A Bluebird Takes Flight

A bluebird of happiness takes flight.

I just received word that a dear family friend passed away. When I say “dear family friend,” I mean someone who had basically been a member of my family since my parents first married in 1961. My mother met her when they were both working at a Sunland Center in Florida. Sounds luxurious, right? Well, Sunland was  actually a facility that specialized in offering services for the physically and mentally disabled…mostly children. My mother was a nurse there, and Cynthia, the family friend, worked in the recreation department. Cynthia was just 18 when they met, and while she admired Mother, I think Mother kind of took her under her wing. Mother was four years older, a registered nurse, and married. They became lifelong friends.

With encouragement from my mother, Cynthia later went to nursing school and then continued her education to become a nurse anesthetist…against the odds, since she was dyslexic. But she worked hard, and she was successful.

My parents moved to Alabama soon after I was born, and I remember Cynthia visiting regularly throughout my life. In fact, I thought she was my aunt till I was eight or nine. I have pictures of her visiting when I was a baby.  I know she was with us at a hotel in Panama City Beach in March 1970, when my toddler brother pulled a coffee pot off the table, burning himself. Mother and Daddy rushed him to the hospital, and Cynthia stayed with me. We watched people shooting fireworks off the balconies of the hotel…out over the beach. That’s likely one of my earliest memories, since I was not quite three years old. I’m sure it registered in my longterm memory because my brother’s burn was emotional for me.

Later, Cynthia had a little Triumph convertible. I thought she was the coolest, and I loved riding in that little car with her. She would visit us once or twice a year, and she was fun and energetic. She loved telling stories, and she loved to laugh. She had an infectious sense of humor with a twinkle in her eye, and she was always supportive of our little family. With no kids of her own, she treated us as if we were hers. Interestingly, somehow I remember that she was visiting us in Spanish Fort when I turned ten in 1977. She gave me a cool hooded shirt and shorts, and some Faberge Tigress cologne…what I thought was a grown-up gift! I loved it…the bottle was beautiful, with a fuzzy top that looked like a tiger skin. Funny what we remember.

And when Daddy was dying with pancreatic cancer, Cynthia was right there with us…helping us help him. I vividly remember her bathing mother’s dog and entertaining my daughter and my cousin’s daughter. The girls were two and three years old at the time, and Cynthia knew how to entertain them.

You might remember that I wrote about Cynthia once before, a couple of years ago when I wrote about the Bluebird of Happiness I found in my mother’s home after she died. I didn’t know where she got them, but I knew Cynthia often brought little gifts when she visited Mother, and I was right…when I called Cynthia, she said she had given them to her. I promptly packaged them up and sent them to Cynthia, and she later told me she kept them on a little table next to a picture of Mother. You can see the Bluebird of Happiness piece here. 

Last year, when I took my daughter and one of her friends on a road trip along the Gulf Coast, we visited Cynthia in Tallahassee. She took us to dinner at Shula’s atop the Hotel Duval, and we enjoyed the view of the Tallahassee skyline from the balcony. I had planned to see her again at Labor Day this year, when we visit Tallahassee again for a Florida State University football game.

While I’m brokenhearted…again…after a big loss, I know that if she were here with me right now, we would be laughing about something. She could make anything funny…with just a look.  In fact, last year, when we went to dinner, she kept my daughter in stitches with her crazy sense of humor. She told my daughter stories from my youth, and we laughed and laughed.

She loved my family as if we were her own, and the feeling was mutual, so this loss is a big one. It took the wind out of my sails. While I know loss is going to happen, this one was a shock. She was 76, but she was a young 76, if that makes any sense. She was a tough chick, and she is missed already.

Hug your loved ones, and if you can’t hug them because of this pandemic, talk with them as much as you can.

Hanging With The Teenage Daughter (during the COVID-19 crisis)

Hanging with the teenage daughter (during the COVID-19 crisis).

I’m getting accustomed to it. I hate to admit it, but I’m getting accustomed to “sheltering in place.” If you had told me I wouldn’t be completely stir crazy after this many days at home, I never would have believed you. It’s likely there are several reasons, but I think the main one is our daughter.

Our daughter is 16, so in “normal” life, she’s rarely home. She has school Monday-Friday, like most kids, and after school, she “normally” goes straight to lacrosse practice in the spring. She doesn’t get home till around 6:00pm, and then she has to finish her homework. That leaves very little time for us to to spend together. Sure, there are weekends, but she is quite social, so she wants to hang with friends on weekends. I get it. I remember 16.

I’m not happy that people are suffering and even dying with COVID-19. We say prayers for them every day, and we are trying to observe all “shelter in place” rules. We are at home most of the time, except when we go out for “essentials.”

And while “sheltering in place” initially sounded terrible, having my daughter around more is great. She’s doing her school work online during the day Monday -Friday, but in the afternoons and evenings, we’ve been spending more time together. Our world has slowed down a little, and I’m trying to appreciate the slowdown.

Yesterday, for example, she took a break in her schoolwork to come down for lunch and asked if I would make her some avocado toast for lunch. I was thrilled to get to do that for her, but our avocados weren’t ripe enough yet, so I made her some peanut butter/banana toast. She was happy. Normally, during the week, I don’t get to sit with her for lunch, because she’s at school. Afterward, she went back to finish her studies, and later, she sat outside by the pool with me for a while…something else she wouldn’t normally be able to do on a weekday. ***I’ve since been informed that I can soften an avocado by sticking it in the microwave briefly.***

At dinnertime, we opted to go get takeout from a local favorite Mexican restaurant, something we had both been missing since all this started. We came home and had dinner as a family, and then I suggested we go for a walk around the neighborhood. I was thrilled when she said it sounded like a great idea…and off we went!

The night before, we all lay out on the patio as a family…looking at the stars and watching for satellites to identify using the SkyGuide app. Our daughter didn’t stay out as long as we did, but she seemed to enjoy it. She was much better at spotting satellites moving through the night sky, because her eyesight is better than ours, and it was obvious she was enjoying it when she would exclaim, “I see one!” She would then tell us where to look, and I would try to find it on SkyGuide to see what country launched it and how big it was. Would she have willingly gone out there for stargazing under “normal” circumstances? Probably not. She likely wouldn’t have been home or would have been doing homework.

Tonight, my daughter and I are going to start watching Tiger King, presently the #1 series on Netflix. We don’t alway agree on shows, and when I first suggested this one, she wasn’t interested. But when a teenage boy told her it was really good, she changed her tune. No, I wasn’t offended. Like I said, I remember 16. We have a few more series “on deck” to watch after we watch Tiger King. We will likely watch All-American on Netflix, Peyton’s Places on ESPN+, and a few more sports-oriented shows, since we miss our sports right now.

Additionally, she has been helping around the house…today, she will do some laundry and cook dinner for the family. She and I are going to sit down in a little while and find the perfect recipe for her to make a chicken dish for us. She loves spinach, so she will likely sauté some spinach for the side dish.

So while this COVID-19 crisis is terrible for individuals, public health, and the economy, we are using it as a time to strengthen our little family. We were a pretty tight unit anyway, but I feel like we are getting a gift of extra time with our daughter. She will be going off to college in 2022, so I’m happy to have some extra time with her. No, the reason for the extra time isn’t ideal, but I’m trying to look at the bright side. I’m making lemonade out of lemons.

We are hopeful that the pandemic will be under control sooner rather than later, but till then, we plan to enjoy this time with our daughter. Sure, we all miss sports. We all miss friends and extended family. We all miss “normal,” but we’re trying to make the best of the cards we’ve been dealt.

Till then, we’ll be hanging out with our teenage daughter.

Tell Me Something Positive

Tell me something positive.

We all need to hear positivity! We’ve been listening to the news too much. We’ve all been holed up in our own homes for almost a week now, and we’re hearing bad news all the time. Personally, I’m hoping the outlook is brighter than we think. I like to think we are going to come out of this stronger than ever, and if you doubt that, I don’t want to hear it. There’s enough doom and gloom right now.

In the midst of all this depressing news, I’m hoping we can find some positivity. I’m hoping we can take the time to see the great things happening around us every day. I’m hoping we will all stop and smell the roses.

So, I’m going to share some positives I’ve had in my life during the past week.

  • Our daughter’s school is helping make a difference! The engineering department, in conjunction with some local doctors, a hospital, and a university, is making surgical masks for medical personnel! There is a GoFundMe set up to accept donations. You can support this endeavor by clicking here.
  • Family time! Sure, some folks probably think it’s a little too much family time, and anyone who has a teenager in the house understands that pain. I think lots of families have gotten back to basics just to keep their sanity. My friend, Mary Ann, has three kids at home…two teenagers…and they’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, because she won’t let their friends come inside. Yesterday, her oldest son and his friend built a lean-to and cooked chuck wagon stew, whatever that is, outside over a fire last night. It looked tasty! And so far, no one has come down with food poisoning.
  • I’ve caught up on some reading. I’m always purchasing books and planning to read them, but I don’t always find the time. Right now, I have the time. I just finished Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It, and I highly recommend it.
  • The weather where I live, in Charlotte, NC, has been beautiful for the past few days, so I’ve been able to enjoy a few days in the sun! Today will be more of the same, and I intend to take advantage of it while I can. I even had dinner out by our backyard pool last night…in March! It has been absolutely glorious, and I truly believe the sunlight has boosted my mood. I’ve just been pretending I’m on vacation.
  • Most people, I believe, have been good citizens…thinking of others in this desperate time. Most are trying to support businesses as much as we can, and most of us are trying to help our neighbors. I know I’m trying to do business with local companies as much as I can. A friend posted yesterday on Facebook that her family’s chicken business is doing home deliveries. I’m placing my order now for a delivery tomorrow. Our teenage daughter will be thrilled to have some chicken tenders in the house, and I’ll be happy to have some wings!
  • The environment is appreciating the quarantine, I’m sure. I saw on the news that people can actually see through the water in the Venice, Italy, canals now…something that hasn’t happened in years, apparently.
  • My knitting skills are being put to good use, and next week, I’m going to have a virtual knitting circle with some friends via the Zoom app. Some of them know how to knit, and some don’t, so I’ll be trying to teach them “remotely.” I think it will be fun! As for now, I’m working on a baby blanket and baby hat for a friend who has a new baby. Knitting is very calming…a good thing right now, for sure.
  • I’ve had lots of time to catch up with friends by telephone. We are all so busy in “normal” life that we sometimes lose touch with people we love. Without errands to run or volunteer work to do, I’ve had a lot more quiet time at home. During my newfound quiet time, I’ve had time to chat with friends and family all over the country…at length! I have laughed and laughed with friends and family. We all know laughter is the best medicine, and I have some really funny friends and family.
  • Ordering gardening seeds has been super easy online, so I’ve ordered flower and vegetable seeds that I’m expecting to arrive sometime in the next few days. I even ordered the supplies I needed to get started. I plan to use our little poolhouse out back as a makeshift greenhouse till it’s warm enough for me to transfer seedlings to the ground. (If I didn’t have the little poolhouse, I’d find somewhere else.) I’ll actually be ahead of the curve this year with my garden instead of behind the curve like I usually am! Maybe I’ll have an even more beautiful garden! And I’m motivated to try to grow more food instead of just flowers, corn, and tomatoes. Maybe I’ll have some beans and brussels sprouts too! Time will tell, but I’m looking forward to getting started!
  • My teenage daughter is lucky she can communicate via FaceTime and other apps these days. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, we would have been a lot lonelier if we’d been practicing social distancing. We could handwrite letters or talk on the phone, but we could only talk to one person at a time, and if you called someone who was already talking with someone else, you just got a busy signal. Technology is a good thing for keeping today’s teens connected.
  • I getting to use the Flight Aware app a lot, and I find it entertaining and relaxing. There aren’t as many planes in the skies right now (let’s hope that changes soon), but it’s still fun to use the Flight Aware app. If you don’t have it, you should. We live in an airline hub city, so there are lots of flights to track in and out of the Charlotte airport, but today, I enjoyed spotting flights going from Montego Bay, Jamaica, to Montreal, and flights from Varadero, Cuba, to Toronto. My husband will tell you I’m a little crazy about Flight Aware. Any time I see a plane, I have to look it up. Get it on the App Store.
  • My husband has promised he will ride out to “the country” with me soon…whenever we have a clear night sky. I love stargazing and searching for satellites, but it’s hard to do at our house, because there’s too much light pollution. I don’t want to go sit in the dark somewhere alone, so he has to go with me. Last time I made him go, he enjoyed stargazing a lot more than he thought he would. I use the Sky Guide app to identify stars and constellations, and it also shows me satellites that will be passing overhead. It’s fun to search for them. That gives me something to look forward to.
  • And last but certainly not least, we’re all probably praying a lot more. Nothing brings people closer to God than a crisis.

There’s a lot of good going on in the world right now. Maybe you’d like to “tell me something good”? Share something you’re doing to keep yourself and/or your family entertained. Or tell me something positive that’s happened in your life this week.

 

 

How Did I Miss Out on This?!?!

How did I miss out on this?!?!

Throughout life, there are times that I’ve thought, “How did I miss out on this?!?!” But by the time I reached age 52, I thought I had likely seen it all. Surely, unless it’s something new, there’s nothing that’s been going on for years around me that I didn’t even notice. Sure, at 40-something, I learned about the little tabs on the end of the aluminum foil box that hold the roll in place, but that was before I was 50. I wasn’t surprised about the flat tire icon on the car dashboard or the little arrow that shows which side the gas tank is on. If you don’t know all those things, you need to get busy Googling.

But earlier this week, I learned about something that is supposedly southern that I didn’t know about. That thing? Pineapple Casserole. Never heard of it till Sunday or Monday of this week, and as I type, it’s Wednesday. I grew up in Alabama. If it’s a southern dish, how did I manage to make it to 52 without ever having heard of it?!?

So I did what I do. I went to my personal Facebook page and asked my friends if they grew up eating/knowing about Pineapple Casserole, and if they did, where did they grow up?

I got lots of responses saying they grew up with it. Lots of folks from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and surprisingly (to me), Alabama…even a friend from High Springs, Florida, which is actually in the part of Florida that’s still “southern” had grown up with it! My people (an aunt and cousins) in the Florida Panhandle (a part of Florida that is still very southern) had not grow up seeing it, just like I’d never seen it. One cousin said she had it as an adult when a friend made it, but otherwise, my family had somehow missed out on Pineapple Casserole. Maybe it’s a familial thing??? I’d never even had it at my grandmother’s house in Birmingham, but according to a cousin who now lives in California, she had served it to her and her friends she referred to as the “soup ladies.” Even my friend, Amy, from Selma, Alabama (does it get any more southern than Selma?!?), said she did not eat it growing up. I promptly decided we must be related, since we both grew up in Alabama and had never heard of it. I now refer to her as Cousin Amy.

But just so you know, friends from Indiana, Philadelphia, and Delaware also had it when they were growing up, so now I’m wondering just how “southern” it is. But that’s beside the point. Everyone except one South Carolina girl gave it two thumbs up, so you know I have to try it.

I will make it later this week, and I can hardly wait! But for the holy grail of Pineapple Casseroles, I’m going to ask my friend, Crazy Jane, to make it for me when she visits. Crazy Jane is the best cook in the world, so even if we followed the exact same recipe, her version would be far better than mine. She just has a special touch.

I’ve asked several friends what I should expect. Some say it’s the perfect side dish with ham. Others say it’s almost dessert-like, because it does contain sugar…and not just a little of it. Plus, pineapple is sweet and a little dessert-like, right? It also contains butter, flour, cheese, and other stuff. Sounds disgusting, right? But my friends know good food, so I’m trusting them when they say it’s delicious. I thought the recipe for the Mississippi Pot Roast (click here) sounded disgusting too, but I absolutely love the stuff!

So I know you’ve been waiting for the recipe. I went to the Southern Living website for the recipe, because it’s a site I trust. If Southern Living posts a bad recipe, they hear about it from lots of southern ladies, so I think they’re pretty careful. You can see the recipe here.

If you’ve never had Pineapple Casserole and decide to make it, I’d love to hear your feedback! I’m starting to question my southern roots, since I’ve never had it! How did that happen?!? I’ve been to lots of church covered dish lunches and family potlucks, and I’ve never seen it. Or maybe when I was a kid, I saw it and thought it looked disgusting. That’s likely. I’ll let you know what I think after I make it.

I’m also wondering if I can get Hungry Girl to do some ingredient swaps and bring down the calorie count on this crazy sounding dish?!? Maybe I’ll send the recipe to their test kitchen!

 

 

Run, Don’t Walk…to Season 3

I’m five episodes into Season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime, and I just can’t get enough! I have been wrapping Christmas gifts while watching…very relaxing…and I actually get to watch the show, because my husband wants nothing to do with gift wrapping. He will not darken the door of the room for fear of being asked to help.

I’m not going to officially review the series, but I will say I absolutely love it. I love the characters, the scenery, the wardrobes, the humor…it’s all fantastic. If you haven’t seen any of the episodes, start from the beginning. It’s worth your time, but make sure you have time, and make sure there are no distractions. You don’t want to miss a single line of the dialogue. You don’t want to miss a single scene.

When I was younger, I often found myself adding a little pep to my step after watching certain music videos. Back in the day, some of Madonna’s videos…Express Yourself and Vogue…made me feel stronger. As a middle-aged mom, I get the same effect from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Midge Maisel’s view of the world is very different than my own, but her point of view somehow emboldens me. You guessed it…I want to be Midge Maisel.

Alas, Midge and I have very little in common, and that might be the very reason I find her so fascinating. She’s a divorced, Jewish, stand up comic who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I’m a WASP, middle-aged mom who grew up in Alabama. Yet, I get her! I understand her! I want to be her!

And the other characters! The parents play a big role in Season 3! The relationship with her ex-husband, Joel, has a twist! The character of Suzie Myerson gets more depth, and we even see a lot more of Sophie Lennon! And the settings! Vegas! Miami! And imagine those cities in the early 60s!

All of this is my way of saying, “Run watch season 3!” It’s hard to believe the writing for the series has stayed as consistently good as it has…but I think it might just continuously get better! Each character becomes more developed as the series continues, and each one has more and more depth…revealing fascinating flaws, humor, and compassion.

Here’s how much I love it: last winter, I went on eBay and purchased a couple of velvet swing coats…just like the ones Midge wears in Season 1. I can hardly wait to wear them this winter! And Revlon has a set of lipsticks based on the series. You can see them here. I will be getting them for Christmas…thanks Santa!

Take Ten Seconds

A friend just shared on Facebook a video of Mr. Rogers accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1997. In his acceptance speech, the beloved Mr. Rogers asks if everyone will take “just 10 seconds to think about the people who have helped you become who you are…the ones who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.” And he silently keeps time on his watch…just ten seconds to think of the people who helped you become who you are. You can see a clip here.

I loved Mr. Rogers. It’s no secret. My friends have known that for years. In Pittsburgh a few years ago, I forced everyone in my party to visit the Heinz History Center to see the Mr. Rogers exhibit…some of the pieces from his television show. I was happy. I looked at all of it and thought how much my little girl self would have loved to see it all in person back in the 1970s. Mr. Rogers was a part of my childhood. If you are close to my age, he was likely a part of your childhood too. You likely know the theme song for his show. You likely remember some of the characters from The Neighborhood of Make Believe. Sure, we sometimes made fun of Mr. Rogers and his cardigans and practical shoes, but we all learned something from him.

And as it turns out, Mr. Rogers, in his acceptance speech, was still affecting people. In fact, he’s still affecting us today. That very video made me stop and think about something I hadn’t thought about before…the people who helped me become who I am.

For me, there are many…my parents, my family, some of my teachers, my college friends, other friends…you know, the usual. I won’t name any names, but there are other people who helped me become who I am, and some of them did not do it intentionally. You know who really helped me become who I am? People with whom I had a disagreement of some sort. Seriously. Think about that. When you have a disagreement with someone, it changes who you are…hopefully for the better. And I truly believe that, when I’ve had disagreements with folks, I have been introspective afterward…thinking about where I might have been right and where I might have been wrong. There are also people with whom I had a chance encounter…maybe they helped me carry my groceries; maybe they blessed my day; maybe they stopped me from doing something stupid; or maybe they encouraged me to take a risk I wouldn’t normally have taken. The list is long.

But the list of people who have cared about me along the way? I have a small family, so that list is not particularly long. I have some great friends with whom I will be friends till I die. And I’ve had other friends who aren’t still around, but they cared about me at some point, and I cared about them…and deep down inside, I truly care about anyone who was my friend at one time. Truth. And even if they don’t care about me, they still shaped me in some way.

I’m a firm believer that everyone we encounter affects us and shapes us in some way…maybe it’s a positive and maybe it’s a negative.

So stop and think about the people who have made you who you are. Sure, some of them cared about you. Some of them just affected you in a chance encounter. Be restrospective and introspective. And then, get out and go see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. Just seeing the movie trailer makes me cry, so when I go see it, I’ll have lots of tissues. I plan to see it within the next few days.

My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2019, Part 2: Home Gifts

If there’s someone on your holiday gift list who loves receiving home gifts, you’re in the right place. Or if you’re planning to go to holiday parties in folks’ homes, you need to be prepared to take some hostess/host gifts. Either way, I’ve done lots of research, so you don’t have to. Need some ideas? Every year, I take great pride in finding gifts that are unique. Don’t get me wrong. Nobody loves a good candle more than I love a good candle, but I also love to give unique gifts.

So here we go…for your viewing pleasure…gifts for the home!

Neiman Marcus 2019 Holiday Platter. I’m a big fan of the Neiman Marcus annual holiday platter, and this is a repeat from last year’s list. In fact, it will be a repeat every year. I get one for myself every year, and I get some for friends too. At $40, it’s pretty inexpensive, and the platters are always beautiful and well-made. And don’t forget useful…I use them all the time! This year’s platter is red, my favorite color for the holidays! You can purchase online here. And when you order from Neiman Marcus for the holidays, I always recommend paying the extra for the beautiful gift wrap. It makes the gift a little more special.

Custom Family Portrait. Sounds expensive, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be. A friend gave me the cutest family portrait from Mrs. Best Co. shop on Etsy. Starting at  about $40, these cute, whimsical portraits are fun and memorable! Anyone would appreciate this thoughtful gift! If you know someone for whom you’d like to do this, start thinking about doing it now! You can purchase here.Look around on Etsy at different versions. There are more detailed family portraits that are more expensive, but this one is fun!il_fullxfull.1514771239_4aevTea/Dish towels. I love when someone gives me tea/dish towels. I love flour sack dish towels, and I love funny dish towels. And I especially love holiday themed dish towels, because it’s an easy way to “decorate” for the holidays. This year, I found some cute ones at Target. They’re inexpensive, and they’re festive. Some are Sugar Cookie-themed, while others are Hot Cocoa-themed or just general holiday themed. Purchase for $5.69 (for two!) here. Amazon has some great flour sack towels too. You can see those and purchase here.

Coffee Table Books. One of my best friends loves Coffee Table Books more than anything. She knows I’m talking about her. While I don’t love them as much as she does, I enjoy them too. There are some great ones out there. Chip and Joanna Gaines have the coffee table book, Homebody, in Target Stores now for 30 percent off! Get it here. I also came across a lovely coffee table book earlier this year by Shayla Copas; it’s called Four Seasons of Entertaining, and while I would never be able to put together the things she pulls together, the book is full of great ideas and it is absolutely gorgeous! I actually met the lovely author at a signing in our local Neiman Marcus, and she was perfectly charming. Purchase the book here.

Knit Throw. Last year, I was all about the faux fur throw, and I still love them. But this year, I’m all about the knitted throw…especially the ones that are extra chunky. I could make my own, but frankly, the yarn alone would cost me more than purchasing a throw in a store. I found one in Target last night that I absolutely loved, and it’s under $70. I also found one at Amazon for about the same price. Does anything seem more cozy than a chunky knit throw? And they look beautiful too! Get one at Amazon here.61J1XPV1RPL._SL1078_

Mario Luca Giusti Set of Double Old Fashioned Glasses. Acrylic, acrylic, acrylic. These double old fashioned glasses are fun…the colors are fun…and the fact that they are virtually unbreakable makes them even better! I have lots of friends who would love these. For just $72, you can get these for your friend or family member at Neiman Marcus. And don’t forget the pretty gift wrap! Purchase here

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Custom Home Portrait. I want this. I want this. I want this. I think people love having pictures of home. And this is another good, inexpensive gift option. I have found some places on Etsy that do home portraits for as little as $25! Yes! You read right: $25! It’s hard to find any gift for $25 these days. Of course, some home portraits are more “custom” than others, so prices can vary. The photo below is from Bailemor Studio on Etsy and priced at $29. Look at lots of different options on Etsy here.il_fullxfull.2024205616_cw36Letter board. This isn’t something I thought I would ever recommend, but I’ve seen how friends leave positive messages for their families…in their kitchens, mudroom, etc., so I think they’re fun! And I think kids and teens like them too. Wandering through Target last night, I came across a few, ranging in price from $12.99 to $29.99. Look closely to decide which one will suit your friend or family member best. What a fun, inexpensive gift! See Target’s offerings hereIMG_5131

Glass lantern. A friend gave me a glass lantern during the holidays last year, and though I had never thought about one before, I absolutely loved it! She had tied a beautiful holiday bow at the top, and I put a battery-operated candle in it…it made for a lovely holiday centerpiece in my dining room. Therefore, I’ve decided glass lanterns make great gifts. And the recipient can change the bow for different seasons. I have several favorites. See photos below.

Decorative Dragonfly (or Butterfly, Bee, or Ladybug). These are just little tchotchkes, but they’re fun, and I think they make lovely, thoughtful gifts for the right person. For example, I have a friend who loves dragonflies…they remind her of her daddy. Another friend loves ladybugs, because she feels like they are good luck. They would love these little brass tchotchkes, and at $35, these are a bargain gift. Get them at Neiman Marcus.

Louis Sherry Chocolates. I have loved Louis Sherry Chocolates since the first time I had them at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in New York. They come in lovely tins, and the chocolates are unforgettable. I wrote a piece about them in September. You can see it here. These make great hostess gifts for the holidays, and this year, Louis Sherry is offering a limited edition Nutcracker tin. Get the 12-piece tin of chocolates for $35 at Neiman Marcus here.Or order directly from Louis Sherry, where they are priced at $40.nmhcnlx_mz.jpg
Mason Jar Indoor Flower Garden. I saw this on Uncommongoods.com and immediately ordered it for a friend who loves flowers as much as I do. Flowers are beautiful and brighten anyone’s day, but what’s even better? Edible flowers! Using just this kit and some water, the recipient can have a lovely windowsill garden! Priced at $20, it’s a lovely hostess gift or holiday gift for a friend or family member. Get it here.42998_1_640px

Anthropologie. This is a first. I normally don’t just list a store in my gift pieces, but Anthropologie has lots of little, unusual, home gifts. Some of my favorites are their Agate Cheese Boards and their bud vases. But I highly recommend you just go peruse the site…click here to see their home gifts.

The Buttercup. If you live in Charlotte or find yourself in the area, visit The Buttercup on Providence Road for more great home gifts. See the website here.

Corner Copia Gardens and Gifts. In Fairhope, Alabama, shop Corner Copia Gardens and Gifts for lots of great home/garden gifts. Located at 11983 E State Highway 104 in Fairhope.

And those are my selections/suggestions for HOME GIFTS for 2019. I hope you’ll find something that will help make your holiday gifting easier! If you’d like to see last year’s selections for more ideas, you can click here

    UP NEXT? GIFTS FOR TEENS/COLLEGE STUDENTS…COMING SOON!

 

Crazy Movies We Love

This past weekend, my friend, Angela, and her daughter came in from Montgomery. It was my daughter’s 16th birthday, so we wanted them here for the festivities. The girls “partied” all weekend. When they were around us, we all shared some great meals. And Angela and I talked about our very favorite movies about exaggerated, deranged characters. Yes, we have favorites, and since it’s October, and we are leading up to Halloween, you might be in a crazy movie mood.

At some point during the weekend, Angela told me there’s a new sequel to The Shining coming out in theaters in November. The Shining is one of my very favorite movies of all time…so many great scenes. Who can forget “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”? Or how about “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”? Plus, the twins, the red rum scene, the maze, the snowplow…so many great scenes. I most recently watched it with my friend, Jennifer, and our daughters, a few years ago when we were staying at Mohonk Mountain House, an historic hotel in a lovely, mountain resort setting in Upstate New York. Some claim Mohonk Mountain House is haunted, so that made our viewing of The Shining even more erie! Making it even scarier? About 3/4 of the way through the movie, we heard someone trying to open a door. I thought it was our balcony door, so I threw myself against the door to give everyone else time to get out into the hall. Yes, I was going to sacrifice myself to save the others! Go ahead…laugh. But seriously, I threw myself against that door so hard that my arms hurt the next day! Jennifer ran out the door into the hallway with the girls. Nope, she wasn’t worried about holding back the would-be villain like I was. Of course, it turned to be no deranged villain at all. We discovered it was the neighbors who had just checked in, checking the lock on the door connecting our rooms. For more info on Mohonk Mountain House, click here.

But in discussing The Shining and its sequel, Angela and I started talking about other “crazy” movies we love. ***Disclaimer: we call these movies crazy because the characters are extreme. We are, in no way, saying people who are mentally ill are “crazy.” There’s a difference between deranged movie character and a mentally ill person.*** Here are a few films we recommend:

  • Fatal Attraction, starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close, released in September of 1987. Angela and I were a little shocked when we looked up the release date…can it really have been that long?!?! We were both only 20 years old when it came out. Wow. The film centers around a brief weekend affair between Dan, a married man played by Douglas, and Alex, a woman (played by Close) who refuses to let the affair end. Yes, Alex becomes obsessed with Dan and inserts herself into his life in various ways, and when things don’t go the way she hopes, she boils his daughter’s pet bunny in their kitchen. If you’ve ever heard someone call someone a “bunny boiler,” well, they are referring to a scene in Fatal Attraction. My friend, Wendy, who passed away in 2018, loved that reference. You can see the film on Amazon Prime.
  • Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason-Leigh. Taking it way back again, Angela and I both thought of Single White Female, and we agreed it is worth mentioning. Based on a novel by John Lutz called SWF Seeks Same, it’s the story of Allie (Fonda), a young software designer who, after finding out her boyfriend has cheated on her, advertises for a roommate. Hedra, aka Hedy, (Jason Leigh) responds to the ad and moves in. Hedy becomes obsessed with details of Allie’s life and even becomes jealous when Allie reconciles with her boyfriend. In one memorable scene, Hedy is clearly trying to become Allie. Hedy, as it turns out, is not mentally stable, and as that becomes obvious, characters start dying. The film was released in 1992, but I still hear references to it on a regular basis. When a female becomes “obsessed” or overly interested in the life of another female, I’ve seen people look at each other and utter three words: single white female. I’ve even said it myself. Heck, I’ve felt like I had my own single white female following me around before. You can see the film on Amazon Prime. It’s a good one to watch with girlfriends.
  • The Gift, starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton, released in 2015. This is one my husband discovered, and I made Angela watch it. She loves a good, suspenseful movie, so it was right up her alley. First of all, there’s Jason Bateman…a great reason for any woman to watch a movie. This film is about a young married couple (Bateman and Hall) who run into an acquaintance from high school in a store, bringing the acquaintance, Gordo, back into their lives. The plot takes lots of twists and turns. The first time I saw the movie, I was surprised by some of the twists, and it left me a little shaken. It will make me question my own character judgment. You can see it on Amazon Prime. *There’s another movie called The Gift on Prime that was released in 2001, so make sure you get the right one. The other one might be good too, but I’m not familiar with it.
  • Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, released in 2014. This film centers around the disappearance of the young wife of Ben Affleck’s character. When it appears he might have been involved in her disappearance, Affleck’s character becomes the focus of the investigation. Again, lots of twists and turns, and I won’t spoil it by telling you which one is crazy, but believe me, there’s a lot of crazy…a whole lot of crazy. This movie was well-received by audiences and critics. It’s worth seeing. See it on Amazon Prime.

There are others…Diabolique, starring Sharon Stone…one of my favorite lines of all time was from this movie. Kathy Bates, as a detective, suggests to Sharon Stone’s character that she might have killed the man involved because he left her and went back to his wife. Her response? “Have you seen his wife? Honey, if I couldn’t get a man to leave her, I wouldn’t kill him; I’d kill myself.” A biting line, indeed. Misery, starring Kathy Bates and James Caan, is another good one; What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, is a classic; Sunset Blvd, starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson; Natural Born Killers, starring Woody Harrelson and Juliet Lewis…and many more.

So go ahead, become the winter caretaker of a mountain hotel. Find a roommate who wants to take over your life. Marry someone you thought you knew. Run into an acquaintance from long ago. Better yet, have an affair and find a boiling bunny in your kitchen.

Or instead…just watch movies about it.

 

Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

*****

Game Day Snacks

It’s football season! Finally!

In North Carolina today, the sky is a little more clear, and the wind is a ever so slightly more dry. Maybe it’s a cold front moving in, or maybe I’m imagining it, but since today is National College Colors Day, I know it is officially football season.

I love all kinds of football…high school, college, professional…well, I don’t really like to watch bad, messy football (like that Florida/Miami game last week), but I will even take that over no football at all. I get it from my mother. The woman loved football. Interesting that the start of football season usually falls around her birthday. She is gone now, but I know she would be excited if she were here. In my house, you had to like football. You also had to like to watch baseball and basketball, or you were going to be watching television alone. We watched sports year round. I don’t watch baseball and basketball like I used to. I still like them, but I just don’t watch them much anymore. But football? Bring…it…on!

And with football, there are gatherings of friends and families. Where there are gatherings, there must be food. I’m not talking tailgating…that’s food on a whole different level. I’m talking football gatherings at home…like the one I’ll have this weekend when Alabama plays Duke in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. I’d normally go to that game, but my teenage daughter has big plans for the weekend, and I didn’t really want to go without her.

So here are a few of my favorites to serve at football parties at home:

  • Cheeseburger Mini Meatloaves. This is a recipe from my very favorite source, Hungry Girl. I’m an avid follower of on Instagram, and I subscribe to the emails and check the website regularly. These Cheeseburger Mini Meatloaves are simple to make and require only a few ingredients. You won’t believe you didn’t think of these yourself. I’ve served them several times, and every time, they disappear quickly, so make a few batches. See the recipe at hungry-girl.com, here.

    retina_hungry-girl-cheeseburger-mini-meatloaves-20170220-1619-32204-3223

    Photo from hungry-girl.com

  • Toasted Pimento Cheese Rounds. Super easy to make. Purchase a sliced French loaf at your local grocery store. Spread your favorite pimento cheese spread over the rounds. Crumble a few pieces of cooked bacon over the top. Pop into the oven at 325 degrees, and remove when cheese is bubbling. You can add a small 1/4 slice of tomato to the top or not. I prefer Palmetto Cheese brand (see it here), and I like the jalapeño pimento cheese for an added kick.

    pimento-cheese-palmetto-cheese-wisconsin-dairy_02

    Photo from pimentocheese.com

  • Veggie Dip. I love the flavor of dill in a dip, and I’ve found a great recipe for a veggie dip. It contains onions and dill, and it’s fresh and tasty. It’s just a few ingredients and super easy…but super tasty. Get the recipe here. Serve with your favorite raw veggies. I prefer carrots, broccoli, and cucumber slices.
  • Herbed Parmesan Popcorn. Popcorn is always a good snack for game days, but sometimes it’s fun with a twist. I found a recipe for Herbed Parmesan Popcorn that’s easy to make…notice a theme here? I don’t do complicated recipes. I’ve served it twice, and both times, it was well-received. Get the recipe here.herbparmpopcorn_jimfranco1-2
  • Seasoned almonds. My friend, Mary Ann, introduced me to some gourmet, seasoned almonds recently, and I haven’t been able to stop eating them. I think they are great to have in bowls around the room for a ball game. Made by Blue Diamond, I find them in my local Target. My favorite flavors are the Pink Himalayan Salt and the Rosemary. I like the Garlic, Herb and Olive Oil ones, but I have a feeling I will love the Black Truffle flavor too! See the Blue Diamond website here. You can purchase them in grocery stores, or you can order directly from Blue Diamond via the website.

And if you’re not up for preparing your own game day snacks, I recommend picking up from these two places:

  • Chick-Fil-A. I wrote recently about the Chick-Fil-A One app…don’t forget to use it if you pick up a tray of nuggets, chicken strips, cool wraps, mac and cheese, or cookies. And you must order in advance! I do all my ordering through the app, and I get those valuable points too! My person favorite for game day? A nugget tray with Chick-Fil-A sauce, a fruit tray, and some chocolate chip cookies. They’re always a hit. See the Chick-Fil-A website here.
  • Zoe’s Kitchen. I love Zoe’s. I discovered it when we moved our little family to Alabama for a couple of months in 2006, when my daddy was sick. Everything they offer is delicious. Their hummus tray is great for gatherings, and I love their pita trays too…a different kind of sandwich tray with a Mediterranean flavor. And if you just need some side items, I highly recommend their slaw and potato salad. See their website here.

There you have it…my recommendations for game day snacks. Let’s get this football season started! I can hardly wait for lots of games to be on every weekend.

Are you ready for some football???