“Cheater” Charcuterie Boards

“Cheater” charcuterie boards.

Charcuterie boards have become popular over the last few years. Anyone who has not been living in a cave knows that. I became absolutely obsessed with creating them a little over a year ago, and I have made lots of different ones with lots of different ingredients.

Sometimes, I want to have people over and serve charcuterie, but I don’t have time to shop for it! What to do? I do what I call a “cheater charcuterie board.” I order from a business in Charlotte that will deliver charcuterie boxes and/or boards to my home with lots of fantastic, locally-sourced ingredients. I was having a crazy week a couple of months ago, but we had friends coming over on a Friday night. I wanted to serve charcuterie, but I didn’t have time to go to the store beforehand. So I searched online with “charcuterie boards, Charlotte,” and I found Off the Block Charcuterie. (If you live in another city, simply search online for “{your city}, charcuterie.” to find something similar in your area.) After perusing the Off the Block website, not only did it appear they offer quality ingredients, but I also discovered they would deliver to my home for no additional charge! Score! And I quickly placed an order.

I ordered their Large Signature Box, which features a selection of North Carolina sourced cheeses and meats plus house-roasted nuts, house-made crackers, and seasonal items. I have now ordered it several times, and the cheese have been plentiful…and included my personal favorites of bleu cheese, brie, and goat cheese. If you don’t like those cheeses, you can specify when you order. The meats have included prosciutto and other cured options. And the seasonal items have been olives, blackberries, orange slices, strawberries, raspberries, figs, and dried apricots…different items on different dates. I have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been absolutely delighted every time I have ordered, and the lady who has delivered to us is lovely. The Large Signature Box is $65, and it serves 5-6 people appetizers. We tend to use it for three or four of us as a meal with wine. Let me mention here that the price also includes the delivery to my home! It’s a bargain!

When the box arrives (on time, every time!) I get out one of my own beautiful charcuterie boards and arrange the items how I want them arranged, and I even add a few of my own favorite items from my own pantry: praline pecans, salted caramel chocolate pieces, and various crackers. (My favorite crackers are Blue Diamond Nut Thins…I usually get the artisan flavors and the almond thins.) Don’t worry. I don’t try to pass everything off as my own. I always own up to the fact that I created a cheater charcuterie board, but everyone enjoys it. I usually wait until I get a compliment on the fresh items on the board, and that’s when I say, “I have to admit it’s what I call a ‘cheater’ board, because I didn’t gather the ingredients myself…”

But that’s not all Off the Block Charcuterie offers. They also offer vegan and vegetarian boards, caviar boxes, crudité boxes, charcuterie cups, and more! At Easter, I ordered a special board from them that included cookies from Honeybear Bakeshop cookies that were fantastic! To see Off the Block’s website, click here. I’m definitely ordering for Easter…and I plan to have quite a few add-ons…maybe some caviar and chocolate.

Everything we have had delivered from Off the Block Charlotte has been outstanding, and every guest has given it rave reviews! Even our very picky teenage daughter loves them. If you would like to assemble your own cheater charcuterie board or would like to order a pre-arranged board full of locally-sourced, delicious, high quality ingredients, place your order now, and they will bring it to your home (in Charlotte) at a time you select! Serve it all with your choice of wine, and voila! You have delicious appetizers or a delicious dinner…however you choose to serve it. We have ordered so many times now that I told our delivery lady yesterday we need to invite her over for drinks one weekend.

Cheers!

***I mentioned my “beautiful” charcuterie boards above. When I say I have beautiful boards, I mean they are gorgeous. A family friend I have known for 45 years retired recently, and he is making charcuterie boards by hand. He makes them from different types of wood and finishes them in FDA-approved finishes, so they are food safe. Seriously, I get compliments on them every time I use one. If you’re interested in one, contact me at kellymattei@msn.com for more information. Photos below. ***

***Again, to see the website for Off the Block Charlotte, click here.***

Senior Prom

Senior Prom.

It’s a tradition that has been popular in the United States since the 1930s. For those who didn’t know, “prom” is short for “promenade,” which is defined as “the formal, introductory parading of guests at a party,” according to mentalfloss.com. I know proms were definitely popular by the 1950s, because my own mother, whose nickname was “Doll” because she was so tiny, was a prom queen at her high school in Alabama. I remember my own high school proms in the 1980s with fond memories. And now, it’s time for our daughter to go to her senior prom.

Our daughter was lucky to even have a prom last year. The previous two years, prom was cancelled because of…you guessed it, COVID. But last year, when our daughter was a junior, our school made a real effort, even in the middle of a mask mandate, to make sure our kids had a prom. (If I ever complain about our school, I need to also remember how hard they tried to make things better for the kids during COVID.) It was outdoors. I didn’t get to see it in person, of course, because here in Charlotte, parents don’t go to the “lead out” like they do in some areas. I am actually glad about that…no offense to those who do…but I don’t feel like I have any business at my daughter’s prom. We go take photos at a club or someone’s house beforehand with a group, and groups of couples go to dinner before going to the actual prom. That’s the norm here, and that’s what they did last year. The kids were so excited to feel somewhat “normal” again last year, and our daughter and her beau had a great time and made lovely photos and lasting memories.

This year, things are much more normal. They are gathering for photos and dinner beforehand and going to an actual indoor prom! So exciting! I’m just thankful she is having a “normal” senior prom. She’ll make memories just like we did back in the 1980s…except there won’t be as much hairspray as there was in the 80s. They will take lots more photos than we did, because they have smartphones. They might even take some silly videos or make some TikToks. In fact, in 2022, the girls won’t have big hair, but the boys will. The dresses will be more revealing now than they were in the 80s…back when we covered our bodies in as much fabric as possible. I still don’t know how we got dates wearing all the baggy clothes we wore. Wow…it has been a long time since my senior prom. They will have fun, I’m sure, but really…the prom itself is just the excuse to get dressed up, get photos, and go to a party afterward, I think. They just enjoy being together…just like we did back in the 80s…so that’s still the same.

I hope they will remember to stop and take mental notes throughout the evening…just enjoy the moment. It’s a memorable occasion. Everyone who goes to prom remembers it. They might not remember lots of details, but everyone will remember who they went to prom with. They will remember what they wore. They might remember where they had dinner. They will even remember some funny things that happen. Because it’s an emotionally-charged night, it’s a memory that gets imbedded in their long-term memories. I’ve written before that I learned a lot about long-term and short-term memory when my husband had brain surgery. Big emotional events land in our long-term memory, because of the emotions attached to them. It’s why we remember where we were when someone dies. It’s why we remember where we were when we fell in love.

It’s not just a big night for the students, though. The senior prom marks the end of an era for parents too. Since my husband and I have just one child, this is the end of the high school line for us. And it’s the first time our daughter has ever trusted me to pick a dress for her. That’s a memory in itself!

I hope they all have a great time. I hope they all have a safe night and make good decisions. I hope they make some great memories to look back on when they’re my age. I hope they’ll enjoy this big event together, because these seniors will be going in different directions soon. Many of them have been in school together since they were four or five years old. Life is changing! Those little kindergarten students I remember from 2009 are finishing their stint at their independent school and moving on to college…many in different states!

Good times…senior prom.

Now I’m Getting Nervous

Now I’m getting nervous…

It’s no secret that I have been looking forward to my daughter’s high school graduation. She has been at the same independent school since she was four years old, so she really thinks she is ready for graduation. Plus, she is an only child, so when she graduates and goes off to college, we become empty-nesters. We start a new phase of our lives. It’s a phase we are excited about.

And up until now, I’ve been nothing but excited. I have been looking forward to summer vacations. I have been excited about how much she is going to love college. I have been looking forward to the adventures my husband and I will have…traveling to different places…the possibility of living somewhere else (not right away, of course, because we know our daughter needs to be able to come back home during her freshman year). There’s a lot to look forward to.

But earlier today, I was talking with a friend whose only child, a daughter, is a sophomore in college, and she gave me a warning, “No matter what you think right now, you are going to miss that girl when she goes to college.” And it hit me. She’s right. I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss her like crazy. We have been together almost every single day of her life. Soon, she will be leaving me behind. I’m happy for her, but now I’m nervous for me. It’s uncharted territory for me.

I wrote recently about how I have one job. I’m a mom. And that has been my one job for eighteen years. But now that’s about to change. I’m not officially being “fired” from that job, but the job description is going to change. She won’t need me daily; frankly, she probably hasn’t needed me daily for a long time. However, once she goes off to college several hundred miles away, I will likely go months without seeing her in person or giving her a hug! She will be fine. I’m worried about me.

God prepares us for this. As they grow up, kids gradually become more independent. Even in elementary school, they start going to friends houses without us. They go to sleepovers with friends. And then, before they can drive, we drop them off at places to meet friends regularly. Then, they learn to drive, and everything changes. As soon as our daughter turned 16, she was off to the races…we hardly saw her anymore, because she had the freedom to move around the city at will. Four months after she got her license, though, COVID hit. Because she couldn’t spend as much time with friends, she did a lot of driving around. She even invited me to go for drives with her. We looked for places to drive around…sometimes just driving around town, and other times driving into South Carolina to see what it looked like when states started to re-open during the pandemic. South Carolina opened way before North Carolina did, and we drove around looking at the lines outside restaurants!

Because teenagers are social creatures, we were not particularly strict about the COVID restrictions. She needed to see her friends. She needed to spend time socializing, so we let her. I joked that she spent the summer of 2020 trying to catch COVID but never caught it. I felt sure she would bring it home to me and my husband during those first few crucial months, but we never got it. Actually, I did have it in late January of this year, but I didn’t get it from my daughter.

Pandemic restrictions lifted, and school eventually went back to “normal.” She has been going to school dances and sporting events. Her social life has resumed in full force. She is hardly ever home, but we usually see her for at least a few minutes a day. Lots of times, I don’t even know when she will be home after lacrosse practice.

And now, she is taking another step toward independence…and so are we! We are going to have lots of free time on our hands. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be fun. But even while we are having fun, I’m sure I will miss our little girl who’s not so little anymore. She is three inches taller than I am and ready to face the world. We just have to get ourselves ready to face the world in a different way…and really, that’s the scary part. I’m going to have to reinvent myself!

Yes, God prepares us by making their independence gradual…so gradual that we hardly notice till they’re ready to fly the coop! And now it’s almost here…

Once we get her to college, we plan to take a nice, relaxing vacation to “celebrate” our new status as empty nesters. Hopefully, we embrace the freedom…

The future is bright!

Snow in the South!

Snow in the south!

I received a notification that snow might be in the forecast for Charlotte next weekend. And when I say “snow,” I don’t mean flurries like we’ve had a couple of times this winter. I mean real snow might be headed our way. Some folks speculate it’s just the dairy farmers putting out false info, because they know southerners will rush to the grocery store and buy milk and bread before the storm arrives. I choose to think…to hope, even…that it will happen.

If you grew up in the northern United States, snow is no big deal to you. In fact, it’s likely more of an annoyance to you. You don’t remember your first snow, because it was there every winter…year after year.

I remember my first snow.

The year was 1973, and I lived in Brewton, Alabama. I was five. Back then, we didn’t have 24-hour news. Kids didn’t have as much access to constant news, and in some ways, that was a good thing. We weren’t afraid of our shadows like so many people are today. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. And I went to bed February 8, 1973, completely unaware of the possibility of snow. I’m sure my parents watched the 10:00 news that night and likely had some idea of what was about to happen, but I knew nothing. I had never seen snow, and it would never have occurred to me that it would snow in Brewton.

On the morning of February 9, 1973, my mother came into my room and woke me up, telling me, “Get up and look out the window!” I had no idea why I was looking out the window….a new puppy? friends were visiting? what could it be? And much to my surprise, the ground was covered in glorious snow! I can still remember the excitement I felt. It was possibly the most excitement I had ever felt up to that point in my life!  We could hardly wait to get outside!

But here’s the real shocker: when all was said and done, we had about six inches of snow on the ground in Brewton, Alabama! If you don’t know, Brewton is located in southern Alabama, near the Florida line. Aside from that time, I don’t know that Brewton has ever had so much snow. Any amount of snow is rare there. That snowstorm came to be called The Great Southeastern Snowstorm of 1973! You can read about it here and here.

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A childhood friend, Cindy Finlay, in the snow in Brewton, Alabama, 1973

We didn’t own sleds. We didn’t own snow boots. We didn’t own winter gloves. We didn’t own those things, because we had never needed them! But that didn’t deter us. Fortunately, we did have winter coats, so underneath them, we layered on our warmest clothes and doubled up our socks before pulling on our sneakers. We pulled two socks onto each hand, and off we went…into the wild white yonder! Y’all, no one was ever more excited to see snow than I was on that February day!

It seems like we played all day. We built a snowman. We made snow angels. We threw snowballs at each other. We ran through the snow a lot. Our noses ran. Our faces stung. Our hands and feet hurt. But we had the best time ever.

When we realized our hands and feet were numb, we would go inside and take off our shoes and socks (the ones on our hands and feet) and place them in front of the space heater in the den, so they would warm up and dry. Mother would put some of the layers of clothing in the dryer, and after a cup of hot cocoa, we would pull on all those layers and those warm sneakers and go back out to play. At some point, one of us placed our sneakers a little too close to the space heater and melted the rubber sole of the shoes…an interesting odor.

I don’t have any pictures from that day, but I have pictures in my mind. Cameras weren’t everywhere like they are these days. It seems like we might have posed for a photo or two, and maybe one day, I’ll find photos in a box I brought back from Mother’s house. But for now, I can only imagine how comical we must have looked in those layers of clothes with socks on our hands. One thing I know for sure is that all the kids in our neighborhood (and the whole town) were thrilled! The Great Southeastern Snowstorm of 1973 created some great memories for us!

As an adult, I moved to Charlotte, but when I moved here at age 33, I had never gone sledding. The first winter I lived here, though, I finally got to go sledding with the neighborhood kids. And after our daughter was born, it snowed a lot the winter after she was born (2004), but we didn’t have another good snow for a few years.

When she was in 4-yr-old preschool, her teacher, Mrs. Sadow, told her that if she wanted it to snow, she needed to sleep with her pajamas inside out, put a spoon under her pillow, and flush ice cubes (or ice cream) down the toilet. We usually save those rituals for the night before snow is predicted to arrive, so if snow is in the forecast later in the week, you can bet your sweet bippy we will practice all those rituals the night before it’s supposed to arrive!

We are prepared for it now. Living in North Carolina, snow happens a little more often than it does in Brewton, Alabama, so we have snow boots, parkas, gloves, hats and most importantly, sleds!

Nobody loves a snow day like a southerner loves a snow day!

A Holiday Village

A holiday village.

Today started as a a standard Saturday morning. I got up at about 8:30 and prepared breakfast. OK, so I don’t do that every Saturday, but I should. Our daughter had a 10am lacrosse game, so I wanted to make sure she had plenty of energy…scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, and “special” toast. (I’ll post info about that later.)

After breakfast, she got dressed quickly and left for the field. After loading the dishwasher, I slapped on a little makeup and threw on some comfy yoga pants and a sweatshirt before going to the field with my husband. The girls won their game, and we all headed home.

As soon as our daughter got home at about 11:25, she told me she needed to get cleaned up before going to a Secret Santa party, but she had to stop and purchase a gift on the way. I felt my pulse quicken and my blood pressure rising, because I knew she would have to drive 20 minutes to the party. There was no way she could pull it all off.

I asked her, “Do you want me to run to a boutique and get a gift? You could stop by there on your way to the party and get it from me.” She agreed that was a good plan, and I was off to the boutique…showerless and in the same yoga pants/hoodie I had worn to the lacrosse game…clothes I shouldn’t have even worn to a Saturday morning sporting event, and I definitely shouldn’t have worn them to a boutique. But there was no time to change. I had planned to take a shower after the game, but that could wait.

I arrived at the boutique and immediately found a gift. Just as I was taking it up to pay for it and get it wrapped, a friend of my daughter’s walked in. I knew she was shopping for the same party, and she knew why I was there. She then very graciously offered to take the gift to the party so my daughter wouldn’t have to make an extra stop. Wow! Things were coming together!

When I got back to my car, I called my daughter and told her she could go straight to the party, because her friend was taking her gift.

My morning had not gone as planned, but disaster had been averted! It had taken a village, but it had all worked out. Of course, as a mom, I was the only one who still needed a shower.

I posted about it on Facebook, and one friend said, “Kinda makes you worry that she’ll be fine on her own at college next year, doesn’t it?” Indeed, it does. But I can’t get too crazy about it, because I was the same person at 18. And I went off to college, and somehow, things worked out.

I was lucky I found a supportive village in college pretty quickly. I made great lifelong friends, and I’m sure they can all tell stories of rescuing me in different situations, just like I can tell stories of rescuing them in different situations. That’s how bonds form, right? And it’s how memories are made in college. Every time I spend time with friends from colleges, we talk about shared experiences…and often the stories involve disasters we averted!

It made me realize that next year at this time, our daughter will be having Secret Santa parties at her university. And I find myself hoping she finds a good village there…a holiday village that helps her…and a village in which she will help others. When she needs that last-minute gift and can’t get it, I hope someone will jump into action for her. And when a member of her village needs help carrying lots of boxes from the parking lot to her dorm room, my daughter will help her. It’s what makes friendships.

We all need villages to help us raise our kids. I thank the Lord every day for the village that helped me get our daughter to 18. I talk often about how I don’t know how I would have survived without my friends in our toddler playgroup. They have been a part of my village for a long time. We all need villages to help us with those last-minute items. We need villages when we’re sick. And yes, we especially need villages during the holidays…like the one my daughter had today.

I hope when she gets to college hundreds of miles away from me, she finds her village.

A Visit.

A Visit.

This past weekend, I took a whirlwind trip to a college football game. When I say whirlwind trip, I mean I barely felt like my feet were on the ground between flights. But we crammed a lot of fun into a short stay. And yes, my team won.

On the return flight, I was the first to board. I always like to board as early as possible. I don’t know why…it’s just who I am. As the plane filled up, I noticed a gentleman boarding who reminded me of my daddy. He was tall with white hair…much like my daddy. I lost my daddy 15 years ago to pancreatic cancer, and on very rare occasions, I “see” him somewhere…I see someone who looks like him walking across a parking lot or in the background of photos. This particular gentleman ended up sitting in the row in front of me on the flight; it’s the first time I’ve been seated behind someone who reminds me of Daddy. If you’ve lost a loved one, you might know it’s interesting to see someone who resembles the person you’ve lost. I found myself looking at the back of his head a lot during the flight. It didn’t make me sad. Quite the opposite…it made me happy…made me feel a little comforted. It made me think Daddy was saying “hi” to me.

The flight was uneventful, and then we landed in Charlotte. As soon as we landed, the gentleman made a phone call. I don’t know if it was his wife or his daughter. I preferred to think it was his daughter, but it was probably his wife. I don’t know what had occurred, but he listened for a minute and then calmly responded with, “OK. You’re fine. Stop worrying about it. It’s over.” He had a calming voice, much like my daddy’s, and his southern accent sounded like Daddy’s too. He responded that way several times, “Let it go. It’s over.” I remember hearing my own dad say those very words to me many times in my life. When I was in college and I finished an exam that I thought didn’t go well, I would call him, and tell him. And he would always respond, very calmly, “Stop worrying about it. It’s over.” Or he might say, “Stop worrying about something you can’t change. It’s over now. You’re wasting your energy.” Even after a car accident, when I was trying to replay the events that led up to it, he would say, “Let it go. It’s over.” Seriously, hearing the gentleman on the phone last night really made me think of Daddy. If I had been worried about something at the time, I’d have thought Daddy was trying to send me a message. Maybe he was sending me a message about a future worry?

The gentleman ended his call with an “I love you,” and soon thereafter, we arrived at our gate. We all stood up to retrieve our carry-on bags from the overhead bins, and I found myself standing directly behind him while we waited to deplane. He and another gentleman started talking, and “the” gentleman revealed that he was traveling to Minneapolis. He said he had started his day in 87-degree weather, and when he arrived in Minneapolis, it would be 27 degrees. He also revealed that he enjoys traveling to Minneapolis and started talking about the food there. I don’t remember the particulars of everything he was saying about the food. I just remember that it reminded me of Daddy. When he traveled, he talked to people and learned about the city he visited. This gentleman was sharing little facts about the Swedish influence in Minneapolis, and he also revealed that everything he eats in Minneapolis is served with wild rice. Apparently, lots of wild rice is grown in the state of Minnesota…something I didn’t know before…and one of those facts Daddy would have picked up in his travels.

As weird as it sounds, I enjoyed the little bit of time that I felt like I was in the presence of my dad. I know it wasn’t Daddy. I’m not crazy. There’s just something a little reassuring about hearing a similar voice saying something Daddy would have said.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re familiar with pancreatic cancer because a family member or friend has it or had it, I’m sorry. It’s a terrible, deadly disease that gets very little research funding. If you’d like to make a donation to an organization that works to support those who have pancreatic cancer and their families, please consider donating to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Thursday, November 18, is World Pancreatic Cancer Day, and the organization will be hosting an online event, sharing the latest information on advances in research and treatment. You can see the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website here. Please consider donating to this worthy cause.

And on November 18, please consider wearing purple in support of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness. I will wear purple in memory of my Daddy.

The King’s Kitchen

The King’s Kitchen.

Yesterday, I met a friend for lunch in Uptown Charlotte. We had been trying to get together for some time, but something always came up. I have a daughter who is a senior in high school, and my friend has three kids…real life sometimes just gets in the way of fun. But we didn’t give up. This friend is one of those friends who “fills my cup,” so it is important to me to make time to see her. She and I had totally different upbringings in different cultures, but we share a bond. We truly enjoy each other.

The last time we were able to have lunch together, we met at a restaurant in the SouthPark area of Charlotte. I remember it well, because she called me before she arrived and told me her zipper had broken in her dress, and she had no idea how she could walk into the restaurant to meet me. I said, “Well, I have a ‘pleather’ Top Gun jacket in my car you could put on over your dress, if if wouldn’t embarrass you.” The jacket is a costume piece I purchased for an event earlier this year, and I just happened to have it in my car. She laughed and said that, if I would bring the jacket to her at her car, she would be happy to wear it just so we could dine together! Who knew a Top Gun pleather jacket could look so good with a yellow dress?! We are a lot alike in that we are low maintenance with a good sense of humor. We laughed and laughed about that pleather jacket!

I had picked the restaurant last time, so this time, it was her turn. Apparently, she did her research and ultimately picked The King’s Kitchen. I had dined there a few times before, but it had been a while. They serve southern cuisine, so I was excited she picked it!

She found better parking than I did when she arrived, so she got there a few minutes early and already had a table when I arrived. We gave each other big hugs, and she had a bottle of Contesse Prosecco waiting…and two glasses waiting, ready to be filled!

And when we started talking, we talked about the restaurant. I knew it was a nonprofit started by Jim Noble (he has outstanding restaurants in North Carolina), and I knew it had some sort of outreach ministry for the homeless. What I didn’t know is that Mr. Noble is an ordained minister and holds a Bible study for the homeless (and I suppose, anyone else who’d like attend) in the restaurant. So if you are so inclined, you can fill up in two ways at The King’s Kitchen…nutritionally and spiritually. Additionally, all the profits from the restaurant go to feed the homeless in the area. But the outreach doesn’t stop there. According to the restaurant’s website, they work with local ministries to “provide job training, life-skills training, social etiquette workshops, financial management guidance, and employment intern opportunities to Charlotteans in search of a new beginning.” Indeed, our server, a lovely young lady, told us she had been homeless for several years. Wow. See the website for The King’s Kitchen here.

As it turns out, when my friend was searching for the perfect place for us to meet, she called the restaurant and asked some questions. When she learned about the outreach ministry for the homeless, she knew we needed to go there. Her oldest son, William, has Down Syndrome, and he and the family organize “William’s Walk” every year in uptown Charlotte. They have a food drive and symbolic walk to benefit Loaves and Fishes and Second Harvest Food Bank around Thanksgiving. This year, the walk is on November 24th, and this year’s walk marks their 20th Annual William’s Walk. For more information, click here. They are accepting food donations now and would love to have lots of participants in the walk! Helping the homeless is a cause near and dear to my friend’s heart.

I should probably mention we had a lovely meal together at The King’s Kitchen. The menu is a la carte. We both ordered the salmon and a side of sauteed spinach, and I ordered an additional order of pan corn for us to share. For dessert, she ordered the chocolate torte cake to take home to her son, and I ordered banana pudding, mostly because I can’t make a good banana pudding myself. When desserts arrived, I offered to share my banana pudding, but she told me she doesn’t eat pudding. I told her I wasn’t going to push her, but banana pudding is a southern delicacy that isn’t the same as other puddings. Growing up in Jamaica and New York, she didn’t have a lot of opportunity to try a good banana pudding. She finally tried it and loved it!

And the bonus? We even got to sit in on a little bit of the Bible study…led by Jim Noble himself! There were quite a few people in attendance…one gentleman I had met earlier when I was looking for parking. Since my friend and I had to exit early from the Bible study, we gave each other nods of recognition as I passed him.

It was a lovely way to spend lunch with a good friend…and help the homeless too.

***cover photo: kingskitchen.org

Moms Stick Together

Moms stick together.

My daughter, a senior in high school, was just accepted to my alma mater, and we have paid the enrollment deposit. Next fall, she will be attending a university that is 450 miles away from home…450 miles away from us! But thinking about it doesn’t cause me great stress, for a number of reasons. One reason is that we live in Charlotte, a hub city for American Airlines. We can hop on one of five or six daily flights and be by her side pretty quickly. Another reason? I’m familiar with the surroundings there; there is some comfort in familiarity. The main reason? I know lots of people who live pretty close to the university who can act quickly to help her if needed. There is a lot of comfort in that.

Last Friday, at a high school football game, I was chatting with the mother of another senior, and she told me her son is interested in the same school, but they are hesitant for him to go there, because it’s so far away! A six or seven hour drive! I reminded her that we can be there quickly on American Airlines. And then I told her what every mom really wants to hear: I have lots of friends in the area who can be there to help with just one phone call, and I’m happy to make introductions. Moms like to know their college-age kids have someone to help them if they need it. Sure, they’ll be eighteen years old, but people need support systems…even at my age, I need a support system. When I told my friend that I know other moms and dads there who will be happy to help, I could see her relax. “Really? That makes me feel so much better,” she said.

One thing I’ve learned from being a mother for the last almost-18-years is that moms have to support each other. We have to stick together. We have to help each other.

Three years ago, my friend, Wendy, passed away after a long battle with various forms of cancer. I had met Wendy through a toddler playgroup right after my daughter turned one. Today is her 50th birthday, so I’ve had her on my mind. I posted something on Instagram and on Facebook about her birthday, and all our playgroup moms commented. One of them sent a text saying, “Thinking of Wendy today and that always makes me think of you all and the playgroup that saved my life and enriched my girls’ childhood. Love you all.” And she wasn’t exaggerating. We were all first-time moms when we met, and we truly saved each other. We started as a weekly playgroup but went on to become best friends, support systems, confidantes…we saved each other, for sure. With toddlers, life can be lonely, but our weekly playgroup turned into friendship so strong that we gathered almost daily. It saved our sanity and gave our kids a support group too!

All our kids went on to different preschools, kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. They’ll probably all go to different colleges. But along the way, they’ve always known that core playgroup was rooting for them. They might not get together regularly, but they’re still friends. They know who they really are. They know their childhood would not have been the same without each other. And along the way, the playgroup moms have added other support systems, but we still know we have each other…no matter what.

I know our kids have learned a lot from us (and vice versa), but I hope that, along the way, they learned the importance of finding and maintaining a good support system. They saw their moms supporting each other, propping each other up when it was needed. I like to think they know that, no matter where they are in college, if they need someone to call, they can always call one of the playgroup moms. They can even call one of the playgroup kids…the ones who are almost adults now. And I hope they share that support system with other people who need it.

Don’t we all feel like that mom who is concerned about her son being 450 miles away without a support system? Don’t we all like to know there is someone we can call or someone our children can call in an emergency, or if they just need to talk with someone?

Two weeks ago, a college friend I haven’t seen in years texted me, telling me she was afraid her teenage son might be stranded in the Charlotte Airport and asking me about hotels near the airport. There is no way I would have let her teenage son go to a hotel, and I’m sure she knew that, but she didn’t want to impose. I texted her back, saying, “I don’t live too far from the airport. If he is stranded, call me, and I will bring him to our house for the night.” Another friend in Ohio had called me two weeks before that, asking if I could pick up an Ohio friend’s daughter at the airport and keep her for the night if she missed her connection. Of course I could! I was flattered to be asked! And you know why?!?! Because I want to be part of someone’s support system. I certainly would have called on those friends to help my daughter if needed!

So yes, we moms have to stick together…especially the moms of high school seniors who are preparing to go off to college. I’m putting it out there now: if your child is going to college in or near Charlotte, put me on your list of people to call in an emergency. I’ll always help.

Serendipity

Serendipity.

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Birmingham, Alabama, with my daughter and a friend. We flew out of Charlotte on a Wednesday night and flew back Thursday afternoon. We were visiting a college. On the return flight, I traded seats with my daughter’s friend, so they could sit together. Often, I dread finding out who is sitting next to me on flights…someone who is coughing, someone who has body odor, someone who brought their own smelly food onto the flight…but this time, I was lucky. As soon as I saw my seatmate, I knew she was cool.

And I was right. We started talking before takeoff, and we didn’t stop chatting till we got off the plane. She was a cute little pregnant lady (in her 30s), and as luck would have it, we have friends in common! She went to high school with my next door neighbor’s children, and I even know her aunt and uncle! When we landed in Charlotte, we parted ways. I texted our friends in common and told them how cute she is, and I followed her podcast Instagram (@itssportssis). She and her sister have a sports podcast…very cool. I’ve listened to one episode, but I need to listen to more…these chicks are pretty awesome.

Today, I met a couple of friends at Cafe Monte (it’s a personal favorite; see the website here) in Charlotte for brunch. One friend we hadn’t seen in a while, because she moved to High Point, but she was in town, so we got together and chatted for a couple of hours. When we stood up to leave, I turned around and saw a familiar face at the table behind me…my friend, Sarah…the one from the plane! The one with the podcast! Yes, I called her my friend, because I think of her as a friend now.

What luck! I like to call it “serendipity,” which is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” It was complete luck that I met her on the flight after trading seats with my daughter’s friend…and it was complete luck that I ran into her again today…serendipity.

We chatted for a little while, and I told her I hoped she hadn’t come down with the stomach bug that had fallen on my family after that Birmingham trip. She said she had been fine, so we decided my daughter and her friend must have caught it from someone they sat near on the flight. My husband caught it from my daughter, so we know it was contagious and not something they had eaten. I then introduced Sarah to one of the friends I’d just brunched with. I pointed out to them that they, too, have people in common, since my friend also knows Sarah’s aunt! I told Sarah I think we were just destined to be friends; there is no other explanation for our serendipitous meetings!

It reminded me of another serendipitious meeting I had four years ago yesterday. I had gone to Panera Bread with my then-14-yr-old daughter and some of her friends after school. We had walked all the way through the restaurant to get to a table…passing every table along the way, I’m sure. When our order was brought to our table, my daughter’s cookie was missing, so I had to get up and walk to the pick up window to ask for the cookie. When I did, I saw a familiar face…a friend from college…someone I likely hadn’t seen since 1989 or 1990! Instead of approaching immediately, I walked over to a wall opening, a sort of window that overlooks the dining room…it was right next to her table. I poked my head through and just smiled. My college friend noticed, and we had a delightful reunion right there in Panera Bread. She lives in the Atlanta area…what are the chances I would run into a college friend from Atlanta in a Panera in Charlotte?!?! Serendipity! (Today is that friend’s birthday, so Happy Birthday, Suzanne!)

I love when things like that happen! You never know who you’ll run into!

For now, I’ll be shopping for baby gifts for my new friend, Sarah, who is expecting a baby girl in January. She’s a Virginia Tech fan and big sports fan, thus the podcast, It’s Sports Sis. Give that a listen, and I’ll find a cute Virginia Tech themed gift.

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!