Two Friends on the Road, Part 4…The End of the Journey

*I’m writing about this trip so I can remember details later. Maybe you will learn something new!*

Two friends on the road, part 4.

So we left Miami…we didn’t want to, but we needed to start traveling in the direction of home…north on I-95.

At some point south of Vero Beach, we dropped off I-95 to get put gas in the car and buy more lottery and scratch-off tickets. We we were looking for manatees again…trying to find a them in a marina or inlet. We were obsessed. Well, I was obsessed. Mary Ann might have been humoring me, but I wanted to see more manatees. Using her internet search skills, Mary Ann found a place we might be able to see manatees near a power plant in Vero Beach. We found the power plant; we also found out quickly the road to the power plant was blocked. We got creative. Looking at the maps on our phones, we saw where the canal passed through a neighborhood. We went there. It turned out to be a canal behind an apartment complex, but we parked in the parking lot and walked down to a dock on the canal. It was dark, and I was paranoid about trespassing. Darkness + water + trespassing = fear. I kept whispering, “I’m scared.” After a little while we didn’t see anything and didn’t hear any manatees surface, so we left. Whew! I ran to the car.

Soon after leaving Vero Beach, we both said we were hungry at the same time and made our way toward Melbourne. Mary Ann found restaurant info, and we made our way to downtown…a charming area! We couldn’t believe our good luck…lots of restaurants, live music, and cute shops!

We passed a place called 716 East on Main Street, and it looked great…outdoor seating, twinkling lights, and live music. After parking, I checked the online menu and saw Mary Ann’s favorite, eggplant parmesan. It’s hard to find good eggplant parmesan, so she was psyched! We looked a little rough, having been in the car all day…both of us had on hoodies…very casual. As we approached the restaurant on foot, we realized we were underdressed. I even gave the hostess an out by acknowledging we likely didn’t meet the dress code. She smiled and seated us at the front of the restaurant…not hiding us…so I guess our attire was acceptable!

The cutest waiter came over enthusiastically and took our drink orders. He then wanted to make us aware of the menu items that weren’t available. We were there late, so we understood. I almost said, “As long as you aren’t out of eggplant parmesan, we’re good,” but I didn’t. He pointed to a couple of appetizers and told us about a couple of other dishes they didn’t have. As he pointed to the menu, I realized the restaurant wasn’t 716 East anymore. It was a different restaurant altogether, called Ember and Oak…a steakhouse with no eggplant parm! Mary Ann realized it at about the same time; I could tell by the look on her face as she scanned the menu. As soon as our waiter went to get our much-needed cocktails, we laughed and said, “It’s a different menu!” Thank God I didn’t make my remark about eggplant parm to the waiter!

Sometimes things fall into place. That’s what happened at Ember and Oak. Our waiter guided us in ordering, and we enjoyed a great meal in a lovely atmosphere. And the dessert? Cheesecake stuffed doughnut holes??? They had me at “cheesecake.” For more info on Ember and Oak, click here.

I booked a hotel reservation from the restaurant, so we went straight to the hotel and dragged our stuff in. Inside, we did our scratch-off tickets…a silly ritual at this point. At bedtime, I realized I had left my restless leg meds in the car. I was afraid to go to the parking lot, and Mary Ann was falling asleep, so I thought, “Surely I will be able to fall asleep.” About 30 minutes later, I realized I was wrong, but Mary Ann was asleep, and there was no way I was running into a dark parking lot alone. I didn’t sleep…at all…maybe dozed here and there…but tossed and turned. At 6:30, Mary Ann said something, and I said, “I haven’t slept all night.” She said, “I know.” Eek. Note to self: remember restless leg meds.

We got an early start the next morning and drove to a manatee observation area in Melbourne. No luck, but we saw dolphins frolicking across the way, so we drove over and watched them. Mary Ann spotted a manatee swimming into the inlet, even though he stayed mostly submerged…we could see his “wake” as he slowly swam in. We were way too excited about the dolphins and manatee. We laughed at how embarrassed our kids would be if they were with us! But they weren’t…and we didn’t care what anyone thought!

Leaving Melbourne in the afternoon, we got back on the interstate and continued driving north into South Georgia, where we saw a feral black boar on the side of the interstate! I saw it as we passed and said, “What was that?!” Mary Ann said, “It was a wild boar!” I have to say that was the first feral boar I have ever seen in person…and I’ll be OK if I never see another one. I had an uncle who used to hunt them, and I remember hearing stories about how aggressive and vicious they can be. I still can’t believe we saw one on I-95.

We stopped for the night in Savannah, because traffic was backed up on I-95 for 15 miles. We didn’t have the patience for that. We got up the next morning knowing we would go back to Charlotte after one silly destination: South of the Border!

Not familiar with South of the Border? I have written about it before…read about SOB (South of the Border) here. It’s a roadside attraction in South Carolina, on I-95. Mary Ann had never seen it. It was a rainy, dreary day, so I hate she saw it that day. The gray skies made it look bad. It’s more fun to approach it at night, when the neon’s glowing. The dim light hides the wear and tear. We arrived, and I think she was underwhelmed. We took pictures with some of the landmarks…the giant sombrero, the giant Pedro, the neon SOB sign. We shopped in the souvenir shops and found trinkets. Two things got Mary Ann’s attention: the jackalope statue and Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. As we were leaving SOB, she spotted a giant jackalope statue, which she found especially funny…and had to climb up for a photo sitting on his back. She’d hunt me down and kill me if I posted it, so you’ll never see it. On our way out, we stopped at the SOB gas station for a bottle of Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. If you’ve never had Blenheim’s, it’s real ginger ale…with a kick. Blenheim has been making it the old-fashioned way since 1903. You can read more about it here. I knew Mary Ann would love it.

We left SOB and headed back to Charlotte, and once we arrived, we drove straight to Ilios Noche, a restaurant I knew Mary Ann would love! In fact, it has been a week since we were there, and she is still raving about it! For info on Ilios Noche, click here.

We made great memories…and that’s what it’s all about! The journey is the destination!

My Food/Beverage Guilty Pleasures

My food/beverage guilty pleasures.

I don’t know if everyone has food and beverage guilty pleasures, but I definitely do. There are some things I simply cannot pass up…and some things I crave. I have some guilty pleasures that are labeled as guilty pleasures simply because of the calorie content. But I have other guilty food and beverage pleasures that are guilty pleasures because they are trashy and cheap.

When I was pregnant in 2003, I craved birthday cake. No, not expensive birthday cakes. I craved the, as we called them, “el cheapo” birthday cakes from the local grocery store. I don’t know if it was the cake part or the frosting, but I craved them…and I treated myself once a week. Actually, my husband would pick up a small birthday cake, labeled a “patty cake,” once a week when he went to the store. He was a regular at the grocery store, so we used to laugh and laugh at the conversations the employees likely had every time he walked out with another cake…they probably thought he had a whole house full of kids. Nope…just one pregnant wife.

These days, if I crave a quick and easy cake, it’s more likely to be one from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Holy smokes, those things are good! We joke at our house that they must put some secret addictive ingredient in them, because once you have one, you keep craving them. If you haven’t had one, you should. They have store locations in lots of places. We are fortunate to have a couple of different locations in the Charlotte area, and one is just a few miles from our house. We don’t go often, but when we do, we stock up! Our personal favorite? The chocolate/chocolate chip with cream cheese frosting. We also like the Raspberry/White Chocolate. Oh, who am I kidding?! We wouldn’t turn down any of them! To see the website for Nothing Bundt Cakes, click here.

But I am a little ashamed to say I crave some cakes that are even cheaper than the regular grocery store cakes. Cheaper than a grocery store cake? And more embarrassing? Yep. Here’s my embarrassing cake guilty pleasure: Hostess Birthday Cupcakes. You likely remember the Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes with the white swirls you’d see in stores as a kid…they came in packs of two. Well, Hostess also makes Birthday Cupcakes. They taste, to me, like Twinkies with cheap frosting on top…but I’m not gonna lie…I’m completely addicted to them. I think about them all the time, but I only buy them once every few months. Each little cupcake in the two-pack has 180 calories, so I must refrain on a regular basis. But sometimes…I give in and go buy some. I’m not going to tell you where I buy them locally, because well, I want to be able to find them when I want them, but you can look on the Hostess website here. In truth, when I browse the Hostess website, I see there are lots of Hostess brand treats I’d love to try. But since I only allow myself to have those treat every couple of months, it will likely be a while before I can try them all. Does anyone else remember having Honeybuns as breakfast or snacks as a kid? Hostess makes them!

My cookie guilty pleasure comes from Tiff’s Treats in Charlotte. I discovered this place when someone sent me a box of them a year or two ago. My daughter and I couldn’t stop eating them! These cookies are yummy! My favorite flavor? The M&M cookies…they take me back to my childhood when my aunt used to make them. What makes Tiff’s Treats even better? They deliver! If you join them as an “elite” member, you even get free delivery and monthly specials! And if you send them to someone, you can also send cold milk or ice cream! I highly recommend this guilty pleasure. Check them out online here.

I also have a fried food guilty pleasure. All my friends know what it is, because I order it any time we go to Ilios Noche. If you haven’t visited Ilios Noche on Providence Road in South Charlotte, it’s high time you did. And when you do, order this guilty pleasure: Zucchini and Eggplant Chips. You’ll thank me later. They are lightly breaded and fried and served with tzatziki. You’ll keep going back for them, no doubt. See the Ilios Noche website here.

Other food guilty pleasures? Chips and salsa from Paco’s Tacos and Tequila in Charlotte, The Bento Box from Cowfish in Charlotte, soufflés from a favorite restaurant, and the Hazelnut cookie from a favorite restaurant. I could tell you where they are, but then they’d likely disappear before I could ever get them…some guilty pleasures should remain a secret, I suppose.

Now I’m likely to really disgust some of you with my beverage guilty pleasure. No, it’s not Mountain Dew or any other super sugary soda. It’s not Kool Aid, Hawaiian Punch, or Hi-C. I will readily admit I loved Kool-Aid as a kid. Everyone did in the 70s…if your mother allowed you to have it. Ours definitely did. In fact, I drank so much grape Kool-Aid that…embarrassing as this is…my poop turned blue. It’s true. Yikes! But back to the topic at hand…my embarrassing guilty beverage pleasure is a drink called Verdi Sparkletini. You likely haven’t heard of it, and that’s because it’s not something you’d likely buy. It is sold in the wine aisle, but the label calls it a “malt beverage.” It’s usually less than $6 a bottle. Go ahead and laugh. I know it’s cheap and trashy. And I think you are supposed to chill the bottle and serve it. However, I was introduced to it last summer when someone I know (I won’t let her secret out) served it to me over ice. Now, I’m not a beverage snob, so I didn’t care, and I was happy to try it…lucky for me! That day, we had the watermelon flavor, but they also make a yummy raspberry flavor and a peach flavor. In all seriousness, served over ice, they taste like spritzers. I offered one to a friend last summer at the beach, and she turned her nose up at it, telling me, “That cheap stuff gives me headaches.” I begged her to try it, and after we finished the bottle, we were both really relaxed…and neither of us ever got a headache! In fact, my friend ended up liking it so much that she secretly purchases a bottle every couple of days! Check your local grocery stores in the sparkling wine aisle (even thought I’m not sure it’s really wine). And it won’t turn your poop blue!

Oh, how I love my guilty food and beverage pleasures! Did I mention Guthrie’s chicken fingers that I have to pick up and bring home in a cooler any time I drive through Opelika, Alabama? Yeah…that’s a little embarrassing…I run into the restaurant (it’s co-branded with a gas station) and order the big bucket of chicken fingers. Then while they’re getting those ready, I run over to the gas station section and purchase a bag of ice and a styrofoam cooler. I fill up the cooler with the ice and put them in my car before I run back into Guthrie’s to get the chicken fingers. I put them on ice and drive the rest of the way to Charlotte! My daughter meets me at the door for those Guthrie’s chicken fingers every time! See their website here.

Now I’m feeling the need to drive to Opelika…

Garage Coffee

Garage coffee.

No, it’s not a brand of coffee. Although, I think it could be a cool name for a brand of coffee.

Over the past couple of weeks, since Thanksgiving, I’ve become much more paranoid about COVID. My behavior reminds me of my junior year in college. Up till my junior year at The University of Alabama, I was willing to go out to bars with a fake ID. Back then, in Alabama, if you were caught by the Alcohol Beverage Control officers (ABC) underage in a bar, you were arrested and taken to jail. When I was a freshman and a sophomore, it was a risk I was willing to take. But when I became a junior, and I was so close to my 21st birthday, it wasn’t worth the risk. I stopped going out to bars. My thinking? “I’m so close to my 21st birthday…I can wait till then, because I’m afraid of getting in trouble…when I can just wait a little longer.” So I waited.

Here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and we are being told the vaccine is just around the corner. I know there are lots of people who are not willing to get the vaccine, but I am. I’m ready to start living again, and the vaccine is the only way I know to do that. And we are being told it will be available relatively soon. Just like my junior year and my 21st birthday, I’m afraid to risk getting COVID (I’m over 50) when the vaccine is in sight. Actually, I don’t want to risk getting COVID at all, but especially now. Call me a “sheep” if you want. I don’t care. I’m not staying home because the government is telling me to. I don’t think our government should be telling us what to do. I think it should be our own choice, so I’m not a sheep…I’m making my own decision.

In November, I was not as afraid, and I went on vacation. Yes, I did. I will admit it, but I was as careful as one could possibly be, and frankly, COVID was out there, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now. I made my child (who went with me) quarantine for two weeks prior, and I quarantined for two weeks prior as well…no lunches with friends, no coffee with friends in my kitchen…nothing. I didn’t want to get to our destination and get sick while we were there. I don’t want to be hospitalized anywhere…especially in another city. When we went to the airport, we found seats to wait in a secluded area of the American Airlines Admirals Club. We threw up a prayer and wore our masks for the entire flight. We stayed the first few days in a bungalow on the beach and the next few days in a bungalow at a hotel…very little close contact with anyone…and never in a crowd the whole time we were there. We had a rental car, so we never had to use Uber. We went to restaurants, but we always dined outside…never near anyone else. And on the way home, we found seats in a secluded part of the Admirals Club again. We have TSA precheck, so we never stood in a crowded line.

Even with all those precautions, if I had a slight headache or coughed at all during the trip or over the week after we got home, I thought I had COVID, and I was scared. Do I think I would die with it? No. I like to think I’m healthy enough to survive it, but one never knows. I feel sure my teenage daughter would be fine, and I feel like my husband (also over 50) is healthy enough to survive, but do we want to push our luck? That’s a resounding NO.

And right after that Thanksgiving trip, COVID exploded. The number of daily cases is climbing rapidly. I have talked to several doctor friends who tell me it’s “foolish” to gather. So I’m not gathering. I’m barely leaving my house. In fact, last week, I left my house a total of five times. Three times to pick up lunch, once to the grocery store, and once to run in Michael’s Arts and Crafts to quickly grab some yarn to knit Christmas gifts.

I like to be out and about, so that tells you I’m taking this seriously. I’m not staying home because of Governor Roy Cooper’s latest stay-at-home order. I’m staying home, because it’s just not worth it to me to catch COVID now, knowing I will be able to get the vaccine soon. I do not want COVID…it’s as simple as that. Well, that plus the fact that both my grandmothers died on December 26 (different years), and my mother died on December 30, 2017. I don’t want to push my luck.

That brings me back to “garage coffee.” Because I like seeing my friends…and I love laughing with them…I’m now hosting “garage coffee” at my house. I move the cars out of the garage and invite a friend or two (no more than that) over for coffee, which I prepare indoors and bring out to the garage for them. I set up rocking lawn chairs and heaters at our feet (it’s really cold in Charlotte right now), and we chat while social-distancing. It’s not as much fun as going out to lunch, but it’s better than nothing. I’m expecting a friend to come over tomorrow for “garage coffee,” and I’ve decided to add some Christmas music for our visit. I’ll just use my phone and my daughter’s bluetooth speaker to create a Christmas mood. Maybe I’ll set up my lamp from A Christmas Story and some of my light-up Christmas lawn decor in the garage just to make it feel more festive. My husband will think I’m crazy, but that’s nothing new.

If you’d like to have garage coffee with friends at your house and need a good, inexpensive space heater to put at your feet but don’t want to fork out a lot of cash, I purchased two Comfort Zone Energy Save Personal Heater Fans for $24.99 each plus tax and shipping from Target. Shop it here.

That’s how I’m surviving mentally right now…garage coffee. And I thank the Lord that I have friends who are willing to participate. Otherwise, I’d be losing my mind right now.

Come on over for garage coffee!

A Girly Gift Idea for Christmas

A girly gift idea for Christmas.

I’m slightly behind the curve on my Christmas shopping this year. Usually by the first week of November, I’m well underway and have most of my shopping done. 2020? Not so much. But I do know one brand that will save me this year for any friends and family with whom I exchange gifts.

Haute Shore.

That’s the name of the brand…Haute Shore. I discovered it in June when I made one of multiple trips to the beach. On this particular trip, I was in the Florida Panhandle, and I stumbled upon these adorable neoprene (yes, neoprene) handbags that I simply couldn’t resist. Literally, the first one I saw was displayed on a chair just inside the door of a lovely boutique called Willow in Inlet Beach. I could not walk past it the camouflage crossbody bag with an orange and pink striped handle. It was love at first sight. So I bought it. And it’s in my handbag rotation. When I need a larger casual, crossbody bag, I go with that one. It’s the Peyton bag. I have since purchased the Casey bag, a smaller crossbody that just holds my phone, cash, ID, and credit cards. And I always get compliments on both.

My teenage daughter and I don’t always agree on bags, but even she admires my Haute Shore bags. She isn’t one to carry a handbag…it’s a generational thing, I think. But she definitely always needs a weekender bag. Right now, she is using a cute purple weekender I got her for Christmas years ago, but in my opinion, it’s time to retire that thing. I tried to retire it by purchasing her a Longchamp weekender a few years ago. She used it a couple of times, and then I realized she wasn’t using it anymore, so I adopted it. It’s personalized with an “M,” which could be for her last name or first name, but I think it’s fine for me to use it, since my last name starts with “M.”

Since I still need to make her retire the old purple weekender, I’ve decided she is going to receive a Haute Shore neoprene called the Morgan. The one I like for her is the Morgan Elite…it’s camo with pink striped straps. It measures 21″ x 10″ x 12″…the perfect size for a weekender. I think she’ll love it, and at $140, it’s a bargain. Heck, I might even get one to wrap up for myself at that price! I think it would be a hit with any teenage girl…or mom…or aunt…for that matter!

But my love for Haute Shore doesn’t stop there. I love everything they offer! The Buttercup, a well-known boutique in Charlotte, sells some Haute Shore products. I know they offer a huge assortment of totes from Haute Shore, and they’re priced right at $105! The store is located at 353 Providence Road in Charlotte, or you can order online here. If you go into the store, though, you can peruse their awesome selection of gifts, so I highly recommend a visit!

If you’d like to see the entire collection of Haute Shore products, you can check out their website here. Sale prices for some smaller items start at $25. There are so many great colors and bag size options that I have difficulty deciding on just one! From wristlets to weekenders…the choices are amazing! Therefore, in addition to the Morgan Elite I will be giving my daughter, I know I will be gifting a few Casey bags to some friends and family members who can use a cute little crossbody bag for when they are out and about.

Haute Shore is making it easy for me to get lots of my holiday shopping done this year!

Top of the Rollercoaster

Top of the rollercoaster.

David Wilcox, a folk musician/singer-songwriter from Cleveland, Ohio, released a song in 1991 called Top of the Rollercoaster, a song about riding a rollercoaster on a 30th birthday as a metaphor for life. “It’s the moment of truth, the top of your youth…when you tip the top of the rollercoaster, look down the other side.” (To hear the song, click here.) Lucky for me, it came out several years before I turned 30, so I could listen to it on my 30th birthday and feel like it was written for me. However, unlike the song, which proclaims “it’s all downhill from here,” I didn’t look at turning 30 as the “top of my youth;” I looked at it as a new beginning. And honestly, my life got better after 30. But that’s not really what I want to discuss. I want to talk about rollercoasters, because at the age of 53, I still love them.

Don’t most of us remember our first rollercoaster ride? I don’t mean those little rollercoasters like Thunder Mountain at Disney. I don’t even mean rollercoasters like The Rock-n-Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios or Space Mountain at Disney. If those are the most exciting rollercoasters you’ve ridden, I hate to break it to you…they don’t even count. They’re not thrilling. Sure, they’re a little fun, but definitely aren’t thrilling. When I get off those rides, I don’t have the same “high” as I have when I step off the Intimidator or the Fury 325 at Carowinds…or even Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia. So when I say we likely remember our first rollercoaster ride, I mean a ride on a real rollercoaster…a thrill ride.

The year was 1976. It was the year of America’s Bicentennial, and I had turned nine years old in May…just as school was getting out for summer. I had been to Six Flags Over Georgia countless times with my family, and since 1973, I had been watching people disembark from the Great American Scream Machine, which at the time was the longest (3800 ft), tallest (105 ft), fastest (57 mph) rollercoaster in the world. It was a giant wooden coaster, and for a long time, I was terrified of it. But that summer…the Bicentennial summer…I decided I could ride it. I was standing with my family, watching riders disembark when Daddy asked me if I wanted to try it. I answered, “Yes,” and we got in line. The line for the Scream Machine was always long in those days, and there were no fast passes, so we waited…and I’m sure I changed my mind a dozen times before we ever boarded the coaster, but when it was our turn, I followed Daddy right into that coaster seat.

If you’ve ever ridden a wooden coaster, you know it’s not as smooth as a steel coaster. The first hill seems “rickety,” with the noise of the chain pulling the train up, and the “clickety-clack” of the tracks as you wait to reach the top. I was terrified, but I was excited at the same time. Back then, though, safety mechanisms weren’t what they are now. In my memory, there was nothing tight around my waist to hold me firmly in my seat. I recall a loose chain across my lap and a metal bar that bounced with every bump. Just as we reached the peak of the first hill, the train lurched forward as it started its descent. I weighed less than 50 pounds, and I felt like I was going to fall out of the car. I yelled to Daddy, “Push the bar down!” But he just laughed as we continued the bumpy ride. Once I knew I had survived the first big hill, I knew I could survive the rest, but it was scary…and exhilarating.

The ride ended back at the station after an exhilarating two minutes and twenty seconds. I had survived. I had ridden my first major rollercoaster and lived to tell about it. I feel sure I was giggling as we got off the ride, and I probably talked about it on the walk back up to the top of the hill near the entrance, where my mother was waiting. And then, like any coaster enthusiast, I said, “Let’s do it again!” I’ve never looked back. What an adrenaline rush! And every time I ride a rollercoaster, I remember that day in the summer of ’76.

Fortunately, my own daughter is a rollercoaster enthusiast. When she was a little girl, she would cry, because she wasn’t tall enough to ride the coasters at our local amusement park, Carowinds, which was owned by Paramount at the time, and then purchased by Cedar Fair Parks. As soon as she was tall enough, we rode them all the time…for years. When the old log flume ride was removed from the park in 2010 to make way for the Intimidator, a rollercoaster with a height of 232 feet that goes 80 mph, we had to work up the nerve to ride it, but once we did, we never looked back. And then, five years later, the Fury 325 debuted. Reaching a maximum speed of 95 mph and with a height of 325 feet, it looked daunting. But the first time we rode it, we rode in the second seat. The next time? Front car with my friend, Angela, and her daughter, Hannah…and it was a big adrenaline rush! My daughter was 11, and Hannah was 13…and we loved the ride! In fact, every time I’ve ever ridden it, it has been a big adrenaline rush. I feel pretty sure that if I can ride that coaster, I can ride just about any coaster anywhere.

About 34 years after that Bicentennial summer and my first major coaster ride, I took my daughter to Six Flags Over Georgia. She was six. She wanted to ride the Great American Scream Machine as soon as she saw it. So while my friend, Wendy, and her daughter watched, we boarded the same rollercoaster that was my first major rollercoaster, and it became my daughter’s first major rollercoaster too. The ride was even more bumpy that I remembered, but she loved it. She was laughing when we got off the coaster and wanted to get back in line immediately…like mother, like daughter. Maybe one day, my daughter will have a daughter whose first coaster will be the Great American Scream Machine. A weird family tradition, for sure.

Going back to David Wilcox’s song, maybe when he said “it’s all downhill from here,” he didn’t mean it was all going to be bad. Maybe he meant it was all going to be fun…a rush…exhilarating. Now that I think about it, I prefer that version. Because honestly, I’ve done my best living after 30. Well…there were those four college years in the 80s, between the ages of 18 and 22…those were pretty awesome too. But there’s something special about being over 30. And if you haven’t turned 50 yet…just wait…it’s great too.

Are rollercoaster rides good metaphors for life? I don’t know. But I do know rollercoasters are fun, and they make me feel young! I’ll be glad when Carowinds is open again! Till then, maybe we’ll even make a trip down to the Atlanta area to visit Six Flags Over Georgia and ride the Great American Scream Machine again…they’re open on a “reservations only” basis! They’re even offering BACKWARD rides on the Scream Machine for a limited time!

We love rollercoasters!

If you’d like to virtually experience the Great American Scream Machine, click here.

Chicken at Home

Chicken at home.

At the beginning of the economic shutdown, when everyone was scrambling for groceries, and stores were running low on lots of things, including chicken, I was able to get really good chicken.

Through a friend, I found out about a company in Charlotte that offers home delivery of fresh and frozen chicken. I placed my first order, and within 24 hours, it arrived at my door…and it was the best chicken we have ever had! I told my friend down the street and others, all of whom promptly started ordering from them too. I like to think I singlehandedly increased their business tenfold, but I’d be kidding myself.

The name of the chicken delivery service is Queen City Poultry, a subsidiary of Prestige Farms, right here in Charlotte, North Carolina. The company is owned by and run by good people…people who want happy customers…people who care about the product they’re putting out there. If you live in the Charlotte area, you can order from them here.

We ordered fresh chicken breasts and frozen breasts, and we also ordered chicken tenders…all of which were declared the “best chicken ever” by my family and friends. And they delivered with a smile! In fact, one of my orders was delivered by a friend’s son (the family owns the business), and I was thrilled to see him out there working hard.

In fact, it’s time to place another order, which I will sit down and do tonight. I know it’s time to place an order, because when my teenage daughter asked me for chicken at lunch today (she was doing remote school), I realized I didn’t have any. It was early enough that I could place a quick order from the grocery store through Instacart, so I did. This time, I used a grocery store I had never used before…Aldi. I still haven’t ever been in an Aldi, but I have heard about their “red bag chicken,” so I ordered it. It really is packed in a red bag, but the official brand is Kirkwood. I don’t even know where I heard about it, but I heard about it somewhere, so I decided now was as good a time as any. The “red bag chicken” is actually a bag of frozen breaded chicken fillets. Within a couple of hours, they were delivered to my front porch, and I stuck some in the oven for lunch.

My daughter came downstairs and was thrilled when she saw that I had chicken for her. And you know what? She loved it! She said it’s not as good as the home delivery chicken from Queen City Poultry, but it would do in a pinch. Plus, if you live somewhere besides Charlotte, you can’t get home delivery from Queen City Poultry, so maybe you can run to your local Aldi and get the “red bag chicken.” Since it was good, I did a little reading and discovered “red bag chicken” isn’t all they make. They also make “blue bag chicken” (chicken strips), “green bag chicken” (parmesan chicken tenders), and other color bags of honey bbq wings, buffalo honey battered breast tenders, chicken breast nuggets, and dinosaur shaped nuggets. There are more products, but you’ll have to go to the Aldi website to see for yourself. The list is long! And if all the variations are as good as the “red bag chicken,” you’re in for a treat.

But if you live in Charlotte, I highly recommend Queen City Poultry’s home delivery. Order online and get it the next day! And the prices are right too!

Yep…chicken…really good chicken…at home!

Earthquake?!? In North Carolina?

Earthquake?!? In North Carolina?

We awoke with a jolt this morning. Literally…a jolt.

A little after 8:00 this morning, we experienced an earthquake in North Carolina. While it was centered about 100 miles from where I live in Charlotte, we felt it. My husband and I were lazing in bed when suddenly, the windows started rattling, the bed started shaking from side to side, and we heard a rumbling sound. My husband asked, with an alarmed look on his face, “What was that?!?!” I responded, “I think that was an earthquake.” He didn’t believe me, of course, but I stood firm…”I think it was an earthquake.” Then I took to Facebook, posting, “Anybody else in Charlotte feel a shake just now?” And the comments started coming, starting with a friend who lives a few miles from me, “Um yep! That was insane!” Another friend who lives in a different direction said, “Yes!!! What the heck!?” I turned to my husband and said, “I was right. It was an earthquake. People all over the place felt it too.”

I started checking the United States Geological Survey website (see it here), but for the first few minutes, I didn’t see any report of an earthquake. Finally, a few minutes later…there it was…a 5.1 earthquake in the area of Sparta, NC, which is about 100 miles north of us. Apparently, there was an earlier quake…a 2.5 at 2:00 this morning. We slept through that one.

There was an earthquake in Charlotte several years ago. I don’t remember the year, but I had just dropped off our daughter with some friends at their club pool. I was driving and talking on the phone when it occurred, so when I heard about it later, I was surprised…didn’t feel a thing. My daughter, on the other hand, said she was sitting on the edge of the pool at the time and felt it.

I have never lived in California, but I have been there countless times. I visited San Francisco in 1989, just days after the World Series earthquake, and there were aftershocks while I was there, but they were all in the middle of the night…I was sleeping and didn’t feel a thing. I don’t want anyone to ever get hurt or killed, but I wish I had been awake when the tremors occurred. I returned to San Francisco soon thereafter, and the same thing happened.

Then, in 2014, I was getting ready to go to Los Angeles with a friend and our daughters. I have been there countless times, but for some reason, I had a different feeling about this upcoming trip. My mother was alive at the time, and knowing what a worrier she could be, I called her and said, “Mother, I just want to tell you…if there is an earthquake while we are in the LA area, you should always assume we are OK unless you hear otherwise.” I went on to explain to her that when lots of people are using their cellphones, it can be difficult to get calls to go through. “We’re tough chicks,” I told her. Later, I laughed and told my friend, Mary Ann, about the call to my mother.

The LA event was held at Barker Hangar, an event venue in Santa Monica. It was a family-friendly event, so we all went. We decided to leave at about 9pm. We had hired a car to take us to and from the event. We had been in the car, on the way back to the hotel, for about ten minutes, when I got a phone call from Mary Ann, asking if we were OK. She went on to explain that she had just heard there had been a 5.6 earthquake in the LA area. I said, “We’re fine. We are in the car, so we had no idea. Of course, I missed it.” When we arrived back at the hotel, everyone there was talking about it. I called my mother and told her, “If you’ve heard there was an earthquake, don’t worry. We are fine.”

So yes, I’ve been in several earthquakes, but I’ve never felt one…till today. I guess I can mark that off my bucket list. I don’t need to do that again.

If only we had been looking at the pool when it happened…that would have been cool, for sure.

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.

 

Spring Is Here Despite Coronavirus

Spring is here despite coronavirus.

Yes, we’re still all locked down. Coronavirus has disrupted our lives like never before. Every day I wake up and wonder if this is a bad dream. And after I realize it’s not, I take a deep breath just to see if I can. That’s my own personal little test for coronavirus, which I know is in no way scientific, but I also feel like it’s a good way to keep my lungs healthy…wake up, deep breath. And every single day, I’m making sure I do some form of cardio exercise, mostly walking. A couple of times, I’ve coughed, but I realized it was because of all the pollen.

While we hate the pollen in the air, it’s a sign that spring is here! On my personal Facebook page, I’ve been posting a few pictures of the signs of spring here in Charlotte, North Carolina, including pictures of us enjoying the backyard pool in the beautiful sunny weather we’ve been having. However, the picture that got the most response was a set of three photos taken 15 days apart. The first picture, from March 21, shows a barren tree behind our house. The second photo in the set shows the same tree ten days later, March 31, when it was turning green. And five days later, I took the third picture, which shows the tree is lush and green. That’s how fast the tree went from bare to lush…fifteen days.

After I posted those photos, friends who live in colder parts of the country lamented the fact that it’s still cold where they are. A friend in the Chicago area said she wished she were here. A friend in Massachusetts said she wishes she had more signs of spring where she is. At first, I felt a little guilty, but then several of them asked me to keep posting pictures of spring! They were enjoying them!

Many times, a friend in Mobile has reminded me how fortunate we are to live in the south during this coronavirus pandemic and the isolation it’s causing. She reminds me we are lucky we live where the weather is warm most of the time in spring, because we can spend time outdoors. And she’s right. In fact, I think we have enjoyed our patio and pool more this spring than we have in any other previous year. We always enjoy it in the summer months, but I can’t remember a time we spent so much time sitting out in the sun or in the pool in April.

So today, I took a walk around my neighborhood, which is absolutely gorgeous this time of year, if I do say so myself, and I took pictures of signs of spring. You can see them all below, and feel free to share them with your friends who live in other parts of the country that are still cold. Blue skies and bright-colored flowers can certainly brighten someone’s day!

Stay healthy!

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Lovely yard in the neighborhood

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Knockout roses in my front yard

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Beautiful, blooming Dogwood tree in a neighbor’s yard

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Blooming azalea

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Angel in a neighbor’s yard

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One of my favorite trees in the neighborhood

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Flowers in one of the prettiest yards in the neighborhood

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Tulips lining a neighbor’s driveway

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The walk down to one of the neighborhood lakes

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!