at least I’m not having to wear “real” clothes. Remember the “work pants”? (You can see my piece about that here.) Well, those “work pants” won’t see the light of day for a while. Instead of real clothes, I’ll be wearing pajamas or play clothes all the time, since I’m stuck at home. And believe me when I say I have quite the collection of play clothes.

I’m really a collector of play clothes…especially hoodies. Since it’s still relatively cool in Charlotte right now, I might just get to wear every hoodie in my collection over the next couple of weeks!

Today I chose my Tender Roni hoodie. If you loved MTV  as much as I did in the 1980s, you saw lots of music videos. And in the late 80s, Bobby Brown was everywhere. Wow. Nothing will get me dancing around the room like an old Bobby Brown song, but especially a Bobby Brown video. Tender Roni isn’t much of a dance around the room kind of song, but it’s a good one. See the video here. Did I ever mention that when my daughter was a baby, I could calm her by playing Bobby Brown’s My Prerogative? It’s true. As soon as she heard those tires squeal at the beginning of the song, she stopped crying. So not only did I love Bobby Brown in 1989; I also loved him in the early 2000s. My Prerogative is one that will get you dancing, so I have no idea why it soothed my crying baby. See the video here.

My hoodie for today is a nod to Bobby Brown. It’s pink with a heart-shaped name tag on the front with “Hello my name is Tender Roni,” and on the back are the words to the chorus….”the truth about Roni she’s a sweet ol’ girl. About the sweetest little girl in the whole wide world…”

Yesterday, I wore a Baja East hoodie with “Rollin’ with the homies” emblazoned across the front. I have lots more choices, because I have lots of hoodies…and they’re all favorites for one reason or another. Some are from restaurants in Beverly Hills/Los Angeles. Some are from vacations in different places. Some are sports-related. Lots of them represent special memories somehow, and even though I hate this stupid coronavirus and the isolation it requires, I’m trying to stay in a good mood. At least my hoodies represent good things and can put a smile on my face. That’s my little happiness for the day.

I’m certainly not thrilled to be home all the time, but I’m trying to find a little ray of sunshine here and there. I’ll find a little happiness every day when I pick a new hoodie…till it gets too warm to wear them, and then, I’ll find something else to make me smile.

Right now, I’m just “hanging in there,” just like everybody else. But I’m trying to “hang in there” with a smile.

If you’re interested in some fun hoodies, check out the website for Kitson LA here. But don’t order straight off the website. Instead, call my friend, Moses, at the store and order directly from him! Everything is 25% off right now! The phone number is 424-245-4003…ASK FOR MOSES, AND TELL HIM KELLY SENT YOU!!! He can ship to you!

 

Practicing My Spanish! (¡Practicando mi Español!)

Practicing my Spanish. (Practicando mi Español.)

When I was in ninth grade, I took Spanish. I don’t remember if a foreign language was required then, but I took it because I knew the Spanish teacher took students with her to Mexico every year, and I wanted to go on that trip. What I didn’t know is that I would love the language and the people of Mexico.

Of course, in the 1980s, we had no way of seeing the future. We didn’t know Spanish would be a hot commodity in the 2000s. Back then, everybody was telling us we needed to learn Russian and Japanese, because it appeared as if Japan would be an economic superpower. Maybe it is. I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that Spanish is something we can use every single day in this country.

So in 1982, I took Spanish just so I could do the Mexico trip with some of my classmates. I’ve written about it before. Five girls from the class went with our pregnant teacher and a friend of hers as our chaperones. The teacher was an awesome Spanish teacher, but we ran pretty unsupervised through Mexico City for days. Mexico City was our first stop, and to this day, I still love that city. After Mexico City, we visited Taxco and Acapulco…back when it was safe to visit Acapulco. I took more Spanish classes as a result of that trip.

I have visited Mexico City (and other cities in Mexico) numerous times since then, and I love it every time. I find that every time I visit, after a few days, my Spanish improves by leaps and bounds. I have friends in Charlotte who are from Mexico, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries, so I get to practice my Spanish some, but it’s a lot of fun to visit  other countries and speak Spanish.

This summer, we are taking several vacations, but the only place I will visit where Spanish is the first language is Puerto Rico. I’ll practice it some, but usually, I find that, in Puerto Rico, when I ask a question in Spanish, they answer me in English. I continue speaking my terrible version of Spanish till they usually humor me by speaking some Spanish back to me. So I have a long list of Latin American countries I really want to visit in the next few years. I’ve been to Costa Rica and Peru, but I have other countries I’d like to visit: Argentina and Panama top the list.

But for now, I’ll get to practice my Spanish in Puerto Rico and just hope some folks there will cooperate. I know a few words I will definitely use while I’m there. I’ll exchange the regular greetings, and then, pretty soon after we arrive, I’ll use this word: churro. Yes, you know that word, and if you don’t, you’re missing out. The hotel where we will stay has some fabulous churros, so I’ll be saying that word really early in the trip when I place my first order! Next word? Alcapurrias! Actually, I’m not even sure that’s a Spanish word, but I’ll be using that word, because I know the pool bar serves great alcapurrias. Not familiar? They’re beef-filled, fried fritters. I can’t make them, but I can eat them! And only one more food word: mallorca! Pan de mallorca is actually a sweet bread made in Puerto Rico, modeled after a bread made in Majorca, Spain. Restaurants make sandwiches with the bread, and my very favorite thing to order is a mallorca con huevo, queso, y jamón (egg, cheese, and ham).

Seriously, I don’t just speak Spanish to order foods. When I’m visiting a country where Spanish is the first language, I try to use my Spanish as much as I can, and I try to learn new words. I love to come home with an expanded vocabulary.

I’m excited about Puerto Rico waaaaay to early, and next year, maybe I’ll make it to Argentina!

 

 

 

Complimentary Letters

How many times have you called a business and complained about something that happened while you were there? How many times have you emailed an online retailer to complain about the quality of a product or the slow shipping time? How many times have you complained about bad food at a restaurant? How many times have you complained about bad service on an airplane? How many times have you complained to an administrator at your child’s school about a teacher, an incident, or just something you felt was substandard?

Now…stop and think about how many times you have written an email or letter to compliment someone for offering outstanding service. How many times have you told the manager of a restaurant that your server did an excellent job? How many times have you told administrators at your child’s school they are doing an outstanding job or that a teacher is making a difference in your child’s education?

It’s easy to get into a habit of complaining. It’s easy to call and say your child is being treated unfairly at school. It’s easy to tell an airline how mad you are that your flight didn’t go as planned. It’s easy to send your food back in a restaurant. Complaining is easy.

Let’s try an experiment for the month of December.

Starting now, let’s make the last month of this year…this decade, even…the most positive month we can make it. Sure bad things are going to happen, but unless they’re really going to affect someone’s life long term, let’s try to see the sunny side of things. Let’s try to give recognition to the people who make a difference in a positive way. I know what you’re thinking…”Who would that be?!?” A lot of people are likely making a positive difference in your life every single day. I believe in writing complimentary letters or emails when someone offers me exemplary service, and I do it regularly. My family makes fun of me, in fact, for always writing complimentary letters, but I always remember that people are quick to tell someone when they’re angry, but not so quick to tell someone when they’re happy.

  • The barista at your local coffee shop who starts making your coffee when she sees you drive up every morning? She’s helping you start your day right…with caffeine…and without having to talk before you’ve had it!
  • The teacher who smiles and waves as you drop off your child at school in the morning? He got up extra early to work carpool duty, and he’s doing it with a smile, so your child will see a smiling face when he arrives.
  • The TSA agent at the airport who is at the end of her shift but still smiles and tells you she likes your shoes? She could just herd you through like cattle, but she makes a conscious choice to be friendly with everyone who goes through security.
  • The food truck employee who helps you pick up all the belongings that fell out of your handbag and onto the sidewalk? He could have looked the other way.
  • The administrator at school who decides to close the school because inclement weather is expected? And maybe the weather never arrives? That administrator was looking out for the welfare of your child and others based on the information he had.
  • The waiter at your favorite restaurant who greets you like an old friend when you arrive? And then brings your favorite drink before you order it? He could act like he has never seen you before and give you standard service, but he chooses to go above and beyond.
  • The employee at the dry cleaner who helps you carry your dry cleaning to you car, because you have twenty items, and they’re heavy? He could have let you struggle with it all.
  • The teacher who stays late at school to help your child who has fallen behind in math? She has kids of her own who will need her help when she finally gets home.
  • The airline reservations agent who works extra hard to find you a seat on a good flight after your flight cancelled? She could have taken one look and decided you would have to leave the next day. Instead, she got creative and found a way to get you home that day.
  • The nurse who is caring for your terminally ill mother, but takes time to check on your emotional well being? She could be uncaring. She could do what’s required of her and nothing more, but she knows it’s hard for you.
  • The airline employee who pushed your grandmother’s wheelchair from the airplane to the curb when she came to visit? And they seemed like old friends by the time they got to the curb? He could have pushed her in silence, but he chose to engage her in conversation instead…and she had a big smile on her face, even though you were a few minutes late picking her up.
  • The grocery store employee who walks you to the item you’re looking for instead of giving vague directions to the aisle? She could have just said “aisle 3” without even making eye contact, but she dropped what she was doing and walked with you to the item.
  • The hotel employee who, upon finding out your child has the flu, sends up a complimentary bowl of chicken soup through room service? And some hot tea for you? He wanted you to be comfortable and went above and beyond to make it happen.
  • The hotel employee who has your favorite bottle of champagne waiting in your room when you arrive? She’s making you feel special.
  • The Walmart greeter who has been greeting you for years with a big smile every single time.

For the month of December, take notice of all the folks who make your day a little brighter…and write those complimentary letters or emails. Talk to their managers. Tell the administrator you think she’s a good leader. And if you’re in a situation that calls for tipping, tip extra to those who make you feel special while telling them you appreciate their kindness and outstanding service. You will likely make their day, and you’ll feel a lot better too!

Maybe a month of positivity will make it a habit! 

What Makes A Good Hotel Stay?

What makes a good hotel stay? Lots of things. Summer is almost here, and since we are hoping places are opening up more, travel is on lots of people’s minds…including mine. I’m always researching hotels.

Over the course of my 53 years of life, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels. When I was a kid, a couple of things were important for me at hotels: a swimming pool and good vending machines. But times change. My wish list is different now. If you ever visit a city I’ve visited in recent years, I’m happy to give you my own review of hotels where I’ve stayed, and here are some of the things I will mention:

  • Friendly Staff. I love outstanding customer service. Our favorite hotel in the Los Angeles area knows how to do it, and I love it. A hotel can have beautiful facilities, but if the staff isn’t friendly and helpful, I don’t want to return. There’s a reason I listed this first…because it is important to me. When I visit a hotel, I like for the staff to smile and look like they enjoy being there. I like to feel like they are my friends. If I get that vibe in a hotel, I’m likely to remember it, and I’m going to return. I write dozens of complimentary letters a year, because I appreciate great service, and I love when someone gives me a reason to write one.
  • Large rooms. I simply like to feel comfortable. I don’t want to feel like I’m living in a closet for days. When I’m booking hotel rooms, I always look at the square footage. Unless the hotel has something special to offer, the size of the rooms is very important to me. For example, if I’m looking at two hotels in New York, and they have similar pricing and quality, the size of the rooms can be the tie-breaker. One is 350 square feet and the other is 550 square feet? You know which one I pick.
  • Air Conditioning. In the United States, most hotels are air conditioned, but they don’t all have good air conditioning. For me, it means the difference in a fabulous stay and a terrible stay. I need air conditioning to sleep at night, and that’s a fact…and it needs to be good air conditioning that actually keeps me cool. Preferably, it needs to be a relatively quiet air conditioner, but I can always cover that noise with white noise from my smartphone. So if a hotel room can’t reach a nighttime temperature of 67 degrees, I don’t want to stay there…and I won’t return. I also carry a small, folding fan in my luggage. I put it directly on my face. You can purchase one here.
  • Room Service (preferably 24 hours). Nobody loves room service more than I do. If I’m traveling for my daughter’s sports, I can suffer through a night or two with no room service, but traveling for pleasure? I want room service. It makes a big difference. I love to wake up to delivery of a pot of hot coffee and sometimes, a light breakfast. And if I’m going to have late nights, I like to know I can order a late night snack delivered to my room. When we are at hotels for my daughter’s sports teams, though, the hotels are rarely luxurious. But all the Marriott properties (Fairfield Inn and Suites, Towne Place Suites, Springhill Suites, etc.) have had market shops near the front desk, so we can get snacks or necessities 24/7. That helps. See the Marriott website here.
  • Location, location, location. In bigger cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the location of the hotel is crucial. I like to be where I feel safe. I like to be close to the places I want to visit…or centrally located between them. In New York, I prefer to be near Central Park. In the LA area, I prefer Beverly Hills, and in Chicago, I prefer the Magnificent Mile. In addition to location, if the hotel offers a courtesy car for nearby restaurants/shops/attractions, that’s a big plus. On islands or in beachy resort areas, unless a hotel is in a remote area for a reason, I prefer to book hotels/resorts that are relatively easy to get to. I don’t want to waste two or three hours on the front end or back end of the trip getting to and from the resort and airport. It ruins it for me. 
  • Good restaurant(s). Ideally, a hotel has a restaurant where I want to eat, and ideally, the people who work there are friendly. I love knowing I can walk right down the hall to enjoy a great meal or snack. And I love knowing I will feel comfortable there.
  • Good bar. This mostly refers to vacation hotels for me. I don’t really care about a bar when I’m traveling with my daughter’s sports teams, but when I’m on vacation, I want my hotel to have a good bar. I want some people-watching. I want good drinks and friendly servers. I want a bar menu. I want a place to relax with friends over a cocktail…or two. I want to want to spend an afternoon there, and I want to have a nightcap after dinner.
  • Private Outdoor Space. No one loves private outdoor space at a hotel more than I do, and it’s likely no one uses it more than I do. Of course, in some cities, it’s not as feasible, but in places where the climate is mild, it’s a fabulous addition to a hotel room. I love ordering room service and having breakfast on a patio or balcony first thing in the morning. Coffee tastes better outdoors. Am I right? For me, a private patio or balcony is just an extension of the room. And cocktails on the patio in late afternoon are pretty great too! When we went to Cancun for spring break last year, I loved sitting on our gigantic patio overlooking the water, watching the people on the beach and the clouds in the distance.
  • Comfortable beds. We’ve all stayed in hotels with uncomfortable mattresses. We suffer through it and pay for it the next day. If a hotel has comfortable beds, I remember. I love to wake up thinking, “I slept better than I sleep at home!”

These are just a few things I look for in a hotel. Like I said, some hotels we stay in for sports tournaments are purely functional, but if they have the extras, well, that’s a bonus. But when I’m on vacation, I look for the extras. And a friendly staff might mean I’ll overlook imperfections in a hotel. A few years ago, in Chicago, we stayed in a hotel (in a great location) that was in need of a facelift. The rooms were comfortable, but they looked tired…as did the public areas. But you know what? From the moment we arrived, we were greeted warmly. The bellman rushed out in the rain to help us with our bags…and he was smiling! The front desk staff chatted us up at check in, and when we had some questions for them later that evening, they acted like old friends! Everyone there was so friendly, and though I haven’t had the opportunity to stay there again, I wrote a complimentary letter to the manager. I also gave a glowing review on TripAdvisor, and I’ve told friends to stay there when they were traveling.

My favorite resource for researching hotels is TripAdvisor. I can weed through the reviews that are “outliers”..like the ones someone wrote when they were angry about something. I also look at the profiles of the people who write the reviews and try to get a feel for the person who wrote them.  I look at where they have stayed before to see if we have similar taste. My own profile on TripAdvisor tells my story…I’m a 50+ mom who often travels with my teenage daughter…sometimes we take luxury vacations, and sometimes we have to travel with sports teams. I give a lot of outstanding reviews, because I do my homework before I travel, so I know what to expect. I recommend TripAdvisor to everyone I know. See it here.

Happy travels!

 

The Chick-Fil-A One App…Winning!

Anybody who knows me knows I love to win. I don’t care about winning an argument. I don’t care about getting my way. But if there’s a competition of some kind, I like to win. A friend of mine has a dog in an online photo competition? I vote as many times as I can. Another friend has a child trying to get votes for soccer player of the year? I’m sharing it and voting every chance I get…even when I wake up in the middle of the night. And I do it, because I want to win…or at the very least, I want someone I know to win.

I have always loved Chick-Fil-A. The first one I ever visited one was in Eastdale Mall in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1977. The mall had just opened, and I was 10 years old. One of the employees was outside the store, in the mall corridor, holding a tray full of tiny bite size pieces of a Chick-Fil-A chicken, so I took one…and I never looked back. I ate there every time I went to the mall, and that was pretty often. But back then, they didn’t have waffle fries. They had shoestring fries, and really…I liked those better, but when they changed them, it was OK…i got used to them. I think they changed them at about the same time I visited my first free-standing Chick-Fil-A on Windy Hill Road, in Marietta, Georgia, in 1990, but I could be wrong on the timing. That was the first place I had their waffle fries, and I didn’t love them, but I have developed a taste for them. They had yummy cole slaw then too. It has since been removed from their menu, but I tried their new mac and cheese last week, and it was pretty darn good. I’ll always miss the cole slaw, though.

And a couple of years ago, we got the Chick-Fil-A One app. Oh, it’s a total game changer. Download it to your phone and have it scanned every time you purchase food there…or better yet, load money into the app from your debit card, and you can even purchase food using the app. That’s where my winning comes in.

My goal is to have more Chick-Fil-A points than anybody else. OK, so I know I’m not really going to ever have the most Chick-Fil-A points. I have one child. We can only eat so much, and even if her friends are with us, there’s only so much they can all eat. But I’m giving it the old college try. I am the mom who refuses to part with any of my Chick-Fil-A points. I’m just letting them add up. My favorite Chick-Fil-A location was closed for a few months last year, because of a remodel, and that really cut into my points accumulation, but I have red status, meaning that I have accumulated enough points to get 12 points per purchase on the app…two points more than just a regular member.

And I really love sports season or parties, because if someone needs a volunteer to bring in a nugget tray, I’m your gal! Yes, I know…I’m spending lots of money to get those points, but it’s not like no one eats it. Every single time I’ve ever delivered a nugget tray to a team or group, no nugget has been left unturned. With a sports team, every nugget is usually gone within five to ten minutes…so it’s money well spent. Teens love Chick-Fil-A.

So without telling you how many points I have right now, I can tell you this: my plan is to accumulate enough points that our daughter can get free sandwiches all the way through college when she goes in three years. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how many that will be, and I have nowhere near enough points, but I’m on my way!

An added bonus? I don’t have to get out my credit or debit card every time I go through the drive thru! Before I had the app, I would hand them my card to pay, and then when they handed me back my card, I would get in a rush and just put it in the wrong pocket of my handbag or wallet, and the next time I wanted to use it, I would panic, thinking I had lost it. With the app, I just hold up my phone to pay, and they scan it right from there…no more fumbling for my debit or credit card, and no more panic later when I can’t find it.

But here’s more motivation for you to get enough points to become a red member on the Chick-Fil-A One app: when you reach red status, you get even more special stuff! Once you reach red status, you and five guests can get a “backstage tour” of the Chick-Fil-A home office in Atlanta…just give 30 days notice. And as if that’s not enough gratitude, you also get two free tickets to the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta! If you are a football fan who has never visited, it’s a must-see. I took my daughter a few years ago, even before I had the Chick-Fil-A One app, and we both loved it!

So yes, I have a problem…I like to win. And even though I know it’s costing me money every time I get those points, I know I am accumulating points in the process…and I’m on my way to free sandwiches for our daughter when she will need them most. She won’t have to feel guilty one bit about going to Chick-Fil-A when she’s in college, because it will be FREE!

Winning!

Thanks, Chick-Fil-A!