Whew! We Made It!

Whew! We made it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Survived the Elf

We survived the elf.

Our daughter is 17. When she was a little girl…not sure how old, maybe six or seven…”the elf” appeared at our house. You know…the elf who appears the day after Thanksgiving and stays till Santa takes him/her home with him on Christmas Eve? That elf.

“It will be fun,” my friends said, and they got elves too.

And honestly, it was fun.

For those who are not familiar with The Elf on the Shelf, I will get you up to speed. Parents of small children purchase the elf and pretend it magically appears the day after Thanksgiving…sent by Santa to watch the children and report back nightly to the North Pole. The kids are not allowed to touch the elf, because he will lose his magic. He “magically” flies back to the North Pole every night while the kids are asleep to report to Santa, and when he returns, he lands in a different spot in the house…sometimes doing something mischievous or bringing a small gift. But the big deal is that every morning, he will be somewhere different when the kids wake up, so they have to look for him in the house. At first, it’s a lot of fun trying to come up with new hiding places and new fun ideas…till you forget one night.

Imagine this: kid wakes up and walks downstairs to find the elf hasn’t moved from where he was the day before. The kid is horrified that his elf hasn’t moved and questions the parents about the authenticity of the story behind the elf. Parents have to think on their feet. I came up with this: Oh, honey, it was so foggy last night! The elf couldn’t go back to the North Pole in dense fog! Too dangerous! I’m sure he will go back tonight!

Fast forward to about 2am the next day when I woke up and realized I hadn’t moved the elf again. My pulse rate quickened, and I jumped out of bed to try to hurry up and quietly move the elf…yep, 2am. Don’t even ask how long it took me to go back to sleep.

These things happened all the time at our house. I would forget to move the damn elf and have to come up with another excuse. Here’s a list in case you need it for a future elf fail:

  • There’s the first excuse: the fog was too dense. (LIE)
  • It stormed during the night, but you (kid) didn’t hear it. (LIE)
  • Air traffic had planes backed up in the Charlotte area, so it was too dangerous for him to try to get out past all those planes. (LIE)
  • He must think this hiding place is extra special. (LIE)
  • I think he fell asleep, because he was so tired from flying back and forth the last few nights. (LIE)

Seriously, even little kids will question those lame excuses, but they got me through the situation.

But having to hide one elf wasn’t enough. People gave her elves as gifts! At first, she questioned how people could just give them as gifts…she thought they magically appeared, so I had to explain…after we put him on the shelf the first night, he will get his magic during the night and fly back and forth to the North Pole. But that meant I had more than one elf to move and hide creatively.

Oh, it got more complicated. Our young child started writing notes to her various elves with questions. “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “What is your favorite food?” What is your favorite drink?” “Do you have a pet?” “Who is your best friend?” Oh, the questions went on and on, and she expected answers to every question the next morning. So, as a good mom, I had to sit down and come up with a different handwriting for each elf before I went to bed at night…and I had to remember which elf had which handwriting! Insanity…but yes, a small child would notice a discrepancy in the handwriting. Not kidding…

And to make things more complicated, she heard the elves brought gifts to some children, so of course, there had to be gifts. I went to Target and stocked up on every candy and cheap trinket I could find.

The elves had to be mischievous too. They spilled sugar or flour everywhere. They hid in candy bowls. They went ziplining between the banisters on the stair balcony. They wrote words with toothpaste. They even “came in like a wrecking ball.” I know there are some people who think I shouldn’t be proud of that one…but I’m proud of that one. One elf was sitting on an aluminum foil wrecking ball hung by yarn from our oven door…Miley Cyrus-style. And embarrassingly, our daughter knew exactly what it was. Don’t judge.

One year, at about Thanksgiving, before any elves had arrived for the season, my daughter came running into the kitchen, where I was cooking, with an elf in her hand! She had found it in my nightstand drawer and was confused. “Mommy? Look what I found in your drawer?” I’m good. I’m really good. Without batting an eye, I exclaimed, “He’s here! It’s magic! He knew you were going to look in that drawer tonight! He’s magic!” She bought it…hook, line, and sinker.

But the first year, when we had just one elf, heartbreak struck when we had our daughter’s bedroom painted. We bagged up all her “babies,” the stuffed animals she had collected over her lifetime and put them in the garage for “safe keeping” till the room was finished. No big deal…except, somehow, the bag got thrown away. The heartbreak was real when we discovered it. The tears! She was heartbroken, but I was too…so many memories. I had no idea how some of the “babies” would ever be replaced, but fortunately, I had photos of most of them. I got on eBay that night and started searching…and purchasing. I went anywhere and everywhere I could online to find replacements that night. I know…silly…but right then, it was important. And fortunately, I even had duplicates of a couple of special ones hidden away. So that night, after our daughter fell asleep, I got one of the duplicates from a trunk in the attic and propped it up with her elf for her to find the next morning.

When our daughter woke up and came downstairs the next morning…all puffy-eyed from crying so much before bed…she walked around looking for her elf. He was sitting on the sofa in the living room…with the duplicate rag doll that was identical to something that had been accidentally thrown away. When she found them, her face lit up…and she actually cried tears of joy! And so did I. Eventually, most of the babies were replaced by the elf over the course of the next couple of weeks. She really believed in her elf after that!

We were thankful we had the elf that first year, even though I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night numerous times when I realized I hadn’t moved the elf. His ability to make those “babies” reappear earned him a special place in my heart. And it earned him a special place in our daughter’s heart too.

He was so special, in fact, that after opening gifts and having family lunch on Christmas Day, our daughter just didn’t seem herself. I sat her down and asked if something was wrong. Was she disappointed with her Christmas gifts? And she broke down in tears! She explained to me that no, she wasn’t disappointed with her gifts; she was sad her elf had gone back with Santa!

And you know what I did. I broke every elf rule. I comforted her for a while, and then I went into the kitchen and had a word with my husband, explaining to him that I needed him to go get the elf out of my nightstand drawer when I gave him the cue…and he needed to place it on the dining room table. Oh, I was thinking on the fly. I went back into the living room and told our daughter…so sweet…that since it was still Christmas Day, she could make a Christmas wish, and it might come true. Maybe she should make a wish that he would come back? I got a candle and told her to close her eyes and make a wish, then blow out the candle…close her eyes again and count to 20…slowly. While she did all that, my husband was quietly retrieving the elf and placing it in the dining room. We were breaking all the rules, but who wants to have a desperately unhappy child on Christmas Day?!?! I know…it could have been a valuable teaching moment…whatever. When she opened her eyes, I told her to see if her wish had come true. When she found that elf in the dining room, you’d have thought she had found Santa himself! We had more tears…of joy. And because it was after Christmas, we let her hold that damn elf for the rest of the day. I think he might have even slept in her bed that night. But I told her he could only stay for one more month, and he would likely stay in one place the whole time.

Whew! That was long ago. Go ahead…I get 30 lashes with a wet noodle for breaking every elf rule, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And really…was she harmed psychologically by any of it? No. Does she still believe in the elf at 17? No. In fact, a couple of years ago, a neighbor/friend posted a photo of her child’s elf that had accidentally melted when it was placed too close to a lamp. She put out a desperate plea to see if someone had an elf that looked like it. Guess who did?!?! We did! I asked my daughter if I could give it to them, and she was thrilled to get to save the day! I called my friend and said, “Come get it! It’s yours!” If you have an elf and hate it, just know you’ll get some good memories out of it. One day, you’ll look back on it fondly. And if you need some elf ideas, here are a few pics of some things we did back in the day…

REPOST: Stocking Stuffers from 2019, Part 2

***This is the second of two reposts about stocking stuffers from 2019. We will be posting even more stocking stuffers (a new 2020 version) tomorrow, December 1.***

MORE Stocking Stuffers! As I said before, this is the fun category for holiday shopping! So here is my list of MORE…something for every member of the family. Without further ado…

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Lipstick. If you have a family member who loves Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, he/she needs this lipstick! Don’t we all want to look like Midge Maisel?!? Revlon is offering this lipstick based on the lipstick choices of the character. I hope I find this in my stocking! Heck…I know I’ll find it in my stocking, because I’m ordering it now and wrapping it as soon as it get here! Thanks, Honey! Get them at Revlon.com here for $19.99 per tube. ***And continue reading for more Mrs. Maisel items later in the post.***

Nostalgia Candy Boxes. Maybe you want your child to see what candy you loved as a kid, or maybe you’d like to bring back some memories for someone else on your list. Amazon carries Nancy Adams Nostalgia Candy Boxes full of all the favorites of the decades. Get one for the 1960s here. Get one for the 1970s here. And you can find the 1980s here.

Concert/Sporting Event Tickets. Never underestimate how excited a person will get over receiving tickets to an experience! I love concert and sporting event tickets as gifts…and I’d love to pull some great tickets from my Christmas stocking, as would my husband, my daughter, and my nephews. Of course, the concerts would be different for each of us. And we all love sports, so that would be a sure bet too. Ticket-Icon

Lottery Scratch Off Tickets. I love finding these in my stocking! I’ve never won a lot, but I have won a little, and I know someone who won five figures on a scratch-off ticket. No joke. I’m not encouraging gambling, but scratch off tickets are something we have in our stockings every year.nc698

Kiehl’s Products. My husband has loved Kiehl’s skincare products for years and introduced me to their Creme de Corps body lotion years ago. It does wonders for dry skin and makes my skin look smoother. We also love their Ultra Facial Moisturizer. In addition to these staples, Kiehl’s offers lots of great skincare products for men and women. See them all here.

Holiday Crackers. No, not the kinds of crackers you eat…the kind you POP! We loved these at our house when I was a kid. Sure, you can place them at each person’s place setting for lunch or dinner, but they’re fun to find in your stocking on Christmas morning. Some of my favorites:

  • L’Occitane’s Crackers Quatour, $34 for a set of four. The set of four can be broken up and one placed in each family member’s stocking. They contain petite sized products from L’Occitane’s fabulous collections.NAOCVKI002490
  • Molton Brown Cracker Gift Set, $25 per cracker. Contains four scented bath/shower gels. Get it at Saks Fifth Avenue here.MBC906_uk_Floral-Fruity-Christmas-Cracker_image_01
  • Racing Reindeer Crackers, $45.99 for a set of six. Putting a fun spin on the traditional cracker, each of these contains a windup reindeer, hat, joke, and a racetrack. Fun for all! Get them from pbs.org here.images-2
  • Robin Reed Hand Bells Musical Crackers, $85 for a box of eight. Adding a musical element to your family’s holiday, each of these crackers contains hand bells. Great for caroling with cocktails after dinner! Get them at Neiman Marcus here.NMHCBFB_mz-2
  • Godiva Luxury Poppers, $24.95 for a set of six. Who doesn’t love Godiva Chocolates? These will be a sure hit! Each popper contains three chocolate truffles. Get them here.13983-1

Bath and Body Works Products. These products are less “high brow” but great products for all ages, nonetheless. Their hand sanitizers, fine fragrance mists, and body lotions are great stocking stuffers, and you can find the perfect scent for each recipient. For example, their “Into the Night” scent is a little heavier, while their “Champagne Toast” is a little crisper and lighter. If anyone’s purchasing for me, I’d prefer the Champagne Toast, thank you very much. I should mention the prices on their products are always great, but there is almost always a special of some kind. Kids love their hand sanitizers. My own daughter had quite the collection when she was younger. See everything here.

Fun toys. When we were growing up, we loved a good Nerf gun or squirt gun, and our parents knew we would be occupied for hours with them, developing games with complete sets of rules for each one. Nerf, as it turns out, makes their traditional Nerf guns, but they also make squirt guns. See my pick for a Nerf gun stocking stuffer here, and my pick for a Nerf squirt gun here.

Liquor Miniatures. Adults need great stocking stuffers too! I have lots of friends who have a family tradition of putting miniatures in the stockings of adults. You can get them at your local liquor store. My personal favorites? Maker’s Mark Bourbon and Tito’s Vodka…in case my husband is reading this.

Perfumes/colognes. Every time I walk through Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus in SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, I check out the fragrances. Since I was a little girl, I’ve always found the fragrance department in department stores beautiful. Shopping fragrances makes me feel “fancy.” It’s one of the places in a department store that feels like days of yesteryear…the makeup counter! (Think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.)There aren’t fragrances many I love, but when I find something I like, I really like it. Right now, I like Gucci Bloom. Recently, I discovered their Gucci Bloom Hair Mist! Game Changer! For $49, it’s a lighter version of the scent, and I love it! Get it at Nordstrom here.a700bee8-eaed-48aa-922b-8fa39b5a7721

Fun socks. They’re everywhere I look. Every time I look at Facebook or Instagram, I see an ad for those socks that start with “If you can read this…” on the bottom of the foot. See some at Amazon here. Or maybe you know a Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fan. See some Mr. Rogers socks at Joy of Socks here. And while you’re at Joy of Socks, take a look around at everything they offer. Alien abduction socks? Check. Dog socks? Check.

Personalized Pocket Tokens. These are great little reminders people can carry with them in their pockets or handbags. Sometimes, we just need a little reassurance or pick-me-up, and these could do the trick. Get them on Etsy here.il_fullxfull.945896910_shp1

Balsa Wood Airplanes. Remember these from childhood? You can get a “squadron” of 12 of these for $28.95 at Duluth Trading. I remember playing with these with my brother when I was a kid. I would think lots of kids would love to have contests for flying these things. Get your squadron here.91032_alt_01

Drugstore colognes and aftershaves. Seriously. Call me crazy, but don’t we all remember how good Old Spice smelled when we were kids? How about Brut, English Leather, and Aqua Velva? Well, I must admit, I didn’t come up with this idea myself. Brett from artofmanliness.com wrote a piece on these old favorites after giving them a test run himself. You can see the awesome piece here. It will make you want to run to your local drugstore and pick up a few of these as stocking stuffers for the men in your lives. It also makes me want to find Joe Namath and find out if he still wears Brut!

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Photo from artofmanliness.com

Block Letter Monogram Necklace. These have been popular, in one style or another, for as long as I can remember. It’s a personalized gift without being “over the top.” And it makes a great stocking stuffer. Anthropologie has a great one for $38 here.37659125_901_b

MikWright Products. I found this brand of greeting cards and gifts at Paper Skyscraper when I first moved to Charlotte years ago, and I’ve loved them since! They use old photographs with hilarious captions on greeting cards, napkins, flasks, and more. Any of their items would make great stocking stuffers. Shop the MikWright website here.

Evel Knievel Stuff. Lots of little boys in the 1970s thought Evel Knievel was the greatest stunt person ever! I know he was famous at our house! My brother had all kinds of Evil Knievel toys…and frankly, I wish we still had them! But any Evel Knievel item would be a great trip down memory lane for some grown men. Take a look at all the items offered on Amazon.com here. There are dolls, action figures, tshirts, socks…and lots more!

Golden Girls Shady Pines Key Ring. The Golden Girls series ended its original run a long time ago, but there are lots of us who still remember it and love it. This cute little key ring is just a small nod to the show we all loved, and any fan would love to have it. It’s a guaranteed smile on Christmas morning for just $8.99 at Amazon here.

Ugg Earmuffs. Expecting cold temperatures and/or big snow this winter? Everybody has to keep their ears warm! These classic earmuffs from Ugg will do the job while making your friends and family look good at the same time! Priced at just under $60 at dsw.com here.348340_202_ss_01

Zippo Handwarmer. This is an unusual gift…it might be new to you, in fact! I had never heard of the Zippo Handwarmer till recently, but now that I know about it, you can bet your sweet bippy we will all find them in our Christmas stockings this year! They’re offered in several different colors and finishes, and they are refillable. For $19.99, they’re great stocking stuffers for anyone on your list who might spend some time in the cold this winter! Personally, I like the dayglo yellow one, because I think I’ll be less likely to lose it. Get it at Amazon here.

Other Marvelous Mrs. Maisel merch. Just as promised at the beginning of the post, here are some more items based on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel:

  • Marvis Tour with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Limited Edition Set. Toothpaste! It’s toothpaste! Amazon says, “Go on tour with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (and her fresh mouth), with this limited edition set, made exclusively in partnership with the show. $15 for the set at Amazon here.81kqkk44cxl._sl1500_.jpg
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Illustration Travel Mug. Offered by Society6.com, this travel mug will make any fan of the show laugh. Fans will immediately recognize the characters and the quote. (I had to mark out a word, because my mama wouldn’t approve of that word!) Get it here.IMG_6498
  • We Got The Rabbi T-shirt. Trust me, any fan would love this shirt. If anyone on your list is a fan of the show, get this t-shirt for him or her! Priced at $32, this will roll up and fit right into a stocking…and guaranteed smiles when the recipient finds it! It’s offered in lots of different colors! Get it here.mockup-49fd6357_1000x
  • More show merchandise at Amazon. Seriously, I can’t believe Amazon isn’t cashing in with tons of merchandise from the Amazon Prime show, but they do have a few items. Click here to see a few items they offer.

So there are some ideas for folks on your list…different ages…different interests…just different altogether! Happy shopping!

REPOST: Stocking Stuffers (from 2019) Part 1

This is the first of two reposts on stocking stuffers! A new post with new ideas will be posted tomorrow, December 1.

I love looking for stocking stuffers. Truly, it’s the highlight of my holiday shopping. It’s the really fun part of the shopping, because it can be funny gifts, small gifts, silly gifts…anything goes for stocking stuffers. 

This year, I’ve done my research, and with the help of several great friends, I’ve compiled a list of some great stocking stuffers, so you don’t have to do the research. I’m featuring stocking stuffers in lots of different price ranges. Without a doubt, you’ve thought of some of these yourself, but I’m guessing some of them will be new to you! So read all the way through! And keep in mind that there will be a second post on stocking stuffers coming soon…and it will be full of things I love too!

Let’s get started…

Minute Mimosa Sugar Cube Trio. I love these! For $30, you get 18 sugar cubes infused with different flavors that, when dropped in a glass of champagne or prosecco, will turn it into a Bellini, Mimosa, or other fruit flavored drink! The company offers two different trios…a peaches and berries trio, and a citrus trio. I love a good glass of bubbly…and these sugar cubes are a lot of fun! I’ll be finding some of these in my Christmas stocking this year…no doubt! Get them here.49534_1_640px

Kylie Lip Sets. Say what you want about the Kardashians. Love ’em or hate ’em…they’ve marketed themselves really well. Kylie is actually a Jenner, but she’s a half sister to the Kardashian girls. She ventured out and created/marketed a line of lipsticks/glosses/liners that were successful as soon as they hit the market. She recently sold her stake in the company for a cool $600 million. I’m sure I’m not their target consumer, but I have several of the Kylie Lip Kits/Sets, and I love them. I also use the Kylie bronzer and face powder…love it all! There are lots of Kylie cosmetic palettes out there…even some new holiday palettes/sets, so check them out. See the whole collection at Kyliecosmetics.com kj_holiday2019_pdp_holidaycollection

Slingshot with felt ammo balls. Fun for the whole family! Maybe Santa could bring one of these for every member of the family. Let’s face it…it wouldn’t be any fun to send fuzzy cotton ammo flying through the air at your sibling/parent/child if they couldn’t take aim back at you! It’s safe. It’s fun. I hope my husband and daughter are ready to lose this fuzzy ball war! Priced at $12.99, get it from Amazon here.61x03RzjoyL._AC_SL1000_

Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane. You read it right…a paper airplane you can control with your smartphone! Priced at $45, it’s not cheap, but it’s different! What you get is paper to fold the plane and a bluetooth device to attach to it. Once you have it set up, you download the app to your smartphone, and you can control the plane with the app. Could be great entertainment indoors or outdoors. But please note this is recommended for ages 14+…it contains small parts that could be choking hazards. Get it here.48243_1_640px

Lifestraw Water Filter. If you’re not familiar with a cute lady named Kristen Hampton, you should be. She runs a Facebook page called Kristen Hampton Good News, and on Tuesdays, she does live feeds she calls PTT…Product Testing Tuesday. The first place I saw the Lifestraw Water Filter was on one of her PTT videos. She waded into murky water in Arizona and put this personal water filter to the test. The product removes almost 100% of all waterborne bacteria and contaminants from water. It surpasses EPA standards, and it’s a great gift for outdoorsmen, campers, and hikers. Priced at $14.96 on Amazon right now, it’s a great stocking stuffer. Get it here.81IB16t6VML._AC_SL1500_

Poo Pourri. One of the greatest inventions ever, Poo Pourri is the “spray before you go” toilet spray that eliminates odors by trapping them. I have loved it for years and keep them in every bathroom in our house. They also offer smaller bottles that will fit in your handbag, so you can “spray before you go” when you’re on the go! Poo Pourri has a four-minute commercial on YouTube that you can see here, but remember the subject matter…it’s not a sweet, little, pretty commercial, but it is hilarious. Go to the Poo Pourri website here to see all the products they offer….lots of fun, hilarious holiday offerings, including some ugly Christmas sweaters. One of my favorites is the Pink Citron glitter Poo Pourri, but I love all their products and their fun names.  And check out their shoe odor eliminator while you’re there too! See the website here.

Lumilux Toilet Light. Since we’re already talking about the bathroom, I might as well go ahead and put this one out there too. Sounds silly I know, but some folks just need a toilet light, and this one has a motion sensor and 16 different color possibilities! It is one of the toilet lights marked “Amazon Choice,” and it’s priced at just $14.95 for one or $24.95 for a two pack. Get it here, because who wouldn’t want an automatic light when they approach the toilet at night?81wnUH8UrDL._AC_SL1500_

Serendipity 3 Frozen Hot Chocolate. This stuff is the best, and it’s super easy to make the Frozen Hot Chocolate like they have at the world-famous Serendipity 3 in New York. The mix is in packets or buy it by the can, and directions are easy to follow. Have some whipped cream on hand for topping! My daughter insists on this every year, and I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. Get the can of mix at Amazon here. Or purchase it by the packets here.

Incognito Flask. For the over 21 set, this is a great gift. Sometimes, we like to take some alcohol to the beach or a football game, and there’s nothing worse than trying to sneak a bottle past security…hiding it in your bra or down your pants. Yep, it happens. Flasks that look like something else are the answer to those woes! And there are lots of options. Fake sunscreen flask? Check. Fake binoculars flask? Got it! Fake umbrella? Yep. Fake tampons? Uh-huh. Fake camera? You bet. Even fake shampoo and conditioner bottles for smuggling alcohol onto cruises! Who knew? Amazon has a whole page of them, but my favorites are the hairbrush, binoculars, and sunscreen. See them all here. The binoculars are pretty far down the page, so click here for the direct link. In fact, there was a picture on dailymail.com that went viral…a girl drinking from her binoculars at a race. See it here.

Silk Pillowcase. These days, everyone is extolling the virtues of the silk pillowcase…something I’ve known about my whole life. I remember my mother telling me as a little girl that silk pillowcases are better for your skin and hair. She used them, and she swore they helped keep her hair in place. Well, they’re back! Now, a company called Slip makes a sustainably sourced silk pillowcase, and it is becoming famous fast. Sit down, though…it sells for $85. Get them on Amazon here. I’ve also found a brand of silk pillowcase called Fisher’s Finery that was called a winner by the Good Housekeeping Institute. It sells for just under $50 on Amazon here.

Gift cards. It’s not impersonal. It’s practical…especially for teens and college students. They have places they love to go, but everything costs money. Giving them a gift card to Starbucks, ChickFilA, or anywhere else they frequent is a fabulous gift! Get them at Target or possibly in your local grocery store.

Therapy Dough. Yes, it’s a thing. Some people like to have something to do with their hands to help them relax, and Therapy Dough could be the answer! Roll it. Stretch it. Shape it. The brand I’ve found at The Grommet, called Pinch Me Therapy Dough, is lightly scented for even more relaxation! For $25, it’s a great addition to a stocking! Get it here.2251-BND-100_BST_1

Light up Gloves. What kid wouldn’t love some light up gloves?!? Kids love flashlights and glow sticks…these are lights that fit on your hands! The YoStyle kids’ gloves get a five star rating on Amazon, and they look like lots of fun for camping, parties, and more! At just $10.99/pair, they won’t break the bank, and they could be good for hours of fun. Get them here.6118hrwj9pL._AC_SL1280_

NEBO Larry Flashlight. And since I mentioned flashlights, we should just add those to the list too. My personal favorite brand of flashlight is Larry. I first discovered them at a camping store, and they’re they only brand I ever buy now. The Big Larry comes with a bright LED flashlight, a strong magnet built into the base, and a flashing emergency light, in case you need it. Prices start at $24.95 on Amazon here. Or maybe a smaller light is what you need. The Lil Larry starts at $16.89 at Amazon here.

Quality candies. Nobody loves a good maple sugar candy like I do. I’ve been addicted to them since we started visiting Maine ten years ago. My favorites are shaped like little maple leaves. One brand I’ve tried is Butternut Mountain Maple Farm. It’s pure maple sugar candy, and it’s good. You can order it here. I’ve heard Trader Joe’s sometimes carries their own brand of Maple Candy, but I haven’t seen it in the store yet. Another great candy I’ve mentioned before is Louis Sherry Chocolates. They come in beautiful tins of different sizes. Twelve-piece tins start at $35, but for the lovely holiday Nutcracker tin, it’s $40. Did I mention the chocolates are delicious? Get them here.

1818 Farms products. A friend who lives in Alabama told me about 1818 Farms a few years ago. Located in North Alabama, this farm produces lots of organic products. I love their Shea Creme starting at $10. Wedding Cake would be my favorite scent. They also have lovely handcrafted soaps starting at $7 and beard oils starting at $12. You can see them all at their website here. They also offer holiday bundles!

Tabletopics Conversation Starter Cards. These are great for people of all ages, and Tabletopics has made it easy for you to choose the right set! They offer the Original Tabletopics, but there are also sets geared toward families, teens, couples, date night, dinner parties, and more! Each box contains 135 thought-provoking questions for $25. Get them on Amazon here.71LDjWb0O1L._SL1500_

Dry Divas Shower Caps. Every girl needs a good shower cap. Who wants to wash their hair every day? And it’s a pain to get a shower without getting your hair wet! Lots of shower caps don’t do the job, but Dry Divas Shower Caps are the best! I should know…I’ve been using them for a while now. Priced at $25, they aren’t flimsy. They’re well made, pretty, and they stay in place. See the various designs at Amazon here.61V8MUwNZhL._SL1116_

Mer Sea & Co. Faux Fur Hot Water Bottle Cover. Go ahead. Tell me I’ve lost my mind. Who uses hot water bottles anymore? But come on…think about it…there’s something comforting about a hot water bottle. Sure, you can use a heating pad, but there’s no chance a hot water bottle in a beautiful faux fur cover is going to start an electrical fire. OK, so maybe that’s extreme, but there’s just something about a hot water bottle when you’re cold and tired…or have back pain…or just want to warm your feet. At $38, this is beautiful and practical! I want one. Get it at Anthropologie here.

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Vintage Toys. Toys were different when I was a kid. Most of them weren’t electronic. I love vintage toys. Remember Stretch Armstrong? How about Viewmaster? Etch-a-sketch? How about the rail twirler? Slinky? Wooly Willy? Don’t forget paddleball! They’re all available on Amazon. Wooly Willy starts at about $5. See various vintage toys here. Kids and adults might like them!

Dermalogica Facial Cleanse. This is the best stuff I’ve ever used to clean my face. It’s a two step cleansing process. First, I use the Dermologica PreCleanse, which is priced at $45, and while that sounds crazy, the bottle lasts for months. It gets all the makeup off my face the first time. I’ve always struggled to find a good makeup remover. This is the bomb! Get it here. Follow it up with the Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel ($39) for super clean skin. Find it here.

Smartphone Lanyard. It’s always a dilemma…I need my phone, but I can’t carry a handbag, and I don’t have pockets. I found the Smartphone Lanyard at The Grommet, and now, I can hardly wait for it to arrive in the mail! Of course, it will have to be a stocking stuffer, so I won’t be able to use it till Christmas. My teenage daughter wouldn’t use it, but I bet there are a lot of moms out there who would. It will come in really handy at sports tournaments…when I need to be able to find my phone easily, but I don’t want to hold it in my hand. Priced at $9.99, it’s a bargain. Get it here.2887-CON-100_BST

Personalized Stationery. Every member of the family needs personalized stationery…for sympathy notes, thank you notes, and just regular notes. Don’t we all love to receive handwritten notes in the mail? I do. There are lots of places to get personalized stationery for everyone in your family, and it makes a great stocking stuffer. One place to get it is The Stationery Studio. For $35, you can get 25 beautiful, personalized, hand bordered note cards with envelopes like the ones shown below. See them here.3EA218D7-9D9C-2316-657B2EEA13536D7C

Wireless Express Sing-A-Long Bling Karaoke Microphone. Folks of all ages love karaoke. I’ve seen videos on Facebook of my cousins’ children and grandchildren singing karaoke, and I have lots of adult friends who love singing along. This karaoke microphone, with its bluetooth capabilities, is a lot of fun for just $55. Get it at Neiman Marcus here. It comes in Pink Bling and Iridescent Bling.

Waiter’s Corkscrew. Call me old-fashioned, but I find waiter’s corkscrews are the easiest to use. The wing style corkscrew just doesn’t work for me. And there’s something that looks more skilled when someone uses one of these. Priced at just $10.95, the Hicoup Waiter’s Corkscrew is a great stocking stuffer for anyone who enjoys a nice bottle of wine. Get it here. 71pJGms-rgL._SL1500_

Urban Decay Naked Honey Palette. Just looking at the Urban Decay website is a lot of fun. So much color! So much glitter! Every year, they have a “hot” eyeshadow palette, and this year, the hottest thing going is the Naked Honey Palette, priced at $49. Or get the Honey Drop Vault, which includes the palette plus other Honey items for $115. It’s golden! It’s sparkly! And it is popular. See the Naked Honey collection here.

I hope you found a few things that look like they could work for your loved ones! If not, there will be a second list of stocking stuffers coming soon! 

Razzle Dazzle!

Razzle dazzle!

Several weeks ago, at the end of September, I took a much-needed vacation to the Los Angeles area. I had not been on an airplane since the whole COVID shutdown started, and I was having withdrawals. I needed to get on a plane and go where I wanted to go. So I did.

My dear sister-friend, Jennifer, flew in from Ohio and met me for the first couple of nights, and we had the best time talking, laughing, and drinking champagne…lots of it! She could only stay for two nights, but I stayed a couple more nights after she left, and that’s when I razzle dazzled the maître d’ at one of my favorite restaurants. I had made a dinner reservation for one (I don’t mind dining alone), and when I arrived, he greeted me warmly. He then looked down at my very shiny, glittery gold shoes and exclaimed, “Razzle dazzle!”

Apparently, prior to my arrival, he and the hostesses had been discussing how a little “razzle dazzle” can add some excitement to life, and when I arrived in my shiny shoes, I brought it with me! As I dined near some old school Hollywood types (a Corleone and a very tan man), I laughed thinking how I had brought the razzle dazzle. These two very famous gentlemen were dining at the next table, but I had the razzle dazzle! And I knew the maître d’ had learned something I’ve known for a long time…a little razzle dazzle can brighten a mood, add some excitement, and improve my outlook.

Now, razzle dazzle has become a part of my daily lexicon. I read an article recently about words you can add to your daily lexicon to sound “more literate.” Sadly, razzle dazzle wasn’t included in the list! No surprise there, but I don’t feel the need to sound more literate. I want to sound more exciting…more fun! Life can get so boring. It can be so monotonous. And during the COVID shutdowns, it gets downright lonely and depressing sometimes. Am I right? But if I’m lonely and depressed, I can remind myself to razzle dazzle, and if I turn on the right upbeat music, or have a glass of champagne, or put on my shiny shoes, or even sport some bling-y jewelry, well, my mood improves immediately! I know it’s silly. But sometimes life calls for silly. I’m a firm believer that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. Again…depressing.

So for my next big razzle dazzle, I’m going to put up my aluminum Christmas tree with its color wheel. Yes, I know it’s just the first week of November, and believe me when I say I normally don’t go all holiday crazy before Thanksgiving. But in 2020? I think we need a little holiday razzle dazzle to brighten up the end of what has been a dismal year.

I purchased this particular tree earlier this year from Vermont Country Store. You can see it and order here, and get the color wheel here. ***Did you know the color wheel was invented to keep people from stringing lights on the aluminum trees, because it would have been a fire hazard?*** Several years ago, I had a tree/colorwheel that had belonged to my grandparents. I remember it in their living room back in the 1970s…and as a little girl, I thought it was absolutely glorious! The beautiful colors of the light wheel reflecting off the silvery tinsel of the tree! It was mesmerizing to me. In fact, if you’d like to see some photos of “mid-century” women enjoying their aluminum Christmas trees, click here. After my grandparents died, I got the tree and the wheel. I put it up one holiday season and kept it illuminated, but after that, I was afraid of it. It was old and dusty. And I wasn’t sure about the electrical components. Frankly, I was afraid it would catch fire. So this year, I purchased a new one, and I can hardly wait to put it up and razzle dazzle my family and friends with it. My husband likely won’t approve, but he’s not a big fan of razzle dazzle like I am. It won’t be our only tree. It’s just going to be our early tree…the one that will razzle dazzle us through Thanksgiving. We will put up our regular traditional tree after that, but I will keep the aluminum tree up too…just for the razzle dazzle effect…and maybe just to drive the husband crazy.

And when I put up the aluminum tree this week, I will be wearing my shiny shoes. In fact, I will be wearing different pairs of shiny shoes throughout the year, but especially during the holiday season, so if you see me, please feel free to yell, “Razzle dazzle!”

This year, I’m especially glad the holidays are approaching. We need some light! We need some brightness! We need some razzle dazzle!

A Different Mother’s Day

A Different Mother’s Day…

It’s almost here. We’ve never made a gigantic deal about Mother’s Day at our house, but we do celebrate it. My family usually goes out for brunch on Mother’s Day. We don’t do big gifts or anything, but my husband usually orders flowers or one of my favorite treats. We  normally have the freedom to make a reservation where we want to dine. But not this year.

Honestly, I look at Mother’s Day the same way my own mother used to look at it: I’m just thankful God let me be a mother to my daughter. There is no job more difficult or more rewarding. The job description is always changing, and I love it. I really do. When I was in my twenties, long before I was a mom, I thought having a child was not important to me. One of my coworkers, who had two children, once said to me, “It’s the meaning of life.” And she was right. My daughter teaches me a lot more about love and life than I teach her, I’m sure, and I love growing with her.

I always tell people motherhood gave me an opportunity to have a third childhood. My first childhood was my real childhood. Then, college was the next one. And once I had my baby, when I was 33, I got to start enjoying another childhood. She will be going off to college in a couple of years, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy that too! My neighbor, when she came over for social-distancing cocktails on the patio last week, told me and my daughter, “My daughter’s time at The University of Alabama were the best four years of my life!” She loved visiting her daughter in Tuscaloosa and got to enjoy another “childhood.” Motherhood is a great experience.

No one enjoyed motherhood more than my own mother. This is my third Mother’s Day without her in the world. I won’t cry this year like I did that first one, but I still miss her. I’ve just found ways of coping with the fact that she’s not here anymore. Lots of times, during this pandemic and isolation, I have wondered what she would have thought of it. Since she was a nurse, she would have known the importance of social distancing, but she wouldn’t have liked it. My parents were always big on “living life.” They loved the movie, Shawshank Redemption, and one of their favorite quotes from the movie was, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Since this isolation started, my brother and I have speculated about what our parents would have said about the disease and the stay-at-home order. Neither of us truly knows what they would have said, but I know I would have spent a lot of time on the phone with them talking about it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my mother. I can’t call her and ask her about it this Mother’s Day…the Mother’s Day in the age of COVID-19. If you still have your mother, think about that…once they’re gone, you can’t call your mom to ask her about a recipe or a story she told you about her life or how to handle a sick child. And I can’t ask mine what she thinks about COVID-19. I know it sounds like a little thing, but I’d love to know her thoughts on it all. In the 1950s, when she was in nursing school and studied in Louisiana for a while, she was exposed to tuberculosis and leprosy, both infectious diseases. Sure, they were infectious, but as a medical professional, she did what she needed to do to help the people. Later, when I was in elementary school, she worked for the health department and had to visit an area that reportedly had several cases of tuberculosis…a highly contagious respiratory disease. I would love to hear her opinion of the whole COVID-19 crisis….but I can’t.

This Mother’s Day will be different. That’s for sure. Because we can’t go out for brunch, we will likely cook at home. Sure, it will be different, but we will make it fun. It’s supposed to be a beautiful day, so I’m guessing my husband will cook on the grill. I’ll give him a grocery list today. Since the high is supposed to be around 70, we’ll have lunch outside. I won’t require my family to spend the whole day doting on me, but I will enjoy some time with them. Gifts? I don’t know if they will shower me with gifts, and it’s just fine if they don’t. I’m just thankful we are all healthy and can spend some time together.

This Mother’s Day, I’ll be thankful for my healthy little family. I’m thankful my own parents gave me a good life. I’m thankful for my brother and nephews…my cousins, aunts, uncles. And I’m thankful for great friends.

I’m just thankful. God bless mothers.

 

Host a Virtual Brunch

I want to host a virtual brunch.

For the past few years, I have hosted at least one spring brunch for friends at my house, but this year will be different. No spring brunch, unless I get creative. My friends will need to be creative too, but maybe I can find a few who are willing to do a virtual spring brunch while we’re all “social distancing.” I talked to a lady at the bank (on the phone, of course) who told me she’d enjoyed a virtual cocktail hour with friends the night before, so why not a brunch?

Here’s what I’m thinking:

I’ll pick a future date (but not too distant) that might be good for a few friends. We can use the Zoom app to all “get together.” But how do we do brunch together through the app?

First, we all need to set a dress code. Personally, I think it should be spring luncheon dress…pretty dresses or blouses that will cheer us all up. I have a Saloni dress I got for Easter last year that would work perfectly. The fabric is bright pink, blue, orange, yellow, and green flowers on a white background. It has ruffles and looks very happy and seasonal. So I will encourage everyone to wear a happy, spring dress or blouse.

For decor, I think it will be fun to let everyone decide their own decor for their space, but make it as happy and springlike as possible! I will likely use my mother’s Desert Rose china and decorate my “space” around that…pink and green…with whatever I can find around my house. Or I have some other pretty spring china of Mother’s that’s blue and green…that could be pretty too. I’ll definitely use my sterling silverware instead of stainless…just to make it feel more special. And crystal glasses.  If I can find some pretty flowers outside in the neighborhood, I’ll use those too.

And how about the menu? Should we all have the same things? That could be tough, since we don’t all have access to the same things. But it will be interesting to see what everyone has! I know I have plenty of pimiento cheese, so I can make some finger sandwiches for my meal. I have some strawberries, so I can have those. Maybe I’ll make a Slow Cooker Breakfast Casserole from the Hungry Girl website. (Click here for recipe.) I’m having to think in terms of what I actually have on hand. For my beverage of choice, I’ll go with Prosecco…I have a lot on hand. If I have any fruit juice on hand, I’ll make a froufrou drink, but if not, I’m cool with Prosecco. And for dessert, I’ll have cupcakes from Baked By Melissa (click here), because I know I have an order arriving soon. They’ll add some color!

This pandemic is certainly not fun, because these are trying times, but it’s OK to look for a little happiness where we can. We’ll say some prayers for those who are sick and their families, and we’ll pray for those who have lost jobs or businesses. A little bit of “virtual” happiness might make us feel better for a little while. I think I’ll send out some virtual invitations today!

Stay safe. Stay well. And stay hopeful.

Portion-Controlled Desserts? Yes, Please!

Portion-controlled desserts? Yes, please!

If you’re anything like me, you have difficulty knowing what a real “serving” of cake is. Big slice? Little slice? What is the perfect slice? And then…how do I keep myself from eating more than I should?

Hungry Girl to the rescue!

Everybody knows I love Hungry Girl. Not familiar with Hungry Girl? I’m happy to introduce you! When you get to the website, sign up for daily emails, click that you heard about them from a Hungry Girl Ambassador (me!), and enter my name (Kelly Mattei). I’ve loved Hungry Girl for years, and I’ve promoted Hungry Girl for years, but now they know I’m promoting them! I don’t promote anything I don’t believe in, so you can bet your sweet bippy I believe in Hungry Girl.

On to the good stuff…

One of my favorite finds on the Hungry Girl website? Portion-controlled desserts…specifically, single serving desserts in mugs and cups. Sounds awesome, right?!? That’s because they are awesome!

I’ve made a couple of them, and my teenage daughter loves them as much as I do! They are all super simple and fast!

Here are some of my favorites!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug. My mother used to make Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes all the time when I was growing up. There was always at least one at every family gathering, and they disappeared fast! This Hungry Girl version is simple and easy, and the recipe makes two portions, each containing 201 calories. Not bad for a yummy and beautiful dessert! It’s a favorite at our house. I’ve made it when friends have come over for coffee, and it’s always a hit! Did I mention it’s beautiful too?! Get the recipe here.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup. Another “easy as pie” recipe from Hungry Girl, this one is fun for kids too! (Do not let children make this unaccompanied. The pie is HOT when it comes out of the microwave!) It has candy and graham crackers in it! ‘Nuff said! And fruit! It has fruit! At only 140 calories per serving, it makes for a great dessert the whole family will love! I think it even sounds good for a snow day. My daughter loves to have friends over for snow days, and I love to feed them! Get the recipe here.

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two. Who doesn’t love chocolate cake?! This one comes in at 199 calories per serving, and the serving size is not in question, because it’s cooked in the perfect portion! This is another one that sounds good for a snow day or for friends who come over for coffee. The ingredient list is short, and most of the ingredients are likely on hand all the time. Make yourself happy with a little chocolate cake! Hungry Girl tells you how this age-old treat without overdoing it! Get the recipe here.

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two

This is just a sampling of what Hungry Girl offers in portion-controlled dessert recipes. Seriously, try them. Anyone can make them…even those “kitchen challenged” friends of mine. You can see more portion-controlled desserts from Hungry Girl here.

We are hoping for a little snow in Charlotte over the next couple of days, so I’m going to the store and stocking up on ingredients for these gems tonight! All kids who love to sled are welcome to join in the fun…and eat some yummy desserts too! Moms…come on over for coffee, and I will share desserts with you too!

*Please let me know when you try these recipes! I love to get feedback!*

***All photos courtesy of hungry-girl.com***

 

 

 

We Save $$$ Traveling with Friends

We save money traveling with friends…and make some great memories at the same time!

I’m always thinking about the next vacation. My husband just rolls his eyes every time I say, “You know where I want to go next?” He rolls his eyes because he does not have wanderlust, and I do. He loves being home, and he loves visiting the beach where he grew up. That’s fine, but I like to go to different places. That doesn’t mean I don’t repeat places, but the places I like are different than what he likes. No, it’s not a problem, because he doesn’t care when I vacation without him, and I don’t mind when he vacations without me. We’re married, but that doesn’t mean we have to be together 24/7.

My daughter and I travel with friends quite often, and we love it for so many reasons!

Our 16-yr-old daughter is an only child, and I have a cousin and several friends who also have “only children,” so it’s fun to travel with them. I get to catch up with my friends or my cousin, and my daughter has fun with their daughters.

Aside from the fun factor, it saves money for all of us, and we get to do more! How does it save money? Well, we always travel with friends we love…people we enjoy sharing space with. For example, this summer, we are going to a Caribbean destination with a friend from Alabama and her daughter. When we both had daughters, we joked that they would have to be best friends whether they wanted to or not…and fortunately, they love each other! As for the money savings, we share a hotel room or suite. Because we are sharing, we are splitting the cost, making it much more affordable for both of us. It doesn’t save us anything on airfare, but we manage to save a lot anyway.

In fact, this summer, we will do trips with three different friends and a cousin, and it’s all possible, because we aren’t spending a fortune on the rooms/suites, even though we will have beautiful, top-of-the-line accommodations! But we don’t just save on the room. We also save on rental cars, taxi rides, Uber rides, and gas costs. Seriously, it all adds up, and at the end of a five day trip, we are usually amazed at how much we saved by sharing the costs with friends.

Another way to save on travel? Consult a travel agent. I used to work at a travel agency, so I know they often are aware of specials the general public might not know about. Planning a trip to the Caribbean? Let an agent help you. Planning a cruise? Let an agent help you find the perfect one!

Maybe you want to book your own hotel reservation? One quick thing about hotels: when you are making a reservation, always check the special offers. Sometimes, they offer a fifth night free. Sometimes, they offer suites at a discount, but if you don’t check into it, you might be paying the same thing for a room that you could be paying for a much larger space. And always…always…always…continue to check the rates even after you book your reservation. Last year, after I booked our hotel for spring break, I kept checking, and the rates kept going down. I ended up with a rate that was $500 less (total) than the original rate I booked.

Other good ways to save when traveling? Some credit cards offer extra points for dollars spent while traveling, and you can get cash back. I have a credit card that gives me cash back for every dollar we spend, and we get a greater percentage if we apply it to travel. In fact, we try to pay for everything we can on that credit card, and the savings add up fast! I pay for two vacations a year with the points from that card! And don’t forget your frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards programs. If you haven’t signed up for the rewards programs of hotels where you stay, you are just throwing money away. Registration is always free for the programs, and you get points that can add up to free hotel rooms. Seriously, last year, we had 12 free nights in hotels. That’s real money.

And anyone can check out The Points Guy’s website here. The website has a plethora of information about travel savings, but one of the first points he makes is one of the points I’ve already made: get a credit card that will maximize your cash back or points for travel. He says, “By using your debit card [instead of a credit card with rewards], you are spending money and getting nothing in return.”

Travel doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, and it’s a lot more fun when you make memories with people you love! So if you want a surefire way to save on travel, grab a friend and split some costs! That’s my favorite way to save on vacation costs!

 

Healthier Options for Your Super Bowl Party

Hosting a Super Bowl Party?

It’s that time of year! College football (my favorite) is over, and there are just a couple more weeks of NFL games…division championships and the Super Bowl on February 2, Groundhog Day. This year, it’s Super Bowl LIV…that’s 54 for those of you who can’t read Roman numerals. Plus, it looks kind of cool that it’s LIV…makes me think of LIVE! I’m probably the only one thinking that, so I’ll move on.

Once the Super Bowl is over, we have to wait months for football to start up again, so let’s have a party!

I remember lots of past Super Bowls. The earliest one I remember is Super Bowl XII, between the Dallas Cowboys with Roger Staubach playing quarterback and Tom Landry coaching, and the Denver Broncos and their “Orange Crush” defense. I had likely watched other Super Bowls, because my parents were big sports fans, but that’s the first one I remember…maybe because it was the first one played in prime time? And boy, was it hyped! It was also the first one played in a domed stadium, the Louisiana Superdome, and the Cowboys won 27-12. I remember others too, and I wish I remembered Super Bowl X, in which Kenny Stabler, at quarterback, led the Oakland Raiders to victory over the Minnesota Vikings, but I don’t remember it. I remember Super Bowl XXXVIII for the wrong reason: Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. I remember it, because we were at a friend’s house who had previously played for the Carolina Panthers, and the Panthers were playing the Patriots. I had a 3-month-old baby, and I was tired, but I wanted to go, so I took the baby with me. I took the baby home right after the wardrobe malfunction, but that night lives on in my brain.

So this year, we don’t know yet who will be playing, but we can at least start planning our menus for parties! Since it’s just two weeks ago, I need to wrap my brain around a few recipes for the big day. I don’t go all crazy with a gigantic spread, but I want to have a few tasty snacks. Using Hungry Girl as my guide, here are a few I plan to use:

Buffalo Chicken Chili. Sure, I could make regular old chili, and I’m sure most folks would think it’s great, but why not change it up a bit? You can make Buffalo Chicken Chili in your slow cooker, and will be gobbled up by all your guests. It takes two things sports fans love, chili and Buffalo chicken, and mixes them together for a unique flavored chili that’s super easy to make. You can see the recipe here.BuffChili1_web

Cheeseburger Meatloaf. Not gonna lie…anything with “cheeseburger” in the title sounds good to me, and this is no exception. Cheeseburger Meatloaf? Yes, please! And have no fear…just because these are better for you than a normal fatty cheeseburger, they’re still delicious! I’ve made these several times, and the flavor is incredible. Plus, they are made in muffin pans, so the portion sizes are perfect. In fact, you can eat two of these and still stay under 200 calories! Mmm mmm good! Every man at the party will thank you for these hearty, flavorful treats. See the recipe for Cheeseburger Meatloaf here. Hungry Girl has other great cheeseburger-y recipes too. Maybe you’d like to make the Layered Cheeseburger Dip (recipe here)? Or serve the Air Fryer Cheeseburger Egg Rolls (recipe here)?retina_hungry-girl-cheeseburger-mini-meatloaves-20170220-1619-32204-3223-2

Veggie Chips. Nope, not the packaged ones you buy in the store. Hungry Girl has some great recipes for veggie chips made in your air fryer! I love the Air Fried Ranch Zucchini Chips (recipe here), and even my daughter liked them. Trust me, she’s a picky 16-yr-old; if she likes them, they are really good. Or maybe you love fried pickles at your favorite sports bar. Make a healthier version of them, Faux Fried Pickle Chips, in your air fryer with this great recipe from Hungry Girl (click here)! If you don’t have an air fryer, you need one. I just moved into the 21st century myself and purchased one…greatest invention ever!

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Faux Fried Pickle Chips

Healthier Super Bowl Spreads. Everybody knows that for a Super Bowl Party, you need to have dips, and Hungry Girl doesn’t disappoint in this category. I’ve made several of the recipes on the site, and one of my personal favorites is in her book, Hungry Girl Clean & Hungry Obsessed. It’s called the For the Win Spinach Artichoke Dip, and the flavors are fabulous. You can purchase the book at Amazon here. In the same book, she has the Ultimate Ate-Layer Dip, a healthier version of the seven layer dip we all know and love. I highly recommend the book, and you can still order it in time to make the recipes for Super Bowl. On the website, though, she has Turkey-rific Taco Dip, a great mixture of flavors (see here), and Buff Chick Hot Wing Dip, which has been a big hit when I’ve served it. See the recipe here.

 

 

Pitcher Cocktails. I find it’s easier to make cocktails by the pitcher to save myself running back and forth to the bar. Hungry Girl has some great options for that too! The Sassy n Spiked Pink Lemonade Pitcher is a great choice…who doesn’t like spiked lemonade? See the recipe here. And I also love the Sparkling Sangria…also made in a pitcher. See the recipe here.

 

And don’t forget, to keep it fun but healthier, you can always serve veggies for dipping instead of chips. See in photos above that Hungry Girl has carrots, celery, and bell peppers for dipping.

Happy Super Bowl! And as Hungry Girl would say, “Chew the right thing!”

***All photos courtesy of Hungry-Girl.com. To sign up for daily emails from Hungry Girl, click hereOn the pull-down menu asking where you heard about Hungry Girl, click HG Ambassador, and enter my name (Kelly Mattei). Thank you!***