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 form 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell Me Something Positive

Tell me something positive.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

What a Motley Crew!

Over the holidays, I traveled to the Los Angeles area with my teenage daughter, her friend, my 20-something nephew, and his friend. So that’s five travelers, ranging in age from 16 to 52…that highest number being mine.

We came together for meals while we were there and just a few other activities, but we did our own thing a lot. During the final dinner of our trip, I asked my fellow travelers to go around the table and tell what their favorite part of the trip was, and I expected to hear lots of different answers, but they surprised me.

They all answered the same thing…our day in Malibu. The day we were in Malibu was also the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death. It was the one day we all spent together, and I was thrilled to know everyone enjoyed it. While we were in Malibu, we dined at my very favorite restaurant…on the deck, right on the beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Those of us who were old enough had some fun cocktails. We drank a toast to Mother, and we took lots of photos. After leaving the restaurant, we walked down to Malibu Pier…a favorite landmark and another great photo op. The walk was only about a half mile, but we laughed and talked all the way to the pier.

Like I said, before I asked, I thought they would all have different answers. Throughout the trip, we had seen lots of celebrities! We had eaten great meals. We had shopped till we dropped. My nephew and his friend had never been there before, so they did more sightseeing…I thought that might have been their favorite part of the trip. But nope…they all enjoyed the day we were all together. As a mother and aunt, it made me very happy. And knowing it was the second anniversary of my mother’s passing made me more grateful for the time we all spent together. She had to be smiling down on us as we laughed and ate and drank and walked and laughed some more.

My daughter is 16, and I always think she just wants to be away from me. She loves me, but I remember 16…I remember wanting to have more independence. She certainly enjoys any independence she has, but it warms my heart to know her favorite day was the day she was with her old mom and her cousin and their friends. We were a motley crew…the conservative-looking 52-yr-old mom/aunt, the two 16-yr-old girls who are too cool for school, and my 20-something hippie-looking nephew and his girlfriend. No one would have put that group together in a million years, but that motley crew had a great time!

It was a great way to celebrate my mother’s life, and it was infinitely better than the first anniversary of her death. It’s much better to spend days like that with people who are important to you…people you love…people who always have your back. So if you ever find yourself facing this kind of “anniversary,” remember to spend it with people who will wrap you in love. Avoid people who won’t.

It warms my heart to know they all enjoyed being together. I can hardly wait for the next trip!

Portion-Controlled Desserts? Yes, Please!

Portion-controlled desserts? Yes, please!

If you’re anything like me, you have difficulty knowing what a real “serving” of cake is. Big slice? Little slice? What is the perfect slice? And then…how do I keep myself from eating more than I should?

Hungry Girl to the rescue!

Everybody knows I love Hungry Girl. Not familiar with Hungry Girl? I’m happy to introduce you! When you get to the website, sign up for daily emails, click that you heard about them from a Hungry Girl Ambassador (me!), and enter my name (Kelly Mattei). I’ve loved Hungry Girl for years, and I’ve promoted Hungry Girl for years, but now they know I’m promoting them! I don’t promote anything I don’t believe in, so you can bet your sweet bippy I believe in Hungry Girl.

On to the good stuff…

One of my favorite finds on the Hungry Girl website? Portion-controlled desserts…specifically, single serving desserts in mugs and cups. Sounds awesome, right?!? That’s because they are awesome!

I’ve made a couple of them, and my teenage daughter loves them as much as I do! They are all super simple and fast!

Here are some of my favorites!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug. My mother used to make Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes all the time when I was growing up. There was always at least one at every family gathering, and they disappeared fast! This Hungry Girl version is simple and easy, and the recipe makes two portions, each containing 201 calories. Not bad for a yummy and beautiful dessert! It’s a favorite at our house. I’ve made it when friends have come over for coffee, and it’s always a hit! Did I mention it’s beautiful too?! Get the recipe here.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup. Another “easy as pie” recipe from Hungry Girl, this one is fun for kids too! (Do not let children make this unaccompanied. The pie is HOT when it comes out of the microwave!) It has candy and graham crackers in it! ‘Nuff said! And fruit! It has fruit! At only 140 calories per serving, it makes for a great dessert the whole family will love! I think it even sounds good for a snow day. My daughter loves to have friends over for snow days, and I love to feed them! Get the recipe here.

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two. Who doesn’t love chocolate cake?! This one comes in at 199 calories per serving, and the serving size is not in question, because it’s cooked in the perfect portion! This is another one that sounds good for a snow day or for friends who come over for coffee. The ingredient list is short, and most of the ingredients are likely on hand all the time. Make yourself happy with a little chocolate cake! Hungry Girl tells you how this age-old treat without overdoing it! Get the recipe here.

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two

This is just a sampling of what Hungry Girl offers in portion-controlled dessert recipes. Seriously, try them. Anyone can make them…even those “kitchen challenged” friends of mine. You can see more portion-controlled desserts from Hungry Girl here.

We are hoping for a little snow in Charlotte over the next couple of days, so I’m going to the store and stocking up on ingredients for these gems tonight! All kids who love to sled are welcome to join in the fun…and eat some yummy desserts too! Moms…come on over for coffee, and I will share desserts with you too!

*Please let me know when you try these recipes! I love to get feedback!*

***All photos courtesy of hungry-girl.com***

 

 

 

Practicing My Spanish! (¡Practicando mi Español!)

Practicing my Spanish. (Practicando mi Español.)

When I was in ninth grade, I took Spanish. I don’t remember if a foreign language was required then, but I took it because I knew the Spanish teacher took students with her to Mexico every year, and I wanted to go on that trip. What I didn’t know is that I would love the language and the people of Mexico.

Of course, in the 1980s, we had no way of seeing the future. We didn’t know Spanish would be a hot commodity in the 2000s. Back then, everybody was telling us we needed to learn Russian and Japanese, because it appeared as if Japan would be an economic superpower. Maybe it is. I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that Spanish is something we can use every single day in this country.

So in 1982, I took Spanish just so I could do the Mexico trip with some of my classmates. I’ve written about it before. Five girls from the class went with our pregnant teacher and a friend of hers as our chaperones. The teacher was an awesome Spanish teacher, but we ran pretty unsupervised through Mexico City for days. Mexico City was our first stop, and to this day, I still love that city. After Mexico City, we visited Taxco and Acapulco…back when it was safe to visit Acapulco. I took more Spanish classes as a result of that trip.

I have visited Mexico City (and other cities in Mexico) numerous times since then, and I love it every time. I find that every time I visit, after a few days, my Spanish improves by leaps and bounds. I have friends in Charlotte who are from Mexico, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries, so I get to practice my Spanish some, but it’s a lot of fun to visit  other countries and speak Spanish.

This summer, we are taking several vacations, but the only place I will visit where Spanish is the first language is Puerto Rico. I’ll practice it some, but usually, I find that, in Puerto Rico, when I ask a question in Spanish, they answer me in English. I continue speaking my terrible version of Spanish till they usually humor me by speaking some Spanish back to me. So I have a long list of Latin American countries I really want to visit in the next few years. I’ve been to Costa Rica and Peru, but I have other countries I’d like to visit: Argentina and Panama top the list.

But for now, I’ll get to practice my Spanish in Puerto Rico and just hope some folks there will cooperate. I know a few words I will definitely use while I’m there. I’ll exchange the regular greetings, and then, pretty soon after we arrive, I’ll use this word: churro. Yes, you know that word, and if you don’t, you’re missing out. The hotel where we will stay has some fabulous churros, so I’ll be saying that word really early in the trip when I place my first order! Next word? Alcapurrias! Actually, I’m not even sure that’s a Spanish word, but I’ll be using that word, because I know the pool bar serves great alcapurrias. Not familiar? They’re beef-filled, fried fritters. I can’t make them, but I can eat them! And only one more food word: mallorca! Pan de mallorca is actually a sweet bread made in Puerto Rico, modeled after a bread made in Majorca, Spain. Restaurants make sandwiches with the bread, and my very favorite thing to order is a mallorca con huevo, queso, y jamón (egg, cheese, and ham).

Seriously, I don’t just speak Spanish to order foods. When I’m visiting a country where Spanish is the first language, I try to use my Spanish as much as I can, and I try to learn new words. I love to come home with an expanded vocabulary.

I’m excited about Puerto Rico waaaaay to early, and next year, maybe I’ll make it to Argentina!

 

 

 

We Save $$$ Traveling with Friends

We save money traveling with friends…and make some great memories at the same time!

I’m always thinking about the next vacation. My husband just rolls his eyes every time I say, “You know where I want to go next?” He rolls his eyes because he does not have wanderlust, and I do. He loves being home, and he loves visiting the beach where he grew up. That’s fine, but I like to go to different places. That doesn’t mean I don’t repeat places, but the places I like are different than what he likes. No, it’s not a problem, because he doesn’t care when I vacation without him, and I don’t mind when he vacations without me. We’re married, but that doesn’t mean we have to be together 24/7.

My daughter and I travel with friends quite often, and we love it for so many reasons!

Our 16-yr-old daughter is an only child, and I have a cousin and several friends who also have “only children,” so it’s fun to travel with them. I get to catch up with my friends or my cousin, and my daughter has fun with their daughters.

Aside from the fun factor, it saves money for all of us, and we get to do more! How does it save money? Well, we always travel with friends we love…people we enjoy sharing space with. For example, this summer, we are going to a Caribbean destination with a friend from Alabama and her daughter. When we both had daughters, we joked that they would have to be best friends whether they wanted to or not…and fortunately, they love each other! As for the money savings, we share a hotel room or suite. Because we are sharing, we are splitting the cost, making it much more affordable for both of us. It doesn’t save us anything on airfare, but we manage to save a lot anyway.

In fact, this summer, we will do trips with three different friends and a cousin, and it’s all possible, because we aren’t spending a fortune on the rooms/suites, even though we will have beautiful, top-of-the-line accommodations! But we don’t just save on the room. We also save on rental cars, taxi rides, Uber rides, and gas costs. Seriously, it all adds up, and at the end of a five day trip, we are usually amazed at how much we saved by sharing the costs with friends.

Another way to save on travel? Consult a travel agent. I used to work at a travel agency, so I know they often are aware of specials the general public might not know about. Planning a trip to the Caribbean? Let an agent help you. Planning a cruise? Let an agent help you find the perfect one!

Maybe you want to book your own hotel reservation? One quick thing about hotels: when you are making a reservation, always check the special offers. Sometimes, they offer a fifth night free. Sometimes, they offer suites at a discount, but if you don’t check into it, you might be paying the same thing for a room that you could be paying for a much larger space. And always…always…always…continue to check the rates even after you book your reservation. Last year, after I booked our hotel for spring break, I kept checking, and the rates kept going down. I ended up with a rate that was $500 less (total) than the original rate I booked.

Other good ways to save when traveling? Some credit cards offer extra points for dollars spent while traveling, and you can get cash back. I have a credit card that gives me cash back for every dollar we spend, and we get a greater percentage if we apply it to travel. In fact, we try to pay for everything we can on that credit card, and the savings add up fast! I pay for two vacations a year with the points from that card! And don’t forget your frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards programs. If you haven’t signed up for the rewards programs of hotels where you stay, you are just throwing money away. Registration is always free for the programs, and you get points that can add up to free hotel rooms. Seriously, last year, we had 12 free nights in hotels. That’s real money.

And anyone can check out The Points Guy’s website here. The website has a plethora of information about travel savings, but one of the first points he makes is one of the points I’ve already made: get a credit card that will maximize your cash back or points for travel. He says, “By using your debit card [instead of a credit card with rewards], you are spending money and getting nothing in return.”

Travel doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, and it’s a lot more fun when you make memories with people you love! So if you want a surefire way to save on travel, grab a friend and split some costs! That’s my favorite way to save on vacation costs!