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!

You May Now Move About the Country

You may now move about the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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 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

A Lucky Duck

Almost a month ago, I wrote about what we referred to as a “Mama Duck” had laid some eggs in one of the planters on our front porch. In this world of COVID-19, murder hornets, and political unrest, Mama Duck, by way of laying eggs at our house, brought us some hope…something to look forward to.

And oh, how we have loved watching her. She ended up laying a total of nine eggs over the course of a week or so. My husband and I became obsessed with her…like four-year-olds, we would peek out the window numerous times a day and through the night. We wanted to be sure Mama Duck and the eggs stayed safe. We wanted that little clutch of eggs to make it, but it wasn’t easy.

About ten days ago, we had a lovely visitor to our backyard. I was so excited to see him…a beautiful 5-foot rat snake! I posted some photos of the snake on Facebook, and then my friends reminded me we needed to keep an eye on the duck and eggs. They were right! A few hours later, my husband found the snake curled up on top of the eggs, with Mama Duck nowhere in sight! I wasn’t home at the time, so when he called me and said, “You’re not going to believe this! That snake is in the eggs,” I said, “GET IT OUT!” He did, and by the time I returned home, he had relocated the snake far away.

Talk about a lucky duck!

We thought we were home free! We thought that since the snake was gone, our duck’s troubles were over…till another snake showed up a few days later! My husband walked past the window and looked out, and somehow, he noticed a tiny tail sticking out from under the planter! This time, I was home, and he called me outside to “help” him get the snake, which basically meant I was his cheerleader. While I love the beauty of a rat snake, I don’t want to have to catch one! With bravery that was reminiscent of the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, my husband captured the snake and relocated him far, far away. Mama Duck flew away during the chaos but returned a few hours later.

Two snakes??? Holy moly! We were scared for our Mama Duck. So we watched. When we couldn’t be home, we watched on security cameras. And we spread snake repellent all around the porch. The whole front of our house smelled like a giant wintergreen Lifesaver…I guess snakes don’t like that?

And then, yesterday, as I watched on the security camera, I saw some movement around Mama Duck in the planter. She was moving around a lot more than usual too! And then I thought I heard a few “peeps”!

We were out of town, but as it turns out, I was right about the “peeps”! Embarrassingly, last night at about 11:15pm, we checked the cameras again (we were out of town), and we saw lots of movement. We couldn’t tell if what we saw was a duckling or a snake, so I called our neighbor…yes, at 11:15pm…and he ran over and checked. No snake, but he couldn’t see any ducklings, because Mama Duck hid them under her wings.

The neighbor on the other side went over and saw the ducklings early this morning, and then a few hours later, they were gone. Mama Duck and the ducklings had left the nest…it’s what they do.

We missed seeing them “in person,” but we are some proud duck grandparents. We are proud that we saved them. We are proud that they made it.

That’s one lucky duck

Holding Out for Puerto Rico

Holding out for Puerto Rico.

My 2020 vacations, so far, are a bust. I haven’t left the city of Charlotte since January…well, except for a brief drive into South Carolina just to see what an open economy looked like earlier this month. Just like most of the people in the United States, I’ve been stuck at home since March. I was supposed to go on a spring break trip with my daughter and some friends, but we cancelled two days before our departure date, because of the coronavirus. It was the right thing to do, but dang! I miss going places! I miss travel!

Different people have different things they miss about “normal life.” What do you miss? I know lots of people, including me, miss sports! The world just isn’t the same without live sports! Sometimes I get my sports fix by watching an old game or turning on an ESPN 30 for 30, but it’s just not the same. I know lots of people miss their coworkers. My daughter misses her school. Yes, she misses her school. There was a time, when she was in 8th grade, that she thought she wanted to change schools. She has gone to the same school since transitional kindergarten, and I get it…she thought she wanted to change. I think 8th grade is a time when kids want more independence and control. I took her to visit a couple of schools, and I let her make the decision. Sometimes kids need a change, and sometimes they just think they do. She decided to stay where she was, and earlier this school year, she told me she knew she made the right decision. She said, “I go to the perfect school for me.” It was like music to my ears! I think she just needed to know she had some control of her own destiny. In just two short years, she will be a proud graduate of her school, but right now, she misses her school…and her friends there…and her sports there…the staff there…her coaches…and yes, her teachers too.

I miss all that, but I really miss vacations. Our first couple of trips for summer have cancelled, simply because they were in coronavirus hotspots. I don’t know if I’ll even get on a plane this summer, and that’s heartbreaking, but yes, I know it’s a first world problem. I know. I am thankful my family is healthy. I am thankful we live in a place that we have been able to go outdoors during all this. But it’s OK if I miss vacations. We all have things we love that we are missing, and I’m missing vacations…new experiences…new people…even familiar experiences and people.

Sure, we are going to the beach a couple of times, and we will have lots of fun, but I will miss the bigger trips.

I have a vacation planned for the middle of July with a friend from college and our teenage daughters. We planned a trip to Puerto Rico months ago. My friend’s daughter just graduated from high school…she’s one of the the high school grads of 2020 who didn’t get to have a real graduation ceremony…or a prom…or lots of other special memories. When we planned the trip, coronavirus was barely on our minds, and while we haven’t worried about our trip, because it’s entirely out of our control, we are constantly saying to each other, “I hope we can go.”

My daughter and I went to Puerto Rico in 2017 with some friends from Ohio, and we loved it. As it turned out, Hurricane Maria hit the island a couple of weeks after we left. We know it’s not the same, but we want to go, because we know the people are wonderful. We know it’s a beautiful island with lots of friendly people, history, and great food. Honestly, I remember telling my friend, “I’d come back just for the food!” No joke…the food is the best! And the people! Without making this piece sound like an advertisement for Puerto Rico tourism, I can honestly say it is one of my favorite places ever. It’s easy to get to, and there are no long lines for customs and immigration, because it’s a US territory! The historical sites on the island are incredibly well-preserved. The beaches are beautiful. There’s a big city and a beautiful rainforest! The bioluminescent bays are natural wonders. And did I mention the people and the food?!?! I have met lovely people there, and they love their island; they want other people to love it too! To learn more about Puerto Rico, click here.

And now, we have plans to go back. We might not get to go to some of the destinations we wanted to visit this summer, but we’re holding out for Puerto Rico. Plus, their economy was ravaged by the hurricane in 2017…now this pandemic. Let’s support our friends in Puerto Rico!

Fingers crossed.

 

Quarantine: March 1985

March 1985.

Thirty-five years ago.

It was my senior year in high school, and as spring break approached, I was feeling miserable. My mother took me to see Dr. Mracek, our family physician, and he said those words no high school senior wants to hear, “I think you have mono.” You know…mononucleosis…also known as “the kissing disease,” because it’s easily transmitted between teenagers. It was the last thing I wanted to hear, because at the time, for a teenager, it was a death sentence for all activities. Of course, I felt so badly that I couldn’t go anywhere, anyway.

My throat hurt. My head hurt. I had no energy. The mono test came back positive, and the doctor told me to stay in my bedroom and only leave it to go to the bathroom and take a shower/bath. He told my mother to get me a good multivitamin and keep the rest of the family away from me. He told her to get paper plates and plasticware for me…and get me my own salt and pepper shakers. He didn’t want the rest of the family to catch it. And he told me to stay hydrated. He also instructed me to stay out of school till he told me it was OK to return. I think people worried a lot more about mono back then, because I see kids returning to normal activities much more quickly after being diagnosed now. My mother, being a registered nurse, followed the doctor’s orders to the letter. I stayed in my room, but I didn’t really have the energy to do anything else anyway.

At 17, I couldn’t believe it. It was my senior year of high school. I was missing a spring break beach trip. It meant I would be home on Friday nights to watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. While that would have sounded awesome a few years earlier, as a senior in high school, it sounded terrible. Interestingly, I remember seeing the debut of Mr. Belvedere, a sitcom starring Bob Uecker and others, but since my family always watched sports, Uecker is the one I remember from the show. Uecker is a former baseball player who is the broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers, but he is also known for some Miller Lite ads he made in the 80s, using the tag line “I must be in the front row!” I still use that line regularly, but no one knows what I’m talking about when I do.

My bout with mononucleosis is my only “quarantine” experience. After missing spring break and a week or two of school, I was slowly allowed to return to half days, then full days of school. Eventually, I resumed all normal activities. By summer, I was feeling normal, and I was able to go off to college in August of that year.

Interestingly, that time of “quarantine” is just a blip on my radar now. I don’t remember much about it. I know I was heartbroken to be separated from friends and missing school activities, but while I remember that, I don’t feel it.  I don’t feel any sadness in looking back on it. I don’t feel sad about what I missed because of it. I missed a few months of normal activities, but now, it doesn’t matter. In fact, I feel pretty sure I had gotten over the sadness by the time I started college that fall.

Now, March 1985 is a distant memory, and one day, March 2020 will be a distant memory too. Because this COVID-19 pandemic is being experienced by the whole country, we will likely remember it more clearly…and hopefully learn from it… but my hope is that, eventually, we, as a country, will recover…just like my bout with mononucleosis. It will be a much bigger blip on the radar of life, but eventually, it will be behind us.

There will be recovery time from this. Lots of people have lost their lives and/or family members. Lots of folks have lost businesses and jobs. Lots of us have lost lots of money. I certainly don’t mean to make light of that, but I think we all need to look out for each other. It’s devastating…but our country will recover.

***I’m saying daily prayers for those who are suffering with COVID-19. I know there are lots of sick and dying people out there, and I pray for them and their families.***