Senior Spring Break 2022

Senior Spring Break 2022.

This morning, in my Facebook memories, my post from this date in 2020 said we were getting prepared for a fun spring break trip to Miami. And yes, on this date in 2020, we were, indeed, getting prepared, but it ended up being “the spring break that wasn’t.” Because of the pandemic, we ended up canceling that vacation the day before we were scheduled to leave. My daughter was a sophomore in high school, and we were supposed to be meeting our friends from Ohio…and then we had to cancel. It was heartbreaking, but at that point, we were all terrified of the virus. We spent that spring break on our back patio. Thanks to unseasonably warm weather, we were able to swim and catch some rays right here in our Charlotte back yard. We felt fortunate to have our own little oasis and good weather, so at least we weren’t stuck inside.

Fast forward two years, and here we are…ready to go on our daughter’s senior spring break trip to Jamaica. This is one of those “lasts” we all talk about as our children enter their senior year of high school. The last high school spring break is here. Over 60 students from her graduating class are going with a parent or parents to an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay. Would I pick an all-inclusive normally? No, but I have heard it is the perfect place for a bunch of high school seniors to gather. Am I looking forward to it? Yes. If all goes as planned, it should be a great opportunity for these kids to have some fun together before they graduate in May. Hopefully, they will make lasting memories…good memories…with people they have known for years. Some of these kids have known each other since they started Transitional Kindergarten together. My daughter was four years old for the first six weeks of Transitional Kindergarten, and several of those same classmates/friends are going on this trip.

Every student who is going has to have a parent there who is willing to take responsibility for them. I told my daughter early on that I would not take an extra child on this trip. Normally, we take one or two of her friends on vacation with us, but for several reasons, I said “no” to extra kids. The main reason is that I don’t want to get stuck in Jamaica for an extra two weeks because another kid tests positive for the virus and can’t come home. It’s one thing if my own child tests positive, but I don’t want to be stuck with someone else’s child. Another reason? I don’t want to be responsible for another person’s child in this setting. Most of them are 18 years old, so they’re of legal drinking age in Jamaica. I’m fine with that, but I don’t want to have to monitor a child besides my own. Teenagers can be difficult to track. I only want to track one. She knows my rules. Does that mean she won’t break them? There are no guarantees, but she knows the ground rules going in.

Tomorrow, I’ll start packing for the trip. We are only going for four nights, so packing should be pretty easy…beach clothes, swimsuits, coverups, and a couple of cuter things for dinner. I’ll also take a couple of books and a giant beach hat. Makeup? Minimal. I don’t check bags. I have the perfect carry-on bag and a backpack. If it doesn’t fit in there, it won’t go with me. Therefore, I will purchase sunscreen after we arrive. I don’t want to be slowed down in airport security by having liquids in my bags.

So here we go. Like I said…one of the “lasts.” It’s the last spring break trip we will have together before she goes off to college. We have enjoyed lots of spring breaks over the years. A few times, we went to the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards in Los Angeles. We went to Miami last year. Other times, we went to Cancun or the Bahamas…all good times. It is possible (and very likely) it will be the last spring break trip we ever have together. I remember my own college experience. Spring break is for trips with friends in college. So I plan to enjoy this one. No, I won’t likely have a lot of time with our daughter, but I will be able to have some time with her, and I will enjoy watching her with her friends.

Senior Spring Break 2022. Let’s get this party started!

Holiday Travel 2021

Holiday Travel 2021

Travel is back!

We were some of the odd people who traveled last Thanksgiving…during the pandemic. I just couldn’t take staying home anymore. Call me reckless, but when we got home, we didn’t have the virus…all my teenage daughter’s friends did, because they had gathered with local people. Travel was pretty easy back then, because the airports simply were not crowded. Same in February, when we flew to New Orleans over Presidents’ Day weekend, and we were still unvaccinated. Again, the airports weren’t crowded, and we got lucky and avoided the virus. When Spring Break rolled around in March, I was half-vaccinated, but I was determined to try to enjoy a vacation with our daughter and some of her friends in Miami. Success…we came home illness-free.

Soon after that, the whole family got vaccinated, and we moved around all summer. Sure, we were careful to wash our hands and wear masks indoors, but we lived life again. And it seems lots of other folks are doing the same.

We just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to California, and the airports were packed again. We flew out of Charlotte the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the Charlotte airport was wall-to-wall people. Same thing when we flew back…wall-to-wall people in the Los Angeles airport. But most people were wearing their masks correctly in the airport and on the flights. I had some concerns before we traveled, because of recent airline issues. I was afraid our return flights would be canceled, so I purchased some one way refundable tickets on another airline for the return, just in case, before I realized I could stay an extra few days and enjoy more vacation for the amount of money I was spending on those tickets!

We ended up having no issues during our travels. But I planned things carefully. To avoid issues, here are some tips for Holiday Travel 2022:

  • Book Early. This advice goes for airline tickets, hotels, and even rental cars. As availability decreases in each of these areas, prices increase. You can thank supply and demand for that. So book early. I just realized today that I had not booked a rental car for our Christmas trip, and when I looked, I knew I had made a big mistake. I will likely use Uber while we are there, because I refuse to pay ridiculous prices for a rental car. If you are going to need a rental car and haven’t booked it, book it now.
  • Try to travel on off-peak days. Everything I have read says the peak days around Christmas for air travel are December 22 and December 28 this year, but I’m guessing the 26th is going to be a busy day for those who have to get back to work on Monday. Try not to book your flights for those dates. I’m guessing December 24th will be a little crazy too, since Christmas is on a Saturday this year. My family will be traveling on Christmas Eve, so if you see us in the airport, we can commiserate.
  • Arrive at the airport early. You have likely heard it for years when you were traveling during the holidays: arrive early. Well, this year, you absolutely need to arrive early. There could be personnel shortages at the airport, causing a backlog in so many different areas of the airport. While the usual recommendation is to arrive two hours before your domestic flight, I recommend arriving three hours before, especially if you’re flying out of a busy airport. Obviously, if you’re flying out of somewhere like Pensacola, Florida, you don’t need as much time, but I flew out of Birmingham recently, and even with my TSA PreCheck clearance, I was in line for a while at security…longer than I’ve ever waited in Charlotte. I know, some will call arriving that early excessive, but what is it going to hurt for you to get there and relax for a little while before your flight boards? I can’t relax till I’m through security, but once I’ve cleared TSA, I feel so much better. A long security line gives me anxiety, if I’m pushed for time. Save yourself some anxiety…arrive early.
  • Do not check bags. I say this with a little hesitation. When I say “do not check bags,” I mean pack in appropriately-sized carry-on bags. Do not carry on the kitchen sink. My daughter and I each had a carry-on bag and a backpack for our recent trip to LA. We didn’t want to risk losing our luggage, and we didn’t want to have to wait in baggage claim forever when we got there. In the past, we have waited a long time for luggage in LA and Charlotte, so we avoid it now. Again, with personnel shortages, wait times could be longer. But whatever you do, please stick to the appropriate size limits and number of bags…that means one carry-on bag and one person item. Check airline websites for size restrictions. Obviously, if you are traveling with gifts for friends and family, you will likely need to check bags, unless you consider shipping everything (keep reading).
  • Pack medications and necessities in a carry-on. If you do opt to check luggage, make sure you have all your medications and any necessities in a carry-on bag. It’s always a good idea to have a change of clothes and a toothbrush/hairbrush in your carry-on, as well. Things happen. Connecting flights cancel, and bags are not accessible. Bags get delayed or lost. Trust me on this.
  • Consider shipping luggage and gifts ahead. To cut down on the amount of “stuff” you carry with you, ship any gifts, and possibly your luggage, ahead of time. That way, if you want you can wrap them ahead of time too. Otherwise, wrapped gifts will need to go in checked bags, and if TSA decides to open them, they can. You can ship via UPS, the United States Postal Service, or FedEx, or you can use a luggage shipping service like ShipGo. See their website here.
  • Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. If you’re traveling domestically, make an appointment now to get TSA PreCheck. It will save you lots of time and stress at the airport. You don’t have to take off shoes (unless your shoes cause cause the metal detector to “beep”). You don’t have to go through the body scanner. The lines are shorter. And if you’re traveling internationally, Global Entry can save lots of time on re-entry to the US. To make an appointment for TSA PreCheck, click here. In most cases, you’ll have your Known Traveler Number within two weeks after your appointment. For international travelers, Global Entry appointments can be made here.
  • Download MyTSA App. On the MyTSA app, you can store favorite airports and see up-to-the-minute wait times at various checkpoints at different airports. The app also includes a list of things you can bring onboard aircraft in checked bags and carry-on bags. There are also ways to request passenger support for travelers with disabilities and/or medical conditions. The app is a great place to get lots of information.
  • Carry snacks. December is prime time for weather issues. Be prepared. Always have some snacks (including some with protein) to keep you going when airports are full of people and it’s difficult to get food. You don’t want to get hangry.
  • Traveling by car? If you’re traveling by car, check your tires and oil before you leave. And if you’re traveling in cold climates, have a couple of blankets in the car, just in case. I used to think my daddy was crazy when he made me keep blankets in the trunk of my car, but I have friends who have had to sleep in their cars when they got caught in ice storms and/or snow storms. One was even caught in torrential rains/floods and had to sleep in her car. Having some bottled water and a few snacks on hand would be a good idea too. You might think it can’t happen where you are, but a few years ago, my daughter and I made it back to Charlotte from Birmingham, Alabama, just ahead of an ice storm. And be patient. The roads are going to be crowded. Have some backup routes in mind too. One year, when I was coming back from Atlanta, I realized it was going to take twice as long as it should if I stayed on the interstate, so I opted to take some “back roads.” It was quite an adventure, but I got home more quickly…and on less crowded roads. I wasn’t jockeying for position the whole time.

Happy Holidays and Happy Trails!

Holiday Gifting 2021 (Part 1): Give the Gift of Travel

It’s time for Holiday Gifting! This year, our first segment is travel gifts! Give the gift of travel.

There are so many ways to gift travel to your friends and family. No, you can’t necessarily buy a vacation for everyone, but there are other things you can do to contribute to their travels.

If you have someone on your list who likes to travel, here are some ideas. Some of them are based on things we have purchased for our own family, and some are just ideas that sound fun to me.

  • Away Luggage. I have recommended this before. It is something we have purchased for our whole family. After lengthy waits for checked bags at Los Angeles International Airport and our home airport in Charlotte, we purchased Away’s original sized carry-on bags with built-in portable chargers…one piece of luggage for each of us…because we had heard great things about the quality. And we were not disappointed when they arrived. We ordered a pink (for me), a blue (for my husband), and a white (for our daughter). They are hard-side bags that roll smoothly and live up to their excellent reputation. At $245 for the original carry-on suitcase with the charger, they’re not cheap, but with outstanding construction and a lifetime limited warranty, they’re worth it. They’ll even let you use one for 100 days, and if you don’t like it, return it for your money back! Away also offers a “bigger” carry-on, expandable carry-ons, and an aluminum edition…plus some soft-side handbags. Highly recommend. To see their offerings, check the Away website here.
Away Carry-On
  • Airline Gift Cards. Yes, many airlines offer gift cards. I know American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Alaska Air Lines all offer gift cards that you can purchase through their respective websites. Have a family member in another city, and you’d like for him/her to visit you? This could be the perfect gift! It would be a gift that would make the giver and the receiver happy! Or maybe you’re just trying to get your parents or someone else to take an overdue vacation. Receiving an airline gift card could be the perfect gift to motivate them! Make sure the airline you choose is convenient for them, though. If the recipient lives in Charlotte, you might want to use American Airlines, since they have a massive hub in Charlotte. If they fly out of Atlanta, try Delta. If they don’t live in a hub city, check their local airport to see what airlines offer the most flight options.
American Airlines Gift Cards
  • Baboon to the Moon. Silly name, yes. Quality bags… you bet. I ordered two of their mini go-bags…one for me in bright blue, and one for our daughter in bright pink. Also carrying a lifetime warranty, these bags are well-constructed and can be carried as a backpack, a handbag, or a shoulder bag. We got the mini go-bag, priced at $139 each, because it fits the size requirements to be a “personal item” on flights. The colors they offer are super bright, which makes me happy. In addition to the mini go-bags like the ones we got, they also offer larger versions of the go-bags, but we ordered the “small,” and it was too big for us to use in addition to a carry-on bag on airlines. The bags are waterproof and sturdy with strong zippers. The mini we ordered has a 1-3 day packing volume, which is perfect in conjunction with our Away carry-ons. It’s lightweight, yet durable. If you’re in the market for multiple bags, they offer “adventure sets” that come with considerable discounts on their bags. And if you’re into fanny packs or crossbody bags, they have some cute ones! We love Baboon to the Moon, and with a name like that, we’ll never forget them! See their offerings on their website here.
Baboon to the Moon Go Bags
  • Hotel gift cards. Lots of people don’t know hotels offer gifts cards, but it’s pretty commonplace. My daughter and I have a favorite hotel we visit in the Los Angeles area a few times a year, and my husband has given us a gift card from there before, as a way of telling us to go enjoy ourselves. Even hotel chains offer gift cards. Marriott and Hilton both sell gift cards through their websites at Marriott.com and Hilton.com.
Hilton Gift Card from hilton.com
  • Micro Steam Iron. I purchased one of these through Amazon, because I always need an iron. Yes, I can always get a hotel to iron my clothes or even bring me an iron and ironing board if there’s not one in the room, but sometimes I just need a quick refresh on my clothes before I go out to dinner. And sometimes, I’m pressed for time. This works perfectly! Plus, it’s lightweight and doesn’t take up a lot of space in my carry-on bag. It’s perfect for any traveler on your list. Check it out at Amazon here.
Micro Steam Iron, photo from Amazon.com
  • Vagabond Life. Vagabond Life is a company that sells travel bracelet cuffs and travel rings for necklaces. Someone told me about it earlier this year, and I love the site and their products. Travel rings are small stainless steel rings engraved with the names of state, national parks, and countries. The rings can be added to necklaces, and travelers can accumulate quite a collection. It’s a fun way to remember places someone on your list has visited. I’m getting a necklace for our daughter this year…along with rings engraved with the states and countries she has visited. We will be able to add to the collection any time she adds a new state, country, or even a national park! The necklace chains are $18, and each ring is $4.50, but I have found they discount when you purchase multiples. Right now, if you purchase 25 rings, you get 25 percent off, and if you purchase 3 rings, you get 30 percent off. Check out their website here.
  • Travel journal. Travel journals are a great way for travelers to document their adventures. They make great gifts for the wanderers in our lives. There are so many great travel journals out there. My personal favorites have envelopes in the pages for photos and/or mementos. Travel and Leisure Magazine has a great list of journals on their website in a range of prices. Check them out here.
Photo from Travel + Leisure
  • Things every traveler needs. There just some things every traveler needs, and any of these would make great gifts: personalized luggage tags, Dopp kit, packing cubes, and portable chargers. All of these make great gifts.

So get busy shopping for the people on your list who have wanderlust…or maybe even for yourself, if you fall into that category!

Give the gift of travel!

The Passport Arrived Today!

The passport arrived today!

On September 7, I wrote about taking my teenage daughter to get her new passport. We went that morning. Because her previous passport had been issued when she was younger than 16, it was only valid for five years, and it was time to get a new one. Today, October 6, the new one arrived!

Because I have had so many questions about the process, I’m going to share some tips:

  • Before you schedule an appointment, download and print the appropriate application forms. You can find those here.
  • Make an appointment. You can make an appointment here. If you are renewing a passport, an appointment is not necessary; you can renew through the mail with forms from the website. However, if you are “renewing” your child’s passport and the last one was a five year passport, you must schedule an appointment for a new passport. It can be confusing, but you will not be able to make an appointment if you click “renew.” You must click “new passport,” and you can opt to get the photo at the appointment or get a photo at a local CVS or Walgreens before you go.
  • When you go to the appointment, take at least one check with you. They prefer payment by check, and I took two with me, because rarely do I write a check correctly the first time. It’s always good to have a backup check…just in case.
  • If your child is 16 or 17, he/she is eligible for a ten-year passport, but they must have proof of parental awareness. They can take a notarized letter stating they have your permission, or better yet, you (one parent) can accompany them on the appointment…and that is absolute parental awareness.
  • Passports for children under 16 (five-year passports) require permission from both parents. It’s easiest if both parents go to the appointment with the child. If both parents cannot attend, double check the US Passport website for directions. You can check that here.
  • US citizens 18 and older are eligible for ten-year passports, as are 16 and 17-yr-olds with parental awareness.
  • Take all necessary documents with you, including the completed application and old passport, if it’s for your child. You will need to provide several proof of citizenship documents. Examples are listed here. Make two photocopies of each document and take those copies with you, as well.
  • A photo ID will be required, as well…either for the applicant who is over 18 or the parent’s photo ID. I made copies of mine and my 17-yr-old daughter’s ID and took the actual IDs, as well.
  • If it is at all financially feasible for you, opt for the fastest service possible. When the agent who was helping us asked if we wanted to expedite, I told her we wanted the absolutely fastest service possible…and we received the passport four weeks later. Our total was about $188.

Good luck! And if you have questions, most of them can be answered on the US Passport website here. If you’re lucky, you’ll have your/your child’s passport in hand pretty quickly!

Sweet Escape

Sweet escape…

Sometimes, I just need to get away. It’s not that I have a miserable life. I love my life. But I like to roam sometimes, and last week, I was feeling the need to get away, so I did.

Last Friday, I started dreaming of the food at Nobu. If you’re not familiar with Nobu restaurants, you should be. To say they are Asian fusion restaurants does not do them justice, but that’s what they are…except the food is exceptional. The service is always outstanding, and the atmosphere is incredible. There are 16 or 17 of the restaurants in the United States (and even more worldwide), but I’ve only been to four. I’ve been to those four multiple times, but I’ve only been to four. I’ve never been disappointed…I’ve almost always been overwhelmed by the level of service and the fabulous flavors they meld together! I have some favorite dishes that show up in my dreams sometimes. That’s how much I love it.

Since I was craving it, I decided to check airfares to Miami, where there is a Nobu, and when I checked, I was shocked to find a $90 fare between Charlotte and Miami! I promptly called my friend, Meg, who is always up for an adventure, and asked if she wanted to go to dinner in Miami soon. She was totally up for it, and we made dinner reservations, hotel reservations, and airline reservations within 10 minutes! Our airline tickets ended up being $96 each, because of availability, but we were happy to pay that! Done!

We flew out Monday morning, and we had upgrades on the flights, so we found ourselves in first class on an American Airlines Boeing 777, which offers lie-flat cubicle-style seats between Charlotte and Miami. Yay us! We were so comfortable for those two hours that we hardly knew we were on a plane at all! Upon arrival, we grabbed a taxi to Eden Roc Hotel, and when we checked in there, we were offered a generous upgrade to a lovely oceanview suite with a big balcony. Woohoo! After putting our bags in the room, we dashed out for some nearby shopping, then came back to the hotel for some cocktails at Malibu Farm, an oceanview restaurant that has some great specialty cocktails. She had a watermelon cocktail, and I had a pineapple cocktail…both delicious. Yes, we were drinking our calories, but we at that moment, we didn’t care.

We arrived at Nobu just in time for our 6:15 reservation, and the real fun began! We both have some favorite dishes at Nobu, so we ordered a lot of food! Our server was incredible, guiding us through dishes we were not familiar with and making suggestions. That’s one of the great things about Nobu. In my experience, their servers know all about their dishes and can make recommendations about what dishes work well together. We started with a baby corn appetizer. Sounds weird, right? That’s what I thought the first time a server told me about it. As it turns out, it is one of my favorite things ever…baby corn in truffle butter topped with curry powder. Nobu serves small plates to share, so I think we probably had eight or nine different dishes, and that didn’t include our dessert…Miso Cappucino…one of those dishes I dream about on the regular. By the time we were done, we almost needed to be rolled out of the restaurant! Chalk that dinner up as a huge success! We were happy!

We flew home early Tuesday afternoon (less than 24 hours after arriving) after lots of great laughs and great food! I didn’t sit next to my friend on the flight, but I sat next to a nice lady who had an interesting job…giving me an idea about something my daughter might be interested in doing one day! We were home by dinnertime!

It was a getaway worth taking, and for $96, we couldn’t have driven to Miami! A sweet escape!

Time for a New Passport

Time for a new passport…

Our daughter’s last passport was issued when she was under 16. Because of that, it was only valid for five years and couldn’t be renewed in the regular mail-in way. We had to get a new one by applying in person at a post office, and a parent had to accompany her.

We aren’t planning to travel out of the country till March of 2022, but because I’ve known so many people who had nightmare issues with passports, I decided we needed to get this taken care of well in advance. So we went to the passport office at a US Post Office today. Getting the appointment was the first hurdle. Appointments are not plentiful, and you’re taking a big chance if you go as a walk-up customer. According to the sign on the door of the office we visited, walk-ins are taken on a first-come, first-served basis…and only if there is enough personnel there to handle it. Wow. To me, that sounds like you could wait all day and still walk away empty-handed. I was so glad we had an appointment. If you’re considering applying for a new passport or getting a new one before your minor child’s passport expires, you can search for appointments in your area here. None of the offices near our house had availability, so I ended up making the appointment at an office about 30 miles away, in Harrisburg, North Carolina.

We arrived, and my daughter groaned when she saw the crowd waiting outside. I said, “Don’t get all worked up. I think a lot of these people probably don’t have appointments, but we do.” As it turns out, I was correct. Most of them didn’t have appointments. We waited outside for the employees to come outside and call the names of people who had appointments. Our appointment was at 11:30, and we arrived at about 11:20. The first employee came out at about 11:40, and she informed us that she was calling people’s names who had 11:15 appointments. Several of them weren’t there. At about 11:55, she came out and started calling the names of people with 11:30 appointments. We were the second ones called.

Luckily, my daughter had filled out everything before we arrived. We had all the appropriate documentation: her current passport, a birth certificate and a photocopy of it, her driver’s license and a photocopy, her social security card and a photocopy of it, checks to pay for everything, and my passport and driver’s license to show as identification to prove I’m her mother (she’s not quite 18). Oh, and passport photos…we had those too. Our daughter went yesterday to CVS and got those done there.

Here’s some info for those who don’t know it: If the applicant is under 16, they receive a passport that is valid for only five years. Both parents must go to the passport office with the child to submit the application. Applicants aged 16 and 17 receive passports that are valid for ten years, but they need to show “parental awareness.” It was easy for me to go with our daughter, so I showed “awareness” in person. To see information about 16 and 17-year-olds and application requirements, click here.

When we got inside, we were seated, and the agent took all our documents. About five minutes later, she came over and asked us to come to her desk. Once there, we signed some paperwork, wrote checks, and answered some questions before we were on our merry way. It didn’t take long at all. In fact, since we were prepared, I would go so far as to say it was easy! The agent helping us was super nice, and it was a pleasant experience.

Now, we wait for the new passport. I paid for super-duper expedited service, because I wanted to decrease the odds of our having a problem. I don’t want to be worrying about our daughter’s passport when it comes time to travel in March. That actually happened to a friend of mine this summer. She was supposed to travel to the Bahamas with us, but her passport didn’t arrive in time. She missed the trip, and we missed her while we were there!

If you know you’re going to need a new passport or need a new one for your child, go ahead and do it. According to the website, the US Passport Agency is still playing catch up after closing for COVID, and it can take up to 18 weeks to get your passport. That’s 4 1/2 months! Also, remember that many destinations require you to have at least six months validity on your passport when you arrive. The country we are visiting in March doesn’t require that, according to their website, but I didn’t want to run the risk of the airline refusing to board us. It’s not worth the worry.

All this is my way of reminding you to check the expiration date on your passport, so you can get busy trying to renew it…or in the case of minors, get a new one.

And don’t dread the process, because we have had some great experiences with agents in the Charlotte area. The first time we got our daughter’s passport, we went to the Post Office in Matthews, NC, and the lady there was amazing. This time, we went to the Post Office in Harrisburg, and the lady who helped us there was amazing as well! I know it’s an intimidating process, but get it done and stop worrying about it!

You May Now Move About the Country

You may now move about the country.

Remember last summer, when we were afraid to move around much? We were terrified of getting on airplanes and afraid to go to resorts. We were scared we would get somewhere and be hospitalized away from home, right? I was. I love to travel, but last summer, I had to do it differently. My fear was that, if I did get on a plane and fly to a fun destination, I would be stricken with the virus, and as a result, I wouldn’t be able to get home. I wasn’t alone. A lot of people felt the same way. We stayed home or went on short trips. And it was downright depressing. Sure, we went on a few trips, but it just wasn’t the same. I felt like I lost a whole year of my life, including a valuable summer.

In September 2020 and November 2020, I’d had enough and got on planes anyway. Then again, in February 2021, I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I took our daughter to New Orleans with friends, where we proceeded to eat our way through the city. We made some great memories, for sure, and we appreciated every minute.

I flew again in early June on a trip to the Bahamas with my family. When we got to the airport in Charlotte to begin our journey, I could tell people were starting to emerge from their cocoons, but nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered when we flew out to California on June 13. We were on a 7:25am flight, so we got to the airport at about 6:00am. I was utterly shocked at how crowded Charlotte-Douglas Airport was on a random Sunday at 6:00 in the morning! Apparently, people have decided to take off again…and I love it! We are getting vaccinated and feeling more free! When we arrived at Los Angeles International Airport for our return flight, it wasn’t as crowded as Charlotte had been, but then, it was 4:30 in the morning. As it turns out, our return flight was full, so I know people are on the move.

If you haven’t traveled yet but plan to, here are some things to consider.

  • Remember your mask! Even though we aren’t having to wear them in most public places now, the Feds still require you to wear them the entire time you are in an airport or on a commercial flight…unless, of course, you are actively eating or drinking…and then, they ask that you just remove the mask briefly and put it back on between bites/sips.
  • If you live in a hub city (Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, etc) you might want to consider getting to the airport extra early. You also might want to look into downloading the My TSA app. Using the app, you can check wait times at TSA checkpoints in your airport. It can mean the difference between missing a flight or making it.
  • Take your own pillow/blanket, if needed. Remember those pillows and blankets airlines used to offer? Well, no more… If you want to try to sleep on a plane, bring your own travel pillow and a sweatshirt. Or do what I do: take two sweatshirts. I take them in my carry-on, because I’m the freak who still thinks we need to look presentable when we board a plane, and a sweatshirt is just not something my mother would have approved for air travel. After I’m seated, however, I wear one hoodie and roll up another hoodie into a tube to wrap around my neck, so it will support my neck while I sleep.
  • Food on planes? Almost non-existent. I always fly American Airlines (I love American). Since the whole virus thing started, they’ve served small snacks in first and business class, but no food in coach. Bring your own if you think you’re going to be hungry, but do your fellow passengers a favor…don’t bring hot food. It smells. Your fellow passengers don’t want to smell your stinky sub from the airport or that greasy pizza you picked up in the concourse. Yuck. And while you’re at it, you might even want to purchase some drinks in the airport. I’ve been on a couple of shorter flights that only offered beverages in coach “on request.”
  • Here are some things to consider, even though they have nothing to do with the virus: Please don’t go to the lavatory in bare feet or sock feet on the plane. Yuck. Just yuck. Please don’t put your feet on the armrest of the person in front of you. Please don’t talk loudly on a redeye or early morning flight. Please don’t use nail polish on a flight (some people get headaches from the fumes). DO try to stay relaxed. DO be polite to your fellow passengers and airline employees.

Whatever you do, enjoy your flight. Enjoy the freedom of being able to move about the country again. Hopefully, we will soon feel more free to move about the whole world, but I know lots of people aren’t comfortable with that, because of virus rates in different countries. There are a couple of other countries I want to visit, but I’m holding off. Right now, I’m just grateful I’m able to see new places and meet new people. We made some nice new friends in the Bahamas when we visited, and we got to spend some time with friends from another part of the country when we visited LA. Summer, this year, feels more like summer. And I’m grateful.

Two Friends on the Road, Part 4…The End of the Journey

*I’m writing about this trip so I can remember details later. Maybe you will learn something new!*

Two friends on the road, part 4.

So we left Miami…we didn’t want to, but we needed to start traveling in the direction of home…north on I-95.

At some point south of Vero Beach, we dropped off I-95 to get put gas in the car and buy more lottery and scratch-off tickets. We we were looking for manatees again…trying to find a them in a marina or inlet. We were obsessed. Well, I was obsessed. Mary Ann might have been humoring me, but I wanted to see more manatees. Using her internet search skills, Mary Ann found a place we might be able to see manatees near a power plant in Vero Beach. We found the power plant; we also found out quickly the road to the power plant was blocked. We got creative. Looking at the maps on our phones, we saw where the canal passed through a neighborhood. We went there. It turned out to be a canal behind an apartment complex, but we parked in the parking lot and walked down to a dock on the canal. It was dark, and I was paranoid about trespassing. Darkness + water + trespassing = fear. I kept whispering, “I’m scared.” After a little while we didn’t see anything and didn’t hear any manatees surface, so we left. Whew! I ran to the car.

Soon after leaving Vero Beach, we both said we were hungry at the same time and made our way toward Melbourne. Mary Ann found restaurant info, and we made our way to downtown…a charming area! We couldn’t believe our good luck…lots of restaurants, live music, and cute shops!

We passed a place called 716 East on Main Street, and it looked great…outdoor seating, twinkling lights, and live music. After parking, I checked the online menu and saw Mary Ann’s favorite, eggplant parmesan. It’s hard to find good eggplant parmesan, so she was psyched! We looked a little rough, having been in the car all day…both of us had on hoodies…very casual. As we approached the restaurant on foot, we realized we were underdressed. I even gave the hostess an out by acknowledging we likely didn’t meet the dress code. She smiled and seated us at the front of the restaurant…not hiding us…so I guess our attire was acceptable!

The cutest waiter came over enthusiastically and took our drink orders. He then wanted to make us aware of the menu items that weren’t available. We were there late, so we understood. I almost said, “As long as you aren’t out of eggplant parmesan, we’re good,” but I didn’t. He pointed to a couple of appetizers and told us about a couple of other dishes they didn’t have. As he pointed to the menu, I realized the restaurant wasn’t 716 East anymore. It was a different restaurant altogether, called Ember and Oak…a steakhouse with no eggplant parm! Mary Ann realized it at about the same time; I could tell by the look on her face as she scanned the menu. As soon as our waiter went to get our much-needed cocktails, we laughed and said, “It’s a different menu!” Thank God I didn’t make my remark about eggplant parm to the waiter!

Sometimes things fall into place. That’s what happened at Ember and Oak. Our waiter guided us in ordering, and we enjoyed a great meal in a lovely atmosphere. And the dessert? Cheesecake stuffed doughnut holes??? They had me at “cheesecake.” For more info on Ember and Oak, click here.

I booked a hotel reservation from the restaurant, so we went straight to the hotel and dragged our stuff in. Inside, we did our scratch-off tickets…a silly ritual at this point. At bedtime, I realized I had left my restless leg meds in the car. I was afraid to go to the parking lot, and Mary Ann was falling asleep, so I thought, “Surely I will be able to fall asleep.” About 30 minutes later, I realized I was wrong, but Mary Ann was asleep, and there was no way I was running into a dark parking lot alone. I didn’t sleep…at all…maybe dozed here and there…but tossed and turned. At 6:30, Mary Ann said something, and I said, “I haven’t slept all night.” She said, “I know.” Eek. Note to self: remember restless leg meds.

We got an early start the next morning and drove to a manatee observation area in Melbourne. No luck, but we saw dolphins frolicking across the way, so we drove over and watched them. Mary Ann spotted a manatee swimming into the inlet, even though he stayed mostly submerged…we could see his “wake” as he slowly swam in. We were way too excited about the dolphins and manatee. We laughed at how embarrassed our kids would be if they were with us! But they weren’t…and we didn’t care what anyone thought!

Leaving Melbourne in the afternoon, we got back on the interstate and continued driving north into South Georgia, where we saw a feral black boar on the side of the interstate! I saw it as we passed and said, “What was that?!” Mary Ann said, “It was a wild boar!” I have to say that was the first feral boar I have ever seen in person…and I’ll be OK if I never see another one. I had an uncle who used to hunt them, and I remember hearing stories about how aggressive and vicious they can be. I still can’t believe we saw one on I-95.

We stopped for the night in Savannah, because traffic was backed up on I-95 for 15 miles. We didn’t have the patience for that. We got up the next morning knowing we would go back to Charlotte after one silly destination: South of the Border!

Not familiar with South of the Border? I have written about it before…read about SOB (South of the Border) here. It’s a roadside attraction in South Carolina, on I-95. Mary Ann had never seen it. It was a rainy, dreary day, so I hate she saw it that day. The gray skies made it look bad. It’s more fun to approach it at night, when the neon’s glowing. The dim light hides the wear and tear. We arrived, and I think she was underwhelmed. We took pictures with some of the landmarks…the giant sombrero, the giant Pedro, the neon SOB sign. We shopped in the souvenir shops and found trinkets. Two things got Mary Ann’s attention: the jackalope statue and Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. As we were leaving SOB, she spotted a giant jackalope statue, which she found especially funny…and had to climb up for a photo sitting on his back. She’d hunt me down and kill me if I posted it, so you’ll never see it. On our way out, we stopped at the SOB gas station for a bottle of Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. If you’ve never had Blenheim’s, it’s real ginger ale…with a kick. Blenheim has been making it the old-fashioned way since 1903. You can read more about it here. I knew Mary Ann would love it.

We left SOB and headed back to Charlotte, and once we arrived, we drove straight to Ilios Noche, a restaurant I knew Mary Ann would love! In fact, it has been a week since we were there, and she is still raving about it! For info on Ilios Noche, click here.

We made great memories…and that’s what it’s all about! The journey is the destination!

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

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3.5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow…Part 4…heading north…

Two Friends on the Road, Part 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.