Two Friends on the Road, Part 3.5…Tales from the Trip

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3.5.

In re-reading Part 3 (see it here) about my road trip through Florida with Mary Ann, I realized I left out some of the best parts…the stories. I gave the facts, but left out the stories!

I’ve mentioned that when we arrived at Eden Roc, our Miami hotel, we were greeted warmly by the valet and bellstaff. What I didn’t mention is that I, somehow, managed to lose my valet ticket before we even got checked in. I realized it at the check-in desk. Thankfully, I had remembered the name of the young gentleman who helped us, and I went back out to find him. He was so sweet about it. First, he said, “Mrs. Mattei, I saw you put it in your handbag. It’s in there somewhere, but take a picture of my copy.” And I did. Wow. What a great guy. And wow…I’m becoming an old woman. I started to wonder if I have dementia. Seriously. We went up to our room, and there was the ticket…in my handbag. At least I had done that without paying attention! If I had dementia, I would have tried to use it as cash to tip someone, right?

What I also didn’t mention is what we observed during our dinner at Nobu that night. We had a lovely server named Jeanette, but wow…she must have pulled the short straw that night. We were a good table, because we are happy and trusted her suggestions. We decided, however, that the table next to us was the bad table of the night…

The first people who occupied the “bad” table were two ladies. They weren’t a couple. They weren’t mother and daughter, even though there was an age difference. We decided they were friends somehow. But they were not happy. When their cocktails arrived, they complained. When their food…the very scant amount they ordered…arrived, they complained. Ugh. Poor Jeanette. Seriously, we felt so sorry for our sweet server that we jointly decided to up the happiness factor, to make up for the “bad” table.

But then it got worse! Those “ladies” left, and a couple was seated there. They were in their 20s. The young lady was peppy and happy to be there, while her date clearly was not. It was very clear they were not a new couple. You know how new couples try to make each other happy? He…we will call him Bob… had no interest in making her happy. Bob promptly announced to the server (Jeanette) that he didn’t like Asian food. Hmmm…he was in an Asian restaurant. But then it became clear that his girlfriend…we’ll call her June…had forced him to go to Nobu. Really? Who has to be forced to go to Nobu? Bob, apparently.

Jeanette tried to make Bob happy by telling him all about the menu items that didn’t have an Asian flair. Wagyu beef tacos? He grunted. June tried to be perky and happy. Bob threatened to leave. June said, “OK, I want you to be happy.” Ugh. We wondered aloud, “What about June? Shouldn’t she be happy too?” Bob didn’t hear us…thankfully. We decided Bob was an asshole. Sorry…there’s not a better word…well, there actually is, but “asshole” is better than the other word.

I’m a mom, and Mary Ann is a mom. We both have daughters. Mine is 17. If she had been with me, I would have used Bob and June as an example of “what not to do.” I would have told her June could do better.

Seriously, I may be 53, but I remember being young. I remember dating. And I remember assholes like Bob. Mary Ann and I wanted to follow June when she went to the bathroom and tell her not to go back to the table. We wanted to tell her Bob is not her person. We wanted to tell her to walk straight out of there and don’t take his calls. We wanted to say, “Run for it, June! Run straight home, and don’t stop till you get there!” (That’s a line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the movie. It’s what a man in the crowd outside the store says to Charlie after he finds the golden ticket.) But we couldn’t do that, because June is not our daughter. Hopefully, June will figure out Bob sooner rather than later. Hopefully, she won’t waste five years of her life with him, expecting him to be something he’s not.

We finished dinner before they did, but we said a little prayer for June that night.

After dinner, we took a walk on the boardwalk and down Collins Avenue. One thing we noticed? Lots of those horrendous Target dresses! You know…the prairie dresses. Oh my! They are terrible! Before we had mentioned it to each other, I turned to Mary Ann and asked if there was an Amish convention in town. No offense to the Amish, of course. I admire them for following their beliefs, but the fashion? Not so much. Everywhere we turned, prairie dresses! In Miami! It was bizarre! It’s definitely not a trend I will follow.

To read what I really think about those Target prairie dresses, click here.

Tomorrow…Part 4…heading north…

Garage Coffee

Garage coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on over for garage coffee!

Early Christmas Mornings

Early Christmas mornings.

I wish I could say I remember when our daughter became aware of Santa Claus and Christmas…maybe when she was two or three? I know her first Christmas, when she was just two months old…she knew nothing. The next year, 2004, she woke up and had fun playing with all the new stuff, but I’m not sure she was really aware of Santa.

In 2005, when she was two, she was catching on. She wanted to visit Santa in SouthPark Mall constantly…so we did. It was something to do with a toddler, and I was always looking for fu n…because she was not a napper.

Once she caught on that Santa came on Christmas Eve, she went to bed excited…just like so many other kids. And she woke up early…like so many others. But when I say she woke up early I mean my head had barely hit the pillow when she called down from upstairs.

The first year it happened, my husband was not happy. He heard her call for me…it was likely around 2:00am…and he groaned, telling me, “Make her go back to sleep till 7:00 or 8:00.” How exactly was I supposed to do that???

It was easier to reason with a grown man than it was to reason with a toddler, so I said to him, “No. If we get up with her now and let her see what Santa brought, she will play for a while and go back to bed…we will get to sleep a little later in the morning. Otherwise, we will be getting up at 5:30 or 6:00 for the day. Get up.” And so we did.

And I was right. She played for an hour (or two), and I took her back to bed and got to sleep a little later than usual. The same thing happened for several years, and every year, I had to remind my husband that it was just easier to go ahead and get up.

Last night, I saw a Publix commercial that was released last year. It features a little girl walking into the kitchen on Christmas morning, asking Grandma if they can wake up the others. Grandma says she has a better idea and sets about making pastries with the little girl. The sentiment is sweet, but when I was a little girl, I’d have thought my grandmother was just torturing me! What kid wants to hang out in the kitchen making pastries when there are gifts from Santa waiting in the living room???

I know everyone won’t agree with me, but when I was a kid, when we got up, we woke up our parents and ran to see what Santa had brought. I don’t think anyone could have stopped us if they had tried! But my parents never tried to stop us. I’m sure they thought the same way I did…”let them play now, and we can get more sleep.”

At around 7:30 or 8:00, Daddy would cook a big breakfast on Christmas mornings, but Mother always made the biscuits…her special recipe. We would hang around, talking about Christmas, and then we would all have a big Christmas lunch before we went outside to play with neighborhood friends in the afternoon…or as we got older, we settled in with the family (and likely a few friends) and watched football.

Our daughter is 17, so she knows the deal about Santa and no longer gets up before the crack of dawn to see what Santa brought. In fact, this year, she picked out most of what he will bring, but Santa tries to have a few surprises for her too. Christmas morning is not as exciting as it was when she was a little girl, but she gets the true meaning of Christmas now.

This year, at Christmas, it’s likely we will sleep in a little before we open gifts. We will have a little birthday cake for breakfast…it has become a tradition at our house. When our daughter was one, she asked Santa for a birthday cake, so we always have birthday cake for breakfast on Christmas Day. And after lunch, our daughter will figure out if any of her friends are available to hang out. My husband and I will likely watch football…any game that is on…just give us football.

Sure, as our daughter gets older, Christmas becomes different, but we enjoy being together. Is it as exciting as it was ten years ago? No, but it is more meaningful.

This year, we won’t get to see my brother and his children during the holidays, because of COVID, but we will make up for it in 2021…surely, the vaccine will make that possible. I haven’t left my house since Thanksgiving, except to pick up food…both my grandmothers died on December 26 (different years, and my mother died on December 30…I don’t need to get COVID and join them this year. The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day make me nervous every year.

So we will celebrate Christmas with our little family. Our daughter will likely spend some time with friends who had the virus a month ago, so I don’t have to worry about her. But no matter what…if she daughter wakes up at 3am and wants to open gifts, you can bet your sweet bippy that’s what we will do.

Leslie Jordan Will Brighten Your Day (and your Christmas List)

Leslie Jordan will brighten your day…and your Christmas list!

If you’re not familiar with Leslie Jordan, you need to be. He is an actor from Chattanooga, Tennessee, who embraces who he is and shares joy with the world regularly through Instagram and Facebook. You’ve likely seen him before on Will and Grace, The Help, Sordid Lives, or one of many other roles on TV or in film. I love him onscreen, but one thing I’ve learned in COVID is that I love Leslie Jordan even more in “real life” in Insta and Facebook. If you don’t follow him on social media, stop what you are doing, and go follow him…right now! You need to become a “fellow hunkerdowner” with Leslie during the COVID pandemic.

You definitely want to be following him before Sunday, because on Sundays, he sings hymns. Does he have the greatest voice ever? No. But you feel the spirit of his joy when he sings hymns with Travis Howard…they are awesome. Lately, they have shared some snippets of Christmas songs. Last Sunday, he sang a snippet of Let it Snow, and another day, a snippet of I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus…yes, Daddy…Leslie is gay…and he is delightful and funny and charming.

Here’s the thing about Leslie Jordan: I feel like I know him. He grew up in the south, just like me, and anyone who grew up in the south will tell you we have “characters” in our lives…people we remember as being bigger than life. I didn’t know Leslie, but he reminds me of a few “characters” I knew and loved growing up. They had/have the same infectious joyful spirit as Leslie. Don’t we all love spending time with people who bring some joy into our lives? Well, Leslie Jordan, with his infectious laugh, he sweet smile, his funny innuendos, and his singing…he is just a bundle of joy…a 4’11” southern bundle of joy.

If you’d like to share the joy of Leslie with others this holiday season, you’re in luck. His book, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet is on sale on Amazon. I plan to start reading it tomorrow. A friend read it and told me Leslie is a born storyteller…southerners tend to like to tell stories, and Leslie being Leslie…I can hardly wait to read all his crazy stories. You know what they say about southerners: We don’t hide our crazy; we put it on the front porch and give it a cocktail. I can only imagine the crazy experiences Leslie has had between Chattanooga and Hollywood! If you’d like to order the book, you can get it here.

But there’s more! Leslie has always had great onscreen presence, but I think he is approaching a whole new level of fame, simply because folks love watching him on social media! He now has a site where you can purchase Leslie Jordan merchandise! Right now, the site features Christmas sweaters and sweatshirts, but there was a pink hoodie offered last week…hoping it returns! Shop Leslie merchandise here. Seriously, if my friends and family don’t love Leslie Jordan yet, it’s just because they don’t know about him yet. They’ll know him and love him after they open their Christmas gifts!

It’s going to be a Leslie Jordan Christmas at our house this year! Can’t we all use a little extra laughter and joy in our lives this year? Well, Leslie brings it!

The Loss of a Beloved Teacher

The loss of a beloved teacher.

When I was growing up, my family moved several times. In fifth grade, I landed in a new town and new school. It was a school that was several times bigger than my previous elementary school. At my “old” school, we had only two classes for each grade. Everyone knew each other, and we were a pretty sheltered bunch. At my “new” school, there were four or five classes for each grade. Everyone did not know each other, and well…they weren’t as sheltered. Fortunately, I fell into the classroom of a wonderful, caring teacher.

I feel pretty sure she could feel my pain on the first day. While everyone was friendly, I’m sure I looked like a deer caught in the headlights, so my new teacher assigned two girls to look out for me. They showed me around and introduced me to their friends, and it certainly made the transition easier. Assimilating wasn’t difficult, thanks to the teacher and those girls she introduced me to.

There was something special about this teacher. She was dealing with students from various socioeconomic backgrounds and races, and somehow she brought us all together. I don’t know how public schools work in Alabama now, but back in the day, students were grouped by reading level and math level. We had at least two different levels in our class at any given time, except math, when we went to a different classroom where everyone learned the same thing. In some cases, I’m sure students who weren’t working on the highest level might have felt inferior, but I don’t think they ever felt that way in her class. She loved all of us, in spite of and because of our differences. And while I was in the highest level reading group, I know we never looked at the other groups in our class and thought they were “less than.” That’s because our teacher pulled us together. She understood that fifth grade students needed to move around some during the day, and she encouraged us all to participate in discussions, be creative, and work with our “neighbors.”

I had always been a good student, but I had usually been pretty quiet in class. But at the end of the first grading period, the teacher called my mother before sending home my report card. She wanted to warn my mother ahead of time that she had marked “talks too much” on my report card, but she explained that she had done it for our whole group that sat in the same area. Apparently, we had bonded well enough that we never stopped talking! My mother was surprised but thought it was funny, since she had never been told I “talked too much” at school. And we, the students, learned a valuable lesson about working as a group…everyone in the group is responsible for each other.

One of those friends, James, from that class group texted me recently. He is my longest continuous-contact friend, and we were brought together right there in that classroom. We have been friends for 43 years. He texted me to tell me our beloved teacher had passed away. He loved her too. In fact, he was, quite possibly, the student who checked in on her the most over the years. She saw something special in him when we were in 5th grade, and he didn’t disappoint. He remembered her kindness and spent time with her when she was in the hospital several years ago, and then, last year, he visited her at home…spending time laughing and talking with her.

The last time I spoke with our teacher was Mother’s Day weekend in 2019…just over a year ago. We talked about old times. We talked about how she let us veer from the lesson plan sometimes to give us time to be creative. She sometimes secretly gave clothing and snacks to the students who needed it…but in a way no one else knew it, so the student wouldn’t be embarrassed. We talked about how she became a teacher. We laughed a lot while we reminisced, and we solved some of the world’s problems in that phone call. She reminded me of a few things, and I reminded her of a few things. And she asked me to write down some of my memories of her/her class and send them to her.

She taught my brother two years after she taught me. We are two totally different personalities; frankly, he’s a lot more fun than I am. And I’m sure he was quite the class clown, but this teacher? She had an appreciation for his humor. She found a way to teach him without squashing his spirit. She saw something special behind his twinkling, mischievous eyes, and she loved him. He loved her too.

When I heard about her passing, I was heartbroken. I knew her health had been in decline, but I was surprised to hear she had passed. I was, however, happy I had followed through on my promise to write down some memories and send them to her. It took me a few months to get it done, but I got it done. I emailed it and then sent her a hard copy of it too. A friend was having coffee with me at my house when I got the news, and I told her, “Wow. My fifth grade teacher just died.” I went on to explain to her how special this teacher was to all her students…how she actually cared. And then I said, “I’m so glad I talked to her last year and sent her some memories I had written down for her.” No regrets.

She had long since retired, but she made a difference in the lives of lots of children over the years. She was special. I feel sorry for the ones who didn’t get to be in her class. If you had a beloved teacher during your school days, make his/her day by sending him/her a letter, or even just an email, letting him/her know he/she made a difference in your life.

She was a lovely lady, and “lovely” is high compliment from me…one I don’t throw out lightly. God bless her family, and God bless the soul of Mrs. Stiff.

October 2 Has Meaning for Me

October 2 has meaning for me.

Different days have different meanings. To a lot of people, October 2 means nothing different than any other day. To me, it has meaning.

October 2 is the anniversary of a day my life changed forever…the day my Daddy died in 2006. Pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about it before. Today is the 14th anniversary of his passing. While it’s hard to believe it has been 14 years, it also feels like I haven’t seen his face or heard his laugh in forever.

For years, I could only remember him sick. Pancreatic cancer was a cruel disease for him. Frankly, it was cruel for me and the rest of the family too. I had never felt such emotional pain. I thought I would lose my mind with grief. Yes, the disease was terrible, but through those months from diagnosis to his passing, we managed to have some good times. We laughed…a lot. We cried a lot too. We spent a lot of time together. My husband and I moved our little family down to the Alabama Gulf Coast for months, to be closer to Mother and Daddy. We were lucky we had a condo on the bay near their house. Our daughter was about to turn three. It wasn’t easy to uproot the family. We had good support in Charlotte…great friends we had made over the course of our marriage. They called to check on us, and they mailed little treats to our daughter. I called them and cried regularly. We didn’t have a lot of support in Alabama, but I enrolled our daughter in a church preschool…they very graciously took her when they didn’t have to. And I did everything I could to keep my little family happy while trying to help my mother help my daddy. Daddy was so sweet throughout his illness. It was heartbreaking watching him get sicker and sicker…and that was all I could remember for a long time.

But now, I can remember him not sick. I can remember his laugh. I can remember his stories and his wordplay. I can remember watching Atlanta Braves baseball on WTBS with him. I can remember watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN and listening to Harry Caray with him. We loved the early days of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire…when Regis hosted. He was into all the same “useless knowledge” I’m into. I remember what a jokester he was. I remember how he carried me to the car when I had a stomach bug at 17…just picked me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to the car to take me to the doctor. I can remember how big his hands looked when I was a little girl. When he was dying, I kept looking at his hands…trying to etch them in my memory. I don’t know why that was so important, but for some reason it was. I think his hands represented his strength to me…his physical strength, but also his emotional strength. He was rock solid to us. He carried the burden of supporting our family, and he didn’t have a financial safety net in the form of parents who could help him in a financial emergency. He gave us that safety net, though.

My brother and I laughed just recently talking about how Daddy always made sure we were taken care of. He provided for us…everything we needed and most of what we wanted…throughout life. And here’s the funny thing…he’s still providing for us, in a way. Just recently, almost three years after my mother died, we discovered they had a life insurance policy he had set up many years ago. Today, on the fourteenth anniversary of Daddy’s passing, I deposited the check from that policy into a bank account, and afterward, I sat in the car and thought, “Wow. Fourteen years to the day after he died, and he’s still giving to us.”

Don’t get me wrong. Mother provided lots for us too…in a different way, but today is about remembering Daddy. I used to dread October 2 every year, because it meant heartache to me, but now I smile. I’m certainly not happy he’s gone, but when October 2 rolls around, I spend the day thinking about Daddy. I’ll look at the moon tonight and remember how he used to call me in Charlotte from his home in Alabama and tell me to go outside and look at the moon when it was particularly spectacular.

Just this weekend, when I was in a store with a friend, someone heard me call her “Miss Merry Sunshine” and asked if that was her name. I explained that I just call my friend that because she’s perpetually happy. And even that made me think of Daddy. When he was sick, I would take our toddler daughter over to visit, and he would sing Good Morning, Merry Sunshine any time she walked into the room. She loved it…and frankly, I did too. In one of his final days, I walked into the room with her, and he had a lot of morphine in his system…his speech wasn’t clear. His smile was clear, but his speech was garbled. He was “singing” but it wasn’t clear. I took that almost-three-yr-old little girl outside, and said, “I wonder what Big Ken was trying to say to you?” She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Good morning, Merry Sunshine!” So yes, I thought of him this past weekend when the woman in the store thought my friend’s name was Merry Sunshine.

Now that little toddler girl is almost 17. In memory of Daddy, before she goes out with her friends tonight, I’ll take her hand and press a crisp $20 bill into it. He used to do that…give me “walking around money,” or WAM, as we started calling it when I was in college.

His passing was difficult. That’s not even a good word for it. It hit me hard. But it also taught me some coping skills…his final lesson to me.

Lots of good memories of Daddy. Thanks, October 2, for making me sit back and think about him. I still miss him, but I have wonderful memories of him.

All My Rowdy Friends…

All my rowdy friends have settled down.

Yes, that’s a quote from a Hank Williams Jr. song. I used it for two reasons: 1. I love me some Bocephus (Hank’s nickname). 2. All my rowdy friends really have settled down. When I say they have “settled down,” I don’t mean they’re not fun. I mean they have “settled down” into who they are. They are comfortable in their own skin. They’re still a lot of fun…maybe even more so. They’re in their 50s.

Today, another friend turns 50. I have been in my fifties long enough that I feel sorry for all those folks in their 30s and 40s who still take themselves so seriously. No, really…I feel sorry for them. Lots of them are still worrying about what other people think. Lots of them still think they need to make the hamster wheel spin faster. They still think more expensive = better. Lots of them still think they have to keep up with the Joneses. Bahahaha! Yes, I feel sorry for them.

Interestingly, my friend, Jennifer, who is turning 50 today has been an old soul for as long as I’ve known her, but she’s also the most fun person I’ve ever known. We met about 15 or 16 years ago through another friend, when they both lived in Charlotte. The birthday girl moved to Columbus, Ohio, years ago, and the friend who introduced us moved to the Chicago area years ago. We were all supposed to go to Lollapalooza together in Chicago this year, but COVID messed that up.

When I say Jennifer has been an “old soul,” I don’t mean she has some sort of Yoda-like wisdom. She’s wise, but she’s no Dalai Lama. She has a different kind of wisdom. She can smile through almost any situation. Nothing seems to get her down. I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person, but she has had to talk me off the ledge more than once. I’ve seen her in situations where she should have been on the ledge, and she wasn’t. She kept smiling and kept moving forward. She also doesn’t worry about what other people think of her. As an example, she went back to work a couple of years ago, so I’m sure she “dresses” for work, but before that? T-shirts and shorts with sneakers or Birkenstocks every day. Chilly outside? She’ll throw on a sweatshirt or hoodie. During winter, I’m sure she wears long pants, but I’m guessing she still wear sweatshirts or hoodies every day. Handbags and shoes? She has a few designer bags, but like I said…I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her in anything but sneakers and Birkenstocks. Well, I saw her in hiking boots when we did a rock scramble with sprained ankles years ago. Yes, we both had sprained ankles.

As for the hamster wheel. Yes, she works again, but it’s not her whole life. She doesn’t “live to work.” She works to live. Her work doesn’t define her. She knows the hamster wheel is just a means to an end.

And she really is the happiest person I know. Nothing phases her. When she was looking for a job after not having worked for 15 years, she called me and told me when her first interview was coming up. I said, “You’re going to get this job.” She laughed, as she often does, and said, “I haven’t worked in 15 years! Why would they hire me?” I said, “Well, you’re confident. You’re clearly smart…you went to graduate school at Vanderbilt. Most of all, you’ll be good for morale in an office setting. You’re Miss Merry Freaking Sunshine!” Guess what? I was right. She was offered the first job she interviewed for in fifteen years, and she has been working there since.

Did I mention Jennifer has always been a lot of fun? She had a lot of fun in high school and college…and beyond. Oh, the stories she tells. She has a different kind of fun now, but frankly, she makes everything fun. She’s always up for the next adventure…and we have had many: rock scrambles in upstate New York, cold lake swimming in upstate New York, climbing a waterfall in Puerto Rico, swimming in the pitch black bioluminescent bay, ziplining in a rainforest, shopping with street vendors in NYC, riding bikes through a state park in Florida, all kinds of crazy fun in California. She lives life. And she encourages others (like me) to live our lives.

Am I worried Jennifer is going to get down about turning 50? Not one bit. She will approach her 50s just like she approaches everything else…with a big smile on her face and a sense of adventure.

She’s Miss Merry Freaking Sunshine!

Happy 50th to Jennifer!

An Accidental Reunion

An accidental reunion.

Earlier this week, I told my teenage daughter to pack a bag, because we were making an impromptu trip to a college in another state for an “unofficial” visit. She’s a rising high school junior, so it’s time to start getting an idea about where she might like to continue her education. Most admissions offices at colleges are not open now because of COVID, so “official” visits aren’t happening, but what was to stop us from going to a campus and checking things out on our own? Since it seems all we have done is go to the beach this summer, I was ready to roll to almost anywhere that wasn’t the beach. So we quickly packed our bags with a single change of clothes and the essentials, and we hit the road.

When I say we packed “essentials,” I mean we absolutely packed bare bones. I took a change of clothes, something to sleep in, any medications we might need, and toiletries…hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. That’s it. I didn’t take makeup, because we were just going to be staying for one night and weren’t going to spend any time socializing. On the way out of town, we did a swing through the ChickFilA drive-thru for some lunch, and my daughter made a hotel reservation for us while I drove.

We had 3 1/2 hours to talk while we were on our way there, and because we took the scenic route, we had lots of cute little towns to see and some beautiful scenery too!

We arrived on the college campus at about 4:30 in the afternoon and went straight to the campus bookstore. I learned a long time ago that the campus bookstore is a good place to start. It’s usually easy to find, and shopping is always fun! We purchased a few items before the store closed at 5pm, and we set out driving around, trying to get a feel for the university. We looked at dorms…all from the outside of course…and we also got a feel for the campus by looking for different areas…the science buildings, education buildings, athletic facilities, sorority and fraternity housing…and of course, the always important football stadium, which was impressive, for sure.

We then checked into our hotel and walked to dinner at a nearby restaurant to discuss everything we had seen. While we were at dinner, I posted a few pictures, and then…bam! Two of my friends from college who live nearby commented, reminding me that they live there! How had I forgotten they lived there?!?! I have seen one of them a few times over the last couple of years, when she visited Charlotte, and I last saw the other one nine years ago when we had a planned reunion at the Virginia Creeper bike trail. After hearing from them, we scheduled a lunch for the next day…an accidental reunion! What an amazing surprise in the middle of this road trip!

The next morning, my daughter and I checked out a few more things on the college campus before meeting my “old” friends for lunch! Here’s the great thing about being 53 and getting together with friends from college…it’s always comfortable! It’s always easy! There was absolutely no awkwardness about it as we reminisced about old times but laughed and talked about what’s going on in our lives now too. The three of us met when we were 18 and 19 years old, and here we are…more than 30 years later…still able to fall right back in where we left off…without missing a beat! We talked about funny memories…it was the 80s when we were in college, after all! And they weren’t appalled by and didn’t make fun of my makeup-free, t-shirt clad look!

We’re all 30+ years older and wiser. I’d be willing to bet we’re even 30 years more fun…which would be quite an accomplishment, since we were a lot of fun in college! Next time I’m there, we’ll make time for some fun! One friend has a grown daughter in her 20s, and the other has two boys…both college age. I’m behind the curve with a 16-yr-old, but I loved that my daughter was there to meet these lovely ladies I’ve known for more than half my life. She enjoyed meeting them, and afterward, she told me she had decided, after meeting them, that maybe I was cool when I was younger after all! I’m not sure what she thought I was like before, but apparently, she wasn’t sure I was “cool.”

Over lunch, we also talked about actually planning a reunion…maybe another trip to the Virginia Creeper Trail, since it’s fun, super easy, and in a cute town. Last time, we stayed at the lovely Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon (for info, click here) and took in a show at the Barter Theater, the State Theater of Virginia. The Barter is even staging shows during COVID at a local closed drive-in theater! (For info on The Barter Theater, click here.) Maybe next time, we can stay at the Martha Washington Inn again and look for some ghosts while we’re there. I’ve heard the place is haunted, but we didn’t encounter any spooky visitors while we were there. And the restaurant at the hotel, called Sisters, was fabulous.

Even more exciting to me is the possibility that I could see these ladies more often if my daughter opts to go to college in the town where they live! Wow! I could visit my daughter and hang out with my old friends too! Plus, she would have a couple of surrogate moms nearby.

I’m so glad we had our accidental reunion! It was a bright spot in the middle of all this COVID madness…a much needed visit with some dear friends.

 

Love and Loss

In just the past week, a friend in Mobile and my brother both lost their beloved pets…and when I say “lost,” I mean the dogs passed away. If you’ve never had a pet, you likely think “beloved” before the word “pet” is odd. But if you’ve had pets, you get it.

Growing up, we always had pets…mostly dogs. We had a cat once, but it was a stray that stayed outside. I was too young to remember its arrival, but my mother told me we named it Valentine, because it showed up on Valentine’s Day. We had lots of dogs along the way, and no matter what breed they were or how much of a mutt they were, we loved them all. After I got married, we got an Airedale Terrier and named her Annie, even though I wanted to name her Fannie, after a college roommate. My husband wouldn’t go along with the name “Fannie,” but later, he said he wished we had named her Fannie. I was crazy over that dog.

Annie helped me get through morning sickness (or all the time sickness) in the first trimester of pregnancy. She was a big dog (about 80 pounds), but when I would lie in bed with nausea, she would get in bed next to me and put her warm back against me. She was the only dog I had as an adult who I knew would put her life on the line for me. And I knew she would. She was not aggressive, but she was very protective, and I was grateful for that, especially when my husband was out of town.

My brother didn’t call me and tell me about his dog’s passing. His dog, a beautiful Weimeraner named Amos, was his sidekick. I woke up yesterday to a text message from a family friend, Jane, who told me, “Amos is gone.” I must have gasped audibly, because my husband asked me what was wrong. I called Jane immediately, and she told me Amos’s health had declined rapidly, and he had passed away during the night. We sat on the phone and cried together, and after we hung up, I texted my brother. I couldn’t call him, because I couldn’t stop crying. He didn’t need to listen to me blubber.

My friend in Mobile who lost her dog called me a few days before my brother’s dog died, crying hysterically, after her dog was hit by a car. She lives on a busy road, and the dog had jumped the backyard fence. She had fostered the dog after she found him wandering somewhere. We always laugh that she’s a “bleeding heart.” After her dog passed, she said to me, “I just love too hard!” She said she had resolved she wouldn’t do that again, because it hurts so much when she loses a pet, but she can’t help herself.

I remembered something Dr. Seuss said about love, “A life with love will have some thorns, but a life without love will have no roses. To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.” Isn’t that the truth? My brother was certainly the world to his dog, as my friend in Mobile was to hers.

Here’s the thing…yes, it hurts to lose those pets we love so much, but the joy they bring us outweighs that pain. I cried for a month when we lost Annie, but now, six years after her death, I mostly remember the good stuff: her fighting off the scary snowman, her happiness when I came home, how she drooled like crazy when she saw me get out the peanut butter jar, her floating on the pool lounge, and her unconditional love.

And sometimes I have to remind myself  the same applies to people. Yes. It’s totally worth it to put yourself out there. I’m 52. I’ve loved friends along the way. No, I’m not talking about boyfriends, but yes, I had boyfriends when I was young. Do I regret loving any of those people along the way? No. Most of those folks are still my friends, but some are no longer my friends, and I certainly don’t have any boyfriends. Even though a few friends are no longer in my life for whatever reason…their fault, my fault, or no one’s fault…I’m glad I loved them. I’m even glad I trusted them. Here’s why: if they were my friends, there were some “roses” along the way. Sure, there were thorns, but I know we had some “roses” along the way. And no matter what, I learned something from every relationship…sometimes learning more from the thorns than the roses. And don’t get me wrong…sometimes I presented the thorns, no doubt. All my relationships, the great ones and the failures, have contributed to my life. In fact, because of that, I don’t hold grudges. I wish all those people well.

So right now, during this coronavirus, I’m making a point to reach out to some folks I haven’t talked to in a while. Because, yes, there will be some thorns, but the roses are glorious!

Sharing Your Location

Sharing your location?

Y’all, you need to check your phones now. You might be surprised to find out you’re sharing your location with everyone you know. A few weeks ago, a friend texted me to tell me she was turning off her location services on her phone. I asked, “Why are you telling me?” She said, “Because I’ve been sharing my location with you and didn’t even know it!” So funny…because I had no idea she was sharing her location with me! She then said, “You might want to check your own phone to see what info you’re sharing through the FindMy app and others!”

Holy moly. For the technologically challenged (me), this would be a chore. I sat down with my phone and eventually figured it out. Seriously…when I say “eventually,” I mean it took me a while. I had to Google different things, but I finally figured it out.

I had no idea I had been sharing my location with so many apps and with so many contacts!  Maybe I had done that intentionally at some point, but I don’t remember it. It’s very possible that I had intentionally shared my location with hundreds of friends through my phone…maybe at different times? Maybe when some of us were trying to meet somewhere? I don’t recall. But there it was in front of my eyes…I was sharing my location with hundreds of people all the time. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not a criminal, because if I were out committing crimes, it would be easy for people to see where I was!

I’ve gotten a couple of texts from friends who noticed they could no longer see my location, and then today, my friend, Mary Ann, tagged me in a post on Facebook, “Did we break up? I can’t see your location any longer. How am I going to stalk you?” Always the jokester…leave it to Mary Ann to call me out publicly. She was kidding, of course. We are not “breaking up;” she will always be my friend. I’m not even sure how she noticed it…maybe she was stalking me?!?!? Bahahaha!

Last year, I downloaded the Life 360 app, because our teenage daughter was starting to drive, and I intentionally share my location with family through that, but that’s it. No friends. Only family. Because really?!? Is it necessary for anyone else to know where I am all the time? Nope. Am I paranoid?!

Know what else? It’s not necessary for me to know where folks are either. Not gonna lie. It’s a little creepy. I don’t even want to know where they are. I prefer to think they might be enjoying an afternoon of social distancing in a tropical location, drinking Mai Tais by the pool.

Everybody knows where we are right now anyway…home.