Teens and Life Skills

A friend and I were talking a couple of weeks ago, and she told me about an experience she had with a babysitter the weekend before.

She and her husband were going out at night and asked a teenager to babysit their nine-year-old daughter. The daughter had not had dinner, so my friend got out a few canned items, put them on the counter, and told the babysitter to heat those up when the little girl got hungry.

When she got home, the cans were still on the counter. Worried her daughter had not eaten dinner, she asked the babysitter, “Did she eat dinner?” The babysitter told her that her daughter had, indeed, eaten dinner, but she gave her something else, because...she…did…not…know…how…to…open…the…cans. 

We had a good laugh about it, but it made me think: does my own 15-year-old daughter know how to open a can? That afternoon, when my daughter got home from sports practice, I asked her, “Do you know how to use a can opener?” She assured me she did. Hmmm…. I took her into the kitchen so she could prove it to me. And she did. Whew!

When she was younger, we once had a housekeeper who wouldn’t let our daughter do anything for herself: put on her shoes; get dressed…she was two or three…old enough to put on her own slip-on shoes, but the housekeeper would always run over and try to help her. She could do it fine when the housekeeper wasn’t around! It drove me insane! If that housekeeper had remained with us, our daughter might not know how to do anything!

I know people have their own ideas about what teens need to know before they graduate from high school. I’m not even going to look at anyone else’s online list, but I’m going to share my own ideas with you.

  • Use a can opener to open a can. Obviously.
  • Crack an egg and scramble it. If you can’t cook anything else, this one is essential, preferably without eggshells in it.
  • First Aid. Know how to stop/treat bleeding; recognize if you need stitches; How to make a temporary sling; recognize serious illness (appendicitis, heart attack, etc.); treat a bloody nose; treat a bee sting. It’s also very important to know how to operate an Epipen; you never know when you will be the only one who knows how to do it in an emergency!
  • Heimlich maneuver. This is an important one. I’ve known several people who have been saved by it. They also need to know how to perform the Heimlich on themselves in case they are alone and choking.
  • Escape a burning building. It’s important to know to stay low and move swiftly. Don’t open a door if it feels hot to the touch. And more…
  • Budget. It can be difficult to budget. When I was first out of college and making very little money, it was all about choices. I learned to pay essentials first, set some money aside for saving, and make good choices about what I wanted to do. Sometimes, I had to pass on some things I wanted to do.
  • Write a check. Check-writing is rare these days, but it is a necessary life skill. By the time our teenagers are in their 30s, checks might be obsolete, but for now, they need to know how to write a check. It’s also important to know how to do banking transactions: deposits, withdrawals, transfers, etc.
  • Check the oil in an automobile and add engine oil. You don’t want your child to find herself 200 miles from home with the “add engine oil” light on in her car, but if she does, you want her to know what to do.
  • Put gas in a car. One would think this is obvious, but in New Jersey, it’s illegal to pump your own gas, so I wonder what happens to those people when they get to another state? Years ago, I knew a woman whose husband had always pumped gas into her car for her. While that’s gallant (my husband takes my car to fill it up regularly), it’s important to know how to pump gas.
  • Negotiate new cities (without fear). This is not an innate skill. It is one that is acquired by experience, and it is crucial for survival, if your child plans to do any travel. I learned it as a teen.
  • Swim. Yes, everyone needs to know how to swim. It doesn’t have to be pretty.
  • Pack a suitcase. Someone once told me about an adult (over 40) whose mother packed her suitcase for a vacation. While I hate packing, I know how to do it. I’ve been doing it since my first trip to Disney world when I was six. My daughter hates it too, but she has been packing her own suitcase since she was about seven or eight. *She went on an adventure trip to Iceland last summer, and someone who “had the inside scoop” insisted on packing for her, and I was OK with it, because we know nothing about wilderness packing…and frankly, we don’t need to know.* It’s not likely she’ll do another trip like that again…she is her mother’s daughter and likes nice hotels.
  • Iron a shirt/pants. I can iron just about anywhere…a floor, a bed, a countertop. I grew up ironing, and I actually enjoy it. Need some ironing done? Invite me over, and if you’ll chat me up, I’ll catch up all your ironing…just ask my friend, Angela, whose ironing I’ve done before! My teen daughter knows how to iron. She also knows how to use a steamer to release wrinkles from her clothes.
  • Check in for flights at the airport. People need to know how to make sure their bags have name tags on them; check in; get boarding passes; check bags; clear airport security; find their gate; change planes; stow baggage on planes; and retrieve their bags at their destination. They also need to know how to get ground transportation.
  • How to cross a city street on foot. Kids who don’t live in urban areas don’t learn how to cross city streets on foot unless they have some practice doing it. It’s a life skill.
  • How to tip. Living in the US, it’s important to know how/when to tip. They need to know how much to tip in different situations and when to tip. My daughter does her own tipping at restaurants with friends. I now encourage her to do some of the tipping at the airport (skycaps) and hotels (bellman, valet, doorman, housekeeping),  so she will become comfortable with it.
  • Clean a toilet. You don’t have to enjoy it, but you have to do it.
  • Vacuum.
  • Use a plunger in a toilet. Definitely need to know how to do this. It’s not fun, but it’s essential.
  • Repair a hem. I don’t care if she uses hemming tape, but it needs to work.
  • Sew a button onto a shirt/jacket/pants, etc. When I was fresh out of college, I worked as a flight attendant. I arrived at a hotel one night to realize one of the buttons was falling off my blouse. The hotel had a sewing kit, and I re-attached the button with ease. Not everyone can do it. Teach your children.
  • General safety. Safest places to park. Be aware of surroundings. How to know if you’re being followed, and what to do if you are. What to do if you’re approached by a stranger. The necessity of locating emergency exits in buildings, theaters, hotels (and planes) all the time…especially crowded ones. How to avoid dangerous situations. What to do in active shooter situation.
  • Weather safety. Growing up in Alabama, we had to know what to do in case of a tornado. Even though they are rare where we live, it’s important to know. Know what to do in lightning.
  • Use a bottle opener, a corkscrew, and open a bottle of champagne properly and safely. Sounds basic, I know, but a lot of adults don’t know how to use a corkscrew. And the cork isn’t supposed to fly out of a champagne bottle (dangerous) or make a lot of noise. It’s an art. It’s one they shouldn’t need till they’re over 21, but just in case…they need to know how dangerous a flying champagne cork can be.

I know I’m forgetting some things, so feel free to comment any skills you want to add. I know “change a tire” will be on there, but that one is iffy. While I know how to change a tire, lug nuts are often difficult to remove, and lots of newer cars don’t carry spares. Therefore, it’s important to know how to call for roadside assistance (through the manufacturer or AAA). There are lots of other necessary life skills…recognize an abusive relationship; when to walk away; etc.

Let’s hear your suggestions…

 

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Behold! The Instant Pot!

I know I’m not the only one behind the curve on the Instant Pot. I purchased mine over a year ago, and most of that year, it has been sitting in my cupboard just waiting to be used.

Last year, at about this time, I browned some sausage in it for a breakfast casserole I was making for a brunch at my house. After that, I put it away and haven’t given it much thought since. It’s not that it didn’t work well. It did. The problem was simple…

I was afraid of the Instant Pot.

It’s that whole pressure cooker thing. I have childhood memories of my mother telling me to stay away from the pressure cooker when she was using it to cook cabbage or turnip greens, because it could blow up. And she wasn’t kidding. It could, but it never did at our house. It did happen at a friend’s house, when his mother was cooking turnip greens in the pressure cooker. Greens went everywhere! According to my friend, there were turnip greens on every wall in the kitchen and even hanging from the ceiling.

Now you understand my fear.

Well, Friday night I was home alone. My husband was at the beach with friends, and my daughter was spending the night in Raleigh, a few hours away, for some lacrosse games. Normally, I would go to the games, but since my husband was gone, someone had to be home with our three dogs. Plus, I was actually looking forward to an evening home alone to do whatever I wanted and eat whatever I wanted.

As it turned out, cooking was what I wanted to do. After spending the afternoon in a local thrift store, I went home to cook dinner for one.

I had decided I would have my favorite chicken spaghetti, using spaghetti squash instead of pasta, for dinner. It’s one of my favorites, but the rest of the family…not so much. I was talking on the phone with my funny, reliable friend, Mary Ann, as I prepared to cut the spaghetti squash to bake it in the oven for an hour or so before making the casserole. And she stopped me, asking, “Why don’t you use your Instant Pot? You don’t have to cut through that hard squash, and it will be ready in 10 minutes.” I told her, “OK. I’m going to use it, but you know I’m afraid of it. You have to walk me through it.” And she did.

I did exactly what she told me to do, and lo and behold, I had a cooked spaghetti squash in about 15 minutes, because the Instant Pot has to pressurize before it actually starts cooking the squash. But 15 minutes is fantastic compared to the hour it usually takes! And I didn’t have to risk life and limb trying to cut through that hard squash! I just stuck it in the Instant Pot whole!

It was a masterpiece! It came out perfectly cooked. I sliced it in half (it was so easy!) and scraped out the seeds before scraping out the actual “spaghetti”…the meat of the squash…with a fork. I added all the other ingredients and popped it in the oven for about 25 minutes, and voila! Chicken Spaghetti! As soon as I stuck it in the oven, Mary Ann reminded me I could have done all that in the Instant Pot too. Next time…baby steps.

At least I’m not afraid of it anymore! If you’re afraid, don’t be. Mary Ann has never had a problem with hers, and she uses it all the time. Mary Ann will likely have to walk me through it every time I use it, but that’s OK…it gives us an excuse to talk (as if we need one).

Here’s the recipe for my chicken spaghetti, which really started out as Mary Ann’s Chicken Spaghetti, because she gave me the recipe years ago. I’m sure I don’t do it exactly the same way she did, but it’s good nonetheless.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Spaghetti squash
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, plain
  • 1/2 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can Rotel Original tomatoes and peppers
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 grated cheese of your choice (I use Colby jack for mild flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • In Instant Pot, pressure cook whole squash per Instant Pot directions.
  • Pick chicken off the bones and place in a mixing bowl.
  • Mix 1/2 cup of the cheese with other ingredients in bowl with chicken.
  • When squash is cooked, allow Instant Pot to depressurize for a few minutes before removing. On a plate, cut the squash in half and scrape out seeds/strings, using a spoon.
  • Using a fork, scrape “spaghetti” from the meat of the squash and fold it into other ingredients in mixing bowl.
  • Pour into 8×8″ casserole, spreading evenly. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over the top.
  • Cover and bake in oven for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes, till cheese is melted.

For more Instant Pot recipes, check out the healthy recipes from Hungry Girl website here. She also has a really good, easy Instant Pot recipes in her new book, Hungry Girl Simply 6, which you can purchase from Amazon here.

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Enjoy your Instant Pot!

 

Facebook Is Like A Nosey Neighbor

Y’all know I love Facebook. I don’t really think it’s like a nosey neighbor. Heck, you don’t have to be nosey to see details of my life on Facebook…I’m putting them out there myself.

But yesterday, my clever, witty friend, Mary Ann, posted this on Facebook:

Facebook is like having nosey neighbors who don’t really like you. They just stay connected to look over the fence and see what you’re doing.

Before I continue, I must say I prefer it to be spelled “nosy,” so that’s how it will be spelled from here on in this piece.

It wasn’t Mary Ann’s original creation. She got it from a site called Kitchen Fun With My 3 Sons. First of all, it made me laugh, and then it made me think. Aren’t we all peering through a window or over a fence into each other’s lives on Facebook? The difference between looking over a fence or peering into a window and Facebook, though, is that, on social media, we control what other people see about our lives. If you have a peeping Tom or a nosy neighbor, you don’t always know what they see, and you can’t always control it.

About ten years ago, a friend (I’m keeping her name private, to protect the innocent) moved to a new house. She left behind some beloved neighbors, and when she settled into her new home, she discovered her new next-door neighbor was Gladys Kravitz. If you don’t know who Gladys Kravitz is, you never watched the television show, Bewitched. On the show, Mrs. Kravitz was the ultimate nosy neighbor. So my friend’s neighbor wasn’t actually Gladys Kravitz, but she was a real-life, 21st century version of her.

They had a privacy fence between the backyards of the two houses, and occasionally, when my friend was outside, she would catch a glimpse of “Mrs. Kravitz” peering over the fence or between the slats. One day, she called me and said, “I wish I could think of something to shock her.” Well, she had come to the right friend! It became my mission to find the perfect thing to shock Mrs. Kravitz. Sure, we could have gone with a life-size nude statue. But that would have been a little heavy…and probably expensive. Instead, we devised a plan.

My friend went to her local discount store and purchased a rotary clothesline, putting it up in her backyard. (You can purchase them at Amazon here.)I went online to search for the perfect thing to hang on it. I knew I’d be able to find it somewhere, because years before, my brother had caught some that were tossed from a Mardi Gras float in Mobile. After some searching, I found it, ordered it, and had it shipped to my friend.

When she received the package, she called me, laughing hysterically. I said, “Go hang them up! Hurry! I want Gladys Kravitz to see them the next time she looks over there! But you have to sit outside till you get her reaction.”

And she did. She walked outside, and on the clothesline, she hung up the most gigantic pair of red panties one could ever imagine…so big that no one could possibly wear them.

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She called me and said, “It’s done! Those panties look like a big ol’ butt-shaped flag flapping in the breeze!” And she waited. After an hour or so, she heard Gladys Kravitz walk out her back door. Mrs. Kravitz was talking on the phone as she wandered around her yard. My friend was sitting out of sight, but she called me as soon as she heard Mrs. Kravitz. After a few minutes, she knew Mrs. Kravitz had peeked over the fence, because she heard her say to whoever was on the other end of the phone line, “My word! You wouldn’t believe what’s hanging in my crazy neighbor’s yard!”

We laughed and laughed, even though my friend had to keep down the volume of her laughter. I remember her whispering, “I’m the crazy neighbor! I always wanted to be the crazy neighbor!” But Mrs. Kravitz had no idea those gigantic panties had been hung outside for her viewing pleasure. My friend eventually took down the panties, but she left them up long enough for Mrs. Kravitz to get angry about them. She knew she was angry, because she would hear her grumbling through the fence. Unfortunately, this was before every cell phone in America was a smart phone, so there is no photographic evidence.

When I saw Mary Ann’s post about how Facebook is like having nosy neighbors, I responded, “The key lies in giving them PLENTY to look at! You wanna peek over the fence? I’ll give you a reason to peek over the fence!”

But of course, I love Facebook. I don’t think of my Facebook friends as nosy neighbors. I love that they share their lives with me, and I love sharing mine too. After all, when I run into them, we don’t have to do the cocktail party chat. We can converse about real life…or at least the life we put on Facebook. And we can laugh about our nosy neighbors!

***If you have a nosy neighbor you’d like to shock, you can purchase Big Momma Panties at Amazon.com here.***

 

 

 

 

 

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You Snooze, You Lose

Something exciting happened last night at my house. It’s one of those rare things in life…well, in my life, anyway. I can honestly say it has occurred less than ten times (maybe less than five) in my adulthood.

I slept through the night.

And when I say I “slept through the night,” I mean, I did not wake up even one time. I didn’t look at the clock once. I didn’t wake up to roll over once. I didn’t get up to go to the bathroom once. I slept through the night! And when I woke up at 8:40am (my husband tiptoed around the room so I could sleep, and he always takes our daughter to school), I was confused. I knew where I was, and I could tell by the clock it was 8:40am, but I was wondering, “How did that happen?”

I wrote about sleep once before. And when I did, I wrote about the things I have to do to try to get better sleep: exercise, spend time outdoors, take melatonin, and take my restless leg meds. But yesterday wasn’t like that. In fact, I’ve had to stop taking melatonin, because it was causing me to have vivid, sometimes scary, dreams.

I’m wondering if there are other adults out there who have rarely slept through an entire night without waking up once? Or am I odd? Before you even think it…yes, I know I’m odd, but is it odd that I rarely sleep an entire night?

I’m knocking on wood as I type this, but generally speaking, I don’t have trouble falling asleep. My husband always jokes that as soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m out. And lots of my friends know I can fall asleep almost anywhere…planes, cars, chairs…anywhere I can get still and quiet. But not tents. I can’t fall asleep in a tent, as far as I know…and I don’t want to find out. But sleeping through an entire night rarely happens.

I have a cold right now. I guess it’s a cold; I can’t ever tell the difference between a cold and allergies. I have a runny nose and watery eyes, and I’m sneezing. So last night, I took some NyQuil before going to bed. NyQuil usually works great for me when I have a cold. It usually stops my runny nose and coughing, and it helps me sleep, but usually, about five or six hours after taking it, just after the medicine wears off, I wake up. But not last night!

I don’t know why I slept so well, but I’m saying a little prayer of thanks right now for that good night’s sleep!

But now I’m thinking about the saying, “You snooze, you lose.” Yes, I know it has nothing to do with sleeping through the night. I know it means that if you move too slowly, you miss an opportunity. The early bird gets the worm. And that’s true in most cases.

But today, in my world, I snoozed and won! I usually wake up at least two or three times a night, so any night that I’ve slept the entire night? That is a big win!

 

 

 

Mother/Daughter Fun

I was talking with a friend in carpool today about my recent vacation with my 15-yr-old daughter. We met my friend, Jennifer, and her 15-yr-old daughter in Los Angeles for several days. Jennifer and her daughter used to live in Charlotte, but they moved to Ohio about 11 years ago. Luckily, we still get to see them at least once a year, when we go on a mother/daughter vacation with them.

While I was talking with my friend in carpool today, she said she had never gone on a vacation with just her daughter, and she didn’t know how her husband would feel about it. I said, “Call it a mother/daughter vacation, and it takes on new meaning!” And it’s true! There’s nothing wrong with a little special mother/daughter bonding time, right? My husband never seems to mind. Of course, he is probably grateful for some peace and quiet around the house. He’s probably thinking, “Don’t let the door hit ya in the …”

We’ve been lots of places on mother/daughter vacations…Los Angeles, New York, Upstate New York, Vermont, Maine, Puerto Rico, and more. Every trip is different, but my goal is always to have lots of opportunity for us to share some fun and chat too! For example, it’s fun to shop in Los Angeles, and it becomes a shared experience. On our last trip there,  Jennifer and her daughter introduced us to a new store, and it turned into an all-morning shopping experience! My daughter found a few things before heading to the fitting room, and I just kept finding more stuff for her to try on! We chatted as we shopped, and then we went to a nice, leisurely lunch…another good chat opportunity. When we’re home, going out to dinner or lunch with me doesn’t sound so appealing to my daughter, but on vacation, it’s fun, because we can try new restaurants and new cuisines.

In Puerto Rico in the summer of 2017, we bonded over climbing a waterfall and exploring a bioluminescent bay. At night, we always played games together…Scattergories, Spot It, Pictionary, etc. Great fun…and we made some awesome memories together.

But sometimes a vacation isn’t possible. Maybe there are time constraints, or it’s just not in the family budget. Maybe you need to have some mother/daughter bonding time near home, and that’s fun too. There are some things we can do without having to go on “vacation”:

  • Have a staycation together.  There’s something special about staying in a hotel and ordering room service. There are some great hotels for that in the Charlotte area. Our two favorites are the Ballantyne Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, but there are lots of options out there. Most cities and towns have relatively inexpensive places nearby, if that’s what you’re looking for. Maybe you don’t want room service. Maybe you want to order takeout through PostMates or bring in your own food? When we go for a staycation, we check in as early as possible. Sometimes we just hang out in the room and watch movies or football games together. Sometimes, we go down to the pool or spa. Sometimes we go out for dinner. But we always order breakfast through room service. Even a one-night staycation is a great opportunity to spend some quality time with my daughter.
  • Thrift store shopping together. This is a total bonding experience, because thrift store shopping is no fun alone. It’s a lot more fun to dig through all the merchandise with someone else. And when you find something absurd or interesting, it’s fun to turn to your daughter and say, “Oh my! Did you see this?” We love thrift store shopping. My daughter has purchased some of her very favorite t-shirts at thrift stores in the Charlotte area, and you know how teens love t-shirts. At the Salvation Army Family Store, located at 1011 Central Avenue, we have found some great items. Also, one of my very favorite pairs of pants, some cute stretch cotton camouflage jeans, came from Buffalo Exchange, located just down the street at 1521 Central Avenue. I get more compliments on those camouflage jeans, and I paid about $9 for them.
  • Binge watch a series together. Different people enjoy different series, but I have friends who have loved watching Gilmore Girls with their daughters. I will propose it to mine, but I’m not sure how much interest she will have. We used to watch iCarly, Zoey 101, and Drake & Josh together. And later, we would watch Pretty Little Liars together. Neither of us watches a lot of TV these days, but maybe we should schedule a TV marathon. Lots of series are offered on Amazon and Netflix. Find one you will both enjoy. Maybe we should revisit some of those old shows! My husband occasionally leaves town, so next time, I’ll let my daughter pick a series, and we can watch that and eat popcorn and Sour Patch Kids to our hearts’ content!
  • Spend time outdoors together. In Charlotte, we are fortunate to have the US National Whitewater Center nearby, but most cities have some sort of outdoor activities. Atlanta has Stone Mountain. Find an activity that would be fun as a mother/daughter duo or with another mother/daughter. We’ve done the Whitewater Center with friends several times, and it’s always fun! We love zip lines and ropes courses, so this is right up our alley. If you’re anywhere in the southeast, it’s pretty easy to get to Abingdon/Damascus, Virginia…bike the 17-mile (downhill) Virginia Creeper Trail together. It’s a little over three hours from Charlotte, but easily done with a one-night hotel stay in the area. And there are lots of inexpensive hotel options in and around Abingdon and Damascus. Or spend a night in Asheville, NC, and visit the Biltmore!
  • Take a class together. I have friends who have taken cooking classes or exercise classes with their daughters, and they loved it. If you live anywhere near a Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, it’s likely they offer one-day cooking events or classes. Just taking a quick look at the Sur La Table website (click on the name of the highlighted business), I see several upcoming opportunities, but you must sign up in advance. Same with Williams-Sonoma…check the website. Learn to cook a new dish or set a beautiful table! Cooking’s not your thing? Maybe try a spin class at Cycle Bar or Flywheel. Or learn how to knit together at a local yarn store. In Charlotte, my favorite is Charlotte Yarn on East Boulevard. If you don’t want to take a class together, maybe you take an afternoon to teach your daughter a skill you have or teach her how to cook a favorite family recipe.

So, if you can do a mother/daughter vacation, I highly recommend it. If not, maybe you just find some bonding activities to do. I love knowing I’m making memories with my daughter. She will be leaving for college in just 3 1/2 years, and I want to make sure we’ve done as much as possible before she flies the coop!

 

 

 

 

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Santa’s Riding An Elephant In My Yard! (My Favorite Lawn Decor)

There are several houses in our area that go all out for Christmas. One of my favorites is a couple of miles away, and the gentleman who lives there dresses up as Santa at night, standing out by the road to take donations for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, one of my favorite causes. And the lights! Wow! It’s insane! (That’s the house in the picture above.) When our daughter was little, we told her it was Santa’s second home, where he goes to prepare for Christmas, because she couldn’t understand why he was standing outside a house in Charlotte. See bottom of page for a list of several places to see great light displays in the Charlotte area. 

When I was growing up, my parents would decorate our lawn for Christmas. My favorite decorations were those 40″ Noel Candles everyone had in the 70s. I have some now. I haven’t put them out this year, but there’s still time. Maybe tomorrow. I was absolutely fascinated with them when I was a little girl.

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My daughter and a neighbor’s daughter, several years ago, with the Noel candles.

I also remember my parents putting blue lights on the shrubs across the front of the house. The big blue bulbs that would steam a little when rain hit them. That’s because bulbs got hot back then.

As an adult, I still love lawn decor, but sometimes, like this year, I’m slow getting it out. I found the multicolor bulbs today, but it was already getting dark, so I’ll likely put them on the shrubs out front tomorrow. And yes, I said “shrubs,” not “trees.” I’ve never been one to do lawn decor that’s up too high. I don’t want to drag out a ladder. Maybe I’m lazy. Or maybe I’m smart, since this year, my vertigo seems to be in high gear. It flares up every now and then, and it only bothers me when I look up or lean my head back, so climbing ladders to hang stuff up high isn’t a good idea.

I’ve mentioned before that I have lighted animals I put out front every year. One friend who lives down the street looks forward to seeing our Christmas pig. We usually have a fox too, but this year, I let him stay inside. I put out a small lighted elephant and a couple of small lighted cardinals instead. Quite a menagerie. And my leg lamp…the one from the movie, A Christmas Story, is always in the front dining room window. A mom came to pick up her daughter at our house yesterday and said, “That’s an interesting lamp.” I laughed. “I’m guessing you haven’t seen the movie?” She had no idea what I was talking about. I explained, but I think she still thought I was crazy. Maybe she’s right?

But here’s what I’m excited about this year: when I was in the attic yesterday looking for some wrapping paper, I came across something I ordered a few years ago ( at an after Christmas sale) and never opened. In it? A giant inflatable elephant carrying Santa and some presents!

I carried that box out to the front yard and got that inflatable elephant anchored down and inflated in record time! He is glorious! Did I mention the thing is over 10 feet tall? It makes me happy.

Anyone who knows me knows I went to The University of Alabama, so of course, I’m a Crimson Tide fan…the elephant is perfect for my yard. My husband gets back home today after a few days away. Surprise, honey!

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It’s tacky. And I love it. The neighbors probably hate me. My husband might hate me too; tacky decorations are not his favorite thing. Oh well, at least I waited till well after Thanksgiving to put it up! Frankly, I hope it will last till Christmas. The last time I put up a giant inflatable pig, my next door neighbor called to inform me it had blown into her yard!

A friend who lives in the neighborhood has an inflatable Airstream in her front yard, and it makes me happy every time I see it. If I get a call, I’m going to say she set the precedent. There’s just something about outdoor holiday decor that’s fun, and for me…the tackier, the better.

So, it’s tacky Christmas decor at my house. I like it. I think it’s a lot more fun than perfect, little twinkling lights spaced perfectly on every tree and shrub. Those are beautiful, but this is fun! And one thing’s for sure… everybody can look at it and know we did it ourselves. Nope…not gonna hire someone to make my yard look perfect. Anyone can do that. Not just everyone can kneel in wet grass for 20 minutes while untangling tether lines for a giant inflatable elephant.

I think Santa likes it too.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

***The photo at the top of the page is a house on Sherwood Forest Drive in South Charlotte, off Colony Road. Drive toward that road at night, and just follow all the cars turning into the road. The neighbors’ houses have lots of lights too.***

***The town of McAdenville, just off Interstate 85, south of Charlotte, is a former mill town, and the whole village participates. It’s free! Traffic is heavy, so plan to be in line for a while, and don’t drink a lot of liquids beforehand.***

***Hillside Avenue in Myers Park has beautiful outdoor decor. Just drive down the street at night and see how the neighborhood comes together to decorate. Beautiful!***

***Another popular decor area is Thomas Avenue in Plaza Midwood. ***

Other great places to see lots of Christmas lights: Carowinds’ Winterfest, Billy Graham Library, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, and Charlotte Motorspeedway. 

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Ten Days Till Christmas!

I love thinking about how exciting Christmas was when I was a little girl. I also love remembering my daughter’s excitement leading up to Christmas…and Christmas morning…wow! There’s nothing else like it. It’s magical. Even if you stayed up till 2am putting together toys, it’s magical. Even if you stayed up all night with a sick child, it’s magical. Even if you had to search frantically for all the gifts, it’s magical. Seeing your child’s face on Christmas morning is magical.

Ten days till Christmas!

And kids have no idea how much goes on behind the scenes. They couldn’t even begin to fathom all we do in preparation for the holidays. They wouldn’t believe how much prep work goes into that “magic.”

Most of my purchasing is done this year, so I’ve been spending the last few days wrapping gifts…and wrapping gifts…and wrapping gifts. That sounds like it has been drudgery, but I have loved every minute of it.

Last year, on December 30, I lost my mom. And while I’ve dreaded this Christmas and the approaching one year mark, I’ve told myself I’m going to find joy in everything about the holiday.

My husband put up the tree and some of the decorations while my daughter and I were away a few weeks ago. We came home and found the tree waiting for us, poinsettias in the foyer and living room, our light-up animals on the front steps, and my glorious leg lamp in the dining room window. Fra-gil-e! It’s a major award! My husband had shared a little joy by surprising us.

Then Christmas cards started arriving…more joy from friends and family, near and far! I love Christmas cards.

Even though my husband put up the tree, he didn’t decorate it. I got out all the ornaments and decorated it recently, surprising our daughter with lots of ornaments from her childhood. There are ornaments my mother gave us, and I smiled every time I hung one. There were two ornaments left on the tree from last year…cardinals. My mother always said when cardinals come around, they are loved ones we have lost making a visit. I was thrilled to find those two cardinals on the tree. And there were lots of owl ornaments. I don’t remember buying them, but there are lots of them. After three or four, I wondered if they had any significance.

I’ve purchased gifts from links our teenage daughter has texted us. And I’ve added a few surprises for her too, to give her a little extra joy…and to make it seem a little magical. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts, but we didn’t have much of a Christmas last year, since Mother fell on Christmas Eve and was admitted to the hospital. I’ve purchased lots of gifts, in fact. And I’ve been doing lots of gift wrapping.

Gift wrapping was always something I dreaded, but this year is different. This year, I’ve found gift wrapping (and making gigantic bows!) to be therapeutic, and since it’s our first year without Mother, I’ve needed the therapy. Of course, I’m sad she’s not here to talk on the phone with me while I’m wrapping, but it has still calmed me. It has been downright joyful to wrap gifts, because the busy work relaxes my mind.

And those owl ornaments? Well, last night, I was searching for a necklace my mother gave me, and I came across a charm bracelet I brought home from her house after she died. I had never seen it before she died, but I found it in a jewelry box at her house. I picked it up last night and looked at all the charms. There’s a tricycle…I have pictures of her on a tricycle as a little girl. There’s a nurse’s cap….she was a nurse. There are lots of charms, including a sunflower, which was her favorite and Daddy’s too. And there were two owls. I smiled. I had my answer about the significance of the owl ornaments. They were somehow special to Mother. I don’t know how, but that doesn’t matter. I made a connection.

I’m going to be joyful this holiday season. It’s my goal. And so far, I am. There have been a few tears, but I feel like these little signs…the cardinals, the owls…are telling me to be happy, so that’s what I’m going to do. Mother used to always say that if you decide to be happy, you’ll be happy. I’ve decided to be happy.

Anybody have any gifts that need to be wrapped?