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

My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018, Part 3: Home

My Favorite Holiday Gifts for HOME 2018! I’m not bold enough to believe I know everything about holiday gifts, but I know some things I’m planning to give this year and some things that have been well-received over the year. We have covered Books and Women’s Accessories. I will be posting about different categories over the next few weeks: Men/Boys gifts, Travel, Stocking Stuffers, and Kids/Teens, but today is all about HOME gifts. Take a look at the wide assortment listed below…more than 20 possibilities…with prices from as low as $8.49.

Claus Porto Soaps. I can’t get enough of these. They make great gifts for anyone…and great stocking stuffers too! The presentation of these soaps is absolutely beautiful, and the scents are incredible! My personal favorite is the box of Gift Soaps, containing 15 small soaps from four of their lines. They are shea butter infused, so they smell beautiful and add moisture to skin! Larger gift boxes contain larger soaps, and wrappings are gorgeous. Prices start at $10 for single soaps. See them at Clausporto.com here.

 

Gifts for folks who entertain a lot. We all have friends who are fantastic hosts/hostesses. My friend who is always hosting parties at her home (she knows who she is) would love some Mario Luca Giusti Rainbow Milly Glasses I’ve seen at Neiman Marcus. They would be a great Christmas gift for her. (These are not meant as hostess gifts for having me over, but HOLIDAY gifts.) These glasses hold 10 ounces, and they’re made of acrylic! The color will brighten any gathering. Priced at $144 for a set of four, you can get them at Neiman Marcus here. Have a family recipe to share? Share it with your friend or family member via a Custom Recipe Paddle Board from Swoozie’s. Priced at $79.95, you can customize the board with a handwritten recipe…maybe Grandma’s Sour Cream Pound Cake? Maybe Mom’s Chicken and Dumplings? For more info, click here.

 

 

Bath and Body Works Candles. Who doesn’t love for their home to smell good? Right now, Bath and Body Works has their 3-wick holiday candles priced at $12.95! A great gift! My favorite is the Champagne Toast Scent.

Alexandra Von Furstenberg accents. I love Alexandra Von Furstenberg acrylic accent pieces. From small boxes to votives to frames, I love the color and the texture. I find lots of friends and family love to add some color in their homes here and there, and Furstenberg’s smaller pieces make lovely gifts. Frames start at $125 for a 6.25″ x 6.25″ frame, and go up from there, depending on the size. A 7″ x 7″ valet tray starts at $155, while votives start at $165, and bud vases start at $220.

 

Dodow. Lots of folks regularly post on Facebook about their insomnia. I understand. It’s terrible. After talking with a few people about it, this contraption called Dodow sounds like it could be a big help! According to its website, this light metronome actually “retrains your brain to fall asleep — while it mesmerizes you to sleep!” If you have someone on your Christmas list who has trouble falling asleep, they will love you for getting them this! Prices start at $59, and it can be purchased from Amazon here.

dodow-lp-s1-07-01b

Tiffany and Co. Home Gifts. Contrary to popular belief, Tiffany and Co. offers a lovely assortment of home gifts that won’t break the budget, but they still come in a lovely Tiffany blue box and bow. The Elsa Peretti Collection offers heart decorative boxes, starting at $75 for clear glass, and $95 for red leather. Another favorite at a good price is the Elsa Peretti Wave Jewelry Box in red or green leather, priced at $125. Shop Elsa Peretti at Tiffany and Co. here.

 

Canvaschamp.com. I’m a fan of Canvaschamp.com, because I think a photo canvas makes a great gift for most anyone. My mother always just wanted pics of the family for Christmas every year. Canvaschamp.com will also turn any photo you have into a Warhol-style canvas. Just upload the photo, and they will email you a draft. Prices start at about $20. See it here.img_8275

Skylight Frame. I suggested this as a Mother’s Day gift, as well. According to their website, the Skylight Frame is a digital touch screen 10″ photo frame that displays your digital photos and can be updated remotely via email. It promises “clarity, color, and brilliance.” Each frame has its own email address, so you can update the photos anytime from anywhere. This would be a great gift for just about anyone! Priced at $159, I think it is a great gift (hint, hint). Get more information and purchase the Skylight Frame here. 

Skylight-Plus-at-Home-resized_600x800

Long Distance Friendship Lamp. These are just awesomeness. If my child were away at college, I would definitely get these partner lamps. Purchase one for yourself and one for your best friend or loved one who lives far away. When you touch the lamp to adjust the hue in your home, it adjusts your friend’s lamp as well, letting them know you’re thinking of them! I love it, because I think it’s important for us to let folks know when we think of them. Priced from $85 to $170 at Uncommongoods.com here.

friendship-lamp-1100x550

Neiman Marcus Shopping Ladies Mug. I know some folks hate mugs as gifts, but I love them, especially these, featuring shopping ladies. I get Neiman Marcus holiday mugs every year, so I have an odd collection, but these are some of the best ever! Priced at just $15 each, pair with a favorite coffee, and they make great small gifts for friends and neighbors. Order here.

NMHBMGZ_ez

Instant Pot. These are not your mother’s pressure cookers! I have friends who swear by them, while I’m still learning how to use mine. That roast I cook in the Crockpot for 8 hours? It cooks in an hour in the Instant Pot, and it’s as tender as if it had simmered for hours. It’s the wave of the future! Look online for deals, especially at Amazon.com. You can purchase here.

th-6

Neiman Marcus Holiday Platter. You can’t have too many platters if you entertain. The Annual Neiman Marcus Holiday Platters feature different designs and colors every year, and they are heavy and well-made. I’m not a “collector” per se, but I get one every year for myself. They make great gifts for friends. Add a dozen holiday cookies or brownies…a lovely, thoughtful gift! Priced at $35, it won’t break the bank. Order from Neiman Marcus online, and pay a little extra for the gift wrapping. You’ll be glad you did. Order here.

NMHBFFD_mz

Weighted Blanket. A-maz-ing. Weighted blankets have been proven to help users sleep. The weight of the blanket has a calming effect. Have a friend or family member who has difficulty falling asleep? This could change their lives. There are lots of different ones out there, but the only one I’ve ever used is the Calming Comfort Weighted blanket, which you can purchase here. Prices start at $129. I’m getting one for my husband for Christmas. Other brands can be purchased through Amazon.com.

art_1_2000x_ac7ce0b5-7e2d-4e58-a143-30937c5d7ba9_2000x.jpg

T-Fal Preseasoned Cast Iron Skillet. Most folks raised in the south know the value of a perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. You can’t make true southern fried chicken or cornbread without a good cast iron skillet. Many of us have fought to get our mother’s or our grandmother’s cast iron skillet. It makes a great gift for anyone who likes to cook, but make sure you give them directions on how to care for it…and maybe a few recipes too. Prices start at $15 at Amazon. Purchase here.

91xJcZ3zi8L._SL1500_

Airportag.comRather than pick one item from this awesome website, I am listing the whole website. Great for the aviation enthusiasts in your life, there are so many customizable products. Personalized boarding pass-style pillows, mugs, shirts, comforters, totes, luggage tags, and many more…they have it all for the folks who love planes and trains. Look up items by item type, airline, airport…whatever you choose…even defunct carriers! Prices start under $5 for stickers and go up from there. Boarding Pass and Airport Throw Pillow Set shown, $95. Shop Airportag.com here.

boarding-pass-airports_2000x

Bluebird of Happiness. When my mother died last December, I wondered about some pretty little glass bluebirds on a table in her house. After asking some questions, I found the person who had given them to her…an old family friend. I sent the birds to the friend, but because I liked that they symbolized happiness, I ordered some for myself. I’ve also found they make lovely gifts. Sure, we can’t actually give someone happiness, but we can offer them the Bluebird of Happiness. Prices start at $8.49. Purchase directly from the studio where they are made here. Take a look around at other items they offer…lots of great gifts: Dragon’s Eggs, Wise Owls, Blue Bubbles of Happiness, and more.

Glass Cardinal Paperweight. Speaking of birds, I’ll offer this suggestion too. My family always said cardinals that flew into our yards or near our windows were visits from family members who had passed. I have a red cardinal on my nightstand representing my mother. I am get one of these paperweights to represent my daddy, as well. And this Christmas, friends and family who have lost loved ones will likely receive them as small gifts from me. They’re pretty, and for me, they’re comforting. Plus, they’re inexpensive. Priced at $11.47 and with free shipping, it’s a way to remember a lost loved one at the holidays. Get them at Amazon here.

61L+2y01yoL._SL1000_

Unique Planters. Lots of folks love gardening…even me! My friend, Michelle, in Fairhope, Alabama, owns Corner Copia Gardens Nursery Center and Gifts, where she sells plants and has a lovely gift shop too! Many times, when I see pictures she posts from her gift shop, I wish I could run in and buy a few things. Alas, I’ll have to wait till I can get there, but if you live in the greater metropolitan Mobile (Alabama) area, it’s worth a drive. She often has lovely “head planters” that look great with succulents planted in them, and I love when she posts photos of Air Plant Jellies she sells. See her facebook page here. The phone number is there, or send her a message about any gift ideas.

 

Whew! There you have it! Lots of HOME gifts in lots of different price ranges and for lots of different people…gardeners, hostesses, sports fans, cooks, moms, teens, dads…something for everyone!

***NEXT TIME: Gifts for Men/Boys.***

*