Your Moms are Watching

Your moms are watching.

College football is my favorite sport. Sure, it can bring out the good, the bad, and the ugly in people, but it is my very favorite sport. I look forward to football season every year. It’s fun, and it brings back lots of great memories of my childhood, my high school years, and especially my college years.

During college football season, we watch a lot of games at our house. Every Saturday, we somehow manage to get showers, have meals, and get some exercise before, between, or after games. But no matter what, during college football season, we find a way to watch football all day and night on Saturdays.

We love a good football game. And we love crowd shots. And most of the time, we get a good laugh at the antics we see on the television screen. Students at ESPN College Game Day, holding signs behind the commentators…trying to get on national TV. I always think most of them just want their mamas to see them. I can only imagine my own daughter at College Game Day, holding up a silly sign…and if she got on screen, she would likely call me to see if I spotted her. If we’d had cell phones when I was in college, I feel sure I would have done that.

During games, we see students with painted bodies, spelling out the names of their teams. Or maybe they have just painted their hair. Or maybe they are wearing some outlandish outfit, trying to get the attention of the camera operators. It’s almost always good-natured, and we laugh. I always hope their mamas see them and get a good laugh out of it too. When I was in college at the University of Alabama, I had a friend who told us that, during televised Alabama games, her dad would call her mom into the room any time there was a crowd shot, so they could look for their baby girl. He’d yell, “Vonnie! Vonnie! Crowd shot! Crowd shot!” I don’t know if they ever spotted their daughter in the crowd, but they tried!

But occasionally, things turn ugly. It turned ugly during the Tennessee/Ole Miss game in Knoxville yesterday. Anyone who knows anything about college football knows UT fans hate Lane Kiffin, the current head coach at Ole Miss. He was the head coach at UT for a hot minute in 2009 before taking a head coaching job at the University of Southern California unexpectedly and leaving UT in the lurch. He coached at USC for about three years before being fired in the middle of a season; the firing took place at the airport, immediately after the team had flown back to Los Angeles after losing to Arizona State. Kiffin didn’t even get a bus ride back to campus.

Subsequently, Coach Nick Saban, of the University of Alabama, took Kiffin in. Saban is known for what we refer to as the “Saban Coaching Rehab,” because he takes in coaches that might have trouble getting jobs after a failure somewhere. Kiffin became the Offensive Coordinator at Alabama and was quite successful with the offense, but his off-field actions and his mouth often got him in trouble with Saban. He eventually took a head coaching job at Florida Atlantic University for a few years before taking the job at Ole Miss.

All this is my long way of giving you the history behind why Kiffin was not welcomed warmly in Knoxville Saturday. And I get it. However, it’s one thing for a fan base to hate a coach, but it’s another for them to get out of hand…and they did. Late in the game, after a questionable call went Ole Miss’s way, incensed Tennessee fans began throwing debris onto the field…cans, mustard bottles (why did someone take mustard to a game?), water bottles, and even a golf ball. Some of the debris hit Ole Miss cheerleaders, and the golf ball hit Kiffin. Don’t get me wrong. I know all the Tennessee fans were not participating. ***My daughter and I visited the University of Tennessee several times over the past few months, and we found their students and employees to be gracious, lovely people.*** I’m sure there are lots of Tennessee fans who were embarrassed by the other fans’ behavior, but it seemed mob mentality took over.

Here’s the thing: don’t you think there were probably some moms who saw their kids behaving badly when the cameras panned over the crowd? Did those fans not consider that? No one wants to disappoint their mama, right? I can only imagine how angry I would have been if I’d seen my daughter throwing things onto the field! She would have received a phone call from me immediately. And she would have regretted it right away.

The general rule at our house is to think before you act. It’s the rule, but just like everyone else in the world, we don’t always follow the rule. Many times I have said to my daughter, “Before you do something, consider whether you’d want me to see you do it.” Considering throwing debris onto the field? Think about what Mama would say. Considering doing shots of Fireball with your friends? Think about what Mama would say if she walked in and saw you. (I never, ever approve of doing shots, because of the danger involved.)

The world may never know exactly how things got so out of hand at Saturday’s game, but I’m guessing the participants weren’t remembering that their mamas might be watching. If they had even thought, for one second, that their mamas might see them, I have a feeling they wouldn’t have thrown stuff onto the field…no matter how they felt about the call or how they felt about Kiffin. My guess is that there are some angry Tennessee mamas right now.

As for Lane Kiffin, I understand why folks don’t like him. Personally, I find him amusing and colorful, but I know everyone doesn’t. He has a sarcastic way about him, and he says some crazy stuff. Before the Alabama/Ole Miss game this year, he said to Jamie Erdahl in the pregame interview, “Get your popcorn ready.” That was it…his words of wisdom before a “mic drop,” which was actually a headset drop. Ole Miss ended up losing the game, and Kiffin became a meme. In the week that followed, lots of folks had various kinds of popcorn delivered to the athletic office at Ole Miss. Alabama fans aren’t perfect, but that is the way to handle Kiffin. Don’t throw stuff onto the field. Just beat him at his own game…on the field and off.

And do it in the right way…remember, your mama might be watching.

***I’m definitely not knocking the University of Tennessee. My daughter and I both have friends who are students there or are alumni…and they are all lovely people…some of the best people we know, in fact. This kind of debacle could happen at any sporting event in any city.***

Keep Them Happy with Breakfast

Keep them happy with breakfast.

Our teenage daughter often has lots of friends over at a time. Sometimes they arrive hungry late at night. Sometimes, they need a big breakfast after they wake up. Same with visitors from out of town…we need to feed them!

When it’s just a few people, I don’t mind being a short-order cook. Want your eggs scrambled medium? You got it! Want two eggs sunny-side up? I can do it! Toad-in-the-hole? I can even do that like a pro!

Classic Toad-in-the-Hole

But when it’s a crowd, I do not want to be a short-order cook. I would be a terrible cook at a Waffle House, because there is no way I would be able to keep up. For those times, I take a different approach. For crowds, I plan ahead.

Last weekend, my daughter had twelve friends over after the Homecoming dance at her school. I knew they would arrive hungry, so I planned ahead. On the day of the dance, I made a grocery store run and stocked up on all the things I would need to feed a hungry crew. Feeding a crew is something I love to do, so I was probably singing as I strolled the aisles of the grocery store!

That evening, my husband and I went to a local country club, where our daughter, her date, and all their friends had gathered for pre-dance photos. They were a good-looking, happy bunch. They didn’t get to have a Homecoming dance last year, because of COVID, so I think they really appreciated the opportunity to have one this year. They were excited to dress up and excited to be together. I was excited to get to take photos of her final high school Homecoming. After all the parents acted like paparazzi for a while, the kids all went inside to dine, and the parents all went on about our evening.

When I arrived at home, I started preparing. Yes, I was excited. A good hostess would have all her fine china out, but there was no way I was going to stay up washing dishes in the middle of the night, so I used paper plates and plastic flatware. Sorry, Martha Stewart…I know I’m a disappointment. I got those out and set them at one end of the island in our kitchen…the island would be acting as my buffet for the evening.

Next, I pre-assembled two giant breakfast casseroles. There were quite a few boys in the group that was coming to our house, and since I grew up with a brother, I know how teenage boys can eat. I got the casserole all put together and stuck them in the refrigerator. They are the kinds of casseroles you can pre-assemble and cook later, so that’s what I did. I also made sure everything else I would need was within reach. I then texted my daughter and asked her to text me about an hour before they headed our way.

She did as I asked, and when she did, I put the two casseroles in the oven. Then, about 20 minutes before they arrived, I cooked the grits on the stovetop, cut up the fruit and put it into a bowl, and plattered the bagels near the toaster oven, in case they wanted to toast them.

When the kids arrived, everything was ready. When I invited them to come into the kitchen and serve themselves, they did. And I was thrilled to see them pile the food on their plates. Fortunately, my daughter’s date happily handled the toaster oven duties, so that cut down on some confusion. I spooned up the grits, and the kids served themselves the casseroles and fruit. And they ate…and ate. In fact, they mowed through the bagels and wanted more, so I started making my “special toast.” I could give away the secret on that, but that’s one secret I need to keep.

The first secret I will share, though, is about grits. For the record, instant grits are OK in a pinch, but real southerners cook real grits. I prefer mine with some butter and cheese added. For this particular event, I purchased Quaker brand Old-Fashioned Grits. I cook them on the stovetop according to the package directions and then add the butter, Colby Jack or Cheddar cheese, and salt at the end.

The second secret I’m happy to share? The breakfast casserole recipe, because all moms should have this recipe on hand. It’s great for a bunch of teenagers, but it’s great for holidays and family gatherings too. It’s super easy and can be pre-assembled. Enjoy!

Here’s my recipe that serves 12 (unless some of them are teenage boys, and then you need to make two casseroles!):

HASHBROWN BREAKFAST CASSEROLE

Ingredients:

  • 30 oz pkg of Ore Ida shredded hashbrown potatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 eggs
  • 1.5 cups half and half or heavy cream
  • two cups cheese of choice, grated (cheddar, colby jack, or pepper jack)
  • 2 cups Smithfield cubed ham (or preferred meat)
  • optional: Rotel original tomatoes and chilies

Directions:

Grease a 9 x 13 casserole dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, mix shredded potatoes and ham, then spread in bottom of greased casserole dish

In another bowl, mix eggs, half and half, cheese, salt and pepper (to taste), and optional can of Rotel.

Pour egg mixture over potatoes/ham in baking dish.

Bake uncovered for one hour or till eggs have set.

Serve immediately, offering sour cream and salsa as toppings.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights…Not an original title, obviously. Chances are, you know I’m talking about high school football. More specifically…high school football in Charlotte, North Carolina. Not exactly what I consider a hot bed of football. North Carolina is more of a basketball state. But we sure had fun at a high school football game in North Carolina last night.

It was the first home football game of the season. Growing up in Alabama, I always loved the first home football game of the season at our high school. Total excitement and anticipation. I vividly remember the big win our high school team had in the first game of my senior year. I was a cheerleader, and we had cheered through two miserable seasons in the previous years, but that first big win of my senior year was foreshadowing of a great season to come. Our team ended up playing well into the playoffs…up to the semifinals…before losing to the eventual state champion team. Last night, it felt much the same at our daughter’s high school. After last year, when fans were not allowed to attend the few games we had, this was a welcome change! It was a fun excuse to get out on a lovely Friday night and celebrate something together…namely, a big win for our high school team. I like to think we were celebrating the win, but we were also celebrating the opportunity to be together. Whole families came out to the stadium for some good, old-fashioned fun on a Friday night, and it was electric!

Our daughter is a senior at an independent school. She started school there when she was four years old, entering at transitional kindergarten, a kindergarten readiness program. She has grown up there. And this year, her senior year, is the first year she has been a cheerleader for football. She played varsity field hockey for the first three years of high school, but opted for a change this fall. She has been a basketball cheerleader for two years, so she wanted to try cheering for football…this is her first experience cheering for football…and she is loving every minute of it. The team started the season with two away games, so the girls were looking forward to the opportunity to lead a home crowd in cheering for the team. And last night, they did a great job.

The football team did a great job, ultimately winning by a large margin. I’d be lying if I said I knew the exact score, but I know we won by a lot. There were some exciting plays for both teams…long passes, big tackles, turnovers, big runs. I love football in almost any form, and our team did not disappoint. The concession stand crew was working hard, just like they used to do pre-COVID. The pep band showed up in full force. The dance team put on a heck of a halftime show. And we all cheered our team on to victory. The elementary-aged students were happy to be together in the stands. The families were thrilled to catch up. It was exciting to hear the familiar voice of our announcer on the loudspeaker. It was awesome to feel “normal” again.

Many of the students in the crowd and on the field have grown up with our daughter. I was talking with her transitional kindergarten teacher in the stands, and we reminisced about the time…way back in 2009…when a little boy in the class broke his shoulder blade at the end-of-year class party. At 6 feet tall, that little boy is no longer a little boy. The broken shoulder blade healed quickly, and he is a now a handsome young man on the varsity football team. Many of those TK students are still at the school…graduating with my daughter in May. The two other senior cheerleaders started in kindergarten with our daughter in 2009. Almost all the senior football players have been at the school since kindergarten…all except one, a young man who entered the school in ninth grade and quickly endeared himself to his classmates. He’s a superstar on the field and in the classroom.

As it turns out, Friday Night Lights can be fun no matter where you are…Alabama, Western Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, or even North Carolina. FNL looks much the same in Charlotte in 2021 as it did in Alabama in 1985. I’m just glad it doesn’t look like it looked in 2020!

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Girls just wanna have fun.

And I’m using the term “girls” loosely here, because the “girl” I’m referencing is myself…I am the “girl” of whom I speak. I just wanna have fun. To people who know me, that’s no surprise. Nobody loves to laugh, joke, and have fun more than I do. Well, there are probably some people who have so much fun that they don’t “tend their knitting,” so they’re more fun than I am. I take care of business, but I make time for plenty of fun too. And there are lots of ways to make life a little more fun.

Before Mother’s Day, I ordered some fun pool rafts and called them some of my Mother’s Day gifts. They are both Barbie-themed (as in the Barbie brand made by Mattel) but made by a cool company called Funboy. One is in the shape of a convertible, and the other is in the shape of an inflatable golf cart. They are both cute. Yesterday, I wanted to get in the pool, and while we have lots of different pool rafts, I opted for the Barbie convertible, because well, it’s more fun than a regular pool raft. My husband laughs at me every time I use the raft. Granted, he might just be laughing at me climbing on it, but whatever. It makes him laugh, and it makes me happy! Floating in the pool is a lot more fun on a Barbie convertible raft. To see what Funboy offers on their site, click here. Or you can look at Neimanmarcus.com or Revolve.com to see Funboy offerings.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend in Knoxville, Tennessee. After lunch at Not Watson’s in Market Square, we strolled around the block to Mast General Store. For info on Mast General Store, click here. I wanted a Knoxville hoodie, and I got a cute one that looks a little 70s-ish. I also wanted to peruse their vintage candies. I was so glad I did. I have great memories of buying candy cigarettes as a kid. Now they don’t even call them candy “cigarettes.” They call them candy sticks, but the packaging still looks like cigarettes, so every time I see them somewhere I buy them and hold them between my pointer finger and tallman finger to mimic smoking, just like I did as a kid. It makes me happy to remember! If only I had thought to take those out on the raft with me yesterday! What a fun photo op that would have been! Mast General Store also had other cool vintage candies: Chick-o-Stix, Pixy Stix, and one of my personal favorites…Zotz. Lots of people don’t remember Zotz, but when I was a kid, I loved them…and I still do. They also make me think of my friend, Wendy, who passed away three years ago. She and I loved our Zotz. During the summer, when we would vacation in Maine, we would always go to the candy stores in Kennebunkport and York, and we would always load up on Zotz. I smile just thinking about it. My Knoxville friend and I walked down to Cruze Farm Ice Cream after we left Mast General Store. We got swirly ice cream cones…making us feel like kids again (except when I was a kid, I likely would have dropped the ice cream off the cone). The girls who work in Cruze Farms all wear red/white gingham dresses with aprons and kerchiefs, and their bright red lipstick matches their dresses perfectly. For more info on Cruze Farm, click here.

But when I’m in Charlotte, there is a surefire way to feel like a kid again: Carowinds Amusement Park. I haven’t been this summer, but I can hardly wait to get on a rollercoaster again. My friend, Jenn, and I are planning a Carowinds visit soon, because we both love rollercoasters. Most parents, I think, dread taking their kids to amusement parks, but when our daughter was a little girl, I took her almost every day of the summer. It was an easy way for us to spend time outside, and she was happy to see all the action…and ride any rides she was tall enough to ride. Now that she is almost 18 (how did that happen?), she would have no interest in going to Carowinds with me, but my friend and I plan to go soon. We are waiting till some of the schools are back in session, so the crowds are smaller. We can hardly wait to get back on the Fury and the Intimidator…great coasters! I learned when I was in my 20s that going to an amusement park can make you feel like a kid again. And what’s more fun than remembering how it feels to be a kid? For information on Carowinds, click here.

I just walked into the kitchen, and my husband found my candy cigarettes. He smiled and said, “I loved these when I was a kid! My cousin, Glenn, and I would get them and pretend we were smoking.” Yep. It was the 1970s, after all. And as much as smoking is taboo now, it was fun to pretend when we were kids in the 70s. Just having candy cigarettes now makes me feel like I’m six years old again. It’s fun to reminisce. And “girls” just want to have fun.

The Flight Canceled (because of punks)?

The flight canceled?

This morning, I opened my news page online and saw an article about a flight from Charlotte to Nassau, Bahamas, that was canceled yesterday. According to the article, a group of high school students from Boston refused to wear masks on their flight from Charlotte to Nassau (I think they were connecting through Charlotte), so after a lengthy delay, American Airlines canceled the flight and rescheduled everyone to travel today. Sadly, all those folks have to arrive in Nassau a day late, but guess what else? All those people who were supposed to fly out of Nassau on that plane back to Charlotte? Well, their flight was canceled too, because the plane never got there (I checked the American Airlines website to see if the downline flight had canceled, and it had.) See the story on the WSOC-TV website here.

What the what?!?! I love American Airlines, but I can’t believe they punished all the travelers because of the actions of some high school punks. Yes, I called them punks, because they were being absolutely, completely selfish.

Here’s the thing: If wearing a mask is such a big problem for you, you don’t have to fly. These kids knew before they left Boston that they were going to be required (by the Federal Aviation Administration!) to wear masks in the airport and on the plane. They knew. Life is all about choices. If you don’t want to wear a mask on a plane, then you should choose an alternate form of travel. Or in this case, maybe you choose a different destination…unless you want to charter a plane or travel by boat.

My blood pressure went up just reading the article about these selfish kids. I can only imagine how livid I would have been if I had been a passenger on the flight. And if my own child had been a participant? Well, she wouldn’t be on her way to the Bahamas today. Her butt would be on the way home…and big punishment would await her…big punishment. Punishment in the form of no phone or driving for a while. Punishment in the form of researching the meaning of the word “selfish.” We would likely teach her what selfishness was all about by behaving selfishly ourselves. She asks for something for dinner? We say, “No, that’s not what we want. We’re selfish, so we don’t care what you want.” She wouldn’t be hanging out in her room alone. She would be hanging out with us all day, so she would have to do what we want to do. Oh, we could teach her what it feels like when someone is selfish and ruins your plans.

And as much as I love American Airlines, I think they were far too lenient on this group of kids. Fortunately, American gave other passengers hotel vouchers for the night (that would not be enough to make me feel better about it), but the high school students? Well, they weren’t old enough to check into hotels, so they had to sleep in the airport. That was a tiny bit of sweet revenge. But still, American was too lenient. And I hope the parents will punish them when they get home.Those selfish punks, in my opinion, should have been blocked from flying again and left to fend for themselves on how to get back home to Boston. Get on a Greyhound bus. I wouldn’t care how they got there…just get out of the airport.

Not gonna lie…if I had been a passenger on this flight, my head would have been spinning around, The Exorcist-style. I likely would have asked (begged!) the captain to just put them out and continue on, because the rest of us would like to get to our destination. I probably would have cried tears of anger, simply because no one loves a vacation more than I do. It makes me angry just to think about it. A bunch of selfish kids ruined things for everyone else.

Unfortunately, these kids made a bad choice. Life is a series of choices. If these kids want to make bad choices, they will eventually learn there are consequences to their actions, I hope. They will be the victims of their own poor choices. However, in this case, I’m afraid the other passengers were the real victims of these punks’ poor choices. I hope these kids thought about their actions while they were trying to sleep in the airport last night. I hope they were absolutely miserable in the airport (and wearing masks!). I hope they got on the plane today with their masks and apologized profusely to the other passengers and crew. I have a feeling they didn’t offer apologies or ask forgiveness, but I hope they did.

Target Saved Me

Target saved me.

Almost 18 years ago, I had a baby. I was completely clueless. I had never taken care of a baby. I had never spent much time around babies. And somehow, I got the baby who didn’t require much sleep. Our pediatrician assured me I wasn’t doing anything wrong…I just got a baby who didn’t sleep. God does have a sense of humor. I love my sleep. He knows that. But He found a way to make me learn to live without sleep. The joke was on me!

Staying home all day with a baby who doesn’t sleep makes for a long day. When she was several months old, after the worst of the flu season had passed, I made a real effort to find places I could go with the baby…places I could waste lots of time. The best place I found? Target.

Yes, way back in 2004, Target saved me. I found I could put my baby in the stroller and spend hours in Target. She was happy, and I was happy. She was seeing new faces, and I wasn’t stuck at home. It was what I referred to as the “Target effect.”

The “Target effect” kept us going for a long time. I could take the baby there in the morning and spend time outdoors in the afternoon. Or if it was raining, we might put in extra time in Target. As our daughter grew older, Target entertained in different ways. We could have snacks (with Icees!) in the snack bar. We could wander through the toy aisles. So much fun in one place! It was especially awesome in winter! In fact, even after she started school, we would go to Target most afternoons after I picked her up , and we would get Icees and popcorn. It was a great opportunity to do a “post game wrap up” of her day.

As she got older, we added other places to our go-to list. Carowinds, a local amusement park, became our favorite place in summer. We got season passes, and I could push her around in the stroller for a few hours a day…with her climbing out to watch live shows or ride rides or play games. We would have lunch in the park and work up a good sweat. Good times! In fact, she would be heartbroken when the park closed at the end of the summer (and secretly, I would be heartbroken too).

Sports Connection, a local place with video games, bowling, inflatable trampolines, and a snack bar, became a favorite when she was elementary school age. I could relax in the snack bar and watch her move around the building with friends. Other places on our list were Gymboree Play and Music, Charlotte Nature Museum, and any splash park or swimming pool in summer.

We were also fortunate to have great friends in a very active “playgroup.” Originally, we met once a week, but as the kids got into toddlerhood and elementary age, we met almost every day we were in town during summer months.

I should probably write a thank you note to Target and all those other places for saving my sanity during those early years. But I owe a really big thank you to the lifelong friends I made along the way. I don’t know how we would have managed without our awesome playgroup. It was made up of moms from all over the country. We were from different backgrounds, religions, and political beliefs, but we developed incredible friendships that are still alive and well today.

Now that our daughter is entering her senior year of high school, I feel sure I will be calling on those friends to keep me sane again! Too bad our favorite Target got rid of the in-house snack bar. We could have survived our kids’ senior year together by having Icees together right there.

We Took the Bus

We took the bus.

In 2012, my then-9-yr-old daughter and I met my friend, Mary Ann, and her son in Los Angeles for a five-day vacation. We had visited the city before, but we decided we would make this particular trip a little different than other trips. We decided we would give our kids some opportunities to learn, and of course, we learned along the way too.

Mary Ann and I decided before we went that we were going to do this trip differently. One big change? We would purchase bus passes for each of us and use public transportation for most of our travels through the city. At 45-years-old, I had only taken a city bus once…the previous year in Los Angeles, and on that particular trip, I got off at the wrong stop. But this time was going to be different. We thought it would be good to expose our kids to the city bus system…see the world through a different lens instead of our locked car doors. And we were right…

We didn’t know a lot about how the whole bus thing works, so we took a cab to the city bus station, where we purchased one-week passes for each of us. I don’t remember how much they were, but I think they were around $20 each. We also picked up some pamphlets that listed information about the bus system, and we learned we could download an app that would help us navigate the city. And our adventure began.

Near the bus station was La Brea Tarpits. I didn’t really know that much about La Brea Tarpits, except I remembered hearing Johnny Carson make fun of it on The Tonight Show when I was growing up. But there it was…just down the street…so we walked down and did the full-on visit. It was well worth our time, and a good learning experience for the kids. If you visit LA with children, especially kids who have an interest in prehistoric creatures, I highly recommend La Brea Tarpits. See more info here.

Upon leaving La Brea Tarpits, we had our first bus experience. We swiped our passes when we boarded, and we were off! I don’t remember much about it; it was pretty uneventful. That particular bus wasn’t even crowded, so we had plenty of space.

Everywhere we went, we referred to the app on our smartphones for help in figuring out which bus to take where. I told Mary Ann that I didn’t know how lots of people figured it out! It really isn’t that easy to master the system, but we were getting lots of help from the app…thank God Mary Ann discovered it. Our bus experiences were pretty darn pleasant. One day, when the bus was crowded on the way to Santa Monica, a young lady offered to let me sit next to her instead of standing. I spoke to her and quickly learned she was deaf. Using the minimal sign language I had learned in my youth, I asked her name. She signed back to me that her name was Crystal, and a friendship, albeit brief, was born! My daughter couldn’t believe her eyes as I chatted with Crystal in my very limited knowledge of sign language, but she could see we were communicating. I explained to her that Crystal couldn’t hear, and she said, “I figured that out, but how do you know sign language?!?” As I’ve said before…I’m a Jill of all trades but a master of none. When we arrived in Santa Monica, we all got off the bus, and we never saw Crystal again, but she made an impression on my daughter…as did my sign language skills.

Another day, we were on a very crowded bus…not even elbow to elbow…it was body to body crowded. A young lady who was standing near me asked me which stop would be closest to her hotel. I said, “I’m flattered that you think I look like I know what I’m doing, but I have no idea.” She explained that she was an exchange student from China. I introduced myself and my fellow travelers, and then I asked a gentleman nearby, who appeared to be homeless, and he gave her directions. At the next stop, when we couldn’t get off the bus fast enough before the doors closed (it was crowded!), the same homeless gentleman came to our rescue by yelling to the driver to stop for us to disembark. Whew! Who knows where we would have ended up?!? My daughter learned there are kind people everywhere, and they don’t all look the same.

We did get off the bus at a wrong stop one day during our adventure, and we believe our kids witnessed a drug deal going down. I guess that’s educational too. We just kept walking, trying to act nonchalant, while we were in fear for our lives, but we made it. The kids were complaining that they were hungry, so we stepped into a fast food joint, but that didn’t last long either. Halfway through our meal, a fight broke out, and we totally ditched the food and got the heck out of there…another lesson, for sure.

I have written before about our “social experiment,” but here’s a quick recap: while walking to breakfast one morning, we took turns greeting everyone we passed on the sidewalk with “good morning.” Some people looked afraid. A few others murmured something back, but three different people stopped us and thanked us for wishing them a good morning. They all asked where we were from, and they were all from somewhere besides LA and said we reminded them of home! Did I mention one of them even hugged us? The lesson there is that you can’t make everyone happy, but maybe you can do something small to make one or two people happier.

I haven’t felt the need to take the bus on subsequent trips to LA. We rent a car at the airport these days and get around pretty easily. But we will always have the memories from that trip.

We took the bus.

Which Gilligan’s Island Character Are You?

Which Gilligan’s Island character are you?

If you’re about my age, you likely remember Gilligan’s Island. It was a favorite when I was a kid, and frankly, I can even laugh at episodes now. Interestingly, I guess I saw it in reruns (also known as “syndication”), since it only ran for three seasons, from 1964 to 1967. I was born at the tail end of its run, so I certainly don’t remember it from its first run. If you’re familiar with the show, you probably remember the personalities of each character. Remember the characters? Gilligan (the first mate), Skipper (the captain) Thurston Howell III and Mrs. Howell (the millionaire and his wife), Ginger (the movie star), the Professor and Mary Ann (the farm girl)…all on Gilligan’s Isle.

I took my daughter and some of her friends to Miami for Spring Break a few weeks ago, and a friend met us there with her daughter. One day, we chartered a boat to take us out on Biscayne Bay for a day of boating and swimming. On the way to meet the boat, my friend and I were laughing that we were going out for a three hour tour, based on the Gilligan’s Island theme song. In case you don’t remember it, it went like this:

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship. The mate was a mighty sailing man, the Skipper brave and sure. Five passengers set sail that day for three-hour tour…a three-hour tour. (Lightning cracks.) The weather started getting rough. The tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost…the Minnow would be lost. The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor and Mary Ann…here on Gillian’s Isle.

Yes, we actually sang the song while we rode in the car, and the kids had no idea what we were singing. Sad. Truly sad, because Gilligan’s Island was some comedy genius. I’m sure there are people who would say it was just a series of slapstick gags, but there’s a reason we all remember it…it was funny!

As we drove through Miami, our conversation turned to those very characters. My friend asked me, “Which character are you? Ginger or Mary Ann?” I laughed and laughed. I know I’m not Ginger, the sexy movie star. But I don’t think of myself as naïve Mary Ann, either. And then it hit me, and I responded, “Oh honey, I’m Lovey.” If you don’t know who Lovey is…she’s Mrs. Thurston Howell III. Apparently, her legal name was Eunice Wentworth Howell, but I don’t remember hearing her ever referred to that way. Mr. Howell called her Lovey, and everyone else called her Mrs. Howell. She was a little spoiled (ahem), but she was always up for some fun and for trying something new. I’ll take that description of myself and run with it. My friend laughed…and then started calling me Lovey. I wear my “Lovey” name tag proudly. In fact, I might just start calling myself “Lovey” in real life. I wonder if my husband can adjust to that?

We decided my friend had to be Mary Ann…not because she isn’t a sexy movie star, but because she gets things done. Mary Ann was naïve, and my friend is anything but naïve. But Mary Ann was also a farm girl who knew how to get things done. You might remember Mary Ann doing laundry or cleaning up around the place. Well, my friend is no farm girl, but she takes care of business. Ginger could never do what my friend does in a day, but Mary Ann could!

We designated one of my daughter’s friends as the professor. Sure, she’s not a man, and she is a whole lot prettier than the professor on Gilligan’s Island, but she had a solution for anything that came up during our trip. There weren’t a lot of obstacles to overcome, but she was organized and came up with different ways to do things.

All the other teenage girls with us were Ginger. Aren’t all teenage girls a little bit like Ginger? Teenage girls, generally speaking, are a little self-centered and concerned about their appearance…much like the sexy movie star from Gilligan’s Island. They’re also a little delusional about real life…much like Ginger, who always thinks she can solve problems with ideas from some of her movies.

As for Skipper and Gilligan, we found them on the boat. We had a captain who drove the boat, and one crew member who assisted with everything. The captain was knowledgeable, gregarious, and strong, and our “Gilligan” helped us onto and off the boat when we swam in Biscayne Bay, providing us with swim noodles and a kayak. Our “Gilligan” served us our afternoon snacks as we soaked up the sun and poured the champagne for me and my friend.

We had a great time on our little tour. We didn’t encounter rough weather. We didn’t get stranded on an uncharted island. We didn’t have to build our own huts and sleep in hammocks for years while finding our own food. We didn’t have to gather around a radio to listen to news from the mainland, where we had been forgotten. None of that happened. We made it back to shore alive and well. We were all a little more tan. No one was hungry. Everyone was happy.

We had enjoyed a Happy Cruise…that’s the name of the company we hired to take us out, Happy Cruises. If you are going to Miami and would like to charter a fun little boat for a day, see the website here. Tell Captain Derek you were sent by Kelly from North Carolina!

Or just call me “Lovey.”

And don’t forget the Gilligan’s Island closing song: So this is the tale of our castaways; they’re here for a long, long time. They’ll have to make the best of things; it’s an uphill climb. The first mate and his skipper, too, will do their very best, to make the others comfortable in a tropic island nest. No phone! No lights! No motor car…not a single luxury. Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s primitive as can be. So join us here each week, my friends; you’re sure to get a smile…from seven stranded castaways…here on Gilligan’s Isle!

Thank You, High School Sports

Thank you, high school sports.

I know all schools in this country still haven’t returned after the health crisis we have endured over the past year. Yes, the virus is still alive, but more and more people are being vaccinated. And more schools are opening.

Our daughter is a junior in high school and has been fortunate to be back in school since August. Last March, at about this time, they left a day early for spring break and never returned for in-person learning for the rest of the school year. They did have online classes, but everything else was canceled. But this year, they returned on a “hybrid” schedule in August, meaning they go for in-person learning every other day and learn online on alternating days. It has worked pretty well. At least they are seeing half their classmates every other day, but they are missing the sense of community…their friends…and real school.

Sports even started back up in the fall, with caveats. They had to wear masks, and there were no fans in the stands. Parents could watch games on livestream, but it wasn’t the same. Eventually, just before the end of the fall season, two adults per player were allowed in the stands…but not students. The same thing happened with winter sports, but now, with spring sports, parents and students are allowed to attend, with masks of course. We have become so accustomed to masks now that I don’t think anyone really cares. We are just happy to be able to watch sports in person again!

Our daughter plays lacrosse on her high school team. She has played varsity for her independent school since she was a freshman. Her freshman year, they won the state championship…the first time the school had ever won the girls lacrosse championship! But last year, the season was cut short. Her freshman year, even though they won the championship, they lost to a large, nearby public school that is not in their conference. It has more students in grades 9-12 than our school has in K-12. They also have a tough team with an outstanding record.

Last night, I was working the livestream on top of the press box at the stadium with my friend, so we had a bird’s eye view of the field. It’s fun to be in the stands, but last night, it was particularly fun to be able to see everything. This particular team we were playing has always been tough, so I know our girls were nervous. And they should have been. It was a close game. We scored first, but the other team quickly went ahead. The other team soon had two injuries to key players, unfortunately, and the parents of those players were angry. I get it. I get mad when my daughter gets hurt too. But the tension in the stands was palpable.

After the half, our varsity girls soccer team finished their practice and came over to watch and cheer on their team. There were a few boys there watching and cheering already, but as our crowd of spectators grew, the momentum seemed to go our way. Our students were cheering and stomping and having a great time cheering on their classmates. It felt the way a game is supposed to feel. It wasn’t quiet. It wasn’t gloomy. It was electric and exciting! As a spectator, I could feel the excitement, so I can only imagine how much energy the girls on the field got from the crowd. For thirty minutes or so, life seemed relatively “normal.”

And when the buzzer sounded at the end of the game, our girls won by two points. Because we had not beaten this particular school in several years, the girls were especially excited. And I have to admit, the students in the stands and the parents were especially excited too. We were excited about the win, but we were excited life felt normal for a little while. We were excited to be cheering together for our team…our daughters or classmates.

I sure hope the momentum of our country people the virus continues just as the momentum for our girls continued last night. Feeling normal is a good thing.

Thank you, high school sports, for making life feel normal again.

A Quiet New Orleans Mardi Gras

A quiet New Orleans Mardi Gras.

My teenage daughter and I just got back home after four nights in New Orleans with our friends from Ohio, Jenn and Lindsey. Yes, it’s February. Yes, it’s Mardi Gras season. No, there were no crowds.

We arrived in New Orleans last Thursday evening, and when I posted on Facebook that we were spending the weekend there, I started receiving messages from friends in Mobile and other areas in the Deep South, saying, “You know the city is shut down, right?” I had done my homework, so I wasn’t alarmed by their messages. I knew bars were closed in Orleans Parish, and I knew lots of streets would be blocked off at night in the French Quarter, but I also knew the restaurants were open. Seriously…that’s all I needed to know: food is being served!

Back in the day, when I was in my 20s, it was fun to go to New Orleans for the nightlife. I enjoyed Pat O’s and Audubon Tavern II with friends. We enjoyed Hurricanes (the cocktail), Milk Punch, Dueling Pianos, and second-line parades. And then, as I grew older and became a full-fledged adult (whatever that is), I started to appreciate the food. Aside from the people and culture of the city, the food became what I looked forward to most, and when I lived in Mobile, Alabama, less than two hours from New Orleans, I found my favorite restaurants in the Big Easy and made regular jaunts over for dinner and Sunday brunch.

So when my friend from Ohio asked us to meet her and her teenage daughter there, I agreed immediately. It would be their first visit to New Orleans, so I tried to explain the culture, the city, and the cuisine beforehand. I told them how friendly everyone is. I told them how delicious the food is. We talked about the New Orleans brogue and the patois of the Cajuns. And I told them to be prepared for anything in New Orleans…because you never know what you’re gonna get! The city has lots of nicknames, one of which is “The City that Care Forgot.” That should tell you there can be lots of shenanigans. And come on…everyone has fun in New Orleans, right? It’s always crowded, right? It’s always boisterous and bawdy…especially during Mardi Gras, right?

Wrong.

In 2021, there is nothing boisterous and bawdy about the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans, thanks to COVID. Last year, lots of folks came down with the virus after visiting the city for Mardi Gras parades and other events. The city got some flack. So this year, the mayor headed it off at the pass. She shut down streets throughout the French Quarter. She ordered bars shut down in the parish. She had more police walking the streets, to keep folks from loitering. And she cancelled parades. I read where she said, “I’d rather do too much [to combat COVID] than too little.”

What I can tell you is that I have never seen this apocalyptic version of New Orleans before. It was quiet. It was calm. To top it all off, it was drizzly and overcast the whole time…and that can make any city look gray and dreary. New Orleans just wasn’t itself. The only time we encountered a crowd of any kind was when we decided to walk down to Cafe du Monde on Decatur Street one morning. There was a long line to purchase coffee and beignets, but it was outside, so we ordered our confectioner’s sugar-covered breakfast and sat in an outdoor area to dine…promptly dropping powdered sugar all over ourselves while pigeons darted around our feet and under our table, waiting for us to drop a crumb or two. In fact, the pigeons were likely the biggest crowd we saw on the whole trip! When I say it was “apocalyptic,” I mean it.

I had made reservations at all my favorite restaurants in advance, so when we arrived at each one, we were welcomed with open arms. They were thrilled to have the business, and I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to introduce my friends to New Orleans cuisine. In fact, we ate so much at so many fantastic restaurants that we found ourselves waddling through the city after each meal. Between meals, we checked out the Garden District, where lots of beautiful homes were decorated for “Yardi Gras,” or made to look like “house floats,” since the crewes weren’t parading this year. We also picked up a King Cake (or two) from a local bakery. I got the baby from the first cake, and my friend’s daughter got the baby from the second cake…meaning we will both have good luck this year. (This “good luck” theory was something I questioned when I fell down the stairs at Galatoire’s later that night, but my friend insisted it was likely that King Cake baby that kept me from having a broken leg after the tumble. Go ahead and laugh…it’s a hilarious visual, I’m sure.) We washed down that King Cake with Daquiris we purchased from a drive-thru daiquiri bar in Metairie…and checked out some beautiful homes in the area (including a famous/notorious uncle’s house) while we were there.

On our last full day in town, we had brunch at a well-known restaurant in the garden district…a restaurant that is known for its carnival-like atmosphere. When we arrived, I was excited for my friends to experience it. We were lucky enough to get a great window table in the patio room, and honestly, the atmosphere was the most electric we had experienced since we got to town. We dined on local cuisine, and our desserts were incredible. We also had mimosas and indulged in some Brandy Milk Punch…a traditional New Orleans drink. And while we were at brunch, we struck up a conversation with the table next to us, where the ringleader was a local…a regular at the restaurant…a regular with a fun sense of humor and a welcoming personality. He sent Brandy Milk Punch shots to our table, and for a little while, even without the jazz trio that’s usually roaming through the restaurant, it felt like real New Orleans. My teenage daughter had experienced it before, but it was at that moment that I told our friends from Ohio, “This is how it’s supposed to feel in New Orleans.” Yes…the real New Orleans is welcoming, friendly, and happy…boisterous and bawdy…and we got a little taste of that at our Sunday Jazz Brunch…courtesy of a friendly doctor who splits his time between New Orleans and Savannah, a doctor who just wanted to have some Mardi Gras fun at Sunday brunch.

It was a nice reminder that New Orleans lives on, and Mardi Gras will be back in full force…likely better than ever…in years to come.

The people of New Orleans are tough, having survived Hurricane Katrina and lots more. They’re not going to let a virus get them down…well, maybe temporarily…but they’ll be back better than ever, no doubt.