Coyotes in the City

Coyotes in the city.

We have lived in the same house for over 20 years. We love our neighborhood in Charlotte (North Carolina). We don’t live right in uptown (what Charlotteans call downtown), but we are well within city limits on the south side of town.

Because our neighborhood has two lakes, lots of trees, and borders a golf course, we have lots of wildlife. Over the years, it hasn’t been unusual to see owls, blue herons (they nest right behind my friend’s house), deer, snakes, hawks, rabbits, turtles, bullfrogs, ducks, geese, Bald Eagles, and even a lone turkey! And yes, we have seen a few coyotes…maybe three over the course of twenty years.

During the pandemic, we started having evening cocktails on the patio. Every evening, we sat outside laughing and talking…sometimes just us, and sometimes with neighbors and friends. I don’t remember hearing or seeing any coyotes last year, but this year…wow.

Earlier in the year, the people who purchased a house just over the ridge behind us decided to demolish the house and clear a lot of the trees from the three acres of land. I thought it was sad as I saw beautiful trees being mowed over by heavy equipment. One tree that went down was a favorite one I could see from the patio, but it was none of my business. Since then, all construction activity has stopped on the property. For several months, it has been quiet.

Well, construction has been quiet, but the neighborhood has been eerily noisy.

We started sitting outside for cocktails again as soon as the weather allowed in the spring. And one of the first nights we were out there, we heard something: howling, yipping, yapping…the creepy sounds of coyotes. Yep, coyotes, right here in Charlotte city limits. It happens at some point almost every night, but I don’t think it’s something I will ever get accustomed to hearing.

Recently, I was sitting outside at 10pm with my neighbor when we suddenly heard a long, lone howl. It was one of those perfect howls like in a western movie. We looked at each other in disbelief. And shortly thereafter, we heard the familiar yipping, yapping sounds of a coyote frenzy. After investigating the meanings of these different sounds, I have learned that one long howl is likely a coyote trying to locate its pack. The yipping/yapping heard afterward is the pack responding to the howl. So I guess that is the communication we were hearing that night.

A few nights later, my husband and I had some friends over for cocktails, and at about 8:30pm, just before dark, my husband pointed at something and asked, “What is that?” I responded, “That’s a coyote…and another…and another!” Three coyotes roaming just past our next door neighbor’s house. They looked very confident. I’m not sure if they saw us, but if they did, they clearly were not disturbed by our presence. Of course, the men ran out to the other side of the house to see if they could see more of them, but nothing. We had never seen three coyotes together in our neighborhood…and it was relatively early in the evening!

Not gonna lie…I find it fascinating, even if it is a bit scary. I know…coyotes generally want to stay away from people, but that knowledge isn’t much comfort when we go for a walk in the evening. I have a fear of encountering a whole pack of coyotes. My husband always tells me not to worry about it, and I jokingly tell him that if we are charged by a pack of coyotes, I’m pushing him down, and I’m running. It’s a joke, of course. I have no idea what I would do if we encountered an angry pack. Chances are, I wouldn’t have to do anything, because they would run from us, but I don’t really want to find out.

Our yard is fenced. We leave exterior lights on at night. We don’t leave pet food outdoors. Our back yard is fenced. And we have a relatively big dog, a Doberman Pinscher. All of those things are supposed to deter coyotes. Our veterinarian says that if we see any near our yard, we should make loud noises to scare them. He also said we could soak pieces of cloth in ammonia or perfume and tie them along the fenceline. Apparently, those unnatural scents deter coyotes too. I’m not going that far…yet. Right now, as long as they keep their distance, we will co-exist peacefully.

When I moved to Charlotte more than twenty years ago, I certainly didn’t think we would have coyotes in the city!

The High School “Lasts” Have Begun

The high school “lasts” have begun.

Our daughter is finishing up her junior year in high school. As any mother knows, life with kids is full of “firsts” and “lasts.” It starts with first smiles, first teeth, first words and goes on to first time riding a bike, first day of school…on and on.

At some point, though, we start having “lasts.” Often, we don’t even realize we have had a “last” till well after the fact. There’s the last time you had to actually feed your child, the last time you tied their shoes, the last time you helped them bathe, the last time you brushed their hair, the last time you read a book aloud together…the list continues to grow. A big one for me is the last time I actually carried my child. Fortunately, when our daughter was five or six, I had a friend who told me she always picked up or carried her daughter if she asked (same age), because one day she wouldn’t want her to. Based on that, I carried our daughter or picked her up any time she asked. Eleven years old and she wants me to carry her on my back through an amusement park? You bet! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize when the last time I carried her was actually the last time, but because I had always gladly carried her, it wasn’t painful when I realized she didn’t ask anymore. Honestly, if she asked me to carry her on my back today, I would…and she is 17.

My friend, Linda, told me years ago, when her son was in high school, that she totally didn’t realize it was the last time she would drive her son to school when it was the last time. He got his driver’s license one day, and he was off to school alone the next morning. She said to her husband, “But wait! I didn’t realize that was the last time I would drive him!” It really bothered her. She is long past it now. Her son is in graduate school in Scotland, so she has had lots of “lasts” that were bigger than that.

The “lasts” add up over time: the last day of preschool/elementary/middle school, the last time I actually drove her to school, the last time I actually had to drive her anywhere, and more.

I’m thinking about this, because today, I paid tuition to her independent school for the last time…for her senior year of high school, which will start in August. I’ve been paying yearly tuition since 2008. As soon as I hit the “send” button on the bank draft, I sat back and thought, “that was the last time I’ll do that.” Sure, I will be paying tuition of a different kind, for college, soon enough, but I just paid tuition for my daughter’s 14th year at her present school (she started with transitional kindergarten before kindergarten), and it felt weird to know I will never do it again.

My husband and I talk about “lasts” often, since our daughter is entering her senior year in fall and will be off to college before we can blink. There will be last sports games, last volunteer opportunities at school, and there will even be some people we will likely never encounter again after she graduates.

We sit on the patio with cocktails some evenings talking about how different it’s going to be when she departs for college in just over a year. And we try to enjoy the moments we have with her. Often when she gets home from sporting events or hanging with friends, she will come sit outside with us…it’s valuable, meaningful time for us…and one day there will be a “last” for that too. I hope we will recognize the “lasts” as they occur, like I recognized the last tuition payment today, but I’m sure there will be some that just pass right by without my realizing it. I won’t be able to get a photo to save as a memory of every “last,” but I hope I will remember to get some. I’ll try to get a photo of her last first day of school at her present school. I’ll try to get photos of her last sports games, last time she drives to high school…anything I can think of.

She’ll be flying the coop before we know it. While we are excited for what lies ahead of her (and us), we want to make sure we remember these days. We want her to get out and spread her wings wherever she chooses to go to college (tuition payments to a different place) and live her best life. We just want to enjoy every moment she shares with us.

Now that I’m feeling sentimental, I wonder if I should get a screenshot of that last tuition payment?!

Going For My Second Vaccine

Going for my second vaccine.

I’m about to walk out the door to go get my second COVID vaccine. I had the first Moderna vaccine a few weeks ago, and now it’s time for the dreaded second dose. I have some friends who say they had no side effects and others who say they were in bed for two days after the second dose.

I’m driving to another town outside Charlotte to get mine, because when I was scheduling my first one, it was the closest one I could find. I had originally been scheduled to get it right down the street from my house, but then I got strep throat (ugh!) and had to reschedule. The only “side effect” I had with the first one was an achy arm. It wasn’t bad, and it didn’t last long. In fact, it didn’t really bother me till I got into bed that night. You know how everything hurts more when you’re still and have nothing else to think about? I got up and took some Motrin, and the aching got better pretty quickly. I’m sure I was asleep within 20 minutes after that.

I’m not really dreading it. I will deal with side effects if I get them…and I will pray they are short-lived. I would rather have short-lived side effects from a vaccine than get terribly sick from the virus itself.

I know lots of folks aren’t getting the vaccine, and whatever…that’s your choice. Everybody cannot agree on everything, and I think that is pretty darn obvious in our country these days. I’m all about “live and let live,” but in this case, I certainly hope lots of folks choose to get the vaccine. I’m choosing to be vaccinated, because I’m ready to start living again. I’m ready to stop worrying so much. I’m ready to be able to eat indoors at restaurants without worrying about every other person in the room. I’m ready to be able to travel to other countries (or Caribbean islands!) without having to endure a COVID test on the way there or on the way back. I’m ready to stop worrying every time one of my daughter’s friends comes over for a visit. Teenagers are living their lives, so we don’t really know who has been exposed to what.

So right now, I’m getting into my car to drive about an hour to get my second dose. I will report back afterward, sharing information about any symptoms or side effects I feel. Hopefully, my body will process it pretty quickly, but if I glow in the dark later, you’ll know why.

Let’s get busy living!

Cars, Cars Everywhere

Cars, cars everywhere.

Just over a year ago, we were told to hunker down at home because of a pandemic. We couldn’t believe it then, and sometimes, I still can’t believe it now. What do I remember most about that first month of the pandemic? I remember I had to cancel a March vacation. I remember being afraid. I remember fretting over the fact that we had no Clorox wipes in our house. I remember spraying packages with Lysol when they arrived at our front door. I remember being afraid. And I remember no traffic on the roads…absolutely no traffic. In Charlotte, where we can have some pretty heavy traffic, there was virtually none. It felt a bit like a ghost town.

One year ago yesterday, my daughter and I hopped in my car at about 10pm and drove to Indian Land, South Carolina, for some Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We were the only car on the road, and we wondered if we would get stopped by the police for breaking the stay-at-home order. Charlotte sits just north of the South Carolina/North Carolina line, and Indian Land is just south of the line. We had been told to only leave our homes for essential things. Well, that night Krispy Kreme was essential…so we went. If we had been stopped by the police, we wouldn’t have been lying when we said we were out to get food. The doughnuts we brought home and inhaled that night were, quite possibly, the best doughnuts ever…and worth the risk of getting stopped by the police. That Krispy Kreme location has since closed, but lucky me…one opened even closer to our house! I can be there in seven minutes flat…well, depending on traffic.

Last year, we could zip around town with no interference from anyone else. Yesterday, I almost got t-boned at an intersection in Southpark, when a truck almost ran a red-light. I got cut off on Colony Road when the slowest driver in Charlotte decided to change lanes right in front of me. And I was so far back in line at a traffic light in town that I had to wait through three light cycles to get to make a left turn. Unlike last year, in the early days of the pandemic, cars are everywhere now.

Sadly, I think about 70% of them forgot how to drive during the stay-at-home orders. And I’m not really exaggerating. My daddy used to say that people who stop driving on the interstate forget how to drive on the interstate. People who stop driving at night forget how to drive at night. I don’t know if he had ever experienced a pandemic, but if he had lived long enough to experience the pandemic in 2020, he would have said, “People who stop driving during a pandemic forget how to drive…period.”

The pandemic certainly had an effect on the way I do things. I can’t speak for everyone else in the world, but I have noticed some things are different for me. I used to shop in person all the time, but now…not so much. In fact, when I had to dash to the mall this week for some Easter gifts, I found I had forgotten how to check out! When the sales associate told me my total, I just stood there, holding my credit card. She said, “You can put your card into the card reader now.” Duh. I had forgotten I actually had to do that. I guess I need to do some more in-person shopping, so I don’t lose that skill!

I’m also getting better at hearing people while we’re all wearing masks. I don’t think my hearing has gotten any better, but I think I’ve gotten better at listening. Or maybe I’m just better at thinking I’ve heard something or pretending I’ve heard something. I find I’m a little like Mr. Magoo when I’m wearing a mask, and at first, that annoyed me. Now, I feel like I’ve just embraced my Mr. Magoo qualities.

Monday, I get the second dose of the vaccine. I’m anticipating feeling badly for a little while, but I can hardly wait to know I’m fully vaccinated. In fact, I plan to meet some friends at Krispy Kreme to celebrate! Yes, I’m going to get that free doughnut and purchase a dozen to bring home too! I’ll be glad when we can put this pandemic in our rearview mirrors…even if it means we are fighting tons of traffic again. Heavy traffic in Charlotte feels normal again.

For the Love of Tres Leches Cake

For the love of Tres Leches cake.

I wish I could remember my first very bite of Tres Leches cake. I can’t. But I remember my last bite of Tres Leches cake, and I look forward to the next one! If you’re not familiar with Tres Leches cake, you should be. It’s also referred to by some people as “milk cake,” because as the Spanish name suggests, it is made with three milks. It’s a sponge cake that is soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. It’s popular in Latin America, and I have seen lots of different versions of it. I don’t know if it varies geographically, but I have seen it with cinnamon added to the top, with caramel added to the top, and sometimes, with fruit added. My favorite? Plain old Tres Leches…no cinnamon, caramel, or fruit…and give me a good cup of coffee to go with it.

Tres Leches cake is very popular in Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico. If you can find authentic Cuban or Mexican restaurants in your area, you might be able to find Tres Leches cake there. I just got back from a trip to Miami for spring break, and while I was there, I had Tres Leches a couple of times at a couple of different restaurants. I definitely miss that part of Miami! Surprisingly, I have just discovered I can get Tres Leches cake in my local Publix grocery store here in Charlotte! Wanna know the real surprise? It is actually good…really, really good! OK, if you live near a Publix, you know they do almost everything well. I have never been disappointed when I have ordered from their deli or bakery. Why would I be surprised their Tres Leches cake is good?

Publix sells it in a little plastic clamshell container. I could hardly wait to get home with it. When I did, I I had to serve it to myself the way it has been served to me in in Cuban restaurants…I poured the milk mixture around it on the serving plate, just so it could soak up a little more milk.

The first time I ever had Tres Leches served with the milk actually puddled around it was at a Cuban restaurant in West Palm Beach earlier this year. My friend, Linda, has a place in Vero Beach, and when I told her I’d be driving through the West Palm area, she told me I absolutely had to stop at a restaurant on Old Dixie Highway called Havana. She said, “When you step inside, you’ll expect Ricky Ricardo to come walking from around the corner.” (If you’re offended by that, please stop following me. She meant it felt like an authentic Cuban experience.) I loved Desi Arnaz (apparently, a lot of women did), and I appreciate everything about Latin culture, so I was excited. I’ve written before about this restaurant, and I think I said then that the Tres Leches cake there is what dreams are made of. No joke. I might need to go back to West Palm just for that cake…puddled in sweetened condensed milk…and accompanied by a cup of cafe Cubano…that’s Cuban coffee. If you’ve never had that…it’s another experience…frothy azucar and crema (sugar and cream). It was the perfect accompaniment to the best Tres Leches cake I have ever had.

So with my Publix cake, I truly think I improved it by pouring the condensed milk around it. It made it feel more authentic to me, and it was delicious. I should also mention here that I don’t like cinnamon and caramel on my Tres Leches cake. When we were in Miami last week, I asked a Cuban gentleman about that, and he turned up his nose at it too. Apparently, he thinks cinnamon and caramel have no place in the Tres Leches world. We are on the same page. I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one who doesn’t like that added touch.

I’m sure there are places in Charlotte to find better Tres Leches cake. I just need to get out and search for them. (I’ve included the top five from Yelp in a list below at the bottom of this page.) Till then, I’ll stick with the Publix Tres Leches, and I’ll keep soaking it in sweetened condensed milk on my own. Give me a call, and you can come over and have some too! I’ll get some coffee ready too, but it won’t be Cubano. I don’t know how to make it.

***If you’d like to visit Havana Restaurant in West Palm Beach, it’s located at 6801 S. Dixie Highway. The takeout window is open 24 hours! Yes, 24 hours! But the dining room opens at 5pm daily. You can check out the menu on their website here.***

Yelp’s Top Five Tres Leches Cakes in Charlotte:

  1. Manolo’s Bakery, 4405 Central Avenue, Suite O
  2. Suarez Bakery, 4245 Park Road
  3. Suarez Bakery and Barra, 1115 N Brevard St in Optimist Hall
  4. La Poblanita Mexican Restaurant and Candy Store, 1925 Westinghouse Blvd
  5. Odalys Bakery, 6407 South Blvd

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.