Sunflowers

Sunflowers look like happy faces. The young ones all face the same direction…toward the sun (to read why, click here). It’s not sunflower season, but pictures of them can sure brighten a dreary, winter day. They were my daddy’s favorite flower and by default, they became my mother’s favorite too. Bees love them too. Big fields of them cause people to stop on the sides of highways for photos. Because they were my parents’ favorite, they became my favorite too.

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This month is my parents’ 57th wedding anniversary (February 18), but they aren’t here to celebrate. That’s why sunflowers are featured in the Facebook cover photo. I took that picture last summer when my friend, Meg, and I drove up to Flat Rock to see our friend, Linda, perform the role of Ursula in The Little Mermaid. We stopped right on the side of the highway and took a bunch of photos.IMG_8684

Mother died December 30. It wasn’t really expected, but not entirely unexpected either. She had been in failing health for some time, but I didn’t see it coming. We talked every day, and even before Thanksgiving, she started saying, “Always remember I love you.” I thought she was just being sentimental, but in reality, she knew she was dying. Denial was strong for me. Looking back, I should have known, but I didn’t.  She mothered me for 50 years, and she was “Mama” to anyone who needed her. Fortunately, I was with her when she passed. There was no doubt she knew I loved her, and I knew she loved me. That’s all that matters.

FullSizeRender-27When my daddy died in October 2006, we had time to prepare and time to have those long, meaningful conversations. He had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in February of that year, so we knew. We spent lots of time reminiscing with him and making jokes, because if we didn’t laugh, we would cry. He helped us get out of jams our whole lives, but we couldn’t get him out of this jam. Since our daughter was not quite three, she wasn’t enrolled in real school yet, so our little family moved down to our little condo on the bay near my parents’ house in Alabama for the last couple months of his life. We are grateful for that time together.

My husband and I got married in August of 2000, and the next spring, I planted sunflowers all over our backyard, half expecting them to survive. Surprisingly, those sunflowers grew to be the biggest I’ve ever seen! The blooms were way bigger than my head, and I have a big head. Some of the stalks were thicker than my arm, and lots of them grew to be ten feet tall…or more! When it was time, I stood on a step stool and still had trouble reaching some of the blooms to cut them.

Mother and Daddy were proud. Sunflowers are pretty easy to grow, but I had worked hard fertilizing them, staking them, and watering them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have cell phone cameras then. I did take some pictures, and they’re in the house somewhere, but I have no idea where. After that year, I never planted sunflowers again; I developed a fear that I would stick my hands in the soil and pull out a snake.

This spring, however, I plan to honor my parents by planting OUR favorites, sunflowers, in my backyard again. I’m going to overcome my fear of snakes and plant those flowers so Mother and Daddy can look down and smile.

If you want to grow your own, they’re pretty hardy flowers. You can order seeds here. There are probably more varieties than you know. The year I had all my sunflowers, I planted the seeds in trays and transferred them when they were a few inches tall, but I’ve heard people say it’s just as easy to grow them straight from the soil.

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I think the sunflowers Meg and I ran across were just west of Shelby on the south side of Highway 74. Another friend, Carolyn, tells me there is a big field of sunflowers on Hallsboro Road near Hallsboro, NC.

***Read about other sunflower fields at the bottom of the page.***

So this summer, when you see a field of sunflowers on the side of the road, I hope you’ll stop and take pictures. I’ll stop at every sunflower field I see, and I’ll be thinking of Mother and Daddy.

If you know of any sunflower fields anywhere in the US, please share the location in the comments. And please remember to invite your friends to follow Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things on Facebook.

In the meantime, keep facing the sun…

 

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Sunflower field locations 

ALABAMA

*According to Country Living’s website, there has been a sunflower field in Autauga County, Alabama, in 2016, at the intersection of Highway 14 and Highway 33. Click here to go to their website and see an aerial video (by Alabama Aerial Photography) of the field. It’s incredible! I’m hoping it’s an annual planting.

*In Summerdale, Alabama, Alligator Alley has had a field in years past. This is located in Baldwin County, about 30 miles north of Gulf Shores, AL. It’s a small field, but easily accessible to visitors of Alligator Alley. Learn more about Alligator Alley here.

*I’ve seen photos of a sunflower field at Cornfield County Farms, just north of Montgomery, Alabama, in Elmore County. See more about that here.

GEORGIA

*The Anderson’s Sunflowers are located on Shiloh Road, in Cumming, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. You can see their Facebook page here.

NORTH CAROLINA:

*The previously mentioned flowers on Highway 74, west of Shelby; and the field in Hallsboro.

*Visit The Biltmore in Asheville between July and September, and you can see their sunflowers by the road to Antler Hill Village. See more about that here.

PENNSYLVANIA

*According to Heraldmailmedia.com, there has been an annual field in Marion, Pennsylvania, at Lesher’s Poultry Farm. Read more about that here.

SOUTH CAROLINA

*The Draper Wildlife Management area in Western York County, SC. Click here for more info. I visited this one with my friend, Jenn, and our girls a few years ago. When we went, they were smaller sunflowers, but beautiful, nonetheless.

VIRGINIA

*Burnside Farms in Haymarket, Virginia, hosts the Summer of Sunflowers. You can find out more about that here.

SUNFLOWER FESTIVALS

*There are sunflower festivals all over the world! Maybe my friend, Mary Ann, will road trip with me to a Sunflower Festival this summer. To find more info about those, click here. 

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I love Hungry Girl Magazine (and not camping)

IMG_8129Since starting Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things on Instagram, two of the most popular posts are related to each other: a post about Hungry Girl Magazine and a post about one of the easiest recipes from the magazine, the Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Mug.

It’s no secret to my friends and family that I love Hungry Girl cookbooks, and frankly, I think Lisa Lillien, aka Hungry Girl, is the “bomb-dot-com.”  So no one was more excited than I was when the premiere premiere issue of Hungry Girl Magazine hit newsstands. I grabbed a copy at Barnes & Noble, and it is packed full of recipes for snacks, pizza-fied foods, make-ahead breakfasts, and lots of food hacks too. See all the sticky notes I’ve used to mark recipes in the photo? I especially love the section titled “Mug Shots,” recipes for desserts and breakfasts in single-serving mugs! Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien doesn’t profess to be a chef, but she is the “guru of guilt-free eating”, as shown on the cover of the premiere issue. You can find her cookbooks everywhere and see her on TV regularly. She KNOWS what we want, people! Most of her recipes don’t have tons of ingredients, and she knows we want PICTURES of the finished product. How many times have you picked up a magazine/cookbook that has a fabulous recipe but no photo? When there’s no photo, I tend to keep flipping the pages. Hungry Girl has photos for everything. The first recipe I tried from the magazine was the Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Mug…super easy and delicious! Make sure you use the nonstick spray as directed. I didn’t do it the first time. Trust me, you want to do it. (The photo below is my own!)

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Frankly, I tried this recipe first, simply because I already had all the ingredients in my kitchen. I’ve made it several times since, and every time, I’ve been pleased! In fact, it’s an easy, fast way to have a healthy breakfast. If I can make it, anybody can! I’ve also made the Chocolate Cake in a Mug, the Parmesan Zucchini Fries, and the Zucchini Pizza Boats…all delicious and low-cal. You can find more low-cal recipes and info at her website by clicking here. Get on the email list, and watch some of the videos. I just watched one for a Big Mac Bowl…dinner at my house tonight! She changes the videos daily, so while the video  may not be there when you look, the recipe for the Big Mac Bowl can be found here.

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BACKSTORY: I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Lisa Lillien, aka Hungry Girl, and she is as delightful in person as she is on TV! I first met her and her lovely assistant, Gina, when they were doing a book tour. Remember in my last post how I said I love giveaways? Well, at the book tour event, Lisa had giveaways. Early on, I noticed how all the winners politely waved when their numbers were called, so someone could bring them their prize. I told my friend, Meg, there was no way I was going to be all polite if I won…I was going to run down the aisle Price is Right-style. Alas, I didn’t win, so Meg didn’t have a chance to get a video of me running down the aisle. Chances are I would have fallen anyway, which would have been a whole different video!

HUNGRYLAND! I went with my sis-in-law, my daughter, and a friend (pictured above) to visit Hungryland, which is what they call their office in LA, in December. We were blown away by their warmth and hospitality, as they shared funny stories while showing us around. Lisa graciously signed copies of her latest book, Hungry Girl Clean and Hungry Obsessed!, for us. You can order your copy here. The decor in Hungryland is fabulous! It’s colorful and fun with several furniture and accessory pieces by Jellio, some of which you probably have seen on Nickelodeon’s iCarly. You can see their cute designs here. Everywhere we turned, there was vibrant color…a purple sofa with orange and green throw pillows and a bright orange rug (see photos). The table in the conference room is surrounded by multicolor chairs…giving off a mod vibe, and neon-lit signs featuring Hungry Girl references like “Chew the Right Thing” are strategically placed. FullSizeRender-10Food-related knick-knacks are the norm at Hungryland, including an ice cream sandwich bench and a portrait of the Hungry Girl logo made from colorful General Mills cereals. All videos for the website are made right there in the Hungryland test kitchen, where you will find the pink small appliances and barstools, and the multicolor knives that are often featured in her videos. Look at the photos of the test kitchen, and you also see a clock made of multicolor spoons and a giant box of Barnum’s Animal Crackers, familiar to all of us from childhood. Oh, what I would have given to decorate my room with that when I was growing up!

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They even have their own photo studio that features a garage door that opens to provide natural light when needed. There are strings of lights hanging from walls, and a Super Hungry Girl logo with veggies for body parts is featured on one wall. In short, it’s incredible! It’s a happy space! What a fun place to get to go to work everyday!

            FullSizeRender-15FullSizeRender-11*If anyone asks you what Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien is like, you can tell them you have it from a reliable source that she is the kind of person you want to hang out with…warm, happy, positive, and she has a great sense of humor. She and Gina (my new fake cousin…you know, those friends you bond with and you feel like they’re your cousins? Well, she’s my new fake cousin. She’s awesome! She’s in the pic with me…wearing the beautiful fluffy collar. I would tell you Lisa is my new fake cousin too, but y’all would never believe me.) went out of their way to make us feel comfortable on their turf as we discussed holiday plans, gifts, and things to do in LA. Lisa Lillien is an absolute doll, and she surrounds herself with other great people…like Gina (also a doll)! Lots of my photos were taken at Hungryland in December. If you’d like to meet Lisa, consider the Hungry Girl Cruise in April. It would be a great girls’ trip! Oh…I so want to go! I’m still trying to figure out how I can make it happen since I return from another vacation just a few days before. For info on the Hungry Girl Cruise, click here.

For those of you who asked about the I Love Not Camping Mug, it’s from Anne Taintor, a line that has all sorts of funny mugs, napkins, and gifts. You may see more from the line in future posts. Silly things make me happy. You can purchase Anne Taintor mugs by clicking here. Nothing rings more true for me than I LOVE NOT CAMPING.

GIVEAWAY INFO!!! **I have an extra copy of the premiere issue of Hungry Girl Magazine and the mug for one lucky follower! Follow my Instagram account (kellymatteisfavoritethings) and tag a friend before 11pm Monday in the comments section under post of the Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Mug, and you could win both! A $22.99 value! I will draw a name Tuesday, February 6, and announce it on Instagram! You can access my Instagram account by putting kellymatteisfavoritethings in your Instagram search bar or by clicking here.

My next post will be Tuesday, February 6! Join me then for some more fun and to see who wins!

XOXO,

Kelly

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