Our daughter is finishing up her junior year in high school. As any mother knows, life with kids is full of “firsts” and “lasts.” It starts with first smiles, first teeth, first words and goes on to first time riding a bike, first day of school…on and on.
At some point, though, we start having “lasts.” Often, we don’t even realize we have had a “last” till well after the fact. There’s the last time you had to actually feed your child, the last time you tied their shoes, the last time you helped them bathe, the last time you brushed their hair, the last time you read a book aloud together…the list continues to grow. A big one for me is the last time I actually carried my child. Fortunately, when our daughter was five or six, I had a friend who told me she always picked up or carried her daughter if she asked (same age), because one day she wouldn’t want her to. Based on that, I carried our daughter or picked her up any time she asked. Eleven years old and she wants me to carry her on my back through an amusement park? You bet! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize when the last time I carried her was actually the last time, but because I had always gladly carried her, it wasn’t painful when I realized she didn’t ask anymore. Honestly, if she asked me to carry her on my back today, I would…and she is 17.
My friend, Linda, told me years ago, when her son was in high school, that she totally didn’t realize it was the last time she would drive her son to school when it was the last time. He got his driver’s license one day, and he was off to school alone the next morning. She said to her husband, “But wait! I didn’t realize that was the last time I would drive him!” It really bothered her. She is long past it now. Her son is in graduate school in Scotland, so she has had lots of “lasts” that were bigger than that.
The “lasts” add up over time: the last day of preschool/elementary/middle school, the last time I actually drove her to school, the last time I actually had to drive her anywhere, and more.
I’m thinking about this, because today, I paid tuition to her independent school for the last time…for her senior year of high school, which will start in August. I’ve been paying yearly tuition since 2008. As soon as I hit the “send” button on the bank draft, I sat back and thought, “that was the last time I’ll do that.” Sure, I will be paying tuition of a different kind, for college, soon enough, but I just paid tuition for my daughter’s 14th year at her present school (she started with transitional kindergarten before kindergarten), and it felt weird to know I will never do it again.
My husband and I talk about “lasts” often, since our daughter is entering her senior year in fall and will be off to college before we can blink. There will be last sports games, last volunteer opportunities at school, and there will even be some people we will likely never encounter again after she graduates.
We sit on the patio with cocktails some evenings talking about how different it’s going to be when she departs for college in just over a year. And we try to enjoy the moments we have with her. Often when she gets home from sporting events or hanging with friends, she will come sit outside with us…it’s valuable, meaningful time for us…and one day there will be a “last” for that too. I hope we will recognize the “lasts” as they occur, like I recognized the last tuition payment today, but I’m sure there will be some that just pass right by without my realizing it. I won’t be able to get a photo to save as a memory of every “last,” but I hope I will remember to get some. I’ll try to get a photo of her last first day of school at her present school. I’ll try to get photos of her last sports games, last time she drives to high school…anything I can think of.
She’ll be flying the coop before we know it. While we are excited for what lies ahead of her (and us), we want to make sure we remember these days. We want her to get out and spread her wings wherever she chooses to go to college (tuition payments to a different place) and live her best life. We just want to enjoy every moment she shares with us.
Now that I’m feeling sentimental, I wonder if I should get a screenshot of that last tuition payment?!
Recently, I finished a big volunteer project…you know, I was working for free for weeks on end (months) when I could have been eating bonbons in the pool. It was a big project, no doubt…an athletic awards show for my teenage daughter’s school. I’m not complaining, of course. I worked with some awesome people and made some new friends. It was definitely a group effort, as lots of other parents and school staff pitched in. There were a few times I’m sure I was quite snippy with my family, because of the stress I was feeling, but we made it through!
Our daughter is finishing up her junior year at her much-loved independent school in Charlotte. She started there in transitional kindergarten, and now, we are entering the summer before her senior year. It’s hard to believe she’s going to be a senior. My husband and I are just enjoying the ride. We have loved every age as our daughter has grown. It hasn’t always been easy, but big picture…life with her is definitely an adventure. She is an only child, so she doesn’t get away with much. We don’t have any other kids distracting us. And I’ve always warned her that I’m likely to have done anything she tries to get away with. I’m likely to realize when she’s up to something. As I’ve always said, “You can’t bull***t a bullsh***er.” Forgive the language, but nothing seems to get the point across as well as that does. Has she always been perfect? No, but neither have we. All the little mistakes we make along the way (as teens and as parents) are part of who we are. I have a great relationship with my daughter. We talk. We hang out. We respect each other. Of course, there are times I embarrass her, but isn’t that just part of it?
Over the years, I have embarrassed her at least a million times. I’ve even written a piece before about the countless ways I embarrassed her on a trip to Boston a few years ago. I’ve grown accustomed to her sighs and groans when I do something that embarrasses her. Greet people we encounter? She’s embarrassed. Ask too many questions? She’s embarrassed. Wear something she doesn’t like? She’s embarrassed. Seriously, it’s not difficult to embarrass a teenager.
Last Tuesday, my big athletic awards show project finally ended. In normal times, the show is live in the auditorium at the school. Seniors and state championship teams are honored. Parents are in attendance. All those folks are shoved into the auditorium, shoulder-to-shoulder, but this year, we couldn’t do it that way. In fact, we had to come up with a “hybrid” plan to present to the administration. In the end, we pre-recorded the show and had a “screening party” for the seniors on the football field…with a gigantic, inflatable screen…drive-in movie style. Only seniors, coaches, and the parents of seniors were allowed to attend. Sadly, I think some people were upset they couldn’t go, but we couldn’t do more than was approved by the administrative team. However, anyone else who wanted to watch could simultaneously watch the “broadcast” from home online.
I was at the field for hours the day of the show…getting things ready beforehand, staying for the show, making sure everyone picked up their awards and got photos afterward, cleaning up. l didn’t even look at my phone for hours, but at 11pm, when I got into my car, I checked my phone and saw a text message from my daughter. Apparently, she had been watching the show at home. The text message, which she had sent at 9:38pm, said, “This is really good. I’m proud of you, Mom.” I was exhausted, but that message made it all worth it. Tears welled up in my eyes as I started the car, and before I drove away, I texted her back, “Sweetest message ever. Thank you.”
Who knows when I’ll hear/read those words from her again, but if I never hear/read them again, I will always remember that moment when I saw her text. I had complained and fretted about the preparation for that show, but those words in that text from my teenage daughter made it all worth it.
We all know BC, in historic terms, means before Christ, right? In modern terms, though, it means before COVID.
Now that we are approaching the one year mark on the COVID shutdowns, I look at my daily Facebook memories from 2020 and think, “Wow. How little we knew then.” I look at pictures of myself laughing with friends or my daughter playing sports, and I think, “We had no idea how our lives were about to change.” In fact, on this day one year ago, my post was about a friend telling me that when she was a kid, her school bus driver would stop at railroad tracks and let acid off the bus to run across the tracks…to wave the bus across. That was my big concern of this day in 2020. I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently, it was happening in lots of places. What I didn’t know was that life as I knew it was about to stop, and I wouldn’t be worried about how people waved buses across railroad tracks back in the day.
This morning, my daughter’s school lacrosse team had a game, and it was the first time students have been allowed to attend sporting events as spectators since this time last year. March 12 was the last day our kids went to school last year, and that anniversary is rapidly approaching. There were no spring sports after that date. Our little independent school opened in August, with a hybrid plan of alternating days for students, so at least they are in school half the time, and we had fall sports, but we had them without spectators. Same with winter sports…our school found a way for parents to attend (only two adults per player), but students were still not allowed to attend as spectators…till today.
Last night, my daughter and her friends were reminding friends that they should come watch the game and cheer them on this morning. And not surprisingly, lots of them showed up…even for a Saturday morning game! Girls sports, for whatever reason, don’t usually have a whole lot of spectators besides parents, but today? The turnout was fantastic! Maybe since they haven’t been able to gather in stadiums and sports arenas for so long, these students will support all their teams. I think they will be thrilled to have an excuse to commune…even while social distancing. At least, after a whole year of shutdowns and disappointments, these kids are getting an opportunity to have a little bit of normalcy.
Heck, our school has even announced the juniors and seniors will have a prom! That was quite a shocker, but it truly gave the students something to look forward to!
Hopefully, things will continue to move in a positive direction. Last year, we canceled our spring break trip at the last minute, but this year, we are going. In fact, we are going on the trip we paid for last year, so this year it seems like a free trip!
The past year has been tough on all of us…some more so than others. It was tough mentally for me and lots of my friends. It was tough financially for lots of people. Physically…lots of people got COVID and recovered, but lots of people died or lost loved ones. Our kids lost the experiences they are supposed to have as kids and teenagers. College students stayed home and learned online or sat in dorms and learned. They lost a year of “college experience.” People lost jobs and livelihoods…some of them lost everything they had. It was a tough year. We were told that we could “flatten the curve” of COVID by staying home for two weeks back in March 2020. Then that two weeks stretched to four weeks…six weeks…six months…and here we are at a year. I was about to lose my mind every time a vacation canceled last summer, but I knew missing vacations was minor compared to what some folks were experiencing. It didn’t make it any easier for me, and when I’d had enough (September), I got on a plane anyway. I needed it.
One thing I know is that starting on March 12, my Facebook memories are going to get more interesting. They will move from BC (before COVID) to photos and posts from the first year of the COVID era. While I have hated the shutdowns, and I have hated watching people get sick and some die, I think the posts that start popping up in my memories will be interesting. They will tell a story of the first year of COVID. I will see posts from last spring, when we were stuck home, and I was spending as much time as possible outdoors, because I couldn’t look at the four walls of my house anymore. They will also tell the story of a year unlike any other. Before it happened, staying home all the time sounded like Hell to me. And for the first few weeks and even months, it was especially tough. Then I found ways to make it more tolerable…gardening, taking road trips, mailing postcards, mailing letters, sitting by the pool, talking on the phone…anything to make it better.
My daddy used to tell me that once you start staying home all the time it becomes too easy to stay home all the time. If you stop driving on the interstate highway, you forget how to drive on the interstate highway. Stop going to the grocery store? You forget how. You have to take on the “use it or lose it” mentality, and thankfully, I remembered that throughout the last year. I would get into my car and just drive sometimes. But yes, I did notice as stores started opening that I was a little awkward when shopping. How does one forget how to shop? I even went into a new sandwich shop one time early in the shutdowns, and wearing a mask made it seem almost unnavigable to me. I couldn’t learn a new system while wearing a mask! So I left and went to my old trusted sandwich shop, where the ordering system was familiar.
Since then, I’ve traveled more and moved around more…sometimes by car and sometimes by plane…all while wearing a mask. I’m wondering if life will ever be what it was BC, or will we always wear masks? Will we always be afraid to hug or shake hands? That’s the part I really hate. I like hugging. I like shaking hands.
But right now, I’m just thankful. I’m thankful to have survived the first year of the COVID era relatively intact. I’m grateful to have great friends and family I love. I hope we move into the post-COVID era sooner rather than later.
As we start to move beyond the first year of COVID, I hope we will all remember how fortunate we are to have “normal” again. I hope we will all be grateful for “normal.” I hope those who have experienced hardship or loss can find a way to move forward. I hope we find ways to be joyful. I hope…I just hope we have hope.
Back in the day, public schools, like the ones I attended, were all about fundraisers. PTOs, PTAs, marching bands, sports teams, and cheerleaders all raised money for one thing or another. And back then, there were lots of different things you could sell to raise funds.
The earliest fundraisers I remember were in Brewton, Alabama, where I lived till I was seven. I remember two different fundraisers, mostly because I remember the items my mother purchased from band members or athletes who lived in our neighborhood. One of my favorites was a birthday calendar. I hope someone else will remember these, because over the years, I’ve asked people if they remember them, and no one else can recall them. Back in the early 1970s, some part of our local school…I’m guessing the band or an athletic team…sold birthday calendars. They were wall calendars, but I don’t even remember what the pictures were. I just remember that on each date, it listed local people’s birthdays. I don’t know how it worked, but I guess you got to submit your family birthdays if you purchased a calendar. I loved it. As a kid, I was obsessed with little facts like birthdays, addresses, and phone numbers…weird, I know, but these fundraiser calendars made me very happy…especially when I saw my own name on my birthday. In fact, to this day, I still remember the birthdays of some of my childhood friends, simply because I flipped through that calendar all the time. I could also tell you some of their phone numbers, but that might be weird.
Something else my mother purchased through a fundraiser at TR Miller High School in Brewton? Red and white pleather (plastic leather) duffel bags. They were emblazoned with “TR Miller Tigers” and a graphic of the tiger mascot on one side, and it seems there were ads for local businesses on the other side. If I remember correctly, the bags were red with white lettering and white piping and a white plastic handle. I could be a little off with some of the details, but that’s how I remember it. Unfortunately, my family moved several times when I was growing up, and that duffel bag (or gym bag) got lost in the shuffle somewhere along the line. I sure wish I had it now. Apparently, they were popular at the time, because you can look on eBay for “high school duffel bag” and see quite a few of them (like the ones below)…from lots of different high schools across the country. Heck, I might purchase one from a different school just for the nostalgia!
Later, when we lived in Spanish Fort, Alabama, we sold chocolate bars to raise funds for the PTA at Spanish Fort School…our local elementary school. I think the brand was World’s Finest. I was probably in third grade, and I was all excited to sell some candy bars out of a cardboard box with a handle on it, but my mother was not keen on it. What I remember most? Each candy bar wrapper had a “buy one get, get one free” Whopper at Burger King. That sounded awesome to me! Nevermind that the nearest Burger King was across the bay in Mobile. In fact, the only one I remember at the time was way out toward the airport, but there might have been one closer to town. Either way, it was at least 30 minutes from our house, and we never went to Burger King. Also, I’d never had a Burger King Whopper at the time, so I had no idea that there was no way I would eat a burger with all those veggies at the time.
We moved another time, and my new elementary school, Wetumpka Elementary (or Bobby’s Brain Factory, as my parents called it, because the principal’s name was Bobby, and we all loved him) which I attended in fifth and sixth grades, was on a perpetual quest for air conditioning. I’m sure I participated in fundraisers for that…or maybe I should say my parents just bought all the candy bars I brought home…only to move on to middle school before the air conditioners were installed. I then went to a middle school that didn’t have air conditioning…in Alabama. In fact, I never went to a school that had any kind of air conditioning till I was in ninth grade…in Alabama. And then, it was just window units…in Alabama. Do I need to mention how hot it is in Alabama? We were tough, though. Seriously, I know I sound like an old person, but can you imagine today’s wimpy kids going to school without air conditioning? In Alabama?!?! Folks make fun of southerners for not being able to handle a little snow, but I remember reading about some schools in New Hampshire canceling classes a couple of years ago because of a “heat wave.” I think the temps were in the 90s. Haha! It was in the 90s from April or May through September (and maybe even into October sometimes) in Alabama, and we didn’t miss a day of school because of it!
In high school, in the 1980s, we had more fundraisers, and I have some fond memories of them. When I was a cheerleader, we sold lots of things…ice cream from a freezer in our advisor’s classroom, suntan lotion (because we called it suntan lotion instead of sunscreen then), spirit towels, and my all-time favorite: booster badges! I don’t know if other high schools had booster badges, but they were all the rage at mine. As cheerleaders, we were given a stack of booster badges on Thursday afternoon to sell every Friday during football season. I think they were fifty cents each, and we each had to sell $50 worth each week. I would get to school early Friday morning with a shoe box full of booster badges to work the parking lot. It worked out that each cheerleader ended up having loyal customers. In fact, I remember who my loyal customers were to this day! If you’re not familiar with booster badges, they looked like the photos below. But ours weren’t all positive like the signs kids are expected to make today. Our said things like “Mutilate the Mustangs,” “Pulverize the Panthers,” and “Butcher the Bulldogs.” As soon as we had sold all our allotted booster badges for the week, we would take our boxes to our advisor who would take the money, and we stored our shoe boxes in her room till the next week, when we picked up more booster badges.
I remember our marching band selling Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (I think they were $2.50 a dozen), candy bars, and boxes of M&Ms. One reason I remember is that I often had those M&Ms for lunch. If I arrived in the school cafeteria and found they were serving something I didn’t want to eat, I would search out a friend who was selling M&Ms and have Peanut M&Ms for lunch. I probably washed them down with a Coke or Dr. Pepper from one of the school vending machines, but that’s a story for another day. I also remember one person in the band who had a car accident and woke up to find herself at the bottom of a ravine, alone. One thing she remembered about waking up? She had M&Ms in her hair from the fundraiser. She was fine…no injuries.
Things are a lot different now. My child has never come home from school with stuff to sell for a fundraiser, and her school doesn’t have vending machines with sodas or snacks for students. The food in her “dining hall” is prepared from scratch by a chef and skilled staff, and the food is fantastic…and there are lots of choices! While I know my parents thought some of those fundraisers were just a scam to get them to send in money, I feel like my daughter has missed out on some special memories. I’m going to eBay now to order a duffel bag.
This is the first of two reposts on stocking stuffers! A new post with new ideas will be posted tomorrow, December 1.
I love looking for stocking stuffers. Truly, it’s the highlight of my holiday shopping. It’s the really fun part of the shopping, because it can be funny gifts, small gifts, silly gifts…anything goes for stocking stuffers.
This year, I’ve done my research, and with the help of several great friends, I’ve compiled a list of some great stocking stuffers, so you don’t have to do the research. I’m featuring stocking stuffers in lots of different price ranges. Without a doubt, you’ve thought of some of these yourself, but I’m guessing some of them will be new to you! So read all the way through! And keep in mind that there will be a second post on stocking stuffers coming soon…and it will be full of things I love too!
Let’s get started…
Minute Mimosa Sugar Cube Trio.I love these! For $30, you get 18 sugar cubes infused with different flavors that, when dropped in a glass of champagne or prosecco, will turn it into a Bellini, Mimosa, or other fruit flavored drink! The company offers two different trios…a peaches and berries trio, and a citrus trio. I love a good glass of bubbly…and these sugar cubes are a lot of fun! I’ll be finding some of these in my Christmas stocking this year…no doubt! Get them here.
Kylie Lip Sets. Say what you want about the Kardashians. Love ’em or hate ’em…they’ve marketed themselves really well. Kylie is actually a Jenner, but she’s a half sister to the Kardashian girls. She ventured out and created/marketed a line of lipsticks/glosses/liners that were successful as soon as they hit the market. She recently sold her stake in the company for a cool $600 million. I’m sure I’m not their target consumer, but I have several of the Kylie Lip Kits/Sets, and I love them. I also use the Kylie bronzer and face powder…love it all! There are lots of Kylie cosmetic palettes out there…even some new holiday palettes/sets, so check them out. See the whole collection at Kyliecosmetics.com
Slingshot with felt ammo balls. Fun for the whole family! Maybe Santa could bring one of these for every member of the family. Let’s face it…it wouldn’t be any fun to send fuzzy cotton ammo flying through the air at your sibling/parent/child if they couldn’t take aim back at you! It’s safe. It’s fun. I hope my husband and daughter are ready to lose this fuzzy ball war! Priced at $12.99, get it from Amazon here.
Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane. You read it right…a paper airplane you can control with your smartphone! Priced at $45, it’s not cheap, but it’s different! What you get is paper to fold the plane and a bluetooth device to attach to it. Once you have it set up, you download the app to your smartphone, and you can control the plane with the app. Could be great entertainment indoors or outdoors. But please note this is recommended for ages 14+…it contains small parts that could be choking hazards. Get it here.
Lifestraw Water Filter. If you’re not familiar with a cute lady named Kristen Hampton, you should be. She runs a Facebook page called Kristen Hampton Good News, and on Tuesdays, she does live feeds she calls PTT…Product Testing Tuesday. The first place I saw the Lifestraw Water Filter was on one of her PTT videos. She waded into murky water in Arizona and put this personal water filter to the test. The product removes almost 100% of all waterborne bacteria and contaminants from water. It surpasses EPA standards, and it’s a great gift for outdoorsmen, campers, and hikers. Priced at $14.96 on Amazon right now, it’s a great stocking stuffer. Get it here.
Poo Pourri. One of the greatest inventions ever, Poo Pourri is the “spray before you go” toilet spray that eliminates odors by trapping them. I have loved it for years and keep them in every bathroom in our house. They also offer smaller bottles that will fit in your handbag, so you can “spray before you go” when you’re on the go! Poo Pourri has a four-minute commercial on YouTube that you can see here,but remember the subject matter…it’s not a sweet, little, pretty commercial, but it is hilarious. Go to the Poo Pourri website here to see all the products they offer….lots of fun, hilarious holiday offerings, including some ugly Christmas sweaters. One of my favorites is the Pink Citron glitter Poo Pourri, but I love all their products and their fun names. And check out their shoe odor eliminator while you’re there too! See the website here.
Lumilux Toilet Light.Since we’re already talking about the bathroom, I might as well go ahead and put this one out there too. Sounds silly I know, but some folks just need a toilet light, and this one has a motion sensor and 16 different color possibilities! It is one of the toilet lights marked “Amazon Choice,” and it’s priced at just $14.95 for one or $24.95 for a two pack. Get it here, because who wouldn’t want an automatic light when they approach the toilet at night?
Serendipity 3 Frozen Hot Chocolate. This stuff is the best, and it’s super easy to make the Frozen Hot Chocolate like they have at the world-famous Serendipity 3 in New York. The mix is in packets or buy it by the can, and directions are easy to follow. Have some whipped cream on hand for topping! My daughter insists on this every year, and I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. Get the can of mix at Amazon here.Or purchase it by the packets here.
Incognito Flask. For the over 21 set, this is a great gift. Sometimes, we like to take some alcohol to the beach or a football game, and there’s nothing worse than trying to sneak a bottle past security…hiding it in your bra or down your pants. Yep, it happens. Flasks that look like something else are the answer to those woes! And there are lots of options. Fake sunscreen flask? Check. Fake binoculars flask? Got it! Fake umbrella? Yep. Fake tampons? Uh-huh. Fake camera? You bet. Even fake shampoo and conditioner bottles for smuggling alcohol onto cruises! Who knew? Amazon has a whole page of them, but my favorites are the hairbrush, binoculars, and sunscreen. See them all here.The binoculars are pretty far down the page, so click here for the direct link. In fact, there was a picture on dailymail.com that went viral…a girl drinking from her binoculars at a race. See it here.
Silk Pillowcase. These days, everyone is extolling the virtues of the silk pillowcase…something I’ve known about my whole life. I remember my mother telling me as a little girl that silk pillowcases are better for your skin and hair. She used them, and she swore they helped keep her hair in place. Well, they’re back! Now, a company called Slip makes a sustainably sourced silk pillowcase, and it is becoming famous fast. Sit down, though…it sells for $85. Get them on Amazon here.I’ve also found a brand of silk pillowcase called Fisher’s Finery that was called a winner by the Good Housekeeping Institute. It sells for just under $50 on Amazon here.
Gift cards.It’s not impersonal. It’s practical…especially for teens and college students. They have places they love to go, but everything costs money. Giving them a gift card to Starbucks, ChickFilA, or anywhere else they frequent is a fabulous gift! Get them at Target or possibly in your local grocery store.
Therapy Dough. Yes, it’s a thing. Some people like to have something to do with their hands to help them relax, and Therapy Dough could be the answer! Roll it. Stretch it. Shape it. The brand I’ve found at The Grommet, called Pinch Me Therapy Dough, is lightly scented for even more relaxation! For $25, it’s a great addition to a stocking! Get it here.
Light up Gloves.What kid wouldn’t love some light up gloves?!? Kids love flashlights and glow sticks…these are lights that fit on your hands! The YoStyle kids’ gloves get a five star rating on Amazon, and they look like lots of fun for camping, parties, and more! At just $10.99/pair, they won’t break the bank, and they could be good for hours of fun. Get them here.
NEBO Larry Flashlight. And since I mentioned flashlights, we should just add those to the list too. My personal favorite brand of flashlight is Larry. I first discovered them at a camping store, and they’re they only brand I ever buy now. The Big Larry comes with a bright LED flashlight, a strong magnet built into the base, and a flashing emergency light, in case you need it. Prices start at $24.95 on Amazonhere.Or maybe a smaller light is what you need. The Lil Larry starts at $16.89 at Amazon here.
Lil Larry Flashlight
Big Larry Flashlight
Quality candies.Nobody loves a good maple sugar candy like I do. I’ve been addicted to them since we started visiting Maine ten years ago. My favorites are shaped like little maple leaves. One brand I’ve tried is Butternut Mountain Maple Farm. It’s pure maple sugar candy, and it’s good. You can order it here.I’ve heard Trader Joe’s sometimes carries their own brand of Maple Candy, but I haven’t seen it in the store yet. Another great candy I’ve mentioned before is Louis Sherry Chocolates. They come in beautiful tins of different sizes. Twelve-piece tins start at $35, but for the lovely holiday Nutcracker tin, it’s $40. Did I mention the chocolates are delicious? Get them here.
1818 Farms products.A friend who lives in Alabama told me about 1818 Farms a few years ago. Located in North Alabama, this farm produces lots of organic products. I love their Shea Creme starting at $10. Wedding Cake would be my favorite scent. They also have lovely handcrafted soaps starting at $7 and beard oils starting at $12. You can see them all at their website here. They also offer holiday bundles!
Tabletopics Conversation Starter Cards. These are great for people of all ages, and Tabletopics has made it easy for you to choose the right set! They offer the Original Tabletopics, but there are also sets geared toward families, teens, couples, date night, dinner parties, and more! Each box contains 135 thought-provoking questions for $25. Get them on Amazon here.
Dry Divas Shower Caps. Every girl needs a good shower cap. Who wants to wash their hair every day? And it’s a pain to get a shower without getting your hair wet! Lots of shower caps don’t do the job, but Dry Divas Shower Caps are the best! I should know…I’ve been using them for a while now. Priced at $25, they aren’t flimsy. They’re well made, pretty, and they stay in place. See the various designs at Amazon here.
Mer Sea & Co. Faux Fur Hot Water Bottle Cover. Go ahead. Tell me I’ve lost my mind. Who uses hot water bottles anymore? But come on…think about it…there’s something comforting about a hot water bottle. Sure, you can use a heating pad, but there’s no chance a hot water bottle in a beautiful faux fur cover is going to start an electrical fire. OK, so maybe that’s extreme, but there’s just something about a hot water bottle when you’re cold and tired…or have back pain…or just want to warm your feet. At $38, this is beautiful and practical! I want one. Get it at Anthropologie here.
Vintage Toys.Toys were different when I was a kid. Most of them weren’t electronic. I love vintage toys. Remember Stretch Armstrong? How about Viewmaster? Etch-a-sketch? How about the rail twirler? Slinky? Wooly Willy? Don’t forget paddleball! They’re all available on Amazon. Wooly Willy starts at about $5. See various vintage toys here.Kids and adults might like them!
Dermalogica Facial Cleanse.This is the best stuff I’ve ever used to clean my face. It’s a two step cleansing process. First, I use the Dermologica PreCleanse, which is priced at $45, and while that sounds crazy, the bottle lasts for months. It gets all the makeup off my face the first time. I’ve always struggled to find a good makeup remover. This is the bomb! Get ithere. Follow it up with the Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel ($39) for super clean skin. Find it here.
Smartphone Lanyard. It’s always a dilemma…I need my phone, but I can’t carry a handbag, and I don’t have pockets. I found the Smartphone Lanyard at The Grommet, and now, I can hardly wait for it to arrive in the mail! Of course, it will have to be a stocking stuffer, so I won’t be able to use it till Christmas. My teenage daughter wouldn’t use it, but I bet there are a lot of moms out there who would. It will come in really handy at sports tournaments…when I need to be able to find my phone easily, but I don’t want to hold it in my hand. Priced at $9.99, it’s a bargain. Get it here.
Personalized Stationery. Every member of the family needs personalized stationery…for sympathy notes, thank you notes, and just regular notes. Don’t we all love to receive handwritten notes in the mail? I do. There are lots of places to get personalized stationery for everyone in your family, and it makes a great stocking stuffer. One place to get it is The Stationery Studio. For $35, you can get 25 beautiful, personalized, hand bordered note cards with envelopes like the ones shown below. See them here.
Wireless Express Sing-A-Long Bling Karaoke Microphone.Folks of all ages love karaoke. I’ve seen videos on Facebook of my cousins’ children and grandchildren singing karaoke, and I have lots of adult friends who love singing along. This karaoke microphone, with its bluetooth capabilities, is a lot of fun for just $55. Get it at Neiman Marcus here. It comes in Pink Bling and Iridescent Bling.
Waiter’s Corkscrew. Call me old-fashioned, but I find waiter’s corkscrews are the easiest to use. The wing style corkscrew just doesn’t work for me. And there’s something that looks more skilled when someone uses one of these. Priced at just $10.95, the Hicoup Waiter’s Corkscrew is a great stocking stuffer for anyone who enjoys a nice bottle of wine. Get it here.
Urban Decay Naked Honey Palette.Just looking at the Urban Decay website is a lot of fun. So much color! So much glitter! Every year, they have a “hot” eyeshadow palette, and this year, the hottest thing going is the Naked Honey Palette, priced at $49. Or get the Honey Drop Vault, which includes the palette plus other Honey items for $115. It’s golden! It’s sparkly! And it is popular. See the Naked Honey collection here.
I hope you found a few things that look like they could work for your loved ones! If not, there will be a second list of stocking stuffers coming soon!
Oh, COVID, how I hate thee. Not only have you messed up the last six months, but now you’re forcing me to be quiet in my own home.
School has started for the 2020-21 school year…remember when we were all excited about moving into the year 2020? It was supposed to be the year of clarity. We got clarity, all right! I can see clearly now that it’s going to be another messed up school year! And it’s mostly going to be messed up, because it’s taking place in my kitchen.
Actually, I have to give credit where it’s due. At least our school is trying to get back in the classroom. Our school opted to divide the students in half and they go on alternating days. That means every other day, my daughter will be camped out in my kitchen. Last year, she opted to do “remote learning” in the upstairs game room, but this year, she wants to be in the kitchen. I get it. There’s more light.
But there’s also more noise in the kitchen than upstairs in the secluded game room…and more chance of interruption.
Take today, for example. While our daughter was working in the kitchen, I was in my room trying to get some work done. I recently started some contract work of my own…not full time stuff…just something to keep me busy. I can work on my own schedule, as long as I have my computer, so today I was working in my room with Shark Tank on the TV for background noise. Occasionally, I would look up at the screen, if something seemed particularly interesting, or if someone said something funny. A lot of funny stuff happens on that show.
And then it happened. A guy made a fantastic deal with one of the “sharks,” and I expressed my disbelief…loudly. My daughter promptly texted, “Quiet plz!” I can only hope her high school English teacher didn’t hear my exclamation of surprise…it might or might not have contained an expletive.
So here’s my question: am I actually going to have to be quiet every other day in my house?
For most folks, that likely wouldn’t be a problem…especially if they’re working on a project of their own. But for me, it could be a problem. I’m accustomed to having free reign in my own home. I’m accustomed to talking as loudly as I like. I accustomed to laughing heartily and talking on the phone as I walk into the kitchen. I’m even accustomed to playing music in the living room, which is adjacent to the kitchen, during the day.
I guess all that’s coming to a screeching halt. I guess I’ll take all my phone calls on the patio. I’ll try to keep my voice down and my laughing to a minimum. I’ll try not to walk into the kitchen while laughing and talking on the phone with a friend…like I did today in the middle of my daughter’s history class. I don’t know if the history teacher or anyone else noticed, but I sure got a nasty look from the daughter. At least I had on clothes, right?!? I’ve read about moms who have unknowingly walked past the zoom classrooms in various levels of undress. That wouldn’t happen around here, because I don’t tend to walk around the house unless I’m fully dressed, but I am in danger of dropping an occasional expletive in the middle of class.
Next thing you know, my family will start shipping me out to a hotel on remote learning days. Honestly, I would welcome the opportunity to order room service for lunch. Should I make my reservation now?
All quiet on the home front…this is going to be a tough order. Any other moms of students who are learning remotely want to meet me for a long lunch every other day?
No, I don’t want to relive middle school. Lord, no…just no. I don’t even want to relive my daughter’s middle school years. We were fortunate she had great teachers and administrators for most of her middle school, but she wouldn’t want to do it again, and I wouldn’t want her to. Today, though, a friend posted her daughter’s field hockey stick for sale on Facebook, with the caption, “For sale! The field hockey stick has a proud history of fending off many goals plus an epic win over [our rival]. #letthemeatcake And it brought back a great memory from my daughter’s 8th grade field hockey season.
One great thing about middle school was that it offered students an opportunity to try sports they had never played before, and our daughter wanted to try to play field hockey in seventh grade. She had been to a field hockey clinic or two, but soccer had always been her primary sport. As the school year started, she decided that, even though she was also playing club soccer, she wanted to play middle school field hockey.
And so the school year started, and she would stay after school for field hockey practice for a couple of hours. Then I would shuttle her over to another part of town for soccer practice. It was more stressful for me than it was for her, because of the traffic at 5:30, but we did it. And then one day, after one of the first field hockey games, she got in the car and said she just couldn’t go to soccer practice. She had too much homework.
Something had to give.
I told her, “It’s time to make a choice. We can’t continue like this. Your schoolwork can’t suffer because of all these sports commitments.” And right there in the car, without hesitation, she picked field hockey. She was tired of soccer, and I understood…she had been playing since she was five years old. Frankly, I was tired of traveling all over the state for it every weekend. Getting up at 5am to drive to Mebane, North Carolina, for an early game was not my ideal way to spend a weekend. So…field hockey it was!
She loved it, but I wouldn’t let her play club field hockey, because I wasn’t getting us back into the same situation we had been in before with soccer. She needed time to get her schoolwork done in a timely fashion, and she needed family time and friend time. So she just played on her 7th grade school team, and she had a great time! Most of the girls on the team had never played before, so they were all learning together. They won some games and lost some games…maybe even lost most of them, but they had a great time. It was a good learning year, and they had a coach who was patient and let everyone get some playing time. And then, in 8th grade, most of them played again.
In eighth grade, the stakes were a little higher. The girls all got some playing time, but they didn’t get equal playing time. In eighth grade, they play to win. Again, I think most of the girls had a great time, and they played pretty darn well. In fact, as the season came to an end, they found themselves in the semifinals of the conference championship (the highest level in middle school) against their biggest cross-town rival. Our team was the underdog, but they had heart…just like The Bad News Bears…but with field hockey…and they’re girls. Their coach got them motivated, and they went into the game wanting to win…on the other team’s field.
The game started, and it was a close one…both teams were playing really well. A friend’s daughter was playing goalie for our team and had some great saves. The girls were stepping up their play! They were playing together beautifully as they never had before! Coach had really pulled them together! She certainly gets all the credit. And then, my daughter, who was playing center-mid, went down with an ankle injury right after halftime, when one of her friends on the opposing team accidentally hit the ball hard right into her ankle. We heard it in the stands: THWACK! My friend who was sitting next to me sat down with me, as I fully expected to have to take my daughter to Urgent Care, where, at the time, we should have had our own parking spot from all her sports injuries. From the stands, though, I could see her crying on the other sideline and icing the ankle, and in a little while, she was back on the field! I was elated!
The game came to an end, and our little team of Bad News Bears won by one goal! They jumped! They screamed! They cheered! They celebrated! And then, while our girls were still celebrating, two or three players from the opposing team quietly approached our players. They were carrying a cake…the one that was intended for their celebration…except they weren’t celebrating. The girls said their coach wouldn’t let them have their celebratory cake, because they didn’t win…and they offered it to our team. We didn’t have a cake, so it was a gracious gesture. Our girls were in shock but accepted it, and a new motto was born: Winners Eat Cake!
Our girls went on to play another cross-town rival in the championship and lost, and although they were disappointed, they have never forgotten how awesome that semifinal win was! As our girls start their junior year of high school and a new, strange field hockey season during COVID, they are still looking forward to the season and being together…and making more memories together. Sometimes the underdogs get the win. Such a sweet memory…
Hoping we can have a great season this year…even with COVID!
Remember when you were a teenager? I do. I remember my parents telling me that if I attended a gathering where things started to get “out of hand” or “go awry” or if I were uncomfortable, to leave. Get myself out of the situation. At different stages of life, that could mean different things. As a teenager, maybe people were getting too rowdy. Or maybe I had the choice of whether or not to get into a car with someone I didn’t really trust. In college, maybe there were drugs present that I didn’t need to around. Maybe there was a mob mentality about something, and people were about to do something they wouldn’t have done if they were alone.
Recently, I found myself in a virtual group that started to scare me. By “virtual,” I mean it was the Facebook page for a group I joined long ago. According to the Facebook page of this group I remember as always quite civilized and respectful, the goal of the page is stated to be “to build a network of [members]…to share resources and opportunities.” It states clearly in the group rules that there is to be no hate speech or bullying. “Communicate with courtesy and respect,” it says.
Imagine my surprise when communication on this same page recently turned quite ugly and disrespectful. People are calling each other names. People are addressing members in ways I wouldn’t address anyone. People are using profanity left and right as a means of conveying their viewpoints, instead of using respectful speech.
Don’t get me wrong. Generally speaking, I don’t care about profanity, but I don’t like when it is hurled at someone…especially in a setting where we should be treating each other with respect. Imagine hurling obscenities at your coworkers in a professional setting. Or imagine your children hurling them at their teachers in the classroom setting. I don’t know about you, but the school wouldn’t even have to punish my child; she would be in big enough trouble at home.
I’ve seen kids on sports fields and sports courts in recent years sassing referees and gesturing after what they believe is a bad call, and every time, I think, “Holy smokes. My daddy would have walked out there and snatched me off that field.” I’ve been watching when my daughter was playing high school sports, and when a girl behaves poorly or with poor sportsmanship on the field, I’ve thought, “My daughter’s coach surely knows that I would take her home right now if she acted that way on the field.”
That brings me back to my group. Apparently, a lot of people don’t feel the same way. They think respecting others is no longer important. They think it’s OK to get out there and say whatever you want and say it however you want to whomever you want, without regard for others. They think it’s OK to use profanity in every sentence when they are trying to make a point. In this particular group, someone actually typed out these words to another member recently: Sit the hell down.
And that’s when I knew I needed to leave the group. That was that moment my parents had warned me about. When things start to go awry or you are uncomfortable, leave. So I left the Facebook page of a group I’ve been a member of most of my life. It broke my heart, because I really wanted to try to make a difference. I’m really good at listening to other people’s viewpoints. I know everyone doesn’t feel the same way about everything…and I think that’s OK. That’s what makes the world go around. But I will not tolerate disrespectful behavior. I do not want to be a part of a group that communicates that way.
If it had been a one off situation, I could have gotten past it. But it wasn’t. People were accusing each other of horrible things. Worst of all, no one was hearing anyone else. And as soon as I saw “sit the hell down,” I was done. I left the Facebook page of a group I’ve loved for years…a group I have dedicated time and financial resources to…a group that, for me, was always a soft place to land, a place I made lifelong friends. I had to leave the Facebook page. I hope the behavior of those people is not indicative of the members of the group as a whole. Is civility dead?!?!
I keep getting messages from friends who are still in the group. I’ve received six or eight from people who have left it too, but I’m getting messages showing me screenshots of some of the posts, and I’m brokenhearted. I’m disappointed. I don’t want to be a part of a group that behaves that way.
So I left the Facebook group. I had to. My parents would be proud that I chose not to participate in the insanity, because that’s what it looked like to me. It looked like a bunch of spoiled, entitled, participation-trophy kids who think they’re the smartest things on the planet, and they’re probably 25 years old. They think their education makes them knowledgeable about life, I guess. At 53, I know that’s not true. They know very little, but they’re not even smart enough to realize that yet. When they’re 53, hopefully, they will look back and realize just how incredibly rude they were.
It’s May 6. We are deep into the stay-at-home orders all over the country. It appears our state, North Carolina, will move into the first phase of “opening the economy” this Friday, May 8, if all goes as planned.
I’m sure there are some who would say I’m not particularly sane during “normal” times, but wow…if they could see me now! For the past however-many-weeks, I’ve been doing everything I can just to keep from falling into the abyss. And so far, my silly strategies have worked, but you might think the “strategies” themselves are crazy.
When we were first “locked in,” it never occurred to me it would last this long. If someone had told you even one year ago that our country would basically shut down for this long, would you have believed them? I would have told them they’d lost their minds. But here we are. I have been doing a lot of reading in the sunshine (we’ve been lucky with the weather) since this whole thing started. If you need some light reading, I highly recommend Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It. You know Mike Rowe…from the TV show, Dirty Jobs…also a good way to spend your time. He’s funny and entertaining (and easy on the eyes!).
When the isolation first started, I binge watched some shows and movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I’m not one to sit around watching TV all day, but I needed to kill some time. Just like half the country, I reluctantly watched every episode of Tiger King on Netflix. When people say “truth is stranger than fiction,” they mean it. I am a “live and let live” kind of person, but wow…Joe Exotic is another level of strange to me. And Carole Baskin? Maybe she did and maybe she didn’t feed her first husband to the tigers.
Upon recommendations from friends, I started watching Ozark on Netflix. It’s good, but it stressed me out. I’ll return to it, I’m sure, simply because I love Jason Bateman. I’ve loved him since Silver Spoons. Cue the theme song: Here we are, face to face, a couple of Silver Spoons. Hopin’ to find we’re two of a kind… Yeah, I’ll return to Ozark, for sure. I’ve also rewatched some old favorite movies…Clueless, Troop Beverly Hills, Sliding Doors…nothing too deep. There are a few more series I’ve never seen that I’d still like to watch; Downton Abbey is at the top of the list.
But I’ve done way more than just stare at screens. My garden is in place way earlier than ever before! I got my seeds started back in April (or maybe late March!), and for a while, I had way too many seedlings in my dining room. I had started them in the little poolhouse we have out back, but when my husband kept stepping on them, I moved them to the dining room. Then, he wished he had been more careful in the poolhouse, because I had planted some of them in Cow Pots. If you’re not familiar with Cow Pots, they are seeding pots made of dehydrated cow manure. (They’re great…you can order them here.) I had seen Mike Rowe visit the manufacturing facility on Dirty Jobs (there it is again!). They are actually good for plants, and when your seedlings are ready, you just drop the whole thing in the ground. Surprisingly, dehydrated cow manure has no smell! What Mike Rowe didn’t tell me on the show is that, after it’s rehydrated by watering the plants, cow manure in the form of Cow Pots…well, it smells a little. It’s not overwhelming, but let’s just say my husband was happy to see me get those out of the dining room and into the garden. I should probably mention it’s the largest garden I’ve ever had…various types of sunflowers, lots of zinnias, sweet corn, lots of tomato plants, brussel sprouts, various types of cucumbers, and even watermelons! So far, everything’s looking great, but we have a late frost coming up this week. Fingers crossed.
I even watched what I think was a mole burrowing through the soil in my backyard. At least I hope it was a mole. I was walking past the garden one day and noticed cracks in the soil, and it looked like the ground was “breathing.” At first, I thought it might have been some sort of alien that was going burst of the ground, but then I decided it had to be a mole burrowing blindly through the soil. I’ve spent even more time banging a trowel against the fence to scare away a woodpecker from my neighbor’s house, and I’ve been frightened by owls who flew way too closely past me on the patio at night. All this wildlife!
But that’s not all. Here’s where my insanity really starts to show. I’ve been walking every day. I can’t just be in this house. I’m not one to stay home all the time, so I’ve had to adjust. But here’s the thing…I’m walking miles a day…on my patio. No, the patio is not particularly large. OK, well, it’s not a small patio. But yes, I’m walking miles every day around the pool. When I need a break or if I get a phone call, I just walk outside and walk in circles around the pool…anywhere from four to six miles a day. I had been walking through the neighborhood with my husband, but there were a lot of people out! And social distancing is difficult. Also, there’s one couple that will not cross the street for anyone. I got tired of always crossing instead of them. Doesn’t it seem we should take turns crossing? Yep…my crazy is showing.
I’m also working on a project for our daughter’s school, even though school is not in session. Our school has a fabulous sports awards show every year, and this year, I’m working on it. It’s going to be virtual, so it’s tricky, but things are coming together. But when I need to take a break from that, I either do my walking around the patio, or I go to Instagram and find Twitch…you know, from Ellen…he’s the DJ. We’ll, he’s a dancer, and he’s married to a dancer, Allison Holker, and they have teamed up with the American Heart Association. They’re doing workouts on Instagram to keep people moving, and they’re fun! You can do any variation of them…low impact or high impact…and it is quite the mood booster! I highly recommend! Find Twitch on Instagram at Sir_Twitch_alot.
At night, my husband and I often sit outside on the patio, having a cocktail and looking at the stars. I’ve mentioned the Sky Guide app before. It helps locate and identify planets, constellations, and satellites passing by! We also enjoy the color-changing light balls we ordered to float in the pool and hang from the eave of the poolhouse. They really make it feel happier out there!
We have celebrated friends’ birthdays with drive by parades…nobody loves making a birthday sign more than I do! And for me, it’s totally relaxing! A couple of times, I’ve sat down with my teenage daughter to make lots of signs to display in friends’ yards…relaxes me and surprises them!
And when I have a little quiet time, I drop a letter or postcard in the mail to a friend or family member far away. It boosts my mood, and I can only hope it brings them a little sunshine when they receive it.
For now, I’m on my way out to the patio for a few trips around the pool. Stay sane!
***Before reading, please know I’m not complaining about my teenage daughter. I do not feel like she is taking advantage of me. I feel like she is a normal, healthy teenager who is trying to find her independence. It’s what teenagers do. It’s funny. Teenagers are hilarious to those of us who remember what it was like to be a teenager, and even though I’m 52, I remember it well! Teenage girls are funny creatures who think they know everything…right up until they figure out they don’t know everything. We all parent differently, and I choose to parent with laughter. I have rules, and generally speaking, she follows them.***
“You’re wearing work pants?!?!” Yes, my teenage daughter asked me this in her school cafeteria yesterday, because what do teenagers do when they’re not critiquing their mothers’ fashion choices? Isn’t that why we put in so much time feeding them, sleep training them, kissing their booboos, and helping them figure out life…so they can find fault with our wardrobes?!
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for years, but I have volunteered at her school since 2008. She is used to seeing me there in jeans or slightly more fashionable clothing, but yesterday, she saw me in the school cafeteria in what she referred to as “work pants.” And there’s a reason I was wearing those “work pants”: I was working.
Recently, I started doing a little substitute work in the library at her school, which means I am actually on the payroll. Dressing for the payroll is a little different than dressing when you’re working for free. You can’t wear jeans. You have to look somewhat professional. Most adults would not have looked at me and thought “work pants.” I was wearing black wide-leg pants (or slacks) and a blouse I thought was really cute…collared with stripes and a tie-waist. And heels. I wore heeled booties. I didn’t look like an old-fashioned “school marm.” And I didn’t look like I was going to repair her car. I didn’t look like I was going out to take someone’s temperature or represent someone in court. But apparently, I looked like I was at work, and she felt the need to call me out on it. It’s something she’s not accustomed to…and it surprised her!
I have written before about how my daughter is definitely a teenager now. Seriously, I’ve told y’all how she rolls her eyes when I sneeze…or talk…or breathe. And now…she doesn’t like my “work pants.” Or maybe she thought I was cooler than that. Y’all, having a teenager definitely keeps you humble. If you have children…especially girls…under age 12, enjoy it. Hug them. Feel free to sneeze, talk, breathe…because soon they will be critiquing your wardrobe.
A friend came over for coffee this morning, and we compared notes on our teenagers. Thank God we have each other, or we could really start to feel bad about ourselves! We could actually start to believe we always wear the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, and even walk “wrong.” And maybe we do, but we went 50 years without people feeling the need to tell us that…and then we had teenagers. My friend didn’t seem to mind that when she arrived at my house for coffee this morning, I was wearing blue pajama pants with pink flamingos all over them and a gigantic black hoodie with “Rollin’ with the homies” emblazoned across the front. She didn’t even care that I hadn’t brushed my hair yet! My friend saw me dressed like that and with bed head, no less, and she still loves me! But my daughter? She doesn’t approve of the “work pants.”
So at the end of the day, I took a few minutes to explain to my teenage daughter that I can’t go to work in the library wearing yoga pants or jeans. I can’t go in wearing a hoodie with “Rollin’ with the homies” across the front of it…and a picture of a pug smoking a cigarette on the back of the hoodie…I should mention that. It’s my favorite hoodie, and honestly, it’s the article of clothing that should really embarrass her!
Most of the time, though, she is kind and funny, and I love spending time with her. She loves getting my insight and feedback, and most of the time, she listens. She even thanks me for things I do on a regular basis. She’s a keeper.
It’s hard to believe in just 2 1/2 short years, that teenager will be going off to college…”good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And then, one day, she will likely graduate from college and have her first “real” job. I hope I’m visiting her on the first day she goes to work, so I can make fun of her “work pants.” She will have long forgotten poking fun at my clothing choice, so I will catch her off guard just before she walks out the door. I’ll stroll over to her, wearing my very comfy PJs and bathrobe and drinking my morning coffee, and I’ll say, “You’re wearing work pants?” I will then bid her “good day” and remind her that I’ll be sitting around in my PJs drinking coffee, watching The Price is Right, while she’s out working in her “work pants.”