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!

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!

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.

Two Friends on the Road, Part 2

Two friends on the road, part 2.

At the end of Part 1, we were leaving Daytona Beach, headed south on Highway 1. To see Part 1, click here.

After making a quick trip over to Daytona Motor Speedway for a photo op…just because it’s a landmark…we’re not race fans, we were moving south toward Merritt Island, where we thought we might be able to see some manatees in the wild. We were on a wild manatee mission.

Mary Ann actually swam with manatees four years ago with a friend in Crystal River, Florida. I hate I missed it, because her stories from that trip are quite amusing. Apparently, a big male manatee was partial to Mary Ann and decided he would be her boyfriend for the day. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say he almost drowned her as he held onto her leg!

I wasn’t interested in that type of encounter! I just wanted to see some manatees in person…in the wild! According to one website, there was a chance we could see some at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, so we headed in that direction. According to one website, we would likely see them from an observation deck. We drove deep into the wildlife refuge, but when we arrived at the observation deck, it was closed for COVID. What the what?!? I don’t understand the logic behind that, so I was really disappointed, but then we read that some people had seen them at a boat launch nearby. We drove down a long gravel road, all the while praying I wouldn’t get a flat tire! When we arrived at the boat launch, a few other cars were there. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any manatees, but we did see some dolphins and got some amazing pictures of the sunset, so it was worth our while! We also saw some Roseate Spoonbills, lovely pink birds in the area. To learn more about the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, click here.

Leaving the wildlife refuge, we headed south on Highway 1, stopping for gas and more lottery tickets and scratch-offs, and we also stopped at an ice cream stand called Frisbee’s…it was shaped like an actual ice cream cone! We didn’t even bother to get ice cream, because we hoped to have dinner soon…but we did get a photo!

Soon thereafter, we got back on I-95, and our next stop was Vero Beach, Florida. We were driving down the interstate trying to figure out a safe place to stop. Mary Ann was reading off the names of cities on the map, and when she said, “Vero Beach,” I knew it would be safe to stop there. I have a friend who has a home there, and I know she has high standards. As we drove into Vero Beach, it was approaching 9pm, and we were looking for a restaurant for dinner. Mary Ann found one that was open till 10…Waldo’s at The Driftwood. We called ahead to make sure we would be able to get a table, and we were thrilled when they seated us outside, overlooking the Atlantic! We both had grilled fish with roasted veggies, and I texted Linda, my friend who has a home there, and told her we were at Waldo’s. She immediately texted me back, saying, “Waldo’s is an institution in Vero!” I will say the place had character. It also has quite a history. We highly recommend a visit to Waldo’s if you find yourself in Vero. To learn more about Waldo’s, click here. I was driving, so I didn’t have a cocktail, but Mary Ann ordered something called Voodoo Juice that was served in a bucket! She drank it down quickly and then said her head was tingling! Yes, she had a little buzz, but we later discovered she was also having a slight allergic reaction to something in the drink! Nothing serious…an antihistamine took care of it.

We ended up staying in a local Hampton Inn that night. If we had realized The Driftwood was right there, we likely would have tried to get a room there, but we were tired and just took the first option we came across. Even though we didn’t stay at The Driftwood, I would recommend staying there at least one night if you’re looking for a little, local place…just because it’s legendary, and the location is fantastic. You can see info about The Driftwood here.

After a good night’s sleep, we had some coffee and called Linda to get some tips about things to see quickly in Vero Beach. We went to the beach for a little while, and we were impressed by the boardwalk! It truly is a lovely area. She also recommended we spend some time checking out the town and look at some of the beautiful homes, and most importantly, she reminded me her brother had died in Vero Beach four years ago. He was an actor and had just closed his show, Ring of Fire, a show about Johnny Cash, at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach. In fact, the theatre has one of his guitars on display as a memorial, and I was determined to get into the theatre for a photo of it. When Mary Ann and I arrived at the theatre, however, it was locked. I left Mary Ann in the car and walked around the side of the building, where I could see the guitar display through a window, and I was fortunate to see a young man working. Yes…I knocked, because well, that’s just who I am. He came to the door cautiously, and when he cracked it open, I explained to him why I was there. Lucky for me, a woman behind him heard me and said, “Absolutely. Let her in.” As it turns out, she knew Linda’s brother, Jason, and she said to me several times, “He was a lovely man.” I thanked her profusely, took the photo, and texted it to Linda. If you find yourself in Vero Beach when there is a show at the Riverside Theatre, get tickets…I hear it’s a beautiful theatre. See more about the theatre here.

From Vero Beach, we traveled south a few miles to Fort Pierce. Again using the Roadside America app as a reference, we decided to visit the Fort Pierce Manatee Observation and Education Center. We certainly didn’t expect to see any manatees there, because it appeared the center offered kayaking tours for that, but we thought we’d make a stop anyway. The center, of course, was closed. Ugh. COVID. However, it was located on a marina, and there was a very nice gentleman there who told us he had just seen a manatee mama and calf in the marina that day. We were excited! It became our mission to find those manatees! We waited and waited. And then…we got lucky! The mama and calf surfaced together for air, and we ran along the footbridge to that part of the marina for a closer look. We were able to watch them surface several times and even got videos! I couldn’t believe how big the mama was, but Mary Ann told me the male manatee that molested her in Crystal River was much larger…yikes. I definitely don’t need to swim with manatees, but I was thrilled to see them! My husband and I used to hear them in a marina near Miami, but it was always dark, and we could never see them. At 53, I finally saw manatees! I was absolutely giddy!

Mama Manatee in Ft Pierce!

Eventually, we decided we needed to move on, so we got back into the car and on Highway 1, driving toward Tequesta and Jupiter. Any self-respecting Bama fan (me) knows Joe Namath lives in that area, and I had just read an article about a new restaurant he’s opening with a partner. It’s called Charlie and Joe’s, and I knew it was scheduled to open mid-January, so of course, I had to try to find it. Maybe we would get lucky and arrive at the Grand Opening, and I could finally meet Joe Willie?!? We Googled the location and drove right to it. There were lots of cars in the surrounding parking lots, so we thought we had arrived on the right day! I even checked my hair and makeup before we got out of the car! We walked across the parking lot and came to a sidewalk that had signs on both sides saying “no trespassing.” I thought that meant we couldn’t walk on the grass beside the sidewalk…right up till the cop stepped out of his car and asked if he could help us. Eek! I asked, “Are we trespassing?!?” “Yes, ma’am.” I said, “Oh my goodness! We saw the signs, but we thought they were for that area.” He laughed…fortunately. I thanked him for being nice about it, and we walked back to the car…after I got a quick picture with the sign for Joe’s new restaurant! I’ll meet him one day! For info on Charlie and Joe’s click here.

From the Tequesta/Jupiter area, we set out for West Palm Beach, because we were hungry, and Linda had recommended a Cuban restaurant there…more on that next time!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 1

Two friends on the road, Part 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside Daytona Motor Speedway

Retro Road Trip

Retro road trip!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are stepping back in time! Retro road trip!

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

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

College for Your Teen

College for your teen…

Where do you want your teen to go to college?

Someone asked me that question recently. It didn’t take me long to answer, because I know exactly where I want her to go.

I have always thought she would love a big state university. I went to a big state university and loved every minute, so I have always thought she might like the “full college experience,” just like I did.

And then sometimes, she will tell me about some smaller schools that interest her…different ones all over the country. It’s then that I think, “Maybe one of those will be best for her.” Maybe she would like being on a small campus in a cute little town somewhere.

There are so many colleges and universities all over the country to choose from. Almost anyone who wants to go to college can likely find a place that work for them. Interested in big time sports? Check out state universities. Interested in the arts? Check out liberal arts schools near you. Interested in a smaller school setting? Looking for a school that has a high commuter population? You want a school that doesn’t have a high commuter population? You can likely find something that works.

But with so many options, the decision can be difficult. I peruse brochures that come in the mail. I take virtual tours online of different campuses. I talk to friends about where they went to college and listen to their college stories. And honestly, if you talk to the right person, almost every college experience sounds great. I always encourage my daughter to talk to people about their experiences.

It can be difficult to choose.

But here’s the thing: the decision isn’t mine to make. It’s my daughter’s.

My husband and I decided a long time ago that we want her to go to the college of her choice. We want her to find her people. We want her to go into the college experience knowing she picked exactly what she wanted. We want her to be excited. When she has tough days adjusting to college life, we don’t want her to think, “If my parents had let me go where I wanted to go, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Sure, I can listen to her and help her make the decision, but she will make the decision. This is a teenager who, as a toddler, wanted to make her own decisions. She’s got this.

We have made “unofficial” visits to colleges all over the country, just so she could get a feel for the campuses. She has narrowed it down to five or six that she likes. But she’s just entering her junior year of high school. She could find new places of interest over the next two years. She will likely learn about colleges she doesn’t even know exist, and it’s possible some of them could look interesting to her.

So when someone asks me where I want her to go to college, I will give them the same answer I gave my friend a few days ago:

I want her to go where she wants to go.

For the next two years, I will be an innocent bystander in the college search process…simply a facilitator. I will make sure she has access to information about lots of different types of schools. If there is a college she wants to visit, we will do it. If there’s a college she wants to mark off the list…by all means, mark it off the list. Because, when it comes right down to it, it’s her life. She gets to live it. She is quickly approaching adulthood, and she needs to know how to make decisions. I firmly believe a child/teen who isn’t ever allowed to make decisions will become an adult who doesn’t know how to make decisions. I’m going to trust that my daughter will make the right decision for herself, and I’m excited for her to do it.

She has two years to decide.

Let’s get this party started!