“Cheater” Charcuterie Boards

“Cheater” charcuterie boards.

Charcuterie boards have become popular over the last few years. Anyone who has not been living in a cave knows that. I became absolutely obsessed with creating them a little over a year ago, and I have made lots of different ones with lots of different ingredients.

Sometimes, I want to have people over and serve charcuterie, but I don’t have time to shop for it! What to do? I do what I call a “cheater charcuterie board.” I order from a business in Charlotte that will deliver charcuterie boxes and/or boards to my home with lots of fantastic, locally-sourced ingredients. I was having a crazy week a couple of months ago, but we had friends coming over on a Friday night. I wanted to serve charcuterie, but I didn’t have time to go to the store beforehand. So I searched online with “charcuterie boards, Charlotte,” and I found Off the Block Charcuterie. (If you live in another city, simply search online for “{your city}, charcuterie.” to find something similar in your area.) After perusing the Off the Block website, not only did it appear they offer quality ingredients, but I also discovered they would deliver to my home for no additional charge! Score! And I quickly placed an order.

I ordered their Large Signature Box, which features a selection of North Carolina sourced cheeses and meats plus house-roasted nuts, house-made crackers, and seasonal items. I have now ordered it several times, and the cheese have been plentiful…and included my personal favorites of bleu cheese, brie, and goat cheese. If you don’t like those cheeses, you can specify when you order. The meats have included prosciutto and other cured options. And the seasonal items have been olives, blackberries, orange slices, strawberries, raspberries, figs, and dried apricots…different items on different dates. I have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been absolutely delighted every time I have ordered, and the lady who has delivered to us is lovely. The Large Signature Box is $65, and it serves 5-6 people appetizers. We tend to use it for three or four of us as a meal with wine. Let me mention here that the price also includes the delivery to my home! It’s a bargain!

When the box arrives (on time, every time!) I get out one of my own beautiful charcuterie boards and arrange the items how I want them arranged, and I even add a few of my own favorite items from my own pantry: praline pecans, salted caramel chocolate pieces, and various crackers. (My favorite crackers are Blue Diamond Nut Thins…I usually get the artisan flavors and the almond thins.) Don’t worry. I don’t try to pass everything off as my own. I always own up to the fact that I created a cheater charcuterie board, but everyone enjoys it. I usually wait until I get a compliment on the fresh items on the board, and that’s when I say, “I have to admit it’s what I call a ‘cheater’ board, because I didn’t gather the ingredients myself…”

But that’s not all Off the Block Charcuterie offers. They also offer vegan and vegetarian boards, caviar boxes, crudité boxes, charcuterie cups, and more! At Easter, I ordered a special board from them that included cookies from Honeybear Bakeshop cookies that were fantastic! To see Off the Block’s website, click here. I’m definitely ordering for Easter…and I plan to have quite a few add-ons…maybe some caviar and chocolate.

Everything we have had delivered from Off the Block Charlotte has been outstanding, and every guest has given it rave reviews! Even our very picky teenage daughter loves them. If you would like to assemble your own cheater charcuterie board or would like to order a pre-arranged board full of locally-sourced, delicious, high quality ingredients, place your order now, and they will bring it to your home (in Charlotte) at a time you select! Serve it all with your choice of wine, and voila! You have delicious appetizers or a delicious dinner…however you choose to serve it. We have ordered so many times now that I told our delivery lady yesterday we need to invite her over for drinks one weekend.

Cheers!

***I mentioned my “beautiful” charcuterie boards above. When I say I have beautiful boards, I mean they are gorgeous. A family friend I have known for 45 years retired recently, and he is making charcuterie boards by hand. He makes them from different types of wood and finishes them in FDA-approved finishes, so they are food safe. Seriously, I get compliments on them every time I use one. If you’re interested in one, contact me at kellymattei@msn.com for more information. Photos below. ***

***Again, to see the website for Off the Block Charlotte, click here.***

Now I’m Getting Nervous

Now I’m getting nervous…

It’s no secret that I have been looking forward to my daughter’s high school graduation. She has been at the same independent school since she was four years old, so she really thinks she is ready for graduation. Plus, she is an only child, so when she graduates and goes off to college, we become empty-nesters. We start a new phase of our lives. It’s a phase we are excited about.

And up until now, I’ve been nothing but excited. I have been looking forward to summer vacations. I have been excited about how much she is going to love college. I have been looking forward to the adventures my husband and I will have…traveling to different places…the possibility of living somewhere else (not right away, of course, because we know our daughter needs to be able to come back home during her freshman year). There’s a lot to look forward to.

But earlier today, I was talking with a friend whose only child, a daughter, is a sophomore in college, and she gave me a warning, “No matter what you think right now, you are going to miss that girl when she goes to college.” And it hit me. She’s right. I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss her like crazy. We have been together almost every single day of her life. Soon, she will be leaving me behind. I’m happy for her, but now I’m nervous for me. It’s uncharted territory for me.

I wrote recently about how I have one job. I’m a mom. And that has been my one job for eighteen years. But now that’s about to change. I’m not officially being “fired” from that job, but the job description is going to change. She won’t need me daily; frankly, she probably hasn’t needed me daily for a long time. However, once she goes off to college several hundred miles away, I will likely go months without seeing her in person or giving her a hug! She will be fine. I’m worried about me.

God prepares us for this. As they grow up, kids gradually become more independent. Even in elementary school, they start going to friends houses without us. They go to sleepovers with friends. And then, before they can drive, we drop them off at places to meet friends regularly. Then, they learn to drive, and everything changes. As soon as our daughter turned 16, she was off to the races…we hardly saw her anymore, because she had the freedom to move around the city at will. Four months after she got her license, though, COVID hit. Because she couldn’t spend as much time with friends, she did a lot of driving around. She even invited me to go for drives with her. We looked for places to drive around…sometimes just driving around town, and other times driving into South Carolina to see what it looked like when states started to re-open during the pandemic. South Carolina opened way before North Carolina did, and we drove around looking at the lines outside restaurants!

Because teenagers are social creatures, we were not particularly strict about the COVID restrictions. She needed to see her friends. She needed to spend time socializing, so we let her. I joked that she spent the summer of 2020 trying to catch COVID but never caught it. I felt sure she would bring it home to me and my husband during those first few crucial months, but we never got it. Actually, I did have it in late January of this year, but I didn’t get it from my daughter.

Pandemic restrictions lifted, and school eventually went back to “normal.” She has been going to school dances and sporting events. Her social life has resumed in full force. She is hardly ever home, but we usually see her for at least a few minutes a day. Lots of times, I don’t even know when she will be home after lacrosse practice.

And now, she is taking another step toward independence…and so are we! We are going to have lots of free time on our hands. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be fun. But even while we are having fun, I’m sure I will miss our little girl who’s not so little anymore. She is three inches taller than I am and ready to face the world. We just have to get ourselves ready to face the world in a different way…and really, that’s the scary part. I’m going to have to reinvent myself!

Yes, God prepares us by making their independence gradual…so gradual that we hardly notice till they’re ready to fly the coop! And now it’s almost here…

Once we get her to college, we plan to take a nice, relaxing vacation to “celebrate” our new status as empty nesters. Hopefully, we embrace the freedom…

The future is bright!

Snow in the South!

Snow in the south!

I received a notification that snow might be in the forecast for Charlotte next weekend. And when I say “snow,” I don’t mean flurries like we’ve had a couple of times this winter. I mean real snow might be headed our way. Some folks speculate it’s just the dairy farmers putting out false info, because they know southerners will rush to the grocery store and buy milk and bread before the storm arrives. I choose to think…to hope, even…that it will happen.

If you grew up in the northern United States, snow is no big deal to you. In fact, it’s likely more of an annoyance to you. You don’t remember your first snow, because it was there every winter…year after year.

I remember my first snow.

The year was 1973, and I lived in Brewton, Alabama. I was five. Back then, we didn’t have 24-hour news. Kids didn’t have as much access to constant news, and in some ways, that was a good thing. We weren’t afraid of our shadows like so many people are today. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. And I went to bed February 8, 1973, completely unaware of the possibility of snow. I’m sure my parents watched the 10:00 news that night and likely had some idea of what was about to happen, but I knew nothing. I had never seen snow, and it would never have occurred to me that it would snow in Brewton.

On the morning of February 9, 1973, my mother came into my room and woke me up, telling me, “Get up and look out the window!” I had no idea why I was looking out the window….a new puppy? friends were visiting? what could it be? And much to my surprise, the ground was covered in glorious snow! I can still remember the excitement I felt. It was possibly the most excitement I had ever felt up to that point in my life!  We could hardly wait to get outside!

But here’s the real shocker: when all was said and done, we had about six inches of snow on the ground in Brewton, Alabama! If you don’t know, Brewton is located in southern Alabama, near the Florida line. Aside from that time, I don’t know that Brewton has ever had so much snow. Any amount of snow is rare there. That snowstorm came to be called The Great Southeastern Snowstorm of 1973! You can read about it here and here.

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A childhood friend, Cindy Finlay, in the snow in Brewton, Alabama, 1973

We didn’t own sleds. We didn’t own snow boots. We didn’t own winter gloves. We didn’t own those things, because we had never needed them! But that didn’t deter us. Fortunately, we did have winter coats, so underneath them, we layered on our warmest clothes and doubled up our socks before pulling on our sneakers. We pulled two socks onto each hand, and off we went…into the wild white yonder! Y’all, no one was ever more excited to see snow than I was on that February day!

It seems like we played all day. We built a snowman. We made snow angels. We threw snowballs at each other. We ran through the snow a lot. Our noses ran. Our faces stung. Our hands and feet hurt. But we had the best time ever.

When we realized our hands and feet were numb, we would go inside and take off our shoes and socks (the ones on our hands and feet) and place them in front of the space heater in the den, so they would warm up and dry. Mother would put some of the layers of clothing in the dryer, and after a cup of hot cocoa, we would pull on all those layers and those warm sneakers and go back out to play. At some point, one of us placed our sneakers a little too close to the space heater and melted the rubber sole of the shoes…an interesting odor.

I don’t have any pictures from that day, but I have pictures in my mind. Cameras weren’t everywhere like they are these days. It seems like we might have posed for a photo or two, and maybe one day, I’ll find photos in a box I brought back from Mother’s house. But for now, I can only imagine how comical we must have looked in those layers of clothes with socks on our hands. One thing I know for sure is that all the kids in our neighborhood (and the whole town) were thrilled! The Great Southeastern Snowstorm of 1973 created some great memories for us!

As an adult, I moved to Charlotte, but when I moved here at age 33, I had never gone sledding. The first winter I lived here, though, I finally got to go sledding with the neighborhood kids. And after our daughter was born, it snowed a lot the winter after she was born (2004), but we didn’t have another good snow for a few years.

When she was in 4-yr-old preschool, her teacher, Mrs. Sadow, told her that if she wanted it to snow, she needed to sleep with her pajamas inside out, put a spoon under her pillow, and flush ice cubes (or ice cream) down the toilet. We usually save those rituals for the night before snow is predicted to arrive, so if snow is in the forecast later in the week, you can bet your sweet bippy we will practice all those rituals the night before it’s supposed to arrive!

We are prepared for it now. Living in North Carolina, snow happens a little more often than it does in Brewton, Alabama, so we have snow boots, parkas, gloves, hats and most importantly, sleds!

Nobody loves a snow day like a southerner loves a snow day!

A Holiday Village

A holiday village.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Visit.

A Visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights…Not an original title, obviously. Chances are, you know I’m talking about high school football. More specifically…high school football in Charlotte, North Carolina. Not exactly what I consider a hot bed of football. North Carolina is more of a basketball state. But we sure had fun at a high school football game in North Carolina last night.

It was the first home football game of the season. Growing up in Alabama, I always loved the first home football game of the season at our high school. Total excitement and anticipation. I vividly remember the big win our high school team had in the first game of my senior year. I was a cheerleader, and we had cheered through two miserable seasons in the previous years, but that first big win of my senior year was foreshadowing of a great season to come. Our team ended up playing well into the playoffs…up to the semifinals…before losing to the eventual state champion team. Last night, it felt much the same at our daughter’s high school. After last year, when fans were not allowed to attend the few games we had, this was a welcome change! It was a fun excuse to get out on a lovely Friday night and celebrate something together…namely, a big win for our high school team. I like to think we were celebrating the win, but we were also celebrating the opportunity to be together. Whole families came out to the stadium for some good, old-fashioned fun on a Friday night, and it was electric!

Our daughter is a senior at an independent school. She started school there when she was four years old, entering at transitional kindergarten, a kindergarten readiness program. She has grown up there. And this year, her senior year, is the first year she has been a cheerleader for football. She played varsity field hockey for the first three years of high school, but opted for a change this fall. She has been a basketball cheerleader for two years, so she wanted to try cheering for football…this is her first experience cheering for football…and she is loving every minute of it. The team started the season with two away games, so the girls were looking forward to the opportunity to lead a home crowd in cheering for the team. And last night, they did a great job.

The football team did a great job, ultimately winning by a large margin. I’d be lying if I said I knew the exact score, but I know we won by a lot. There were some exciting plays for both teams…long passes, big tackles, turnovers, big runs. I love football in almost any form, and our team did not disappoint. The concession stand crew was working hard, just like they used to do pre-COVID. The pep band showed up in full force. The dance team put on a heck of a halftime show. And we all cheered our team on to victory. The elementary-aged students were happy to be together in the stands. The families were thrilled to catch up. It was exciting to hear the familiar voice of our announcer on the loudspeaker. It was awesome to feel “normal” again.

Many of the students in the crowd and on the field have grown up with our daughter. I was talking with her transitional kindergarten teacher in the stands, and we reminisced about the time…way back in 2009…when a little boy in the class broke his shoulder blade at the end-of-year class party. At 6 feet tall, that little boy is no longer a little boy. The broken shoulder blade healed quickly, and he is a now a handsome young man on the varsity football team. Many of those TK students are still at the school…graduating with my daughter in May. The two other senior cheerleaders started in kindergarten with our daughter in 2009. Almost all the senior football players have been at the school since kindergarten…all except one, a young man who entered the school in ninth grade and quickly endeared himself to his classmates. He’s a superstar on the field and in the classroom.

As it turns out, Friday Night Lights can be fun no matter where you are…Alabama, Western Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, or even North Carolina. FNL looks much the same in Charlotte in 2021 as it did in Alabama in 1985. I’m just glad it doesn’t look like it looked in 2020!

Coyotes in the City

Coyotes in the city.

We have lived in the same house for over 20 years. We love our neighborhood in Charlotte (North Carolina). We don’t live right in uptown (what Charlotteans call downtown), but we are well within city limits on the south side of town.

Because our neighborhood has two lakes, lots of trees, and borders a golf course, we have lots of wildlife. Over the years, it hasn’t been unusual to see owls, blue herons (they nest right behind my friend’s house), deer, snakes, hawks, rabbits, turtles, bullfrogs, ducks, geese, Bald Eagles, and even a lone turkey! And yes, we have seen a few coyotes…maybe three over the course of twenty years.

During the pandemic, we started having evening cocktails on the patio. Every evening, we sat outside laughing and talking…sometimes just us, and sometimes with neighbors and friends. I don’t remember hearing or seeing any coyotes last year, but this year…wow.

Earlier in the year, the people who purchased a house just over the ridge behind us decided to demolish the house and clear a lot of the trees from the three acres of land. I thought it was sad as I saw beautiful trees being mowed over by heavy equipment. One tree that went down was a favorite one I could see from the patio, but it was none of my business. Since then, all construction activity has stopped on the property. For several months, it has been quiet.

Well, construction has been quiet, but the neighborhood has been eerily noisy.

We started sitting outside for cocktails again as soon as the weather allowed in the spring. And one of the first nights we were out there, we heard something: howling, yipping, yapping…the creepy sounds of coyotes. Yep, coyotes, right here in Charlotte city limits. It happens at some point almost every night, but I don’t think it’s something I will ever get accustomed to hearing.

Recently, I was sitting outside at 10pm with my neighbor when we suddenly heard a long, lone howl. It was one of those perfect howls like in a western movie. We looked at each other in disbelief. And shortly thereafter, we heard the familiar yipping, yapping sounds of a coyote frenzy. After investigating the meanings of these different sounds, I have learned that one long howl is likely a coyote trying to locate its pack. The yipping/yapping heard afterward is the pack responding to the howl. So I guess that is the communication we were hearing that night.

A few nights later, my husband and I had some friends over for cocktails, and at about 8:30pm, just before dark, my husband pointed at something and asked, “What is that?” I responded, “That’s a coyote…and another…and another!” Three coyotes roaming just past our next door neighbor’s house. They looked very confident. I’m not sure if they saw us, but if they did, they clearly were not disturbed by our presence. Of course, the men ran out to the other side of the house to see if they could see more of them, but nothing. We had never seen three coyotes together in our neighborhood…and it was relatively early in the evening!

Not gonna lie…I find it fascinating, even if it is a bit scary. I know…coyotes generally want to stay away from people, but that knowledge isn’t much comfort when we go for a walk in the evening. I have a fear of encountering a whole pack of coyotes. My husband always tells me not to worry about it, and I jokingly tell him that if we are charged by a pack of coyotes, I’m pushing him down, and I’m running. It’s a joke, of course. I have no idea what I would do if we encountered an angry pack. Chances are, I wouldn’t have to do anything, because they would run from us, but I don’t really want to find out.

Our yard is fenced. We leave exterior lights on at night. We don’t leave pet food outdoors. Our back yard is fenced. And we have a relatively big dog, a Doberman Pinscher. All of those things are supposed to deter coyotes. Our veterinarian says that if we see any near our yard, we should make loud noises to scare them. He also said we could soak pieces of cloth in ammonia or perfume and tie them along the fenceline. Apparently, those unnatural scents deter coyotes too. I’m not going that far…yet. Right now, as long as they keep their distance, we will co-exist peacefully.

When I moved to Charlotte more than twenty years ago, I certainly didn’t think we would have coyotes in the city!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 4…The End of the Journey

*I’m writing about this trip so I can remember details later. Maybe you will learn something new!*

Two friends on the road, part 4.

So we left Miami…we didn’t want to, but we needed to start traveling in the direction of home…north on I-95.

At some point south of Vero Beach, we dropped off I-95 to get put gas in the car and buy more lottery and scratch-off tickets. We we were looking for manatees again…trying to find a them in a marina or inlet. We were obsessed. Well, I was obsessed. Mary Ann might have been humoring me, but I wanted to see more manatees. Using her internet search skills, Mary Ann found a place we might be able to see manatees near a power plant in Vero Beach. We found the power plant; we also found out quickly the road to the power plant was blocked. We got creative. Looking at the maps on our phones, we saw where the canal passed through a neighborhood. We went there. It turned out to be a canal behind an apartment complex, but we parked in the parking lot and walked down to a dock on the canal. It was dark, and I was paranoid about trespassing. Darkness + water + trespassing = fear. I kept whispering, “I’m scared.” After a little while we didn’t see anything and didn’t hear any manatees surface, so we left. Whew! I ran to the car.

Soon after leaving Vero Beach, we both said we were hungry at the same time and made our way toward Melbourne. Mary Ann found restaurant info, and we made our way to downtown…a charming area! We couldn’t believe our good luck…lots of restaurants, live music, and cute shops!

We passed a place called 716 East on Main Street, and it looked great…outdoor seating, twinkling lights, and live music. After parking, I checked the online menu and saw Mary Ann’s favorite, eggplant parmesan. It’s hard to find good eggplant parmesan, so she was psyched! We looked a little rough, having been in the car all day…both of us had on hoodies…very casual. As we approached the restaurant on foot, we realized we were underdressed. I even gave the hostess an out by acknowledging we likely didn’t meet the dress code. She smiled and seated us at the front of the restaurant…not hiding us…so I guess our attire was acceptable!

The cutest waiter came over enthusiastically and took our drink orders. He then wanted to make us aware of the menu items that weren’t available. We were there late, so we understood. I almost said, “As long as you aren’t out of eggplant parmesan, we’re good,” but I didn’t. He pointed to a couple of appetizers and told us about a couple of other dishes they didn’t have. As he pointed to the menu, I realized the restaurant wasn’t 716 East anymore. It was a different restaurant altogether, called Ember and Oak…a steakhouse with no eggplant parm! Mary Ann realized it at about the same time; I could tell by the look on her face as she scanned the menu. As soon as our waiter went to get our much-needed cocktails, we laughed and said, “It’s a different menu!” Thank God I didn’t make my remark about eggplant parm to the waiter!

Sometimes things fall into place. That’s what happened at Ember and Oak. Our waiter guided us in ordering, and we enjoyed a great meal in a lovely atmosphere. And the dessert? Cheesecake stuffed doughnut holes??? They had me at “cheesecake.” For more info on Ember and Oak, click here.

I booked a hotel reservation from the restaurant, so we went straight to the hotel and dragged our stuff in. Inside, we did our scratch-off tickets…a silly ritual at this point. At bedtime, I realized I had left my restless leg meds in the car. I was afraid to go to the parking lot, and Mary Ann was falling asleep, so I thought, “Surely I will be able to fall asleep.” About 30 minutes later, I realized I was wrong, but Mary Ann was asleep, and there was no way I was running into a dark parking lot alone. I didn’t sleep…at all…maybe dozed here and there…but tossed and turned. At 6:30, Mary Ann said something, and I said, “I haven’t slept all night.” She said, “I know.” Eek. Note to self: remember restless leg meds.

We got an early start the next morning and drove to a manatee observation area in Melbourne. No luck, but we saw dolphins frolicking across the way, so we drove over and watched them. Mary Ann spotted a manatee swimming into the inlet, even though he stayed mostly submerged…we could see his “wake” as he slowly swam in. We were way too excited about the dolphins and manatee. We laughed at how embarrassed our kids would be if they were with us! But they weren’t…and we didn’t care what anyone thought!

Leaving Melbourne in the afternoon, we got back on the interstate and continued driving north into South Georgia, where we saw a feral black boar on the side of the interstate! I saw it as we passed and said, “What was that?!” Mary Ann said, “It was a wild boar!” I have to say that was the first feral boar I have ever seen in person…and I’ll be OK if I never see another one. I had an uncle who used to hunt them, and I remember hearing stories about how aggressive and vicious they can be. I still can’t believe we saw one on I-95.

We stopped for the night in Savannah, because traffic was backed up on I-95 for 15 miles. We didn’t have the patience for that. We got up the next morning knowing we would go back to Charlotte after one silly destination: South of the Border!

Not familiar with South of the Border? I have written about it before…read about SOB (South of the Border) here. It’s a roadside attraction in South Carolina, on I-95. Mary Ann had never seen it. It was a rainy, dreary day, so I hate she saw it that day. The gray skies made it look bad. It’s more fun to approach it at night, when the neon’s glowing. The dim light hides the wear and tear. We arrived, and I think she was underwhelmed. We took pictures with some of the landmarks…the giant sombrero, the giant Pedro, the neon SOB sign. We shopped in the souvenir shops and found trinkets. Two things got Mary Ann’s attention: the jackalope statue and Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. As we were leaving SOB, she spotted a giant jackalope statue, which she found especially funny…and had to climb up for a photo sitting on his back. She’d hunt me down and kill me if I posted it, so you’ll never see it. On our way out, we stopped at the SOB gas station for a bottle of Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. If you’ve never had Blenheim’s, it’s real ginger ale…with a kick. Blenheim has been making it the old-fashioned way since 1903. You can read more about it here. I knew Mary Ann would love it.

We left SOB and headed back to Charlotte, and once we arrived, we drove straight to Ilios Noche, a restaurant I knew Mary Ann would love! In fact, it has been a week since we were there, and she is still raving about it! For info on Ilios Noche, click here.

We made great memories…and that’s what it’s all about! The journey is the destination!

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3

Two friends on the road, part 3.

My friend, Mary Ann, and I took a road trip from Charlotte to Miami and back last week. I’ve written parts 1 and 2, and part 2 ended with our driving out of the Tequesta/Jupiter area of Florida after attempting to visit Joe Namath’s soon-to-open restaurant…and getting caught accidentally trespassing in the process. Eek!

Our next destination? West Palm Beach, where we needed to try a Cuban restaurant my friend, Linda, raved about. We left Jupiter, and in less than half hour, we were standing in front of Havana Restaurant, right on the corner of Dixie Highway (Hwy 1) and Forest Hill Blvd.

Imagine our surprise when we found the dining room closed. The takeout window facing Dixie Highway was open, so we talked with the ladies there, who told us the takeout window is open 24 hours, but the dining room was open 5pm to 11pm. It was 4pm, so we decided to order an early dinner and dine at one of the outdoor tables on the side of the building. We knew that by the time we finished our early dinner, the dining room would be open, and we could go inside for dessert. We had Tostones Milanesa, Ropa Vieja, and Arroz con Pollo. Wow! The flavors were perfect, and the portions were huge, but we still saved room for dessert…because, well, Cuban desserts.

A little after 5:00, we entered the dining room and were seated immediately. I’ve never been to Cuba, but it certainly gave me vibes I thought were Cuban. The walls featured posters and photos of Cuban singers and stars, many from a bygone era. We loved the atmosphere! Mary Ann had never had Flan, so she ordered that, and I ordered Tres Leches Cake, which I always love, and we both ordered Cafe con Leche. The coffee came first; if you enjoy a good cup of coffee, I recommend you try the coffee at Havana. But when the desserts arrived, we were absolutely overwhelmed! Mary Ann decided she loved Flan. I knew I loved Tres Leches Cake, but this one bowled me over. I can hardly wait to get back to West Palm Beach just so I can get that cake. For more information about Havana Restaurant, click here. We loved it. The servers were absolutely delightful, and the food was fantastic. Highly recommend!

Havana Restaurant’s Tres Leches Cake

We waddled back out to the car after eating too much, and decided we’d stop in Delray Beach for the night. We took the beach road, and as I drove, Mary Ann was searching online for a small, locally-owned place to stay the night. We found Atlantic Hideaway on 6th Avenue. Unfortunately, they had no rooms left for the night. Even though we didn’t get to stay there, we recommend it and will likely try it another time. To see info about Atlantic Hideaway, click here. After driving around looking for other small inns, we finally opted to book at the Courtyard…yes, I know…not a small, locally-owned place, but it was in a great location…and at that point, it was just easy. We booked on the Marriott app, where we also checked in and got a digital key. Parking was in a covered garage. We were thrilled with how large the room was…two king beds…and the whole hotel was remarkably clean and beautiful. I never thought I would call a Courtyard beautiful, but this one definitely was.

After getting our bags to the room, we went out to explore on foot. Delray Beach is a lovely town with lots of cute restaurants and shops. We didn’t need more food after Havana, but we enjoyed walking. We crossed over the drawbridge and visited the beach. Of course, we took lots of photos along the way.

We slept well, and when we got up the next morning, we spent a couple of hours checking out Delray Beach, resolving to return soon. It’s the kind of place I could live out my retirement…seriously, it could happen.

In the afternoon, we got back on A1A, driving south through Highland Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Pompano Beach. We knew Miami Beach was our southernmost destination, so we made a hotel reservation and dinner reservations while we drove…more on that later. We didn’t make any stops till we got to Pompano, and we were past due for some lunch, since we hadn’t eaten breakfast. We had just said we were feeling “lunchy” when we saw a sign for Great Indian Grill. We both love Indian food, so we took a chance and were so glad we did! The place was small…just three tables…but with only two employees, it had a friendly, personal vibe. The chef, Jay, took our orders, and offered suggestions. He suggested Chicken Tikka Masala as an appetizer and Lamb Biryani and Shrimp Curry for lunch. Yum! Everything he prepared was perfect, and we felt like he was our personal chef! In some Indian restaurants, the flavors can be overwhelming, but Jay prepared them in such a way that the flavors melded perfectly. Everything was delicious. For info on Great Indian Grill, click here. We thanked our new friend, Jay, profusely before getting on the road to Miami.

As we drove away, we remembered reading that a Goodyear Blimp Airbase is in Pompano Beach, so Mary Ann checked her phone, and we decided to make a quick drive past the hangar, in hopes a blimp would be parked outside. As we approached, we realized we were getting more than that! A blimp was outside, indeed…getting prepared for takeoff! We had no idea where it was going, but when it took off, it flew low directly above us! As it started to circle low around the base, I realized it was doing a fly by and was going to land again! What a treat to watch it take off and land! I’ve seen the Goodyear blimp countless times, but I had never seen it take off and land, so this was fun! Once we knew it wouldn’t be taking off again, we got on the road. For info on the Goodyear Blimp Airbase, click here.

The blimp landing in the background, and a man biking through my selfie!

We rolled into Miami with Will Smith singing Miami on the car speakers, and eventually switched over to Pit Bull…just to get the vibe for the 305.

As I mentioned earlier, we had made a hotel reservation. We opted to stay at Eden Roc, because it’s in mid-beach (not South Beach!), and because they have valet parking. There were other factors too…Nobu restaurant and Malibu Farm restaurant are both at Eden Roc.

Upon arrival at Eden Roc, we were greeted warmly by the valet and bell staff. Check-in was quick and easy, and our room on the seventh floor gave us a pool view and partial ocean view. We got cleaned up and went downstairs to Malibu Farm for our cocktail reservation before moving to Nobu for our dinner. Mary Ann had never dined at Nobu, but I have dined at several, so I knew it would be a fabulous experience. It most definitely was. Nobu never disappoints. In fact, Mary Ann has called me several times since, still talking about that Nobu meal. I’d love to list everything we ordered, but we let the server decide for us, so we didn’t know the names of everything…but it was fantastic! For info on Malibu Farm, click here…and Nobu info, click here.

We went to bed happy, dreaming of the Nobu meal we’d just had!

We knew we had one day in Miami, so the next morning we picked a couple of things we wanted to do. I have no love for South Beach, so that was off the table. We knew we wanted to visit Calle Ocho…you can’t go to Miami without visiting Little Havana/Calle Ocho. We also wanted to visit the Wynwood Walls.

So after a quick drive around the Art Deco and South Beach area, we drove west, across MacArthur Causeway to Calle Ocho, where we had another great Cuban meal at Versailles. It’s a a tourist trap, but there were locals there too, and frankly, the easy parking was a factor in our decision. To see more about Versailles, click here. We left there and took a few pictures in Little Havana before going to the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum of murals by American and international artists. It’s actually blocks of murals on building and walls, but now there is a part of the area that charges for entry. It’s $10 per person, and it’s money well spent. We spent about an hour there, admiring the murals and taking photos. We loved it. And of course, at the end, I had to go into the gift shop to purchase some postcards…it’s what I do. For more about The Wynwood Walls, click here.

We left there, driving north with no idea where we would stop. More next time…in part 4 of the series.

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!