Writing My Way Through Tough Times

Writing my way through tough times.

If we live long enough, we all experience heartache at some time or another. It might be in the form of a breakup, or it might be in the loss of a loved one. I experienced a few breakups as I grew up, just like most everyone else, but my first big, real heartache was when my daddy was diagnosed with and eventually died of pancreatic cancer in 2006.

He was officially diagnosed in February of that year, and he died on October 2 of the same year. Today is the 16th anniversary of his death…a tough day for me, and a reminder of the heartache I managed to survive. I suffered. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced…losing my daddy. I was the mother of a toddler, but I was afraid I was losing my mind. I made lots of plans, because I thought I needed to stay busy. I ran myself ragged. But I learned.

When my mother fell ill 11 years later, my friend, Angela, who has also lost her father, said, “Get ready. It’s going to be tough when you lose her.” I vividly remember turning to her, saying, “It’s going to be tough, for sure, but I feel like I learned something when Daddy died. I feel like I developed some coping skills.” And after Mother passed, I learned I had, in fact, developed some coping skills. I had learned not to run from it. I had learned from my experience with Daddy’s death that I needed to just drop out of the world for a little while and process it. So that’s what I did after Mother died. I have written about it before. I literally gave myself permission to recover quietly and cancelled all plans and went to bed for a month. Don’t get me wrong. I was functional. But I didn’t feel like being social, so I wasn’t. I did what I needed to do for our daughter, but for the most part, I stayed home. And after a month, I “pulled up my bootstraps” and rejoined the living.

For Christmas that year, I had received a gift from a friend. It was a book called My Future Listography: All I Hope to do in Lists. When I received the gift, I thought it was cool, but when Mother died five days after Christmas, the book took on more meaning. It’s a journal, of sorts, and it’s part of a series of Listography books. Each one contains lists to fill in, and this one is full of lists about the future. Examples of some of the lists: What countries do you want to visit? What films do you want to see? What fictional characters would you like to hang out with? But after Mother died, the book became good therapy for me. Sounds crazy, but it gave me things to think about in the future. It made me see past the state of gloom I was in and look to the future. It really helped me move through the grief. It helped me realize that the act of putting my thoughts out there could help me heal. To order My Future Listography, click here.

And because of that, I started my blog. Writing things down…or typing them, in the case of the blog…was therapeutic! My Future Listography had brought me through the initial trauma of losing my mother, and writing the blog helpted me continue to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Since losing my Mother on December 30, 2017, I have given copies of My Future Listography to lots of friends when they have been going through tough times…breakups, death of a loved one, or even new empty-nesters who are having a hard time. Sometimes, they look at me like it’s a weird gift, and maybe it is…but several times, people have called me later to tell me how much it helped them keep putting one foot in front of the other…keep looking toward the future. We know time helps with heartache, but knowing there is life ahead of the heartache can help too. When someone is in the middle of grief or heartache, they aren’t necessarily thinking about the good things ahead, but this journal can help them see what the future might look like.

I have a friend who went through a terrible breakup two years ago, and I gave her a copy after the relationship ended. There’s something about a relationship ending that can seem particularly dismal. It can feel like everything you believed about someone was wrong…a lie. Later, we realize that’s not always the case; sometimes, there are just extenuating circumstances that cause relationships to end. And as with my friend, sometimes we need to be reminded that there is a bright future ahead. She called me months after the breakup and told me the journal of lists had helped her. Now, I keep a few handy to give as gifts, because you never know when someone you love is going to experience something bad.

Sometimes, we just need a reminder that better things lie ahead.

College Move-In

College move-in.

It’s behind us. We got our daughter, a college freshman, moved in 11 days ago. My husband and I loaded all her stuff into two automobiles and drove 450 miles to her college to move her in. One car stayed with her, because the college she is attending allows freshman (almost encourages them) to bring their own cars. The actual move-in wasn’t bad, because the school brings in student groups and hires others to help with the process…lots of helpers. They actually take everything up to the rooms in big bins (see feature photo). It’s amazing! Everything was in the room within minutes. Of course, we had to put everything away.

The day after we moved her in, my husband flew home. I stayed in Alabama (she is going to the University of Alabama) to visit family and friends who feel like family for nine days while our daughter participated in the legendary Alabama sorority rush. Bid Day, when the girls receive their invitations to join sororities, was yesterday. I took some photos of our daughter with her new sorority sisters and scooted out of there…partly because the day is about her, not me…and partly because it was hotter than three blue Hells, and I was melting.

Today I drove the 450 miles home, feeling good about where she is.

At about the 350 mile mark, I received a text from her asking if something looked “concerning.” I was about to stop for gas anyway, so I looked at the photo and didn’t think it looked too bad. It was a photo of her heel, but there was a Band-Aid on it, so I couldn’t really see it very well. Fast forward a little while, and she was calling me to tell me she was going to the doctor. Apparently, she was in a lot of pain…and she has a really high pain threshold. During rush, she had worn some new heeled shoes that rubbed a bad blister on one heel…and then it became infected…and the photo she sent me didn’t do it justice. Ugh. Let me add here that the shoes were new and expensive, and she is telling me she will never wear them again. Maybe she can sell them?!?!

The doctor was pretty alarmed when he saw it and ordered a penicillin shot, an oral antibiotic, and an antibiotic ointment, explaining that there is very little skin tissue in that area, and infection could damage the Achilles tendon! I had never heard that! How many heel blisters have I had in my life?!?! How did I not know that?!?! We are praying it will look better in the morning.

Fortunately, she has a fantastic roommate who has been very supportive and helpful. Plus, she sent me a video of my daughter getting the penicillin shot…her first shot ever in her “fanny.”

Our daughter hasn’t even started classes for her freshman year yet, and she has already had her first medical emergency!

The way I see it, she learned some valuable life information. First, she learned that an infected heel blister can turn into an infected Achilles tendon, which is a bad problem to have. It can even cause sepsis…a serious medical issue. I’m proud she took action and nipped it in the bud before it got worse! Secondly, she learned where to seek medical help in a pinch near her college. Thirdly, she learned another valuable lesson when she texted me asking for my social security number. I texted back, “Why do they need that? I don’t give that out all Willy Nilly.” She texted that the doctor’s office forms ask for a parents’ info, since she is under 19. What?!?! She sent me a picture of the form, and I saw she had already entered her own social security number and was waiting for mine. I said, “Scratch out your social security number so none of it shows. Then walk up to the desk and tell the lady I won’t give you mine.” She did, and the lady told her, “No big deal.” I called her then and explained that doctor’s offices don’t need your social security number. Never give it to anyone except government entities, accountants, the university, or banks. There are some exceptions to that, but not many…and only give it when absolutely necessary.

So she had a day of learning two days before her first college class.

I’m sure she hasn’t thought to look at a map of the university to find the classes she will be attending Wednesday. Maybe she doesn’t need to do that. Maybe GPS will get her there.

And in the very little downtime I have had since I got home nine hours ago, I have answered texts, emails, and phone calls from people checking on me since I’m now an empty nester! Several have asked if I am emotional. No. I’m not emotional, but I think it’s because my brain has been occupied! I’m trying to make sure she is OK, and I’m also preparing to go on vacation! My flight leaves in 30 hours, and I have lots to get done before I leave. One thing I need to do is sleep. But I also need to make sure our daughter is OK before I get on a plane to fly another 800-1000 miles away. I’m already wondering if I need to delay my departure by a day. I will check with her in the morning and make her send me photos of her injury.

While I may be an empty nester, I’m still her mother. I still want to make everything better for her. I still want to make sure she is happy and healthy. But I’m proud that she, with the help of a fabulous roommate, handled this situation. She learned some valuable lessons today, and while I wish she were healthy right now, I’m just glad she was smart enough to take care of business.

To all my fellow mothers taking their kids to college, I say, “They are going to be OK…and we are too!”

***Feature photo from UA News Center, University of Alabama.***

Forever Friends

Forever friends.

We never really know who will be our forever friends, do we? I have had friends in my life I thought would be forever friends, but for different reasons (sometimes my fault, sometimes theirs, sometimes no one’s fault), it didn’t work out that way. For the most part, we just never knew the last phone call would be the last phone call. Or the last lunch would be the last lunch. We just drifted apart for whatever reason…moving, new responsibilities, life. No matter what, they all had some effect on my life. I have learned something from every friend in my life.

But my 18-yr-old daughter is visiting a friend in Pensacola, Florida, this weekend, and I think they are going to be forever friends. I can’t explain why I think it, but I do. Something about these two…a bond formed outside of other friendships, maybe? They support each other all the time. They have each other’s backs all the time. And they have similar interests (they’re both athletic, fun, and funny). They talk, I think, almost every single night via Facetime. So many nights I have walked into my daughter’s room to wish her good night, and she is talking with this friend. It makes me happy.

In 2014, when my daughter was 10 years old, we had a place on the Alabama Gulf Coast. That summer, because we knew she wouldn’t be willing to do it later, we decided to spend most of our time there…at the beach. Our daughter was playing club soccer, and at that point, she was very into it. Her club soccer coach, upon hearing we would be at the beach for the summer, suggested she find someone to practice with there…or even attend a camp there. So I did what moms do; I enrolled her in a camp and also enrolled her in some regular training sessions.

The camp I signed her up for turned out to be on the Naval Base in Pensacola. That Monday morning, bright and early, when we arrived, she looked out at the field from the car and said to me, “Mom, it’s all little kids.” She was right. It looked like a lot of six and seven year old kids. We had arrived early, so we had time to sit in the car and talk while we scanned the field. After a few minutes, I spotted a blonde girl who appeared to be about my daughter’s age, and I said, “There’s a girl your age!” She didn’t waste any time; she jumped out of the car and ran straight to the girl on the field. I stayed for the session but didn’t watch all the training. I walked around the area for exercise while she played, but I noticed when they had a break and walked back over to the sideline. My daughter came running over, her new friend in tow and introduced me to Lindsey. Even after knowing each other for an hour, they were already acting like best friends!

The camp was a one-week camp. Our daughter wasn’t feeling well one of the days, so she missed. Another day, it stormed, as it does on the Gulf Coast. But when she was there, she played soccer with her new friend at the camp. The last day was cut short by another storm, and soon after starting, the skies opened with torrential rains. We all ran to our cars to escape the downpour, and the rest of the last day of the camp was canceled. We left without getting contact information for Lindsey, because everything had ended so abruptly. It was fun while it lasted.

The next week, I took our daughter to the first of the weekly soccer training sessions. It was just going to be two hours a week on Wednesday mornings. So that Wednesday morning, I drove her to the field. And when we arrived, she looked out at the field and said, “Mom, it’s all big kids.” I couldn’t believe it. She was right. They all appeared to be over 13, and she was just 10. We sat in the car and talked about whether she wanted to do the training or not, and after a few minutes, I saw a minivan pull up behind me, and three kids tumbled out…two older kids and a girl who appeared to be our daughter’s age. I said, “Look! That girl is about your age!” She looked back and excitedly said, “It’s Lindsey!” And she couldn’t get out of the car fast enough! She jumped out with her soccer bag, and the girls embraced happily before going out onto the field.

After that, Lindsey visited us at our place on the beach, and the girls bonded. Whenever we visited the beach after that, they hung out. Two girls who lived 500 miles apart became best friends…having been brought together by soccer…with a little nudge from God, I think. Eventually, Lindsey visited us in Charlotte a couple of times, and last year, she vacationed with us in California. I’m not sure if her parents know it yet, but the girls are planning for her to vacation with us again this summer…maybe more than once!

Their meeting and formation of a friendship is one of my favorite friendship stories. In the fall, they are both off to college. No, they aren’t going to the same school. Mine is going to the University of Alabama, and Lindsey is off to Ole Miss. They’ll be just three hours apart, so I see lots of road trips in their future.

They’ll likely still Facetime regularly, though not every night, but I feel pretty sure these two will be forever friends. God put them in each other’s path for a reason.

A Conversation

A conversation.

I checked my Facebook memories this morning, and found a memory from this day in 2015. It started with my post that said, “Hoping all my friends in the northeast are staying warm and are ready for the big storm! Wendy, what say you? Are you wishing you lived in Charlotte right now?” (My friend, Wendy, lived in Boston at the time.) And then, Wendy, to my surprise, responded! (She wasn’t always the best about responding, but I didn’t hold it against her!)

  • Wendy: Um, that would be a hell yes!
  • Me: Ahhh…you thawed out enough to comment, Wendy! As soon as I saw how bad it was going to be, I immediately thought of how much you would like to be here [Charlotte] right now! We miss you!
  • Wendy: And actually, I’ve been thinking about how much you would love to be here too! I keep telling our Charlotte snow stories and laughing in comparison. Thinking about how much our kids would’ve loved to enjoy the blizzard together…who would’ve thought I’d see a blizzard again in my lifetime…Miss you too Laverne!

Seeing that exchange made me so happy. I can’t wipe the smile off my face! Sadly, Wendy passed away 3 1/2 years ago after a 30-year battle with various cancers. I miss her, but that little Facebook exchange brought me some joy! I could almost hear her talking. I feel like it’s a transcript of a conversation! It’s different than finding a card from someone, which is one-sided. This is an actual exchange! And it’s a gift. I think of Wendy all the time, but she has really been on my mind for the past few days for some reason. I dreamed of her two nights ago. I wish I had written the dream down, because I can’t remember details of it. I just know that we were going somewhere together in the dream…and it went on and on. I even woke up wishing I’d stayed asleep, so I could keep visiting with her.

I’m sure we were calling each other Laverne and Shirley in my dream. I became Laverne after we took our kids to bike the Virginia Creeper Trail years ago. If you’re not familiar with it, the Virginia Creeper Trail is a 17-mile bike trail down a mountain. (For info on the Virginia Creeper Trail, click here.) The whole trip was a comedy of errors…to the point that we were convinced we were being featured on some sort of secret survival TV show. Early in the bike ride, Wendy had declared herself as Laverne. But after a mile or two on the trail, the chain came off her bike, and she didn’t know what to do. I stopped and said, “Get off the bike. I got this.” I put the chain back on the bike, and then I stood up, and while I wiped my hands, I looked at Wendy and asked, “Now…who’s Laverne?” She laughed and said, “You are!” I said, “Of course I am. Thanks, Shirley!” (Neither of us wanted to be the prudish Shirley from Laverne and Shirley. Everyone knows Laverne was the cool one.)

We both proved to be pretty tough that day, though. We had made a bad decision when we decided to ride the trail in February. It was still too early in the year; in fact, the bike shop owner said it was the first time he had taken anyone up the mountain that year. (There are bike rental shops at the bottom of the mountain that take you to the top with the bikes.) We should have known then. The chain coming off the bike was minor compared to what we endured later. Once we got a few miles down the mountain, out of cell phone coverage, we encountered snow…probably a mile of it. We weren’t dressed for snow. We had three kids with us… and bikes! We would carry the kids a few hundred yards ahead, and then one of us would go back and get the bikes while one of us stayed with the kids. We repeated that till we got to the end of the snow, but our clothes were soaked through and cold! Our kids’ were freezing, so Wendy and I took off our socks and put them on our kids. In fact, I feel pretty sure we gave them our jackets, hats, and gloves too….doubling their coverage…and leaving us with one layer of clothing. Fortunately, through the misery, we were able to laugh about it a few times, asking each other, “Where are the cameras?!?! There must be cameras filming this fiasco! Are we being Punk’d?!?!” (Punk’d was a TV show featuring Ashton Kutcher playing pranks on celebrities.) But there were no cameras. We did make it to the end of the trail safely, and we enjoyed some hot coffee and hot cocoa and some lunch at a restaurant nearby before making our way home to Charlotte.

I sure wish she were here to laugh over a hot cup of coffee now. I’d even be willing to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail in the snow again if she could come back to go with me.

What Other People Think of Me…

What other people think of me is none of my business.

I can’t take credit for that. In fact, I have no idea who the originator of that quote was, but I like it. And you know why? Because really…what other people is think of me is none of my business. Isn’t it completely and utterly liberating to know that?

I’m what lots of people would refer to as an “over-sharer” on social media. I like to post all kinds of stuff…funny stuff, pretty scenes, and yes, lots of pictures of my family having fun. Just like everybody else in the world, my life isn’t perfect. I’ve had my share of tough times in life…losing loved ones being at the top of the list. And I have had my share of embarrassing moments. I tell people all the time that I have fallen down in all 50 states; well, not quite, but I do think I have probably fallen down in 35 or so. In February of 2021, I fell down the stairs of Galatoire’s in New Orleans! My teenage daughter was mortified, of course, but lucky me…no broken bones. Just a bruised ego. However, since I’m over 50, I know when to be really embarrassed, and since I knew I’d never see most of those people ever again, I wasn’t terribly embarrassed. Fortunately, as far as I know, there were no photos of the incident and no video. It would have been pretty funny, though…even I can admit that.

If there had been photographic evidence of it, I likely would have shared it on social media. Nobody loves seeing a good fall more than I do. I think I’ve written about it before. As long as no one is hurt, a good fall is downright hilarious.

Lately, with the ringing in of the new year, I’ve been getting lots of ads from PastBook on Facebook. PastBook prints all the photos you post on Facebook in a calendar year in book form. I ordered one last year, just to see what it was like, and I really liked it! I keep that 2020 PastBook on the coffee table in my livingroom for all the world to see. I don’t know that anyone has looked at it besides me, because even though I “over-share,” I know everyone in the whole world is not interested in my posts. I started over-sharing when my mother was still alive, because she lived hundreds of miles away, and she liked seeing pictures of her granddaughter. It was an easy way to share. And then, I guess I became addicted, because I realized Facebook is a good place to store memories! And Pastbook puts them all in print form!

Looking through my PastBook from 2020, I can see that, despite the pandemic hiccup in all our lives, I managed to have some fun that year. My husband and I spent a lot of time outdoors, and I had the most beautiful garden I have ever had in the history of my gardening! Even without air travel most of that year, we managed to go to some fun places and make some new memories. Looking at the book, though, I can see clearly that by September of 2020, I needed to get on a plane…and I did. I threw up some prayers and flew to California…and then I did it again that November…unvaccinated! And then everything surged again.

But in 2021, I started throwing caution to the wind, so I think my PastBook will be better for 2021. We met friends in New Orleans, LA, and the Bahamas…just like old times! I can hardly wait to order the Pastbook and see all the memories in print.

And y’all can make fun of me for over-sharing all you want. When our daughter was a little girl, I took pictures of every move we made…actually, I still do that. As much as it can be an annoyance, she appreciates it later. I’m the one my friends come to if they need pictures from the past, because I was always ready with a camera…till smartphones came along…so now I just use that. But my over-sharing is not for the rest of the world. It’s for me. And it’s for my daughter.

One day, many years from now, our daughter will be thrilled to have all the photos I have taken over the years. Just like I loved going through the pictures my nephew brought me from my mother’s house last weekend, she will likely enjoy going through all the photos I have taken and stored in books, on social media, and in Rubbermaid bins in our attic. She will be able to look through the photos and try to remember who the people are. She’ll likely have lots of stories to tell about the photos too. I made my nephew and his girlfriend sit through a lot of my stories last weekend!

I finally went through the second bin my nephew brought, and near the bottom, stuck in a Bible, was the black and white photo of my kindergarten graduation in 1973…something I thought was long gone. It’s the photo I used in the header for this post…just like the graduation caps worn by all those six-yr-olds, the photo is a little askew. My family had moved several times, and I hadn’t seen that photo in years, but there it was…at the bottom of a Rubbermaid bin. And I was thrilled to have it! In fact, I have now framed it and put it on a shelf in my livingroom, so I always know where it is. But I also shared it on Facebook. And lots of those kindergarten classmates chimed in, helping identify the kids in the picture! I remembered lots of them, but since I moved away in February of 1975, less than two years after the photo was taken, my memory was a little fuzzy on some of the faces. That’s OK, because after a little time, one classmate found a newspaper article that listed all the names and shared it in the comments of the photo. It made for some fun exchanges on Facebook…all of which will show up in my PastBook for 2022, I’m sure.

So yes, I over-share, and I’m glad I do, because I’ll have a record of so many different things in my life, and my daughter will have that record too. I might not ever write a bestselling novel or biography, but there will be proof of my life in pictures. And if my over-sharing is annoying, well, keep scrolling. Whatever you do, don’t tell me, because “what other people think of me is none of my business.”

***If you’d like to check out PastBook and possibly make your own, click here.***

Ready for the New Year?

Ready for the new year?

I don’t know that I’m ever actually ready for a new year, but most years, I am ready for New Year’s Day, and this year is no exception. I think different cultures have different traditions/superstitions for New Year’s Day, and growing up in the American South, I have a few of my own:

-“Rabbit! Rabbit!” I make sure to say this at some point on the first of every month, preferable first thing in the morning. But let’s face it, most mornings, when I first wake up, I don’t know what day it is! Lots of people say “Rabbit! Rabbit!” on the first day of every month for good luck. Apparently, rabbits are considered good luck. I tried to find an explanation online, and I found an NPR episode in which Martha Barnette, an etymology author, says the phrase dates back to at least the early 1900s. Some folks believe rabbits are good luck because of their fertility, which can be associated with new beginnings. Whatever. I just do it, because I’m always welcoming any good luck that comes my way! But it seems especially important on the first day of the year!

-Black-eyed Peas. A few years ago, I returned home from vacation late on New Year’s Eve, and I had not had an opportunity to go to the grocery store to prepare for New Year’s Day. Lucky for me, I had a can of black-eyed peas in my pantry. I can’t imagine what made me purchase canned black-eyed peas, because I prefer to cook dried ones, but the canned variety will do in a pinch! In my family, and across the American South, it is believed that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck and prosperity. Even when I was a little girl and didn’t care for them, my parents made me eat a spoonful of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. According to Modern Farmer, black-eyed peas came to the US on slave ships, and slaves planted them in their gardens. The same source says the Union Army took everything edible when they raided the south, but they didn’t take black-eyed peas. They were looked at then as “poor people’s food,” but after the war, they became popular all across the south. Some people in the south believe they represent coins. And some southerners cook them in Hoppin’ John, a southern rice dish. Personally, I love them…especially on New Year’s Day. I purchased them early this year…dried ones that I will start cooking early on New Year’s Day, so we can enjoy them in the afternoon. As for a recipe, I don’t make Hoppin’ John. I just soak the peas before I boil them with Goya pork seasoning and salt. I throw in the spinach, and while I normally try to keep them healthier, I’ll likely throw in some pork for New Year’s Day.

Greens. In the south, when most people say they eat “greens” on New Year’s Day, I think they mean collard greens or turnip greens. Some folks mean cabbage. I’m the outlier…I eat spinach on New Year’s Day. It’s still a green, and it’s iron-rich. I just can’t bring myself to cook turnips, cabbage, or turnips in my house, because I remember how our house smelled when I was growing up and Mother cooked greens. Collard greens, turnip greens, and cabbage taste good, but they smell rancid when they’re cooking. I can’t do that to my family, so we have spinach. Of course, I’m the only one who eats regular sauteed spinach, so I have to mix the spinach with the black-eyed peas. Greens represent money. And who doesn’t want more money in the new year? This year, I might add some extra spinach, in fact! And remember the year I had canned black-eyed peas? I was also lucky enough to find canned turnip greens in my pantry (Glory brand is seasoned really well).

-Pork. I don’t care what kind of pork it is, everyone who doesn’t have a religious exemption should eat a bite of pork on New Year’s Day. All my life, I’ve believed eating pork on New Year’s Day brings good luck, because that’s all I’ve ever heard. I looked into the reasoning, and according to thespruceeats.com, it’s considered a sign of prosperity in some cultures because “pigs root forward.” I guess that means we will continue to move forward if we eat pork. When I was growing up, my mother would cook a ham. My family won’t eat a whole ham, so I just purchased a couple of ham steaks to prepare on New Year’s Day. I’ll throw some of it in the black-eyed peas for seasoning. As for the preparation of the ham steaks, I will just cook them on the stove top in a skillet with a little butter and seasoning.

Cornbread. My parents used to make thin, fried cornbread when I was growing up. I’d never be able to do it. There was skill involved, and it was delicious. My cousin, Patti, still makes it, but I need a special brand of fine cornmeal that I can’t find in Charlotte. I’ll get Patti to bring me some next time she comes to town. Interestingly, the fried breads are round, which would be great if I could make them, because round foods are considered good luck in some countries. We used to eat it till we just couldn’t eat any more. I’ll make cornbread, but it will be regular baked, buttermilk cornbread. Why cornbread? Apparently, because of the golden color, it represents gold. I see a theme here. Southerners seem to want luck and prosperity in the new year!

-Champagne (or prosecco). Yes, I have bubbly not just on New Year’s Eve, but also on New Year’s Day, because it’s a celebration, after all. I have always believed we should start the new year on the right foot…celebrating. And bubbly goes great with all the foods listed above. And if you don’t like the foods listed above, it’s a lot easier to wash them down with bubbly!

Clearly, my traditions, except “Rabbit! Rabbit!” are all based around food! The good news for me is that these are some of my very favorite foods. For my family, though, it’s not one of their favorite meals, so they’ll choke down a few bites. We’d normally have lots of leftovers, but my nephew and a friend are coming to town this year, so I know they’ll help me eat it. I’ll have some pickled onions on hand, too, because they go so well with all of these foods! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

A Holiday Village

A holiday village.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Travel 2021

Holiday Travel 2021

Travel is back!

We were some of the odd people who traveled last Thanksgiving…during the pandemic. I just couldn’t take staying home anymore. Call me reckless, but when we got home, we didn’t have the virus…all my teenage daughter’s friends did, because they had gathered with local people. Travel was pretty easy back then, because the airports simply were not crowded. Same in February, when we flew to New Orleans over Presidents’ Day weekend, and we were still unvaccinated. Again, the airports weren’t crowded, and we got lucky and avoided the virus. When Spring Break rolled around in March, I was half-vaccinated, but I was determined to try to enjoy a vacation with our daughter and some of her friends in Miami. Success…we came home illness-free.

Soon after that, the whole family got vaccinated, and we moved around all summer. Sure, we were careful to wash our hands and wear masks indoors, but we lived life again. And it seems lots of other folks are doing the same.

We just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to California, and the airports were packed again. We flew out of Charlotte the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the Charlotte airport was wall-to-wall people. Same thing when we flew back…wall-to-wall people in the Los Angeles airport. But most people were wearing their masks correctly in the airport and on the flights. I had some concerns before we traveled, because of recent airline issues. I was afraid our return flights would be canceled, so I purchased some one way refundable tickets on another airline for the return, just in case, before I realized I could stay an extra few days and enjoy more vacation for the amount of money I was spending on those tickets!

We ended up having no issues during our travels. But I planned things carefully. To avoid issues, here are some tips for Holiday Travel 2022:

  • Book Early. This advice goes for airline tickets, hotels, and even rental cars. As availability decreases in each of these areas, prices increase. You can thank supply and demand for that. So book early. I just realized today that I had not booked a rental car for our Christmas trip, and when I looked, I knew I had made a big mistake. I will likely use Uber while we are there, because I refuse to pay ridiculous prices for a rental car. If you are going to need a rental car and haven’t booked it, book it now.
  • Try to travel on off-peak days. Everything I have read says the peak days around Christmas for air travel are December 22 and December 28 this year, but I’m guessing the 26th is going to be a busy day for those who have to get back to work on Monday. Try not to book your flights for those dates. I’m guessing December 24th will be a little crazy too, since Christmas is on a Saturday this year. My family will be traveling on Christmas Eve, so if you see us in the airport, we can commiserate.
  • Arrive at the airport early. You have likely heard it for years when you were traveling during the holidays: arrive early. Well, this year, you absolutely need to arrive early. There could be personnel shortages at the airport, causing a backlog in so many different areas of the airport. While the usual recommendation is to arrive two hours before your domestic flight, I recommend arriving three hours before, especially if you’re flying out of a busy airport. Obviously, if you’re flying out of somewhere like Pensacola, Florida, you don’t need as much time, but I flew out of Birmingham recently, and even with my TSA PreCheck clearance, I was in line for a while at security…longer than I’ve ever waited in Charlotte. I know, some will call arriving that early excessive, but what is it going to hurt for you to get there and relax for a little while before your flight boards? I can’t relax till I’m through security, but once I’ve cleared TSA, I feel so much better. A long security line gives me anxiety, if I’m pushed for time. Save yourself some anxiety…arrive early.
  • Do not check bags. I say this with a little hesitation. When I say “do not check bags,” I mean pack in appropriately-sized carry-on bags. Do not carry on the kitchen sink. My daughter and I each had a carry-on bag and a backpack for our recent trip to LA. We didn’t want to risk losing our luggage, and we didn’t want to have to wait in baggage claim forever when we got there. In the past, we have waited a long time for luggage in LA and Charlotte, so we avoid it now. Again, with personnel shortages, wait times could be longer. But whatever you do, please stick to the appropriate size limits and number of bags…that means one carry-on bag and one person item. Check airline websites for size restrictions. Obviously, if you are traveling with gifts for friends and family, you will likely need to check bags, unless you consider shipping everything (keep reading).
  • Pack medications and necessities in a carry-on. If you do opt to check luggage, make sure you have all your medications and any necessities in a carry-on bag. It’s always a good idea to have a change of clothes and a toothbrush/hairbrush in your carry-on, as well. Things happen. Connecting flights cancel, and bags are not accessible. Bags get delayed or lost. Trust me on this.
  • Consider shipping luggage and gifts ahead. To cut down on the amount of “stuff” you carry with you, ship any gifts, and possibly your luggage, ahead of time. That way, if you want you can wrap them ahead of time too. Otherwise, wrapped gifts will need to go in checked bags, and if TSA decides to open them, they can. You can ship via UPS, the United States Postal Service, or FedEx, or you can use a luggage shipping service like ShipGo. See their website here.
  • Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. If you’re traveling domestically, make an appointment now to get TSA PreCheck. It will save you lots of time and stress at the airport. You don’t have to take off shoes (unless your shoes cause cause the metal detector to “beep”). You don’t have to go through the body scanner. The lines are shorter. And if you’re traveling internationally, Global Entry can save lots of time on re-entry to the US. To make an appointment for TSA PreCheck, click here. In most cases, you’ll have your Known Traveler Number within two weeks after your appointment. For international travelers, Global Entry appointments can be made here.
  • Download MyTSA App. On the MyTSA app, you can store favorite airports and see up-to-the-minute wait times at various checkpoints at different airports. The app also includes a list of things you can bring onboard aircraft in checked bags and carry-on bags. There are also ways to request passenger support for travelers with disabilities and/or medical conditions. The app is a great place to get lots of information.
  • Carry snacks. December is prime time for weather issues. Be prepared. Always have some snacks (including some with protein) to keep you going when airports are full of people and it’s difficult to get food. You don’t want to get hangry.
  • Traveling by car? If you’re traveling by car, check your tires and oil before you leave. And if you’re traveling in cold climates, have a couple of blankets in the car, just in case. I used to think my daddy was crazy when he made me keep blankets in the trunk of my car, but I have friends who have had to sleep in their cars when they got caught in ice storms and/or snow storms. One was even caught in torrential rains/floods and had to sleep in her car. Having some bottled water and a few snacks on hand would be a good idea too. You might think it can’t happen where you are, but a few years ago, my daughter and I made it back to Charlotte from Birmingham, Alabama, just ahead of an ice storm. And be patient. The roads are going to be crowded. Have some backup routes in mind too. One year, when I was coming back from Atlanta, I realized it was going to take twice as long as it should if I stayed on the interstate, so I opted to take some “back roads.” It was quite an adventure, but I got home more quickly…and on less crowded roads. I wasn’t jockeying for position the whole time.

Happy Holidays and Happy Trails!

A Visit.

A Visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Gifting (Part 5): Give the Gift of Fun!

Give the gift of fun!

So, we have all been hearing for weeks on end that we need to shop early this year, because the supply chain is messed up. I have seen a few signs that this might be true, so I’m looking to purchase gifts that don’t have to be shipped here from other countries. Near the top of the list? The gift of fun! Someone said to me recently that I remind them of Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Woods. At first, I didn’t understand, so I simply asked, “Tigger?!?” My friend responded with, “Yes, Tigger! You’re always looking for the next fun thing!” Well, I won’t argue with that. And I love to share fun with other people! So why not give the gift of fun?!?!

Here are some ideas:

  • Amusement Park Passes. If you happen to live near a good amusement park and have someone on your list who loves rollercoasters as much as I do, a season pass could make a great gift! We are fortunate in Charlotte to have Carowinds, an amusement park with world-class thrill rides and rollercoasters. I used to be a regular there when our daughter was growing up, but in the last few years, I haven’t even been! I’d love if my husband gifted me with a season pass…it would give me an excuse to go!
  • Movie Passes. Movie theaters are finally open again, and we need to take advantage of it! I haven’t been to a movie since the pandemic began, but I plan to change that this week when I go see High Society (it’s the 65th anniversary) on the big screen! And I hope to continue going to movies! If you have someone on your list who enjoys a good movie, movie passes or a gift card to a local theater could make a great gift! And if they happen to love older movies, you might want to check the schedule for big screen oldies here.
  • Sporting Events. If you have a college or professional team in your area and have a sports fan on your list, tickets to a game could be a fun gift! In Charlotte, we are fortunate to have the NFL Carolina Panthers, the NBA Hornets, the minor league Charlotte Knights baseball team, and even some college teams! Not in Charlotte? Look around for other sporting events: rodeos, track meets, and more! If it’s a female friend, maybe you order an inexpensive stadium-approved clear handbag from Amazon (click here) and put the tickets in that!
  • Concerts. A few years ago, someone gave us tickets to a Sade concert as a Christmas gift. My husband loves Sade, but I was never a big fan…till we went to that show! John Legend opened and put on a fabulous show, making me a big fan, and then Sade was incredible! Wow! The lady is a performer! We had a great time, and I knew then that concert tickets make great gifts. Don’t we all remember concerts we’ve attended? How many gifts of “stuff” do you actually remember?
  • Special events. Maybe a local hotel or restaurant is hosting a wine tasting? Or maybe there’s a local Yoga and Mimosa event? Tickets to any type of special event of interest to the recipient make great gifts. A hotel near us, for example, hosts afternoon tea on weekends. Tickets are not required, but I have a friend who loves the afternoon tea experience at this hotel, so I know I could give her a hotel gift card with a note about the tea, and she would love it.
  • Family experiences. If there’s a family with kids on your list, they might enjoy a night at a Great Wolf Lodge! When our daughter was younger, she absolutely loved our local Great Wolf Lodge…the water slides, the restaurants, the kids club room, the arcade…everything about it. And I loved taking her and a friend, because I could relax while they had all the fun they could stand! Top Golf is another fun family experience…give a gift card for the whole family to spend some time together there! For kids, you might give the gift of art at Small Hands, Big Art, where they have art classes for kids of all ages.
  • Classes. I have a friend who loves taking classes. She just loves trying new things! She has taken cooking classes at Sur la Table. She has taken painting classes. She has taken glass-blowing classes and pottery classes. She loves to learn, so I know I can gift her a class of some type, and she will be thrilled!
  • Thrilling experiences. Have someone on your list who is a bit of a daredevil? Maybe they would like to try skydiving? Check with local companies…they might offer gift cards. Or maybe they would just to do indoor skydiving at iFly Charlotte. That’s an experience I’d love to have myself! Or if NASCAR is their thing, give them the Richard Petty Driving Experience! Into whitewater rafting? We are fortunate to have the US National Whitewater Center right here in Charlotte. It’s worth a trip to Charlotte for all the fun there! Or maybe they just like to watch thrilling experiences…like an air show. Air shows are held all over the country; check your local listings…tickets to an air show could be fun for the thrill enthusiast. Or perhaps flying lessons?

Just consider the recipient and think of something that would be fun for him/her. A cooking class sounds dreadful to some people (me), but lots of other people would co crazy over it!

The gift of an experience is something that will be remembered forever.

So this year, instead of worrying about whether or not the gifts you ordered are on a ship in the Pacific, give the gift of fun!