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

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3.5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow…Part 4…heading north…

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.

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.

 

I Lied.

I lied.

I said we wouldn’t cancel our spring break trip to Miami, but I canceled today.

We ended up canceling, even though I really didn’t want to. I’m stubborn. I hate to give in. I didn’t want the stupid coronavirus to beat us. I wanted to win this battle and enjoy a week in the sun. It simply wasn’t meant to be.

I was still planning to go. In fact, I finally canceled this afternoon. I hated to do it, but some of the people we were traveling with were coming from Ohio, which has been hit hard, and some of the kids were getting anxious. Ugh. I was actually in a store buying a few things for the trip when my daughter texted me that she was a little scared to go.

When I first got her text, I responded, “Let me think.” And then, I remembered something that happened 17 years ago. In 2003, I was pregnant. I’ve always loved to travel, and pregnancy didn’t slow me down. So in the summer of 2003, I met a friend in Florida for a weekend of fun. We had a great time, and I boarded the plane for my flight home. Everything was normal till just after takeoff, we took a bird in the right engine of the plane. I was a flight attendant for a little while after college, so as soon as it happened, I knew what was going on. I also noticed we stopped climbing. I turned to the lady sitting next to me and said, “We just took a bird in the right engine. This could be interesting.” Sometimes, taking a bird in the engine isn’t a big deal, and sometimes it is. Since I could hear that one engine was still operational, I wasn’t too concerned, but since we had stopped climbing, I was a little concerned. Finally, the captain came on and said we were going to land at a nearby airport, so I knew everything was OK, but the incident did make me think. No, it didn’t make me afraid to fly, but at the time, I thought, “Wow, if we had taken birds in both engines, my baby might have died before she was born…for a stupid vacation.”

And today, when that same baby…now 16 years old…expressed a little fear about traveling during this stupid coronavirus outbreak, I thought about that trip, and I knew what I needed to do.  I knew I needed to cancel. It’s just not worth the risk of coronavirus. We can go to Miami later.

Now we’re home in Charlotte for spring break, and while I’m not thrilled about it, I intend to make the most of the situation. I’ve decided we will contribute to our local economy and encourage others to do the same…in a safe manner. Here are some ways I plan to do that:

  • Visit local restaurants at off hours, when they’re less crowded OR order takeout from local restaurants. Tip generously.
  • Shop local. Visit local stores and shop! You can avoid crowds and still shop. Since we’re not going shopping in Miami, we will shop here.
  • Post on Facebook about places we visit and encourage others to do the same.
  • Enjoy a little staycation at a local hotel.
  • Go on a little road trip to a place where I know there is little light pollution; it’s the perfect place to sit outside and stargaze at night. Plus, there aren’t other people there…no coronavirus.
  • Buy gift cards. I can’t go to Miami right now, but I know that when I do, I will dine at certain restaurants. I can purchase gift cards online for my future travel. We have several vacations planned for later this year, and it just makes sense to purchase gift cards from restaurants and stores now that I can use later!

Yes, this stupid coronavirus is changing the way we do things right now, but we can’t let it get us down! I’m putting on my happy face and doing everything I can to make the most of a bad situation.

Coronavirus be damned!

A Picture Tells a Story

A picture tells a story.

At the end of every year since I got an Instagram account, I go back through all the photos I posted for that year. Recently I went back through my Instagram photos for 2019, and I truly realized that some of the pictures really tell stories.

My first post for 2019 was a photo at the Charlotte airport…not much of a story except that we were starting vacation…meeting friends from Ohio in LA. But the next picture, a photo of me and my friend from Ohio, Jenn, tells a real story.

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Sure, looking at the photo above, all you see is two friends on a chilly day with the Pacific Ocean in the background. But what I see is love. Having just survived the first anniversary of my mother’s death (she died December 30, 2017), I was still reeling. I was feeling lost. And then we arrived in Los Angeles, and Jenn and her daughter arrived. After telling her what a terrible day that first anniversary on December 30 had been (there were additional factors at play)…and crying…Jenn made me feel better. Jenn, the perpetual ray of sunshine, hugged me, listened to me, and made me feel loved. So every time I come across that one single photo that looks completely nondescript and meaningless to everyone else in the world, I remember how much better she made me feel. I can look at my face in that picture and see the pain melting away. I see the relief in my eyes and in my face. That picture reminds me that good friends are hard to find. And that picture reminds me that when we find good friends like Jenn, we need to keep them.

There are other photos from 2019 that stand out for me. In fact, any photos I post on Instagram, I share for a reason…maybe I think they’re funny or cute…maybe I want to share something cool…or maybe there’s another meaning behind the picture. Of course, when I posted the picture of me and Jenn, I had no idea how powerful the picture was for me. It was only when I was looking through pictures a few months later that I saw it again, and the meaning behind it floored me. Instagram photos certainly tell stories…maybe not to the casual observer, but to the originator of the post. Most of my photos tell stories of family, friendship, and love. And then there are some that tell different stories…like this photo of me and my daughter in front of Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The story? In 2015, I took a crazy road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, and our kids. We spent a few nights in Chicago, and while we were there, I had hoped to get the kids up to Wisconsin…just so they could add another state to their list of “states visited.” There was a Six Flags amusement park we could have visited just over the line, but that would have taken too much time, so instead, I suggested Mars Cheese Castle, a giant cheese store shaped like…you guessed it…a castle. We never made it in 2015, and I regretted it. So in 2019, when I was in Chicago with my daughter and one of her friends, we made a quick trip up to Kenosha to visit Mars Cheese Castle. You can see how happy I was!

Those are just a couple of examples of how pictures tell stories, but I can look at every picture on my Instagram account and remember stories and conversations behind them. Right now, though, I keep going back to that picture of me and Jenn. I need to call her and thank her for being a good friend.

 

We Finally Made It

Has there ever been somewhere you wanted to go but just never made it happen? I don’t mean a big trip. I mean a little place somewhere you wanted to visit when you were in the area, but circumstances kept you from going?

A few years ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, along with her three kids and my daughter. We started in Charlotte and drove al through Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania…and straight home from there. We saw most of the things we wanted to see, but we missed a couple.

The first one we missed was Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin. You can see the website here. It’s a giant cheese store about 45 minutes from Chicago. It’s actually more than a cheese store…it’s a gift shop, an ice cream parlor, a restaurant, and a big photo op! Of course, it’s shaped like a castle, but it’s not made of cheese. We found out about it when we were looking at information about something that might be fun to visit just over the Wisconsin border from Chicago…it would be a way to make a quick visit to Wisconsin so our kids could add it to their lists of states they had visited.

Alas, we didn’t get to go while we were on that trip. There was so much fun to be had in Chicago on that trip that we never made it to Mars Cheese Castle…never even crossed the border into Wisconsin. And I’ve always regretted it. I used to go to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, all the time, and I loved it. The people were always so nice, and well…the cheese! So I especially hated my daughter didn’t get to go. She, of course, didn’t care. She was 11 years old when we took that road trip, and Mars Cheese Castle just didn’t sound that interesting to her.

Yesterday, we flew into Chicago…me, my daughter, and her friend. The girls are going to a small concert early today, and then we are going to Lollapalooza in downtown Chicago. We are staying in Schaumburg, because the early event is near here. We will Uber into downtown later.

But when we landed yesterday and got our rental car, I told the girls I wanted to make a quick trip up to Mars Cheese Castle. They grimaced. They moaned. They complained. Actually, only my daughter complained, grimaced, and moaned. Her friend was very polite about it. My daughter asked if I could drop them at the hotel and go by myself? I almost agreed to it, but then I said, “Come on. You’ve never been to Wisconsin, and it won’t take long.” She rolled her eyes but gave in, asking only if I would stop and get them food on the way.

After a quick stop for food and a 45-minute drive north, we found Mars Cheese Castle! It was everything I had hoped and more! Seriously, I had wondered if we would get there and just see shelves of cheese curds, but whoever built it knew what they were doing. Of course, it looks like a castle on the exterior, and there is a big electric sign out front. I made the girls take pictures of me in front of the sign and the building when we got out of the car, and to my surprise, they wanted pics too! Winning!

We walked in with a family who had visited many times before. They were practically giddy! They had lived nearby at one time but had moved away, so they were there for a visit…and they were stocking up on the cheese curds! Of course, I grabbed some cheese curds and put them in my cart too. The girls disappeared as soon as we walked in, but in a few minutes, they came back to me, eating ice cream cones and wearing paper crowns with the Mars Cheese Castle logo on the front. We shopped a little; I grabbed a hoodie for me and some t-shirts for all of us, and we took some photos inside the store. I also got myself a cup of Superman ice cream and a paper crown.

As we walked to the car, we were laughing and taking more pictures. As soon as we started to drive away, my daughter said, “That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be!” Whew! One day, they will learn that I do my research ahead of time.

So I was able to mark Mars Cheese Castle off my list of places to visit, and my daughter has now been to Wisconsin! She has the paper crown to prove it! But don’t get me wrong…given the opportunity to visit again, I will be going back to Mars Cheese Castle!

The other place we didn’t get to visit on that road trip in 2015 with Mary Ann? Oram’s Donuts in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. See their website here. We made it to Beaver Falls, but we didn’t go to Oram’s because we had a car full of cranky kids that day…well, mine was cranky. It was the last leg of our big road trip of 2015, and we were all tired. But one thing I know for sure is that Mary Ann and I will get to Oram’s Donuts…without our kids.

So if you find yourself in Chicagoland or southern Wisconsin, visit Mars Cheese Castle. Think of me as you walk around eating your ice cream cone and squeaky cheese (cheese curds) while wearing your paper crown (they’re free at the ice cream counter).

Foodmobiles

It’s no secret…I love cars shaped like food!

There’s the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, the Planters Nutmobile, the Hershey Kissmobile, and some lesser known ones…the Cadbury Creme Egg Car, the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish car, the Big Idaho Potato truck, and even a truck shaped like a can of Spam. It’s true!

I’m fascinated by them. Yes, I’m way too old for that nonsense, but I love automobiles shaped like food.

I thought about it again earlier today when I saw the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile had been in Charlotte this week, and I missed it. I still can’t believe it, but I have to let it go. It’s done. I’ve seen the Weinermobile before, but it has been a long time. It was late 1989 or early 1990, and I was fresh out of college and living in the Atlanta area. One morning, as I left my apartment, I noticed a new Wendy’s was opening across the street…and then I saw it…the Weinermobile! It was parked in the Wendy’s parking lot, just beckoning for me to come over and have a hot dog! Alas, I had to get to work, so I didn’t actually “meet” the Weinermobile, but I plan to meet it someday! You can see the Weinermobile website here , and there’s an app you can download too!

In 2016, I had an encounter with the Hershey Kissmobile. I did a fun road trip with my friend, Sara, and our daughters, and our last stop was in Hershey, Pennsylvania, before heading home. We were staying at a hotel that was not a Hershey property, but as we drove to Hershey Park, we spotted something special parked near our hotel…the Kissmobile! There were no drivers around, so our interaction with the Kissmobile was not very ceremonious, but we had a great time getting photos!

My most recent food-shaped automobile encounter occurred earlier this year. I was having lunch with some friends at a restaurant in the SouthPark area of Charlotte, and suddenly, I saw it…the Planters Nutmobile was driving slowly past the restaurant. Fortunately, we had a seat near a window, so I could see it in all its beauty. As I realized what was approaching, I said to my friends, “Oh my goodness! It’s like a dream come true!” I’m sure they thought I had lost my mind, and I refrained from running out the door and chasing down the Nutmobile on foot…but it wasn’t easy. After another half hour or so, we left, but as I was leaving the parking lot of the restaurant, the same Nutmobile drove right past…right in front of me! I made a quick right turn and fell in behind it…following it into a shopping center…around the back of the shopping center…past the dumpsters…and finally, it parked beside a store. I think the drivers were just looking for a place to have lunch, but I jumped out of my car and took a selfie with the Nutmobile, and then one of the drivers offered to take a picture of me. And of course, I promptly uploaded the pics to Instagram, knowing my teenage daughter would be mortified when she opened her Instagram account after school and saw that I had stalked the Nutmobile.

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So now I’m on a quest to get photos with as many food-shaped automobiles as possible. Lucky for me, the Big Idaho Potato Truck has a tour schedule online, and I see they are going to be in Hickory, NC, on August 20. Guess I’ll be getting ready for a quick roadtrip! You can see the schedule here.

It looks like I’ve already missed the Spam Tiny House of Sizzle tour for this year…they were in Lexington, NC, in May. You can see their schedule here. I’ll have to remember to check that one next spring.

As of right now, I haven’t been able to find any websites or social media sites for the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Car or the Cadbury Creme Egg Car, but I’ll keep looking!

Hopefully, I’ll get some more good photo opportunities with food-shaped automobiles.

 

 

The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

My Favorite Holiday Gifts, Part 1: Books

Christmas is two months away. I know! I know…it’s early to be thinking about it, but there was a time in life I had all my shopping done by the end of October. Those days are behind me, I’m afraid. I haven’t purchased the first gift this year. I have, however, been looking at possible gifts for a few months, and I’ve talked with friends and family about gift ideas. Because I’ve found so many awesome things, I’ve broken them into categories that I will feature over the next week or two: Books, Apparel, Accessories, Home, Travel, Men, and Stocking Stuffers…and maybe Kids & Teens. Today is BOOKS. These are nonfiction, with the exception of one, a collection of fiction short stories. I find it’s more difficult to gift fiction than nonfiction, but I have listed some popular authors’ recent fiction releases at the bottom, in case you have a friend or family member who is a fan of a particular author. I’ve read a few of these selections, but some were recommended by friends. Without further ado, here are some books, in no particular order, I think would make great gifts:

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Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon. If you were lucky enough to see her when she visited Charlotte last month promoting her book, you know Ms. Witherspoon is truly southern and truly adorable. This lovely book contains some of her southern grandmother’s recipes, and some great stories behind them. She includes party hosting tips, book club info, “do gooding” info, and more. Plus, the cover looks really pretty on a coffee table! Great for friends or sisters! Purchase through Amazon.com here.

 

order-book-tourHungry Girl Clean and Hungry Obsessed by Lisa Lillien. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of the Hungry Girl brand. Lisa Lillien is the busiest woman I know, and she is always providing great info…by book, magazine, podcast, magazine, TV appearances, and website! And she’s really sweet too! If you need gifts for folks who want ways to cut the calories and fat in their lives, this is it. Purchase at Amazon.com here.

 

 bushtwavail.jpgGeorge and Barbara Bush: A Great American Love Story by Ellie LaBlond Sosa with Kelly Anne Chase. Through letters, photographs, and stories, Sosa tells the story of the enduring relationship of her grandparents, George and Barbara Bush. You can purchase on Amazon here, or *I received word that The Buttercup Gifts and Stationery in Charlotte will be hosting the author on Saturday, November 3, from 10:30am to 2:00pm for a book signing. Call The Buttercup for more information at 704-332-5329.*

 

510oZZ5X3DL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_-2Sean of the South, Volume 1 by Sean Dietrich. Deitrich is a humorist, storyteller, and writer with roots in south Alabama and a connection to a small town where I once lived, Brewton. He is plain-spoken, funny, and if you grew up in the south, you will relate to his experiences. If you grew up elsewhere, you’ll enjoy his stories too. Raised mostly by a hard-working single mother, he shares stories of his life and people he meets along the way. My mother loved reading Sean Dietrich, and we often talked about his Facebook posts. He has several books. This one is the first collection of short stories, so it is not newly published, but it’s a good place to start reading his work. See all his books at Amazon.com here.

 

 

caddyshack-book-cover-1-1525443738Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty. For those who were old enough to enjoy this movie in the theater or those who were too young and had to sneak to watch it on HBO, this book is a fun look behind the behind the scenes of the one of the most surprisingly beloved comedies of all time. Starring Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray, those of us who remember the film know it was comedic genius. And the candy bar will never be forgotten. I was in Target recently, and two young people ahead of me in line were discussing 1980s movies they wanted to see. I recommended a few, and Caddyshack was at the top of the list. Purchase from Amazon here.

 

sons-of-cain-1534874929Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers From The Stone Age To The Present by Peter Vronsky. This one was recommended by a friend who knows my fascination with serial killers. Having an interest in serial killers does not make me a serial killer.  According to my unnamed friend, the book is entertaining while examining the psychology behind serial killers and examining certain cases. She said the author includes too many statistics, but aside from that, she thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was released in August of this year. This one is on my short list for me, and I think my friend, Mary Ann, would like it too. Purchase from Amazon here.

 

 

NMHBQJZ_mzBruce W. Talamon Soul R&B Funk Photographs: 1972-1982. A collection of photographs by Bruce W. Talamon, this book features “legends such as Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder…” and more. For the music lover you know, this is a lovely gift that will likely bring back lots of memories or familiarize him/her with groups he/she has only heard and never seen. I’m getting one for my husband. Purchase at Neiman Marcus for $70 here.

 

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You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld. Ms. Sittenfeld is a successful Charlotte author with whom I was not familiar until she interviewed Reese Witherspoon onstage last month. Though I haven’t read them yet, she has hit the bestseller lists with previous novels, including Prep and American Wife. My friends sing her praises. Her latest, You Think It, I’ll Say It, is described on her website: “With moving insight and uncanny precision, this first collection of short fiction pinpoints the questionable decisions, missed connections, and sometimes extraordinary coincidences that make up a life.” I can hardly wait to pick it up for some friends! Purchase all her novels and this new short story collection through her website here.

 

Road-Swing-By-Steve-Rushin
Road Swing
by Steve Rushin. I spoke with a friend about what books he would recommend for sports lovers, and this one was the first one he mentioned. An obsessed sports fan takes a road trip through the United States visiting every major sports “shrine” and shares his insight. It will make any sports fan want to do the same road trip to the same epic places.  Perfect for the sports fan on your list…especially if he/she is a fan of road trips too! Purchase through Amazon here.

 

41f1eA1LEoL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time by Ian O’Connor. Even if you don’t like the New England Patriots. Even if you think Deflategate was a terrible football scandal. By all accounts, this in-depth look at the most successful football coach of all time is compelling. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe called it “a must-read for football buffs and anyone who appreciates leadership.” Purchase through Amazon here.

 

 

41EQr37Py+L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_All The Way: My Life in Four Quarters by Joe Namath. Last but not least, the one I’m most looking forward to…this autobiography is actually not available yet, but you an preorder it on Amazon here. I’d be thrilled to receive a card at Christmas telling me I will be receiving this book as soon as it is released. Scheduled for release in May of 2019, this book is the football icon’s life in his own wordS. He has lived a life like no other, so I expect an exciting read. Honestly, I have to admit I don’t really care what it says…I love Joe Namath so much that I’d be happy just looking at photos of him. Till that book is released, you can gift Namath by Mark Kriegel, a biography of Broadway Joe that was released in 2005, which you can purchase here.

POPULAR FICTION AUTHORS WITH NEW RELEASES:

Jodi Picoult, A Spark of Light: A Novel, purchase here.

Nicholas Sparks, Every Breath, purchase here.

Dorothea Benton Franks, By Invitation Only, purchase here.

John Grisham, The Reckoning, purchase here.

****Next time, more gift suggestions: ACCESSORIES.****

 

 

 

 

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Back to Reality

Ahhhh…vacation. If only we could feel as relaxed in daily life as we do on vacation.

We returned last night from what is likely the last big vacation of the summer for us. I love vacation. I love vacations of all kinds…active, outdoors (but not camping), water, city, lazy, big, small…just vacations in general. I love visiting new places and familiar places.

This most recent trip was to a familiar place, Los Angeles, but we had people with us who had never been, so everything old was new again. We had a great time…three moms with three teenagers. One mom was my awesome sister-in-law, whom I adore, and the other was my college friend, Angela…also adored. As we all started to depart the hotel yesterday, I could feel “reality” hanging over our heads like a fog.

I always get a little sad when I know the final big trip of summer is over. This year, because of high school sports, the final big trip of summer had to be a little earlier. (Note that I keep saying our final big trip, because I keep hoping for a couple of small adventures.) Our daughter is starting 9th grade and trying out for high school teams this year. Those tryouts start in early August, so no more vacations…back to reality.

Reality means it’s time to start getting prepared for the next school year. I get queasy just thinking about it. I don’t know if my daughter is nervous at all, but I am. It happens every year, but this year, more so, because she is going to high school. I’ve never had a child in high school, so this is a new experience for us. Deep down, though, I know she will settle in just fine, and eventually, I will settle down.

The most immediate thing on the horizon is the “assigned summer reading.” That is reality at our house right now, and that is the part I do not like. It’s not really my reality; it’s my daughter’s reality, but I will have to listen to her complain about it. I’m not the mom who helps with homework or nags about assignments. Most of the time, I don’t even know what the assignments are…and that’s how I’d like to keep it. I’ve talked with my friend, Maureen Paschal, about assigned summer reading on Been There Moms. You can see the video here. I simply do not like assigned summer reading. I feel like it is encroaching on my family time, and it’s like a cloud hanging over summer for us. I love to read, and I hope my daughter will eventually love it too, but even as a reader, “assigned” reading was tough for me as a student. At some point in the next couple weeks, she will take a couple days to sit down and read that book. She will complain about it, but she will get it done.

Personally, I think, if the school is going to require summer reading, I think they should also require outdoor exercise. There are some students who love reading all summer, and there are some who enjoy being outdoors all summer. Sure, there are some who fall between the two, but my daughter loves moving around and being outdoors. Sitting still? Nah. There’s no fun in that. But I really believe that if the school is going to have assigned summer reading, they should also have required outdoor exercise hours. If we are trying to enrich the whole student, let’s build their minds and their bodies.

Another reality is getting prepared for my daughter’s freshman year, meaning I need to make sure she has everything she is going to need. Right now, though, we are one month out from the first day of school, so seeing school supplies in the stores just makes me nauseous. I will get everything in advance with time to spare, but I don’t look forward to it.

And then there’s this reality: a month of back to back trips means things in my closet (and my home) are in disarray. I came home from the beach in June, and I’ve had several back-to-back trips since. I won’t get into listing all the places we visited, but it has been a lot of packing, unpacking, and packing again. And in some cases, I didn’t even unpack and repack…there wasn’t time. I just packed other stuff in a different suitcase. I need to take the time to straighten out all that, and it is one of my least favorite things to do. It means pulling out everything from closets around my house and purging. I’ve found some good “purging” advice in an article from the Huffington Post here. I dread it. But I will do it…maybe while my daughter is doing her assigned reading!

Today, though, I choose to ignore those realities. I want to enjoy the last fun, lazy days of summer…hanging out in the pool, spending time with family, harvesting tomatoes, spending time outdoors, and possibly, taking a little road trip or two. I’m on my way out to the pool now…